Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Why do Hong Kong tycoons hold on to their wealth while Westerners give back so much?

CommentInsight & Opinion
2018-01-25

Michael Chugani says the Teresa Cheng scandal has led him to question why Hong Kong’s ultra rich prefer to keep their wealth, unlike their counterparts in the West. A conversation with the city’s third-wealthiest man shows there are exceptions

Who would have thought that embattled justice secretary Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah’s illegal structures would reawaken public anger at how Hong Kong’s rich live?

We know from Cheng’s upscale homes that she is wealthy but nowhere near our tycoons who belong to a class of their own. Once admired for their rags-to-riches stories, they are now mocked by many Hongkongers.

Our tycoons have amassed immense wealth but what always strikes me is how they cling on to it, passing it down to their children instead of giving it back to society. America’s super rich have amassed even greater wealth. The difference is that most have pledged to give it away. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, now the world’s richest man, even asked Twitter followers for philanthropy ideas.

Why are the top donors in The Giving Pledge, started by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, all Westerners? Surely that should shame Asians. I have long wanted to ask an actual Hong Kong tycoon upfront why Asians pocket their wealth while Westerners give much of it back to society.

When property and casino magnate Lui Che-woo of K Wah Group obliged, I wondered if I would get straight answers. But that’s exactly what I got over a lunch of takeaway fishball noodles with Hong Kong’s third-richest man.

A huge cultural difference steeped in politics and tradition is why Gates can give away his billions with his children’s blessing while Hong Kong’s tycoons keep their fortunes in the family. Western parents ask their children to make their own way when they come of age but Chinese parents don’t ever want their children to leave home.

That reminded me of how accustomed ordinary Hongkongers are to seeing the offspring of the rich fight over the family fortune. I don’t know if cultural differences will dissipate enough for our tycoons to become like Gates or Buffett but my sit-down with the 88-year-old Lui was like a breath of fresh air.

He pressed the point that he started with little, made a lot, and now wants to give back to the world that enriched him, quoting the Chinese saying that you gain more by giving than receiving. He reminded me of my time in Seattle seeing Gates speak so passionately about easing world hunger and disease.

Instead of dividing his vast fortune among his children, Lui has his own version of a giving pledge – the nearly HK$20 billion Lui Che Woo Foundation through which he does his philanthropy work. His offspring run different businesses and channel profits to top up the foundation.

The HK$4 billion LUI Che Woo Prize has a different mission – handing out HK$60 million a year to winners who have helped advance world civilisation in different ways. It’s relatively new compared to the Nobel Prize or Shaw Prize but is the most generous in prize money.

When you have nearly two hours with a property tycoon who likes to talk about giving, it’s not easy to switch subjects.

Property prices in Hong Kong show no signs of dropping. Photo: EPABut I needed to hear from a property tycoon if home prices in Hong Kong – the world’s highest – will ever ease. He gave me a straight answer. With the mainland’s 1.4 billion population and the growth of the Greater Bay Area, there’s so much money coming in that it’s hard for prices to drop.

I never thought I would hear a property tycoon say the rush to build nano flats is unhealthy but Lui did. Homes have to be at least 300-400 square feet for healthy living. And he was brutally frank about Hong Kong’s disillusioned youth. They already have a lot compared to his own past when a dim sum meal was like a banquet.

You may say I’m a dreamer but maybe one day our other tycoons will also talk more about giving than taking. Maybe one day they’ll say nano flats are a no-no. And maybe one day, they’ll set up Hong Kong’s very own giving pledge.

Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong journalist and TV show host

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There’s more to life than making money, even in Hong Kong

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
2017-08-29

Peter Kammerer

Peter Kammerer comes to terms with his son’s decision to give up a well-paid job for love, overcoming the typically Hong Kong attitude that prioritises work and making money over life experiences

When my 26-year-old son told me he was going to throw in his well-paid job as a personal trainer to go to live with his girlfriend in Paris, I went nuts. Had he bothered looking at the unemployment statistics for under-30s in France? Was he aware of how difficult it would be getting a job in a place where speaking fluent French was essential in his line of work? Why wasn’t his girlfriend doing what so many of her country men and women had done and come to Hong Kong instead?

But my son is single-minded when it comes to what he wants. He also has an EU passport, which makes handing in his resignation letter, buying an air ticket and packing up straightforward. To placate me, he argued that he wants to see the world before he’s married and besides, in his line of work, it’s relatively easy to find business. Anyway, if things don’t work out in Europe, as a Hong Kong permanent resident, he can just return and pick up where he left off.

It’s the same logic that took me to Britain and then Hong Kong in the 1980s. I’ve never regretted those decisions, the enjoyment and knowledge gained being, as they say, part of a rich tapestry. Yet, after all the arguments with friends and work colleagues, it’s only recently I’ve been convinced. I believe it’s because having lived in Hong Kong for so long, I’ve been brainwashed into thinking that making money is more important than life experiences.

