If there's one thing Hong Kong kids need, it's toughening up, not more pampering

Yonden Lhatoo says if a day spent stranded in a well-equipped airport can be seen as a hardship, then our children surely need toughening up

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 August, 2015, 6:44pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 February, 2016, 11:41am

In case you missed it, one of the talking points of the news this week was the “plight” of 200 Hong Kong scouts who were stranded at Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport for nearly 24 hours after their flight was grounded because of a typhoon.

When they returned home on Monday, the local media highlighted their accounts of the “ordeal” they went through, including how they were forced to sleep rough at the airport, sharing a few blankets and using torn-up pieces of cardboard to cover themselves.

Oh, boohoo. An entire day marooned inside an air-conditioned building with carpeted floors, restaurants, rest rooms and television screens? How did they ever manage? Someone bring out the world’s smallest violin so we can play them a sad, sympathetic tune.

Yes, they’re children but they’re young boys full of beans. Missing a couple of hot meals and a night on a comfortable bed can hardly be considered traumatic.

People are quick to criticise anyone for just about anything on social media, but this time I have to agree with some of the mocking comments on the internet, ranging from sarcastic reminders of the scouts’ famous motto (“Be Prepared”) to laments about the disappearance of “real men” in Hong Kong.

We had a similar situation at the end of December 2010 when a snowstorm stranded travellers, many of them Hong Kong students in the UK, at London’s Heathrow airport for several days. They were trying to get home for the holidays and when they finally made it to Hong Kong, there were tearful reunions with parents and relatives at the airport reminiscent of scenes from war films. Many had “horror” stories about how tough it had been at Heathrow with nobody to look after them.

There was understandably a lot of public criticism back then as well, with people pointing out that these were spoiled kids sent to study overseas by doting parents – not shell-shocked soldiers returning from the battlefront or refugees fleeing the ravages of armed conflict.

Hong Kong’s spoiled kids syndrome is well documented. A City University study in 2013 found that parents in this town are producing a generation of spoiled brats with inflated views of their self-worth.

There’s even a Wikipedia page devoted to “Hong Kong Kids”, or kong hai in Cantonese. It’s explained as “an expression that originally referred to Hong Kong children or teenagers who are unable to look after themselves, have low emotional intelligence and are vulnerable to adversity, but now it specifically refers to children in Hong Kong who have weak self-management” as well.

Far be it from me to tar all youngsters in this city with the same brush during these sensitive times, but seriously, as I’ve said in this column before, it’s time to toughen up our youth, especially the boys.

I grew up climbing trees, jumping into ponds, playing tag-style games that could often get pretty rough, and standing up to school bullies, even if it meant getting hurt in the process. My parents followed a “positive non-intervention” policy that was only interrupted when my grades were not up to their expectations.

We had traditionally macho role models, not the skinny, plastic surgery-enhanced pretty boys from Japan and South Korea who are culturally colonising the rest of Asia these days. I cannot fathom how young men with tweezed eyebrows, eyeliner, spotless milky-white skin, lipstick and emo hair have become the male ideal. Whatever happened to rough and tough?

I saw a young man on the street just the other day with his long, gelled hair “fashionably” arranged to resemble the plumes of a bird of paradise. He was wearing something that I could only describe as a skirt, had a shawl draped over his shoulders, and was carrying a “man bag” ladies-style.

Maybe he was a boy scout once and this is the new face of modern machismo, while I’m just a dinosaur left behind in a time warp of disapproval.