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大火無情 | Fire
約翰百德 (John BATTEN)
at 11:01am on 23rd September 2019


 


圖片說明:

1. 大坑舞火龍,2019年9月
2.– 3. 銅鑼灣的汽油彈和雜物燃起的大火
照片由作者提供

Captions:
1. Tai Hang fire dragon, September 2019 
2. – 3. A Molotov cocktail and bonfire in Causeway Bay
Photos: John Batten



(Please scroll down for English version)


在我有意識的回憶中,我是在1980年代初在新西蘭惠靈頓首次正式與香港人會面。即使到了今天,我仍然清楚記得那個房間、初晨的陽光、兩張椅子,還有放在我和對方之間灰色桌子上的文件。我曾經短時間在勞工處工作,那時要與一位待業男士面談。他緩緩地行走,很不容易才坐下。那時我並不知道他是中國人。我又怎會知道呢?他連臉也沒有。

我按著面談的程序進行初步手續。他很友善,也不拘泥。然後,在我還未開口發問之前,他便向我解釋了他的遭遇。約在10年前,他在九龍一家塑膠廠工作,一場大火令他被困火場。在有毒化學物質和塑膠助燃下,大火吞噬了他的身體。消防員把他從人間煉獄中救出,他倖存下來,但整個臉部都被燒至溶掉,在血紅的移植皮膚之間是四個刺孔:兩個在雙眼、一個在鼻子上,一個在嘴巴––他的外耳和頭髮早已全部消失。他的嘴部比臉部其他器官幸運,因為唇部肌肉並沒有在大火中融為一體––它們仍然保持作用,他也可以說話;可是他已徹底毀容,很難認出那是一張臉。

在所有我們可以遭遇的災難之中,例如是地震、洪水、惡疫等,火災可能是最嚇人的一種。我們對火熟悉非常,日常可以很輕易地點著香煙或洋燭、可以圍著燒烤爐或營火快樂地看著誘人火焰化成灰燼,連煮食都需要生火。就是因為我們對火如此熟悉,當它發揮潛力大肆破壞時,我們往往也更為震驚。又或者,正如偉大的藝術評論家羅伯特‧休斯在一場可怕的撞車意外後,發現自己被困於肢離破碎的車中,身體上出現多處骨折、脈搏漸趨微弱,逐步進入創傷性休克的感覺一樣。他最大的恐懼並不是死亡,而是汽車的油缸會燃起,令他被熊火吞沒。火是他一生中最大的恐懼;而更差的是,他想像之中火比死亡更加嚇人。

正在巴西和鄰近國家破壞亞馬遜雨林的大火,還有印尼火耕農業引發的森林大火都佔據了近期的新聞頭條。在一個炎熱的夏天,當我駕車至悉尼北面時,我遇上零星的灌木林火,主要火勢在前一天已燒完,但濃煙仍未散去,森林碎屑滿佈路上。那些烈火的暴力和它們所帶來的最大影響,當晚在我於沙灘漫步時出現。那時海水已退潮,但以肉眼所見,在高水位線上是整整五米高的燒焦葉片,它們是大火和風吹進海裡然後再在海浪推動下回到海灘上而形成。火的暴力令人害怕而且充滿矛盾:它既快且慢,時而美麗又突然醜惡。大火過後的結果,永遠、永遠都是慘不忍睹的––不論是對人還是對物的損害。

過去數星期,我們親眼看到示威者投擲汽油彈被或把雜物堆成火堆,另一方面,一年一度的大坑舞火龍繼續在街上進行淨化,但這裡的社區在一星期才看過催淚彈和大火熊熊的景像。有人認為,這種暴力升級和用火,只是對警方向示威者、記者和在示威地點無辜路過人士施予暴力越來越嚴重的報復行動,所以才促成了以暴易暴的循環:你這樣做我們便這樣做;你加強我們也加強。我讀過的一篇新聞評論指出,是暴力迫使政府擱置然後徹回逃犯條例修訂草案。然而,此說並未經證實。人數仍然是最有效的反對聲音:數以百萬計市民不斷參與的和平遊行所帶出的道德訊息,是任何政府也不可忽視的。相反,暴力的示威行動,在面對警方的無上限權力和國法下,必定無可避免地走向地下。示威行動會演變成游擊行動、埋下炸彈和造成大規模破壞。最後將會像北愛爾蘭所出現的情況一樣,而「連帶傷害」將禍及無辜市民,因為炸彈就像烈火一樣,從來都認不出誰是中立。

政府不可以䄂手旁觀或只是展開不痛不癢的「對話」。要解決香港當前的政治危機,重中之重還是推動普選,以及讓立法會有更公平的代表性。這正是數以百萬和理非示威者想要得到的,而且也能安撫勇武示威人士。如果示威向地下發展,要展開任何後續行動將會困難百倍。

