Hong Kong 2047

Hong Kong  is supposed to remain status quote up to 2047. Deng allowed us another 50 years to “enjoy” the systems we had been having before 1997.

Chapter 1, Article 5 of the HKSAR basic law states that ” The socialist system and policies shall not be practised in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and the previous capitalist system and way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years”.

2047 only bothers me if I am still alive by that time. Maybe, at the start of 2012, we can make some educated guess as to what will happen in 2047.

In HK, only change is the constant. We expect that HK will continually evolve. The ever-increasing tie and interaction with the Mainland mean that we will be intimately affected by the changes in the Mainland. If only we can predict what is going to happen to Mainland, then we will have some hope to predict what is going to happen to HK. It is only obvious that there will be less and less of physical and psychological boundary between the two.

China has Five Year Plans which give us some indication as to what they say will do in the next 5 years.   For the first time , HK and Macau are included in a chapter of the 12th Five Year Plan. “The purpose of the central government in laying out such a chapter on Hong Kong and Macau in the 12th five-year plan is to support Hong Kong’s development, and this arrangement will in no way replace Hong Kong’s own plan,” Premier Wen said in response to a question from a Hong Kong reporter.

As our Chief Executive Donald Tsang said, HK’s inclusion in China’s 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) indicates the city’s role as a financial center is not threatened by Shanghai. This inclusion also means that our planning is now more integrated with that of the Mainland.

There will be 6 more Five-Year Plans of China before we reach 2047. Unless there are radical changes in this regard in the next 6 Five Year Plans, HK will likely be the leading financial and life style center in China. I guess this city to China will be like New York is to the US.

The Yuan will be a commonly traded currency; the HKD will most probably be pegged to the Yuan thus rendering its existence as almost irrelevant.

The HK legal system originally based on common law may be the only thing that would pass beyond 2047 without any substantial change. The HK legal system is internationally recognized and forms a strong bridge with the outside world. However, the legal systems in HK and Mainland are different and deep-rooted as to make a common system difficult. It may be feasible that ways could be found for the two systems to exist side by side, perhaps with greater effort made to consolidate commercial law.

The HK population will exceed 10 million; over 40% of the population will be over 60 years old; still, many of us will be cramped in small flats. As with previous, the HK skyline will be substantially changed every decade or so. The fact that we are geared towards tourism mean that we will develop more theme parks, shopping malls etc. It is likely that Hong Kong will become a spectacle for the tourists, hope that this doesn’t mean that Hong Kong will become less of a home to her citizens

No doubt, we will still have song and dance and also gambling at the racecourse.

However, Hong Kong will slowly learn that the “one country, two systems” principle was never intended to be a permanent solution.  Realistically, the period from 1997-2047 was only meant to be a transitional phase whereby HK is being prepared to join China as one country, one system (except legal, I would argue).

We still have another 35 years before we reach 2047; but is HK really planning our own future?

I am a bit surprised that while Mainland has a Five Year Plan, HK never seem to have one. While the contestants for the Chief Executive talk about their governing road maps, they never talked about their vision and their goals. How on earth do we know that their road maps are suitable to the goals without knowing the goals in the first place. Also each year, the CE would deliver a well packaged Annual Budget (one coming up in 2 days time) as if it is the only Plan. Is this an admission that this city is driven only by economics? Only reactive to short-term needs?

Wake up Hong Kong! Otherwise we will be losing another 35 years!

Clara Haskil (1895-1960)

This winter is especially cold and wet. On a dismal day like today, playing my Mozart records by the side of my (electric) fireplace is all  that I wanted to do.  The fragility, innocence and joyfulness of the piano sounds by Clara Haskil have always given me solace when the world seems crashing down on me.

Clara Haskil, a Romanian-born Sefardic Jewess, was one of the most extraordinary pianists of the 1930- 60s.

It’s hard to avoid the temptation to relate Clara Haskil’s art to her difficult life. She suffered most of her life from various ailments: brain tumour, scoliosis and attendant self-esteem/stage-fright problems. She went unrecognized most of her life but for her last few years enjoyed a glowing international reputation. Her end was also tragic: she fell down a flight of steps in the Brussels railway station where she arrived for a concert with Arthur Grumiaux and died from her injuries. Her unexpected death at the age of 65 had bewildered her friends and the whole musical world. How could it be that, having at last reached the summit of her international glory, she disappeared for ever?

