Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Pain in the Ass

Trained as a journalist, I feel guilty to say that reading the news these days has become a pain in the ass. Seriously, it now takes quite some determination to switch on the television or pick up a newspaper.

This is all because the local news agenda has never seemed so hopelessly boring and tedious. So many seem to be happening, but little progress has been visible.

Much of the media attention has been focusing on the potential candidates at the next chief executive elections, for example. No doubt this is big news for Hong Kong, although only 0.1 per cent of us would have the privilege to "determine" who is going to succeed Sir Donald. Convenor of the Executive Council Leung Chun-ying has just tendered his resignation but it still remains unclear when he would formally leave his office. Chief Secretary for Administration Henry Tang manages to maintain his posture despite all the rumours and speculations. But it seems only God knows whether or not he would become another candidate for the helm of Hong Kong.

It is unbearably boring because so many guessing games have been going on for weeks and months and even years and the answer remains so remote and unreachable. It feels like watching a soap opera that has been dragging on and on for ages and no one can tell precisely who the leading players are and the cameos. The audience's patience and tolerance have been repeatedly put to test, but there is little, if any, escape. Essentially there is no such thing as a plot, although everyone knows that someone behind the scenes are masterminding the show. But this time it seems even those "invisible hands" are also confused and perplexed, not knowing exactly what to do with the available options. In turn, the absence of any direction only fuels the boiling speculations that only end up with nothing.

Be it political, economic, social or even showbiz news, it is incredibly tedious also because news stories these days are filled with endless chains of responses to responses to the most trivial stuff. Few can have a grasp of what is going on by reading the newspaper or watching television nowadays because too often everyone seems to lose sight of what the real issue is. To begin with, journalists are simply too obsessed to seek diverse views - an extremely misled but prevalent definition of balanced reporting. Constructive debates and contemplation with reason are replaced by wars of words fought in front of the camera. Everyone is so obsessed with the ability to grab a share of media exposure as if it were the ultimate end, not means of communication. No one seems to bother to pause for a second to think, let alone attempting to clarify, what the matter is all about. This is why the news pages are flooded with comments of relevant - and quite often irrelevant - parties on someone else's sound-bites - rather than the key issue - that mean anything but meaningful. Air time and columns are filled with the same opposing views by the same rivals from the same political camps and interest groups. Op-ed pages in the press are dominated by well-established names, although the quality of their content is not necessarily commensurate. Simply put, the journalists are abandoning their moral duty of being the gatekeeper. Instead, they are running after those who are feeding the advertisers to pay their bills, in the glorious name of market orientation.

So if all these do not cause inertia and sickness of news, what else does?

Tuesday, 27 September 2011






Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Next Steps

Nearly four months have passed since I re-started working after completing a year of historical study. As I settle in, I can't help contemplating what the next steps should be.

For many years there has always been a long list of plans and projects in my mind, although very few of them, unfortunately, could ever become reality. Long-term priorities are yet on another list of the must-dos.

Despite all the setbacks, challenges and frustrations over the past few years, at least there is one thing for which I should be grateful - alarming signals reminding me to re-evaluate and re-define what my priorities should be. I am even more grateful that I had an opportunity to take a meaningful and rewarding break, during which I could sort out my thoughts and get better prepared for the days and years ahead.

Although the workload during the peak season in the next couple of weeks and months remains uncertain, it seems more manageable than what I used to have. If this were truly how things turn out, then it should not be too much of aggression to pursue the next goal on the priority list. When it comes to a commitment of six to eight years in a row, however, I still think I'm not confident and resolute enough to say yes at this point of time. For some reason I have very little confidence in my preparations so far. Despite all the time and effort spent on the research, I have absolutely no idea whether my proposal is going to sell. Worse still, I have yet to figure out how it can be improved. Perhaps I just need to be a bit more patient to see what is going to happen in the next couple of weeks and months before making up my mind. Perhaps all I need, after all, is just an irresistible trigger just like what I had two years ago.

But most recently there emerges another warning from within. Over the past few days I found myself extremely tired and therefore hard to concentrate, as if the brain has gone on strike. No matter how much or how little I slept, I still felt far from being fully recovered. I'm not sure if it happens because I have driven myself a bit too hard in jogging over the past three weeks. I'm not sure either if it has anything to do with other hidden causes. Physical fitness and mental power are now very important to me, not just for my overall well-being but also determinant to whether the next goal could ever be accomplished. At the same time, I must admit that I do enjoy the recent carefree status. Spending time on no-brainers such as working out, going to the cinema, meeting friends and even blogging at home is genuinely soothing and comforting. It seems questionable whether I'm now physically and mentally fit enough to take up the next challenge that is going to drag on for six to eight years.

This is how I get stuck between the long-standing desire of achieving something and the immediate advantage of having a more relaxed and balanced life.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Ten Years on…

Tomorrow marks the tenth anniversary of the terror of 11 September 2001.

This day ten years ago, thousands of lives were brutally put to an end. Millions around the world witnessed the collapse of the twin towers of World Trade Centre in New York. Everyone was shocked.

I still remember how I was overwhelmed by anxiety and astonishment when I watched the news live on television returning home from the evening class. I thought sooner or later someone would declare war on someone else that might plunge the world into another catastrophe comparable to the Third World War. Thank God that my worry did not come true. But its aftermath lingers on, overshadowing not only the United States but the rest of the world.

