Hong Kong song singing out pessimistic future of the city becomes a hit

Wan Kwong (尹光), the evergreen Hong Kong singer, recently released a song titled “Your Boss” (你老闆), which is also a euphemism for “screw you”, singing out the pessimistic future of the city. The song is an instant success and has garnered 400.000 views on Youtube. Before the release of the song, Wan had also given an interview to Kei Hiu Fung (紀曉風), a popular columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal. In the interview, Wan sympathises with young adults in Hong Kong, who are also moved by his frankness.

Wan Kwong’s interview (Feb 25th 2013 Hong Kong Economic Journal via the Facebook of Kei Hiu Fung),

Speaking of Wan Kwong , you would know he has a moniker “The Singing King of Temple Street” and remember his singing “White Snow and the seven dwarfs. White Snow and the seven dwarfs sleep together,” because of which his songs are regarded as lewd, vulgar, and unrefined. Even though his music genre is unconventional, many of his songs are satires on social ills. In recent years, Hong Kong has been ridden with problems, making Wan more and more popular.

(*Wan Kwong’s “White Snow and the Seven Dwarfs”)

In fact, Wan Kwong’s songs can be counted as an index of Hong Kong problems. In his early years, his song “14 seats” (a minibus) voiced the hardship endured by minibus drivers. The song “Hermit Kwan Yan” (euphemism for “none of my fucking business”) expressed Hongkongers’ worries over the Handover. After the millennium, Wan used “Rarely Care about My Father” (euphemism for “Fuck your father”) and “The thunderous, incomparable 334” to bring out teenage problems created by dysfunctional families and the reformation of the school system respectively.

He is going to have concerts on March 4th and 5th. Its theme song sings out the current situations of young people, who either live in cramped subdivided rooms or live with parents: “Housing prices are getting higher and higher. We’re forced into smaller and smaller homes. After graduating from university, we still have to work like a mule. You see, how can young people get married and have children? In order to earn a livelihood, we do back-breaking work.” Every lyric is heartbreaking, and it is perhaps the inner voice of young people.

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An ad of Wan Kwong’s 2013 concerts

Wan Kwong, the vulgar singing king who has experienced ups and downs of Hong Kong since the 70’s, said bluntly that Hong Kong was happier in the past. “Life in the past was simpler. If one worked hard, one could live off of his salary. However, these days, even if one works hard, one can’t live off of his salary at all. Mainland Chinese shopping cause inflation, making life of the grass roots difficult. The younger generation have to live with and depend on their parents. If they rent homes, how can they (have money to) get married?”

The name of Wan’s latest song adheres to his vulgar style and is titled “Your boss” (euphemism for “screw you”). The song talks about bosses and mentions the life of young people. The first two lines of the lyrics are “I am not seeking a fortune. I am just fighting for survival.” Then the lyrics even go straight to the heart of the matter: “The saying goes, ‘the poorer one is, the more trouble one gets into’. After graduating from university, we still have to work like a mule. You see, do young people dare to get married and have children? In order to make a living,  we work so much that we become insane. If you still have money to date a girl in the end of month, you are really impressive! Sleeping under a bridge is the makeshift plan. The place is warm during winter, cool during summer and doesn’t charge a management fee.”

The lyrics of “Your boss” mention sky-high housing prices, “inflated” buildings, the depreciation of college degrees, marrying late, the working poor, and the difficulty of purchasing properties etc., which are also hot social issues. The latter half of the lyrics — “(I wish) I needed no job, left, and moved to Vanuatu. Looking all over the map, I can’t find the place at all! I am forced to stay in Hong Kong, and then together we say, “I love Hong Kong!”. We continue squeezing in the bedroom, which is smaller than a prison cell. We continue to be robbed by property owners, paying so much for a subdivided room. I would rather spend money to buy boards to build a room under a bridge”  — are very much “updated” because Chan Yuen-han (陳婉嫻), the legislative council member from Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, which represents the grass roots of Hong Kong, suddenly came up with a “wild idea” that suggests building homes under bridges with shipping containers. It seems that “sleeping under bridges” and “going under a bridge, buy boards, build rooms” are more than just lyrics and have become a biting satire of the reality.

