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Out of our hands

From the South China Morning Post:

I once thought I would never say goodbye to Hong Kong. Or that if I ever did, it would be by my own choice. I should have known better. In this city, the choice has never been ours.

We are used to this. Coteries of old men—and three extraordinary women—in faraway places have been signing away our rights for 172 years. No one on that ship in Nanjing ever thought to ask how the people on this barren rock felt about being ransomed for heroin. No one in Beijing negotiating the terms of the lease on the New Territories considered bringing its occupants to the table. No one at the table in suite 336 of The Peninsula on Christmas Day, 1941, was even Chinese. And no where in the declaration Deng Xiaoping and Margaret Thatcher toasted 30 years ago is there any reference to the people of Hong Kong.

We are used to this, and maybe like we have before, we will soldier on, even on a battlefield where it sometimes feels like no one is fighting for us. Maybe we will yet squeeze a few drops of democracy from this lemon, even if its sour taste lingers. Maybe we will reinvent ourselves one more time, and make our administrative region special one more way.

But maybe not.

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Over the Top

From the South China Morning Post:

I used to occupy Central. I used to grab a sandwich and sit in Statue Square or Chater Garden and feel like I owned the place, because unlike the rest of Central during lunch hour, I never had to wait in line to get a seat. These outdoor areas are sometimes so sparsely populated, even on a cool, clear day, that a couple friends and I once entertained ourselves in Statue Square by watching a solitary cockroach scamper across the concrete tiles. It was the only one of us who needed unimpeded access through the Square to go about its business.

The rest of us, once lunch was over, returned to our respective offices in Prince’s Building, the Cheung Kong Center, and ICBC Tower through the series of covered, elevated walkways so interconnected and comprehensive that the Hong Kong Tourism Board tells visitors, “Once you’ve arrived, you never have to come back down to earth.”

It’s not an exaggeration: someone arriving in Hong Kong can never touch the ground from the moment they step off their plane until they reach any given destination in Central. From the jet bridge to the Airport Express, through IFC and over Connaught Road, you can reach as far as Star Street to the east and the Macau Ferry Terminal to the west, as far north as the Star Ferry and as far south as Conduit Road without ever setting foot outdoors at ground level.

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25: Cognitive Dissonance

From the South China Morning Post:

The first time you go to the June 4 vigil at Victoria Park, expect to be unprepared for a number of things. The difficulty of affixing, with dripping wax, a candle to a conical paper cup. The funeral rites that without warning evince the hardest kind of loss, of a parent losing a child. And the cognitive dissonance triggered by the act of memorialising students whose deaths led in part to Hong Kong becoming the city it is today.

I was six years old in 1989. My mother worked in Hong Kong for a multinational chemical company whose business, like all business in China, evaporated after June 4. Two months later, my mother was among the first businesspeople to re-enter the mainland and attempt to resuscitate foreign trade. The deal she ultimately secured was the only one her company completed in China that year, and it set her apart from her peers and on a course of career advancement that underwrote my liberal arts and legal education. I am today able to specialise in human rights law as a result of the opportunity that the June 4 crackdown gave my mother.

This is the paradox we can never seem to escape in Hong Kong, forever and at once benefiting from and resenting Chinese–and, before that, British–rule. When the tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square, we were eight short years from the same tanks rolling across the Shenzhen River, and the predictive trauma of that moment is not only what brings many of us back to Victoria Park each year; it was what sent thousands of us to Canada, Australia and elsewhere.

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Salvacion

Tindog Tacloban

From The Common:

We stood among the wreckage of the barangay captain’s house and his furniture shop and his crumbled internet café, where three months ago you could put a ten peso coin in and for a few minutes connect from this little island to the world out there, beyond Cancobato Bay, the San Juanico Strait and Tacloban. CPU shells lay stacked up like carcasses against one of the few walls still standing, ghosts in the machines, severed cables and keyboard drawers jutting out like compound fractures. The barangay captain has not had time to rebuild. He has a job to do; he is the barangay captain.

“Thank you,” the barangay captain says to me. “With all my heart.”

I don’t know what to say.

七一

In the dark

From the South China Morning Post:

Some time ago, the chief executive and I exchanged letters, in these pages, on the topic of universal suffrage. In a developed society, I argued, it was an inevitable evolution, and Hong Kong was as ready for democracy as any society ever could be.

Leung Chun-ying wrote that any proposal “to elect the chief executive by universal suffrage is half-baked without proposing consequential changes to other provisions” and, far from guaranteeing universal suffrage, the Basic Law stipulates that “the appointment of the chief executive without any form of elections, let alone universal franchise, is allowed”. He spelled the doom of a constitutional crisis if the central government refused to appoint whomever was returned by a direct election, and cited the “gradual and orderly progress” clause of Article 45 in calling for a slowly, slowly approach.

That was 10½ years ago. Mr Leung, are we there yet?

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Privé, all over again

From The Common:

There used to be an actual line.  That we had to actually wait in.  We used to line up from the elevator bank in the Harbour View Hotel across the bridge and over to the Great Eagle Centre, or double-backed towards Central Plaza, and we used to wait.  We waited in the balmy near-summer heat if it was the prom after-party, or in the wincing wet cold when we were back from college for the holidays.  We waited, we paid cover, we had tickets.  We were young.

