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A Hakka Woman - Di Lebowitz's story

My name is Di Lebowitz and I am from Hong Kong. My poem in the Transformative Power of Tattoo anthology is called 'Subversion' and it is about how my tattoos have been and continue to be a part of my journey in reclaiming my body in a culture where tattoos are still considered taboo for women. 


Although I am from Hong Kong, London is where I have chosen to settle and I am so lucky to be able to do what I love – write, read and teach people self defense. Being a diasporic Hong Konger, going home isn’t always an option and I have had to learn to find pieces of ‘home’ here.


The biggest part of home is my Paupau – my Hakka maternal grandmother. She’s 92 years old and lives in Hong Kong. Paupau raised me and taught me more than I had the patience to learn. She taught me how to love, show compassion and be a strong and resilient woman. Sadly, Paupau has dementia, and her memories keep falling out of her head until one day she won’t recognise me. Losing her would be to lose my home, forever.


How do I preserve my home, my grandmother? There needed to be something more tangible than the plethora of photographs of her around my office walls. There had to be more than the half-remembered Hakka recipes I attempt to recreate but can’t. There had to be more. And there is. It is her written story.


Paupau can’t read nor write, she was denied an education. That’s what happens when you’re born both poor and a girl, become a WW2 refugee, and then are sold as a child bride at only 7 years old.


But I can, so I did. I wrote down everything I could remember about Paupau’s life from the stories she told me. The more the book took shape, the more I realised this wasn’t just my personal way of honouring my Paupau’s legacy. This was one woman’s way to desperately clutch onto whatever home she had left, a home like Paupau’s memory that was fast slipping away.


It wasn’t an easy process, is anything worth doing ever easy? Midway through editing, my publisher went into liquidation. Between my impatience and the lack of uptake from publishers, I wanted to give up, but I knew my grandmother wouldn’t let me. Giving up just doesn’t exist in her mindset.


With the help of fans from my first book, friends and generous strangers, A Hakka Woman was published on 7 March.


Not too bad for a self defense instructor. Most people who only know me as a writer or a self defense instructor are rather surprised when they learn about my ‘other side’ but I see them as complimentary.

My grandmother never learnt how to use her voice or that she even had one. Paupau suffered decades of domestic violence and sexual assault and never learnt how to fight back. Two generations later, I, her granddaughter, also became a survivor of sexual assault when I was in my late teens. My books, The Marks Left on Her and A Hakka Woman tell our story. It is in my 'day job' that I teach people how to set boundaries, build mental resilience to have a voice, and to fight back.


So I guess it took some time but I have finally found my home – it was within me all along.

* * *


Di Lebowitz's published work includes The Marks Left on Her, 'Subversion' in the Transformative Power of Tattoo, and A Hakka Woman. She is a Self Defense Expert in London.

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