Her difficult life story ( albeit in Korean ) can be accessed on Woman Ahead Time – Clara Haskil (클라라 하스킬) .

She is a pianist with a liquid sound. Just as the Chinese saying, this is like the sound from a fresh flowing spring. Her interpretation of Mozart piano pieces is unsurpassed. I could forever listen to her Mozart Piano Concerto K.466-2, Clara Haskil at Montreux

Karl Schumann described her as “dematerialized and free from anything in the least earthy, … belonging to a different, spiritual world.” Maybe, her piano music can be described as minimalistic; this is what you get by taking all the earthly elements out of it.

An esteemed friend of Haskil, Charlie Chaplin, described her talent by saying “In my lifetime I have met three geniuses; Professor Einstein, Winston Churchill, and Clara Haskil. I am not a trained musician but I can only say that her touch was exquisite, her expression wonderful, and her technique extraordinary.”

It is unfortunate that many of her recordings were made before the age of stereo sound (started in 1957). However, her untimely death was somewhat mitigated by the legacy of her precious recordings that she left us . . . . . the world (and I) would be so much poorer without them!

Love is a Many Splendored Thing

Many of us have heard the song Love is a Many Splendored Thing. Some of us have watched the movie of the same name and others may have even read the novel A Many Splendored Thing.  However, with the passage of time, not many of us still remember  the writer of the novel Han Suyin (韓素音).

Han Suyin

Han Suyin, a Eurasian born in Henan China in 1916 to a Chinese father and a Flemish mother. She graduated MBBS in London and went to Hong Kong in 1949 to work in the Queen Mary Hospital. Her husband, Tang,  died in action during the Chinese Civil War in 1947. In Hong Kong, she met and fell in love with a married man Ian Morrison, an Australian war correspondent, who was killed in Korea in 1950. It was this love that she portrayed in the  book and inspired the song.

The Song

The lyrics of this well-known song captured her beautiful and yet sad story:

Love is a many splendored thing It’s the April rose that only grows in the early spring Love is nature’s way of giving a reason to be living The golden crown that makes a man a king

In the film, their romantic moments occurred on a high grassy, wind-swept hill near 41 Kellet Road, Hong Kong.  In the bittersweet final scene on the hilltop, the song recalled their earlier encounters:
Once on a high and windy hill In the morning mist two lovers kissed and the world stood still Then your fingers touched my silent heart and taught it how to sing Yes, true love’s a many splendored thing

Many artists have covered this song, however the version I like best is the one by Andy Williams:
 Andy Williams – Love is a many splendored (NOT PERFORMANCE)

The Film

This film was set in Hong Kong, between 1949 and the start of the Korean War in 1950. The film, released in 1955, showed many places which we still know of. At the opening, there was an aerial view of the Victoria Harbour, panning from Green Island, then eastward along the harbour front towards Central. The hospital in the film was probably the Matilda Hospital.

In the film, Han Suyin (Jennifer Jones) fell in love with the married but separated US correspondent Mark Elliott (William Holden) in HK.  While they found brief happiness, she was banished by her Chinese community. Elliott was killed by an attacking aircraft’s bomb as the movie reached its conclusion.  At the end of the film, Han Suyin returned to the scenic hillside on HK Island where they had courted, comforted only by late arriving letters from Elliott.

Some extracts of the movies are given in http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KFsBP1TKfaI

The Book

There are many quotes in the book which still appear to be applicable to the modern HK; a couple of these are given below:

“Hong Kong is a funny place; like a ship, and you never know what is going to happen to people in a ship.

It is true that we never know what is going to happen to HK.

“Everywhere building is going on. Hong Kong’s population is nearly three times what it was, and new arrivals from China stream in at the rate of ten thousand a week. Day and  night, blasting, drilling, hammering is heard. The quiet hills are not exempt from the clang of human agitation. On the promontories, slopes and hillocks jutting from the high center of the island, the rich erect their habitations. Before any building can be done, an approach road has to be cut deep into the hillside to reach the projected residence. The top of the hill must be taken off to obtain a level surface large enough for the foundations. Work is going on at a dozen places in the hills.”

