Friday, 25 May 2012

Absurdity Beyond Limit

Every now and then the political arena of Hong Kong attains new records of absurdity and stupidity and puts the tolerance of any sensible person to the most daunting test. Too often I found myself so overwhelmed by frustration and irritation that I can hardly utter a word.

Yet the latest challenge came today when Ming Pao Daily News reported that Cantonese opera master Yuen Siu-fai was barred from being registered as an individual elector of the functional constituency of Sports, Performing Arts, Culture and Publication. Notwithstanding his personal achievements in this traditional art form of Guangdong and Hong Kong, Mr Yuen's reputation and on-stage presence of more than 50 years should have made him one of the most qualified members of the electorate.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Once again, common sense has to give in to absurdity and nonsense in Hong Kong politics.

I can't help verifying the eligibility of electors to this particular functional constituency by checking out the web site of the Electoral Affairs Commission. To spare the reader of this blog the trouble of ploughing through the 19-page document, let me summarise the qualifications of an eligible elector as follows:

Any person is eligible to be registered as an individual elector for the functional constituency of Sports, Performing Arts, Culture and Publication if he/she is registered as a elector in any geographical constituency, AND, at the same time, a voting member of any registered body or association listed in the document.

The first requirement that any person who wants to be registered as an eligible in any functional constituency has to be registered as a geographical constituency elector is fair enough. However, the Chinese Artist Association of Hong Kong, the sole organisation that represents performers, musicians and workers in Cantonese opera, is not included on the list. This alone explains why Mr Yuen, as deputy chairman of the Chinese Artist Association of Hong Kong, is unqualified, assuming that he is already registered to the geographical constituency – although it seems unlikely. If he were told, as Ming Pao Daily News reported, that he is not eligible simply because he has not received any grant or subsidiary from the Hong Kong Arts Development Council or relevant government departments over the past few years, it is sheer nonsense.

I must confess that I haven't paid any attention to the functional constituency until most recently, when I received a letter informing me that I am eligible to be registered as an elector in the education sector and asking me whether or not to opt for registration to the District Council (Second) functional constituency. The fact that I am now an employee of a local educational institution but not engaged in any teaching or research work still qualifies me is by all means incomprehensible, if ridiculous. Now having read the news about Mr Yuen, I think I have made the right choice of opting out of the Education functional constituency. The absurdity of local politics merely goes beyond any human imagination.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

The Farce of Filibuster

Over the past two weeks or so, local news headlines have been dominated by the filibuster launched by People Power legislators Albert Chan and Raymond Wong, along with chairman of the League of Social Democrats, Leung Kwok-hung. Their attempt to delay and even prevent the passing of certain "malicious" bills, such as the Legislative Council (Amendment) Bill 2012, was dramatically thwarted by Legislative Council chairman Jasper Tsang, who cited Article 92 of the Rules of Procedures that stipulates,

In any matter not provided for in these Rules of Procedure, the practice and procedure to be followed in the Council shall be such as may be decided by the President who may, if he thinks fit, be guided by the practice and procedure of other legislatures.

Pardon me for not having followed the news story close enough, simply because the news coverage has once again failed to focus on what really matters. What a waste of time I think it was to read the needless-to-say nonsense pouring out of the tongues of those hardly honourables. If we really care about what is going on here, the city we all call "home", the first thing we need is a critical and sensible mind equipped with the essential intellectual tools.

I simply don't understand is why media and public attention has focused on whether or not the filibuster is "meaningful", implying "right" or "wrong". Of course I know time is precious and the incumbents are counting down to the end of their current term of service. To me this shows exactly how easy it is to manipulate public opinion in Hong Kong by taking side with the so-called "core values" of the local people. So many people out there take it for granted and fail to smell anything wrong in such an argument.

For most Hong Kong people, including myself, efficiency is paramount at work. But isn't it obvious that there are always plenty of exceptions to every single rule and principle? To rush through the backlog of bills, for example, is by no means what legislators are supposed – and elected – to do. As representatives of their respective constituencies, legislators are entrusted with the authority, supported by their calibre and experience in certain professions, to ponder every option and scenario and then come up with the best possible provisions. Compromises are inevitable, but, albeit ideally, that should be the result of a meaningful debate, which provides an opportunity for everyone – including members of the public – to think out loud before making up their minds.

