Hong Kong's Dubious Achievement Awards 2015
This year was never going to live up to 2014, when thousands hit the streets for Occupy Central. But the fact remains that 2015 has been notable mainly because nothing got done.
Why won’t it just end? The saga over who will be second-in-command at HKU has been dragging on for an entire year now. 2015 saw some god-level prevarication as the HKU Council—several of whom are directly appointed by CY Leung—repeatedly voted to delay the discussion over the appointment of legal scholar Johannes Chan to the post of Pro-Vice Chancellor. The move was almost certainly motivated by Chan’s close ties to pro-democracy figures, including Occupy Central founder Benny Tai.
The delays lead to a group of students storming an HKU conference room and knocking respected surgeon and apparent crybaby Lo Chung-mau to the ground, where he remained clutching his knee, giving rise to countless memes. A leaked recording of an HKU Council meeting led to a gag order being taken out to prevent the media from reporting it. In September
the HKU Council finally rejected the appointment for good.
The problem isn’t whether Chan would have made a good university boss. The problem is that HKU is a publicly funded institution... and the whole process has been as transparent as a cup of Hong Kong milk tea. It seems all too obvious why Chan’s been blocked from the post: Not a pleasant conclusion to draw.
Chan’s out of the running, but the university still needs a second-in-command. This messy business isn’t going anywhere.
Most Questionable Decision: Sitting on the Ken Tsang Trial
On October 15 during the Occupy Central protests, activist Ken Tsang was allegedly beaten by seven police officers in a dark corner of Tamar Park. A video of the incident was captured by a TVB cameraman. The police officers alleged to be involved were identified and then suspended—on full pay—pending an investigation. A year later, we were still waiting for the results. It seemed an awful lot like someone was dragging their heels on the investigation: Not exactly what the public wanted from a police force which needs to regain public trust post-Occupy.
The seven officers finally appeared in the Eastern Court for a preliminary hearing on October 19, a year and four days after the alleged incident. Also appearing in the court at the same time, on the same day: Ken Tsang, charged with assaulting and obstructing police. Some Eastern Court clerk appears to have a well developed sense of irony.
The seven officers appeared in the District Court on December 8, pleading not guilty to the charge of causing grievous bodily harm with intent. The case has been adjourned to March 11, 2016. It looks like it won’t be over any time soon.
Most China Boss Gripe Ever: Hong Kong’s “Failure to Decolonize”
In September Chen Zuoer, the former deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, lamented Hong Kong’s failure to shrug off its colonial oppressors, opting instead to groan under its current masters. “There is no de-colonization but just de-sinofication,” he said. This came hot on the heels of Liaison Office boss Zhang Xiaoming’s description of the Chief Executive’s position as “transcendent” over all other branches of the government, which went down about as well as Long Hair at a pro-government fundraiser.
How did the government respond to this criticism? Apparently, by getting Hongkong Post to cover up the royal emblems on 59 of Hong Kong’s remaining colonial-era postboxes, thus ensuring the re-sinofication of all our mail. It’s a shame not to recognize that you can commemorate history without eradicating it—but somehow in Hong Kong, that’s no surprise at all, is it?
The city's reform vote was never going to be an easy one. CY Leung faced the task of passing a reform package that hadn’t changed since it sparked the Occupy Central protests. But he had to give it the ol’ college try, anyway. Yet the way everyone went about it turned it from a tragic comedy into a straightforward farce. There was the onslaught of government adverts begging the public to support the bill. There was the pan-democrats’ rigid refusal to bend. But the real cherry on the stupid cake came with the vote itself on June 18.
Seconds before the vote was called, pro-Beijing lawmakers staged a mass exit from the chamber after being denied a 15-minute recess, which had apparently been requested so that Heung Yee Kuk grandee Lau Wong-fat could arrive. But the vote went ahead without them because there was a sufficient quorum, leading to a landslide defeat for the government of eight votes in favor of the reform package, and 28 against. Miscommunication, bad timing or stupidity: take your pick.
