Monday, 30 June 2014

Sending the Wrong Message

Beijing's white paper gave an unintended negative impression to Hong Kong
The 787,427 votes from the referendum were analyzed last night. About 42.1 percent chose the proposal from the Alliance for True Democracy, followed by Scholarism at 38.4 percent and then 10.4 percent for People Power.

And of the second question, 88 percent agreed that the Legislative Council should veto any reform proposal put forward by the government if it failed to meet international standards.

"Today should go down in the history of Hong Kong's constitutional development as the referendum was the largest scale of expression of public opinion in the city's history," said Benny Tai Yiu-ting, co-organizer of Occupy Central.

He said he would submit the results to Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

And we can imagine Beijing will be wondering what to do next.

A mainland source who was involved in drafting the white paper showed Beijing still needed to learn how to better communicate with Hong Kong.

"Judging from the reaction in the past few weeks, it has fallen short of the central government's expectations," the sources said.

"A substantial number of people are worried that Beijing intends to tighten its grip on Hong Kong and even take back some power from Hong Kong. Actually this is wrong.

"But there is a need for the central government to improve its communications with Hong Kongers in future. There is room for improvement in how we present messages.

"How can we explain our stances in a manner and style Hong Kongers deem more acceptable?"

Uh, how about never?

There are great number of Hong Kong people who fled Communist China. It was only two generations ago. Those in their sixties and older definitely remember how they fled to the city or via Macau.

They saw first hand the Communist Revolution, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. They came to Hong Kong to escape from persecution, the chaos and madness.

Some lost family members, property and assets to the Communists.

Memories like that are hard to wipe out.

Hong Kong was their safe haven. But with the approach of 1997 they were worried about seeing PLA tanks and soldiers marching down the streets.

However that didn't happen and so their fears were eased -- until now.

Why would they trust anything that comes out of the Communist Party's mouth?

So if the Chinese government can somehow undo over 60 years of nightmares, then perhaps it has a chance of winning Hong Kong people's trust.

But it can't so trying to rectify its PR image is a steep uphill battle.

All we can say is, good luck!

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Voicing Discontent Continues

Hong Kong lawyers marched on Friday to protest against the white paper
The polls for the civic referendum closed about an hour ago and the minimum number of people who turned out to vote is estimated at 740,000 while a maximum of 799,000 voiced their opinion on public nomination.

To be honest it's disappointing it didn't hit 1 million, and around 740,000 is just over 10 percent of the population.

This number is worse than the worst election turnout in any democratic society.

Nevertheless we are glad people came out to vote and many had different reasons. In the first few days it was because of Beijing releasing the white paper and claiming that it had complete jurisdiction over Hong Kong. In its mind "one country, two systems" did not apply anymore.

Polls for the referendum closed at 10pm today (Sunday)
And then in the last few days people have come out to vote because of funding approval for the northeastern New Territories on Friday that was highly controversial.

It's interesting to see people's motivations to vote -- and if they don't they won't come out. Which perhaps is understandable because there is no culture of voting as a civil duty.

Nevertheless, on Friday lawyers voted with their feet with a silent march from the High Court to the Court of Final Appeal.

Organizers say a record number -- around 1,800 -- participated, wearing black. They were protesting Beijing's white paper because they believe it jeopardizes rule of law in Hong Kong.

Even one Court of Final Appeal non permanent judge Kemal Bokary lent his support, though he did not march.

One of those leading the march was Martin Lee Chu-ming, senior council on the barristers' list and founding chairman of the Democratic Party. "Lawyers are giving support to an independent judiciary which cannot speak for itself. Without it, human rights cannot be defended," he said.

Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun, outgoing law dean at the University of Hong Kong, who marched on Friday as well as in 1999 and 2005 said: "Fifteen years on, the legal profession still needs to take to the streets. This is a problem."

We will find out the results of the civic referendum in the next few days, but in the meantime many will be gearing up for the July 1 march in the afternoon.

This year people have many grievances against the government and so organizers are hopeful the turnout will be significant.

And if the government still refuses to accept its mistakes and listen to the people, Occupy Central will definitely happen...

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Piggybacks, Planking and Plazas...

Would you piggyback your boss like this guy?
A few quirky China stories caught our eye this week --

An official in Jiangxi province was sacked when pictures surfaced of him getting a piggyback ride because he didn't want to ruin his designer shoes.

He didn't want to get his shoes soaked while inspecting the search for children missing during a flood due to heavy rains in the area.

The man is Wang Junhua, vice director of an unspecified government office in the city of Guixi. The poor guy who had to carry his boss was Ding Xianbao, a clerk.

We wonder if Ding was given a promotion for his troubles...

George Hood shows his planking skills at the Forbidden City
Then there was an ex-US Marine who came to Beijing to show people how to plank. It's a great exercise to build muscles in your abs -- or do you not know where they are?

You have to support yourself on your toes and your forearms and hold it there -- 30 seconds is a good start.

But for 56-year-old George Hood, it was four hours and one minute, beating his previous record of three hours and seven minutes. People cheered him on at the China National Convention Center.

"This was the biggest and most rewarding opportunity I've ever been presented with," Hood said two days after the event. "This probably surpasses my son's graduation. We captivated a whole country."

He even got Soho China co-founder Pan Shiyi and Gary Locke, former US Ambassador to China to get planking -- for a mere 10 minutes.

To break his own record, Hood trained for four hours a day for six months by doing an hour of cardio, two hours of planks, 150-200 pushups and 2,000 ab exercises.

How did he plank for over four hours without giving in? Hood listened to music, including Christian music, rock 'n' roll and ballads.

Better start planking again...

And finally we are thrilled to hear US politics has a way of giving China the finger. It may not have the financial muscle to overturn the trade imbalance but it can do this: The House Appropriations Committee voted to rename the road in front of the Chinese Embassy as "Liu Xiaobo Plaza", after the Nobel Prize-winning dissident who is serving an 11-year sentence for "inciting subversion of state power".

In future all correspondence from the Chinese Embassy will have to give its address at Liu Xiaobo Plaza. We wonder if the embassy is pondering whether it should move or not.

