Lovers of heritage sites could have acted far earlier

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 December, 2006, 12:00am

The heritage conscious should not accuse the government of subterfuge. They can easily ascertain the official plans to destroy any piece of natural or historic heritage that may get in the way of the road building and transportation mafiosi. Outline development plans for every neighbourhood can be inspected in district offices. Local estate agencies usually have copies of them, too.

In addition, a short walk around any neighbourhood is always an eye-opener regarding government development plans. For instance, it was obvious years ago that the Star Ferry building was doomed when the Discovery Bay ferry service was forced to move to the outer limits of the dreadful reclamation zone. Another clue, visible even longer ago, was the fact that the Conference and Exhibition Centre annex in Wan Chai was given a wide moat, providing a clear path to the Star Ferry area. This watery space was also a clear sign that an MTR extension was expected.

Sometimes, the planners' intentions are blatant, for example, the blocked-off platform spaces intended for the MTR's Island Line westward extension from Sheung Wan. Similarly, a highway approaching Aberdeen ended high in the air for many years before there was authorisation for it to extend into the harbour. And, in a clear indication that major things are planned for 'Sunny Bay', its MTR station sports an enormous, under-utilised car park, which probably pretends to be a facility for Disneyland.

Such infrastructural oddities can add interest to a Hong Kong hike. One of the oldest examples is the surfaced road forking left off Po Lin Monastery's highway, ending unnecessarily down to a teeny coastal settlement. What was planned to happen there, I always wondered, and now wonder if the road to nowhere might justify its existence by becoming an offshoot of the highway from Macau and Zhuhai.

There was a time, some decades ago, when our city planners got caught short. The boom in car usage from the 1970s onwards surprised them so much that they overcompensated wildly, laying down actual or contingency road-building plans all over the territory. We suffer the consequences, but we cannot say we weren't warned.


Memories in the heart

Recent newspaper stories about activists trying to stop the demolition of the Star Ferry clock tower and the Queen's Pier make for sad reading. The protesters said the structures held the collective fond memories of many Hong Kong people. I thought it was true, and tried to go on a trip into my past by paying a visit to the City Hall Public Library on a Sunday as I habitually did as a teenager some four decades ago. How disappointing I found it. The Queen's Statue Square was full of foreign domestic helpers chanting, chatting, selling shoddy goods; The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley, which I used to love and borrow from the library was no longer on the shelf; the entire ambience of Central was so different from the early 1960s that the unchanged lone chime of the Star Ferry clock hardly served to bring back one single memory of my adolescence.

It dawns on me that memories are in one's heart, not in lifeless objects. I found my past when I reread The Water Babies, as Marcel Proust found his by authoring Remembrance of Things Past. Hong Kong is not like London or Paris, which have large tracts of hinterland for expansion so that old buildings could be preserved. We need space to accommodate our growing everyday needs. The protesters should avoid placing road blocks to our city's development and put their efforts into other areas, such as improvement of the air quality.


Wear black running vests

How many other runners have itchy eyes, are coughing and wheezing after running outdoors? Can the air quality get any worse? With the racing scene at an all-time high, can I make a suggestion to race organisers, sponsors, participants and apparel manufacturers for next year: if you want something done about the air runners are breathing and the effects on their health, why not encourage the wearing of black running vests, black armbands or black ribbons at your events next year? Imagine every weekend thousands of participants wearing something black in protest. The message to the government would be clear. So come on Standard Chartered/HKAAA, AVOHK, HKLRRC, HK Runner, Action Asia Events, Triathlon Association, Seyonasia, adidas, Fila, New Balance, Nike and Reebok, show the government that sponsors, organisers, manufacturers and participants want action now to improve the air quality, before races have to be cancelled on safety grounds.

ROB JAMES, Discovery Bay

DVD sets beat English TV

I agree with Paul Kay (Channel Hop, December 24) that Hong Kong English-language television stations don't seem to be doing anything about providing more choices and better programming. We're lucky to get one or two hours a night. The local stations often say that their English-language channels barely make any money anyway, so they are under no obligation to do better.

These days the only way to get the good stuff is to buy DVD boxed sets. Mr Kay wonders why some of the greatest TV series never make it to Hong Kong. Has Mr Kay watched The Sopranos on TVB or Rome on HBO Asia? Do characters on The Sopranos really say 'forget you'? Whatever happened to all the nudity and obscene graffiti of Rome? HBO and the commercial stations air sanitised versions of these shows. HBO is beamed to most of Asia, and in some markets like Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines, and Hong Kong, too, it would be impossible to air these shows (and blockbuster movies) uncut.


Gay issue scenes deleted

While watching one of my favourite series on television, Extras on the BBC Entertainment channel, I noticed that several scenes had been deleted or shortened, especially the scenes where references were made to gay 'issues' (in a funny way). I contacted the BBC to seek clarification on this and I found out that this was done to comply with regulations in several Asian countries in order to get a broadcast licence. After further investigation from my side, I found out that Singapore has strict regulations on language and scenes that refer to homosexuality. Can the government of Singapore stop being so hypocritical and leave us alone with those nonsensical guidelines?


Young lack manners

Am I alone or mad? I'm certainly angry and confused. I try to travel by foot most places but still use public transport about 60 per cent of the time. Being of the grey-haired and wrinkled brigade,

I can't understand what Hong Kong society is producing in its young in respect of 'respect' for elders. How many times do I see children occupying seats (including sleeping or head down using an electronic toy or reading a magazine) on buses and the MTR while elders, including myself, stand in silence. The other day I spoke to a young couple whose four-year-old occupied a seat. After pointing out an elderly lady standing nearby I failed to persuade the couple to put the child on one of their laps. What's going on with young parents, school principals and transport operators? The MTR claims to have a policy but do you ever see evidence of its policing?

Is courtesy and respect in this town a fantasy, a thing of the distant past? Do children and parents even know they will be old one day, or that Confucian courtesy has a place in every society?