31 December 2012

Past Events: 2008 - 2012

Upcoming


2012
Venue: Bookazine, Prince's Building, Central
Date: 26 November

Became Resident Blogger at South China Morning Post
Start date: September 


Writing for the South China Morning Post beginning in 2012


Endorsed Matthew Harrison's New Novel Benjamin Bunce
Date: 15 August

Became Contributing Writer for South China Morning Post's Encounters travel magazine and LifeSTYLE/Getaways supplements
Start date: June 

Guest Speaker at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD)
Topic: "HONG KONG State of Mind"
Venue: SCAD, Cheung Sha Wan
Date: 24 May 

Interviewed by Finnish Radio Station GB Times
Venue: Four Seasons, Central
Date: 23 May 
Topic: "HONG KONG State of Mind"
Venue: SCAD, Cheung Sha Wan
Date: 8 March 

Launched Second Blog The Real Deal
Date: 25 February

Release of As We See It, 2012 Anthology by Hong Kong Writers Circle
(with two short stories, "Going North" and "Going South," by Jason Y. Ng)
Venue: The Globe, Soho
Date: 12 March



2011

Launched Official Website
Date: 31 December 

Featured in South China Morning Post's Post Magazine
Title: "Wanderlust"
Issue: December

Launched Column "The Urban Confessional" in MANIFESTO magazine
Date: September 

Second Printing of HONG KONG State of Mind
Date: 20 August

Named "Man of the Year" by Elle Men magazine
Issue: May 

Title: Alumni spotlight on Jason Y. Ng
Date: 15 April 

Official Book Launch of HONG KONG State of Mind
Venue: Bookazine, IFC Mall
Date: 5 March

Hong Kong State of Mind book launch 2011

Appearance on RTHK Radio3
Show: "Naked Lunch" with presenter Sarah Passmore
Topic: "HONG KONG State of Mind"
Broadcast date: 18 January 


2010

Release of HONG KONG State of Mind
Date: 25 December 

Became Contributing Writer for Men's Folio magazine
Start date: May


2008

Launched First Blog As I See It
Date: 4 November

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If you would like Jason Y. Ng, bestselling author of Umbrellas in BloomNo City for Slow Men and HONG KONG State of Mind, to speak at your school or organization, please contact him at info@jasonyng.com.


26 December 2012

A Farewell to Arms 永别了,武器


America is a bizarre country. To be an American – or to live in America – is to accept a few things that defy common sense. For starters, pizza is considered a “vegetable” under federal law. Two tablespoons of tomato paste on the dough is enough to make the pie healthy enough to be served at every public school cafeteria. Speaking of health, emergency rooms across the country routinely turn down trauma patients who fail to produce proof of health insurance. Facing skyrocketing healthcare costs, the uninsured are left for dead and the insured are worried sick about rising deductibles and annual premiums. Not bizarre enough? Here's another good one: gun shootings have become so commonplace that the evening news no longer reports them unless they are deemed a “shooting rampage.” And each time after a massacre, gun enthusiasts line up outside Wal-Mart to stock up on assault weapons for fear of tougher gun laws. That’s right, in America you can buy a military-style semi-automatic rifle off the shelf at your neighborhood Wal-Mart, the same way we pick out a frying pan from Sogo.

Wal-Mart sells socks, soap bars and semi-automatic rifles


America is obsessed with guns. The FBI estimates that there are over 200 million privately-owned firearms in the United States. Including those owned by law enforcement agencies, there is about one gun per person in the country, the highest ratio in the world. America’s love affair with firearms is rooted in its history. Early settlers needed weapons to defend themselves against native Indians. Disputes among neighbors and romantic rivals were often settled by a pistol duel. During the War of Independence from 1775 to 1783, local militias armed themselves to overthrow British rule. The Second Amendment to the Constitution, enshrined in 1791 along with the rest of the Bill of Rights, guarantees the right to bear arms. Today, the National Rifle Association (NRA) is a well-funded organization with 4.3 million members from coast to coast. Like the American Frozen Food Institute that worked vigorously on Capitol Hill to make pizza a vegetable, the NRA is a powerful lobbying group that wields great influence over lawmakers to protect the multi-billion-dollar gun industry.

