Sunday, September 9, 2012

Is Hongville a sign of things to come in Hong Kong?

I came across a post on HKGolden, around the time when protests against national education in Hong Kong was in full swing. It was written as a fiction, but so many real life topics, incidents and phenomenons have been covered, and knowing the current state of things in mainland China, even the fictional or future part of the essay sounds plausible.
It was so insightful I decided to attempt a translation for sharing. Feel free to pass this along. Translation after first break. Some references, copyright terms and source after the translation.
Do you want to see Hong Kong becoming the Hongville thus described? I don't. If you do not come out, speak out, and take a stand against things you think are wrong now, while you still can, it may be too late when you personally become subject of these wrongs.

Mok has lived in this city for fifty years.
He never once left Hongville since birth. He was born here; he grew up here; he was educated here; he worked here; he probably would be buried here when he dies. Just like any other native Hongvilleans, Mok loved this city dearly.
Mok entered the workforce straight out of high school. Although he was not highly educated, he worked hard and built his first nest egg. One day, advisors from the bank approached Mok trying to get him to buy some investments. Mok declined at first – you cannot just get him to buy in blind. Since that day, he saw his coworkers left one by one: the girl at reception, the OA dude, even the janitor, all left and never returned. Turned out they all hit the jackpot trading stocks and quit. Mok thought about the advisor and regretted not getting his phone number. Well, if making money was so easy, he probably have no time to manage his own, let alone those of others, did he? So Mok went to the bank himself, took out his life savings, and told the lady at the counter of his intent. The counter lady, seeing the “mini” amount he has, recommended the Amen Brothers “mini bonds” to him. Eventually a financial crisis swept the brothers away, along with Mok's money and dream.
Awaken from his dreams, yet life goes on. This is Hongville, the land of opportunity. So long as you work hard, you will have your break.
After the crisis, recession hit Hongville. Sometimes Mok missed the bygone days of living under others' rule, days where life were simpler, happier than it was now. Mok hated this outrageous idea of his, and tried to convince himself not to look back: “Since Hongvilleans need to be ruled, it's better to be ruled by one of our own; at least we speak the same language.”
Our own kind” brought a lot of changes upon Hongville, as is necessary for a city's development. As time goes by, Queenie Pier, Leisee Street, Vegfield Village... all disappeared.
Mok is very much against conservation. He thinks old buildings, in the way of the city's development, are not worth spending resources to preserve. As scarce as land was in Hongville, there was really no reason to waste valuable land in the name of conservation. And the residents of Vegfield Village, to Mok, were nothing more than thugs; they had been compensated, yet they refuse to move out, what was it about if not blackmailing? The Lightspeed Railway will have to be built, and who is going to pay the extra ten billion dollars in cost if it is delayed for a year? Everyone says the trend is to go along with the north. How do we go along with the north without Lightspeed Railway?
Another reason Mok feels disgusted at conservation, is in how activists fight. In a fast-paced city like Hongville, efficiency is king. Yet all these activists do day in, day out is sleep on the streets and hollering some slogans. To Mok, they are parasites of society! Not to mention the government will not backtrack just because there are a few opposing its plans. Why not just do something to help the society along if resistance is always futile? During their fights, it is not uncommon to see bodily contacts between these conservation activists and police. Every time Mok sees news footages edited by the sole free television station of these conflicts, he was angered, yet he wanted to watch. He was angry not at the lack of care these news are made with, but at how the “thugs” in the footages can call themselves intellects and scholars.
Making Mok even more mad, is how these “thugs” got elected to the legislative council.
Mok thought: All these councillors did in session was throwing fruits, swearing, and holding up government policymaking via filibustering, paying them out of public coffers is a waste. Not to mention their disorderly demonstrations and assembly where they parade with coffins in tow and charge barriers. Did they think they are above the law? Could they not be more peaceful and rational when expressing their appeal? Why they always had to charge this and occupy that? Their supporters were just as radical, knowing nothing but shouting at and shoving others, littering along their parades, and smashing police cruisers. Why pick on the police? Why the police have to endure these unreasonable insults just because they are there to do their job? All these politicians ever do is further their own interests by way of politics, why did voters still fall of them?
Mok hated politics. He would only vote for candidates caring for people's daily lives. If their platform included cash handouts, all the better. With the kind of wealth inequality in Hongville, cash is the one thing that could most help lower class people like him.
Mok's favourite candidate was elected. Mok got the cash. Unfortunately, the economy did not improve. His windfall ran out and Mok remained poor. He still believed that people's livelihood is no small matter, and the councillor he chose will lead Hongville to a better future.
