Thursday, May 28, 2009


By Chip Tsao | published May 28, 2009

Apple Chan. Milk Wong. Pineapple Chung. The creative self-naming strategy adopted by some of Hong Kong’s young, middle-class intellectuals has never failed to bore westerners. But did you know that it’s easy to tell the age of a Hongkonger you’ve just met simply by looking at their western name? If you’ve met a Tony Leung, Johnny Lam or Bobby Lee, then he must be in his late 40s or early 50s, for these names were popular in Hong Kong’s private English colleges during the 1960s, when teenagers were crazy about pop icons like Peter, Paul and Mary. Horace Hui, Cecil Szeto or Ernest Au? No they weren’t born in the late Victorian era and brought up in the First World War. More likely, they received their elite education in the 1980s at a decent Christian secondary school, where they were enlightened by the likes of Oscar Wilde or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, pressed upon them by their Irish missionary school principal.

Then, there’s Coco Cheung and Ferragamo Lee. It’s difficult to guess whether they came from a Mong Kok family or from the more respectable Robinson Road crowd, but the card-bearer is most likely in their late 20s or early 30s, for never did Hong Kong’s young generation begin to broaden their horizons with Italian fashion and French perfumes before the 1990s, realizing that the west is so much more than just Coca-Cola and Buckingham Palace.

An Australian diplomat recently told me about another case. A Hong Kong SAR government delegation traveled to Australia earlier this year for an official visit. At a welcoming banquet upon their arrival in Canberra, they were invited by their hosts—a bunch of cynical Aussies—to briefly introduce themselves in English one-by-one. One young Hong Kong administrative officer gave his name as “Indiana Cheung,” and he added with a grin and an American twang: “I’m getting married next week. I’m here to learn from you guys.”

Dying of curiosity, an Australian official privately asked the young man if he had a brother called California and a sister called Virginia, as he was getting ready to suggest the name Sydney to his Hong Kong guest, should he have a baby soon. “My dad gave me my English name,” Indiana Cheung announced proudly. “He was fascinated by ‘Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ which was released in Hong Kong when my mom was pregnant.”

I checked Stephen’s Spielberg’s filmography and rightly concluded that the young man is 28. I wish him a great honeymoon, and I also hope that he’s not a fan of Tom Hanks and that his wife doesn’t give him twins. Imagine the embarrassment when the teenagers “Angel” and “Demon” enroll in class together at London’s Harrow School.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Live and Left Die

By Chip Tsao | published May 21, 2009

A global pandemic threatens public safety, but it can also bring about unexpected side effects—for example, it’s cleansing the world of another virus; a virus called political correctness. The term “Mexican Swine Flu,” thanks to the local scare-mongering press, is now a name as popular as “KFC” among Hong Kong children. The Hong Kong SAR government imprisoned more than one hundred protesting tourists, mostly westerners, in the Metropark Hotel, a weird scene reminiscent of a Warsaw ghetto. On the day of his release, a Korean businessman most likely in the final stages of Stockholm Syndrome declared in tears, “Long live Hong Kong!”

American medical experts claimed that it was genetic differences that left the Mexican nation more prone to swine flu. Yet there wasn’t a word of protest from human rights groups condemning this racism.

As Hong Kong and China shiver in the face of this Sars-like end-of-the-world phantasm, the United States treats it as a childish cry-wolf farce with New Yorkers impudently walking the streets mask-free. A request from the Hong Kong SAR government begging the Obama administration to take “responsible measures” was met with a cold shoulder.

This understatement conceals a Darwinian message: We Americans, consisting mostly of what can be referred to as WASPS, are a physically fitter race. We refuse to wear masks over this fuss, just as easily as we can jog comfortably in the streets in only a T-shirt on a breezy winter day of 8 degree Celsius, while a Chinese, Singaporean or Vietnamese person would have to wrap themselves in scarves, jumpers and jackets. It is the United States, not a Chinese woman from Hong Kong appointed the chief of the WHO, who determines how fatal a pandemic is. Like it or not, we don’t give a shit about swine flu.

With more than 4,500 passengers arriving in Hong Kong from the US every day, the Hong Kong Chinese media has angrily accused the Americans of “exporting poison to the world.” Compared with the export of Maoism in the 1970s, which has impoverished or subverted countries such as Cambodia or Peru with diseases like the Khmer Rouge or the Shining Path, one can argue that this swine flu pandemic from the States is relatively benign. What can we do in response anyway?
A boycott of all Hollywood blockbusters this summer?

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Showcasing Political Correctness

By Chip Tsao | published May 07, 2009

My flight landed at Heathrow in London early in the morning. To my surprise, six of the eight immigration control officers in the booths were people of color—either of African or Indian origin, and an Islamic woman in religous garb. An Englishman queuing in front of me looked a little uncomfortable. I bet he was a bit confused—a waspy British citizen returning home, yet subject to challenge by an Islamic female immigration official guarding the frontier. She could refuse him entry or have him taken to a room for questioning for looking like a suspicious terrorist. Remember, this is London, not LA. This scene clearly showcases the multicultural policies of the New Labour government, something unimaginable in the Thatcher years of the 1980s.

I’m talking about six out of eight immigration officials, that is 75 percent, an amazing proportion that would appear to suggest that ethnic minorities enjoy at least equal opportunity here. The immigration checkpoints at an airport give you your first impression of the nation you are about to visit. If I had been deported straightaway from Heathrow that morning, I would have left London with the perception that Britain was a racially harmonious nation, unaware that the proportion of minorities visible in the immigration department is certainly not reflected in the composition of the British government cabinet or in Parliament.

This is the problem with political correctness.

A government is more than happy, when required by some racial equality laws, to show the public that ethnic minorities are employed in low-paid jobs at operational levels ranging from cleaners and museum guards to airport immigration officials. But there is still a glass ceiling somewhere.

If Hong Kong legislates against racism, as they have promised to do, shouldn’t equal opportunities be extended to ethnic minorities in the community in a more genuine way than this? What I saw at Heathrow serves as a warning against the hypocrisy of “positive discrimination.” The Basic Law should be amended to allow a Hong Kong-born Pakistani to become the chief executive, a position currently open by law to ethnic Chinese people only. If that’s changed, then Hong Kong could one day have its very own Obama, someone who would hopefully know how to stand up to his Beijing masters better than the toadies who preceded him.

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