Duck tales in Hong Kong

HONG KONG is in a flap - about a giant rubber duck paddling about in the Victoria Harbour.

From the moment the 16.5-metre-tall yellow bird sailed into view on Thursday, it has been an object of adoration.

Cheers went up. Cameras flashes flared. Photos are quickly uploaded onto Facebook, Twitter and Weibo.

Undeterred by the unexpectedly fowl, er, foul weather - Thursday was the coldest day in May in Hong Kong since 1917 with temperatures dipping to 16.6 deg C while showers broke intermittently - people continually lined the promenade near the Tsim Sha Tsui ferry terminal, craning their necks for a better look.

Some intrepid restaurants even jumped onto the bandwagon, serving up dishes inspired by the bird. (No, not roast duck or canard à l'orange or peking duck, but yellow curried rice moulded in the shape of the duck).

Even Dutch conceptual artist Florentijn Hofman, who came up with the idea, seems bemused by all the attention. “I want readers to think about this: why are people so crazy about this Rubber Duck? This is food for thought,” he told the South China Morning Post in an interview.

There have been a couple of theories floating around to account for the frenzy.

One is that it shows the power of the Hong Kong media.

For the past couple weeks in the lead-up to the big day, the local papers have been trumpeting the impending arrival of the duck.

Two, it shows Hong Kongers’ penchant for the new and novel.

Ms Marie Cheng, 35, a businesswoman, who asked me to take a photo of her with the bird, says simply: “Once there is something new in Hong Kong, everyone will come.”

She points out how a recently opened Uniqlo store in Causeway has attracted hordes “just because it is new - even though there are other outlets selling the same items!”.

Three, pop psychology posits that awashed with relentlessly bad news, people simply wanted to focus on something the colour of sunshine.

In the past week, news broke of how the government’s Marine Department was found culpable for the ferry tragedy last October that killed 39.

Meanwhile, the city’s pride - the Independent Commission Against Corruption - is down in the dumps amid allegations that its former chief Timothy Tong is misusing public money on entertaining mainland officials.

Over at Tamar, the Legislative Council is mired in a marathon filibustering session.

The week before, a survey found that Hong Kongers’ happiness has dropped to 2008 crisis level. No wonder there is a certain harkening back to a more carefree period - even if just for a few minutes. And the rubber duck, so emblematic of innocence and childhood, appears to fit the bill.

Interviews yield cherished tales from the duck side.

Says Ms Virginia Chan, 38, a clerk: “It’s so cute. It reminds me of the duck I had when I was small, my mum will let me play with it.”

To that end, Mr Hofman is certainly no quack - though some serious artists may scoff at his creation.

As he wrote on his website: “The rubber duck knows no frontiers, it doesn’t discriminate people and doesn’t have a political connotation. The friendly, floating rubber duck has healing properties: it can relieve mondial tensions as well as define them. “The rubber duck is soft, friendly and suitable for all ages!”