Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Cough cough splutter splutter

Now here's an issue that I'd like to see blown out with loud, annoying, and public protest around Hong Kong. It would reassure me that people felt able to respond about something in front of their noses, up their nostrils, and in their lungs.

Air pollution.

Yes, I know that an emotion like anger, or outrage, expressed in public, is not the Chinese way. Yes, I know that Chinese culture sees public resistance to authority, policy or governance in very different terms from the English.

In England we celebrate individuals who stand up to decry government strategy. Especially pensioners, who tie themselves to trees or commit any other act that undermines 'the national interest'. They are our heroes, who defy all convention by marching in blue anoraks along the High Street, who press for local change, or local stay-the-same. It is where our awkward-squad, bloody mindedness, curmudgeonly attitudes work well; where challenging and protesting against authority is a source of national pride. Who can trust those policy makers, really?

In Hong Kong China, we have a very different type of people power. We have a tightly packed urban population. If one goes down, we all could follow. I can sense that individuals who step out of line, upset the stability, act against the interests of the clan, are the misfits; the trouble makers threatening the continuity and social order.

But I still look at this very big problem, staring the entire planet in the face, when I throw back the curtains every waking morning.

I do not see the spiky, green dragonbacks of the mountains that I know must be there, to the left, beyond the trees. I see a dreary, grey, lumpish outline. It's as if a gigantic seamless gauze, filtering everything before and behind, hangs from the sky. I can't tell the end or the beginning, the folds or the curves. There is no cloud, no sky, no mountain. Good morning, pollution.

Question where this fug comes from and apparently it's all the fault of Shenzhen. If not those factories and manufacturers, then Guangzhou. Or mainland China. The unseasonal weather. Wherever.

Thanks to this out-of-control noxious mix with the toxic particulate matter that doesn't respect geopolitical boundaries, most days we cannot see across the harbour to the neighbouring island. I have begun to think it is a clear day if I can sit on the ferry to Hong Kong Island and spot two skyscrapers in front of me. But hey, we're cheapskates living in rural misery on an outlying island. I can only imagine the thoughts of the privileged and wealthy - paying thousands of dollars a month for the full-length window view overlooking harbour fronts - on opening their front room curtains to greet the dismal day rise.

I know I'm not the only person to see this (or not see much at all). Yet I can see that the shout outs against this degradation of life quality are isolated voices or local, fragmented groups working independently of each other. Studies are published, and they are helpful.

I guess I'm impatient. I can see the means by which people could be brought together. But those agents seem reluctant to be involved in an issue so socially troublesome. The South China Morning Post doesn't run headline campaigns about the air that children breathe; the shipping industry admits to nothing; the government has seemingly disengaged. Let's face it, however the corporates complain about staffing, action on air quality is probably not in the immediate interests of the powerful property conglomerates on whom they rely. So not much galvanising action for change from that source either.

I'm here for a few months: visitor, observer, part-participant. I see the pollution, and know it's one reason why, in all our talks, I will never commit to Hong Kong. I look at Shark, Squirrel and Tiger and wonder just what is going up those miniature hooters, what impact that stink is having, what Hong Kong will ever do about this situation, short of nothing.

So no, I wouldn't mind being inconvenienced by green groups on protest marches. I would welcome those concerned groups joining together to create the loudest noise. I would like to see the issue shouted about from corporates and, when they up and move citing air quality as a factor in the decision to relocate, I should like that news broadcast from the rooftops.

I am mostly pessimistic. It's my skill. But others, who are more optimistic than me, say that Hong Kong has a small window of opportunity; that the government could be out-manoeuvred, forced to respond to social pressure; that air pollution could become a cause that has a positive outcome. It's a small window, though. Hong Kong will be blended into mainland China. The development infrastructure to link Shenzhen is established. The Pearl River Delta megalopolis in place in a heartbeat. Then there's a lot of money to be made. At that point, will anyone listen to bleats about air quality? Take your chance now, I hear. You won't have it later.

1 comment:

sharon said...

No doubt when it becomes important to the powers that be, something will be done about the high pollution levels - after all, there were some short term changes made for the Olympics. In the meantime everyone will have to wear masks and put up with the murky fumes :-(