She may look like a 廢青 fai ching — the stereotypical good-for-nothing youngster without a plan for the future — but she’s also become an unlikely cult-like icon of Hong Kong’s indie music scene with her seemingly ubiquitous presence over the past year, sharing a Clockenflap stage with local rapper YoungQueenz and having her face on the album cover of one of Hong Kong’s biggest indie bands. Who is Fotan Laiki, and what’s her deal?
You might have met Laiki at BOUND — Boundary Street’s latest Instagrammable addition slash vaporwave-aesthetics bar & cafe — where she would shake up the signature “New Romance” (rice liquor, yakult and strawberry) for you. She might have been your shop assistant at this indie shop or that. You might have bumped into her at shows or underground gigs. Occasionally, on Instagram, you might have come across her picture as the “just-for-fun muse” for local-based internationally-noticed fashion label Yat Pit.
Laiki is the epitome of today’s millennial slashers— bartender, waitress, shopkeeper— you name it, she has probably done it already.
Wait, are we talking about the same Fotan Laiki?
More likely, the Laiki you have in mind is the girl behind Instagram @fotanlaiki, whose portrait graced the cover of My Little Airport’s latest album, 「火炭麗琪」”Fo Tan Lai Ki”, also named after her.
You might have also caught her performance at Clockenflap last year as YoungQueenz and Otaku Mobb’s “Fotan represent” supporting act, after the pair reached out to her for some much-needed “star power” to counter the time-clash with Iceland’s post-rock band Sigur Rós, hence the occasion of “Fotan vs Iceland”. Currently, she is the lead of underground rapping girl gang Cooking Bitchess.
For a 21-year-old, this may seem like a list of grand achievements on a curriculum vitae.
So… what exactly does Laiki do?
A Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity graduate, Laiki does not have a full-time job, instead working as a slasher to make herself enough pocket money for her “daily necessities”— antidepressants, Chinese medicine, lipsticks and baking ingredients.
Having left the art school utopia which gave her space to contemplate, create and chill, Laiki is now struggling with the grind of everyday life, haunted by doubts over her future. To quote MLA’s lyrics in title track “Fotan Laiki”: 「她每份工都不過四星期, 像愛情一般 沒有頭沒有尾.」”None of her jobs last more than four weeks, the same with her love life; they come and go.”
With her public exam results failing to meet the entry mark for traditional local universities, this clueless creative is a victim of the education system, unable to pursue further studies on her ultimate raison d’etre: film-making.
Not Fotan Laiki, Not Cooking Bitchess – Just 100% Laiki Wong.
This is also a lesser known side of Laiki: her love for films and her surprising role as a maker of short films. A top student at school, Laiki recalls skiving to hang out with her friends, debate with her professors outside of class or protest at the Umbrella Movement, but never has she once skipped a film class. Laiki can go on at length about films: from classics like Czechoslovak comedy-drama Daisies that ignited her passion for films to Taiwanese drama A Brighter Summer Day that shaped her outlook. Her favourite masters include Michael Haneke, Chantal Akerman, Agnes Varda and Jean-Luc Godard.
Despite her talent and passion for films, her perfectionism works against her favour, and she has been shelving her projects. She believes rushing through projects or doing it as a side gig is an insult to art itself and one’s passion for art. “Film is something you can’t judge by personal achievements and money,” she says bluntly. This philosophy may explain why jobs and salary appear to worry her little. As she struggles to make ends meet, she keeps her creativity flowing with experimental ventures that have thrust her into stardom.
In her first short, An Apple (2012) – Laiki cheekily remarked, “最好不要用HQ看 (best not to watch it in high definition.” “Because I like the raw shit,” she explained. Video Courtesy of Laiki Wong.
But Laiki never saw herself as being confined to purely one art form. She refuses to be labelled or stuck with one genre: one only has to look at the catalogue of diverse projects she has been involved in to realise this. Be it short film production, modelling for Yat Pit, making art with friends, or rapping— the creative soul within Laiki is still in search of her own niche in art, and to produce work that breaks out before the society breaks her.
To many, Laiki appears to be always between jobs and never too serious, but for her it is merely a process of finding her purpose of life and accumulating experiences along the way.
But how did she get there?!
A string of events may have accidentally made Laiki famous, but Laiki was never driven by vanity, and never intended on becoming an influencer or indie scene figure. Read Laiki’s side of the story and you might be surprised by how all simple, genuine and down-to-earth this girl can be.
