31 December 2013

Past Events: 2013


2013

Featured Author at "Meet the Authors on a Tram" Event by DETOUR Classroom
Venue: Repurposed tram departing from North Point
Date: 7 December

Roll-out of Endorsement of "I'm FINished with FINS" Campaign
Date: 28 November

Book Signing Event at Bookazine
Venue: Bookazine, 3/F, Prince's Building
Date: 28 November
Venue: City University, Run Run Shaw Creative Media Centre
Date: 10 November 2013

Spokesperson for "I'm FINished with FINS" Campaign
Date: October 2013

MANIFESTO  and Jason's Column "The Urban Confessional" Gone Global
Story: Hong Kong's only unisex lifestyle magazine is being stocked in bookstores around the world, including the U.S., Europe, Latin America and Australia
Date: 1 September 
Venue: Fringe Club
Date: 24 September 

Guest Speaker/Tastemaker at Hogan x MANIFESTO Fall 2013 Event
Venue: Pacific Place/Elements
Date: 12 & 13 September

Featured in AGI China of Leading Italian News Agency Agenzia Giornalistica Italia
Date: 15 August 

Guest Writer at British Council's Writer's Brunch
Venue: Chez Patrick, Wanchai
Date: 21 July 

Quoted in Influential Italian Literary Magazine Nuovo Argomenti
Title: "Bruce Lee blues"
Date: 20 July

"Maid in Hong Kong - Part 2" Featured in Philippine Newspaper The Sun
Issue: 16 July 

Guest Speaker at Hong Kong Book Fair 2013 Forum on HK Culture
Topic: "Three views on documenting Hong Kong in English"
Venue: HK Convention & Exhibition Centre, Wanchai
Date: 18 July
Topic: "Anglophone literature and its impact on HK identity"
Date: 13 July

Featured in HKTDC's Online Weekly HK Trader
Title: "In focus: literary Hong Kong"
Date: 10 July

Guest Speaker at Hong Kong's First "Asia on the Edge" Conference
Topic: "Dialogue on vision and challenges with publishers, editors and authors"
Venue: The Fringe Club Ice Vault, Lower Albert Road
Date: 6 July

Guest Speaker at HKTDC "Cultural July" Seminar
Topic: "How to become a blogger/writer in Hong Kong?"
Venue: Pacific Coffee Emporium, Causeway Bay
Date: 3 July

"Maid in Hong Kong - Part 1" Featured in Philippine Newspaper The Sun
Issue: 1 July

Guest Speaker at HKTDC "Cultural July" Seminar
Topic: "How to become a blogger/writer in Hong Kong?"
Venue: Kowloon Public Library, Ho Man Tin
Date: 30 June

As I See It and The Real Deal Featured in the June Issue of Gafencu
Title: "Online and on topic"
Issue: June

Became Member of the Foreign Correspondents' Club Hong Kong
Venue: The FCC, Lower Albert Road
Date: 4 June 

Panel Speaker at "Transforming the Parasite"
Topic: "Maid in Hong Kong, the social and cultural impact of the importation of domestic helpers on both the host and the migrant"
Venue: Baptist University, Kowloon Tong
Date: 3 June

Featured in The Clickbook by Filipino Blogger/Activist RJ Barrete
Title: "How you do it?"
Venue: Four Seasons, Central
Date: 1 June 

Keynote Speaker at Harvard Club Book Award 2013
Topic: "How to live a purposeful life?"
Venue: Education Bureau, Kowloon Tong
Date: 10 May 

Speaking at Harvard Club Book Prize 2013


Third Printing of HONG KONG State of Mind
Date: 25 April 

Guest Speaker at the Ladies' Recreation Club Book Club
Topic: "HONG KONG State of Mind"
Venue: The Ladies Recreation Club, Old Peak Road
Date: 18 April 
Date: 15 April

Title: "Balancing work and outside interests"
Venue: Four Seasons, Central
Date: 20 March 

Featured in German blog "Lehrzeit"
Title: "Hong Kong's education system and intellectual lethargy"
Date: 8 February 



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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.

23 December 2013

Kong vs. Hong Kong 移民對居民


The Court of Final Appeal, the city’s highest court, handed down an unpopular judgment two weeks ago. Five justices unanimously ruled that the government’s seven-year residency requirement for welfare application is unconstitutional. In Hong Kong, “welfare” is formally known as Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA), which averages around HK$3,000 (less than US$400) per month per applicant. The meager assistance is meant to be a bare minimum to give the unemployed or the unemployable a subsistence living.

They got it right this time


Reactions to the court’s landmark decision poured in almost immediately. Social advocacy groups hailed the ruling as a victory in welfare rights for not only the immigrant community but all of Hong Kong. The rest of the city was not as thrilled. Many Hong Kongers see the lowering of the residency threshold as a threat to their existence, their tax dollars now robbed by newcomers. Netizens on Facebook and Golden Forum (高登), an online chat room and a windsock of public opinion, once again evoked the “locust” metaphor and accused Mainlanders of leeching off our welfare net. The Liberal Party (自由黨), run by plutocrats who are pro-business and anti-social programs, was quick to stoke the fire and criticize the judges for legislating from the bench. There were even calls for a “legal interpretation” by Beijing to overturn the court ruling.

