As all children who pay attention in their Civics classes know, Hong Kong has four ‘pillar industries’: financial services, trade & logistics, tourism and the other one. What the textbooks do not explain, however, is what ‘pillar industry’ status actually confers. It means that the economic sector concerned is so vital that it is more important than the Hong Kong people themselves.
Tourism is the most visible example. The Hong Kong people needed affordable homes, but it was far more important to use the space for a Disneyland. The Hong Kong people needed better leisure facilities and parks, but priority had to go to a multibillion-dollar cruise ship terminal. Then there was the curious case of the Tsimshatsui Star Ferry Bus Terminus.
Officials noted that thousands of Hong Kong people flooded through this transport interchange every day, hopping between bus and ferry as they commuted to and from work. If all these little people could be gathered up and thrown aside out of sight in some way, the planners calculated, there would be more space for the tourists who spend money in shopping centres owned by Wharf Holdings, Cheung Kong and other valuable contributors to the pillar industry in the area.
The bureaucrats decided to migrate the local bus riders to an alternative terminus located a convenient 17-minute walk away from the ferry pier. Knowing all about the importance of pillar industries, the little people would naturally understand that the interests of the tourism sector came first. The officials effortlessly waved aside the inevitable few who moaned about pregnant women carrying groceries between ferry and bus in the blazing sun and pouring rain. But the complaints continued, joining ill-informed opposition to other far-sighted government policies at the time.
The world’s most gifted civil service, dedicated to serving the community the correct way and nobody else’s – ever – initially dug its heels in and refused to consider changing its plans. Eventually, however, it devised a cunning plan to enable the scheme to ‘move forward’. The bureaucrats arrived at a stunningly clever compromise calculated to irritate as many people as possible by retaining much of the original solution’s inconvenience to commuters, and creating an exceptionally ugly new bus terminus on what could be a pleasant stretch of harbour front.
And this is where we stand today. Except know-it-all activists at Designing Hong Kong now come galloping over the hill with blueprints for a terminus that have that unique not-done-by-HK-government-planners look about them.
The first takes the nasty compromise plan and makes the best of it, with a sensuously curved glass roof, exotic potted plants, organic scented candles burning at every bus stop and classic Cantonese opera hits on the sound system. The second proposes that Hong Kong bureaucrats submit to the power of the human imagination and place the terminus below ground level, thus freeing up the space above for everyone – local commuters and overseas tourists supporting our landlords’ pillar industry – to enjoy. This costs more, though not as much as certain high-speed rail links and cross-estuary bridges we can think of. (Did I read something about how government land revenues have reached HK$70 billion so far this year?)
The Designing HK website includes a fetching slide show on the subject and an electronic submission form you can send to the Secretary for Transport and Housing before 8 November urging the government to go with a professionally designed, non-HK Civil Service, non-psychopathic option – all ready for you to sign with your email address, plus space for colourful additional comments!
17 minutes walk in blazing 35 deg C sun at 95% humidity = a half marathon
Actually, the present bus/ taxi terminus works just great (despite the bus pollution*) , and I hardly ever see masses of tourists there : just the average HK (tax-paying) star- ferry commuter like me + the fake rolex watch vendors …..and the fa lan gong protest stand
As for the TOURIST sector’s contribution to real GDP : see Jake’s frequent columns on this total economic BS
*I am just totally flabberghasted that the Duck-out -Don could not do more to phase out – nay – BUY out – all these horrible polluting buses in his last policy address . Guess he lives so high on the peak that the fumes don’t reach him. What a total WIMP
I am reminded of how the civil servants, in their insolent wisdom, decided to move the Central Star Ferry pier so far out that no one hardly uses it anymore. But I suspect that was the plan all along.
I was at City Hall on the weekend. I thought id sip my coffee for a minute watching the harbour. Fool that I am, I forgot that the area in front of City Hall has become some giant carpark. The tourists I were with were amazed beyond belief at how ugly and uninspired it all was, especially moving the Star Ferry. It’s time HK’ers took back our city and demanded more quality and less bullshit, especially from Civil Servants.
I keep hearing the complaints about moving the star ferry, how was the ferry supposed to cross the 1/2 mile of dry land and roads if it was kept where it was? Central will grow out to the ferry again as usual
The fourth pillar, as Hemlock well knows, is pouring concrete – Let see who this “redevelopment” benefits;
Tycoon One – Li Ka Shing owns the cement company;
Tycoon Two – The Cheng’s (New World) owns one of the big construction companies and will probably “manage” the area as an extension of the shite Avenue of the Stars;
Tycoon Three – The Kwok’s (SHK & KMB) will doubtless agree to the terminus to be moved as long as they get another one with development rights on top;
Tycoon Four – Not sure where yet The Li’s (Henderson) fit into this but as owner of the gas monopoly they will be compensated.
All together now “Asia’s World City”
Tourism pillar my a***. This is just another scheme to build some new high rental buildings to line the pockets of the property developers.
Tourists that come to HK arrive on mainland operated tours and are press ganged through shops selling products not manufactured in HK. The only sector that creams any value off of this process are the landlords – and with a shiny new mall on the harbour front they have good reason to bump up their rental yields.
