Skip to main content

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 has published a magazine looking back on the last 15 years

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

Popular Posts

Seeing Joshua 探之鋒

“We are here to visit a friend,” I said to the guard at the entrance. 
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…

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 Revie…

Join the Club 入會須知

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…

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.

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 singi…

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

Upcoming events and speaking engagements in 2018


Commencement of spring semester at Faculty of Law of University of Hong Kong, LLM program
Course: International Securities Law
Venue: Centennial Campus, Pokfulam
Dates: 26 January - 27 April

Book launch of HK24 (2017 anthology by Hong Kong Writers Circle)
Venue: Bookazine, Prince's Building
Date: 13 February
Time: 6:30 - 8:30pm


Speaker for Enrich HK's "Ask the Experts" series
Topic: TBD
Date: February

Talk at Kellett School
Topic: "Faith"
Venue: Wah Fu, Pokfulam
Date: February
Time: TBD

Moderator at screening of documentary "The Helper"
Venue: BNP Paribas, Two IFC
Date: 28 February
Time: 11:30am - 2:30pm

Speaker at Wimler Foundation legal workshop
Topic: "Understanding Hong Kong Culture"
Venue: Philippine Consulate General, Admiralty
Date: 18 March
Time: TBD

Book launch of 《香港二十: 反思回歸廿載》, Chinese translation of PEN Hong Kong anthology Hong Kong 20/20: Reflections on a Borrowed Place
Venue: TBD
Da…

The Joshua I Know 我認識的之鋒

When I shook his hand for the first time, I thought he was the strangest seventeen-year-old I’d ever met.
It was 2014, and considering how much Hong Kong has changed in the last three year, it felt like a lifetime ago.
Joshua sat across from me at a table in the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, with his iPhone in one hand and an iPad in the other. I ordered him a lemon iced tea with extra syrup.
He was eager to begin our conversation, not because he was excited about being interviewed for my article, but because he wanted to get it over with and get on with the rest of his jam-packed day.
During our 45-minute chat, he spoke in rapid-fire Cantonese, blinking every few seconds in the way robots are programmed to blink like humans. He was quick, precise and focused.

He was also curt.
When I asked him if he had a Twitter account, he snapped, “Nobody uses Twitter in Hong Kong. Next question.”
I wasn’t the least offended by his bluntness—I chalked it up to gumption and precocity. For a te…

From Street to Chic, Hong Kong’s many-colored food scene 由大排檔到高檔: 香港的多元飲食文化

Known around the world as a foodie’s paradise, Hong Kong has a bounty of restaurants to satisfy every craving. Whether you are hungry for a lobster roll, Tandoori chicken or Spanish tapas, the Fragrant Harbour is certain to spoil you for choice.
The numbers are staggering. Openrice, the city’s leading food directory, has more than 25,000 listings—that’s one eatery for every 300 people and one of the highest restaurants-per-capita in the world. The number of Michelin-starred restaurants reached a high of 64 in 2015, a remarkable feat for a city that’s only a little over half the size of London. Amber and Otto e Mezzo occupied two of the five top spots in Asia according to The World’s Best Restaurants, serving up exquisite French and Italian fares that tantalise even the pickiest of taste buds.

While world class international cuisine is there for the taking, it is the local food scene in Hong Kong that steals the hearts of residents and visitors alike. Whatever your budget and palate…

When Free Speech Isn't Free 當言論不再自由

The school year had barely begun when two incidents—both testing the limits of free speech on campus—unfolded at Chinese University and Education University and sent management scrambling for a response.
On Monday, at least three large banners bearing the words “Hong Kong independence” were spotted in various locations at Chinese University, including one that draped across the famous “Beacon” sculpture outside the school’s main library. Within hours, the banners were removed by the school authorities.
A few days later, a sign “congratulating” Education Undersecretary Choi Yuk-lin (蔡若蓮) on her son’s recent suicide appeared on Education University’s Democracy Wall, a public bulletin board for students to express opinions and exchange views. Likewise, the sign was taken down shortly thereafter.


That could have been the end of the controversies had university management not succumbed to the temptation to say a few choice words of their own. In the end, it was the reaction from the schoo…

Hunger Game 飢餓遊戲

Every Chinese New Year I buy myself a tangerine tree for good luck. Ripe fruits fallen to the ground will mould and turn white and green within 36 hours.
Every Thanksgiving I roast a turkey big enough to feed twelve. Leftovers taste better the next day but will spoil by the week’s end even when kept in the fridge.


The unifying theme of these two unrelated household anecdotes is that unprocessed food does not last. Spoilage is part of nature’s metabolism. So how is it possible that the Valencia oranges on my kitchen counter look exactly the same as they did five weeks ago at the store, or that the expiration date stamped on a can of luncheon meat reads “March 2018”? I can’t help but wonder what really is in our food.
Our appetite for things that taste better, look nicer, last longer and cost less, from breakfast cereal to meat products and fresh produce, is insatiable. Consumer demand has spurred the growing use of pesticides, flavorings, colorings and preservatives in the food indu…

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.” 
With those simple words, Justice Kennedy made marriage equality a constitutionally prote…