Monday, 28 February 2011

Paranoid Reaction

It looks like the "jasmine revolution" fizzled again yesterday -- pre-empted before much if anything could happen.
In Beijing, the window seats at the McDonald's in Wangfujing were occupied by undercover cops or security posing as customers in the fast-food restaurant.
Meanwhile hundreds of police and about 100 police vehicles were already there before the event was supposed to start at 2pm. They were checking passports, detaining foreign journalists and even locking up the McDonald's at one point, creating confusion amongst those who really wanted to have a hamburger.
There were also a row of water trucks that sprayed the busy shopping area with what a reporter described as "a lengthy and unnecessary mid-Sunday afternoon spray".
The street cleaners got into the act too -- men in orange jackets who used their brooms to wack people on the ankles than sweep away the dust.
A few days before Sunday, foreign journalists received warnings from the Public Security Bureau (PSB) that if the were to be in the vicinity of Wangfujing on the weekend that they had to carry their press credentials and passports and even register at the Wangfujing district office for permission to report there.
The ironic thing is that not only does this office not have a listed number, the PSB was unable to provide it either before the weekend.
The arbitrariness of the notice reveals how far the local government is going to do everything in its power to tone down or quash anything that seems remotely rebellious despite the central government's reporting regulations that took in effect in October 2008 that state: "To interview organizations or individuals in China, foreign journalists need only to obtain their prior consent."
Nevertheless some foreign reporters were roughed up and even equipment damaged which surprised some people watching the events. "Why did they have to use force against those foreign reporters?" an onlooker asked. "I am really curious what they will do in the future and how much it would cost to stage such massive force each week."
So perhaps the frustrations of rising inflation, obscene corruption and the lack of democracy will switch to how much taxpayer money is used to keep people from gathering peacefully with peacefully being the operative word.
How will the government respond to that?

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Propaganda Going Public

Some Chinese state media outlets are going public this year in an attempt to gain more revenue, but not necessarily loosen editorial control.

The websites of People's Daily, Xinhua and China Central Television are preparing their IPOs in an attempt to better compete with commercial news websites.

However, they have a tall order to fill, as who would buy shares of when it ranks 46th on the mainland and at 33rd, when the most popular websites are search engine Baidu, internet portal, and ebay clone Taobao, in that order.

The other reason for going public is that these state media outlets need more funding in order to provide more services such as online video and public opinion surveys which plans to do. They are hoping with more services, people will be more keen to go to state media for more information, a plan that will probably fail.

Part of the reason is that state media organs are bloated with staff and the bureaucratic way in which they're run hardly makes them nimble especially when there is breaking news.

Song Shinan, a media analyst based in Sichuan said: "It won't work if the authorities just splash out money and use their advantages in policies and resources. The core is to concentrate on producing content, improving communication channels and hiring talented employees."

He said had too many editors and reporters -- some 700 of them -- which was inefficient.

Another problem pointed out by Zhao Shuguang, director of the Media Survey Lab at Tsinghua University, was that salaries at official state media websites were much lower than those at commercial sites which meant it would be difficult not only to lure talent but also retain them.

"The IPOs are intended to change only the way they operate, not the censorship system," said Song. "The official news websites are always more tightly controlled by the authorities."

What's interesting to note is that the State Council Information Office says the media organizations running the websites must retain at least 30 percent of the shares and an editorial policy committee will be set up at each website to approve the content. Wouldn't it be fascinating if say someone like Apple Daily owner Jimmy Lai eventually bought up the majority of the shares of these websites through a shell company. Then what would the authorities do?

But also -- just because these websites are going to have IPOs it doesn't guarantee they will be a success, and if they do go public, then they have to constantly give better quality content because shareholders will demanding it -- thus increasing the number of stakeholders by the millions.

One really wonders if these media sites really know what they are getting themselves into. While it's understandable the government is trying to wean these outlets off financially, ironically if they really did report the truth and got rid of the propaganda, perhaps people would be genuinely interested in what they had to say.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Giving the Budget Thumbs Down

A group of protesters were out marching in Central today, voicing their discontent with Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah's budget speech that came down on Wednesday.

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah
They were very unhappy with Tsang's handouts which were only short term gains for Hong Kong residents which did hardly anything to alleviate the financial burdens of the middle class or narrow the gap between the rich and the poor.

Many complained about the HK$6,000 ($770) put in every working person's MPF or mandatory provident fund account as they couldn't access the money now, but only after they retire. Tsang explained giving people cash handouts would exacerbate inflation, but academics said it would not have such a big impact.

While the government proposed making more land available for 30,000 to 40,000 private apartments, these wouldn't be available until at least five years down the road. People need affordable places to live now.

Also the government has accumulated so much surplus money, estimated at HK$71.3 billion and reserves at HK$595 billion, that people believe the government has more than enough and should spread the wealth around, or at least help the most needy. There are some one million people in Hong Kong who live on HK$100 a day and some benefits for them would help them live slightly easier lives.

Perhaps the only good thing about the budget was raising the tobacco tax to HK$10 a pack of cigarettes so that smokers now have to pay about HK$50 a pack, an over 40 percent increase. Hopefully this will persuade more people it's no longer economically feasible to light up, but it may turn others to illicit cigarettes.

Because people are so unhappy with this budget, Tsang's popularity plunged 15 percentage points at 36 percent, only slightly higher when he took up the post in 2007.

Why this short-term thinking? Why not think of ways to stimulate the economy? Rents are so high it's practically impossible for young people to set up their own businesses or for entrepreneurs to execute new ideas without taking on heavy financial risks. What about more social programs for the poor, or helping young people without university degrees with job training or education? And what about putting more effort into cleaning up the air pollution in the city?

While the government keeps such high reserves in case of another financial meltdown, it surely can spare some money for the less fortunate. Why not encourage hope and opportunity than pessimism and greediness?

Friday, 25 February 2011

Hong Kong's Lonely Hearts

The fact is that there are many more women than men in Hong Kong. In 2009 there were 907 men for every 1,000 women in the city. However, the numbers include hundreds of thousands of domestic workers, most of whom are women.

Nevertheless, the tales of finding a mate are discouraging on both sides.

A 40-year-old Hong Konger I met recently told me he didn't have much luck with women, partly because of his shyness. Though he was educated in Canada and the United States, has a stable job and comes from a good family, he doesn't have the guts to be aggressive and get the girl he likes. In the end he wasted many years on two relationships that went no where, a fact his father constantly reminds him of.

