27 July 2015

10 Years in Hong Kong - Part 1 香港十年 - 上卷


This past Saturday marked my 10th anniversary in Hong Kong.

To be precise, it was the 10th anniversary of my repatriation to Hong Kong. I left the city in my teens as part of the diaspora which saw hundreds of thousands others fleeing from Communist rule ahead of the 1997 Handover. For nearly two decades, I moved from city to city in Europe and North America, never once returning to my birthplace in the interim. Until 2005. That summer, I turned in the keys to my Manhattan apartment, packed a suitcase, and headed east.

A personal milestone


My law firm agreed to transfer me from New York to their Hong Kong outpost half a world away. On my last day of work, Jon, one of the partners I worked for, called me into his office for a few words of wisdom. He told me that there was no such thing as a right or wrong decision, and that people could only make life choices based on what they knew at the time. “I assume you’ve done your due diligence,” Jon gave me wink, “in that case I should wish you good luck. Boldly go, Mr. Ng.” He stood up and shook my hand. “And if for whatever reason things don’t work out over there,” Jon offered, “there’s always a place for you here.”

On 25 July 2005, I boarded my flight, Continental Airlines CO99, at JKF Airport. My heavy carry-on bag was no match for my heavy heart. I never quite wrapped my head around why I decided to return to Hong Kong. Perhaps it was to rediscover my roots. Perhaps it was to find my true calling. Or perhaps it was just an impulse – the kind that makes a boy take apart his father’s watch or set off into the dark forest with a flashlight. Whatever it was, I had made my bed and now I had to lie in it. And lie I did, in the flat bed on the 15-hour transpacific flight. A short nap, two movies (Closer and Finding Neverland) and 12 time zones later, I was home. This sweaty, spastic, hyperventilating city was now my home. Well, not quite – at least not yet. 

My old hood in Manhattan


My first impression of the city was like reading the first two parts of Gulliver’s Travels simultaneously. Hong Kong was a fusion of Lilliput and Brobdingnag, where things were both bigger and smaller than how I remembered them. Buildings were of course taller and shopping malls larger. At the same time, the streets got narrower and the average apartment, the scourge of seven million minus the 1%, felt like a very expensive dollhouse. 

I made a point to visit my family’s old apartment in Tin Hau, the place where I spent my entire childhood with my parents and four siblings. I didn’t have the keys and so I followed someone into the building. For ventilation purposes, residents in old walkups often left their main doors open with the barred metal gates shut. So I was able to peek into one of the units the same size as ours, before being awash in old memories and new revelations. Among the mix of emotions was gratitude: how lucky that all seven of us were able to coexist in this shoebox without murdering each other.

The first thing a newcomer to any city does is get a mobile number. That first night, I walked into Three Mobile in Causeway Bay and walked out with a number that started with a 6. All the 9 numbers were taken, according to the store clerk. It took me back to the time when I first arrived in New York and had to reluctantly accept a 646 mobile number after all the coveted 917s had run out. I took comfort in the sudden realization that big cities weren’t that different from each other after all. 

My first smartphone in Hong Kong was a Sony Ericsson Walkman phone that made calls and played music. It stored up to 80 MP3s and even had a 2-megapixel camera. I felt empowered – it was like having the world in my hands. Updating my address book, however, was an ego deflator. I keyed in my brother Kelvin’s number and that of his wife and perhaps three childhood friends. Those were all the people I knew in Hong Kong outside the office. Big cities have a way of making one feel anonymous, sometimes invisible. My Sony Ericsson wouldn’t let me forget that.

For at least the first year or so, I would mentally divide every number by 8 (or 7.8 if I was up for an arithmetic challenge) to convert the Hong Kong dollar to USD. Cab fare from my apartment to the office was $32 at the time – that came to US$4 and was really quite reasonable. I would keep a list of things I needed to buy on my next family trip to Toronto and New York: toothpaste, dental floss, shampoo and other simple things that I could find in Hong Kong but that weren’t exactly the same as the ones I was used to. Then there were books and magazines – why are books and magazines so expensive here? On my annual “home leave,” I would bring an empty suitcase and come back with a year’s supply of reading material from Amazon.com. 

