My late mother spoke passable Cantonese (I would describe my own Cantonese as adequate but not good); one of her mahjong friends spoke none; she spoke Yangzhou dialect, barely comprehensible even in my mother’s circle of Shanghainese friends, but her husband was MCTam, a successful horse trainer (stable chief) of HK Jockey Club, with high pay, and social status beyond typical expectation because of attention horse training received from punters, and contact with horse owners, typically rich people with slight hints of the dark side. Mrs Tam had some passport issue which I wont explain and was hauled to immigration dept for questioning, and my mother went along to translate. The girl in the office was extremely rude, dismissing Mrs Tam as some country immigrant from Mainland (in SG this meant Malaya; in HK this meant…), until time to fill in a form with address “you live in the Jockey Club staff quarters?” “her husband is MCTam” my mother said, with some malicious pleasure at the girl’s obvious discomfiture as she became courteous, as she should have been from the start.
I relate this to show certain unique aspect of HK culture, which used to cover more than 50million people, with large communities in North American urban centres NY, Toronto, Vancouver, LA… Today the number is still large, yet the communities are dying, swamped by new, mandarin speaking immigrants from Mainland. The older people in Chinatown speak cantonese still, but their kids do not, and there are few new cantonese speaking immigrants to take their place. Before China had diplomatic relation with USA, the very large immigration quota for China was mainly taken by Taiwanese and Hongkees, allowing large cantonese and Taiwanese communities to develop, but after 40 years of the new quota distribution… In the mean time, Guangdong province, the hinterland of cantonese population, has joined the rest of Mainland: the young might speak a smattering of cantonese, their children none; further, new cities like Shunzhen are mandarin speaking. HK is now the lone place in the world where cantonese not only dominates, but regards it politically incorrect to reduce its use to promote the economically more useful English and Mandarin.
HK used to have cultural influence well beyond its size – it was rich while Mainland was poor, westernized (partially at least) when Mainland was backward, it had its own movie stars, singers, that were more popular in Mainland than Mainland stars….
In economic issues, Tung Chee Hua actually had many ideas: he wanted to build 85K apartments per year to allow most hongkees to own property; he wanted to build a cyberport (contract was given to Richard li, who BTW uses a Singapore company as the vehicle to control his business empire), chip manufacturing (the person that won the contract was criticized as land grabber – he moved to shanghai), herbal medicine R&D centre… partly due to sheer bad luck – his term had Asian financial crisis, wall street dotcom crash, sars… he achieved none of this, but the more important reason was HK was too used to making fortunes in real estate and finance and did not have the combination of skill and attitudes to adjust to new reality. His successor Donald Tsang did not even try – he got high reputation from defeating George Soros’s short sell of HK$ and share in the Crisis, and believed the old ways were enough; he loved hobnobbing with rich people, which led to criminal charges and jail after he left office though he was eventually found innocent. I can only pity his successors Leung and Lam.
The cantonese fury is easily understandable, but understanding and solving are very far apart. I am pessimistic, but have no wish for others to agree.