17 July 2014

Join the Club 入會須知

You have reached a midlife plateau. You have everything you thought you wanted: a happy family, a well-located apartment and a cushy management job. The only thing missing from that bourgeois utopia is a bit of oomph, a bit of recognition that you have played by the rules and done all right. A Porsche 911? Too clichéd. A rose gold Rolex? Got that last Christmas. An extramarital affair that ends in a costly divorce or a boiled bunny? No thanks. How about a membership at one of the city’s country clubs where accomplished individuals like yourself hang out in plaid pants and flat caps? Sounds great, but you’d better get in line.

Always a good sign

Clubs are an age-old concept that traces back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans. The introduction of coffee beans to England in the mid-17th Century spurred the proliferation of coffeehouses for like-minded gentlemen to trade gossip about the monarchy over a hot beverage. In the centuries since, these semi-secret hideouts evolved into main street establishments that catered to different social cliques based on a common profession or pastime. The idea then spread across the English-speaking world, from the British Isles to colonies like America, Australia, India and that tiny speck of land on the south coast of China that would go on to become a shining beacon of capitalism.

In Hong Kong, a place where status is gold and exclusivity is king, private clubs are as much a vestige of our colonial days as they are a symbol of success. Many expat communities have long planted their flags on the city’s prime real estate, with the American Club in Central, the Japanese Club in Causeway Bay and the Indian Club in Tai Hang. For a decidedly unathletic city, we have a full suite of sports clubs, from golf and yachting, to football, cricket and rugby. There is also a growing number of members-only restaurants like the China Club, the Kee Club and the unmistakably Victorian Chariot Club.

The American Club has a country club house in Tai Tam

While the city’s affluence has grown significantly in the last half century, the number of club memberships hasn’t. The waiting lists to get into the more prestigious clubs are measured in years, sometimes decades. Since most clubs require referrals from existing members, applicants are known to weave intricate webs of social connection to befriend the right people to secure a sponsorship. Sometimes they go a step too far. Last year, two gentlemen went from the clubhouse to the big house, from sitting at the bar to sitting behind bars, after they were caught bribing long-time members of the Hong Kong Jockey Club to lie about the length of their acquaintanceship.

But this is Hong Kong after all, which means there is always a way to skip the line so long as you are willing to pay. The transferability of most club memberships has created an active secondary market and allowed those with means to buy their way in. A friend of mine Richard recently sold his membership at the Aberdeen Marina Club – a family heirloom passed down to him after his parents moved back to their native Malaysia – for a whopping HK$3 million (a third of which was kept by the club as a “transfer fee”). Rich, who has a natural disdain for elitism, was over the moon when he received an offer in less than a week after he listed his membership with one of the handful of agencies specialising in private club placement. The buyer didn’t even bother to haggle. When it comes to perpetuating the urban myth of these ultra-exclusive clubs, money is no object. In fact, the more costly the membership gets, the more coveted it becomes. Economists call it a “Veblen good” – commodities whose demand and price move in the same direction in violation of the basic laws of supply and demand.

The prestigious Aberdeen Marina Club

If you wonder what it is about these private clubs that make people pay a fortune – sometimes risk prison – to get in, then look no further than the famous 80s sitcom theme song that sums it up for you: sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. Indeed, there is something inherently comforting and almost narcotic about hearing someone say "Welcome back, Mr./Ms. [Insert your surname here]." In the developed world, members-only clubs are the last bastion of English aristocracy. They are one of the very few places in the middle class milieu where respect and camaraderie can be bought and sold, and where you are greeted as if you were all four Beatles on a reunion tour each time you walk through the guarded doors.

But Hong Kong is also a pragmatic city. The costs and benefits of every investment are carefully weighed, especially for a big ticket item like club memberships. Even the deep-pocketed would be hard pressed to shell out millions just to feel like Norm in Cheers. For bankers and insurance agents who have their eyes on the big fish, it is all about the networking. The Aberdeen Marina Club, for instance, is where property tycoons like the Lees, the Hos and the Kwoks rub elbows and chug down a pint at one of the four in-house restaurants. Or so I heard from Rich, who used to spend his weekends there with his parents until he hawked his membership for a vacation home in Phuket. “Very few members actually own a boat at the club,” my friend observed. Rich is right: who gives a flip about sailing when A-list celebs are lying around like red meat in a shark tank? And who fusses over the seven-figure joining fee when you can earn many times more in future business?

