Dec 27, 2012|
2012 has been a funny year, with protests and anger at the government on a scale that we’ve not seen in Hong Kong for almost a decade. Each successive scandal has exposed just what an old boys’ club it is in our top tiers of government—but hey, at the end of the day (or year), you just gotta laugh, right? We’ve rounded up some of the most ridiculous, juicily scandalous stories of the last 12 months.
In other countries, sex and money are usually the cause of a politician’s downfall. But here in Hong Kong, it was our officials’ illegal structures that ruined them. Former Chief Secretary for Administration Henry Tang—who had long been tipped as Beijing’s favorite candidate to succeed Donald Tsang as Chief Executive—found himself out of a job after his illegal “underground palace” was revealed by the press. The surprise discovery led to a media frenzy, with many news outlets hiring cranes to peer into Tang’s Kowloon Tong mansion. Rival CY Leung exploited the opportunity to attack Tang, portraying himself as someone with integrity, and eventually scored the top job. However, in June, local media discovered that Leung himself also had a bunch of illegal structures at his home in the Peak. Leung, a professional surveyor, had lied about the existence of his own illegal structures; he refused to explain the incident to the public for several months, citing a lawsuit. He has also refused to accept responsibility for the debacle.
In addition to appearing on their husbands’ arms at public functions, politicians’ wives have a new role in Hong Kong: to take the fall for any indiscretions dear hubby has incurred while in office. The trend began with former Tang, who said it was his wife’s idea to build the aforementioned “underground palace” in his mansion. His old boss and former CE Donald Tsang adopted the same strategy when he was embroiled in a scandal for getting a bargain lease on his retirement home, a 6,000-square-foot flat in Shenzhen. Tsang said he needed so much space because his wife had so many posessions. Two new members of the BMW club include development minister Paul Chan and Executive Council member Franklin Lam. When it was revealed that Chan owned an illegally subdivided flat, he claimed that it was his wife’s business, while Lam said his wife was the one behind the selling his two luxury flats before the implementation of the special stamp duty.
Hong Kong is known as the city of demonstrations, but it’s rare that a single prop can cause as much controversy as the colonial flag has in the last year. Former Beijing officials—including Chen Zuoer and Lu Ping—were infuriated with the constant sightings of the British-Hong Kong flag; they couldn’t stop complaining about how it made them upset, and even went as far as saying that a secessionist movement was taking root in Hong Kong. Ironically, this only upset Hongkongers even further, and now we find ourselves in a negative feedback loop of flag-waving and offense-taking.
The anti-graft body has had a busy year. Not only has it had to deal with Donald Tsang’s boat trips to Macau, Henry Tang’s illegal structures and CY Leung’s false statements (he claimed that he had no unauthorized additions in his home) during the elections, but ICAC investigators also made one of their most high-profile arrests ever since the body’s establishment 38 years ago. In March, the ICAC arrested Sun Hung Kai Properties co-chairmen Thomas Kwok and Raymond Kwok, and former Chief Secretary for Administration Raphael Hui. It was alleged that Hui received $40 million in bribes from the Kwok brothers between 2000 and 2009.
Thanks to ATV, the Communications Authority had to handle a record number of complaints in 2012. As everyone knows that hardly anyone watches ATV, it really is quite an achievement to receive so many complaints from such a small audience. The authority received more than 42,000 complaints from the public after an episode of ATV Focus, which labeled activist group Scholarism a “destructive” force. As if that didn’t not give the Communications Authority enough to chew over, ATV also staged a protest to deter the government from issuing new free TV licenses and broadcasted it live. The program won ATV another 2,200 complaints. The complaints related to ATV this year actually equals the total number of complaints the Communications Authority [its predecessor was called the Broadcasting Authority] has received in a decade.
Hunger strikes are usually kind of a joke in Hong Kong, because most of them only last a day or so. But earlier this year, a real hunger strike took place to protest against the proposed national education curriculum. Three teenagers from the student organization Scholarism: Lily Wong, Ivan Lam and a young man who called himself Kaiser—all aged 18—stopped eating for 56 hours to protest against the implementation of a required, mainland-mandated patriotic course. Encouraged by the trio, 25 adults, including parents, teachers and academics, continued the hunger strike. Among the protesters, retired teacher James Hon was the most persistent, refusing food for 171 hours. Moved by the hunger strikes, thousands of Hongkongers visited the Central Government Offices over nine consecutive nights. At the peak of the occupation, more than 120,000 Hongkongers, clad in black, had stationed themselves at Tamar in protest.
Any Hongkonger knows that elections in Hong Kong—whether it’s for the Chief Executive, Legco or the District Council—are all for show, as the real decisions are made up north. However, we gotta say that it was a heart-warming moment when about 230,000 citizens lined up for hours outside polling stations just to cast a mock vote in the Chief Executive election. The civil referendum, the brainchild of Dr. Robert Chung of the HKU Public Opinion Program, received little attention at first. However, a large number of Hongkongers decided to participate after the polling system was attacked by hackers (believed to have been from the mainland). Hongkongers are still chasing the ever-elusive idea of universal suffrage, but this little incident showed that we are united in the pursuit of democracy.
Hong Kong has a long way to go in terms of achieving LGBT equality, but there have been at least a few events that sparked public discussion about gay rights in our city.
In April, singer Anthony Wong wowed the public by coming out on stage at the end of Tat Ming Pair’s 25th anniversary concert—the only openly gay singer in Hong Kong in nine years (the last one being the late Leslie Cheung). Wong’s bold move seemed to encourage other well-known figures to follow: we now have our first openly gay lawmaker Ray Chan; popular singer Denise Ho also came out as a lesbian at the pride parade. On another note, heiress Gigi Chao married her long-time girlfriend Sean Yeung in France. However, her father, tycoon Cecil Chao, could not accept the happy union. He told the press that his daughter isn’t a lesbian, and even offered a dowry of $500 million to whoever would be his “future son-in-law.” The incident grabbed global attention, and Gigi has since been bombarded with thousands of missives from would-be suitors.
