Monday, 29 February 2016

More "Confessions" from Missing Booksellers

In a Phoenix TV interview, Lee Po says he willingly returned to the mainland
Things are getting weirder in the case of the missing booksellers.

Six weeks after Hong Kong police requested to meet with one of the five, Lee Po, who runs Causeway Bay Books, a police officer and immigration officer finally saw him face to face, at a guest house in an undisclosed location at Lee's request.

He told the pair he went to the mainland of his own free will, that he had not been abducted, but refused to elaborate. He even reiterated he was free and safe in the mainland and that he was helping with an investigation involving another missing bookseller, Gui Minhai.

Lee repeated his request for the police to end their investigation into his case and that he didn't need any help from the Hong Kong government. He said he would return home once the investigation was over.

Then yesterday the three other missing booksellers appeared on state television, the first time they were seen since they were reported missing in October.

CW top left: Gui Minhai, Lui Por, Lam Wing-kei, Cheung Chi-ping
The three made confessions on TV, admitting to "operating an illegal business" on the mainland.

Phoenix Television reported that Gui had allegedly ordered his associates -- Mighty Current general manager Lui Por, Causeway Bay Books manager Lam Wing-kee and Lui's assistant Cheung Chi-ping -- to mail 4,000 unauthorized books to 380 buyers in 28 mainland cities and provinces since October 2014.

The booksellers allegedly opened a bank account on the mainland to receive payment from mainland customers.

Nevertheless Lui, Lam and Cheung could be granted bail pending trial and return to Hong Kong soon due to their "good attitude", the Phoenix TV report said.

Gui also appeared on television, wearing the same grey jacket he wore in his first appearance, admitting to drunk driving and allegedly killing a young woman in 2003.

This time Gui said he and the three others studied ways to smuggle books across the border, including wrapping the covers with other books and then packaging them in black nylon bags to make it hard for the authorities to X-ray the books.

He added the books also escaped detection because they were loaded into trucks carrying other goods.

Causeway Bay Books manager Lam also said the books they produced were fabricated.

"The contents are compiled from information downloaded from the internet or from magazines. They created rumours and bad influences in the society," Lam said on TV.

The Chinese authorities are making the story more and more bizarre. They say the end is in sight for three accomplices once they go through some kind of legal process, but what about Lee and Gui? When will they be allowed to return to Hong Kong?

Even better Lee has said that he will renounce his British passport. Really? Has the Chinese government offered him permanent residency and a hukou because he has "special talents"?

Skeptical Hong Kong people continue to be shocked and appalled by the latest developments. As we've said before, the longer the Chinese authorities keep these five booksellers, the greater our distrust of Beijing...



Sunday, 28 February 2016

Movie Review: Spotlight

Spotlight follows the team that uncovered sex abuse in the Catholic Chuch
I just came back from seeing Spotlight, which is nominated for six Academy Awards, though pundits are saying its chances of winning golden statues are slim because it's all dialogue and no dramatic chase or sex scenes.

It has won a host of other awards from Bafta, Critics Choice Movie Award, National Society of Film Critics Award and others, though we hope the film will get an Oscar nod -- or two.

Like All The Presidents Men that inspired a generation or two of people to become journalists, Spotlight will hopefully do the same, though the economic conditions of running the paper takes more precedence than the stories it runs these days.

Nevertheless, Spotlight is based on true events about an investigative team at The Boston Globe called Spotlight. A new editor in chief comes in, Marty Baron, who is Jewish and new to Boston.

The actors in Spotlight with the real reporters of The Globe
He finds it curious that there was no follow up on a case about a priest molesting children and gets the Spotlight team to work on it. And what they uncover is not just one, but many more priests in Boston who committed the same horrific crime.

The church's pervasive influence over Boston is evident, with a code of silence the reporters must break, in some cases ruining friendships and connections to get the truth.

At first the dialogue flies fast with lots of names to follow, but soon we grasp what's going on and especially the magnitude of the case, as we discover the facts as the reporters do.

They talk to lots of victims, hearing their stories which corroborates with what a former priest, now academic who has studied pedophile priests for three decades, they badger the lawyers who represented the church, and finally get the trust of a lawyer who has been trying to prosecute the church for years.

In their investigation, the reporters uncover that The Globe was also complicit -- hardly questioning what was going on, and dismissing victims as weak sources.

Cardinal Law is now an archpriest in The Vatican
In the end Spotlight wrote 600 stories about priests abusing people in 2002 and Cardinal Bernard Francis Law who did nothing about it, except shift the priests around, finally resigned in the same year.

The Vatican didn't punish him, but instead transferred him to be archpriest of one of Rome's four papal basilicas, Santa Maria Maggiore.

Law is in his mid-80s and hasn't spoken publicly about the expose, or his part in it; instead he remains cloistered in The Vatican. Law gets the last laugh.

But the reverberations of the original breaking story are not over -- Pope Francis is trying to tackle the issue now, though as delicately as possible, but at least has acknowledged the pain of the victims, many who turned to drugs and alcohol or even suicide.

Being in the same occupation, I was riveted watching the movie from beginning to end. We don't see much of the team's dynamics except that they are completely focused on their goal, and they like being able to keep their work confidential even to their colleagues.

