Looking ahead to 2019, four things that might improve Hong Kong in the coming year
- Letting children get more physical exercise and weaning ourselves off our throwaway culture would improve life for all in 2019
- Hong Kong should also nurture a proper sense of community, reaching out to the needy, and make an effort to be inclusive
As 2018 draws to a close, we are still seeing many news reports of Hong Kong’s sky-high rents, its housing shortage, and widening wealth gap when it comes to addressing social issues.
Media outlets have been focusing on those topics to a point where it has become so repetitive that readers have been effectively numbed by the sight of them. Of course, these perennial issues are important to many and should not be swept under the carpet, but I feel that there are also topics that may not have been prominently featured but still worth our attention.
Here is my wish list of such topics I hope will garner more column inches or airtime in the new year.
First, improving the physical fitness of children is one thing that many parents seem to neglect as their priority is mainly academic performance. According to research conducted by the University of Hong Kong earlier this year, the city’s prison inmates have more outdoor exercise time than our primary and secondary school students.
We all know that physical wellness is key to mental well-being, yet our children remain passive when it comes to doing exercise. What little spare time they have after school, they often choose to spend on extracurricular activities or glued to their electronic devices. Our youngsters do not care much for outdoor activities.
Sadly, the state of our children’s mental health has been put under the spotlight due to an increase in student suicides. According to the Hong Kong Jockey Club Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, 75 Hongkongers aged between 15 and 24 took their own lives in 2016, 29 of whom were full-time students. Up until July 2018, 22 young people – one of them just 11 years old – took their own lives.
In the new year, let us hope that our children will be subject to less stress at school, can have more time to play outdoors, and be encouraged to interact more with the real world.
The next item on my list is to wean ourselves off our throwaway culture and reduce our overreliance on takeaway meals, which generates an unnecessary amount of waste in the form of packaging.
The growing convenience of the “dial-a-meal” habit generates some 2,000 tonnes of plastic container waste and 760 tonnes of plastic bags that go into our landfills every day. Meanwhile, overreliance on eating out instead of cooking at home is another citywide habit that needs to be reduced.
Then comes the nurturing of community spirit through the concept of “pay it forward”, an idea that has been promoted, executed and perfected by Chan Cheuk-ming, better known as “Ming Gor” (Brother Ming). Ming Gor runs a restaurant in Sham Shui Po which provides free meal boxes to the poor and the homeless in the neighbourhood. Diners who eat at his restaurant donate money so that he can use it to provide for the poor. He has been running this charity for years out of the goodness of his heart, and out of his own pocket.
We need more of these community projects to help alleviate the burden of poverty for the underprivileged. According to the latest government data, more than 1.37 million Hongkongers – or one in five people – are living below the poverty line, struggling on as little as HK$4,000 per month. Even worse, 17.5 per cent of our children are classified as poor.
Last on my humble list is for Hongkongers to learn to be more culturally inclusive. While we should be proud of Hong Kong culture in terms of language and customs, we should also be more accommodating to others. Hong Kong is a culturally diverse city and, while we all seem to live in harmony, there needs to be more genuine interaction on a social and community basis. Not just paying lip service to the so-called melting pot principle.
Even if our city does not choose to live by these wise resolutions in the new year, they are certainly ones that we as individuals can choose to abide by.
Instead of taking a taxi to a nearby destination, why not walk there instead? Not only will you be reducing your carbon footprint and pollution in the city – which is another huge problem in itself – you will be giving yourself some much needed exercise. Many of us have seen plenty of articles and documentaries that espouse the benefits of exercise, and this includes everything from increased muscle and bone strength to better cardiovascular fitness, so why not give your body what it deserves?
Cut down on single-use plastic by carrying a reusable bag with you when you go shopping, or buy a re-usable cup to use for your daily morning coffee instead of going through a paper cup every single day.
Volunteer your time on the weekends to help someone in need instead of mindlessly binge-watching television shows. Whatever you choose to dedicate yourself to, whether it be feeding the homeless or taking care of stray animals, do something for someone other than yourself.
Finally, take the time to make someone feel at home in your community. Hong Kong is a famously rich city in terms of cultures, ethnicities, and religions, but sometimes we forget this, and we tend to “stick to our own”.
In the new year, make an effort to embrace the city’s multiculturalism. Learn to appreciate a new culture, make a stranger feel at home in the city, or just make an effort to be inclusive. In short, do your best to contribute to building a greater sense of community.
Whatever we choose to do in 2019, let it be something that is good, pure, and altruistic to make our city a better place for all of us.
Luisa Tam is a senior editor at the Post