What could and should be a relaxing end to another working week is rudely disrupted by one of those highly unwelcome shocks to personal routine, communal convenience and plain everyday harmony under heaven. Sometimes it’s an unexpected public holiday that creeps up on you at just the time you don’t need one; other times it’s the relocation or closure of a once-reliable facility like an ATM. Today, the South China Morning Post annoys neurotics throughout the Big Lychee by putting a huge ad for itself on its front page.
They obviously think they are being clever. But for those of us who like to peruse the headlines on the hoof before opening the publication indoors away from jostling crowds and killer rainstorms, this is a nuisance. In a way, they could argue, they have reproduced their normal front page – which appears overleaf – on this special one, but as seen on the famous iPad plastic box gizmo that goes on sale in Hong Kong as of today. (Is it, by chance, life-size on the page? These sorts of things designed to impress us often escape me.)
We are all delighted that enthusiasts/victims of the HK$5,000 plastic box gizmo can see a stripped-down version of the SCMP on what, up to now, seems to have been a device mainly used by cats to make music on YouTube. All I know of iPods, iPads and iEverything else is that they are stuffed full of proprietary systems that make users slaves to Apple and its friends. And, from what I have seen, they are no easier to handle and read while on the move than an old-fashioned broadsheet newspaper.
I recall a previous occasion when the SCMP was too clever by half with its front page, and that was 1 July, 1997. It was a public holiday – one for which there had been plenty of advance notice – and people looking vaguely at the newsstands for the English-language paper that morning were disappointed (ish) to find it wasn’t there. Maybe all copies had been snapped up as souvenirs to mark the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China (sounds unlikely), or maybe it wasn’t being published that historic but non-working day (also hard to believe). “Whatever,” people shrugged, and got on with their day.
It later turned out that the SCMP had been there all along, but wrapped in the same sort of gaudy Chinese calligraphy celebrating reunion as all the other newspapers. So no-one had bought it. The company was reduced to trying to sell leftover copies in a special commemorative box for weeks afterwards, for which, presumably, there were few takers – readers had just wanted the TV listings.
The paper today does feature Alice Poon and her subversive book Land and the Ruling Class in Hong Kong, which has just been translated into Chinese. In a nutshell, it is the only book you need to read to understand what is wrong with this city. So far as I know, this is the first time the SCMP has paid the book any attention since it was published five years ago.
The weekend begins.