Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Beware the QR Code

You can buy supermarket items just by scanning the QR codes on your phone
China seemed to be far ahead of Hong Kong in terms of using QR codes for mobile transactions. Even food stalls have QR codes to make it easier to make payments via smartphones to buy something as simple as a roasted sweet potato.

But now there are concerns some QR codes, which stands for quick response codes, are easy faked with a different code with malevolent software to make it easy for fraudsters to get access to your bank account.

Consumers can also buy street food by scanning the QR code
There has been a spate of scams regarding QR codes on the mainland, which has led to calls for the government do more to protect consumers.

The problem is that the QR codes are so hard to tell if they are fake by the human eye, which makes it easier for cybercriminals to take advantage of the situation -- and legitimate businesses lose money because the payments never reach them.

Liu Qingfeng, a senior Chinese official and technology expert, says almost one-quarter of Trojans -- malicious programs disguised as benign software -- and other viruses are transmitted through QR codes.

"Currently over 23 percent of Trojans and viruses are transmitted via QR codes," he said at the recent National People's Congress in Beijing. "The [difficulty] threshold to make QR codes is so low that fraudsters could implant Trojans and viruses into a QR code very easily," Liu said.

"On the other hand, consumers cannot verify the authenticity of QR codes by eye and are therefore prone to be deceived if criminals paste their fake code over the original one."

A woman rents a bike by paying through the QR code
Liu is calling for regulators to tighten their oversight of QR codes by bringing them under the National Security Law.

He added that although QR codes have helped increase consumption, the possibility of fake codes has deterred others from using this otherwise payment method.

With an almost 25 percent chance of this happening on a daily basis, surely this has put off some people from scanning QR codes. Hopefully it doesn't make too much of an impact on small vendors, as this kind of payment system has definitely helped them generate revenue in a convenient high-tech way.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

A Big Dose of Art

Tang Jie's Stone Story at Art Central this year
The two biggest art fairs are back in Hong Kong again -- Art Central and Art Basel.

I got a quick peek of both and will give a few highlights here.

Art Central located at Central Harbourfront is a neat venue, featuring over 100 galleries, 75 percent of which are from Asia Pacific, though ironically, not many Hong Kong artists are featured.

Performance Art at Art Central
Nevertheless, it's a good place to check out emerging artists from the region. On the whole on a few things grabbed me. One Indonesian artist partnering with a Hong Kong gallery, produced a large canvas of graffiti-like art, very colourful and cartoonish.

But get this -- the work is carved up literally into squares and for HK$300, a person can buy a piece of the art. You can buy more than one square of course, but there's another interesting part -- you can consign the piece(s) that you have bought back to the gallery to resell to another person. And if it's sold you give a 10 percent commission back to the gallery.

That is the commercialism of art at its purest.

Already there were a few squares cut out of the far left hand side of the piece... what would you do with a square piece of art? Is it still art if it's a section of it?

One piece that is particularly impressive is called Stone Story by Tang Jie. It features rocks that are suspended from wires that lightly "fall" onto a large drum below. They fall rhythmically one after the other and then come back up again. It's a combination of old -- the rocks and the traditional Chinese drum, to the new of technology manipulating the rocks.

Does he look like Mao Zedong? Like the body in Beijing?
We also saw a performance artist, Anida Yoeu Ali with The Red Chador: Ban Me! She wore a red sequinned chador, or fabric that is a full-body robe covering her body, and carried the sign "Ban Me".

Over at Art Basel at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, it's overwhelming to try to take in all the art on two floors, but definitely one of the most provocative is Summit by Shen Shaomin.

There are five "corpses" of Communist leaders in history -- Vladimir Lenin, Mao Zedong, Kim Il Sung, Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro. They are all apparently life size, and quite life like. Oh my mistake -- Castro is not encased in a glass coffin, but on his death bed apparently faintly breathing! I missed that clarification.

In any event one must wonder what mainlanders think of their great leader as a piece of art!

Murakami's Tan Tan Bo aka Gerotan... is one of his new works
Another provoking piece is Not a Shield, but a Weapon by Philippine artist Pio Abad. There are 180 handbags that are copies of late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's Asprey handbag.

These ones were all made in Marikina in the Philippines, which used to be a thriving area for leather manufacturing. But because of trade liberalization policies introduced by Thatcher, Marikina has been in decline ever since.

There's also a colourful ovid shaped object sitting on a mirrored surface. Entitled Deductive Object by Kimsooja, the piece is inspired by the Indian tradition of Brahmanda stones that are polished into an ovid shape.

Here it's a large one painted in traditional Korean colours called obangsaek.

Deductive Object by Kimsooja
And for those looking for big names, Takashi Murakami is here with a large piece, and we spotted a few Picassos for sale.

