Generation 40s – 四十世代

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In Hong Kong, animosity towards mainland Chinese can’t be overcome without an open mind

CommentInsight & Opinion
2018-01-30
Peter Kammerer says the fear of mainlandisation, though understandable, unfortunately stops Hongkongers from getting to better understand the mainland Chinese who come for work or a holiday. The continuing spats show not enough Hongkongers are making the effort

How many more times are we going to be pummelled by yet another sorry tale of Hongkongers and mainlanders sniping at one another? To add to the long and sorry list of recent years, in the past week, we’ve had a row over Mandarin language exams at Baptist University and a food fight in a noodle shop at the airport. I also witnessed an argument on a bus and jostling on a street in Causeway Bay.

None of these would have happened had those involved treated each other as equals and taken the time to talk rather than shout.

The Baptist University saga is complex, but at its heart is that same old concern about the creeping mainlandisation of Hong Kong. There are fewer layers to the noodle shop incident, which involved staff losing their cool with two mainland travellers. Both matters quickly found their way onto social media platforms, where the usual mud-slinging ensued. The latter has been settled with an apology from the shop, but the former rumbles on.

Hongkongers feel threatened; I get that. I understand how nationalism is created and manipulated so that the mere suggestion of words like “independence” can have sycophants howling. But there’s also another truth, best illustrated by an observation; two decades ago, people on the mainland complained that Hong Kong visitors were noisy and arrogant, and now the reverse is true. As an outsider to the dispute, I don’t perceive either side is worse and the only significant change is that Hong Kong now gets many times more mainland visitors.

Keep in mind that we’re talking about the same ethnic group and their biggest differences are the dialect they speak and, marginally, the manner in which they’re governed. Culturally, there’s no difference, with both celebrating the moon, with festivals featuring mooncakes and red packets containing money. Not liking the manner in which a person or political party governs can never be a reason to also dislike the people who are subject to such a system. I think United States President Donald Trump is a buffoon, but I would be foolish to suggest all Americans are also clowns.

There’s bound to be indignation when shopping and leisure habits are disrupted by a tourist influx. But Hong Kong has had plenty of time to adjust to that. We should also have had every opportunity to get to better know and understand our visitors. Unfortunately, it’s obvious from the continuing animosity that not enough have tried.

From my perch as a Caucasian with no vested interests, the vast majority of my interactions with mainlanders in Hong Kong have been positive. There have been curious university students, helpful work colleagues, pedestrians in need of guidance and chatty gym-goers and diners in restaurants. The negatives most often relate to being buffeted in the street by a suitcase-wheeling parade or an inconsiderate smoker.

Hong Kong likes to call itself an international city, but the numerous ethnic groups and nationalities who make it so multicultural tend to group together and rarely cross paths. Apart from cross-border marriages, this is also largely true for Hongkongers and mainlanders.

Here’s some common sense: you won’t get to know someone if you intentionally avoid them. If, in an encounter, we are rude and demeaning, expect the same treatment back. And here’s a truth: taking the time to start a conversation with a stranger from the mainland by talking about how the trip is going, if it’s for shopping or business, or even if the weather is meeting expectations, will make a world of difference, with the result bound to be positive.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post

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Switch off the smartphones, to save children from tech addiction

CommentInsight & Opinion
2018-01-25

Robert Badal says social media and smartphone technology are inherently addictive, and e-learning might do more harm than good. Parents and teachers need to lead by example in the fight against device overuse

 

January 2: the World Health Organisation listed “gaming disorder” as a mental health condition under its International Classification of Diseases.

January 6: the California State Teacher’s Retirement System wrote to Apple demanding restrictions to children’s smartphone access and support for research, citing a range of serious mental health issues connected to smartphone use supported by clinical studies.

Soon after, former Apple executive Tony Fadell, “the father of the iPod”, slammed internet and social media companies for creating widespread addiction that Steve Jobs would have opposed.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Dr Sherry Turkle called this rising storm “a bottom-up backlash”. She wrote a prophetic book in 2011 Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, warning of the psychological and societal damage that is omnipresent now.

It is the nature of the beast. One of my students, Hoi Yan Shek, a Columbia University economics major, nailed it: “The key performance indicator of tech firms is the amount of time users spend and their engagement. This directly affects a company’s stock price. Tech firms must be dedicated to getting users addicted.”

