Saturday, 30 December 2006

給Anita的信

Dearest Anita,

你好嗎?這些日子以來,你到哪兒玩去了?否則這一年來怎會影蹤全無?

自從去年你到夢中來看我,轉眼又一年了。

到了十二月,心頭總免不了一陣鬱悶和傷感。即使上個月升了職,算是過去三年來的辛勞得到了正式的認同,還是揮不去心上的陰霾。

也許,自從三年前你在十二月離開之後,我這輩子的十二月,再也不一樣了。

不知道為甚麼,我喜歡的人和事,總是選擇在十二月離去。除了你,還有樂蒂和尤敏兩位前輩。即使我跟她們素未謀面,只在發黃的照片和老電影中瞻仰過她們的丰采,總算是結下了難得的緣分。就像你一樣,她們的氣質和才藝,如今在香港已經絕跡了。我想我有生之年,也不會再有這個福分,見識到能跟你們媲美的明星。

也許你要取笑我太武斷,我才三十多歲,人生還有一段很長的路要走。但是,生命的長短,有誰能說得準呢?當日有誰猜想得到,你慶祝了四十歲生日還沒到三個月,就要跟我們說再見?

即使我的生命真的還有很多日子,我仍然深信,香港再也培養不了像你那樣的全能表演藝術家,更孕育不了像樂蒂和尤敏那樣高貴優雅、純真清麗的女性典範。

為甚麼?想你也應該很清楚,當這裡的一切變得唯利是圖、錙銖必較,付出的就有合理期望要得到回報;當人與人之間只是顧客和供應商貨銀兩訖的利益關係;當刻苦耐勞、律己以嚴、體諒和關懷淪為笑柄,被貼上「戇居」、「愚笨」、「感情用事」、「失去理性」等標籤,我就知道,需要用心表達、用心體會的藝術,已經距離香港愈來愈遠了。

缺少了藝術的薰陶,香港人的人格、氣質和修養也不會好到哪兒去。

所以,兩星期前在演藝學院欣賞《帝女花》第二回合的時候,看到因感冒而失了聲的嗲姐咬緊牙關,聲嘶力竭地唱出每一個字、說出每一句口白,我只感到一陣無法抑止的心痛和恐懼,真想衝上台去抱住她放聲大哭--就像三年前看你Classic Moment演唱會的時候一樣。

我真的很心痛,原來只有在她抱病演出的時候,那麼多觀眾才會覺得她專業,才會覺得自己付錢買票受到尊重,才會給她遲來而應得的掌聲。

我真的很害怕,害怕她這次勉強自己,賠上了嗓子,也賠上了事業。

因為我已經失去了你,實在不想連她也失去了。

三年前,你離開了;如今仍活躍於舞台而我打從心底裡喜歡和敬佩的表演藝術家,就只有嗲姐了。

儘管我也免不了心下暗忖,不知還有多少機會看到她的演出。畢竟她已經不年輕了,而且近年粵劇市場嚴重萎縮,觀眾、演員和編劇也後繼無人。

唉,真是愈想愈絕望。

說起來真荒謬,不是嗎?我還不到四十歲,但身邊滿載美好回憶的人和事,不是消失殆盡,就是漸漸變成明日黃花。腦海裡的回憶,從此變成沒有腳的鳥兒,只能一直飛到油盡燈枯的一刻。

這些年來香港陸續拆毀了多少建築物,街道面貌變得如何面目全非,相信不必我多說,你也很清楚了。香港枉有美食天堂之譽,卻連我從小最愛的腸粉、魚蛋粉等小吃,也被千篇一律的味精濃湯和偷工減料的機壓河粉所蹧蹋。現在居然要老遠的跑到澳門去,才吃得著由專心致志的粉麵師傅,勤勤懇懇地揉搓出來的鮮甜和甘香。