And we hope Liu is in his cell in Jinzhou, Liaoning province, laughing upon hearing this latest news. The US has not forgotten him.


Friday, 27 June 2014

Picture of the Day: Brother Cream

Brother Cream is stretched out and lying comfortably for a snooze
Tonight some relatives and I had dinner in Tsim Sha Tsui East and finished quite late.

And when we emerged from the restaurant and walked a block towards the cross harbour bus stop, we saw two giant cats lying on top of some magazines and newspapers.

It was then that I found it the light brown and white one -- the much bigger one of the two -- was Brother Cream!

His full name is Tsim Tung Brother Cream or 尖東忌廉哥. He is a well-known male British Shorthair cat who lives at this convenience store and that it was the owner who posted pictures of him on a Facebook page that resulted in the feline's fast track to fame.

He seems unfazed by all the attention around him!
The media picked up on the fact that he had over 108,000 followers on Facebook last March, and as of this May had over 160,000 likes.

As a result people specifically flocked to the store to see the cat though there were no promises Brother Cream would show up or would be awake for visitors. These days there's several handwritten signs that say "Please Do Not touch the cat" and several minders nearby to watch him.

I didn't know he had a companion, a black and white cat, but anyway both were lying around while us fans gathered round and took pictures of them. They didn't seem to care about these human admirers.

But yes -- Brother Cream is one big cat!

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Colourful Historical Gardens

At the entrance of Casa Garden, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Next to Morrison chapel is Casa Garden, a pink and white Portuguese colonial style house in pink and white with dark green shutters.

A relaxing feline by the entrance of the building
It was built in 1770 by a wealthy Portuguese merchant by the name of Manuel Pereira. Later on it was rented out to the British East India Company for the directors of the Macau branch to live there.

At the brick-paved entrance is a symmetrical star and then a pond in front of the house. Around it are lots of plants including bright red hibiscus flowers.

The building, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the headquarters from the Macau delegation of the Orient Foundation where they hold periodic art and history exhibitions.

The entrance to Luis de Camoes Garden next door
As I approached the house, I saw a ginger-striped cat sleeping with its legs outstretched and yet its head was upright. I started taking pictures of it from a distance, worried that if I made too much noise, it would be startled and run away.

But even as I quietly walked up the stairs, it did not flinch and I managed to take a good shot of it. And sitting by the door was a black dog that also didn't seem to care about my appearance. I guess they get along...

To the left of Casa Garden is the Luis de Camoes Garden, named after the Portuguese poet from four centuries ago.

The first Korean priest St Andrew Kim
It's deceptive how big this place is and in it are many winding pathways that go up and down and with stairs so you do get a good workout -- especially in the hot and humid weather like I did!

There's even a library here with many signs pointing to it. But kids seem to enjoy running around the verdant area, while elderly men avidly watched a Chinese chess match in progress.

I spied a statue and went up to take a look. It's St Andrew Kim -- the first Korean priest. He was born in 1821 and when he was 16 years old he came to Macau to study theology. Kim then returned to Korea in 1845 but a year later was arrested and martyred at the age of 25!

Pope John Paul II canonized him in 1984 and a year later this statue was erected, and then repaired and rededicated to Korean Catholics in Hong Kong and Macau in 1997.

Gorgeous lotus leaves and flowers at the park entrance
I also climbed up to what seemed like the highest point of the park, but the overview wasn't particularly inspiring.

Checking out a Chinese chess game in progress
Along the path I also encountered another two kittens, one sunning himself, the other cautious of me and scurried away but then sat there watching me with his big eyes.

Nevertheless after wandering around here hot and sweaty I decided to take a break though I'd only covered about half of the park. There's still a grotto area where Luis de Camoes lived here in a cave when he was exiled to Macau.

Here he finished his epic poem Os Lusiadas, a fantastical interpretation of the Portuguese voyages of discovery during the 15th and 16th centuries written in the style of Homer.

A pair of cats hanging out in the park
It's too bad I missed the grotto and the bust of Luis de Camoes, but perhaps for another day.




Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Little Chapel, Rich History

Morrison Chapel is located next to Casa Garden with the cemetery in the back
Today I went to Macau for the day and at lunch a friend there suggested that I check out what is known on the tourist map as the Protestant Cemetery, but it is also called "the Morrison Chapel".

I got a taxi and said the name of the place wrong in Chinese -- it is nicknamed "white dove nest garden" in Chinese (bak gup chau goong yuen) and the taxi driver chided me for pronouncing it wrong. I said I didn't read much Chinese and then let the matter rest.

Inside are historical photos on the walls
He said tourists hardly ever go there -- and in fact I was his first customer to request to go there. He added tourists don't know about this place and I explained that my friend said I should go there.

We passed St Paul's Ruins and went further up the hill to reach this church that is right next to Casa Garden. He warned it would be difficult to catch a cab back down and as soon as I got out, a couple jumped right in.

The area is called white dove nest because at dusk there would be droves of white doves in the sky in this area.

The chapel is very small and simple but airy and kept well. What's also interesting about it is that as part of the British East India Company or EIC, it was stipulated that the chaplain had to come from England to minister to the employees' spiritual needs, and the person had to be approved by the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Bishop of London.

At the back is a small cemetery of various shapes and sizes
However during World War II, no chaplain was sent out from England and so Deaconess Florence Li Tim-oi from Hong Kong stepped up to the plate to become the first woman priest in the Anglican communion.

The chapel is named after Robert Morrison (1782-1834) who was the first Protestant missionary in China and completed the first translation of the Bible into Chinese. He also wrote the first Chinese to English dictionary.

After his wife died, Morrison was employed by the British East India Company, and he asked the company to acquire land from the government to use as a burial ground because at the time Protestants were not allowed to be buried within Macau's Roman Catholic city walls.

The headstones tell short stories of lives lived
Morrison himself is buried here, though during a quick visit to the cemetery grounds I could not spot him, though I did find a large tribute to British artist George Chinnery who lived in Macau for 20 years and painted landscapes and portraits. The Chinnery Bar in the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong is also named after him.

