Sunday, 26 February 2012

To Reprimand Each Inmate Who's In Late!

Final day in the East and I made my way over to Causeway Bay to see the noonday gun, made famous by Noel Coward's Mad Dogs and Englishmen. It's a quaint ceremony, and a bit of a riposte to the Chinese insistence at playing the national anthem at the unforgiving hour of 8am down the shoreline in Bauhinia Square.

As if to underline the ritual's irrelevance the approach to the gun is almost covert. You have to go through the Excelsior hotel's basement car park and follow a service tunnel under the busy Gloucester Road. There's little encouragement to attend and only a handful of people find their way.

There is history here though, East Point was the first plot of land to be sold commercially by the colonial government back in 1841 and the site is still owned by the Scottish merchants Jardines, who originally fired the gun to welcome their Taipans into the harbour. This so offended a newly arrived naval officer, who felt gun salutes should really only be reserved for dignitaries that the company were ordered to fire the gun every day at noon for perpetuity. With near impossible access and dwindling crowds I'm not sure this is likely.

Nevertheless, for now, the tradition continues. The only time it's gone off later that the allotted was when Coward himself was guest of honour at the ceremony and breezed up, one can't help thinking fairly deliberately, at 12.03.

I headed back to the convention centre for the final recruitment session and fell into an interesting conversation with a young actor called Christy, who told me about a project she's been working on in Tin Shui Wai on the Chinese border. The town is really a series of high rise housing estates and has a tragic reputation because of the high instances of domestic violence, mental illness and suicide. Locally it is known as The City of Sadness. Recently arts workers have spent time in the town trying to create invigorating projects that help the residents explore ways in which they can see themselves as architects of their experience and look forward to creating a vision and then a reality for the town they'd like to see in the future. As Christy suggested Drama as a site for exploring possibility has a key role to play in this process.

As Hong Kong leaves its colonial past behind and inches forward to an integrated future with the mainland, it's clear that artists have a huge role to play in offering visions of the future on behalf of the 7,000,000 people who can't just pack up and head back to Europe.


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