A maddening place


In December 2007, I opened a Facebook account at the urging of two summer interns visiting from California. I remember my first wall post was a picture taken at my housewarming party. I had just moved to a new apartment after my old lease expired and my landlady asked for a 30% rent hike. The party was well-attended – by then I had made enough friends to fill a respectful address book. Meeting people in Hong Kong turned out to be easier than I first thought, because everyone here seemed to know each other and their third cousin. The three degrees of separation was both handy and frightening, depending on how one carried himself socially. Whatever regrettable things one said or did would come back and bite him in the rear within 48 hours. After getting myself burned a few times, I decided to make Polonius’ advice to “give thy thoughts no tongue” and “reserve thy judgment” Golden Rule No. 2 in my personal Hong Kong Survival Guide. I will come back to Rule No. 1 later.

The rise of social media and the incestuous social circles had turned the already competitive megacity into a cage fight. For all its beauty and wonder, Hong Kong could be a miserable, even toxic, place. It didn’t take me long to realize that the toughest part about living here was neither a lack of space nor the high cost of living. It was peer comparison – the blood sport played by the middle and upper middle classes. It was bad enough to measure success by what one had: where he lived, how much money he made and which schools his children attended. It was so much worse, and borderline pathological, to peg one’s self-worth to what other people had that he didn’t: where his friends lived, how much money his friends made and which schools his friends’ children attended. No wonder people looked so stressed out and high-strung all the time – there was no slowing down on the hamster wheel as long as someone else had more, better things. And someone else always did.

Refusing to play the game, I needed a change. Two years after my transfer to Hong Kong, I left my law firm and became an in-house counsel for a bank. The job gave me a more predictable timetable to explore the universe outside the endless cycle of paychecks and credit card bills, that self-defeating seesaw of making money and spending it on things I didn’t need and never wanted. 

Then, in November 2008, Barack Obama was elected the first African American president of the United States. I was so inspired by his acceptance speech in Chicago’s Grant Park that I finally did something I had put off doing for ages: I wrote my first blog entry. I began writing about politics because that’s what I loved. Contrary to popular belief, local politics was anything but dull. There were so many proverbial elephants roaming in the city that the more I wrote the more there was for me to write about. Call it the butterfly effect or the law of unintended consequences, one thing soon led to another, and my blog grew into more than a bottle tossed into the ocean. Unbeknownst to me at the time, writing would take over my life and rescue me from an existential crisis.

My very first blog post


Time goes by like passing clouds in a time elapse video. But 10 years can also feel like a lifetime. My Manhattan apartment and all the friends and coworkers I left behind in New York are such distant memories that they now belong to the dusty pages of a biography set in a different place in a different time. 

Every now and then, the nagging question of why I decided to return to Hong Kong in the first place still popped into my head. 10 years on, I believe I am close to solving the mystery, and the answer lies in my puzzling reluctance to visit my hometown during all those years of bumming around overseas: I didn’t feel ready. There is something strangely human, even parental, about one’s birthplace; and there is something solemn, almost sacred, about one’s homecoming. For the longest time I was terrified of disappointing the place I loved with what little I had to show for. By 2005, nearly 20 years after I joined the diaspora, I finally felt I was ready. I had seen and experienced enough to come home to do my city proud, if only by a wee bit.

A lot can and did change in a decade. Continental Airlines merged with United three years ago and no longer exists. Sony Ericsson was rebranded before getting decimated by the iPhone, which is now in its sixth generation. I got used to the toothpastes and shampoos local pharmacies carry and stopped stockpiling daily supplies from Wal-Mart and Costco. I still feel like Gulliver sometimes – the relativity of time and space will always confound me no matter how long I have lived here. 