On getting the Instagram handle @fotanlaiki
“I was literally just bored the fuck out of my wits one day, and I thought getting a new Instagram name would be cool. I was inspired by my idol Taipo Laikei! You know him? Oh, you really should check him out (laughs). So I thought, if he could call himself Taipo Laikei, I might as well call myself Fotan Laiki. It was just like that.
But it’s true — Patti Smith once said, if you have a name that’s loud and memorable, things will start to go well. And it really did for me! Things just took off from there.”
On becoming My Little Airport’s album cover
“Oh fuck, this is one fucking lame story. It was all because of [MLA’s] Ah P — I knew him way back, when we both joined Renaissance Foundation’s [summer camp for artists]. We were hanging out all the fucking time, especially during the Umbrella Movement. Those were the best days ever – we roamed around Nathan Road and the Mong Kok camps all the time, and talked about absolutely everything. We became like really, really good friends.
He happened to be preparing for his album at that time. For fuck’s sake, everything was ready but he hasn’t found his cover girl for the album artwork. That’s what they usually do in the past: they always randomly cast pretty girls to make the cover look good. This time, he was so fucking last-minute he had no idea who to turn to. So he just randomly asked me if I wanted to do some test shots just to help him out. I thought it was just a joke, but he was so desperate. So fuck it — I did it. And they actually chose my pictures! And used my name! I was like wtf?! But they were happy with it, and I helped him out, so it’s chill.”
On performing at Clockenflap
“You have no fucking idea how freaked out I was. Think about it— your ever first public performance, and it’s not at a small venue, any goddamn livehouse – it’s a fucking Clockenflap stage! A fucking gigantic stage! Can you imagine that?
So yeah, Youngqueenz approached me and said people seem to know Fotan Laiki these days? I was like, okay? And he really needed a supporting act for the night – man, we are talking about Sigur Rós! But I was just thinking, fuck if I said yes to this, I get to go for free. Like, for free! That’s a thousand-dollar worth pass. Then fuck yeah, of course I’m doing this!”
On joining Absurd Creation and forming Cooking Bitchess
“Yeah this kind of brewed up pretty naturally. We have always known Gavin [from music collective Absurd Creation]. And after Clockenflap we decided, fuck yeah, let’s keep rapping for fun and create something experimental. [Cooking Bitchess’] Anna and I always get so fucking inspired when we are super high — we get epiphanies on life, on writer’s blocks, everything! And writing them into verses is always a great way to rage it all out. Absurd and Hong Kong Community Radio became our experimental platforms to test the waters and showcase our stuff!”
On the feud with Green Tea Bitches
(After a local singer-songwriter formed a new group with a name and music style similar to Cooking Bitchess, Laiki and her friends released a song — “Green Tea Broccoli” — in response.)
“Oh come on, fuck this, I didn’t start it! I really didn’t! Haha, I wasn’t even aware of GTB’s launch. Until (artist who shall not be named) linked me their page! I still didn’t get it when I first saw it. But they were like, ‘Yo, Laiki, look, they even got your name — Green Tea Bitches! Obviously they are copying Cooking Bitchess.’ Then I was like (holding chin down and frowning) yeah maybe… Well the name does seem pretty fucking similar! And even their stuff sounded pretty similar. So the whole gang basically started gossiping about this in a Facebook chat. All of a sudden everyone joined in the convo, and over a night we made a track out of this! (Laughs) It was more for fun than anything. It was some pretty good shit though, Anna and I have never written so fast and well before.”
Remind me why everyone likes Laiki again?
My guess on why Laiki fits into the art and music underground scene so well has a lot to do with her personality — her fuss-free, no-pretence, fuck-all attitude makes her extremely likeable, while she possesses fascinating insights on art. Of course, her non-stop swearing and hip wardrobe make her ever more one-of-a-kind. But more importantly, Laiki Wong herself is a realistic portrait of Hong Kong youngsters — pressed by the stressful living cost and social pressure, yet quietly fighting to become who she wants to be, while still managing to carpe diem and do something she genuinely loves. To quote My Little Airport’s lyrics once more,「她確實有著某一種霸氣 明天的事 今天她不會理.」”She indeed has a certain swagger; tomorrow’s worries are not for today.”
Editing by Still / Loud’s Karen Cheung.