Why do people try to sell me stickers in the street every Saturday?–
Why? Because they’re good people, that’s why.
This is a Flag Day, a rather Hong Kong-specific form of charity fundraising.
While in other countries a flag day would be to celebrate the adoption of a national flag, not so in Hong Kong (we have July 1 for that). The idea is that you donate the spare change in your pockets—$2, $5, $10—and in return get a sticker “flag” to show you’ve donated. Everyone knows you’re a good person, and you don’t get hassled by all the other flag sellers for the rest of the day.
Why “flag?” For once, it’s not an error in translation: In Cantonese, flag days are 賣旗日, mai kei yat—“sell flag day.” Legend has it that once upon a time, your donation actually got you a little flag to wave. These were eventually replaced by the more convenient, much cheaper stickers.
And of course, because this is Hong Kong, it’s hilariously bureaucratic. By law, all public fundraising in Hong Kong has to gain prior government approval. You’re required to apply for a Public Subscription Permit from the Social Welfare Department before hitting the streets. You’re even limited as to when you can sell flags: Only on specified Saturdays and Wednesdays, from 7am-12:30pm. No earlier, no later. They say charity begins at home—in Hong Kong, it begins with the Social Welfare Department.
But in fairness, the sheer popularity of flag days— a consequence of their efficacy for raising funds—makes these checks and balances a necessary evil. 2016-2017 will see 116 organizations hold flag days, spread over 50 Saturdays and eight Wednesdays—that’s more than one per week. Without a systematic allocation procedure to divvy up the available flag days, city streets would quickly become a seething mass of rival cash-collecting sticker wavers.
So next time you see a flag seller proffering stickers, drop some spare change in their collection bag. If not for the feelgood factor, then for all the hoops they had to jump through, just to hand you a sticker.
You get a flag! You get a flag! Everybody gets a flag!