May 03, 2012|
Why did I come to Hong Kong? Walls. My wife has a degree in Ancient History. When I married her, I promised her that she would see all the great walls in the world.
I got this opportunity to go to Hong Kong in 1981. I went home and said to my wife, “I am going to show you the Great Wall of China!”
You wanna know something? I never regretted it for a moment.
The other thing is, I had an uncle who was the Dean of Medicine of the University of Hong Kong. I was six years old, and there came this relative who was living in Hong Kong amongst the Chinese. [To me,] the Chinese were mystical people. When I was a child, the interaction [between countries] was very limited.
In 2004, I was 60 years old. There are two choices in life. One is that you go to the museum and become an exhibit. Or you get off your duff and do something. Maybe at 60, you do something that’s different.
In charities, things are less hierarchical and more consensus-driven. When you are looking at charities, far too many people will say that they are flaky. They are tree huggers. They wear pony tails. They are lazy and can’t get a job in the real world. Let me tell you the truth. They are passionate, highly motivated and entrepreneurial. You want to know why? Because it’s a greater risk joining a charity than joining HSBC.
It was a very difficult time when I joined WWF. They’d gone through three CEOs within a very short time, and the staff was demoralized. It was when they started building the Hoi Ha Wan Marine Life Center. They were way over budget. [WWF] had taken out a bank loan and NGOs should not really have bank loans. The donors were upset. The public was upset.The members were upset. People in Hoi Ha were upset.
What I did was I started to run classes in Hoi Ha Wan. We just started using the facilities, got some classroom programs going. I got some donors lined up to pay for the schools to come over and enjoy [the trips]. The public started to see that some actions were going on.
The Hong Kong government is negligent [in protecting the environment]. It is very frustrating to deal with officials here. To a certain extent, the solutions are no-brainers. You don’t need to spend time figuring out how to do it, you just have to do it.
The officials don’t have this spirit. The power in Hong Kong lies in the construction industry. The mindset of the government is that it must continue to invest in infrastructure to maintain social stability and economic wellbeing. Therefore, it sees the environment as incidental and environmental NGOs like WWF as anti-development.
The real conflict from our perspective is how to reconcile legitimate human, social and economic development with a mandate to conserve the environment. WWF feels that there is a way of doing it.
Do I often go to Mai Po? Not often enough. I am now a bird lover. But eight years ago, if you told me that in 2012 I would actually be fascinated by birds, I would probably look at you and tell you that you need a brain scan.
I was a mischievous kid. When I was in elementary school, I was always late. Most of my teachers were marvelously gifted. One teacher would never [berate] me for being late. She would encourage me to be on time. What I had to do was to go up to her desk and empty my pockets. There would be stones, frogs, a snake. I was very curious [about my surroundings].
To be honest with you, I find school very boring. My wife has an expression for it: “reluctant attender.” I did not become academic until I went to university.
[During university,] I used to drive my mother nuts. I had a wonderful moustache with ribbons in it. We had wonderful clothes. I’ve got this [pair of] purple bell-bottom hip huggers. Very cool! I’ve saved them but my stomach is a bit rounder than it was.
The attractiveness of Hong Kong to expats has dwindled because of air quality. But it’s not because of the opportunities. The opportunities are still there. It hasn’t lost the can-do mentality and its ability to deliver.
I am still fascinated by Hong Kong. But I am leaving the city after retirement. My wife has asthma. Last year, she had pneumonia twice. The air quality here… I am not letting it kill her. So, we are moving.