Where everybody knows your name

The quintessential human nature to want to belong – and to move in circles beyond one’s reach – is what makes private clubs irresistible. If you look hard enough, however, you will notice that this club mentality has already seeped into mainstream society. Hotels, airlines, credit cards and even cell phone manufacturers (Vertu comes to mind) have long rebranded themselves into members-only clubs, offering concierge services, lounge access and other VIP benefits that are designed to make outsiders feel left out, like the kid who wants a train set but gets a sweater on Christmas Day. To dumb it down for the masses, these programmes are often tiered – silver, gold, platinum and super duper titanium – so that social climbers can see the progress they have made and the distance left to go.

From the Jockey Club to the Diners Club, the golf club to the alumni club, memberships confer status, cache, and if it all works out, business opportunities and upward mobility. While a segment of society continues to fight head over heels to get a foot in the door, it is perhaps instructive to point out that there is one club so exclusive and so one-of-a-kind whose membership no amount of money or social connection can buy, and yet it requires no application form, no referral and no joining fee. If only we take a step back to see the forest for the trees, we will realize that the ultimate club is the one that each of us is born into: our own family. It may not be much of a status symbol in the conventional sense, but its membership is more selective, fulfilling and useful than what any brick-and-mortar private club can ever offer.

The world's most exclusive club

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This article previously appeared in the July/August 2014 issue of MANIFESTO magazine under Jason Y. Ng's column "The Urban Confessional."

As printed in MANIFESTO

15 July 2014

An Okay Performance 不過不失的一埸

The World Cup is over. Finished. The End.

Now that the soccer circus has left town and the blare of the vuvuzela is no longer ringing in our ears, we can’t help but feel a little lost. I am not talking about that sense of emptiness we get when something spectacular has finally come to an end, like finishing a great vacation or learning your best friend is moving to California. Instead, it feels more like watching a firework rocket into the sky, explode and then realizing that it is merely good but not great. Okay lah, as we Hong Kongers would say.

Calling this World Cup a bore or a disappointment would have been too harsh. To be fair, there was no shortage of twists and turns, surprising upsets and reversals of fortune. Who could have predicted that past champions France and Italy would crash out after the second round in such public disgrace? Even the once invincible Brazilians became suddenly beatable, losing 1-2 to The Netherlands in the quarter-finals. But as much as the suspension of disbelief kept our adrenaline rush going, this World Cup has left many a soccer fan unsatisfied, especially those who have been around long enough to remember what it was like to watch the spectacle in the 70s and 80s, with moments so beautiful that they alternately hushed the audience and roused it to a frenzy. As if to prove that none of the star players nowadays is deserving of his celebrity status, Paul the Psychic Octopus, trapped in an aquarium thousands of miles away, stole the show without so much as a kick or a header.

So what’s changed? The world today is a very different place than it was three, four decades ago. During the Cold War era, the notion of friends and foes, us versus them was much more clear cut. Back then international sporting events like the World Cup were as much emotionally charged as they were symbolically significant. But much of that last century romance disappeared when the Eastern Bloc fell, and the world slowly realigned itself into an ever-shifting balance of power among the United States, Europe and China. Perhaps the World Cup would have been more exhilarating if other “Axis of Evil” regimes were to join North Korea in the tournament against the terrorist-fighting West. A playoff between Iran’s Jihadists and America’s Freedom Fighters would have been an epic battle between good and evil worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy.

Technological advancement and mobility of players – spurred by intense inter-league trading – have also changed the game of soccer by leveling the playing field across the globe. Countries can now study each other, learn from each other and, much to soccer fans’ dismay, play like each other. The painfully robotic Germans, for instance, are now able to work the field as gracefully as the Argentineans, whereas the South Koreans these days often display traces of samba football once found only in sweltering Brazil. As styles merge and nationalities blur, the signature moves and quirky antics that make a team instantly recognizable are slowly becoming a thing of the past. And the World Cup that used to draw us in and blow us away has given way to a series of safe and predictable plays, stuff that belongs to the “okay lah” category alongside the Olympics and the Oscars.