Nevertheless, Spotlight reminded me of my job -- to inform the public of what's really going on. Hong Kong is an interesting city because it too is like Boston in how the wealthy and powerful determine how much a story can be reported.

And with the growing cold climate that President Xi Jinping is casting over the media sector these days, more restrictions will be an added challenge. We must have courage.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Fact of the Day: China has more Billionaires than the US

Wang Jianlin of Wanda is China's wealthiest man at US$26 billion
The famous -- or infamous -- Hurun Global Rich List is out and there were 99 new billionaires in the world to a record high of 2,188 last year, the majority of which come from China.

Ninety of them came from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau and the mainland, and so China's number of billionaires is 568, and now it can boast having more than the US, which now has 535. Chinese billionaires had a combined next worth of US$1.4 trillion.

Li Ka-shing trails behind Wang with US$25 billion
Also the uber rich got even wealthier this past year with an increase of 9 percent at US$7.3 trillion.

Beijing is now called the billionaire capital of the world, with 100 of them based in the Chinese city.

Nine Chinese billionaires were in the top 100 in the Hurun Global Rich List last year.

Wang Jianlin, chairman of property and entertainment conglomerate Wanda was the richest in China, 21st in the world with a net worth of US$26 billion.

He beat Hong Kong's Li Ka-shing whose wealth shrank by 22 percent to US$25 billion, and 23rd in the world.

Henderson Land chairman Lee Shau-kee is in 27th place, while Alibaba's Jack Ma Yun dropped two places to 36th, and his network shrank by 14 percent to US$21 billion.

Lee Shau-kee of Henderson Land is the third richest in China
The Hurun list is infamous mostly because after the Chinese tycoons are listed there, some have "disappeared" then investigated and convicted of corruption. Huang Guangyu, formerly chairman of Gome, was convicted of stock market manipulation and is now serving a 14-year jail sentence.

So while these people amass gobs of wealth, they can face a severe reversal of fortune...





Friday, 26 February 2016

Thanks, but No Thanks

Are you a Hong Kong "special talent" who wants residency in Beijing?
Are you interested in settling permanently in the mainland?

The Chinese government is keen to attract Hong Kong people to this sweet opportunity from March 1. Applicants considered "special talents" and their families from Hong Kong and Macau could not only get permanent residency but also Beijing household registration, or hukou.

That would definitely make you a bona fide mainlander.

Foreign "high-level talents", "innovative and entrepreneurial talents", and Hong Kong and Macau "high-level talents" who hold permanent residency or work residents permits, could also bring foreign domestic helpers to the capital.

Is that really a big bonus?

"Special talents" typically refers to senior managers and professionals with significant experience in hi-tech industries.

However, when asked about this latest development geared towards Hong Kong people in Beijing, some were not impressed.

"I am here because Beijing offers better job opportunities. Permanent residency is not a significant factor to make me stay," says George Yue Hong-chu, who has worked in Beijing in technology and operations management for eight years.

Yue has no plans to stay long term because it was difficult for him to integrate into the local culture, and pollution was another factor.

"Permanent residency may offer some benefits in medical and other areas, but these are not enough to attract me to stay for a very long time," he said.

An immigration consultant said Hong Kong senior executives didn't find local medical or educational services attractive, because most preferred international schools, hospitals and clinics.

But, if Hong Kong people did obtain hukou on the mainland, it would definitely help them enter industries that were previously restricted, or some people may find it attractive.

Talk about getting brownie points...

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Cantonese Rant Gone Viral

Kwan Ying-yi speaking at the Legislative Council earler this week
A friend posted an interesting video on Facebook, showing a young woman in a purple hoodie sitting in the Legislative Council giving a three-minute rant.

My friend commented it was like a rap song and it really does sound like one even if you don't know Cantonese.

In it Kwan Ying-yi knows she only has three minutes so she crams it all in, but she speaks in a calm demeanour, laced with sarcasm at the Leung administration. Here's the version posted on Apple Daily with music:

http://hk.apple.nextmedia.com/enews/realtime/20160223/54790251

Here's the video with English subtitles minus the music thanks to YTSL:



She was there as a "concerned citizen" to discuss retirement protection earlier this week. This is what she said:

Your so-called "universal" retirement plan puts an HK$80,000 asset limit on applicants but only offers them a paltry payment of HK$3,230 per month. Are you kidding me? There is so much government-business collusion and inflation these days that we can't even buy a catty of contaminated vegetables for HK$30!

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam rejected the need-blind proposal [favoured by the public] because she claimed it would lead to a government deficit. What she said made me laugh out loud! The government spends hundreds of billions of taxpayers' dollars on white elephant projects like the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge and the high speed rail link, only to nickel and dime the poor on social programs. How dare she mention the word deficit.

Then she talked about law and order:

What happened after [Chief Executive] Leung Chun-ying was accused of accepting HK$50 million in secret payments? Nothing.

What happened to the pro-Beijing camp after it blatantly rigged the district elections? Nothing.

In our topsy-turvy city, firing shots into the air is considered compliant with police protocol. The ethical standards for the government and the police are as "flexible" as the arm of the officer who hit passers-by with his baton and called it an "extension of his arm". Lawmakers are permitted to spread unfounded rumours in Legco, like the one about one of the abducted booksellers taking a speedboat to China to procure prostitution.

