Thursday, 29 March 2007

The Unbearable Narrow-Mindedness of Being

Years ago I knew it was going to happen at some point, but it didn't. By the time I believe it will be lucky enough to escape the cruelty, it is proven to be inevitable.

I was talking about the failure of Commercial Press, the leading chain bookstore in Hong Kong, to renew its lease of its cosy and convenient flagship store at Star House near Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry.

Not surprisingly, most local media didn't pick up the news, as if it were something as trivial and insignificant as a pin drops into the sea. But for booklovers like me, it is yet another piece of sad news about which we should complain and grumble.

While I respect the landlord's full freedom to make its own decision based on business judgment, I can't help wondering why leasing to bookshops is such an unfavourable option, if unwelcome at all, to landlords.

Just like the silent and gradual removal of the reputable English-language Swindon Books at Ocean Centre that was not even mentioned or noticed by the media.

Of course I have no idea how bad tenants can bookstores possibly be, but knowing the former general manager of Commercial Press, Dr Chan Man-hung, I don't think Commercial Press can be among those notoriously amateur bookstores that are run by bookworms who know nothing about business. Dr Chan is a cultured and respectable publishing guru of more than 30 years with an extraordinary combination of business sense and academic commitment. He knows both sides of the game inside out and is capable of striking an amazing balance between the two. In essence, he is one of the few scholars-turned-businessmen whom I respect most.

From a cultural perspective, I can't tell you how sad it is to witness the retreat of a flagship bookstore in the heart of Hong Kong. Perhaps for most corporate landlords who don't have a clue about what difference culture really makes, having a genuine, groovy bookstore in a prime location is nothing more than a ridiculous business decision that needs to be rectified at all costs. By the same token, the corporate landlords will never know how boring and tasteless it is to have shopping malls of exactly the same shops around almost every corner of Hong Kong. Neither will they realise how stupid it is to scrap the lease renewal contract with a popular and well-respected bookstore. Having another high-end restaurant or luxury brand boutique as the tenant may bring greater economic gain, though at the expense of frequent and habitual visitors, the landlord's corporate reputation and perception in the eyes of the sophisticated.

Unfortunately, however, this is something intangible and not reflected in financial books to which nine in 10 companies in Hong Kong hardly pay any attention. They just can't be bothered less.

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

The Greatest Sorrow

I had wished to write something about the first "contested" selection of the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. I had wished to follow through the "miraculous election campaigns" of both Sir Donald and Alan Leong, the outcome of which was anything but unknown. I had wished to witness the first live debates of both contestants on television.

In the end, however, I didn't.

I didn't even bother to watch Sir Donald's emotional speech of gratitude to his loyal subjects. When I was told that he was on the brink of tears upon the announcement of his successful bid, I could only respond with a sneer of contempt and indifference.

I only managed to quickly read through the policy platforms of both candidates. I only managed to keep up my spirits until Sir Donald promulgated his candidacy with the much-mocked tagline, "I will get the job done."

To native English tongues, there was nothing seriously wrong or improper with the tagline, although some old-school English language professors might find it a bit too informal and colloquial. And yet this reflects how much Sir Donald understands his people. Hong Kong people are straightforward and simple-minded to the extent that they don't really care how the rhetoric is phrased, as long as the meaning is explicit and understood within a split second.

The Chinese version, obviously a tasteless diehard translation of the English, was much worse but hardly surprising. In Chinese, "getting the job done" carries a negative connotation that this is nothing but a job and the bearer of the statement has no choice but to get this done following a shrug of shoulders. Full-stop. Within days there were hundreds of mocking versions of the tagline floating around on internet forums and people's lips, which interestingly rhymed with the original. Not surprisingly, Sir Donald's election office wasted no time to take this widespread mockery with complacence and interpreted it as a successful tactic to raise public awareness of Sir Donald's bid, as if it were an intended outcome of the half-baked Chinese translation.

Don't ask me where my frustration and indifference stems from. This is a question that I can't even answer to my own satisfaction. All I can think of is that neither candidate could give me hope and confidence in him and his governance by reading their policy platforms. Well, I know this is again a very uncommon Hong Kong thing to do, but it is just impossible for a bookworm like me to resist the temptation of reading.

Pardon me for being a bit blunt here, but I found while both candidates had spent so much time making high-sounding promises and commitment, they failed to convince me how they would be able to deliver their promises, at least on paper. Indeed, some others may think it is unrealistic to present an action plan at such an early stage, but I still can't understand why the electorate can possibly make an informed judgment without knowing whether the candidates' promises are realistic and sensible at all? More importantly, with the absence of a meaningful action plan, however brief and simple it may be, how can the voters tell whether the candidates are capable of doing what they have proudly proclaimed?

