Just another Wednesday

It’s not every day that you’re strolling through Hong Kong and, amid the cacophony of marketing slogans and public service announcements, the phrase ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ leaps out at you. But there it is, in the pedestrian link running through the old Central Market building.

In a city where government workers have affixed a laminated unique ID number with string to every tree in every park, where two- or three-year-olds have to attend interviews to enter kindergarten, and where leaving the office before 7pm is a sign of depravity, it should fit right in. Work makes you free. Labour leads to liberation. Slavery is the path to salvation.

But still – it does jar. It is part of a display mounted by the Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Center, which was founded by the local Jewish community after (I’m guessing) they got pissed off one time too often by some dimwitted local advertising agency’s grotesque use of Nazi imagery in a promotional campaign for (say) shampoo or cat food. The exhibition describes particular Holocaust victims, and strives to highlight Chinese and other Asian aspects of the story.

Just as most Westerners can’t tell the Qing from the Chin or get their heads around Taoism, most Chinese have a limited grasp of European history or culture (as indeed do most Westerners). Many Hongkongers, for example, think the word ‘Christian’ means ‘Protestant’, and that Catholics are therefore not Christian. What do they think a Jew – and the whole Middle Eastern-Polish-Russian-American-entertainment industry-etc-etc package – is? Can they connect (or would the HKHTC dare to connect) anti-Semitic persecution with, say, local discrimination against Filipinos or the bizarre Apple Daily freak-out over Fanny the gwaipo dishwasher?

They describe the display as “…a useful learning tool for all children learning about World War 2 as well as issues around Racism and Tolerance.” Mazel tov with that.

Speaking (almost) of the entertainment industry, the great mouth-froth du jour is the government’s decision to award free-to-air TV licences to two of three applicants. The (supposedly) lucky winners are a subsidiary of Wharf Holdings (run by the son-in-law of late mega-tycoon YK Pao) and a subsidiary of PCCW (run by the son of mega-tycoon Li Ka-shing), while the loser is an outsider of humble origins – albeit of the famous, maverick, colourful, mega-entrepreneurial, well-connected variety. Officials decree that two newcomers in the market are good, but a third wouldn’t be, and we’re not allowed to know why.

If the government wanted to give the public the clear impression that it favoured property-cartel princelings, and everyone else can go to hell, this is exactly what it would do. Thus people draw their own conclusions. The administration of Chief Executive CY Leung can’t win. The tycoons hate the government for hating them, while the rest of Hong Kong hates the government for not hating them. The rationale for this TV decision is so flimsy, its timing so suspiciously drawn-out, and the net effect so obviously damaging in terms of public opinion that you have to wonder whether it is in fact, in some way we can’t fathom, the right one.

Who watches broadcast TV these days? The last time I switched on my boxy Sony with built-in videotape player was September 11, 2003. The rest of the time, I sit at my PC and download commercial-free moving images to suit my own eccentric and obscure tastes. Victims of the sofa-and-giant-flat-screen lifestyle-disease, I am told, choose among a thousand satellite and cable channels offering 24-hour multilingual anything. Will the new licensees, burdened with English-language channels no-one will watch, ever challenge incumbent TVB’s ad-selling power? Or will they end up burning and losing millions for weeks and years?

Another burning question: is Secretary for Commerce Greg So even more depressing than Paul Chan, his colleague over at the Development Bureau?


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19 Responses to Just another Wednesday

  1. AHW says:

    Has Apple Daily seen the gweilo minibus driver in Sai Kung yet?

  2. Incredulous says:

    Or the strange Russian (?) lady dressed in winter clothes all the year round who hangs out near IFC Mall with a lot of large suitcases and has been there for 3 years now?

  3. PropertyDeveloper says:

    Up here, within smelling distance of China, we have evil foreigner workmen, and I don’t mean brown-skinned ones.

    Like you, Hemlock, I sympathise with those preaching tolerance, liberalism, openness, equality, the whole education “industry”, but wonder how much good it can ever do.

    Paul Chan is pathetic and to be pitied, and he may even be beginning to realise it; but Greg So is way beyond that level, almost in a different galaxy.

  4. maugrim says:

    HK can be an incongruous place. An exhibition about the holocaust hidden away in a place that normally is festooned with pictures of monkeys and other jungle fauna, forgetting that we too had our own, Japanese run concentration camps too, one of which was in Mongkok. Young people forgetting that the Germans weren’t exactly enamoured with those who well, looked like HK’ers and that the hated Japanese were the Eastern branch managers of ‘those cool Germans, who were well organised and had neat leather uniforms’.

