Smells like Hong Konger Spirit

It’s better to burn out than to fade away.” So wrote the legendary rockstar, Kurt Cobain in his final letter before his tragic and violent self-inflicted end. These were words that came to mind as my friend, Country Girl, told a story from the perspective of her fallen brothers and sisters, the victims of alleged ‘suicide’, if you are to make the mistake of believing the official records. This sad sentence though came to me more as a question than a statement, how true is this? 

Kurt Cobain, – lead singer/guitarist of Nirvana, one of the most popular rock bands of the 1990s. He committed suicide in 1994 at the age of 27.

Many of you will likely know that Athena’s Army put on an exhibition over the last few weeks showcasing the declarations many protestors made in 2019 affirming that they won’t commit suicide, no matter the circumstance. As I read, examined and listened to the different parts of the exhibition, I attempted to answer my aforementioned question.

As someone unfamiliar with Hong Kong culture, and who’s knowledge of the 2019 protests was limited to the British news, these works of art provided the opportunity to learn more. Thanks to the works of art, I got my first taste of Hong Konger culture and history – I can now say I know who Lo Ting is! 

The exhibition itself was small but effective, not just at providing information, but in eliciting a visceral response of both injustice and sadness. Country Girl’s presentation interpreted the lost memories of the murdered protestors, all the memories they never got to create and what they might be thinking of the present situation. This served as an effective way to bring into focus what has been lost in the struggle for freedom, as well as showing the necessity of the anti-sucide declarations.

And that brings me to the most affecting part of the exhibition – the declarations themselves. Reading these personal letters to mothers, to children, to other family and friends, they struck me as heat-breaking war cries, and left me hoping that none of these declarations never needed sending, that all these protestors were able to return to their loved ones. They in turn answered my question, that when standing up to injustice and in the pursuit of freedom, it is better to burn out than to fade away. This is why we must keep the flame burning, that we must continue to fight for Hong Kong and her future. 

I invoked Kurt Cobain’s suicide note, not just because I felt it partially on theme but also because one of the sucide declarations touched me on a personal note as it spoke of depression and the stigma often associated with this. Over the last couple of decades, the UK has made big strides in normalising mental-health issues and improving the infrastructure and help available. Despite this, I know the internalised shame that so often accompanies depression and anxiety, the shame that can make it so difficult to speak out and ask for help. This is why I want to state forthrightly that I have battled depression and anxiety my whole life, that I even take prescription antidepressants, and that often I can’t be certain if I’ll see the day’s end. This does not diminish me as a person. I know that some Hong Kongers here in the UK have struggled and some have even lost their battle against depression. Please, if you need help there are several ways to find it. In emergencies, you can call the Samaritans for free on 116 123. For non emergencies, you can talk to your GP who can refer you to NHS services or you can find private counselling in every small town and city across the UK. Perhaps it might just be in the battle against depression, it is better to not burn out, but to fade away.

Other Crisis Contacts 

● Saneline can provide mental health information and crisis support. Usually, their phone line operates every day of the year between 4:30pm and 10:30pm. Their telephone number is 0300 304 7000. However, due to Coronavirus, it is not currently operating. You can leave a message on 07984 967708, leaving your first name and a contact number and you will be called back as soon as practicable. You can also email: Website:

 ● CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably). Specifically for men. Call 0800 585858. 5pmmidnight daily. Website:

 ● The Silverline for older people (55 and over). Call 0800 4708090 24/7. Website: 

● PAPYRUS Confidential suicide prevention advice for young people and adults up to 35. Opening hours: 9am-10pm Mon-Fri. Weekends 2pm-10pm. Hopeline: 0800 068 4141. Text: 07860 039967. Email: 

● Your GP Ring your GP surgery to get help and support from your doctor. Police/Ambulance If you or anyone else is in immediate danger or harm please call 999 for the police or ambulance service. – Nirvana’s most famous song Smells Like Teen Spirit

About Author

Bob James

From Manchester, UK. Grew up in local area before spending 8 years abroad in Mexico, Colombia and Turkey. Returned in 2018. Published short-story writer interested in learning more about Hong Kong and giving a local's perspective.