Saturday, 30 April 2011

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

I just got back from a short stay in Macau and it changes a lot every time I go. The next hotel complex to open will be Galaxy, a massive white and gold castle-like building across from The Venetian and will include the Banyan Tree Macau. Sounds like an oxymoron having one of the best known chill-out resorts to plonk itself right in the midst of the casino frenzy, but it promises to be a total escape from the chaos. We'll have to see.

During my visit there I heard the casinos and hotels have been busy since Chinese New Year; March is usually a slow month, but apparently it's been pretty much non stop... thanks mostly to mainlanders who are flush with cash that comes from who knows where.

The casinos while not packed were busy, particularly on the tables and on the slots. Some casinos like The Venetian had non-smoking sections but that didn't deter gamblers from lighting up. Thankfully there will be a new regulation in place in the next few months banning smoking in restaurants. The eventual ban of indoor smoking in Macau is going to be incremental but will happen eventually thankfully. I've seen cigarette butts stamped out everywhere instead of in an ashtray where they belong. But it's hard to tell off a customer when he's always right...

Meanwhile as Macau keeps developing casinos and hotels, there isn't enough infrastructure or staff to service everything. For starters the issue of not enough taxis has not been dealt with. A friend of mine tried to get a taxi back to the ferry terminal from Grand Lisboa earlier this week. While it's a short taxi ride, it's a very long walk. She got into the car, told the driver where she wanted to go and he angrily told her to get out. Hardly welcoming, isn't it?

Then there is the staff at all these hotels. The Macau government has made it very difficult for these top casinos and resorts to hire foreign staff in order to protect local employment. There are more than enough jobs for everyone in Macau, but service is hardly world class. At one of the top hotels in the city I attended a function held by Mercedes-Benz. Hotel catering staff wandered among the guests, presenting them hors d'oeuvres, both savoury and sweet. They also handed out refreshments from orange juice to wine. I asked one for a napkin and she looked at me strangely. I had to explain, you know, to wipe your mouth with? Not very bright.

My friend who now commutes to Macau from Hong Kong daily tells me she is the first person in the office at 10am when the rest of the staff stumble in at around 10:30am. Then they go for lunch at noon and don't come back until 2:30, 2:45pm, and then leave for the day at 6pm. "When do they get any work done?" I asked. "They don't," she replied.

It seems everyone in Macau has inflated salaries because of the labour shortages and as a result they have become complacent knowing they will have no problem getting a job. And because of that attitude quality has completely fallen by the wayside, making it near impossible for the top hotels to effectively compete with each other giving customers the best service possible.

It's a strange situation given that it's only an hour away from Hong Kong; but it's also only an hour away from China too. I remarked to my friend that at least Macau is somewhat manageable -- multiply the Macau situation over several hundred times and you have China.

Now that is a tall order.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Lone Voice in the Wilderness

Once again Premier Wen Jiabao is calling for political reforms and even the conservative and politically correct People's Daily issued a plea for China to tolerate dissent and criticism.

Wen said this during a speech to Chinese embassy staff and representatives of the Chinese community in Kuala Lumpur, saying China needed to carry out political, economic and judicial reforms to balance its growth.

"[China] must advance political, economic and judicial reforms, so that our superstructure [politics] will keep abreast with the development of our economic foundation," he said during his speech.

He also talked about the importance of "independent thinking" -- in an atmosphere where radical thoughts are nipped in the bud.

"The most important thing for future development is to promote independent thinking and creativity. Our country will be invincible if all of our 1.3 billion people can think independently and be creative," he said.

The timing of Wen's renewed campaign is interesting considering the authorities have still illegally detained Ai Weiwei and scores of other human rights activists and lawyers.

In addition People's Daily published an unusual commentary calling for greater tolerance of ideas and a willingness to accept criticism. The article began with a quote from French philosopher Voltaire: "I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

It criticized officials who do not tolerate dissenting views, saying "In their treatment of criticisms and suggestions, some [officials] have not only not listened to them with an open mind, but have also resorted to the charge of libel and even used their power to suppress such dissenting voices," the commentary said.

