Generation 40s – 四十世代

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午夜裏的都市驛站

明報
筆陣
2015-05-28

文﹕蔡子強

今個星期,一套改編自日本漫畫《深夜食堂》的電影將會在香港上映,執筆之際,電影我仍未有機會看,但電視劇則已經看過,而且十分喜歡,電視劇已經拍攝至第三季,每集半小時,點到即止,但也因如此,反而更加餘韻綿長。

故事講述,在東京新宿街頭的一條後巷,有一間由老闆獨自經營的簡陋小食堂,由深夜零時到清晨7時營業,小食堂沒有正式名字,但常客慣稱之為「深夜食堂」。

這間食堂,成了都市裏午夜的驛站。在漫漫長夜裏,舖子的門被一次又一次的拉開,呼進了凜冽的寒風,也迎來一個又一個的客人。

在社會裏底層最落泊的人,像黑道頭目、未遇伯樂的歌女、年華已逝的「剩女」、過氣AV男優、年老的街頭歌手、屢戰屢敗的拳手、半工讀的送報苦學生、自小被遺棄的演員、自卑的脫衣舞孃、認為自己已經無法回頭的江湖蠱惑仔……一個又一個,深宵來到這間舖子,不單是為了填飽肚子,更是為了讓那顆飄泊無依的心靈,可以找個地方泊岸。

劇中人,飽受生活的折騰,經過一天的勞累,渾身傷痕,帶着一肚的挫折與沮喪、困惑與茫然、哀傷與愁苦,拉開舖子的門,獨個兒踏進這間舖子。

在料理吧台前擠了個位置坐下,然後,要了食物,便自斟自飲,一杯又一杯的苦酒,灌進愁腸,偶爾與老闆搭上幾句,一些人,得到開解,但另一些人,卻依舊愁腸百結。

每個人,都有過去;

每個人,都有自己的一個故事;

每個人,心裏都有一道傷口。

在味道中找尋回憶

在這間舖子裏,吃的不是什麼珍饈百味,只是普通如煎成章魚狀的香腸、煎蛋捲、貓飯、茶泡飯、薯仔沙律、牛油撈飯、豬排飯、碎蛋三文治、醬油炒麵加一隻太陽蛋、烤竹莢魚、拉麵……都是尋常不過之物,但每道料理,都有着自己獨特的一種味道,也承載着獨特的一份感情。例如:

每次都點薯仔沙律的過氣AV男優,原來是因一直都未為當教師的母親所諒解,甚至連妹妹的婚禮亦不獲母親准許參加,於是一別家鄉20年,一直無面目返家面對家人,於是,母親在他幼時為他煮的薯仔沙律,便成了他對母親思念所繫……

3個每次都點茶泡飯,原本情同姊妹的「剩女」,一直口口聲聲,以堅決追尋高尚「純愛」、非理想不嫁作為藉口,其實,只是用來掩飾自己找不到男友的失落和哀傷。但後來,隨着年華漸逝,有人降低要求,有人甚至搭上姊妹的前度,結果3人不歡而散,各走各路。一晚,其中最固執的那一位,再度光顧,席間唏噓的向老闆說:「到了這個年紀,不知道為什麼,自己還會在一些奇怪的地方,固執己見,總喜歡左思右想。」老闆為她依舊煮好一碗茶泡飯,送上她面前,並說:「人生本來就不用想得太多,就像茶泡飯一樣,簡簡單單,美味就是美味,這不就已經足夠了嗎?」之後,她端起面前這碗茶泡飯,細細品嘗,邊吃邊流淚……

一個自小被父母遺棄的女演員,每次都會點醬油炒麵加一隻太陽蛋。機緣巧合,女演員獲派飾演一個類似身世的角色,劇情到最後說她與父親重聚,結果原諒了父親,但只可惜,演到這一幕,她無論幾努力也不能入戲。她光顧食堂,老闆見她愁眉不展,與她聊起,才知箇中原委。她說,明明被拋棄,卻沒有怨恨,還要原諒,她實在想像不到那種心境,所以她一直演不好。老闆問現實中她還是否恨父親,她沉默了良久,茫然的說了一聲不知道。當老闆把炒麵端到她面前時,她赫然發現,這次麵上灑上青海苔。原來較早之前,當老闆與一位老客人說到這位女演員最愛吃醬油炒麵時,老人家千叮萬囑,叫他下次為她弄炒麵時,上桌前要灑上一點青海苔,那麼麵便會更加好吃,叫他下次一定要為她這樣做,於是老闆姑且一試。女演員以筷子夾起面前的炒麵,邊吃邊流淚。原來,這正是她年幼時,父親為她弄炒麵時的獨有做法。結果,她終於順利演好了這最後一幕。