And even though he's Christian, he says it's still hard to meet women at church, which I found hard to believe. "They're so materialistic," he said explaining that there was a girl he liked for three years and never asked her out. His brother-in-law knew the girl's mother and introduced him to the mother. She said, "I know you like my daughter very much and if you intend to marry her, then you need to buy a flat in North Point for her."

He was taken aback by this as his family lives in a less expensive area and the talk scared him away from even thinking about asking the girl out on a date.

Another 26-year-old woman I met last night confirmed this materialistic attitude. These Hong Kong girls nicknamed 港女 (gang nu or gong nui) will go on a first date with a guy and immediately interrogate them, asking what kind of job they have, if they have already bought a flat and if they have a car. And if the potential suitors don't have the right answers, there isn't a second date.

These materialistic women have turned many local men off, so much so that they'd rather marry a mainland Chinese girl instead and we all know there is a shortage of the female sex in China already.

But where does this leave the Hong Kong women? A girlfriend of mine in her early 30s thinks these materialistic girls do exist, but there are only a small number of them, thus perpetuating the stereotype. However she did admit that if she was seeing someone, she too would wonder what the guy's profession was and how financially sound he was as she herself didn't want to marry down, but at least to her equal standing.

So where is she going to find that kind of guy? She admits not knowing where to look, and the right guy is not to be found in nightclubs or bars.

The young woman I met last night said there are some women who take professional education courses specifically in the hopes of finding Mr Right -- and some are successful. "They know that the guy is hardworking and willing to improve himself so prospects are good," she stated.

But other than that no one seemed to have a good solution to the problem, except to just continue with one's routine and try not to think about it too much.

After all, my girlfriend says, it's better to make yourself happy as a single person than be miserable wondering why you don't have a boyfriend.

It's definitely Hong Kong's version of Sex in the City. Wonder what Carrie would say about that.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Revolutionary Embers Still Burn

While the "jasmine revolution" was effectively quashed in the bud, there are still calls to continue protests every Sunday. An open letter posted on encouraged mainland Chinese to go for a "walk", a code word for protest every weekend in various locations across the country.
"You only need to walk from a distance, follow in silence, and go with the flow, bravely call out your slogans," the letter said. It gave the operation code name "dual sessions" in reference to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and the National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing that start March 3 and 5 respectively.
A spokesman for the central government's advisory body spoke for the first time about the "jasmine revolution" that happened on the weekend.
"I can tell you in full confidence that kind of revolution will not happen in China," said Zhao Qizheng, a spokesman for the CPPCC.
Meanwhile, Vice-President Xi Jinping has just finished a four-day "study session" on strengthening social control. He told provincial government and military leaders to find out new ways to "work with the masses through every aspect to maintain social harmony by eliminating social contradictions at their source".
That ironic considering the source of all this discontent is the Communist Party of China itself.
But knowing the CPC, it will find a way to continue spinning the party line in the hopes the convoluted messages will somehow placate the masses.
As for the "jasmine revolution", it could continue to blossom in spurts and perhaps reach full bloom in the next few years.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Annual Talent Show

Singing their own rendition of Lady Gaga's Telephone

The annual company dinners in Hong Kong and China are a spectacle to say the least.

That's because it usually entails a talent show and there is no shortage of employees eager to show off in front of a crowd including their bosses -- a concept I can't quite understand.

Many of these wannabe artistes either sing, dance, play an instrument or perform skits.

I was struck by how some people who were normally reserved, immediately blossomed on stage once they were given a microphone. How they sounded was another story, but they really did imagine themselves emulating their favourite singers.

In Beijing one group even did a parody of how senior Chinese leaders have a posse of people who fawn over them and make sure they clap at the right times, while the leaders themselves clap as politely as the Queen.

Another group of girls lip-synched and danced to a popular Korean song called Nobody But You by the Wonder Girls. They would make perfect back-up dancers for any Cantopop star, dancing in almost perfect unison.

This time in Hong Kong the talent ranged from singing Cantopop and Mandopop, a guy playing the electric guitar and singing Dead or Alive a la Bon Jovi, a magician who seemed to have many silk scarves that revealed white doves, a Filipino who sang a Chinese song (with the lyrics taped to the back of his folded fan), and a group that modified Lady Gaga's Telephone so that some of the lyrics reflected our workplace.

Then apart from the table prizes there was a lucky draw that included cash and items ranging from show tickets, gift coupons at various stores, there was also a Louis Vuitton handbag and iPad up for grabs.

But that wasn't all.

The tables were turned on the senior management, who had to go up on stage and play a game. Split into two teams, each person had a balloon that they had to take turns sitting on the balloon to pop it. The team that popped all the balloons first was the winner. Then the losing team was subjected to more humiliation and had to copy the dance moves in a series of music videos projected on a big screen. Of course the employees found this amusing, but some of the Caucasians in senior management were taken aback. However, once you're on stage, you just have to realize this is all for fun and making fun of yourself for five minutes is considered company bonding.

One gweilo almost refused to take part, as it entailed him to dance with another guy to Rock Around the Clock. After the emcee tried to encourage him to do this for team spirit did he reluctantly do so, but everyone appreciated his effort. Seems like no one warned him he might have to act like a fool for one evening.

So for some people the annual dinner is a must attend, while others avoid it like the plague. While it wasn't as bad as pulling teeth, it was good fun and thankfully only once a year.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Fact of the Day: Mainland Shopping Frenzy

A survey by The Nielsen Company has found mainland visitors spend an average of HK$12,000 ($1,540) each when they come to Hong Kong.

Nearly 60 percent of that is spent on shopping, mainly on cosmetics and electronic goods. Twenty-three percent is spent on accommodation, and 18 percent on food.

Some 500 mainlanders were interviewed towards the end of last year by the global consumer research firm.

What's interesting is that these shoppers did their homework before coming to Hong Kong, relying on word of mouth as well as online forums and blogs for information. They also found information from TV shows, newspapers and online advertising.

Some of the other popular items they bought were jewelery, clothes, medicine, food (powdered milk?), souvenirs and handicrafts.

This shows that most of those interviewed were young people who are internet savvy and bringing shopping lists to help buy stuff for other people.

