Civic quality brings order and harmony

By Hong Liang (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-10-31 05:40

Some months ago, I picked what was probably one of the worst days to return to Hong Kong. A tropical typhoon passed through the area on the day before, grounding all incoming and outgoing flights for more than 24 hours. Unsurprisingly, the airport was overwhelmed when flights were resumed on the day I flew.

It was well past midnight when my flight finally arrived from Shanghai after a thee-hour delay. The airport express had stopped running and there were no buses going anywhere near my hotel. The only way out of the airport was by taxi. That was apparently the same for many other travelers that night.

The line of people waiting for taxis at the airport was so long that it backed up all the way into the waiting hall. I waited for more than an hour before getting on to a taxi. By the time I arrived at the hotel, it was past 3 a.m.

But I have no complaints. Given the situation, the gravity of which was reported in the local media the following day, it was impressive that chaos did not break out at the airport. Everybody waited patiently on that long and slow moving taxi line.

There were families with small children half falling asleep on the luggage caddies. Elderly people, some on wheelchairs, waited patiently along with sun-burned holiday makers in colourful Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops.

Throughout the hour-long wait, I didn't see any jostling nor did I hear any shouting. Order was maintained not by someone in uniform, but rather, by the self discipline of the people themselves. That, I thought to myself, was a testimony to the high civic quality of the citizens of my hometown.

Hong Kong has come a long way since I grew up there. In those days, we had to fight to get onto buses even though fences were set up at bus stops to herd waiting passengers like cattle. Many times, police were called to keep moviegoers from busting down the doors of cinemas screening blockbuster kungfu films.

There were times when buying a meal at McDonald's, or any other fast food store, was a chore that required fast thinking and jostling for position in the lines. Fierce fights for taxis between men in suits were common sights in the downtown area everyday after office hours.

Refusing to yield, drivers piled their cars into busy intersections, creating logjams that caused frequent traffic bottlenecks in many inner-city roads. At one time in the late 1970s, traffic congestion along the densely populated northern shore of the main island was so bad that many people had no choice but to walk six to seven miles to work everyday.

Life was downright unpleasant for many people, irrespective of income level and social status. At that time, the economy was taking off with growth in excess of 10 per cent every year. Although the income levels of many people were rising rapidly there was a general feeling of discontent. We yearned for an improvement in the quality of life that seemed to have eluded us despite the abundance of material wealth.

That period of Hong Kong's development can serve as a not-too-distant mirror of the life we live in Shanghai today. The congested roads, the struggle to get on subway cars and the chaos in McDonald's restaurants during lunch hour have brought back those not-so-fond memories of my youth in Hong Kong.

Things are almost certainly going to improve, as was the case in Hong Kong. But any improvement will have to come from the people. It is the people who have made Hong Kong a better place to live in.

The system, of course, is important. It ensures the smooth running of things most of the time. But in situations when the system is stretched beyond its limits, as happened at the Hong Kong airport on that post-typhoon day, it's the people who count.


(China Daily 10/31/2006 page4)