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Kom Tong Hall shows how to preserve heritage

The extensive refurbishment of the Kom Tong Hall, following a public outcry over plans for its demolition, has taken a couple of years. The constant banging may have disturbed its Mid-Levels neighbours, of whom I am one, but the result is a gleaming edifice, and well worth the effort.

What was once a family home has been transformed into an institution, the Dr Sun Yat-Sen Museum. Such a transformation requires a deft hand, if the institutional aspect is not to overpower the experience of visiting what was built as a grand and stylish private house. Certainly, the wide array of exhibits gathered there, many on loan from elsewhere, make for an interesting experience.

But perhaps the hand of institutionalism has ranged too freely, in a couple of areas. The line of ghastly plastic potted plants alongside the stately wooden bannister on the main staircase adds nothing, but is ill-positioned, hampering access to the bannister rail. If they must be there, then at least give visitors more ready access to the bannister rail by lining them up against the wall, where there is no handrail. Better still, to get rid of them altogether.

The drawing room, by far the finest chamber in the building, has been lovingly reguilded and repainted. However, some institutional leaden hand has unfortunately agreed to the positioning of two huge and ugly air conditioning units, each as long as a car, on the floor at each end of the room, thus spoiling the proportions. That mistake is all the more glaring, since the room is otherwise completely empty. Why were they not positioned on the terrace, immediately adjoining? And why not furnish the room, rather than leave it bare?

The labelling of the exhibits elsewhere is rather patchy, to say the least. A coffee pot is described as a teapot on the label. But more amusingly, a pair of tiny salt cellars are described as salad bowls. Since each is not much more than an 2.5cm wide, very small salad servings must have been provided from them.

A house is meant to be entered from the main doorway. Here, entry and exit is via the basement, doubtless for reasons of crowd control. But visitors could, at least, be allowed to view the entrance hall by using it as an exit point.

These minor caveats aside, Hong Kong's historical and cultural wealth has been greatly enhanced by the preservation of this impressive old building, and its relaunch as a most interesting museum. Those who campaigned so hard to preserve it should be thanked by future generations of visitors.


A father's birth pains

My brother-in-law's wife was admitted to the Prince of Wales Hospital on Wednesday afternoon to deliver a baby. It was decided that a Caesarean section was required and she was taken into surgery at about midnight.

The father-to-be - both parents are Hong Kong Chinese and residents - and a number of family members were at the hospital for the delivery, waiting for the good news.

At 2.20am, a nurse came out of the operating theatre holding a baby girl and congratulated my brother-in-law. He was not allowed to hold the baby or to see his wife, as they were being taken to the ward. A nurse refused to let my wife take a video of the newborn baby. The encounter lasted about two minutes.

My brother-in-law knew the time of delivery, but he was not told how much his daughter weighed. Even the doctor who delivered his daughter did not deign to speak to him.

At the time of writing this letter he still hadn't held his newborn daughter, or seen her again. Nor had he seen his wife, as visiting hours did not begin until 5.30pm the next day. Even then, he could only visit for three hours. His elation at becoming a father for the first time has been seriously deflated by the attitude of the staff at Prince of Wales Hospital.

This confirms my view that the government has got its slogan wrong, the correct slogan should be 'Hong Kong, Asia's third-world city'.

A. BOLTON, Island South

Holiday brings clear skies

Many commuters on the morning ferry from Lamma on Friday noted the rare clarity with which we could see Lantau Island that morning. It was a beautiful sight, with the mountains and slopes a wash of greens and browns. Too bad we can't see it more often.

It was also noted by many that the factories and smokestacks of Guangdong were closed for the Lunar New Year. Could there, by any chance, be a connection?


Rampant consumerism

I am writing to express my views after watching Hong Kong Connection on TVB at 7pm on Sunday. The programme is thought-provoking in that it depicts how astonishingly extravagant Hongkongers are: they dump or, to put it nicely, 'donate' quantities of clothes and electrical appliances every year. It is a phenomenon that indicates the extent of compulsive shopping in the city.

Many Hongkongers, who routinely face enormous stress at work and are exhausted by the hectic lifestyle, somehow find a temporary relief through a shopping spree.

Youngsters and university students become pathological shoppers under the influence of peer pressure and, well, the human instinct of vanity.

Look at the United States, where consumerism is out of control. In 2005, the average household saving rate in the US was zero and numerous households were in debt.

The best way to counter impulsive shopping is self-control. Unfortunately, that is what many Hongkongers lack the most, as the TV programme revealed.

KEN SOO, Wan Chai

Time to look to India

As a new year dawns, I reflect on the future of this great city of Hong Kong. Its destiny is inextricably linked to that of China which thankfully continues to grow strongly.

But this vision is narrow.

It is slowly but surely losing out to Singapore in another crucial battle over Asia's second and probably most-important economic story on the services side - that of India.

In the past few years, Singapore has executed a very favourable double-taxation avoidance agreement with India, bolstered trade and air links, encouraged bilateral visits and talks, and in general have created an extremely conducive business environment between the two nations.

Within India, the feeling towards Singapore is of utmost warmth - it is virtually considered 'our city'.

However, Hong Kong has done nothing to woo India. It hasn't needed to because China is booming.

Large investment banks which are currently China-focused and based in Hong Kong prefer to cover India from here. But when China slows down - which at some stage it will - these same houses will promptly relocate to be closer to or be within India. This is something that Hong Kong should avoid at all costs.

As an example, try going to Mumbai from Hong Kong. There is not a single direct flight and what is a six-hour journey turns out to be a nine- or 10-hour one. Business travellers say it's the worst flight sector in Asia. Contrast that with Singapore which has four or five direct flights daily. And that's to just one city. On a pan-India basis, the number is closer to 20.

This is despite Hong Kong's claim of being strategically located in Asia and being five hours or so from most cities.

In this new year, business-minded Hong Kong has to develop a new vision - that of looking west - towards India.

It is still not too late but one more year and we would lose it forever.