30 June 2012

One City, Two Worlds 一個香港, 兩個世界

I woke up early this morning and remembered a small incident that took place a year ago.

Where the trivial incident unfolded

It was 6:45 on a Friday evening, and the weekend traffic had already built up feverishly in Central. I got in line at the minibus stop outside the McDonalds on Connaught Road, eager to get home. People and vehicles were moving in every direction. Patience was in short supply. A half-dozen double-deckers all tried to dock at the same time, unable to outmaneuver each other and unwilling to give in. Car horns began to blare from behind, while frustrated passengers pointed at different vehicles to assign blame. It was a complete chaos. Then suddenly, a mounted traffic policeman came out of nowhere, blue lights flashing authoritatively on the side of his white motorcycle. I thought to myself: this is why I love Hong Kong. Barely two minutes into a traffic situation, the efficient Hong Kong police arrived on the scene, a white knight to the rescue. I was impressed.

The policeman turned off the siren on his bike, dismounted and started waving his arm. But instead of directing traffic, he signaled for the buses to move to the side, like Moses parting the Red Sea. Soon after, a black Audi A8 came through the tunnel of double-deckers and pulled over not ten feet away from me. The door flung open and out came Financial Secretary John Tsang (曾俊華) flashing his signature mustached smile. He walked toward the office building next to McDonald’s, where he was received by several men in black suits. As soon as the coterie disappeared into the building, the Audi left. The traffic policeman got back on his motorcycle and drove off immediately, oblivious to the pandemonium he left behind. It was as if he didn't see any of us. In the next 15 to 20 minutes, the buses inched their way through the gridlock and the traffic jam eventually ran its course. During that time we were all left to our own devices. I was angry.

It was as if he didn't see any of us


*                              *                              *

Today, Hong Kong celebrates the 15th anniversary of the Handover. To be more precise, our government celebrates the 15th anniversary of the Handover. Chairman Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) arrived on Friday to kick off his three-day visit. In a series of carefully choreographed press events, Hu saw model homes, inspected construction sites and reviewed the 3,000 People’s Liberation Army troops based in Shek Kong (石崗). The festivities culminated in a state dinner held last night at the Wanchai Exhibition Centre, attended by political leaders and business elite and entertained by local and Mainland celebrities in a garish variety show. It was a night of self-congratulations, when social climbing, political ambition and greed dissolved into one emphatic champagne toast, all under the benevolent eye of that feared and revered paramount leader.

Hu has turned Hong Kong into Pyongyang


Just a stone’s throw away from the Exhibition Centre is Hennessey Road, the main route of today's rally organized by local advocacy groups. For the vast majority of the population, reverting to Chinese rule calls for lamentation, not celebration. And on every July 1, we take our lament to the street and spend the sweaty day in a million man march from Victoria Park to the government headquarters in Central. Frustration and resentment against the establishment have been festering for years and they erupt once a year on Handover Day. There are the usual calls for universal suffrage and complaints about high property prices and China’s human rights records. Protesters litter the streets with anti-government flyer, the heat of their collective grievances simmers the summer air.

July 1 rally, an annual tradition

*                              *                              *

In the past week, every newspaper in the city has published its own look-back on the past 15 years. With watershed moments like the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997, the SARS outbreak in 2003 and the financial tsunami in 2008, there has been no shortage of materials for a compelling review. I too was tempted to write my own look-back piece to express my sentiment on the 15th anniversary. I could have cataloged the list of our achievements and failures on the rollercoaster ride since 1997 or launched another impassioned tirade against the many social injustices in our city. But I didn’t. Instead, the whole day I kept thinking about that one trivial event I witnessed in Central a year ago. Strange, because the incident bears no relevance to what most Hong Kongers have on their minds today: the widening wealth gap, the economic dominance of property oligarchs and our civil liberties being eroded daily despite the “one country, two systems” promise from Beijing. 

The SCMP published a special magazine to look back
on the past 15 years, one of many in the market

I didn’t understand my fixation on that small anecdote until I turned on the television and saw a recap of Hu’s state visit in nauseating detail. Then it dawned on me that a common thread runs through that trivial incident in Central, the Handover celebrations and the state of Hong Kong 15 years on. More than ever before, there is a fundamental disconnect between our government and the general population. The few who govern the city – none of them chosen by us – go on with their business and we go on with our own. We are as invisible to the ruling elite as the gridlock traffic was to that unconcerned policeman. Without a mandate from the people, our government has a mind of its own and does things we never ask it to do: from organizing the lavish commemorative events this week to funding wasteful infrastructure projects, rolling out the brainwashing national education curriculum and clamping down on street protests with excessive police force. On the other hand, issues that we are asking our government to address, such as the growing income inequality and our economy's over-reliance on the financial industry, are left untouched. Under our tilted political system, where the chief executive and half the lawmakers are handpicked by the establishment, the government is increasingly out-of-touch, unaccountable and decoupled from the populace. It is as if we operate in two separate, very different worlds. The disconnect is a chilling reality that every citizen has accepted as part of our unique way of life. With C.Y. Leung’s leadership already stunted by his own duplicity and an uncooperative legislature, a realignment between what they do and what we want seems ever unlikely. And that is all I can think about on this 15th anniversary of the Handover. 

Pessimism abounds over the next five years

15 comments:

  1. In the last photo of your blog, CY is taking his inauguration oath, solely facing Pres. Hu...who stands 15 feet away, it looks as if the oath does not address the audience, the people of HK.

    Lily

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  2. My point exactly, Lily Jeng. It's clear who he answers to.

    Jason

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  3. Dear Jason,

    Even though I normally do not partake in politics, nor claim to know enough, I appreciated your article very much. It was insightful especially for people like me.. outsider looking in.

    thanks again for and keep up the great work!

    AB

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  4. Thanks, AB. Glad you found my article helpful.

    Jason

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  5. the gap is further deteriorating by the pretence of hearing the views of public and pretence of faciliting the express of it. Thanks for your good article.

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  6. Yes, "one country, two systems." It already gives you clue that the government and the Hongkongers are living in two different worlds. That is the essence of reign model after 1997 which unveils the innate thinking of our political leaders. It's really ironical and sincere though. I agree to your pinpoints. The divergence in projection and thinking between the government and the public is widening much ever than before. Going back to the colonial reign, we were living under the parental care of the governor. We were carefree to think for or even strive for our living mode. We just followed and accepted the arrangements that we supposed to be. Nowadays, the government is still adopting that kind of principle. What makes it different is the package. I don't know politics. I have no interest in it. What I admire is the society of Confucian(小康之家,大同社會) that symbolized simplicity, harmony, peace and joys.

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  7. Jason,

    I haven't even finished reading your article and I almost felt tears welling up already. No one could have painted a more accurate portrayal (unless your article totally changes gear from 1/4 onwards, which, knowing your authorship, is unlikely ((at least I hope not)) ).

    And the comments of your other readers as well. "One Country, Two Systems", it is very much the system of the government and the system of the populace, right ? And I can't even say whether the populace is really a "system", each of us got too many of our own personal daily worries to cope with without having to fight back a government growling back at us constantly, whether blatantly or insiduously.

    Irrespective of my frequent comments (including my comments on your earlier pieces) on your political pieces, you can't blame me for being politically apathetic. I don't mind telling you that the subject I loathed most in high school in HK was "Economics and Public Affairs" even in those days. It is just one big tournament for those in it and we are the pawns, almost to be given away by the losing player. It might be intellectually stimulating when I really delve into it, but at the same time, too dirty to stir up my real interest and excitement. And I bet you can tell from all my comments that I really can't profess a real knowledge of the subject.

    Send you my fuller comments soon when I finish the whole piece (I still haven't penned my response to your earlier piece, gosh) To be honest, I don't even know for how much longer we can pen these honest comments on your blog page. Maybe I should be counting my fortune that I am not living in war times right now, but something is always ticking at the back of my mind that another Cultural Revolution or June Fourth massacre on HK soil is always plausible. I hope no one will ever label me as a traitor, but the question is always lurking at the back of my mind as to for how much longer will HK be habitable, truly habitable ???


