One of Poon Hiu-wing’s mother’s favourite things to do was catching the latest blockbuster with her daughter at the cinema, sometimes followed by a visit to apparel stores in trendy districts and hipster dessert places tucked away in walk-up buildings.
But the mother has not set foot in a cinema ever since the murder of her pregnant daughter in Taiwan two years ago upended her life, tore her family apart and froze her concept of time.
“Every passing day feels like a year,” the woman, who has been suffering from insomnia, depression and post-traumatic disorder, said during an emotional interview on Friday. “I can’t go there any more ... They trigger my emotions.”
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Poon’s mother is still on medication and has to pay for frequent visits to a clinical psychologist. Yet the woman, in her late 50s, said she was now ready to speak up for her “pure and filial” daughter, after her reliance on authorities and politicians had so far failed to bring justice to her beloved 19-year-old.
“I have only one daughter, whom I love most dearly, my most precious daughter. I was left with no option. I have to speak up for her. I need to help her get justice,” said the mother, who prefers to remain anonymous.
Poon was allegedly murdered by her boyfriend Chan Tong-kai, then 20, during a trip to Taiwan in February 2018.
Chan immediately fled the self-ruled island, and although he ended up serving 19 months in a Hong Kong jail for money-laundering offences over the incident, the city’s courts could not try him for the killing due to the lack of jurisdiction. The impasse over the case was cited by city leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in introducing the government’s ill-fated extradition bill, which touched off months of increasingly violent protests last year and was ultimately abandoned.
With no formal extradition process in place between Hong Kong and Taiwan, Chan had claimed he would hand himself over when he was released in October last year, but he has yet to do so, citing the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and politics as factors. He is currently staying in a safe house provided by police.
Since first feeling comfortable enough to enter the public limelight weeks ago, Poon’s mother’s mission has become campaigning for Chan’s surrender, even though it has so far proven an uphill battle as Taiwan and the Hong Kong authorities appear more interested in playing political hardball over the case.
But her bittersweet memories of Poon had helped her soldier on, she recalled, calling her daughter “a pure and filial girl”.
“She didn’t know how to guard herself against others, and that’s why she was murdered,” she said.
Poon used to talk to her about everything, she said, except for their birthday surprises. “She always pretended she didn’t remember. And then she would buy us specially designed cakes,” she recalled, as her face lit up.
Their common interest was travelling, with the middle-class family traipsing across Asia and Australia, she said.
Poon’s favourite destination was Japan – she liked getting the coolest contact lenses and wrapping herself up in traditional kimonos for photographs.
At her old St Stephen’s College, Poon had excelled in academia and won a scholarship. Her teachers praised her for her quick wit and willingness to help others.
Had her life not been tragically cut short, she wanted to start her own business one day, inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit of her parents, both of whom run businesses.
The mother’s chuckles were replaced by tears, however, as she contemplated what her life had been like in the past two years since Poon’s death.
“We think of our daughter every day, especially during festive seasons. Our home feels so empty now,” she said. “Every day we are crawling through life, a very tormented life.”
She said she still dreamed of Poon every now and then – when she was able to fall asleep, that is – usually seeing her lying on a bed or kneeling on the ground.
“Her body was so feeble. Every time I think about it, it breaks my heart. I feel very sad seeing her like that,” she said.
She said she was also haunted by the months of unrest that her daughter’s death indirectly triggered, with the fallout from the extradition bill and the ensuing protests leaving Hong Kong as divided as ever.
“In the whole saga, we are a victim and a tiny citizen. It’s very unfortunate that her case became the starting point of a political storm. We were very sad. We could not have seen that coming,” she said.
Some had even blamed her daughter for what has happened, but she appealed for understanding.
“I understand that my daughter’s case has sparked so many negative experiences for others. I was saddened by it. This is not what I want to see either,” she said.
One of the most frequent questions the press had for her these days would probably be, “Can you forgive Chan?”
She had already made a public offer to pay for Chan’s transport and flights to Taiwan so long as he was willing to go, but it was too early to decide whether she could ever forgive him, let alone write a mitigation letter for him in any future court proceedings, she said.
That would depend on his sincerity should the day he appeared before a Taiwanese court ever come, she said.
Indeed, their paths had only ever crossed once, despite all that has happened.
Poon met Chan during the summer of 2017, she said, when they were working in the same summer job. She had only seen him once, when she bumped into them in a park, but he did not greet her, she recalled. Later, back at home, she had advised Poon to look for someone more “forthcoming”, although she let her daughter make her own decisions.
She said she doubted if she would ever get to confront him again, but if she did, there was one thing on her mind.
“I really want to know why he had to kill my daughter,” she said.