就在兩個星期前,陪著我度過美好童年的中環舊天星碼頭和鐘樓,也落得粉身碎骨、灰飛煙滅的下場,真不知道像我這樣才三十出頭的人,還可以把回憶和思念寄托在甚麼地方。

近日Patricia回來了,跟她談起你和嗲姐的時候,我還是忍不住掉眼淚。她總勸我收拾心情,繼續發掘這世上更美好、更精彩的東西。我當然明白這道理,但哪有這麼容易?老實說,我已經給你們寵壞了,總覺得旁人再好,說甚麼也比不上你們--不是技巧,也不是外貌,而是對表演鄭重而虔敬的心。你們的歌聲都是發自肺腑的,聽在耳裡,總讓我心裡泛起一陣難以言喻的悸動。

如今過盡千帆,還是沒遇上另一把能夠挑動那破碎情懷的歌聲。

古語有云:「涓滴之恩,湧泉相報。」既然領受了你們的恩惠,自當盡力報答,未敢稍忘。

說起你和嗲姐,在性格方面可能很不同,但你們對表演的執著和熱誠、對歌迷和觀眾只管付出、不問收穫的情義,其實沒有兩樣的。你們都是寧願自己吃虧,也不肯讓歌迷和觀眾失望的有心人,讓我不得不問一句:我們到底何德何能,怎配得上接受你們如此厚愛?

其實你們不必告訴我,跟隨了你們這許多年,我早知道你們會這樣回答:「這是我們對歌迷和觀眾的責任和道義。這是應該的。」

可是,現在的人心和以前不一樣了。你們認為理所當然的事情,現在可能被人嗤之以鼻,甚至反過來成為他們批評的理由。儘管每個人也有自己的想法,但看到這些批評的時候,總是忍不住替你們難過--因為那些批評本來是不應該出現的啊。

不過,現在事情總算過去了,只希望瑕不掩瑜,大家會永遠記住你們的好,那我就安心了。

好了,就說到這兒吧。謹祝你和Ann姊新年快樂。有空的話,也請你為嗲姐和香港的未來多點祝禱吧。

Forever yours,

Wednesday, 27 December 2006

逃避過去,傷痕纍纍--《傷城》觀後

看完了《傷城》,才明白為甚麼這部電影在香港的票房,比不上金雕玉砌的《滿城盡帶黃金甲》。

《傷城》明顯地延續了《無間道》沉鬱傷感的調子,在全城消費五十億來度聖誕的當兒,誰還願意記起三、四年前貧病交煎的惡夢?

也許因為看戲前沒期望,總覺得《傷城》拍得不算差,攝影和配樂尤其出色,可惜宣傳語「見證完美殺局的誕生」,因循苟且地把電影定位為犯罪懸疑片,註定了要讓觀眾失望。

所以,有影評說編導太早揭破了幕後黑手的廬山真面目,主角的自白也嫌太冗長,削弱了戲劇的張力,我也不會感到意外。如果以懸疑片視之,《傷城》的確不及格。

在這消費者權燄高漲的年頭,令觀眾失望,就是十惡不赦;即使作品水準再高,也不會有甚麼好評。

其實《傷城》的片名,早已透露了一點玄機。這根本不是甚麼懸疑劇情片,而是一篇簡淡的影像散文,透過兩個來自不同的城市而同樣被回憶折磨多年的男人,訴說一個逃避現實的城市的悲涼。

這個城市不是別的,正是我們身處的香港。

《傷城》裡的香港,是一個面目模糊、陰冷深沉的城市。在喧囂熱鬧之下,埋藏著濃重的寂寞和淒涼。無論是中環半山的酒色笙歌、銅鑼灣綄紗街一帶的寧靜安逸、鯉魚門木屋陋巷的骯髒齷齪,還是山頂豪宅俯視天下的氣勢,都有一份揮之不去的藍色憂鬱。反觀澳門的場景,卻充滿亮麗鮮明的陽光氣息。導演捨棄了象徵繁華的賭場和夜店,把鏡頭聚焦於明亮樸實的教堂、圖書館和修道院,總讓人感到窩心的溫暖和親切。即使在滅門慘案的老房子,那些搖曳在明媚陽光下的晾衣繩和架空電線,也稍微沖淡了恐怖血腥的氣氛。

