In Hong Kong it is really easy to get publicity. All you have to do is call up for example the South China Morning Post, HK’s biggest (of two) English language newspaper, and say: I had a successful bowel movement today! Or: I saw a sliver of blue sky above Shamshuipo! And they will send a reporter at once.
Over the last few years, no quite a few years actually, I’ve had a lot of publicity because I can speak Cantonese, the local language. This strikes me as decidedly odd. Let’s say you’re a Bulgarian or a Kenyan or something living in London, and you can string a couple of sentences together in English. All the TV stations going: My God, here’s a foreigner who can speak ENGLISH! Send a team over post-haste!
Today another TV crew came to my gaff (house) (this is the last time I translate that word) to interview me about the 10 year anniversary for Hong Kong’s reunion with the dear motherland. I had to say I had some misgivings. For after the fourth or fifth documentary made about me (she can use chopsticks! Quick, send a crew!) and my euphoria about being on TV had abated somewhat (if you think hearing your own voice on tape is awful, imagine seeing yourself moving around and talking in a different language on all-revealing, glaring film.) I started realising that the people who work in the TV media aren’t all the sharp, hard-hitting journalists I formerly imagined them to be.
The programs were supposed to be about me as a long-term resident of Hong Kong and old China hand. After clapping like seals in Ocean Park at the fact that I could use chopsticks, walk on two legs and write my name in Chinese, they asked questions like: Have you ever heard about Deng Xiaoping? Have you ever had a meal with Chinese people? Do you know that the Chinese language has many proverbs?
When they came to my house it got worse. “You have a lot of Norwegian things in your house. Is it because you’re Norwegian?” After two or three days with those kinds of questions I had to turn down the next two stations who wanted to come and make programs about Foreigner Can Speak Chinese. I realised that to them I was like an animal that can ride a bicycle.
However, today’s crew were different. For one thing they’d had the forethought of bringing two guys with them to play Chinese Poker, my favourite sport. They also asked intelligent, coherent questions that I could actually answer and not once did I want to strangle them. But at one stage, when they asked the inevitable question: How do you feel about Hong Kong reverting to the Motherland, I had to tell the truth: That I think Hong Kong has steadily been going to the dogs since the handover and that it would be better if it was an independent country. Just like Tibet and Taiwan. An uncomfortable silence descended on the living room, and there was a lot of exchange of glances. “Cut, cut, we must edit it out,” they hastily agreed.
My word indeed! That’s exactly why Hong Kong, priding itself on freedom of expression, should be an independent country. When the press is self-censoring to the point where a crazy foreigner whose only merit is to be able to quack out a few sounds in the local language can’t speak her mind in her own living room, how can having been taken back into the lap of the benign motherland be so damn great?