While companies targeting mainland shoppers should consider a greater web presence or more online advertising, mainlanders really are looking at well-known brands because we all know they can't trust what's for sale at home.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Trampling the "Jasmine Revolution"

Hanging out at McDonald's in Wangfujing
As expected, the Chinese government freaked out over the possible "Jasmine Revolution" and quashed any kind of mass gathering that was expected to be held in 13 Chinese cities simultaneously yesterday.
Following Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain, a message that was posted on a website called Boxun which is based in the United States encouraged people to come out as a protest against the Chinese government.
While people were invited to come around 11am, the crowds started to grow in the early afternoon in front of the McDonald's at Beijing's Wangfujing, a busy shopping district. There were apparently some 200 to 300 people by around 2pm despite heavy police presence.
At one point someone scattered white flowers (perhaps meant to be jasmine) on the ground and one man picked one of them up and was about to use his mobile phone when he was taken away by police.
"Why are you arresting me?" he protested loudly for everyone to hear. "I'm just here to do some shopping."
Witnesses say it took a few hours for the police to finally herd people a distance from the fast food restaurant and by late afternoon most people had dispersed.
There are reports more than 20 cities, including Tianjin, Chengdu and Guangzhou stepped up security measures, and universities in Shaanxi and Jiangsu were ordered to shut their gates to prevent students from leaving the campuses.
China Human Rights Defenders said at least 70 to 80 people were detained across the country, including lawyers and activists. They were either put under house arrest, detained in police stations or forced out of their homes. One Guangzhou-based lawyer was even beaten up by thugs.
Despite the large-scale exercise that was promptly snuffed out, some people were optimistic by the turnout.
"I see hope today as there are so many young people here," said a 37-year-old teacher in Beijing who declined to give his name. But he said he didn't think the pro-democracy protests in the Middle East would spread to China.
Beijinger Xu Chongyang, 54, who stood in front of McDonald's for three hours was surprised by the number of people who showed up. He believed it was a wake-up call for the government to address the country's rising social problems.
In Shanghai, people gathered at the Peace Cinema near the People's Square and at least three were taken by the police. A man started giving a speech but left when the police came.
One man who was there told reporters: "I am here to demand that they end the one-party rule as soon as possible... so they won't be able to carry out arbitrary arrests any more."
In Guangzhou the police presence of some 500 and 30 police vehicles intimidated people from meeting at the People's Park. A student was disappointed by the lack of support.
"There are myriad social problems. We should let the leadership know," he said.
Meanwhile it was impossible for people to send text messages to more than one person at once and internet connections were spotty at various times.
For many, this was just the dress rehearsal. It was interesting to see the response from both the people and the police.
A former colleague of mine in Beijing fears the event will impose even greater restrictions on internet users and possibly shut down more websites.
However, with greater advances in technology day by day, there is no doubt people will find a more clandestine way to be organized. If the Falun Gong were able to freak out Chinese officials by showing up en masse at Zhongnanhai on April 25, 1999, surely with today's technology passionate Chinese who want a better China will find a way to make their protest seen and heard -- together.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Private Kitchen Extravaganza

Shelling out for a decadent meal at Stone House
Yesterday I went to dinner at a private kitchen called Stone House and it was something I had been looking forward to for a long time.

A few months ago my friend from California told me about a food blogger who flies just about anywhere for good food and was coming to Hong Kong. He was going to arrange a series of dinners and she encouraged me to sign up.

I contacted him and he gave me a long list of places and dates for the dinners. I signed up for three of them... and then later realized how much they would cost.

I tried to reason with myself that it's not often I get to go to private kitchens as you usually need a big group of people, and if I was able to tag along with some other foodies then it would be a good opportunity for me to try these places.

But then it turned out one of dates for one of the dinners I signed up for was changed and I couldn't make it; then a second one didn't have enough people so it was cancelled.

So I was left with this last one yesterday.

Roast suckling pig
And then a few days before, the blogger emailed us to say he himself wasn't able to make the dinner as he was flying off to Antarctica. Yep, he's communing with the penguins as I write this.

Anxious to make sure I got the address, I looked it up online and copied it in Chinese characters in case I didn't pronounce it right in Cantonese to the taxi driver. It was 15 Kotewall Road, in mid-levels, supposedly in an old house.

But when I got there, the white building with red lanterns in front and giant black steel doors was shut and it didn't look like anyone was in there. I rang the doorbell several times and no answer.

Luckily I had copied down one of the dinner guest's mobile number and called him. He himself got the address wrong too and it turns out the restaurant had moved to the first floor of the Cosmo Hotel on Queen's Road East a few months ago.

Seafood platter with the broth added
So I had to catch another cab to get there, about 20 minutes late, but it didn't look like the dinner had started at all as everyone was chatting amongst themselves.

It was a grab-bag mix of people, a restaurateur who had her own private kitchen in Sai Kung with her husband, a wine importer with his wife, a girl in public relations who brought her two cousins who are also trained chefs, a food blogger, a guy who deals with equities and a girl who writes for travel guides.

It wasn't until about 9pm did we get the dinner started -- did I tell you it was supposed to be about HK$1,000 ($128.50) per person for this dinner?

We sat down in a large private room, with a giant round table and large lazy susan in the middle that required some effort to rotate. There was also a sofa off to the side complete with karaoke equipment.

On the lazy susan were some appetisers -- chopped deep-fried lotus root, barbecued pork shoulder, deep-fried tofu cubes and deep-fried salt white fish. They seemed quite ordinary and not particularly outstanding.

Fried crispy chicken
Then the main event -- a roasted suckling pig was carried into the room, lying flat on its stomach complete with maraschino cherries for its eyes. The skin was carefully sliced up into rectangles and placed on mini pancakes. The skin was very crispy and not too greasy, very delicate and two pieces was definitely enough, though there was more to go around.

After came the seafood platter, a giant one filled with slices of abalone, geo duck and lobster. The server poured the broth over the dish before portioning it out to each person in a bowl with slices of deep-fried dough sticks. All the seafood was so fresh and sweet, combined with spring onions and coriander. The broth was also delicious.

Water chestnut cake
Next came baked crab meat in its shell, small crab shells that had a mixture of onion, crab meat and some mushroom in it, then baked. Again the portion was just right and not overcooked.

Then came the old style stewed beef shin, braised for a very long time as the beef was so easy to break up into smaller pieces and practically melted in the mouth. The gravy that came with it was also delicious.

We also had sauteed garoupa with broccoli, a standard dish with large pieces of fish that was firm and cooked just right. For a fine dining Cantonese restaurant it was a bit strange we didn't have a complete steamed fish, but perhaps the dish we had was considered better for a large party.

