21 April 2009

Why Must All Our Minibuses Be Yellow? 難道小巴總是黃色的?






You hail it like a taxi but you share it shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers as you do a double-decker bus. Sixteen riders sit snugly in cellophane-wrapped seats, their eyes glued to the flickering speed display installed by law to discourage speeding. It is the omnipresent minibus: our perky, peculiar and indispensable means of public transport.


Invariably painted a soft hue of yellow, the minibus dons a green or red top (depending on its route) and sits on four dark-skinned tires with yellow rims that match the body. So long as the fare is paid, each passenger takes up a single seat and submits to the vagaries of the unpredictable driver. It is an egalitarian experience in an otherwise stratified society...
_______________________

Read the rest of this article in HONG KONG State of Mind, published by Blacksmith Books, available at major bookstores in in Hong Kong, on Amazon and at Blacksmith Books.



34 comments:

  1. A very thought-provoking and well-written post. There are some pressing problems in Hong Kong which really need to be tackled before they worsen to a point where they will be hard to fix and generations ahead of us will see these problems, not as problems, but as the norm.

    I think a major problem is that the higher education system in Hong Kong focuses too much on competition, as opposed to fostering social development and learning outside of the classroom. Such an environment will create situations in which students spend most of their time studying to obtain the top marks in their courses, which are bell curved. Yet, in doing such, the students needlessly stress themselves and prevent themselves from learning stuff outside of the classroom. In addition, it hampers their English skills, as they don't interact with the exchange students (of which there are many). Such prevents a mix of culture. In the end, many of my friends whom are less focused on competition in courses, yet are more rounded, in terms of social skills, worldly knowledge, and English skills are the ones who obtain the top jobs. They have fun during university instead of slaving away into their books, yet by balancing life and study. Those who slave away prevent themselves from learning social skills and worldly knowledge and it shows during job interviews. In the end, all the hard work and lack of fun didn't pay off.

    I study outside of Hong Kong, yet did spend a semester at HKU and such shocked me. The mentality of the students really shows me how sometimes Hong Kong isn't so educated in many ways. At the university I go to in the US, we receive many exchange students each semester from all over the world. The students are always able to have fun together as a large exchange group. Yet, the HKU students constantly stick among themselves instead of mixing with the larger group. The HK locals play among themselves for the most party, which really prevents them from learning about other cultures and the world. It also prevents them from improving their English skills. The mainland exchange students cannot seem to get the notion of competition outside of their minds, and waste an exchange semester in their rooms studying. This is despite the fact that HKU doesn't transfer the marks over, so the grades the students get in the US don't matter for the most part. As long as classes are passed (it's almost impossible to fail a class actually), they are set. What was the point of going on exchange if you don't even explore the country you are in and meet new people?

    As university students show us a large percentage of the population and their lives will influence the lives of their future children, we get an idea of how the population of HK will be in the near future. Such really does show the cultural problem facing HK. The people must look at the wider world and realise that there is more out there. Learn from others' history and mistakes so HK won't suffer the same. Look at what other countries and people do really well, and see if it can be applied to HK. HK people can learn a lot if they just deviate from their hectic daily lives just once in a while.

    Jason, thanks for sharing your thoughts and keep the excellent blog posts coming!

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  2. Well written,and quite an improvement from the elitist impression I got from your Kowloon post last time. One thing I'd suggest is making your blog bilingual? Perhaps the local HK-ese may want to read this as well. You can translate your posts on Google translate, then modify the grammar and structures yourself.

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  3. Hi Andrew,

    Thanks very much for your thoughtful comment. I completely agree with your view that there is much more to a university education than what's taught in the classroom. At the risk of making sweeping statements, I do notice that Hong Kong students (particularly this current generation) tend to lack basic social skills, intellectual curiosity and the ability to form, express and defend opinions. While these "deficiencies" do not always surface in day-to-day life, they become apparent and restraining the moment they leave their home turf, whether it is to continue their education abroad or to attend a business meeting involving participants from other countries.

    I went to college in the U.S. and, based on my first-hand observations, foreign students from Hong Kong did very much stick together and form their own clique, defeating the principal purpose of getting a foreign education that is to broaden their horizons.

    Cheers,

    Jason

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  4. Hi Karin,

    Thanks for your input.

    My "Kowloon Complex" was not meant to be degrading or disrespectful. But it did come off sounding elitist and snobbish, as your negative response was not the only one I received. This weekend I will read it again and see if I can soft the edge without taking away my message.

    I have been thinking about going bilingual since I started keeping my column back in November. I have thought about hiring a professional translator -- won't cost much I hope, perhaps a university student majoring in translation -- or doing it myself -- although it will be time-consuming and I would rather spend my scarce time writing new articles. If you have further details on your translation suggestion, please do share.

    Cheers,

    Jason

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  5. I agree with both Karin and Andrew. This is, indeed, a well-written post from you, Jason. It would be beautiful to see a balance of both "integration/assimilation" and multiculturalism here in the city. Too much of one or the other has its disadvantages.

    What a testament to its vision and governance if Hong Kong can one day enjoy unity in the midst of diversity! We may all be of different colors or races, or tongues but our desire for life, love and respect are common to all.

