Unhappy Hongkongers must learn to accept imperfect solutions to the city’s problems

Alice Wu says Hong Kong’s unhappiness can be addressed at the highest levels of the SAR’s leadership, but it also requires the rest of us to show patience and a willingness to make the best of it

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 January, 2018, 1:02pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 January, 2018, 6:52pm

The New Year didn’t exactly start with a bang: protesters clashing with police at the newly “reopened” East Wing Forecourt, popularly known as “Civic Square”, was a harsh reminder that new beginnings take time and effort. Then, the 41st annual Gallup International Global End of Year Survey results came out, and Hong Kong placed 7th for unhappiness. In our despair, may we find comfort in the fact that the rest of world has been feeling quite depressed as well. Last year was undoubtedly a tough one and there are almost 10 per cent fewer happy people on Earth than a year ago.

When those in power tweet about, say, comparing the size of their “nuclear buttons”, pessimism is downright necessary. We live in a world where there are people still unconvinced about climate change, and this is after we’ve already experienced a year of extreme weather and mother nature has gifted us with a “bomb cyclone”. It’s not cynicism, but we’ve gone from the audacity of hope to the chutzpah of those seemingly determined to drag down the rest of humanity.

There are, fortunately, reasons for cautious hope. North and South Korea are talking on the phone, a first in nearly two years of North Korea not picking up. The words exchanged by those phone calls may not be earth-shattering, but when the most powerful man in the world resorts to comparing the size of nuclear buttons, North and South Korea talking on their designated hotline is huge, even though we know there’s every possibility of it not continuing. Those manning the phones are the first unsung heroes of 2018. We must recognise that hope will require very strong stomachs for disappointment and take extraordinary patience, perseverance and persistence.

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Hongkongers know we haven’t been having our best days, or years. Coming in seventh on the unhappiness ranking hurts. But we have dropped out of the top 10 pessimists list, where we placed No 2 in 2016. Things are looking a little better there.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor ran for office with a vision of “a Hong Kong of hope and happiness – a city we are all proud to call our home.” It’s a tall order, to be sure, when political tensions are on the rise again with the co-location terminus and Legislative Council by-elections. Hong Kong did experience some political reprieve with Leung Chun-ying out of office, but Lam must manoeuvre carefully and boldly to ride out the political storms and confrontational politics she inherited.

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Unfortunately, Lam reneged on her pledge to heal the divide in Hong Kong by refusing to mediate between rival camps in the legislature last year. And her greatest challenge for 2018 is to take on the role she has promised Hong Kong. It may be a thankless job but it’s a necessary one.

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It may not be Lam’s priority right now, as she seems impatient when it comes to rolling out her policies. Hong Kong has topped the world’s most unaffordable places to live list for years. There is no time to lose for the government in addressing our huge and stubborn housing problem, but as long as politics gets in the way, no government can be effective in tackling the problems that plague us. So, creating a favourable political environment must be a priority. Lam is riding the last wave of “hope” from Leung’s exit.

And for the rest of us, perhaps a healthier way to take on our “happiness” challenge is to embrace the pragmatism we were once famous for. For 2018, let’s learn to accept imperfection, and appreciate the need for imperfect solutions to our problems, along with efforts in forging imperfect peace.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA