Just Saying

Enough of Crazy Rich Asians, think of crazy poor Hongkongers

Yonden Lhatoo says a big ‘bah humbug’ to the crass celebration of wealth behind the Hollywood blockbuster while the city can’t get a grip on grinding poverty and homelessness

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 August, 2018, 1:51pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 August, 2018, 2:49pm

On my way home from work late at night, I often walk through what passes as a public park in this concrete jungle of a city.

It’s essentially a cemented strip, separated from the main road by dusty trees and bushes blackened by soot from vehicle exhaust fumes. Several park benches sheltered by flimsy roofs line the strip, offering spartan refuge to a couple of homeless men who sleep there on a regular basis.

I can’t help noticing how the government has gone out of its way to make them feel unwelcome, putting up notices against street sleepers and taking it a mean-spirited step further to install iron dividers on every bench, rendering those precious pieces of real estate physically impossible to recline on.

And yet the street sleepers are there every night, nodding off while sitting upright between the iron dividers, or slumped over them in tortured slumber, bodies contorted in painful positions.

It’s a truly depressing sight in a city where the plight of the have-nots like these is magnified by contrasting, vulgar displays of wealth and privilege all around them – the park is also a magnet for dog owners walking, or wheeling in strollers, their freshly shampooed and manicured poodles.

Speaking of homeless people and pets, I was struck by the double standards when a middle-aged man was jailed for four weeks earlier this month for leaving his Pomeranian in his car for hours while he was out delivering pizzas.

Everyone was outraged about the dog being abused but there was zero sympathy for the owner, who was living in his car and had basically left the pet “home” alone. Homelessness for humans takes a back seat to comfort for animals in this city.

According to the government, the number of registered street sleepers has doubled to 1,127 over the past five years. Independent researchers and concern groups estimate there are twice as many.

Hundreds of them are “McSleepers” – people who spend their nights in 24-hour McDonald’s outlets – thanks to the fast food giant’s praiseworthy policy of open arms and tolerance that should put our welfare and housing authorities to shame.

Priced out and living above a rubbish dump: where do Hong Kong’s rough sleepers go?

Think about it: while our government is on a crusade to clear the homeless out of public places instead of taking truly bold action to tackle the causes of grinding poverty and insane property prices, McDonald’s is providing the immediate relief that nobody else could be bothered to.

Hong Kong’s widening wealth gap, already worse than in countries such as South Korea, Japan, Britain and the United States, has become obscene.

When Oxfam reported that 82 per cent of the wealth generated on this planet last year went into the pockets of the richest 1 per cent while the poorest half of humanity got nothing, it also urged the government here to “increase public spending and create a human economy such that everyone – not just the fortunate few – can benefit”.

I don’t see anyone doing anything about it, really. In fact all I hear these days is the buzz about Crazy Rich Asians , the Hollywood blockbuster featuring a bunch of disgustingly wealthy people living over-privileged lives in Singapore.

I get the whole thing about a movie with an all-Asian cast finally breaking the box office in an industry that usually prefers white actors in yellowface to portray people from this part of the world. But all this brouhaha about celebrating “Asian pride” is sickening, to say the least.

Sorry, what exactly are ordinary Asians so proud and excited about here? That we can also boast of people who charter private jets and own islands? That over-the-top opulence enjoyed by a few among us is cause for the rest to celebrate?

With all due respect to the crazy rich Asians and their fans in this city, how about some empathy and compassion for crazy poor Hongkongers instead?

Yonden Lhatoo is the chief news editor at the Post