29 November 2011

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.

http://jasonyng.blogspot.com

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 singing was what I wanted to do since a child and I always thought of myself as a singer first, in the past three years writing has taken over and, in the process, taken on a life of its own. I suppose things often happen when you least expect it. If self-indulgence is my favorite pastime, then serendipity must be the story of my life.

Singing has always been my first love


Since I started writing I have picked up a few new habits along the way. Because so much of writing is about reading and learning from what you read, each time I come across an interesting expression in a book or a quotable line from a movie, I will scramble to jot it down somewhere, before my 15 seconds of short-term memory run out. That explains why my desk is peppered with random scraps of paper with scribbling understood by no one else but me. The saying that “to a man carrying a hammer, everything looks like a nail” is an apt one for writing. At times it seems that even the most mundane of my daily experiences, from window shopping in Causeway Bay to an argument with a minibus driver, is worthy of a blog entry. And because I never know when the next topic would come up or how long my creative juice would flow, I am known to get up in the middle of night and work my opposable thumbs on the Blackberry placed inches from my pillow.

Write it down or lose it forever

I regard myself a perfectionist a tattered copy of Strunk and White's The Elements of Style is never too far from my desk and perfectionism begets revisionism. In the foreword to his famous sci-fi novel Brave New World, Aldous Huxley urged writers to “resist the temptation to wallow in artistic remorse” by revising their works to correct errors and defects. If serendipity is the story of my life, then chronic remorse must be my destiny. When it comes to editing my writing, I take notes from, of all things, instructions on the back of a popcorn box: stop the microwave when popping slows to two to three seconds between pops. In other words, I would keep editing until the revisions whittle down to a half dozen changes between versions. Until then the article is deemed unfit for public consumption, for there is always a better way of saying the same thing and what seems brilliant today can look painfully tedious the next day. Famous writers have their famous writing habits: Ernest Hemingway insisted on writing 500 words a day and Truman Capote was known to write lying down. I, on the other hand, choose to write the way microwave popcorn is made. It goes to show that every writer, even the most inexperienced and unskilled, is entitled to his own quirks.

Edit like making popcorn


As much as reading has made me a better writer, writing has made me a better reader, by heightening my senses to appreciate all the hard work that goes into crafting a sentence or making a scene come alive  all the secrets to be unlocked and treasures to be hunted on a single page. Writing has also given me new found respect for those who make it their living. For the price of a single drink at a bar, the reader reaps what has taken the author years or even a lifetime to put together. Worse, half the book proceeds is kept by the bookstore and half of what remains goes to the publisher. Perhaps that’s why writer as a profession commands so little respect in Asia. In Hong Kong, where “freelance” often means “free,” whenever I tell people I am an author, they respond with anything from mild acknowledgment to complete disregard. But the moment I mention I am a lawyer by day, I am hit back with a sudden burst of interest. “So what kind of law do you practice?” he asks, while checking out the watch I am wearing. Respect and social acceptance, for what they are worth, are things I would have to give up alongside a comfortable living, if I were to quit my day job to write full-time. How many of us are brave enough to make those sacrifices?

Writing for a living is not an easy gig

Looking back on the past hundred blog posts, I see the best and also the worst. My two-part series Kowloon Complex, for instance, earned me a slew of scathing comments, with one reader calling me “prejudiced, pretentious and stupid.” Experiences such as that taught me not only to take criticisms as readily as I dish them out, but also to defend my views with solid research and listen to both supporters and critics. And listen I do. For instance, because readers are slow to take to my political commentaries, such as my responses to the express rail link saga and the five constituencies resignation (五區總辭) campaign, I try to steer away from those topics and focus on things that interest both writer and reader. Over time, I have learned that my most popular articles are also my most personal, like Ah Gah and The Hill about my childhood growing up with my sister Margaret and A Tale of Three Cities when my comparison of Hong Kong to Shenzhen and Macao prompted me to reflect on who we are and where we are heading. Both articles made it into my first book and remain my personal favorite.

