"The Hong Kong I wrote about is definitely not the same Hong Kong today"
In Conversation with Research Alumnus Dr. Caio Yurgel, Assistant Professor of Humanities at Duke Kunshan University, China
What is your connection with Tübingen and the University?
I spent a glorious semester in Tübingen back in 2013 as a fellow of the ‘Wertewelten’ project, which was run by professors of the German Department, the Faculty of Law, and the Deutsch-Französisches Institut Ludwigsburg (dfi). We organized a conference called "Grenzen" which brought, amongst many others, Hertha Müller and Wole Soyinka to Tübingen. I remember being completely star-struck upon seeing them in person. I mustered all the courage I could find to approach Herta Müller after the conference and ask her for an autograph – even though we had previously been in touch via email. I don't think she realized that I and the person who exchanged emails with her were the same person.
What is your latest publication about?
Last year I published a short novel set in Hong Kong. The novel, called As noites de Hong Kong são feitas de neon, was shortlisted for a Portuguese literary award (Prêmio Autor 2018) and published in Lisbon by Gato Bravo. The novel is written in Portuguese, my favorite language to write fiction, which is, in a way, an act of resistance for someone who otherwise teaches and writes almost exclusively in English. I am hoping the novel will sooner or later be translated into English, at which point it will be called Hong Kong Neon Nights (my favorite thing about the English language is how it can do away with prepositions and other such encumbrances).
What fueled your interest in this topic?
I spent yet another glorious semester in Hong Kong back in 2017, doing a postdoc at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and was immediately taken aback by the city and its smells, contradictions, and frantic energy. I felt as if underwater, not only because I was sweating all the time (it was summer), but because I had never seen anything like that, especially not buildings that are as thin as needles and as tall as giraffes on steroids. I spent my entire first week there thinking they would topple over at any second. I think it was only ten days into my stay that I finally stopped holding my breath. And if that feeling doesn't make you want to write about something, then I don't know what does. Also, back then I had just finished my dissertation (Landscape's Revenge: The Ecology of Failure in Robert Walser and Bernardo Carvalho), so I knew I wanted to take a little break from theory.