To be honest, I am worried that after making this speech today, I too may disappear and "go to the mainland using my own methods". [She is referring to the missing booksellers who have presumably entered the mainland without proper documentation]. Why bother with retirement protection when our personal security is unprotected?

Finally on Leung and his administration:

I want to offer Leung, his senior staff and the Hong Kong Police a piece of advice: there is something called karma in this world.

There isn't much we can do to stop you now, but future generations of Hong Kong people will be watching you. Your karma will catch up with you one day!

And then when her three minutes were up, her microphone was shut off. And not long afterwards the video of her was uploaded online and was viewed over 300,000 times in 48 hours.

Many praised her for speaking out people's frustrations with Leung, and some even encouraged her to run for Legislative Councillor in September. However others criticized her for being aggressive, others for not being aggressive enough.

Nevertheless, Kwan has definitely gotten people talking about the state of Hong Kong, and maybe she will inspire others to speak out in Legco too.


Wednesday, 24 February 2016

John Tsang's "Localist" Budget

Financial Secretary John Tsang had some breaks for people this year
Today Hong Kong Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah got some rare praise today for his ninth budget that seemed to be more sympathetic with Hong Kong people who have been and will be struggling because of the sluggish economy.

In his speech that took an hour and 25 minutes to read out, Tsang began with giving his take on recent events in the city, describing the Mongkok riots as having turned Hong Kong into a "strange and alien place".

Will Cantonese films like Ten Years get more funding?
"I believe many people share my feelings towards the incident. Distressed and angry, I was perplexed as to why violence had flared in Hong Kong," he said.

"I was shocked that our city could have turned overnight into such a strange and alien place that I hardly recognized. I was troubled why the core values that we long cherished had been devoured by violence and hatred."

He added: "Acute social conflicts will add uncertainties to the already adverse economic environment."

Then he went onto the task at hand, saying Hong Kong's economy grew 2.4 percent last year, but only expects it to expand 1-2 percent this year. Some of his main budget relief measures include reducing salaries taxes by 75 percent to up to HK$20,000, while government rates will be waived up to HK$1,000 per quarter, so homeowners can save up to HK$4,000 a year.

There will be extra allowances for those with social security, old age allowance, or disability allowance, but no rent reductions for those in public housing -- an area that even pro-Beijing lawmakers were not pleased about.

The government will spend more for more beds in hospitals
Spending on health care has almost doubled compared to 10 years ago to HK$57 billion, making up 16.5 percent of the government's expenditure. Most of the money goes to more hospital beds, more operating theatres and specialist outpatient services.

Either the government is not catching up with what public hospitals need, or way more people are getting ill -- which one is it?

Why not spend on trying to encourage people to live healthier so that healthcare spending can go down? In the long run it's better for everyone. The government is trying to get people to eat less, but it doesn't seem to be working when a good amount of space in supermarkets and convenient stores sell junk food...

Tsang is encouraging more companies to invest in research and development, and noted there are 1,600 startups in the city. That doesn't mean all 1,600 of them will succeed, I hope he understands, and many of them want to get to Silicon Valley and not necessarily stay here...

Interestingly, following the runaway success of local indie film Ten Years, Tsang has earmarked HK$20 million into the Film Development Fund to subsidize expenses incurred by locally-produced Cantonese films in distribution and publicity work on the mainland. Funding per film will double to HK$500,000.

Does this mean he will fund more films like Ten Years? Or just sappy Canto romantic comedies or martial arts flicks?

Commerce Secretary Gregory So selling the food truck idea
He is still keen on his pet project of food trucks in the city. Instead of 12 food trucks in six tourist spots, Tsang says the spots will increase to 16 due to "wild interest". However he didn't mention anything about hawkers, which was the cause of the Mongkok riots on February 8...

Perhaps most telling was Tsang's take on the "One Road, One Belt" policy that his boss Leung Chun-ying mentioned 44 times in his policy speech. Instead the Financial Secretary only mentioned it four or five times according to Civic Party leader Allan Leong Kah-kit.

"That has already highlighted their differences. I guess that is also what Tsang wants to highlight," said the lawmaker.

So while Tsang didn't please everyone, most were relieved he was thinking of those who need a few breaks, though they are only short-term measures. He is waiting to see how this year pans out before seeing if more tax breaks are needed, but really, does anyone see a bright spot in Hong Kong's economy anytime soon?





Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Xi Defines State Media Role

Xi Jinping is "anchoring" the news, saying state media must work for the Party
When I worked in state media in Beijing, my colleagues who were Communist Party members would disappear once in a while for an entire afternoon for a "meeting". It was actually a study session to decipher then President Hu Jintao's "Three Represents" (三个代表).

They would also be reminded that the state media was the medium in which the Party's doctrine would be communicated, that everyone must be in line with the Party for the sake of unity and ensure everyone got the same message.

This was said behind closed doors.

And periodically Hu or the Premier Wen Jiabao would visit state media outlets and re-emphasize these points that were published in newspapers, read out in news casts and such.

But the exercise was stepped up by President Xi Jinping last Friday when he visited Xinhua, People's Daily and CCTV and insisted state media must show absolute loyalty to the Party.