來自澳門和香港的兩個男主角,也延續了這個對比,不過主角所屬的城市卻相調了。金城武飾演的邦是香港人,他那鍥而不捨的性格,讓他三年來一直無法擺脫女朋友突然割腕自殺的夢魘。然而這一份執著,令他終於發現了女朋友自殺的真相,然後放下包袱,欣然開始另一段感情。梁朝偉飾演的劉正熙是個澳門孤兒,他為了保住性命,改名換姓來到香港,一心忘掉前塵,展開新生活。但一次偶然的機會,還是燃起了他內心深處壓抑多年的怒火和怨恨,結果毀了別人,也毀了自己。

所謂傷心人別有懷抱,觀照香港近日發生的事情,難免會把這些對比,看作別有用心的諷喻。

無論是人或是城市,如果不肯坦然面對過去,傷口就沒可能癒合,包袱就沒可能放下;傷口不癒合,包袱放不下,就沒有新生、沒有未來,只有悲劇的下場。

不知道香港能否有一天像戲裡的金城武那樣鍥而不捨,浴火重生,讓我和《傷城》編導那麼悲觀的人,眼鏡掉滿一地。

Monday, 25 December 2006

Christmas Thoughts

I was amazed to read the front-page headline of Ming Pao Daily News yesterday, "One million seek festivities in shopping malls".

Isn't it awful to see that so many people in Hong Kong don't seem to have anything better to do during festivities but to waste their time making a way through the dull and suffocating shopping arcades?

Perhaps most people in Hong Kong are too afraid to be left alone. They enjoy seeing and being seen in the anonymous but annoying crowd, especially during festivities, to reinforce their sense of existence. They are so obsessed with hanging around but doing nothing in the most popular shopping arcades that, it seems, if they don't show up in front of the public, they would evaporate into the air like the morning dew under the sun and be gone forever.

This is why I find living in the heart of town a nightmare that has grown worse year by year. I wonder how much longer I can bear with the irritating noise and inconvenience. A week before Christmas, the streets and shopping malls in this part of Hong Kong were already jammed by faceless people moving slowly and wearily to nowhere. Looking at the crowds flooding in all directions in the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station, for example, always reminds me of the opening scene of Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times.

Just like a herd of sheep squeezing their way out of the gate by someone unseen and unknown behind their backs.

Obviously most people don't buy as much as the shopping arcade operators and retailers would like them to, but so many people really seem to enjoy the atmosphere created by the glamorous props, lights and backdrop. You can tell on people's faces how eager and obsessed they are to take a picture in front of the glittering lights and decorations. They seem to believe that without taking a picture against the million-dollar backdrops at the shopping malls, they would not have enjoyed festivities in the generally accepted and expected manner.

And this difference would make them odd, embarrassed and lonely, the most terrible thing to have on earth.

The same theory applies to shopping. At a time when all festivities have been transformed into opportunities for marketing hypnoses aimed at pressing people to buy at the subconscious level, few can resist the temptation of following suit.

In many cases, people also buy and eat and drink exactly the same items as shown in advertisements and what they believe to be the custom, even though it is the custom of another remote culture. People often think they have to do something just like the others do, but don't bother to stop and think why they should do it in the first place.

This is the copycat mentality that worries me most about the future of Hong Kong. Why should we always follow the footsteps of someone else instead of taking a bold step forward in the first place? Why should we be afraid to be different? I understand very well that we used to make a fortune by copying the work and practice of others in the fledging stage of our development, but it is time for us to re-think our strategy when the circumstances have changed so drastically.

It is more than the issue of protecting intellectual property. It is about developing new competitive edge and sustaining and strengthening our existing advantages that have been eroding rapidly over the past decade.

We have waited long enough in idle. If we don't take our problems seriously and tackle them from the basics, we are doomed to be marginalised not by our competitors, but our own arrogance and complacence.

May God bless Hong Kong. Amen.

