Friday, 30 November 2012

Mocking the Rule of Law

The Chinese government exacted its punishment against blind activist Chen Guangcheng today for creating a diplomatic crisis when he managed to escape from house arrest in Yinan County in Shandong province and found refuge in the United States' embassy. It wasn't until US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton intervened did Chen manage to leave China for New York where he now lives.

At 2pm Hong Kong time today, Chen's nephew was unexpectedly put on trial at short notice so that no foreign journalists could attend even though the court claimed media were invited. He was charged and convicted of intentional wounding, when officials stormed into their home looking for Chen Guangcheng when he escaped.

Chen Kegui, 32 claims he used a knife as self defense, but prosecutors alleged the young man hacked officials with the knife after he and his parents were beaten.

Prior to the trial, his parents were not notified about the indictment nor were they allowed to see him. It was only when Chen Kegui's court-appointed lawyer contacted his parents about today's trial did they rush for the bus and journey one and a half hours to the courthouse.

They were eyewitnesses to the incident, weren't even allowed into the courtroom to testify on their son's behalf.

And so in a quick trial where Chen Kegui was denied his own lawyer, was convicted and sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison. He was apparently threatened not to appeal, even though his father told the media earlier he would because it was his legal right to do so.

This perversion of justice has angered Chen Guangcheng's mentor Jerome Cohen, an esteemed law professor of New York University, that he wrote a frustrated statement in capitals:

THIS IS THE ULTIMATE EXAMPLE OF JUDICIAL FARCE IN CHINA, NOT A HAPPY EXAMPLE OF HOW HUMAN RIGHTS WILL BE PROTECTED BY CHINA'S NEW LEADERSHIP! THE "TRIAL" WAS HELD IN WAYS GUARANTEED TO PREVENT ANY POSSIBLE DEFENSE OR ANY POSSIBLE OBSERVER TO ATTEND. DEFENDANT WAS DENIED HIS OWN LAWYERS, NO WITNESSES WERE ALLOWED IN HIS DEFENSE, NO FAMILY PERMITTED TO ATTEND AND, ALTHOUGH OSTENSIBLY "OPEN" TO ALL INCLUDING JOURNALISTS, HELD IN CIRCUMSTANCES THAT ASSURED NO NEUTRAL JOURNALISTS COULD ATTEND. MOREOVER, NO OPPORTUNITY FOR DEFENDANT TO EXERCISE HIS RIGHT TO APPEAL. THIS IS WORSE THAN EVEN THE TRIAL OF CHEN GUANGCHENG HIMSELF IN 2006. INDEED, THE STAGE MANAGERS HAVE LEARNED FROM THEIR DIFFICULTIES IN CONVICTING CGC IN 2006. SARCASTICALLY, ONE CAN CONCLUDE THAT CHINA IS DEVELOPING ITS CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM CASE BY CASE DESPITE THE FORTHCOMING IMPROVED CRIMINAL PROCEDURE LAW!! WHAT KIND OF JUSTICE CAN BO XILAI EXPECT? AN IMPROVED VERSION OF THE GU KAILAI PROCEDURE?

Cohen has worked so hard for many decades to push China towards adhering its constitution of rule of law. However, this verdict is a major setback for Cohen and one wonders whose decision it was to proceed in such an illegal way? Is this case considered under Chinese President Hu Jintao's watch or incoming Xi Jinping? Or is the central government going to plead ignorance and not know how things are done (il)legally at the county level?

Who is going to be accountable for this biased verdict while a man languishes in jail because he had an unfair trial?

Just before the trial, Chen Guangcheng feared for his nephew's fate.

"This has shown clearly to the whole world that people should not pin even the littlest bit of hope on this system," Chen Guangcheng told The Associated Press. He said authorities in his hometown were acting "unreasonably, illegally and in violation of humanity."

He knew there would be retribution towards his family for his legal activism and then his own daring escape that entailed climbing over walls and running long distances without much guidance.

Is this fair to Chen Kegui who would not have been caught up in this mess if his uncle hadn't been involved in campaigning against forced abortions?

This is the moral issue human rights activists face in China. Many do it taking the risks, and hope that their family will be proud of them for doing what is right, but also pray for forgiveness for putting their loved ones in such a dire predicament.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

The "It" Bag

Practically every fashionable woman wants an Hermes bag.

There are some fashionistas in Hong Kong who have more than one, while others pine for the Kelly bag named after Princess Grace and make it their goal to have one by a certain milestone.

Years ago one woman told me when she turned 30 she had to have one... and she did, proudly showing off the shiny black bag to me.

But we'd like to think there are others out there who'd like to poke fun at the need for exclusivity and have their own version of the French luxury brand.

So this afternoon on the MTR we spied a young woman with this cute little handbag in the shade of Hermes orange too.
A mini "Hermes" bag spied on the MTR

Gives it a bit of personality, don't you think?

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

When Fiction Becomes Fact

The story in The Onion that started it all...
The usually staid People's Daily made a serious gaffe on Tuesday.

But it's not going to laugh at its silly mistake any time soon. We are wondering if the foreign experts employed at the media outlet will be punished, or they are saying "We told you so", or if the heads of Chinese editors are going to roll.

That's because the People's Daily online published a 55-web page report on North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, saying he was the sexiest man of 2012.

It was following the lead of The Onion, but little did it know it is more of a satirical website than a real news organization.

How did it happen?

According to the Associated Press, Hong Kong media picked up the piece by The Onion a week ago and explained to readers that it was satire. But then it was picked up by mainland Chinese media, firstly by Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV website on November 21, it clearly stated, "The Onion is a satirical news organization."

But after that, the story became fact when state-run Yangtse.com picked up Phoenix's story without a mention that the article was a farce and even kept reader's comments.

"A man with so much fat on the face, and the double chin, and the excessively white skin. And they call him the sexiest. They do deserve the name Onion. I can't help but shed sad tears."

The editor responsible for the story, Yang Fang could not be reached and two people who answered the phone there could not confirm if Yang worked there anymore.

Five days later, Guangming Daily in Beijing picked up the story and stated Yangtse.com as the source. Wang Miaomiao, the editor responsible for that story, didn't even know it was a joke until AP called.

A screen grab of the People's Daily online of Kim Jong-Un
"Even if it was satire, the report itself was true, Wang said. "The content is not made up. Also we have to go through a procedure to take something down from the website. In addition, it is not a fabricated report, and it does not jeopardize society."

OK -- we get that no riots erupted over this. But still! It's a fabrication!

After the Guangming Daily, the People's Daily decided to splash the story with significant coverage -- a 55-page slideshow of the North Korean leader.

When the People's Daily realized it was a spoof, it took down the Chinese and English versions on Wednesday, but not before The Onion updated its original piece with a link to the People's Daily and added, "For more coverage on The Onion's Sexiest Man Alive 2012, Kim Jong-Un, please visit our friends at the People's Daily in China, a proud Communist subsidiary of The Onion, Inc."