So this is a critique of only the fraction of the things that can be seen at Art Central and Art Basel... if I have time I'll go check out Art Basel further...

Monday, 20 March 2017

Crackdown on Toilet Paper Hoarders

That's the only amount of toilet paper you're getting at the Temple of Heaven
On the way to work in the mornings, I usually hit the public washroom in a park nearby before getting on an over one-hour long bus ride to the office. The washroom stalls don't have toilet paper -- you have to get some from a giant roll by the entrance.

It is shocking how much toilet paper Hong Kong elderly women use! Do they really need to use over a metre's worth? What are they doing in there?

But it looks like they are not the only toilet paper hoarders.

The paper dispensing machine uses facial recognition
It's gotten so bad at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, that park officials have installed a toilet paper dispense where the user must stand in front of the wall-mounted machine with a high-definition camera.

The device's software remembers recent faces, and if the same person reappears within a certain period, it refuses to activate the automatic roller.

The current setting per person is 60cm of paper within nine minutes.

It's been a known fact that for years a lot of toilet paper has been nicked by mainland senior citizens, which has resulted in a considerable financial burden on public toilet management.

Sometimes a fresh roll of toilet paper can disappear in minutes, leaving other users paper-less.

An elderly man caught pilfering more than his share of paper
When people use the machine, they have to take off their hat and sunglasses, which prompted concerns about infringing privacy, and the facial recognition function, which is supposed to take three seconds can sometimes take more than a minute, which might be too late for some who are bursting for the loo.

The toilet paper dispensing machine has caused quite a stir on social media, where many agree the practice of pilfering toilet paper has to stop, but there's no point in being anal about it.

One user on WeChat may have spread a rumour when he or she said: "The cheap toilet paper in public toilets contains lots of toxic materials such as florescent agents. Excessive use will only damage their health."

Which is why it's always good practice to carry tissue paper whilst in China...

Sunday, 19 March 2017

One More Verbal Joust Before Vote

Carrie Lam, John Tsang and Woo Kwok-hing try to sway voters one last time
The final chief executive debate was held this evening at AsiaWorld-Expo with some 400 people from the Election Committee attending. They were given the opportunity to directly pose questions to the three candidates -- Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, John Tsang Chun-wah and Woo Kwok-hing.

Interestingly their responses were timed so that in the end all three had the equal amount of time to speak.

I watched the debate on hk01's Facebook Live and whenever Lam was speaking, there was a flood of angry-faced icons flowing across the screen, which contrasted with Tsang, who had lots of happy faces, as well as Woo.

However, in the audience, Lam got a lot of applause from the mainly pro-Beijing camp.

Again Tsang came out swinging at Lam, using any opportunity he could to discredit her, or try to show that she was not as an effective leader as he was.

He said that you can work hard, but you have to work smart -- to which he got a lot of applause from the audience. He hinted that while she worked hard, she was probably taking on too much and insisting that things be done her way.

On the other hand Lam hit back saying she was envious of Tsang because when they were colleagues, his desk would always be clean with nothing on it, while hers had piles of files on it she had to go through.

Tsang also gave the example that he had a lot of support from former colleagues who volunteered their time to help his campaign and he was grateful for their support -- did Lam have anyone helping her?

She claimed that getting her former underlings to help would have been difficult for them as it would have caused divisions among them socially as they met for dinners. Is she trying to make this more political than it need be?

Woo chimed in that he did have support from his colleagues, but being in the legal circles, they were low key and didn't want to make their support public, which got a lot of laughs and applause.

Lam tried to show that she was active in visiting Hong Kong's various districts and hinted that Tsang didn't show up once, but he did as far back as December 2013, but that time he was pelted with an egg by a protester which might have turned him off from future visits...

She also said that she was invited to meet with ethnic minorities once -- but Woo countered by saying he had at three meetings with them -- so where was she the other two times? Touche!

At times it felt like Tsang and Woo were tag-teaming against Lam.

But in general Tsang had the upper hand overall because of his knowledge of policies, while Woo doesn't have that experience and could only speak from a legal perspective. He tried to discredit Lam by saying if she was a witness in a court case, she would not be a trustworthy one... but the court of law and the court of public opinion when it comes to politics are two different things.

We want our politicians to be honest, but we know they cannot do that 100 percent of the time. Woo took a dig at her, saying she would have to pay back her tycoon supporters somehow...

The vote will be held in a week and 7 million of us have no say, but just under 1,200 people do. This is not a fair election, but here we are again, five years later going through the motions again.

As Tsang said in his closing remarks, we thought we voted for the best person, but that turned out not to be the case (referring to his former boss, Leung Chun-ying). Tsang explained earlier that Lam is CY Leung 2.0 because she has similar policies and nothing new to add. The former financial secretary said it would not be good for Hong Kong to have someone like this again, and have to wait another five years for change.

