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Return of the Masks – Part 2 口罩回歸-下卷




The H1N1 virus has reached Hong Kong. We knew it was just a matter of time but the news managed to shock us just the same. Signs of a city on full alert are everywhere and feelings of an eerie déjà vu palpable. In a place as densely populated as Hong Kong, no amount of planning or emergency drills will prepare us for an all-out epidemic. Peculiar but somewhat understandable, the citys response to its first confirmed case of the swine flu provides a window on our collective psyche in the post-SARS era. The temptation to offer a few of my own observations is too great to resist.



Take one for the team. The symbolic first case of the deadly virus prompted the government to lock down the Metropark Hotel (維景酒店) in Wanchai, where the infected, a 24-year-old Mexican man, once stayed. During the SARS outbreak in 2003, Metroparks sister hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui rose to infamy after one of its tenants fell ill and infected 16 others. And you think lightning doesnt strike twice! Taking no chances this time around, police cordoned off a busy corner of Hennessy Road with crime scene tape, forcing nearly 350 hotel residents and staff into solitary confinement. Like caged animals, the captives are fed nameless food in nameless Styrofoam boxes three times a day, separated from the outside world by a pane of glass. But the governments heavy-handed approach to disease control has gone largely unchallenged. No explanation has been offered for what many would consider draconian measures or a case of over-reaction. After the SARS health scare, citizens have tacitly accepted the socialist ideology that the public good must trump individual rights.



Everybody loves drama. The hotel lockdown makes for sensational news reporting and a perfect setting for the next season of Survivor. A single confirmed case was enough for authorities to raise the public health alert to the highest “emergency” level. At a makeshift press conference, the Secretary for Education teased parents with the possibility of shutting down all schools for the week, only to drop the ill-thought-out idea a day later. As if to outdo the government in histrionics, the IFC and several other commercial buildings have installed body temperature sensors at every entrance, turning places of business into maximum security prisons. On my way to work this morning, I was accosted by a security guard at the lobby who drew a ray-gun out of nowhere and fired it right between my eyes. Before I had time to object, the non-contact infrared scanner had already registered my body temperature to one-tenth of a degree. So much for trying not to stoke fear or cause panic!


Behind every crisis lies an opportunity. In Central, the nerve-center of Hong Kong’s high finance, savvy business owners responded to the viral attack with swiftness and ingenuity. A Chinese medicine shop on Stanley Street cajoles passers-by with a ready dose of flu-fighting herbal tea (感冒茶). Local pharmacies on Queen’s Road Central now offer bundle discounts on hand sanitizers if purchased with antiseptic soaps. Under the escalators on the hilly Cochrane Street, opportunistic street vendors have given up fake handbags and switched to hawking face masks at $50 a box. They are the reason why Hong Kong is ranked number one among the world’s freest economies for 24 years straight.



Every man for himself. The face mask has made its way back into our closets, once again an integral part of our daily outfit. The practice of civilians wearing face masks as a health precaution originated from Japan, where school children are taught at a young age to put one on whenever they feel under the weather. Whereas the Japanese wear a mask out of consideration for others, Hong Kongers do so for a far less altruistic reason: to keep themselves from breathing in other people’s germs. In the face of a deadly viral attack, it’s every man for himself and better you than me.


Do unto others as they do unto us. People around the world are struggling to figure out whether all this hoopla about the swine flu outbreak is a colossal case of over-reaction. In the United States, for instance, the regular seasonal flu claims as many as 36,000 lives every year, whereas the H1N1 virus has so far managed to kill only a couple of people in Texas. Our stock market, ever the beacon of human rationality, shrugged off the outbreak with a week-long rally. Despite signs of the epidemic leveling off, the Chinese government continues to impose aggressive precautionary measures, suspending all flights into and out of Mexico, banning all pork products from the region and singling out North American visitors for quarantine. Mexican President Felipe Calderón lashed out at Beijing earlier this week for “acting out of ignorance” and “taking discriminatory measures” against his people, instantly turning a public health issue into a political hot potato. Not six years ago, China and other Asian governments leveled similar accusations against the West for its heavy-handed response to the SARS outbreak. When it comes to international relations, we dont hesitate to inflict on others the same harm they inflict on us, as victims and victimizers trade places in an endless cycle of injury and blame. That is, perhaps, the saddest part of the swine flu saga.

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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

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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.
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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?
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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…

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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.

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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.” 
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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…