I can't agree more with Stephen Vines that it is never too late to save our heritage, even though what remains on the preservation list is embarrassingly limited.
Having been a very un-Hong Kong Hong Kong girl who treasures intangible things such as history and culture rather than material temptations for many years, I am pleased and somewhat surprised to realise that I am not alone - finally. Inadvertently, the Star Ferry Pier episode has groomed an awakening that, as Sir Donald aptly put in his Letter to Hong Kong, no one can afford to ignore.
What concerns me now is the approach to tackle the issue of heritage conservation. We have had too many terrible blunders all these years and can no longer waste our time and efforts to learn from mistakes again. It is important for us to think things through before hastening to take actions that may ultimately prove to be futile, if disastrous.
I use the word "conservation" instead of "preservation" here because conservation means much more than just maintaining the original form of our history and culture. Conservation requires thinking a step further about how to revitalise our heritage as part of our dynamic community instead of a piece of dead wood that no longer mean anything to the living neighbourhood. This is by no means easy and requires input from everyone.
Unfortunately Sir Donald's administration is appallingly insensitive to the rapid changes of Hong Kong. For one thing, he is still convinced that the "traditional consultative machinery" works well even though the Star Ferry Pier episode has proved that the authorities have neglected those "people who are not represented by any well-established group or political party". Isn't it clear enough that the traditional consultative machinery has failed to catch up with the rapid social changes of Hong Kong? When people enjoy the freedom to express themselves and to organise spontaneous but vigorous activities on a relatively equal footing, thanks to the internet boom, why should they bother to be consulted by the authorities? Even if these people actively support the consultative process, how far will their outrageous ideas and views be tolerated?
These questions popped up my mind when I read that Sir Donald wasted no time to limit the discussion of our heritage conservation policy to "strike a balance between development and conservation". While he realises that "times have changed and people today are more attuned to heritage preservation", he then insists that "Hong Kong's development is in danger of being hampered by insufficient and slow public investment... The community must understand that investment in infrastructure is vital if Hong Kong is to remain a dynamic and thriving world city."
I'm not sure if I have misread Sir Donald's statement but the flow of his letter makes me feel that he has a strong inclination towards the existing mode of economic development of Hong Kong rather than a sincere invitation to fresh ideas and perspectives not only on heritage conservation but also new values that are set to define the future of Hong Kong.
This is why I think his call to "strike a balance between [economic] development and conservation" is nothing more than a piece of politically correct lip service. He said this because this is the right thing to say but he is not convinced by what flows out of his lips.
Just as Chan Koon-chung confessed in his bestseller People of Hong Kong of My Generation, Sir Donald is far too obsessed with economic development as the only benchmark of success - both at personal and social levels. Apparently he fails to comprehend that the recent outcry of my generation and younger ones is a fundamental challenge to the money-minded philosophy that has dominated the discourse of Hong Kong's history all these years.
Our message is loud and clear: Economic success is not the only thing to make Hong Kong a better place to live. There are many other factors that may possibly be more important than economic success, of which the majority's access has been severely limited in recent years anyway. We want to explore and identify other values that will make Hong Kong a better home for everyone in the years to come.
It is equally awkward to me that Sir Donald pointed his accusing finger at "a serious misunderstanding that development and conservation are mutually exclusive". My experience is that it has always been the rich and powerful who are adamant in maintaining this wrongful position. As we can see from the haughty commentaries in pro-Government media, the protesters were accused of standing in the way for absolutely no reason as Hong Kong needs more roads to accommodate more vehicles as it develops.
To me, this is a sheer dirty trick of Sir Donald to shift the blame from himself and his peers to those who were brave enough to stand up and challenge the authorities until the last minute. It is wrong to blame the protesters for their last-ditch efforts because they, just like you and me, were excluded from the "traditional consultative machinery" all through the years. It is understandable that they want to participate more actively in the decision-making process rather than just being a group of nameless people to provide ideas and opinions to the rich and powerful that will not achieve anything.
This is also why I found it unacceptable that the next three rounds of public consultative forum on Hong Kong's heritage conservation policy are all held in late afternoon of weekdays and will close at 7:30 in the evening. This means most working people like me will be excluded from participating in the discussion.
If Sir Donald is serious about the consultation process to help the administration's policy formulation and decision-making, why does the Government spare us from participating in such kind of public consultative forums? What concerns, fears or hidden agenda does it have? Not surprisingly, the forums are held whenever and wherever venues are available without any second thought about who will participate and when and where is the best for these people.
Indeed, this is also a very effective way of managing any possible heated debate that may drag on for more than two hours - the prescribed duration of the public consultative forums.