Friday, 22 December 2006

在天星碼頭遺址唱一闋〈香夭〉

當我仍沉溺於《帝女花》戲裡戲外的蒼涼和傷感,見證了香港半個世紀變遷的中環舊天星碼頭和鐘樓,竟於上星期六,即12月16日,在眾目睽睽之下給凌遲處死,然後運往屯門堆填區毀屍滅跡。

《帝女花》的周世顯誤以為公主香消玉殞,向趨炎附勢的周鍾乞屍未果,但一年後仍可在維摩庵裡與遁跡空門的公主重逢。那麼,我們跟舊天星碼頭和鐘樓,以及那悠揚親切的鐘聲,還有相會之日嗎?

唐滌生先生的巨著《帝女花》,與那被機械鐵臂剁成齏粉的舊天星碼頭和鐘樓,本來是風馬牛不相及的事兒。不過,巧合的是,兩者都是同年誕生、今年芳齡四十九,早就成為香港市民生活一部分的老伴。

就拿我自己來說吧:我出生於1973年,吃電視劇和粵語流行曲的奶水長大,早就錯過了「仙鳳鳴」的瑰麗傳奇,也跟「雛鳳鳴」的風流韻事擦身而過。然而膾炙人口的〈香夭〉,還有鄭君綿的惡搞版「落街無錢買麵包,靠賒我又怕被人鬧……」,總算是自小聽熟了的。小學一年級的時候,隨家人從尖沙咀的唐樓搬到中環堅道一帶的舊房子居住,一住就是五、六年。在天星碼頭鐘樓悅耳的鐘聲下,乘坐渡海小輪往返尖沙咀和中環、到大會堂圖書館看書借書,從此成為我童年回憶最重要的部分,就像呼吸和心跳一樣理所當然。

唐代有崔護慨嘆「人面不知何處去,桃花依舊笑春風」,宋代李清照也有《武陵春》詞云:「物是人非事事休,欲語淚先流」。如今香江人事泰半依舊,景物卻已全非;我們那份應接不暇的滄海禾黍之感,只怕比崔護和李清照更難承受。

於四十九年前首演的《帝女花》,早獲公認是香江梨園的壓卷之作,在香港人心中享有無出其右的崇高地位。座落中環的天星碼頭,也許欠缺了像「仙鳳鳴」的名牌效應作招徠,但它默默服務香港半世紀,早就成為連接中環心臟地帶的咽喉要衝,地位同樣舉足輕重。不管你是來自康樂大廈、文華酒店的富豪巨賈,還是立法會、市政局的政要名流,也免不了在碼頭和鐘樓前留下足跡。

相信沒有人會質疑《帝女花》和中環天星碼頭在香港歷史文化中的重要地位,然而這兩個備受香港人推崇和愛護的文化標誌,卻始終無法得到政府高層的青睞。莫說多年來政府對富於歷史文化意義的粵劇和特色建築物視而不見,沒有投放資源加以推廣和維護,就連冷冰冰不帶感情的官方讚賞也付諸闕如。《帝女花》至少還有魄力驚人、抱負不凡的白雪仙主持大局,造就了「平生不識《帝女花》,就稱英雄也枉然」的局面,但天星碼頭呢?當年小輪公司早已表明不願搬到人跡罕至的新碼頭,否則可能要大幅加價來維持服務;但大家只是一廂情願地認為那是商業機構向政府討價還價的手段,全沒意識到這原來是一場把香港人血肉心魂連根拔起的文化清洗暴行。

我只是不明白,同樣是接受英國殖民教育的香港人,為甚麼那些在政府辦公大樓裡呼風喚雨的高級官員,無法體會我們這一輩對香港那份坦率而純樸的感情?無法明白一個城市在財政預算案、股票市場、地產買賣等數字遊戲以外的真正價值?如果曾蔭權真的「喝香港水,流香港血」,真的為自己身為香港人--而不是自詡為社會精英,實則與時代脈搏嚴重脫節的庸碌之徒--而自豪,能夠對手無寸鐵、與世無爭的天星碼頭和鐘樓下此毒手嗎?

