Encircled By The World Wong Chi-wah
Don’t expect any dramatic ups and downs in Wong Chi-wah’s life.
Thirty-six-year-old Chi-wah was first diagnosed as exhibiting the early signs of psychosis when he was 25. “I was working as a clerk in a freight company. Perhaps because of the odd work hours, I found the job stressful.”
Chi-wah became lost in his own world. “At the time the whole world seemed to be closing in on me,” he says. “I felt that everything that other people said or did were directed at me, and felt that the radio programmes were all talking about me. This lasted for about two weeks, before my father noticed the problem and took me to a clinic in Yau Ma Tei.”
Chi-wah has a good sense of his own situation. Like most of us, he knows what he can and cannot say when he’s being interviewed for a job. “I have to go for a check-up once every four months. So it’s not easy finding a job that fits, because I have to be able to take leave for the doctor’s appointment and I can’t tell my boss the reason. If people knew I had a mental illness, no one would hire me. So anyone with some intelligence would know he has to find an excuse,” he says, adding, “There’s really a need for night clinic.”
Of the three brothers in his family, Chi-wah is the most educated, having received a post-secondary education in manufacturing engineering. But he was caught out by the changing times: mainland China’s opening up means tough competition for Hong Kong’s manufacturing industry. “It became a sunset industry. Factories would of course be set up in places with low labour costs. As they move up north, and as the skills and knowledge of mainland workers improve, why should factory bosses pay more for a Hong Kong worker when he can get the same with a low salary up north? Nobody would be so stupid.”
Many Hongkongers have trouble finding suitable housing, and Chi-wah was no exception. Between 2004 and 2008, he lived in a halfway house for recovering psychiatric patients. Chi-wah says, staff members at the halfway house were nit-picking and did not respect the patients. So he wanted out. He moved into a public housing unit in 2008, with help from the Society for Community Organization.
Living alone, Chi-wah nevertheless keeps to a routine in his daily life. “I'll have breakfast if I wake early. If I wake at about 11am or noon, then I’ll go for lunch. The most important programme of the day is to kill time at the halfway house. I spend a couple of hours there chatting with friends, then go home to listen to music, surf the internet and read. At night, I watch television. And I like to fall asleep to the Music Lover radio programme hosted by Cheng Tse Sing.”
Chi-wah’s life is full contradictions: though he’s accepted the fact of his illness, he laments the things he can’t do because of the limitations; and, while he’s got used to the boredom of living alone, he longs for the pleasure of having a family. In a sense, Chi-wah’s story is ordinary – what he sees, hears, eats, thinks and loves are no different from the experience of the average person. In short, he’s just like us.