22 October 2016
Hong Kong people should vote wisely in the upcoming Legislative Council election. Photo: HKEJ
Hong Kong people should vote wisely in the upcoming Legislative Council election. Photo: HKEJ

A letter to a graduating student and aspiring writer

(Editor’s note: The following was originally written for and read by the author in RTHK’s Letter to Hong Kong program on July 31)

Dear Rebecca,

How’s your summer? I hope you’re enjoying your internship in an online news portal.

It must be so much fun to write about the upcoming Legislative Council election.

I wish I were 20 years younger so I could restart my journalism life. How much I have regretted writing too much about numbers and corporates, not people and politics, which are a lot more interesting.

Back then we only had fax; no internet or Facebook, and definitely no Pokémon GO, but at least we could sleep well at night.

For the first time in your life, you will vote in September. Have you made up your mind yet?

From our previous conversation, I can pretty much guess your choice. You are no different from the many young students who responded to a survey by the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The survey showed that about one in five people favored independence for Hong Kong, against three in five who opposed.

Yet this survey released last week also said four in five people thought independence would not be possible in future.

So much about “One Country, Two Systems”! The system was designed before you were born, but you, as you ponder what you want to do after graduation, obviously don’t like it.

How can you be happy when you reach my age in 2047?

From your modern history class, you learned about the movement in Scotland to declare independence from the United Kingdom, and the clamor in Quebec to get out of Canada.

In both cases, referendum was called and the “Remain” camp won, although that might not be the end of the story.

So are we dreaming the impossible dream of independence?

Well, that is life – you do not usually get what you want, but that does not mean you can only sit down and grumble.

Go out and pick whoever you think would best represent your interests in Legco.

I doubt if you and your classmates would opt for the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong – unless you are fond of dumplings and snake soup.

But if you prefer pan-democrats, you still have range of candidates to choose from – from moderates to radicals to extreme radicals.

Yes, most of them appear a wee bit too combative, crying foul over every action or statement from Beijing and always finding fault in the government and the pro-establishment camp.

They are credited for seeking to preserve the core values of our beloved city, but are also blamed for blocking the inevitable, Hong Kong’s integration with mainland China.

Take filibustering, which has been paralyzing government efficiency and jeopardizing well-intentioned reforms over the past four years.

With the benefit of hindsight, I could say that some filibusters were the smart thing to do, but in most cases, sadly, they were way overdone.

As a result, Legco debates, involving some of the best brains in town, became a soap opera or even a farce, and people just couldn’t take seriously whatever was said there. It is a loss-loss situation.

Mega infrastructure projects such as the Guangzhou-Hong Kong high-speed rail, the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge and even the long-awaited West Kowloon Cultural District are all meant to help Hong Kong meet the challenges of the times and maintain its status as a world-class city.

Our push for innovation and technology, on which we can draw some lessons from our neighboring city Shenzhen, is also a step in the right direction.

Even the controversial “One Belt, One Road” initiative will open up all kinds of interesting opportunities that are not available to us at the moment.

All these initiatives provide jobs, which is all I care about before you graduate.

The spillover effect of filibustering on the economy and job market cannot be underestimated. I know of several young graduates who got laid off because their architectural and engineering firms did not have enough projects in Hong Kong.

You also know how much I admire young people who start their own interesting projects like the 100 Most guys, or those who developed an app for finding toilets in Hong Kong.

The campus is a strawberry field, but the workplace is a battlefield. You must equip yourself well in college before setting sail in your career.

I could not recall how many times you complained about a certain subject, which you found boring and impractical.

Well, even Harvard and Oxford have boring classes. You ought to learn how to endure and deal with adversity.

Sometimes you don’t have a choice because it’s a requirement for your course, but you can always choose to seize the best from a less favorable situation.

Likewise, I know you guys do not fancy too much working in China. But if you want to work in Hong Kong, you better train up on English.

Read, write and speak English as much as you can. That would make your life easier. Take my word for it.

When I look at my high school classmates 30 years ago, many of them are doing well in local and multinational corporations.

But the ones who really stood out were those who run business in China. Why? Because they know China, and they were able to bring what they learned in Hong Kong and other countries to China.

Given all these considerations, I hope you can choose the best candidate in September, someone who knows the virtues of western democracy but also possesses the wisdom to apply them in the most appropriate way in Hong Kong and deal with Beijing.

Remember to look at their track record. There is nothing more predictive of the future behavior and performance of a person than how they acted in the past.

There is perhaps something we can learn from our former colonial government, whose people opted for a painful Brexit that led to the fall of former Prime Minister David Cameron.

The unexpected outcome led to a chaotic situation, but order was quickly restored within a month under Theresa May, who garnered the support of members of the Parliament and started putting Britain back on track.

Nobody said leaving the European Union would be easy, but we now have more confidence in Britain after witnessing how mature and powerful its democratic system is.

Hong Kong is far from there yet, but no worries. We’re just kids in politics. We are young and restless, and we can afford mistakes.

As you shall find out, there is no right or wrong answer to many of the difficult questions in life. What matters is what you believe.

But then you need to do research – and think it through before casting your precious first vote.

See you on the new campus!

Your lecturer,

Ben Kwok

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EJ Insight writer

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