Sunday, 17 December 2017

The Effects of Pushing out "Low-End Population"

Migrant workers gathering their things and getting ready to leave Beijing
Last night I met up with a friend from Beijing who's visiting Hong Kong and we caught up since we last met up.

I asked him about the evictions of the migrant workers and he shook his head, sad at the turn of events.

Following a fire in Beijing's Daxing district that killed 19 people, the local government has used the tragedy as an excuse to get rid of the "low-end population", though this campaign has been happening for the past year.

Parts of Sanlitun have been completely demolished
When I was in Beijing in April, the back streets of Sanlitun, where many expats hung out and used to buy cheap DVDs, or have manicures and pedicures, massages and buy cheap clothing and food, were being torn down.

"Beijingers are happy the streets are cleaned up and feel that the city is now becoming more international like London and New York," my friend said, adding he didn't like Beijing anymore because these colourful aspects of the city were now fast disappearing.

In other words, Beijing is gentrifying.

He told me about a small restaurant across the street from where he lived. It wasn't really a restaurant -- a kind of shack -- where they sold all kinds of food, from jianbing or a savoury pancake, to fried chicken wings, noodles and char-grilled lamb skewers called chuar.

It was run by a bunch of young guys from Henan. While my friend described them as a bit on the tough side, perhaps dealing in things other than food, they were nice people, who he got to know as acquaintances. He'd stop by after work for a beer, or pick up a snack for his wife to bring back home, and have a quick friendly chat. They were also open until 5am.

But now they were gone and he didn't know where they went. More importantly he didn't know where to get his snacks and drinks now.

Some people are hardly given much notice to leave
The small cigarette and liquor shops that supposedly sold items that were collected by senior government officials as "gifts" and sold for cheap are also gone. The last time I was there, the closet-sized sex shops had also disappeared.

Not all expats have the same view as my friend who is from the UK and has lived in Beijing for many years. These foreigners like seeing migrant workers gone and the streets are now cleaner, or getting rid of businesses that didn't fit in the neighbourhood, like the aforementioned shack selling food and perhaps were noisy late into the night.

Nevertheless these were businesses that were convenient, cheap and useful for many residents, and what are left behind are empty stalls, or areas that have been completely demolished, leaving no trace of their previous existence.

However my friend has the last laugh -- expats are complaining it's hard to find an ayi (a maid) these days. Gee, I wonder why?

He says his ayi may leave next year if she too is pressured, but doesn't know where to go. She doesn't want to go back to Anhui province, and do what? She has lived in Beijing for over a decade and makes good money cleaning people's flats.

The Beijing government may think it's doing a good thing getting rid of the "low-end population", but really it's shooting itself in the foot. These migrant workers keep the city going. They were the ones who built all the new buildings and infrastructure, but you deny their children education because they don't have hukou or a residence permit, and now you force them to leave because you consider them an eyesore?

How is that equality in the so-called socialist People's Republic of China?

Friday, 15 December 2017

China's Evolving Definition of Human Rights

Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia suffered human rights violations

With the year ending in just over two weeks, China has already hailed 2017 as one of "remarkable" progress in human rights, including its achievements in anti-corruption and legal reform, which don't have much, if anything to do with human rights.

The latest State Council white paper listed international cooperation on counterterrorism and climate change, as well as the "Sky Net" program to hunt down and repatriate fugitives accused of corruption as human rights achievements.

So forcibly bringing back people to stand for corruption charges is a good thing for human rights?

In the past China has included the right to peace, and the right to economic development.

Migrant workers are being forced out of Beijing
How random and irrelevant to consider these under the meaning of human rights (everywhere else).

Many international critics focused on the detention and death in custody of Nobel Peace Prize-winning dissident Liu Xiaobo and how he was only briefly reunited with his wife Liu Xia before he died of cancer in July. Afterwards his body was hastily cremated and the ashes dumped at sea to avoid some kind of memorial for democracy activists.

His widow is still closely watched by the authorities and her whereabouts are still unknown. Doesn't she have human rights?

There are also human rights violations in pushing migrant workers out of Beijing on the pretense of a fire in Daxing District on November 18 that killed 19 people. Following the fire, the authorities immediately launched a 40-day campaign to get rid of the "low-end population", a word that has since been banned from China's cyberspace.

Migrant workers who provide essential services or do jobs that no one else wants to do are being pushed out of the Chinese capital with very little notice and the experience has been so harsh and violent that they don't feel welcome anymore and have no choice but to go back to their hometowns.

Uyghurs' DNA are now being collected by the police
Did the authorities realize what effect this vicious campaign will have on how the city will function from now on?