Guns are part of the national identity


Ironically, the NRA’s biggest enemies are neither gun law advocates nor the so-called liberal media. Their worst nightmare is the occasional depraved heart who storms into schools, shopping malls and government buildings and sprays bullets on the innocent. Names like Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora and Oak Creek are now synonymous with mass murders and forever etched into the nation’s psyche. Two Fridays ago, 20-year-old Adam Lanza joined the growing list of crazed gunmen and killed 26 teachers and children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Lanza was armed with three semi-automatic assault weapons, including two handguns and a Bushmaster XM-15 rifle, the type of combat weapons used by Mexican drug cartels and African warlords. Another shotgun was found in Lanza’s car and three more firearms were uncovered in his house. All seven weapons were legally obtained under Connecticut state law by Lanza’s mother, whom he murdered prior to the school shootings.

Recreational guns come at a high price


The Newtown shooting shook America to the core. For those living in the Tristate area, including my brother Dan and his family, the tragedy brought the issue of gun violence much closer to home. Days after the shooting, Dan received an invitation from his daughter’s school principal to attend a town hall meeting to discuss school safety. Later that week, Dan’s eight-year-old daughter Kimmie went through a “lock-down” drill at school. Kimmie and her fellow third-graders learned all the places in the classroom where they could hide: under the desks, inside the cabinet and behind the piano. They also learned how to stay quiet, refrain from crying and keep clear of the classroom door during an “emergency situation.” So while students in Hong Kong go through fire drills and Japanese children learn what to do in an earthquake, kids in America are taught tricks to evade armed gunmen like some bad Halloween movie. It is absurd, but hey, it is America!

Letter from Kimmie's school principal


Gun control, abortion and same-sex marriage are the “Big Three” social debates of our time. Gun law reform is especially controversial because of the economic interests involved and the cultural nerve it touches. Advocates on both sides of the debate cite their own studies and statistics and are backed by their own scholars, celebrities and public interest groups. The for-and-against arguments go something like this. Supporters of tougher gun laws say “enough is enough.” They blame gun violence on easy access to firearms and question the recreational value of semi-automatic weapons like the Bushmaster XM-15. On the other hand, gun-rights advocates say “guns don’t kill, people do.” They use the classic slippery slope argument: what’s next after banning assault weapons? Pistols? Kitchen knives? Sharp pencils? Should China ban knives because some whack job in Henan Province stabbed 23 children at a primary school? But the NRA goes one step further. They believe that more guns is the solution to gun violence. At a press conference last week, NRA chief Wayne LaPierre said defiantly, “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” He urged every school in America to hire armed security guards like they do at airports and court houses. The fact that LaPierre's proposal will boost gun sales is, I suppose, just a happy coincidence.

There's blood on LaPierre's hands


While gun law reform is stirring up passion in America, it is something of a no-brainer for the rest of the world. Here in Asia, we watch what happened in Connecticut in horror and listen to the ensuing social debate with disbelief. For most of us who didn’t grow up with firearms in our house, it is self-evident that restricting gun access is a direct, logical and effective way to curb gun violence. Discussing gun control with my colleagues and friends in Hong Kong makes for a deeply disappointing debate, for everyone seems to be on the same page. What confuses us, however, is why a great country like the Unites States – the superpower that put a man on the moon, beat the Soviets in the Cold War and invented the iPhone – can be so backward when it comes to such an obvious issue. We don’t understand how a population of 300 million can let a small minority of trigger-happy fanatics drive the national agenda. And when we hear the NRA’s proposal to fight gun violence by flooding the streets with even more guns, we don’t know whether to laugh or feel sorry for these people. One of my readers puts it best: “I don’t understand this country, and I never will.”

It's incomprehensible to us


But gun control is not the only debate coming out of the Newtown massacre. It also thrusts the issue of mental illness to the forefront. The gunman Adam Lanza was reportedly autistic and suffered from a personality disorder. That Lanza somehow fell through the cracks in the healthcare system is forcing the government to re-examine the support it provides the mentally ill. And if healthcare for the body is as scarce as it is – remember the uninsured at the emergency room – then what, if any, is left to treat diseases of the mind? Too often the mentally ill have to choose between institutionalization and fending for themselves. Adam Lanza chose the latter and his illness festered. A broken healthcare system, combined with a brutal school culture that bullies and alienates the misfit, creates a recipe for disaster. None of these factors excuses what Adam Lanza did at Sandy Hook Elementary, but it might well have contributed to it.

