Think small

Think small

In the fifth month of his one-man boycott of the huge firms that dominate business in the city, Pong Yat-ming tells people to 'do the right thing'.

November 04, 2012
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Pong Yat-ming avoids the arms of big firms in favour of small businesses.
Pong Yat-ming avoids the arms of big firms in favour of small businesses.
Photo: Edward Wong
One hundred and thirty-six days into his campaign, Pong Yat-ming feels good about himself.

Pong, a freelance educator, is on a one-year boycott of property conglomerates and large retail chains in Hong Kong.

"Li Ka-shing, Lee Shau-kee, Cheng Yu-tung and the Kwok family," he says. "My main targets are these big developers, but there are others, too."

Pong refuses to patronise chains like Watsons, Mannings and Taste. Instead, he seeks out small, locally run businesses, such as corner shops and wet markets.

"The first month was the most difficult," Pong, 37, says. "You have to give up habits you built up for 30-something years. You feel like a newcomer in the city, but afterwards it gets a lot easier."

Because the big firms' arms reach everywhere in the city, Pong has been forced to make major changes to his daily routine. He owns a mobile phone but uses Peoples (operated by China Mobile) as a service provider and visits a community centre for internet access.

On a few occasions, he almost accidentally violated his own boycott.

"One time, I was supposed to meet a friend at IKEA for dinner - it's really hard to find Swedish food here," he recalls.

"That shop was situated in a mall owned by a big property developer. I found out about it and had to change my plan."

Returning from an overseas stay, Pong bought a copy of Land and the Ruling Class in Hong Kong by Alice Poon, a former employee at Sun Hung Kai Properties Group and Kerry Properties. Poon's book has had a huge impact on the way he views the city.

"The book gave me a very clear picture of how Hong Kong is controlled by just a few major hands," he explains.

"I think no one would feel indifferent after reading these detailed descriptions. Something like 90 per cent of my salary goes to them."

Pong says the book tells how property tycoons "take advantage of their proximity to authority to get inside information in advance".

Spurred by an intense feeling of injustice, he knew he had to do something - the right thing. He did some research on the topic, and the idea of a boycott came up.

Less than two months after reading the book, he set out on his one-year mission. He started by getting a bicycle on the first day, since the transport system is also closely linked to big developers.

Pong says others have engaged in similar campaigns in Hong Kong but went about it quietly. But he has written about his mission on Facebook and his blog. It has also been featured in the media.

Pong admits he may be fighting a lost cause. But he feels his main focus should not be on the outcome of his actions.

"It should be about doing the right thing," he says.

"Most people usually think too much about the practicality or usefulness of something before doing it. If you think too much about that, it kills your momentum and passion.

"Doing the right thing will give you the power to do things you truly believe in.

"This is important in our society. We need a message like this - we should not think too much about the results but follow our inner voice to do the right thing - especially for young people."

With over seven months left in his campaign, Pong is confident he has discovered a more meaningful way to live his life.

"If I find something better, I won't go back to the way before," he says.

"Yeah, this is better, so maybe I will do this longer."

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