What is Beijing going to do? Tsang definitely has the popular vote, while pro-establishment are told to vote for Lam. However, some critics believe Tsang won't create much change either, having been a seasoned civil servant for decades. And what about him saving up so much money in the reserves only to be spent on white elephant public works projects instead of allocating more resources to the people who need it most -- the poor, ethnic minorities, and first time home buyers who need an extra hand.

We'll have to see what happens next Sunday. Bickering among ourselves isn't going to get us anywhere either...

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Two Housing Extremes

Cullinan West at Nam Cheong station saw big sales of units today
More housing stories are in the news.

When you arrive at Kowloon Station and ascend the escalator to Elements mall, there's an army of property agents shoving brochures in your face, asking if you want to buy a flat.

No, I just want to have some dinner.

The show flat gives the aura of a sophisticated place to live in
The brochures are for a residential project called Cullinan West in nearby Nam Cheong station, and they average over HK$20,000 per square foot.

But that rate didn't deter a family today, where three members bought three four-bedroom flats each, with the total bill totaling a whopping HK$200 million.

Excuse me?

There is no further information on who these buyers were or how big the flats were, but who happens to have HK$200 million to spend like that?

And were they all first-time buyers so they avoided paying the extra stamp duty too?

Then there is the other extreme -- subdivided flats, not in seedy Sham Shui Po, but in the tony neighbourhood of Mid-Levels.

One flat here on Old Peak Road is subdivided into five units
Reporters posed as potential renters ad visited a 2,400 square foot flat on Old Peak Road that was subdivided into five units, ranging from 250 sq ft to 656 sq ft, and rents from HK$25,000 to HK$36,000 respectively.

Who pays HK$25,000 for 250 sq ft to rent?

Apparently the hefty price includes utility bills, and a maid coming in to clean up twice a week, bed sheets changed once a week and free wifi. There's also basic open kitchens with an induction stove top, kettle and coffee maker.

So now we have people hoarding flats with hundreds of millions of dollars on hand, and at the other end of the scale, expensive flats subdivided into smaller ones and charging exorbitant rents.

Anytime now would be good...

Friday, 17 March 2017

Flavourful Vietnamese Lunch

Refreshing light flavours in the green mango salad starter
Moi Moi by Luke Nguyen is a relatively new Vietnamese restaurant opened by the Vietnamese-Australian celebrity chef.

On the menu is a wagyu beef pho where the broth has been simmering with beef bones for 18 hours along with spices and herbs.

However it's only available at lunchtime, and so today I had planned to take the day off but in the end had to work in the afternoon because we are so short-staffed in the office at the moment.

Nevertheless, I made sure I was free for lunch and went there with my friend at noon. It wasn't full when I arrived just before noon, but it soon filled up and by 12.30pm there was a line up at the door.

Slices of wagyu beef are hidden under the beansprouts
Customers can't just order the pho though, they need to order the set lunch, which includes a starter for HK$168 and an extra HK$28 for dessert.

We each ordered different things on the menu to try. We had the paper rice rolls with prawns, kurobuta pork, rice vermicelli and perilla that was pretty straight forward.

However, things were interesting with the green mango salad, that had julienne carrots, green mango and red onion, mint and shallot chips with small chunks of Australian spanner crab and rambutan too.

It was so refreshing and the flavours were piquant, particularly the tart green mango and mint, while the crab meat was generous and rambutan added a bit of sweetness.

For our mains, the wagyu beef pho arrived in a giant bowl with the simmering full-flavoured broth. A heap of beansprouts was on top of the thin slice of semi-cooked beef along with other cooked chunks that had a bit of fat on them, along with some basil leaves.

A crunchy and warm banh mi that is choc full of ingredients
This was the ultimate comfort food -- hearty, warm, but not too heavy, full of flavour and lots of broth you don't mind drinking because you know it doesn't have MSG in it.

We also shared a banh mi, featuring a warm crunchy baguette filled with chargrilled pork patties, pork floss, and Vietnamese pickles. There's some shredded carrot in here too along with coriander and spring onions.

The baguette holds up to the filling very well, keeping pretty much crunchy, while one needs a pretty big mouth to squeeze the sandwich in, or it somehow needs to be squished to get a mouthful.

It's a very hearty sandwich, and very filling too. We were quite full by the time we finished our half of the banh mi and couldn't manage sampling dessert.

While the price is pretty expensive for lunch in Central, the lunch set minus dessert is definitely filling. Even if I worked in Central I could not afford to eat this everyday, but the flavours linger in your mind and so you can't go without it for too long...

Moi Moi by Luke Nguyen
G/F, Nexxus Building
41 Connaught Road Central
2808 1086

Thursday, 16 March 2017

When will HK Micro Flats Stop?

