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Return of the Masks - Part 1 口罩回歸-上卷


The sudden outbreak of swine flu in Mexico has grabbed the world by the throat. A highly contagious strand of the H1N1 virus, capable of human-to-human transmission, has spread to nearly 20 countries on every continent. Every few hours, CNN updates its country-by-country tally of confirmed and suspected cases like an Olympics medal count. The World Health Organization and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security were quick to declare the outbreak a public health emergency, just short of calling it an all-out pandemic.



This morning, Hong Kong woke up to newsstands plastered with the familiar images of worried citizens wearing those ominous powder blue face masks, except this time the epicenter was a hemisphere away in Mexico City. In the office, I sat through a debriefing session on our disaster recovery plan handed down from the Paris head office. At lunch time, busy salarymen slowed their pace to watch live coverage of the news story on LCD screens, united in a single thought: we’ve been there, we know what it’s like. Six years ago, a sudden outbreak of SARS brought Hong Kong to its knees. The furtive virus with an awkward name made seven million citizens prisoners of their own homes and took away three hundred innocent lives. In a case of life imitating art, Hong Kongers were helplessly praying for a deus ex machine as did citizens of Oran in Albert Camus’ existentialist classic The Plague.



I was in New York when SARS hit Asia in 2003 and was therefore spared from one of the darkest episodes in our city’s history. Every time my brother Kelvin regaled me with first hand accounts of those terrifying six months, a strange feeling of envy would overcome me. He was part of a true defining moment of Hong Kong and I had missed out on it. In much the same way, my other brother Dan was envious of my being in New York City the morning those planes hit the twin towers. I suppose the fortune cookie wish “may you live in interesting times” is not without its truth.


I will always remember the weekend I flew from New York to visit my parents in Toronto during the SARS outbreak. Until then I had no idea that the rest of Canada viewed the respiratory ailment as a “Chinese disease.” On the subway train or in the restaurant, the arrival of a Chinese person (or anyone who looked like one) would draw unwelcome attention, a whisper here and a stare there, our faces suddenly a scarlet letter. Every sneeze or cough from the banished group would cause a minor panic followed by frightened faces scurrying away. The anecdote made me wonder if Hispanic immigrants around the world will experience a similar racial backlash from this swine flu outbreak. Crises, after all, have a way of bringing out the best and the worst in us.


All eyes are now on the Mexican government to see how it responds to the epidemic. Between the swine flu and the equally deadly drug cartel violence that has all but plunged the country into anarchism, 2009 has not been a good year for Mexico. But just as SARS has made Hong Kong a world leader in disease control and thrust our own Margaret Chan (陳馮富珍) to the top job as Director-General of the W.H.O., perhaps Mexico too will come out of the swine flu outbreak stronger and more united than ever.


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About the Author 關於作者

Born in Hong Kong, Jason Y. Ng is a globetrotter who spent his entire adult life in Italy, the United States and Canada before returning to his birthplace to rediscover his roots. He is a lawyer, published author, and contributor to The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, Hong Kong Free Press and EJInsight. His social commentary blog As I See It and restaurant/movie review site The Real Deal have attracted a cult following in Asia and beyond. Between 2014 and 2016, he was a music critic for Time Out (HK)
Jason is the bestselling author of Umbrellas in Bloom (2016), No City for Slow Men (2013) and HONG KONG State of Mind (2010). Together, the three books form a Hong Kong trilogy that tracks the city's post-colonial development. His short stories have appeared in various anthologies. In 2017, Jason co-edited and contributed to Hong Kong 20/20, an anthology that marks the 20th anniversary of the handover. In July 2017, he was appointed Advising Editor for the Los Angeles Review…

Seeing Joshua 探之鋒

“We are here to visit a friend,” I said to the guard at the entrance. 
Tiffany, Joshua Wong Chi-fung’s long-time girlfriend, trailed behind me. It was our first time visiting Joshua at Pik Uk Correctional Institution and neither of us quite knew what to expect.

“Has your friend been convicted?” asked the guard. We nodded in unison. There are different visiting hours and rules for suspects and convicts. Each month, convicts may receive up to two half-hour visits from friends and family, plus two additional visits from immediate family upon request.
The guard pointed to the left and told us to register at the reception office. “I saw your taxi pass by earlier,” he said while eyeing a pair of camera-wielding paparazzi on the prowl. “Next time you can tell the driver to pull up here to spare you the walk.”
At the reception counter, Officer Wong took our identity cards and checked them against the “List.” Each inmate is allowed to grant visitation rights to no more than 10 friends and fam…

What’s Killing Hong Kong Bookstores? 誰令香港的書店滅亡?