    Christine

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  8. Speaking of Confucius, Geoffrey, he went from a toxic thinker during Mao's reign to a patriotic saint in the post-Deng era. Whatever suits the need of the Party.

    Jason

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    Replies
    1. Haha, I incline to the left!^_^ Happy journey! A fortnight vacation in Paris! Admiring!

      Geoffrey

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  9. Christine, do finish reading the article and let me know what you think. And yes, free speech is no longer a right to be taken for granted in Hong Kong.

    Jason

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  10. Sure will, Jason,

    Do you think I have, or would, ever missed a single article of yours after discovering your blog ??? Will savour it asap and let my comments torrent down soon (as long as you and your readers don't mind my spittal).

    Christine

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  11. Look forward to your comment, then, Christine.

    Jason

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  12. It did not take me by surprise in the least that one “small” incident of bygone years should ring in your memory, your recollection, on any day. This happens to me all the time and I would suddenly remember a single line that my dad said to me as a kid, a single mirage from Sydney that flickered across my mind suddenly one day, and the like. At least this proves you are still a feeling, thinking, human, and let’s rejoice at that.

    Actually what surprised me was that you actually thought the white knight was to orchestrate the traffic chaos and to restore order to life. Pardon me, Jason, but I was totally astounded that thought cross your mind at all. To me, the police could be another euphemism for crooks at times and they are mostly to fend off the protestors or refresh the air with pepper sprays these days, or to roll the red carpets for the Audis and Volkswagens and other dignitaries’ vehicles. As for his driving off immediately afterwards, why do you think he would care in the least? Maybe like us, he’s just another pawn as well, and he is under even greater pressure to obey orders, whether he like it or not. Like the guy who searched you at the Heathrow Airport. This is life in Hong Kong, welcome back to reality!

    Your statement that “our government celebrates the 15th anniversary of the Handover” is probably one of the truest statement I’ve read about the 1 July extravaganza, it is indeed a night of self-congratulations, and nothing more. Apart from an extra day’s holiday from the daily work, and maybe a chance to take our grievance to the streets (literally to the streets, do you honestly think the ones inside the government house or buildings hear our cry???), does any Hong Kong person feel excited about that day really?

    Isn’t it tragic that Hong Kong is probably the only place in the world which would rather remain under colonial rule, even though I learnt that the Brits left Singapore and India and the like in a dire state when they evacuate from those colonies as well. It is almost as if we are faring better as slaves to another nation than to revert back to our own motherland (to draw an imagery from ancient times). Sometimes I question, why does it have to be like this? And does it have to be like this ???

    [To be cont'd]

    Christine

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  13. As for penning a piece on the past 15 years, though you didn’t (or haven’t) do so (yet) this time, you did pen a “past-decade” piece, right? Irrespective of the volatility of the economic and social conditions for the past 15 years, it shows that the government are not serving us but we are serving them and providing them with the backdrop for which to stage their drama for the world to see! 為人民服務indeed!!!…

    I don’t find it strange at all that you were just thinking about that “trivial” incident that took place one year ago for the entire holiday, it just shows the apathetic, distanced rule of the government to the governed. The two don’t relate to each other at all (except maybe for the last two sentences in my preceding paragraph), whether at the governmental level or at the day-to-day level that concerns us as civilians. What you witnessed a year ago was the present governmental rule put under a microscope. One country, two systems: the system of the government and the governed, it is actually even less than “governed”… They don’t see, let alone feel, our problems, in their own safe, luxurious yet corrupt echelons. That is one country two systems for you !

    As for your final picture, it’s true, our chief executive is accountable to China and not to us, we may only be his pawns used to prove to the Mainland what a “good” job he is doing out here succumbing all of us to a PRC dictated domain, keeping us to his and PRC government’s toes and ensuring we are accountable to the PRC too, in a way….. But then again, would you have swallowed it had he been facing us when he was sworn in? Would that act alone have added any credibility to his “reign” at all?

    Christine

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  14. In his inauguration speech, Leung spoke only Mandarin. That's all we need to know about him.

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