"Exemplary reportage, comrades," The Onion wrote.

The writers behind the satirical website must be ecstatic over fiction becoming fact.

As we said earlier.. heads are probably rolling as we speak...

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Pictures of the Day: Aircraft Carrier Style

Maybe we should take back our criticism that mainland Chinese don't have much creativity.

After a fighter-bomber successfully landed on China's first aircraft carrier called Liaoning, there were pictures of two crew members aboard the vessel wearing bright yellow vests and helmets with their backs to the camera. They are seen crouching and using their outstretched right arms to point and direct a J-15 jet, while their left arms were behind their backs.
The original image of two crewmen directing the J-15 jet

So what do ordinary people do?

The "Aircraft Carrier Style", in reference to Korean hit song and dance Gangnam Style.

Here are some wannabe crewmen:







Parking Mad About Spaces

We first mentioned investors pouring their money into parking lot spaces a few weeks ago here, and the fad has ballooned with speculators in a feeding frenzy.

Parking spots in Tai Wai in the New Territories have jumped to over HK$1.3 million ($167,738) -- higher than pre-1997 property prices.

Some owners are selling parking spaces and making up to a cool HK$300,000 in profit.

Tycoon Li Ka-shing raked in even more money this weekend as his company Cheung Kong sold 514 parking spots for between HK$980,000 to HK$1.3 million in Tai Wai. The company made HK$600 million from the sales, and 200 other car parks were available for lease.

It's probably too late to jump into the parking lot buying mania, but in case you are keen, be sure to look for spots that are near elevators and exits to get more bang for your buck.

Nevertheless the jump in prices and the quick transactions prove there was a policy failure because the Hong Kong government did not extend the additional stamp duty on parking spaces.

"The overall affordability of car parking spaces has been lifted significantly by speculators from the mainland, and the record price level in Tai Wai is very misleading," said Eric Wong, chairman and chief executive of Richburg Motors, a luxury car dealership.

A HK$1.3 million parking spot had the equivalent cost of two luxury multipurpose Toyota Alphard vans.

Wong warned that with more expensive car parks in suburban areas would be "a warning sign of more illegal parking and [the] intensifying congestion problems ahead".

If you can't afford a parking spot all the way out in the New Territories, you will probably park on the street and face the risk of policemen giving you a parking ticket.

But that fine would cost less than renting a spot, so... you will get another fine again, and keep ticketing officers busy unless they turn a blind eye and then you'll be laughing.

The government obviously has not thought through its measures in trying to cool the property market; each one just leads to schemers finding loopholes and exploiting them as quickly as possible for a quick profit.

When will the Leung administration seriously look at the housing problem and think long term in the best interests of first-time buyers and those who desperately need enough room for their families to live in comfortably but not have all their money go to rent.

Also, why must we help tycoons make more money over a weekend than we ever will in a lifetime?

Monday, 26 November 2012

Pop Music's Polarizing Influence

Three items that caught my eye this weekend in the pop music world.

Psy doing the Gangnam Style in Beijing?
Psy's Gangnam Style is the most watched online video of all time with 815 hits on YouTube, surpassing Justin Bieber's Baby.

The new statistic has also been certified by Guinness as the most-liked video in YouTube history with more than 2 million virtual thumbs up.

The 34-year-old Psy, whose real name is Park Jae-sang is definitely riding the wave and milking his fame for all it's worth.

So much so that he has reportedly asked for 3 million RMB ($481,676) for a 30-minute performance on China Central Television's Lunar New Year Gala show on February 9.

CCTV executives are either clapping their hands in glee or bargaining him down to one five-minute song and asking how much that would cost.

Already there is an online debate raging in China whether CCTV will actually shell out or that the money should instead be given to poorer areas in the country.

When you receive an award from the PM, what do you wear?
And then there is Bieber himself who received the Diamond Jubilee Medal from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The award is given to Canadians who earn achievements abroad and also coincides with 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II's ascension to the throne.

What do you wear when you meet the leader of your own country and receive such a high honour?

Bieber thought a backwards cap, t-shirt and overalls would be a good wardrobe choice.

While Harper is not my favourite politician, he IS the prime minister. Some respect Justin!

Even his fans were embarrassed and no wonder he was booed during his performance at the half-time show for the Grey Cup.

Finally, Elton John may not be coming back to China to perform anytime soon.

Last night in Beijing, his only mainland China stop, the superstar dedicated his concert "to the spirit and talent of Ai Weiwei".

His words sent some shock waves through the audience who were stunned to hear the artist's name as he was detained for nearly three months last year and is barred from leaving the country.

Two superstar artists Elton John with Ai Weiwei
John met Ai briefly just before the concert and the latter tweeted, "I super like him," on Twitter.

Wonder what recriminations will result after this spontaneous outburst that went against scripted performances in China, thanks to Bjork shouting "Tibet, Tibet" at the end of her 2008 concert in Shanghai.

Sometimes you you want to smack these artists for courting controversy and other times Chinese officials for being so straight laced.

But now that we think about it, what if Psy did perform in Beijing? Perhaps it would lead to a gig in Pyongyang in front of Kim Jong-un and restart talks between North and South Korea?

You gotta hope.




Sunday, 25 November 2012

Placing Bets on HK Restaurant Chain


A cup of milk tea in its signature cup and saucer at Tsui Wah

This year hasn't been a good one for IPOs in Hong Kong.

And some companies that went public last year are fading fast.

A prime example is Milan Station, the second-hand luxury handbag dealer, that launched its IPO in May last year with a record 2,179 times subscribed and its shares rose 66 percent on the first day of trading.

But now the stock is worth two-thirds its offer price.

Where did it all go wrong?

The company took a beating from other competitors and there were questions about supply when it was revealed that over 46 percent of its handbags were actually brand new and not used, which sparked concerns of parallel importing. There were also worries about Milan Station's ambitions to open 24 stores between 2011 and 2014; the company website says its has expanded from 14 to 17 stores.

However, upscale cha chaan teng Tsui Wah has plans for an IPO to fund expansion on the mainland.

Pretty good fish balls with rice noodles in soup
It was started in 1967 and co-founded by Lee Yuen-hong, a former cook and delivery waiter. The outlets are generally brightly lit, the staff efficient and the menu has something for everyone, from fish ball noodles to boneless Hainan chicken rice, pork buns and baked spaghetti. It's also known for its lai cha or milk tea.

Tsui Wah has ambitious plans to expand in Shanghai and Guangdong by increasing the number of outlets by 24 to 28 by 2015 and build central kitchens in the two places to cater to increasing consumer demand.

The central kitchens will be within a two-hour range in transportation and be able to supply standardized food and beverage items to support 60 restaurants.

And so the company aims to raise HK$756.67 million through an IPO of 333.33 million shares, or 25 percent of its share capital. The shares are expected to be set at between HK$1.89 to HK$2.27.