Then there are a number of headstones marking the deaths of many seamen, particularly from Philadelphia and New York from the 1800s. One wonders how they decided to go to Macau and then died either by sickness or accident...

It's so interesting how such a small chapel has such a rich history!

The large tribute to artist George Chinnery
If you want to go there, either take a taxi or you can take the No. 17 bus that starts from the Macau Cultural Centre and passes by Guia Fortress along the way and the chapel, located right next to Casa Garden is the bus terminus. The bus fare is MOP3.20.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

More Useless Rhetoric

In an interesting move, Leung Chun-ying says the vote reflects people's opinions
We just love how the mainland is getting all riled up about the civic referendum and thinking that imposing its ideology on us is going to scare us from voting.

Instead it just does the opposite.

The latest?

Nationalistic paper the Global Times has described the between 680,000 to 730,000 votes as "no match" for the 1.3 billion population of China.

Uh excuse me, but you don't have universal suffrage on the mainland so how can you even compare?

It also adds, "the Basic Law reflects the will of the whole nation as well... more than 1.3 billion people have the right to speak on Hong Kong's political reform".

Really? Since when?

I haven't heard any laobaixing being able to weigh in on how to govern Hong Kong...

And in an unusual move, Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying waded into the fray, saying the Global Times' editorial was wrong to put "the people of Hong Kong and China on confronting sides".

He went on to say "no matter how many people voted" and no matter how many of those votes could be "questionable", the majority of residents who took part were expressing their wish to elect the city's leader by universal suffrage in 2017. "This is a promise [enshrined] in the Basic Law," he said.

However Leung did not agree with the second question of the referendum of whether lawmakers should veto the election plan if it does not meet international standards, saying "international standards" is not found in Basic Law and that elections should be held according to the city's situation and within Basic Law.

Nevertheless, he clarified that the some 730,000 who participated in the referendum would not face any criminal liability despite China constantly condemning the poll as "illegal".

The mainland is so wrong on reading this issue that it's on the verge of farcical. We wonder what they're going to come up with next...

Monday, 23 June 2014

Hard Act to Follow

Believe it or not this is Allan Zeman dressed up as a Chinese opera ghost?
We were surprised to hear to hear Allan Zeman was stepping down as chairman of Ocean Park last week and then gobsmacked today to find out he was forced out of the role.

Starting from next week he will be replaced by his deputy, banker and CPPCC member Leo Kung Lin-cheng.

"I found out about a month ago," Zeman said in a news conference. "Of course, at that time I felt kind of angry for a while because I hadn't discussed [the decision] with the government beforehand. Of course the government knows I want to stay on. No one asked me about whether I want to stay on or not."

Ouch.

He's even donned a panda costume to boost visitor numbers
But he believes he was not kept on because of a government guideline that limits key officials at statutory bodies to six-year terms. Zeman's position as chairman was renewed in 2009 and 2012 for good performance.

He held the position for 11 years and in that time has been nicknamed "mousekiller" for successfully challenging Disneyland when it came to tourist and local visitor dollars. Under Zeman's leadership, the number of visitors to Ocean Park rose from 2.95 million in 2003 to 7.73 million last year.

The park also had a deficit of HK$4 million in 2003 when SARS hit Hong Kong, and then ended with a HK$127.2 million surplus last year.

While it is understandable the Hong Kong government wants to look politically correct and have locals promoted into top positions, if what Zeman says is true, did no one stop to think to thank him for his service at least?

Or were they too terrified to break the news to him?

Because the next time the government needs someone to help them with a failing business, they can't ask Zeman again.

Would Kung be willing to dress up in a panda costume or wear ghoulish makeup for Halloween like the Canadian-born entrepreneur did?

He's a tough act to follow...

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Gathering Momentum

Despite the rain people voted in polling stations in 15 spots around Hong Kong
Today was the first day of polling stations in 15 points around Hong Kong to vote on the referendum. And by 10pm tonight (half an hour ago), there was a total of 693,354 who had cast their vote.

It's interesting to see those who previously didn't care much about district elections who came out this time in droves. A large number of them cited Beijing's release of the white paper as the reason why they felt strongly to make their voice heard.

Many friends on Facebook and Instagram post pictures of their screen shots to prove they had voted -- the new trendy badge of honour -- while others express frustration at not being able to enter the site.

The Chinese government is trying very hard to discredit the referendum with Chen Zuoer, former deputy director of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office being the latest person trotted out denouncing the civic vote.

And like other critics before him, Chen reiterated that all three proposals contravene the Basic Law. "I don't think the 'referendum' can truly reflect public opinion in Hong Kong," he said.

Chen added that "there were some dishonest elements during the process of conducting the public vote, which resulted in the failure to truly reflect public opinion".

Is this the best the pro-Beijing side can do?

Occupy Central leader Benny Tai Yiu-ting hit back in defiance. "I cannot see anything we are doing now is unlawful. If the Chinese authorities say we are doing something unlawful, please point out which acts are unlawful. Are we subject to any criminal liability, and if yes, why not arrest me now?"

Indeed. Which is why what China says has no credibility.

We all understand this referendum is not legally binding, but this is our way of telling Beijing we are not happy with how it has governed Hong Kong so far and its attitude towards the city.

Momentum could build to over 1 million votes well before June 29.

And if several hundred thousand people come out July 1, then Beijing has a big, big problem on its hands...

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Jumping Good Fun

Jump has toured around the world, no translation needed
Just came back from watching a really fun show called Jump that combines martial arts with physical comedy.

It was performed at the Jockey Club auditorium in Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hung Hom and practically all the seats were filled. It's a relatively intimate space which is good for a show like this.

As the audience members were filing in, one of the cast members, an old man, shuffled around and gave candies to children, taunting some of them. Then he got a guy to piggy back him up onto the stage, which set the tone of the show...

An "old man" hands out candies to kids
There's no need to know Korean -- they spoke a mixture of Korean, English, Cantonese and Mandarin but everyone knew what was going on from the humour that was mostly physical. As a result kids were laughing all the way through the 90-minute show.

The basic storyline is about a family of top martial artists who are trained by the grandfather. There's the straight-man father, the rough-and-tumble mother, pretty daughter, drunk uncle and potential son-in-law.

