Curse of Patten claims another victim

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to lose one chief executive of the West Kowloon Cultural Mega-theme Concept Hub Authority is unfortunate; to lose two confirms what many of us were saying five or more years ago, namely that this idiotic project was doomed to be an embarrassing disaster and embodiment of the mis-governance of Hong Kong.

A brief reminder of this mis-governance: In the mid-90s, Governor Chris Patten decided that the West Kowloon reclamation, a by-product of the airport express railway, would make a good and badly needed downtown park. Patten was a radical in that he was the first, and so far only, leader of the Big Lychee who imagined the purpose of his administration was to serve the interests of the general population. Subsequent leaders reverted to traditional priorities and decided to channel the wealth represented by the public space into the pockets of the usual beneficiaries – property tycoons – by dedicating the space to development masquerading as tourism/entertainment/culture infrastructure. Public displeasure forced officials to cut the tycoons out of much of the action, but fear of losing face made them more determined than ever to force an unwanted arts/drama/music vanity white-elephant complex on us, like it or not.

This is one of those occasions where the fastidious, relatively factual and professional South China Morning Post is of no use to us. Indeed, if my semi-cursory glance at its pages just now was correct, today’s edition does not even mention the departure of Graham Sheffield, the boss of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority after less than five months on the job. It’s just hearsay, and for that we need the Standard, for the rumour, tittle-tattle and innuendo that Sing Tao and other Chinese-language papers produce at times like this.

The former London arts manager has resigned, the rag says, for “health reasons”, adding that his predecessor Angus Cheng did the same after a mere nine days for “personal reasons”. Sleuth-like reporters tracked Sheffield down, only to get him to say he was at a gathering with friends (presumably, though we are not told, for “health reasons”).

What does the government have to say? Among today’s highly informative press releases from the Information Services Department, we learn that public support for the 2023 Asian Games is huge, OK? and cartoonist Billy Ma will provide childish daubs for this year’s budget pamphlet. But nothing so far of the WKCDA’s lost-boss woes.

Having become addicted to the British Hercule Poirot TV series, I can’t stop suspecting that the brown shirt and That Tie have something to do with all this. Why should someone supposedly interested in aesthetics (the Standard dredges up gossip blaming Sheffield’s US-located artist girlfriend for his departure) lack such rudimentary sense of style? The wavy red and yellow pattern on the tan background reminds us of that catastrophe of colour combinations known as the 1970s. The only other human societies to resort to such design are those of ancient African and Australian aborigines, and they had a limited pallet of mud to choose from and blinding sunlight as an excuse. Did an imposter poison the real Graham Sheffield – the motive being the HK$3.5 million package – and then flee after his sartorial chromatic mismatches gradually gave the game away? Voila!

Those of us with the gift of detecting patterns would also, however, offer our officials some good news: the life expectancy of WKCDA bosses is increasing. At the current rate (each holder of the office lasting almost 17 times as long as his predecessor), the next one should be in place for around six years. As we can see from this rather elegant chart…

‘Mr/Ms X Ao’ is a pseudonym standing for ‘ex-Administrative Officer’; a safe pair of hands, namely a former civil servant, will surely be the result of West Kowloon Kulture Czar recruitment exercise number three. Think of the architectural delights, the artistic flair and the scintillating atmosphere of Tsimshatsui’s HK Cultural Centre and the adjacent Museum of Art – the glories of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. Now imagine 50 acres of that.

There is another way out of this morass…

Hong Kong’s first exciting Referendum

Tick one box

  1. Yes please, I want billions more of my dollars to be spent on pretentious arts administrators, fat contracts for civil engineering companies, ugly museums and theatres with nothing in them, and numerous tacky facilities for the convenience of people who don’t live here.
  2. No thanks, just give us a big, cheap, basic park where local people can ride bikes, kick balls, practice the zither and have picnics on green grass – and deduct the balance off my next tax bill.


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18 Responses to Curse of Patten claims another victim

  1. Dr Anita Dick says:

    As a product of our fair city I must point out -in all fairness- that we Honkies don’t give a f**k about parks, greenery and all that. If we did, we would all be living in Yuen Long. But we don’t.

    Neither do we care for museums.
    And we already have a concert hall by the name of The Coliseum.
    When I think of those Leslie Cheung concerts in the 19xx’s, my heart skips a beat or 2.

    So if you are going to build a culture extravaganza on the waterfront, with a Hong Kong touch, make it as such:

    1. The biggest cinema mega-complex in the world. We like our movies, and we can make it a cinema hub or something (another hub !).

    2. One word: ice-skating rink. A really big one. There is many of us.

    3. The largest dim-sum resto in the world. With adjacent mah-jong rooms.

    4. Mega shopping mall. But that is a given. Shopping is our culture.

    5. Enough parking space to accommodate our Nissans.

    6. Enough escalators, elevators, walkways, toilets and such to fill up the gaps.

    Voila, I would say.

