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Apocalypse Now - Part 2 現代啟示錄-下卷

The sakura season in Tokyo has barely began, but the city is already draped in dazzling shades of pink and white. The blossoms arrived just in time to welcome the all-important day of April 1, when, by tradition, the first day of school coincides with the first day of work for hundreds of thousands of university graduates entering the work force. Crisp white shirts, new black suits and brown leather attaché are as ubiquitous as the spring blossoms themselves.

Sakura season in Tokyo

This year, the triple threat of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis have cast a thick shadow on the season of hope and renewal. Each day citizens wake up to the new reality of a nation teetering on the brink of a Chernobyl-type disaster. Nearly a month after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, TEPCO, operator of the damaged Fukushima (福島) nuclear plants, remains utterly incapable of containing the radiation leaks. 

To cool down the overheating reactors, sea water, fresh water and water with neutron-absorbing boric acid were dumped every which way from helicopters, fire engines and a 20-story tall truck donated by China. And when contaminated water started to build up and leak into the ocean, the power company tried to stop it using liquid glass, saw dust and even old newspaper. 

TEPCO’s kitchen sink approach to a mounting environmental catastrophe takes us right back to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico a year old, where every solution seemed just as bad as the problem itself. And if the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history had raised public awareness over the safety of offshore drilling, the Fukushima crisis has no doubt rekindled worldwide debate over the wisdom of nuclear power, even when used in resource poor, energy hungry countries like Japan.

Ground Zero in Fukushima

So much has been made of the Japanese people’s patience and self-sacrifice in the face of extreme adversity. Words like gaman (我慢; endurance), muga (無我; selflessness) and omote-ura (表里) – that national requirement to keep all negative emotions locked up inside – were tossed around all over the Western press. 

At evacuee shelters, men and women of all ages organized themselves to keep the premises clean and the rationing of provisions orderly. Residents stranded within the radiation zone became self-reliant, melting snow to make drinking water and chopping up bamboo to make chopsticks for themselves and others. In big cities like Tokyo and Yokohama, citizens unplugged all home appliances except for their refrigerators to conserve electricity for those who needed it more. 

A legion of anonymous power plant technicians dubbed the “Fukushima Fifty” stayed inside the pitch dark facilities to resuscitate the backup cooling systems, despite lethal exposures to radioactive iodine and cesium. In a true collectivist society, not even certain death is a price too high for the greater good.

Taking shelter from apocalypse 

While the nuclear crisis has brought out the best in the Japanese people, it has also brought out the worst in their government. The Kan administration has been widely criticized for being less than forthcoming about the true extent of the radiation leaks. Is it simply a case of bureaucratic tendency to downplay bad news with vague language, or is it a reflection that government officials have become far too cozy with powerful corporations? 

Instead of pressuring TEPCO to get their act together, the government turned to the people and called on them, with the help of Emperor Akihito (日皇明仁) no less, for more understanding, more patience and more sacrifices. But all that gaman, muga and omote-ura is about to run out, as citizens struggle to grapple with the political reality that the frequent changes in leadership – 14 prime ministers in the past 20 years – have brought about little or no change in policy and accountability.

Emperor Akihito facing a nation in panic

The southwesterly wind strengthens as spring rolls into early summer, carrying with it traces of iodine-131 that will slowly thin out over the South China Sea. Just the same, the new round of radioactivity blown from northeastern Japan promises to throw hypochondriac Hong Kongers into renewed paranoia. 

Days after the nuclear explosions in Fukushima, hundreds in Hong Kong along with many more in Mainland China overran supermarkets buying up table salt, soy sauce and anything that contained iodine to fend off thyroid cancer. There was a run on all things Japanese, from baby formula, abalone and dried scallops to camera lenses and even cars. Ugly human behavior in times of an epic disaster is not uncommon, but exposing our selfish, every-man-for-himself true nature because of a disaster 3,000 miles away had to be a first. 

Our tendency to panic and switch off all common sense becomes all the more laughable when you consider how Hong Kongers inhale massive amounts of much more harmful carbon monoxide and lead particles from vehicular exhaust and factory emissions on a daily basis and yet no one bats an eyelid. Whatever the situation, it seems, we can always count on a few bad apples to embarrass us in front of our Asian cousins.

Mainland Chinese fighting over salt

A far more intriguing aspect of the Chinese’s reaction to the continuing nuclear crisis in Japan is perhaps all the conspiracy theories that have been swirling around on the Internet. Reports that trace levels of the highly toxic plutonium were found near the crippled power plants have, rightfully, drawn our attention. 

Japan’s decision to use plutonium (purchased from France and England) in their nuclear reactors when uranium is much more abundant and much less expensive has fueled suspicion that the country has been secretly turning spent fuel into weapons-grade plutonium in a furtive attempt to counter China’s rising hegemony. 

It would be months if not years before we find out whether these conspiracy theories hold water. For now one thing is certain: nearly six decades after the Pacific War, many of us still wonder whether Japan has really learned its lessons from World War II, and whether that frightful imperial flag would one day fly again and lead the country down the same gruesome path it did two generations ago. For why else, we wonder, would the Japanese government still leave out the truths about its wartime atrocities from history textbooks?

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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…

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

2017 and upcoming events and speaking engagements


Keynote speaker at Leadership & Social Entrepreneurship Program graduation ceremony co-organized by Wimler Foundation and Ateneo University Venue: TBD Date: 22 October Time: 9:00am to 1:00pm

Guest lecture at Faculty of Law, University of Hong Kong Course: International and regional protection of human rights
Topic: Universal suffrage and free expression Venue: Centennial Campus, Pokfulam Date:16 November
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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: Ming Wah Complex, University of Hong Kong Date: 19 November Time: 1:30 to 4:00pm

Talk at Independent Schools Foundation Academy
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Venue: Telegraph Bay, Pokfulam
Date: 30 November
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