And we have all been fatalistically complaisant. I was a California public school teacher when president George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act mandated classroom technology utilisation. Companies churned out e-learning gizmos that we had to deploy in our lessons. Later, as a university professor in Japan, great fanfare accompanied the new computer room’s unveiling: row after row of boxy, now obsolete, desktops. Core skills – reading comprehension or writing – were never the rationale. The pitch was some variation of the need to “expose students to technology”.

Students use iPads during a lesson at the United Christian College (Kowloon East), in Hong Kong. Photo: Thomas YauPart of this was to address poorer students’ unequal access to technology. But this argument is outdated. Now anyone can step into a shop and walk out holding a more powerful device than that entire roomful of desktops.

Ironically, the impetus propelling educational technology today is the opposite of altruism. E-learning is designed either to sell gizmos or replace paid teachers because it can be mass duplicated: cheap economies-of-scale “education”.

A newer argument for technology in schools is that students love smartphones, so they belong in the classroom – again, with no objective studies about consequences.

How many other “tech advances” with questionable effects have we unquestioningly swallowed?

The cause of tech addiction is its intrinsic addictiveness and the unhesitating belief in technology’s benefits. The standard response to the problems is to rhapsodise about the amazing “possibilities” of tech and recite “all we need is education in its proper use”. Really?

There has never been anything to match the intimate, innately addictive nature of this new technology – or anything with such profound effects that was embraced so recklessly on such a mass scale.

PostComparing it to the appearance of television is absurd: families used to watch programmes together. They didn’t take their TV to school or work. The old flip phones were pocketed until calls came in. Now, addicts compulsively clutch their devices, shutting out their surroundings. Their flashing smartphones usually ruin my Hong Kong cinema experience, despite the theatre’s on-screen “education” to switch off.

The oft-chanted reply with regards to children is that “parents are responsible”. True, but this is also another form of shifting the blame, exactly what the US gun lobby does after mass shootings. Product package warnings is another suggestion, but every cigarette pack now has gruesome warning images, yet Hong Kong is still choked with second-hand smoke.

Social media and smartphone technologies are carefully-crafted, always-with-you addictions. Founders of tech companies restrict their children’s access because they know how effective that built-in addictiveness is. A nine-year old with a smartphone won’t choose to read instead of play games or watch videos.

The “parents are responsible” slogan is an oversimplification. Their responsibility often translates into simply taking away the child’s phone, which backfires in schools where phones are permitted because there is always one child with the latest model, who immediately becomes “cool” and his or her device the object of envy. France is currently in the process of banning smartphones in primary and middle schools. A good start, but the solution for children is complex.

A child absorbs his or her environment, especially at home. “Educating” children about proper use is hopeless unless their home life reflects the message. Cellphone-addicted parents produce cellphone-addicted children. “Do as I say, don’t do as I do” doesn’t work – especially given the Hong Kong “delegating” parenting style of assigning a helper and tuition schools to be surrogate parents.

Parents must participate in their children’s education. There has been considerable documentation about the benefits of something I grew up with: parents reading with their children.

Parents are busy and may not be great readers, but the skills and attitudes engendered and the parent-child bond created outweigh the challenges. The sad truth of Dr Turkle’s book title, Alone Together, becomes painfully obvious when you see a family having dinner, not speaking, each engrossed in his or her phone.

One of the most damning references in the letter from the California State Teacher’s Retirement System to Apple was a study showing that children in a technology-free environment for five days had greater empathy afterwards. “If you don’t use it, lose it.” If we keep substituting technological experiences for real ones, we will lose everything.

Robert Badal is on Facebook at Ba Lao Shi Perfect English


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Don’t rush to judge Hong Kong justice chief Teresa Cheng over her illegal structures scandal

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion
2018-01-19

Grenville Cross says other ministers have continued to serve after illegal structures were unearthed at their homes, and all the evidence must be considered before Teresa Cheng faces charges or is forced to resign

Although new Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah finds herself in hot water over the illegal structures at her home and that of her husband, Oscar Poon Lok-to, some perspective is nonetheless essential. However reprehensible, illegal structures at ministers’ homes have not previously been treated as a resignation – or a prosecution – issue, and Cheng should not be treated differently.

The Buildings Ordinance (section 14) provides that building work shall not be carried out without the permission of the Building Authority, and that anyone contravening this is liable – unless the work is minor – to a fine of HK$400,000 (US$51,000) and imprisonment for two years on conviction. However, Cheng insists that the changes had already been made when she bought the property, and that there was nothing suspicious about them. If true, they must have been of a high standard, or Cheng, a qualified engineer, would presumably have realised something was amiss.