What is going on in the Communist Party of China?

Wen's speech was not reported by Chinese state media which proves the premier is out on his own saying these controversial remarks as they go completely against what National People's Congress chairman Wu Bangguo says.

Last month Wu, the party's No. 2 man said China must guard against the consequences of going towards a Western-style democracy.

Wen seems keen or desperate to show the rest of the world that there are differing opinions in China, but with no one else supporting his views he seems powerless in his push for greater reforms.

Or is he just saying these things for more window dressing? Wen was photographed earlier this week with his wife Zhang Peili, who is a well known jeweler and investor raising eyebrows. They are rarely seen together as it is thought she could damage his image as a frugal person; in the similar vein his son owns a private equity company, with reports hinting he has benefited from his princeling status.

While it's refreshing to hear Wen promote political and judicial reforms, they are only his words and no one else's.

Meanwhile the consensus of the Party continues to march on...

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Graffiti Protest Continues

The graffiti artists are still at it -- they continue to spray paint images of Ai Weiwei in Hong Kong and now it's spread to Tsuen Wan.
Now the cartoon-like images that also included Chairman Mao came with the slogan "You cannot stop me from telling the truth".

Featuring some 30 images, the graffiti in support of Ai have been happening since April 11 and found in Central, Sheung Wan and now Tsuen Wan.
What's most amusing is that the Hong Kong police have diverted their investigators from cases involving serious crimes like rapes and murders to track down mischievous human rights activists who have committed the illegal offense of defacing public property.

Tang Siu-wa of Art Citizen, a group that led a protest by Hong Kong artists in support of Ai this past Sunday, said the latest graffiti was a message expressing disapproval over the police investigation.

"This was not a rational decision by the police in deploying its regional crime unit to investigate Ai Weiwei drawings. Suppression can only lead to more paintings," Tang said.

Surely police resources could be better used to fight other injustices and lawbreakers than a bunch of people spray painting images around town?

Perhaps the infractions will continue until Ai is released. In that case maybe Hong Kong should press Ai's illegal detainment to Beijing so that the graffiti will stop?

If only Ai knew this was happening. He would probably be amused by it.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Threatening Ambitions

Last week I had dinner with a friend who was telling me she was looking for a junior person for her department and asked me if I knew anyone suitable.

I couldn't think of anyone off the top of my head, but the conversation soon led to her experiences conducting job interviews with young people in Hong Kong.

Some candidates weren't shy about their ambitions. "When will I have your position?" more than one asked.

My friend immediately rejected these people as they had no interest in working as a team player and were only concerned about themselves.

But that's not all.

In more than one instance, the parents of the failed candidates called the human resources department, asking why their son or daughter did not get the job.

Excuse me?

I have friends who are teachers in high school who tell me some of their students' parents will call and demand to know why their child did not receive a higher grade.

That's already bad enough because it's really the parents' responsibility to make sure their child is studying and doing their homework. But now there are parents asking why their child did not get a job? When does it ever end?

This just demonstrates the extensive coddling that goes on, not just in Hong Kong but elsewhere too. The children are spoiled and the parents don't know how to discipline their children.

"Imagine this happening in China," my friend pointed out.

It was a frightening thought.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Misplaced Blame

Hot and humid weather should have arrived in Hong Kong by now but we're enjoying warm days and cool evenings, which is great in terms of less air conditioner use.

However, air quality in the city has been horrific -- the most polluted spring on record.

For about a third of the period from January to March the air pollution index was at a very high level, almost three times longer than the same period last year when a severe sandstorm from the mainland made its way down to Hong Kong.