But that’s not all. Just days later, the Oriental Daily News published several screenshots of WhatsApp conversations between pro-Beijing legislators and the ostensibly impartial Jasper Tsang, president of Legco. In the chat the lawmakers discussed tactics and timing—not that it seemed to make a difference. Tsang, his hand caught in the partisan cookie jar, refused to admit he’d been wrong.
So the reform package fizzles, the pan-dems pat themselves on the back… and nothing changes. In 2017, we’ll almost certainly get CY Leung again. Goddammit.
Slowest Launch: California Tower
We were all really excited about the brand new 27-floor California Tower, back when it was projected to open… in September/October 2014. It didn’t, thanks to various delays—but over the slow course of this year we’re finally at a point where the new cornerstone of LKF actually has some restaurants in it. Credit the LKF Group for building great spaces for restaurant concepts (those with a lot of upfront capital, at any rate). And bear in mind what Allan Zeman must be repeating to himself like some kind of Buddhist mantra: “If you build it, they will come…”
In June 2015 drinking water tested in Kai Ching Estate in Kowloon Bay was found to contain traces of heavy metals, particularly lead, which were in excess of global health standards. What seemed at first like a bit of a mistake was soon revealed to be a widespread problem that's to date spanned 11 public housing estates and several schools. There’s a good chance that the lead comes from the solder used in the pipes. But what really matters is how widespread the contaminated water is—and worst of all it’s concentrated among the poorer sections of the city, people who can’t afford the expense of getting extra bottled water. Housing Chief Anthony Cheung says that it'll take at least a year to replace all the pipes. Thanks for nothing, guys!
Despite repeated and increasingly desperate attempts from various parties to save embattled broadcaster ATV, in April the government finally had to pull the plug on the station by refusing to renew its free-to-air TV license. But the blows are still coming, as earlier this month ATV’s executive director Ip Ka-po was handed a $150,000 fine after being convicted of 102 charges relating to a failure to pay staff on time. He stepped down from his post soon after. Because the government is bound to give a year’s notice, the station will continue to operate until April 1, 2016: Yes, we’ve got another four and a half months of badly made China tourism shows on repeat. Turn on, and tune out…
Whitest Elephant: The Guangzhou High-Speed Rail Link
What a fiasco. After months of hinting at the issue, in November the MTR finally came out and said it. As if it’s a cake that needs a few more minutes in the oven, the high-speed rail link to Guangzhou is three-quarters done—the MTR just needs $19.6 billion in public money to finish it off.
As everyone concerned is very keen to remind us, by this point the project is just too big to fail. And it wouldn’t be a Hong Kong tale without some fractious politics: There’s talk of stationing mainland immigration officers in Kowloon, raising the expected “two systems” grumbles.
So for a total of $84.42 billion and a few months of political scrapping we’ll get the late delivery of a speedy rail link to Guangzhou—something which, in fact, we already have. Has there ever been a more annoying hole into which to throw taxpayer money? At least it’s a refreshing change from hoarding it all in some great big surplus pile somewhere underneath Government House…
Most Dodgy Government-Developer Deal: The Avenue of Stars Redevelopment
No self-respecting Hongkonger sets foot on the annoying tourist trap that is the Avenue of Stars, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to be asked about it. In August the government announced it had appointed long-time site manager New World Development to redevelop the site, closing off the waterfront promenade for a good three years. The problem? They didn’t really tell anyone about it, and instead of putting the job out to tender just gave it straight back to New World, provisionally inking a 20-year deal with the property developer. The people weren’t impressed and cried collusion, and the government’s been forced to backtrack and come up with a public consultation plan. We’re not holding our breath.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam has had a tough time of it this year, as her reputation continues to suffer from the pragmatics of trying to get stuff done in an ideologically entrenched environment. But it doesn’t help when you tell a group of people that you’re one of God’s Elect, as Lam did in early November when she told a crowd that “there is a place reserved for me in Heaven” because she had suffered criticism for taking the right path. From your lips to God’s ears, Carrie…
Most Absurd Use of Money: Joseph Lau’s Diamonds
Over the course of two days in November billionaire property mogul Joseph Lau bought a 16.08-carat pink diamond for $222 million and a 12.03-carat blue diamond for $375 million. The sale shattered records for the most expensive jewel sold at auction and the most expensive diamond ever, respectively. The two jewels were renamed the “Sweet Josephine” and the “Blue Moon of Josephine” for his daughter, whose name is indeed Josephine. Two days later the tycoon, who is a fugitive from Macau after being convicted of bribery last year, sold his company’s MassMutual Tower for another record of $12.5 billion, which easily covers the $597 million he dropped on those two diamonds. Guess it’s all a matter of scale, isn’t it?