With a father who was a railway engineer, Suyin seemed to know even something about civil engineering!

The Controversial Han Suyin

Since 1956, Han Suyin visited China almost every year. This was her source for her many publications  (nine novels, 10 autobiographical works, seven volumes of history). She witnessed the rise of communist in China, the reign of Mao and even the oust of the Gang of Four. In fact, she was an apologist for Mao.

Suyin is viewed as a controversial figure because of her unpopular views of world powers.  Much of history, she contended, was dictated to us by the powerful.

Suyin was never consistent, and her life and corpus were full of contradictions.  She now resides in Lausanne, Switzerland and is in her nineties. For those who can read Chinese, the following extract from the Economic Journal of HK published in 1984 even argued that she was an opportunist.








《信報》 凌鋒:人在香港專欄 1984.3.17

Despite all these controversies, Love is a Many Splendored Thing is still one of my favourite songs and movies!

A Passage to India

If there is one thing which lures me back visiting India, it has to be Dal Lake in Kashmir.

I did not have a lot of good impressions about India  in my summer trip of 1988.

As I was walking out of the airport, child labour was the first thing that caught my eyes. While a couple of very young boys were  working laboriously on a building site, several male grown ups just stood by, watching and maybe supervising. They seemed to be apathetic, perhaps they were similarly exploited when they were young.

While driving to town, you could see carcass of cows lying on the side of dusty roads. There were vultures busily pecking away the dead bodies and no body seem to care.

We bought a first class long distance train  ticket and thought we could escape from this harsh world for a moment. All we had for lunch was just a small bun which to me was almost unpalatable after trying a mouthful. Arriving at our destination, I was eager to get out from the train. Walking onto the station platform I was greeted by a super slim bare footed Indian with white beard, who only wore turban and diaper. With a cane in his hand, he asked whether he could carry my luggage for me. How could I trust him with my luggage?

The hustle and bustle of old Delhi was even more unforgettable. The slums were an eye-opening experience too. Everything was just so chaotic!

Then came the more pleasant part of the trip. . . . . the Taj Mahal. The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, as a love tribute built Taj Mahal ( one of the Seven Wonders of the World) in white marble to his wife. My guide said that after they built the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan cut off the hands of all the workers who had worked on it so they would not try to build something as beautiful as Taj Mahal. Did the emperor not intend to build another one in black marble afterwards ? My guide was a bit crossed when I asked him about this and  the (low) literacy rate in India at the time, he thought I was just trying to embarrass him (and his beloved country).

Kashmir is situated at the border with Pakistan and conflicts had already started when I was there. We headed for Srinagar in Kashmir.

Flying to Kashmir was another memorable experience.  Going through the security at the airport, my body was groped all over by a soldier to make sure that I was not bringing anything dangerous on board of the plane. They even took away the small batteries inside my camera which were only returned to me before I alight the plane.

As I stepped out of the airport, I noticed there were several very old taxis waiting for travellers. I thought for a while we had gone back in time for approximately 30 years.

The scenery at Dal Lake was almost surreal. There were house boats on the edge of the lake against a backdrop of distant mountains and blue sky dotted with white clouds which formed a perfect mirror image on the placid lake. The view was just heavenly!

I could never forget the face of this smily little girl who rowed her small sampan towards me in our house boat, trying to “exchange” a small  water lily for some money.

Early next morning, we went for a rowing trip to the water market along the waterways.    The market was full of colours, sounds and activities; I like trips which brought me so close to real people.

We spent a couple of nights on the boat house which we were told had very good security. While on the boat house, my classmate who travelled with me lost his wallet, his ID and credit cards. Only when I threatened to report this to the police, the wallet suddenly appeared out of nowhere in the common living room of the boat house where we have never been to. What a miracle!

I am tempted to have another tour to India to see how this part of the world has changed. Of course, to stay at Dal Lake for a few more nights. However, Kashmir is still on the travel warning list of many government bodies. Some travel warnings simply say: Don’t Go.