One of my favorite essays


Writing satisfies my narcissistic tendencies and scratches my obsessive-compulsive itch. But it also makes me a better person. Whenever I write, I seem to take on a different persona, one that is far more reasoned and reflective than I actually am. The transformation both surprises and delights me. In time I realize that writing provides a conduit to a good side of me I didn’t know existed. And if there is one thing that I would like my reader to take away from my blog, it is reflection. Before accepting someone’s opinion or forming your own, whether it is the right of foreign domestic workers to apply for permanent residence or the decision to visit northern Japan after the radiation leaks, ask a few questions and think the issues over. You may look to a friend, a co-worker, The Apple Daily or my blog for a point of view, but ultimately it is you who must decide what position to take. Healthy skepticism and constant reflection are the stuff that separates the independent thinker from the intellectual couch potato. In a city inundated with half-truths, pseudo-science and outright lies, it is, as philosopher John Stuart Mill once said, better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. So keep reading and keep reflecting.

Don't take anything at face value



_______________________

If you like this article, read 37 others like it in HONG KONG State of Mind, now available at major bookstores in Hong Kong, on Amazon and at Blacksmith Books..


21 comments:

  1. Jason,

    Congratulations and happy third anniversary for your blog: As I See It: The Hundredth Post.

    You surely deserve that sense of pride on your achievements and success - making it to the hundredth post, while counting all the positive and constructive criticisms penned down from your readers and followers of various different backgrounds and personal experiences. On reflections, I believe your part-time work as writer is all worth the hard work and fulfillment.

    I always look forward to more of your posts and hope to see the next one soon. Keep writing.

    There seems to be a typo in the first line of your second paragraph. If I am not wrong, November 2011 should have read November 2008.

    Cheers, Martie

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  2. Thanks for pointing out the typo, Martie. I corrected it already -- against Huxley's advice I might add!

    Thanks for your support all these years. Keep reading indeed!

    Jason

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  3. Hurray !!!! Big Congrats and look forward to more of your milestones to materialize :>

    Christine

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  4. Jason,

    Congratulations ! Surely you will go for an extra miles to your writing voyage.

    Start surfing your blog in July this year, I always found your messages authentic, thought-provoking and pragmatic. As mentioned, at least one thing you wish yr readers to take away - "Reflection", I could see that "Spirit" and "Core Message" of every pieces are inextricable. No flattering, that's why yr blog did attract sizable fans since the start. Sometimes, I just wander "Writing" career is "The Roadless Traveled and Beyond", "Tough Times Never Last, But only Touch People DO !" So, stay cool, stay clam and even stay young at yr writing !

    Ah ! Jason,the perfectionist, pls allow me to say "Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing flawlessly. Keep Writing !

    Jean

    P.S. Have you heard about Enneagram (九型人格) ? There are nine types of personality as stated, the 1st one is "Perfectionist", just check out Helen Palmer's book of Enneagram if you are interested in and let see how you are perfectly match ?!

    Jean

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  5. Thanks, Jean. I have heard of Enneagram -- might have been at some HR management seminar -- but haven't really looked into it. Will do when I get a chance.

    Here's my sales pitch: if you like my blog, tell your friends about it!! :-)

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  6. Congratulations, Jason! I've read every article you posted. But to be honest, I love all of them except those related to politics~~~:P

    Lily

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  7. Thats great, Jason. Congratulations!

    JL

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  8. Thanks, Lily, for your support all these years! I look forward to meeting your students one day!

    Cheers,

    Jason

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  9. Jason,

    For some reason I clicked on your link the other day and spotted this new article of yours (nearly missed it). I was far too loaded at the office so I printed that out to take home to read. I could collapse on drowsiness on getting home but something told me that I had to chase up on this piece before retiring. And I am counting my fortune now that I did.

    Really, really appreciate this super-personal article of yours, especially your coming to terms with yourself and your honest admission as to who you are.