But don’t tell that to the Spaniards or the South Africans. First-time champion Spain has obvious reasons to celebrate and for a few days citizens could legitimately take their minds off unemployment and national debt. Just as excited, South Africans patted themselves on the back for throwing a coming-out party without a hitch, making skeptics who warned of violent crime and other calamities look like a bunch of party poopers. While commentators continue to debate how much of the World Cup money will trickle down to the 50% of the South African population living below the poverty line, World Cup 2010 has already paid off by lifting the spirit of a nation still trotting down the arduous road to reconciliation after a half-century of apartheid. Nothing captures Nelson Mandela’s call to “forget and forgive” better than pictures of black South Africans waving the Dutch flags during the final match in support of their former white oppressors. That must be what they mean by the healing power of sports.

I have never been a big fan of any spectator sports. Still it wasn’t difficult for me to get into the World Cup spirit in Hong Kong. Here, the quadrennial event is much more than a soccer tournament; it is a high-stake enterprise. The Hong Kong Jockey Club, the dubiously “non-profit” organization that enjoys a legal monopoly over soccer betting, raked in a multi-billion dollar windfall from the 52-game tournament, especially given the large number of surprising results in this World Cup. And in the zero-sum game of soccer gambling, the Jockey Club made its fortune on the backs of grassroots citizens lured by the prospects of winning millions simply by picking the color of the team uniform. And that’s not even counting illegal gambling, a bourgeoning social problem in Hong Kong that spikes with every major soccer tournament broadcast in the city. In the weeks and months ahead, news stories of cash-strapped citizens driven to self-destruction by bookies and loan sharks will begin to surface. Just a few days ago, I read an article in a local newspapers about a problem gambler who lost $100,000, many times his monthly salary, in a single World Cup quarter-final match. It was then I realized that no matter how dull and unexciting the World Cup becomes, we can always count on the addictive power of gambling to bring us back to that SoHo sports bar in the dead of night every four years.

02 July 2014

We Have Spoken 我們發聲了

I have taken part in every July 1 march since I moved back to Hong Kong in 2005. That makes yesterday’s march my ninth. I have the routine down pat: I will put on a black T-shirt, eat a hearty lunch and agree on a time to meet my friends in Causeway Bay. I will bring both sunscreen and a small umbrella because the Hong Kong summer, like its politics, is never predictable. Take this year for instance. Who would have thought that Beijing would release the bluntly-worded White Paper – an assertion of total control over the city and a bonanza for protest organizers – less than a month before the most politically sensitive day on our calendar?  

A crowd like no other

At the Central MTR station, I was about the only man in black. I must have missed the call on social media to wear white to mock the White Paper. But it didn’t matter, because our minds were somewhere else when the train reached Causeway Bay. We were awed by the sheer number of people inching away from the platform. It was like a Chinese New Year flower market except this crowd was bigger and more orderly. There is a lot on our minds these days and we wanted to say it with our feet. And the people have spoken.

I met up with a friend in front of Sogo. Matthew, a Shanghai native, is a law professor at Hong Kong University. This is his fifth year in the city but his first time joining a march. I told Matt that people came out not only because of the White Paper but also to vent our anger over a laundry list of issues: the northeastern NT redevelopment bill, Beijing’s stance on the 2017 chief executive election and its outright dismissal of the unofficial referendum on election methods in which nearly 800,000 Hong Kongers had participated. I also told Matt that we must enter Victoria Park to be counted by the police, and that authorities routinely under-report the headcount to downplay the level of public frustration. But it didn’t matter, because I was there and I saw it with my own eyes. The size of the crowd this year was not like anything I had seen the other eight times. I knew the people have spoken.