Earlier this month, Page One unceremoniously announced the closure of its megastores at Harbour City and Festival Walk, ending the Singapore bookseller’s nearly two-decade stint in Hong Kong. The news came less than two years after Australian outfit Dymocks shut down its IFC Mall flagship and exited the city.
Reaction on social media to the loss of yet another bookstore chain was both immediate and damning. While some attributed Page One’s demise to competition from e-books and online retailers, many put the blame on the lack of a robust reading culture in Hong Kong. Still others pointed their finger at greedy landlords and the sky-high rent they extort from retailers.
But what really killed Page One? An autopsy is in order to examine the cause of death of the book industry’s latest casualty.

E-books
The technorati have long prophesized the end of paper. Portable and affordable, Amazon’s Kindle and other e-readers are the physical book’s worst nightmare. But are they really?
After yea…

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.

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 t…

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

Upcoming events

Interview with Financial Times
Title: TBD by Ben Bland Publication date: early September
Reader at the PEN Hong Kongbilingual reading on human rights as part of the Worldwide Reading of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Venue: Art and Culture Outreach 艺鵠 Date: 6 September Time: 7:30pm
Talk at Raffles Institution (visiting from Singapore)
Topic: Hong Kong political development since the Umbrella Movement Venue: TBD Date: 22 September
Legal workshop for foreign domestic workers at University of Hong Kong's Domestic Workers Empowerment Project (DWEP) Topic: "Understanding Hong Kong Culture" Moderator: Dr. Michael Manio Venue: University of Hong Kong Date: October Time: 10:00am to 12:00pm
Keynote speaker at Leadership & Social Entrepreneurship Program graduation ceremony co-organized by Wimler Foundation and Aeteno University Venue: TBD Date: 22 October Time: 9:00am to 1:00pm
Contributor to HK24 (2017 Anthology by Hong Kong Writers Circle) Release dat…

Maid in Hong Kong - Part 1 女傭在港-上卷

Few symbols of colonialism are more universally recognized than the live-in maid. From the British trading post in Bombay to the cotton plantation in Mississippi, images abound of the olive-skinned domestic worker buzzing around the house, cooking, cleaning, ironing and bringing ice cold lemonade to her masters who keep grumbling about the summer heat. It is ironic that, for a city that cowered under colonial rule for a century and a half, Hong Kong should have the highest number of maids per capita in Asia. In our city of contradictions, neither a modest income nor a shoebox apartment is an obstacle for local families to hire a domestic helper and to free themselves from chores and errands.

On any given Sunday or public holiday, migrant domestic workers carpet every inch of open space in Central and Causeway Bay. They turn parks and footbridges into camping sites with cardboard boxes as their walls and opened umbrellas as their roofs. They play cards, cut hair, sell handicraft and p…

The Moonscape of Sexual Equality - Part 1 走在崎嶇的路上-上卷

There are things about America that boggle the mind: gun violence, healthcare costs and Donald Trump. But once in a while – not often, just once in a while – the country gets something so right and displays such courage that it reminds the rest of the world what an amazing place it truly is. What happened three days ago at the nation’s capital is shaping up to be one of those instances.

Last Friday, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a 5-to-4 decision on same-sex marriage, the most important gay rights ruling in the country’s history. In Obergefell v. Hodges, Justice Kennedy wrote, “It would misunderstand [gay and lesbian couples] to say that they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find fulfillment for themselves… They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.” 
With those simple words, Justice Kennedy made marriage equality a constitutionally prote…

The Hundredth Post 第一百篇

This month marks the third birthday of my blog As I See It, a social commentary on the trials and tribulations of living in Hong Kong. The occasion coincides with the 100th article I have written under the banner. Having reached a personal milestone, I decided to take the opportunity to reflect on my still-young writing career and wallow in, dare we say, self-congratulatory indulgence.

It all started in November 2008 on the heels of the last U.S. presidential election. I was getting ready to create a personal website as a platform to consolidate my interests and pursuits. To do that I needed content. That’s how my blog – or my “online op-ed column” as I prefer to call it – came into being. Before I knew it, I was banging it out in front of my iMac every night, going on and off the tangent and in and out of my stream of consciousness about the odd things I experienced in the city, the endless parade of pink elephants I saw everyday that no one seemed to bat an eyelid at. Though singin…