A series of antics allow them to show off their skills and it's quickly evident they know their stuff. Then the grandfather introduces a suitor to his granddaughter and he isn't quite what he seems.

Then during the night two bumbling robbers enter the house and little do they know who the occupants of the home are...

There's fun sound effects to go with the fight scenes and particularly hilarious were the slow motion ones near the beginning of the show. Later on strobe lighting was also used to create a different kind of slow-motion sequence.

Each of the performers owned their own characters by creating their own moves to add a bit of personality, particularly the uncle, the suitor and one of the robbers with crazy hair.

Energetic music with a strong beat encouraged the audience to clap along and by the end they did a series of jumps, flips, and even handstands that were amazing.

He insists on everyone letting him pass by...
The concept for Jump began in 1999 and started as Crazy Family in 2001. Then the performers began to seriously train in acrobatics with a former coach of the Korean Women's National Gymnastics team.

Their first performance was in Japan in 2002 and soon afterwards the show was renamed Jump. Since 2005 it has toured around the world with over 10,000 performances seen by over 4 million people.

It's a pity the Chinese with its long acrobatic history, could not come up with a show like this. It's right up their alley, being the home of martial arts. There's Cirque de Soleil and now Jump. What about China combining all its talents into a money-making show like this? And even better -- a soft power initiative?

Jump has been here since June 18 and runs until Monday. This is the second time the show has come to Hong Kong and hopefully they will come back again soon. Good family fun, if not some hot bods to watch!

Jump
Jockey Club Auditorium, Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Hung Hom
June 18-23


Friday, 20 June 2014

Bring It On

A screen shot with a bird and says "Occupy Central with love and peace"
Hong Kong's civic referendum on universal suffrage began at noon today. A colleague asked me where she could vote and I quickly found the site at popvote.hk.

She wanted to do it by mobile phone so we downloaded a QR code scanner on her phone before she could scan the QR code on the website and then proceed with voting.

I tried to do the same but my phone had trouble scanning the code for some bizarre reason and I ended up doing it online which was much more tedious, but was completed within minutes.

It asks voters to choose one of three proposals from the Alliance for True Democracy, People Power, and Students.

Then it asks if whether Legco should veto any reform plan that does not provide a genuine choice of candidates to the public in 2017.

In the first hour there were over 60,000 votes, and just before midnight over 400,000. Organizers were hoping for 100,000 votes and permanent residents can vote until June 29.

Even before the referendum began the website suffered an unprecedented number of cyber attacks. And when people vote, the website does warn about the cyber attacks and asks for patience if pages are slow to load.

Soon after voting began, the Chinese government immediately condemned the referendum.

"Any form of so-called 'referendum' held in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region that lacks a constitutional legal basis is illegal and invalid," said a representative of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying also noted that none of the three proposals complied with the Basic Law, but residents want to broaden the nomination base from a core of a few thousand people to the wider population.

It will be interesting to see how many do vote in the coming days, but already the results are very strong.

This clearly indicates people in Hong Kong are very unhappy with the current situation and want to be able to do something about it other than march on the streets every weekend.

And their motivation to vote was probably accelerated by the release of Beijing's white paper last week when China insisted it had complete jurisdiction over Hong Kong.

Beijing may have thought it would preempt the Occupy Central but in fact added fuel to the fire. Chinese officials must be freaking out at the moment and wondering why Hong Kong people are so adamant about one man, one vote...

Yes we know the referendum is not legally binding, but we were promised universal suffrage by 2017 and by golly we're going to make sure we get it, one way or another.

I was wrong about Occupy Central starting on July 1 -- news reports say it will happen later this year. But this referendum is to see what appetite there is for the movement and over 400,000 people so far have said YES!


Thursday, 19 June 2014

Legal Sector Protests with its Feet

Next Friday will be the third time in Hong Kong's history when lawyers will march in silence to protest Beijing's white paper claiming its "comprehensive jurisdiction" over the city.

Yesterday solicitor Kevin Yam, a member of the Law Society's Constitutional Affairs and Human Rights Committee proposed a vote of no confidence in society president Ambrose Lam San-keung, after he praised the document.

Yam wants to table a motion urging Lam to retract his statement, saying the white paper was a "positive document", and to file at least 75 signatures from solicitors to call for a special meeting on the paper.

Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok has urged participants to wear black for the march, that will travel from the High Court in Admiralty to the Court of Final Appeal in Central.

There have only been two similar protests by the legal sector that led to the reinterpretations of the Basic Law. Lawyers first marched in 1999 when the government asked the National People's Congress to reinterpret the Basic Law on the issue of right of abode in Hong Kong.

The other time was six years later over the term length of the new chief executive after the resignation of the first one, Tung Chee-hwa.

It will be interesting to see how many do come out to march -- if there is a huge turnout it could be a huge boost for Hong Kong and a bigger headache for Beijing...

Review: Mr. China

A memoir on the perils of doing business in China
When I was almost finished reading Paul Midler's Poorly Made in China, the friend who lent me the book suggested I also read Mr. China by Tim Clissold.

I had actually bought the book several years ago on one of my trips to Hong Kong when I was living in Beijing. I read through about half of it and then gave up because the business jargon went over my head and I lost track of the characters in the book.

But my friend encouraged me to try it again and so I picked it up again. With the Poorly Made in China background, it was easier to understand the complexity of what was going on in Mr. China because of Clissold's writing that was both engaging and intellectually witty.

Mr. China is about Clissold's own experience of living in China, learning the language and then teaming up with a flamboyant Wall Street banker named Pat and an ex-Red Guard named Ai Jian.

The trio saw the potential goldmine in opportunities in the early 1990s. There were factories all over the country that had the possibility of becoming big, if only they had a cash infusion.

And so Clissold, Pat and Ai Jian raised over $400 million, bought up a number of factories all over China, signed contracts, put seemly capable managers in place, and then expected the money crank out too fast for them to count.

But they soon discovered that China didn't follow by the West's rules. Abiding by the contract? There was no such thing -- the Chinese would always find some way of worming out of it.

