Sunday, 23 October 2016

Too Much Cash to Stash

Imagine hiding US$31 million worth of cash in your home... where to put it?
Here's some jaw-dropping news -- a corrupt Chinese official was handed a suspended death sentence earlier this week after he was convicted of taking bribes from more than 200 companies worth US$31 million worth of cash.

The money was found in a sparsely furnished apartment in Beijing owned by Wei Pengyuan, a former deputy director in the coal department of the National Development and Reform Commission, China's economic planning agency.

Wei Pengyuan received bribes while working at the NDRC
The 210 million yuan is the largest amount prosecutors have retrieved in cash from a corrupt official in a single operation since 1949, according to state media.

CCTV broadcast a news story showing how Wei was thought to be a modest official who cycled to work. But then it turned out he owned a black Audi (like every other Chinese official) and he would park it near the office and keep the folding bicycle in the trunk of the car.

The authorities raided his apartment, and only when they lifted the mattress of the bed did they find boxes and boxes, and suitcases full of 100 yuan notes bundled in bricks. There were also denominations in US dollars Hong Kong dollars, British pounds and Euros.

Apparently the cash had been sitting there for two years untouched after they were taken out of the bank.

He put the cash in suitcases, bags and boxes under his bed
The report added it took 14 hours for staff to count all the money, and four of the 16 counting machines broke down. News stories always like to add that these counting machines malfunctioned, or perhaps it was because they were made in China?

Wei managed to get all these bribes from conducting coal project reviews and bidding, and also helped others sell equipment illegally between 2000 and 2014, state media reported. He definitely didn't waste time trying to amass as much as he could.

Unfortunately the report doesn't say exactly how Wei was caught in the end, but for an NDRC official to cycle to work seems strange unless he really did live nearby.

If Wei's stash had all been in 100 yuan notes, it would have been over 2 million bills! That is so much cash taken out of circulation... wonder if the hoarding of so much cash by corrupt officials has contributed to China's economic slowdown...

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Fact of the Day: 61 Million Left-Behind Children

There are 61 million left-behind children like these ones in China
In China, the latest survey by the National Health and Family Planning Commission reveals there's a staggering 61 million left-behind children, a third of them younger than 17, who are not raised by their parents.

The mothers and fathers have gone to mostly coastal cities to find work to send money home and only see their children once or maybe twice a year.

The lack of hukou or residence permit in big cities prevents parents from bringing their children with them because they don't have access to decent housing, schooling and health care.

Many are raised by grandparents or relatives in hometowns
So these children are left to mostly grandparents or relatives to care for, and there are many sad cases of them dying.

Last June, four left-behind children from the same family, ranging in ages from give to 13, committed suicide together by swallowing pesticide in Bijie, Guizhou province. And in November 2012, five boys died from carbon monoxide poisoning after starting a charcoal fire to keep warm inside a dumpster.

Experts believe these incidents happened because the parents were not around to raise them.

But at the same time, where else can these parents go to try to make a better life for their families? Provinces like Anhui, Henan and Sichuan are the sources for the most migrant workers, as 44 percent of rural children in these areas are left behind, way above the national average of 35.6 percent.

What is the central government's response?

In February, the State Council, China's cabinet, issued a guideline to local authorities to improve the physical and psychological health of such children. But there are no details on exactly how they would do that. And would Beijing come to check on the the local authorities to see if the have implemented any programs to benefit left-behind children?

They only have access to basic education which isn't enough
They are the most neglected people in society next to orphans.

Sixty-one million children is not a number to dismiss -- it's almost the population of Britain. And yet they barely get basic education and health care, let alone the emotional support they need to grow up to be confident and relatively happy people with decent jobs.

The government needs to do more for these children, but anything effective and immediate doesn't seem to be a priority. Beijing likes to parrot how it has lifted more than 800 million people out of of poverty.

But what about these 61 million children? They are the next generation who deserve at least a chance to thrive.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Typhoon Haima Shuts Down HK

No traffic on the roads in Kennedy Town this morning
This morning at 6.10am, the Hong Kong Observatory raised the Typhoon No. 8 signal, which would last for most of the day, as Typhoon Haima came close to the east side of the territory.

In Kennedy Town just before 9am, winds started picking up with only a few drops of rain. Hardly any traffic was on the roads, save for some taxis trying to gauge passengers, but the MTR was running.

In Belcher Bay Park, a handful of people could not forego their exercise regime and continued doing laps around the park, while leaves and small branches were scattered on the ground.

Many had the day off work today with the T8 signal
The commute to Taipo was painless with hardly any cars on the road. But around 11am the winds got stronger as Typhoon Haima made its approach around noon.

One of the trees in front of one of our fourth floor windows started bending almost horizontally. We saw it and ran to the window. But when we got there, it didn't bend back as far again. It was also raining very heavily at times.

However, after lunch I looked out the window and the tree was gone! It had snapped and fallen along with a few others.

Not until 5.20pm did the observatory lower the signal to Typhoon No. 3 and by the time I came home from work at 7.20pm, it was like this morning -- windy and light showers.

For most people it was a day off work and many businesses were shut. Francis Lun Sheung-nim, chief executive of financial group GEO Securities estimated Hong Kong may have lost over HK$5 billion in business.

This tree in the foreground had fallen after lunch!
That's a massive sum, but probably true, seeing as most of the city was shut down, including the airport, the stock exchange, banks, schools and then all the way down to independent businesses.

Now at midnight the typhoon signals have been cancelled. What a week! We had black rain on Wednesday where lots of roads particularly on the east side of Hong Kong were flooded, and then yesterday was sunny and calm. And then today's chaotic mess.

Tomorrow we could see the sun again...

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Fact of the Day: Microflats Getting Even Smaller

Can you live in a tiny space like this day after day, year after year?
Just when you thought Hong Kong flats couldn't get even smaller, they are.

Emperor International Holdings will have the tiniest flats in the city when it plans to launch a project where each unit measures 61.4 square feet or 5.7 square metres.

One can barely even fit a mattress in that space.

Located at 17-19 Yik Kam Street in Happy Valley, the project -- which is yet to be named -- converts an existing 21-storey commercial building into a residential one.

The unit's current measurement doesn't include the space allocated for a kitchen and bathroom.

But when they are added, the space is still smaller than a project in Jordan called AVA62. There each unit measures 152 square feet -- including a balcony -- selling for HK$20,000 per square foot or HK$3 million.

Microflats are very popular because average home prices have soared beyond the reach of average salary earners, prompting developers to scale down.

And to meet the demand, as many as 5,000 small flats are in in the pipeline every year until 2019, almost triple the average in the last decade.

We get that developers are appealing to investors and first-time buyers to create flats that are somewhat affordable.

But who wants to live in flats like that? What are the psychological effects of living in such tiny spaces?

It can't be good for one's wellbeing...