Generation 40s – 四十世代

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A little lesson in climbing Everest for Hong Kong’s armchair critics

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion

Yonden Lhatoo offers a reality check to those who are judging Ada Tsang, the city’s first woman to climb the world’s highest mountain, for failing to help a dying man

Ignorance is bliss, but in the rush these days to “insta-google-tweet-face” uninformed opinions, it can be detestable too.

A case in point is the recent, completely unnecessary debate over the “selfish” conduct of the first Hong Kong woman to climb Mount Everest. Back home this week after conquering the world’s highest peak, Ada Tsang Yin-hung was called out by the city’s armchair adventurers and critics for walking past dying climbers during her ascent instead of helping them.

They pounced upon her recollection of coming across a man sitting in the snow with glazed eyes, sans Sherpa guide or oxygen cylinder, on the way up. He was dead on her way down.

“Seeing a man like this, any conscientious person would immediately give up conquering the peak and save others first,” wrote one Facebook user – obviously an expert on moral conduct and responsibility while battling exhaustion, hypothermia and the elements 8,000 metres above sea level in one of the harshest places on the planet.

“How could she justify the behaviour of leaving others to die for her own glory?” wrote another.

I hate to break it to them, but this is Mount Everest we’re talking about. It’s not like offering your Pocari Sweat to an out-of-shape fellow hiker on a weekend stroll up Tai Mo Shan, the hillock that, at a whopping 957 metres, passes for a mountain in this part of the world.

Tsang’s Sherpa guide told her that the climber they “abandoned” on the way up had suffered serious frostbite and an oxygen bottle would not have saved him. She was right to listen. When you’re on the slopes of Mount Everest, you follow your Sherpa chaperone’s advice if you intend to come down alive.

Of the hundreds of climbers who have died on Everest, it is estimated that more than 100 bodies are still stuck there. As shocking as it may seem to people who have never been there, corpses are clearly visible on the way to the summit – familiar fixtures frozen in ice and snow for years because it’s simply too difficult or dangerous to retrieve them.

The altitude Tsang was climbing at is known as the “death zone” in mountaineering terms. Most humans can barely breathe or think straight at such extreme heights and cold temperatures, let alone rescue anyone. It’s all about survival and self-preservation. Unless you’re Leslie Binns, a British war veteran who reportedly gave up his own bid for the summit last year to help save an Indian woman who had collapsed on the way down. Some are more capable of greatness than others, I suppose.

Now, putting Tsang’s achievement into perspective, she wasn’t even born when Japanese climber Junko Tabei became the first woman in the world to conquer Everest in 1975.

Nearly 400 women have been to the top since then, some of them multiple times. Considering that no woman from this city had been able to join their ranks until now, let’s give credit where it’s due and hail Tsang’s accomplishment, not disparage it.

For those who might be wondering who died and made me an expert, I come from an extended family of Everest summiteers, though I’ve never been interested in making the pilgrimage to that mountain myself, even if it’s there.

I did my fair share of climbing in the Himalayas in my younger days, driven mostly by peer pressure, but I was a middling mountaineer at best and sensibly swapped my ice axe for a pen.

I decided a long time ago that any pleasure I derived from standing on a high mountain top was not worth the pain and misery of getting up there with a frozen posterior, glory be damned.

So, well done, Ada Tsang.

Yonden Lhatoo is the chief news editor at the Post

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the year of Briton Leslie Binns’ heroics on Mount Everest. He helped save a woman last year, not last week.


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The rewards of sport are too many for Hong Kong to pass up

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion

Bernard Chan says there are good reasons for all of society to promote an active lifestyle in Hong Kong, not least for the health benefits and the inspiration that success stories bring

Hong Kong professional basketball team the Eastern Long Lions have just won the Asean league. If this sounds surprising, that’s perhaps because it is. Hong Kong is not known for its strength in team sports generally. And probably not many people even realised that we had a professional basketball team. (In case you are wondering, the Asean Basketball League includes teams from outside the Southeast Asian grouping’s member states.)

Eastern Sports Club has high hopes for encouraging the growth of basketball in Hong Kong in the years ahead. If it succeeds, it will be building on Hong Kong’s recent achievements in solo sports.

Since windsurfer Lee Lai-shan’s 1996 Olympic gold medal victory, our city has produced a string of well-known sports heroes. Sarah Lee Wai-sze helped put Hong Kong on the cycling map, as Marco Fu and Ng On-yee have with snooker. Boxer Rex Tso Sing-yu has been back in the news recently after winning an Asian fight of the year award.

The prospects for further development of local sports are good. Government encouragement – which has played a significant role so far – looks likely to continue. Chief executive-elect Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has said she hopes to enhance the work of the Hong Kong Sports Institute and move forward with the planned Kai Tak Sports Park.