在回憶中找尋撫慰

就是如此,食物,漸漸成了治癒傷口的藥方。

每位顧客,便在這些味道中,找尋回憶,又在回憶中,找尋撫慰。

香港沒有如此的深夜食堂,即使有,也沒有這樣的氛圍,因為,那不是這個城市的性格。

在香港,那些於午夜仍在街上四處飄泊的都市浪族,卻會落腳於那些24小時營業、年中無休的便利店當中。

在便利店裏,先揀一罐啤酒或汽水,再在雪櫃中拿起一包蝦餃、燒賣之類的點心,再加一盒「波仔飯」,又或者杯麵,放進店中的微波爐裏「叮熱」。在這等待的三兩分鐘,一邊呷着冰凍的啤酒或汽水,一邊講電話,或以手機上網,總之一秒鐘也不會讓自己閒着。到了微波爐「叮」一聲,便拿出食物,三扒兩撥,呼嚕呼嚕的吃掉,再走出門外,匆匆消失於夜幕下,一抹霓虹燈色之中。

讓午夜裏飄泊無依的心靈可以泊岸

那一點點微波爐食物,在午夜裏,不單讓你填飽肚子,也讓你在午夜的飄泊之中,心靈得到一點慰藉。

與日劇中的深夜食堂相比,這裏少了幾分沉重,多了幾分灑脫,也反映了這個都市的性格,「拿起」、「放下」,都在一瞬之間,容不下幾分眷戀的餘裕。

於是,午夜裏的便利店,便成了都市裏的一個人生驛站,那裏永遠燈火通明,永遠川流不息,縱然,大家永遠只是擦肩而過。

便利店讓你相信,午夜裏,縱使在街上四處飄泊,無論你有幾倦、幾餓、幾空虛、幾寂寞,它都永遠在那裏等待着你,不懼曲終人散。

原來,天下間真的有不散之筵席,縱然,席間每一位,都是行色匆匆的過客,來去,都不帶走一片雲彩。

蔡子強

中文大學政治與行政學系高級講師

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Parents must stop treating education as an arms race

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
2014-09-03

Kelly Yang

Kelly Yang says in our manic drive to find the best tutors for our children, we’ve lost track of what truly inspires academic excellence

For those parents experiencing severe stress about the start of a new school year (30 per cent of parents, according to one recent study), I want to let you in on something: I firmly believe that you don’t need tutors to succeed. I say this as a tutor.

I never had a single tutor growing up or attended any after-school classes. And I was fine.

I did not even go to a particularly good school. One of the primary schools I attended was unofficially dubbed the “most likely to produce kids who end up in jail”.

I remember a teacher who blasted out the History channel all day long while she sat back and read People magazine. My parents’ advice when I told them this? Try to sit near the window so you can look outside.

That my parents had more important things to worry about – like putting food on the table – was my biggest blessing. Because nobody else cared, it was up to me to care.

It was up to me to seek out the best teachers in my school, which was hard given the kind of schools I went to.

But I quickly learned that in every school, there are a few good teachers. You just have to find them. My best teacher was the public library. There, I hungrily devoured knowledge, history and literature.

Years later, I ended up in the same university as those kids who were tutored their entire lives. The difference between me and the other kids? I saved a ton of money.

Last week, a woman cried in my office. She had tried to sign her daughter up for one of my Saturday writing and debate classes. Unfortunately, she was too late – by an hour. Another parent beat her to it and snatched the very last spot in the class.

This woman was distraught. She told me that if her child couldn’t get into my class, she’d fail as a mother. That was when I put my hands up and told her to stop right there. Failure to sign one’s child up for a tutoring class does not make someone a bad parent, no matter how good the class is.

That night, I went home feeling humbled and sorry. I was deeply humbled that parents put so much faith and trust in me.

But I was also sorry that I work in an industry that has increasingly, over the years, not lessened parental anxiety but directly contributed to it. When did getting into a tutoring class cause this much stress?

When 80 per cent of parents surveyed say they have arranged classes or homework for their children in preparation for the new school year and another 27 per cent say there are family conflicts over their children’s academic abilities, something’s not quite right.

Tutoring is not supposed to be a never-ending arms race to book more classes and buy more lessons.

Tutoring is optional, not necessary. Tutoring should enhance, never burden. Tutoring is about the ability to facilitate the magic that happens when a kid is inspired to learn, not about money.

This academic year, I urge parents to take a moment before seeking coveted, quality time with a tutor.

First, they should make sure they’ve sought out some quality time at the dinner table, because, in so many ways, it’s far more important.

Kelly Yang teaches writing at The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school centre for writing and debate in Hong Kong. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School.