While the pro-establishment legislators have regrettably succeeded in mobilising mainstream public opinion to support their cause, exposing the appalling naivety of the local people, the pro-democracy camp does not come clean in the farce either. It is perfectly fine that they don't participate in the filibuster if they don't think it is the proper way. But don't they share an obligation to keep the public mind abreast of what issues are at stake? Have they ever attempted to steer public opinion that has been led astray deliberately back to the right course? Pardon me if they did. But as someone who reads the newspapers every day at work I don't recall any meaningful reminder. Only hours of tedious search on the poorly designed and enormously user-unfriendly web site of the Legislative Council can inform me of which bill the filibuster was meant for. Amendments were minimal, but it was the objective of the bill that is highly controversial,

The object of this Bill is to introduce a restriction to prohibit a person who has resigned, or is taken to have resigned, as a Member of the Legislative Council from standing for a by-election to be held within the 6 months after the resignation in the same term of office of the Legislative Council.

Those who are interested may also find a copy of the Legislative Council Brief submitted by the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau on 1 February, which provides a detailed and useful account of the development of the issue. This only reminds us of how easy it is to manipulate public opinion and take it out of context for one's benefit, and thus how important a clear and cool head is among all of us if we don't want to become a laughing stock and, worse still, scapegoat.

The recent farce of filibuster, therefore, pinpoints not just the frustrating mediocrity of the legislators but also at our own lack of intellectual capabilities to defend against such mediocrity.

Monday, 21 May 2012

《秋雨菱花姊妹情》

不知怎地這陣子老在戲院泡,泡個不亦樂乎,好像要把前些年失落的東西一次過補償。早幾天看《李廣王》,實在不錯,又見場刊介紹去年首演的新劇《秋雨菱花姊妹情》星期天下午重演,由謝曉瑩和李沛妍兩位新晉花旦擔綱,急忙買票捧捧小師妹的場。

去年底梁漢威病逝後,曾在雜誌上看到一篇謝曉瑩撰寫的悼文,配上一幅她唸中學時參加粵曲比賽獲獎的照片,赫然發現她穿著母校的校服,暗忖莫非她就是同門小師妹?上網一查,果然如是,從此對她有了初步印象。難得小師妹粉墨登場,《秋雨菱花姊妹情》又是她編撰的首部長篇作品,身為師姊,沒有缺席的理由。

李沛妍是名伶李奇峰、余蕙芬的女兒,近年在劇場經常看到她與雙親一起看戲,對她的樣子並不陌生。雖曾聽說她也踏上紅氈毹,卻未有機會欣賞。如今正好一次滿足兩個願望。

坦白說,進場前有點擔心謝曉瑩和李沛妍的樣子現代氣息太重,未必適合古裝扮相;尤其是小師妹,雖然長得標致,卻有點像混血兒,穿起古裝很可能不倫不類。沒想到她倆打扮起來沒有突兀之感,頗為漂亮。兩人都是大學畢業生,近年才全職投身粵劇,估計學藝時日不長,更未必是從小練起的功夫,演來倒是有板有眼,身段和袖功都不錯,相當賞心悅目。至於演唱,聽得出兩人都下過苦功,曲詞嫻熟,咬字清晰,歌聲清越優美,但聲線都偏向陰柔輕巧的路子,聽著有點虛浮之感,未算嘹亮。相較之下,小師妹聲量稍弱,到了下半部明顯後勁不繼,必須好好苦練。若論感情,則兩人都相當投入,李沛妍飾演的姊姊溫婉貞嫻,除了情郎之外,對旁人不假辭色,有點冷淡,難怪引起一場風波。到了身世被揭那一段,她把急怒攻心的情態表現得很好,走上去拉住妹妹的手迫問對方那個動作也充滿勁力,但不失大家閨秀的優雅氣度。小師妹演的妹妹則活潑刁蠻,甚麼事情都要跟姊姊爭個不休,希望博取父親注意。她說喜歡姊姊的情郎,其實只是不忿兩人感情要好,故意搗蛋而已。她要跟姊姊搶情郎的心態,就像搶玩具一樣兒戲。小師妹一雙靈動的大眼睛、微翹的小嘴兒,充分表現了妹妹的任性妄為;可是到後來覺悟前非,臉部表情稍嫌平淡,應該再加一把勁才是。