The consequences of 11 September are much more intense and far-reaching than anyone might have originally expected. They are by no means confined to politics either. As Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz has convincingly argued earlier this month (thanks Chris for introducing me to his article), "President George W. Bush's response to the attacks compromised America's basic principles, undermined its economy, and weakened its security." Worse still, the rest of the world seems to have no escape from the spill-over effect of the American blunders.

According to Dr Stiglitz, the global financial tsunami that erupted in 2008 could have been attributed, at least indirectly, to the disastrous decision to wage costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in the name of anti-terrorism: "The wars contributed to America's macroeconomic weaknesses, which exacerbated its deficits and debt burden. Then, as now, disruption in the Middle East led to higher oil prices, forcing Americans to spend money on oil imports that they otherwise could have spent buying goods produced in the US.

"But then the US Federal Reserve hid these weaknesses by engineering a housing bubble that led to a consumption boom. It will take years to overcome the excessive indebtedness and real-estate overhang that resulted."

Essentially, all of us living in this world have to pay a price for the aftermath of 11 September, in one way or another, more or less.

Today Pope Benedict XVI has also published a letter to the Archbishop of New York, expressing his condolence and prayers for the victims. What seems more interesting is that there are signs of his disapproval of the anti-terrorist endeavours of the United States between the lines, "The tragedy of that day is compounded by the perpetrators' claim to be acting in God's name. Once again, it must be unequivocally stated that no circumstances can ever justify acts of terrorism. Every human life is precious in God's sight and no effort should be spared in the attempt to promote throughout the world a genuine respect for the inalienable rights and dignity of individuals and peoples everywhere."

Notwithstanding the bloody history of the Crusades and countless violent clashes between some Christians and Muslims over the past millennium, the Pope's words are by all means comforting and inspiring. Monotheism in the twenty-first century, I believe, must cease to insist on absolutism but show more respect and tolerance for diversity, a reality that has existed as long as human history anyway. High-sounding and even unrealistic it may seem for sceptics, the Pope's emphasis on universal love and respect, I'm convinced, remains the ultimate prescription to all conflicts and hostilities.

Speaking in cultural terms, perhaps this is also why East Asian philosophies such as Daoism and Buddhism have gained increasing favour among Westerners in recent years. Both Daoism and Buddhism, as far as I know, tend to emphasise more on recurrence, relativity and universal equity. Unlike monotheism that promotes unquestionable loyalty to one single authority, Daoism and Buddhism help promote greater respect and tolerance for difference and deviation as an undeniable and unchangeable fact of existence. In an increasingly sophisticated world where people of various cultures and backgrounds run into each other more frequently and inevitably, mutual respect and tolerance are simply indispensable.

Perhaps this should be the best moral lesson to be learnt from the 11 September tragedy.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Why Why Tell Me Why

Readers of this blog might wonder why I haven't commented on what happened at the University of Hong Kong on 18 August. I haven't because, as you can see from the previous posts, I was privileged enough to be distracted to something much more pleasant and rewarding over the past two weeks. This is especially soothing in one way or another when you feel so hopelessly frustrated by the repeated blunders of the administrators of this great city.

Another reason that I haven't uttered a word is that so many questions remain unanswered. Despite the inquiry at the Legislative Council and all the war of words and changes of positions, little has been clarified and confirmed. The full picture remains pretty much as blurred and remote as it was two weeks ago. There don't seem to have enough facts to draw an informed conclusion. Venting your emotions is by all means good for your psychological health, but not necessarily so for identifying the root causes and prescribing the right medicine to deal with them.

I don't need to repeat myself how ridiculous and unacceptable the police actions were. Neither do I need to repeat myself that the recent public uproar once again demonstrates the irrevocable, deep-rooted mistrust and discontent of communist China among many people of Hong Kong. But what seems most intriguing to me is the question of WHY. Why do the decision-makers, whoever they are (although I can't wait to be told), keep making stupid decisions, big and small, from giving a remote corner seat to Lord David Wilson, one of the officiating guests at the University of Hong Kong to allowing the police to cordon off the campus for the so-called security concerns. Why did the government (both the Security Bureau and the police in this case) insist to upgrade the security precautions to unprecedented levels, even more stringent than those for previous visits by the Chinese president, the premier and the US Secretary for State? Why did senior government office-bearers and social leaders such as Henry Tang and Rita Fan choose to support a hard-line approach to fend off opposition, which has always been a commonplace in Hong Kong? What does it tell you about them and other creatures alike that are said to be contenders for the helm of Hong Kong in the next few years?

As a history student, I know too well how collaborative the government and the local business leaders, be they Chinese or British, has always been during British colonisation. But that does not necessarily mean that the business leaders are ready to do anything to please the government. Leading British merchants had direct access to the Colonial Office in London and thus were powerful enough to give the local administration a cold shoulder. Prominent Chinese tycoons had extensive networks in the Chinese government and generally maintained good terms with the local administration, which could be leveraged and manipulated to their own benefit when the tides changed. But rarely did they lose sight of what is right and wrong. When it comes to the big question, confrontation and even clashes with those in power were not uncommon. Why do the rich and powerful guys nowadays seem to have lost the courage to uphold our values and beliefs? Why do so many of them behave like eunuchs who devote their time to gain the master's favour and care for nothing else?

Monday, 5 September 2011







感謝網友Portia Lee指點,下圖沈殿霞右邊長髮披肩者原來是蕭劍纓,她是上圖左排左起的第一位。