By Hans Ebert
It now happens with such monotonous regularity that it has become meaningless. It’s a subject that also raises more questions than answers. It brings back some bad memories and becomes irksome because we should not be where we are today- a tired creative community waiting and praying for some fairy godmother to pull us out of the mire.
So when relatively new Chief Executive Carrie Lam, below, announced last month that her government was going to overhaul the image of Hong Kong as a creative hub by bringing in “overseas talent” to help turn this city into a centre for innovation and technology, one might have heard a low humming sound. Those were the sounds of yawns being stifled.
Why such an emphasis on “overseas talent” anyway? Most of the “overseas talent” that has been brought out to Hong Kong by the government and others too naive to know on bulging expat packages have only used their time here to take, then take some more, and give back nothing back in return.
This happened when Hong Kong was a colony and it continues today. The gift of the gab and the “right” name card with a few letters after one’s name can and has opened many doors. And these doors have allowed in many users, abusers and two-time cheaters. We’ve all met them in Hong Kong at one time or another- celebrity hairdressers, celebrity chefs, celebrity club owners, celebrity pimps, celebrity nobodies…And people look up to these fakes as “success stories”??? Dear gawd.
Have these people or any of these government initiatives to reinvent Hong Kong stopped Singapore from creeping up on this city and attracting and enticing startups, young creative talent, tech companies and almost everyone with something to contribute to creativity by offering tax concessions and dangling other alluring carrots?
This is just one reason how Singapore slowly became the regional international media headquarters. And despite the Lion City not exactly being an exciting place to live, it does offer its people a very comfortable lifestyle. Sure, there’s more than a hint of the Stepford Wives and The Night Of The Living Dead, but dig deeper and there are happier people, with many, more than capable of seeing new business opportunities and with the people skills to engage in The Art Of The Deal.
What does Hong Kong have to offer other than spiralling rents where the rich get richer on the backs of the poor? Where there’s no real middle class. Where the voices of angry and frustrated student leaders who cannot see a future for themselves keep becoming louder, and where for “recreational pursuits” there are “country walks”, and a Ferris wheel, but mainly horse racing and an Instagram generation living on social media. Oh yes, Hong Kong is “the gateway to China”. Really? Still? Believe that? Living in La La Land and dancing in the dark?
Pretty much an endangered species is real life, and making whatever real life is left, relevant and inspiring. For a while, first in the sixties, and then in the eighties and nineties, there was the feeling that anything and everything was possible.
There were the original settlers who saw a barren rock, saw its potential, and made it one of the most colourful and exciting cities in the world- Run Run and brother Runme Shaw, Stanley Ho, Li Ka-shing and others.
The eighties saw a fledgling advertising industry led by a few old Hong Kong Belongers and strong local creative talent like James Wong, Mike Chu, below, Richard Lam, supportive clients who demanded change and very good young local commercials directors like Louis Ng. Together, there was a creative chain reaction that saw this city gain so much more through interaction and inspiration. It was the coming together of ideas.
Alan Zeman took a rubbish dump and made it Hong Kong’s trendiest area.
Singer Sam Hui stopped recording cheap covers of Western pop songs and instead fused his knowledge of chords and chord progressions with Cantonese lyrics that for the first time spoke to the millions of locals in a voice everyone understood.
With his brothers Michael and Ricky, the Hui brothers kick started the local movie industry before the great Bruce Lee was to enter like a dragon and breathe fire by challenging those bound by traditional thinking. This probably got him killed as the powerful do everything possible to hold on to power.
Carrie Lam should understand or be briefed on all of this if Hong Kong is really going to be what it’s not today and aim high- high enough to have a multi media organisation like Alibaba. But will Hong Kong ever find a Jack Ma?
Once upon a time when he and the gang of Keyser Sozes assembled to launch STARTV and then sell that wok in the sky to a Rupert Murdoch blinded by the China Dream, Richard Li could have done this. But his time has come and gone as have all those he needed to turn his dreams into reality.
What’s happened in Hong Kong since that short burst of everything that made this one of the most exciting cities in the world that attracted many has suddenly been muted.
Like a pricked balloon, the inspiration and motivation was allowed to fizzle. Perhaps it had to do with too much of a good thing too quickly? Perhaps it was burn out? Perhaps it had to do with all the secrets still being swept under the rug involving that controversial InvestHK produced event known as HarbourFest.
This was when there were wrong fall guys while others slithered away with their dummy companies and illegal millions. The ICAC could only bring about some closure with a long rambling report that went nowhere.
HarbourFest was a real slap in the face. It showed how power corrupts and how power can hide behind a wife’s skirt before returning to that billion dollar wine cellar and toasting legal loopholes and friends in high places.
Then there was THAT announcement in 2009 by Duncan Pescod, below, the Hong Kong government’s Yes, Minister for all occasions, who boasted that there would be a “worldwide search” to find the right candidate to head up some newly formed organisation to raise the standards of creativity in the city called CreateHK. Duncan Pescod keeps getting moved around with more titles and name cards than a Saudi princeling. It’s a great gig because it’s all about mouthing bureaucratic piffle. And soon, he’ll retire and quietly return from whence he came. And why not? Hong Kong’s been his golden goose. We should all be so lucky. Right, Duncs?
It was appropriate that the CreateHK logo looked like everything has been thrown against the kitchen wall hoping something would stick. Nothing did and nothing has.
In 2010, Duncs announced that after interviewing over 150 candidates, the most appropriate person for the job would be one Jerry Liu, below, who, apparently, had 25 years experience in the local entertainment industry and was an executive with a company known as the Media Asia Group. For someone with so much experience, listening to some of Jerry’s speeches was tough to stomach. It was beyond cringeworthy.
After over seven years, many of us in the creative field in Hong Kong have no idea what CreateHK has done, how it works and why this organisation continues to be subsidised by us taxpayers. It’s just all too stupid. And a tad useless. Possibly like Jerry Liu.
For Carrie Lam, the task is to create what is really needed as opposed to another toothless and mealy mouthed government organisation that’s force fed to the public with an underlying message to either take it or lump it.
Carrie Lam needs to break free from her coterie of Yes, Ministers and speak directly to a handful of creatives who have seen what’s come before and what Hong Kong really needs today. Words like “innovation” and “technology” are easy to parrot. But coming from this government, what does it really mean? And with Sir David Tang sadly no longer with us, who is here that really understands the wants and needs of Hong Kong and how to MARKET the city in a way that doesn’t follow what has come before?
The more I talk to those with whom I once worked in advertising and music, what sadly slaps me in the face are a lack of ideas and very tired thinking.
Perhaps it’s the water? Perhaps it’s the reticence and insecurity to step outside of comfort zones and stop and smell the 2017-18 dim sum? Who knows, but it’s not exactly making Hong Kong buzz with excitement.
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