There are good reasons for the public and private sectors to help develop our sports infrastructure and talent.

One obvious benefit – and surely the most important – is that high-profile sports events and local stars’ successes help get the rest of us active. I have been involved in the 100km Oxfam Trailwalker as a hiker since 1993 and as event chairman since 1999. In the early days, over 70 per cent of participants were expatriates, while today many locals take part. I have also noticed that more younger people are out on our hiking trails, jogging and doing other exercise.

Whether we are schoolchildren, middle-aged or elderly, sport and exercise can make our lives better.

Sport is also becoming a surprisingly big business opportunity. On the mainland, there has been a very noticeable growth in sports facilities and clubs, sporting events and the sportswear and equipment market. This has coincided with the campaign against conspicuous consumption by officials and the business leaders they mix with. It seems that while expensive watches and restaurants are less popular, sports-related activities are seen as healthy and acceptable. Whatever the reason, sports goods retailing and outdoor facilities have attracted far higher levels of investment in recent years.

Hong Kong has also seen significant growth in this consumer sector. More and more sportswear stores are selling genuine items – like serious hiking boots and jogging and cycling accessories – rather than sports-inspired fashion.

Sport also, of course, represents a major growth area for the tourism industry. Just a few days after the Rugby Sevens, Hong Kong hosted the lower-profile but popular UCI Track Cycling World Championships at the velodrome in Tseung Kwan O. We will be seeing more and more top international events like this in the years ahead.

Olympic champion windsurfer Lee Lai-shan attends a celebration held in her honour in August 1996, shortly after her return to Hong Kong from the Atlanta Games. Photo: Dickson Lee

Not least, sport can help bring us together as a community. Many of us still remember the excitement when Lee Lai-shan came back from the 1996 Olympics – it was as if the whole of Hong Kong had won a medal. Our sports heroes inspire us and make us proud.

It is hard to measure the effect this has, or to put a value on it. But our society has been seriously divided in recent years, and so many issues easily become politicised or controversial. A local athlete’s victory is something we can all celebrate.

So sport deserves a prominent place in the next government’s agenda. It will not solve our housing, environmental or welfare problems. But as a personal and family activity, it offers all of us ways to make ourselves physically and mentally healthier. As part of the growing leisure and travel industries, it opens up opportunities to diversify our economy.

It even provides us with some inspiring local heroes who can help bring us together as a community.

Bernard Chan is a member of the Executive Council

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What does the Hong Kong Sevens have to do with Hongkongers?

CommentInsight & Opinion
Peter Kammerer says while the rugby fest has its fans, not least the legions from abroad, for the Chinese majority here it’s an event to be ignored or avoided

This is not going to go down well with all you rugby fans, but the Hong Kong Sevens doesn’t have a lot to do with the city that it’s played in. Yes, given the name and location, that’s a bold thing to say. But take a look at who attended the just-ended competition that Fiji won so decisively, and what went on in and around the stadium and elsewhere during the three days, and the picture is quite clear. The event is largely disconnected from the general population of the place in which it is held.

This strikes me each time the Sevens comes around. I am well aware that Hong Kong’s rugby community is wholly behind the event; my sons used to play. One of my elder son’s proudest moments was playing before a half-filled stadium in an age competition on a Sevens Friday. It’s an exhilarating stage for whoever takes to the turf and the party that surrounds it creates a thrilling atmosphere.

The Hong Kong Rugby Union does a sterling job organising what is arguably our city’s highest-profile international sporting carnival and our men’s and women’s teams are gracious hosts and determined competitors. Without doubt, this leg of the World Rugby Sevens calendar is the premier event. For fans of the game, it’s a great global advertisement. Hotels, pubs and restaurants in Causeway Bay, Wan Chai and Lan Kwai Fong do a roaring trade and the sponsors and partners presumably also get a nice slice of the action.

But the packed stands and corporate boxes aren’t a snapshot of Hong Kong; they are a snippet of a narrow sector of the community mixed in with planeloads of out-of-towners. If you’re looking for born-and-bred locals who are the heart and soul of our city in the crowd, they’re few and far between. The prices said much about the people attending; not too many earning the monthly wage of HK$16,000 would be willing to shell out HK$1,800 for the three-day ticket package, HK$130 for a litre of draft beer, HK$65 for a cup of coffee, HK$50 for a bottle of water or HK$120 for a double cheeseburger. Most of the 94 per cent Chinese population of our city was unaware that the Sevens took place this past weekend. Those that did made a point of avoiding parts of Causeway Bay frequented by spectators, knowing full well how unpleasant an encounter with a drunk and disorderly rugby fan can be.