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  6. Thanks, Maria. I think every developed country is looking for that perfect balance between the two competing models. Hong Kong is far behind on that search. Most people here are very practical: they don't like to be inconvenienced and won't take an interest in anything unless it benefits them financially... perhaps I'm being a bit cynical.

    Jason

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  7. Hi Jason,

    I'm happy to see that you can take criticism well. I admit that I slightly over-reacted to your original post--more like out of frustration generally at what I consider as elitest attitudes from people in Hong Kong. I was born in Canada, raised in HK, Toronto and Beijing, and I'm proud of all places. I love Hong Kong. But I just get upset when I see people in Hong Kong mis-treating each other out of superficial values. I think it does this city, and its unique culture, injustice.

    Anyway, as for the bi-lingual stuff, I do it on google translator for now. Take a look at my start-up website: www.mbacracker.com. I have to say I've done a lousy job, but I'll fix that soon. But I also ask friends, so I haven't paid anybody yet.

    BTW, how much do you pay for facebook ads?

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  8. you are ....how to say,I have no word to say.you just bring hidden things in peoples mind to light.great. I give you a million thanks.keep going.......write for us. -KIM

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  9. Thanks, KIM, for your praises and continued support. As long as you promise to keep writing, I sure will keep writing.

    Jason

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  10. Thanks, Karin. I am always excited to receive comments, good ones and bad. Without them, it would be kind of like getting dressed without a mirror.

    I will continue to give the translation idea serious consideration. Is MBA Cracker your business? How impressive! Add me on Facebook (jasonngglobal@hotmail.com) and let's talk more about Facebook ad.

    Jason

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  11. Hi Jason,

    Sure, I'll add you.

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  12. I went to college in the US with an international school background and participated in a lot of mainstream student activities, but for the most part, fitted in more with the Asian American community.

    Most HK kids go to college in the US primarily to get a degree. The opportunity to broaden their horizons is just a by-product. They tend to form their own clique because it is natural to create this comfort zone when they're so many miles away from home in a foreign place.

    Many first generation immigrants haven't fully assimilated into mainstream America as well. I think most college populations (foreign and domestic) self-segregate. Student clubs and minority Greeks reinforce that. If "interracial mingling is scant and superficial" locally here in HK, then the same goes for the US for the most part. It is often difficult for HK students to form meaningful relationships with local American students, given their different interests, upbringing, and humor. In addition to that, HK students are also labeled fobs in the Asian American community. In many ways, America is more of a "salad bowl" rather than a "melting pot".

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  13. You have once again entertained me with your lovely piece of work. I truly enjoyed reading this passage especially since I am also a minibus commuter myself. I have also witnessed numerous times when the bus driver was rude to the "non-chinese" passengers. Please keep up the great work and look forward to reading your next entry. Cheers

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  14. Thanks, Ivy, for sharing your own experience. I was actually trying to remember the term "salad bowl" when I was writing the article.

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  15. Thanks, JC. Please keep reading!

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  16. Great post. Insightful and thought-provoking. Thank you for writing intelligently about things that matter.

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  17. Thanks for the kind words. Please keep reading!

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  18. In fact, when I saw people of different color, I really want to talk to them. However, i am quite shy. I' m afraid of using wrong spoken English. I hate saying 'parden me", when they speak too fast. So I just put one step backwards and wait until they went away.
    To be honest, sometimes, I really found some of the Philipinos disgusting. Not because of we are of different nation, but some of their habit. I can't stand the perfume they used. I can't stand they treat evrywhere from Central to Wan Chai as their home. Saying these things , I don't mean to offend them.....

    Zach

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  19. I totally agree with you. same thing happens as my chinese is not fluent.And about philipinos I so long thinking same but could not express it ---I don't mean to offend them too....because hong kong people are generous & simply skip things by thinking "none of my business" after all this is a free country.

    Sairniabat

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  20. Zach,

    It would be awkward for anyone, not just you, to walk up to a stranger and engage him in a conversation. But there are many other opportunities around us. For example, if you see a tourist holding up a map in the middle of the street looking lost, or if you visit a friend's flat and a domestic helper serves you tea. When the opportunity presents itself, why not strike up a conversation? No one would fault you for your imperfect English. Think of a foreigner trying to speak to you in Cantonese -- you would be quite impressed by his effort and friendliness, and the last things you would care about is his grammar or vocabulary. It is the thought that counts.

    Jason

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  21. Thank you ~~~and I will try^^"

    Zach

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  22. I'm Filipino, and I don't take offense on the opinions you, Zach and Sairniabat, expressed. But you must understand, the reason many Filipinos treat any open space in Central or Wan Chai as their home, is because on their days off they are told to leave their "homes" and have no where else to go. This is the reason why our church rents a flat 24/7 so my countrymen have a place to come to on their holidays. But, sad to say, not many make use of this opportunity. They still choose to stay in the streets. There are groups, in addition to ourselves, who are working on the attitudes of those who come to Hong Kong--reminding them that they are "guests" in this country and that they should act accordingly.

