Column
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 April, 2014, 9:45pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 April, 2014, 11:34pm

The need to lead is paramount

Sometimes it takes a fresh set of eyes to reveal the good and the bad of living in this amazing, exasperating city

BIO

Tim Noonan has been crafting uniquely provocative columns for the SCMP and SMP for more than a decade. A native of Canada, he has over 20 years’ experience in Asia and has been a regular contributor to a number of prominent publications, including Time magazine, Forbes, The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune and The Independent.
 

You're a long way from home, he tells me, and he would certainly know better than most. We grew up on the same street three doors down from each other, both of our families in the same house for over 50 years. A few years older, I'm best of friends with his two younger brothers. Needless to say we go back a ways and I am fairly certain I have never seen him as wide-eyed as he is right now during his first full day in Hong Kong.

He's travelling through Asia with his wife and another couple for the first time and after waiting an hour in the plane on the tarmac in Toronto and another hour circling to land in Hong Kong, they have basically been cooped up in a tin can for 17 hours. So was it worth it, I ask? Without a doubt, they quickly reply.

One of the great things about having visitors here is being able to see Hong Kong through fresh eyes again. The pace here is ridiculously rampant; there is so little time for introspection.

Funny how the property cartel that runs this town can spot a parcel of land ... basically any facility to benefit the public takes a century or two
Tin Noonan

It's easy for us to lose sight of things when they stare you in the face every day and my friends' visit here just happens to come on the heels of three or four days of torrential rain. Every thing is spiffy today, squeaky clean and radiant and even for the most cynical among us you have to admit this place is spectacular when you can actually see it.

The obligatory questions flow as freely as the wine. How has this place changed since Beijing took over? I tell them that the prevailing wisdom amongst those most knowledgeable, the taxi drivers, is that there is no China problem here, it's a Hong Kong problem.

The locals appointed to run this place are such a sadly sycophantic breed who care much more about appeasing Beijing then appeasing Hong Kong. In reality, Beijing would love nothing more then to not have to worry about Hong Kong; after all they have their hands full with 1.4 billion mainlanders. But why lead when you can follow.

"And what about sport?" he asks me. Ouch, talk about a buzz kill. He had just seen footage in his hotel room of last week's Sevens and told me that it looks like Hong Kong must have a vibrant sporting scene. From the outside looking in it might appear that way, especially when the brochures they give you at the hotel call this town "the events capital of Asia".

Like I said, to understand sports around here you have to understand politics around here and once again the government works under the ethos that it's better to follow than to lead. I tell them that in the morning paper there was a story that sums up the state of sport in Hong Kong better than I ever could.

A long-awaited soccer academy on a landfill site in Tseung Kwan O has been delayed again because of having to clear multiple layers of government, double-digit layers of government in fact. "How long has it been delayed?" asks another friend, who was a government engineer in Canada. Over 10 years I tell him. "Wow," he replies.

It seems that the Jockey Club had set aside HK$103 million to build the facility back in 2003. But because of byzantine levels of government inertia and the Hong Kong Football Association yet to present a sustainable model to manage the facility, the project has been stalled and now the price tag for the construction will be more than HK$700 million.

And bear in mind that this was not even government money being spent here. So where do those additional funds come from? Who knows, who cares? Unless you are a newborn infant, we likely won't see it in our lifetime.

Funny how the property cartel that runs this town can spot a parcel of land they like, strip it down, fill it in and build it up with hundreds of ridiculously overpriced shoeboxes in no time at all. But basically any facility to benefit the public takes a century or two.

The same for Hong Kong's much needed new stadium. I know that some firms are submitting designs and bids for the projects. But who exactly in the government is willing to take charge of this new stadium?

Until that happens, it's all talk. I tell my friends that I would much rather the government spend their vast, and I do mean vast, resources on cleaning up our air than building a new stadium.

Ideally you would love to have both, I tell them. But right now I would settle for either. "Still," my friend says, "it must be special to live here." Yeah, I reply, I was just thinking the same thing myself.

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