Saturday, 27 September 1997

Mid-Autumn Festival

From guest blogger, Tess... I had the most wonderful time the other day.  As Public Relations manager of Hong Kong's largest hotel, the Panda Hotel, I receive all the requests for donations from the various organizations and charities in Hong Kong.  The guidelines I have to operate within are that anyone we support has to be located in the New Territories, preferably in Tsuen Wan, where the hotel is located. 

As the Mid-Autumn Festival approached, we received countless letters from organizations requesting cash donations.  Given the disastrous room occupancy (32%) since the handover, we are no longer able to donate cash.  So when I received a request from an old folks home three blocks away for some money to purchase Moon Cakes (Moon Cakes to the Chinese at this time of the year, are like Pumpkin Pie to North Americans at Thanksgiving) for their elderly residents, I called the organization and said that  our hotel was willing to donate the Moon Cakes instead.  I wanted to help this group.   The elderly at this home are generally pitied by the community because their children don't have them to live in their homes or have not paid for them to stay in a deluxe retirement home. The officials agreed and asked if I would attend the Mid Autumn Festival celebration they were having to present the donation.  The celebration would be games involving the elderly and tea afterwards.

I was a little hesitant.  Having recently moved to a very Chinese part of Hong Kong (Sheung Wan) from the rather "expat-y" area of Mid-Levels, I have been really noticing how gweilos (meaning expatriates, but the literal translation is "foreign devil") aren't too popular.  For example, every morning when I take the tram to catch the bus to work, the seat next to me is always the last to go.  In addition, pictures and stories always depict Chinese elders as stoic, not jolly and rarely displaying affection or laughing, unless it is during some mystical Chinese game or cackling at someone else's expense.  Finally, 99% of these people would be Cantonese speaking, not English speaking. I didn’t know how much fun this would be.

The day arrived and the hotel car took the hotel's six foot Panda mascot, the 400 Moon Cakes and myself to the social centre where the celebrations were to be held.  The panda was hustled to the back where he would appear when the Moon Cake presentation was held (for the benefit of the Chinese press in attendance).

The minute the panda appeared, the audience, who had been pretty noisy, simply erupted.  One fellow grabbed a social workers hand and pointed to the panda while he asked a question.  The social worker came to me and asked if the panda could pose for pictures with a few of the residents.  I agreed and the fellow jumped out of his seat and beelined it for the panda.  The panda suit, typical of most those suits, is unwieldy and hard to see out of.  When the gentleman reached the panda he skidded on the shined floor, bumped into the panda and then screamed with laughter as the panda fell to the floor.  So did everyone else.   And then it seemed everyone wanted to have their picture taken with the panda.

When it became apparent I was the one responsible for the Moon Cakes’ appearance, everyone made a real effort to include me. This included  touching me, smiling and speaking their gratitude.  Then they started playing organized games, where four social workers stood in the rows and a fifth at the beginning of the room would call out in Cantonese, "The first ten cent piece that has the queens face on it!" and then the room would erupt as these excited elders would try to prevent their neighbours from finding the coin while digging up their own, handing it to the social worker who would then dash up to the front of the room and exchange the coin for a small prize.  The hysteria was high and the happiness overflowing.

Even though it was now 7:00pm, there was no way I was leaving.

Another lesson for me.  No wonder I am treated like an observer if I am only going to observe.  Getting involved, pouring tea, ripping off the plastic from the Moon Cakes, I was part of it, and including myself resulted in a feeling of belonging that eradicated any language void and transcended any cultural barrier that may have existed.

A truly wonderful day.  Of course, I cant expect the tram behaviour to change, but I can remember the faces and the laughter and the touching.  And I can volunteer there, soup kitchen detail, twice a month.

Have a great day.


Thursday, 25 September 1997

Hong Kong: Business As Usual

You may have noticed there has been no e-mail traffic from me since the handover.  And that just about sums up what is happening in Hong Kong: nothing.

As far as political transitions and changes since Britain’s handover of Hong Kong to China there are very few.  Seriously, since July 1st it has been business as usual.  There is no evidence that anything has changed, other than the flags. Life under Chinese rule, at first glimpse, appears to be just the same. The only thing happening that might suggest a change is the bickering in the local media about laws... but even THAT has died down in the last month.  Meanwhile, the Monetary Authority has been fighting off speculators (which many other Asian countries have been unable to do) and children in China with one parent in HK are allowed to slowly but steadily come to HK.  (That was one of the things in the media.) 

Some of you, especially those CLOSELY watching the law bickering from afar, may call me naive to think there are no changes.  Naturally, there will be changes  over time as a result of immediate events (like the outcome of the law bickering) but these changes will be subtle.  There is not a single sign of the PLA.  If you want to see them you have to hunt them down.  There is not a single soldier wondering around... they are less evident than the Royal Forces were. 

When the Royal Forces were off duty they were permitted to wear their uniforms. They often did, and while crawling from pub to pub in Wanchai, would be denied entrance to establishments because of their rowdy reputations.  In contrast,  the PLA must wear civvies because the Chinese government wants them to be low key.  In fact, the PLA has been SO low key, that they have been criticized for not "building ties with the community."

As far as freedom of the press, there appear to be no changes from my own research.  I am only able to read the English papers, and their reporting seems to be the same.  I have not heard whether this is the case for the Chinese newspapers.  The only thing I have heard about them, are stories they ran that Princess Diana was six weeks pregnant when she died.  That never made it into the English language papers, though.  There have also been over forty official public demonstrations since July 1st.

The mood on the street is business as usual.  Perhaps there is a little bit of "post-handover blues", and economic growth has slowed slightly this past quarter.   At the same time, however, economic growth is slowing across the region, but still enviable statistics with Malaysia, for example, expected to grow at 7.8%.

Perhaps the greatest indication of what is happening in Hong Kong comes from what all of my friends are doing -- working.  In the last several months I have looked for new employment, moved flats, completed several training consultant projects, rescued a stray cat, nursed it back to health and generally been very busy.  Interestingly, my friends were conspicuously absent.  A few phone calls revealed to me that most of my friends had not seen each other, either.  Many are away on business, working long hours and some on holidays.  In other words, people are busy in Hong Kong and forging ahead into the future.

The Chinese Government recently gave the Hong Kong SAR Government a vote of confidence, and I will send excerpts of that article in another message.

In the next few weeks I will be posting a number of  fantastic pictures from the handover onto my web site.  Be sure to check back and have a look at them.

That's the latest from Hong Kong.