"The execution risk is probably the biggest concern in relation to Tsui Wah's bold expansion move on the mainland where consumers have a handful" of similar restaurants, said a fund manger.

Also worth keeping in mind is that its competitors such as Cafe de Coral and Fairwood have failed to penetrate the mainland fast food market.

The signature dish of boneless Hainan chicken rice
Tsui Wah is also keen on expanding in Hong Kong by adding 10 more outlets and build another central kitchen.

Some other interesting facts about the restaurant chain that was published in its prospectus:

- Each customer in Hong Kong spends an average of HK$74.

- The average number of receipts per table per day rose to 25 from 24 in the previous year. This number is a metric of restaurant efficiency.

- The Hong Kong market is likely to be driven by rising selling prices and delivery services

- Eight of its 26 restaurants are open 24 hours.

We hope Tsui Wah does well on the mainland. It should succeed in Guangdong, where eating habits and tastes are similar, while Shanghai is always looking for something sophisticated.

It's about time Hong Kong fights back on China's efforts to sinicize the former British colony and does its part to influence the mainland -- through milk tea and fish ball noodles.

The Birds and the Bees with Chinese Characteristics

Lots of kids in China think their parents picked them up in a garbage bin, when asked how they came into the world.

A special report from China Central Television asked this question on the street and got many absurd answers.

One middle-aged woman said her mother told her she had been found on a pile of stones, adding," I don't believe a word of that." She later told her own son he was found on the side of the road.

Two others replied their parents told them they'd sprung from holes in the ground. Another said his mother told him he had jumped from under a rock while she was herding goats.

A university student said she spent years believing that she'd come from her mother's armpit. "I knew nothing about sex until college," she said. "It has taken me a long time to overcome the embarrassment and fear to embrace the idea of sex."

Is it so bad to explain the birds and the bees in China?

While educators say it's good for children to have sex education in the classroom, either the parents don't want it to be taught in the classrooms or the school administrators think it's wasting valuable class time for other subjects.

And some experts are now calling for children in kindergarten to have classes on sex education so that they know the signs of sexual abuse, teen pregnancies and the perils of experimentation.

Liu Wenli, a professor with Beijing Normal University's National Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning, explained that there have been cases of children touching their classmates' genitals or masterbating in class. There was also a case of a girl who inserted a battery in her vagina.

Sex education is a must, especially today with societal attitudes changing so quickly in one generation in China. Many young people think abortion is the only form of birth control, and that kissing doesn't make one pregnant.

Hopefully this CCTV report will spark national discussion about sex education in China with the premise that arming children with more education is the best thing to do for the next generation.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Picture of the Day: Hong Kong Butterflies

These butterflies have black bodies with white spots
Yesterday was unusually warm and humid -- with a high of 27 degrees and relative humidity of around 85 percent.

How many butterflies can you find here?
Thanks to YTSL, these pictures were taken along the Tai Po Waterfront Park, where we spotted a whole bunch of butterflies together, hanging out on a bush -- roughly counting at least 10 of them.

Even better, they didn't scatter when we approached and periodically fluttered their wings so we could get some shots.

Some had sky blue wings, others mostly orange with a big white dot on each side; the former had black bodies covered in white spots.

Further along the waterfront we were surrounded by more of these colourful insects, flying around us, seemingly unaware of our presence. Or was it the strong gusts they were trying to counteract, which made them look like they were dancing in the sky?

In any event it was a beautiful, poetic experience that probably won't be repeated again anytime soon.

Hanging out in the afternoon sun in the Tai Po Waterfront Park
YTSL said the butterflies assumed the warm weather was back, but this morning they would cruelly wake up to dark clouds and thunderstorms.

I'm just thrilled we had a chance to be with so many butterflies!






Thursday, 22 November 2012

Beware the Mainland Invasion (Really?)

Beautiful skyline, but the city is invaded by mainland tourists
The 2013 edition of Lonely Planet Hong Kong doesn't just give travelers the latest updates on where to go sightseeing, eat and shop.

It also warns the visitors to be aware of the tensions between locals and mainlanders.

The guide says "The seemingly headlong rush for the Chinese tourist dollar, with the attendant proliferation of luxury stores in areas such as Causeway Bay and Canton Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, has pushed up shop rentals across the board, fueling inflation and taking many small traders off Hong Kong's once accommodating streetscape."

It adds Western travelers will find the most striking aspect will be the influx of mainland visitors.

Hmmm -- we're wondering if the guide should have noted that a year ago at least.

In 2002, Hong Kong had 16.6 million visitors, of which 6.9 million or 41.6 percent were from China.

By last year, the figure soared to 41.9 million, or 67 percent were mainland tourists.

The guide adds that despite Hong Kong and the mainland becoming closer, locals were concerned abut the strain on public services.

Shall we add on basic commodities too like milk powder, Yakult, shampoo and toothpaste?

Wonder what the Hong Kong Tourism Board will do to try to calm the fears of Western visitors. Or is it too busy catering to the mainland market these days?

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Hong Kong Accident Reveals Tragedy

Sometimes we complain about our lives, how work hours are long and hard, how things don't seem to work out no matter how hard we try, or feel that no one supports us.

And then you hear about freak accidents that make you stop and be thankful you are alive and well.

On Monday afternoon three lives were changed forever through no fault of their own.

New World First Bus driver Lau Kit, was not supposed to work that day, but he volunteered to do so after having rested the weekend. However, when he was driving the vehicle down a hill in Shau Kei Wan, the 57 year old passed out, his head lolled back.

Apparently a passenger saw Lau faint and shouted asking if someone knew how to drive the bus. No one came forward to try to steer the vehicle or stop it in some way.

Instead the passengers hid behind seats, while others held on tightly to each other. One told the media later they thought they were going to die.

The bus careened out of control and for more than 10 seconds and then crashed into a taxi and then another bus.

The taxi driver died, along with the two passengers, who it turns out were from Heston Blumenthal's culinary team. They had just finished a special promotion at the Mandarin Oriental.

Briton Jorge Ivan Arrango Herrera, 34, and Swede Carl Magnus Lindgren, 30, were in the taxi with 53-year-old Wong Kim-chung.

It took firemen two and a half hours to extract the victims from the taxi, who were declared dead on arrival. Fifty-six people from the two buses were injured.

Lau was charged with dangerous driving causing death, but was later released on HK$5,000 bail. According to New World First Bus operations head William Chung Chak-man, Lau joined the bus company in 1998 and overall had a good driving record with a few minor accidents.

The bus driver also passed his medical check in July, but this accident is prompting the possibility of more stringent screenings for those under 60, including undergoing ECGs.

In the meantime Blumenthal, whose The Fat Duck restaurant has won many culinary accolades including three Michelin stars, Best Restaurant in the World and Best Restaurant in the UK, has not made a statement to the media, probably too shocked by the tragedy to say anything. He was apparently in a taxi following Herrera and Lindgren.