羅家英與廖國森分飾同母異父姊妹倆的親生父親,一位是蒙冤被逐、家散人亡的謫臣溫時雨,一位是不滿朝政、告老還鄉的老尚書,演來都很稱職。羅家英極力表現想與女兒相認又不敢認的壓抑與痛苦,本來相當成功,可惜有一兩句莫名其妙的口白引起一陣陣哄笑,破壞了氣氛。不論那是劇本所寫還是由他臨場爆肚,也應該好好檢討。廖國森慣演不少父親角色,無論是《帝女花》的崇禎皇帝、《紫釵記》的盧太尉或《再世紅梅記》的盧桐,都是面冷心熱、疼惜女兒無微不至的慈父,自是駕輕就熟。不知怎地,看來他在這次演出特別用心,對女兒和顏悅色也好、嚴厲教訓也好,莫不迫真傳神,彷彿連揮袖、捋鬚等尋常不過的動作也別具法度。希望他繼續保持這份認真和嚴謹,別要像上幾臺戲那麼油腔滑調、虛應故事,也許瞞得了某些觀眾,卻逃不過姑奶奶的法眼。

衛駿輝與阮兆輝分飾姊姊的情郎和苦戀妹妹的將軍,性格忠厚討好,唱段也不少,俱能保持水準。但兩人始終算不上是擔戲最重的男主角,演來反覺輕鬆適意。其中衛駿輝為表對姊姊矢志不渝,堅拒妹妹的情意,從最初避重就輕、顧左右而言他,到無言相對藉機溜之大吉,再到最後忍無可忍怒氣勃發嚴詞拒愛,層次分明,不禁暗暗喝采。

然而沒想到全場最令人眼前一亮者,卻是戲份最少的二娘盧麗斯。早前她在衛駿輝、陳咏儀合演的《牡丹亭驚夢》客串韶陽女,活潑可人,那些「除了『情』字之外,四大皆空」的十月芥菜情態,真的令人忍俊不禁。這次飾演亂嚼舌根、惹事生非的二娘,入形入格,不用甚麼大塊胎記、大顆黑痣的醜化妝扮,只憑端正美貌的臉蛋兒,配上輕蔑的眼神、微歪的嘴角、略帶輕浮的身段,可笑復可恨的官家潑婦就在眼前。盧麗斯在公主麾下多年,多演丫鬟和伴舞仙女,也曾演過《帝女花》的袁妃和昭仁公主。如今看來,也稱得上獨當一面的資深演員了,真是強將手下無弱兵啊。

雖說此劇是小師妹第一部長篇作品,故事梗概、人物姓名等均與五十年代的粵語片《紅白牡丹花》頗有雷同之處,但不知為何未見場刊註明,如此疏忽,並不可取。其實參考或改編前人作品,自古皆然,並無問題,但時至今日,應該註明出處,以示尊重。這是作者應有之義,希望小師妹多加注意。劇中情節鋪排尚算不錯,曲詞倒也文雅流暢,尤其是溫時雨那出場曲品評歷代書畫名家,資料豐富翔實,頗見功夫。首度編劇有此成績,已屬難得。但其中仍有沙石,尚待琢磨。例如第一場野心太大,想一下子把全部人物介紹一遍,再把所有故事線索鋪墊出來,結果演了一個多小時,效果並不理想。建議以溫時雨出場為第二場的開端,布景也可以從正廳轉為後堂,以免現在布景與曲詞內容不相配的毛病。另外,姊妹倆的出場曲好像沒有介紹兩人的性格,如果我沒記錯,大概只說自己備下了甚麼禮物為父親祝壽,稍覺失色。出場曲是奠定觀眾對故事人物第一印象的重要關口,應該好好把握,不要浪費。《紫釵記》三名男角出場時每人一段長二流、《再世紅梅記》昭容妹妹出場的兩句滾花,都是言簡意賅的好例子,值得仔細參考。

