It’s the end of an era. Today is Wilfred Chan’s last day in Hong Kong. He leaves the city after an indelible career as a writer, editor, and leader to do something so few of us are brave enough to try: start a publication in Hong Kong. Words alone fall short of adequately expressing our gratitude, inspiration, and love for Wilfred. Below is the best attempts by just some of the people who have had the honor of working with him. Wilfred forever.
“Still / Loud… means we’re still writing, we’re still trying, we’re still here, we’re still loud.”
I still remember the 1st time meeting you at Kitsuné – you were seeing you-know-who and casually swinging by during her lunch break. Back then I only knew you as a nerdy’ish ABC who goes on Tinder, studied in an Ivy League college, worked at the White House, doing great things I could never associate myself with. I would have never imagined how things would unfold in 3 years’ time – how we ended being close friends and working on a project that gave me reason to stay in this city. Thank you for everything you’d told me, taught me, passed on to me. They are all precious. I assume you’ll be back for our crowdfunding, right?
I already wrote him a card filled to the brim with mushy feels but I cannot miss out on this op to roast him semi-publicly. I don’t know if I have much more to say about the guy whose name remained “Wilfred (cmb)” in my contacts even months after we moved past being an internet first date. When he busted out the word “惹味” IRL oh-so-casually that evening I had the suspicion that he might actually just be a grumpy 50-year-old man shouting into the void waving rolled up newspaper his hand. I wasn’t too far off the mark.
He’s a real gem. Eloquent, witty, encouraging, sweetheart, great leader yadda yadda. But there’s nothing like seeing one of his many viral tweets on my TL. That’s the natural habitat where his personality, hidden from the entire world except his 18k followers, shines through. Between his photography and his tweets, I’d say the latter is a more fitting art medium. I can only aspire to delivering pettiness of that calibre with that much punch.
I’ll be faithfully waiting by the door for Still/ Loud’s absentee father to return and give me his approval. Or he might just be disappointed to learn that I still write like an angry teenager trying too hard to be edgy. Either way I’m grateful he pays alimony.
i met wilfred in the most millennial way possible: we followed each other on twitter, and when i tweeted a link to my poetry blog, he messaged me and told me he was happy to see that i was writing on the side, even when i was churning out news articles in my day job. i thanked him and smiled at his brother cream picture but we left it at that.
months later, after i wrote a guide to mental health in hong kong, we spoke again. during the conversation, i mentioned that i was thinking of doing a creative project after i leave hkfp for law school; he said he was also quitting his job at cnn to do the same. a few messages later, we realised that we had the same idea: a hk publication about culture, in english but written with a local lens. i had been on a ferry to mui wo with elson, and i remember turning to him to tell him about this, hardly able to keep myself from being 語無倫次 in excitement.
we met at my favourite dumpling place at sai ying pun. we raced through the polite introductions and got straight to the tougher questions: do we think doing the news weakened our creative writing muscles? how do we feel towards hong kong’s future? what are we unhappy about with regards to the current english-language media coverage of arts and culture? (also, the unspoken question: are you a person i could become good friends with?)
if it weren’t for that exchange, still / loud might never have happened; at least, not in its current form. what i had in mind initially was something similar to a medium publication, a much more manageable operation for a one-person team, where i could collect voices of asian writers who wrote about hong kong’s identity and culture, and with me doing stories about the local music scene every now and then.
wilfred and mc’s idea was a more photography-oriented publication. the three of us met up at ah yuen, and over 滷肉飯 we decided to combine the two, with a much stronger focus on visuals and storytelling techniques. we narrowed the topics down to photography and music, the two scenes we were more familiar with. many skype meetings from my hostel bunk, frustrated whatsapp convos about what to name this site (“paperplastic” was quickly voted down) and work sessions at cafes later, we made a plan to launch in 2017. we gathered the creatives and writers we knew between us, and made still / loud into the publication it is today.