Hong Kong Sevens fans mingle on the South Stand. Photo: Reuters

Rugby is, after all, a Western sport with limited local appeal. My sons played it because they went to international schools; they would unlikely have encountered it had they not, nor would I have encouraged their participation. Hong Kong parents are aware of the risks of contact sports and are only too eager to ensure their children avoid injury so as to be fully capable of doing those things they consider important – studying and passing exams with flying colours. My younger son, the one most built like a typical rugby player, knows too well how physically demanding the sport can be and still carries a shoulder injury from his playing days.

Therein lies the problem with pushing Hong Kong as a venue for major sporting events. For all the billions of dollars the government has been throwing over the years at elite athletes and the likely-to-be-scrapped Mega Events Fund, we’re still a largely lethargic society. Sports-mad places don’t have pocket-sized parks like ours, facilities that need to be booked weeks in advance and children with rounded shoulders from all the slouching over smartphone screens. Of course, our often saturating humidity doesn’t help. But the Sevens crowd puts it all into perspective: largely Caucasian, reasonably well-off compared to the typical Hongkonger, and not in attendance so much for the rugby as the blast of a party.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post

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Can China achieve its goal of becoming a major soccer power?

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

Jonathan Sullivan

Jonathan Sullivan says developing the domestic league to catch players young and creating high-quality entertainment with foreign recruits to get fans into stadiums and secure TV deals will be key factors

A series of audacious player signings and investments in European clubs has put China’s soccer ambitions on the map. As soccer fans around the world are now aware, China has decided to become a soccer power and, as it usually does, is putting its money where its mouth is.

At home, the Chinese Super League has been reanimated and a huge amount of money earmarked for infrastructure, training facilities and expertise that China hopes will eventually improve the fortunes of the national team. At the same time, Chinese investors have been on a shopping spree across Europe, buying controlling stakes in clubs, notably in the English Premier League and Spanish La Liga.

The approach to becoming a soccer power has some similarities with other ambitious state-sanctioned projects, notably massive, rapid investment in infrastructure. The “build it and they will come” strategy has had mixed results. It served the manufacturing boom well, but it has also led to huge overcapacity in housing, steel and other sectors.

As with other somewhat nebulous ambitions (the Belt and Road, the Chinese Dream), the leadership has sketched out a vision to become a “major soccer power”, while the planning and implementation is largely left to government bureaus, provincial governments, state-owned enterprises and private businesses. With such an ambitious project, a lack of a concrete plan and a multiplicity of actors (often with their own motivations), things can go wrong.

What does it mean for China to become a “major soccer power”? Parsing statements thus far, the definition of a major football power would mean qualifying regularly for World Cups, hosting a World Cup, winning the Asian Champions League and perhaps the World Club Championship. It will involve huge state investment in infrastructure (training pitches, academies, etc), and acolytes in business (like Suning and Evergrande) investing huge sums (in this case, on players).

Is this model likely to turn China into a soccer power?

First, there is no doubt that China can build the infrastructure and put together the convincing commercial proposal needed to host a World Cup. Given the success of the Beijing Olympics and the government’s total commitment when it decides to host an event, this should be the easiest ambition to achieve.

Second, with the investment in prime coaching and playing talent from Europe and South America, Chinese teams will be competitive in the Asian Champions League and World Club Championship. Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao has already won the former twice in the past four years.

Third, systematic development of youth training academies, pitches, referees and a decent league structure may improve the national team’s success on the pitch. State investment and targeted nurturing of talent led to dominance of the Beijing Olympic medal table. Not long ago, we would never have considered Chinese snooker players – now there are many in the top echelons. There are Chinese golfers, tennis players, basketball players – sports outside China’s traditional sporting culture and excellence. There is no inherent reason why the men’s soccer team shouldn’t improve significantly, at least in Asia.

However, for football to really succeed, China needs to foster widespread public interest in the game – not just following and betting on European professional leagues and the big international tournaments. Kids need to play the game and progress through youth leagues to professional academies. For that to happen, China desperately needs to foster interest in the domestic league – with no one watching, it is financially unsustainable, even with rich backers. The Chinese Super League needs to generate high-quality entertainment on the pitch, and it needs good foreign players to do so.

The high fees that have been used to recruit top players suggest the league is being taken seriously this time, after a number of false starts. Chinese clubs are owned by state-owned enterprises and big private firms with substantial cash reserves, and they can afford to buy these players to make a big impact rapidly. It isn’t a terrible strategy, but it isn’t sustainable without a more holistic approach to developing and growing the league by getting fans into the stadiums and securing a good TV deal.

Japan’s J-League and the US Major League Soccer have shown that it takes time for football to take root – but both have made decent returns. Both country’s men’s teams perform well in regional international competitions and participate regularly in World Cups. Both have hosted a World Cup and have healthy youth participation, especially among women – who also do very well in national competitions. After nurturing a “soccer culture” over a long period, both have thriving, albeit niche, domestic leagues. It took many years of concerted soft and hard investment to get to this point. We shouldn’t expect things to be smoother for China – but neither should we doubt that they can attain a similar level of success.