Clissold talked about similar factory production problems as Midler did, illustrating this in the Chinese beer factory they invested in. The bottles either had flat beer, or not enough, or labels were plastered on upside down.

Tom Clissold's witty writing makes for a fascinating read
And then there were strong allegiances people had to their own which made it difficult for Clissold to sack incompetent people or get rid of excess workers.

Meanwhile factory managers or owners who had 49 percent of the shares in the business were always scheming, taking the funds deposited into their bank accounts and building newer factories instead of plowing the money into the existing ones to improve efficiency or quality.

Trying to kick these people out of the business took up most of Clissold's time, energy and sanity. It was a race against time to secure the factory and equipment, bank accounts and authority over the place. The fights ran from the verbal to physical, to standoffs that lasted for hours and was really a test to see who blinked first.

Although Clissold was well versed in Putonghua and had lived in China for many years, he was still not prepared in how to play the game.

In the end only a few factories made money, while the trio lost millions of dollars everyday and needless to say it was difficult to explain to investors in New York where their money went.

As he writes: "At that stage I was more worried about making sure the electricity wasn't cut off and the accounting records weren't thrown into the furnaces in a factory where our most sophisticated HR strategy was to invite everyone to an enormous fireworks party".

It's a fascinating read and hard to fathom that all this did happen 20 years ago.

There's a postscript to this story -- a few weeks ago I met a lawyer who works for Morgan Stanley who told me that he worked with Clissold at Goldman Sachs after his book had come out.

This lawyer said the author was a very clever man, having studied physics before business and Chinese. He's still in China, and even put his children through the tough elite schools, learning by rote method and completely fluent in Mandarin.

Mr. China documents the crazy times of the 1990s, but two decades on, things haven't changed much when doing business with the Chinese. There's still the problem of quality control, counterfeits, intellectual property stolen, managers refusing to yield and companies having a bloated work force.

So if you're still interested in doing business in China, it is imperative that you read this book. You have been warned!




Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The Style Offensive

Li Keqiang looks on as his wife Cheng Hong shakes hands with the Queen
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang met Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle, along with his wife Cheng Hong in a lavish-looking drawing room.

Usually only heads of state are given an opportunity to meet the Queen, but the Chinese side pushed for this meeting, threatening the trip would be off if the visit was not granted.

From the pictures it looks like the Queen is thrilled to meet them...

Cheng Hong looks matronly on her arrival in London
Cheng is an English professor at Capital University of Economics and Business, and so she was probably brought along on the trip to add a feminine touch to China's soft power.

However, she could take some fashion tips from China's first lady Peng Liyuan who has proven her ability to charm through her stylish wardrobe.

When Cheng disembarked the plane in London she wore a matronly outfit perfect for highly-strung headmistresses. The same when she met the Queen -- but even more fuddy duddy in an overly-elaborate jacket that was too busy.

We appreciate the simple lines she likes in her suits, but how about more interesting colours?

My friend YTSL must be laughing reading my latest fashion critique, but if China wants to flex its economic muscles as Li is doing in London, surely the chic-ness factor needs to be turned up several notches to be taken seriously as a wealthy superpower with taste?




Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Hong Kong's Intangible Heritage

Did you know making mahjong tiles is an intangible cultural heritage?
Hong Kong has come up with a list of 480 examples of "intangible cultural heritage" that it promises to protect.

Following three years of research and four months of public consultation, the list includes things like dim sum and dragon boat racing to making snake wine and Cantonese opera.

The list even includes the Hindu festival of lights called Diwali, and Nepalese Teej festival where women wear traditional dresses and sing songs and dance.

It's nice that there are other ethnic groups included in there, but perhaps not everyone in Hong Kong knows about Diwali or Teej since the government doesn't exactly promote multiculturalism.

Nevertheless the list was divided into five categories: oral traditions, festivals, performing arts, skills, and social practices.

The city is supposed to protect the cultural heritage under the United Nations Convention for Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage that was ratified by China in 2004 and implemented in 2006.

Some interesting ones:

Hakka dialect
Pixu dance
Funeral laments
Man Cheong (God of Literature and Bureaucracy) Festival
Li Ling Divine Festival
Lung Mo (Dragon Mother) Festival
Chai Tin Tsai (Monkey King) Festival
International Mother Language Day
Traditional jade stone knowledge
Fisherman's knowledge of the universe and nature
Making fermented black bean
Making Chiu Chow sugar loaf
Making Hong Kong style milk tea
Mahjong tile making
Coffin crafting
Fishing net plaiting technique

How Hong Kong intends to protect all these seems highly ambitious, but it's a good way to make the government accountable.

Some pan-democrats asked why events like the July 1 march and June 4 candlelight vigil at Victoria Park were not included, but an academic replied the tradition needed to be at least 50 years old to be considered...

Monday, 16 June 2014

Divide and Conquer?

Elsie Leung would like you to believe "external forces" are at work in Hong Kong
We're now wondering if Beijing's release of the white paper is a tactic to divide and conquer Hong Kong.

All kinds of groups are split about the document that claims the city is irrefutably under the authority of Beijing.

The latest is the Law Society claiming the white paper is "positive", whereas the Bar Association immediately criticized it for saying judges were on par with "administrators" like the chief executive and top officials who are expected to "love the country", and judges should take into account China's national interests and security.

This is difficult in practice because most of Hong Kong's judges are foreigners.

Or perhaps Beijing didn't get that memo?

We also have former justice minister and now deputy director of the Basic Law Committee under the National People's Congress Elsie Leung Oi-sie giving her interpretation of the white paper.

She says Beijing is concerned about the possibility of external forces at work in Hong Kong.

"The central government is worried about the country's situation," Leung said on Commercial Radio. "Hong Kong is such a free city, and many non-residents here can [engage in] activities here, so [the white paper] says we have to stay vigilant about whether external forces are meddling in Hong Kong's internal affairs.

"Hong Kong would be doomed if we engaged in a 'colour revolution'; in fact intense movements have been on the rise recently, and I think [Beijing's] worries are not groundless."

Excuse me, Ms Leung, but can you please explain what these "external forces" are?