Can you imagine owning and living in a small space like this?
The Hong Kong government has hinted it can force developers to build bigger flats at any time, but doesn't seem to think now is the time to intervene.

Secretary for Development Eric Ma Siu-cheung said measures could be inserted into land sale conditions "at any time" if it was deemed necessary.

But he stopped short of any immediate action, saying the number of "nano flats" still represented a fraction of the city's housing and he was confident the market would correct itself.

Eric Ma seems to think micro flats are still OK in the market
"We are concerned about this [situation]," said Ma during a television interview. "We hope flats will not become too small. They are OK for one person to live in, but [not] for a family."

You don't say!

There are flats as small as 152 square feet going for about HK$20,000 per square foot, and the smallest homes measure at 61 square feet.

Surely these are already too small to live in? Or does Ma not know what it's really like to live in 152 square feet with all of one's possessions? If 61 square feet isn't small, then what is?

"Of course we will monitor the situation and, if necessary, we can list out in the land sale conditions, for example, requirements for a unit's minimal floor area and quantities," he said. "We've done this in the past too... if necessary, we can do it any time. It's not difficult."

How can people live in these small spaces long term?
So when will that be? When are they going to pull the emergency alarm and tell developers they have to create more humane spaces for people to live in?

For the government to say it's closely watching the situation isn't good enough. It's basically negligence in looking out for the well-being of its citizens.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

A Novel about China, Canada, Past and Present

Author Madeleine Thien addressing a small crowd tonight
On the weekend I happened to pass by a local bookstore that was advertising Vancouver author Madeleine Thien would be there on Wednesday to promote her latest book, Do Not Say We Have Nothing, that was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize last year.

So I went back to the bookstore this evening and was surprised to meet a soft-spoken woman about my age, and very humble and gracious but also but full of interesting observations and perspective about issues.

The soft cover version of the novel
Do Not Say We Have Nothing is set in Vancouver in 1990, when a 10-year-old girl and her mother invite a teenager from China to come stay with them, having fled Beijing following the Tiananmen Square crackdown a year earlier.

We learn more about the relationship between the fathers of the young girl and teenager, the Cultural Revolution and the June 4 massacre, as well as the cyclical nature of Chinese history, and familial relationships.

At the event, sponsored by the Canadian government, Thien explained the title of the book comes from the Chinese anthem, which was originally from a song by Eugene Pottier called L'Internationale that was later translated into Russian, and then Chinese. The lyrics have the phrase, "Do not say we have nothing, we shall be masters of the world!"

She also explained this is a novel she has wanted to write since she was 14, when she saw the protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989; at first she was sympathetic to the students, and then realized later it was the ordinary people living in the area who tried to stop the tanks and guns. Thien also said the characters were from her imagination and not composites of people she knew.

Someone asked if China had reacted to her book, and she said because it wasn't translated, there would not be a response, though she had gotten interest in publishing the book from publishers on the mainland. However, they did admit now was not the time to translate it and publish it. She understands, but hopes that eventually it will be made available to them.

Thien won the Giller Prize for Do Not Say We Have Nothing
One of the interview requests she had was from a Chinese state newspaper (she did not name it) and one of the questions was how she felt about shaming China... she refused to answer the question and felt that when it was translated into Chinese she would have no control over it -- a situation many foreigners fall into when asked for a comment from state media.

Thien was also asked how she felt about the divisions in Hong Kong at the moment -- she did spend a bit of time here teaching creative writing at the City University. Referring to the Occupy protests, she felt the students were passionate about their beliefs, and that it was important to know where we stand as a city, as a nation and what kind of place we want to be.

So now I have a signed copy of Do Not Say We Have Nothing in my hands and have started reading it. It seems like it will be a sad, intense story, but one every other person of Chinese descent can relate to in one way or another.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Mao Porcelain for Grabs

Looks quite ordinary but worth quite a lot: Mao porcelain bowl up for auction
A hot ticket item is up for auction by a Hong Kong collector in May in the UK.

It's a rare porcelain bowl that was commissioned by then Chinese leader Mao Zedong for his own use.

The bowl is part of a collection that includes cups and other tableware, and were made towards the end of the Cultural Revolution when Mao's power was considered at its height in China.

He ordered 4,000 pieces of porcelain, including bowls, cups and other tableware be made under demanding conditions in Jingdezhen, the well-known porcelain-producing town on the mainland.

Mao commissioned his own porcelain made in Jingdezhen
"In order to make sure they were safe for Mao to use, all porcelain made in Jingdezhen had to be lead-free," said the collector, who would only give his name as Alex.

"Two hundred artisans spent a full two years making the porcelain, and in the end 900 pieces were chosen to be sent to Beijing for the use of Mao and other official dignitaries," he said.