Well, I don't need to be told how the Chief Executive election works, as if it were an election at all. This also explains why both candidates, especially Sir Donald, who received so much blessing from Beijing and the rich-and-powerful electorate, were so extraordinarily obsessed with their appearances and exchanges on the public front. While they knew better than anybody that winning the hearts and minds of the people would have no impact on the outcome, they spared no effort fighting on this battlefield to secure public support and, ultimately, the legitimacy of their powers and governance once elected.

Why bother? The answer is simple: this is where the biggest paradox of Hong Kong's political system sets in. On the one hand, for no well-explained and convincing reason, the people from whom the Chief Executive's legitimate powers are derived are adamantly denied a legitimate right of selecting their own representatives who are empowered to elect the Chief Executive. On the other hand, the 800-strong electorate who enjoy the luxury and privilege to cast the votes are widely recognised as rubber stamps of Beijing but not the source of the Chief Executive's legitimacy and powers to govern. While the candidates had no chance of getting round the paradox, they needed to work something out to build the momentum of recognition among the people. The easiest and most straightforward strategy was to raise the standard of democracy or to paint a rosy picture of common affluence in a distant future to solicit public support. Clearly this was a two-bladed sword that could either justify their rise to power or please the loyal subjects, who would have been otherwise left in despair of neglect and helplessness.

In my opinion, therefore, both candidates' struggle for legitimacy and justification on the public front was either a bitter mockery on the complacent electorate or a disguised flattery of the ridiculous election system.

Don't ask me which one of the above is true though. I don't have the model answer, and I don't want to know.

I must admit that I was surprised by the magnitude of my indifference. Sir Donald's inherent arrogance and clumsy pretence, Alan Leong's high-sounding rhetoric and targeted criticisms at his opponent were, however, just part of the blame. Not to mention the dull and boring coverage in the local media. Not to mention the shameless proclamation that the so-called live candidate debates have successfully transformed the political culture of Hong Kong. At the end of the day, I believe, it was the absence of hope and long-term commitment in everything around the election campaigns that quickly drained my enthusiasm away.

As the old Chinese saying goes, "There is no sorrow greater than the death of heart." This was the only thing that popped up my mind when I tried to jot down my feelings about the Chief Executive farce.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007












脫胎換骨之後的白海燕,不是不需要愛情,而是她的眼光開闊了、境界提高了,需要愛情的本質也不一樣了。如今她需要的,不是小女孩白日夢裡柔情萬種的白馬王子,而是理解她、信任她、彼此扶持,能夠一起成長的soul mate。可惜她的丈夫不是甚麼成熟大方的男人,而是一個任性自我的獨生子。他曾以第三者的殷勤體貼,作為自己心旌動搖的藉口,甚至以此作為「威脅」,要她放棄事業回到他身邊。如此幼稚無聊的舉動,白海燕看在眼裡,固然傷心氣憤,但也正好讓她漸漸看清彼此難以踰越的距離。










Monday, 5 March 2007

I Love The Queen

With Shirley I watched the much-appraised The Queen yesterday. While I must admit that it was slightly disappointing due to high expectations, it was by all means a great film with an excellent sense and judgment in the well-thought portrayal of characters and human relationships. This is what I enjoy most in drama and yet what has been rapidly losing ground to shallow sensual appeal or complicated representations of cultural theories that are difficult capture and comprehend in visual images anyway.

Certainly Dame Helen Mirren does not need my two-penny worth to add to her sweeping success in presenting a remarkably dignified human face of Her Majesty, which has already been recognised by film academies and professionals worldwide. I would like to take this opportunity to present my credits not only to Dame Helen but also to the side cast, including those who played Tony Blair (Michael Sheen), the Prince of Wales (Alex Jennings), the Queen Mother (Sylvia Syms), Prince Philip of Greece (James Cromwell), and last but not least, Sir Robin Janvrin, or the royal housekeeper (Roger Allam). Understandably, their performance may have been outshone by that of Dame Helen, but they certainly deserve the same level of applause as she does.

Actually, the subtle and low-profile style of acting of the entire cast is what makes the film most enjoyable. How refreshing it is to see that everyone in the film was so classy and elegant that reminds me of what nobility is all about.

I would also like to give a huge credit to the screenwriter Peter Morgan, who has done an excellent job in giving an impartial but empathetic outline of characters, as well as their delicate interactions with each other over the tragic death of Princess Diana.

