Why do peo­ple try to sell me stick­ers in the street ev­ery Satur­day?–

HK Magazine - - HOME -

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!

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