many know of wilfred through his (often angry) twitter threads, his outspoken stance on racial politics, as well as his beautifully poetic art and photography writing. i know him, in our work relationship, to be a sometimes stubborn and perfectionistic editor and writer who can be frustrating but always inspiring to work with. as much as i fight with him about writing style and length, i’ve had to reluctantly concede most of the time that his nose for what made a narrative work is spot on. but there’s more: wilfred, as well as elson and holmes, are always the first people to read anything i write. in the short 1.5 years i knew him in hong kong, he’s contributed to any and every growth i’ve had as a writer, and for that i am forever in his debt. sometimes, he is more ambitious for me, for all of us at still / loud, than we are ourselves, because that’s the kind of person he is.
but the wilfred i know best isn’t twitter personality wilfred or editor wilfred. it’s the friend who is often more concerned about your happiness than you are yourself. who would stay up till late chatting to you about your anxieties and checks in on you every few hours on a bad mental health day. who is more worked up about the city he has only lived in for a few years than many of your peers. who eats tsui wah takeaway with you on the floor of a san po kong park while you both muse over what trump’s election means for the world, for the future, and our own roles during turbulent times. who is always willing to share: his photography, his views on art, that last oily piece of sham shui po fried chive dumpling. who is fiercely loyal and protective of his friends. it’s this wilfred i would miss the most.
for our last dinner, we went back to fullcup, where we first registered our still / loud website and social media handles. like our first meeting, we asked each other some of the questions that have been bothering us for years: what is our relationship with this city? how do we tell its story, if at all? what is our responsibility? what are we trying to atone for? i kept telling him that it’s not over, that it’s not goodbye, that nothing is ever goodbye, but really i think i was saying it for my sake, not his.
(note: i do realise i’m the only with with all lowercase letters and it’s not in line with everyone else’s style but goddamit you got me into lowercase.)
Before I met Wilfred, I assumed that people over 25 living in Hong Kong have basically no fight left in them. Of course there are rebels – your indie musicians, your backpacking travellers – but their energies are mostly spent in opposition to work. In other words, they are hobbyists. It is altogether different to challenge the conditions of one’s labour: it is to say, this system is broken, it cannot represent us, it is unjust. Wilfred fights that fight every day in his career as a journalist, not in the sense of a cheap, performative woke-ness, but in a continuing interrogation of the structures and dynamics underpinning a flawed industry. Wilfred created Still / Loud, I think, not as a pet project, but as a serious alternative to status quo journalism – it is his idea of a more ethical way of understanding and representing Hong Kong. Having Wilfred be my mentor was nothing short of a revelation.
I first met Wilfred last January, but it feels I’ve known him longer. Throughout this time, working some sort of inimitable magic, he has brought together a group of strangers and made them close friends. At our age people don’t make friends anymore; they network. Wilfred, however, has a generosity and earnestness that cuts through the crap. My conversations with Wilfred are sometimes a bit awkward: in all likelihood that is my fault, but my preferred explanation is that he, too, is an introvert at heart, and he values his friends enough to not bullshit them. There is a kind of camaraderie that comes from that, from just hanging around, chilling, like we do at Bound on Sundays. Our crowd isn’t really the partying type, but Wilfred is undoubtedly the life of our party. I look forward to welcoming him back.
Thank you for expanding my world. I’m excited for your future, for today! We easily could have not met, but three months later, here we are. I hope New York is amazing for you.
On too many occasions have I seen Hongkongers who grew up or studied elsewhere – and become activists elsewhere – come here as an adult and not give a rat’s ass about the local struggle for democracy, justice, equality, independence or whatever you call it. I used to be one of them. Thank you for being a multitasker who is curious, aware and knowledgeable on all the different frontlines, and for being Karen’s “other half” in starting a publication that she’s wanted to do for a very long time.
Wilfred, you shot me naked, and the experience was enthusiastically consensual. Congratulations. You are better than most.