Whitehead by Collier Nogues

detention center / driving range / student dormitory

This poem is composed inside an immersive spherical photograph. If you have a VR headset, you can experience the poem in 3D. On a computer or device in 2D, you can navigate the poem using arrow keys, a mouse, and/or device motion sensors. To explore the poem in either mode, click here or use the QR code at left.

A note for readers outside of Hong Kong:

Whitehead Detention Center was the largest of Hong Kong’s closed camps built to temporarily house Vietnamese asylum-seekers during the 1980s and 90s, when Hong Kong was a port of first asylum. Operational from 1989 to 1997, its official capacity was 28,000 internees. Like most other closed camps, Whitehead was run by the Correctional Services Department, and the conditions were prison-like. In the mid-1990s, the Center was the site of multiple protests as Hong Kong officials carried out the policy of forced repatriation to Vietnam. Some internees had lived by then at Whitehead long enough to come of age and begin families in the camp. In 1995, human rights lawyers for several Vietnamese internees filed habeus corpus petitions, arguing that the Hong Kong government could not indefinitely detain their clients and must release them from administrative custody. The success of these petitions strengthened Hong Kong’s rule of law in the years immediately preceding the colony’s return to China, a country without habeus corpus protections.

When the Detention Center was built, the area was rural, but over the years the city of Ma On Shan grew up around it and the land became increasingly valuable. Since its closure in 1997, the grounds have been gradually developed into a golf driving range and several luxury housing estates. The lone Detention Centre building still standing in 2009 has been replaced by a construction site slated to become a dormitory for City University of Hong Kong students. The dormitory is projected to open in 2026, the 30th anniversary of the largest Vietnamese anti-repatriation protests at Whitehead, and the 7th anniversary of the largest university-student-led protests against the contemporary erosion of Hong Kong’s rule of law.

Photo credit: Google Maps Street View, ©2009, 2017, 2019, 2022

Collier Nogues is assistant professor of Creative Writing at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. She writes at the intersection of digital and documentary poetics, with an emphasis on making connections across decolonization and demilitarisation movements in the U.S. and in the Pacific. Her poetry collections include the hybrid print/interactive volume The Ground I Stand On Is Not My Ground (2015) and On the Other Side, Blue (2011). Her creative and scholarly work has been supported by fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Ucross Foundation, Vermont Studio Center, and the Hong Kong Research Grants Council, and her writing has appeared in Jacket2, ASAP/J, The Volta, At Length, the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A-Day Project, and elsewhere. She is a core collaborator in the Yale-NUS project DOCUMENT, which gathers artists, writers, and historians to explore transdisciplinary approaches to archives. She also edits poetry for Juked.