Essentially, there is nothing dramatic to justify a plot like the current one. By nature the film should have been a public affairs documentary more than anything else. But the screenwriter was clever enough to build the drama on the clash of the established role of Her Majesty as a sovereign of state and the changing expectations from her people with which, sadly, she found somewhat difficult to catch up and understand. What was even cleverer on the screenwriter's side was that he restrained from taking the easy route to make the film into a lousy piece of tasteless satire or disgusting propaganda of the monarchy (which, sadly, would most probably be the case should any Hong Kong director or screenwriter work on a similar project). Instead, he presented an insightful and thought-provoking juxtaposition of what Her Majesty firmly believes and what her young prime minister and the people he represents (sort of) do. Her Majesty's gradual realisation of the changing minds and hearts of her people and her internal struggle of how to deal with the clash between old and new values were by all means one of the best monologues I have ever seen.

Another thing that interests me was the screenwriter's empathy and understanding of Her Majesty more than as a sovereign of state. She was a daughter, sister, wife, mother and grandmother. Each of these roles was so closely knitted to her best-known role as a monarch that made things ever more complicated. Unlike the most of us when we often take for granted to make a clear distinction between what is private and what is business, monarchs do not necessarily enjoy the same luxury. Paradoxically, when Her Majesty tried to make this distinction to keep her sorrow away from public scrutiny, her people made a big fuss of it by pointing their fingers at the "cold and heartless".

To me, the people were just crying for consolation and sympathy from someone great and powerful, without realising that the great and powerful is also a human being just like anyone of them.

This is also why I found the scene in which Her Majesty was walking slowly outside the Buckingham Palace, looking at the sea of flowers presented in memory of Princess Diana, as well as the harsh and emotional messages scribbled on cards my favourite scene of all. A sigh of relief emerged when a little girl presented a bouquet of white daisies to Her Majesty, and the crowd saluted to the monarch with a bow as she walked along in the opposite direction, getting closer to the crowd.

Interestingly, all those who bowed were women. Perhaps the loneliness of being someone who truly believes duty first, self second is something that wives, mothers and grandmothers commonly share.

Sunday, 4 March 2007

Women in Prejudice

I attended the "Twelve Faces of Woman" at the Arts Festival last night, and was helplessly disappointed with the so-called "vision" provided by most of the short films screened in the multimedia concert.

Not surprisingly, most short films focused on love, or more precisely, heterosexual romance, as if there is nothing else that can bother women more. As a female for more than 34 years, at least in biological terms, I wonder why both men and women are still so obsessed with the masculine stereotypes imposed on fellow females for so many years.

I can understand why men have done so to women. The answer is simple: Men want to maintain social order with a division of labour to keep women at home and at bay, so that women would not pose a threat to their hard-fought and established domination of social resources and discourse of history, among other things. Competition is keen enough among men. They don't need any more competitors other than fellows of the same species.

If we truly believe that human beings are born equal, regardless of their race, sex, family, class and education and so on, why do we still take the general stereotypes and expectations that were imposed on us many centuries ago for granted? Despite the calls from feminists of different schools throughout the years, why can't we just sit back and think twice before we rush to give ourselves a definition? Why can't we appreciate the fact that each human being is an individual that is unique and equal by nature, regardless of our race, family, class and education, and more importantly, sex? Why should we live up to others' expectations so much so that we may go that far to deny our sex, either intentionally or mockingly, if we want to do no harm to people around us but to live our own way?

I can't tell you how sick I feel when I am repeatedly told of how women look like in literature, films, drama and for that matter, especially those that are claimed to be avant-garde and refreshing with new perspectives. There are essentially nothing new but repeating and reinforcing the conventional stereotypes under dazzling disguise. Like the "Twelve Faces of Women", women are generally portrayed as creatures that treasure love (predominantly heterosexual romance with marriage and childbirth as the ultimate objectives) more than anything else, that are ready to give up anything else for the sake of love as defined above, that would become a piece of shit or unpredictable mess when they lose their ultimate goal of life. More importantly, women often lose their love not as a result of voluntary choice but as helpless victims of betrayal or any other reason. To me, this is nothing more than a disgusting and unforgivable denial of women as unique individuals who enjoy the same level of respect and dignity as any other human beings do.

I am waiting to be convinced why women are often portrayed in various forms of art as victims of love rather than people who make a sensible choice for their own good. At the same time, I am also waiting to see a piece of art in Hong Kong that is bold and understanding enough to show another face of women like me, who treasures personal dignity and freedom, both physical and spiritual, more than anything else. Love is by all means an enriching sphere of life, but this is by no means vital, let alone a matter of life and death. Family and friends and personal achievements are far more enduring and rewarding.

In the meantime, please pardon me and leave me alone if you happen to find me not meeting up to your expectations. I can't care less about this.