If there is one thing I have learned about surviving Hong Kong, it is that I have to go against the grain and boldly go where no one bothers to go. For life is a funny thing: happiness and fulfillment often lie in places that look dim and unrewarding. That includes writing, a pursuit that few take up because it promises neither fortune nor fame. All that takes me back to Golden Rule No. 1 in my Hong Kong Survival Guidechase not thy own tail and play not the game everyone else plays. Old good Polonius would agree.

If I ever run into Jon on the streets of New York, I will shake his hand once again and tell him that things have worked out quite well for me in Hong Kong. I will tell him that this sweaty, spastic, hyperventilating city is now my home, and that it has always been. 

This, my home



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From personal to political – read Jason’s look back on how Hong Kong has changed in the past decade, for the better and for the worse, in part 2 of this article to be posted later this week.






24 July 2015

Hong Kong's New Disease: Ridiculitis 香港新病:荒謬症


Cynics in the local media like to say: there’s no such thing as the most absurd, only the more absurd. The Cantonese saying may not translate well, but the message is clear – just when we think we have seen everything, something more bizarre will come along to knock us off our feet. That about sums up this past week in Hong Kong, where a spate of mind-boggling events in local politics left citizens jaw-dropped and thinking only one thought: are these people for real?

Several days ago, a woman was convicted of attacking a police inspector with, of all things, her breast. No, this is not one of those “his face ran into my fist!” excuses we used to hear in second grade – it is an actual ruling by a local magistrate. The 30-year-old defendant was found guilty of hitting the officer’s right arm with her bosom during an anti-parallel trade protest in March. It is unclear what kind of injuries the victim had sustained – no medical expert witness was called to testify.

Franklin Chu caught red-handed


In a separate incident which also involves a police officer, superintendent Franklin Chu was accused of using excessive force, after being caught on video whacking innocent onlookers with his baton during a protest last fall. In an investigative hearing, the now retired officer explained that the baton was a mere “extension of [his] arm,” with which he had “patted” passersby to speed up pedestrian traffic. The defense was so creative, and the argument so cutting-edge, that it would make Johnnie Cochrane smile in his grave.

Just when citizens were wondering whether they had been reading the April Fool’s Day edition of The Onion, they were bombarded with still more head-scratching and hair-raising headlines: Watergate, Laundrygate and Livergate. The first refers to the lead-contaminated water supply at a long and growing list of public housing estates, whereas the other two relate to medical blunders at public hospitals involving moldy bed sheets and miscalibrated machines to diagnose liver disease.

Watergate is the most stunning scandal of the three, not only because of the large number of public housing residents it affects, but also the spectacularly blatant attempts by the government to downplay the incident. One official told reporters, with a straight face, that the lead intake is rather safe “if the amount is averaged out over the resident’s lifetime,” while Housing Secretary Anthony Cheung threw a local subcontractor under the bus and pinned the entire blame of the public health crisis on one scapegoat. Meanwhile, the Health Department was under fire for underreporting lead levels – many water samples were collected after the faucet had been running for a few minutes, which allowed the level of contaminants to drop significantly from the actual levels to which residents have been exposed for many years.

Public housing residents being rationed lead-free water


Citizens had barely the time to process these surreal events when our chief executive decided to drop yet another bombshell at a hastily called press conference Monday afternoon. Addressing shellshocked reporters all by himself (which in itself was unusual), C.Y. Leung announced that Tsang Tak-sing, longtime bureaucrat and brother of Legco chairman Tsang Yuk-sing, would step down as Secretary for Home Affairs, and that the position would be filled by Lau Kong-wah, former vice chairman of the pro-Beijing DAB party. Also fired – I mean retiring – was Civil Service Secretary Paul Tang, who would be replaced by Customs Commissioner Clement Cheung, a political unknown.