There are reports Blumenthal had plans to open The Fat Duck at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park.

Nevertheless we wonder -- could anything more have been done to prevent the accident?

Was there really no one on the bus would did not know how to drive? Sometimes it seems Hong Kong people are too passive sometimes, and you have to wonder if they knew what to do in a life-and-death situation.

Hopefully there will be some kind of investigation and inquiry. We must know what happened on that bus that day.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Misconstruing Good Intentions

Leung Chun-ying with wife Regina Tong who started an NGO
Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's wife Regina Tong has established a non-profit group called Food for Good to address food waste in the city.

The organization takes leftovers from hotels, restaurants and bakeries and redistributes them to those in need. It is not the first group in the city to do this, but more the better.

We are pleased to see her in particular taking the initiative on this, but lawmakers are crying foul, worried that she was using her husband's influence and wonder what her motives are for setting up the group.

"[Tong] is a distinctive political figure in the administration," said Civic Party lawmaker Dr Kenneth Chan Ka-lok. "She should distance herself from pushing any public policy. It will give the public a clouded perception, as her company needs to apply for funding from both the government and the private sector. The public will be suspicious of her potential motives as she has close ties to well-heeled enterprises... It will also undermine the government's credibility when it pushes food waste policies."

Chan even sent a letter of enquiry to the Chief Executive's Office demanding an explanation of Tong's position and asking whether there was a conflict of interest.

The office confirmed she was one of the founders of Food for Good, but that she would switch to having an honorary role.

"She will absolutely not participate in any administrative work in the plan" and won't gain financially from it, the office said in a statement.

What is wrong with someone in a position of influence setting up an NGO that tries to tackle both the problem of food waste in Hong Kong and give it to people who are starving?

And why is there a problem when she could sway funding raising efforts? We need someone like Tong to raise the awareness of food wastage in Hong Kong and that there are groups, not only hers, doing something about it.

Food for Good is a non-profit organization -- how could she profit from it? If anything she can raise more money for everyone, not just Food for Good. This group is just her small effort in trying to reduce waste in the city.

This pettiness by lawmakers just proves how divisive local politics is and the challenges Leung faces in trying to move forward.

Kind of like US President Obama dealing with Republicans in the senate refusing to budge...

What Tong is doing is akin to Michelle Obama getting kids to eat more healthy and exercise. What's so wrong about that?



Monday, 19 November 2012

Endorsing Change in Myanmar

Barack Obama embraces Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon
History was made today when Barack Obama became the first American president to visit Myanmar which is fast opening up after decades of military rule and isolation.

He literally stopped traffic as crowds of people snuck out to the streets to see his motorcade. Reporters say the spontaneous gathering of people in a country where mass demonstrations are usually forced, was striking.

"We have never had the visit of a president from a big country like America," said Win, an office worker in Yangon. "I came here because we believe that President Obama will be a big strength for Myanmar's democratic reforms as he is a world-recognized leader for democracy.

"We want him to know that Myanmar people love him and have high expectations of him to actively participate in Myanmar's democratic reforms. And we also hope that he will help Daw [Aung Sang] Suu [Kyi] in her efforts for the country," she said.

These are high hopes for the Burmese, but can Obama deliver?

He vowed to "support you every step of the way."

In one of his first appointments during the six-hour visit he met with President Thein Sein and then opposition leader and member of parliament Aung San Suu Kyi.

Aung San Suu Kyi escorted by Hillary Clinton and Obama
Obama embraced and kissed the fellow Nobel laureate, saying she "has been an inspiration to people all around the world, including myself. Clearly you will be playing a key role in your country's future for many years to come as Burma seeks the freedom and the prosperity and the dignity that not only the people of this country deserve but people all around the world deserve."

Human rights activists had said that Suu Kyi had privately counseled against Obama's trip, saying it might be premature, was cautious in sounding too optimistic.

"The most difficult time in any transition is when we think that success is in sight," she warned. "Then we have to be very careful that we are not lured by a mirage of success."

He promised the United States Agency for International Development would return to Myanmar and also $170 million for projects in the next two years.

While some critics said Obama should not come to Myanmar as there are still hundreds of political prisoners and there is still violence in parts of the country, he used the occasion to encourage the country to move forward towards further democracy.

At the University of Yangon the president said in a speech, "That is how you must reach for the future you deserve, a future where a single prisoner of conscience is one too many. You need to reach for a future where the law is stronger than any single leader."

We are pleased to see one of Obama's first stops after being re-elected is to Myanmar, giving a psychological boost to the country and endorsing for moving it towards greater democracy, with a former general in power and finally allowing Suu Kyi to run in elections.

Who would have forseen that less than two years ago?

"This is not an endorsement of the Burmese government," Obama said, before heading to Yangon. "This is an acknowledgement that there is a process under way inside that country that even a year and a half, two years ago nobody foresaw. I don't think anybody's under any illusion that Burma's arrived, that they're where they need to be. On the other hand, if we waited to engage until they achieved a perfect democracy, my suspicion is we'd be waiting an awful long time."

We hope that with Obama's visit, even more changes will happen for the better.

What is even more interesting is China's reaction to the visit -- as Myanmar had been under Beijing's wing for a long time and now with democracy happening so quickly, China must be wondering what's going on. More importantly it probably fears its own people getting the same idea...

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Fact of the Day: Asia's Most Expensive Flat

Opus Hong Kong designed by Frank Gehry
There's a funky building on 53 Stubbs Road in Mid-Levels East with columns that twist upwards.

It's called Opus Hong Kong and was designed by starchitect Frank Gehry, developed by Swire Properties.

And while the building has a unique design, it also has the reputation of having the most expensive flat in Hong Kong and Asia.

Last month a buyer paid HK$68,083 ($8,782) per square foot, or HK$455 million for 6,683 square feet.

It beat the previous record set by a duplex flat at 39 Conduit Road in Mid-Levels West for HK$360.7 million or HK$63,999 per square foot last April.

The 12-storey building has only 10 flats and two double-level garden apartments with private swimming pools. The spaces range from 6,000 to 6,900 square feet.

Apparently the unidentified buyer snapped up the flat because there aren't many flats that are 6,000 square feet. Do you really need that much space? Even a large house for a family in North America is over 3,000 square feet.

With over 6,000 square feet to fill, the living room is huge
We're just gobsmacked at how much money there is in the city, but then again that's what keeps it humming too.

So while first-time buyers are constantly edged out of the market due to rising property prices, the uber rich have no qualms dropping hundreds of millions of Hong Kong dollars for a flat.

Does anyone else feel like a second-class citizen here?

