Jul 08, 2010|
Cynics should take a break. Hong Kong might appear to most as a dysfunctional society with a lame administration, but from time to time, ideas and initiatives, despite being ill-received before implementation, actually work. Instead of complaining about the latest failures (something we often do), we’re taking a break from negativity and looking at some of the achievements we’ve seen in the past few years.
Then: In 2006, the government decided to demolish the Star Ferry Pier in Central, triggering an outcry from the public. People gathered to protest, and there was a sense that the public could gain power in a discourse with the government. “People power” was gaining traction… or so we thought. But, sadly, we all know how it turned out: the old Star Ferry Pier is no more.
After that, for the longest time, opposition voices within the community hardly made a difference. Old buildings continued to be torn down. The government’s consultation system made it nearly impossible for individuals to make a difference. As well, the government often sidelined opposition and called any dissenters the “vocal minority.” The epitome of all of this was the protest against the high-speed rail project, which ended with the government labeling the young protesters radical and violent, and passing the project despite vocal public opposition. Chief Executive Donald Tsang even referred to the protesters’ actions as “violating the core values of our society.” Social commentator Dung Kai-cheung says: “The government can demonize the group easily by giving it a negative image, such as framing them for coming forward because they are angry at the older generation for not giving them opportunities to reach an upper tier of society.”
Now: In March this year, the public won at Wing Lee Street, despite possible murky politics behind closed doors. The old street lined entirely with tong laus, a rarity in the city, had been facing demolition by the Urban Renewal Authority because it was included as part of a redevelopment project. The project, which called for the demolition of the tong laus in order to build six-storey high luxury residential buildings, had been criticized for years, but nonetheless it was slated to go ahead.
But the street’s fate took a U-turn—in late February, a film called “Echoes of the Rainbow,” which was shot on location at Wing Lee Street, and presented the hardships of 1960s Hong Kong, won the Crystal Bear award at the prestigious Berlin Film Festival. The entire city’s attention shifted to this small street in Central. Members of the public asked, “Why are we tearing this street down again?” Though it appeared that the URA was going to get the green light to redevelop Wing Lee Street, the people were not willing to sit back and shut up. Regular people, NGOs and conservationists held protests. Floods of people visited the street, and HK Magazine devoted an issue to Wing Lee. Everyone was hoping to pull an eleventh-hour effort to help save the street. And we did it. Right before the URA was going to get approval from the Town Planning Board on their demolition plan, they announced that they would change their planning application, so as to conserve all the buildings on Wing Lee Street. URA chairman Barry Cheung said the flip-flopping had nothing to do with the film or the overwhelming public opposition. He simply said they had always wanted to conserve the street, and that they were simply changing the plan to conserve it.
Then: The film industry needed help. During its glory days in the 1980s and 1990s, 300 movies were produced a year. Business has gone down significantly since then, with less than 100 films produced each year. The weak industry also prohibited new talent from joining, causing a chronic brain drain within the circle. To give the filmmakers a hand, the government launched several different funding programs to help revive the film industry. Film Development Fund launched The Film Production Financing Scheme, which targets on productions with a budget of less than $12 million. However, the government funding was not well received in the business. Veteran producer and actor Eric Tsang said in an earlier report that he couldn’t see how government money could save the industry and help with nurturing new talent. The endless paperwork that one needs to complete to join the scheme has also scared off some filmmakers, he said.
Now: This year, starting at the Hong Kong International Film Festival in March, we saw an influx of high quality, original local film productions hitting the big screen. Under the Film Production Financing Scheme, 14 films have received funding. Recent films made with funding from the scheme include “Echoes of the Rainbow,” “Break Up Club,” and “La Comédie Humaine.” “Echoes of the Rainbow” has garnered worldwide attention, winning the Crystal Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival. The film and its filmmakers helped draw awareness to Wing Lee Street, a location with buildings with heritage value, helping save it from the wrecking ball. Additionally, “Echoes of the Rainbow” won four awards at this year’s Hong Kong Film Awards including Best Director for Alex Law. “Break Up Club,” directed by Barbara Wong, and starring Fiona Sit and Jaycee Chan, has become a favorite of both critics and audiences, earning positive reviews and $7,979,629 in its first 12 days of release. Find out what our film critic had to say about “La Comédie Humaine,” directed by veteran director and screenwriter Chan Hing-ka.
The similarities between these films are that they are shot in Hong Kong, and feature strong Hong Kong storylines. The films are a sign that local production companies do not necessarily need to partner with mainland Chinese companies for funding. This is good for the local film industry because co-productions with the mainland often result in concessions in creativity, style and storylines. Film critic Bono Lee said, “Hong Kong identity is an ever changing process. The new Hong Kong films right now more or less reflect the identity crisis at the moment.” These current productions mark a return to the types of films that were once the pride of the industry, the very kinds of film that made our industry world famous. The new funding has allowed the very unique style of Hong Kong film to carry on.
Then: They once said it couldn’t be done. We are aware of the launch of electric cars in Hong Kong, but what about public transportation? The images of buses and ferries powered by solar panels once only existed in sci-fi movies. Currently, all of our buses and ferries still require diesel (ferries are having a trial run using ultra-low sulfur fuel), while some taxis and minibuses use petroleum gas.
Now: Earlier this month, Hong Kong began using its first “hybrid” ferry. Powered by both solar energy and diesel, this was the first of the four ferries now in use by the Hong Kong Jockey Club for their ferry service from Sai Kung to Kau Sai Chau Public Golf Course (www.kscgolf.org.hk). Conceived by Australian solar energy expert Robert Dane, this ferry is expected to save 50 percent in fuel costs and create less marine pollution.