Causeway MTR station

Over the course of the march, I took pains to visit as many as sidewalk booths as I could. I waved at Lee Cheuk Yan (李卓人), union leader and chairman of the Democratic Alliance. I shook the hands of all three Occupy Central organizers – Benny Tai (戴耀廷), Chu Yiu-ming (朱耀明) and Chan Kin-man (陳健民) – and told them how thankful I was for all that they have done and still to do. I also chatted with Erica Yuen (袁彌明), chairlady of People Power. She offered to meet me at her party booth near Wanchai’s Southorn Playground if I wanted to talk more and ask her a few questions. I said “sure,” although I knew I probably wouldn’t see her again for the rest of the day. I had to move with the crowds and stay with my friend. But it didn’t matter, because I had no questions and she need not give me any answers. The turnout yesterday was more powerful than any statement a politician could make. For the people have spoken.

People Power's Erica Yuen

By the time we reached Admiralty and the office towers in Central came into view, the sun had begun to set. The sky suddenly dimmed and the rain started to come down in sheets. Colorful umbrellas pop-opened like daisies. I couldn’t tell whether the untimely downpour was angel tears or a divine intervention to disperse the crowds. But it didn’t matter, because someone somewhere started playing “Under a Vast Sky” (《海闊天空》) through a megaphone. The song, written by a beloved 80s Cantopop band, speaks of ideals and defiance and is the closest thing to a national anthem we have. The marchers instantly broke into song, and the words sent goose bumps all over my soaked body. Rain? What rain? The people have spoken!

Rain? What rain?

We left the rally near Pedder Street. At a café, I went through the photos on my phone and posted some of them on Facebook and Instagram. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then these images would amount to a history book. The pictures of citizens streaming down Hennessy Road, of old people and young people and people in wheelchairs, didn’t just record history, they reclaimed it. After I said goodbye to Matthew, I bowed my head and said a prayer for the students who would remain on Chater Road for an overnight sit-in and who would almost certainly be removed by riot police. I also prayed for the upcoming Occupy Central showdown, a battle that we can’t win but still must fight. Perhaps that, too, doesn’t matter, because the people have already spoken.

They need all the support they can get

30 June 2014

Media Attention + Upcoming Events 媒體關注 + 最新動向

Speaking at Harvard Club Book Prize 2013

Celebrity Judge at Discover Hong Kong's 2014 Best of the Best Culinary Awards
Venue: Chinese Cuisine Training Institute, Pokfulam
Date: 13 August 2014

Release of Queen of Statue Square, a New Anthology of Short Stories
(with short story "Neville's Painting" by Jason Y. Ng)
Date: 30 September 2014

Author-Panelist at Hong Kong International Literary Festival 2014
Venue: TBD
Date: 9 November 2014

If you would like Jason Y. Ng, author of No City for Slow Men and HONG KONG State of Mind, to speak at your school or organization, please contact him at info@jasonyng.com.

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2014 (to date)

Featured in the Apple Daily
Date: 10 July 2014

Appearance on RTHK Radio3
Show: "HK Heritage" with presenter Annemarie Evans
Date: 5 July 2014

Appearance on Malaysia's BFM Business Radio
Show: "Current Affairs" with presenter Sharaad Kuttan
Date: 1 July 2014

Author Panelist at 2014 Cooler Lumpur Festival Hosted by the British Council
Date: 20 - 22 June 2014
Venue: Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia

Second Printing of No City for Slow Men
Date: 1 June 2014

Featured in the Apple Daily
Date: 29 May 2014

Speaker at Inaugural Thought Leadership Luncheon Hosted by Latham & Watkins
Date: 22 May 2014
Venue: 18/F, One Exchange Square

Became Music Critic for TimeOut Magazine
Inaugural review: Gounod's Faust by Opera Hong Kong
Date: 12 May 2014

Meeting with Pathfinders HK, an Organization Serving the Migrant Women Community 
Date: 14 May 2014
Venue: Tai Kok Tsui, Kowloon

Appearance on RTHK Radio3
Show: "Something for the Weekend" with presenter Tim Littlechild
Date: 11 May 2014

Moderator at 2014 Intellectual Property Conference at Hong Kong University Faculty of Law
Topic: Charting the New Frontiers of Intellectual Property: Protection of Fashion Brands
Date: 10 May 2014
Venue: HKU, Pokfulam

