The Hub That Dare Not Speak Its Name

What is Forbes magazine for? For most people, it’s something to flick through while waiting to see the dentist. Its breezy, glossy Cosmo-style vacuity (Ten Tips for Spring Cleaning Your Career) triggers an instant, Zen-like clearance of thoughts from the brain, while the never-ending lists of top billionaires and zippy tech start-ups provide that all-important inner numbness (mesmerize yourself with America’s Most Popular Car Colors and a root canal is nothing).

Compared with his closet-gay/biker/socialite father Malcolm of Capitalist Tool Boeing 727 fame, proprietor Steve Forbes perhaps seems a little colourless. His editorial stance is undoubting, inherited-wealth conservative. Rather than take the publication to court, Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew writes an opinion column for it. Immaculately coiffured Indian businessmen you’ve never heard of get star treatment – in the Asian edition at least – while the likes of Gordon G Chang monitor China’s coming demise.

Coverage of the Big Lychee is usually pretty thin, consisting of rankings of tycoons and glowing reports of obscure European luxury brands setting up shop in the city. So a non-celebrity article on one of our less renowned economic sectors raises an eyebrow. Especially when it is titled Why Hong Kong is China’s New Tech Hub.

For many right-thinking people, the idea that this city can be a tech (as in research) hub is laughable – it’s about as likely as the place becoming a sporting powerhouse, a creative and cultural centre or a green, zero-emissions paradise. And, because our government has indeed on occasions announced plans to miraculously turn us into Asia’s tech (sports/creative/cultural/green) capital, the idea is also rather distasteful, even disturbing. Tung Chee-hwa was right? Economic planning by bureaucrats works?

Looking through the piece, it seems we are talking about a small but real Hong Kong success story. This is not about hundreds of geeky code-writers in Beijing patching together Microsoft’s latest user-loathing, giant hairball of an Office upgrade. Nor is it about dozens of fresh graduates in Shenzhen reverse-engineering and improving gizmos that the original inventors still haven’t finished. It’s about pairs and threes of local whiz-kids working out ways to make – this is key – a fast buck from (I would guess) silly-but-clever apps for iPhones and the like.

So we can breathe a sigh of relief. Grandiose government visions, science parks and multi-billion dollar funds have had nothing to do with it. It’s a bunch of spiky-haired kids who are too shy to be property agents devising inane and profitable downloads for Asia’s millions of easily amused mobile device users.

The Forbes agenda is to underline how the evil Reds on the Mainland are at a disadvantage compared with the freedom-loving, market-oriented Hongkongers. And the list (Eight Ways You Can Wipe the Floor with the Commies in their own Backyard) looks pretty impressive. Mainland China is poor, censored, monopolized, bureaucratic, state-run and hates foreigners; Hong Kong, on the other hand, is just seriously cool. Perfectly valid points, no doubt.

And then Forbes hits an interesting little nail on the head: the Big Lychee’s officials don’t draw attention to these advantages. Out of fearful, obsequious pragmatism (“deference”) they don’t advertise Hong Kong as the bit of China where there is no censorship, thus no persecution for resisting censorship, no favouritism for state companies, no weird legal decisions to undercut foreigners, plus all the YouTube and Facebook you could ever want, and you can incorporate in a day. Unlike you-know-where.

Our local leaders are silent on this. They just sit there awkwardly, too patriotic to say why we’re better, preferring instead to unnerve us all with fatalistic blather about how our only chance is integration and cooperation and partnership, and getting excited only at the prospect of a mention in the next Five Year Plan.

Not a totally new point (it’s all part of the post-colonial pre-emptive cringe), but interesting enough to keep me away from Forbes next time I am in the dentist’s waiting room.

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17 Responses to The Hub That Dare Not Speak Its Name

  1. Sir Crispin says:

    A hub for completely self-absorbed twats? These arrogant, conspicuously consuming, petty, bloody-minded brats think the world revolves around them anyway, as is the definition of a hub.

    Two days ago I pointed out to a driver blocking cross-traffic, as he’d so selflessly entered an intersection he couldn’t clear before the light changed, that he was in the cross-hatched area by pointing at my eyes then at the hatching (keep your eyes open and think you selfish bastid). This delightful specimen then proceeded to yell and gesture (through his windscreen) at me and to top it all off, his wife in the passenger seat starts telling me off too. Riiiight, you’re the one being an ass, violating traffic rules and inconveniencing all the traffic trying to get past you and I’m the one at fault who deserves to scolded. Uh-huh, sure.

    Then I noticed the kid in the backseat. Nice way to teach the next generation how to be respectful and observant of others. At least they’re in their own car and not pushing and shoving their way into the MTR as passengers are trying to exit.