But another shocking human rights violation is a recent report from The Guardian that says DNA, fingerprints and other biometric data are being collected from Uyghurs in a "health check", called "Physicals for All". It is unclear if patients are aware this data is being collected and shared with the police.

"The mandatory databanking of a whole population's biodata, including DNA, is a gross violation of international human rights norms," said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. It is even more disturbing if it is done surreptitiously, under the guise of a free healthcare program.

"Xinjiang authorities should rename their physical exams project 'Privacy Violations for All', as informed consent and real choice does not seem to be part of these programs," she added.

However, China is ignoring its critics and continuing this terrifying project -- even if someone hasn't committed a crime.

So when China says it's had a "remarkable" year in human rights, it really is living in a parallel universe where its definition is so far removed from everyone else's.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

25% Hongkongers Can't Afford Basic Needs

One-quarter of Hongkongers are considered deprived of basic necessities
The Hong Kong government acknowledges there are poor people in Hong Kong, but it's the number that it can't seem to decide on because it can't determine the exact definition of poverty.

It prefers to just look at income levels, but critics say this is not enough, as some people may own flats, but have no income and have run out of savings, or they barely make enough to make ends meet and live in squalid conditions. Some don't want to bother reaching out for social services or they don't qualify for certain subsidies.

Chinese University researchers have come up with another way to determine if someone is poor by seeing if they can afford 23 essential items or services. These include three meals a day, a dental check-up once a year, afford new clothes or go out with family or friends once a month.

Researchers say poverty should be calculated by deprivation
If they were not able to afford at least two or more of these items they were considered deprived.

They interviewed 1,476 people in 2014 and the same participants again last year. They found that one in four of them were deprived last year, 24.7 percent, which compares to 28.8 percent in 2014.

Researchers say the city's economic growth, historically low unemployment ration and higher salaries attributed to fewer deprived people, but it doesn't mean poverty has been eliminated at all.

Of those who took part in the study, 26.7 percent were unable to afford to get a regular dental check-up, though it was down from 38.7 percent three years earlier.

The study also showed that those who were defined as deprived were 1.5 times more likely to be less physically healthy, and 1.3 times more likely to be less mentally healthy compared to those who could afford all 23 items and services.

Chinese University associate professor Wong Hung who conducted the study said the research showed the government's official definition of poverty underestimated those who were socially disadvantaged in Hong Kong.

Handouts don't solve the poverty issue, researchers say
The government makes its calculations based solely on income and household size, and so the poverty line is at half the median monthly household income according to household size. Those who live below the poverty line are considered poor.

With that calculation, one in five people were living below the poverty line last year, a record high.

Wong said, "Handing out money or cash vouchers to people might not necessarily solve the city's deprivation problem. The government should implement more specific community programs so people can directly benefit from them."

This is not a new suggestion and the government doesn't really do anything, instead depending on NGOs and charities to fill the need.

Wong and his colleagues are suggesting to the government that it include deprivation as part of its determination of who is in poverty or not. It would probably increase the numbers which the authorities wouldn't be happy about, but these people are in desperate need of services and resources to keep their heads above water.

With Hong Kong being such a wealthy city, there is no excuse not to help the neediest.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Picture of the Day: Nanjing Massacre at 80

People gathered at the Cenotaph in Central... are they allowed there?
This morning I took our company shuttle bus to work and on the way we passed by the Cenotaph in Central.

I was shocked to see a bunch of people standing there and holding large Chinese flags.

Then I remembered it was the 80th anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre, but why were these people standing there?

The Cenotaph is a war memorial that commemorates the dead in the two world wars who served in Hong Kong in the Royal Navy, British Army and the Royal Air Force.

What does it have to do with Nanjing?

If they want to commemorate the Nanjing Massacre they need to find their own cenotaph!

Nano Flat Prices Keep Rising

The nano flats are being built in Yuen Long at HK$15,000 per square foot
The prices of flats in Hong Kong keep going higher.

Now nano flats that are 192 square feet are being sold for HK$2.99 million -- in Yuen Long.

Yes Yuen Long, along the West Rail line in the New Territories.

It's part of a development called Park Reach that has 63 units and the average price of a flat there is more than HK$15,000 per square foot. After a maximum discount of 5 percent, the average selling price is HK$14,975. Whoohoo -- a HK$25 savings per square foot. You can get a McDonald's set lunch for that.

The HK$14,975 per square foot price is 10.5 percent higher than the average price of a flat at 50 major housing estates in the city tracked by Ricacorp Properties.

Despite the tiny size, property agents believe buyers will be keen for the units because they can get a loan of up to 85 percent of the flat's value from the developers.