"The rest were ordered to be destroyed. However, the director of the Institute of Arts which made the porcelain did not want them to be destroyed, so he made up an excuse to put them into storage -- so that the institute could send replacements to Beijing if the cups and dishes were broken."

The institute later fell into financial difficulties and gave some of these porcelain pieces to staff in lieu of salaries -- meaning that some items made for state leaders were now in the hands of ordinary people.

With this bowl being up for auction, there's going to be a big buzz around it, as "Mao porcelains" are considered special because of their historical significance and fetch high prices at auction.

In 2013, a set of about five rice bowls commissioned by Mao was sold for HK$8 million by Poly Auction Hong Kong, but they were made in his home province of Hunan.

The Hong Kong collector's family bought a few dozen of these rare items when they did business on the mainland.

The items were put in family trust, but they decided to put the bowl up for auction "to test the market".

In 1996, a 68-piece set of Mao porcelain fetched 7.9 million yuan (HK$10 million) when it was sold in Beijing.

Monday, 13 March 2017

CY Leung Rises up Beijing Ranks

CY Leung walks to the rostrum after being elected vice-chairman to CPPCC
Beijing welcomed its favourite son to the fold, with Hong Kong Chief Executive elected as a vice chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference today.

In a vote, 2,066 voted in favour to appoint him as vice-chairman, 13 against, and six abstaining. Six delegates did not vote. Wonder who those 19 people are...

After the formal closing of the plenum, President Xi Jinping strode over to shake Leung's hand, followed by Premier Li Keqiang.

Afterwards Leung is congratulated by Xi Jinping
Reports say Leung looked tense as he bowed to the audience and bowed to state leaders and the standing committee of the CPPCC.

He becomes the first chief executive to hold two roles simultaneously, though his first job will end at the end of June when he steps down as CE.

It is believed Leung got the vice-chairman gig as a big thank you from Beijing for curbing pro-independence forces in Hong Kong, but really their numbers are minuscule. He must have really frightened them to be awarded such an honorary post.

However being a vice-chairman of the CPPCC isn't going to land him big bucks -- he will make HK$12,000 a month.

But he won't necessarily be immune from investigation or prosecution. Between 2012 and 2013, Leung received HK$50 million from a deal between his former company DTZ and Australian firm UGL.

The position didn't protect Su Rong from prosecution
Leung says he formally resigned from the position of director from insolvent property firm DTZ on November 24, 2011, and ceased to be a director when he signed a "non-compete and non-poach" agreement with UGL, which bought DTZ in early December that year.

But we have seen former CPPCC vice-chairman Su Rong get in trouble with the law. A year after his appointment to the senior leadership position, in March 2013, Su was probed for bribery.

In January this year, he was sentenced to life imprisonment for taking bribes upwards of 116 million yuan.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Over-the-Top Housing Prices

A prospective buyer looking at Alto flats located in Tseung Kwan O
Hong Kong developers are getting even greedier.

They think there is an endless supply of customers willing to shell out almost HK$20,000 per square foot for a new flat.

On Saturday flats were for sale at Alto Residences in Tseung Kwan O. The prices were 57 percent higher than the first phase which turned off buyers. Only four were purchased in the project that is a joint venture Lai Sun Development and former Sun Hung Kai Properties chairman Walter Kwok Ping-sheung.

In October last year, the prices for the first phase were at HK$14,000 per square foot, and units sold briskly. But at a 57 percent mark-up to HK$21,980, that's too much for customers to swallow.

A showroom flat for K City in the former Kai Tak site
Today K Wah International managed to sell 23 of 42 units offered at its K City project located in the former Kai Tak airport site.

It was the sixth batch of sales, with price increases each time Last week its fifth batch sold units priced between HK$17,401 to HK$23,694 per square foot. The average price increased 11 percent compared to the first batch a month ago.

According to a K Wah spokeswoman, 584 out of 598 units in the first four batches were sold by March 7. No comment on how sales went for the fifth and sixth batches.

Alto's poor sales reflects people's sentiment -- you want me to pay how much? -- and they are not taking any of it. It's Tseung Kwan O, not Wan Chai!

In a way that's the beauty of capitalism, but the fact that these developers think they can gouge more out of consumers is just evil.

The ability to afford a home at a decent price should be a right, not a privilege.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Arthur Li Dismisses John Tsang as CE

Arthur Li says John Tsang isn't the best person to be the leader of Hong Kong
Arthur Li Kwok-cheung can't help himself from bad mouthing Chief Executive candidate John Tsang Chun-wah.

The professor who is an Executive Council member of Hong Kong and a delegate of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, says Tsang gives the public the impression he is a "gentle and nice guy", but that the city's next leader had to be more than that, adding that Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor fits the bill.

