April 01, 2005

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Lions versus Lychees (Updated)

Singapore and Hong Kong are well known rivals. Usually Hong Kong has the upper hand. But when it comes to blogging Hong Kong is, let's be honest, woefully behind Singapore. Singapore blogs have bigger readerships, are more diverse and more interesting.


Update at 18:03 1st April

I had my own thoughts before posting this question but didn't mention as I wanted to see what others thought. There are some great comments.

Mr Brown and I have been conversing by email and he has agreed to my posting the results.

Mr Brown's first email:

Intriguing thought, your post.

Miyagi, Cowboy Caleb and I were just talking about it over dinner last
night. [Ed. - what a great dinner that would have been!]

Could it be the fact that Singapore is the orphan child of British Colonialism?

Also I think we seem to buzz more because there is no real place for Singaporeans to speak their minds. Blogs offer anonymity and a chance to vent, rant and articulate thoughts that may get you in trouble offline. This is not to say that we live oppressed lives here. Most of us are quite happy and the perceived lack of freedoms is often over-stated in foreign publications. blogs and media. It's not that pathetic as it seems.

We could use more freedom offline but for now, blogs (and even, ahem, podcasts) are pushing the boundaries of tolerance, freedom of expression, and wit. Hopefully, this will spill over to the offline world too.

There seems to be more expats running English-speaking Hongkong blogs, I have noticed. Are there local language blogs booming there? I don't read Chinese blogs, so I am not sure.

I think it also helps that in a very informal way, the core blogging Singapore community sees its role as encouraging the rest of the Singapore blogging community to grow. Sexyblogger was, in part, an attempt to raise the profile of the many Singapore blogs we have. Let a thousand flowers bloom, I say. While not a formal grassroots effort, there are many Singapore bloggers passionate about blogging, and that helps too.

If Singaporeans get used to speaking their minds online, then maybe, just maybe, they will also start asking for their rightful space offline too. Then it will be grand to have played a small part in making that happen.

My dashed off reply:
I had suspected many of the points you (and others) have made. HK is not as English-centric; I can't read Chinese but from what I know there are some but not many of those blogs in HK. Nevertheless the lack of a solid English language audience is certainly a factor. But then why are most Singapore blogs more personal and local compared to those in Hong Kongers? Could it be for the political speech reasons you allude to?
Mr Brown's even quicker reply:
That is an interesting point you make about the local and personal nature of Singapore posts. I suspect that we as a people have been so used to being careful about political talk that it spills over to our personal talk as well. So blogs offer that space of expressing both the political and personal.

But the truth is, much is changing, and our new leaders are trying to open up, It's an eternal tension that our leaders have to deal with. How much is too much freedom? I think this generation and my children's will see many changes. The Internet has opened too many doors and economic opportunities for the Government to ignore. The change towards greater openness is inevitable. The only question is that of rate of change.

I agree that language plays a part. I am sure there are many kick-ass Chinese blogs in Hongkong. Just that Miyagi and I, being of the infamous ACS school (our Chinese very lousy), don't read those.

And so let me expound a little more on my own views and please feel free to contribute more.

1. The language factor is key. Hong Kong is dominated by Cantonese speakers with English quickly being relegated to the third language after Mandarin. Much to the elite's chagrin English proficiency is decling in Hong Kong. Thus those that feel most comfortable in writing in English are expats or "international Chinese". The downside to this is my inability to read Chinese excludes me from much of what happens locally in both the media and out there in the real world. On the other hand in Singapore English is a primary and commonly used language.
2. The nature of blogs in the two places is also shaped by the social and political environment. That's what Mr Brown was getting at and I can only agree. I have nothing against personal diary style blogs and indeed enjoy reading many of them. but the potential for blogging as a new medium and political tool is vast and only just starting to be realised.
3. Blogs themselves often reflect their setting. Singapore seems a more collegial place compared to the individuality of Hong Kong. And so it is with blogs.

There's far more to this and I welcome more debate.

More importantly I implore the Hong Kong Government to not sit idly by while Singapore overtakes our beloved city in this cutting edge field. To the HK Government here's my proposal:

1. Give an immediate grant of HK$50 million to me to set up a project to develop and expand blogging in Hong Kong.
2. I need exclusive use of a Government jet to travel back and forwards to Singapore and other places to better understand the issues.
3. I need a massive grant of free land, cheap loans and preferential treatment to develop a massive property venture on Hong Kong Island, to be called Blogport. To help fund this I will need to be allowed to build 10 luxury condiminium complexes. It's happened before.

There's no time to lose!

posted by Simon on 04.01.05 at 07:37 PM in the Blogging category.


