Monday, December 9, 2013, 10:33
A lighter look at life in Hong Kong
By Albert Lin

What better way for elderly folks to while away a couple of hours than by joining in the fun of a bit of mahjong among the enjoyable company of friends and neighbors? There's something about the clack and crash of those tiles being slammed on the table top that stirs the blood in many a tired old vein, plus the little thrill the players get when they finally see what tiles the magic hand of chance has allocated them at the start of a new game. Of course no player worth his or her salt would hesitate to put down a little stake on the game, hoping Lady Luck will smile on them just this once.

But wait. The other day a very different sort of new hand suddenly became involved in these friendly contests - a hand that belonged to the long arm of the law!

Yes, the recent crackdown on "underground mahjong clubs" in Shau Kei Wan's main road has given our silver society quite a jolt. Weren't they aware that they were indulging in illegal gambling? Those "table stakes" of a couple of scruffy banknotes and some coins was obvious proof of their guilt.

The police operation was planned with meticulous care to make sure none of the guilty leapt up and did an unlikely "runner", outsprinting lithe young coppers with a 50-year age advantage. All were caught red-handed with no chance of escape. Was a "combined operation" by 60-plus coppers ever more smoothly brought to a successful conclusion than this?

On top of which no less a sum than an aggregate of HK$8,000 in table stakes was confiscated, confirming the runaway success of the operation.

So what can the oldies of Shau Kei Wan - and anywhere else in Hong Kong, for that matter - do to combat their boredom now their little games of "mahjong with capitalist characteristics" have been declared out of bounds by the authorities?

What else but stay in their stuffy little bed-sits, reach for a cigarette and watch TV. Or perhaps meet with a friend at the local park, and share a seat for an extended session of rock-paper-scissors at a dollar a pop?

Is that the reward the prosperous community of Hong Kong owes our aged and retired workforce that helped create the Hong Kong economic miracle of the 1970s onwards? Or there are no higher law-and-order priorities for our finest to tackle? I don't think so.

Let us now turn to another heavy legal burden which lately has rested on the shoulders of a magistrate and, on subsequent appeal, a judge. Can the noise of a man whose whistle is particularly high-pitched and painfully penetrating to the air drums constitute assault, although no physical force is used by the whistler and not one finger is laid on those at whom that whistle is aimed?

Yes, it does, two different courts have ruled - incurring a six-week stay in jail for Ki Chun-kei, a construction worker apparently with a piercing style of whistling who gave three policemen an ear-splitting "spray" of high decibels during some heated moments at the July 1 protest march last year.

His two main victims were trying to maintain law and order during the protest, and testified that Ki's whistling caused ringing in their ears, while a third policeman said he had to step back to escape the blast.

Legal purists are still arguing about the rights and wrongs of the decision - which possibly might be appealed against yet again - while Ki is perhaps already practicing his whistle in - ahem - a lower key.

And now we weigh up yet another legal matter - that HK$110,000 fine slapped on Lisa Kuo Yu-chin, wife of the man-who-would-be chief executive, Henry Tang Ying-yan, over that notorious illegal basement in their mansion in York Road, Kowloon Tong. Apparently it sported a wine cellar, home theatre, gym and Japanese-style bath-tub. Also it is supposed occasionally to have been squeezed into service as a reception area for cocktail parties and other social gatherings at which heaven only knows what influential government figures might have been among the guests - hopefully not the director of buildings!

Whatever their degree of severity, all crimes carry a penalty, and in 73 previous cases of illegal alterations the maximum penalty had been a rather genteel HK$15,000, prompting Mr Tang to remark afterwards that the fine of HK$110,000 was a bit "severe" compared with earlier penalties.

Not to worry, Sir - we are comforted by the thought that it's just about the cost of a case of your favorite tipple as a well-known bon vivant.

The author is the Op-Ed editor of China Daily Hong Kong Edition. albertlin@chinadailyhk.com