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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Attacking Aung San Suu Kyi won’t save the Rohingya – she is still the best hope for Myanmar

CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-09-19
Christopher Johnson says critics of the Nobel Peace Prize winner don’t understand Myanmar’s politics, its history, or how easily the country could return to military dictatorship

Bishop Desmond Tutu, Malala Yousafzai, Justin Trudeau and many others are pressuring Aung San Suu Kyi over her response to the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

More than 400,000 signed a Change.org petition to take back Suu Kyi’s 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, and 20,000 want her honorary Canadian citizenship revoked.

Do they understand Myanmar’s politics and history of ethnic violence better than her? Of course not, and they should stop smearing a woman who, like millions of minorities, faces persecution from Myanmar’s generals.

Instead of placating foreigners, Suu Kyi was elected to serve constituents who post videos online accusing Rohingya Muslims of taking scarce land and resources from Buddhists, beheading monks, raping women and sparking clashes with victims on all sides.

Suu Kyi said on Facebook that her government was “defending all the people in Rakhine in the best way possible”. She decried those who spread “fake information” to promote “the interests of terrorists” such as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, blamed for killing police and border officials last month.

She’s also dealing with a military chief, Min Aung Hlaing, who vowed to never let “Bengali terrorists” repeat 1940s atrocities in Rakhine.

Suu Kyi doesn’t have the powers enjoyed by Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who accuses Myanmar of “genocide”, or of Canada’s Justin Trudeau, who praised Cuba’s repressive late dictator Fidel Castro.

The constitution bars Suu Kyi, winner of the 1990 and 2015 elections, from the presidency because she married a British citizen. She can’t amend it because the army has a de facto veto in the assembly and controls police, borders and most bureaucrats.

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, archbishop of Yangon, warns that Suu Kyi is “walking a tightrope” and “dark forces are clamouring for a return to army rule”.

“Stigmatising Aung San Suu Kyi and attacking her through the media is not a long-term solution,” he said. “A false step will see her out of government and that would be the end of any dream of democracy. We should always remember the army took back democracy

Suu Kyi isn’t the worst player in this crisis. Bangladesh, historic origin of the Rohingya, has threatened to ship refugees to a flood-prone island notorious for pirates. Indonesia, a majority Muslim nation, doesn’t want 400,000 Rohingya. Thailand and Malaysia haven’t done enough about smugglers accused of rape, murder and extortion.

Al-Qaeda’s call on Islamic radicals across Asia to infiltrate and punish Myanmar underscores Buddhist concerns about Islamic extremism. Can we really expect Suu Kyi, who spent most of the 1990s under house arrest for marrying a foreigner, to sympathise with chauvinists who forbid women to pray in mosques or marry non-Muslims?

Avowed feminist Trudeau hasn’t condemned Islamic fascists in Myanmar or sanctioned Canadian miners doing business with corrupt generals.

Thus, many in Myanmar see hypocrisy in outsiders who called the attractive younger Suu Kyi an “Angel of Democracy” in the 1990s, when it was fashionable to glorify repressed Buddhist women, but now scorn the 72-year-old matron when the media portrays Muslims as the leading victims.

After decades of war, Suu Kyi can’t turn Myanmar overnight into a Trudeau-style “post-nation” where everyone is a rainbow. Myanmar faces bigger challenges than Obama-era identity politics. Millions in Myanmar lack proper roads, hospitals, schools, electricity, water and sanitation. Thus, when asked about Rohingya, Suu Kyi emphasises government efforts to improve living conditions for everyone.

For positive change, activists are better dealing with Suu Kyi than a military junta without her. It’s possible to condemn or sanction Myanmar’s military, and defend rights of the Rohingya and other minorities, without ruining the legacy of Asia’s most heroic woman. Silent or complicit, she’s still the best option.

Christopher Johnson is the author of Siamese Dreams and Freedom’s Rainbow


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Would Asia’s army of migrant domestic workers stay home if they could?

CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-08-07
Theophilus Kwek says governments and scholars portray domestic workers, mostly women, as voluntary migrants. But applauding choice must not distract us from tackling coercion

Domestic employment in Southeast Asia’s rich metropolitan centres is often presented as a lucrative, even strategic choice for thousands across the region pursuing better livelihoods, or an improvement in living standards.

