Wednesday, 24 May 2006

Hong Kong Is No Longer Hong Kong

Years have passed since the plan to develop a world-class cultural district on the reclaimed land in Western Kowloon was initiated. With the interwoven complications of political, economic and social factors, Sir Donald Tsang, the current chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, has reportedly called for an overhaul of the 30 billion-dollar development plan, which is widely believed to be his own baby, in an effort to seek a second and full term in office next year.

As a locally born and bred citizen for more than 30 years, I have never been apathetic to Hong Kong's political development as thousands, if millions, of my fellow citizens proudly proclaim. I do care about how Hong Kong should be run, and how it should manage its relationship with the Chinese leaders in Beijing. During the notorious financial crisis of 1997-1998, I had a naive expectation that the local government and business leaders were smart enough to realise the root problems of Hong Kong and were ready to roll up their sleeves to make Hong Kong a better home for its people. Unfortunately, almost a decade has passed, and improvements are still doomed.

While I am concerned with the economic and social development of Hong Kong, which has shown worrying signs that those in power are not only incapable of reversing the situation but being part of the problems themselves, I am even more concerned with the cultural development of Asia's world city. It is time for Hong Kong to sort out its way forward, as its unique cultural positioning as a dynamic showcase of hybrid and mixture of the East and West was already lost in 1997.

Call me pessimistic, sceptical, cynical or even politically incorrect, whatever you like to keep yourself happy and complacent. I must say that Hong Kong is no longer the meeting point of the East and West as it used to be. Hong Kong's success was built primarily on its unique status as a British colony at a time when China was painfully struggling for dignity and self-confidence. Hong Kong was the pioneer of Chinese reforms and revolution because it was a haven for dissidents, revolutionaries and refugees. Hong Kong became a showcase of free trade because exiled millionaires from Shanghai, seeking shelter here from warfare and the communists, built the first factories of the colony. Hong Kong's creative industries of the cinema and popular music thrived because the political rivals in China competing for a foothold in Hong Kong could only succeed by taking a soft approach to propaganda and making it relevant to millions living here. Now that Hong Kong is no longer a colony that represents some sort of exoticism in the eyes of the West and otherness to our fellow countrymen and women, it is no surprise at all that the Pearl of Orient has been losing its shine and glamour, long before the people here came to realise or being warned.

Should Hong Kong be free from the illness of amnesia and short-sightedness, fuelled by booming property and securities markets in the 1980s, among the majority of its people, it should have been able to better preserve its unique colours of exoticism and otherness that would help sustain Hong Kong's charm and glory as a meeting place of the East and West. Now that Hong Kong has already missed the boat, as dynamic, lively local communities are rapidly losing grounds to cold, characterless glass-walled skyscrapers; creativity and innovation to repetition to maximise economic gains; common sense to superstition; integrity to sensationalism and populism, I have never felt so bitterly disappointed and hopeless about the future of myself and the city, in which I used to take so much pride.

Perhaps "marginalisation" does not provide a sufficient depiction of the urgency and seriousness of the problem. Hong Kong is no longer Hong Kong with a unique character. At a time when globalisation reinforces the importance of uniqueness as a competitive advantage, among other things, Hong Kong is sinking into the abyss of being nameless and faceless in the rising tides of competition from not only China, but other cities of the world like Macao, which Hong Kong had taken the liberty to ignore for hundreds of years.

Thursday, 18 May 2006














Tuesday, 16 May 2006

Women with a Past

Pardon me if anything that follows seems offensive or founded on no reason.

I don't meant to be offensive - and my sincere apologies for any hard feeling of any reader and the women that I am going to discuss – but I don't like Isabelle Huppert, at least as seen in Le Pianiste (The Piano Teacher).

Simply put, she is not my cup of tea.

I chose to watch Le Pianiste at Le French May 2006 purely out of recommendation of a cultured friend of mine with remarkable capabilities of artistic appreciation. Pardon me again for my ignorance. I knew nothing about Isabelle Huppert before Le Pianiste. And I did not volunteer to watch it when it was screened in Hong Kong five years ago.

Sitting wearily in the incredibly comfortable cinema seat after a day's work, my eyes were staring at the silver screen but my mind couldn't help wandering in the wild, searching for an answer to the question, "If Isabelle Huppert isn't my type, who is?" Within the split of a second a few names popped up, but the mental surgery continued, "What are the similarities that these ladies from different origins and times of history share? Is there something in common in all of them that is/are irresistibly appealing to me?"

For a few friends, this question seems to be an easy one. But for me, it is never easy to explain it clearly to myself.

After about two hours of soul searching, "sophistication" may be the right word, although I am still not sure whether this is 100 per cent precise or not. Well, true, words are never meant to be precise in the scientific sense. Words, as the medium of expression and representation, are no more than an estimate. Talented writers are ordinary people who make better estimates than the others. They put things in comprehensible text to help other people better understand the world in which they are living. The possible limit of precision is always the result of comparison, not an absolute value.

I like sophisticated women. I like women who are intelligent, knowledgeable and wise. Sophistication can be a Godsend by birth, or an accumulation of life, regardless of its length, by the way. Sophistication is an internal achievement, and yet something that often manifests in the exterior in one way or another. Some people choose, consciously or unconsciously, which is a matter of debate but not a subject of discussion here, to declare their sophistication on their faces and in their behaviour. Some others tend to adopt a more discreet approach.

In my opinion, those who manage to keep their blinding beams of wisdom under clean white shirts and blue denim, and, at the same time, give hints here and there to a subtle declaration of their sophistication at unknown levels are the most charming. Call me a disciple of subtleties, but I am convinced that an eagerness for an explicit manifesto of one's mind is too simple and naive, if confrontational or unhelpful.

What makes life interesting is always the uncertainty and the unknown. The same theory applies to women.