Tick tock, pop, and sinking lifeline: A Review of ‘Mrs. Kelly’s Monster’

What’s the first impression about the following time sequence?

It’s 6:30 a.m. / 7:15 a.m. / It is 8:25 a.m. / It is 9 o’clock. / It is 9:20. / The time is 9:36 a.m. / It is 9:54. / It is 10:01 a.m. / It is 10:40. / It is 10:58. / It is 11:05 a.m., the day of the monster. / The clock says 12:29. / At 12:53 … / It is 1:06. / The clock … says 1:40. / It is 1:43, and it’s over.

Seem a bit too scattered, and obscure? What if with the additions of the following onomatopoeic ‘pops’?

With each heartbeat a loudspeaker produces an audible popping sound. The steady pop, pop, popping isn’t loud, but it dominates the operating room.

It is 8:25 a.m.  The heartbeat goes pop, pop, pop, 70 beats a minute, steady.

The chatter of the half-inch drill fills the room, drowning the rhythmic pop, pop, pop of the heart monitor.

The microscopic landscape heaves and subsides in time to the pop, pop, pop of the heart monitor.

The heart monitor continues to pop, pop, pop, 70 beats a minute, 70 beats a minute.

The carotid twists and dances to the electronic pop, pop, popping.

The heart monitor pop, pop, pops with reassuring regularity.

The heart monitor goes pop, pop, pop, steady.

In the background the heart monitor goes pop, pop, pop, 70 beats a minute, steady.

The heartbeat goes pop, pop, pop, 70 beats a minute.

Pop, pop, pop …

… …

The tick tock on the clock echoes the pops of heartbeat, threading the overall story of Mrs. Kelly’s Monster.

The story was written by Jon Franklin in 1978, depicting the process of a brain surgeon by Dr. Ducker to cure Mrs. Kelly of an aneurysm – ‘the monster’ – which has long agonized her, ending in that ‘the monster won’.

With vivid, but concise descriptions, the author gradually pulls readers in, showing how Mrs. Kelly had suffered over the years before she made the final decision to take the surgeon, a hard one on which she staked on life.

Delicate, vivid details of the whole operation bring readers to the scene, even to hearts and minds of Dr. Ducker: Readers could almost see Mrs. Kelly’s ‘crescent’ scalp, skulls, and the ‘monster’ under operation and how Dr. Ducker operates through the ‘journey’; also could feel is his almost meticulous concentration and fragile nerve throughout the process.

Running through is the ‘tick tocks’ of clock and ‘pops’ of Mrs. Kelly’s heartbeat when fighting the monster, which tightens the story as well as reader’s heartstring, shadowing nervousness, excitements and jitters upon readers’ heart. Using the ‘tick tocks’ and ‘pops’ as a string, the author almost manages to control the heartbeat of readers by a simple pull, until it comes to the final collapse when ‘the monster won’.

Tick tock.


Tick tock.


… …

Until a unanticipated, gigantic collapse:

The point readers finally realize what the onomatopoeia symbolize:

A sinking lifeline.


Filipina domestic helper fighting for her son

HONG KONG_ Early Sunday morning, outside the Sacred Heart Church of Sai Kung, canopies have been set up against the rising, dazzling sun, presenting a vista of colorful square matrices. Hundreds of Filipino domestic helpers have already gathered there.


Olivia, 45, a Hong Kong domestic helper Photo: Eileen

Olivia, 45, a Hong Kong domestic helper Photo: EileenAmong them is Olivia (who does not want her full name revealed), a 45-year-old domestic helper, who is doing voluntary work for the church while waiting for the ceremony to start.

For Olivia and many of her counterparts, the event on their only rest day each week is most precious.

“Many of them go worship every Sunday in various churches,” says Sherry Wong, a volunteer at Hong Kong Union, a non-governmental organization serving local ethnic minorities, “The community gives them a sense of belonging.”

After church, they usually go together – in groups of 30 people or so – to parks, having fun there till curfew, the last minute they are allowed to be out.

These weekly activities provide major relief for their daily toil under long, painful separation from family, says Wilma Carlos, a friend of Olivia’s, who is also a domestic helper in Hong Kong.

“We are like a family here because we live very far from our own family,” Olivia says. “We love each other and show care to each other.”

According to statistics from GovHK, – an official Hong Kong website – Olivia is one of the 160,850 local domestic helpers.