Central was the worst in terms of air quality at 912 hours of very high readings, followed by Causeway Bay at 808 hours and 488 in Mongkok. A very high level reading of 100 or more means at least one of the air pollutants monitored has surpassed the air quality standards set by the Environmental Protection Department in 1987.

Severe air pollution can lead to or aggravate respiratory problems or heart disease.

There was also reduced visibility, another indicator of air pollution. The number of hours where visibility fell below 8 kilometres excluding days with high humidity and fog jumped to between 190 to 207 hours in February and March, the highest ever for the two months according to the Hong Kong Observatory.

There was also a surge in nitrogen dioxide levels roadside by 21 percent.

However, the Hong Kong Observatory explained that the reason for the high levels of air pollution was due to stronger sunshine and not enough rain.

"The weather was in general dry with rainfall low," a spokesman said. "Air pollutants would thus stay in the atmosphere instead of being washed out by the rain. In addition, there was less cloud cover than normal, which caused solar radiation that promoted photochemical smog formation."


That mumbo-jumbo of weather jargon made no sense -- someone in the department is trying to blame the weather for air pollution, when it's really man made. And why are we still following standards set in 1987?!

Alexis Lau Kai-hon, an atmospheric scientist from the University of Science and Technology said vehicle emissions should take most of the blame.

"I did not notice any major changes in regional pollution and this no doubt suggests the air quality deterioration by the roadside is of our own making," he said. "Year after year, the city's vehicle fleet is aging and will emit more pollution. But we do not have any system, such as thorough vehicle maintenance and repair, to monitor the changes."

Another academic, professor Wong Tao who is an air pollution specialist at the Polytechnic University, said the weather was more influenced by the air from the north than from the ocean in the south. He also agreed with Lau that more vehicle use was the cause of air pollution and the density of high-rise buildings which prevented air circulation.

March was also the driest on record, as observatory figures show that rainfall was about a third of normal amounts.

While it's good to see the Hong Kong Observatory isn't trying to hide reduced visibility to fog unlike Beijing does with its Blue Sky Days, but can you really say the weather caused the high levels of air pollution?

It's just another pathetic effort by the government not to seriously tackle the urgent issue of air pollution in the city and how it affects over seven million people everyday.

Hong Kong could become so progressive in legislating hybrid cars and vehicles on the streets and in the meantime building electric charging stations so that the next phase could be electric cars on the roads.

Instead the city is scaring off residents and expats who are looking for cleaner places to live while the rest of us have to put up with the choking pollution that no one with the authority cares to fix.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Hear Them Out

The Falun Gong marching down Queens Road Central

It looked like an innocent Sunday parade passing through Central, with the bright shiny yellow outfits and banging of the drums.

But in fact it was the Falun Gong marching from North Point to the liaison office in Sheung Wan. Some 400 members were in the procession with members from Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Singapore. They were also carrying signs calling for the end of the persecution of this "religion" on the mainland, which China brands a cult.

The Falun Gong were preceded by protesters led by the League of Social Democrats and April Fifth Action group demanding the release of artist and activist Ai Weiwei who has been detained for over three weeks now. They chanted, "Let Ai Weiwei go home" and threw yellow pieces of paper on the ground representing offerings to the dead.

On Saturday some 1,000 people also protested against Ai's illegal detainment in Tsim Sha Tsui, having a few scuffles with police but on the whole quite peaceful.

It's great that Hong Kong continues to uphold freedom of speech which is why protest marches are a weekly ritual here.

However, there are some more radical protesters who believe physical action is more effective in getting attention for their cause. The more recent incidents are when Chief Executive Donald Tsang was allegedly hit in the chest by someone, and then yesterday protesters confronted Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen at an event at the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Park in Western district to commemorate the 1911 revolution.

They chanted slogans loudly and at one point one broke through an entrance while Tang was speaking but was stopped by police.

Most Hong Kong people seem shocked by what they describe as violent rowdy behaviour. They cannot fathom why young people are taking such measures to get their point across.

