A Generation Split On Hong Kong Protests

Photo Credit: businessweek.com

Photo Credit: businessweek.com

Ever since the protests in Hong Kong began about three weeks ago, I have been arguing and fighting with many of my friends in both Hong Kong and Canada via e-mails, long distance telephone conversations and even over many meals. There are usually five camps of people among my friends: those who, like me, support democracy at all costs and, therefore, support the protesters; those who are pro-China because they see China as their motherland and any disturbances and challenges to the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities are seen to be disloyal; others who are just pro-business and do not want chaos and disorderly conduct to prevent them from continuing to make good money in Hong Kong; those who live and work in China with foreign passports whose main goal is to make a quick buck and then returning to their respective adopted countries to retire; and, finally, those who have chosen to retire in China and, therefore, adopt the attitude of the three wise monkeys: see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil.

I have long predicted that such an outburst would be inevitable. Historically, Britain’s handover of Hong Kong back to China was the right thing to do. Hong Kong should belong to China and Britain has occupied and reigned the island during a time when China was weak and helpless. But, in reality, Hong Kong has thrived under British rule for over 150 years and its status as an international free trade centre and economic powerhouse over the years was indisputable. During that time, Hong Kong citizens (including myself) couldn’t care less about politics. In fact, we took pride in being politically frigid because all we cared about was how to climb up the corporate ladder and make more money.

I had applied for emigration to Canada even before the notorious June 4 Tiananmen Square protests took place in 1989. I’ve never had confidence in communist and autocratic governments because I believe we, who grew up in Hong Kong under British rule, have very much taken democracy and freedom of speech for granted. With the censorship of the press, the likelihood of me practising as a professional public relations practitioner without restraints would have been zero. I also did not not want to be any part of the government propaganda that I predicted would influence Hong Kong when China took over. I left the city where I was born and educated in 1990 and have never looked back or regretted my move.

When many of my friends said that Hong Kong is getting worse nowadays, I begged to differ that, on the contrary, the people of this Special Administrative Region of China are actually getting better in their political consciousness. Hong Kong people are actually speaking up for themselves and fighting for democracy and freedom of speech. Twenty years ago, such street protests in Hong Kong were simply impossible and would not have happened. I am particularly sympathetic with the student protesters who are really fighting for their future. With all the media analyses that have been appearing both online and offline, few have focused on the demographic split on what’s happening there. Students from both high schools and universities have a right to speak their minds because they are fighting for their future. Many of the protesters are also aware that they might not get what they want from China, but they do believe in the fundamental principles of democracy: speak up or you will be silenced forever!

I see many business-minded baby boomers in Hong Kong who focus on making money and maintaining Hong Kong’s status as an international business centre. I also see another group of boomer parents who took to the streets with their kids either because they were worried about their safety or they were just simply sympathetic to their cause. I do not buy China’s conspiracy theory that the United States and Britain have influenced the students and funded the protesters’ movement from behind the scenes. I also agree with the last British governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, who wrote in The Globe and Mail op-ed that “it is a slur on the integrity and principles of Hong Kong’s citizens to assert….that they are being manipulated by outside forces.” I have many friends who can’t even influence their own kids – it’s absolutely insulting to the bright, young students of Hong Kong to mention that they were capable of being influenced by the West.

At the moment when this blog is posted, the protesters and the Hong Kong government are still at a standstill. The authorities are trying to buy time and the protesters continue to ask for the Chief Executive C. Y. Leung to resign. This situation should not be compared to the Tiananmen protests because Hong Kong is not Beijing, and China is no longer the China of 1989. None of the protesters expect China to grant their request for universal suffrage, but if anybody believes that this demonstration will just go away because they will be fatigued, then they are really naive. Some dialogue is better than no coummunication at all and nobody wants to see any blood shed, particularly among the students.

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Boomer Masters


I recently saw a PBS special called American Masters: The Boomer List which featured 19 accomplished American baby boomers in various sectors. These masters included environmentalist Erin Brokovich; singer-songwriter Billy Joel; actors Samuel L. Jackson, John Leguizamo and Kim Cattrall; fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger; author Amy Tan; New Age guru Deepak Chopra; journalist Maria Shriver; playwright Eve Enster; Director of Johnson Space Center Ellen Ochoa; AIDS activist Peter Staley; football athlete Ronnie Lott; artist David LaChapelle; entertainer Rosie O’Donnell; IBM’s CEO Virginia Rometty; historian and founder of The HistoryMakers Julieanna Richardson; Vietnam vet and author Tim O’Brien; and co-founder of Apple Computer, Steve Wozniak.