The fried crispy chicken was excellent -- the skin definitely crispy and not too greasy, meat tender and succulent. If I had more room in my stomach I'd have eaten more. It was a classic dish done very well.

Deep-fried dough with honey and sesame sauce
Then finally in a different presentation, we each got a plate of deep fried noodles, and then we poured on as much of the thick cornstarched sauce of shredded chicken, mushroom and bean sprouts we wanted. By now I was quite full and only finished about half my portion; there was lots of noodles and sauce left over. In fact many of the dishes weren't completely finished which was a bit of a waste even though someone did get the doggie bag afterwards.

Dessert featured a dough that was lightly deep-fried like a butterfly and we each drizzled as much honey sauce with sesame seeds we wanted. This is a classic dessert not many restaurants do anymore. We also had pan-fried water chestnut cake perhaps left over from the Chinese New Year holidays, and a giant fruit platter.

The restaurant didn't charge corkage so some people brought wine to go with the dinner which was nice. In the end we each paid HK$940 for the dinner.

The colourful fruit platter
While the food wasn't anything that had super ceded anything I'd ever had before, the standard was quite high and a few of the dishes were unusual. It's not something I would shell out again for, but I'm glad I tried it and met some new people too.

Stone House
1/F, Cosmo Hotel
375-377 Queen's Road East
Wan Chai
2559 9169

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Picture of the Day: Creative Cupping

I wasn't in Hong Kong during Chinese New Year, but many of the stores still have their decorations up with the usual red paper cuts of rabbits and flowers.

Today I walked by Harvey Nichols, and was pleasantly surprised to see the store windows decorated with coloured paper cups.

Not only did they bring bright bursts of colour, but also texture which definitely made me stop and look.

It was definitely one of the more creative window scenes I've seen in a while.

Wonder how many paper cups they had to use and will they recycle them later?

Friday, 18 February 2011

Food Safety Scandals Hard to Swallow

After the tainted milk scandal broke out in the fall of 2008, I was living in Beijing at the time and promised to help a friend who had twin baby girls to get some milk powder for him in Hong Kong. I managed to lug back a case, though they probably went through that quite quickly.

I wasn't the only one buying milk powder and that certainly wasn't the last time either.

Now there is a big concern over having enough milk powder supply for residents in Hong Kong as mainlanders are coming across the border in droves to buy milk powder products here. They believe products in Hong Kong are trustworthy and will pay almost any price for it.

That has left many store shelves empty and local residents desperately going all over town looking for milk powder.

But that's not all mainlanders buy in Hong Kong -- they snap up cookies, cosmetics, shampoo -- almost everything we consider mundane. But to them things bought in Hong Kong are safe because they hardly trust anything made in their homeland anymore.

According to a survey by Insight China magazine and Tsinghua University's Media Survey Lab, almost 70 percent of mainland consumers seriously doubt food safety. Staples such as cooked meat, dairy products, fresh meat, canned food and cooking oil are among the top 10 food concerns where the level of distrust is unprecedented.

Last year the National Food Safety Regulating Work Office reported 130,000 food safety cases last year. Imagine how many went unreported.

The reason? Poor regulation, weak safety laws and a dysfunctional system that fails to prevent or seriously punish hazardous behaviour.

The chairwoman of a Beijing company that processes and sells cooked meats said it stems from the problem of feeding 1.3 billion people.

"What you're told in newspapers or as hearsay is not exaggerating at all," she said. "The government encourages big farms and they require you to meet market demand. The big farmers cannot afford to have sick pigs and it's convenient for them to feed pigs with antibiotics so that they don't get sick.''

"Meeting market demand is the big premise," she continued. "When meeting market demand is a problem, food safety cannot be a priority."

She added that a big concern for her was that slaughterhouses no longer removed sick pigs.

"Like people, pigs can fall ill with all kinds of diseases," she said. "But now, even the big state-owned slaughterhouses do not enforce that," she said. "It was not like that when I was young and it is very scary."

A chicken farmer named Zhou Jianping said it was common for farmers to mix hormones in the feed so that period to rear chickens was shorter, to less than 40 days.

And someone working in the fish industry told the Economic Observer that fish were fed with antibiotics and then soaked in formalin to preserve their freshness, which has become common practice.

There is not enough inspection, and standards aren't strictly enforced either. If companies fail an inspection, they come back with different packaging rather than actually improving on the product or the system.

"If there was a stricter policy, with a five-year or even a lifetime ban from entering the market, I think those owners would be more cautious and pay more attention to food quality," the Beijing woman said.

When it comes to legal prosecution, the criminal law only looks at those who produce and sell substandard food, not food processing, packaging, transport, storage and supervision of food.

"The real problem is that in China, whenever such a scandal comes out, the government regards it as a social incident that might affect the stability of its rule, but not as a legal matter," said rights lawyer Wang Zhenyu, who is also deputy director of the Research Institute of Public Policy under the China University of Political Science and Law.

The increase in food safety scandals also reveals the decline in social morals, said Wang. "There is no religion, no fear and no belief in karma," he said. "There are no public ethics at all."

Wang added inspectors have hardly any motivation to do their job well and seem to prefer to take bribes and kickbacks in order to financially get ahead -- as long as nothing serious happened under their watch.

So in the meantime what can people eat in China?

Apparently the rich have grouped together and hired people to grow organic vegetables and raise livestock for their own consumption.

What about the poor?

All they can do is arm themselves with as much knowledge as possible and try to eat things in season, or try to plant some vegetables.

Everyone has to eat, but how safe the food is, no one really knows. It's a scary way to go on a diet.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Real Life Soap Opera

The fascinating drama surrounding Macanese casino tycoon Stanley Ho Hung-sun, his wealth, his four wives and 17 children continues with his lawyer filing a lawsuit yesterday to stop his daughters Pansy and Daisy from transferring shares that saw him lose control of his holding company, Lanceford.
In late January Ho revealed through the media he was angry at some members of his family who had redistributed his shares, leaving him with hardly anything. Then Pansy revealed two letters showing Ho contradicting himself -- and signing both letters -- and then his bizarre appearance on television reading a script written on a giant piece of cardboard saying he would not sue anyone.
The whole kerfuffle was great fodder for Hong Kong and Macau media, having a field day following the various members of the Ho family all over the posh areas of the city to see what would happen next.
Then nothing happened over Chinese New Year until now.
In a six-page High Court writ filed by Ho's lawyer, the 89-year-old is seeking an injunction against Pansy and Daisy to stop them "exercising undue influence" to take control of or deal in shares of more than the hundreds of companies in which their father has a stake.
"These two girls have gone beyond the limit," the lawyer quoted Ho as saying. He added the casino tycoon was "annoyed" and "disappointed" with his daughters.
Ho had dropped a lawsuit against them he had filed January 26 in exchange for returning his shares of Lanceford. But they still have not.
His stake in Lanceford was diluted to 0.02 percent from 100 percent after a massive issuance of shares on December 27, which relinquished control of the company to his third wife Ina Chan Un Chan and the five children of second wife Lucina Laam King-ying.