Ren Zhiqiang says the media should serve the people
There were no vagaries here -- it was straight to the point. According to a report in People's Daily:

The Party's news and public opinion work must adhere to the principle of the Party character, cleaving fundamentally to the Party's leadership of news and public opinion work. Media run by the Party and government are propaganda positions of the Party and the government, and they must reflect the Party. All work of the Party's news and public opinion media must reflect the will of the Party, mirror the views of the Party, preserve the authority of the Party, preserve the unity of the Party, and achieve love of the Party, protection of the Party and acting for the Party; they must all increase their consciousness of falling in line, maintaining a high level of uniformity with the Party in ideology, politics and action.

It's pretty clear how Xi is instructing how the media should operate. What happened to the so-called "vibrant media" in China, where there were different shades of red?

Seems like that is no more, as everyone must disseminate the same message.

But perhaps even more interesting is that an outspoken tycoon has criticized Xi's pronouncement about state media's role in society.

Ren Zhiqiang said on Weibo on Friday that the media should serve the people, that news operations were funded by taxpayer money and so should serve the public rather than the leadership.

"When does the people's government turn into the party's government? [Are the media] funded by party membership dues? Don't waste taxpayers' money on things that do not provide them with services," he wrote.

Needless to say Ren was immediately attacked by a news site affiliated with the Beijing municipal party committee, accusing him of "anti-Communist Party" thought.

Qianlong.com claimed Ren represented capitalism that sought to topple the Party's rule and establish Western-style constitutionalism on the mainland, and even accused him of having "completely" lost his Party spirit.

It'll be interesting to see how Ren gets himself out of this fiasco unscathed if possible, but he is technically right. Taxpayer money does go to state enterprises like state media and it is the job of media to inform its readers.

But, things are done differently on the mainland, and with Xi in charge, it's near impossible to beat the President.

Nevertheless, with 37 million followers, Ren could win in the court of public opinion, though politically and financially he may lose big time.

Monday, 22 February 2016

No More "Weird" Architecture

Does the CCTV headquarters qualify as "weird" architecture in China?
More directives are being issued by Beijing these days and the latest one was an interesting edict -- no more "weird" architecture, gated communities or illegal structures are to be built in China.

The directive from the State Council came two months after leaders met for the Central Urban Work Conference -- which was left held in 1978! One wonders why they procrastinated this long.

One of many "White House" replicas in the mainland...
Forty-eight years ago only 18 percent of the population lived in towns and cities, compared to 55 percent as of last year at 750 million people.

Nevertheless, the directive says urban architecture should be "suitable, economic, green and pleasing to the eye", in contrast to the "oversized, xenocentric, weird" buildings with no character or cultural heritage, that Chinese President Xi Jinping said reflected "a lack of cultural confidence and some city officials' distorted attitudes about political achievements".

One big building that might fit the bill is the CCTV tower, the Rem Koolhaas-designed building that locals nickname da kouchar (大裤衩) or "big underpants". Others are replicas of famous landmarks like the White House, Eiffel Tower, and London Bridge.

... Oh and Eiffel Towers can be spotted in around China too
Liu Shilin, head of the Institute of Urban Science at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, said while "weird" has yet to be defined, the new policy was heading in the right direction.

"These buildings do not have much value in terms of use, and cost a lot to operate and maintain. Quite a few were torn down soon after completion," he notes.

However, the big concern is the opening up of gated communities that were built for expatriates and the wealthy to keep the riff raff out.

"Residents have all paid their share to use the roads in these communities. How can you open them up just like that? Opening them up will bring in noise pollution, air pollution and security risks. How can residents' safety and health be ensured?" said one online commenter.

Residents of gated communities are worried about opening up
By the way -- does Zhongnanhai also qualify as a "gated community"? Or perhaps it's in a category of its own...




Sunday, 21 February 2016

Where to Eat: Kam's Roast Goose

The goodness that is roast goose at Kam's Roast Goose in Wan Chai
Tonight I met up with two friends from out of town. Both are retired, and one is from Vancouver who constantly travels the world on a budget.

And one of the things he likes to do is eat local food. The first place I thought of was Kam's Roast Goose, but you can't make a reservation. So I suggested we meet there at 5.30pm.

The small eatery is bustling with people waiting outside
But being retirees, they were already hanging out in the Wan Chai area at 4.30pm...

I managed to get there at 5.30pm and after a short wait we were seated.

The last time I was there was in November with a food writer friend visiting from California and her friend.

The three of us had the daily soup, half a roast goose, half a soy chicken and vegetables. We were so full we had to take the leftovers home.

But not this time.

We ordered half a roast goose, half a soy chicken, soy sauce-marinated tofu and vegetables.

The soy chicken here is excellent too
The friends from out of town were very impressed with both the goose and chicken, even saying it was better than Yung Kee. While the goose is quite fatty, the meat is very tender, while the chicken is flavourful and juicy.

We practically cleared both plates, though the table next to us demolished a whole goose in minutes.

I also like my bowl of lai fun, or round rice noodles. They're hard to pick up with chopsticks, but oh so good.

For the three of us, the early dinner cost HK$502 and boy were we full. And then I walked over to Causeway Bay to meet up for colleagues for a belated Chinese New Year dinner for round two...