Once it becomes aware of illegal structures, the Buildings Department has a general policy to apparently issue removal orders rather than rushing to prosecution, which would probably overload the system, given the scale of the problem. Prosecution may be unavoidable if the changes are vast, as with the “underground palace” basement discovered in 2011 at the Kowloon Tong home of the former Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen. Tang’s wife, Lisa Kuo Yu-chin, who accepted responsibility for its construction, was fined HK$110,000.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, has, however, concluded that Cheng’s integrity is not an issue, reflecting her previous stance on this issue.

In 2012, for example, when then-chief executive Leung Chun-ying apologised after illegal structures were discovered at his Peak home, blaming “negligence” on his part, Lam, then chief secretary, declared that his integrity was not in question. A rap over the knuckles has always sufficed for officials with illegal structures, provided they take remedial action.

While then food and health secretary Ko Wing-man apologised in 2012 for not seeking approval before merging his two penthouse flats in Kowloon Tong, Exco member (now convenor) Bernard Chan admitted that a rooftop trellis and balcony canopies at his Happy Valley home were illegal, but said they were being demolished. Then-education minister Michael Suen Ming-yeung even apologised for having failed to remove an unauthorised extension at his Happy Valley home for five years, and for disregarding a demolition notice issued in 2006 by the Buildings Department, for which, bizarrely, he was responsible.

Since illegal structures are a clear problem for ministers and an embarrassment for the government, it beggars belief that the issue was not apparently canvassed when Cheng was positively vetted. Had she lied when asked about the structures, this would be an integrity issue, but there is no evidence of that.

If, however, Cheng deliberately misled the bank when signing the mortgage document in 2008, by concealing the existence of the 538 sq ft basement, this would put a very different complexion on things, but that is certainly not the only possibility. The basement may not have been revealed because it was not thought necessary, or because of an oversight, or because it did not exist at that time, and was only constructed thereafter, and the police investigation must now determine where the truth lies.

What is, however, unprecedented is that, once the Buildings Department and the police have completed their respective inquiries, newly appointed director of public prosecutions David Leung Cheuk-yin will have to decide on the possible criminality of his own boss, who is also the official in overall charge of public prosecutions. This will clearly place Leung in an invidious position and, yet again, the need for Hong Kong to have an independent public prosecutions department, as elsewhere, is vividly underscored. Assuming she survives her present ordeal, Cheng will hopefully have the courage to go down this path.

Cheng will, presumably, recuse herself from any involvement in the processing of her own case – and Poon’s – and the public should be assured of this. Leung will need to ensure that everything is done to demonstrate that Cheng’s case is handled appropriately, including greater transparency by the Justice Department. Outside legal advice will need to be obtained, both on the strength of the evidence and on any public interest considerations which may arise. If a decision is taken not to prosecute, the public will need a clear explanation.

In the meantime, an unseemly rush to judgment must be avoided.

Former Hong Kong secretary for development Mak Chai-kwong leaves the Court of Final Appeal in Central in January 2016. In 2012, Mak was accused of taking advantage of the

In 2012, after just 12 days in office, secretary for development Mak Chaikwong, an eminent public servant of vast experience, was hounded out after frenzied allegations that he had abused the civil service housing allowance system in the 1980s. It took him almost four painful years to clear his name, but this he did in the Court of Final Appeal in 2016, but by that time it was too late for him to resume his career.

Cheng also has formidable credentials, and it would be a travesty of justice if she were to be treated in a similar fashion. She must receive due process, and the investigations must take their course. Although the time may come when Cheng has no option but to step down, that point has not yet been reached, and it would be a great loss for Hong Kong if she departed prematurely.

Grenville Cross SC is a criminal justice analyst


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The rise and fall of Canto-pop and, with it, Hong Kong’s cultural identity

CommentInsight & Opinion
2018-01-06

Vivienne Chow says the Ultimate Song Chart Awards reminded her of how Canto-pop once brought a thriving Hong Kong together. But, with its glory days long gone, she wonders if the uniquely Hong Kong genre can once again find that power to unite

 

On the first day of 2018, Hongkongers were delightfully surprised by Nicholas Tse Ting-fung’s appearance at the 30th annual Commercial ­Radio music awards show. Dressed in a black top and armed with an electric guitar, Tse joined local bands Supper Moment and Chochukmo on stage as a guest performer, driving the crowd wild, singing Jade Butterfly and Living Viva, two of his most memorable hits from the early 2000s, and a brand new Canto-pop song, (I) Have Fire. The last time he ­released a Cantonese full length album was in 2005.

