By Hans Ebert
Oh no, the city’s overnight do-gooders are suddenly everywhere and, as usual, in a hurry with vacuous ideas on how to to bring the Feel Good factor back to Hong Kong. But wait: It sure looks and sounds as if the Fat Lady has not only sung, she’s left on the slow boat to China with the original Shanghai Divas.
With overall tourism figures tanking faster than all those restaurants and clubs here one minute and gone the next, and the previous influx of tourists from Mainland China, who were never ever liked nor welcomed- only needed and fleeced because of their naive nouveau riche pursuit to buy up everything on the luxury shopping buffet table- having tired of Disneyland, Ocean Park and shopping till they be bop a loo la’d, something which has bankrupted the retail sector, there’s now an urgent call to arms from different quarters to make Hong Kong some creative metropolis of Avatar and James Cameron proportions. To them, “Asia’s World City” must, somehow, morph into Asia’s World Creative Hub. And fast.
Who finally woke these Rip Van Winkles up, and where have these geniuses been for- let’s be generous- the last decade? Asleep at the wheel? Preaching that Greed Is Good even though gluttony is something no one can take with them when The Big Guy calls? Too busy looking down on and ignoring the little people? Buying property overseas as part of their Get Out plans from the city they’re now pretending to try and save? And now they’ve somehow got in touch with their inner self while watching the world go by at the China Club and been struck by a motherlode of guilt pangs? Right. Pull the other one, Batman.
The now Alibaba-owned South China Morning Post has jumped on the Feel Good bandwagon by devoting full page puffery to those with vague ideas about how to achieve this and bring tourists back to Hong Kong. Of course, Jack Ma got the ball rolling- and the spinning on the front page of the newspaper going way outta control- by making some innocuous noises about helping create a new community of local entrepreneurs. This became the springboard to a series where successful Hong Kong individuals from the business sector were given Tatler-type space to pontificate on ideas how the Feel Good Factor can return along with the spirit of the Godfather of Soul.
The Feel Good Factor, Hong Kong’s Can Do Spirit- all this good stuff- have left with those sixteen vestal virgins heading for the shore. Alan Zeman is a great guy who’s done much for Hong Kong, but, surely, what he says and what he internalises about the city are two very different things?
His Lan Kwai Fong, for example, has come and gone. No matter how fiercely he might defend it like any father would do about any of their offspring, the truth is that this once trendy area of Hong Kong has been allowed to deteriorate into something that’s a melting pot of nothingness.
Most of the bars and restaurants are the embodiment of mediocrity frequented by users, losers and ten gun weepers. The main attraction is the queue of taxis with their meters turned off, and whose drivers will decide whether to take you- and for how much. Take it or leave it.
As one taxi driver who drove us from LKF to Tsimtsatsui after midnight the other day for $300 explained, the costs for taxi licenses have gone up, but not the taxi charges. As this driver put it, he’s going broke. Parked at Lan Kwai Fong and, basically, holding passengers to ransom helps him make ends meet. He couldn’t be bothered about any Feel Good factor. He’s fighting for survival in a city from where he and his family cannot escape.
Hong Kong today is all about cutting corners in every aspect of the service industry. Restaurants and bars cut costs wherever and whenever they can. The drinks are weaker, the quality of beef used is whatever is cheaper etc- but the prices have gone up for this second rate product to cover the costs of spiralling rents. The landlords are not being greedy. It’s simply taking advantage of supply and demand. They’re being smart business people who have the law on their side. Why have rents been allowed to be a law unto themselves? Because there are no laws to rein them in. And who’s to blame for this mess? Probably some of the same goons with their vapid ideas to bring a Feel Good Factor to Hong Kong.
Where’s the Feel Good Factor in any of this? One still Can Do, but Can Do for what returns? How can anyone be an entrepreneur with zero seed money? Ideas are great, but there must be the financial means to make them a reality. Not everyone can be the bumbling sons of Li Ka-shing and be stupidly successful purely because of everything they’ve inherited from daddy.
What Hong Kong needs more than anything else is a soul- a heart and soul and, let’s add conscience, so that some new building blocks based on honesty are in place. What’s not needed are the vacuous nattering of successful businessmen and women in newspapers with glossy photographs of their smiling faces. Of course, they’re smiling. They and their families have benefited for decades through everything Hong Kong has given them on a silver platter, and are now back in some weird incarnation of Norman Bates, Oliver Twist, Mother Goose and Mother Teresa.
What was particularly scary was the appearance on the front page of the SCMP recently of that ghost of Harbourfest past aka “Harbourfarce”- former head of Hong Kong’s American Chamber Of Commerce Jim Thompson- chanting his usual mantra how concert or concerts help tourism.
Please, Jimbo, don’t go there, not if you don’t wish to have the entire Harbourfest fiasco dragged up kicking and screaming like a dog’s breakfast along with the ship of fools involved- you being the Captain Stubing of that journey into the abyss- and where the Hong Kong taxpayers were taken for a ride to benefit the egos of a handful of expats, and local government officials under the guise that this concert was going to be the panacea to cure the Tourism Blues following the SARS crisis.