可是,如今舊天星碼頭和鐘樓已經長埋黃土,無法修復了。即使政府願意重建鐘樓,選址也不可能在尺金寸土的中環。鐘樓和鐘聲本來就屬於中環的,也是中環的靈魂所在;跟中環割裂了的鐘樓和鐘聲,我實在不稀罕。大概只有那些喜歡附庸風雅、拾人牙慧的政府高層,才會念念不忘在赤柱海濱重建美利樓的「盛舉」。在他們眼中,這是香港保存古蹟的成功經驗;但在我看來,美利樓只是一座靈魂與軀殼被強行割裂、血跡斑斑的廢墟而已。

香港人素來善忘,不知道明年以後的12月16日,還有多少人記得大會堂對面的海濱,曾經聳立著一座熙來攘往了四十九年的渡輪碼頭,還有那風雨不改地每十五分鐘報時一次的柔和鐘聲?當白雪仙和「雛鳳鳴」都離開了舞台,有誰還記得在某個遲來的冬天,一遍又一遍地為香港唱著〈香夭〉這闋蒼涼淒怨的輓歌?

在這寒風蕭瑟的日子裡,就讓我在天星碼頭和鐘樓的遺址,輕輕地唱一闋〈香夭〉,悼念那逝去了、只能活在記憶裡的香港。

Wednesday, 20 December 2006

Star Ferry Pier Murdered at 49


I wonder why none of the local newspapers published the following headline on their front pages last Sunday:

"Star Ferry pier murdered at 49"

If I were still a journalist, I would have submitted the following to my editor:

"The Star Ferry pier located to the opposite of the City Hall was murdered in front of dozens of witnesses on Saturday, 16 December 2006. It died at the age of 49.

"Unlike many other murder cases in Hong Kong and other parts of the world, the murder of the old Star Ferry pier was carried out in public. More importantly, there was more than one murderer.

"While Legislative Councillors have pointed their accusing fingers at the Government, official records showed that the Government's proposal to demolish the old Star Ferry pier has never received any opposition at the Legislative Council since the proposal was first tabled seven years ago.

"This means that the Star Ferry pier was actually murdered by both the Government and the ignorant members of the legislature.

"Unfortunately few people seem to recognise this cruel fact. The populist opportunists joined the protesters at the last moment in an obvious but disgusting attempt to exploit boiling resentment towards the administration for their own benefit.

"Despite widespread public opposition, the Government did not back down. With on-the-record support and approval of the Legislative Council and the Central and Western District Council a few years ago, the Government wasted no time to demonstrate its strong governance by ignoring the roaring anger of the public.

"What remains a mystery is the District Council's discussions and decision. A source recalled that the members only agreed in principle that the expressway should be built and they were not informed of the Government's plan to demolish the old Star Ferry pier.

"The brutal dismemberment of the old Star Ferry pier took place last Saturday. In less than 24 hours, which sets a new record of remarkable efficiency of the administration, the pier and the clock tower were torn down and shipped to the Tuen Mun landfill site. The clock tower was ruthlessly hammered into unrecognisable pieces that were mingled with other rubbish, mud and sand. The process took no more than 30 minutes.

"Everything was gone without a trace - so as the people's confidence and the future of Hong Kong."

Don't throw at me the rules of journalism. This is not meant to be a factual report of what happened.

How could someone who grew up in one of the oldest areas of Hong Kong possibly write something cool-headed when one of the icons of her life was violently destroyed?

The demolition was clearly a well-planned and seamlessly executed operation that was designed to remove any tangible evidence out of sight in the quickest possible way. The Government masterminds must have thought that when things go out of sight, they soon go out of people's minds too.

Let the outrageous and heartless remarks of Mrs Rita Lau, Permanent Secretary for Planning, Housing and Lands, at the Legislative Council on 18 December speak for the Government:

"Let me tell the truth, even if you may call it a cruel one: My understanding is that the clock tower has been sent to the waste landfill and mixed with other construction waste. It can't be restored anymore. Don't have any rosy dream that it may be restored."