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In search of this generation’s Lion Rock spirit

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
2014-09-01

Larry Au

Larry Au says if we are to agree on the right policies and direction for our society, in a time of dispiriting division, we must first seek some answers to what being a Hongkonger means

Of the seven students from Hong Kong who graduated from Brown University, my alma mater, in May, only one will be returning to the city for full-time employment after this summer. For the most part, the rest will either be in New York or San Francisco.

As a recent college graduate who has spent the better part of my adult years abroad, the choice of whether to return to Hong Kong is one that many my age with similar experience face. According to government statistics released in 2011, there were some 75,000 students overseas. While concerns about job opportunities and the cost of living feature prominently in conversations with my peers, we often return to the question of whether we can still call Hong Kong home.

But what does it mean to belong in Hong Kong? This, it seems, is a conversation that we as a community have yet to have. Only in recent years, as we confronted the right of abode controversies and argued over the anti-national education movement, have we begun to realise the limits and contradictions of our understanding of belonging.

These moments, however, are reactive. In other words, we can only say what being part of Hong Kong is not, but not what it is.

Paradoxically, this failure to substantively define “Hongkongness” occurs in spite of the recent rise of “nativist” movements and the record-breaking levels of local identification as reported by the University of Hong Kong’s public opinion programme.

In contrast, any Frenchman or American will be able to tell you what being a member of French or American society entails. Their answers will be coloured by culture and history, of course. To be French is to embrace liberté, égalité, fraternité, while being American is to relish life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The implications of these foundational principles are far-reaching. In France, poverty is constructed as a rupture of the social fabric, thereby compelling the state to intervene and justifying the sky-high tax rates on the elite. Meanwhile, the American social contract is based on individualism, making welfare politics particularly unpalatable.

As such, we in Hong Kong must tackle these questions head-on: Is being a Chinese citizen synonymous with being ethnically Chinese? What are the duties of a permanent resident of Hong Kong to the rest of China? How does one become part of Hong Kong?

The answers to these fundamental questions will have a bearing on a wide range of issues in policymaking, including the allocation of public resources to ethnic minorities and the proper relationship between Hong Kong and Beijing.

It is also because of the absence of a shared cultural code that we find dialogue across the political divide so difficult in our attempt to implement electoral reform for 2017. Thus, when we talk about the chief executive being “patriotic”, we disagree vehemently at a very basic level about the need and direction of this allegiance.

And when we talk about democracy, we are unable to agree on the place of “international” or “Western” standards in a “Chinese” society.

While I cannot foresee how this conversation on belonging will take shape, there are several issues that this dialogue must address if it is to result in a durable conclusion.

First, we must reassess our trans-national history and multicultural reality. This includes recovering the vital role that Hong Kong played in European, Southeast Asian and Pacific trade networks from even before the British, as well as reevaluating the experience of our city under colonialism and the end of this inherently unjust system. The contributions of “foreigners” to Hong Kong, from the Court of Final Appeal’s non-permanent judges to domestic workers, must also be taken into account.

Second, we must reconcile the generational divide with regard to how belonging is viewed. The centrality of the “Lion Rock spirit” in the pivotal decades of the 1960s and 1970s in Hong Kong cannot be understated. But the same opportunities that were offered to our parents’ generation, and once drew thousands of migrants fleeing from turbulence on the mainland, are now restricted to a privileged few. This stagnation of economic mobility, embodied by growing inequality, must be addressed.

Finally, we must recognise the limits of a coherent Hong Kong identity within the national rubric of China. The discourse on Hong Kong’s “core values” is one that seems contradictory to the political reality of the country. Those dreaming of a more liberal definition must rein in their ambitions and concentrate on the immediate.

Yet if Hong Kong is to retain the talent of its youth abroad, it must articulate a clear vision of belonging that is both open and inclusive. Only then can we appeal for their return, and will we be proud to call Hong Kong home. After all, the personal is political.

But at the end of the day, this conversation on belonging is one that we must have if Hong Kong is to emerge intact in the decades to come. As such, this conversation is as much about the past and present as it is about the future.

Larry Au is a graduate student in sociology at the Department of International Development at the University of Oxford


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Is the golden age over for multinationals in China?

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
2014-08-29

Edward Tse and Paul Pan

Edward Tse and Paul Pan say multinationals’ experience in China varies, depending on the sector and the company’s ability to adapt. Some are thriving, notwithstanding the antitrust crackdown

Multinational corporations are in the spotlight these days. Recently, the Chinese government has accused a number of foreign companies of violating the antitrust law. Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Microsoft, and some Japanese car parts companies have been among those charged.

In fact, this is nothing new. Last year, Beijing also charged a number of foreign milk powder producers with alleged “abnormal price fixing”, while pharmaceutical companies – including, most notably, GlaxoSmithKline – were caught in bribery and corruption scandals.

