Tuesday, 30 June 2009

False Hopes in New Bottles

Last Monday (22 June) after the last meeting of the Taskforce on Economic Challenges (TFEC), Chief Executive Sir Donald Tsang announced that six industries in which Hong Kong is believed to have an edge would be developed as part of its efforts to sustain long-term growth. The six industries are education, medical services, testing and certification, environmental industries, innovation and technology and cultural and creative industries. According to the official press release, specific measures have been proposed to facilitate the development of those six industries.

Reading the transcript of Sir Donald's speech and the TFEC proposals, I couldn't help groaning in great despair. What a lip service, my impulsive reaction off it went. Why is it so difficult for the Government leaders to come to their senses, if any, and recognise how complacent and narrow-minded they are? I continued to ask.

The first thing I want to complain is the absence of any well-thought strategy, or, even worse, any visible attempt to come up with something close. The strategy is essential in defining direction towards which the six industries would head into and what they are supposed to achieve. Take education as an example: why do we need privately funded universities in Hong Kong? What are these institutions going to achieve? Will they enhance the overall education level of local citizens or simply become a tertiary version of the profiteering tuition centres that help students succeed in public examinations? None of these questions seem to be asked, let alone answers provided. That education has been identified as one of the industries or “economic areas” seems to hint at some unspoken truth.

The second frustration comes from the lack of creativity and depth in Sir Donald's remarks, which reminds me of the key underlying issue of Hong Kong's predicament. Surely we need to develop our local talents. Surely we need to attract talents from around the world. But what kind of talents do we need? How can we nurture them in sustainable manner - bearing in mind the ruthless preference for IT and business training at times of bubbles? More importantly, do we know if we are capable of nurturing local talents and attracting those from overseas? If not, what do we need to do in order to achieve these? Failure of Sir Donald and his administration to tackle these important questions indicates not their incapability but the lack of vision and depth in a thinking process we desperately need to bring Hong Kong to another level.

A knowledge-based economy succeeds only when creativity, knowledge and innovation are encouraged, appreciated and rewarded. But Hong Kong has never been capable of doing so, thanks to the quick and lucrative economic gains from financial and property speculations over the last 30 years. Few seem to receive the wholehearted and overwhelming respect and appreciation enjoyed by the dollar sign. For example, education has been downgraded to vocational training for great jobs defined by handsome salaries. When employers complain of poor language skills among graduates, public resources are being injected to improve language skills to the level just good enough for day-to-day business communication. But why can't our undergraduates even engage in effective business communication after learning English and Chinese for 20 years? How great our language skills can be when few of us are interested in, let alone appreciate, the pleasure of reading the great works of Cao Xueqin and Shakespeare?

These are just some of the initial questions coming into my mind when I read Sir Donald's speech on the Government web site. The ultimate answer of these questions goes back to education, not vocational training but the mental development process that should equip our younger generations with the critical and creative mind essential for the pursuit of knowledge and innovation. Only when we can redefine education can we change the short-term, profit-driven mentality that has dragged Hong Kong's feet for way too long.

Apparently it requires enormous courage and determination to recognise our weaknesses. It requires even greater courage and determination to take concrete steps to change. As a response to Sir Donald's six economic areas for Hong Kong's long-term sustainable development, I would like to call for a second thought on the questions raised in this blog entry before we waste our time once again on the false hopes packaged in new wine bottles.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Mental Blackout

Finally the curtains were drawn closed on the wasting efforts to launch products of two consumer-oriented clients. I am most grateful that I didn't fall ill, despite World Health Organisation's Phase 6 warning on human swine flu and the rapid drainage of strength from my body.

Not surprisingly, my brain was barely functioning to keep myself awake when I returned to the office yesterday. I could hardly talk or think. All I could do was murmuring baby talk or pointless words like "that" or "those" with a great difficulty to be specific. Every now and then there was a conscious blackout of my brain. I could feel my hard-working brain had stopped running under the skull, as if it had turned into a piece of clean, frozen bean curd. Involuntarily, I lost track of what I was supposed to say. I lost my words.

Obviously these were terrible signs of overdraft of mental and physical strength. While I am no stranger to these appalling symptoms, it seems the magnitude of the most recent blow has been so overwhelming that I might not be able to recover soon enough.

There was something even more alarming, however. Despite the compliments from clients and seniors, there was not even a gleam of happiness or relief upon completing those daunting projects. Child delivery is the common analogy used to describe the hard-earned happiness upon project completion, and yet I could feel nothing this time. The absence of a sense of ownership makes me remain calm and undisturbed as usual. Even though I was burnt out, I managed to keep my mental and physical composure and finished the final chapters of the compelling novel The Historian. Emotionless and worn out, at some point I felt I might have been contaminated by some sort of evil that has deprived me of the feeling of life.

I don't know what exactly makes me feel as such, although the strong resistance from within to go into what I do does play an important role, I must admit. Fighting an internal battle between personal values and responsibility when one can hardly spare a moment to think of oneself is perhaps the most dreadful experience any human being could possibly have.

Thanks to a heart-warming call from Stella last Tuesday, there finally seems to be a flash of hope in endless darkness. The long-awaited chat with Queenie late yesterday afternoon proved to be relaxing and refreshing too. I hope the current situation would end as soon as possible so that I can continue to enjoy my existence.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Burnt Out

Recently two strangers called inertia and reluctance have come to visit and stay with me. Attempts to politely send these two strangers away have so far proven to be feeble and futile.

Patricia said I must have been burnt out. Oh yes, I am sure, as the breakaway to Taipei in April failed to refresh my mind and body for the challenges at work. While it was merely two months ago, the feelings and memory about it seem 10 times longer.