The few good men who helped Kong


The lawsuit against the government was filed by Yunming Kong (孔允明), a 56-year-old Mainland immigrant whose Hong Kong husband died the day after she arrived in the city. Soon thereafter, the Housing Authority repossessed her late husband’s public housing apartment. Homeless and jobless, Kong applied for CSSA but her application was denied because she failed the residency test. 

Kong’s case is not atypical. Every year, tens of thousands of Hong Kong men cross the border in search of Mainland brides. Once married, the husbands will apply for immigration papers to have the wives join them in Hong Kong. Adult females now account for 65% of all new immigrants granted a “one-way permit” (單程證) to enter the city. For the most part, they depend on their local husbands until the latter either die or file for divorce. It’s not easy for widows and divorcées to find work in Hong Kong, especially since their Cantonese is limited and some have children to look after. Government assistance is often their only way out. 

The claimant Kong Yunming, now 64


The Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, guarantees all residents, old and new, the right to social welfare. Article 36 stipulates that the access to government assistance be granted “in accordance with law.” The qualifier is broad and vague, and perhaps deliberately so, to give judges latitude to decide what is equitable. As is the case for many constitutional cases, the justices hearing Kong’s claim relied on the “proportionality test” to weigh the impact of a government policy on the claimant against the public interests it serves. In 2004, while the city was still reeling from the ravage of SARS, Tung Chee-Hwa’s government raised the CSSA application threshold from one year to seven years with the explicit policy goal to cut public spending. In determining whether the increased residency requirement should be struck down or at least reinstated to its pre-2004 level, the justices struck a balance between Kong’s survival and the long term sustainability of the welfare net. What ended up tipping the balance in favor of the claimant is that the policy change, by the government’s own admission, has yielded insignificant and “immaterial savings in the past 10 years. On the other hand, its impact on welfare applicants like Kong is disproportionately great.

Protestors against the court ruling


Any law student can see that Kong Yunming vs. The Director of Social Welfare is a slam dunk, a no-brainer. The legal analysis becomes even clearer when Article 36 is read in conjunction with the rest of the Basic Law and the Bill of Rights. The only surprise is that the regressive policy change targeting a specific segment of society went unchallenged back in 2004. 

But none of that matters to the local population, who tend to lose their sense of right and wrong whenever their financial interests are – or appear to be – at stake. We have seen that “us-versus-them” mentality earlier this year when the Court of Final Appeal denied domestic helpers the right to seek permanent residence. Whether it is a Philippine maid or Mainland immigrant, our xenophobia defies logic and facts. Government figures have shown that a vast majority (over 85%) of welfare applicants are native Hong Kongers and, far from lazy freeloaders, immigrants are known to work harder than their local counterparts when put on the same jobs.

One of the parody posters posted online
portraying new immigrants as leeches

Then there is the slippery slope argument. Many Hong Kongers fear that the recent court ruling would open the floodgates and lead to the easing of application criteria for much more scarce resources like public housing. That may well happen and it is a bridge we must cross when we get to it. After all, there is a price to pay for living in a democracy. Like it or not, when new arrivals settle in Hong Kong, the distinction between “us” and “them” falls away. If we are unhappy with an immigration policy which the city has no say in setting up or modifying, then by all means take it up with the Liaison Office or Beijing; but don’t take it out on those who enter the city legally and make them the scapegoats for our systemic failures. To argue otherwise is not only racist but also downright foolish.  Then again, we witness this kind of foolishness every day when people blame traffic jams and overcrowded malls on Mainland tourists instead of our government’s border control. It’s time we stopped acting like fools.


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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



18 November 2013

The Art of Profanity 粗口藝術


We react to life’s little vicissitudes – nicking the car door, dropping the phone on a concrete pavement or losing hours of work to a computer crash – with a curse word or two. If some brute walks by and knocks the coffee right out of our hand, the appropriate response is: What the fuck? Swearing is one of those things that we do everyday and nearly everywhere. But like breaking wind and picking our nose, profanity is only bad when someone else does it. Most of us are too squeamish or sanctimonious to own up to it. Rarely in the human experience has something so universally shared been so vehemently condemned and denied.

Turning society into a nanny state


Profanity exists in every culture. Curse words are the first vocabulary we learn in a foreign language and the only one we remember years later. The linguistic phenomenon can be traced as far back as Ancient Egypt and Babylon. Literary giants like William Shakespeare, James Joyce and George Bernard Shaw were known to use obscenity inventively in their works, as did J.D. Salinger in his coming-of-age classic Catcher in the Rye. These days you can’t enjoy a Hollywood action flick or a crime drama on cable television without getting an earful of the f-word. Whether it is in literature or pop culture, coarse language helps deliver a jolt and a pinch of realism to reflect the way people actually talk.