In a recent address, a Singapore minister praised his country’s foreign domestic workers (colloquially referred to as “maids”) for choosing to “support their families back home” in this way. His language echoed that of reports in Singapore’s national broadsheet, typecasting domestic workers as “women from impoverished families seeking higher incomes abroad”. Unsurprisingly, state-supported charities like the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training have made it their aim to maximise returns on these women’s decisions to migrate: by “adding value to their work”, and hence “enhancing their future employability”.

Academics within and beyond the region are prone to entrenching this view. Southeast Asia’s domestic workers are mostly portrayed as voluntary migrants who, as one researcher put it, set out to “make money, save it up, and invest it strategically in a transnational manner”. This reading has also begun to shape policy discourse. A briefing released by the UK’s Department for International Development in early 2016, authored with a team at Singapore’s Asia Research Institute, framed labour migration as a “pro-poor livelihood strategy”, undertaken especially by women from “poor households” to support “productive investments” in education and other areas.

A narrative that characterises the decision to seek foreign domestic work as a free, informed, and laudable choice, however, conceals the fact that labour migration in Southeast Asia is chiefly produced by deep-seated drivers of displacement.

Taking a more nuanced perspective would not only allow us to account for the causes of forced migration within the region, but also to address them.

Sending states are a key piece of the puzzle. As early as 2001, Indonesia’s new minister of Manpower and Transmigration stated that his government would “facilitate labour export” as a solution to unemployment, given that “about 40 million people [were] jobless” at the time.

Professor Stephen Castles, a former director of the International Migration Institute, has pointed out that encouraging emigration to ease joblessness can bring “long-term costs to the economy and society”. Nevertheless, political leaders in the region who are unable or unwilling to create employment at home may well perceive exporting domestic labour to be an attractive, and no doubt affordable, policy solution.

But states rarely urge their citizens directly to take up poorly remunerated and ill-protected jobs overseas. Instead, conditions can be created (or left to occur) in which those in difficult positions view the sacrifices involved in doing so as the least bad option relative to other life choices.

A 2015 study by the Humanitarian Organisation for Migrant Economics found that close to two-fifths of Indonesian, Filipino and Myanmese foreign domestic workers had migrated “to be able to send their children to school”, while 15 per cent reported either problems in the household or a lack of available jobs as reasons why they left.

Solutions to such problems should rightfully be demanded from national governments.

Still, pressures for displacement are not created by sending states alone. The umbrella of responsibility extends much further, to transnational employment agencies which charge extortionate rates and wilfully distort information about working conditions abroad, as well as intermediate authorities at home who willingly overlook stricter safeguards during the recruitment process.

Global and regional market dynamics are also to blame.

Skyrocketing inequality in Southeast Asia means that any gains in regional wealth are enjoyed by a thin, privileged elite, leaving few options for those struggling to make ends meet. This makes domestic work, often in unappealing conditions and far from home, still a desirable option.

To be clear, we cannot afford to overlook the agency of migrant workers in determining their futures: indeed, the willingness of so many to make the best of their circumstances speaks of great personal fortitude and hidden sacrifice.

Yet, applauding choice must not distract us from tackling coercion. A narrative which foregrounds only the voluntary aspects of migration tempts us to think that migrants bring upon themselves the trials they face abroad, and allows those responsible for deprivations endured elsewhere to get away with easy solutions.

We owe them, and ourselves, a better explanation.

Theophilus Kwek is a writer, editor and researcher based in Singapore. He has recently completed a master’s degree in refugee and forced migration studies at Oxford University


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平權爭議 是教育危機還是契機?

信報財經新聞
教育講論
2017-07-15

何偉倫

「莫道你在選擇人,人亦能選擇你,公平原沒半點偏心……」一首老歌,寥寥幾句着實已經把「選擇」的真諦表達得淋漓盡致。在教育的路途上,從官員到前線教師,及至家長到莘莘學子,普遍都對於「選擇」這樣的一個概念並不陌生。

從選擇什麼學校去展開漫長的學術旅程,到報讀什麼課程去豐富其他學習經歷,及至高中到大學課程專注於什麼學科的取捨,在在關乎選擇。然而,近日在台灣鬧得熱烘烘的平權爭議則更加令我們對「選擇」作出了更加深入的認識,同時亦突顯出我們的社會在平等公義精神的培育上還有漫漫長路。

