Memories of the old LegCo building: 'Get me a close-up of that banana!'
The former Legislative Council Building at 8 Jackson Road has seen the passing of about 1,600 bills since it began hosting the lawmakers' meetings in 1985. That's a lot of political drama and two journalists were there to witness it all.
Kirindi Chan and Nancy Ching were the producer and director of RTHK's "LegCo Review" for a decade. The channel was the only one allowed to record Legislative Council meetings live and Chan and Ching's show would comment on each week's meeting highlights.
With the near-completion of the new government headquarters at Tamar, the Legislative Council will be moving into new quarters there when the summer recess is over in September.
Lawmakers officially bid goodbye to their former chambers on Jackson Road on July 18. The century-old neo-classical building will return to its original function as the Supreme Court, now called the Court of Final Appeal.
RTHK also wrapped up its 25 years of broadcasting LegCo meetings. The Legislative Council Secretariat will begin providing recordings of meetings once the council reconvenes at the new venue.
Ching, now senior director of RTHK, said: “I will miss the old building for its colorful historical background. It exudes a sense of solemnity and it is definitely world-class.”
Chan and Ching got nostalgic and shared their most unforgettable moments at 8 Jackson Road.
Hong Kong’s future was set on this day
Kirindi Chan, now head of corporate communications for RTHK, said she will never forget what happened inside the old LegCo building between June 29 and 30 in 1994.
“It was an all-nighter meeting that would change Hong Kong’s political landscape after the Handover,” Chang said. “Hong Kong was close to passing a complete direct election bill.”
The council was torn between two proposals: Chris Patten’s bid to replace the usual two-party rule with nine new functional constituencies, and lawmaker Emily Lau’s direct election scheme.
“There were ferocious debates both inside and outside the building and everyone was agitated -- a dramatic and significant scene to be part of,” said Chan.
Chan broadcast the last leg of the marathon meeting. After 20 hours of debate, the night finally came down to a vote. In the end, Emily Lau’s bill was voted down by a single vote.
“Lau and her colleagues looked totally devastated -- it was the moment of truth and everybody had shown their genuine opinions,” Chan said.
“I believe both parties of the LegCo wanted to make Hong Kong a better society."
That flying banana
Legislative Council member Raymond Wong threw a banana in protest at Donald Tsang when the Chief Executive was giving a speech in LegCo in October 2008.
The scene has become a household joke in Hong Kong, but for Nancy Ching it was no laughing matter at the time.
"'Get me a close-up of that banana!' was what I shouted at the cameraman,” said Ching, who was anxious to capture the unfolding drama. But security personnel inside the chamber had already covered up the offending fruit.
Ching said the incident completely ruined the solemnity of LegCo. It was an incident she didn’t appreciate.
Any building more than half a century old usually comes with a string of legends and ghost stories. The LegCo Building, having been through two world wars, is no exception.
Legislative Council member Cheung Man-kwong once said he had a horrible experience working past midnight in the building. He had heard people chatting in Japanese and eventually encountered a spirit dressed in a Japanese kimono.
Ching said stories like this made night shifts in this old building hard to endure. She once invited a fellow female reporter to accompany her for a bathroom break during a late night shift. When the reporter turned her down, Ching had to beg: “Can you please just come with me? I am really scared to go by myself.” The reporter burst out laughing after hearing the senior journalist's confession.
One of the youngest reporters for "LegCo Review,” Bao Choy, witnessed the determination of "Post-80s" activists at the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link protests outside the LegCo Building as lawmakers debated the railway proposal inside the chambers.
“What started as a group of a dozen people turned into a gathering of close to 10,000 people," said Choy. "They came and surrounded the LegCo Building. No one could’ve seen that coming.”
Choy could hear the protest chants from inside the LegCo Building. She was touched by the fervor of the "Post-80s" protesters.
“They knew that no matter how hard they protested, nothing could possibly be changed. But they refused to give up and peacefully persevered. I was very touched by their unyielding spirit.”
You will be missed, 8 Jackson Road
Choy said she has many memories of the corridor just outside the pressroom, where reporters gathered.
“The corridor was usually action-packed with reporters conducting interviews and members sharing ideas,” she said. “I will miss this place the most."
The reporter will also miss the feeling of being steeped in Hong Kong's political history.
“I was in charge of the broadcasting session on the last day. I saw many of the usual council members but also a lot of new faces who had come to bid farewell to the building. That's when it hit me that I still have a lot to learn about Hong Kong’s political history.”