So now developers are also the bankers. Guess the government doesn't think that's a conflict of interest...

By the way the smallest flat is 192 square feet. The largest? 310 square feet.

Talk about real minimalist living...

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Taxi Association's U-Turn on Uber

Will taxis finally stop protesting and finally cooperate with Uber?
Just the other day two Hong Kong taxi groups were threatening to sue the government if it followed recommendations by the Consumer Council to relax regulations to allow Uber to operate in the city.

But now there seems to be a complete 180-degree turn, as Uber is interested in working with taxis to share the market.

"... the taxi industry may not have the technology platform like ours to provide tailor-made services," explained Kenneth She Chun-chi, Uber Hong Kong's general manager. "If we cooperate together, they can also make use of our backup customer service and even capitalize on our good image to regain consumer confidence as they are now having an image problem."

Uber's Kenneth She says taxis can benefit from its technology
Wow dragging the Hong Kong taxi industry into the 21st century. How novel!

And the vice-chairman of the Association of Taxi Industry Development Ng Kam-wah is open to the idea of working with the ride-hailing company.

"We think that there is room for the taxi trade to cooperate with Uber as this will be a win-win situation for us," he said. "The taxi industry could benefit form the ride-hailing platform, effective marketing and good customer image of Uber, while Uber can operate legally with the taxi vehicles," he added.

They sound like they are practically singing the same tune.

However, Ng points out that Uber charges a certain percentage of the drivers' income, but he would prefer the charge goes to the customer to pay rather than the driver. He doesn't want drivers' incomes to be affected.

Why is Ng Kam-wah suddenly keen on working with Uber?
But that's the whole point -- Uber helps drivers get customers through its technology so it is only fair that drivers get charged for that. It's just like taxi drivers having to pay for their licenses. Something's gotta give.

And are those crusty taxi drivers in their 60s really going to know how to use the app and deal with these new ways of charging customers and collecting money online?

We find this sudden about face very interesting and wonder what made the taxi association change its mind about Uber.

However here at The Fragrant Harbour we're all about action, not words. If Ng really does get his association moving in adopting Uber's technology and the culture of ride-hailing apps, then transportation in Hong Kong is going to get significantly better.

The ball's in your court, Ng.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Getting Crafty

My completed floral creation all lit up!
Periodically my company arranges activities for us to do and with Christmas coming up, there was a class on how to make flower arrangements in a bottle.

I enjoy crafty things -- it's a nice way to not think about work for a period of time and focus on doing something fun and creative.

We invited a small company in Tsim Sha Tsui to show us how to make flower arrangements in a light bulb-shaped container.

Four of us lined up our arrangements together
First we had to pick from a series of small boxes which colour scheme we'd like that consisted of dried flowers. Some were pink, purple, turquoise and white.

From there we were each given this light bulb-shaped glass that was flat on the bottom. Water isn't used to make the flowers float in the container, but an oily, colourless liquid. We were instructed to squirt some in before taking a bit of moss and after making sure it was clean, we put it in the container.

Bit by bit we added dried flowers, small leaves, petals and so on, also adding more of the liquid in there. The instructor said some people may like to have fewer items in there, others more, but he warned too much wasn't a good idea, making it too busy.

Mine was purple, with some pink in it. I added some white flowers and some pink moss to make it more interesting. When the instructor came by, he suggested that I add a few more flowers at the top, otherwise there was nothing to see except the clear liquid.

Here are all 30 of them! Mine is the purple one on the far left
After we were all done, we filled more liquid almost to the top and added a plastic kind of cork before the instructor came by to clean the outside of each light bulb before we added a foil topping over the cork to seal it and then screw a light bulb screw at the top.

All 30 of us were done in an hour, even though an hour and a half was budgeted for the class. The best part was being given a small wooden platform with a small light emanating from the middle. We placed our creations on top and the turned off the lights so that our light bulbs glowed with the floral presentation inside.

Everyone's light bulb arrangement was different and when we put them together for a group photo, he joked that we should be able to recognize our "baby".

Before we left, we were warned not to place the arrangement near the window because it would make the flowers fade easily and that it would last for about a year. Nevertheless we all enjoyed making something beautiful for everyone to admire.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Alternative Swimming

The stands in the pool make you feel like you're a competitive swimmer!
Last night I went to the Kennedy Town Swimming Pool looking forward to doing a few laps when a woman at the door explained the pool was closed.

There was a note that said "an unidentified object" was found in the pool in the afternoon and they had to disinfect it so it was closed until further notice.

I asked if the pool would be open tomorrow and she said it would.