The film, presented in a series of intimate interviews by filmmaker/photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, focused on these individuals’ achievements, struggles and identities. These boomer masters also shared their experiences and upbringing by giving memorable and inspiring sound bytes. A DVD and a coffee table book are also coming out next week. The photographer’s large-scale master portraits of this film’s subjects is also part of a current exhibition at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. The objective was, of course, to showcase these 19 individuals (born between 1946 and 1964) to demonstrate the boomer generation’s huge influence on the world.

They are all accomplished boomers in their own respective ways. But after watching the show, I was particularly impressed with Samuel L. Jackson, Kim Cattrall, Maria Shriver and Steve Wozniak.

Jackson debunked the myth that all black men probably went to jail during a certain lifestage. But he said that as a child of segregation growing up in Atlanta, he’s never been imprisoned and has always believed in education. Jackson initially majored in marine biology at Morehouse College before switching to architecture and later settled on drama. Although he was never in jail, he went through drug and alcohol addiction when he was younger. Now at age 65, he’s a film producer as well as one of the most prolific and successful African-American actors.

I’ve seen Kim Cattrall on stage and playing many different, excellent roles in film and TV after her successful run as Samantha in Sex And The City. In this TV special, she talked about her true love being really her work; how she imposed ageism on herself; and, at one stage, playing the role of a sex bomb to pay her rent when she was much younger. She spoke quintessentially as a woman actor when she brought out all the challenges faced by her gender. As John Doyle said in The Globe and Mail, “she was funny, dry and self-deprecating”. Maybe it’s her Canadian and British upbringing! And how can you not like her when she ended her interview with, “I have wrinkles. Let it be part of the story.” And then with a big laugh, she added, “If I’m well-lit!”

I’ve never been a fan of Amy Tan’s books, but her interview in this film made a mark on me.  As the only Asian-American boomer interviewed, she talked about, at one stage, shameful of being an American Chinese. “I thought I didn’t have dates because I was ugly and I thought I was ugly because I was Chinese.” The challenge of handling her own and others’ racial prejudices must be difficult. She also said that her mother always taught her that it’s important not just to be equal to a man, but better! She was first published when she was 36, so as a late bloomer, she said now it’s all about quality and richer time.

Maria Shriver appeared in her honest, tough and sincere self. But what touched me was her admission on camera that she was scared to be a Mom; that people in her generation want to be the first in everything; and being a Mom just led her to doubt her ability about whether she could cope with all the maternal demands and challenges. But, of course, we all know that she went on to have four children with Arnold Schwarzenegger!

To me, Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computer, was the most impressive of the 19 Masters. He talked about how he wanted to be part of his revolution all his life. He and Steve Jobs didn’t have any saving accounts, but they had ideas. If you have read Walter Isaacson’s biography on Steve Jobs, you will probably recall that Wozniak was the brilliant mind in those garage days when the concept of the first computer was conceived. But he’s also the quiet one who allowed Jobs to take most of the credit when the company became famous. Wozniak mentioned in his interview that he has been teaching fifth-graders about two mathematical formulas: 1. Happiness equals S minus F (smiles minus frowns) and 2. Happiness equals F cubed – food, fun and friends. He ended by admitting there might be a fourth “F.”

Of course, somebody in Canada should be inspired to do a similar tribute to Canadian boomers. A possible list of Canadian Boomer Masters could include: former astronaut Chris Hadfield, singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, music composer and producer David Foster, author and designer Douglas Coupland, author and activist Jan Wong, RBC’s Chief Human Resources Officer Zabeen Hirji, Tony-Award-winning actor Brent Carver, TV producer and writer Lorne Michaels, scientist and environmentalist David Suzuki… the list can go on and on! Plus, of course, we can also claim Kim Cattrall our own.

While it’s laudable for PBS to have filmed and broadcasted this show on Boomer Masters, it is probably equally important for them to try to broaden the message to younger audiences. Since most of the PBS audiences are primarily boomers and seniors, they don’t need to preach to the converted – we boomers already know we have many geniuses among us and our generation is great because of our values and work ethics. These boomer masters need to inspire Generations X, Y and Z, who certainly are not watching PBS or buying coffee table books!