According to the results of a business confidence survey by the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, conditions in China are getting tougher. There’s an entrenched sense of pessimism within the European business community, as persistent market challenges show little sign of abating.

In turn, according to the chamber, many companies are setting more modest expectations for revenue and profitability growth and are scaling back their investment plans for the Chinese marketplace. Is the “golden age” for foreign companies in China over?

Multinational corporations started making significant investments in China in the early 1990s, especially after Deng Xiaoping took the now famous “southern tour” in 1992. After more than 20 years of investing in China, these companies’ attitudes have changed dramatically.

Broadly speaking, there are three groups of companies distinguishable by their market views. The first includes multinational corporations that have come to China, made investments and, being unsuccessful, decided that China is not their cup of tea.

They have found it difficult to earn a profit and some have withdrawn from the Chinese market. Examples include Home Depot, Best Buy, Media Markt and Mattel. PepsiCo, for instance, sold its bottling business in China to Taiwanese company Tingyi Holding, which has a broad distribution network across China.

The second group are those in sectors that exhibit overcapacity in China, such as cement, steel, solar panels and the like. These companies are typically in a wait-and-see mode – waiting to see if and when the overcapacity can be managed away.

The final group of companies are those that have found China to be a major, and often highly profitable, market. For them, China is one of the largest markets in the world, if not the largest. Prime examples are the carmakers Audi/Volkswagen Group, BMW, Daimler and General Motors. It also includes others like Yum Brands, Starbucks and Apple.

For these companies, the golden age in China is here and will probably continue in the near future. At a recent meeting, the China head of a leading premium-car maker told me that his company sees huge opportunities in China and one of their biggest challenges is how to build the production capacity fast enough to capture the upcoming market demand.

In short, multinational corporations’ views of China depend on their relative market position, and there isn’t a single uniform view.

Nonetheless, as China evolves, there are a number of recognisable patterns. On the one hand, Beijing continues to open more sectors to non-state capital (recent examples include commercial banking and telecom operations); on the other, it is also visibly applying more stringent laws and policies such as antitrust and anti-corruption measures.

In the open sectors, competition is intense, often the most intense in the world. In addition to their usual global competitors, multinational corporations will also have to deal with local competitors, some state-owned, some privately owned. While multinationals are fairly used to how other multinationals compete, the ways Chinese companies compete is often quite different, and therefore surprising. On top of all this is the rapidly changing, complicated and ambiguous operating environment in China that can catch multinationals off guard. Increasingly, many realise that they cannot apply their cookie-cutter ways of working to China and that they need to adapt.

As China evolves into a market economy, it has been trying to learn from other countries, benchmarking and adapting other practices into the Chinese context. A notable example was how the Chinese recognised – from US politicians – the application of national security to businesses, after a bid by China National Offshore Oil Corporation to buy the US energy company Unocal was rebuffed in 2005.

China’s antitrust legislation, largely modelled on EU law, came into force in 2008. The Chinese have insisted that the law applies equally to foreign companies and Chinese ones. In fact, last year, two state-owned liquor companies, Kweichow Moutai and Wuliangye, were fined 247 million yuan (HK$310 million) and 202 million yuan respectively after being found guilty of price fixing.

Foreign companies have registered concern over the recent antitrust crackdown, especially the use of “intimidation tactics”. It is unfortunate that, quite often, when the Chinese authorities begin to implement certain new practices or laws, their execution can be quite unpolished. Over time, things are likely to improve.

But it’s ironic that many of these same multinational corporations which are now raising concerns are the same ones that have complained about the lack of law and order in China.

Though economic growth in China has slowed, the growth of some sectors continues to be very strong. The internet sector, for example, is growing by leaps and bounds. Companies such as Alibaba, Tencent, Xiaomi and JD.com [1] are commanding huge valuations.

The health care and environmental sectors, for instance, are also growing fast. According to Liang Xinjun, chief executive of the Fosun group, a large Chinese conglomerate, in several years, the size of the “big health” sector, which includes all businesses along the health value chain, will exceed that of the property sector that has been the engine of growth in China for the past decade.

In a complicated and fast-changing environment, there are tremendous opportunities and challenges for everyone, multinational corporations included. They need to know how to strategically anticipate and capture these opportunities and handle the challenges.

Foreign companies which can see the opportunities in China will stay and continue to invest, whether or not there’s an antitrust crackdown. And if they manage to build the right capabilities on the ground, enabling them to compete effectively, then the answer to the question of whether the golden age is over will be a resounding “no”.

Dr Edward Tse is founder and CEO, and Paul Pan is managing director, of Gao Feng Advisory Company, a global strategy and management consulting firm with roots in Greater China. Dr Tse is also the author of The China Strategy