So I came back this morning just before lunchtime and there was a large line of families waiting to get in. This time a man told me the pool was still closed and I asked what time it would open and he said for sure in the afternoon.

Located in Sai Ying Pun, the pool here is only indoors
He suggested if I wanted to swim I should go to the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Park Swimming Pool. Sounded like a good idea. I hadn't been to the pool in Sai Ying Pun for a long time, but worried there would be an overflow of people from Kennedy Town.

However, when I got there, I was surprised to see there wasn't just one, but two swimming lanes. It didn't say which one was the fast or slow lane, but I seemed to pick the right one as the men -- yes the men! were slow enough that I passed them when I reached the other side or they stopped for a break so that I could pass them.

That and also the fact that I only had 40 minutes to finish my target of 30 laps motivated me to keep going, which also helped train my endurance in the 50-metre pool. In the end I managed to get 32 laps done before a lifeguard instructed me to get out of the pool for the 12pm break.

What unidentified object was found in the Kennedy Town pool? Or maybe it's best I don't know...

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Picture of the Day: Trump Gummy Candy

It didn't take long for someone to come up with this...

If yet another piece of news about US President Donald Trump wants to make you fume with frustration, you can now do something about it -- eat him.

A colleague recently visited Los Angeles and brought back this pack of gummy candies in the likeness of the bombastic leader of the free world. They look similar to The Donald, complete with the big head, big hair, suit and tie.

Interestingly they're all orange... was that intentional?

We love the packaging that screams, "Make America sweet again", with a caricature of Trump with the speech bubble: "Eat me!"

It even adds the candies were made in China, and at the bottom, "May leave a bad taste in your mouth".

So the next time Trump's off-the-cuff comments on Twitter or in the Oval Office has you fuming, get out the pack of gummy candies and bite his head off. Again and again.

That sugar rush is a good (albeit temporary) feeling.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Will #MeToo Take Off in China?

A handful of women in China who have spoken out about their experiences
The #metoo movement may be gaining momentum in North America with women speaking out about experiences of being sexually harassed by men, but in China it's barely on the radar.

However, journalist Huang Xueqin wants to do something about that.

She was working for a state-owned news agency when her boss tried to force himself on her in a hotel room. She quit and last year went public with the story, making her one of the first in China to speak out about her unwanted encounter.

Huang is now conducting an online survey of women journalists on the mainland to find out the extent of sexual harassment in the country. Of the more than 250 women polled, 80 percent reported being sexually harassed.

Huang Xueqin is trying to document cases in the media field
Most of the victims suffered in silence, 3.3 percent resigned and less than 1 percent filed a complaint with the police.

"I know I've opened a floodgate," Huang said. "Journalists are supposed to be more resourceful and skilful advocates than others. If they don't know how to speak out for themselves, what about the rest of the women in this country?"

She has set up a social media platform called Anti Sexual Harassment, to show women how to protect themselves, gather evidence and confront perpetrators.

I really hope she is able to help other women in the future. I immediately thought of my friend in Beijing who committed suicide three years ago because she was sexually harassed by her boss, also in state media.

If only she knew this movement existed now and that women are now trying to say Stop!

Cultural attitudes need to change around sexual harassment
She would probably be pleased to know that Huang was trying to get more information from other journalists and probably would have participated in the survey.

It will be interesting to find out how many cases Huang is able to collect so that we know the extent of the situation. I'm sure the number is very high.

But attitudes need to change -- there is still a lot of blaming the victim, claiming they were asking for it because of their clothes or attitude, or the woman is too embarrassed to come forward, or there are no laws to convict perpetrators so victims suffer in silence.

The central government needs to know this is happening not just to female journalists, but to women in all kinds of work. And the authorities need to take these cases seriously.

This horrific treatment of women is unacceptable in any society and the more these incidents are reported, the strong their voices will be.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Taxis vs Government

Taxi groups threaten to sue the government if it allows Uber to operate in HK
We're not surprised by two taxi associations up in arms about a recent Consumer Council report that recommended the government relax regulations to allow car-hailing apps like Uber to operate in Hong Kong.

What we are surprised about is the delayed response from the two associations -- this report came out a week ago.

People want more choice of how to get from A to B
The Association for the Rights of Liberty Taxi Drivers and Association for Taxi Industry Development are threatening to sue the government if goes ahead with the council's recommendations.

They do have a good point though -- taxi operators need to pay HK$7 million (US$896,000) for a taxi license, whereas ride-hailing operators don't need to do that.

The Consumer Council had recommended the government make car-hailing services more available in Hong Kong after so many complaints about taxi services being rude, cars are old, overcharging customers and denying passengers rides.