The stakes are huge as Ho's fortune is estimated to be worth $3.1 billion by Forbes Magazine last month.

Lanceford owns 31.655 percent of Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau (STDM), which in turn owns a 55.7 percent stake in SJM, which indirectly operates 20 of Macau's 33 casinos. And as I have written before, the tables in Macau make many times more revenue than the entire Las Vegas strip.

There have been news analysis stories of how relatives fight bitterly to get a piece of the family business when the patriarch is nearing the end because no formal decisions have been made over the distribution of wealth or how the family business will continue to run.

This seems to happen more in Chinese families as the patriarch wishes to be seen as fully in control even to the end, because distributing their wealth before their death would be perceived as a sign of weakness.

But really these squabbles only give the markets the jitters when there is no proper succession plan in place so it's bad for business.

We'll all watch and see how this saga unfolds, as the father pits himself against his own flesh and blood.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Metallic Rice

Simple sugars are bad for you which is why I'm drastically cutting back on white rice, bread and fruit juices. I can't pass up a good dessert though.
But now I have more of a reason not to eat rice -- a survey has found that at least 10 percent of rice samples from various Chinese provinces have shown to contain excessive amounts of cadmium, a heavy metal that can cause bone problems if you consume too much.
And this affects Hong Kong because 12.8 percent of its rice imports come from the mainland. It is not known if the rice imported has excessive amounts of cadmium. Hong Kong gets two-thirds of its rice from Thailand.

Professor Pan Genxing of Nanjing Agricultural Resources and Environmental Institute tested more than 100 rice samples bought from markets in six regions in 2007. They found 10 percent of them had higher levels of cadmium than the national standard.

The test was repeated the following year on 63 samples from Jiangxi, Hunan and Guangdong, and found 60 percent of them contained too much cadmium.

The researchers believe soil pollution is to blame due to intense industrialization. And rice easily absorbs cadmium because of its genetic traits -- if planted in acidic soil or hybrid rice are more susceptible to absorbing more heavy metals.

Currently China's food safety rules state the caps for heavy metals per kilogram of rice is 0.2mg of cadmium, 0.3mg of lead and 0.3mg of arsenic.

Other experts blame Chinese farmers' overuse of fertilizers and pesticides for resulting in the high rates of heavy metals in rice. "About 25 to 35 percent of these chemical materials are absorbed by agricultural products, with the rest either staying in the soil to make it become more acidic or clotted, or flowing to pollute nearby rivers," said Pan Wenjing, director of the food and agriculture team with Greenpeace Beijing.

Frightening, isn't it?

After the tainted milk and toothpaste, fake eggs and sea moss, now it's rice.

What's left to safely eat in China now?


Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Your 15 Minutes of Fame are Up

Maybe fung shui master Tony Chan thinks his smile will get him an appeal

Tony Chan Chun-chuen just doesn't get it.

Yesterday the judges threw out the fung shui master's appeal that Asia's richest woman Nina Wang Kung Yu-sum gave him lots of money out of love.

The court said it had "no hesitation" in tossing the case.

"[Chan] has persisted in pursuing a thoroughly dishonest case," vice-president Anthony Rogers said. "In doing so he has abused the process of the court."

But even after the ruling Chan publicly announced he would appeal again.

"Although Mr Chan Chun-chuen is deeply disappointed by the court's ruling, he will respect the judgment. He has already decided to appeal to the Court of Final Appeal. Mr Chan reiterates that the 2006 will is absolutely authentic," said a public relations representative on Chan's behalf.

Meanwhile he has to pay around HK$340 million in legal fees for both sides in the previous court case and an additional HK$350 million for dodging the taxman.

Chan seems to be trying to rachet up the stakes in the hopes his name will be cleared and will get his hands on billions of dollars Wang left behind when she died in 2007.

But he either has a bunch of yes men around him or is so delusional to think the Court of Final Appeal will listen to his case when it's already been thrown out and a previous judge has already ruled him an unreliable witness.

Will someone please tell Chan his day in court is over and that we're all tired of hearing about this case? We're more interested in finding out what's happening with Stanley Ho and the supposed confusion over the allocation of his wealth.

Too Hot to Handle

Activist artist Ai Weiwei is hot property -- so scorching that a progressive art gallery in Beijing won't be exhibiting his work there.

His show was supposed to start in March at UCCA, a gallery founded by Belgian art collector Guy Ullens in the 798 art district that I've written about in my Beijing Calling blog many times.

Apparently the gallery finds Ai too politically sensitive.

"The timing is sensitive and politically they feel it is not suitable for the moment," said the 53-year-old artist. He said organizers wanted to postpone it, but he decided to scrap it all together.

UCCA communications director Vivienne Li said the gallery did not want to upset authorities by exhibiting a sensitive artist like Ai.

Wonder what kinds of subtle threats the gallery was receiving or is it self-censoring out of fear?

One may never know, but it's disappointing to hear this as UCCA would be the one gallery in Beijing I thought would have the determination to put on Ai's show.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Fact of the Day: New Year Highs

The dragon winds through the garden at Wynn Las Vegas

After watching Le Reve in Las Vegas during Chinese New Year, we walked through the casino area towards the lobby and saw Steve Wynn walk right by us with a posse of people.

Some onlookers stood around trying to take pictures, but Wynn's entourage made sure that didn't happen as he had a somewhat private conversation with two people.

Anyway, Wynn must be very pleased with how the Year of the Rabbit is starting off for Wynn Macau because it raked in a record $46 million in gambling revenue over a 24-hour period during Chinese New Year.

This compares with Wynn Macau's average daily casino revenue in the fourth quarter at $9.3 million.


"In China we had a night that we'll all remember," Wynn said last Friday who credited his lucky streak on the tables for the mind-boggling windfall. "In my 40-odd-year history... these kinds of things tend to stick with you."