早前,台灣司法院宣告由於現行的《民法》中,並未能容許相同性別的伴侶選擇以共同生活之目的而建立具有親密性及排他性之永久結合關係,因而違反保障婚姻自由的大原則,故此頒令相關單位更新法例,容許同性伴侶締結婚姻。

台灣當局頒令同性婚姻合法化的重要性在於其華人社會背景,因為過往作出法律更改的關鍵地區及其相關的背景,大體上欠缺對華人社會的一些考量。有些人認為同性伴侶婚姻議題在能夠牽扯出如此巨大的風波,或多或少是因為不少人心底仍存有情意結,如針對父母長輩考量對於婚姻之事,過去一直有其特定的模式及潛規則。簡單來說,父母對於子女婚姻的選擇有一定的話語權。時移世易,過去的經驗及習慣好像已經慢慢地變得分崩離析。

為莘莘學子準備資訊

事實上,同性婚姻議題並非什麼新鮮事,個別地區就同性婚姻的發展而言,已具有相當悠久的歷史。因此,所謂支持的意見抑或是反對的立場,其實已經討論得頗為透徹。本文並非希望加入戰團去推動支持或是反對相關議題,反而希望就業界應該如何處理這個燙手山芋來一個討論。

長久以來,華人社會普遍對於一些敏感議題都採取避之則吉的心態,而相關政府部門也往往採取迴避的方式去處理。究竟同性婚姻應該屬於什麼課題呢?究竟應該由校方去安排抑或是由校外團體簡介一下?如果不能夠及早為莘莘學子準備相關資訊,他們又應該如何在關鍵的時刻作出選擇?

比方說,現行採用的《學校性教育指引》,其實已經編訂多年,政府部門也沒有既定的政策及措施去確保學校及前線老師如何去執行這些指引,更加沒有什麼科學性的方法去評估和檢討推廣後的成效。

然而,姑勿論是同性婚姻也好,婚前性行為也好,始終是值得討論的議題。透過該等議題的討論,我們能夠學習如何去理解作出不同選擇的背景、原因及其可能結果。透過這些討論,我們更加可以把學生的視野提升到地區層面甚至乎是國際層次。例如透過討論一些選擇及支持同性婚姻的例子,去探討其背後的社會、文化及歷史因素。同一道理,部分人士堅持不能夠讓同性伴侶作為選擇的理由也並不是無的放矢。因為在討論相關議題的時間,正好提供一個平台讓我們能夠學會為自己的選擇尋找理據,同時也為我們提供一個機會去理解及明白別人的選擇。

應該引入校園作教材

即使個別議題充滿爭議也應該引入校園當作教材,因為莘莘學子才是真正受影響的一群。事實上,將個別極具爭議性的議題引入校園,對學生的思辯能力相信會有頗正面的影響。若個別議題再加多一些因素予學生在思考過程中作出衡量,諸如要求學生就當下中國及美國就同性婚姻的決定作一個比較,用以理解兩個國家在選擇給予同性婚姻及選擇不給授予同性婚姻的議題下,加上一個時效因素,則大有機會把一個原來只是消費一個課節的話題,演變為一個季度課題。

30年前的美國政府單是處理種族問題,已經困擾萬分,並且牽引出不少禍延至今的問題。

筆者刻意安排以美國種族問題作結的原因,主要是想指出任何重大的議題如缺乏全面理解,而急着選擇一個欠缺考量,並且不能夠達到公平的方案,則大有機會為往後的發展留下糾結難解的困難。人生路何其漫長,要作出選擇並非困難;真正的困難在於是否能夠明白每一個選擇對於自己的意義、社會的貢獻及對將來的影響。如果能夠以一個宏觀的角度去看同性婚姻的爭議,我們便會發現根本用不着急急平息爭議,務求平衡各方面的利益,以及達至社會公平,而作出選擇。始終在自身作出選擇時,別人也有如斯權利,當社會還未能夠就個別議題孕育出一個氣氛,我們能夠選擇的結局,亦只會是一個受制於框架內的一個小畫面……

撰文:何偉倫
香港高等教育科技學院語文及通識教育學院特任導師、新力量網絡研究員