HK inequality prompts turmoil, curfew likely

As Bangkok has its Tiananmen-lite and Red Shirts torch the stock exchange and city halls, Hong Kong reels in horror at The Great MTR Octopus Card-Holders Massacre of 2010.

The mass transit system is putting its fares up by an average of 2.05%. This in itself would be enough to provoke squeals of terror among that part of the community that falls between malnourished riders of busses, for whom the train is unaffordable luxury, and the modestly prosperous lower middle class who stoically come to terms with price rises measured in cents without complaining. However, it gets worse: on certain journeys, the price increase will be higher on a stored-value Octopus Card than on an old-fashioned single ticket.

For technical reasons, the high-tech cashless system can work in any sum, while the old single tickets only accommodate increments of 50 cents (perhaps because the vending machines don’t accept smaller coins – who knows or cares?). Note something very important: the MTR is giving users of the old plastic tickets a discount – letting them off a 20- or 30-cent price hike to avoid rounding up by 50 cents. The Octopus Card holders are simply paying the correct new fare.

Few things make some of us more livid than the sight of a fellow human being enjoying some sort of bonus that we did not get – even though it is not in any way at our expense. It is a mean-spirited, irrational and childish emotion, but the resentment at the perceived injustice burns as fiercely as CentralWorld shopping mall on Ratchadamri Road. The Singaporeans are familiar with the feeling as Kiasu, from the Hokkien for ‘afraid to lose’. The classic example is the woman who feels immensely pleased with herself for bullying her Indonesian maid into accepting a HK$2,000 monthly wage, then goes berserk with fury on finding that Mrs Chan in the next block is paying only HK$1,800.

The difference here is that Octopus Card users considering slashing their wrists, throwing their kids out of the window or burning charcoal in their little sealed bedroom at this grotesque unfairness have another option: buy a single ticket and save that precious 20 cents (per day – it adds up). Watch them in the thousands waiting in line for hours at the machines when the fare rise takes effect on 13 June.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong public remains riveted by the government’s hip propaganda urging everyone to support, as best they can, the exciting 2012 political reform package…

Click to hear The Stranglers’ opinion of the government’s new posters. For the mono-literate: in the Chinese versions, the visual adds the character for ‘person’ to create ‘walk’ (happening in real life at bottom left), and the character for ‘mouth’ to create ‘trust’.

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12 Responses to HK inequality prompts turmoil, curfew likely

  1. MarcFaber says:

    Don’t laugh so much. Your column, sadly, has become just as predictable as the behaviour of Hong Kong people and their Government. Time for a change, surely?

  2. Maugrim says:

    MarcFaber, there is a certain irony about someone who reads a blog they dont like on a daily basis, spending even more time to write a comment there.

    I never cease to be amazed at middle-class folk who peruse their parkNshop dockets as if divining some ancient manuscript, in search of the few cents they may have been over charged. Even better is watching them storm back to the checkout and to expect the lady there to drop everything and deal with the incident. I don’t get it.

  3. chanboy says:

    Ironically, that just reminds me in a way how lucky we are in HK. We are getting in a fuss over Octopus and there in Thailand they are rioting in a life and death situation.

  4. Don Altobello says:

    I ask nothing for myself. Only peace in my old age. But I must please the world around me.

  5. Puzzled says:

    In a similar vein: Today’s lunchtime queue for getting the $2 MTR discount at the Soho escalator was about 50m long, streching down the steps into Noho…

  6. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    I can’t be bothered queuing for hours – or even a few seconds – to receive a $2 discount or get a free Hello Kitty pencil. I used to ascribe the HK willingness to do this and engage in other time-consuming expenditure avoidance (eg driving an extra 20 minutes to avoid the higher tolls in some cross harbour tunnels) to lack of a sense of the value of time and an overvaluation of free junk. I’d be happy to spend HK$100 to avoid 20-30 minutes of wasted time.

    However, I was working with some infrastructure investors who are well acquainted to with mysteries of tollroads and tolls vs time. They have looked at some of the HK tolled infrastructure and apparently the pricing relationships here between tolls and time saved are much the same as Western locations like the US, Canada and Australia, adjusted for purchasing power etc.

    So the real answer must be that many Hong Kong people really like queuing and free Hello Kitty stuff. Perhaps this is due to the effects of colonisation – British for the former and the Japanese for the latter.

  7. Sir Crispin says:

    I agree with Tiu Fu Fong, I’ve never understood the desire to waste so much time to save a paltry sum. Apparently the time is money maxim doesn’t apply here, nor the fact that the people that sit in traffic for 30 minutes for the Central Harbour Tunnel are probably losing more money by burning all that gas idling. Common Sense, we miss you here.

  8. Maugrim says:

    I wonder if its part of a society where fierce competition starts from kindergarten or whether it’s avarice or the idea of scratching out ‘something for nothing’. I love spotting HKer’s overseas, especially in Japan. As a stereotype, HKer’s often seem to be worried about money or how much something costs and seemingly less about enjoying the moment. Watch/listen to the hijinks of HKer’s debating whether to change money or not and the rate they get.

  9. longtimenosee says:

    Frankly Thailand has more democracy than we do, so maybe we need to take to the streets?

    And as for those Park n Shop bill checkers…
    You have to, you get ripped every single time. My record is a 890 dollar overcharge…Not 20c!

  10. isomoliu says:

    The last time I heard, the going rate for having your Octopus card couriered up the escalator during lunch hour and DOOT-ed for the $2 MTR discount is $0.50.

    I once witnessed the hand ballet performed by two AAs (ie Administrative Assistants, formerly known as office boys), each with a big stack of assorted Octopus card holders, on either side of the MTR machine, alternating in DOOT-ing, their hands dancing over the machine in a rhythmic trance. A beauty to behold. I got misty-eyed at the sight of such good ol’ HK “Under the Lion Rock” spirit.

  11. Michael says:

    Our true enemy has yet to reveal himself.

  12. doll says:

    When I was back in London over Christmas I didn’t understand why so many people still used paper cards until I got caught out with higher fees on the Oyster card. Then I too changed back to paper. One fixed price known in advance.

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