It’s been a long time since any of the year-end music awards shows was the talk of the town. Not only were those watching Commercial Radio’s Ultimate Song Chart Awards presentation at the Convention and Exhibition Centre enjoying themselves, many who had long given up watching such awards shows found themselves tuning into the mini showcase online. The video clip appearing across various media platforms, including the official account of Commercial Radio and popular entertainment gossip page King Jer Entertainment Channel, has ­already garnered nearly a million views.

Adding to the Canto-pop memories of the night was Eason Chan Yik-shun’s performance of his old favourites and Hacken Lee Hak-han, a veteran of 30 years, bagging the gold male singer award for the first time. It was a nostalgic kick-start to the new year.

The return of Tse to the Canto-pop stage was ­unexpected, largely because, like many established Hong Kong stars, he shifted his focus to mainland China many years ago. Long gone was his Canto-pop bad boy image, as Tse reinvented himself as a successful entrepreneur and the most talked about TV chef. The glory days of Canto-pop seem to be the past life of not only Tse, but of Hong Kong as well.

Canto-pop is an integral part of Hong Kong’s cultural identity. It all started in the mid-1970s when Sam Hui Koon-kit began singing pop in Cantonese. It was a time when most people were still playing pop music in English. Hui’s songs were like a fresh breeze that stirred the souls of many Hongkongers whose mother tongue was Cantonese. This coincided with Hong Kong’s growing economic prosperity and rising public demand for leisure and entertainment.

The intense rivalry among TVB, Rediffusion Television (which became ATV in the 80s) and the short-lived Commercial Television set the stage for the Canto-pop boom. Not only did they produce a number of hit TV series that captured the hearts of an audience seeking emotional refuge after a long day at work, the Cantonese theme songs of these TV series gained wild popularity, particularly title songs from wuxia martial arts epics, such as those adapted from Louis Cha Leung-yung’s novels.

Along with the kung fu cinema made popular by Bruce Lee in the early 70s, it was the beginning of the golden era of Hong Kong, which produced a unique brand of pop culture that was not borrowed from the West – an array of songs, TV shows and movies that made Hongkongers proud.

Records of theme songs for TV Series adapted from the novels of Jin Yong (the pen name of Louis Cha), are displayed at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum in Sha Tin, last March. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

The rise of Canto-pop led to the launch of annual music awards shows in the 80s. TVB, Commercial Radio and public broadcaster RTHK each produced its own year-end shows, joined later by Metro Radio. These shows have played a vital role in promoting not only the music industry but also the melodies and sentiments that Hong Kong people identify with.

Canto-pop brought Hongkongers together. During the heyday of the local music industry in the 1980s and 90s, watching live broadcasts of the year-end awards shows was a must. Those were the only occasions when not just fans but also general TV viewers had the chance to experience the live performances of the biggest and brightest stars, from the comfort of their homes.

The awards could easily cause heated debates among friends and family: arguments over whether Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing would be able to beat Alan Tam Wing-lun in the best male singer category could trigger a war of words among siblings at the dinner table in the 80s. And in the 90s, arguments over who was the best of the “Four Heavenly Kings” – Jacky Cheung How-yau, Andy Lau Tak-wah, Leon Lai Ming and Aaron Kwok Fu-shing – could easily end a friendship. But no matter who was most popular at the time, people could sing along to most of the hits.

As the top stars retired from these music awards shows, a younger generation of Canto-pop stars, like Eason Chan Yik-shun, Miriam Yeung Chin-wah, Nicholas Tse and Joey Yung Cho-yee in the 2000s, was given the ­opportunity to shine. The dramatic rivalries were gone but the music awards shows still managed to capture many people’s attention.

Fans of late Canto-pop diva Anita Mui Yim-fong attend her memorial concert, at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in December 2013. Photo: Felix Wong

But all of that is now history: Canto-pop is struggling. In 2008, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (Hong Kong Group), the ­industry association, slashed requirements for ­album sales awards, from the original benchmark of 25,000 for gold and 50,000 for platinum – down to 15,000 for gold and 30,000 for platinum.

Top-selling Canto-pop singers and albums of the past 20 years.

Source: Hong Kong Top Sales Music Award/SCMP

There is also a serious lack of new Canto-pop ­forces with the power to bring people together. While many of the established stars have either retired or shifted their focus to mainland China, appearing in reality shows such as I Am A Singer, the decline of ­traditional media and the rise of digital media, particularly the algorithm-based social media, has fragmented the audience base.