The sudden cabinet reshuffle is astonishing for two reasons. First, both departures have added to the massive hemorrhage of personnel at the top level of government since C.Y. Leung took office in 2012. 11 other high ranking officials have either resigned or forced to leave in the past three years. The revolving door that is Leung’s cabinet speaks volumes about the boss’s people skills and ability to lead. Second, the appointment of Lau Kong-wah as Home Affairs Secretary flies in the face of meritocracy and reflects Leung’s “bite me” attitude toward critics. Lau is a washed-up politician so reviled that netizens compare him to a public trash can. His failure to keep his Legco seat in the 2012 elections drew revelers to celebrate outside his councilman’s office. Lau's surprise promotion this week, which will nearly triple his current salary as Mainland Affairs Undersecretary, feels like a practical joke for Leung to spite opponents.

The cabinet reshuttle: (from the left) Tsang, Tang, Lau and Cheung


Anywhere else in the world, any one of the foregoing events would have caused a public uproar. Having all of them happen in the same week would have sent angry mobs to the streets – vehicles would have been set on fire and government buildings stormed. Lawmakers would have initiated a vote of no confidence to remove the political leader. Not so in Hong Kong. After the initial shock has passed, the news cycle hurtles on. Each headline elicits a dry laugh from citizens and makes them pause for a moment, before everyone returns to whatever it is that they busy themselves with. Hong Kongers now have the memory of a goldfish and the attention span of a hyperactive toddler.

To get a sense of this collective ADHD, look no further than what has been trending on social media these past few days. Two pieces of entertainment news received wall-to-wall coverage on Facebook, and completely eclipsed political issues of far greater importance. The first relates to Canto-pop singer Hacken Lee, who has won some singing contest in China wearing a mask on stage to conceal this celebrity identity. Whoopie doo. Then another pop singer Juno Mak posted a trilogy of gut-wrenching ballads with which love sick listeners seem to resonate. Whoopie whoopie doo. Suddenly, all that outrage about police brutality, lead poisoning and Mr. Trash Can vanished from the public consciousness. Anger and indignation are switched off and replaced by a whole different set of emotions. But Hacken and Juno shouldn’t celebrate too quickly either  the moment the next cat video or grumpy baby meme comes along, they too will suffer the same fate and disappear into the echo chamber of the Internet.

Hacken Lee, a major distraction


The phenomenon is hardly limited to the general public – even the victims in some of the news stories are having a hard time staying focused. Take the Watergate scandal as an example. Tens of thousands of public housing residents have been exposed to lead for years, which may have caused kidney failure, heart disease, reproductive problems, and for babies and young children, brain damage. So far, at least 39 residents were found to have excessive lead in their blood, of whom 27 are children under six and the remaining 12 are lactating mothers. Does it mean riots at the housing estates or heads rolling at the Housing Department? Not quite. As soon as the government brought in free bottled water and free water filters, and promised to replace faucets and pipes in the coming months, the complaints subsided. Lead-poisoned residents happily accepted the government’s band-aid solutions, never mind the long term health effects or holding the negligent parties responsible. Allegations that a Chinese state-owned construction company had supplied substandard faucets swirled around for a while and faded away. Like everything else, the issue flamed out after the news cycle passed.

Hong Kong is suffering from a bad case of ridiculitis. Each government action or inaction gets more absurd than the last. But instead of demanding answers and accountability, citizens are more blasé and easily distracted than ever. Their attention span may have gotten shorter still after the Umbrella Movement ended last winter. Since then, many have been mired in hopelessness and detachment. Hong Kongers can’t help but feel that nothing they say or do – even after taking the drastic step of staging a massive protest that paralyzed large swaths of the city for 79 days – is able to change a thing. Their government and, to a larger extent, Beijing, are like a brick wall, immovable and impervious to any amount of kicking and screaming. In other words, their cynicism is merely a coping mechanism. For if they take things too seriously and fight too tenaciously, they will wind up hurting and disappointing themselves.

If this didn't work, what will?