Does she (or China) think there some kind of infiltration of Hong Kong society by foreign influences that are programming us to incite revolution through Occupy Central? Makes it sound like a plot from an espionage movie.

As far as we know, Occupy Central was the brainchild of a Hong Kong person by the name of Benny Tai Yiu-ting. He floated the idea of Occupy Central over a year ago and now, weeks before July 1 the Chinese government has mounted this campaign to try to scare local people, but in fact it has infuriated them.

If anything it is Beijing that is the "external force" creating tensions in Hong Kong. As Tai says, "We have never tried to [engage in] subversion... We are only fighting for genuine universal suffrage," he told RTHK show City Forum.

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah has also waded into the discussion, saying the publication of the white paper was for "a small minority of people who have a vague and one-sided understanding of the Basic Law".

If it is such a minority, why the need to release the paper in such a heavy-handed way and in seven languages?

Tsang's argument is weak and same with Leung.

What other excuses are they going to throw our way before July 1?


Sunday, 15 June 2014

Words of Wisdom

Will Central be occupied come July 1? Everyone's waiting to see...
A former Canadian diplomat has waded into the white paper discussion and has urged Beijing patience and allowing Hong Kong a chance for it to shape its own future.

John Higginbotham was Canada's high commissioner to Hong Kong following the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 until 1994. Before that he was in Beijing as trade commissioner and political counsellor.

The 70-year-old career civil servant was taken aback by the recent release of Beijing's white paper and cautions that the timing and tone of the document emphasizing China's total control over the city could spark "infectious destabilization".

"Patience and forbearance by the central government rather than dramatic actions have been the key to a successful transition in the past. Certain language and pressures could create the very things Beijing fears most about infectious destabilization in Hong Kong, as a result of its own tactical actions," he says.

"China should allow Hong Kong progressive opportunities to shape its future as a unique international city to make it an even more valuable asset to China and the world. Turning it into another Chinese city is not in China's own interests."

He added that Beijing should be "less demanding" over the issue of patriotism and obedience it expects of other local governments," Higginbotham says.

If China wants to be serious about the concept of "one country, two systems", then it has to be prepared to live with the "hurly-burly" of Hong Kong politics.

Higginbotham's words sound like sage advice, but will Beijing heed them?

The State Council could claim he is interfering in domestic affairs, but if he's a "good friend of China", perhaps it would consider his wisdom.

In the meantime we find the former diplomat's words of caution different from that of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce that was one of five that took out an advertisement in the newspaper condemning the Occupy Central movement, saying it would cripple business in the Central district.

We shall see who will prevail...

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Forced to Speak Out

Training against police tactics for Occupy Central. Are they ready?
This morning I went for a long overdue haircut and the first thing my hairdresser asked me was if I was going to take part in Occupy Central.

In the few years I have known him he doesn't talk about politics. When I mentioned one year that I went to Victoria Park for the June 4 candlelight vigil, he said he wasn't into doing things like that.

But perhaps with Beijing's recent release of the white paper claiming it has complete authority over Hong Kong that he is getting worried.

"We have over 30 more years before we are completely under Chinese control and people like my and my parents' generation, we know what it was like before. But the next generation like my daughter, they won't know what changes have happened. The textbooks could even sanitize history for all we know!" he exclaimed.

Occupy Central founder Benny Tai's mantra...
He wouldn't say if he would take part or not, but he seems agitated enough to want to show his displeasure at China -- because we have the freedom to do so.

There are probably many thousands of others who feel the same.

My hairdresser went on about how most of us in Hong Kong are just concerned about making a living, and not about political rights, which he thinks is the job of politicians.

However they don't seem to be getting anywhere, particularly the pan-democrats who are fractured. It was fun at first to have people like Leung Kwok-hung or "Long Hair" shaking things up in Legco, but now some have become so radical that things have gotten way out of hand.

So people here are left to defend themselves and go out on weekend protests.

The question now is: How many will show up July 1?

In the meantime we find it amusing that Chinese Premier Li Keqiang demanded an audience with Queen Elizabeth II when he arrives in Britain next week.

Apparently the Chinese side threatened the trip would not be good if a royal visit was not in the cards.

Wonder what Li is so anxious to talk to the Queen about or is he trying to use this photo opp as a way to show his power and influence? Or bragging rights?

Surely the Queen knows what this is all about, but is gamely going along with it to serve her country which is in financial dire straits.

What if the UK didn't have the Queen in its back pocket to sweeten the deal? Prime Minister David Cameron better thank his lucky stars...

Friday, 13 June 2014

Voices of Reason

Are the good old days of lineups in front of luxury brand boutiques over?
It's good that an economist has crunched the numbers to give the conclusion that cutting the number of mainland travellers by 20 percent will hinder Hong Kong's economic growth, but only in the short term.

Locals have had it up to here (above their heads) with mainlanders flooding the city and snapping up all kinds of goods, while retailers and desperate for their business.

Andy Kwan Cheuk-chiu, director of the ACE Centre for Business and Economic Research, projected through simulations that if the government reduced the number of individual mainland tourists coming in by 20 percent, Hong Kong's gross domestic product "will immediately drop drastically" in the worst-case scenario.

However, the economist said the impact would be reduced after two years as "tourism only contributes to a small part of the city's economy".

Tourism accounts for less than 4 percent of the GDP
He says the GDP would drop 1.4 percent to 3.3 percent if there were 20 percent less individual mainland travellers, but eventually the economy would pick up.

So much for the government constantly stressing that tourism is a major industry pillar and that its GDP is 4 percent. How can tourism be considered such a strong economic driver when it's less than 10 percent?

Kwan seems to think the drop would have a minimal impact because the tourism industry is so small. How can that be when we have 40 million mainlanders visit each year and it is projected to reach 100 million by 2020.

What are these people spending on then? Doesn't seem like enough to justify us bending over backwards for them!

Bank of East Asia's chief economist Paul Tang Sai-on agrees with Kwan.

"The total economic value-added of [mainland travellers] was only 1.3 percent in 2012," he said, and cautioned a reduction in the number of mainland tourists would affect those with low skills.

