Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Second Dream Comes True

Excited. Overwhelmed. Somewhat frenzied. Simply overjoyed.

All because I just received the admission notification in writing. From this September I will become a full-time student again, but even better still, a full-time student in history. The papers in my hands simply smell better than usual.

I can't really remember when this dream first came to mind and how long I have been waiting for the right time to make it come true. The excitement and overwhelming happiness just reminds me of how I felt when I received the undergraduate admission slip pretty much the same time 19 years ago. Perhaps this is something only comparable to getting the jackpot of Mark Six, which is of course so much more out of reach for its sheer dependence on pure luck.

I owe my family and friends a heartfelt gratitude for their support that eventually reinforced my confidence to take this bold decision. Perhaps I may sound like someone grabbing a Oscar Academy Award, but this is certainly a remarkable milestone in the course of my life.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Urgent Call for Heritage Conservation Policy

While the Urban Renewal Authority's proposal to preserve all 12 old tenements on Wing Lee Street in response to strong public calls following the success of the award-winning Echoes of the Rainbow is largely welcomed, it essentially exposes an urgent need for a long-term and sustainable heritage conservation policy in Hong Kong.

Again, the local media have regrettably missed the shot at the heart of the issue. Whether the URA has been given enormous pressure to reverse its decision in a Government conspiracy to defuse a potential blow to the administration is far from what really matters to the people of Hong Kong. The key question is how heritage conservation should be planned and implemented to make the best out of the limited supply of public resources.

Any sensible citizen should not forget that despite the handsome financial reserve on which the Hong Kong Government sits, the local community is still haunted by a lot of social problems to which urgent attention and resolution is required. Are we willing to take up the financial burden of heritage conservation now and for ever? How much public resources should be devoted to this good cause? How do we know whether any conservation proposal deserves the valuable public resources that should have been allocated elsewhere? By what benchmark and standard do we measure the effectiveness of our decision?

This is why, I believe, developing the best approach of sustainable heritage conservation in Hong Kong should start with establishing some basic but important criteria and guidelines for heritage conservation. Ideally, these criteria and guidelines should be worked out with rigorous consultation and engagement with the local community. In addition to the so-called cultured chatterers who often dominate if hijack the public affairs discourse of Hong Kong, the local residents must be consulted in a fair, open and thorough manner. In many cases private properties are put into question and the landlords and tenants must be allowed to make themselves clearly heard.

One major problem exposed in the Wing Lee Street saga is that the minority views of landlords and tenants are overshadowed if completely ignored during the public discourse. Media coverage has been focused on those who support conservation. What about those who do not? After the URA's reversion of its position, many are inevitably sympathetic towards those landlords and tenants who have already sold their homes to the URA, looking forward to a handsome compensation with which they can afford a significant improvement in living standards. What can be done to ensure their interests are taken care of? Is there any leeway to compromise between the two diverging views? To avoid any further recurrence of such a difficult position that only leads to confusion and polarisation, therefore, consultation with the residents should have taken place before any conservation or redevelopment plans are drawn.

Those conservation activists who have jumped on the bandwagon calling for the conservation of the old tenements on Wing Lee Street should be blamed for blindly pushing ahead their agenda at the expense of the interest of residents, who may only be a minority. While conservation is generally positive, it must not be forgotten that whether something is good or bad is ultimately defined by its impact for the people. What should be basic and universal is the respect for people, especially those who are directly affected by the issue in question. What is the point of conserving Wing Lee Street if this is little more than a reluctant give-in of the Government to populist public pressure? Why should we make the landlords and tenants pay for the costly conservation when local and overseas visitors will only disturb their quiet life and cause inconvenience, nuisance and even pollution?

Whatever the URA's final proposal on the conservation of Wing Lee Street, it is time for both the Government and the local community at large to take a step back and think carefully about our commitment to conservation. It is a long-term commitment that will affect not only ourselves but also the generations to come.





戲裡谷德昭客串的裁縫師傅是上海人,滿口儂來儂去的上海話,可是從來沒有街坊因為他不會說廣東話而歧視他。伯父的理髮店來了一個說國語的北方師傅,只是給人在背後喚作「lau sung」(以前香港人給不諳粵語的外省人取的諢號),連「清朝人」的奶奶也不會不跟他說話。哥哥是英文中學的高材生,不諳英語的街坊請他看政府的告票,他也不會推三阻四,瞧不起人。如果歲月真的偷去了甚麼,那大概就是我們曾經有過的包容和開放。那時候,不需要平等機會委員會,也不需要反歧視法例,更不需要用公帑拍廣告來呼籲大家包容。只因為同是天涯淪落人,那時候的人可能都相信,大家應該相濡以沫,一起盡力活下去。