But is that level of success what Xi Jinping (習近平) has in mind? Would his apparent special interest be sated by attaining the relatively modest achievements of Japan and the US? Given that the Chinese men’s team is 78th in the Fifa rankings (the US is 26th, Japan 49th), I think it is a sensible and attainable goal.

Aside from Xi’s evident personal interest in soccer, there is another reason for growing the game. China is trying to generate a more positive image, and pursuing all kinds of “soft power” initiatives, but many have fallen flat. It is very difficult for an authoritarian state to engender the “seduction” at the heart of “soft power” through top-down initiatives. Others, particularly in the cultural realm, have fallen flat due to differences in taste, and the difficulties in “translating China for global consumption”.

Soccer, on the other hand, is straightforward. With a few exceptions, soccer is the world’s game and doesn’t need any “translation”. And for the countries with strong national teams and/or exciting national leagues, the “soft power” benefits are big. To date, China’s (men’s) national team has been an embarrassment and the Chinese Super League an afterthought. But there is hope that one day fans in the UK or Spain might wear the colours of Jiangsu Suning or Hebei China Fortune, just as Chinese fans now sport Manchester United or Barcelona shirts.

Dr Jonathan Sullivan is director of the China Policy Institute, School of Politics and International Relations, at the University of Nottingham

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Hong Kong should really stop treating its Paralympic champions as second-class athletes

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

Yonden Lhatoo

Yonden Lhatoo despairs at the city’s unequal treatment of disabled athletes, who have won far more medals than their celebrated able-bodied counterparts

Not to rain on everyone’s parade, but while we’re going on and on, ad nauseam, about how awesome Hong Kong’s athletes were at the Rio Olympics and how proud they made us, let’s not lose track of the hard facts.

This city has competed in every Summer Games except one since 1952. Our medal tally to date: one gold for windsurfing in 1996, a silver in table tennis doubles in 2004, and a bronze for cycling in 2012. Nada in Brazil this year.

Now look at Hong Kong’s track record in the Paralympics. We have been there at the biggest global sporting event for disabled athletes every year since 1972. Our tally so far: 120 medals, 38 of them gold.

We are ranked 33 out of 116 nations and jurisdictions.

Singapore, by comparison, is ranked way below us at 85 with only six medals, including one gold. But Singapore won a spectacular gold in Brazil this time, and apparently that’s all that counts.

When an able-bodied man swims or runs faster than his peers along a straight line over a specified distance, that is somehow a greater achievement, to be celebrated on a far grander scale, than a disabled person doing the same thing.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m far more impressed by a person who can play basketball in a wheelchair like a pro than by a, well, pro.

Shouldn’t our Paralympic gold medallists be getting much more recognition and adulation than their Olympic counterparts who can only dream of comparative glory? Why is it that we have blanket media coverage and government patronage of Hong Kong athletes who almost-but-never-quite make it to Olympic medal-winning rounds – and I don’t mean to belittle their talent or work – but their Paralympic peers return home time after time, with multiple medals round their necks, to relative silence and obscurity?

Is it because they are somehow “second-class citizens”? That’s how 11-time Paralympic gold medallist Tanni Grey-Thompson of Britain put it recently in the face of the biggest crisis in the history of this sidelined sporting spectacle.

The Rio Olympics are over, and most people have had their fill of flag-waving fan indulgence, but it’s not quite finished as the Brazilian capital still has to host the 2016 Paralympics. And it’s not looking good. Only 12 per cent of tickets have been sold, and severe budget cuts have rendered some teams unable to even get to Rio because they’re depending on travel grants that have dried up.

Compare this disgraceful state of affairs with London 2012, when they sold a record 2.7 million tickets for the Paralympics – a million more than in the Beijing Olympics. There was so much excitement and hope that the world’s disabled athletes were finally getting due recognition, but it looks like that momentum was a flash in the pan.

Come September 7, Hong Kong will have 24 athletes competing in the Rio Paralympics. These are amazing people at the top of their game after overcoming debilitating physical and mental disabilities. They deserve a whole lot more than the usual lip service we give them.

This weekend, Hong Kong will host and honour the Chinese national squad, fresh from Rio. And just ahead of that, we welcome home our own Olympic heroes.

We will all extol their deeds and dutifully recite the chorus that the glory is in going head-to-head against the world’s best, never mind the medals.

When our Paralympic heroes return similarly from Rio, but with a string of medals in tow, let’s damn the double standards for a change. Because, seriously, if the consolation party for our brave Olympians turns out to be bigger than any ceremony for our winning Paralympians, I’d say it’s rather unsporting of us.

Yonden Lhatoo is a senior editor at the Post