Cathy SK Lam is a writer, actor and director from Hong Kong. She is also the Artistic Director of the Hong Kong based theatre company, Threewoods. Her recent political comedy The Immigration Lottery is about the Chinese national identity in the 21st Century and China’s growing influence on Hong Kong since the British Handover to China in 1997. Broadway Baby reviewer Dave House talks with Cathy SK Lam to get her own perspective on this fascinating political play.
“Hi, I am Cathy, I am from Hong Kong, I am a Chinese but I am not from China, I have a British passport but I am not British.”
What is The immigration Lottery? Tell us about the play and how the project came about.
The Immigration Lottery is actually a lottery run by the United Nation of Hap Asala (an imaginary country that claimed to be the world’s happiest country.) The people who join the lottery will have a chance to win the citizenship of [the] United Nation of Hap Asala and migrate to the country.
The story [is] about a Chinese lady, Jenna Wong (played by Cathy SK Lam) who randomly found the lottery in the internet and its only 20 dollars to join the lottery, so she paid for it and won the lottery few months later. But before she moves to the country she has to meet the officer to tell why she needs to leave Hong Kong (the city she loves) and start a whole new life at the other side of world.
Every time when I talked to my friend, the topics was all about which country we want to migrate to and why we should leave Hong Kong. Everyone is thinking about leaving and that is a very weird phenomena. And that caught my attention and I kept asking, 'Why?' and then, news came out: the protest for Democracy on every July 1st since 1997 (China took back Hong Kong on 1997 July 1st) the Candle Night gathering on every June 4th for humanitarian rights (the day of the 1989 Tiananmen Incident), the white paper published by the Chinese government about the Beijing‘s sole sovereignty over Hong Kong.
Also, we always have a problem when filling in the country of citizenship, we never know if we should put HKSAR, Chinese, or BNO, and if you ask anyone, no one can tell you the correct answer. So, who I am and why I should stay? That’s why I want to write a story about identity, and also a story about Hong Kong people.
What can you tell us about the timeline of the play?
The play begins with 2017 July 1st, it’s a story of the imaginary future in Hong Kong. 20 years after China took back Hong Kong from the British government.
The play is clearly very political. Where does the protagonist find herself once her identity is lost and how does this relate to current affairs in Hong Kong and China?
She lost her identity in the office once her boss was replaced by someone in the north, she was bright and smart but she has to hide her personality in the office.
[This relates to a] recent situation in Hong Kong: the increasing admission for the mainland people in primary schools, university, government, job market, etc. deprived the privilege position of the local in both education and employment. Hong Kong is a very important economic body in South Asia, however, since 1997, China has been putting all kinds of effort to turn Hong Kong as a dependent to China instead of letting Hong Kong be a leading financial city here.
[In the play, Jenna Wong] lost her identity as a woman when her mom told her she is nothing until she has a man. Virginity is something that she treasures but no one really cares about.
Recent situation in Hong Kong: The concept of motherland is very important to the Communist. As the city belongs to China, we have to obey to every command of the Chinese government. Hong Kong as a special administrative region. In fact [we] don’t have much sovereignty here. We can’t choose our own Chief Officer here in Hong Kong, but [are] appointed by Beijing. The government is proposing to have general suffrage in 2017, but the whole process and selection [is] still a close door activity, we don’t know who is the candidate until Beijing is happy with the candidates.
[In the play, Jenna Wong] lost her identity when filling in [the immigration form and answering ] the country of citizenship. Unidentified is the only choice that can get her through the immigration lottery system.
Recent situation in Hong Kong: Whenever I try to fill in the immigration form, it is kind of embarrassing for me because I don’t know which nationality I should fill in, just like Jenna Wong in the play - she doesn't know if she should fill in HKSAR, CHINA or BNO because she can’t fit into anyone of them. And when I tried to introduce myself, I always have to say, “Hi, I am Cathy, I am from Hong Kong, I am a Chinese but I am not from China, I have a British passport but I am not British.” So weird.
What do you hope the audience will get from the play?
When I tried to tell people about my story of The Immigration Lottery, people may think that I am too pathetic about the politics and situation in Hong Kong, and they didn’t believe that Hong Kong will become what I said in the play in 2017. Well I do agree that things can’t be changed that drastically in just 3 years, but we can see the “Red Tide” is getting closer gradually. Some people may not notice, but if we have carefully examined what has actually happened in the past 17 years since the handover, you know…it’s coming, and the speed is getting faster.