There's no use in starving oneself over a frumpish clock

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 December, 2006, 12:00am


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Donald Tsang Yam-kuen is absolutely right to evict the Star Ferry clock, which is nondescript and rather frumpish, and perched on top of a pathetic, half-squashed tower and a lateral concrete structure that a first-year architecture student would be ashamed to produce. The whole of the Star Ferry is also rather filthy. When I go second class, which I always do because I want to be nearer the water and the marvellous engine, I skirt round grubby corners and dirty walls beneath harsh fluorescent lighting.

So, good riddance. Let's build something more attractive for the one habit of Hong Kong which, above all others, has defined our lives: crossing the waters that connect our island and the peninsula. Remember those hugely precarious but wonderfully romantic wallah-wallahs? Especially during budding typhoons, Hakka men and women with strong constitutions would row us across the choppy sea for only 30 cents, with ships and barges looming out of the mist. I used to beg my parents to take me.

If we want to preserve any sense of heritage, we should reintroduce the wallah-wallahs. Not that Mr Tsang and his ilk would - for they have no real sense of heritage. That's why I get livid when hunger strikers strike for the wrong thing. Where were they when hundreds of other perfectly good monuments came crumbling down? And why did they not strike hungrily when that unspeakably monstrous 'cultural centre' in Tsim Sha Tsui

went up?

I notice all of the well-meaning 'activists' are in their 20s, which means two things: they have that great student fervour, which is wonderful, and there is an innocence about their good intention to protect the heritage of Hong Kong. But they need not have chosen the charmless Star Ferry clock. It's pointless anyway. All of us know that the Star Ferry runs regularly, and you never have to wait for more than three minutes.

How I wish our gallant hunger strikers had been around during the disappearance of the old cloth streets on those charming steps just west of Central, or the old bird and jade markets, or the sampan restaurants at the typhoon shelter, or half of those buildings with wonderful colonnades that were all over Hong Kong. But now the strikers should go and feed themselves properly. The truth is that heritage is not merely about buildings, but people and their old customs. It is destructive when long use is wantonly forsaken for something new because it happens to be convenient for other purposes. It is sinister when the government satisfies the demand from the insatiable and filthy rich for yet more waterfront land.

I salute all the protesters for their general conviction, but the Star Ferry clock is not worth fighting for. I also salute the government for getting rid of a useless and hideous clock. They should carry on the good work by pulverising the loathsome Hong Kong Cultural Centre next. The headquarters of the People's Liberation Army would also be a good target. Wow, that is an ugly building. Meanwhile, let's hope we get a decent clock for the new Star Ferry. I think it should be an old one, stuck at ten to three, recalling the last two lines of Rupert Brooke's The Old Vicarage, Grantchester:

Stands the church clock at ten to three?

And is there honey still for tea?

Looking at it would then always be appetising. More importantly, it would be anti-hunger strikes.