Kam's Roast Goose
G/F, Po Wah Commercial Centre
266 Hennessy Road
Wan Chai
2520 1110


Saturday, 20 February 2016

China Tries to Entice Foreigners

Wanna live in China? The government is making it easier to get residency
It's interesting the Chinese government is easing its green card requirements so that more foreigners can be eligible to live and work on the mainland. But is anyone biting?

The State Council issued a directive on Thursday, stating that foreigners working in a greater range of areas would be able to apply for permanent residency, but did not specify which ones.

"In the past three decades, China focused on attracting foreign capital, and in the three decades ahead, it should shift to foreign talent," said Wang Huiyao, director of the Centre for China and Globalization, a Beijing-based think tank.

Perhaps air quality isn't really attracting expats to China...
Up until last June, only foreigners who worked in government departments or laboratories involved in "key national projects" could apply for permanent residency. Then the rule was later relaxed to include researchers at more institutes, including those with international funding.

While a 2010 national census says there were about 600,000 foreigners living in the mainland, Wang estimates about 6,000 to 7,000 foreigners have actually acquired permanent residency.

However, as someone who has lived in Beijing for three years, it's hard to understand why foreigners would want to have permanent residency in China, when the government creates such an aggressive stance against them, blaming them for the country's social ills and jealousy of the success of foreign brands.

And then coupled with the horrific air quality in major cities, particularly Beijing and Shanghai, and questionable food safety, why would anyone want to live there long-term?

Just sayin'...


Friday, 19 February 2016

David Tang Vocalizes his Discontent

Sir David Tang voiced his discontent of the Leung administration at the FCC
Sir David Tang has been busy designing high-end restaurants and luxury products for his store Tang Tang Tang Tang, but he's also found time to criticize Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his administration for not representing the interests of the Hong Kong people.

At the Foreign Correspondents' Club, Tang gave a rare but fiery speech stating how the city is in a sad state of affairs, from how the Umbrella Movement was handled, to the stalemate in the Legislative Council.

While he was sympathetic with the students and members of the public who protested in the fall of 2014, Tang said the government made a series of missteps, most crucially that Leung did not meet with the students.

Tang says even Li Peng met with Wu'er Kaixi in 1989
"Throughout the 'Umbrella Movement' our chief executive steadfastly refused to meet the protesters. We should remember that even Li Peng -- even Li Peng, the hardcore, hardline Chinese premier at the time -- received Wu'er Kaixi, and, what's more, in full view of national television."

That is definitely a stinging indictment of Leung, though funny Tang should point this out almost a year and a half later...

The businessman loves to use big words to show off his expansive vocabulary which is amusing to hear in his strong British accent. Perhaps the best quote was of him describing Leung a leader who was not strong enough and turn himself into "a puppet on a string dancing obsequiously to the tunes and echoes of Zhongnanhai".

Touche.

In the beginning of his speech, Tang complained about Leung's 2016 policy address on how idealistic it was.

"Whoever wrote that for the chief executive... must be a comedian or perhaps a monkey who accidentally typed up those words on a typewriter," he said.

Tang described Leung as a "puppet" dancing to Zhongnanhai
The policy address -- which Tang forced himself to read twice -- mentions "One Belt, One Road" 50 times.

"Quite apart from the embarrassing unctuousness towards the Chinese president, what on earth would an ordinary resident of Hong Kong care or understand about 'One Belt, One Road'?"

He questioned whether any Hong Kong tycoon would be able to name even two countries in the supposed silk road.

As for bookseller Lee Po, Tang said it was quite sure that someone high up had arranged for Lee to be moved onto the mainland, and that it was not a good sign for people to be disappearing.

Tang claimed of knowing at least two businessmen who refused to go to the mainland to assist in criminal investigations, insisting the authorities come to Hong Kong instead to question them.

But did Lee have a choice in the matter? We have yet to find out.

Nevertheless, it was very refreshing to have Tang speak out what we have all been thinking, despite him sounding pompous at times.

It is evident through his speech that the entrepreneur and restaurateur cares deeply about Hong Kong and hopes things will get better through reconciliation and talks.

Now if only people will heed his advice...

Or should we start campaigning for Tang for CE?


Thursday, 18 February 2016

Playing Musical Luxury Chairs

Hermes' flagship store in Galleria in Central may be up for sale soon
It's intriguing to find out luxury brand Hermes is planning to sell its flagship store in Central and rent space in nearby Prince's Building.

Hermes may replace either Alfred Dunhill, Ralph Lauren or Brooks Brothers whose leases will be up in the next two years.

One wonders why Hermes Asia Pacific says its decision to sell and rent instead "is a significant investment which proves Hermes' confidence in the local retail market".

Surely it means the opposite?

Hermes bought the space in 2002 for HK$190 million
The luxury retailer only owns properties in Paris and Hong Kong, so why sell the latter?

"The sale of Hong Kong is probably the result of aiming to cash in after seeing huge capital appreciation of the retail property rather than concern about poor retail sentiment," said one source.

Hermes had bought the 7,500 sq ft store in Galleria in 2002 for HK$190 million.

Hong Kong Economic Times says the space is now for sale at HK$1.5 billion, or HK$200,000 per sq ft.

