The Breast Is Yet To Come

Here’s how I know that the LEGCO election is really over: Leung Kwok Hung is sitting at my dining room table, with me and Po Ying and another friend, and he’s deep into his second bowl of rice. During the election, Long Hair was surviving on almost nothing. “I’m on a diet,” he’d insist. “I’m not eating after 5pm”. Thank goodness his eating habits are back to normal; during the last days of the campaign I kept imagining a disastrous scene: that in the middle of scolding Lau Gong Wah or Gary Chan Hak-kan, Long Hair’s knees would buckle from hunger, and, clutching his megaphone, he’d crumple to the ground surrounded by DAB supporters bonging him on the head with their placards.

Speaking of that Mr. Chan. By now you’ve probably seen, or at least heard about, the hysterical video on YouTube that some creative Hong Konger produced, showing Chan stuttering in English to a foreign reporter during his first post-election interview. “We will, uh, uh, we will, er, um…try our breast” , Chan told the journalist, sealing forever his fate. Henceforth, the legislative councillor from New Territories East district shall be known, in newspaper columns and on hundreds of Hong Kong Internet chat boards, as “Nai Bo”--“Titty” Chan.

Long Hair, displaying his lightning political reflexes, opened his statement at the LSD’s press conference the other day by telling the reporters, “We will not try our breast. We will try our best.” After people stopped laughing at Long Hair’s clever out-English-ing of his political rival, they began to wonder: How is it that Long Hair, with no formal education beyond a Chinese-medium secondary school, speaks far better English than a Chinese University masters graduate who worked as a special assistant to Hong Kong’s Chief Executive for $70,000 HKD (about 9,000 US) a month?

“I use English every day,” Long Hair chuckles. “I read English-language books and have lots of English speaking friends. From the way that Hak-kan speaks on that video clip, you can tell he seldom uses English at all. He has no opportunity to practice.”

English-language proficiency isn’t something that’s high-priority in the China-focussed bubble that is the DAB. Party chairman Tsang Yok-sing and ex-Legco member Choy so-yuk are Hong Kong University graduates, and reasonably conversant, but they are exceptions. Most, if not all, the DAB’s PR info and material is Chinese-only. Their website has a very clumsy English language section, which has a banner that reads, (strangely, considering the DAB is the arm of the Chinese Communist Party in HK),  Fighting! China.

The DAB’s disinterest in English-language outreach probably has its roots in the party’s origins as an anti-British colonial government protest group. You don’t learn the language of your hated occupier, or if you do, you don’t show it off. As a result, the DAB’s worldview is narrow, parochial, and completely focussed on China and things (mainland) Chinese.

However Hong Kong is both a Chinese and an international city. Hong Kong’s fortune springs from its ability to make deals, do business transactions, and move money across the world and across cultures. The very nature of Hong Kong is tied together with its ability to translate, and the city’s future hinges on its continued ability to do so. (And by “translate” I mean more than just language here.)

But it all starts with language. Languages are the key that opens the door to other worlds. You hold one in your hand, and the possibilites begin to flow. Without my (limited, crappy, but practiced every day) Cantonese, I would not have the tools to see Hong Kong as I do, and would not be writing this story for you. Without an interest in the English language, the DAB will remain eternally parochial. Which would be fine if they were still in the position they were in the 1960s–that of a fringe, opposition party fighting colonial oppression. But what a disastrous future Hong Kong will have if the city is led by a group of people with such a limited mindset! This is the biggest reason why I rue the emergent alliance of the DAB and Hong Kong’s executive branch. The DAB, has a dark, angry, and xenophobic strain that runs entirely against the grain of Hong Kong’s city culture. The party of Gary Chan Hak-kan does not represent Hong Kong at its breast.

(Sorry, couldn’t resist!) Anyway, back to dinner. Leung and Po Ying and I raise a toast to the amazing LSD victory–the little party with no money, less than 2 years old, now has a LEGCO representative in three out of five districts! Long Hair, Wong Yuk-man and Albert Chan will sit together in the LEGCO chamber. “Now, if they throw me out of the chamber, they will still have to deal with Albert and Yuk-man,” Long Hair chortles.

I wonder who will be doing the tossing. Long Hair’s nemesis for the last four years, former Legco president Rita Fan, has retired. Already, names are being floated for the post of next LEGCO chairman. The DAB, of course, wants to put its chairman, Tsang Yok-sing, into the post.

“It will probably be Tsang yok-sing. That’s okay with me,” shrugs Long Hair.

At that moment, a wonderful idea jumps into my brain, and I throw it out for dinner table discussion:

“What about Miriam Lau?” The solicitor from the Liberal Party was Rita Fan’s protege in the last session of LEGCO–Lau would take over chairing the legislature from Mrs. Fan when she took her lunch and dinner breaks.

Long Hair is dubious. “I think the DAB wants the chairmanship”, he says. Anyway, Miriam Lau’s Liberal Party was crushed by this last election. They lost all their races in the popular vote, and only won 7 seats in the functional constituencies. Just today, one of those members, Lau Wong-fat, resigned from the party, leaving the Liberals with only 6 seats. Lau Wong-fat had, outrageously, been campaigning against his party and for the DAB candidate in New Territories West.

But, I tell Long Hair, listen to me. Do the math. The pan-Democrats have 23 votes. There are two other independents who are said to be anti-government. The Liberal Party still has its six votes. It adds up to 31, enough votes to claim a majority.

The Liberal Party is furious at the DAB, and blames its humiliating defeat on the DAB’s treachery. They’re simmering, sussing out what to do next. In an article in today’s South China Morning Post, a senior party member declares that the party should “shed its image as a government ally. “

Well, here’s one way they can do it, brilliantly:  Join forces with the pan-Dems to elect Miriam Lau as Legco Chairman for the next session. How cool would that be!? In one swoop, you dis the DAB, and its chairman Tsang yok-sing. You also serve warning to the pro-government, pro-Beijing bloc: We have the votes, and if you don’t work with us, we can join forces to vote you down again.

Yeah, I know, the Liberal Party and the pan-Democrats are the most unlikely of bedfellows–but then again, stranger alliances have forged in the Parliaments all around the world.

Whatever happens, the early days of new session of LEGCO are going to be very, very interesting. For HK political junkies, the breast is yet to come.

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