  2. Maugrim says:

    A lot of this reminds me of Barry Humphries’ remarks surrounding the building of the Sydney Opera House, that it was a search for credibility in a land not known for the ‘yartz’ at that stage. He cheekily remarked that the Opera House would offer ‘world class’ events such as the Algerian State Circus and wallabies wrestling in mud.

    HK is little different. hence the need for a famous external designer (tick), quirky and artistic foreigner (tick), cost consuming performance spaces that we must need if we are to have any credibility (tick). Macau has its gambling, here we have hand wringing, who are we? why don’t people take use seriously? Hence crap projects usch as the Asian games.

    Just build a park, the nanny state will still be there with its endless rules as to what can and what cannot be done within the confines of such a park, but hey, its cheap, its what people really want/need and it gives the finger to property developers/ resource suppliers. What more could we ask for?

  3. Jack Russell says:

    Didn’t several posters here predict his swift demise when he appeared in this space last year naively blathering on about making HK a cultural destination for the World?

  4. Pooky says:

    Hemlock, when will you get it into your head that anything of journalistic value in The Standard isn’t unearthed by their “team” of reporters, who, frankly, couldn’t dig up a potato. Their scoops are all delivered, nicely packaged from Sing Tao upstairs. Granted, the editors and designers regularly do a good job of presenting Sing Tao’s work.

  5. Big Al says:

    This would appear the appropriate time for Hemlock et al to start a new political party – the “Just Give Us A F**king Park Party”. Without the asterisks. JGUAFPP doesn’t exactly trip of the tongue, but neither does ADPL or DABHK. Nor the People’s Front of Judea, for that matter. Anyway, I digress. Membership would be automatic upon ticking the second box of Hong Kong’s First Exciting Referendum. What could possibly go wrong?

  6. Philly Styn says:

    Patten was a radical in that he was the first, and so far only, leader of the Big Lychee who imagined the purpose of his administration was to serve the interests of the general population.

    This is so funny, I’m wetting myself.

  7. Mike Hunt says:

    Smack in the middle of Victoria Park in Causeway Bay there is a huge lawn, open to the public. You hardly ever see anyone there, except fat pigeons that I would love to poison.

  8. Stephen says:

    Stanley Ho once commented about West Kowloon “when there is rice we all can eat” This was around the time the Government was hellbent on giving the whole thing to a Sun Hung Kai / Li Ka Shing JV. So chop it up into bite sized lots and sell it to the property cartel as we have done countless times before – sadly to the detriment of Hong Kong.

  9. Park Lover says:

    Mike, thats because youre not allowed to walk there. You are also not allowed to walk clockwise round the track they have round the grass….anti clockwise only…and “they” do pull you over for it.

  10. Des Espoir says:

    Hercule, mon brave. vous avez frappe le clou sur sa tete…

  11. Klaxon says:

    Amen. Move the Botanical Gardens to West Kowloon and let Gehry convert the gibbon/lemur/macaque enclosure below Robinson Rd into the obligatory exhibition space.

    Love the 70’s vibe in the header today, by the way.

  12. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    When I frequented Victoria Park – a few years ago now – the grass was covered in Filipino and Indonesian maids on Sundays and rightfully so.

    Most park-like activities happened on the hard surfaced areas eg the football surfaces or the area to the west of the tennis thing eg football, school kids doing marching drills, badmington, tai chi, fan dancing and martial arts. The kids doing marching drills was strange – they’d say “1 – 2 – wop diddly wop”. Odd that they would march with English calls (at least when counting off) rather than Cantonese.

    One week in the lead up to the HK WTO, the HK police did marching drills with machine guns. Was as exciting as watching the school kids.

    Anyway, to bring this back to the reality of HK – for about 4-6 months a year, the HK govt would take this people’s space and hand it over to trade shows and private events, denying the space to others. Then, about 2 years ago, they built extra tennis courts on that space. Fuckers.

  13. Doctor Drama Queen says:

    Work is for people who don’t go to the theatre. Graham Sheffield’s next tasteful tie:

  14. Wilson David says:

    CNN just called you “the ever-acerbic blogger Big Lychee”:

  15. Please let’s not let a Carey, Annie, Mary, Lorie, Cory, Norie, helmet head with a HKU BA and a doubtful grasp of economics take over

  16. brier says:

    Look at that building, look at this man
    Haloed and whitewashed
    Gone to find a cheaper hand
    He’ll offer a pound, offer a pound

    Green grow the rushes go
    Green grow the rushes go
    Green grow the rushes go
    The compass points the worker’s home

    Pay for your freedom, find another gate
    Guilt by associate, the rushes wilted a long time ago
    Guilty as you go

    Stay off that highway, word is it’s not so safe
    The grasses that hide the greenback
    The amber waves of gain again
    The amber waves of gain”

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