Not only would that be a whopping amount, but it is also the first time in nearly a decade that ground floor retail space like that is on sale, according to Michael Chik, managing director of agency Sheraton Valuers. "This transaction will serve as a benchmark in the market," he says.

Coach had to vacate its premises due to the weak retail market
Looking at it strictly as a real estate investment, it makes sense to sell. But what about its vote of confidence for Hong Kong, if it was the only other city outside of Paris that Hermes invested in?

It's very interesting the luxury brand bought property here instead of say, Japan decades ago.

Nevertheless, the retail market is not doing well in Hong Kong now, thanks to the massive drop in mainland visitors to the city.

Bag and accessory retailer Coach closed its 13,000 sq ft flagship store at the foot of D'Aguilar Street in Central in September. It was charged a penalty of HK$130 million for terminating the lease two years before the October 2017 expiry date.

In its place is Adidas that will pay a rent of HK$5 million a month, less than what Coach paid at HK$7 million since 2008.

What would be interesting to know is how much longer Abercrombie and Fitch will be able to sustain in Pedder Building, paying HK$7 million a month too...

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Uber Rich Still Bullish on Hong Kong

The property at 2 Headland Road in Stanley sold for over HK$1 billion
The uber rich don't seem to be affected at all by the bearish economic climate in Hong Kong. That's because one of the biggest property deals wrapped up recently, with the sale of a detached home at Headland Road in Stanley for a whopping HK$1.02 billion.

It doesn't eclipse the transaction six months ago when Alibaba executive chairman Jack Ma Yun bought a 9,890 sq ft three-storey house on Barker Road, The Peak for HK$1.5 billion.

The buyer of the home at 2 Headland Road is a company called Golden Sea, with Nicholas Chu Yuk-yui listed as director, and chairman of Hong Kong-listed Kingston Financial.

While Chu was not available to comment, his wife Pollyanna Chu Li Yuet-wah, Kingston Financial's chief executive and executive director, confirmed the transaction.

Apparently this is Jack Ma's home on Barker Road, The Peak
Speaking on behalf of her husband, she said, "the purchase is for investment purposes. The luxury housing market's outlook is not bad".

Easy for her to say...

The Headland Road home is a three-storey detached house with about 11,937 sq ft of saleable area on a 22,438 sq ft site. The price represents HK$85,448 per sq ft of saleable area.

Compare this to the 2015 average monthly salary at HK$14,877.

Analysts say the owner could easily redevelop the land to expand the maximum gross floor area at about 16,289 sq ft.

And with detached homes a highly sought-after commodity, the real estate prices in this niche market will only go higher.

Surely this massive wealth gap isn't healthy...

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Where's the Tourists?

Mickey Mouse must be wondering where all the tourists went...
The Hong Kong government is desperate for tourists.

This is even more evident now with Hong Kong Disneyland (of which the Hong Kong government is a main shareholder) reporting its first loss since 2011, with expectations that visitor numbers will drop even further this year.

This is unfortunately coinciding with the amusement park celebrating its 10th anniversary, as it lost HK$148 million last year, compared to HK$332 million in profits a year earlier.

The park has seen a drop of 23 percent fewer mainland visitors.

"This year will be difficult," said Andrew Kam, Hong Kong Disneyland's managing director. Total visitor numbers to the park were down 9.3 percent to 6.8 million in the fiscal year ending in October 2015 compared to the year before.

Ocean Park is also seeing its profits cut in half. For the fiscal year that ended last June, profit was down 53 percent at HK$45.2 million, and revenue fell slightly to HK$1.97 billion, a drop of HK$600,000 from the previous year.

Competitor Ocean Park has also seen a drop in visitors
Failed chief executive candidate Henry Tang Ying-yen believes the best thing to do is to open the floodgates to allow more mainlanders in Hong Kong. Is this really the solution? This will only get more localists enraged, but really, all those who have been to Disneyland and Ocean Park aren't interested in going again.

And besides, they are probably waiting for Shanghai's Disneyland to open in June, with domestic travel there much cheaper.

Who are we kidding?

Kam is trying to brush off the impending challenge, saying "once you've established your own brands, I think you don't need to worry about the competition", adding there was enough regional demand for both parks.

Really? Surely people will be more interested in Shanghai, as it's brand new and three times bigger.

This is a case of Hong Kong's authorities putting all of its eggs in one basket.

Depending on mainland tourists was naive and hardly prudent. The Hong Kong Tourism Board should have been promoting the city to every other viable market just as aggressively as the Chinese one.

Meanwhile dai pai dongs are a dying breed in the city
And now with the shocking violence that happened last Monday, who wants to go to Hong Kong? Wasn't it supposed to be a safe city?

The HKTB has a lot of work to do to repair the city's image, and also persuade the government that if it wants to bring more tourists in, Hong Kong needs to preserve its cultural heritage and that means street food.

Food is one of the best ways for people to understand a culture and what Hong Kong has to offer cannot be found anywhere else. To kill street food by putting so many restrictions on hawker licenses and dai pai dongs, is killing the city's culture and potential tourism draw.

Hong Kong people are so passionate about their food, why not make this a vital cultural industry? Originally these hawker foods existed to sustain a living, but some are very good and deserve to be encouraged to continue.