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Pictures of the Day: Christmas @ IFC

Knitted and textured conical Christmas trees with deer
A DIY Christmas tree using balls of yarn?
After Halloween many of Hong Kong's buildings already started displaying their Christmas lights. And with the gradual economic revival of Tsim Sha Tsui East, that area is brightly lit as more and more people are coming to the area thanks to better MTR links and new places like Hotel Icon.

Following closely behind are the shopping malls, each trying to outdo the other with whimsical fantastic designs to lure people in to shop.

However, we don't quite get what's happening at IFC in central.

In the rotunda there were some conical trees covered in knits which prompted my friend to wonder, "Are these tea cosies for trees?"

Seemed to fit the description... but why?

Massive deer with equally massive antlers, with squirrels
There was also a pair of deer with massive antlers which would probably be physically impossible for them to wear on their heads.

And scurrying around the deer and trees were lots of white animals -- squirrels and foxes.

Another part of the display showed trees made of balls of yarn. Is that supposed to be creative or a last-minute inspiration? Wonder what Martha Stewart would think.

Further down the mall was a collection of very high armchairs, some in fabric, others in knits for giants to sit on, again covered in white squirrels.

The white squirrels are also invading this giant armchair...
Granted the display doesn't seem finished yet, but we seem to be missing the narrative... or some abstract festive message that combines white animals, tea-cozied trees and massive chairs.

Any guesses?

Friday, 16 November 2012

Mystery Reporter of Shi Ba Da

Andrea Yu became a rising star in the media pack... but why?
At the closing of the 18th National Party Congress, the foreign media were buzzing about a young Caucasian woman who somehow was allowed to ask senior Chinese officials questions, when other foreign outlets were shut out.

Her name is Andrea Yu (recently married, her maiden name Hodgkinson) and about a month ago parachuted into journalism to report on the congress.

Covering historical events like this is not for amateurs, but Yu managed to snag credentials to cover the event without much journalism experience either, though she did speak fluent Putonghua.

She claims she works for Global CAMG Media International, which was founded in Melbourne in 2009 but also has an office in Jianguomen Wai, near the Great Hall of the People.

This company is a joint venture between China Radio International and a mainland immigrant called Tommy Jiang. He has helped the Chinese government in its soft power campaign by practically monopolizing the Australian media market when it comes to Chinese media, making it difficult for ethnic Chinese find alternative media sources.

In any event, she made foreign journalists jealous of her being chosen to ask questions, but then annoyed by her softball questions.

They included: "The Australian government has recently released an important white paper on Australia's relations with Asia in the 21st century. It discusses Australia's relations with Asia over the next 25 years, particularly Australia's relations with China. Mr Zhang, please tell us what policies and plans the Chinese government will be implementing in cooperation with Australia. Xiexie, thank you... I'll translate for myself."

And this other gem of a question: "Melbourne and Tianjin are sister cities -- can you outline some of the ways that cultural exchanges can be increased?"

Usually these kinds of questions come from Chinese journalists that are handpicked beforehand with scripted questions.

And so Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Stephen McDonnell took it upon himself to get to the heart of Yu's modus operandi.

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: Is it a little disingenuous for you to be up here I suppose with the appearance of being an independent international journalist when really you're working for a Chinese company?

ANDREA YU: Yes, that's a good question. It is interesting, and a lot of people have asked me about that. The fact is, I chose to be employed by them, and I'm representing their company. So when I ask questions in press conferences and anything like that, I'm representing the company as well as representing Australia.

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: The company though, it's controlled from Beijing, right?

ANDREA YU: Ah, well we do have a head office in Melbourne, so…

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: The majority shareholding is from Beijing - that's right, isn't it?

ANDREA YU: Ah, yes, yes that's true.

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: And is that from the Chinese government, Chinese government companies?

ANDREA YU: We have a partnership with CRI, Chinese Radio International, which does have a fairly large connection to the government, yes.

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: Because I mean you could say that it's as if the Chinese government has brought you up here as a sort of friendly journalist to essentially ask itself questions that it likes about its own performance.

ANDREA YU: Yes, you could say that, but you could only say that if you knew who my company was and we are fairly, I would say, not very well-known at this stage.

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: Here's the Chinese government, they're inviting someone up here - they know that you're working essentially for them, and you're coming up here and asking them questions about their own performance. Isn't that right?

ANDREA YU: I really don't know if I can answer that question accurately, the way you're wanting me to answer it. I know you're looking for a certain answer here, but…

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: I'm not looking for a certain answer, I'm looking for your answer.

ANDREA YU: No, my answer is that I think it's a very large system and I honestly don't believe that people within the Chinese government knew beforehand who I am and who I'm working for.

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: They didn't know that you're essentially working for them?

ANDREA YU: No.

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: Would it be an accurate parallel to say - for example, if the Australian government set up a company in China to feed stories into Chinese radio programs and then in the middle of the election in Australia, invited someone that they're essentially employing back to Australia to ask the Australian Prime Minister how well she's managing the China-Australia relationship - would that be an accurate parallel to what you're doing?

ANDREA YU: I don't know, because the Australian government is very different to the Chinese government. I don't think it's appropriate to make a direct comparison there, so…

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: But is it real journalism, what you're doing?

ANDREA YU: Um, I've only just started. I'm very new to this, so I'm learning as I go.

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: So you're not quite sure if it is?

ANDREA YU: Ah, no, I would call it - I wouldn't call it hard news, I wouldn't call it that, OK, I'm not going to be kidding myself there, but I'm very glad for the opportunity that I've had to come here and learn what I have.

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: You don't feel though, potentially, that you're being used by the Chinese government to show that there's something going on that really isn't happening?

ANDREA YU: It's something that I think a lot of foreigners have to think about when they come here. It's also very difficult because…

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: But what do you think about it though? Do you feel that you're being used in that way?

ANDREA YU: Well, it's been a bit difficult because there are layers. When I first entered my company, there's only a certain amount of understanding I have about its connections to the government. I didn't know it had any, for example.

So I find out more and more as time goes on. It's quite difficult as a foreigner, when you first, at least for me in the last month, to know exactly because you get told things not all at the beginning, so that side of it is challenging.

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: Well maybe I could ask you this way - it's not a coincidence that they keep choosing you to ask questions at the press conferences, is it.

ANDREA YU: I don't think I would say that it's not a coincidence because they had already asked me the previous day.

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: Because they know they're going to get an easy question from you, though, don't they?

ANDREA YU: I think that's part of it, yes.

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: So in the long run, do you think that this will be more the way things will happen, that the Chinese government will be having sort of set up companies like yours all over the world to present itself in the way it wants to?

Andrea Yu (nee Hodgkinson) is a cover girl
ANDREA YU: It's a very hard question and I don't know how long I'll be doing this for because of that. Yes, that it is a very challenging question. I think certainly spreading Chinese government soft power around the world via avenues like this is very important to the government and…

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: And that's essentially what your company's doing, is that right?