    Maria

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  23. i like the part where you write about the employees mistreating the maids..maids or not they are still ppl and should be treated equally..they're just doing their jobs..wish more ppl realise that..

    Karen

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  24. 'cause red, blue n green have used by taxi...

    Sally

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  25. yes...we should have or accept more colors around...

    Ben

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  26. consistency is key in advertising POV

    Cindy

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  27. This is a well-written piece that I recommend for everyone's reading if you desire to know more about Hong Kong beyond what's written in travel magazines. My thanks to you, Jason.

    Maria

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  28. Well your "Why all ...............yellow."helped me in a way to win over some disputed matter last week. Thanks a million....

    Sairniabat

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  29. Glad my article helped, Sairniabat!

    Jason

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  30. People don't mix simply because it's easier not to. It's a shame, but it is reality. If people could understand English where I work, I would happily switch to it, but I stumble along in Cantonese out of necessity and out of respect for my "host" city.

    You will find Chinese (and all other) ethnic groups speaking their own language and sticking with their own people in other countries, because that's what people do =)

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  31. While insightful, I believe your reach for the unseen in the human condition as you see it in this 'melting pot' that is Hong Kong mildly biased. I will explain why. In reading your post, I get the impression (correctly or not) that you unconsciously (or consciously) approach the subject in a single mindedness that is a little apparent, at least to me. To paintbrush a palleted and diverse society such as Hong Kong in accordance to your obvious preconceived notion is one stroke too few. It has to be. I imagine you realize one could easily argue the matter from a totally contradictory standpoint. The story would go, how the yellow bus would signify a common bond between the different multi layered masses of society all on four simple wheels. People get along in more unmentioned levels than you care to admit in this opinion piece. Two people sitting on a bus from two completely different stratas of life can amplify their differences just as much as their commonality. in a simple gesture as a smile or a nod, a momentary bond could solidify between two people. These little things we underestimate. These little silent acceptance and tolerances we ignore. In your reach for a more homogeneously blended society, you may have overlooked a fact, obvious to me, at least, that the many varied ways Hong Kongers get along as they are already instead of reaching for an utopian dream that may or may not come true.

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  32. Dear anonymous reader,

    In your comment you mentioned how a simple gesture like a smile or a nod could signal a momentary bond between passengers on the minibus. The operative word here is "momentary." And I addressed this point specifically when I wrote "[j]ust when strangers start to bond and first acquaintanceships begin to blossom, one by one passengers holler their desired stops and return to their disparate lives." My metaphor that was later echoed with a dose of reality: "...few foreigners ever stay in Hong Kong long enough for relationships of any depth to take hold."

    These "little things [that] we underestimate" are exactly what they are: little things. When racial tension in an increasingly diverse society boils over, these "little things" will do little, if anything, to make things right. What we need is a better system to address minorities' grievances and to instill acceptance and understanding among citizens. That, I believe, is not an "utopian dream." It is simply a necessity.

    Cheers,

    Jason

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  33. I hesitate to respond, to what, could only be, at best, the beginning of a debate of incrementals. Two independent and subjective, but slightly different viewpoints to just how yellow the yellow bus is.

    First off, believe me when I say I agree with most of what you've written. But given that, also believe me that I also know that there is more out there than what you'd so eloquently put forth.

    I was trying to point out, rather unsuccessfully, that there are other stories, relevant, yet different, from your narrow own. Both numerous and multi-layered.

    It is, at least, an imperfect jagged coupling of various diverse cultures and acceptable living standards. Religion and individual superstitions. Taking a stranger into the privacy of your home. Their children's dependence on hired hands that did not grow out as appendages from their weary mothers. The many untold gestures of kindness of Hong Kong patrons to their guest worker. The surrender to routine and safety of a house away from an unfriendly home. The happy sacrifice of a mother for the future of her baby daughter back in her village. A fair barter of willing labor for a better tomorrow.

    It isn't just a simple matter of us against them. Not every employer is persecutive and not every 'banmui' is suffering.

    I began the latter portions of my comment with ".. one could easily argue the matter from a totally contradictory standpoint" What follows was, as best I could present it, just that. One proposed viewpoint. One of too many. And all of them, correct, from their own frame of reference. Earlier, partly for contrast's sake, I painted a rosier picture than you. And unlike you, it happens to be a standpoint I prefer to take side with.

    At what point did Mr Limbu's death turned from two stranger's brief crossroads into your own personal documented tragedy?

    If the necessity for that utopian dream of yours, must come true, surely, your writing of this Nepalese squatter you never knew, lends credence to the my viewpoint that the cup is not necessarily, always half empty.

    You cared. And to me, thats not a 'little thing'.

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  34. Living in "a borrowed place, on borrowed time". How poetic and thought provoking... Every so often, I get this feeling that I am just a spectator in this chaotic mecca of endless contradictions that is Hong Kong - but I had never been able to put a finger on where this feeling stems from. I guess like most things, it is okay to "borrow" for a short while, but if you don't take ownership of something, be it an idea, a relationship, a place or a thing - your level of connectedness and commitment will only ever remain superficial at best.


    Hilda

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