    Guess it is a tautology to state once again that I am in total empathy with this article of yours.

    (Alright, alright, that is too long a prologue, I know)

    Big, big congratulations again on the third birthday of your blog (should get you a birthday present for that) and for having penned 100 articles under the banner. I am looking forward to your future milestones and your 1,000th article.

    Whose favourite pastime is not self-indulgence? It all boils down to what one is indulging in, and I bet you know from my comments and information on Facebook already what I am asking Santa for this year.

    [To be continued]

    Christine

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  10. I can’t believe that this “habit” of yours (one of my most esteemed modern-day authors) is so akin to mine. When you say “each time I come across an interesting expression in a book or a quotable line from a movie, I will scramble to jot it down somewhere, before my 15 seconds (bet it is heaps longer) of short-term memory run out”. The version of the history on my side is: that practice is exactly what my mom taught me to do when I was a kid and she pressured my brother and me to read more to improve our English standard. I started keeping a small diary when I was in High School in Sydney, noting down what I am to do each day (and most of the time it is my examination schedule rather, nightmare of nightmares for school-kids). Then slowly and stealthily yet surely that diary de-generated into a longer and more detailed schedule and I found that I am penning my thoughts and feelings and prayers down. The inevitable outcome is that it has now dissolved into a full-blown personal diary and I would try to capture every single fleeting thought or feeling that transcends me nowadays. My friends often ask me in an amused (or perhaps scoffing?) manner what on earth I am writing into a stack of draft paper when I am on a bus, in their cars, over meals or just wherever I happened to be in and whatever I happened to be doing.

    (As an aside here, I used to return home and copy the entire piece out on a spotless notebook of quality paper with my fountain pen as I always consider the writing from a fountain pen to be nicer. Talk about being a perfectionist! All my friends say I am a perfectionist (and far too responsible, believe it or not) anyway. The problem is I no longer have the time to do it. You can imagine what a lot I was penning down on a daily basis to make even that too time-consuming, not to mention that you can never get notebooks with no lines with paper that are of “acceptable” quality these days.)

    [To be continued...]

    Christine

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  11. Since it has become a personal diary saturated with my thoughts and feelings and interesting incidents in my life (your book launch party was in it : > ) I wanted to keep a better record and a more lyrical or descriptive and “picturesque” account of everything. And the inevitable demand is: I have to write better and better and think of better phrasing in the split second before my even shorter-term memory runs out to capture that fleeting thought! And you are right: sometimes when I re-read my own Chapter again I would think how come I was writing so badly or unclearly the other day or what on earth I was trying to say (guess this is even more applicable in our legal research reports and essays days, right ?).

    I have always respected authors and writers and know that they are living on the most meagre means. It has always been so throughout the decades whether rightly or wrongly and few authors achieved the recognition they deserve until posthumously. And come on, let’s face it, even the lawyers are that esteemed a profession as in our parents’ generation (can I still claim to be younger than you?) I used to joke that if a meteoroid is to drop out of the blue in Central, it will definitely kill a lawyer or an in-house counsel or someone working in a lawyer’s office. And I think that problem is more acute in Hong Kong than in the European countries like England. At least rumour has it that they get a bookshop on every single street and that certainly is not the case in Hong Kong, where a good book is rarer than a blue moon in Hong Kong and yet under-priced by immeasurable millions.

    [To be continued...]

    Christine

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  12. Bravery aside, who has the ability to pen a good title just to make ends meet? There must be lots of writers in Hong Kong who don’t even dare to dream of a comfortable living, but does bread and butter and coffee alone suffice?