ANDREA YU: Well, you see it's very difficult for me to say, because I'm still - I've been with my company for about a month, OK, so it's quite difficult for me to know exactly how things work. But I am aware that I can't ask the hard questions that I may personally be interested in asking because of who I'm representing.

So there you have it, folks. Is Yu the new face of state media reporting?

Seems like she's already become a star, gracing the cover of this magazine...

Thursday, 15 November 2012

China's New Leaders

The group of seven post for photographers after the Politburo announcement
The final lineup of the Politburo members of the Central Committee finally revealed themselves after over 20 minutes' delay late this morning.

In order, they are: Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, Zhang Dejiang, Yu Zhengsheng, Liu Yunshan, Wang Qishan and Zhang Gaoli.

Note that Liu Yandong was not on the list, and it would have been a positive vote for women if she had made it to the Politburo.

The long-held rumour there would be seven members instead of nine materialized, though not everyone was able to pick out exactly who would be on the list except for Xi and Li.

China watchers were wondering what portfolio Wang would get because he is so knowledgeable in economic matters he could have been vice premier under Li.

However, there was thought that due to his extensive experience he might even overshadow Li, and so this is probably why he was given the position of Secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) or the anti-graft commission.

It'll be interesting to see him in this role, as he is used to being a negotiator who has led finance and trade talks, and also has experience as chief executive of China Construction Bank, which none of the others have in leading a state-owned enterprise.

Also during SARS in 2003, Wang replaced the sacked mayor in Beijing who had earlier on denied there was SARS in the capital, and shuffled patients around in ambulances.

But one interesting tidbit people are murmuring is that Wang possibly got this post because he has no children... thus possibly eliminating the chance of his reputation being sullied as we've seen with Ling Jihua and Bo Xilai...

Many of the people on this list are conservatives and so people can surmise what kind of rule Xi's administration will be like. There was hope Wang Yang, the party chief of Guangdong would make it and shake things up a bit with his more liberal style of governance, but apparently he was considered too young for the post.

After the seven marched out and posed for photographers, Xi gave a speech that was probably vetted by many.

Here is a part of it:

We have taken on this important responsibility for our nation. Ours is a great nation. Throughout five thousand years and more of evolution as a civilization, the Chinese nation has made indelible contribution to the progress of human civilization.

In modern times, however, China endured untold hardships and sufferings, and its very survival hung in the balance. Countless Chinese patriots rose up one after another and fought for the renewal of the Chinese nation, but all ended in failure.

Since its founding, the Communist Party of China has made great sacrifices and forged ahead against all odds. It has rallied and led the Chinese people in transforming the poor and backward old China into an increasingly prosperous and powerful new China, thus opening a completely new horizon for the great renewal of the Chinese nation.

Our responsibility now is to rally and lead the entire Party and the people of all ethnic groups in China in taking over the relay baton passed on to us by history, and in making continued efforts to achieve the great renewal of the Chinese nation, make the Chinese nation stand rock-firm in the family of nations, and make even greater contribution to mankind.

We have taken on this important responsibility for the people. Our people are a great people. During the long course of history, the Chinese people have, working with diligence, bravery and wisdom, created a beautiful homeland where all ethnic groups live in harmony, and developed a great and dynamic culture.

Our people have an ardent love for life. They wish to have better education, more stable jobs, more income, greater social security, better medical and health care, improved housing conditions, and a better environment.

They want their children to have sound growth, have good jobs and lead a more enjoyable life. To meet their desire for a happy life is our mission. It is only hard work that creates all happiness in the world.

To fulfill our responsibility, we will rally and lead the whole Party and the people of all ethnic groups in China in making continued efforts to free up our minds, carry out reform and opening up, further release and develop the productive forces, work hard to resolve the difficulties the people face in both work and life, and unwaveringly pursue common prosperity.

We have taken on this important responsibility for the Party. Our Party is dedicated to serving the people. It has led the people in making world-renowned achievements, and we have every reason to take pride in these achievements.

But we are not complacent, and we will never rest on our laurels. Under the new conditions, our Party faces many severe challenges, and there are also many pressing problems within the Party that need to be resolved, particularly corruption, being divorced from the people, going through formalities and bureaucratism caused by some Party officials.

We must make every effort to solve these problems. The whole Party must stay on full alert.

To address these problems, we must first of all conduct ourselves honorably. Our responsibility is to work with all the comrades in the Party to uphold the principle that the Party should supervise its own conduct and run itself with strict discipline, effectively solve major problems in the Party, improve our conduct, and maintain close ties with the people.

By doing so, we will ensure that our Party will remain at the core of leadership in advancing the cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

It is the people who have created history, and it is the people who are true heroes. The people are the source of our strength.

We are well aware that the capability of one individual is limited. But when we are united as one, we will create an awesome power and we can certainly overcome all difficulties.

One can only work for a limited period of time, but there is no limit to serving the people with dedication. Our responsibility is weightier than Mount Tai, and our road ahead is a long one.

We must always be of the same mind with the people and share the same destiny with them, and we must work together with them and diligently for the public good so as to live up to the expectations of both history and the people.
Xi's wife, the glamorous folk singer Peng Liyuan

OK so things are pretty much going to be status quo with China. So the next burning question is -- kind of role Xi's famous folk singer wife Peng Liyuan will play as the First Lady. Will she become the Chinese version of Michelle Obama?

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

When Cultivating Guanxi Fails

The Ferrari crash that killed Ling Jihua's son and his political rise
One man who was gunning for one of the coveted spots in the Politburo Standing Committee was Ling Jihua, President Hu Jintao's former top aide.

But then his son Ling Gu screwed his chances in the early hours of March 18 when he lost control of his black Ferrari on Beijing's North Fourth Ring Road and slammed into a wall. He was found dead on the scene, half naked, while the two other female companions, both ethnic minorities, one naked the other semi clothed. They were seriously injured and one died later.

The incident was hushed for several months and then in early September Ling Jihua was removed from his top aide post to become head of the United Front Work Department, which is considered a symbolic post.

Now it has been revealed that Jiang Jiemin, chairman of China National Petroleum Corp helped transfer tens of millions of yuan out of CNPC to the families of the two female victims.

There are questions of how Jiang was able to do this without any accountability or documentation, and why regulators, including the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission did not know about this transaction.

At the time Jiang was trying to help Ling cover up the accident, by paying the victims' families from leaking the news to the public. Jiang was hoping that Ling, who was then head of the powerful General Office of the party's Central Committee, would be of help later on in his career and was trying to build some guanxi.

However, when Ling was transferred to the new post, this did not help Jiang at all.

Investigators soon traced the money back to the CNPC which could have explained why Jiang was not seen in public for a few months. Some even thought Jiang had fled the country. There are also reports he was suffering from chronic eye disease at the time.

In any event Jiang is still head of the CNPC, but who knows for how much longer. So while it pays to be helpful, you still have to be careful who you lend a hand to.


Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Picture of the Day: A Flashy Education

Would you hire a tutor from this school based on their appearance?
What is it with Hong Kong's tutoring schools? They splash out on billboards, spaces on the outside of buses and of course magazines and newspapers to promote themselves.

But in these advertisements they hardly look scholarly. In fact they look... posh.

Some schools show off their tutors in tuxedos and ballroom gowns and wearing make up, as if emulating a soap opera about upper-crust society.

Dr F Shum, chief English consultant at King's Glory explained that "appearance is important as a marketing strategy. It is the first passport for getting students into the classroom."

His colleague Alan Chan concurs. "Take the example of David Beckham. First, the public focused on his appearance and charm, and then became interested in soccer. Students may attend my class because of my first impression, but after what holds them is their desire to learn English," he says.

Are students and more importantly, their parents that shallow?

Tutoring schools shell out for big billboard advertisements
One would expect parents would prefer the tutors they hired looked more professional in suits than flashing some skin or wearing a tux.

Or would it just fuel more boyhood fantasies of having a tutor show up in a cocktail dress and give some "life" lessons instead of academics? Or a female student look dreamily at her male tutor who was easy on the eyes?

But apparently these eye-catching ads do bring in the students.

Some tutors make enough to own a Lamborghini, as evidenced by Tutor King's Richard Eng, who owns a yellow one.

And academics is supposed to be blind when it comes to appearance...


Monday, 12 November 2012

Hu Steps Aside

Hu (left) will retire, but Jiang (right) continues his power plays
Outgoing Chinese President Hu Jintao seems to be signalling he's ready for retirement.

That's because he will formally give up his position as military chief at the end of the 18th party congress this week, sources say.

Many are surprised by this decision, as they had expected he would follow former President Jiang Zemin in holding power for another two years as head of the Central Military Commission.

Nevertheless this is good news, as it gives incoming leader Xi Jinping a fresh slate to start from, unlike Hu, who did not take over the military until 2004, making it a messy transition and let people wondering who really was in charge.

At the time Jiang's decision to hold on to power was unpopular and was criticized within and outside the party.

And so while many assumed Hu would do the same, there may be several reasons why he has opted to relinquish his powerful title now.

It could be that Hu has lost out in the backroom politicking thanks to Jiang's manoeuvres in promoting Xi instead of Hu's choice of Li Keqiang, as well as the new lineup in the powerful Politburo Standing Committee. Maybe Hu also feels it's better to leave on a high note than be associated with what may happen afterwards.

Some say that Hu, 70, is just tired and wants a break. "I don't think Hu is really competent to be a supreme leader, but back then he had little choice as he was hand-picked by party elders to take up the demanding job," said Zhang Li fan, a Beijing-based historian.

"Hu may have been fed up with the seemingly endless intrigue and power struggle and just wanted to ensure a safe landing for himself."

"[Unlike Jiang], Hu has never been a very ambitious leader who aggressively promotes personal agenda," added Chen Ziming, a Beijing-based political observer.

Chen suggests that perhaps Hu is signalling with his complete retirement that other party elders should do the same.

"I think the implied message behind his move is loud and clear: he will fully retire and so should other party leaders of his generation, and particularly Jiang and other party elders who constantly try to wield their influence long after their retirement."

While there is more intra-party democracy, it's making the job of the president and premier harder because there are an increasing number of party elders watching over their shoulders, each with their own agendas.

But with Hu wanting to make a clean break, perhaps Xi will have a better chance of ruling China with a more uniform vision.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Lest We Forget

 Prime Minster Stephen Harper at Sai Wan Bay War Cemetery
Instead of marking Remembrance Day in Ottawa, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper attended a ceremony in Hong Kong's Sai Wan Bay War Cemetery with his wife Laureen.

He was there to remember the 283 Canadians who died defending Hong Kong against the Japanese 71 years ago.

"By their deaths, they made possible the freedom we enjoy, the democracy by which we govern ourselves and the justice under which we live," he said. "These are the flowers that flourish upon their graves."

There were 1,975 Canadian soldiers sent to the then British colony, only three weeks before the Japanese attacked on December 8, 1941, a day after they bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Not only did the not have enough time to prepare, but the Canadian soldiers were completely outnumbered, but managed to hold off the Japanese for 17 days and then finally surrendered on Christmas Day, 1941. By then 290 Canadian soldiers died in battle, 493 wounded.

The surviving Canadian and British soldiers were made prisoners of war and treated in horrific circumstances.

"It's hell in a basket," recalled 91-year old Ken Pifher who flew in from Grimsby, Ontario for the ceremony.

"Just hell. The basic situation was starvation. They would not feed us properly. And also the slaps and kicks. And diphtheria in the camp."

They were held prisoners for three years until the Japanese finally surrendered on August 15, 1945, days after nuclear bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

When World War II ended, another 267 POWs died.

Pifher has since returned to Hong Kong five times to visit the cemetery. "There's a lot of history, and a lot of my boys, the friends that are here," he said.

Harper said that Remembrance Day ceremonies here and in Canada are a "solemn reminder of dear ones lost."

"It must call all Canadians to look beyond our sorrow," he said. "It asks us to honour in our lives, at all times, what our forebears won by their deaths and to protect and preserve the peace they left to us. There is no more that we can do for them than this."

But Harper there is more you can do for them.

The Canadian government is under fire for not doing enough for veterans, not just ones like Pifher, but those who have returned from Afghanistan who have numerous physical and psychological issues that must be addressed with funding.

There's also The Last Post Fund that helps veterans who need financial aid in paying for the costs of a burial or headstone, except that two-thirds of the applications are rejected, due to a series of stringent requirements, including that annual income must be less than $12,010.

Many are calling for these requirements to be loosened so that more destitute veterans can have a decent burial, because if an application is accepted, the government contributes $3,600 towards the average $10,000 it costs for a funeral; Canadian funeral directors often subsidize the difference.

So how about it Harper? How about showing more respect for those who have defended and continue to defend our freedoms?

It is the least we can do.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Hardly a Sporting Chance

There are possible plans to turn this space into office buildings
The director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office Wang Guangya has called on Hong Kong people to give Chief Executive Leung-Chun-ying a chance to work for the city.

"Personally, I feel that in recent months Leung Chun-ying has really been making an effort to improve the economy and livelihoods in Hong Kong," he said. "But, of course, when there are new policies, there is a need for different people to communicate to gain understanding and support from different walks of life."

But perhaps it's Leung and his administration who are not communicating with us?

We are horrified to hear that the Wan Chai Sports Ground (灣仔運動場), near the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre will be demolished in 2019.

The announcement was made by Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing yesterday.

He told lawmakers at a home affairs panel meeting that people could use Hong Kong Stadium in So Kon Po when the Kai Tak complex was ready.

"By then, the one in So Kon Po will become the major sport venue for residents of Hong Kong Island," he said. "As to what will be built on the Wan Chai site, it will be a decision to be determined by the government."

