Dismal maternal leave in Hong Kong

Starting from 1 January 2007, parents of new born children in Germany are entitled to share 14 months of parental leave with two thirds of their net salary paid. The news reminded me of the dismal maternity leave Hong Kong mothers have.

While the mothers in Germany have maternity leave of up to 14 months, mothers in Hong Kong have a paltry 2.5 months only. And do take note that it is maternal leave, not parental leave, meaning that only mothers are entitled to the leave and father are not allowed to share in the leave.

While the dismal maternal leave is affecting many families, there is little voice raised against the system. Well, maybe once a year, women labour groups come out in protest but their voice is quickly submerged. It seems that people are not satisfied with the system but they accept it as it is because they don’t believe that they should/can change it.

Hong Kong is an advanced economy in Asia. But its labour protection is hardly mature and advanced. So are other advanced economies in Asia such as Taiwan – Taiwan has only 56 days of maternal leave. I wonder if an economy is still an advanced one when the government is so reluctant to give a better quality of life to its people, such as giving a generous parental leave to those becoming mothers and fathers.

What Hong Kong Star Ferry’s Tragic End Exposes

The Hong Kong Star Ferry Being Torn DownHong Kong Star Ferry along with its clocktower was dismantled eventually, despite the last-ditch efforts and protests of civil groups.

It was heart wrenching to see the clock tower perched atop the pier being torn down.

When I was a high school student, the Hong Kong City Hall, which is situated next to the pier, was the cultural hub and housed the largest public library then in Hong Kong. I passed by the pier a lot, as a result, on the way to the library or to see arts performance.

As time goes by, Cultural Centre at Tsim Sha Tsui becomes the cultural hub, along with the Arts Museum, Space Museum there. I used to take the star ferry from Central to arrive at the Cultural Centre and the Tsim Sha Tsui area.

The star ferry at Central was part of my fond memories of my growing up and living in Hong Kong in general.

Now the pier is gone. Many things surrounding its being torn down make me fume.

First of all, the star ferry company said that the clocktower at the ferry must be demolished because it could not find a company able to replace its parts. A big lie.

According to a report from South China Morning Post, Melvyn Lee, a director of Thwaites and Reed, the clock-making company that maintains London’s Big Ben, admits that he can help. The British company restores clocks all over the world – in Australia, the United States, India and former British colonies that have English clocks. And Mr Lee even promised to visit Hong Kong and help save the clock.

Second, shouldn’t those decision makers in the Hong Kong Office of Antiquities and Monuments be held accountable for the demolition of the pier? They are the ones being put in charge of protecting Hong Kong’s monuments. The irony is that these people only started to voice out their opinion when the demolition work was already underway. What is their brilliant opinion? The government should try to move part of demolished bricks and walls to another site to recover the clocktower.

If the policy-decision makers in the Office of Antiquities and Monuments can come up with this brilliant idea, what hope can I still hold out for the preservation of Hong Kong’s past and history? Their ideas echo those of the government who said that it will recruit a consultancy firm (yes, when there is problem, the Hong Kong government always has one way to deal with it – pay a huge sum of money to recruit a consultancy firm to conduct research) and see how the look of the old pier can be incorporated into the new pier. And may I mind you that the government said this when it was faced with mounting pressures to stop demolition, so you can regard this as kind of concession from the government.

I reckon that it is not difficult to come to grasps with the idea that when a monument or historic spot be demolished or removed, it is doomed, completely. The replica of it at somewhere else, or in a museum, is a sign of history, but not history itself, because it is no longer part of people’s life, their collective memory and history. The replica will attract tourists, but not the people living in this territory.

The idea is easy to grasp, but it seems that those decision makers fail to see it. 

The unbearable noise in the bus

IIt was 8am, and I was riding a bus to work. The noise belching out from the screen hanging in the front and middle of the bus compartment was so loud that even though I put on my ipod, the noise was still “noise” and it was just unbearable, especially in the early morning when I would need some quiet time and a clear mind.

This screen is part of an entertainment broadcast system common on all Hong Kong buses. Special entertainment programmes are produced just for broadcasting on the bus through this system, along with many advertisements. All the bus companies benefit, of course, from such a device. So is the private company which conceives this idea and owns the service. Who to suffer? Those having to commute on the bus and who hate noise and stupid entertainment shows.

It is hard to imagine this would happen on the tubes of London, where many commuters are seen reading newspapers, books or magazines, and the flooding of noise from advertisements and stupid shows is certainly not to happen. People will protest.

Here in Hong Kong, we keep silent, and are submerged in the noise day and night, while the bus companies and the concerned parties continue to make handsome money from the “roadshow” – the noise system they name.

I filed a complaint to the bus company and the following day, the roadshow was on as usual, and loud as usual.

Farewell to Hong Kong’s Star Ferry Pier

riding past the new star ferry pier in Central
riding past the new star ferry pier in Central

Hong Kong’s Star Ferry Pier in the Central has serviced Hong Kong for 48 years and sadly, was closed yesterday for demolition to make way for reclamation and re-development, a fate that so many other sites of heritage and historial interest in the territory have been dealt. Thousands of people emerged yesterday to use the cameras/camcorders to record the last day of the ferry using the old pier. I was one of them, spurred by my fond memories of the pier and a deep sense of loss. This pier is about 20 minute bus from where I live and I used to take the star ferry from Central to Tsim Sha Tsui, so as to take in the spectacular harbour view and get some rest during the short boat ride.

star ferry pier in central, the old one
star ferry pier in central, the old one

The pier has become part of my memory about the city, my growing up and my life. It is no doubt also part of the collective memory, testified by the big crowd which turned up to memorize the loss. Hong Kong’s home affairs secretary Ho Chi Ping said those against the demolition of the star ferry are abusing the collective memory. I hope he did come in person to the ferry pier yesterday and see by himself how collective that memory is.

protest
protest

When the city loses its collective memory, what is left is stronger sense of isolation and alieniation among its citizens. At the same time, Hong Kong is also losing its uniqueness and charms in its quest to modernize itself to become “Asia’s World City” by demolishing sites of heritage and burying its past.

Inconceivable and conceivable: Margaret Chan picked to head WHO

Margaret ChanThe news that Margaret Chan, the former health director of Hong Kong, becomes the new director -general of World Health Organizaton(WHO) appalls me. For those living through the SARS and bird flu epidemics in Hong Kong, they know pretty well how competent Margarete Chan is and I am sure they all find, just like me, the fact that she is picked to head WHO is inconceivable and not justified.

Well, to some extent, it is not inconceivable – she is picked because china is campaigning hard on behalf of her and the other countries have to give “face” to China, a rising economic power on the world stage. That is real sad. Because an organization as important as WHO should be headed by one who has passion, integrity, capability and experiences, especially of dealing with developing countries. Margarat Chan doesn’t seem to me a person who possess any of the attributes.

She hided the truth from the public when dealing with bird flu and SARS crisis so as not to alarm the society; She refused to go to the orginating place of SARS to make inspections for fear of getting infected; she was slow in taking actions to stem an epidemic like SARS, resulting in many deaths; she has no experience in dealing with developing countries which desparately need to grapple with urgent health crisis such as AIDS. 

And my criticism is not alone –  she was even criticized in the government-commissioned reports reviewing the government handling of the SARS and Bird Flu crisis.

The irony is, she has no chance to be promoted to such an important international post if not for her poor performance in her HK government post and subsequently being transferred to work in WHO as head of a sub-section.  

The whole fanfare awakes me to a bare fact: the order of the day is politics – not about merit, justice or fairness. At the end of the day, the global players don’t care if the world will be better. They care only what is good for them.