After more than 20 years, I am keen to see how this country, which claims to be the largest democracy, compares with PRC.  In the meantime, maybe, I can only wait.

Life Calculation

I didn’t know that you can estimate how long you will live by answering some questions on the internet.

I was curious and surfed on the web for Life Calculation. The questions they asked range from physical data, medical condition, diet habit, exercise habit, reaction to stress etc.

After responding to the question and at the press of a button, lo and behold, a number comes up which is the age you are expected to go to heaven.

I suppose you can test the sensitivity of the result by giving different answers to the questions and see what numbers they come up with. How amazing!

However, this number opened a Pandora box.

I pondered for a moment what this number mean to me. Would I actually live to that age? Is it accurate? If it is accurate, should I change my  life style now? Should I be more active? Should I laze around just a little longer? Should I spend my money quicker or slower? Should I change my relationship with others now?

Is it better not to know about this so that you can treat each day as your last day ( re Steve Jobs) so that you live fully every moment of your life ?. . . . . . . . . . . . . .food for thought as we enter into (the year of ) the Dragon.

D&G and HKG

The D&G incident could be a warning for further possible collective action in the territory.

Apparently, HK people are now very nervous about not being able to fully enjoy or use the facilities around them which they have used to:

Shops are for mainlanders.

Hospital wards are for mainlanders.

Flats are for mainlanders.

For the first time, they feel that they are discriminated even locally as HongKongers.

For reasons cited in “This City is Dying”, we have not made much progress in the last 14.5 years whereas Mainland has forged ahead in leaps and bounds, at least economically.

Government is to be blamed for the slow action in response to the changes brought about through  integration with the Mainland economy, one of the results we can see is a local retail industry mainly driven by Mainland visitors.

Politicians are quick to find faults, not solutions. Politicians are to be blamed because they have diverted much of  Government’s efforts into defending their own actions.

Citizens are to be blamed because, somewhat out of our control and comprehension, we have allowed the above two parties to drag on while missing out many growth opportunities.

In any case, we don’t want the present situation to develop into collective bullying as this will work against us; adding one more reason to why This City is Dying!

This City is Dying (II)

The Fortune magazine predicted that Hong Kong will die after 1997.

After 14.5 years of governing by the CEs Tung Chi Hwa and Donald Tsang, miraculously, HK is not yet dead but only dying.

HK is dying in the sense that we did  not make much progress in the last 14.5 years. There were a lot of missed opportunities.

Obviously there are many issues, some of them are also inter-related:


Government is getting too big and too slow in responding to changes.

Clearly, the HK Government is no longer in the “Development” mode as in the 70s -90s, they have switched to the “Avoidance of Blame” mode. The Government is  spending too much efforts in defending itself from politicians, environmentalists, villagers and pressure groups rather than getting the job done. Recently, Government officials are getting even more worried that they may be blamed for colluding with the big businessman and therefore are behaving as bureaucrats, leading to inefficiencies. We need both vision and efficiency.


We are no longer a harmonious or tolerant society. We are more eager in safe guarding our own interest than acting for common interest and more interested in dividing the economic pie. Perhaps there is a feeling of not being equitably treated in various levels of the society. There is a lack of coherence within the society. . . . .maybe this is the deep rooted conflict referred to by Premier Wen.


Many corporations do not take on the necessary Corporate Social Responsibility. They are getting bigger each day by forming conglomerates which small business cannot compete with.

They benefit from the existing policies so much that they are not even fighting back on some of the regulations which make HK less and less of a free market, thereby reducing the competitiveness of HK.


Many politicians are in there for their own sake.  They are not involved in governing and are not accountable for anything.

Loss of Competitiveness

We are known to be too expensive, in terms of both wages and real estate. Real estates are expensive because there has been a lack of land supply or replanning of existing land use.

If we are targeting at tourism, financial and retail, we must quickly get our acts together to provide more space for offices, shopping centers and tourist attractions.

We could have increased our competitiveness by repegging to the US dollar at a lower rate but government is worried that this change would lead to currency speculation which destabilize the status quo.