    As for your blog posts, I like a lot more than the ones you mentioned (you should be able to tell from the torrents I cascaded into your comments box). “Reflection”, very, very well said. I certainly think a lot more about lots of issues from another’s point of view after reading your articles. Not to mention that is actually the title of one of my favourite authors’ book. (“Reflections” by Walter Benjamin, and the “sister” work to that, “Illuminations”). I always believe that, in the ideal world (if I have the time to read every single book/paper that I want to read), for me to take a position or to express an opinion or make an assessment on anything (even when I am talking about gambling on the securities market), I will need to read documents on all points of view and balance everything out to arrive at a conclusion. Talk about training in lateral thinking! Being the “stubborn” person that I am, I could very well read everything within reach and still disagree with all of them and postulate something (rightly or wrongly) that is totally different.

    As Johnnie “Writer” would have said, “Keep Writing” !!!

    Christine

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  13. Thanks, Christine. You have been a most loyal and responsive blog-follower ever since the beginning! I am interested to know which articles you liked the most (name 3) and which ones you liked the least (name 3).
    Readers' feedback is not easy to come by.

    Hearing that you share the same habits of scribbling on scraps of paper made me realize that perhaps I am not quite as quirky as I think I am! Then again, Hemingway was certainly NOT the only writer who set a daily writing target for himself. I supposed we are even.

    Cheers,

    Jason

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  14. Jason,

    Right, give me a bit of time and I'll let you know my favourite 3 (that's difficult, man) and (I won't say I like the least - that's too tall an order) I'll let you know 3 which doesn't quite strike a chord with my heart-string. I'll have to re-visit your articles, bearing in mind that I only "intercepted" into your blog by accident one day and started chasing after it from that point on. I surely have missed some of the earlier articles. I remember one that I love a lot is the "Laws of Nature" and I should have sent you a full-blown comment on it. But it was lost in the 4th dimension or something.

    And the other reason my friends laugh was because that stack of paper that I would never part with was squashed in my handbag, and I bet you know what a girl's handbag is like (and what that stack will look like when it sees sunlight or twilight as it emerges for me to scribble on). I don't blame them for the amusement. I would just paste them properly together on getting home nowadays and keep them in safe folders. Afterall, the spontaneity of the thoughts/feelings matters to me as well to my personal chapter!!!

    I don't often have riveting ideas on different facades in life, but I do want my writing style to be brilliant like yours! That's why I've given your book to people who don't know much about Hong Kong as well, just for them to savour your writing style as I know they appreciate that.

    Christine : >

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  15. Dear Jason,

    Congratulations on your 100th post! I'm very happy for you. I still remember your very first articles were fun to read, and sometimes controversial in the topics you choose. But through out the years, you have consistently put out many interesting articles for us to read, and simultaneously grew your fans exponentially. I am truly happy for you and wishes you with nothing but the best.

    Here's a toast to your next 100th article and your second book!

    Keep up the great work and your OCD-ness :-)

    Love,
    AB

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  16. 'Yi bai' posts. Sounds like a milestone. Looking forward to 200.

    RW

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  17. Hi Jason, hows life? Looks like you are having a good time blogging as ever -- I've just checked out your blog -- and a belated congratulations on the 100th post!

    Vincent

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  18. Great article. Thanks for the share!

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  19. AB/RW/Vincent,

    Thanks, all!! I look forward to the 200th post myself as well! Do check back often and share your thoughts with your friends!

    Cheers,

    Jason

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  20. I have just been introduced to your writing - Jan 2015. And I congratulate you, and shall follow your work with huge interest and pleasure. I had the privilege of living and working in Hong Kong for 16 years from 1971, a wonderful part of my life. May I wish the people of Hong Kong all happiness and continuing success. My one sadness is the corruption which seems to be leeching into public life again, after the early success of the ICAC.

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  21. Thoroughly enjoy your blog. You write for yourself, not for the readers, and not for approval, which makes your writing very genuine. The variety in your topics, along with the variation in the tempo makes it refreshing - feels like a foxtrot. In an era reminiscent of the tempest, your blog unwittingly strikes a note of (much-needed) sanity.

    Hope you would consider charging a subscription to the archived posts. Casual online read is more concordant to your style than carrying a book around.

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