An ordinary day with a haircut in Lyon put Michael into a confessional mode of reflexive reconnection with his double citizenship … To what kind of privileged access does it entitle him? And what doors has opened to him? 梁志剛的雙重國籍或公民權對他的漂流歷程有何在地的挑戰？又打開了一些甚麼的門？
This morning, for the first time during my trip in France (so far one month), I set my alarm clock. Yesterday over the phone, I booked an appointment with a hairdresser for 10am today. Where I’m staying takes roughly an hour to get there. ‘There’ is a squat that M. took me to yesterday. There was the weekly Marché Rouge (Red Market in English) where one kilogram of vegetables costs only one Euro (HKD $8.76). The squat is an empty two-storey city-owned building. Now it is a common space, a home for migrants, a library, a drinks cafe and a place to practice osteopathy—with amenities like a laundry room, parking and a computer room with internet access. The squat also has a hairdresser. I saw the modest salon yesterday and decided that I wanted to have my haircut here.
The last time I had a haircut was around eight months ago with K. at a chain hairdressers in Wan Chai. I remember being surprised by the television and complimentary branded white plastic comb, that was unnecessarily packaged in plastic. Before that haircut, K. and I cut each others’ hair.
During the Black Book Assembly in 2019 K. shared something with me that I’ve often thought about since. She says that being a man and who I am allows me to get away with a lot of things that I do and gives me access to worlds otherwise — inaccessible to others. She told me that she had discussed this with a mutual friend. At the time the conversation seemed uncomfortable, having so many people around us, looking at books or interrupting us to ask us to pass them things from behind the zine table.
I think I know what K. meant, knowing my work and who I relate to. I thought of the several grandmas that I’ve met at Kai Fong Pai Dong and how we became friends and they later invited me into their homes for canned coffee, tea and snacks after I helped them carry heavy things to their doors (sometimes they ask, sometimes I offer). I thought of my small institutional critiques afforded by my mobility in and out of the art world (not market) and my position as a part-time lecturer at the Academy of Visual Arts (perhaps). Without saying the ‘P’ word and interrupted several times in our conversation, I think K. was referring to ‘privilege’—specifically the access my privilege gives me.
I often think about this conversation—not in a negative, pressuring or negating way, but as a reminder of how to be in this world and with others — when not to speak, when to speak, when not to write and when to write.
Whilst cutting my hair, B. the hairdresser whose home was elsewhere, asked me if I was a student. I said yes but didn’t elaborate on the reflexive and didactic details that I shared previously in an anthropology conference.  He then asked me how long I will be in France for. I said that I am in Europe for four months visiting farms, spaces and collectives, and then my family who live in London. I thought of K. again and how bourgeoisie my answer may have sounded.
B. asked me if there were many hairdressers like him in Hong Kong. Still in my limited French, I said no and that all hairdressers are in shops on the street. I didn’t share how my hair was cut by K., but I did share that there is a space that cuts hair for free on the street every month (before the Anti-Extradition Bill movement started which I couldn’t say in French). I was referring to Kai Fong Pai Dong but failed to elaborate on why we, or rather the hairdressers, cut hair for free and that it is a space that welcomes all walks of life, such as the elderly, children and refugees.
In a positive way, I commented that B.’s haircut made me look like a mushroom and we both laughed loudly, exposing our teeth on the cracked mirror that takes up the width of the salon. He cut my hair with paper scissors, the ones with blue and black plastic handles and hand sprinkled water from a jug to wet my hair before combing. The scissors tugged and didn’t make that “chop chop” noise that Uncle Hung mimics so well during storytelling nights.
Finishing around my ears, B. then abruptly asked me if that was ok. Still looking like a mushroom I said yes, before he used a coarse hairdresser’s brush to sweep the hair off my neck and a white towel that was hanging on the self-made shelf bracket to wipe my neck and face. The haircut was perfect and I paid. We shook hands and I left the salon room where S., who I met yesterday, asked me if I wanted tea. Looking at the zine that I gave him yesterday he informed me that there will be a sharing this Saturday night by a Uyghur who lives in France if I wanted to go. I saw the sharing on a website last night. It’ll be in French but I think I’ll still go. Someone arrived to meet S. and after finishing his tea, he told me that I could stay here, in the common space, for as long as I wanted to(day).
In the now empty space I refilled the ceramic cup still with the tea bag inside and looked again at the bookshelf that included books about communism with Mao Zedong quotes on the front cover and a book about Murray Bookchin that I looked at yesterday, and learnt about the marine biologist, writer and environmentalist Rachel Carson whose 1962 book Silent Spring was translated into Chinese in 1979 under the name 寂静的春天.
After finishing my tea and washing the cup I decided to leave the empty common space and go to a cafe that I visited yesterday to write this text. Privilege, my British passport and my monthly studentship allows me to be in Europe for four months. They have brought me to these spaces and learn about other struggles and hear stories such as B. living in China once for six months and sharing the limited Putonghua that he still remembers such as hello and faster faster (nǐ hǎo and kuài diǎn kuài diǎn in Putonghua, respectively). I didn’t ask why he learnt and remembered kuài diǎn kuài diǎn.
I’m looking forward to tonight, again at the space, where they will be showing a live football match. S. will try to invite the person who’s done a sharing on the Hong Kong movement four months ago in Lyon. I don’t watch football anymore, and I’m not sure if K. does, but I wish she was here to visit the squat and meet everyone before the government and police evict the place — proposed for late May 2020, but I’m sure will be fiercely defended, with love and rage.
11th March 2020, Lyon
 I am a British-born Chinese artist/designer, urban farmer and visiting lecturer who moved to Hong Kong in 2009 to complete a Masters in Design. Before the Masters course I was in London working as an industrial designer for a multinational mobile devices company, and on self-initiated design projects in a shared studio space. My three years as an industrial designer allowed me to think about our relationship with technology, but also have many tedious and unnecessary debates with the marketing and engineering teams.
After living in Hong Kong for 10 years, people I meet often assume that I “moved back to Hong Kong” as opposed to “moved to Hong Kong.” My weak Chinese literacy puts me in sociable situations where I spend time listening to, and conversing with people in Cantonese. This leads to some form of “accelerated empathy,” where those marginalised by the government, such as dispossessed villagers and disempowered street hawkers, can easily become friends. Some friends lightly joke about my positionality, when elderly neighbours invite me into their homes for tea or when fabric sellers make assumptions about how much money I have in my bank account, accumulated from my visiting lecturer salary—only four hours of teaching per week and only in the first semester of each academic year. The reality is that my PhD studentship allows me to live and remain as an “Emergent service worker” according to The Great British class calculator — a “financially insecure” but cultured class that is the second lowest, ‘poorest and most deprived class group.’ (www.bbc.com/news/magazine-22000973)
A dual citizenship privileges my mobility, to conferences such as this one, and allows me to conduct my research both locally and globally. Since starting my PhD in September 2018, my research and writing aims to be intersectional and reflexive, and confront my position as a British-born Chinese activist in a former British colony, that is now on the streets again fearlessly fighting towards a new, not restored, Hong Kong, that confronts a colonial residue polished by an authoritarian regime. (https://lausan.hk/2019/this-is-not-restoration/?fbclid=IwAR3ZMvcaivV7QRq8wpFOtK8fgbJM81F5-T75UiXDNrlGZChR3xKpYtaZ8Ns)
Related Reading: Michael Leung’s <ON LAND> series