Our education system is not turning out enough bright people with independent thinking, people who are innovative and have leadership skills.

Our universities have failed to help HK to develop a creative or innovative culture; failed to produce enough doctors and some other professionals. They are more keen in being ranked high in the global arena. This requires  teaching staff to dedicate a lot of their efforts in producing countless research papers instead of focusing on teaching the students.


We have too many people portraying themselves as environmentalists, although in fact, they are politicians.

Low Birth Rate

Our aging population is not inducive to long-term growth. The HK couples are more concerned about making money than making babies. You can’t blame them. They need to make sufficient money for paying housing rents, save up for buying a property, future education of their kids,  for the rainy days and  for their retirement. . . . there is basically no hope that the MPF or social security system can be relied on. The uncertainties in the future have deterred them from reproducing more. The birth rate at 1.07% is lower than those for Singapore, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. This may set up a vicious cycle and the resulting population structure will not be good for HK in the long-term.


The main reason for HK’s continuing survival is that we are still considered worthy as  testing ground and laboratory for the Mainland. We need to evolve ourselves so that we are seen to provide the best soft and hard infrastructure in the region.

We also need stronger leaders than just  pigs and wolves.

Despite the above signs of dying, we have to be optimistic. HongKongers are known to be intelligent and have overcome  many hardships and  obstacles in the past. Without a shadow of doubt, we will have the strength and wisdom to find a way out in this brave new world!

Yesterday When I was Young

I have been listening to this haunting and truthful song Yesterday When I was Young since my youth. This song, originally known as Hier Encore (Yesterday Again) in French, was released in 1961. I am so glad that I have been listening to it since I was young so that I was aware of the many pitfalls of life before time quickly passed away. The lyrics, which are reproduced below, deserve a good read:

Yesterday when I was young The taste of life was sweet like rain upon my tongue, I teased at life as if it were a foolish game The way an evening breeze would tease a candle flame. The thousand dreams I dreamed, the splendid things I planned I always built to last on weak and shifting sand, I lived by night and shunned the naked light of day And only now I see how the years have run away.

Yesterday when I was young There were so many songs that waited to be sung, So many wild pleasures that lay in store for me And so much pain my dazzled eyes refused to see, I ran so fast that time and youth at last ran out and I never stopped to think what life was all about, And every conversation that I can recall Concerned itself with me, and nothing else at all.

Yesterday the moon was blue And every crazy day brought something new to do, And I used my magic age as if it were a wand And never saw the waste and emptiness beyond, The game of love I played with arrogance and pride And every flame I lit so quickly, quickly died The friends I made all seemed, somehow, to drift away And only I am left on stage to end the play.

Yesterday when I was young There were so many songs that waited to be sung, So many wild pleasures lay in store for me And so much pain my dazzled eyes refused to see, There are so many songs in me that won’t be sung Cause I feel the bitter taste of tears upon my tongue And the time has come for me to pay for yesterday When I was young.

I am glad that I have not acted with arrogance and pride nor have I always build to last on weak and  shifting sand ( how dare I, as a civil engineer!)

Listening to it now, one must come to terms that time has quickly passed away and we are no longer youthful. However, there are positive messages from this song. . . . . we should not be fear of aging. One is only old when one’s regrets begin to take the place of one’s dreams. We must therefore take each day as a gift and treasure the present moments, as NOW is the essence.

This song was first sung by the American-French singer Charles Aznavour and later covered by many singers. The singer covering this song whom I like best is Dusty Springfield  DUSTY SPRINGFIELD ~ Yesterday When I was Young ~.wmv .

Those who prefer a male soulful voice is invited to listen to the original singer Charles Aznavour “Yesterday When I Was Young”

A Passage to North Korea

The recent death of Kim Jong-il reminded me of my passage to North Korea.

In the summer of 1994, a couple of weeks after the death of the great leader Kim II-Sung, I was asked by my firm to go to North Korea for a due diligence assignment commissioned by a South Korean company. I was to go to the very far northern corner of the country where it has borders with Jilin province of China and Primorsky Krai of Russia;  the “golden triangle” area known as Rajin-Sonbong ( name now changed to Rason).