Some years later, Hongville government decided to implement patriotic education in primary schools, in order to strengthen the citizenship's sense of belonging to the nation. Great backlash ensued. Students, parents, and teachers' groups all expressed opposition, and the city saw no less than dozens of assemblies and parades against it. Some of Mok's friends once invited him to take to the streets in support, but he declined. First, he hated violent acts of opposition like demonstrations; second, Mok had no plans to have children, so this issue really was none of his business. Mok soon quickly forgot all about patriotic education.
Later still, to fight computer viruses and support state enterprises, Hongville decided to adopt the Great Wall computer security system that have been in use nationally. Social media sites like Twitter and facebook had always been popular with Hongvilleans, but these foreign sites were rife with viruses. Once Great Wall is operational, people's computers would be safe from attacks from such. Although it was no longer possible to connect to Twitter and facebook, people can instead use a domestic creation called Twitbook. Sporting an interface very similar to facebook, Twitbook was very user-friendly. Meanwhile, as Twitbook prepared to go public on Hongville's stock exchange, many jumped on the Twitbook bandwagon. As Great Wall would increase Twitbook's user base, and the size of its user base would reflect favourably on its share price, Great Wall was indeed a good thing for Hongville.
There were again sporadic protests against implementing Great Wall. Mok, who once again bet his life savings, felt that they were getting in his way to prosperity. As the saying goes: Friendliness begets prosperity. Why couldn't they just calm down and make money with us?
Mok's dreams came true and got the new shares. It seemed to be the chance to turn his fortunes around. Twitbook's share prices jumped five fold on its first trading day, but experts estimated it could rise further to fifteen times IPO price, so he hanged on to it. But on the third day, trading of Twitbook was suddenly halted, as regulators demanded their explanations on irregularities in trading activities that was discovered. Twitbook refused, claiming such trades involved state secret. With no quick resolution in sight, Mok despaired.
Due to high land premium policy, influx of immigrants, and rampant speculations, property prices skyrocketed in the past ten years. Looked like Mok's plan to home ownership would also have to be deferred. He decided to keep renting the hundred-feet subdivided unit he had squeezed himself in for the past ten years. Sometimes, after seeing the kid living in capsule units upstairs, he would consider himself lucky, as his pad had its own toilet. However, happiness was always short-lived. The building he lived in was suddenly bought out by developers, and as a mere tenant, Mok received no compensation. The landlord, whose only interest was maximizing his profit, gave Mok only one day of notice before eviction. Mok was now homeless, his only possession being a television for receiving the one free television channel.
There was no power outlets under the flyover, so his television was no better than a coffee table. Sometimes Mok felt that hauling this metal brick along everywhere was a burden. But this burden soon disappeared, as it was thrown out by municipal workers as garbage in a clean-up operation.
Things did become better for Mok, sort of. Trading of“Twitbook” did resume - forcibly, and he sold all his shares the first chance he got. Of course, lots of other small shareholders too were selling off their shares. In less than half a day, “Twitbook” shares plummeted to less than its IPO price. With his assets now one-tenth of what it used to be, Mok vowed to no longer believe in any so-called expert opinions.
With cash on hand, Mok quickly found a nice flat in downtown. The flat measured two hundred square feet and came with its own kitchen and toilet. Because it was stigmatized, rent is cheap at just seventy per cent of Mok's salary. Mok thought he was in luck, but unfortunately for him, he did not find out until he was about to sign the contract, that he was not eligible to rent and live in this flat after all. According to a new law passed a few months back, in the name of securing quality of life for the people and improving their qualities, only residents who pass asset and education check may rent or buy properties in downtown. As well, to beautify the city's appearance, minimum spacing between buildings were imposed. Walled buildings were a thing of the past. Furthermore, to ensure each residents have adequate living space, there was also a minimum imposed on each flat's area...... First, Mok's assets was seventy per cent less than the law requires; second, he did not have the minimum education it prescribed, and it is another significant amount of cash to buy that degree. Mok could now only live in the outermost region of Hongville, an ambiguous border area known as “outer city” or Mohu, where both Hongvilleans and Shenzheners can freely access and live in.
The newly passed downtown core law attracted lots of high quality immigrants. This influx solved the problem of aging population in Hongville, while this new urban planning pattern successfully raised, rather significantly, the average income and education levels of Hongvilleans. Although over eighty per cent of Hongville's population are new immigrants, who cares as long as its economy can grow sustainably?
However, along with the influx of immigrants came unemployment issues. There just were not enough jobs in Hongville for the labour market. Eventually, university degree becomes a requirement even for janitors in diners. On the other hand, although population density are lower in the downtown core, people driven out from there crowded the outer city. Streets were full of jobless and homeless people. To survive, some chose to embark on a risky career path of crime. Ever-increasing transit fares under the so-called “fair adjustment mechanism” became unbearable for Mok, whose long commute to his work in downtown core also made him heavily sleep-deprived. In the outer city where crime was rampant, Mok  had his wallet picked more than once.
