Yuen Kwan-fong

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Forget me not   Yuen Kwan-fong

Anyone meeting Yuen Kwan-fong for the first time would soon know that she loves to draw. Kwan-fong, or Fong-fong as she’s usually known, talks about her works to anyone who would listen. She spends a lot of her time with a sketch pen in hand. That’s when she feels happiest; when she’s working on the canvas, not dwelling on the past, she looks like a regular artist. 

A recent favourite work is one titled, A Woman In Tears. “This is 100 per cent my creation,” Fong-fong says. That day, she says, “my art teacher scolded me for no reason, when I didn’t do anything wrong.” But if you think she likes the drawing because it captured her feelings at the time, you would be wrong. It turns out she likes the work because she is happy with how she had drawn the hair. 

It’s clear from her drawings that Fong-fong pays a lot of attention to the hair. In real life, too, Fong-fong fusses about her hair. The care she lavishes on her hair tells you her love of beauty. 

Fong-fong loves to talk about beauty and fashion, and she also loves to dance. She takes lessons at the community centre, and practises around the neighbourhood, using a portable music player. If she’s in a good mood, she’d seize on friends she meets along the way and insist that they watch her dance. As soon as the music starts, she’d sway and wave her arms about, lost in her own world. 

As long as the topic of conversation revolves around art and beauty, Fong-fong is chatty and cheerful. But when she thinks about the past, her demeanour changes. The bad memories draw her into a nightmare of mental turbulence; she becomes emotional and starts to cry. 

Fong-fong was diagnosed with a mental illness when she was 17, and has lived with it for over 30 years. Her mind is filled with memories of the harassment and bullying she had suffered; it’s hard to tell which were based on real events and which were imaginary. 

Fong-fong thinks no one in this world treats her well. She married young, but the marriage ended after her husband had an affair. Her parents are both dead, and she does not keep in touch with her siblings.

I’ve been told Fong-fong likes the company of men, and quickly becomes attached to any man she meets. This probably reflects her longing for romantic love. Not surprisingly, her favourite song is Only You, a pre-war torch song by movie star Li Xianglan that speaks of passion and loss. Part of its lyrics says:

How can I drift like this, from the east to the west

Only you, you’re always in my heart

Only you, you have me in your heart

You know I cannot bear the pain of separation

You know I cannot stand the yearning when we’re apart

Only you, only you, I think you will not forget me

(Excerpts from the book Life and Times)

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dustin shum | photographer

Dustin Shum (岑允逸) is a documentary and fine art photographer based in Hong Kong.
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