Jimbo, Jimbo- and how’s your mate Jon Niermann doing these days along with the shadowy figure of “concert promoter” Ray Garmen?- it’s now 2016 with Singapore having overtaken Hong Kong years ago as the regional centre for international concerts. Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur will follow suit as they have the space and are not bound by crippling rental fees for venues, and ball-busting sound ordinances.
InvestHK’s Harbourfest, aided and abetted by some naive thinking by overgrown groupies and those Black Hats who overpaid by as much as six times for appearances by the Rolling Stones, Prince, Santana, Neil Young, er, Atomic Kitten, and turned local acts into second class citizens making token appearances before the main international attractions hit the stage, was an embarrassingly flawed and dubious idea. It reeked of a few white men saying, “Feed me”, and a conga line of local fat cats in the government once again falling for the old colonial lines that raped and pillaged Hong Kong and left it to high and dry and broke and broken.
Jim Thompson aside, who are these other clowns that the SCMP has cobbled together to resurrect Hong Kong’s Feel Good and Can Do spirit? A few days ago, it was some smiling guy named James Kaplan, who’s the CEO of Tai Ping Carpets, waxing lyrical about Hong Kong needing to be more creative. This from the CEO of a brand known by many for launching some of the worst advertising campaigns?
This from a CEO, no doubt in Hong Kong on one of those obscene expat packages with every type of perk that pisses the hell outta the locals? Of course, Mr Kaplan enjoys life in Hong Kong. It’s been the land of milk and honey for so many useless expats starting from the colonial days, which author James Clavell so accurately depicted in “Noble House” and “Taipan”.
Has Mr Kaplan, who’s been here for fifteen years, forgotten all the promises the government’s then-spin doctor, man for all reasons, and who’s taken up almost every job where the government requires a token white man to “make nice” with the plebs- Duncan Pescod- made about the launch of CreateHK and “the worldwide search to find for the organisation the best possible leader”? That was in 2009 and Hong Kong ended up with someone named Jerry Liu who had been dabbling in film production for over 25 years. And having listened to one of Jer’s first speeches, he didn’t exactly exude confidence or charisma.
Today, Duncan Pescod is Chief Executive of the West Kowloon Cultural District- it’s Hong Kong’s Peter Principle at work again for the Teflon Man- whereas CreateHK is the elephant in the room. No one questions or talks about it. It’s just another brick in the wall along with cons and failures like “Harbourfarce”, and all that was again promised before PMQ opened and has quickly become another white elephant that Hong Kong has a habit of collecting.
All these failures is probably why the very much publicity-loving Duncan Pescod suffers from George Castanza shrinkage whenever asked by political analyst and multi-media personality Michael Chugani to appear on his television programme called “Straight Talk”. One wonders if The Dunc can even lie straight in bed, let alone engage in some straight talking.
What the people of Hong Kong- and of all ages- wish to see is a future- not a future full of frustration and sadness and hostility with the usual puppet masters from not only this city pulling the strings. And if anyone thinks there is no foreign interference at work- and not only from the Motherland either- they need to wake up and smell the burgers. Out of chaos comes opportunity, and these opportunists know how important Hong Kong is to them if they can break it down so they can come along and rebuild it. Yes, there’s more than a whiff of Trumpdom thinking involved.
Hong Kong still is a wonderful city with much to offer, but a city that has been appallingly mis-managed long before the hapless dud that is CY Leung took office. His predecessors were equally lost and confused. Having said this, they at least had something resembling a personality. The problems Hong Kong face today go all the way back to the time it was a colony and before The Handover became The Sell Out. It must have been heartbreaking for Sir Chris Patten, the last Governor of Hong Kong, and a good man, to bow out knowing what he knew.
Free at last from its British rulers, the city has had a hard time adjusting to everything it inherited. There’s been no knight in shining armour with a new basket of dim sum coming along to take it on a new and brightly lit path. Instead, there’s been Basil Fawlty leadership from all sides and where everyone wants to be heard. Meanwhile, the Chief Executive hides behind a woman’s skirt. But then, so did Henry Tang. Do these men have any gonads?
Bright futures cannot be built with a murder of crows singing off different hymn books. Bright futures cannot happen through vagaries and vapid sound bites. Bright futures can only happen through people with the same vision. In Hong Kong, organisations like the Hong Kong Tourist Association, CreateHK, InvestHK and many more should be dismantled. They and those who sail in them are empty vessels. At the same time, kick out every single politician who has been around for much too long and have only contributed problems while being given way too much media space to air their half-arsed politics.
Protest about all of this together as a unified Hong Kong, but realising that there are protest movements that can be extremely successful through peaceful means.
Yes, there might be some chaos. But as said before, out of chaos comes opportunity. Let these opportunities benefit all the good people of Hong Kong. We have been used and abused for too long. Our time is Now. But first, over to Sir David Tang. The good Sir nails it. He would have made a terrific Chief Executive for Hong Kong.