Sai Kung musings: Typhoons, Shaw Brothers Studio and the ‘up market’ myth

Stephen Vines

Wetter and hotter but what’s all this about typhoons?

Stephen Vines - Typhoons
Nam Wai in water

Is it my imagination or has this been a wetter and hotter summer than usual? Well, it sure seems hotter and the amount of flooding caused by heavy rainfall has been seriously felt in Sai Kung where the only two roads leading out of this area (Hiram’s Highway and Sai Sha Road) have managed to incur simultaneous flooding, resulting in quite a lot of gridlock.

Meanwhile, what’s the Observatory up to with its rather cavalier attitude towards the issuing of Number 8 typhoon signals that bring everything to a grinding halt? Some recent number eights have been accompanied by no more than pretty routine heavy rainfall and a bit of bluster in the wind department. At the end of July a Number 8 was issued for Tropical Cyclone Roke, but even here where the impact was greatest it turned out to be no more than a damp squib.

Could it be that what’s happening is the old story of bureaucrats covering their backsides by triggering typhoon warnings just to be on the ‘safe side’ regardless of the paralysis this triggering produces.

Incidentally this year marks the 100th anniversary of numbered typhoon signals. Before 1917 warnings were issued via a typhoon gun in Victoria Harbour. The numbering system has been modified over the years and the current version dates back to 1973. It seems to me that another tweak is overdue to prevent over-panicky issuing of the Number 8 signal.

Bigger than the movies

Stephen Vines - Shaw Studio

The Town Planning Board is now examining a development proposal for the 46-acre Shaw Brothers site in Clearwater Bay. The area in question was previously home to the famous Shaw Brothers movie making complex, producing the films that had a formative influence on local culture.

If approved this site will be transformed into a major property development consisting of 668 flats, a hotel, some kind of shopping mall plus sundry other buildings. The current submission is the third attempt to get this project off the ground following kickbacks to previous plans.

Given the iconic place in Hong Kong history, it might be hoped that the original Shaw House could be preserved and maybe used as a public space celebrating the local film industry. In theory this is possible because it is classed as a Grade One structure by the Antiquities and Monuments office. However Grade One is a rather low level of protection so nothing can be taken for granted.

What is a great deal clearer is the impact on the area of a development of this size. Building density in Clearwater Bay Road has already been ratcheted up by the development of a luxury housing complex next to the University of Science and Technology, a university that is itself expanding. How on earth is poor old Clearwater Bay Road going to take the strain of all this?

Do we actually want to go ‘up market’?

Stephen Vines - The 'up market' myth

I am well aware that it is possible to court the ire of well connected people by saying this but I am rather mystified by new commercial enterprises coming into Sai Kung announcing that there is a demand for something ‘more upmarket’.

The way I see it is that this demand does not really exist and the failed businesses of various aspirants offering to take us ‘up market’ are testimony to this observation. What these people appear not to realize is that the beauty of Sai Kung is that it does casual really well. Casual is not to be equated with second rate but should be understood in the true meaning of the word: lacking in formality.

Out here we seem to like understated and basic, another word that is abused to mean lacking in value while in reality it denotes getting back to essentials. And don’t get me started on the inexorable concept of eating places offering fusion food, which is often equated with going up-market. My definition of fusion is something that combines two different types of cuisine that work perfectly well on their own but are fused for no good reason in the name of sophistication.

Stephen Vines is a journalist, broadcaster and entrepreneur.
He is the former editor of the Eastern Express and Southeast Asia correspondent for The Observer.