At my Sai Kung bus stop there has appeared, almost overnight, about a dozen chairs intended for passengers to rest on while they wait for the increasingly irregular bus service to Ho Chung. It is an eclectic mix of donated furniture representing a variety of styles, histories and functions. I already have a personal favourite situated right in the middle of the line. Part chrome and fake leather it has the worn look of a 1980’s bar stool that wouldn’t have been out of place in Pablo Escobar’s man-cave. If it only swivelled, it would be the perfect seat.
At first sight this may seem like another one of those endearing Sai Kung peculiarities, like the perennial displays of unceremoniously incarcerated crustaceans, aimed at tempting hungry piscatorial diners into seafood restaurants. However, behind this very New Territories solution to a lack of design and planning lies yet another example of the public need not being met by the Government, while tens of billions of Hong Kong tax dollars are being spent on a high-speed rail link to improve the Chinese authorities’ ability to run an efficient abduction service. An aggressively expanding and poorly envisaged Sai Kung is being slowly strangled by the inadequate width of Hiram’s Highway, a minor road despite its grand name, built by the British Army over an old jungle track using Japanese POW labour.
Government collusion with big business and legislative indifference are similarly the root cause of the ubiquitous illegal structures built throughout the New Territories. With property prices maintained at an unrealistic level by an untouchable cartel of corrupt legislators and real estate developers, ordinary householders understandably turn their hand to a bit of illicit D.I.Y. in order to maximise their square footage. And let’s be clear what we are talking about here. Only the super rich and politically connected have concealed basement swimming pools and gymnasiums. Most illegal structures, like my own, consist of a small, corrugated plastic roof to prevent the washing machine and any drying clothes from disintegrating, through over exposure to the acid rain created by the factories of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone. If the Government really wanted to protect the general public from my amateur attempts at home improvement then they should run a proper building licensing department and inspect and charge me for my extension. Maybe they could even tax me on each washing cycle or each item of clothing washed, like hotel room service? Again we have a failure of the Hong Kong Government to govern effectively on behalf of the people they are supposed to represent.
Contentiously, illegal parking, which is not just a feature of cramped Island life, is also part of the same issue. Car parking may not be a human right, but in a developed complex society such as ours, traffic flow does require thoughtful management. Nevertheless, Hong Kong must be one of the few places in the world where it is technically illegal to park anywhere apart from in a designated, usually privately-run, parking space. Which is why, despite the impression of there being plenty of “lebensraum” up North, it is considerably more expensive to park underneath the Sai Kung branch of Wellcome than it is underneath the luxury handbag shops of the IFC mall!
Recently the police have shown themselves to be rather over-zealous, if a little inept, at clearing the streets of human, mainly student, obstructions. Yet they seem to show little of the same professional interest in ticketing illegally parked cars doing exactly the same thing. Therefore is it any wonder that most motorists choose to take their chances of getting a $300 fine once in a while rather than cave in to the extortion of every Wilson or Shroff?
As the Hong Kong Government increasingly loses the ability to govern, particularly “North of the Boundary Street,” and the letter of the law in the New Territories becomes little more than a growing list of optional guidelines, at what point do we hillbillies start ignoring rate demands or not paying our tax? Given the unique nature of Sai Kung, it would be better run along the lines of an anarchist collective rather than the currently failing bureaucratic machine. A unilateral move towards a more libertarian socialist agenda will obviously not be popular with CY Leung and his colleagues, but when was the last time you saw one of them sitting at a bus stop?