It's assumed that most of this money has come from the Chinese mainland where people are still spending what's left over from the 2009 stimulus package.

After all, there's only so many Louis Vuitton bags and Gucci shoes you can buy...

Saturday, 12 February 2011

More One-Child Policy Issues

While Chinese New Year or Spring Festival is the time for family gatherings, for children who are products of the one-child policy in China, it can be a fractious one that can lead to divorce.

While this may seem ridiculous, it's true -- for couples whose hometowns are far away from each other, tough choices must be made.

Zhu Shaomin tried to get divorced this year. She is from Jiangsu Province, while her husband Chen Jun is from Shandong Province. For the past two years Chen refuses to go see Zhu's parents.

"Since it's the same problem every year, why not split up?" she asked. But the judge refused to grant them a divorce since they got along barring this one holiday issue.

One might think the best way to resolve it would be to alternate visiting each other's parents, but as many Chinese men refuse to bend or are too traditional, they don't want to go visit their wife's parents for the one-week holiday.

And if the couple has a child, which set of grandparents will get to see their precious grandchild?

Chinese society needs to realize these squabbles are ridiculous, and while traditions are meant to be kept, they are also meant to be modified to keep up with the times. Why not meet in a central location or alternate visits? And if they live close by, why not go visit one set of parents one day, then the other the next?

So while China is rapidly developing economically and adapting to new technologies like a fish to water, why can't its people be more reasonable?

The Chinese government likes to say it has prevented some 400 million extra people from populating the planet, but it really hasn't thought out this one-child policy out thoroughly...

Friday, 11 February 2011

Inspiration From Egypt

After 18 days Egyptians have gotten what they asked for -- the end of an authoritarian regime.

Hosni Mubarak finally stepped down as president after over 30 years in power, pushed by the people who gained the confidence in numbers to demand that he leave.

While people power was passionate and determined, so was Mubarak who felt he still had a strong grip over Egypt and didn't want his legacy to end in shame. He tried to shake things up when what people describe as thugs entered Tahrir Square and created chaos, beating people including journalists, in a pretext to spark violence and show that his regime was still needed to establish order.

And then he gave a statement yesterday saying he wasn't leaving until the end of his term in September.

This wasn't good enough for the people who protested in Cairo and elsewhere in the country.

It was not the reaction Mubarak was expecting and after he lost the staring contest, fled to his residence in Sharm el Sheik. Where he goes next is unknown.

The stories of corruption and repression, lack of democracy and freedom of speech sound very familiar in China.

And the leaders in Zhongnanhai must be frightened by the events in Egypt -- especially how quickly things unfolded.

However, people in China aren't getting the same unfettered access to news as we are. While they are reporting Mubarak has resigned, Chinese news reports are blaming the United States for ousting him, having lost confidence in the 82-year-old.

There will also probably be opinion pieces about how democracy is a strictly western phenomenon, and how it is ill-suited to China's situation. If the events that unfolded in Egypt happened in China, there would be untold chaos that could engulf the entire country, undoing the three decades of rapid economic development.

While it is tragic some 300 people died in the past 18 days, on the whole the protesters were peaceful. Those in the lower class stood shoulder-to-shoulder with professionals, all demanding the same thing -- an end to repression. For young people, Mubarak has been the only leader they have known, and they know having a leader for 30 years is not a democracy.

What about China? The Communist Party of China has been in power for 61 years and the gap between the rich and poor is only getting worse, real estate prices beyond the reach of ordinary people, corruption abounds and princelings, the children of senior officials are ingratiating themselves from the autocratic system.

June 4 tried to protest this, but we all know how that ended.

Will there be a Tiananmen 2.0?

While the People's Liberation Army followed orders in 1989, would they do that again today, firing on people who only demand what is legally in their constitution?

One wonders what China's reaction will be.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Us and Them

In Vancouver a lot of people are talking about the invasion of mainland Chinese into the city.

They talk about how they are snapping up real estate here, inflating housing prices, making property even further out of the reach of average Vancouverites.

One even called them "savages" -- finding them hardly polished in social manners, but filthy rich and act like they own the world. She knows many who are in their 30s and already retired, having made their money as mine owners and now living well in Vancouver. What about all the accidents and deaths in their mines?

Many of these mine owners she explained didn't have much of an education but were very clever people. I added that they knew people and had the guanxi to do business.

She thought those who were educated knew English, but I pointed out an engineer may not necessarily know English, but only the vocabulary he or she needed to know in order to do their jobs. I also explained that those who were educated at top universities were privileged because they needed to have gone to a top high school which meant having been accepted at a top elementary school, both of which were affiliated with either Peking University or Tsinghua University. And how do you get into these places? Through endless sessions with tutors, which of course require money.

So much for egalitarianism in a socialist society, she remarked.

Others complain about how loud mainlanders are. One friend recently stayed at the Excelsior Hotel in Hong Kong and they were shouting down the hallway to their friends or family members or had no courtesy to be quiet late at night while other hotel guests were sleeping. Some people called the front desk to complain, but what can they do?

Or what about how mainlanders in hotels and airplanes leave the bathrooms so dirty, with the garbage can filled with toilet paper, one said. I explained that in China, the sewage pipes are so small that they get clogged easily which is why they don't throw the toilet paper into the toilet, but into the garbage instead. And some don't know what to do with a western toilet and will stand on the seat to do their business...

People privately complain about the situation as there isn't much to be done about it. In Vancouver mainlanders are taking the place of Hong Kongers in the 1980s, infusing the local economy with money through real estate investments and buying up luxury cars.

While they seem to be living their lives here as if they were in China, have they given a thought to trying to integrate themselves into a western society? Time will tell.

But in the meantime, the Chinese community who have lived here for a long time wish to disassociate themselves from these newcomers, who they feel need to learn some basic social etiquette first.

So who will teach them the ropes? And will they be interested in learning?

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Fact of the Day: China's Soaring Divorce Rate

A lot of married couples in China are throwing in the towel.

Some 1.96 million couples divorced in 2010 in the mainland, more than double the number of people who tied the knot.

China's divorce rate has risen an average of 7.65 percent a year since 2003, when marriage laws were amended to make it easier to marry and divorce.

Previously, couples who wanted to split up had to get a written certificate from their workplaces or neighbourhood committees.

The high divorce rate has shocked many lawmakers in China, who are calling for a return for the bureaucratic practice as if that would deter couples from calling it quits.

