Want to raise your voice over some grievance or other? Why not sing, for a change! In a city where people daily take to the streets to shout and wave placards about everything from food scares to tax hikes, one enterprising group has decided to air its frustrations through songs.
The Hong Kong Complaints Choir has taken its cue from the English city of Birmingham, where the natives are known for the veracity and tenacity of their whinging, and where the first mass musical moaning took place.
AdvertisementOrganisers say these tuneful tirades, performed by up to 40 choristers at a time, add a twist to Hong Kong's many and varied ways of public complaint.
"People in Hong Kong use different methods to voice their opinions, but no one here has tried to sing their complaints," said Thompson Tong, a 25-year-old photographer and one of the organisers of the choir.
"We want to try and use a different way to lash out at current affairs. We are using a better manner to grumble," he said.
Every day it seems that a demonstration of some sort is taking place in this southern Chinese city of seven million, where unlike in the rest of China people enjoy freedom of speech and take their rights seriously.
The causes of complaint range from the mundane, such as a recent rowdy demo by a small crowd annoyed with their travel agents, to the profound, such as the annual march to call for expanded democratic rights.
On June 4 this year, the 20th anniversary of the Chinese army's assault on peaceful demonstrators in central Beijing, tens of thousands gathered for a solemn candlelight vigil in Hong Kong's Victoria Park.
Members of the Falungong spiritual sect, which has been banned in Beijing for a decade, meditate and show video footage of alleged abuse by Chinese authorities at numerous spots in the city.
And a lone man stands outside a high-rise office building early each morning holding a sign declaring: "I want to have lunch with Mr Li Ka-shing," referring to one of the territory's richest men.
Into this eclectic mix of civic expression, Tong and his fellow melodic moaners decided to inject a nuanced note by forming their own Complaints Choir, having stumbled across the phenomenon in New York a year ago.
The first complaints choir was launched in Birmingham in 2005 by Finnish artists Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen and Tellervo Kalleinen. The movement has since spread to more than 20 cities, including Hamburg, St. Petersburg, New York, Chicago and Singapore.
The Hong Kong organisers set up an exhibition last summer to explain to the public what they were doing and to start collecting complaints. They also set up a website, where people could post their pet peeves.
"So far more than 700 complaints been been submitted by local citizens," Tong said.
The gripes ranged from global swine flu to annoying advertisements and noisy televisions on public buses, he said.
Once the group had collected the complaints, they enlisted a local lyricist and composer and set to work composing a five-minute song, which opens with the line: "Why do we never stop having to work? Why are our bosses always jerks?"
It sweeps through complaints about taxes, lying politicians, unsafe milk, a reference to China's food safety scandal last year, and Macau, the gambling enclave to Hong Kong's northwest.
And just in case the message isn't clear enough, it also adds the line: "Hong Kong Chinese love to complain."
The group's inaugural performance took place ahead of the huge annual July 1 demonstration, when tens of thousands of people marked the anniversary of Hong Kong's 1997 return to Chinese sovereignty with a march through the city to call on the city's bosses in Beijing to expand democracy here.
Tong said they plan to upload footage of that performance onto video-sharing website YouTube and to launch a series of complaints concerts this month.
In an ironic twist, the choir received a complaint on its website from mainland China, where freedom of speech is not a fundamental right, when a hacker wrote "silence is golden" and then for good measure added a virus that blocked the site to other users.
Shocking as such attitudes might be, they are no deterrent, said another organiser, Vangi Fong.
"Different people have different points of view. Some like the idea but some don't. We just want bring our art and culture to different people," said the 24-year-old who also manages an arts organisation in the city.
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