Public safety in the outer city finally became an issue for the councillors. A bill was tabled to authorize Shenzhen law enforcement officers to operate across the border. Outside rumours has it that this is the first step of cession; next is to amalgamate the outer city with Shenzhen. Outer city's residents started to panic, knowing full well the rampant corruption among Shenzhen's city officials. Mok felt that he can no longer do nothing, mustered up his courage, and went to the councillor he had always supported.
Councillor explains to Mok that the major trend is indeed such integration of Shenzhen and Hongville, that “ceding” outer city can lower Hongville's administrative expenses, in turn leaving more surplus in the city treasury; that money saved would go toward building Hongville, while some of it would be distributed directly to all Hongville residents as year-end bonuses. His explanation goes on that, for these reasons, the bill is supported by “the vast majority” of residents (residents of downtown Hong ville, of course).
With the councillors he supported no longer on his side, Mok thought about those opposition councillors B, C, and D (yes, those policitians he despised.)
Turns out councillors B and C are now behind bars due to security laws passed half a year ago. B was charged with abetting riot for organizing an assembly; C was charged with treason just because of a message he left on facelook ten years ago. Probably because they saw this day coming, B, C, and D all once called upon Hongvilleans to fight such “draconian security laws”, but only a few answered. Hongvilleans, civil and peace-loving as they are known to be, resented their fight more each passing day. Furthermore, with the legislative council now under control of moderates who care more about economy and day-to-day matters than anything else, votes in council became nothing more than routine formalities. As moderates do not turn their backs on the government, opposition's dying struggle went nowhere.
Sorry for straying off topic. Let's focus on Mok again. Now that B and C were in trouble themselves, Mok could only now turn to D. But oddly enough, since nobody knew when, there were no reports of any kind whatsoever on D, in any of the newspapers, magazines, radio stations, or television stations. Even on the national web – Hongville had since been disconnected from the Internet at large – there were no reference to D, as if he never existed. Mok became scared. He tried to ask around those close to him about D, but everyone, upon hearing the name, would all looked surprised at first, then they would all shook their heads and said they never heard of him.
After hearing the fifteenth person denying D's existence, Mok finally believed D was only a saviour out of his imagination. Maybe he had difficulty adapting to lives in Mohu, or it could be hallucination brought on by stress at work. Mok decided to see a doctor. After hearing about Mok's story about D, the doctor gave a diagnosis of psychosis; it could be something else, but definitely a mental illness. As if mental illness was also contagious, Hongville saw a sharp rise in the number of mentally ill people. Since Mok's case was not serious, and he proactively seeked help, a week's stay in the hospital and he could recover.
Unbeknownst to Mok who just admitted himself to the hospital, the council just passed “Permanent Isolation of Mentally Ill Patients Ordinance.” This was an extraordinary measure taken to maintain Hongville's perfect image to the outside. Hongville cannot allow the tiniest of flaws, much like girls with crooked teeth cannot be allowed to perform at ceremonies. It may be called “isolation”, but the bill also authorized hospitals to “eliminate” these patients. After all, these unproductive patients were nothing but a burden to Hongville, and would not be welcomed or accepted by Hongvilleans who are all about achievements and efficiency.
Soon, the inaugural class of patriotic education graduated. To celebrate the success of patriotic education, the government invited them to take part in the annual reunification parade. According to information from Hongville Daily, this year's parade, the twenty-first in as many years, is the biggest ever, almost as big as Pyongyang's Arirang! Schoolchildren sing the national anthem along the parade, residents waving the national flag, applauding. Everyone wear the same smile. What an image of joy and harmony! It is almost the ideal Hongville Mok has yearned for deep in his heart all these years, but he will never get to see it.
As originally posted on HKGolden (Chinese)
This translation is CC-BY-SA.

Amen Brothers "mini bonds": Lehman Brothers "minibonds", a type of credit-linked note. Costed many people their life savings when Lehman Brothers went bankrupt.
"Rule by one of our own": High degree of autonomy under One country, two systems; the region's leader would be from within the region itself.
Queenie Pier, Leisee Street, Vegfield Village were all demolished to make way for redevelopment. They have been renamed to keep with the original author's fictional tone.
"Thug politicians": People Power (formerly League of Social Democrats) LegCo members. Researching the fruit-throwing incident and filibustering (both were real) is left as an exercise for the reader.
Patriotic education: National education that was being pushed through by Hong Kong SAR government when the original story was penned. As this blog post was being written, the administration made some compromises, but calls to completely withdraw the whole syllabus continues.
Twitbook: China's domestic knockoff of Twitter and Facebook in response to the blocked social media sites. 
Mohu: Lo Wu and Luohu. "Mohu" is Mandarin for "ambiguous".
Girl with crooked teeth cannot be allowed to perform at ceremonies: Lip-syncing in Beijing 2008 Opening Ceremony
Pyongyang's Ariyang: North Korea's biggest performance, involving some 4000 performers.
Mok: Cantonese "leng mok", meaning "apathy".

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