I must admit that the administration has done an excellent job this time to treat the unwanted waste of the old Star Ferry pier and the clock tower, in an obvious attempt to defuse the issue as soon as possible. People would have been dumped in frustration and helplessness. But Mrs Lau's provocative statement has unfortunately reversed the situation. Believe it or not, the public debate and uproar and political pressure on the Government will certainly drag on to the benefit of nobody.

In my opinion, the destruction of the old Star Ferry pier is yet another example of the ignorance and complacence of the rich and powerful baby boomers in Hong Kong. They don't recognise the value of anything but money and power. Money comes from land sale and power is represented by the heartless, cold and inhumane glass-walled castles scattered around the strategic points of Hong Kong. Everything standing in the way to money and power should be ruthlessly removed.

Perhaps the obsession with money and power is what Taiwanese writer Lung Ying-tai refers to as the "Central value" that is made to dominate and represent the "Hong Kong value":

"This is the Hong Kong that the international community sees and Hong Kong people are happy to present: Intimidating architecture, glamorous shops, middle-class in snow-white collars and speaking fluent English are commuting hurriedly between commercial buildings in Central. In other words, Central represents Hong Kong. The 'Central value' dominates and represents the value of Hong Kong: the pursuit of personal wealth and the worship of commercial competition in accordance with capitalist operating logic. 'Economy', 'getting rich', 'efficiency', 'development' and 'globalisation' are used as indices of social progress."

Unfortunately, these dumb guys who often believe that they are the smartest elite in Hong Kong fail to keep up with the fast-moving changes as a result of their much-touted and worshipped globalisation. They think their old tricks would continue to make them and their next generation succeed in the brave new world. But they fail to realise that so much has changed and that their old tricks have already lost their edge. Now we can see that they have been making every possible effort to maintain Hong Kong as it is two or three decades ago, so that their old tricks would continue to make sense.

And this was precisely the beginning of the demise of Hong Kong.

Wednesday, 6 December 2006

My Taiwan Impression

Just read the latest issue of Yazhou Zhoukan, which published an insightful commentary on the dynamics and implications of the forthcoming mayor elections of Taipei and Kaohsiung, the two most prominent cities in Taiwan.

I don't know how many fellow citizens in Hong Kong care about the recent political drama in Taiwan, but having been a China reporter upon graduation and thus developed a special interest in the island that has been governed by a different administration for more than half a century, I can't help giving a long sigh of frustration and helplessness reading all about Taiwan these days.

And, I used to spend a week or so in Taipei every year. But I have stopped doing so since 2001.

This was prompted by nothing but disappointment.

Perhaps some people in Hong Kong and other parts of the world may find it difficult to understand the context and reasons for political tensions in Taiwan. It simply makes little sense to people outside Taiwan but for those who are living on the island it can be a matter of life and death.

The story began in 1945 when Taiwan, which was ceded to Japan in accordance with the Treaty of Shimonoseki signed between Japan and China under Qing Dynasty in 1895, was returned to China after Japan surrendered in the Second World War. At that time the Chinese regime under Kuomintang (The Chinese National Party) led by Chiang Kai-shek was notoriously corrupt and inefficient. Under the immense financial pressure during the Second World War and the subsequent civil war against the Chinese communists, the Kuomintang administration issued paper currencies at discretion but resulted in skyrocketing inflation that pushed the national economy to the brink of bankruptcy.

Taiwan was no exception. The 50-year disconnection with the Mainland during Japanese colonial rule inevitably resulted in mistrust and misunderstanding. When the Kuomintang troops set their feet on the soil of Taiwan after their defeat by the Communists, local Taiwanese did not see the newcomers as compatriots but foreign invaders not much different from the Japanese. Meanwhile, Mainland Chinese also saw Taiwanese as betrayers simply because they had been subjects of the Japanese colonists. Kuomintang's corrupt administration and high-handed policies did nothing but kept the resentment and hostility brewing. It was, therefore, not surprising to see the hostility erupted and resulted in the bloody suppression on 28 February 1947, i.e. the 28 February Incident that is often compared to the 4 June Massacre at Tiananmen Square 17 years ago. Up to 60,000 civilians were reportedly killed by the Kuomintang troops.