It’s a conclusion apparent from the starkly different opinions of people born and bred in Hong Kong and those raised elsewhere I’ve broached this with. The Hongkongers typically believe anyone who puts fun before money has their priorities wrong. Those with an overseas upbringing wondered what I was worried about, contending that when someone is young and financially unburdened by a mortgage or children, they should make the most of it. Besides, the latter group says, in a world of borderless job opportunities, what’s the problem?

I’ve a feeling Hong Kong has made me narrow-minded. Certainly, it’s the way many young Hongkongers seem to have been raised. They want the government to assure they get meaningful jobs, homes of their own, a decent standard of living and the rights and privileges of Western democracies. They are being unrealistic.

The cost of living in a city is naturally going to be high for anyone low on the employment ladder, as most recent school graduates are. Hong Kong’s housing prices appear steep for those who are just starting out, but if the widely accepted gauge of paying about one-third of income on rent is applied, shared accommodation or a subdivided flat is affordable for the majority. Experience, hard work and dedication improve circumstances, as my son well knows. Political aspirations are something else, though; there’s no perfect system of governing and there will always be those who are dissatisfied, which is why governments have to be as inclusive as reasonably possible when it comes to making decisions.

But for those who feel stifled or don’t see hope, there’s also a big, wide world beyond Hong Kong’s 2,755 sq km boundary. It’s full of possibilities. A foreign passport isn’t necessary to access them; all that is required is a sense of adventure. The mainland has far more than Hong Kong can hope to offer and it’s even in the same country, if biases can be set aside.

But there’s something else for younger Hongkongers to keep in mind; there’s more to living than making money. My elder son is following that principle as he plans the next chapter of his life. In his case, it’s about love – and who am I to argue with him about that?

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post


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以貌取人 失之子羽

信報財經新聞
忽然文化
2017-08-26

占飛

本周一,北美日全食。許多人都在網上看直播。這使人想起一個北宋的小故事。《百家詩話》有一段記載:「杲日照耀,蔡京注目視日久,不瞬。」杲日,光猛的太陽。不瞬,不眨眼。當時諫官陳瑩中便因此大讚:「此公視日不瞬,真貴人也。」

蔡京果然是「貴人」,當了十多年宰相,可惜貪污舞弊,敗壞朝政,受萬民唾罵,《宋史》將他列入奸臣傳,這樣的人有何「貴」可言?古人不懂科學,杲日雖非烈日,但依然光猛明亮,蔡京真的可以不眨眼的「注目視日久」而不眼痛?難以置信。

再問:如此盯着太陽,所為何來?以小人之心度之,正因時人相信「視日久不瞬」的是貴人,蔡京才這樣做,以示自己是貴人。今天,眾所周知,不戴太陽眼鏡「視日久不瞬」,只會傷害眼睛,絕非天生貴人。

無論中外,古人都相信「相由心生」,故有面相之學。強調理性的古希臘哲學家,也難免「以貌取人」。據說最早的是數學家畢達哥拉斯,而亞里士多德亦認為,可以從體形及五官看出一個人的性格。但他沒有建立一套面相學,也許師祖蘇格拉底太醜陋了,其門人難以建立面相學。何況,相傳老蘇在生時,有面相學家看過他的尊容,便指他是暴躁、衝動和嗜好享受之人。

靠面孔感動人

西方最早將面相學看成「科學」的,要算十八世紀的瑞士人黎華達(Johann Kaspar Lavater)。他認為面孔一如書本般可讀,只須很短時間便理解內裏意思。看一眼陌生人,在多少時間內就能「得知」其為人呢?普林斯頓大學心理學教授托道洛夫(Alexander Todorov)做過實驗,人只須33毫秒(一毫秒是1000分一秒)看真人或照片一眼,就可斷定這個人是否信得過。黎華達且認為,以貌取人十分可靠。他的面相學,跟中國的《麻衣相法》相比,只是小巫見大巫,而國人卻有句老話:知人口面不知心。

黎華達有句話卻至今仍然正確:無論相信或不相信面相學,所有人都免不了以貌取人。用進化論去解釋,人沒有尖牙利爪,不會飛,也跑不快,聽覺和嗅覺也不如其他生物那麼靈敏,只好靠目測,必須很快便斷定對方是友是敵、可靠或不可靠,是以進化出33毫秒便分得出面孔──無論是生物或陌生人的面孔──懷好意抑或惡意。人聚居成群後,活在滿街是陌生人的社會時,更需要這個本領。就算「知人口面不知心」,只要有70%至80%準確的話,也好過不能「閱讀」面孔也。

正因人有這個本事,電影才事半功倍的成為最受歡迎的娛樂。最早提出這個說法的是匈牙利電影美學家巴拿薩(Bela Balazs)。

他在1924年發表的《看得見的人》(Visible Man)中指出,書本令人走向抽象。讀者要憑想像才能進入書本的世界。電影卻剛剛相反,由抽象的心智走向看得見的身體(From the abstract mind to the visible body)。