Even political groups have trouble finding new songs that can unite people at protests

The gap between reality and what is perceived as reality has never been so wide. Some traditional Chinese entertainment media expressed bewilderment at the result of the “favourite song of the year” category at the Ultimate Song Chart Awards, which went to local band ToNick’s Cheung Seung See Sau (“Stay Together Forever”), a song they claimed many had never heard of. But, in reality, the music video has had nearly 7.7 million views on YouTube, more than most other songs from 2017.

The truth is that Hong Kong is still living in the past. Even political groups have trouble finding new songs that can unite people at protests: the song that was sung probably the most at protests over the past five years was Beyond’s Boundless Oceans, Vast Skies, and that was released in 1993.

Over two decades on from the handover, the rise and fall of Canto-pop mirrors Hong Kong’s struggles with its cultural identity. And as long as Hong Kong is still caught up in its internal battles, the chance of getting people to sing along together to new Canto-pop tunes seems to be slim.

Vivienne Chow is a journalist, cultural critic and founder of Cultural Journalism Campus


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Next head of HKU, Zhang Xiang, must lay down a strict code of conduct for students and staff

CommentInsight & Opinion
2018-01-05

Tony Kwok says the incoming head must guide the University of Hong Kong – once Asia’s finest – to adopt an attitude of zero tolerance towards disrespectful and rowdy conduct in the name of academic freedom

 

To many insider observers, the most unfortunate incident in the recent history of the University of Hong Kong was the student protest controversy over the visit of Li Keqiang, then a vice-premier, in 2011, which played a part in Professor Tsui Lap-chee’s decision to resign the vice-chancellorship in 2014.

Under Tsui’s leadership from 2002 to 2014, Hong Kong’s oldest university was acknowledged as being among the world’s best institutions, and arguably Asia’s finest. Tsui is regarded as one of the university’s best vice-chancellors; had he stayed, he could have taken the university to greater heights.

Today, the university is no longer Asia’s best, and some of its faculty and students appear more focused on taking part in social movements and political activities than on academic studies. Their irresponsible behaviour has brought the university into disrepute.

Hence, one would have expected a big welcome for the appointment of a renowned scientist to replace the outgoing incumbent vice-chancellor Peter Mathieson. Zhang Xiang, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, a top US university, has a distinguished track record in scientific research. Yet, his appointment was greeted with disdain by some in Hong Kong simply because he was born on the mainland.

Some said his English is not good enough, even though he has taught in America for years.

Dr William Cheung Sing-wai, chairman of HKU’s academic staff association, even said: “I’m worried that under his leadership, HKU will just be another Peking University or Tsinghua University.”

In Zhang’s interview with the media, questions focused on how he would uphold the core value of academic freedom in the university. Specifically, he was asked if he would allow Hong Kong independence to be freely discussed on campus. Zhang’s answer was short and sharp: while reaffirming the importance of academic freedom, he said it has its own limits.

Zhang should lay down the limits soon after taking office. I propose that he revises the code of conduct for staff and students, drawing from the experience of UC Berkeley, where he has been teaching.

The university lists 12 values that all staff and students must uphold in its “Standards of Ethical Conduct”. They include: individual responsibility and accountability; respect for others; compliance with laws and regulations; and the proper use of university resources.

Professor Tsui Lap-chee stepped down as HKU vice-chancellor in 2014. Under his leadership, Hong Kong’s oldest university was acknowledged as Asia’s finest. Photo: Nora Tam

If the above values are incorporated into the HKU’s code of conduct, the following disgraceful activities – which have happened in various Hong Kong universities and schools over the past few years – would be banned from campus:

 Anonymous posters with provocative language displayed.

 Activities promoting Hong Kong independence, or any other political activities.

 University staff getting involved in political activities.

 Disrespectful behaviour at school events, such as a graduation ceremony.

 Abusive shouting at university council members and government officials.

Rather than taking a lenient stance, as in the past, the university should now take a zero-tolerance approach to all breaches of the code of conduct.

The new vice-chancellor faces a tough road ahead. He will need public support to prevail against the localist forces in the university and local media – the same forces that caused the university to lose one of its greatest leaders, Professor Tsui, in 2014.

Tony Kwok is an honorary fellow and adjunct professor at HKU Space, and an adviser to Our Hong Kong Foundation