But the near ubiquity of profanity doesn’t stop us from feeling prudish about it. In the ‘70s, American comedian George Carlin listed “Seven Dirty Words” in a stand up routine to poke fun at society’s unease toward cursing. The act got him arrested for disturbing the peace and made him the First Amendment hero in a landmark Supreme Court decision. It also led to sweeping indecency regulation in American broadcasting, including the proliferation of minced oaths – euphemistic expressions like “gosh,” “heck,” “shoot” and “freaking” – in an attempt to remove the sting of the original words. Since then, obscenity has been bleeped on television and replaced with the phrase “[expletive deleted]” in the print media. The venerable New York Times, a bastion of free speech that prides itself on printing all the news that’s fit to print, has adopted an internal profanity policy to preserve “the newspaper’s character” and “civility in the public discourse.” The paper’s policy suggests that, even in this day and age, decorum and manners still trump honest reporting.

That was 40 years ago, so let's move on


Let’s face it, swear words are but a string of syllables. What makes “vagina” an anatomy term and “cunt” an abominable abuse is purely arbitrary. At some point we need to be adult about our speech and admit that there is a time and place for every word. After all, a kindergarten classroom is very different from a poker game, and The Sopranos shouldn’t be treated the same way as Pocahontas. So long as it is not directed at children or used in a pejorative way toward minority groups, profanity is an integral part of language to convey horror, confusion and extreme displeasure. Experienced writers understand that curse words are a literary device just like metaphors and puns: having too many of them takes away their effect, but a judicious use can go a long way. If Quentin Tarantino had sanitized Pulp Fiction by changing Vincent Vega’s line to “[the French] wouldn’t know what on earth a quarter pounder is,” the famous diner scene would have been flat and forgettable.

One of the memorable scenes in Pulp Fiction


What’s more, studies have shown that profanity is a coping mechanism and a form of anger management. Cursing is an instinctive response to shock and pain, like tripping over a rug or cutting ourselves while we shave. Dropping the f-bomb reduces stress and lets off steam. When used cleverly, swear words can also enhance our sense of humour and promote social bonding. According to Natalie Angier, science journalist for, ironically, the New York Times, a free flow of foul language among close friends may signal harmony instead of hostility. On the other hand, resisting obscenity can lead to asymmetry within a social group and signify a “holier than thou” attitude.

In Asia, the social acceptability of profanity runs the gamut from absolute prohibition to use-as-you-please condonation. In Japan, for instance, swear words are never uttered except during a bar brawl or in hostess clubs. By contrast, in Thailand and much of South East Asia, using coarse language is like adding spices to a stew – one must strike a balance between enhancing the flavours and overpowering the dish. 

They don't even use the word "gosh"


Here in Hong Kong, the cursing culture lies somewhere between conservative Japan and permissive Thailand. In Cantonese, the city’s lingua franca, there are the “Famous Five”: a quintet of single syllable swear words that connote the male and female genitalia and what to do with them. While stressed out citizens curse out loud from time to time, profanity is a telltale sign of the speaker’s social standing – or the lack thereof. A liberal use of swear words in daily speech often indicates a deficiency in character and pedigree.

And so when primary school teacher Alpais Lam (林慧思) was caught on video shouting expletives at the police during a street protest earlier this year, the entire city came down on her like a ton of bricks. Lam, a mere bystander on the scene, took issues with a police blockade and vented her frustration at the frontline officers with a few choice words. Days after the video was posted on YouTube, angry parents demanded that Lam be fired from her job for the untoward behaviour. A crime squad was dispatched to investigate the incident as if it were a multiple homicide. Even our Chief Executive C.Y. Leung weighed in on the controversy and ordered the Secretary of Education to submit a report to explain the travesty of human decency.

Ms. Lam needs our support

The so-called “Miss. Lam Incident” (林老師事件) underscores a deep cultural issue in Hong Kong. The undue emphasis we place on civility means that the bigger offense often falls by the wayside. Eager to use our distaste for profanity as a diversion tactic, authorities shift the focus away from the real issue – the police’s mishandling of a peaceful demonstration – and throw the outspoken educator under the bus of public opinion. Those angry parents never think for a moment that while Lam’s choice of words may seem poor, it was the poor choice of a private citizen outside the confines of the classroom walls. And while the idea of shouting abuse at police officers may be bad, it is a constitutionally protected bad idea.

It seems most people would rather be lied to
by a well-spoken man than hear a curse word


British philosopher Bertrand Russell once said: “Obscenity is whatever happens to shock some elderly and ignorant magistrate.” When it comes to language and speech, the line between vulgar and provocative is not only blurred, but also subjective, personal and arbitrary. Like many preconceived notions about gender and race, our queasiness toward foul language is socially conditioned and does not hold up to scrutiny. To avoid self-censorship and aphasia, sensible adults should recognise that every word, even the dirty ones, serves a purpose. Profanity is not a question of right and wrong but rather a matter of taste.

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This article previously appeared in the November/December 2013 issue of MANIFESTO magazine under Jason Y. Ng's column "The Urban Confessional."

As printed in MANIFESTO