Unfortunately the deep-rooted hostility and mistrust has evolved into ridiculous tension between those who are born in Taiwan and Mainland China. Worse still, this has been exploited by some political opportunists as the pretext or justification for Taiwan independence. They condemn those who were born in Mainland China or whose forefathers came from the Mainland as potential betrayers of Taiwan. Those who can't speak the local Taiwanese dialect, which is very similar to the dialect spoken in southern part of Fujian province across the Taiwan Strait, are often seen as "outsiders" of Taiwan. In some cases the opportunists choose to deny the fact that the cultural roots of Taiwan came from the Mainland. In other cases they cite their favourite role model, the United States, which has courageously fought for independence from its arrogant and repressive master. Essentially, these guys believe that in order to defend and uphold the interests of genuine Taiwanese people, i.e. themselves, independence from China (whatever the ruling party may be) is the only option.

I have neither the academic capabilities nor the intention to discuss the complicated concepts of reunification and independence in this casual essay. All I want to say here is that I find it unacceptable to achieve questionable political objectives by promoting hostility among different groups of people in the same community. This is unethical and sheer contempt of human rights and social justice.

Can you imagine those who can't speak Cantonese in Hong Kong are being discriminated to an extent that they are seen as potential spies or betrayers who should be expelled from Hong Kong?

Unfortunately this shameless strategy is still proved to be effective in Taiwan as we have seen in the election and re-election campaigns of Chen Shui-bian. For years he has positioned himself as the "son of Taiwan" to safeguard Taiwanese interests against the bullying and threats of a rising China. But his ignorance of international relations and incompetence in governance, together with his obsession with power, should be blamed for the decline of Taiwan in recent years, at least economically and culturally. Taiwanese enterprises are struggling for survival as their plans in Mainland China are often seen by the sceptical administration as suspicious moves of betrayal. The incapability to expand inevitably leads to a loss of competitiveness and thus job cuts. A shrinking domestic market due to high unemployment simply starts a vicious cycle that can achieve nothing but reinforce hostility between Taiwan and Mainland China.

Culturally speaking, I feel extremely disappointed to see that the last foothold of traditional Chinese culture has been replaced, not complemented, by the rise of local culture and an obsession with Japanese and Western cultures. While you can find an abundance of excellent books on Japanese history and Western thought and cultural studies, very few titles are dedicated to China. Interestingly, China is often portrayed as a country that is completely different from Taiwan and yet with some connections that makes it closer than Japan and the United States.

How ironic it is when I remember how Taiwan and its people proudly proclaimed that it was the last foothold of preserving traditional Chinese culture, especially during the early days of the Communist rule when tradition was ruthlessly uprooted. Now that many people in the Mainland are regretful of what happened some 40 years ago and have started to work hard to retrieve and restore the lost roots, isn't it an unforgivable blunder for Taiwan to try to cut itself off from its heritage and isolate itself for the sake of nothing but someone's selfish motives?

Monday, 4 December 2006

A Sentimental Afternoon

Last Sunday, I spent a sentimental afternoon wandering around Tin Hau, where I would like to have my new home some time later.

The weather was gorgeous. The warm sun shone on my back and face, depending on the direction for which I was heading. I walked along Tung Lo Wan Road, starting from the northeastern corner of the reputable Queen's College. It is one of the most peaceful areas in downtown Hong Kong where you can hardly hear any unwanted noise on a Sunday afternoon. It is where you can still find genuinely local, small restaurants and fruit stores that have been in business for more than 30 years - a rare specialty that is rapidly forced into extinction in Hong Kong but that helped Macau enlisted in the UNESCO hall of fame of world heritage. Of course, cosy coffee shops and small sushi bars are also beginning to have their footprints here. More importantly, it is an old residential area that rude trespassers do not usually go except on the autumn days when the Fire Dragon Dance celebrations take place. The tranquillity of this area gives me the peace of mind that I desperately need these days.

