Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Storm of the Year: Typhoon Hato

Trying to keep dry while Typhoon Hato lashes Lei Yue Mun waterfront
Hong Kong woke up to the strength of Typhoon Hato that was T8 around 5.30am and quickly went to T10 just after 9am.

My flat in Kennedy Town was very noisy thanks to the wind passing through the elevator shafts, howling louder than the wind outside. And at some points I could feel the building swaying -- not a lot, but enough to feel like things weren't quite steady.

Some storm watchers braved the severe weather conditions
I stayed home like most people, as buses, trams, ferries and outdoor MTR trains were stopped, including the Airport Express and hundreds of flights cancelled at the airport. Even the stock exchange was closed all day.

This was pretty much unprecedented, as us underlings have always had a theory that tycoons might have a hand in deciding the severity of the weather because they were in the business of making money.

Many typhoons have blown through overnight, or the T8 signal isn't raised until 5pm or 6pm when people were leaving work anyway.

But this time the typhoon really was severe, as there are videos on social media showing giant waves crashing into walls, flooded underground car parks, trucks tipping over, a revolving door spinning madly, and even hordes of cockroaches fleeing on a ledge.

There were many areas reporting extensive flooding
By around 5pm the signal was lowered to T3 and by 6.20 it was T1, and finally all signals lowered.

Some market analysts are calculating that the loss in business today was estimated between HK$4 billion to HK$8 billion. Those numbers include tourism, transportation, marine, financial services, agriculture, event organizing, entertainment, administration and import-export firms.

And even though some businesses managed to open, there were hardly any customers to serve because the weather conditions were so bad not many wanted to venture out.

I feel for shop owners and restaurants who lost a lot of business today, but this time the typhoon really was quite serious. The last time we had such a severe typhoon was in July 2012 when Typhoon Vincente hit.

Tonight Wan Chai MTR station was very quiet!
In any event all is calm again in Hong Kong and it's back to work and school for everyone tomorrow. But we'll all have stories about Typhoon Hato that we'll be telling for years to come.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Mainlanders' Preferred ATMs

Almost all bank account holders in China use UnionPay ATM cards
Macau was told to clamp down on excessive cash withdrawals by mainlanders from ATM machines, and in May apparently installed facial recognition technology for security reasons.

That scared them off in Macau, but this has resulted in more mainlanders going to Hong Kong to withdraw cash using their UnionPay bank cards.

ATM withdrawals in Macau have decreased dramatically
When the media asked the Hong Kong Monetary Authority about how big the impact was on the local banking system, the monetary chiefs refused to confirm or deny there was a surge.

However they do know by how much because the authority has instructed local banks to submit data on cash withdrawals by UnionPay cards through the ATM network -- both the volume and the timing of the withdrawals.

But the HKMA just doesn't want to comment, saying: "We are not in a position to comment on any dialogues of a supervisory nature".

Macau ATMs now use facial recognition technology
The spokesman even added there are no plans to install facial recognition technology in ATMs. Good for us to know.

Currently mainlanders can withdraw up to 100,000 yuan (US$15,000) in cash overseas and remit up to US$50,000 worth of foreign currency offshore annually.

Those who use UnionPay cards (which is practically everyone who has a bank account in China), can withdraw up to 10,000 yuan per day for each card they have.

As a result they open as many bank accounts as they can to be able to withdraw tens of thousands of yuan per day.

Mainlanders now prefer to withdraw cash from Hong Kong
And now Hong Kong is the preferred city to get their gobs of cash out before they hit the casinos. It's good to know the city is still relevant to mainlanders... they may not want to shop here anymore, but at least we're a convenient ATM for them...

Monday, 21 August 2017

Size Matters

Architect William Lim's conceptual flat with two bedrooms in 194 square feet
There's much discussion about nano flats -- the hottest selling housing units in Hong Kong these days, because many young people are priced out of the market and can only afford the tiniest of flats -- less than 200 square feet.

If a couple shares a nano flat, a lot of gymnastics is required to flexibly move around the tiny space, as well as hardly any possessions, but one Hong Kong architect seems to think he has the answer.

Architect William Lim and his creative design ideas...
Architect William Lim, managing director of design firm CL3 says: "We should think of them as three-dimensional spaces. We have traditionally looked at spaces as floor plans, but if we start looking at them in three dimensions, we could have different levels within the space."