All of this will be at the expense of public transport which in turn will reduce revenues for the bus and ferry operators (whilst possibly increasing congestion with additional taxi use). This then will strengthen the public transport operators demands on the Transport Department to extend the life of old polluting buses and ferries – exactly the opposite of what is required in HK at this moment in time.
The terminus as it stands is an ideal example of integrated public transport which every “world city” should aspire to (pity they didn’t leave the rail terminus there also). These proposals are just another scheme to profit the property develpment cartel and should be opposed.
(Now where did I put my ‘V’ mask?)
The Star Ferry ride across the harbour at dusk was truly one of the greatest ferry rides in the world. A relaxing trip in twilight, with the lights beckoning across the harbour. Now, it’s been shortened and made more bumpy as reclamation has encroached. Well done Hong Kong Government! What else can you ruin?
@ Real Tax Payer
Your comment that Donald “… lives so high on the peak that the fumes don’t reach him” reminds me of a little ditty I composed some years back, not long after it had been announced that the life expectancy in Hong Kong was one of the world’s highest.
Since the halloween “season” is over and Christmas is fast approaching, please enjoy singing the following to the tune of “Good King Wenceslas”:
Good King Donald Tsang looked out
Over Kowloon City
But he could see bugger all
Because the air was shitty
“There’s nothing wrong with Hong Kong’s air!”
Said Donald, getting shirty,
All I really have to do
Is prove the air’s not dir-ty
So he called the EPD
To deal with the pollution
They scratched their heads
And scratched their bums
Until they found solutions
Men in Hong Kong live forever
Women even longer
Breathing Hong Kong air won’t kill
It only makes you stron-ger!
Yep, probably is right. Owners of adjacent property benefit from improved public space. … Huh and now what? Leave the TST pier area in disrepair or wait till we have figured out how to make the neighbors pay for betterment? Or make most efficient use of the land with a 12 lane express way?
Totally off topic – but why is HK below Brazil (!) on the bribery index?
It looks like a report about bribe payers…think how much money would need to grease Mainland fingers when HK companies try to set up shop there
The real eyesore is the adjacent HK Cultural Center, its hulking windowless walls clad top to bottom with what-in-god’s-name-were-they-thinking flesh-colored tiles. The chaos of the bus depot is a welcome distraction.
@ Claxon. I’m afraid you misunderstand the original purpose of the Cultural Centre. It was designed by the Brits to launch Harrier Jump jets in defence of Hong Kong airspace. Of course, post-1997 its redundant.
Thanks for the acknowledgement Paul Z.
In the perfect world we would be looking to redevelop this transport ‘hub’ to facilitate inductive charging for electric buses that run to satelite transport exchanges on the edge of the conurbation where people can transfer to either the MTR or conventional/hybrid buses to complete their journey.
But hey, all that takes a modicom of critical thinking and a desire to serve the common good – something our current beaurocracy appears to be incapable of, thus implying either stupdity or collusion. So, which one is it then?
(answers on a postcard please)
While you’re about it can you sort out the mess from the terminal to say about the end of the art museum / Nathan road. Why the hell must pedestrians go underground like ground hogs without a clue where they’ll pop up next unable to commute a straight line from one side of the road to another while cars hog the road and sunlight above?
That’s where you’ll find all the tourists – getting lost in tunnels in TST!
Seems Hemlock has struck a much more strident matter than the pathetic DC elections
Also happy to see Paul Zimmerman ( I assume in person ) participate : Paul – if it’s really you – I am one one your greatest admirers and I closely follow and support your work under my alter – real – ego . GO FOR IT !!! Wish there were more like you in HK, and in my impending retirement I wish to offer my services to you and the likes of you . You will hear from me in due course (privately)
Thanks to Big Al for the ditty : I have added it to my ‘ classic funny stuff’ files. I only wish you could send to Good King Donald and make sure he gets it ( but even if he gets and reads it, I don’t think he would understand the irony )
Sir Crispin : Yes the walk to the new Star Ferry pier HK – side is a real pain in the ass : especially on a hot day. If they make the walk the other side even longer to public transport why do we even need a Star Ferry ? Might as well swim across !
F**k : what kind of bureaucrats are running this place these days ? Guess it’s the likes of John Tsang with the most idiotic budget ever proposed ( I’m still not sure how to get my $6K , and when ) . What total idiots
If I really had a vote for the new CE I would give it to Long Hair just to make the point that the current load of idiots are REALLY idiots
Seriously PISSED OFF ( but still paying taxes )
The buses and minibuses are also the number one cause of roadside noise pollution.
Great article. Civil servants are a bunch of tosses. They are our worst nightmare. Makes me think is this place right for me and my family? There was a time civil servants were less afraid. Now they are all covering their arses.
Gweipo, I could not agree more about those tunnels. It is a bad joke imposed on the rest of us by chauffeur-driven concrete-obsessed bureaucrats and cronies.
expressway there you go, people will have a shaded piazza below, reminds me of my childhood playground under the mei foo bridge
London has the millennium bridge. HK gets a pile of steel girders with an 80s office rooftop destroying the entire harbour view for pedestrians. If officials had actually cared to build an iconic bridge to the central star ferry pier, maybe traffic would have not gone down.
Bridge hater … but it is cheap!