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The Benefits of Pausing – and Education

24.05.2020
John Batten
John Batten

When the cinemas reopened again last week, I immediately went. Cinema seating has been rearranged by Covid-19 and many might prefer it: seats are blocked off creating isolated islands for two, eagerly grabbed by happy couples, and single seats for the single. It is almost a perfect arrangement: no annoying popcorn munchers or brightly lit mobile phone watchers sitting directly next to you. But it is not sustainable, cinemas need big(ger) audiences to survive; so, let’s reintroduce row seating asap!

I saw Happy Old Year, an excellent low-budget, indie Thai movie with a great script, camera-work and acting. It told a poignant story: June, a young interior designer returns from three years studying in Sweden and wants to set-up her new business on the ground floor of the family shop-house. She must first empty the house of its accumulated belongings and of past memories, so she aggressively cleans rooms and throws away everything, until challenged by a friend who finds her own gift from when they were young teenagers also trashed. June slows her cleaning and, instead, directly returns gifts and possessions that she had borrowed from friends, including a boyfriend that she had broken the relationship by insensitively ignoring his emails while she was studying overseas.

The story depicted the subtle balance of the need to ‘let go’ and ‘move on’, but to be sensitive and caring in the process. It is a truism: be kind. It costs nothing to be kind.

Remnants of graffiti and posters from 2019 protests, Admiralty, Shek Kip Mei, Sham Shui Po, Wan Chai, April & May 2020. (Photographs: John Batten)
Remnants of graffiti and posters from 2019 protests, Admiralty, Shek Kip Mei, Sham Shui Po, Wan Chai, April & May 2020. (Photographs: John Batten)

I never knew Allen Lee, the founder of the Liberal Party, legislator, and later broadcaster and public commentator, who died on 15 May 2020. His views were unusually sensible and pragmatic, and he maintained a commitment to Hong Kong’s aspirations for universal suffrage and consensus. Unfortunately, people like him who can successfully engage with both sides of the political divide are becoming increasingly rare in Hong Kong. In 2014, interviewed on RTHK, he defended Hong Kong’s political diversity and core values, and picked at the mainland: “…They want to kick out all the democrats…they have identified people who are unpatriotic, but that’s not true, everybody, almost everybody is patriotic in Hong Kong. They want only people who will listen to them and become a puppet. A puppet system doesn’t work in Hong Kong.”

In our rush to successfully get through another day, there are benefits of pausing – even for a momentary five minutes – and, to remember. To remember to be kind; and, remember to honour people whose lives were decent and who cared, and will too quickly be forgotten, especially in our click-of-the-button-to-the-next-news-story digital age.

Remnants of graffiti and posters from 2019 protests, Admiralty, Shek Kip Mei, Sham Shui Po, Wan Chai, April & May 2020. (Photographs: John Batten)
Remnants of graffiti and posters from 2019 protests, Admiralty, Shek Kip Mei, Sham Shui Po, Wan Chai, April & May 2020. (Photographs: John Batten)
Remnants of graffiti and posters from 2019 protests, Admiralty, Shek Kip Mei, Sham Shui Po, Wan Chai, April & May 2020. (Photographs: John Batten)
Remnants of graffiti and posters from 2019 protests, Admiralty, Shek Kip Mei, Sham Shui Po, Wan Chai, April & May 2020. (Photographs: John Batten)

We are all awaiting the opening of parks and places to dance to be free to run and dance in. But, the government has been recently distracted, and emboldened by its Covid-19 restrictions on our free movement, it is agitating for revenge on an examinations authority that allowed an unfortunate question on the too-touchy subject of Japanese occupation of the mainland. Being a ‘leading question’ was ill-advised, but its wording merely reminded me of old debating questions that were purposely outrageous to precisely raise the temperature of a debate and be vigorously defended or vigorously dismissed inside a sweaty, divided  debating room – or, university entrance examination hall. In the debating chamber ‘persuasive argument’ wins the debate, in education it is ‘critical thinking.’ Our blaming government merely and dismissively says, “Damn liberal education!”

Likewise, humour and satire on such RTHK-produced television shows as the long-running Headliner should be condemned. It cannot be tolerated because it is disrespectful, says the government. We know this government has no sense of humour and while a majority of the Hong Kong public laughs, this administration scowls. However, Hong Kong’s core values include the right to be satirical!

Remnants of graffiti and posters from 2019 protests, Admiralty, Shek Kip Mei, Sham Shui Po, Wan Chai, April & May 2020. (Photographs: John Batten)
Remnants of graffiti and posters from 2019 protests, Admiralty, Shek Kip Mei, Sham Shui Po, Wan Chai, April & May 2020. (Photographs: John Batten)
Remnants of graffiti and posters from 2019 protests, Admiralty, Shek Kip Mei, Sham Shui Po, Wan Chai, April & May 2020. (Photographs: John Batten)
Remnants of graffiti and posters from 2019 protests, Admiralty, Shek Kip Mei, Sham Shui Po, Wan Chai, April & May 2020. (Photographs: John Batten)

In the same week as this official anxiety to get our free institutions to conform, Mrs Carrie Lam rushed (was it, possibly, gleefully?) into complaint, but got the quotation wrong. Not long after his release in detention in an apartheid-era prison, the completion of his own LLB in prison, and before becoming South Africa’s first black President, Nelson Mandela addressed school children at Madison Park High School in Boston, USA on 23 June 1990: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Mrs Lam has been publicly reminded of Mandela’s actual words – we know she has the critical thinking skills to understand their meaning!

John Batten
John Batten
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