professional programmer, amateur photographer, or the other way around

A delayed gweilo's perspective: Double Ducks

Posted on 22 June, 2023 / 3 min read

Front page news: two massive inflated ducks, docked in front of Admiralty, for people to see. They're indeed massive - easily visible from the other side of the harbor, and they have been proved popular among the local population. On a weekday afternoon, viewing platforms required queueing before you could come close and take a picture of it. The view is quite nice and it's no surprise that on a somewhat clear day, there would be a lot of people at sunset times. Even in the middle of the night, with the lights off, people would still hang around. Or during heavy rain on a Saturday.

But it's still just two ducks, and nothing else. It doesn't seem interesting, even on paper. And yet...

An attraction of our times

Two big ducks. Nothing special about their design, just borrowing from the iconic design that you've all seen in movies (or maybe in real life, if you're not from Eastern Europe), and scaling it up. Second time, too - first visit was in 2013, with only one duck.

So the data storage of the whole world is getting filled by mostly identical pictures of two floating ducks.

And again, the main reason for the installation, given by the Dutch artist is simple - gather together, be happier. Simple idea, simple theme, but I bet it was a logistical nightmare.

It is a sign of modern times indeed - in this scale, the installation would not work before the age of smartphones and social media. The main point of the ducks is to go viral - and spread awareness more than happiness. That way the artist and the media agency behind it can both sell related merchandise, and bring more exposure - more contracts, more cash. Simple as. Definitely makes the people behind the stunt happy.

Surely though it does make people happy. Online friends seeing the pictures seem to be excited, maybe even more so than the people I encountered at the viewing platforms.


An attraction of our times in Hong Kong

There's some extra context in the location of the ducks - well, not Admiralty itself, but Hong Kong. Again, it wouldn't happen in any other time again.

Hong Kong has been rated lowest in happiness levels among countries and cities around South East Asia for years, especially low during the kung flu restrictions period. In response to the data, government launched "Happy Hong Kong" camapaign (I don't know what's up with East Asia having the dumbest marketing slogans, only Korea is worse, and Japan misses being on the list only by not trying). The theme of the art stunt connects nicely with that, but needless to say, regardless of what authoritarian governments think, saying something does not make it true. Another datapoint for disregarding any official communication.

Back to ducks - they work here very well with (overpriced) merchandise because Hong Kongers have too much money (undeniable fact). I don't want to go into the economics of the sandwich class beyond the fact that if you can't afford an apartment and yet make more money than Eastern Europeans, you will spend it on useless trinkets. Easy sale of two merged ducks, then.

And rubber ducks are politically benign, and as I mentioned in the Cheung Chau article, every event is now carefully vetted. There's no way, especially in still delicate climate of post-2019 Hong Kong, that anything with a tiniest semblance of an anti-government message would get greenlit. At least now we know that yellow color (associated with 2014 umbrella movement and later with pro-democracy activism) is not illegal.

Since anything happening goes through deep scrutiny, there's not much going on in the city. So the news that a duck got punctured on the first day quickly spread on social media, and that it was fixed two days later as well, explaining its popularity. While the first attempt in 2013 might have gone mostly unnoticed, now, as I mentioned, it becomes front page news.

At the end of this post I would like to acknowledge the absolutely insane SCMP article on the duck matter. However, I refuse to elaborate on it.