We didn’t drink as much then, at ing.  We did shots, but not hard shots; we got tables and bottles, but we didn’t stand on the tables and we didn’t drink from the bottles, didn’t hoist them over each others’ mouths and count to three.  The whole place, and the space, the pace, felt less frenzied, if no less drunk (we tolerated less), and the hip-hop floor in the front or the bar in the back with the karaoke booths off to the side always had room to linger.  The time between now and then, its passage between Privé and ing, is like a decade-thick dampener, and it makes me want to say they used to play the music softer at ing, that conversations used to be audible, though I know that can’t be true.

Sydney

A Ballot Cast in Betrayal

From The Sydney Morning Herald:

… My parents gave me everything: they indulged me with the comforts they didn’t have growing up and sent me to the best schools, so that I might think outside myself and aspire to work for an organisation such as the United Nations. I went to law school, studied refugee and human rights law, and left corporate law to work for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. But now that I’m here, where I thought Kevin Rudd would want me to be, he tells me that what I’m doing–and where my family’s half-century Australian journey has led me–is part of the problem.

This is strange for me. Chinese families such as mine have a particular affinity for Rudd, who, my grandmother would note, speaks better Chinese than I do.

I should be excited about Jason Yat-sen Li, Labor’s new Chinese-Australian candidate for Bennelong, but instead I am wary he is being parachuted in to pick up easy Asian votes. Because if the new asylum seeker policy is any indication, Rudd seems to be taking me for granted. …

Deluge

Deluge

From The Common:

I got caught in a deluge the other night, and when it hit me, it hit me just like that, italicized, like the rain was coming down so hard even the words to describe it were soaked and falling to the ground. I was in the back streets of Sheung Wan, an old part of town on the outskirts of Central that rests against the side of a hill. Steep stone staircases run up and down and through the area, and on a sunny Sunday morning you can play snakes and ladders with the past, sliding down to a street of antique stores that sell Bruce Lee posters from the 60s and twin-lens reflex cameras from the 30s, or climbing up to peek inside the few Edwardian mansions that remain, the once proud homes not of colonial officials, but of the Chinese compradors who even then—or maybe especially then—had a thing about putting the white man in his place.

But on a dark and stormy Thursday night, the staircases cascade into waterfalls, the rain drowns out the sounds of today and the clouds block out the sights, and suddenly, in those back streets of Sheung Wan, it’s like you’re walking through an old photo, or playing out a scene from In the Mood for Love. You could just as well be looking out from under your umbrella into the Hong Kong of the 1950s, a turbulent, less hopeful place, the Hong Kong of my father. There is one street just like this, Bridges Street, with staircases on either end, an art-deco church, the red-brick YMCA building built at the close of the First World War and, across from it, the old Chinese YMCA secondary school. In the dark, in the downpour, it looks exactly what it must have looked like to my dad as he came to school here each day as a teenager, not long before he immigrated to Australia. Maybe he stood there one rainy day just as I did, looking down the street past the church and the school, beyond the staircase, wondering where this road was going to take him, and if it was ever going to take him home.

Bruce

Way of the Dragon

From the South China Morning Post:

A few times a year, I catch the Star Ferry to Tsim Sha Tsui and take a walk along the Kowloon waterfront.  I walk past the clock tower, past the rising south face of the Cultural Centre, past the line of photograph stalls with the best views of the harbour and the fine diners inside the Intercontinental.  I keep walking, past the handprints of all the movie stars that dot the promenade, and all the tourists that crouch around them.  I walk and I walk until a familiar bronze figure comes into focus, a lean body with limbs bent in anticipation, that seems to sway even though it is frozen, that is stationary and yet seems in motion.

“You cannot grasp hold of it,” Bruce Lee once said, when explaining how kung fu is like water, and I feel the same way when I visit his statue, by the water.  Disneyland calls itself the Happiest Place on Earth, but it’s not even the happiest place in Hong Kong.  This is.

This is where the lips of everyone who passes by curve into a smile, where those who have just begin to walk and those who will soon not walk again all stand in front of the statue and assume their best sparring stance.  This is where a Mainland mother playfully instructs her son to stick his leg out straighter, where European backpackers mimic his battle screech and giggle.  This is where most people don’t even know it’s coming, but when they recognize him—and everyone does—they can’t help but do a little kung fu fighting.

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Timmy

Devastated

From SLAM Online:

It’s been four days, and I still can’t stop watching it: He misses the layup, then the tip, and pulls the silver spur on his jersey up over his nose, like he’s sucking for air, chest burning from heat inhalation. It is the longest five seconds Timothy Theodore Duncan has ever taken to run back on defense, and when he finally turns around and bends his knees, getting into his stance, he pauses first to slap the floor with his right hand. His palm smacks the floorboards so hard you can hear it on the broadcast, in between Jeff Van Gundy saying “point” and “blank.”

The next word is “miss.”

*

I must have been 12 or 13 years old the first time I saw someone slap the floor on defense. It was Christmastime in Hong Kong, and I was sitting in the stands watching my school’s holiday basketball invitational for American schools in the region, from Singapore and Jakarta and the military bases in Okinawa. The tournament has been an annual slice of Americana in the Far East for more than 40 years: The band plays, cheerleaders high-kick along the baseline, parents shout abuse at the coaches and the referees.

What I remember is one of the guards from Taipei backing up into the top of a two-three zone and then suddenly bending over and pounding the gym floor with both his hands. He roared “Defense!” as he stood back up, and then his teammates followed. It was fearsome; I don’t think five people in that crowd had ever seen this kind of thing before. We didn’t get the NCAA in Hong Kong. I had no idea about Duke or Wojo or the Cameron Crazies. All I knew was that slapping the floor on defense seemed like just about the most intimidating thing you could do on a basketball court.

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