Hong Kong As It Is

A Political Farce Unveiling

Hong Kong is staging a political farce. The candidate of the Chief Executive of the Government, also the incumbent Chief Executive, Donald Tsang, will surely win in today’s election where only a privileged group of 800 people in the whole HK’s 7 million population can vote.

What is more, these 800 people are mainly pro-Beijing businessmen and professionals, mostly appointed or elected in their respective professional sectors. The so called “election” is blatantly a sham – the election’s result is known even before the campaign starts, and most of the people in the territory, including me, are not eligible to vote.

Ironically, Mr Tsang staged a rally on the eve of the Election Day, summoning some HK pop stars and outstanding athletes, among others, to the occasion. Given that these HK pop stars and athletes never discuss in public at length or shown any interest in politics or social issues, and neither any of them is civic or political activist, the rally became an awkward show where they used the language they were uncomfortable with, to sing swan songs to Mr Tsang.

And today, after the election result was announced, the TV showed throngs of people surrounding Mr Tsang, congratulating him on his success. What success is this when the “success” is pre-determined and not won?

I feel disgust. When lies and fakes are obvious lies and fakes, but taken to be truth, and when so many people are willing to be the accomplices of these lies and fakes, can you not feel disgust? 

China As It Is

The decision of a China sexologist

china's sexologist Li yinheChina’s sexologist Li Yinhe, known for her liberal stand, announced on her blog on Feb 8 that her “leaders” (superiors) asked her to shut up. So she decides that from now on she will avoid not to be interviewed by the media and talk less on sex-related issues.

Ms Li supports same-sex marriage, for instance. This has caused controversy in China where a majority of people view same-sex marriage with disgust.

In announcing her decision to “shut up”, Li said China has not reached the stage of civilization as accepting same-sex marriage. Maybe she can only be the witness of a social change to happen, but not the participant of the change.

It is sad, very sad that a country of five-thousand year civilization has not reached the stage of allowing for a public intellectual discussion of sex-related issues, not to mention tolerance for same-sex marriages.

With no openness of mind and attitude, where will the five-thousand year civilization be directed to, despite its increasing wealth and booming economy?

I recall that I talked about my experience of censorship in China and a foreigner living in China responded that he could not access the gmail, but then so what? So what? Because he himself is not a Chinese and does not rely on Chinese language as the source of information. Of course, he didn’t feel the pinch. As a foreigner living in China, they simply have privileges the local Chinese don’t have in terms of access to information. hosts a major blogging community. The portal exercises censorship on a daily basis. Message can be just deleted without any prior notification. The extent is so that it has flamed public anger recently and a group of sina bloggers, including two law professors in Beijing, launched a joint protest letter, but it was blocked – of course.

The bloggers are becoming an influence force in the society and the government is quite worried. It is said that it is considering to request all who want to blog or respond to the blogs to be registered with id card numbers and their names. That would be a total disaster for China’s freedom of speech.

China As It Is

The undergraduate experience in China

Not only that more people come to China to study Mandarin, but more people are interested in studying in China’s universities as undergrads. 

This is no exception to Hong Kong students. A recent South China Morning Post article reported on their China experience, which lends a window into understanding what it is like being an overseas university student in China. Corruption and Marxist theories turn out to be their most overwhelming cultural discoveries.

Thursday, January 4, 2007
HK students in great leap northward

…But Hong Kong students find they have to make many adjustments on the mainland. One of the worries they share is how to maintain their standard of English during their time on the mainland.

“I really think the English lessons are unacceptable. If my English teacher was in Hong Kong, I think he would be sacked,” Ms Wong said. “I think my English is deteriorating after studying here for one year.”

Many also find studying Marxist political theories heavy going – although exemptions are possible depending on the regulations of individual universities.

“Sometimes I feel lonely because my classmates don’t understand why I find Marxist theories are so hard because they have studied them since they were children,” Ms Wong said.

Adjusting to different living styles is also a huge step the students have to make – including different hygiene standards, communal shower rooms and different working hours.

“There are four living in the same room in the dormitory and there is no privacy,” Ms Sze said. “At first I was not used to it because my room-mates don’t take showers every day.”

Mr Yiu, also a first-year student, said he missed the press freedom in Hong Kong. “In the newspapers in Hong Kong, there are opinion pages and people have different perspectives in looking at the same incident,” he said. “There is no such thing in mainland papers and something is missing here.”

Most students said they believed the understanding they were gaining about the cultural differences on the mainland would help them to mature because they had to take care of themselves.

But some of the cultural discoveries can be overwhelming.

A Hong Kong student who once helped to organise recreational events at her university said the experience helped her to understand how corruption bred on the mainland.

“For example, when students organise a ball, they might tell the university they needed 5,000 yuan for the event,” she said. “When the university approved the funding, most of the money went to the teachers and some went to the student union president. They may end up spending 100 yuan on the event because they borrow the equipment … instead of buying it.”

The student was amused to discover that the event’s organisers actually had two account books – a common practice among mainland companies – one for the university and one for themselves.

“Now I understand corruption starts from a young age,” she said.

Many said understanding how things worked on the mainland would help their careers because most were interested in jobs related to the mainland. Some were also hoping the mainland exposure could help them land civil service jobs in Hong Kong.

But many still had uncertainties about their prospects, with some wondering whether their qualifications would be recognised in Hong Kong.

Law student Vivian Li Sin-wan said she planned to spend more time in her final year to polish English because she had studied law in Chinese and would have to take professional examinations in Hong Kong if she wanted to practise here.

Medical student Dason Cheung said the pass rate for mainland-trained doctors in Hong Kong was low due to protectionism. While he might consider practising on the mainland, he would only consider international hospitals or clinics.

“The salaries for doctors in mainland hospitals are so low,” he said. “In Beijing, they may earn about 2,000 yuan a month. It is hard to survive unless you take red packets [bribes].”

Hong Kong As It Is

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.

Hong Kong As It Is Hong Kong As It Was

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.