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When he was in China, he had written a poem named “Dumb Birds”, reflecting the situation he saw in China. It compares people in China to nightingales which yearn to sing but keep silent for fear of predators and enemies. “You have to keep quiet. If you talk, you’ll go behind bars. This is the story in China and in Egypt,” he says. The poem was included in his first collection of poems published in 1990 and later won him first prize in a poetry competition in his university in Egypt.

After a year of military service in Egypt, Gouda returned to Beijing. He disliked the corrupt Egyptian government and Beijing was the only place he knew outside of Egypt. He stayed there for three months before following a friend’s advice to move to Hong Kong in 1992 for greater work opportunities. He soon found a job in a company that needed an Arabic and Chinese speaking staff member and has been in Hong Kong ever since.

Life as a foreigner in Hong Kong was tough for Gouda in the beginning. During his first few years here, he struggled with loneliness and a lack of friends. Fortunately, he has become acquainted with local poets over the years and started to organise monthly literary salons with fellow poets. In 2010, he became a PhD candidate at the City University of Hong Kong and started teaching at the Department of Linguistics and Translation. Gradually, he began to call Hong Kong “home”. “Whenever I go overseas and I return to Hong Kong, I feel I’m coming home,” he says.

Sayed Gouda showing his poem “Dumb Birds”
Sayed Gouda showing his poem “Dumb Birds”

Despite settling in Hong Kong, Gouda has never forgotten the painful memories of 1989. Finally in 2014, 25 years after the Tiananmen Square crackdown, he published Closed Gate, a novel based on his own experiences during the Tiananmen Square protests. It tells of the emotional journey a Palestinian exchange student undergoes during the 1989 Democracy Movement and compares the suffering of the people in China to that of the Palestinians.

Shortly after the publication of Closed Gate, a five-month teaching job he had accepted at the Beijing Normal University was abruptly cancelled. The staff from the university simply informed him that his work visa had become a “serious problem” without any further explanation. Gouda speculates the underlying cause of the cancellation is the sensitive nature of his novel. But he has no regrets about publishing it. “I will just say what I have to say. And then just write what I just have to write,” he says firmly.