Uh excuse me -- so the Leung administration hasn't figured out what it wants to do with the Wan Sports Ground, but has definitely decided to get rid of it.

Schools can't afford to rent Hong Kong Stadium for events
How does that make any sense?

Perhaps the government is greedy and wants to make an estimated HK$36 billion from the land to build -- more office space?

Currently the sports ground complete with an all-weather synthetic track and natural turf infield is usually rented out by schools for sports events. Tsang urged schools to move their sports days and other athletic events to Hong Kong Stadium, but many can't afford the high rent there, hence the necessity for the Wan Chai Sports Ground.

Originally the government wanted to dismantle the sports ground to build the third phase of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, but there was a lot of public opposition, claiming there would be worsening traffic in the area.

Wan Chai district councillors are opposed to the demolition of the Wan Chai Sports Ground as well as one lawmaker, Stephen Ng Kam-chun.

We are probably going to see some protests over this announcement in the coming weeks.

Hong Kong does not have enough public spaces as it is. Most of them are owned by developers who impose their own rules, which basically translate as: you're not allowed to hang out here.

And what about the city's pledge to get people more active? Wouldn't demolishing the sports ground create even fewer places for people to exercise?

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, can we have more public consultation before making such rash announcements?

Friday, 9 November 2012

The Next Big Investment

Psst! Wondering where to park your money since depressed stock prices are bringing you down and don't have enough money to shell out for a flat?

Then what about the next best thing and parking your money in a parking space in Hong Kong?

The benefits? There is currently a rental yield of 3 to 5 percent, and even better, no stamp duty when it's time to sell.

Also you don't have to worry about fung shui or where the space is located... it's just a parking spot really. There's no need for maintenance either. Sounds like a good deal, no?

Many people had the same idea too.

Earlier this week Chinachem released a number of parking spaces in Hong Kong Garden, Bella Vista, Golden Lion Garden, Belair Gardens and Shatin 33.

Six hundred spaces were sold on Monday and Tuesday, and at least another 120 on Thursday.

"People queued up at the sales office in Tsuen Wan's Nina Tower when sales began at 9am," said Andy Leung, senior sales manager at Midland Realty.

Seeing interest in parking lots, Chinachem raised prices by HK$30,000 on Thursday.

The price of an average parking space in Hong Kong Garden is about HK$320,000 and it can be rented out for HK$1,500 a month, yielding more than 5 percent.

"If you spend HK$2.5 million to buy a flat at a housing estate and rent it out for HK$9,000 a month, your net rental yield is just about 4 percent," Leung said.

"Most people buying parking spaces are investors. They are seeking a new avenue of investment to hedge against inflation," said Tony Lai, a manager at Centaline Property Agency.

"With a raft of new restrictions on residential property, parking spaces have suddenly become a popular investment," he said.

Not only Chinachem, but also New World Development and Sino Land have started selling parking spaces since the new stamp duties on buyers who are not permanent residents was implemented.

Cheung Kong will start selling spots in Tai Wai's Festival City later this month, while Wheelock Properties will be selling lots in Tai Wai's Parc Royale, Bellagio in Sham Tseng and Palm Cove in Tuen Mun.

However, Wong Leung-sing, an associate director of research at Centaline warned there were risks to buying parking spaces as investment.

"if the economy tanks, the first thing people will do is sell their cars," he said.

He believes that could lead to a 50 percent increase in parking spaces available.

Is the car market that volatile?

There's always a shortage of places for people to park their cars, no?

Thursday, 8 November 2012

China's Daunting Challenges Ahead

President Hu Jintao delivering his speech to delegates
The 18th National People's Congress opened today with much fanfare and all eyes were on the stage as President Hu Jintao came out and following right behind him an older but still mobile former President Jiang Zemin. It was an obvious show that Jiang is still very much a power broker behind the scenes.

How they seat some 2,300 delegates in the Great Hall of the People is a pretty amazing feat, but probably even more so is how to stay awake throughout the entire proceedings. What happens if you get caught on camera dozing off? Or need to go to the loo while the President is speaking -- for 100 minutes?

In any event everyone was riveted to hear what Hu had to say in his swansong speech.

And apart from going over how the country had developed in the past decade, his constant refrain was how the country needed to battle corruption. "If we fail to handle this issue well, it could prove fatal to the Party, and even cause the collapse of the Party and the fall of the state," he said.

Anyone who breaks the law will be brought to justice "whoever they are and whatever power or official positions they have," he said.

However what Hu is saying is a repeat of 10 years ago -- which indicates nothing has really changed.

Officials who were charged with corruption were punished depending on the severity of it and how good their guanxi was. This unwritten policy continues to this day. Worse is those who had serious problems during their watch were sacked, but in reality lay low for a few years before being reappointed to another position elsewhere.

And while this is one of the biggest issues ordinary Chinese are most concerned about, nothing concrete has been done.

They are tired of seeing people in power taking advantage of their positions for financial gain. But this stems from not only the Cultural Revolution but the Great Leap Forward too, where social morals completely broke down for utter survival.

It's all good and well that Hu is openly warning officials about corruption, but what is the Party going to do about it?
Hu warned corruption could be "fatal to the Party"

Where are the proper checks and balances? The rule of law is used by the Party for its own ends instead of letting justice take its course.

The handling of Bo Xilai and the other players, his wife Gu Kailai and former police chief Wang Lijun is case in point.

All three did not had access to their own lawyers -- and in the case of Gu and Li, they were detained and unseen until their cases came to trial.

We have yet to see Bo emerge from some kind of house arrest, and even then is that how rule of law works in China?

There are other pressing concerns the general public have, including a social safety net, healthcare costs and having safe food to eat.

How about addressing these everyday problems?

When you look back at the Hu-Wen era, what did they really achieve?

They will like to boast that China hosted its first Olympic Games and the country sustained 30 years of economic growth, but those double-digit numbers have dropped considerably towards the end of their term and they did little to avert the problem except throw tons of money into stimulus packages that ended up on Macau casino tables.

Serious economic reforms must be made, particularly in state-owned enterprises and bank lending. There needs to be more support for small- and medium-sized enterprises that are itching to expand but don't have access to capital.

And there also needs to be greater innovation because China cannot continue being the factory of the world much longer. It has too many educated young people who are capable of doing something other than mind-numbing assembly-line work.

The government needs to stop being so paranoid and tightening its monitoring of the media, particularly the internet. Media freedoms became even more strict in the past five years than in the Jiang Zemin era. Why is that? Shouldn't things move forward and not backward?

So like US President Barack Obama, incoming President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang have daunting challenges ahead.

We hope Xi and Li can find consensus within the Party to move China forward -- to make these long overdue reforms, create an accountability system and encourage innovation.

Otherwise China is going to be so mired in its own problems that its citizens will lose its faith in the Party -- something that's already happening.