    “Watching the sun set, little by little, on Asia’s greatest city.”

  2. chanboy says:

    Crispin, why all that ranting? That is the Hong Kong attitude you know? I’ve got money, I can do whatever I want. That’s the HK way. So blocking traffic is their right.

  3. Sir Crispin says:

    Ahem, that’s SIR! Crispin. This is the HK way to flaunt what you got.

    So Chanboy you just proved my point: A hub for self-absorbed twats. Goodness knows, there are enough of them to qualify as a hub.

  4. Jing says:

    True to Hong Kong style. Making plastic flowers led to a manufacturing industry… making bubblewrap-popping apps for iPhones might build a techie hub. Government planning irrelevant.

  5. Number Wong says:

    It’s true. Hong Kong has the market cornered on geek. We are the World’s Geekiest City. All you have to do is stroll around the packed Wan Chai Computer Center on a Saturday afternoon to see it.

  6. Maugrim says:

    Seriously, most average tech nerds here know nothing beyond ICQ and Bit Torrent delivered anime porn.

  7. isomoliu says:

    Hong Kong online news has an unlikely demographics that dare not speak its name – Mainlanders who are able to get over the Great Firewall, who routinely turn to Apple Daily, Ming Pao or even SCMP for news otherwise censored in China, news on Chinese dissidents, the tainted milk scandal, Sichuan earthquake tofu buildings, etc., and in turn tweet them.

    A well known Mainland blogger says that whenever he visits Hong Kong, he would set aside time to enjoy uncensored internet surfing and pack his notebook chock full of downloads for later enjoyment back home. The last thing the HKTB would want to advertise.

  8. Sword of Truth says:

    Dear Sir Crispin,

    Thank you for the hilarious image of you wagging your finger and flapping your jaws in remonstrance at the driver who was blocking the traffic.

    What would Hong Kong do without asses like you?

    I guess those old colonial habits die hard.

  9. chanboy says:

    Haha, old colonial habits die hard indeed. I was never someone for titles, “Sir” Crispin, so guess you have to get use to the “attitudes” around here town here.

  10. Sir Crispin says:

    I guess irony is lost on the lower classes like sword.

  11. Sword of Truth says:

    Sir Crispin,

    Please don’t try to wriggle out of facing up to your own description of your own pathetic behaviour by claiming it was meant in irony.

    There is no irony (intended or otherwise) in your original post. You said it, you meant it, it happened the way you said it happened.

    We’re all laughing at the ridiculous image of you in full flight of self-righteous indignation gesticulating to some hapless driver who happened to get stuck in the cross-hatched area of a traffic intersection.

    I can appreciate that you take seriously your mission of bestowing the benefits of your superior culture and civilization on the teeming masses of the great unwashed who clog up the streets of Hong Kong. No doubt your satisfaction was total when you’d finished upbraiding the witless driver who had so inconsiderately intruded upon your otherwise flawless existence.

  12. Sir Crispin says:

    Everyone’s laughing or just you? Rather superior of you to project your impressions upon everyone else. And who said I was in full flight gesticulation? Your imagination seems to get the best of you.

    And I rather doubt the driver was hapless, as Chanboy pointed out the drivers in HK have a much more superior attitude than I supposedly have, as they think they can do whatever they want and I am sure he intentionally pulled into the intersection knowing full well he wouldn’t get through…but doesn’t care. As you say, someone needs to bestow a little common sense, if not common courtesy, after all they surely aren’t learning it elsewhere.

  13. Sword of Truth says:

    Er, okay. Have a nice weekend!

  14. yeah says:

    I’m not laughing either. If that was supposed to be funny, it wasn’t. Just sounds like the rants of an old man who thinks he is superior to the dreck and uncivilized.

  15. Sir Crispin says:

    Yeah, because I’m the only one. From the Sunday SCMP Letters…

    Children will become despicable adults

    May 23, 2010

    I entirely agree with Nina Cheung (“Parents send wrong message on trains”, May 16). Many parents appear to be oblivious to the need to educate their children to become polite and decent members of society.

    Instead children are being taught the “me first” mentality. They are encouraged to rush onto the MTR to grab empty seats for themselves and their parents, they eat and drink with impunity their parents proudly looking on, showing total disrespect for MTR regulations forbidding this.

    Sadly such behaviour is encouraged by fellow passengers who avert their eyes when food appears and passively accept a young child be allowed to occupy a seat while adults stand.

    Such parents are too self-centred and short-sighted to realise their little darlings will one day grow into despicable self- serving adults due solely to bad parenting. As always education is the key but only for those willing to listen and learn.

    Joan Miyaoka, Sha Tin

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