Professor Terence Chong Tai-leung at the department of economics at Chinese University says the drop in the GDP wouldn't be drastic if 20 percent of mainland visitors were cut.

"The unemployment rate was also about 3 percent several years ago when we did not have so many mainland visitors," he says. "So the worst case of cutting the number of mainland tourists would be going back to that situation, which is actually not too bad."

There you have it, folks -- the voices of reason. So ignore groups like the Hong Kong Retail Association trying to scare you into thinking unemployment is going to go through the roof because retail sales have plunged for the third month in a row.

Already retail outlets, including luxury brands are starting to downsize their shop spaces, slowly bringing rents down to some kind of reality though they still could drop further.

Some say the good ol' days are gone and probably for a while. Locals have had enough of the obscene spending by mainlanders and want to reclaim our city back.

And now with the release of the State Council's white paper on Hong Kong, we definitely want the city to be ours!

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Pictures of the Day: Human Guns

Bam bam! Ai Weiwei plays guns with his leg...
Artist and activist Ai Weiwei is either weighing in on the gun debate in the United States or is working out his aggressions by using his leg as a weapon...

In the last few days on Instagram he's been posting pictures of himself and others holding their legs up and pointing their toes much like a fleshy rifle.

For play or for real? The possibilities of human weapons
He's been having a lot of fun exploring this new art form -- creating firearms with your legs. Maybe it will lead to some major art piece, maybe not.

But it seems like a creative outlet that has the potential to have greater implications.

Or am I reading too much into this?

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Changing the Rules -- Again

Will Hong Kong have its own autonomy by 2017?
After marking the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown last week, Beijing is adamant in telling Hong Kong it is the boss of the city.

The State Council released a white paper yesterday emphasizing that the central government has "comprehensive jurisdiction" over Hong Kong and is the source of its autonomy.

Whatever happened to "one country, two systems" until 2047?

Or is it 2047 already?

The reason for China claiming authority over Hong Kong? Because the country's national security and interests are at stake.

The white paper was released in seven languages through Xinhua. The State Council said "many wrong views are currently rife in Hong Kong" and that "Some people are confused or lopsided in their understanding of the policy [one country, two systems] and the Basic Law."

Interesting choice of the word "lopsided".

And to add further insult to injury, Beijing claimed Hong Kong was just "one of the local administrative regions" and it was the central government's prerogative to oversee how the city runs its affairs.

"The high degree of autonomy enjoyed by Hong Kong is subject to the central government's authorization. There is no such thing called 'residual power' for the special administrative region," it said.

According to Beijing, Hong Kong is just like any other Chinese city and should behave like one.

It also warned against "outside forces" using the city to interfere in China's domestic affairs. In recent days it has claimed "outside forces" are planning Occupy Central in the next few weeks.

This shows the Chinese government's paranoia over what it fears may happen in Hong Kong and is trying to use the white paper to assert its authority over the city. But this is completely arbitrary on Beijing's part.

Where in the Basic Law does it say this? Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit accused China of backtracking on its promises.

"Hong Kong and the international community will not play dumb. We will hold you to your words... enshrined in black and white in the Basic Law," Leong said. He was referring to Articles 12 to 14 where it states that Hong Kong shall enjoy "a high degree of autonomy".

Reaction has been swift -- earlier today a group of protestors burned a copy of the white paper in front of the Liaison Office in Western, while others encouraged people to vote on political reform plans in an unofficial referendum from June 20-22.

Perhaps the strongest and most credible voice of protest comes from The Bar Association. It said Beijing was mistaken to place local judges in the same category as "Hong Kong's administrators".

The Bar Association said the judiciary would remain separate and independent from the executive and legislature.

It added while courts "elsewhere" may "sing in unison" with the government, it said that is "most definitely" not the case in Hong Kong.

The association stressed that Beijing's right to interpret the Basic Law should be exercised "rarely and cautiously".

If that's not a warning salvo not to mess with Hong Kong's rule of law, I don't know what is.

Beijing is naive to believe Hong Kong people will be docile and agree with what is written in the white paper.

This in fact may add fuel to Occupy Central's cause, or at least some kind of protest march on July 1.

Who wouldn't be angry at China's assertion that it controls Hong Kong?


Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Out of Step with Reality

Does Financial Secretary John Tsang know what's going on with the economy?
The third consecutive drop in retail sales in three months has Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah panicking.

He believes Hong Kong's unemployment rate of  -- gasp -- 3.1 percent could increase if retail sales continue to drop.

Last week the Census and Statistics Department announced that retail sales in April dropped 9.8 percent year-on-year to HK$38.8 billion or 9.5 percent in volume.

"If the external environment does not show obvious improvements, and retail sales continue to shrink, there will be huge pressure on the employment market. The currently low unemployment rate of 3.1 percent may rise, affecting low-skilled workers in particular," Tsang wrote on his blog.

His belief of the factors causing the retail plunge? The anti-government protests in Thailand and anti-China protests in Vietnam.

What Hong Kong's retail situation has to do with Thailand and Vietnam make no sense -- and why not the reason that Chinese President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign is making a significant dent in the city's economy?

Surely when the crackdown on lavish consumption began in late 2012 Tsang would have had an inkling of the possible impact on Hong Kong? If not then he's not a good financial secretary.

Don't tell me Tsang just sat at his desk and waited for what we're experiencing now to happen?

Why not use our giant war chest of savings to stimulate the economy in other ways, like building social housing or giving subsidies for young people to start businesses so that the blip we're going through now won't be as tough on the balance sheet in the long run?

Perhaps the friction between Tsang and Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is so great that the two don't even talk anymore and so no one thought of doing anything to keep the economy humming.

But it also goes back to the argument of why Hong Kong isn't diversifying its economy and depending only on mainland tourists.

It's surprising but also not surprising. This government really has no idea what it means to have foresight and be nimble.

Instead it makes knee-jerk reactions and thinks building more shopping malls is the way to keep Hong Kong's economy going.

