A father-to-be faces Hong Kong's future

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The times, they are a-changing.

It's been a while since Mr Tall has had much to say. To tell you the truth, he's been struck dumb of late by the gut-churning fact that he's going to be a father by the time this year is halfway out.

Mrs Tall is currently doing the suffering for the Talls in physical terms, but she keeps telling Mr Tall that he's the one who's going to be facing down the poop-rich nether-regions-wear five short months from now. He doesn't doubt it for a moment.

I don't want to go all soppy with you, gentle readers, as many a parent-to-be seems to do. I'll save that for after the Tall-ette is born, since it's an established medical fact that all new parents lose their critical objectivity-regulators once their offspring have emerged.

As I wait for my brain to finish softening, I've been thinking about the future in news ways. I see a school, and think 'Hmmm. I wonder if my future child will need to go to one of those? Sounds plausible . . . .' It's taking me a while to warm up to this, obviously, but the process is like a glacier: once it's moving, you can try to push it back all you want, but it's not going to stop.

It's also got me thinking about what Hong Kong is going to be like 10 or 20 years down the road. Will the great advantages of raising children here -- such as a general respect for education, safe streets and public areas, and a more-or-less benign and mutually beneficial mix of local Chinese and expatriates -- still exist?

I'm now in my mid-30s, and I fear the inevitable generational prejudices are setting in. Mrs Tall (who I hasten to add is most definitely younger than me) and I are finding ourselves unselfconsciously discussing 'What's the matter with kids these days?' as we see teen-aged Hong Kongers slouching around shopping malls in their hip-hop style, prison-inspired outfits, or as young shop assistants gape uncomprehendingly and uninterestedly at simple questions posed to them, whether in Cantonese or in English.

So are we at the end of an era in Hong Kong? Is what I'll call the 'Chinese-immigrant work ethic', which is surely rooted in the hard lives of those who crossed the border from the mainland in the 1950s and 60s, running out? Is Hong Kong facing a period of social upheaval like the 1960s in western countries, in which all those tidy school uniforms are traded in for tie-dyed underpants and peasant dresses woven from hemp? And would a turn away from regimented achievement-orientation perhaps do some good for a society that can be so relentlessly materialistic and status-conscious?

I don't know the answers to any of these questions, but I have a feeling I'll be unable to avoid finding out.