"Carrie is extremely hands on, very dedicated and will tackle problems. She will not shy away from difficulties. John is a very nice person, he will sit back, relax and let you get on with it," explained Li.

Li says Carrie Lam is more diligent at getting the work done
He said having a laid-back management style was the worst thing for Hong Kong, which is facing stiff competition from Singapore, Shenzhen and Shanghai.

"Executive Council members have worked with [Lam and Tsang] for a number of years and have seen how they performed. I do not think a single Exco member is supporting Tsang," said Li in Beijing.

Li cited examples of how issues were handled by Tsang, such as HKTV not getting its free-to-air license, Cable TV is shutting down, and how the recently debuted food trucks in the city aren't working out well. "It's disaster after disaster after disaster," he said.

While Tsang came up with the idea of having food trucks in Hong Kong, it was Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So Kam-leung who implemented it, but less than a month in, some operators are complaining about the locations and the lack of customers. One operator has already decided to quit even before rolling out his food truck, despite having paid for it.

John Tsang came up with the idea of food trucks in HK
However, Tsang has said in a previous interview that teamwork and mutual trust are important.

"I rely on my people to do things because... the people you appoint are the people you should trust," he said. "If you don't trust them, why appoint them? And if you appoint them, but you still don't trust them, there must be an issue in your judgment."

Interesting that Li is so outspoken and critical of Tsang -- is he a proxy for Leung Chun-ying, whom Li supported in 2012? For his loyalty, Li was rewarded with an appointment to the governing board of the University of Hong Kong, a move that was strongly criticized by academics in the institution.

May we also add he is the younger brother of David Li Kwok-po, chairman of BEA Bank, and they are the grandsons of the bank's co-founder, Li Koon-chun.

There probably aren't many people on the fence who need to be swayed in this three-horse race -- people on the Election Committee pretty much know who they are voting for. Maybe Hong Kong people want an easy-going guy?

Friday, 10 March 2017

Picture of the Day: Star Ferry

The view of Central on the Star Ferry going to Wan Chai last night
Last night by chance I had two appointments back to back that were situated across the harbour from each other, and the easiest route was by Star Ferry.

I rushed over from the InterContinental Hong Kong to the Star Ferry pier in Tsim Sha Tsui, and caught the Star Ferry going to Wan Chai with a few minutes to spare.

What a pleasant ride over! It was nice to have a few minutes during a quiet ride to collect my thoughts and relax a bit before rushing over to the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong for dinner.

However, my pet peeve is that the relatively new Wan Chai pier is quite a walk from the boat to the walkway to Sun Hung Kai Centre and on top of that it's smack dab in the middle of a construction site.

Nevertheless by walking fast, I was able to make the dinner on time, and during the meal had a nice view of Tsim Sha Tsui in the distance.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Elections with Chinese Characteristics

It is expected Carrie Lam will win the election, but by how many votes?
Beijing seems to be fretting over the "election" of the next chief executive of Hong Kong, because it is worried that its preferred candidate Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor may not have an outright win.

According to an anonymous source who is a local member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference who has met with senior leaders in Beijing, said they are concerned that their lobbying for Lam may have a negative impact on her.

John Tsang is giving Lam a run for her money, and Beijing too
Last week Lam also voiced concern for Beijing outright lobbying for her, saying she would discreetly tell them not to do it, knowing it could affect her votes as well as the public's perception of her.

The anonymous source said Lam may have trouble governing effectively because her rival John Tsang Chun-wah has greater popularity with the public than her. "But they [Beijing] said they have no choice under current circumstances", the source said.

These revelations behind the scenes show how desperate Beijing is to orchestrate the election, but yet Tsang seems to be throwing a spanner in the works which is interesting.

But why is Beijing so worried?

Its preferred candidate will win -- she already garnered 579 nominations, way more than both Tsang (159) and Woo Kwok-hing (180).

Woo Kwok-hing is popular with locals as well as Tsang
How about worrying about how she is going to persuade the public in televised debates how she is going to represent the average person, and stand up for Hong Kong's interests? That's what people care about, and Woo and Tsang already focused on getting the popular vote as a vital part of their strategy. They didn't have the guanxi, but they have local appeal. Lam has the opposite.

Lam may not win on the first ballot, but she will definitely on the second.

For Beijing to worry so much about this reveals how it cannot even deal with democracy at all. No wonder they keep delaying it!

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Women's Day Rant

Olympic swimmer Stephanie Au campaigns to stop the term "career line"

While it's International Women's Day, it is patronizing to have one day to recognize women today. Even more so are the businesses in Hong Kong that are trying to commercialize the day with special offers for meals and drinks...

The Women's Foundation in Hong Kong has conducted a survey of 1,000 women and found 62 percent discriminated against for their looks, while one-quarter of men aged 31 to 49 believe a women's success is based on her appearance.