個人認為劇本最大的毛病是節奏不夠明快,戲劇高潮都集中在故事末段,前半部稍覺平淡拖沓,有點頭輕尾重。曲詞也稍嫌累贅,應寫的東西沒有寫,已寫的東西又一再重複,或可再斟酌一下,令內容精簡些。最明顯的例子就是姊姊跑到溫時雨的破房子要與他相認,溫時雨不肯,兩人糾纏良久仍未解決,令人不耐。我明白小師妹可能想加強感人肺腑的程度,但效果未算理想。另外,故事還有一個嚴重漏洞,就是姊姊為何在上一場被妹妹揭破身世時震驚不已,好像從沒懷疑過老尚書不是自己的親生父親;與溫時雨相見時卻又知悉亡母改嫁的來龍去脈,說來有條不紊,令人摸不著頭腦。那麼,在妹妹揭破真相之前,到底姊姊是否知道自己並非尚書之女?這個破綻實在太大,必須盡快修補,以免貽笑方家。

同時,字幕錯漏百出的毛病仍未解決,除了那些「省」、「醒」不分,「造」、「噪」混淆等惱人的錯別字外,竟把小師妹的名字「瑩」寫作「螢」,某些句子更連英文文法也寫錯,實在看得我火氣難消。別人尚可原諒,小師妹學歷甚高,似乎不應犯下那些明顯錯誤。不知是她因為兼顧演出,無暇校對文字,或是編製字幕者手民之誤,總之就是很不應該,必須認真校閱,盡快改正。

儘管此劇未臻完善,畢竟立意、構思俱佳,不像某些新劇那樣胡鬧庸俗,仍是值得嘉許的。希望小師妹汲取經驗,再接再厲。期待你下一部新作。

Sunday, 20 May 2012

《李廣王》(下)

若論《李廣王》最精采的,不是曲折跌宕的故事,也不是服裝、道具和燈光等技術細節,而是演員。這次演出陣容鼎盛,集合了當今劇壇的各路精英,演來火花四濺,煞是好看。若說這是近年難得一見的「群英會」,也不為過。

李廣王自恃縱橫沙場數十年,功業顯赫,年老力衰之際,仍是妄自尊大,不聽逆耳忠言。如此人物由尤聲普飾演,難作他人想。但縱觀全篇,未能發揮最高水平,甚感可惜。究其原委,應是劇本對李廣王性格塑造不夠深刻所致。例如前半部李廣王因狩獵墮馬而萌生引退之念,曲詞只是草草帶過,猶如水過鴨背一般,直到最後才有一段戲味盎然的獨腳戲。然而正如前文提到,這場獨腳戲沒有充分探討李廣王的複雜心緒,演來稍欠深度,誠屬美中不足。但尤聲普演出非常賣力,尤其是後半部在睡夢中驚覺兒子率兵偷襲,斗然間雙目精光四射,憤懣填膺,奮力殺出重圍,猶如餓虎反撲,剛猛無匹,幾乎令人透不過氣來。可是一鼓作氣逃到野外,畢竟年老體衰,力氣已散,一時急怒攻心神智失常,那些顛三倒四的眼神和身段,演來燙貼萬分。看普叔又跑又跳又探海,真難為他了。

李廣王三個兒子伯奇、仲懷和季忠,分別由新劍郎、龍貫天和羅家英飾演。三位都是經驗豐富的老倌,演來性格鮮明,各擅勝場。新劍郎扮演有勇無謀、不甘活在父親餘威陰影之下的長子,入木三分。但他並非權欲薰天,只是心胸狹窄、頭腦簡單,中了人家的激將法還不自知。最初探問老父之時,仍看得出有三分真心;老父宣布傳位於他,他那誠惶誠恐、受寵若驚的神色也表達得相當準確。另外,很喜歡他與尹飛燕合演那場精彩的對手戲,從滿腔怒火到猶豫不決然後再不顧一切豁將出去,演來層次分明,把人物性格活現眼前。可惜後來他率兵偷襲老父那一場的動作設計稍嫌草率,加上在距離觀眾甚遠的底景高臺上演繹,不知怎地眼睛一花,只見伯奇倏地倒在牆邊,竟沒看清楚他是怎麼死的。我後面就有觀眾忍不住「嗤」的一聲笑將出來,破壞了緊張肅殺的氣氛。

羅家英演繹三子季忠,中規中矩,後半部喬裝執徽衛士,暗中保護父親的幾場戲,更是感人。尤其是李廣王逃出生天之後神智迷糊、自怨自艾,他不斷好言相勸,聽得出有些口白也是臨場所加,但演來尚算得體,父子之情也令人動容。但整體而言他不熟曲詞的毛病始終未改,也似乎較注重表現功架和身手,對季忠為老父不惜一切的孝敬、孺慕之意,表達未算深刻,稍欠層次,誠為美中不足。有些地方更覺有賣弄之嫌,與塑造人物性格沒甚關係。例如楔子一場,三子依次上場一顯身手,羅家英甫亮相便虎目圓瞪,滿臉剽悍之色,搶眼的確是搶眼,但卻以為他演的是長子或次子,不是真誠仁厚的幼子。