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Intergenerational Collaboration In Music


There’s a beautiful phenomenon going on in the music scene – a lot of collaborations between generations. Whether it’s the older generation of musicians wanting to remain relevant by ‘appearing’ to mentor the young, or it’s the latter group expressing support of the boomer or senior generations of entertainers, this intergenerational collaboration is excellent news to music fans.

I first remember the beginning of all these collaborations happening at The Grammy Awards a couple of years ago – older bands teaming up with younger ones and appearing on stage for a joint performance. Then renowned crooner Tony Bennett first came up with the idea of recording duets (although preceded by Frank Sinatra) with various younger artists – Michael Buble, Dixie Chicks, Diana Krall, John Legend and others.  Following the huge success of Duets: An American Classic, he came up with Duets II in which he famously sang with Amy Winehouse shortly before she passed away. The album also made him the oldest living artist to reach No. 1 on the Billboard album chart. He took the idea and expanded it further to the Hispanic community with Viva Duets by involving younger Hispanic musicians such as Thalia and Chayanne to sing the Spanish part of the duets.

Just when you thought Bennett might be content with his accomplishments in his octogenarian years, the 88-year-old musician is about to come out with another duet album, Cheek to Cheek, next week with Lady Gaga, who’s 60 years his junior. Nobody ever associated Gaga with jazz music although her diehard fans would know that the pop songstress first started off as a jazz singer in some New York City dive bars before becoming famous. In a recent interview with NBC’s Today and The New York Times, Lady Gaga got choked up a couple of times and said, “I wonder where I would be at this moment in my career had this not happened. I really didn’t want to make music anymore, for a little while, because I was so confused and tired. But now it’s so clear.” The skeptics said that this collaboration with Bennett in a brand new genre for Gaga might be a reboot for her, whose most recent solo release, Artpop, did not come even close to her usual blockbuster standards.

The truth of the matter is: both Bennett and Gaga were probably quite happy with where they were before making this new jazz album. But both seemed to continue to want to innovate and break new grounds. Hence came the latest collaboration!

Even the stage- and performance-shy Barbra Streisand has come out with her own duets album called Partners which was released earlier this week. In her usual diva way (a trait denied by her on The Tonight Show last night), this album is a collection of duets she recorded over the last year with an all-male lineup including some younger artists such as Michael Buble, John Legend, John Mayer, Babyface and Blake Shelton. Whether you like the 72-year-old icon’s music or not, this new album sounds irresistible.

This intergenerational musical collaboration is not obvious just in duet albums, but also as a ticket draw on stage. I attended a concert last night at Massey Hall where Joss Stone and Charles Bradley performed separately. Marketed as a “Soul Explosion” concert, both artists were mesmerizing in their own ways.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Joss Stone’s since her debut album The Soul Sessions at age 15. Once you’ve attended her concert, you’ll like her even more – in spite of her success, she started her show punctually at 8 p.m. in a long, orange summer dress and heated up the night with The Choking Kind which made her famous. Now at 27, she’s lost a lot of baby fat and is a bit more mature, but still sexy, approachable and such a natural performer with an Aretha Franklin voice. At the end of her one-hour performance, she got a soul train going among the audience on the floor and just exited off stage without any fanfare and encores in her signature bare feet.

Then came 65-year-old James-Brown-look-alike Charles Bradley. Unlike Stone, every single stage appearance of Bradley was introduced with huge fanfare by one of his younger band or crew members. Like Brown, his performance was as much about his moves and costumes on stage as it was about his voice and music. What highlighted his show last night was his supporting band – all white, young guys in their 20s who were so electrifying that I’ll be surprised if Bradley doesn’t record his next album with them.

Last evening was another example of musical collaboration between the young and the old, not together on stage, but as a two-in-one concert draw. For me, as a soul and r&b music fan, both gigs were intoxicating!


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Purchasing A Home For Aging In Place


More and more people are thinking about their long-term future when buying a home. Whether they are aging couples or singles planning for their retirement, or a growing cohort of young professionals who expects eventually to share a home with their aging parents, there’s an increasing demand for architectural designs of houses or condos with aging in place in mind.

According to Statistics Canada, the number of grandparents living with the grandchildren jumped 45 percent between 2001 and 2011. For multicultural Canada, it becomes even more important for a multigenerational house because for many diverse cultures, particularly Asian, letting your parents live in an old-age home is unacceptable. According to Betsy Williamson, one of the partners at award-winning architectural firm Williamson Chong, in order to make a multigenerational house successful, where all ages feel accommodated and not cramped, it’s essential to factor in everyone’s needs and expectations from the outset of the design. She also said in an interview with The Globe and Mail that it’s important to listen carefully to the family’s particular set of cultural and demographic requirements.