Having arrived in 1995, she has been working here for over 15 years and is now serving a local family in Causeway Bay. Prior to that, she also worked in Singapore for two years.

“Singapore is a nice place where people are more equally treated,” she says. “Some people here [in Hong Kong] are very mean. They feel like they are really high in society. They look down on us because we are just maids.”

However, she decided to come to Hong Kong because the pay is much higher. She needs money to support her family and the education of her son.

Having left home since 19, Olivia has become the breadwinner ever after. Both her sister and brother married early and work in the Philippines with measly wages, as is the common case for most Filipinos without a higher level of education.

In 1999, she went back to get married and had a baby. However, six month after their marriage, her husband lost his job. So she returned to Hong Kong and continued with her job when her son was only one year old.

“Maybe that’s my luck, I accept that already,” she says, “But I must support my son to university, so that he won’t be like me.”

Aware that education is crucial in making his outlook brighter in her home country, she makes every endeavor here to earn him a better future.

Her routine work includes all household chores: cooking, washing clothes, shopping, cleaning up, etc. A normal working day ranges from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Monday to Saturday. Every two years, she is allowed a 25-day holiday, the only period she could go back home to spend with her family, especially her beloved son, who is already 13 now.

Travelling expenses, which is to be covered all by themselves, is another hindrance for them to go back, even on holidays, says Wong, the NGO volunteer.

“I really miss my son, and my husband,” a look of sorrow flashes across Olivia’s eyes accompanied by a slight sigh, “Sometimes I cry when I look at their pictures, when nobody is around. But I have to carry on.”

“He’s really my inspiration, and he’s the No.1 in his school,” she says, with a proud smile passing across her face.

Meanwhile, she says her son also needs her and wants her to be back all the time.

“Just two years, I’ll be back. I hope to send him to university myself,” she says.

Inside threats constitute greatest concerns for top Chinese leaders, Anderlini says

HONG KONG_ The greatest concern for top Chinese leaders of the Communist Party is threats from powers inside, Jamil Anderlini said during his speech on “The Bo Xilai scandal” at the HKBU-SOPA forum Thursday.

Jamil Anderlini, from Financial Times (By Eileen)

Jamil Anderlini, from Financial Times (By Eileen)

Anderlini has been a winner of Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA) awards twice. This year, he was awarded for excellence in feature writing. Having worked as foreign correspondent in Beijing for over six years, Anderlini is now Beijing bureau chief of the Financial Times.

During the speech, he talked about unknown aspects concerning power manipulation of top Chinese leaders predicated on his investigations of the Bo Xilai case. He also shared his experience on conducting investigative reporting under China’s political environment.

The open trial of Bo, is a ‘show’ to demonstrate how ‘open’ the legitimate system is, which in reality served major political goals of Chinese central power, Anderlini said.

“The first [goal] is all parts of consolidation of power by the current leadership and the second is that the party will continue to hold power in the foreseeable future,” he said, “An open trial is not open.”

Foreign media are only allowed to stay in an area far from the courtroom when he went to cover the trial in August.

“Bo is already a dead tiger,” Anderlini said, quoting a Chinese military posterity whose identity he did not want to reveal, suggesting that current top leaders have been using the Bo affair to distract people and secure their power.

“Bo’s case is nothing about money,” he said, “Top Chinese leaders care more about power than money. Their collection of money is actually an indication of insecurity: They are afraid that one day they will step down.”

Son of Bo Yibo, a privileged Chinese senior, Bo is of great nobility and family background, which could have secured him for top positions under the political environment of China.

“Were it not for the fight between Bo and Wang, or his wife killing Neil, Bo might be the president,” Anderlini said.

On November 15, 2011, Neil Heywood, an English businessman associated with Bo’s family, was found dead in a hotel in Chongqing. Wang Lijun, then vice-mayor and head of Public Security Bureau of Chongqing, was responsible for investigating the case. During the investigation, he secretly informed Bo that Gu Kailai (Bo’s wife) was involved. On February 6, 2012, Wang traveled to Consulate General of the United States in Chengdu and asked for political asylum out of considerations of personal security.

In his speech, Anderlini also showed pictures related to Bo’s case from various media, implicating hidden facets behind the scandal, concerning which many stories could be revealed. The same holds true for many other political issues in China.

Back to investigative journalism in Asia, a broader theme central to this year’s SOPA forum, he said Chinese media are very much restricted, while foreign media enjoy more freedom and advantage.