However, if put into perspective, what these "radical" protesters are doing is hardly as extreme as say G8 summit protesters who are willing to incite actual violence.

The Hong Kong protesters are using alternative means to protest but on the whole they are still technically peaceful.

And if they are resorting to what people deem as extreme actions, then perhaps the government should really consider what these young protesters are saying and listen to them.

They are the future of the city and they want to have a say in how it's run. So why not start a dialogue and hear what they have to say?

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Why China's Milk is Still Bad

The other day a professor from City University of Hong Kong explained why China continues to have issues with its milk, some of which was recently found to have hydrolysed leather in it, again a pathetic yet shocking attempt to boost the protein content of the milk.

Desmond K O'Toole, an adjunct professor in the department of biology and chemistry writes in a letter to a Hong Kong newspaper that the Chinese government is targeting the wrong part of the milk production and processing system.

"Clearly farmers are finding it very difficult to get their cows to produce enough protein in their milk to meet the standards required," says O'Toole. "Dairy factories can only accept what is produced. The major reason for this situation can be found in the breed of cow being used and the feeding of those cows."

He goes on to explain Holstein and Friesian cows produce good amounts of milk, but only if they are well fed "with the right amount of energy in the form of grain as well as with protein supplements. Alternatively they can be grazed on good quality pasture".

O'Toole is hinting that perhaps the issue is that the farmers don't know how to look after their cows well and aren't giving them quality feed... which leads to the issue of high costs for farmers.

Nevertheless, he ends by suggesting the mainland authorities should consider establishing dairy farm advisers to give suggestions to farmers on how to better look after their cows in the hopes of higher quality milk.

"Dairy farming is a highly skilled occupation and it requires a high degree of knowledge to be successful," O'Toole says.

While farming has become a highly skilled job in many developed countries, it's still one that eeks out a meagre living in China.

Perhaps O'Toole doesn't realize it would take a great leap forward for Chinese farmers to be considered skilled enough to produce higher quality goods, but the bigger question is, is the government keen enough to help them do so?

Currently the government seems more concerned about getting farmers to buy consumer goods than invest in better feed for their livestock. The central authority's promise of preventing more tainted food scandals has faded quickly, making people there and in Hong Kong continue to be wary of what they are ingesting.

When will the government earnestly help farmers become more efficient and produce better quality food? More hormones and unscrupulous additives are not the answer.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Picture of the Day: Too Hot to Handle?

Bits of chicken stir-fried with dried chillis and peanuts...

Can you take the heat?

Last night two friends and I went back to that Little Chilli restaurant in between Fortress Hill and North Point to have our fill of Sichuan cuisine. We managed to get a small table in the corner just in time before a horde of people began a line outside the restaurant.

One of the friends who took me to this restaurant before is an adventurous foodie and was eager to try some new dishes.

He looked around the room and on the table next to us was a giant platter covered in dried chillis. He asked the two women sitting there what it was and they said chicken. He looked at the two of us and we were horrified by the redness of the plate, but seeing how he was so keen to try the dish, we ordered it.

We also asked for shredded potato stir-fried with dried chillis and Sichuan peppercorns that we had last time, and then we had some panfried dumplings, cucumber in chilli oil and chillis, Nappa cabbage cooked in a broth with roasted garlic and preserved eggs, and stewed lamb with carrots. Oh yes we also had beer -- lots of it.

When the giant plate arrived, it was generously coated in dried chillis. You had to poke around the mound to find the bits of stirfried chicken and even then they were small bits attached to bones so they weren't very satisfying to eat, though not too spicy. Peanuts were also in the dish.

I only ate a few pieces and gave up, but my friend who wanted to try the dish kept eating and eating... until practically all the chicken was gone save for the chillis.

In the end he didn't enjoy the dish that much, but was pleased to have tried it.

Afterwards we wandered towards the MTR station with a stop at Eski Mo's Frozen Yogurt -- "Have you had your MIGHTY MO today??" the tagline asks.