龍貫天飾演次子仲懷,是三子之中最得我心者。早在第一場李廣王墮馬、三子前往探問之時,已隱約感覺仲懷並非真心關懷老父;難得他聽到老父傳位大哥時隱忍不發,更覺此人深不可測、捉摸不透。中場休息後,在那雷電交加之夜,潛藏的陰謀逐步洩露,他那權欲蔽天、躊躇滿志的神色,不禁令人倒抽一口涼氣。看他對溫婉賢慧的呂妃虛情假意,對包藏禍心的雪姬卻神魂顛倒,深得多少梟雄過分自信、聰明反被聰明誤之要旨。看來龍貫天是有備而戰,曲白熟極如流,唱做神清氣足,掌握人物個性也非常準確,把仲懷的居心叵測演得活瓏活現,令人激賞。將來如有機會,倒想看看他演繹《洛神》的曹丕,不知會是怎樣一番光景。

鄭詠梅飾演溫柔嫻淑的呂妃,戲份不多,倒也稱職,與早前她在《香銷十二美人樓》飾演那個刁蠻潑辣、甚至帶點粗鄙的賈桂蘭,不可同日而語。阮兆輝飾演李廣王的忠僕優丰,進退有度,恰如其份,正是他的拿手好戲。難得廖國森收斂了早前的油腔滑調,用心演繹李廣王之弟李文,即使戲份不算多,也令人印象深刻。偶然來幾下難得一見策馬揚鞭的身段,更是頗顯身價。

若論全場最搶鏡者,則非尹飛燕的雪姬莫屬。她原是婁國遺裔,為報李廣王滅國毀家之仇,挑撥丈夫伯奇起兵造反,又教唆仲懷與長兄爭奪王位,把父子三人玩弄於股掌之間。雪姬是隱姓埋名自願下嫁伯奇,以便伺機復仇,比《亂》的長媳楓之方又多了幾分獨立自主。尹飛燕演來神采飛揚、栩栩如生,雖然唱曲的聲線不復往年,但唸白的語氣和聲調都精準無比。無論是煽動丈夫謀反時的強悍專橫,或是挑逗仲懷聽從自己計謀時的狐媚浪態,甚至是最後大仇得報的狂喜放肆,盡皆無懈可擊,令人拍案叫絕。兩星期前她獲得香港藝術發展局頒發二零一一年度戲曲界最佳藝術家獎,端的是實至名歸,謹此致賀。

Friday, 18 May 2012

《李廣王》(上)

昨天晚上慕名去看「粵劇戲臺」的《李廣王》,又是一場好戲,甚是愜意,亦慶幸臺前幕後的有心人仍然不少。

散場時,沒料到會碰見Grace和李小良博士,不免寒暄一番。Grace說她是為了尤聲普而來,我卻沒甚麼期望,只是抱著一顆好奇心,想知道《李廣王》是怎樣一個故事。此劇雖說是新編,其實首演已是十年前的事。當年有沒有看過,早已記不起了;不過那也無妨,就當全新的故事來欣賞吧。

據場刊介紹,《李廣王》由羅家英編劇,取材自莎士比亞名著King Lear。少年時唸英國文學的課文是Macbeth,多年前羅家英也曾改編為粵劇《英雄叛國》。King Lear沒讀過,但故事梗概也略知一二。多年前日本導演黑澤明的名作《亂》,也是取材自King Lear。以戲論戲,《李廣王》的人物設計似乎更接近《亂》,例如原著King Lear的三個女兒,《亂》和《李廣王》都給改成了兒子。《亂》男主角的長媳為報滅門之仇,挑撥丈夫背叛老父,又與其二弟有私,把兄弟、父子玩弄於股掌之間,不就是《李廣王》裡城府極深、陰險毒辣的雪姬麼?