Lanza, before he fell out of the system


Still another debate coming out of the Newtown shooting is the role of the media. Within hours after the first shot was heard, teams of reporters descended upon the Connecticut town like a plague of locusts. What followed was around-the-clock, wall-to-wall coverage of what happened and what the reporters thought had happened. They interviewed victims’ families who would rather have been left alone. They asked inane questions like “What went through your mind when you heard the gunshots?” and “What would you like to say to the gunman if he were still alive?” The line between journalists and paparazzi blurred. Critics argue that this kind of ambulance-chasing reporting actually encourages gun violence by glorifying the perpetrator’s act and giving a sad nobody his 15 minutes of fame. Perhaps. But journalism is a tricky business: too much reporting is sensationalism, but too little of it becomes neglect. I asked my brother Dan if he was offended by CNN’s non-stop coverage of the Newtown shooting. He said “no.” He felt that public attention needs to be drawn to the incident in order for changes to be made. He didn’t think the country should stop talking about a tragedy just to avoid putting the gunman in the limelight. “Attention is a form of respect,” he said. I tend to agree.

When it comes to reporting, even children are fair game


The debate over mental health and media coverage notwithstanding, the national focus in the aftermath of Newtown should stay on gun law reform. Too many lives have been lost for lawmakers in Washington to continue to kick the can down the road. It's time the country got serious about having a sensible dialogue on sensible gun laws, no matter how ugly the political fight will get. There will never be enough laws on the book to eliminate gun violence, but let’s talk about the loopholes in the background checks at gun shops and other points of sale. Let’s talk about the types of weapons that should be banned altogether. And let’s talk about concealment laws, secondary market sales and mandatory child-safety locks. For every day we wait, 35 more people are murdered with guns. Politicians should for once listen to common sense rather than lobbyists and their skewed statistics and dubious studies. America may be a bizarre country, but there is a difference between bizarre and absurd. 

They deserve better

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This article also appears on SCMP.com under Jason Y. Ng's column "As I See It."
As posted on SCMP.com


03 December 2012

Just Us Two 二人世界


One of the advantages of living in the 21st Century is that we get to choose the way we live our lives. When it comes to love and marriage, some stick to the white picket fence, while others cohabit without ever tying the knot. Still others stay blissfully single for life, free as birds. Same sex couples, ever the scourge of conservative society, can now legally marry in eleven countries and several American states. It is therefore all the more surprising that, in our age of live-and-let-live sexual liberation, one segment of society continues to be stigmatized by a stubborn social prejudice: married couples without children.


No longer the only way to happiness

I am not talking about infertile people who can’t bear children – they get their fair share of pitiful looks from friends along with unsolicited advice on how to raise their sperm count. I am referring to married folks who, for financial, emotional or philosophical reasons, decide to stay child-free. While no one ever questions why we want children, those who choose not to have them are constantly put on the defensive. The procreative presumption is so ingrained in our collective psyche that we are puzzled by, and feel sorry for, couples that go against the grain. We view their lives as incomplete, empty and devoid of meaning. We brand them as Peter Pans who have chosen fun over responsibility, who have gotten their priorities mixed up, and who are bound to regret their decision later in life. Saddled by evolution with the burden of childbirth, women bear the brunt of this social stigma. The notion that “you are not a woman until you are a mother” marginalizes and disempowers childless women. Ironically, the hardest part about being a single woman – the Samantha Joneses of the world – is not so much the lack of a husband to take care of her as it is the lack of a child for her to take care of. No matter how she raves about the single life, the discussion will always end with a question she can’t answer: “But don’t you like children?”

There are even self-help books

The social pressure to procreate, one of the last bastions of acceptable prejudice, can be traced to the traditional agrarian society, where bigger families meant more manpower in the wheat fields or rice paddies. For wealthier folks, more children – in particular more sons – meant a larger share of the family estate. In feudal China, few blessings were more coveted and flaunted than multiple generations living under the same roof. The Chinese character hao, which means good or well, is made up of the pictograms for son and daughter. In the modern world, children remain an important part of the economic equation. Even in the age of 401(k) and MPF, children are still regarded as our most dependable retirement plan and insurance policy. Having multiple kids helps diversify the parenting portfolio and hedge their sector risk, in case one of them gives up business school and majors in theatre. 