This is also why I would like to have my new home here, if possible.

Unfortunately property prices are still unreasonably high these days, despite the rhetoric that the market has been stagnant since last year. Looking at the long list of properties for sale on display at different agents' offices, how depressing it was to see that I can barely afford only one or two of the smallest apartments of 400 square feet in gross area (not usable area)! The small cubicles that cost a few million Hong Kong dollars are just as sarcastically embarrassing as proclaiming Hong Kong as Asia's world city when so many people here do not really have the much-touted international perspective.

On and on I walked along Tung Lo Wan Road and turned left at the junction of Wun Sha Street. This is my favourite corner of the area. It is very quiet with a genuine but rapidly eroding taste of Hong Kong that reminds me of my carefree childhood in Tsim Sha Tsui. Under the warm and mild sunlight of an autumn afternoon, old buildings with simple, tidy and artistic designs of only four or five storeys are sitting quietly in the small plot of land with neatly drawn chessboard alleys to the west of Wun Sha Street. Leading up the slope Wun Sha Street ends with a public playground and an old building with a stone-walled courtyard facing each other. They hide themselves behind the tall, modern buildings that are probably only half of their age, but are already considered "old" by a common standard in Hong Kong nowadays.

There were plenty of old buildings in similar styles in Tsim Sha Tsui when I was small. My first memory of my home was located in a four-storey building built well before the Second World War. My family rented and lived in a room at the back of the apartment, which was owned by a retired employee of Jardine Matheson. I was told that my parents didn't live there when I was born, but it was the first home in my memory anyway. I still remember what the decently designed and dyed marble staircase of the building looked like. I still remember how amazed I was watching the romantic ancient Chinese folklores on the black-and-white television. I still remember how I learnt my first Chinese characters by copying words I could spot on television on the walls, even before I was sent to the kindergarten. I still remember how I brought my two-year-old younger brother home from the kindergarten nearby even though I was a toddler myself. I still remember how my mother prepared suppers in the common kitchen where the landlord's servant was living, and where there was an iron staircase leading to the common backyard shared with another building facing Knutsford Terrace. Yes, it is Knutsford Terrace. It used to be a cosy and quiet residential area with a kindergarten and a private college but has now been transformed into a lousy replica of Lan Kwai Fong without any character.

Isn't it weird for a person of my age to have this irresistible nostalgia about something that is now a bygone? When I was small, I never came across anyone in their 30s who were as obsessed as I am with the past. Only people above 40 years would talk about their good old days.

Looking at my peers outside Hong Kong, be them in Mainland China, Korea, Japan or farther parts of the world, they seldom talk about their past but how they see their future. The general sentiment of my generation is forward-looking rather than the opposite.

At the end of the day, however, I enjoy being different. I have always been quite different from my peers. I am proud of myself because of nothing but I am different. I can't understand why so many people nowadays feel impelled to be recognised as the same rather than the different. I am convinced that everyone is a unique individual and should be allowed to exercise his/her freedom, as long as the freedom and dignity of the others are not compromised or jeopardised.

Having said that, I do believe that there should be something in common to bring people together, not physically but emotionally. History is the story of rise and fall of an individual, a family, a business, a community or a nation, but heritage is a common set of customs, beliefs and values that connects us with our forefathers and the future generations by inheritance. They are closely related but two very distinctive concepts. I can't tell you how sad I feel when I see the heritage of Hong Kong vanishing. I don't know what I should do but I can't help retrieving my memories from time to time to keep them afresh, before my physique no longer allows me to do so.

Perhaps this strong nostalgia is what makes me so obsessed with having my new home in Tin Hau. I believe this is one of the few locations in Hong Kong that still enables me to indulge in the pleasure of memory revival.