Tourists visit Taiwan and Singapore for the food, why not Hong Kong?

It's not all about shopping... and besides, tourism now is about memorable experiences.

Or did the HKTB not get that memo?

Monday, 15 February 2016

Greater Divisions in Hong Kong

The reverberations of last Monday's violence can still be felt
After Beijing issued its statement branding the "rioters" in Mongkok as "separatists", several people in Hong Kong have come out denouncing the protesters using similar language.

Former Hong Kong security chief Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong said the young people involved in last Monday's violence were not rational, saying "they will be very easily instigated. It's like being drugged".

Speaking on a radio interview, Lee added, "You have to wonder why the future stewards of our society, our young people seem to have... lost their sense of reason."

Ambrose Lee likens the protesters to "beasts"
He referred to scenes of some protesters throwing objects at wounded policeman, saying attacking "a dog lying on the ground" would be unconscionable to many, much less attacking a person. To do so, he said, was "like you have lost your conscience and become like a beast".

"What has turned them from young people with aspirations into beasts? We should think about this," he said.

Hmmm interesting question, Mr Lee. When people feel like the odds are against them, that they have no hope of ever achieving social mobility, or financial security then maybe their frustrations turn to what they think is the only route of violence? Not that I condone what they did, but for them, this was perhaps their act of desperation.

However Lee didn't fan the flames as much as outspoken lawyer and district councillor Junius Ho Kwan-yiu.

On a Radio Television Hong Kong's televised City Forum debate, he said the officers were "too restrained".

Junius Ho says police would be justified in killing rioters
"Police used shotguns [during the 1967 riots]... To maintain public order and for self-protection, [police officers] have to take any necessary actions," Ho said.

When asked whether he believed police would have been justified in killing city residents, Ho replied: "It would not be killing Hong Kong people. It would be killing rioters."

Whoa.

What are people like Lee and Ho trying to prove? Are they also interested in earning Beijing's favour? In the case of Lee, he is one of Hong Kong's 36 local deputies to the National People's Congress.

And the latest is that the policeman in charge of handling the Mongkok riot operations will likely chair the review of what happened on February 8, which one can already imagine will hardly be impartial. Even some police unions do not agree with the apparent choice of Alan Lau Yip-shing, director of operations.

Do we really need to further fan the flames of division in the city? Can nothing be looked at objectively anymore?

Creating greater rifts is the last thing we need now...




Sunday, 14 February 2016

Roses bring Overwhelming Response

Tamar Park is covered in white roses -- 25,000 of them -- until February 22
Yesterday was the start of Light Rose Garden, a public art installation at Tamar Park. It features 25,000 white roses (not real) that are lit up with LED lights and will be showing there every night from 6pm until February 22.

The white roses are lit with LED lights
Thinking today many couples would be busy indulging in their Valentine's Day dinner, I thought I'd take a look after my workout at the gym in Central.

However I was so wrong -- everyone else had the same idea as me and there was a massive crowd converging on the escalator at United Centre to get up to the overpass to Tamar Park.

There were so many people that the escalator going up was shut down, forcing people to walk up. But that was not the end of it -- we had to bypass Tamar Park and walk all the way to Citic Tower, down three flights of stairs to get to the ground floor, walk across the street to the Legislative Council and then encounter another backlog of people before entering the park.

It's pretty neat to see them if you squeeze past the crowds
While it was neat to see so many people "occupy" the area since the Umbrella Movement, the detour to get back to Tamar Park was insane, but I could see why. There must have been tens of thousands of people there and the maze we had to go through was an attempt at crowd control.

When I finally managed to get close to the edge where the roses were, people whipped out their smartphones above my head to get pictures.

Seeing so many people there of all ages, it made me wonder why they were so drawn to something like this, and not say, the other public art show going on now, Antony Gormley's Event Horizon, where his 31 life size bronze statues are placed on the roofs of public buildings in the city, save for one on Queen's Road Central at D'Aguilar Street.

There were tens of thousands of people there tonight
While Gormley's statues encourage viewers to examine the relationship between man and buildings, man and cities, as well as looking at new perspective, what is Light Rose Garden about?

Are Hong Kong people unable or unwilling to be reflective and understand how art enhances our lives? Or are they only interested in straight-forward ideas that are easy to grasp?

I really wondered about this while I was at Tamar Park, the hordes of people jostling around trying to take photographs.

While I thought the installation was pretty, the crowds were overwhelming, making it difficult to appreciate the beauty and expansiveness of it.

The view of nearby Central was a neat sight to behold
Or am I looking way too deeply into this Light Rose Garden, and it's like the massive Rubber Duck @ Harbour City by Florentijn Hofman, where we should just enjoy it for what it is?


Saturday, 13 February 2016

How Much did He Know?

Ling Wancheng (left) is the youngest brother of Ling Jihua (right)
There are conflicting reports on Ling Wancheng, younger brother of Ling Jihua, who was the former top aide to then Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Ling Jihua was expelled from the Communist Party of China last year and is expected to be tried for corruption and illegally obtaining state secrets. His career unraveled after his son was killed in a Ferrari crash in March 2012.

At the time it was strange that the crash was covered up almost immediately after it was initially reported because Ling Jihua reportedly mobilized staff from the Central Security Bureau to suppress reports of it and words like "Ferrari", "Little Ling" and "Prince Ling" were blocked.