In the report the council also suggested cabbies could take part in the car-hailing industry by setting up their own groups, thus giving consumers more choice in how to get from A to B.

Carrie Lam may side with the taxis groups for political support
Up until now taxi groups had vowed to reform themselves with some chosen drivers to provide better service. But how are we supposed to know which ones they are, and how can we request them?

There were a few other initiatives but I'm not hearing anyone remarking how they had an impressive taxi ride recently.

So this showdown between the taxi associations and the government should be interesting. The government will probably back down as Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor depends on them for support, leaving the rest of Hong Kong grumbling even more about state of taxi services in the city.

Or will she figure out some kind of compromise? Miracles can happen...

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Fact of the Day: Over HK$16B in Cost Overruns

The Sha Tin to Central rail link is still being built and going to cost much more
Hong Kong's taxpayers are reeling from the total cost of the MTR rail link being built between Sha Tin and Central, as it will cost a whopping HK$87.32 billion, making it the most expensive in the city's history.

The 17 kilometre cross-harbour rail line is HK$16.5 billion above the original HK$70.82 billion budget, and when it's finally completed, it could cost more than HK$97 billion.

The link that will be shown later on the MTR map
An MTR Corporation source denied there was a miscalculation regarding the overrun, saying it was caused by numerous factors, including unfavourable ground conditions, and the requirement for additional work.

"Engineers are not God. They can't predict everything," the source said. "The complexity of the underground work is not something that can be fully controlled."

The unforeseen extra costs include preserving heritage sites uncovered near the new Sung Wong Toi station, labour shortages, poor ground conditions and design tweaks, like the need for more bridges and elevators.

Doesn't sound like the project was well thought out from the beginning...

Artifacts dug up added to unforeseen costs of the link
Jeremy Tam Man-ho of the Civic Party criticized the government for its failure to foresee that the city had insufficient manpower to handle its multiple ongoing large-scale infrastructure projects, resulting in surging labour costs as firms tried to lure workers.

This is what happens when bureaucrats have no clue of the economic pressures in Hong Kong and think throwing money at problems will solve them. When it's said and done, this 20-minute ride into town better be worth its weight in gold.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

China = CCP?

Wang Zhenmin gives his best legal reasons why China and the CCP are one
China continues to drag Hong Kong kicking and screaming closer to the motherland.

This time it's Wang Zhenmin, the legal head of Beijing's liaison office in Hong Kong. He said yesterday that Hongkongers cannot say the city is a part of China and yet reject the Chinese Communist Party.

"From the angle of the world's political map, Hong Kong's political colour had been undoubtedly changed to red since its return to Chinese sovereignty on July 1, 1997. That meant it had become part of red China."

He says since '97 Hong Kong must accept the CCP and China
He said some Hongkongers had asked if they could accept the city was part of the country, but reject the leadership of the CCP.

"I think there is no way to separate China from the Chinese Communist Party, as the nation was led and established by the Chinese Communist Party," he said.

Therefore, the fate of Hong Kong is closely linked with that of the CCP, just as relations between Hong Kong and China are inextricably linked.

Is he insinuating that China was only established since 1949? What happened to the country's purported 5,000 years of history? Where did they go?

Sounds like US President Donald Trump isn't the only one engaged in revisionist history.

Chinese refugees settling into Tiu King Leng in the 1940s
Wang seems to be completely tone deaf to Hongkongers' opinions about China -- and he doesn't seem to understand that a good chunk of the population escaped the mainland to get away from the communists.

He also seems to think (or wants us to think) China and the CCP are one. The leadership believes the more they say it the more we'll believe it.

Sorry to say we're a cynical bunch, Mr Wang. China and the CCP are two different things to Hongkongers. Taiwan would also agree...

Monday, 4 December 2017

Picture of the Day: Golfer Tiffany Chan

Hong Kong's Tiffany Chan will make her debut on the LPGA Tour
We are so thrilled to hear the news that Tiffany Chan Tsz-ching is the first Hong Kong golfer to qualify for the LPGA tour.

On Sunday she finished second to Nasa Hataoka of Japan at the qualifying tournament at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Florida.

"I don't know if I'm still dreaming," the 24-year-old Chan said on Monday.

"It's actually my mum's birthday today. She's not here, but I'm going to give this to her for her present. My parents don't really know golf, but they just encourage me and I can't wait to talk to them. Being the first one on the LPGA is really big for Hong Kong golf," she said.

"I know there are a lot of junior golfers that want to go to college and turn pro and I think me being the first will help," she added. "I definitely want to inspire the youth in Hong Kong and this was a major step."

