‘We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake.’
Welcome to being, a Hong Kong-based zine stretching and seeking in the slow lane. In case you hadn’t guessed, it’s about being — being human, being conscious, being curious.
Lovingly created by two people who are fans of the good life (and, incidentally, each other), being doesn’t generate any money (or hope to) and isn’t in cahoots with any brand or big dog. For us, it’s all about sharing nuggets of inspiration, knowledge, and usefulness, and offering a place of solace and slowness in this chaotic world.
being’s aim is to add value to your life in a world where true value is, well, undervalued. So, if you’re not feeling this zine’s vibe, no hard feelings. Pop it back or pass it on to someone else and go about your day.
Otherwise, let’s sloth around together and enjoy the many fruits (and comfy branches) life has to offer.
Cover image: Peng Chau, being
Cover quote: Henry David Thoreau
G O O D S T U F F
Listen (and learn)
Ologies is a podcast covering just about every topic under the sun, from deltiology (postcards) to selenology (the moon), and beyond. Each episode features an expert sharing their wisdom with host Alie Ward.
Bien Caramélisé is a plant-based patisserie in a humble Prince Edward walk-up serving a select menu of beautiful, rich fancies (bonjour, chocolate éclair! Salut, citron tart!) and herbal teas. The space is small and simple, with one communal table set just in front of chef Jessica Chow’s kitchen. Jessica is friendly and helpful, and the calm, no-distractions vibe is perfect for enjoying the moment (and edible goodness, of course).
Mudras are sacred yogic hand gestures that have been practised for thousands of years in India and Tibet. For energy and detoxification (particularly of the liver and gall bladder) during these humid, heavy times, try Apana mudra, also known as the 'purification mudra’:
Claim a quiet moment to yourself (in the bath, in bed, at your desk, on a bench, etc). On each hand, press your thumb, middle finger, and ring finger together and extend your index and little finger out (the shape resembles the ‘rock on’ gesture). Inhale, exhale, and feel the movement of energy flow through your body.
N O T E S O N
Most of us know them as dung beetles, but scarab beetles are more than just manure-turning bugs. The ancient Egyptians believed that there was a clear parallel between scarab beetles rolling spheres of dung along the ground and burying them, and the sun emerging and vanishing every day. In watching the beetles going about their daily work, Egyptians could see Khepri, the god of the rising sun, rolling the sun across the sky, concealing it at sunset, and hauling it back up at dawn. Khepri appears both in the form of a scarab beetle holding the sun, and a human man with a scarab beetle for a head.
Khepri is derived from the Egyptian word hpr which means ‘come into being’ or ‘create’. Scarab beetles soon became a symbol for protection, creation, rebirth, and renewal. They were put alongside other amulets in mummies, inscribed with hieroglyphs to be used as personal seals, and strung onto thread to make powerful necklaces.
You don’t have to visit Egypt to see a scarab beetle, though. The Green Rose Chafer (cetonia aurata), a type of scarab, makes an appearance on Hong Kong's outlying islands when the temperature starts to rise. Known for its shiny green and yellow metallic body, the Green Rose Chafer careers around flowers (namely roses) all summer long.
A L B U M S F O R W H E N E V E R
The Definitive Collection
“Do I Do”
“Signed Sealed Delivered”
Often ‘best of’ albums fail to hit the spot — typically they omit a few favourites or are peppered with new songs. Stevie Wonder’s The Definitive Collection avoids all of this. The 39-track record lives up to the title, offering two discs to ensure no seminal track gets left out. Expect all of his best (“For Once in My Life”, “Master Blaster”, “Higher Ground”, “Signed Sealed Delivered”, “My Cherie Amour”, etc.,) as well as songs you may have forgotten, like ‘70s political tune “Living for the City” and Motown single “Uptight”. The album really is an homage to his 60-year career (yep, 60!) — there’s a live version of “Fingertips” from 1962 at the Regal Theatre in Chicago, when he was a mere 12 years old.
D I V E I N
In much-loved ‘90s movie You’ve Got Mail, Kathleen Kelly’s writer boyfriend, Frank Navasky, uses his typewriter to proclaim that Kathleen is ‘a lone reed, standing tall, waving boldly in the corrupt sands of commerce’ (in reference to her small bookshop fighting conglomerate Fox Books). Of course, Frank Navasky was something of a lone reed himself, a man in love with his typewriter as the world opened its arms to computers. Today, he’d be a mere blade of grass, his wave barely discernible in the saturation of it all.
* * *
There is something alluring about typewriters. Perhaps it’s their armoured bodies and mechanical levers, their simple movements. They speak of many things: other times and places, sitting with your thoughts, turning the intangible into the material. Typewriters are the vessels on which greatness and culture and life have been delivered to the world since their invention in the 1800s: Sylvia Plath’s poems; Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West’s entire love affair in letters; Ruth Bader-Ginsburg herself, after years at Harvard Law typing up both her and her ailing husband’s lecture notes; the works of greats from Mark Twain to Agatha Christie. Typewriters have also been widely used in popular culture, from the aforementioned You’ve Got Mail to Love Actually (the latter of which sees Colin Firth panic as the contents of his type-written horror novel go flying into the lake outside his French holiday home, compelling his housemaid to dive in and retrieve the sopping wet pages).