《李廣王》雖是群戲,難得戲份平均,而且人人有發揮機會,改編效果甚佳,應是得力於羅家英數十年的演藝經驗,果然與案頭文章或能唱不能演的作品不可同日而語。曲詞與唸白也算長略得宜,偶有佳句,亦看得出羅家英多年來自修苦學的功力。可惜詞句寫來稍欠深度,未能帶領觀眾走進人物的內心世界,只靠演員自行補充和發揮。尤其是最後李廣王一段長篇獨唱,只見他反覆痛悼幼子冤死,卻未見他深自懺悔,或者表達對兩子為了爭權奪位,不惜謀害老父而既愛且恨的複雜心情,正是捉到鹿不會脫角,甚覺可惜。加上昨晚除龍貫天和鄭詠梅外,大家都不熟曲,漏唱、錯唱的詞兒掉滿一地,有時候真的不知道他們在唱些甚麼,看字幕又發覺不是那回事,頗減欣賞興致,猶幸中場休息後已改善不少。

若說全場令人最不滿意的,就是錯別字連篇的字幕了──簡直可以用多如牛毛來形容,實在慘不忍睹。例如「籍」與「藉」、「眨」與「貶」、「猶」與「尤」等,不是因為字形相似就是讀音相同而出錯,所謂「差之毫釐,謬之千里」,其實只要仔細校閱一遍,總能改正大半,為何粗疏如此?

另外,英文字幕翻譯少了以往官辦藝術節的精雕細琢,遣詞用字更覺平易近人,頗為可喜,但有些地方仍不免失於粗略簡陋,甚至有誤譯者。例如「殺人刀」一詞,英文譯作knife,則覺不倫不類。須知道中文的「刀」,尚且有「牛刀」、「匕首」、「屠龍刀」之別,英文也是一樣。Knife只是刀的總稱,常見的煮食用具如餐刀、果刀、菜刀、剁肉刀,甚至屠宰用的利刀,均可稱knife。如果是殺人利器,小如匕首、兩刃開鋒者常稱dagger,厚背薄刃、刀身微曲者則稱sabre。曲詞既寫「殺人刀」,不論是雪姬暗藏袖間的匕首,或是兵戎相見時直劈橫砍的潑風大刀,都沒有譯作knife的道理。也許大部分觀眾都不理會這些細節,但既然設置了字幕,自是準備有人觀看,多少尚且不論,總應力求準確才是。我看戲時眼角總也不忘瞄瞄字幕,看看曲詞水平如何。戲曲表演之所以稱為綜合藝術,曲詞是否典雅流暢、文學意味是否濃厚,也是重要的欣賞環節,絕對影響整體觀感,不應視作等閒。要是製作人員沒工夫處理這些微枝末節,下次我可以毛遂自薦做文字校對和翻譯嗎?

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Not When, But Will They Ever Learn?

Today Ming Pao Daily News published a commentary by Dr Wilson Wong on the latest controversy over Chief Executive-designate Leung Chun-ying's proposed restructuring of government bureaux. I can't agree more with his views that we need accountability but not more officials who are loyalists and protégés of the leader.

Yet Dr Wong raised an interesting question after making his point, "When will they ever learn?" It seems to me that Dr Wong is expecting someone in the administration taking office on 1 July this year would come to realise what accountability truly means and for whom it should have been in the first place. Pardon me for my scepticism, but I just think this is something stupid to ask. From my observations over the past years, I don't think it is a question of "when", but whether they would ever do.

And my proposed answer is "No".

Although "accountability" has become a buzzword since the first batch of so-called "accountable" principal officials were appointed in 2002, no one in the administrations of Mr Tung Chee-hwa, Sir Donald Tsang and now Mr Leung seem to have a clue of what they are really talking about.

In fact, we don't need a degree in political science but common sense to understand that accountability in the political context is meant taking responsibility for what the administration does for the people. The ultimate subject of accountability is, therefore, the people, but not anyone at the top of the administration at any point of time.

But how does it work? How do we know if the officials are taking responsibility for what they do for us? Sorry, I don't know. I don't think anyone in the government would do either. Although the official rhetoric has maintained that the principal officials are not civil servants but appointed on contract terms. Resignation, as the rhetoric says, is an expression of responsibility. Over the past 15 years, Mr Antony Leung, former financial secretary; Mrs Regina Ip, former secretary for security; and Dr Yeoh Eng-kiong, former secretary for health, wealth and food did resign as a gesture of claiming responsibility for their personal and policy blunders.