Chan represented Hong Kong in the 2016 Rio Olympics and finished only one shot behind Hataoka at 11-under par. The top 20 players earned their cards on the LPGA Tour.

The Hongkonger seems to handle pressure well and takes everything in stride.

We're just excited that Hong Kong now has a name to watch in golf, other than Korean and Japanese female golfers. Best of luck to Tiffany! Go get 'em!

Sunday, 3 December 2017

E-Prix Racing Whiz Kid

This 13-year-old was on top of the leder board for the simulator race
The Formula-E race was on this weekend in Hong Kong, but it hasn't garnered much attention since its arrogant debut last year. At the time massive barriers were put up in every possible free vantage point so that onlookers didn't even have a chance to get a peek at all.

Oh yes and tickets prices weren't cheap either. This year, apparently thousands of tickets were given away but not many people showed up, though organizers claim 27,000 out of the maximum 30,000 capacity did attend.

Nevertheless, there was more interest in the E-Village where a 13-year-old Hong Kong kid was beating real drivers in a race simulator.

Wong has hopes of becoming a professional driver
Kobe Wong was leaving his competitors, DS Virgin Racing driver Alex Lynn, Andretti driver Kamui Kobayashi of Japan, and Daniel Abt of Audi, trailing in his proverbial electric dust in the five-lap race.

"That was really fun," Wong said after taking over Lynn to win the race. Lynn had been leading for much of the race when the teenager made a sly move to overtake him just before the finish line.

This is the second year Wong has made it into the top of the Hong Kong E-prix fans simulator. He finished 10th in last year's official E-Race and now he was crowned the champion driver.

"It's phenomenal," said an official. "He was doing it consistently quit. There's no way he could have practiced fully for this because it's not available for the public [outside events], so he's just got talent -- natural talent. He just jumped in and won the fastest lap. He's a prodigy."

Wong got to hang out with his idols for photos and he has dreams of following Lynn, Koboyashi and Abt by becoming a professional driver one day.

If the 13-year-old is just as good on the track as he is on the simulator, a local kid may be on the professional racing circuit very soon.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

RYB Education Resilient Despite Scandal

A guard closes the gate at RYB Education in Beijing (brown building)
We understand everyone needs to make money, but should a company that owns 209 kindergartens and more than 900 franchised play-and-learn centres be listed on the New York Stock Exchange?

It turns out RYB Education is one of the largest providers of early childhood in China and it was hit by a scandal last month when there were allegations and complaints of child abuse.

Parents alleged that some children had been found to have needle marks on their bodies, they were drugged and sexually abused.

Allegations of bodily harm and sex abuse plagued RYB
After an initial investigation, Beijing police said one teacher at the kindergarten had pricked children with a sewing needle as a disciplinary measure, while claims of children being drugged and sexually molested were fabricated by parents.

Nevertheless, RYB's shares plunged 38 percent to US$16.45 last Friday, down from its initial public offering of US$18.50 in September. It had hit a high of US$31.14 on October 2, three days after its first day of trading.

Analysts believe RYB stocks are resilient and will emerge unscathed from the scandal -- its shares closed at US$20.33 on Wednesday, rebounding 24 percent from last Friday's sharp fall.

"Even though RYB may have to bear a heavy moral burden after the child abuse accusations, its future performance in the market is unlikely to be affected because its fundamentals are still good," said Shen Meng, a director with investment bank Chanson & Co. "When new social events emerge to divert people's attention from the scandal, RYB will do even better."

RYB shares on the NYSE seem resilient despite the scandal
Should schools, particularly early education ones, be run like corporations? Sounds contradictory but perhaps the company's sheer size makes it able to invest in lots of resources, though it makes effective management of all of them very difficult.

Perhaps the good thing in all of this is that because RYB is a public company, it has no choice but to allow greater scrutiny. If it is smart, RYB will set up the necessary mechanisms in place to prevent further abuse and manage its branches and franchises more closely to ensure quality. After all, early childhood education is not something that should be messed around with.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Property Tycoon Questions Migrant Worker Crackdown

Property tycoon Ren Zhiqiang questions why China uses hukou system
Property tycoon Ren Zhiqiang has been known for speaking his mind, and last year he got into trouble when he criticized Chinese President Xi Jinping's call for the media to show loyalty to the Communist Party.

He was back voicing his opinion on Wednesday, comparing China to North Korea over its rigid household registration system called hukou.

A migrant worker takes last look at where he lived in Beijing
At an annual conference of financial magazine Caijing in Beijing, Ren, 66, said the registration system was "adopted only by a limited number of countries, including China and North Korea", and that Beijing's ongoing eviction of migrant workers was a deluded way to solve the city's problems.