Even smartphone addicts can attest to the magic of the machines, if the popularity of Hanx Writer app (created by collector and — coming full circle — Kathleen Kelly’s happy-ever-after, Tom Hanks) is anything to go by. The app offers a variety of Courier M-style fonts and clackety sounds for users to enjoy when they hit the 2D buttons on their phone keyboards. But if we’re so fond of the distinctive sound of keys punching a ribbon and a typeface that remind us of times gone by, why aren’t typewriters more popular?
The answer, unfortunately, is simple: efficiency, or lack thereof. Exhibit A: this zine. The idea of creating something like this on a typewriter seems overwhelming, especially for an editor who was raised on a hearty diet of MSN Messenger, Microsoft Word, and, of course, the backspace key. After all, typewriters don’t allow unlimited editing (electric models allow backspacing as you type, but once you’ve pressed ‘enter’, there’s no going back). They're not connected to the internet. They’re noisy and heavy and hard to transport. They require ink and, from time to time, mechanical troubleshooting. I’m a long-time lover of typewriters, and yet I too have viewed them only as the effort they require, turning instead to my sidekick, the computer, for bigger writing projects.
So, it’s understandable what the app was trying to do – combine the pleasure of typewriters with the efficiency of modern devices. But the innate joy of a typewriter, greater than the sum of its parts, comes from the experience of actually using a typewriter in all of its delicious, rich complexity. It can only be felt as a whole. When the pad of your fingertip touches the concave surface of a key and the weight of your wrist sets the whole mechanical process into audible motion, there’s connection — to your senses, the typewriter, your words. Perhaps this is because typewriters are inherently slow creatures. You have to feed the paper through the paper rest and line it up before you can type. My fingers fly across a computer keyboard, but typewriters don’t allow such disrespect: keys get stuck on the ribbon and letters are omitted on the paper. Typewriters refuse to race through the moment. And so, you have no choice but to slow down, to type at a pace the machines can handle and one that likely suits you — human being — better, anyway.
* * *
My sister had a typewriter when I was growing up. It was blue and basic, and my mum got it from a car boot sale. I was lucky enough to inherit it years later. I loved tapping away on the old machine; stories and poems, missives and notes. My second typewriter was a second-hand Olivetti Lettera 25 from a used goods shop in Sham Shui Po. Beige and clunky, it didn’t have the sleekness or panache of the retro typewriters sitting decoratively on people’s shelves on Instagram, and I think that’s why I chose it. It was unapologetically no-frills and functional.
* * *
When you use a typewriter, the sheer physicality of it is so grounding and all-encompassing, you couldn’t possibly be thinking about tomorrow’s appointment or what your friend meant when she put a full stop after ‘OK’ in her text message. It insists you remain in the present, in the real world, mindful and awake. You mean what you say because you think first. You have to, really, unless you’re happy typing the same thing over and over until you get it right. As for random typos, they’re reminders of your humanity, not your weaknesses, of the fact that this is a mechanical machine, not a robot. In type-writing your words, you’re also taking time to commune with the recipient (even if that’s you) one-on-one — no work emails clouding the space, no whizzing across a laptop keyboard on autopilot and bashing ‘send’.
* * *
2016 documentary California Typewriter, centred around the eponymous family-owned shop, is a love letter to typewriters. It features a variety of typewriter fans, from famous folk like Tom Hanks and John Mayer, to artists and historians. The documentary ends with the reading of a manifesto, The Typewriter Revolution, which urges us to fight for independence, freedom, and self-sufficiency.
This isn’t to say that typewriters are the superlative medium for writing. In fact, there’s just as much beef between typewriters and longhand as there is between computers and typewriters. Many people, including philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, weren't mad about the machines when they arrived on the scene, calling them ‘impersonal’ and accusing them of ‘working on our thoughts’ (likely how many of us feel about computers today). This essay is not a declaration that typewriters are better than computers (or, in fact, longhand). It is simply a call to embrace the things they offer, perhaps things we struggle to find today in our techno world: physicality, simplicity, reliability, history, the ability to actually see and understand how our chosen tool works. And, of course, the opportunity to slow down.
R E A D S F O R W H E N E V E R
A Week at the Airport — Alain de Botton
This section is called Reads for Whenever, but it just so happens that Alain de Botton’s 2009 sociological study of the airport is a particularly ideal read during this strange time. After all, it’s been a while since we’ve alighted the Airport Express.
In A Week at the Airport, de Botton makes himself a home in the British Airways terminal at Heathrow Airport. He meets the staff, explores the grounds, chats to travellers, and generally does what he does best: transposes moments and soundbites, barely discernible to the distracted human, into astute observations and thought-provoking meditations. This slim book, featuring charmingly unfiltered photos, can be read in one rainy afternoon (and all the better for it — it’ll feel like you’re there with him under Britain’s grey skies). Prepare to feel closer to your fellow humans and their foibles.
R O O T S
Perhaps surprisingly, the roots of the word ‘disaster’ are actually quite beautiful. Initially borne from the Greek word for star (astron), disaster emerged from the Latin prefix dis- (in this case, negative) and astrum (star). It referred to the belief that the position of the stars influenced our fate — often in ruinous ways. ‘Disaster’ then travelled through Old Italian (disastro, literally ‘ill-starred’) and Old French (désastre) to get to English in the 1590s, when it came to mean a catastrophe. We still use it this way today, albeit perhaps more liberally and creatively than our ancestors, often employing it for natural events and bungled job interviews alike.