Images like these only create expectations of beauty in women
In addition, more than 40 percent of women surveyed thought the Cantonese term "career line", which equates a woman's cleavage to her career progression, was offensive -- I should hope so! However, about 20 percent of men aged under 30 thought it was positive -- and that's scary.

Almost 18 percent of respondents had heard the term "career line" in a professional conversation.

Olympic swimmer Stephanie Au Hoi-shun has been described as "Oriental Venus" by the Chinese media, and that is so wrong on so many levels.

A lot of these perceptions of women are shaped by the media people are exposed to on a daily basis. We are constantly bombarded by images of impossibly tall, beautiful women in advertisements who have probably been photoshopped, and yet men believe these women really exist and belong on their arms.

Women can play hard just like the men, right?
I once spoke to a woman who runs a dating agency in Hong Kong and Singapore and she said men in the former city are unrealistic because they will go on a first date with a woman and then tell the agency to find them an even better looking woman. Whatever happened to what's inside?

And that is probably where men think it's fine to objectify women and that the only way to explain a woman's success is by her so-called "career line".

These attitudes are pathetic and need to change if Hong Kong wants to be considered a progressive society. Women don't even get paid the same amount as men for starters. And then we have women working as domestic helpers...

It's high time for men to consider women as equals. Today should be a day of education and awareness of how much women contribute to our families, communities, and businesses. How the media uses language to describe women also needs to change, and everyone needs to be educated on the reality of advertising, how the images we see everyday are not real at all, but a fantasy.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Baidu's Robin Li has an Idea

Baidu's Robin Li wants to lure overseas skilled labour to China in tech firms
Someone is thinking out of the box -- now that US President Donald Trump is making some people there uneasy about living in America, why not lure them to China?

That's the idea Robin Li Yanhong, chief executive of Baidu is pitching at the Chinese People's Consultative Conference in Beijing.

"China should be more open in its immigration policy," he said at a panel. "Chinese companies have made a lot of effort to attract overseas talent to work in China. But most of the talent we attract are overseas Chinese. In the meantime, Silicon Valley has gathered top tech talent from across the globe."

He said people who don't agree with Trump's restrictive immigration policies, or who can't get into the US should come to China instead, and that the Middle Kingdom should do more to attract these skilled workers, and that means liberalizing immigration policies at home so that innovation can drive economic growth.

Hugo Barra returned to the US from China due to health issues
While the US has 13.1 million green card holders at the start of 2013, almost two-thirds of them acquired permanent residency in the previous 13 years.

This compares to China with 7,356 foreigners getting permanent residency since the mainland began giving out green cards in 2004, even though some 600,000 people from overseas work there.

Interestingly last year 1,576 foreigners were made permanent residents, a whopping increase of 163 percent over the previous year.

Tech companies like Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent and Huawei have a high demand for skilled workers in the field and perhaps them being turned off by Trump would be a good opportunity to try out jobs in China.

However, one of the biggest issues is air quality, and the exit of Hugo Barra from Xiaomi back to Silicon Valley in January due to health issues was telling.

A couple walks by the Forbidden City in Beijing
On his Facebook page, Barra, who was previously at Google, said the last few years of living in a "singular environment have taken a huge toll on my life and started affecting my health".

Also in January, a Beijing-based online platform called released a survey that found half of the nearly 300 entrepreneurs polled had considered moving their businesses or part of their operations out of the city because of concerns about air pollution.

So how about it, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang? Robin Li has a point. Clean up the air and loosen the immigration policy and the skilled masses may come flooding in to help further stimulate the Chinese economy.

Just a thought...

Monday, 6 March 2017

Hong Kong Generates own Smog

We've had many hazy days like this one in Hong Kong recently
When Donald Tsang Yam-kuen was Chief Executive of Hong Kong and people complained about the city's air quality, he used to say it was pollution blowing from across the border.

But it's naive for Hong Kong people to believe that -- the city generates its own pollution too in such a cramped space and now we finally have scientific proof.

Hong Kong and Macau air scientists have found that a rapid build-up of particulate matter in the air -- a key component of smog -- was possible, even in the absence of northerly winds that can transport pollutants from far away.

They found that on at least one particular sunny September day in Hong Kong saw a rapid rise in photochemical activity during mid afternoon where ozone and nitrogen dioxide skyrocketed along with increasing sunshine.

"It is clear that there was a rapid increase in particulate matter (PM) concentration on this day when we were not really affected by external meteorological conditions. It's not easy to argue in this case that winds were blowing PM to Hong Kong from the region," said co-author Professor Chan Chak-keung, dean of City University's school of energy and environment.

He said the most likely source of pollution came from vehicles or industrial emissions which contain nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds.

"Of course, regional sources play a role but [this research] shows that under the right conditions, PM can build up and Hong Kong can form its own photochemical smog," he said.