Moments like this make you wonder if Hong Kong is still stuck in the Middle Ages. In November, lawmaker Cyd Ho of the Labour Party started a motion calling the government to start a consultation on a gay rights law. The motion would not have led directly to legislation—just a chance for discussion—but nonetheless, it was rejected by the conservative, pro-Beijing bloc.
The government is obsessed with developing Hong Kong, but there have been some victories in halting the meaningless destruction of certain monuments.
After more than two years, the government finally dropped its plans to demolish the West Wing of the old Central Government Offices and erect a commercial building on the site. Government Hill—which has stood testament to Hong Kong’s 170-year history—will be preserved and used as office space by the Judiciary.
The bus terminal next to the Star Ferry was going to be bulldozed to make way for a public piazza. However, in August, the government made a surprise announcement: the plan to redevelop the terminal had been shelved. Activist group Our Bus Terminal had been fighting to preserve the terminal since 2009. Finally, a happy ending.
The waters of Lung Mei in Tai Po are so dirty that no one really wants to swim there, but that little detail isn’t going to prevent a manmade beach from being built, paving the way for more lucrative property development. Obviously, it’s the property developers and land-owning indigenous villagers who will pocket massive gains from these projects. Sadly, it comes at a high ecological price—Lung Mei is home to many marine creatures.
Tensions have been escalating between mainlanders and Hongkongers, and the climax came when a group of netizens raised more than $100,000 in less than a week to buy a full-page advertisement in the Apple Daily. The poster showed a large pack of locusts [the propagator does not admit that the insects on the poster are locusts], to symbolize mainlanders stealing welfare services and resources from Hongkongers. Some people decried the xenophobic nature of the poster, but nevertheless, it seemed to strike a chord among many.
Roughly 150 tons of plastic pellets were swept into the sea after Typhoon Vicente—Hong Kong’s first signal-10 storm in 13 years—passed through our city. These translucent pellets posed a threat to marine life, because they could be eaten by animals that would then absorb their toxins. The government did nothing until the expat community in Discovery Bay alerted the public to the plastic disaster. It was encouraging to see so many people volunteer to clean up the coastline, but some nurdles (now that’s a new word we learned this year) still remain on our beaches.
Roughly 800 visitors are left suspended in the air after the Ngong Ping 360 cable car suffers another breakdown. The temperature in Lantau drops to three degrees, and the chilling weather makes the stranded visitors shiver. According to the operator, the cars are not operating because a bearing in one of its two mid-stations, the Airport Island Angle Station, is not running smoothly. The car system is closed down for 10 days to conduct checks and repairing works.
A policewoman goes to a squat toilet while patrolling in Lam Tsuen, Tai Po, and accidentally drops her walkie-talkie down the hole. She fails to retrieve it and reports the incident to her senior. The officers seek help from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, and the toilet is cordoned off for three days so that sanitation cars can pump the waste away. They finally retrieve the walkie-talkie after five hours.
Purple Lee, a popular children’s performer, is blasted for mistreating her domestic helper. During a media interview, Lee gave the reporter a tour of her 1,800-square-foot home in Tiu Keng Leng. However, the story and its accompanying sad photos ultimately revealed that her helper lived in a converted bathroom, with a bed mounted above a toilet bowl. Lee says that the room was designed this way because her mother didn’t want to share a toilet with the helper.
A girl, 17, appears in court after selling all her parents’ electronic appliances to a recycler for $1,500 in order to move out of the family home. On June 25, after her parents had left for work, the girl called a recycler and sold him 15 appliances, including a massage chair and an air-conditioner. When the parents return to their empty flat, they find a note from the girl saying that she will return the money later. The girl pleads guilty to theft; none of her family members come to the court.
A female tourist from South Korea, 33, pleads guilty to stealing a Cathay Pacific air hostess uniform. On July 26, a flight attendant found her luggage missing. The luggage was retrieved later, but her uniform was gone. An hour later, a policeman saw the defendant wearing the uniform, leaving the lavatory. The eagle-eyed policeman stopped her because she was not wearing black pantyhose—a necessary part of a flight attendant’s attire. The tourist tells the judge that she stole the clothes to fulfill her dreams of being an air hostess.
Four hundred people queue up at The Peninsula to place their orders for the hotel’s popular custard mooncakes. The coupons are sold out within an hour. Suspicious of “mooncake speculators” ordering the snacks in bulk, the disappointed crowds call the police. The hotel gives out pairs of afternoon tea vouchers—each worth of $528—to pacify the people who failed to purchase the mooncakes.
Two 10-year-old boys go to their friend’s house and steal an iPad, a digital camera and about $3,200 in cash. The boys then go to Disneyland for a “celebration,” and use the stolen iPad to take pictures, staying in the theme park till midnight. MTR staff members become suspicious when the see the boys waiting for a train unsupervised, and they inform the police. The boys are released on bail, and their friend’s mother decides not to seek further legal action.
A female tourist from New Zealand visits Lan Kwai Fong. She meets a Russian woman, and the pair chats and drinks together. The tourist gets drunk and finds herself lying on Hennessy Road at 3am. A passerby helps her to her hotel. Feeling a pain in her anus, she suspects that she has been raped by the Russian woman. After a hospital check-up, the doctor tells her that she is in fact suffering from hemorrhoids.