Guest Presenter and Book Signing at Harvard Club Book Award 2014
Date: 9 May 2014
Venue: Diocesan Boys' School Auditorium

No City for Slow Men Selected as Book Prize for Harvard Club Book Award 2014
Date: 28 April 2014

Guest Speaker at Li Po Chun United World College
Venue: LPCUWC, Shatin
Date: 15 April 2014 

Official Book Launch of No City for Slow Men
Venue: Bookazine, Lynhurst Terrace
Date: 12 April 2014

Guest Speaker at Author Event at Yew Chung Community College
Venue: YCCC, Kowloon Bay
Date: 10 April 2014

New Book Featured in Shenzhen Daily
Title: "Hong Kong - No City for Slow Men"
Date: 25 March 2014

Local Personality to Promote Hong Kong at the HK Tourism Board Public Relations Summit 2014

Venue: Soho
Date: 4 March 2014

Featured in The Sun
Title: "Defender of Migrant Workers' Rights"
Issue: 1 March 2014

Guest Speaker at Hong Kong University Faculty of Arts
Title: "From Blog to Book"
Date: 18 February 2014
Time: 6:00 pm
Venue: HKU, Pokfulam

Second Appearance on RTHK Radio3 to Discuss New Book
Show: "Asian Threads" with presenter Reenita Malhotra Hora
Date: 1 February 2014

Appearance on RTHK Radio3 to Discuss New Book
Show: "Around Town" with presenter Andrew Dembina
Date: 28 January 2014

Short Stories Going North and Going South Featured in Beijing-based Writers' Forum The Anthill
Date: 24-25 January 2014

Featured in TimeOut Magazine
Title: "Pick Up the Pace"
Issue: 22 January 2014

"Maid in Hong Kong - Part 3" Featured in Philippine Newspaper The Sun
Issue: 16 January 2014

Featured in Cover Story in the SCMP's Young Post
Title: "Mr. Do-It-All"
Date: 16 January 2014


Featured Author at "Meet the Authors on a Tram" Event by DETOUR Classroom
Venue: Repurposed tram departing from North Point
Date: 7 December 2013

Roll-out of Endorsement of "I'm FINished with FINS" Campaign
Date: 28 November 2013

Book Signing Event at Bookazine
Venue: Bookazine, 3/F, Prince's Building
Date: 28 November 2013

Author-Panelist at Hong Kong International Literary Festival 2013
Venue: City University, Run Run Shaw Creative Media Centre
Date: 10 November 2013

Spokesperson for "I'm FINished with FINS" Campaign
Date: October 2013

MANIFESTO  and Jason's Column "The Urban Confessional" Gone Global
News: Hong Kong's only unisex lifestyle magazine is being stocked in bookstores around the world, including the U.S., Europe, Latin America and Australia
Date: September 2013

Media launch for Hong Kong International Literary Festival 2013
Venue: Fringe Club
Date: 24 September 2013

Guest Speaker at "Tastemakers" Fall 2013 Event Organized by Hogan and MANIFESTO
Venue: Pacific Place/Elements
Date: 12-13 September 2013

Featured in AGI China of Leading Italian News Agency Agenzia Giornalistica Italia
Date: August 2013

Guest Writer at British Council's Writer's Brunch
Venue: Chez Patrick, Wanchai
Date: 21 July 2013

Quoted in Influential Italian Literary Magazine Nuovo Argomenti
Title: Bruce Lee Blues
Date: 20 July 2013

"Maid in Hong Kong - Part 2" Featured in Philippine Newspaper The Sun
Issue: 16 July 2013

Guest Speaker at Hong Kong Book Fair 2013 Forum on HK Culture
Topic: Three Views on Documenting Hong Kong in English
Venue: HK Convention & Exhibition Centre, Wanchai
Date: 18 July 2013

Featured in Ming Pao Weekly 明報周刊

Topic: Anglophone literature and its impact on HK identity
Date: 13 July 2013

Featured in HKTDC's Online Weekly HK Trader
Title: In Focus: Literary Hong Kong
Date: 10 July 2013