So we end up right where authorities want us to be: in a state of willing submission where “oh well” is the response to every policy and decision, no matter how shocking or absurd. Nevertheless, if we genuinely care about our city and don’t want to be the docile subjects we are gradually becoming, then we had better start paying attention to things that actually matter, and keep our eyes on the ball until common sense is restored. Everything else, like Hacken and Juno, is just social anesthesia. 


14 July 2015

The City that Doesn’t Read 不看書的城市


The Hong Kong Book Fair is the city’s biggest literary event, drawing millions of visitors every July. The operative word in the preceding sentence is “visitors,” for many of them aren’t exactly readers. A good number show up to tsau yit lau (湊熱鬧) or literally, to go where the noise is.

In recent years, the week-long event has taken on a theme park atmosphere. It is where bargain hunters fill up empty suitcases with discounted books, where young entrepreneurs wait all night for autographed copies only to resell them on eBay, and where barely legal – and barely dressed – teenage models promote their latest photo albums. And why not? Hong Kongers love a carnival. How many people visit a Chinese New Year flower market to actually buy flowers?

Official poster for the Hong Kong Book Fair 2015


If books are nourishment for the soul, then the soul of our city must have gone on a diet. In Hong Kong, not enough of us read and we don’t read enough. That makes us an “aliterate” people: able to read but not interested in reading. According to a study by Lingnan University, 42% of the local population does not read anything other than magazines and newspapers.

The actual percentage is likely higher, considering that some respondents may feel embarrassed to admit they don’t read, while others may have counted flipping through a travel guide or looking up a word in the dictionary as reading.

If you think I’m being cynical, ask 10 people you know and see how many of them can name the author of Dream of the Red Chamber, one of the four great classics in the Chinese canon. How many of them actually think Franz Kafka is a luxury watch brand?

So what went wrong?

Not conducive to having a library


The intuitive answer is stress. Life in Hong Kong sometimes feels like an never-ending daisy chain of deadlines and to-do lists, and the last thing we want to do after a 14-hour work day is to pick up an epic novel printed in eight point font. A common complaint I hear from my friends is that reading tires their eyes and puts them to sleep.

But the stress argument doesn’t pass muster.

First of all, books are just like movies – they are a form of escapist entertainment. If Patton or Schindler’s List is too heavy, then go with a comedy or an anime. You don’t have to choose Shakespeare or Kierkegaard for bedtime reading.

Second, we are hardly the only people under stress. The Japanese and the Koreans, for instance, have equally demanding lives and face an even more oppressive office culture. Subway trains in Tokyo and Seoul are packed with commuters whose noses are buried in paperback novels.

By contrast, in Hong Kong we rarely find readers on any mode of public transport. It is always easy to pick out Hong Kong vacationers in beach resorts like Bali and Phuket – they are the only people carrying a tabloid magazine instead of a book.

If stress doesn’t explain our bibliophobia, then there must be something about our culture. 

More like a carnival


Reading, like brushing our teeth and eating vegetables, starts from an early age. The habit begins at home. Whereas it is common in the West for families to have a small library at home, very few families in Hong Kong see the need – or have the space – to do so.

According to the same Lingnan University study, 14% of local homes do not have a single book other than textbooks. To many young children, reading for pleasure is considered a distraction from school work. Worse still, children who read books can be branded as antisocial and, in the age of the iPad and Xbox, rather uncool.

The situation doesn’t get better with age, as constant internal assessments at school bear down on students and the threat of make-or-break public exams loom large. As a result, local students applying for university are invariably tripped up by one simple question on the application form: What was your favorite book read outside class in the past twelve months and why?

Out in the real world, reading seems even more irrelevant. Hong Kongers pride themselves on being fast thinkers and smart workers. We put in minimum effort and get maximum results. Who needs books when we have Wikipedia and Google? As more and more citizens get their news from online sources, even tabloid magazines and free newspapers – the literary staple of 42% of the population – are facing obsolescence. The cultural desert is getting dryer by the day.