Wait a minute. Is that all? Not being part of the civil service is just a device of political expediency, isn't it? What does it have to do with accountability? Of course I understand the fact that we in Hong Kong are still denied of a truly accountable political system based on universal suffrage, but is it possible that we come up with some sort of feasible mechanism to make up for the regrettable vacuum of governance mandate? Have we ever tried? By emphasising the "independence" or "detachment" of principal officials from the civil service, does it mean civil servants are not accountable for what they do? Is it some sort of implicit justification for all the inertia, inefficiencies and ridiculous red tapes?

Instead of pondering and tackling the fundamental problems with the so-called principal officials accountability system, once again the new government leaders are repeating the mistakes of their predecessors of sweating over nitty-gritty details of little importance. In the current case of expanding the number of policy secretaries, with the exception of establishing the long-due Bureau of Culture, it only seems to me that, as Dr Wong said, they are highly distrustful and sceptical of those currently working in the government and thus can't wait to install loyalists and protégés to key posts to ensure an ease of mind.

To be honest, I can't see any strong connection between the proposed government structure (again with the exception of the Bureau of Culture, which is by all means welcome) and Mr Leung's vision for Hong Kong. Why can't he try and work with the current system first, identify the weaknesses and then propose viable solutions for improvement? Why can't he wait?

For these reasons, I am pessimistic over the possibility of an old lesson to be learnt. It is not really a question of "when", but whether they ever will.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Indignation

Days have passed since I heard the most ridiculous remarks made about me. I must confess that I am still upset.

For the first time in more than 15 years of working, to my huge surprise, how my face looks has become a matter of concern to be discussed in a job review. I was told that I look stern, cold and intimidating. Someone finds me "scary" because I don't chat with that person as I do with other colleagues. There were also complaints about my agitation and assertiveness at times, which can be misinterpreted as being abrasive and even offensive.

Fine, point taken for the last one, although personally I'm not convinced that to compromise or submission without making my point across is in any sense constructive. The manner of articulation may be adjusted, but I stand firm to what I truly believe.

Back to the first point: I have come across very harsh, mean and unreasonable people at work in previous jobs, but none of them ever criticised my face. A few colleagues who end up being close friends of mine did tell me that I look a bit cool and serious at first glance, but over time they know what my true self is. Even though I may look grumpy, I'm not really angry with anyone but how things go. I never yell at people at work, even when they make mistakes. I try to understand why, show my empathy and sort out a solution with them, so that they can learn how to avoid repeating the wrong. I make mistakes too and this is how I want to be treated. I just think this is the best way to get things done properly. Pointing accusing fingers or venting one's emotions just doesn't do any good.

Everyone has his/her own logic and way of seeing and interpreting the world. Everyone is free to express what he/she thinks. But whether or not such comments should be taken seriously is another matter. I assume the fact that those remarks were relayed to me because the speaker somewhat agrees with the view, feels some sort of magnitude and wants to resolve the "problem" so that everyone would be happy. But sorry, no. I am not happy hearing this. How can I? How can I be happy when someone is unhappy seeing my face and telling me so?

I just do not understand at all why my face looks to one person or two should become a concern to be discussed, improvements expected as it was hinted, in a working context? What am I supposed to do? Laugh like a dog running after its tail? Pretend to be very interested in talking to someone who knows little other than work and does not share any common interest with me? Or perhaps even a facelift or plastic surgery - subsidies required, of course - to bring the downward-pointing corners of my mouth upside down like Joker in Batman? What if someone tells me two weeks later that, "Hey, why are you always laughing like that? Are you nuts?"

Isn't it obvious that whether this matter, little more than how one or two persons see me through their subjectivity, should ever be brought up in a job review is highly questionable? It is good to be honest, but honesty does not mean telling every single detail of what you think or believe, regardless of the context and whether it is appropriate to do so. Not to mention how the message is conveyed also matters. In this particular case, I do not agree that honesty helps. It may make someone feel more comfortable having the concerns voiced, but I must say I am very uncomfortable hearing all those comments about how I look. It prompts me to call into question the sense of judgement and management capabilities of the speaker. To me, the fact that it is a matter of discussion at work is utterly inconceivable. The grudge, if it ever exists, is not narrowed but widened, or relocated from one to another. Any hope to wipe out any uneasiness in the team is nothing more than wishful thinking.