Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The Importance of Being Grateful

On my way to work this morning, I came across this new advertisement of MTR Corporation, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary this September.

What caught my eye was the caption, which is not available in the web site version:

“When MTR opened in 1979, dad spared no time to take me for a ride.
Thirty-five years later, now I will take him around whenever I have time.”

It reminds me of my father, who took the family for a ride when MTR began operations on 30 September 1979. I was then a six-year-old just promoted to Primary One. We took a bus to board a train at Shek Kip Mei, the first station of the Kwun Tong Line, and travelled all the way to Kwun Tong, the end of the line. I saw nothing special when the train dashed through the densely populated housing estates and factory buildings along the overhead rails from Kowloon Bay to Kwun Tong, but the experience was certainly eye-opening because I had never been to that part of Kowloon before the ride. All I still remember is that we were given a souvenir booklet with a specific slot to put our used ticket in it. The souvenir was long lost. So was my father, who passed away when I was fifteen.

Bygones are bygones. There is nothing to be sad about really. Tears didn’t come to my eyes, although I did feel a tint of loss and pity. I can no longer take my father around, nor my mother, who now refuses to go for a long walk due to weakened legs.

Apparently the advertisement is meant to be nostalgic, and I couldn’t help thinking through what had happened over the past thirty-five years. I grew up from a young girl into a middle-aged woman. I was carefree and dependent, but I am now on my own to take care of those I love. I am thankful to all those who have given me their hand, and happy to be able to reciprocate.

For me, there is another message in the advertisement that might not be intended – the importance of being grateful. While many of us would at least pay lip service to thank our parents, I wonder how many out there would be grateful for the fact that we have one of the world’s best, if not the best, mass transit systems in Hong Kong. In a few Asian or European countries, developed or developing, where I have travelled, their mass transit systems are either incomparable to what we have here, or simply heartless copycats. It is true that MTR’s technical problems seem to have increased over the past few years (actually I’m not sure because this is just an impression based on the number of news reports heard or read instead of properly audited figures), which the Corporation must not procrastinate to resolve, yet it will be unfair to focus on the problems but nothing else in one’s judgement.

It is always easy to point an accusing finger, because it provides no solution to the problems. It is always hard to be grateful, because it is a confession of receipt of a favour, and, to a certain extent, an acquiesce of our weakness or dependence on the others. But what is the problem of admitting so? Being grateful doesn’t mean we will become brainless supporters of anyone or any company. Saying “thank you” doesn’t take away our right to criticise on the grounds of reason. Corporations are actually a bunch of systematically organised people, they need positive reinforcement to do better. Punishment may also work, but it is often not as effective, and there is a high risk of being counter-productive, as B F Skinner’s famous study showed.

I’m not saying I’m totally satisfied with the MTR service. I just believe it is unfair to turn a blind eye to what it does well if we want to be treated fairly in the first place. It is a matter of mutual respect – the key to effective dialogue and engagement. And this is something money – your fare – can’t buy.


  1. Anonymous12:39 pm

    I feel for you for your family responsibilities.

    Ontario, Canada

  2. 地鐵開時我住旺角,又在官塘工作,每逢趕時間返工就乘地鐵,放工會乘坐巴士,因為當時地鐵車費比巴士貴,地鐵其實帶來不少方便.

  3. Anonymous4:44 am

    Running trains one after another one every 2 minutes is no easy task. Any minor component on train can lead to a serious train service disruption and a dominion effect down the line. About some fifteen years ago there were beliefs that contractors could perform better and at lower cost if they were given Tseung Kwun O to maintain the infrastructure and the trains. There are merits and dismerits of outsourcing but when the operation and maintenance of a railway is outsourced, one can on longer find the kind of brotherhood and team work spirit. Management only focus on lining up contractors from their own towns. Staff lost identify and loyalness to the company. Works were done to the superficial satisfaction of some.
    I took my dad riding on many different transport vehicles when he was still alive and willing to walk. He told me that he enjoyed not just the facilities but meeting the people using the system. For example, at in a kiss-and-ride TTC terminal in Toronto, he could spend an hour chatting with a Korean woman about how difficult life was when the Japanese invaded Northen China. When riding on a through train from Beijing to Hong Kong, he could share his thoughts on the hardship the educated had to suffer and the lost opportunities in the fifties and sixties when policy makers decided to go on their own way of mastering the people and leading members to fight agains each other for political power.
    I have indifference feelings to transport vehicles. Bus is easier because it never get stuck even when one or all the buses ahead of it all break down on the road. But I would say it is a waste of energy and manpower resources to run bus service even when the demand is not there.
    Nowadays in Hong Kong, I feel sick when the politicians put up their show. I am terrified when they start checking the newspaper I read and the business partners I have made. George Orwell's 1984 is coming. Should I escape or should I fight back. If I fight back, will I find a proper team that can unify many along the same beliefs?


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