  5. Big Al says:

    Maybe Greg is from a galaxy far, far away but at least the link refers to the locally grown “gradual and orderly” meme, which I haven’t seen mentioned for at least a week.

  6. Jon says:

    Incredulous >> She seems to have disappeared now, I haven’t see her around for a few weeks.

  7. Perplexed Gweiloeye says:

    I am still confused by the gweipo diswasher story and what it was trying to say:
    a) gweilo are not expected to, or even know how, to do menial jobs (HK chinese inferiority complex still exists?)
    b) a way of telling HKers that they are now so up their own backsides that they feel they are too good for jobs like these?
    c) gweilo are now the scum that wash dishes and isn’t it wonderful? or
    e) all of the above – just to add to the confusion

  8. Boo says:

    “Many Hongkongers, for example, think the word ‘Christian’ means ‘Protestant’, and that Catholics are therefore not Christian.”

    Indeed, and a significant portion of the American population thinks the same way.

  9. Joe Blow says:

    In the run-up to ’97 there were lots of (British) menial workers in town. LKF has been employing white ‘bar managers’ (waiters, to you and me) as long as it exists. And the hookers, of course, don’t forget the hookers. Do secretaries count as menial workers ?

    @Incredulous: she was last seen hopping on a minibus to Sai Kung.

    For those of you who have a fair grasp of German: on YouTube you can watch ZDF-History documentaries (think History Channel) about WWII, made in Germany and with a modern German perspective. They are excellent and you won’t easily find war documentaries that are as objective and balanced (certainly not the BBC ones).

  10. Pornstar Wong says:

    I think the lady with the bags and winter clothing might be Italian. I had a strange half-hour-long conversation (in English) with her once in Landmark after she buttoned-holed me in Italian. I actually considered calling the police as I thought she might be lost. Seriously, seriously mentally ill. Conversations going around in loops. Felt very sorry her. Wonder if she just got on a plane and ended up in HK.

  11. Frederique Deleage says:

    Hey, don’t knock mental cases. I used to be one myself.

    On a related subject: what happened to the ‘witch sisters’ ? I know one of them has died. And the other one ? They were as much a fixture of LKF as the fake Chinese monks are these days.

  12. Sojourner says:

    @ Hemlock

    “Many Hongkongers, for example, think the word ‘Christian’ means ‘Protestant’, and that Catholics are therefore not Christian.”

    A western friend of mine, an academic, who is a specialist on Daoism and an atheist, actually says there is a case for saying that Catholicism and Christianity can be seen as discrete entities.

    I can’t remember his argument (I was drunk at the time, m’lud), except that it has its origins in Reformation schisms and sectarian intellectual controversies going back to the 16th century.

  13. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    Jon – I spotted her this evening lying down next to the construction site just outside of ifc, the one that replaced something something tower 2.

  14. Gin Soaked Boy says:

    We have spoken in the past about the hopelessness of the pro-democrats and their inability to play realpolitik. Well, this evening they have done it again with a failed vote of confidence in CY. By my reckoning this is the fifth time they have wasted public resources on futile votes of no confidence in a CE. They knew the motion would fail, and yet they opted to go ahead anyway. Emily LAU stated “the government should learn from these motions.” I would venture it has learnt that the pro-democrats are ’tilting at windmills’ and squandering their time.

  15. Real Scot Player says:

    If Pornstar Wong has thirty minute chats with vagrants I think it’s safe to say he’s not the sort of chap invited to interesting dinner parties.

  16. Frederique Deleage says:

    Then I think Pornstar is a lucky chap.

  17. I read years ago that the Catholic/Christian thing came about because the Catholics and Protestants used different Chinese translations for “God”, and the Chinese therefore assumed that they worshipped different gods. Can any language specialist confirm this? Such matters may seem trivial to most of us, but anyone studying recent developments in Malaysia will know that they can arouse strong passions among the devout.

  18. Pornstar Wong says:

    I heard one of the twin sisters used to work for Manufacturers Hanover. I think she may have been called Melanie – and her surname escapes me for the moment. I was told she worked as a trader in Tokyo before her mental illness – and that of her twin kicked in. Heard this from quite a well-known local HK$ bond trader who used to work for Oakreed and BNPP but not sure if it is true. Apparently, a lot of people had tried to help them. Used to see them on Wyndham Street and around LKF. Not sure about the name.

  19. Jon Dica says:

    Kentucky Fried Movie!!!

    “Susan, this is Nancy; Nancy, this is Susan.”

    And let’s not forget BIG JIM SLADE.

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