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That's a conclusion.

posted by: fumier on 03.31.05 at 08:38 PM [permalink]

One word, Xiaxue :-)

posted by: Jing on 03.31.05 at 09:01 PM [permalink]

Because Singapore is a pathetic place. So usually bloggers will vent via Internet.

posted by: Martin X on 03.31.05 at 09:57 PM [permalink]

would language make a difference?
could there many more chinese-language blogs than english-language blogs in hong kong? as compared to the chinese-english ratio in singapore (i am not aware of any census counts)

here are some hong kong chinese-language blogs that no english-language ones can touch:
Hung One Bean: http://hungonebean.blogspot.com/
Cafe Horizon:

these people can read and write in english, but they use chinese instead, and i don't even imagine how these results are deliverable in english.

posted by: eswn on 04.01.05 at 01:04 AM [permalink]

I heard it was because HK men are too busy with all the beautiful women to develop decent blog followings.

The guys in Singapore have to deal with the fact that their women are more interested in ex-pats and men from HK. :)

posted by: John on 04.01.05 at 06:24 AM [permalink]

I suspect ESWN is right. But I like the other answers.

I demand HK Government funding to correct the problem!

posted by: Simon on 04.01.05 at 12:52 PM [permalink]

Singapore is an island and their blogs reflect that. The vast majority are very young and their blogs are somewhat childish and incerstuous*. They blog about each other far more than HK bloggers. I think we have some better quality bloggers (Hemlock, Simon, Spirit Fingers spring to mind and others who don't blog often like Fumier, Ordinary Gweilo, Undressed* King on the Blog, Hongkie Town, Daai Tou Laam etc). As for the Singapore bloggers - OK there's a couple of good-looking birds, but the only one who writes well is SPG. Among the guys Expat@Large, mr brown are pretty good but I don't rate the others much. I don't think numbers are everything. The local English media ignore us because we're constantly slagging them off too! I'll post on the subject.

* deliberately mis-spelt to get past the spam-blocker, Simon!

posted by: HKMacs on 04.01.05 at 05:38 PM [permalink]

I would agree that there arn't many (non expat) English blogs in HK, while almost all Singapore blogs are in English. Maybe you guys could run a meta blog that has "notable posts" translated from the Chinese blogs in HK. I was once looking at organising something like this Mainland China and Thai blogs.

Another thing we are looking at doing here in Sg is work through public libraries and community centres to run sessions on blog/rss and other social networking tools. That would bring more people into blogsphere and hopefully more interesting writing and interaction.

posted by: Preetam Rai on 04.01.05 at 11:43 PM [permalink]

I know this is a trivial observation, but in my somewhat funky state I found this bit in your post howlingly funny:

"English proficiency is decling in Hong Kong"

If I think of it, I'll ask some of the people I work with about Chinese language blogs. Could be interesting.

posted by: spike on 04.02.05 at 01:06 AM [permalink]

I have many Hong Konger friends here in Melbourne, most of them fellow school and classmates.

They're all lovely people, and I do like them. The one major thing that pisses me off though, is how they think they're English is very good.

Granted, I'm in no position to judge. But how the hell do you respond to a statement like "I speak wewy good English" ?

posted by: Han on 04.02.05 at 01:18 PM [permalink]

lol, sorry, I meant to say "how they think their English is very good". Egg on the face here for me. :)

posted by: Han on 04.02.05 at 01:18 PM [permalink]

I haven't spent much time in Hong Kong, thus this comment is based on my experience living in Singapore and New York. Please excuse me if it is irrelevant.

Surprisingly, I've found that the Internet is a much larger part of the average Singaporean's life than a New Yorker's. People my age (mid-twenties) in Singapore started using the Internet heavily in our early teens. Even in 1995 and 1996, when most of the people you'd encounter in online communities were American, it was almost impossible to find a single chatroom without at least one Singaporean chatter. We had BBS's in 1993/1994, and a Singapore-based MUD with hundreds (if not thousands) of users.

Singaporeans seem to really enjoy the heck out of online communities. I remember when I found out my (middle-aged) aunt had IRC buddies, I was shocked. But despite the technological learning curve, she really dug the Internet.

I think most Singaporeans definitely see the Internet as a social arena, whereas most of the New Yorkers I know use it as an informational tool. Perhaps our comfort level with using online communities as social activity is why we've so many blogs and such strong connections between our bloggers?

posted by: Samantha on 04.02.05 at 04:45 PM [permalink]

this comment had to be posted at my blog because it was too long and involves chinese characters.

posted by: eswn on 04.03.05 at 02:12 AM [permalink]

How dare you make such an arrogant comment on Hong Kong bloggers!! How dare you suggest HK government give you a grant to promote blogging culture!!

I suggest you "grant" yourself some money and time to learn Chinese and Cantonese. Or just "grant" yourself some time for self-reflection and learning to be more humble to local cultures.

I agree that Hong Kong blog culture is not strong enough. But the reason or solution is not about language. Try to know more about the Chinese societies.

Just want to remind you of one more thing you might not be able to understand. There are millions of bloggers in China. Most of them write in Chinese.