The government is currently getting rid of thousands of migrant workers in mostly the outskirts of the capital, either knocking on doors late at night and giving people 15 minutes to clear out all their stuff before demolishing their homes, or cutting off water and electricity as a sign to move on, just as the cold winter sets in.

The evictions are part of a campaign to address safety threats in the aftermath of a residential fire that killed 19 people last month.

Thousands of migrant workers evicted from Beijing
While the government may think this is an effective way to quickly get rid of people it doesn't want in the city, these migrant workers are crucial cheap labour doing menial jobs that need to be done. Most recently hundreds were evicted from an area near Beijing Capital International Airport where they work.

"The Beijing government once boasted that there was no family with housing problems in the city -- but it was only talking about locals," said Ren, the former chairman of Huayuan Property, a company owned by the Beijing government.

"The biggest problem with China's [housing] market adjustment and control policies is that they are illegitimate," he said.

Ren said there was no law giving the authorities the right to interfere in property prices, but in reality all local governments could cap these prices at a level they deemed appropriate.

A fire in Daxing prompted evictions of migrant workers
However, he added, land sales -- a key source of revenue for local governments -- were left alone, even though they were the main reason property prices had skyrocketed.

"If China doesn't solve the land problem and change the household registration system, all of its so-called long-term [market] mechanisms will be built on sand," he warned.

For years Ren has openly criticized the government's policies to control the property market and other political and social issues. He had 37 million followers on Weibo before his account was deleted in February last year when he questioned why the media should be loyal to the party when news outlets were funded by taxpayer money and so they should serve the public, not the party.

"When did the people's government turn into the party's government? [Are the media] funded by party membership dues?" he wrote at the time.

Following his comments, Ren came under attack by state media, and a news site linked to the Beijing municipal party committee declared he was spreading "anti-Communist Party" thought, and he represented capitalists who sought to topple the party's rule. He was then placed under a year's probation by the party in May and has kept a low profile -- until now.

Will he get in trouble for his criticism of the country's hukou system? Looks like so far so good...

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Picture of the Day: Michelin Madness

Our view of the photo shoot with all the chefs on stage at the Michelin event
Today was the big day chefs in Hong Kong and Macau have been looking forward to -- the announcement of the Michelin stars.

The event was held at the Grand Hyatt Macau at first it was a pretty tame affair when each restaurant was introduced and the chef came up to receive the guide as an award. Afterwards there would be a group photo of all the chefs who all got one star this year, two stars then three.

However, that's when the mayhem broke out.

People in the audience would start taking pictures with their smartphones, while professional photographers at the back would shout out their frustrations.

"Put your phones down!" they exclaimed in Cantonese, much to our amusement, but some wouldn't listen and the demand was repeated over and over, more exasperated each time.

The climax was when all the chefs were invited on stage and getting that giant group shot is near impossible as you can see from the picture above.

Definitely Michelin Mayhem.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Taiwanese Activist Jailed

Lee Ming-cheh sentenced yesterday to five years in jail for subversion
A Taiwanese rights activist was the first person from Taiwan to be convicted of subversion on the mainland and sent to five years in jail.

Lee Ming-cheh was sentenced at Yueyang Intermediate People's Court in Hunan province along with his co-defendant Peng Yuhua, a mainland rights activist, also convicted of subverting state power and handed a seven-year prison sentence.

Reaction in Taiwan was immediate, with the Mainland Affairs Council describing Lee's sentence as "unacceptable" and demanded his release as soon as possible.

The words on Lee's wife's arms say that she is proud of him
Lee and Peng were also deprived of their political rights for two years and both said they would not appeal their sentences. This is interesting considering Taiwan does not consider itself a part of the mainland, so how can Lee have his political rights taken away in the first place?

The judge said Peng had planned and set up an illegal organization with the purpose of subverting state power and attacking China's constitution. Drawing evidence from his online chat history, the court found Lee was "an active participant" in the actions, which grew from the internet chat group he started in 2012.

Apparently the group expanded across the mainland, and its key members held meetings in person. The judge said Lee and Peng encouraged others to be hostile towards state power.

Roseann Rife, East Asia research director at Amnesty International, said Lee was a victim of "a politically motivated prosecution".

Lee's co-defendant Peng Yuhua (right) sentenced to 7 years
"The evidence against him is not credible, his conviction preposterous but predictable. He is the latest to suffer under the [mainland] Chinese authorities' relentless attack against human rights and democracy activists," Rife said.

Lee was a volunteer for the Taiwan Association for Human Rights who went missing during a visit on the mainland in March, and was held for more than 170 days before his court appearance in September. Up until then he had been traveling to the mainland without incident for a decade.