I had no choice but to accept the assignment. Anyway, there was something in me that wanted to go. Not because it was a particularly glamorous destination but because it was so mysterious — literally and figuratively closed off to the real world. It was so isolated and today it’s still called the “hermit kingdom.”

North Korea left no traces in my passport, not even a visa. It showed that I left Beijing  and returned a week  later. There was no indication of where I had been.

Actually, I flew from Beijing to Pyongyang on a plane with propellers, it was the kind of plane which emitted white fumes that flowed down to the cabin when the air conditioners were switched on. I knew I was going back in time and the clock had started to rewind.

When I reached Pyongyang, my passport was taken away from me to be kept “in safe custody”,  to make sure that I would not leave their country without permission.

I was taken to the hotel and then to pay a tribute to their great leader who had just passed away. The street was meticulously clean ( they could not afford to have any rubbish), orderly ( who dared to disobey), no signs of animals (all eaten), no obese people (nothing much to eat, healthy diet?),  people all dressed up in similar manner (fashion?) , many buildings construction of which had been abandoned (lack of funds).

Then there was this long journey of 23 hours on board of a slow train from Pyongyang to Rason with villages and barren areas along the way. The train journey seemed to have last for ages.

Rason was basically a very remote and backward rural area and I stayed in a bungalow.  Guess what I had for breakfast?  A couple of small crabs eaten whole ie. with the shells so that, I was told,  I would have the necessary calcium!

A special economic zone with an airport was planned. The professional people I met were quite intelligent and also somewhat secretive but the assignment did not present any problems. From talking to people, you knew that they had limited knowledge of the outside world. There was strict control on what information was given to the people.

On returning to Pyongyang, for the first time in the week, I was offered meat. . . . . dog’s meat which I delightfully accepted.  In any case, it wasn’t man’s meat (re Tian & Di).

Flying back to HK, I couldn’t help thinking how lucky and blessed we were.  When the plane finally touched down on the Kai Tak runway, I knew I had travelled all the way from Di and had now reached Tian.

Borrowed Place Borrowed Time

I came to know about 1997 when I first read Richard Hughes’s Hong Kong: Borrowed Place Borrowed Time in the secondary school. Hong Kong was not returned to China when World World II ended and therefore we lived in borrowed space and time. (Richard Hughes was an Australian journalist who died in HK in 1984. He was also known to be a British spy, or even a double agent. He was the inspiration for the fictional character Dikko in Ian Fleming’s James Bond’s You Only Live Twice and for ‘Old Craw’ in John Carre’s The Honorable Schoolboy).

We seem to have learnt more about time and life from books, songs and movies than from our  schools.

In 1973, Jim Croce’s album Life & Times gave us the unheard  notion of saving time in a bottle in his song Time in a Bottle. . . . . . .” If I could save time in a bottle, the first thing that I’d like to do is to save every day“. Jim died in 1974 at the age of 40. Of course, it is impossible to bottle up time.

Earl Grant’s If I Only Have Time embarrassed us with our many excuses for not doing the things we wanted to do . . . . . . . . .” So much to do, if I only have time, only time. Dreams to pursue, if I only have time, only time. . . ‘  then as in his song ” . . . times like a wind, goes hurrying by and the hours just fly. . . . ” and again in the same song ” . . . . life is really too short. One whole century isn’t enough to satisfy me. . . . .”. Earl died at the age of 39.

We know time is our most precious asset, but could we beg, steal and borrow time?

Then in 1975 Paul Anka came along with his jingle for Kodak, Times of Your Life. ” Good morning yesterday, you wake up and time has slipped away” and towards the end of his song . . . . .” Here comes the saddest part, the seasons are passing one by one, so gather moments while you may, collect the dreams you dream today, remember, will you remember the times of your life“.  In 2012, Kodak may even collapse.

Then came Stephen Hawking who inspired us with his cosmological view of the world and time in his Big Bang Theory.

The imagination of films have no end. I am beginning to think that we even live in a borrowed skin after watching the recent Spanish movie “The Skin I Lived In”.

Are we just spacemen travelling in time, living in a borrowed place (the earth) and in a borrowed skin (our body)?????