The real root of the problem is the immaturity young couples in particular when it comes to relationships and the implications of being married.

Many hardly have any relationship experience by the time they get into university and their parents are constantly pressuring them to find their significant other, get married and have their only grandchild.

As a result many young people marry their first boyfriend or girlfriend -- after only dating for a few months. While the first few months are blissful, that doesn't mean marriage will end happily ever after.

A former colleague of mine is planning to get married to her mainland Chinese boyfriend after dating for about a year and on top of that they are having a long distance relationship with her in Xian and him in Hong Kong.

While I am happy for her, I am very concerned they are not really aware of what they are getting themselves into, only thinking of their preconceptions of what marriage is rather than the reality.

Another coworker told me about one of her friends who married and divorced in a matter of months. And she knows a few other people who have had similar outcomes within a year or two of tying the knot.

The government cannot interfere too much in people's lives, telling them when they should get married and to whom anymore. But it can educate young people more about sex education to at least give them more knowledge about relationships and also try not to give in too much to their parents' expectations.

But it's the parents or the schools themselves who are too prudish about having sex ed in classrooms, or would prefer their child to have more of an academic than a practical education.

Young people today should be given more time to establish their careers before they can begin to think about marriage and children. Otherwise parents will have to continue bailing out their children.

Unless the young (pretty) women are looking to make a career out of being concubines...

Monday, 7 February 2011

Drinking to Creativity

Tonight I attended the finale of the Cocktail Kitchen Series at The Refinery in downtown Vancouver which had run for six months. Each week the city's top bartenders were invited to the bar to pair cocktails with dishes from the kitchen. For $30 a ticket, the customers had the privilege of judging the drinks and how well they went with the food they ate.

The entire exercise is to encourage people to not just have cocktails before dinner or after, but to have them with their meals too.

At tonight's finale, they not only revealed the winner (Justin Tisdale from Chambar), but also the winning customer, who won a free round trip on Air Canada to any destination in North America. Pretty good deal.

My friend is a cocktail fanatic. He will visit restaurants regularly and ask the bartenders there to create him a drink. He took me to the event and explained the cocktail scene in Vancouver has really exploded in the last few years. He observed that for a small city like Vancouver this is quite impressive as the popularity of these drinks haven't taken off in Toronto which has a much bigger population.

I piped in that it was probably because the palates of Torontonians weren't as sophisticated and preferred their beers instead.

But my friend thinks it's about accessibility, and as Toronto is so spread out, it's hard to get people to explore a number of bars and the bartenders there creating interesting concoctions.

On the other end of the spectrum, people in Hong Kong are more into wines rather than cocktails. It's all about the wine label than developing their own tastes. And most Chinese people usually prefer sweeter cocktails which make the fruity ones more popular.

While there are cocktail competitions in Hong Kong mostly held in industry circles, there isn't much public hype about them. But now more Chinese newspapers and magazines are writing more about cocktails so with greater exposure, hopefully more people will be exploring cocktails.

If Singapore has the Singapore Sling, what's Hong Kong's drink?

Sunday, 6 February 2011


Entertainment in Las Vegas is only getting better. With new technology, producers and choreographers can create many more special effects than before.

Le Reve at Wynn Las Vegas moves on from Cirque du Soleil's O, with more physical feats and a storyline about a woman who rejects a suitor, only to have dreams, both good and bad about it and in the end realizes where her love lies.

The performers all had to work with water one way or another, whether it was synchronized swimming, dancing on wet surfaces or diving in at great heights. Perhaps that explains why almost all the men were bald?

Some magic was involved too, where four clowns try to impress the main female character by turning roses into doves.

Franco Dragone created the show, and it apparently had not-so-great reviews at first. There have been many tweaks along the way and now seems pretty impressive, though there isn't much action all the time. Wynn owner Steve Wynn liked Le Reve so much that he bought the show from Dragone, so Wynn must be onto something good.

Meanwhile, Love is a relatively new Cirque du Soleil show at The Mirage. There is constantly something going on, sometimes too much, making it hard to figure out which performer to focus on.

The show is based on The Beatles, from not only their music and album cover designs, but also the 1960s and 70s as evidenced from the many costumes the performers wore.

Here it was more about being suspended in the air and lots of dancing to the music which made it a lively show. The interpretations of the songs were very imaginative and the volume so loud that you couldn't help but want to sing along.

They also included the outtakes of the band members' snide remarks which made it fun and the special effects were great from the remote-controlled tricycle pedaled by a pair of boots to lots of bits of tissue paper dropped from the ceiling to create a festive atmosphere.

The best part was the gracefulness of the performers, jumping in the air and almost floating there for an extra second before going down, or gently landing on their feet after being suspended in the air.

At one point a gigantic white sheet was pulled out into the audience and gently waved up and down to create waves which was really neat.

In the end the audience was put in such a nostalgic mood that they immediately hit the souvenir shop which sold everything from the music from the show to T-shirts, cartoon cels of The Beatles and rugs featuring the Fab Four.

With cash registers ringing, it can only be a good sign these shows are bringing in the dough.

When the tables in Macau bring time four times as much as all of Las Vegas combined, it proves entertainment is still king on The Strip.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Picture of the Day: New Year Wishes

The tower at St Mark's Square which is part of The Venetian in Las Vegas is wrapped in red.

It has a graphic of a rabbit and the Chinese character 兔 (tu4) and 心想事成, which means "may all your wishes come true". It's a couplet people say to each other during Chinese New Year.

At Wynn, there's giant long dragons hung from the ceiling and apparently a lion and dragon dance at the hotel tomorrow evening.

Aria hotel even had the trees with mini mandarin oranges with lai see envelopes with the Chinese character 褔 (fu2) for fortune -- hanging upside down. Tomorrow the hotel will be hosting some 3,000 high rollers to a nine-course Chinese banquet.

Apparently some 80 percent of the clientele who are high rollers in Las Vegas are Asian, thus the big effort to get them into the festive spirit to gamble more...

Friday, 4 February 2011

Picture of the Day: CNY in Las Vegas

One large bunny
We're celebrating the Year of the Rabbit in Las Vegas and Bellagio, the hotel we're staying in, is all decked out for Chinese New Year.

The decorations at the front desk feature lots of red lanterns with bamboo, and in the conservatory is a giant statue of the God of Wealth wearing silk robes and holding a gold ingot and a jade sceptre. There's also a large wooden boat with red sails that say "Gong Hei Fat Choy" on them.

