From News to Affordability

It is interesting that we have been picking up Hong Kong news mainly through the social media networks while we are away. However, the only news on TV we picked up about Hong Kong while in Whistler was the apparent disappearance of a few owners and employees of a book store. In any case, apparently, news needs to be either sufficiently depressing or potentially scandalous on heavyweights before it can become news, which in itself can be depressing.

Remember I mentioned in my last year ender that I became a volunteer instructor on a computer 101 course at my neighborhood elderly centre, I was frequently asked how one could get news and information on the internet. I showed them how it was done, easily enough, but in the same breath would tell them to be mindful that what they saw might not be true or accurate. But who cares.

Indeed nobody cares what news is being carried on what media as long as the graphics are interesting or gripping, meaning visually provoking, and the sound bites are worth repeating or would put some politicians or government officials in a poor light. At home, I have stopped watching TV news. I asked myself why we were so adamant to have two large TV screens in the flat, one in the living room and one in the bedroom, when we hardly use them to watch news. The answer is of course that the screens are necessary for watching movies and DVDs and live broadcasts of glamorous events such as the Oscars.

I always try to follow the annual Oscars live which I think epitomize how the West particularly the Americans project their ideas and imageries, fashions and designs, and cultures and values on the rest of the world. Each award is potentially a statement, which could be fashion, gender, racial, civil rights, political or whatever, announced by selected presenters in carefully scripted speeches to awardees who in turn delivered theirs, often in tears and with such emotions seemingly unrehearsed and real to a worldwide audience, which in itself is news and entertainment in the making. The broadcasts are indeed worth watching and justify our decision to keep the two screens in the flat.

Back to news, I still prefer to read my news from the only paying daily in English published in Hong Kong. I have been a long time subscriber for as long as I can remember. In my early career, I was low on the food chain so that by the time the daily papers got into my in-tray it could be three days old if not longer. In those days therefore I would tug a copy each morning into my brief case, only to find that the copy often remained untouched when I got back home late at night. I recall some critical colleague once made snide remarks about my practice of taking my personal copy of SCMP to office as a status symbol, to which I responded with the look of, “So what, I can afford it.”

Affordability is a state of mind and totally unrelated to the economic means to which an individual has access or to the economic value of the commodity in question. In practice, if one needs something badly, one would get it somehow, by any means. Then many people confuse needs with wants, which is the cause of so many conflicts around us. People also tend to confuse affordability with value for money which again are mutually exclusive and indeed can be totally unrelated.

Much has been said about making institutions affordable so as to facilitate membership recruitment when the more fundamental question to address may be why an institution desires to have more members. I am thinking, as you may probably guess, of my long associated NGOs none other than Rotary and Freemasonry, both the local branches of which seem to be crying out for members. On the other hand, there is no lack of individuals jostling for membership of institutions such as Hong Kong Club, Jockey Club or Golf Club, the expenses to join and sustain the membership of which can be greater than what the clubs have to offer.

Let me begin with Rotary which is a service organization founded in 1905, now an international service organization dedicated to providing educational and humanitarian services to those who need them most. Members are all business and professional people dedicated to promoting world peace and international understanding. There must be many people subscribing to Rotary’s ideals of service, but for an individual to live up to such ideals, a minimum level of financial commitment would be expected of him or her. When circumstances are such that the individual can no longer fulfill such commitment, he or she would not be qualified for membership. Tough luck, one may exclaim and go on to question how an institution which promotes humanitarianism could exclude such people with such good hearts. So I have said to people before that Rotary is not for everybody, much to the chagrin of the leadership at times.

Turning to Freemasonry which is an international organization seeking to promote charity and brotherhood and whose members are taught to live up to high moral standards and to observe the sacred dictates of truth, of honour and of virtue. In short, it is an institution trying to make good men better men. Again, how would such an organization be short of members? Nevertheless, it is in fact the case, at least in Hong Kong, and one of the reasons advanced is the increasing costs to maintain membership, arguably not prohibitively expensive, but members who fail to pay their annual dues risk being excluded from membership.

Here comes the question – why would people shun membership of institutions which promote humanity and virtues, but would be ready to bend over backwards and commit more financially to join an organization the name and reputation of which could potentially push them up the social ladder? I have no answer to that; and I still recall with fondness that I shunned an application form for membership of Jockey Club in the mid 80s because I was loathe to accept favours from someone with whom I had working relations at the time. My then colleagues said I was unwise and inflexible, so I told them I couldn’t afford the membership, which was a whiter than white lie, but which in a way illustrates my point on affordability – I wouldn’t trade my value for something which most people would take without questioning.

As usual, I am rambling on and talking to myself. Su has gone out to ski on the last day we are in Whistler. I took a rest day because my right arm became slightly stiff after being hit and knocked down on the slope by a skier, but I am otherwise okay. Tomorrow we would be on our way back for the Chinese New Year; and I hope to talk to you again shortly.

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