The older generation wants to minimize stairs for maximum mobility and, very often, wheelchair-friendly master bedrooms and bathrooms are located on the ground floor. There might also be an extra guest room on the same floor that can be converted for a live-in nurse.

Younger offsprings, on the other hand, want to maintain their own independence while caring for their aging parents and grandparents. So, very often, houses are designed to provide opportunities for ‘togetherness’ with easy access to the house’s main living spaces. At the same time, there are also separate entrances to an independent suite where the younger generation can opt to enjoy their privacy and independence.

For condo dwellers, the space would incorporate private studios, a large communal living area and an extra room for a caregiver. According to Matthias Hollwich, an architect and author of a New Aging manifesto that is slated for publication next year, a New Aging home adheres to the principles of universal design, which considers the needs of people of every age and ability. He gave examples in his interview with The Globe about entrances, pathways, bathrooms and kitchens accommodating someone with a walker or in a wheelchair. Hollwich and his team from New York architecture firm Hollwich Kushner Architecture DPC have designed several New Aging community prototypes for locations in Europe, Africa and North America, but these concepts have not been built. However, all of his work is infused with an awareness of aging, including the 1,840-unit apartment building that is under construction in New Jersey, which will feature details such as barrier-free travel, direct access to public transit, kitchen surfaces that are the right height for wheelchairs and fully accessible bathrooms.

It’s gratifying to hear that the architectural and design community has come to realize the potential future of aging in place and instead of a niche, we’re now seeing more of such designs as an industry standard instead.

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Legitimate Concerns About Canadian Health Care

Old Hands

Of all the doom and gloom news reports about our aging population, the only one that is of real concern is from a recent poll, commissioned by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), that baby boomers are getting increasingly antsy about the availability and quality of health care as they age. The Globe and Mail reported that the CMA survey of Canadians aged 45-plus shows that 78 percent of them are worried that they will not be able to access necessary health services like homecare and long-term care in a timely fashion when they need them. Eighty-one percent of those polled also expressed worries about the quality of the care they will be able to access.

In addition, the majority of older Canadians – 61 percent – lack confidence that hospitals and long-term care facilities can handle the needs of Canada’s elderly population, or that there are enough services to help Canadian seniors live at home longer (60 percent).

I totally share this concern and was, therefore, glad to read that the new leader of the CMA, Dr. Chris Simpson, was calling out the Conservative government for its inaction on health care, saying the medical system is floundering and Canadians are “tired of excuses as to why the federal government can’t take action.”

Dr. Simpson, according to The Globe, further asked for some “brave leadership” from Ottawa to fundamentally reshape the health system to reflect the changing needs of an aging population. Simpson said given the challenges posed by the aging baby-boomer demographic, the starting point for health-care reform needs to be creating a comprehensive seniors’ strategy. He also cited a recent report from the Commonwealth Fund that shows Canada’s health system ranks next to last (after the U.S.) on almost every measure of quality and access. The top-ranked countries were Britain, Switzerland and Sweden.

Simpson said Canada’s seniors – especially those with multiple chronic conditions – lack proper primary care and end up in overcrowded emergency rooms and hospitals by default, and at great expense.

In spite of all the criticisms of Obamacare in the U.S. and our southern neighbour’s poor health-care rating in the world, at least the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a plan to tackle the health-care problem facing the aging population. In The State of Aging and Health in America 2013, the sixth volume of a series that presents a snapshot of the health and aging landscape in the U.S., the report focuses on the health of adults aged 65 years or older and identifies needs for improvement on the 2020 health targets, particularly for older Americans. The report also presents several calls to action intended to encourage individuals, professionals and communities to take specific steps to improve the health and well-being of older adults. They include developing a new Healthy Brain Initiative Road Map; addressing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) aging and health issues; using data on physically unhealthy days to guide interventions; addressing mental distress among older adults; and monitoring vaccination rates for shingles.

But where is the Canadian plan? Dr. Simpson of the CMA suggested that Canada should learn from the top-ranked countries in health system by having a clear commitment to quality improvement with goals and targets; by having a buy-in and leadership from doctors; and by having a strong leadership from a committed federal or national government. Perhaps, intead of participating in a G7 or G8 conference focusing on global economy, our federal government should look into calling a summit of major Commonwealth countries to share best practices for a seniors’ health-care strategy?

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