Ling Jihua's son died in this fiery Ferrari crash in 2012
However eventually it was revealed that the 23-year-old man who died in the crash was Ling's son and questions arose as to how he was able to acquire such an expensive sports car. Even though Ling sough assistance from then powerful security czar Zhou Yongkang, both have lost politically, and the latter is now languishing in prison for the rest of his life.

Because Ling Jihua was so close to Hu, there were allegations that businessman Ling Wencheng defected to the United States and revealed state secrets to American intelligence officials. It is unclear how much information he would have known, but it is believed he profited handsomely from his family connections.

However, Ling Wancheng's lawyer has come out to deny revealing secrets like nuclear weapons codes and details about the Chinese leadership.

Ling Wancheng reportedly lives in this home in Sacramento
"My client frankly would like to be left alone so he can play more golf," said Washington lawyer Gregory Smith. "He is presently working on writing a book about golfing, and he hopes to share with others his golf secrets that literally can add 10-15 yards to anyone's drive off the tee."

Smith did not answer questions about whether Ling Wancheng was seeking asylum in the US.

There are also reports that top security official Meng Jianzhu had tried to negotiate Ling's return to China when he visited the US last September.

A book about golf, huh? We expect this upcoming tome to be a best seller...






Friday, 12 February 2016

Beijing's Delayed Reaction

"Rioters" in Mongkok have been branded "separatists" by Beijing
Four days after the Mongkok "riots", Beijing has finally spoken out, and the language it used isn't pretty.

"On the early morning of February 9, a riot plotted mainly by local radical separatist organization rocked Mongkok, Hong Kong," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei in an official statement, that did not specify whether one or more such organizations were involved.

For China to call the Mongkok protesters "separatists" puts them in the same league as the supposed separatists from Tibet and Xinjiang, that are seen as a serious threat to national security.

China-watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said it was unprecedented for the Chinese government to use the word separatists for Hong Kong. He called it a "wrong" categorization that would lead to unnecessary escalation of anti-mainland sentiment, as Beijing previously described Taiwan-independence advocates as "separatists".

The police felt they we unprepared for Monday night
The Chinese government defines separatist as "one level less serious" than "secessionist", and so if the situation gets worse, says Lau, Beijing could "conclude secessionist elements exist in the city".

China's Communist Party sees secession, terrorism and extreme religious forces as three core threats that must be eradicated.

Hong reiterated how some of the rioters had set up roadblocks, set objects on fire, damaged police vehicles, hurled bricks at police officers and assaulted injured officers lying on the ground.

The foreign ministry spokesman expressed "strong condemnation" of the violence, while giving firm support to Hong Kong police in acting "professionally and with self-restraint", adding the "riot" was "swiftly" ended.

Meanwhile some front line police officers who endured the glass bottles, garbage cans and bricks hurled at them were disappointed with senior management as over 90 officers were injured.

They felt they were completely unprepared for what happened on Monday night.

"Traffic officers had the least gear and they were at the very front to handle the armed rioters," one unnamed officer said. "What a joke!"

"That night was 10 times worse than any of the scenes during the Occupy movement. Why couldn't we use tear gas?"

He wondered if there was a political decision for not using tear gas -- possibly because they got so much flak for unleashing some 79 canisters when the Occupy movement erupted in September 2014.

The officer even suggested the police should have used rubber bullets in Mongkok. "The top management just can't feel the pain we suffered and the danger we faced. After all, they were sitting in their offices."

Ouch.

Seems like all is not well with the force...

With Beijing using dangerous language, this is definitely going to make localists puff up their chests with pride to get such attention.

But this is only going to create more tensions in the city and that's the last thing we need...

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Don't Look Down, Look Up

Praying for good luck at Che Kung Temple may not necessarily come true...
Yesterday over 50,000 people went to Che Kung Temple in Sha Tin to pray for good luck and prosperity in the Year of the Monkey.

However it seems that all that praying isn't going to help much this year.

Today the Hang Seng Index fell to its lowest point since 1994 on the first day of trading after Chinese New Year, dropping 3.9 percent or 742.37 points to end the day at 18,545.80.

Analysts predicted a red start to the year, with declining commodity prices, capital outflows due to currency fluctuations and the impact of China's economic slowdown.

Even the first race day at Sha Tin had a betting turnover of HK$1.47 billion, down from last year's record HK$1.7 billion.

But sentiment was bad probably due to the added downer of the "riots" in Mongkok added to the pessimism.

Over 60 people were arrested, with ages ranging from 15 to 70. Thirty-seven of them appeared in court today, some charged with inciting riots.

It's not a good start and signs of a challenging year ahead economically.

But hopefully instead of radical localists, there should be grassroots movements to actively create a better Hong Kong, whether it be helping groups of underprivileged people, preserving the environment, or lobbying lawmakers to create change.

There are already many groups that do these things, but perhaps now is time to create a groundswell of support for them.

If we can't make gobs of money, can we at least establish the foundations for a better place for the next generation?

Making Hong Kong better doesn't start with government. It starts with us.

And since the government won't listen to us, we should take ownership of the city, creating a civil society that takes the high road. Not the ugly one down to violence.