Guest Speaker at Hong Kong's First "Asia on the Edge" Conference
Topic: Dialogue on Vision and Challenges with Publishers, Editors and Authors
Venue: The Fringe Club Ice Vault, Lower Albert Road
Date: 6 July 2013

Guest Speaker at HKTDC "Cultural July" Seminar
Topic: How to become a blogger/writer in Hong Kong
Venue: Pacific Coffee Emporium, Causeway Bay
Date: 3 July 2013

"Maid in Hong Kong - Part 1" Featured in Philippine Newspaper The Sun
Issue: 1 July 2013

Guest Speaker at HKTDC "Cultural July" Seminar
Topic: How to become a blogger/writer in Hong Kong
Venue: Kowloon Public Library, Ho Man Tin
Date: 30 June 2013

As I See It and The Real Deal Featured in the June Issue of Gafencu
Title: Online and On Topic
Date: June 2013

Venue: The FCC, Lower Albert Road
Date: 4 June 2013

Panel Speaker at "Transforming the Parasite"
Topic: Maid in Hong Kong, the social and cultural impact of the importation of domestic helpers on both the host and the migrant
Venue: Baptist University, Kowloon Tong
Date: 3 June 2013

Featured in The Clickbook by Filipino Blogger/Activist RJ Barrete
Title: How you do it
Venue: Four Seasons, Central
Date: 1 June 2013

Keynote Speaker at Harvard Club Book Award 2013

Topic: How to live a purposeful life
Venue: Education Bureau, Kowloon Tong
Date: 10 May 2013

Third Printing of HONG KONG State of Mind
Date: 25 April 2013

Guest Speaker at the Ladies' Recreation Club
Topic: book club discussion of HONG KONG State of Mind
Venue: The Ladies Recreation Club, Old Peak Road
Date: 18 April 2013

HONG KONG State of Mind Selected as Book Prize for Harvard Club Book Award 2013
Date: April 2013

Featured in The SCMP Education Post
Title: Balancing work and outside interests
Venue: Four Seasons, Central
Date: 20 March 2013

Featured in German blog "Lehrzeit"
Title: Hong Kong's education system and intellectual lethargy
Date: 8 February 2013


Book Signing at Blacksmith Book Booksigning Extravaganza
Venue: Bookazine, Prince's Building, Central
Date: 26 November 2012 

Became Resident Blogger at SCMP.com
Start date: September 2012

Became Contributing Writer for The SCMP Encounters travel magazine and LifeSTYLE/Getaways supplements
Start date: June 2012

Guest Speaker at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD)
Topic: HONG KONG State of Mind
Venue: SCAD, Cheung Sha Wan
Date: 24 May 2012

Interviewed by Finnish Radio Station GB Times
Venue: Four Seasons, Central
Date: 23 May 2012

Guest Speaker at Savannah College of Art and Design
Topic: HONG KONG State of Mind
Venue: SCAD, Cheung Sha Wan
Date: 8 March 2012

Launched Second Blog The Real Deal
Date: 25 February 2012

Release of As We See It, the 2012 Anthology by the HKWC
(with two short stories, "Going North" and "Going South," by Jason Y. Ng)
Venue: The Globe, Soho
Date: 12 March 2012


Launched Official Website
Date: 31 December 2011

Featured in the December issue of The SCMP Post Magazine
Title: Wanderlust
Date: 2 December 2011

Launched Column "The Urban Confessional" in MANIFESTO magazine
Date: September 2011

Second Printing of HONG KONG State of Mind
Date: 20 August 2011

Named "Man of the Year" by Elle Men magazine
Date: May 2011

Featured in White & Case Alumni Newsletter
Title: Alumni spotlight on Jason Y. Ng
Date: April 2011

Official Book Launch of HONG KONG State of Mind
Venue: Bookazine, IFC Mall, Central
Date: 5 March 2011

Interviewed by RTHK Radio 3's Sarah Passmore on "Naked Lunch"
Venue: RTHK, Kowloon Tong
Date: 18 January 2011


Release of HONG KONG State of Mind
Date: 25 December 2010

Became Contributing Writer for Men's Folio magazine
Start date: May 2010


Launched First Blog As I See It
Date: 4 November 2008