Best Smackdown: Leung Chai-yan
On Halloween night Leung Chai-yan, daughter of the Chief Executive, went out to party in Lan Kwai Fong. As you’d expect of an LKF night out, things got messy. When Leung’s mother Regina Tong was called and showed up in the early hours to take a not-totally-sober Princess Chai home, Leung slapped her face twice, yelling, “You know this mum is not my actual biological mother.” It’s clearly a troubled relationship: But we couldn’t help but feel a little satisfied.
Most Surprisingly Low Profile: CY Leung
Our city’s Chief Executive has kept his head largely below the parapet this year: A decision which was, let’s be honest, entirely right. After stonewalling masterfully during Occupy last year, and leaving Carrie Lam and the pro-Beijingers to try to pass the reform bill, he’s been content to have spent a relatively quiet 2015, although confirming that the role of the Chief Executive was indeed “transcendent” above all branches of government is something we could have done without. The most notable thing he’s done in the last six months? Joined Facebook, where he posts holiday snaps, photos of Hello Kitty dim sum, his dogs and recent gardening successes. Nothing humanizes a person like Facebook. That said, in September CY’s approval ratings hit an all-time low of 38.5 points: Seems like even going off-grid isn’t enough to make people forget that they hate you.
Most Unwise Gig Appearance Ever: Steve Wong Ka-keung
The third anniversary of the Beijing loyalist Business and Professionals Alliance early this month saw a star guest in the form of Steve Wong Ka-keung, bassist of seminal Hong Kong rock band Beyond. Critics were incensed: Beyond were a famously anti-authoritarian band, and their 1993 hit “Under a Vast Sky” became the anthem of the Occupy movement. Worst of all, CY Leung was in attendance and posted a selfie of the two on Facebook. Wong explained that he was not aware that the Chief Executive would be at the event, and that he’d just been booked to play a private gig. Hey—a job’s a job, right?
Spare a thought for 12-year-old Siu Yau-wai, who lived illegally in Hong Kong for nine years, mostly confined to his flat, until his grandmother came forward with his story in May with the help of trade unionist lawmaker Chan Yuen-han. That’s when it all went wrong. Chan was accused of using the boy to score political points, the grandmother was accused of being a poor guardian—and localist groups saw the boy as symptomatic of non-Hongkongers who took advantage of the city’s resources. In a stunning piece of assholery, they attacked the school which had offered to help him, plastering protest placards to its doors and yelling that the boy should go back to where he had come from. Siu Yau-wai is currently in Shenzhen, awaiting some kind of decision about his future.
Most Well-Meaning Xenophobia: Hong Kong Sports Fans
Overseas, football is a sport known for its hooligans. But this year Hong Kong fans were keen to show their support for the callous side of the Beautiful Game: They’ve been booing the Chinese national anthem as it plays before Hong Kong games. After FIFA warned fans not to boo ahead of last month’s World Cup qualifier match against China, creative fans held up signs which said “boo” on them instead, as well as “Hong Kong is not China” banners. Still, all the smack-talking seemed to work as the SAR played China to an unexpected tie. Jeering your own national anthem, out of national pride: What a city.