A Hong Konger's Way of Living Well

Pong Yat-ming (龐一鳴), a 37-year-old Hong Kong teacher, created a sensation on air when he recently appeared on TVB’s Sunday Report program to recount how he makes daily-life consumer choices (i.e. avoiding to patronize shops and service outlets connected to the developer conglomerates), which is meant as a silent protest to the conglomerates’ cross-sector monopolizing situation.

I would like to give kudos to Pong Yat-ming for his grit in acting out his beliefs and thereby moving people to reflect more on the way they lead their lives, especially in response to gross injustices and oppressive inequities that surround them. A Youtube video clip on how he does it is appended here for sharing:-

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DgnjPxwIxro&feature=youtu.be&a

On the subject of living well and having a good life, there’s an excellent article written by Ronald Dworkin in The New York Review of Books (thanks to ESWN for the link: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/feb/10/what-good-life/?page=1), which is adapted from his book Justice for Hedgehogs. The author thinks that living well means striving to create a good life, but only subject to certain constraints essential to human dignity. As self-conscious creatures, humans are charged with the responsibility to create not only pleasurable lives, but lives that make them take pride in having lived. It is each individual’s ethical responsibility to find the appropriate meanings of living well and a good life. He also warns that living well is not the same as maximizing the chance of producing the best possible life - it sometimes means choosing what is likely to be a worse life.

Pong is obviously opting for “living well” even when it means choosing what seems a worse life for him, or at least a harsher life. He has given his own ethical meaning to “living well”, which is to strive to do what he conscientiously believes is right. As much as he is aware that his personal effort in trying to change society is nothing but a tiny drop in the ocean, he still fervently believes that by choosing to say no to the services provided (and monopolized) by titan developer conglomerates, he can at least set an example to other people of what can be done on an individualistic level to object to those injustices and inequities. Skeptics have deemed his actions useless. It is anyone’s guess as to what rippling effect, if any, his actions will have on society at large. But one thing is certain: Pong did rise to the challenge of living a life he can take pride in.

I am most impressed by a saying of his on the TV program – that we should not let pragmatism determine whether or not we should act; we should act whenever it is the right thing to do. Perhaps these words of his would be a true reflection of his own ethical interpretation of “living well”. This is quite a wake-up call to those of us who are so used to the concept of pragmatism and consumerism, which tends to disregard the factor of human dignity.

Pong recently posted a real life story of a security guard on his blog just out of empathy with someone who is financially worse off than he is. He has no way of knowing whether such action will bring about any sensible change in government’s policies, but he decided to act all the same because he felt it was the right thing to do. Is this not a good illustrated example of his version of living well?

This is my translation of his blog post:-

“I was surfing the internet inside the Kwun Chung Sports Stadium when a man approached me. He asked me whether I was the person who was on TV…. I said yes, just this week, before he could finish his question. This has happened a lot of times lately.

He told me that he learned from the program that one could access the internet for free in some public facilities, and that he would want to be able to navigate the web but didn’t know how. He asked if I could teach him. I did that. Then he told me his story.

He has been working as a security guard and has been on the waiting list for public housing application for a few years. Right now he shares a three-bedroom flat in a Shanghai Street building with a few other friends. He is surviving on marginal means. But then problems come.

The minimum wage law is well-meant, but then after its enactment, his increased salary will exceed the income ceiling that qualifies single applicants for public housing units.

This means that people who live on their own and are paid the minimum wage will be disqualified from applying for public housing units for single people. What kind of public policy is that?

He is so worried about his situation that he has to take anti-stress medication. He has been exercising more often in order to distract himself from the dilemma.

If he keeps his job as a security guard, in a few months he will get a raise in salary, but will have to forgo the long-awaited chance of being provided public housing and will be chronically burdened with heavy housing rental outlays. If he continues to waitlist for public housing, he will have to give up his full-time job and change to a part-time job, which means no income security.

He said that he doesn’t like radical protests, but he would want to express his views to government. Why can’t government, in sync with enacting the minimum wage law, take measures to raise the income ceiling for public housing applicants?

He bade me to disseminate his story on the internet in the hope that it will bring about policy changes. He then said goodbye peacefully.

I cannot forget the almost impalpable, yet intense, sad look on his face and body.”