Not anymore.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Picture of the Day: Panda-monium

The panda invasion begins today in Hong Kong until July 17
They're here! Today 1,600 papier mache pandas arrived at Hong Kong International Airport, then visit 10 sites like the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Ma Wan, Victoria Park and Statue Square until June 21, before occupying PMQ in Sheung Wan from June 24 to July 17.

The pandas have already visited places like France, Taiwan, Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands since 2008.

French artist Paulo Grangeon created the critters, each one representing a real one, captive or in the wild, which is not a lot.

Sculptor Paulo Grangeron at the airport with his 1,600 pandas
The traveling exhibition called 1600 Pandas is part of a fundraising campaign by the WWF to raise awareness about the plight of the cuddly black and white animal.

"If all humans die, all animals will survive with the earth," said Grangeon. "But if all animals die, the earth and humans will disappear."

He said that back in 2008, Serge Orru, then director of WWF in France asked him to create the panda sculptures.

"As a sculptor, I made art and showed it to only 100 people at a gallery. But now, these pandas have inspired many to help the environment," Grangeron said.

They are made from recycled paper in Thailand and environmentally-friendly paint, and over 10,000 have been made, as some are "adopted" for fundraising for a modest fee.

In Hong Kong there are three sizes and two shapes to choose from with "adoption" prices ranging from HK$200 to HK$450.

The panda flash mob has already visited Paris...
Alternatively the public can make their own pandas for HK$188 which will be exhibited and once the show is over, they can take home their pandas.

This panda project is a great follow-up to the Rubber Duck that came last year at this time, except here there is a strong environmental message and encouraging people to interact and take part.

Sixteen hundred papier mache pandas may look like a lot, but in reality that's not a lot of pandas on the planet. We hope more will be born in the wild and not be raised in captivity because the less they depend on us the better.

By the same token we should not be encroaching too much on their habitat and let them be.

Only through greater awareness can we create change.

Now how can I "adopt" a panda...

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Hong Kong Spinning Its Wheels

Interested in checking out Hong Kong on this observation wheel?
Whether we like it or not, Hong Kong is getting its version of the London Eye that will apparently will be up and running by September. That's what Swiss AEX director Leon Snep said te other day.

The observation wheel will be located where the the Central ferry piers 9 and 10 are and it will be a 60-metre high wheel, less than half the size of the 135m London Eye.

Local residents are already griping about this project that is paying HK$825,000 per month in rent and has yet to materialize, though Snep promises all the parts are now in Hong Kong.

The company also has a three-year lease on the land and the first year is already up. Why nothing has happened is because Snep claims he had to get all the relevant permits and tests on the soil first.

In any event locals are wondering why the Hong Kong government is keen on having a wheel that's not very tall -- there are skyscrapers in the city taller than this wheel -- and a better view of the city from The Peak (when it's clear).

Another gripe is why are we catering to tourists? Why not create an inviting environment by the harbour to encourage people to come and appreciate the area? With this wheel coming up, it will be flooded with visitors so why would locals want to go there?

We don't blame Swiss AEX but the government for assuming this would be a good way to stimulate the local economy and keep visitors coming back for more -- not.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Picture of the Day: Nostalgic Cartoon

The giant Kojiro Hyuga towering everyone at Hysan Place
World Cup fever is starting to heat up with the kick off happening June 12, though in Hong Kong only die-hard fans will be watching, since the games will be played in the middle of the night our time.

If you see some bleary-eyed colleagues come into work or call in sick, you'll know why...

Near Hysan Place in Causeway Bay there's a giant statue of a footballer by the name of Kojiro Hyuga.

If you're a football fan who lived in Hong Kong in the mid-1980s, you'll remember Hyuga starring in a Japanese animated cartoon called Captain Tsubasa on TVB. His Cantonese name is Siu Chi-keung and his friend Ozora Tsubasa (Tai Chi-wai), who were known for their "tiger shots" and "super shots".

And like every other young obsessive footballer, their dream was to play in the World Cup and win the golden trophy...

So does this 5 metre-tall statue created by Adidas bring back fond memories for anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

Friday, 6 June 2014

Post June 4 Notes

How many people does that look like to you in Victoria Park?
The candlelight vigil in Victoria Park on Wednesday marking the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown had a sharp increase in the number of mainlanders attending.

Organizers claim 180,000 were at the event, while police say 99,500. But when every football pitch was filled as well as the grassy areas and people were still queuing from the streets, then there must have been a lot of people there -- including me.

The Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, the organizers, said HK$1.8 million was raised this year, which was second to the record HK$2.3 million in 2012.

The large numbers of mainlanders attending was evidenced by the amount of renminbi placed in the donation boxes, equal to HK$40,000, a 60 percent increase from last year. There must have been some mainland visitors who also donated in Hong Kong dollars.

"From our fundraising work and observations, we believe there were many more mainland tourists attending the vigil than a year ago," said alliance vice-chairman Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong.

He said the largest donation came from someone who dropped an envelope containing 5,000 yuan into the collection box.

Tsoi explained the donations would pay for the HK$1 million to put on the vigil and then the rest for the alliance's operation costs and activities.

Interestingly the student-led Scholarism did some fundraising on Great George Street on the way to Victoria Park. It managed to raise HK$370,000 -- more than the HK$210,000 from last year and more than 10 times the HK$20,000 it raised in 2012.

The group also received about 8,000 yuan in donations. So while attendees of the vigil were there to remember the victims of June 4, they were also keen to support the group that is pushing for civil nominations (as opposed to public nominations) for the next chief executive election in 2017.

Civic nominations are where candidates must have a certain number of signatures to be put on the ballot whereas public nominations means anyone could be on the ballot regardless if they are going to get any viable votes or not.

Parties like the Labour Party, Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood and the Democratic Party aren't supporting Scholarism's proposal, but even in North America there are no public nominations.

In any event, we found out that human rights lawyer Teng Biao is a visiting scholar at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. His contract ends in a few months and then he will go to the United States to take part in another visiting program.

He said that the mainland authorities had contacted him by phone a week ago warning him not to attend Wednesday's vigil. "They did not specify what consequences there would be, but they said they would be serious," he said.

Of the event, Teng said he was moved by the huge turnout. "It is the first time in my life that I have seen so many people attending a political event."