While nearly half of Hong Kongers don’t read, everyone seems to appreciate the benefits of reading. Every weekend, bookstores across the city are packed with parents binge shopping for their kids, from pop-up books to world classics and biographies of scions and celebrities. When it comes to nourishing young minds, money is no object.

In fact, children’s books now account for nearly 40% of book sales in Hong Kong. The rationale is simple: children need to appear well read to get into good schools. But that’s hardly the way to foster a reading environment at home. If mom and dad themselves do not read, then reading is simply one of those things that children are forced to do, like playing the violin or practicing karate. Very few end up keeping up with their childhood hobbies as they grow up.

Children are supposed to read, adults aren't


Turning to the 58% of the population that claims to be regular readers, the question becomes what they read. A survey by a local think tank indicates that less than half of the respondents are interested in fiction. The majority of readers go for the usual suspects: finance, self-help, travel, health and astrology.

There are very few local novelists in Hong Kong, and the only fiction genres that sell well are martial arts and Danielle Steel-esque romance. Let’s face it, Hong Kong is a utilitarian society. Everything we do must serve a purpose and the purpose is usually rooted in money. Non-fiction is popular because it is considered more “useful.” Fiction, on the other hand, is often dismissed as a waste of time or a luxury for retirees. Never mind that research after research has shown that reading even short stories can improve our cognitive abilities and help us exercise better judgment.

I grew up in a family of readers. My father worked in the newspaper industry, which helped instil in all of us an appreciation for the written word. There were books all around the house and we could always pick one up and start reading. We did it not because it would make us smarter or more knowledgeable, but because the books were just there. Once we started the first chapter, we wouldn’t be able to put it down. This was especially true with fiction, which took us to different places and different times. My parents never had to force us to read – it just happened naturally.

If there is one thing I learned from my childhood, it is that access holds the key to cultivating a reading habit. Perhaps that’s what the Hong Kong Book Fair hopes to achieve: to increase access to books for millions of aliterate citizens. Anything that brings people closer to the printed word, even only for a week, cannot be a bad thing.

So bring on the teenage models.

Teenage models promoting their risqué photo books

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This essay previously appears in the author’s book No City for Slow Men.



01 July 2015

The Moonscape of Sexual Equality - Part 2 走在崎嶇的路上-下卷


Jason Y. Ng sat down with Ray Chan, the city’s first and only openly-gay lawmaker, last Saturday. They talked about the state of sexual equality in Hong Kong in the wake of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage.

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Ray Chan, addressing Legco


JN: What does the Friday court ruling mean to you?

RC: It means everything. It sends a powerful message to the world that marriage is a right for all and not a privilege for a few. It pains me to say that in Hong Kong we face tremendous pushback from conservative groups and bureaucrats on even a simple piece of anti-discrimination legislation to protect the LGBT community. Same-sex marriage is still many years away.


JN: What initiatives are you working on at Legco [Hong Kong’s legislature]?

RC: As you are well aware, individual lawmakers don’t have the right to initiate new legislation at Legco. So we must wait for the government to draft a bill and present it to us before we can debate it and propose amendments. We’ve been talking about having a sexual discrimination ordinance for years, but so far nothing has happened. The Equal Opportunities Commission is due to issue a report next week to urge the government to pick up the slack.

In the meantime, I’m spearheading a non-binding motion debate at Legco to introduce civil union in Hong Kong. Same-sex marriage is our ultimate goal, but we need to have civil union as a near-term compromise to give gay and lesbian couples basic rights like hospital visitation and medical decision-making. If a person dies in a traffic accident today, his male partner can’t even retrieve his body from the morgue or make funeral arrangements. These are matters of human dignity that need to be addressed right away.



The computer says "no"


JN: What are the main obstacles facing these initiatives?

RC: There are two. First of all, many top government officials are devout Christians who still see the LGBT community as a threat to society and their faith. They are in no rush to change the status quo.