Photochemical smog is created when nitrogen oxides react with volatile organic compounds in the air under sunlight and leads to the formation of ozone. This hazardous pollutant facilitates the formation of tiny particles small enough to be inhaled deep into the lungs and even into the bloodstream.

For the Hong Kong government to try to make the public believe the pollution comes from elsewhere is childish or in denial.

More needs to be done in terms of environmental protection when we have had so many hazy days, especially in the last few weeks.

But the government will only pay lip service and not really tackle these problems head on. It's not in its nature to deal with airy fairy issues...

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Hong Kong in Li Keqiang's Report

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang delivering his annual work report today
This morning Chinese Premier Li Keqiang delivered his work report at the annual meeting of the National People's Congress in Beijing.

The 20,000 word report took him about 90 minutes to read out, but journalists who have a hard copy of it can skim through it in minutes.

Towards the end Li talked about Hong Kong, and he continued the familiar refrain of upholding the "one country, two systems" principle, and that it be applied "without being bent or distorted".

What does he mean by that curious clause?

In the past 20 years we've seen an erosion of "one country, two systems" in Hong Kong, but perhaps Beijing sees it another way.

Li said independence will "lead nowhere" in Hong Kong
Nevertheless, for the first time in his work report, Li spoke about Hong Kong independence, saying the movement would "lead nowhere".

It was perhaps inevitable the Premier would mention this issue, following the swearing in fiasco involving Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching of Youngspiration, who pledged allegiance to a "Hong Kong nation" and called China insulting names the Japanese used during World War II.

That resulted in the National People's Congress Standing Committee to rule that making "insincere" oath-taking punishable by instant disqualification. Leung and Yau were later stripped of their seats in the Legislative Council.

There is a law suit under way to further disqualify four more pan-democrats...

In Li's address he said: "We will continue to implement, both to the letter and in spirit, the principle of one country, two systems, under which Hong Kong people govern Hong Kong."

He also added the Basic Law would be followed in Hong Kong and Macau. "The notion of independence will lead nowhere," he said.

Leung set to be rewarded in stopping independence
And to reward Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying for his efforts in quelling the independence movement, Yu Zhengsheng, the fourth most senior leader in China's Communist Party and chairman of the government's political advisory, said Leung will become a delegate to the advisory body.

In reality the independence movement in Hong Kong is a tiny minority. Did Leung exaggerate how serious this group was in order to be rewarded with such a post? Or is this just another way to give him a bone for not running for Chief Executive again?

Beijing is also mum about its preference of who will become the city's next chief executive. In a meeting with Hong Kong and Macau delegates, Zhang Dejiang, the National People's Congress chairman reiterated Beijing's four criteria for Hong Kong's next leader: he or she must "love the country and love Hong Kong", be trusted by Beijing, be capable of governing, and be supported by the Hong Kong people.

Oh and by the way, Zhang added, Beijing has "substantive and constitutional power" to appoint the next leader.

Does this mean John Tsang Chun-wah and Woo Kwok-hing still have a decent chance?

We'll find out March 26...

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Out on the Hustings

Carrie Lam's husband (left) denies having any extramarital affairs in the UK
The race to become the next chief executive of Hong Kong is well underway, and all three candidates are out on the hustings trying to shore up as many votes as possible for the March 26 election.

Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's husband has already come out to quash rumours that he has a mistress in Britain. Lam Siu-por was asked by Citizen News portal if he had had any affairs before, to which he replied: "I can tell you all that I have no such problems. I have a very close relationship with Mrs Lam."

What kind of question is that?! If there were any pictures or videos of Lam Siu-por with another woman then maybe the media would be justified in asking that, but to ask that outright is bizarre.

Pan-democrats already vow to vote for John Tsang
He had told Apple Daily that such rumours probably arose because he spent so much time in the UK looking after their two sons while she was working in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile the pan-democrats on the Election Committee have decided en masse to put all their 326 votes towards Lam's rival John Tsang Chun-wah. While that's a nice gesture, he would still need 275 votes to win.

All of his nominations were from the pan-democratic camp so he'll have to work hard to get some pro-establishment votes...

Although Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee is out of the race, she is still focusing her energy on criticizing Lam as running a "shallow campaign".

"[The campaign] is insincere, making people feel that it is a facade," Ip said.

Regina Ip continues to attack Carrie Lam in the media

Ip added she felt Lam would not govern Hong Kong well even if she had 800 votes.

"It's too simplistic to say a high vote count could result in effective governance. It is ignorant of the deep-seated problems facing Hong Kong," she said.

Sounds like someone is either a sore loser, or is trying to prove someone is a paper tiger, or trying to piss off Beijing for not cutting her losses earlier.

The next three weeks are going to have a lot of fodder for people to chew on...