And... as it's the year of the rabbit, there was also a super-sized furry hare surrounded by small garden variety ones.

The hotel and restaurant staff seemed well aware it was Chinese New Year -- so if they are trying to cater to Asian clientele, why don't the rooms have kettles in them?
A wooden boat complete with red sails
The God of Wealth

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Snuffing Out Revolutionary Ideas

The chaos that erupted in Egypt on Wednesday would be the Chinese government's biggest nightmare.

Even the eight days of peaceful protest beforehand put China on edge and it didn't want to take any chances of inspiring its citizens into taking to the streets against the government.

All Chinese state media have been told to only use dispatches from Xinhua News Agency, while no one can talk about the situation in Egypt online in any form, from blogs to microblogs and China's version of Facebook.

Instead the Chinese media is focusing on how quickly the government is bringing Chinese travellers stranded in Egyptian cities brought home, including those from Hong Kong.

An editorial in the Global Times said "Western-style" institutions and ideas are not suited for people in Africa and the Middle East. "Colour revolutions will not bring about real democracy," said the Times on January 30.

As if Chinese democracy is superior...

The Chinese government is also worried because of soaring inflation especially for food prices that the people could take to the streets to vent their frustrations and anger, thus the further clamping down on any kind of dissent.

While China wouldn't see such large scale protests as those in Egypt, there are thousands of small eruptions happening throughout the country everyday.

The authorities should be used to dealing with these "destabilizing" elements by now, but they seem more scared than ever.

Air Warning

The end of the Year of the Tiger is finishing into quite a smoggy one. So try if you're in Hong Kong, best to avoid Causeway Bay as much as possible.

That's because pollution levels recorded there reached 182 yesterday, while Central was 137 and Mongkok was 107.

Anything over 100 is considered very high...

Hong Kong Observatory forecaster Steven Ng explained the high pollution levels were due to the dry weather.

"Usually, when winds come from the north, they bring particulates in the air -- visibility is not too good," Ng told local radio.

Hong Kongers are getting more and more frustrated with the government not doing anything substantial about cutting down on air pollution, or telling the mainland to stop polluting our air.

While much of the pollutants do come from China, Hong Kong itself could significantly reduce the pollution it generates.

Why not make all car owners buy hybrids and bus companies have hybrid vehicles? Why not enforce idling bans on everyone. Too bad if you're sweating for 10 minutes -- is it too much of a sacrifice for the planet?

And what about cutting down on the use of air conditioners in the summer, and keeping room temperatures warmer instead of freezing cold?

However, the government doesn't have enough guts to take such a radical step -- instead it kowtows to business, leaving the rest of us breathing in pollutants.

When Hong Kong officials have to breathe the same air we do, you'd think they'd be just as concerned as us. Strange.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Fact of the Day: Highway Tolls

When you go through highway tolls in China, it's just a uniformed person sitting in a booth, not with a cash register, but with a black briefcase full of money.

And collecting all that cash has people wondering where that money really goes.

The Chinese who have to pay these tolls are getting tired of having to shell out constantly and no wonder -- a World Bank report says highway tolls in China are one of the most expensive compared to international standards, resulting in high costs for transportation.

The statistics say logistical costs make up 18 percent of the gross domestic product in China in 2010, nearly double that of developed economies.

By the end of 2005, China's toll highways reached 180,000 kilometres, almost 55 percent of the highway network according to a report from the National Audit Office.

In 18 provinces there were 4,328 toll stations that bring in 510 billion RMB ($77.4 billion) for government coffers.

While this is a significant sum, economists say this is not the best way for the government to collect money.

"Toll stations scattered nationwide will block China's developing economy," said Zhang Xiaode, an economic expert at the Chinese Academy of Governance.

However, government officials claim they need to collect tolls because of the lack of sufficient funds to build highways.

But many think China should be shifting its focus on using high-speed rail to transport goods as well as people. This makes sense and is more fuel efficient as well as more environmentally friendly.

Another problem is that the collection of so much cash is so tempting that local governments continue having the tolls to rake in more dough. Some 14.9 billion RMB ($2.2 billion) was collected by 158 illegal tollgates by the end of 2005, while 8.2 billion RMB ($1.2 billion) was claimed from illegal toll price rises, the national audit body said on its website.

Much like other government policies, there are no checks and balances to ensure tolls are not needed anymore or that highways are not needlessly being built.

And so these easy money grabs will continue at the expense of small- and medium-sized enterprises trying to eke out a living.

No wonder a man got some fake military license plates so that he could evade paying tolls when transporting goods.

While he was jailed for this, who is really to blame?

Sore Losers

Li Na (right) puts on a brave face at the awards ceremony
The Chinese were really excited to see their compatriot Li Na become the first Asian to make it to the finals of the Australian Open, a Grand Slam tournament (Michael Chang is considered American).

They were so excited that they were in the stands not only showing their support for her, but also telling her what to do.

Apart from shouting out "jia you" which literally means "add oil", or keep going, some fans told Li to "Finish her [Kim Clijsters] off" while they were playing, or taking flash pictures of the action down in centre court.

Li complained to the chair umpire, asking her to intervene. "Can you tell the Chinese, don't teach me how to play tennis?"

The umpire did so twice -- but to no avail.

Li's frustrations led to her losing the match, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.

Chinese tennis fans really need to understand etiquette when it comes to watching a match live -- it's not a football game where you can shout anytime you want.

At the press conference, Li said, "There were a lot of people coaching me. It was really loud."

And now the fans are hitting back, claiming Li is being a snob.

"While being a Chinese, Li asked a foreigner [chair umpire Allison Lang] to demand the Chinese spectators stop shouting, making her just like an outsider," wrote one person on a microblog.

Obviously this person doesn't know the procedure in tennis -- players are supposed to ask the umpire to ask for quiet. She was following the rules, not the loud Chinese spectators.

The Southern Metropolis Daily even wrote a commentary saying Li's request represented her fragile state of mind where she could not control her temper, and that this had a bad impact on China's international image.

Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociology professor at Renmin University of China explained that a nationalist mindset was to blame.

"Chinese spectators have always attached the result of a sports game to the national image," Zhou said.

Obviously the chance to play in the finals is nerve-wracking enough -- it was already expected Clijsters would win -- so why put more pressure on Li and let her enjoy her moment?

Instead the Chinese fans distracted her and created a bad image of being sore losers.