"The more the merrier" is a medieval concept

Entrenched social norms notwithstanding, there are signs that the balance is beginning to tip. As our society becomes more affluent and its citizens more individualistic, married couples are increasingly aware of the enormous opportunity cost of having children. The truth is, raising kids involves big sacrifices and irreversible changes to our carefully crafted lives. According to libertarian writer Ayn Rand, parents become “sacrificial animals” who no longer live their own lives for themselves. That’s just a fancy way of saying: “Honey, we haven’t gone to the movies in years.” Indeed, parents put off their personal aspirations, whether it is taking up ballroom dancing or writing a novel, until their children turn 18. Worse, the burden of child-rearing falls disproportionately on women, as they are the default caregivers in most, if not all, cultures. In addition to the physical toll a nine-month pregnancy may take on their bodies, women are expected to slow down their careers or give them up altogether.

Off the bucket list

In cities like Hong Kong and Singapore, the burden on women is mitigated by the availability of affordable domestic help. Migrant workers from the Philippines and Indonesia free mothers from their child-rearing responsibilities and enable them to re-enter the workforce weeks after their pregnancy. Despite this advantage, Hong Kong and Singapore have the lowest fertility rates in the world, according to a study by the U.S. government. In Singapore, for instance, there is less than one birth for every woman, the lowest among the 223 countries surveyed in the study. Money seems to be the biggest factor at play. In much of the developed world, the desire to procreate rises and falls with the economic cycle, making birth rate the ultimate consumer confidence index. For instance, Hong Kong’s fertility rate dipped during the 1997 Asian financial crisis and plunged again during the SARS outbreak in 2003. Likewise, the United States has seen a sharp decline in the number of births per woman since the Great Recession began in 2008. To many would-be parents, making babies is all about dollars and cents. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that the cost of raising a child in America, excluding the cost of university education, is around US$250,000. Factoring in four years of college tuition, the total cost can easily top half a million.


Child-free nations



Having children is expensive, and no one knows that better than parents in Hong Kong. In an ultra-competitive society where an over-achieving child is the parents’ weapon of choice, victory is defined by which private schools and overseas universities the mini-warriors attend. To keep with up the Wongs, children are put through endless piano lessons, ballet classes and karate practices, all of which can add up to a fortune. One local economist puts the cost of raising a child in Hong Kong at $5 million (around US$645,000). And that doesn’t include the sky-high rent many parents pay just to live in a sought-after school district like Midlevels or Kowloon Tong. Considering that the median family income in the city is just over $20,000, it is little wonder that Hong Kongers think thrice before having a child. 

Over-zealous Hong Kong parents

The crushing financial burden of child-rearing is often accompanied by an emotional one. The spectre of birth defects, autism and other health concerns sends chills down the spine of every prospective parent. Even a fever is enough to send new parents to the emergency room and into a tizzy. Then there are the worries about grades, friends, alcohol and drugs. It’s enough to make married couples question whether they are cut out for the job in the first place. And when the children are finally out in the real world, those Gen-Yers and Gen-Zers seem incapable of holding down a steady job, many of whom continue to live off their parents well into their 20s and 30s. So much for a dependable retirement plan.

Do you trust him for your retirement?



I am constantly struck by the number of married couples I know who have chosen not to have children. These free spirits prefer climbing the corporate ladder and travelling to far-flung corners of the world over adhering to social conventions. We call them “DINKS” (dual-income-no-kids), the demographic that luxury car makers and real estate agents salivate over. They represent a new generation of men and women who enjoy their lifestyle too much to give it up, who realize that having children is not a prerequisite for a full and happy life. They have weighed all the pros and cons and thought long and hard before making the most important decision in their lives, one that warrants respect and not justification.

How do you see them?


Procreation is a matter of choice, and it is an intensely personal one. To every friend or co-worker who badgers you and your spouse for not having children, the appropriate response should be “why did you choose to have children?” It’s about time you turned the tables on those who so chivalrously decide to bring a new life into our complicated world without another thought. It’s about time you put the onus on them to explain whether their procreative motive is based on narcissism, boredom or a chance to make up for their own failures. And while you’re at it, ask to discuss their qualifications to take on the biggest responsibility in the human experience. But you aren’t going to do any of that, because you live and you let live.

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This article previously appeared in the November/December 2012 issue of MANIFESTO magazine under Jason Y. Ng's column "The Urban Confessional."

As printed in Manifesto