In fact, my mind and body have been hoisting signals every now and then for a year or so. The signals have become so frequent these days that I can't seem to push them aside any longer. It is particularly alarming when I can no longer concentrate and relax during my tai-chi sessions, if I can attend. My breath and movement should remain slow and steady but I'm always ahead of the others instead. Worse still, I'm going to miss the weekly sessions again this weekend for work.

Knowing that many others are struggling to make their ends meet, perhaps I shouldn't have complained. But I can't hypnotise myself either to accept something against my philosophy. What I can do is to convince myself to stay calm and endure until there is an opportunity for change.

As I wrote last May and September, I am now more sceptical about capitalism than ever. Long before the financial crunch erupted nine months ago, I have come to smell something wrong with the consumption-based model of economic growth. Despite the up-and-down cycles, little seems to have been done to avoid repeating mistakes and to make our lives better from the fundamentals.

Unfortunately what I have been doing so far is what I find increasingly hollow, shallow, pointless and even detrimental to the sensible mind. Working on something one finds suspicious, questionable and uncomfortable is perhaps one of the cruellest self-torture ever seen.

To a certain extent now I better understand why so many cultured and learned scholars in Song Dynasty (960-1227 AD) opted to retire early and study and teach in their hometowns. Education, either for oneself and the others, is actually one of the greatest, if the greatest, achievements of mankind. Education is such a powerful tool to nurture dignity and integrity. Paradoxically, education after Song Dynasty has inclined heavily towards utilitarianism, prone to exploitation by the rich and powerful. Sadly, the education system in Hong Kong only points to the strong legacy of utilitarianism, more than ever.

Perhaps it is time for a change.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Je me souviens

Two decades have passed. Times have changed. For not a single moment though have I ever forgotten what happened thousands of miles away to the north that early morning.

I still remember clearly how I had watched the television with my brother for hours into and after midnight, finding it hard to take our eyes off the screen. Soon we found ourselves swearing as maliciously as we could when tears ran down our cheeks, flushed in anger, anguish and disbelief.

We were only teenagers at that time. I was 16 and my brother 14. We didn't know what brought to the pro-democracy protests to such a bloody and tragic end, if any reason ever existed. For us, it was a hard-learnt lesson of dirty politics and how worthy causes can end up with frustration and devastation of hope.

Long before the bloodshed, I remember how anxious and restless I had become when the local press was flooded with all sorts of news from the north. My emotions had been so much stirred like the roaring waves in a rough sea that I was desperate to show my support for the worthy cause. Although my mother forbade me from taking to the streets on that Sunday when typhoon signal No. 8 was hoisted, and wearing a piece of black strip on my arm on the first day of school after the incident, I managed to donate a generous sum of HK$100, all I received for two weeks. I also bought a pink T-shirt made by Giordano, then owned by the philistine maverick Jimmy Lai, with the word "Freedom" in five languages on it.

I am not boasting of my excellent memory. I am writing these for the records to show my contempt and disgust for those who tried to smear colours of gold in a feeble attempt to wipe out or cover up the bloody red. Late may it seem, but better than never.

Now that the teenager has grown up to become a middle-aged woman, I could understand where the patriarchs who made such a blunder came from, although I would never be able to agree with them whatsoever. I shall never forget how grave a mistake it was a human being could ever have made in his life. Of course it remains a mystery as whether the decision came from any individual or a group compromise between the hawks and the pigeons. But it doesn't really matter now. A mistake is a mistake and it shall be remembered in history - notwithstanding any formal apology, whenever it may be given.

Last night when the news reported that Chai Ling, one of the student leaders who later fled the United States, issued a statement urging the incumbent Chinese leadership to show courage by reversing its long-standing but ridiculous verdict of the incident, I couldn't help having mixed feelings. Surely it would be a gesture of courage if the incumbent leaders did so, but do we really need some sort of "official" justice from the authorities? I don't think so. Justice has been done since the first day of the protest, when students put a wreath in memory of late premier Hu Yaobang at Tiananmen Square. Every witness on the spot or through the media has granted the victims and protesters justice. We don't need to call for justice, as it is already in place. What we need is just a formal apology, a demonstration of courage, regret and remorse in admitting a terribly grave and irreversible mistake; and, more importantly, a firm and solemn commitment not to repeat the blunder again.

Disappointingly, the miraculous economic and cultural emergence that reminds many of us of China's glorious past in imperial times has failed to build up the courage and senses among the national leaders to shrug off the burden that has been haunting them for 20 years. Everything we see today seems to indicate that they will continue to be haunted for a certain period of time. While we must not deny the progress made in cultural and social aspects, those baby steps are far from satisfactory, especially when we know how much integrity and intelligence our forefathers had shown throughout the millennia. I know our potential and we could have done even better if we were bolder.

Having said that, I must say I am equally sick, if more, of the so-called commemorative activities organised in Hong Kong throughout the years. Sensible people would see how some of the so-called pro-democracy activists have been taking advantage of the genuine goodwill of fellow citizens for their own interests. To achieve this, they also choose to deify individuals and victims at their discretion so that they can build the platform for opposition for the sake of opposition. Surely many armless students, workers and civilians died, but how can we label them as martyrs so hastily? Why can't we just treat them as poor souls who died without any cause? This is why I never participate in any of the weekend marches or candlelight vigils at Victoria Park throughout the years. And I'm not going to do so tomorrow either. Not that I forget, or choose to forget as someone does, but I'd rather protect myself from abuse and keep away from dirty tricks I can tell. I also want to stay away from peers and younger generations who see the 20th anniversary commemorative vigil as a fashionable occasion to see and to be seen.

Two decades have passed. Times have changed. And I still remember.

Je me souviens.