Second, most seats in the functional constituencies in Legco are taken up by socially conservative, pro-establishment businessmen. They are resistant to change and worried about their bottom line if the law were to require companies to extend same-sex benefits to their employees. These people will tell you they are not homophobes, but their voting records say otherwise.

Your question about obstacles is very much linked to the issue of universal suffrage. Public support for anti-sexual discrimination legislation now hovers at around 60%. If we had a chief executive and lawmakers who answered to their voters, things would have moved much more quickly for us. We need to have an accountable government that does what the people want them to do. That’s why we defeated the electoral reform bill on 18 June.


JN: How do you compare Hong Kong to other Asian countries in terms of sexual equality?

RC: I was at Pink Dot [the largest LGBT event in Singapore] two weeks ago. There were partygoers who flew in from all over the region. Event organizers lined up corporate sponsors like Google, Goldman Sachs and Bloomberg. The atmosphere was electric. Then there is Taiwan: we started our gay rights movement at about the same time as the Taiwanese did theirs. Gay Pride in Taipei now easily attracts 60,000 to 70,000 people. Even the mayor and other senior government officials come out to show support. Hong Kong is many years behind them – not that I really want to march next to C.Y. Leung at Pride!


Then mayor Ma Ying-jeou attending Gay Pride


JN: Are you hopeful that the city will catch up with countries like America and Canada on the issue of same-sex marriage?

RC: I am. Things happen very slowly here but they will happen eventually. I am prepared to wait out the current generation of bible-thumping bureaucrats. The younger generation is far more accepting and well-informed about LGBT issues. We saw that during Occupy Central last fall, when protestors teased Alex and Lester about BL. [Alex Chow and Lester Shum were leaders of the Hong Kong Federation of Students known for their well-publicized bromance. “BL” stands for boys’ love, a slang for homoerotic fan fiction and comic books marketed primarily to the female audience.]

And look at all those rainbow-colored profile pictures on Facebook. Even the fence-sitter and the so-called “silent majority” are now taking a stance. This kind of public support for the LGBT community would have been unthinkable just a couple of years ago. Whether the social conservatives like it or not, the cultural landscape is shifting, not just in the West but everywhere else.


JN: People are still talking about the Michael Chugani article in response to your MTR encounter. What do you have to say to Mr. Chugani?

RC: I’m disappointed. As an experienced reporter, he should know the difference between hate speech and free speech. As a racial minority, he should understand what it’s like to be part of a prejudiced group.


JN: What message do you have for Hong Kong people?

RC: I want everyone to know that we are not some monsters or circus animals. Nor are we a threat to anybody. We are people just like everyone else. We don’t want any special treatment or privilege. We just want to be treated with dignity and equality. I see that as a very basic request.

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Alexter's bromance has inspired many BL manga


After our chat, I asked Chan where he was heading and he told me Jervois Street. The back alley in Sheung Wan boasts the largest gay scene in the city, where a cluster of bars and dance clubs blast techno music and spill noisy crowds onto the sidewalk. Chan had made plans to meet up with his colleagues there – they had brought flyers and life-size banners to promote voter registration for the upcoming local elections. I asked him whether a serious topic like that would go over well with the Saturday night crowd, especially when everyone would be celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

“It’ll go over very well,” Chan said with marked confidence. “I’ll explain to my brothers and sisters that sexual equality and civic participation go hand in hand. Together, we will show the government that the pink vote counts. What happened in America can happen here too, but first we must make ourselves heard at the ballot.”

With that, I shook his hand and thanked him for his time. Before he finished saying goodbye, his phone rang and it was the Apple Daily wanting to get his thoughts on Obergefell v. Hodges. He mouthed the words “see you around” before disappearing, phone on ear, into the eddy of weekend revelers on Wyndham Street. From a distance, I could hear him trying to explain the concept of civil union to the reporter on the other end of the line.


Ray Chan and the gay-friendly People Power party at Gay Pride