是以攝影和電影發明後,人愈來愈注重外在多過內在,注重身體多過心智和心靈。看得見的身體,又以面孔最能表達內心的情意。書本的萬語千言,不及電影一個淚流滿面的大特寫般感動到觀眾也傷心欲哭。巴拿薩寫此文時,還是默片時代,尚未發明有聲電影,電影主要靠畫面感動觀眾。他指出,文字、音樂需要較長時間,受眾才會「動之以情」。面孔大特寫──尤其是演技好的演員的面孔──卻可以即時感動觀眾。

錯在「認知陷阱」

影像盛行,現代人愈來愈習慣「閱讀」面孔,亦愈來愈受面孔影響。可惜,《史記》中孔子說的「以貌取人,失之子羽」,現代心理學家已證明是對的,但錯不在面相學,而是人的「認知陷阱」,比如著名的「光環效應」(Halo Effect),便是指人習慣「以偏概全」的從局部印象推論出整體印象。女子眼大大、孩子臉、眉目姣好,很容易被認為天真、無邪念、無歪心卻蠢笨。電影《出貓特工隊》中,學業成績出眾的女主角,單眼皮而貌寢。她的閨蜜雙眼經常睜大,笑容甜美,便是讀書不成的蠢美女。反之,學業成績好的男主角(賓爺),卻是俊秀的小鮮肉。電影往往不自覺地強化了性別主義的標籤。

撰文 : 占飛


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Could rude Hong Kong please learn from commuters in Japan? Thank you

CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-07-31
Peter Kammerer says the urban crush can’t be blamed for common courtesies missing in Hong Kong, seeing that decency is a way of life in ever-crowded Tokyo

It’s saying something that one reason Hongkongers like visiting Japan is that the people are so polite. Another way of looking at it is that there’s so much rudeness in our city, it’s refreshing to go somewhere where citizens respect one another.

But this isn’t a matter of culture or living in a busy, crowded city. Rather, we’ve become so wrapped up in ourselves that some of us have lost the ability to care about others.

Evidence abounds of how dismissive of others we’ve become. These aren’t matters that would seem to hark back to bygone eras like taking off hats when indoors, addressing people older than us with respect rather than calling them by their first name, or saying please and thank you.

Instead, the handful of things I’ve noticed are common courtesies, and the offenders are often of younger generations. The most apparent are people talking loudly on mobile phones, smoking while walking along footpaths, not giving up seats on public transport to the needy, and closing lift doors on those approaching.

I’m especially familiar with how people treat the elderly, pregnant women and the disabled on buses and trains. There are dedicated seats, with signs and announcements to remind. Yet commuters, especially during rush hours, can seem oblivious to the courtesy to give up their seat. An elderly man or woman is left to stand feebly clutching a support, while a young person sits in the dedicated seat, eyes glued to their smartphone.

I was once caught up in an argument over such a seat. On buses, the row behind the stairs is reserved for the needy, and a woman had guided me there as I was boarding, having noticed my blind cane. She found a mother on one side and her child, perhaps three years old, sitting on the other; when asked politely to put the child on her lap to make room for me, the mother refused.

An argument along the lines of she had been there first and wasn’t giving in for anyone ensued, and eventually I was shown a seat further along the bus. I didn’t need to sit for the 20-minute journey and told my Good Samaritan so, but she had been insistent on the principle of the matter.

There’s been discussion on social media of late about priority seating, with some people contending it isn’t necessary, as giving up a place to someone in need should be automatic.

Painting a few seats red and putting smiling faces on them to indicate they are for the elderly and the like, as the MTR does in its train carriages, only shows how ignorant we have become, the argument goes.

Priority seats on MTR trains have sparked comments that giving up one’s seat is a courtesy that should be automatic. Photo: Edward WongPassengers who don’t give up their seats are sometimes condemned, their pictures being put on internet sites, leading some people to tag priority seats “condemning seats”. One widely circulated image is of a few boy scouts taking up the seats playing with their phones while several elderly women stand nearby.

Of course, there are also those who defend the youngsters, suggesting that they may have been tired after a tough day of training.

No such debate would be taking place if we were in Tokyo. There, the rules are strictly followed by all but unaware foreigners, and they quickly get the hint from the dirty looks they get from other passengers.

Japanese trains have priority seating sections and they are reserved exclusively for the needy; even when it’s rush hour, commuters will not use them. Equally striking is the rule against carrying out conversations on mobile phones, with culprits being made aware that it is taboo and impolite by the disapproving frowns of fellow passengers and announcements every 10 minutes.

This carries over to restaurants, cafes, bars and other places where people are trying to relax.

Etiquette varies from country to country, and some may consider that Japanese go too far with politeness. But when in public, we should respect others and be courteous and well-mannered. There’s nothing archaic about giving up seats or opening a door to those in need, smoking in a place where we’re not disturbing others or keeping our phone conversations quiet; it’s just common decency.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post