(“Vanuatu, the place I want to reside!” is a viral advertisement for a Hong Kong immigration agency. It is found that the target audience of the advertisement is Mainland Chinese and Vanuatuan citizenship is used as a stepping-stone to obtain Hong Kong residency. )

Chan Yuen-Han (pink scarf) suggests building temporary homes under bridges with shipping containers. Source

The moniker “The Singing King of Temple Street” misleads people into thinking that he made a name for himself as he performed live at Temple Street earlier in his career. In fact, he has never given any performance at Temple Street. He earned his reputation as a “singing king” because lyrics of his songs are relatively vulgar, and therefore mainstream record stores seldom sold his music, which could only be found in (more grass roots) places like Temple Street.

Although his songs seem unsuitable for children, Wan’s songs are like portrayals of the changes of the Hong Kong society. How does Wan, who has sung social satires ever since the 70’s, view the changes of Hong Kong?

“I think life in the past was happier. Life in the past was very good. In the 70’s, I earned $400 to $500 per month. Average workers earned around $300. Even if I spent $100 on rent, the remaining money would still allow me to live comfortably. However, for this generation, despite earning $15,000 a month, everything is so expensive: food and rent are expensive. They just can’t live off of their salaries,” Wan lamented, “There were many free entertainments in the past: going to Temple Street, the Ladies’ Market, and Tai Tat Dei (also known as the working class’s night club). These places didn’t require much spending. It is totally different now. “

Regarding his “subdivided room” song which is going to be performed in the concerts, Wan thinks the lyrics can reflect problems of the society and the helplessness of young Hongkongers: “Their parents can still support them. Therefore, they can depend on their families. However, what about the future? How to pay rent? How to get married? These days, many young people are the working poor. In our generation, no matter how much we spent, if we could not save $100, we would save $50. However, many young people these days don’t have savings. But you can’t really blame on them. Their salaries aren’t enough to live off of.”

When Wan started his singing career, Hong Kong’s economy started booming:  gold wasn’t all over the place, but there were absolutely more chances. There is a world of difference in the difficulty of buying a property now and then. “When I bought my first home, one flat was only worth $150,000 to $160,000. The working class could save for down payments on homes in two years. These days, even if you could save enough money, your saving would not be able to catch up with the increases. Moreover, flats in the past were around 900 to 1000 sq. ft., unlike nowadays. I used to be a gambling addict. I once lost my flat in a night. However, I would work harder, giving 9 performances in a night. I earned hundreds per gig and thousands per night. At least I had hope. Therefore, I quickly cleared my debts. If it happened today, there would be less chance and I would go bankrupt.”

As for now, the economy of Hong Kong seems to be good. Theoretically, the quality of life should have been improved. However, Wan shook his head to express his disagreement, “The life of the grass roots is really difficult. Even though there are lots of Mainland Chinese tourists, seemingly helping the economy of Hong Kong, only brand names are benefitted from them. Besides, they cause inflation, pushing up rents. I have a friend who runs a business. When his business had just been picking up, the property owner doubled the rent; There are no more affordable stuffs in the market; Everywhere is crowded with buildings; Air quality is so bad; It is hard to make a living; The society doesn’t even have humanity anymore.”

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“Everywhere is crowded with buildings”: Tseung Kwan O, where this photo was taken, is the major location where Michael Wolf took this notorious set of photos. Ever since the Handover, more and more suffocating buildings,of both public and private housings, have been built in the area.

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6 thoughts on “Hong Kong song singing out pessimistic future of the city becomes a hit

  1. I want to add that he is a Wah Kiu who escaped communist Vietnam during the war to HK. Wan Kwong is well informed abt Communism.

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