How exactly does a hybrid ferry work? Well, Dr. Dane puts it simply: a hybrid ferry works similarly to a hybrid car, except that it uses solar power rather than electricity. The ferry is equipped with a computer that determines which power source to use at different speeds. When the ferry is docked at the pier for loading and offloading passengers, solar power (generated by solar panels and a generator installed on the boat) is used to power the lights, air-conditioners, and other equipment. This energy source can still be used when the ferry is moving at seven knots and lower. But when the vessel is going over that speed, the computer switches the equipment to use diesel fuel for power. When the ferry is powered by solar energy, it minimizes air pollution and also creates a lot less noise. “It’s very quiet. The passengers notice the difference instantly when it shifts to solar power,” Dr. Dane says. Alternative energy works better on boats as well, because the boat is also affected by the sea winds and tides.
So how come it took us so long to get a ferry like this, when we have been discussing alternative energy during the past few decades, and the technology has been mature for application for years? “It’s very hard to get people to accept new technology, especially in the marine business, which is an old, traditional trade,” Dr. Dane says. “It’s only when you have made a boat that works, and people have sat in it and experienced it, then they start to accept that maybe it works.” He adds that he is seeing opportunities for the ferry companies in Hong Kong to adopt the hybrid vessels soon—particularly at Victoria Harbour, because the crossing distance is short.
In the long run, we will see public transportation powered entirely by alternative energy, meaning we will be able to ditch coal-burning fuel for pollution-free ones. “Right now we’re at a time when people have accepted the fact that this does exist now and we can make the leap,” Dr. Dane says. “With the battery technology improving, one day we will have a powerful enough battery to store enough energy to power up a whole boat.”
Then: After much argument about reducing the use of plastic bags in retail shops, last year the government proposed a “producer responsibility scheme,” imposing a levy of 50 cents on each plastic bag (both non-biodegradable and biodegradable). This cost was passed onto the consumer. The first stage of the scheme applied only to supermarkets, convenience stores, and health and beauty stores—a mere four percent of retail outlets, and only 20 percent of our plastic bag suppliers. The government hoped that the usage of plastic bags would drop by 50 percent because of the levy, which would total about one billion fewer bags a year.
Many were divided on this issue when the proposal was first introduced. At the time, a Park N’ Shop spokesperson said that the levy should have been imposed on more outlets, rather than solely targeting supermarkets: “We think that better results could be achieved if this initiative is implemented to a greater extent. Given the fact that supermarkets only contribute to a small percentage of the plastic bag issue, the levy should be across the board.” Naturally the plastic bag producers also voiced their opposition. The Hong Kong Plastic Bags Manufacturing Association argued that a levy on plastic bags would simply shift consumption toward other types of bags and containers, and the subsequent overabundance of these new items would prove equally hazardous to the environment.
Now: Earlier this month, the government announced the result of a survey on plastic bag consumption since the levy was introduced. Secretary for Environment Edward Yau said they have collected a total of $20 million in levy charges, which is only 10 percent of their expected figure. Thirteen million bags were distributed in supermarkets and major retail shops, which is 90 percent less than before the levy was introduced. Who would have thought? The 50-cent levy that many once loathed actually made us change our shopping habits in just a year.
Then: One of the first things we learned about the history of Hong Kong is that the city was once mostly farmland and fishing villages. However, local agriculture has shrunk so much in the past three decades that it has become almost obsolete. Thirty years ago, 70 percent of vegetables in local markets were from Hong Kong. Today, 80 percent is from the mainland. In 1954, farmlands constituted 12.7 percent of the area of Hong Kong—in 2008 the area went down to 5,200 hectares, which is 4.7 percent. The monopoly of supermarkets has also pushed local farmers into a cul-de-sac. To look for a way out, some farmers started to explore organic farming, hoping to tap into this major business to fend off the cheaper and bigger-scale agricultural imports from China. However, a Baptist University study has found that among the 74 markets they surveyed, only two percent of the self-proclaimed organic vegetables are actually legitimate, bearing a certified stamp, making one wonder if organic farming will ever be the solution for the dying agricultural industry.
Now: What came after the initial abuse of the “organic” label is a much, much healthier step forward. Today, organic markets are springing up all over town, offering great local produce. According to the Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department, in the past 10 years, the number of organic farms has risen from zero to more than 300 today. Through the Agricultural Land Rehabilitation Scheme by the Vegetable Marketing Organization, 46 farmers were able to locate land to start up their farms. Here is a list of farmers’ markets and farms you ought to visit.
The Tai Po Farmers’ Market provides a direct retail point for at least 20 farmers on Sundays (9:30am-5pm; not open on the first Sunday of the month).
Tai Po Farmers’ Market, by the Tai Wo Road Fire Station and CLP power station, market.fedvmcs.org.
Located in Yuen Long, this organic farm of over 13,500 square meters has been devoted to growing fruits and vegetables without using genetically modified crops or chemicals for almost a decade. The farm sells seasonal vegetables, both retail and wholesale. If you’re too lazy to take anything home to cook, you can pre-order a large meal set for groups of eight. Visitors can also order individually for $40-$50, but you have to let them decide what to cook for you.
Ho Pui Reservoir, Pat Heung, Yuen Long, 2838-4808. Where to buy in the city: Oh My Farm, G/F, Shop B3, Block 1, 3 Wan Chai Rd., Wan Chai. 9233-3708.
The Organic Farm offers organic seasonal vegetables throughout the year. The farm has a “Veggie Van” that delivers its greens to homes throughout Hong Kong.
The Organic Farm, D.D. 113 Ho Pui Tsuen, Kam Tin, 2483-9966, www.organic-farm.com.
Within the Kadoorie Farm and Botanical Gardens is a farm where visitors can buy local produce every Sunday and on public holidays.
Lam Kam Rd., Tai Po, 2488-1317, www.kfbg.org.hk.