Why can't people just be nice to the underprivileged?

Wong Hei (inset) criticized area residents who put a stop to free meals provided to the needy at Mei Fong Restaurant. Photo: HKEJ

Hong Kong actor Wong Hei posted a photo of a notice at a local restaurant on his Facebook page the other day.

The notice said, “We have decided to stop suspended meals, as strongly demanded by people in the neighbourhood, and we are fully aware of the impact on environment, safety and hygiene.”

Suspended meals refer to meals, paid for in advance by donors, that are provided free to those in need.

They are different from the free meals offered by certain generous local restaurant owners.

The recipients of suspended meals are treated the same as ordinary customers, but they just do not need to pay.

Wong commented in his post that “it’s quite common for people to be jealous of those who are rich, but now some are jealous of those who are poorer and decided to deprive them of free lunches. Simply put, it’s the mindset of 'not in my backyard'".

In fact, this attitude has existed for some time.

In 1999, residents of Richland Gardens in Kowloon Bay protested against the opening of a new AIDS clinic in the neighborhood.

In 2009, Mui Wo residents protested against the proposed relocation of a drug rehabilitation school to the town.

Tuen Mun residents have long opposed the proposal to build an incinerator nearby.

Frankly speaking, Hong Kong has exorbitant housing prices, and nobody wants to live around unpleasant facilities.

In particular, it’s unfair for owners of private flats who have spent all their savings on their home.

However, that does not mean it’s right to have this “not in my backyard” mentality.

If everyone only cares about his or her own benefits, we would not build any public facilities.

And it’s also alarming to see people in need being labeled as hazards to the environment, safety and hygiene.

There’s always been class discrimination in Hong Kong.

The other day, I ran into a delivery boy for a local restaurant who was holding several bags of boxed meals.

I pressed the lift button for him, and we chatted briefly.

He told me one family in our building has constantly complained to the property management company for allowing delivery boys to go upstairs and even take the same lift as residents.

In Hong Kong, class discrimination is not a sin, but being poor is a big sin.

If you receive Comprehensive Social Security Assistance, you are deemed a lazy loser who is wasting social resources.

How about those who earn their own living?

In a recent case, an elderly man refused to receive CSSA and used fake identity cards to claim he was 11 years younger than his real age to keep his job as a security guard.

He was put in jail for four months for using bogus documents.

It would be reasonable to give the elderly man a lighter sentence to display some compassion for him.

After all, he tried to rely on himself instead of on aid from the government.

Getting back to the restaurant that put up the notice, it was forced to resume the suspended meals amid a public outcry following media reports.

However, recipients of the free meals now have to queue up in a nearby park, instead of in front of the restaurant, for their meal vouchers.

It remains unclear whether even the new arrangement will annoy the recipients' better-off neighbors.

As Wong noted, nobody can ensure they will be rich for the rest of their life, and one day, they might be discriminated against, as well.

So, do not give up doing good things, however minor, for your fellow citizens.

That will make the world a better place.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 15 under the pen name Bittermelon.

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version中文版]

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