They rely on blogs for getting and exchanging information more than people in Singapore and the West because of government's censorship. But I would not come up with any idea of teaching Hong Kong people to write blog in simplified characters.

posted by: hegelchong on 04.03.05 at 09:37 AM [permalink]

You are upset for no reason hegelchong. Simon isn't actually asking for government funding, he is actually being sarcastic. The whole asking for money is a parody of the stiffening levels of bureaucratic morrase that smothers Hong Kong as well as the level of collusion between monopolist business interests and the government.

posted by: Jing on 04.03.05 at 09:57 AM [permalink]

what's the meaning of "east meets west" after all? if eastern languages have to give way to the western counterpart for making themselves visible; if the west, without understanding the eastern cultures and respecting their cultural values, while making stupid and arrogant comments about the place's culture / blogsphere.

and i wonder if the writer knows what is the value of blog, blogger communities, and the new trend in blogger journalism in providing an alternative frame of reference to the world's reality. such value can never be promoted by any "state", it is a counter current to the static hegemony.

please don't think that because you can write in english then you can represent the east to the Rest.

posted by: oiwan on 04.03.05 at 10:02 AM [permalink]

oh the irony!

Hegel Chong neatly demonstrates the perils of a language divide. Isn't the lack of proficiency in English the most probable cause of one not being able to understand sarcasm and irony?

Wery nice Hegel, wery nice.

posted by: Han on 04.03.05 at 01:59 PM [permalink]


Blogs don't provide "an alternative frame of reference to the world's reality". Citizen journalism or distributed journalism is not about providing "alternate frame of reference". It is about revealing the truth.

Ever heard of the phrase "given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow"? That's the maxim formulated by Eric Raymond to describe the process in which Open Source methods of software development attain such excellence.

It equally applies here, "with many eyeballs, all lies are shallow". Blogs provide the eyeballs to scrutinise what other people say, so that any lies or untruths will be uncovered. The explosion of blogs allow for many people to scrutinise what others say, especially in the mainstream media, provide them with a platform to publish their criticisms so that others may gain from their insights.

Any references to "alternate frames of reality" would certainly lead people to conclude that you've either been reading too much of that po-mo crap, or hitting the bong one too many.

posted by: Han on 04.03.05 at 02:11 PM [permalink]

I'd like to factor in Internet usage by Singaporeans vs Hong Kongers in their everyday lives. As Samantha rightly states, Singaporeans tend to use the Internet as an extension of their social lives and perhaps Hong Kongers use it to a lesser extent? I am also guessing that blogging is a fad that hasn't caught on with Hong Kongers. Yet. Btw, how often has the media in HK reported on blogging, much less having a blogger write regularly on one of it's major publications? The Singapore media has been quite active in promoting blogs, which simply gets people quite curious over it. That's my take... it's all good though, as the blogging pie is massive and everyone should have a slice of its goodness.

posted by: La Idler on 04.03.05 at 03:24 PM [permalink]

Han, I'm never upset about what simon said. I just find his ideas funny and stupid.

I certainly understand simon's irony. But there are always assumptions behind irony. How come you don't understand my irony?

Even if I didn't understand it, it would not be necessarily a problem of "proficiency". It might be about "culture" (or sense of humour). And how come you guys (and HK government) keep judging people's English?

I do appreciate Singaporeans' blogs. But the problems of simon (maybe including you?) are not about language, not about his proficiency in English or Chinese. The problem is whether you show respect to the local society and cultures.

posted by: hegelchong on 04.03.05 at 06:21 PM [permalink]

I'm not sure I see the 'problem'.

posted by: Nicholas Liu on 04.04.05 at 12:55 AM [permalink]

hegelchong: it's understandable how and why you're pissed off, but I don't think simon means to be completely disrespectful of the local culture in Hong Kong. it's not like he's totally slagging it off...

maybe it boils down to a cultural divide in the end (ironically enough). he's just being critical and voicing his views, and you're viewing it from a more Eastern perspective i.e. as a 'disrespectful' comment on the local culture, not giving 'face' to the local blogging community. chill out, i say! :)

posted by: tessa on 04.04.05 at 11:45 AM [permalink]

"OK there's a couple of good-looking birds, but the only one who writes well is SPG. Among the guys Expat@Large, mr brown are pretty good but I don't rate the others much." - HKMacs

HKMacs: I'd be curious to know which well-known singapore blogs you've read but don't rate highly.

posted by: calm one on 04.04.05 at 01:17 PM [permalink]

Chinese is my primary language but I blog in English. I do agree to an extent that the English blogs made by Chinese speaking HK Bloggers is lagging behind SGs ones. (I don't find my blog interesting or worth following to be honest, but at least I made the effort)

But there are again some interesting Chinese blogs around which are worth reading.

posted by: James on 04.04.05 at 07:34 PM [permalink]

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