He has created a conceptual flat that consists of two bedrooms, a kitchen and a living room -- in 194 square feet or 18 square metres. Lim is able to achieve this by putting the bedrooms on top of the bathroom and kitchen.

While the concept is not new, particularly in places like Japan, Lim says flats in Hong Kong have a minimum height ceiling of 2.5 metres (8.2 feet), and some are as high as 10 feet, which makes "a flat within a flat" possible.

He also wants to prove that a space doesn't have to be completely utilitarian -- the show flat will be decorated with high-end furniture, including a Baccarat crystal chandelier.

One of the nano flats in Mont Vert in Tai Po
Lim says when it comes to living in style, quality of space, not quantity is most important.

If a developer gave him the opportunity to design a block of flats, he would probably never be able to do it his own idealistic way. Developers are not interested in having too high a ceiling when they can cram more units into the same volume of space. They and their management companies want to collect as much in management fees as possible...

And then his comment of quality of space and not quantity is important is completely out of touch. If someone can barely scrape enough together for a down payment for a 200 square foot apartment, they are not going to be able to afford a Baccarat chandelier, nor would they want one. The same goes for designer furniture. It's all well and good to make a show flat look enticing, but in reality, those who can afford to buy these tiny living spaces will probably hit Ikea and not Tom Dixon.

Oh and the ones who can afford to buy more than one of these flats are probably landlords so they won't be installing crystal chandeliers in a rental.

We like Lim's idea of trying to use vertical space as much as possible, but he's not being realistic.

And the psychological impact of living in tiny spaces can't be healthy. How is that quality of life?

Trying to sell nano flats as an idealistic aspiration mocks the people who are struggling to enter the housing market with the tiniest of flats. Size does matter.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Strength in Numbers

Thousands of people at Johnston and Luard roads waiting for march to start
It turns out there weren't only a few people outraged about the jailing of the three Occupy leaders, Joshua Wong Chi-fung Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang -- there were tens of thousands of them.

Police estimated there were about 22,000 people who started the march at Southern Playground in Wan Chai -- which probably means there were many, many more people willing to be outside in the hot sun, pouring with sweat.

We were stuck on Luard Road for an hour --  in the shade!
I took the MTR from Admiralty to Wan Chai and there were so many people getting on the train that I knew already that lots of protesters would show up. That was the biggest concern of my friend YTSL who worried that only a few people would show up like on July 1.

One would think the 20th anniversary of the handover would be enough to spur people to get out into the streets, but it was this hot button issue of jailing what the foreign media are calling "Hong Kong's first prisoners of conscience" that got people out.

YTSL and I managed to find each other and then headed out the to the Johnston Road exit where it seemed everyone else was heading, but after we got out of Southern Playground, we barely moved for an hour.
Some confused tram riders refused to get off...

We speculate the police underestimated how many people would show up and so the march was halted from starting in order to get enough manpower to close the streets and stand along the march path.

Or they were trying to make protesters annoyed enough that they would leave before it began. A few elderly people did -- it really was quite hot -- but other than that the rest of us stayed put and shouted "hoi lo!" or "let us march!"

At around 4.15pm we finally made our way up Luard Road and then turned left onto Hennessy Road. A few people tried to pump up the crowd with slogans, but for the most part we just wanted to show our presence.

Many yellow umbrellas reminiscent of the Occupy protests
One elderly protester seemed keen to pick fights with anyone, police officers in particular with verbal slurs, but his friends dragged him away or told him to calm down. We're just here to march, mister! No need to start a fight!

From Hennessy Road onwards to the Court of Final Appeal in Central, it was pretty smooth sailing and we could walk at a decent pace. Tons of buses going west were stopped in their tracks, along with trams going in each direction. We wondered why people would stay in the trams because they wouldn't be moving for quite a while...

It was kind of bizarre how we had to wait for an hour at the starting point, but it took less than an hour to march to Central. When we got to the end, volunteers were soliciting donations for the three pro-democracy groups that organized the march: League of Social Democrats, Demosisto and Civil Human Rights Front.

Afterwards people rallied at the Court of Final Appeal
They asked for a minimum of HK$10 but I saw several people put HK$100 and even HK$500 bills in the boxes.

We didn't stay behind for the rally, as there were thousands of people behind us who had yet to arrive, but we were just pleased to voice our opinion with our feet!