我們在街上看到不少塗鴉,寫著「If we burn, we all burn」(玉石俱焚)。雖然這種塗鴉不會傷害任何人,但去年蘇格蘭樂隊Franz Ferdinand在灣仔修頓場館舉行勁力澎湃的演唱會時,帶來了一首搖滾版本的名作《This Fire》,它的預視能力的確令人不安:「……Now there is a fire in me / A fire that burns / This fire is out of control / I’m going to burn this city / Burn this city……」(我心內有團火/會燃燒的火/火已失控/我要燒毀這城市/燒毀這城市)

如果情況真的發展到那個地步,那麼示威者的面罩可以循還再用,用來遮擋誤擲汽油彈所留下的可怕疤痕––請相信我,被火燒過、面目模糊的臉真的很可怕。



原文刊於《明報周刊》,2019年9月27日




Fire

by John Batten


One of the first Hong Kong people I ever consciously remember meeting was in Wellington, New Zealand in the early 1980s. I recall precisely, even now, the exact room, the early morning sunlight, the two chairs, my papers on top of the grey desk between us. I briefly worked at the Labour Department and this man was looking for a job. I interviewed him. He walked in slowly and sat with difficulty. I did not know he was Chinese. How could I? He didn’t have a face.

I went through the initial formalities of the interview. He was very friendly and open. Then, without my asking, he explained what had happened to him. Working in a plastic factory in Kowloon a decade earlier, a fire began and he was trapped. The fire, fueled by toxic chemicals and plastic, engulfed his body. He survived – just – dragged out of the inferno by fire-fighters. His face had entirely melted, and in between the blood-red of skin grafts, were four punctured holes: two for his eyes, one for his nose and one for his mouth – his ears bare canals, his hair long gone. His mouth was luckier than the rest of his face, as his lip muscles had not fused in the fire – they worked, and he could speak. But, he didn’t have a face that I could recognize as a face.

Of all the disasters that we could encounter - earthquakes, flooding, pestilence, etc. – fire is possibly the most terrifying. We are so familiar with fire; we easily light cigarettes and candles, we sit around a BBQ or campfire happily seduced by flames dying into embers, dinners are prepared over fire. But fire’s familiarity gives its potential for destruction a greater shock when it does. Or, as the great art critic Robert Hughes realized as he was trapped in his mangled car after a horrendous car accident with multiple bone fractures, a weakening pulse and drifting into traumatized shock. His biggest fear was not death, but that the car’s petrol tank would ignite and he would be engulfed by fire. Fire was his greatest fear in life; worse, he imagined, than mere death.

Fires destroying the Amazon forests in Brazil and surrounding countries and agricultural fire burn-offs in Indonesia have been recent news headlines. One hot summer, driving just north of Sydney, I encountered scattered bushfires, the main fires had burned out a day earlier, but smoke hung around and forest debris littered the roads. But the biggest implication of the violence of those fires was later that night as I walked along a beach. The sea had receded, but as far as the eye could see at the high-water mark, were five-metre high walls of burnt leaves, blown by the fires and wind into the sea and then returned to the beach by the sea''s waves. The violence of fire is frightening and contradictory: quick and slow, momentarily beautiful and suddenly ugly. The results are always, always awful – whether the damage is done to person or property.

In the last weeks we have witnessed Molotov cocktails thrown and bonfires lit by protesters, meanwhile the Tai Hang fire dragon was paraded through streets for its yearly purification, but whose neighbourhood had seen tear gas and fires only a week earlier. It has been argued that this escalation of violence and the use of fire are only in retaliation to the increase of police violence towards protesters, the press, and innocent onlookers at protest sites. Violence then becomes circular: you do it, we do it too; you do it stronger, we’ll do it stronger. I have read news commentary that violence has forced the government to shelve and then withdraw their extradition legislation. This, however, is unproved. The most effective opposition – still – is in numbers: millions continually peacefully marching has an unsurpassed moral message that cannot be ignored by any government. In contrast, violent protest action, when confronted by the unending powers of the police and laws of the state, must inevitably go underground. Protest action would evolve into guerrilla action, planting of bombs and sabotage. It would look like the actions seen in Northern Ireland and the ‘collateral damage’ will involve innocent members of the public as a bomb, like fire, never recognizes neutrality.

The government can’t sit on its hands and wait or merely initiate mild “dialogue”. It is universal suffrage and fairer representation in the legislature that is the crux to resolve Hong Kong’s political crisis. That is what millions of peaceful protesters want and which will also placate the hardline protesters. If protests go underground, it will be so much harder to initiate anything.

We see on our streets the graffiti, “If we burn, you burn with us”. As graffiti this is harmless, but last year the Scottish band Franz Ferdinand played an energetic concert at Wan Chai’s Southorn Stadium with a rocking version of their song ‘This Fire’, it is too prescient for comfort: “…Now there is a fire in me / A fire that burns / This fire is out of control / I’m going to burn this city / Burn this city….”.

If it does come to that, then the protesters’ face-masks could be recycled to hide the awful scars of a miss-thrown Molotov cocktail – and believe me, a burned, disfigured face is truly awful.



This piece was published in Ming Pao Weekly on 27 September 2019. Translated from the original English into Chinese by Aulina Chan.



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