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.