The Central government later confirmed he was being investigated for allegedly endangering national security.

Lee previously worked for Taiwan's governing party, the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party.

It's sad to see Lee has been convicted and sentenced, but surely he would have known the risks. In the meantime relations between Taiwan and the mainland are going to get worse following this sentencing.

Lee's jailing may also be a warning shot to Hong Kong's independence and pro-democracy activists to not incite others to follow them...

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

More Weighty Hong Kong Statistics

There's a lot more overweight people in Hong Kong than 10 years ago
Here's a shocking statistic -- half of Hongkongers aged 15 and above are overweight or obese, while the number of people who drink alcohol has doubled over the past decade, according to a citywide health survey by the government.

The study of more than 12,000 people from December 2014 to August 2016 showed a horrific picture of people's dietary habits.

More than 86 percent consumed too much salt, nearly 50 percent had high cholesterol, and almost 60 percent suffered from one or more conditions of hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol.

Many turn to comfort foods when they are stressed or busy
The number of overweight people rose from 17.8 percent to 20.1 percent, while those who are obese increased from 21 percent to 29.9 percent of the population.

From the statistics, the survey predicted a 10.6 percent risk of cardiovascular problems, including coronary heart disease, stroke, peripheral artery disease and heart failure among those aged 30 to 74 over the next 10 years.

Director of health Constance Chan Hon-yee said that alcohol consumption was a worrying trend. Ten years ago, 61.6 percent of those surveyed claimed to hardly touch alcohol, but this time 61.4 percent said they were drinkers. Many confessed to binge drinking -- from 2.2 percent a decade ago to 9.6 percent in this latest study.

"The affordability of alcohol has a direct impact on people's drinking habits," said Chan, though strangely she did not want to link the increased drinking to the scrapping of wine duties in 2008. Wine and spirits with an alcoholic strength of no more than 30 percent by volume are tax-free in Hong Kong.

The increased alcohol consumption is combined with eating too much salt and 94.4 percent not eating enough fruits and vegetables. It sounds like a giant ticking time bomb.

Increased alcohol consumption is also causing health issues
It seems strange to me that this is happening as I notice more people becoming more health-conscious and some trying to eat less meat in general and exercise a bit more. Or are these people only a tiny sliver of the population?

However, there are those who find their jobs stressful and food is a way for them to comfort themselves after a long day at the office. This is where they make bad dietary choices and feel they deserve to eat what they want. A lot of people don't cook at home, and would rather either eat out or have it delivered.

Hong Kong is a free port and a relatively capitalist society that doesn't want to nag people into telling them what they can and cannot eat. But the government needs to face the reality it has a fast-growing elderly population and encouraging them to be as healthy as possible is the best way to try to prevent medical bills from going through the roof.

While Chan wants to step up monitoring people's health every two years, that doesn't do any good if the government doesn't do anything to really push its residents to become more healthy.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Fact of the Day: Instant Noodle Numbers

China is a big consumer of instant noodles, but not as much as before
When I lived in Beijing 10 years ago, my colleagues would eat fangbian mian (方便麵) or "instant noodles". It was what people loaded up on in supermarkets, buying a dozen at a time -- the same flavour too.

I wondered if they knew these noodles didn't have much nutritional value being deep-fried, but they just thought it was convenient to cook in minutes.

However it seems the Chinese are eating less instant noodles than even three years ago, even though China is still the biggest consumer of the popular food product, according to a 2016 estimate by the World Instant Noodles Association.

Less people eat instant noodles due to healthier food choices
lobally a total of 97.5 billion servings of instant noodles were eaten, with China accounting for nearly 40 percent, while Indonesia was a distant second at 13 billion servings.

However in the past few years, China's consumption of instant noodles has actually dropped by 20 percent. In 2013 the country ate 46.2 billion servings, and 2016 marked the fourth consecutive year of decline, with 38.5 billion servings.

When it comes to per capita consumption, South Korea is number one with 76.1 servings per year for 2016, and China was only 27.7 servings.

There are many reasons for the drop in demand for instant noodles. According to the Straits Times, the rise of the Chinese instant noodle market paralleled "an economic boom that was fueled by the migration of low-cost workers from the countryside."

Others still find instant noodles too convenient not to pass up
But now that the economy has been slowing down these few years, the population of migrant workers has dropped off significantly, many returning to their hometowns. Another reason is the rise of the middle class and they are more health-conscious and can afford better quality food.

The third and probably biggest reason is the rise of online food delivery services that make it so much easier (and cheaper) to order food on their phone than to buy groceries and cook at home.