Monday, January 18, 2016

Justin Chin in Hawaii: A Remembrance

The feet of warriors form the colors of the rainbow.[1]

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My old and good friend, Justin Chin, died in San Francisco just before Christmas.  I just found out via a post on Facebook.  Here are a couple of obituaries:

I first met Justin at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa in the late 80s when he was a journalism student there and a reporter for the campus newspaper, Ka Leo o Hawai‘i.  He lived in the student dorm on the lower campus, the one with the painting of the tidal wave flooding Honolulu.  He frequented the gay beach at Waikīkī, where he made many friends and interviewed many people for the paper.  His great love was poetry, and he wrote searingly beautiful and frightening poetry.  He is surely the best gay poet I know of, but he did not write for the squeamish for faint-hearted.  Of his several amazing books and collections of poetry, my favorite is Bite Hard (1997).  I have quoted it in my own writings.

With several other friends, he became part of an informal writers’ group that met at our homes once a week to read each other’s writing and offer help and criticism.  Justin’s presence and influence on our work were palpable.  My short story, Trade, emerged from that group.  It contains much of Justin, both within the story itself as well as in his deep influence on the writing:

Robert J. Morris (1991) “Trade,” Tribe: An American Gay Journal 1(4): 51-63 (short story).

He moved to San Francisco to pursue performance or “slam” poetry, at which he excelled.  Over the years, he returned to Honolulu several times, sometimes to visit friends, and sometimes on his way to or from visiting family in Malaysia and Singapore.  On those visits, we usually met at the Spaghetti Hale near Ena Road for dinner and conversations about writing.  We could talk for hours.

            Justin was a good guy.  I knew him as very kind and gentle and funny, retiring and soft-spoken in person, yet with a fierce intellect and curiosity that came out when he performed—a good ally to have in the culture wars.  He was 46, much too early to leave us.  But we have his books, and you can find him reading his poetry on You Tube.  He was an eloquent witness to our lives and struggles.  My thoughts go with him in the words of another favorite slam poet (William Shakespeare, Hamlet):

“Good-night, sweet prince;
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. ”

Retired Professor, University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law

[1] Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel H. Elbert, Hawaiian Dictionary (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986), p. 26; my translation.

[2] Reproduction of petroglyph of two males in close proximity from a site in Moanalua Valley, O‘ahu, in Elspeth P. Sterling and Catherine C. Summers, Sites of O‘ahu (Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1978), p. 338.  The Hawaiian text is from Hawaiian Dictionary, op. cit., p. 338.

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