Jun 28, 2012|
Henry Tang did it, and now CY has been caught red-handed. It is time that the law governing “illegal structures” was scrapped and every Hong Kong household with an illegal rooftop or canopy received a pardon. It is simply a Chinese custom to stuff every inch with something or other to maximize the benefit of one’s living space.
At practically any given moment at check-in desks in airports in Hong Kong, Toronto, Sydney or Vancouver, there is a bitter quarrel going on between airline staff and a Chinese passenger over overweight carry-on luggage. While a Wall Street CEO briskly boards a first-class flight from Paris to Beijing with nothing but a laptop and a Jeffrey Archer novel, there is always some Chinese couple staggering in with four pieces of huge, bulging LV luggage, yelling at the ground staff, refusing to pay an extra dollar and shouting cries of racism when advised to maybe remove a half-dozen Hermes handbags and a few bottles of Lafite from their luggage to satisfy the 20-kilogram limit.
Or take a stroll on Temple Street and be impressed by the cheap lingerie and colorful clothing hung outside the shops. This jumbled backdrop is why the classic scene of a triad gangster wielding his chopper and plowing through stalls and hawkers, with metal racks collapsing behind him, made Hong Kong cinema such a visual sensation in Hollywood during the 1980s, with directors like John Woo gaining a place in the west canon.
The word “space” in Chinese carries the single meaning of the dark infinite universe and nothing else. Corridors at a restaurant are piled up with buckets of unwashed dishes and bags of powder, and customers must tiptoe across a narrow, wet floor to get to the rusted door of the toilet. Having James Bond run across cramped rooftops bursting with laundry drying on bamboo racks and in wooden sheds is a stereotypical but convenient indicator that the British spy-hero is now on a mission in the Far East. Hordes of bums and coolies were quickly forced to become used to being squeezed in dark cabins to cross the Pacific Ocean in the 19th century. Our ancestors survived alongside rats, and that’s how the Transcontinental railway was built.
It is only too natural, for those who have become rich, to dig a swimming pool a few feet deeper and install a glass bottom to create a taste of the kind of quality of life that’s enjoyed by the Berlusconis of the world. Or what’s wrong with CY Leung building a greenhouse canopy for his homegrown organic vegetables to better keep in touch with the peasant’s life we have all sadly lost? So get rid of the pretentious, draconian colonial law restricting this and that. The well-off aside, this is also a war in which the underprivileged fight with canopies, rooftops and cracked balconies as their weapons, risking the lives of their families against exploitive property tycoons in a city with 7 million people crammed onto a few small islands.
Chip Tsao is a best-selling author, columnist and a former producer for the BBC. His columns have also appeared in Apple Daily, Next Magazine and CUP Magazine, among others.