SCMP, October 23, 2002 By Chris Yeung Roman Tam Pak-sin, who went from being a tailor in training to a legend of Canto-pop songs, was much more than just a familiar voice. At a time when society is in the grip of worry and pessimism, his death struck many in the community who remembered his spirit, character and strength. Local Chinese newspapers have carried extensive coverage of his demise. Television stations reran many of his musical performances, and his CDs have experienced a sales boom that would have gladdened his heart. Some have suggested that the SAR government should give Tam a posthumous award for his contributions to Hong Kong, even if his gift was solely his ability to enchant. If so many people responded to his death with heavy hearts and a tumult of feelings, it is largely because it has conjured up a collective memory of the kind of spirit that lay behind the territory's phenomenal success in the post-war period, as what had been a sleepy British colony became a trading powerhouse and icon of a newly vibrant and wealthy Asia. Born into a middle-class family in Guangxi province, Tam came to Hong Kong in 1962. Like so many Chinese of that era, who fled the mainland in search of freedom and prosperity, it was only after his arrival that he began to achieve phenomenal success. Behind his legendary rise to fame and stardom were typical Hong Kong virtues of work, flexibility, the pursuit of excellence and the refusal to take adversity. Like his trademark Below The Lion Rock, famously quoted by Financial Secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung in his Budget speech in March, many of Tam's songs reflect the values, culture and spirit of a rapidly changing society. However, in the wake of the sharp downward turn of Hong Kong's economy since the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, the territory has been plagued by a brooding sense of gloom, even while its neighbours have dug themselves out of the wreckage with far greater optimism. During a recent visit to Beijing, a senior British diplomat and a US foreign policy expert told me separately that they were both surprised and perplexed by the depth of negative feeling in Hong Kong. The puzzle is also that there has been no lack of effort to boost morale and enliven the Hong Kong spirit in society. Nor is there any shortage of success stories featuring homegrown talent. The upbeat messages have been seemingly drowned out by a feeling of helplessness and scepticism about the future. Daunted by the rapid growth of the mainland economy, the volatility of the international economy and frustrated by the SAR leadership, people are losing confidence in their ability to cope with shocks, as their older generations successfully did. Television footage of Tam's classics has shown how Hong Kong's pop culture has changed over time. The faded clips are a timely reminder of the basic qualities that will get Hong Kong up and running again - hard work, innovation and unfailing energy. Glossary posthumous (adj) occurring after one's death tumult (n) a loud confused noise, especially one caused by a mass of people. It is of Latin origin. conjure up (phrasal v) to paint a picture in one's mind phenomenal (adj) very remarkable, extraordinary. Phenomenal success is remarkable success. brooding (adj) thinking over a problem in a persistently gloomy way scepticism (n) doubts or disbelief Discussion points - How much do you know about Roman Tam Pak-sin? Why do people, even some who are not his fans, mourn his death? What does the article tell you? - We know innovation and energy once helped Hong Kong to survive the post-war era. How can we keep our spirits high and maintain our creativity today?