Chong later came across the pastor through a chance work encounter. She heard a conversation between the pastor and a man who asked him how long he was jailed for. The pastor said he had not been jailed but was fined HK$5,000. The man remarked that the pastor had been lucky. Chong recalls the pastor answered, “‘But I compensated with my reputation, family, friends and my soul.’”
“That line was shocking!” Chong says as she clenches her fists. “Sometimes when we write a play, we are just being an intermediary, distilling the essence of daily life so it can appear on stage for those who did not witness the real version.”
Chong provokes the audience to re-examine the verdict through the tense conversation between the pastor and the secretary and raises the problem of false memories brought about by self-deception and a selective memory.
This inner psychology is hinted at from time to time in her plays. “I am very interested in human nature. Otherwise I wouldn’t have studied psychology,” she says. In her undergraduate studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, she learnt how to observe and to identify the factors that contribute to human behaviour, such as human biology, thinking patterns, major life events, family and society.
As a result, Chong feels empathy for people who make mistakes. “No one is born to be evil. It is a step-by-step process. Any discussion of humanity should avoid black-or-white judgement.”
Just as the play encourages people to reflect on their inner being, Chong often examines herself too. As she recalls her mistakes in a past relationship, she says that she used to blame external factors for problems, until it dawned on her that, “I hurt that person because I was selfish.” These moments of clarity can arise in the most mundane moments, like when she is brushing her teeth. Over time, she has learnt to go easy on herself about past mistakes. “It’s not necessarily that you are forgiving yourself but you realise that life is made up of lots of regrets and mistakes.” Chong believes the important thing is to learn from them.
Although she studied psychology, Chong found she was a person who became too emotionally involved to be able to work in the field. So she pursued an advanced diploma programme at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts on scriptwriting, a subject she had always been keen on.
It has been a decade since she started working as a playwright and Chong still relishes the challenges. She gives herself a new one every time she writes a play, and experiences the pain that accompanies it. “The enjoyment is so complicated. There are a lot of things in life that are painful but you would enjoy them. That’s masochism. And that’s what art really is.”
For Chong, the pain comes from her own expectations for her work. She always wants a different approach, a different character. “This pain is difficult to understand. It’s about failing to pass the standard you set for yourself. It’s exhausting. It messes up family life,” she says.