The plain frozen yogurt topped with blueberries and strawberries helped balance out the spiciness we had earlier. Yum.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Picture of the Day: Extra Protection

Hong Kong cops keeping the city's streets safe... sort of...

Today is Good Friday, a public holiday in Hong Kong.

Most people were asleep or out of town but I was one of the lucky few who had to go to work.

This morning as the bus passed through Wan Chai, there were seven police motorcycles parked in front of a police van or paddy wagon. On the back of it was a big neon yellow sign that read "Random Breath Test" and three cops standing there, one or two with clipboards. The rest were stationed a few metres away, standing around, chatting amongst themselves.

What is the point of a breathalyzer test at 9:30 in the morning?

Shouldn't they be out in force over six hours earlier at 3am when there's a higher chance of people in a drunken stupor?

It seemed like overkill having seven cops there plus a police wagon at 9:30am and not even conducting random tests that I could see.

Good to know the streets of Hong Kong are extra safe with these cops around...

Thursday, 21 April 2011

A Twist on the Egg-Waffle Man

My support for the egg-waffle man is waning after he admitted that he does accept welfare AND his three children and wife are living with him in Hong Kong.

It did seem crazy that he claimed to make HK$6,000 ($772.48) a month and then gave HK$4,000 to his family in the mainland and he just subsisted on HK$2,000. He also doesn't live in a little tin shack either.

Now things are getting complicated.

After Ng Yuk-fai's admission, he is now being investigated by the Social Welfare Department and the police are looking into the case too.

Someone who knows Ng says he started receiving HK$3,000 in welfare a month about 10 years ago. His children and wife came five years ago, and while the children are eligible for money from the government, his wife isn't because she has not been in Hong Kong for seven years.

The department didn't say how much the family was living on per month, but government regulations say a parent and three children could get more than HK$10,000 a month including a rent allowance.

There are still people who strongly support the "old egg-waffle man" despite this latest twist in the story saying the government should give him a hawker license. But what about this double dipping of having a job AND collecting welfare?

While the authorities seemed to be particularly harsh on Ng arresting him so many times, he was naive to think he could get away with telling such a dramatic story and not be found out.

It just shows some things are never as they seem...

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Fact of the Day: HK$940 billion in Bank Loans

According to a recent article in Economic Times, bank loans in Hong Kong grew 29 percent to HK$940 billion ($121 billion) last year, while the economy only grew 6.5 percent.

Where did all the money go?

The report says 47 percent of the loans were taken out by non-bank mainland customers.

Considering almost half of all bank loans were taken out by mainlanders, these financial institutions can just kiss their money good-bye.

Most mainlanders don't understand the concept that if you borrow money, you have to pay it back.

What's worse is that these customers aren't even regular patrons of the banks, making the possibility of default loans much, much higher.

Why did the banks do this? And why so much money?

And what did they spend the money on anyway? Will we ever see it again?

Yesterday I read a story about how mainland Chinese at auctions hardly ever pay up for the things they successfully bid for. And if they do shell out the dough, it takes several months to pay up which makes auctioneers nervous.

Which is why some auction houses are now demanding deposits from those intending on bidding, making many of them balk.

But really, people have to protect themselves, which brings me back to the bank loans.

If these clients don't pay back the money, then what?

Scary thought.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Good Intentions Filled with Holes

With the ongoing harsh crackdown on anyone the Chinese government deems is going against it -- human rights lawyers, bloggers and activists, people who challenge authority -- Premier Wen Jiabao is urging people to "speak the truth".

He made this statement along with his outrage over the moral breakdown of society in a speech to the newly appointed State Council advisers and members of the Central Research Institute of Culture and History last week.

It seems Wen is still keen on promoting political reform and rule of law, something he did five years ago and again twice last year, especially during a trip to Shenzhen.

In his remarks, the premier said people should be able to express their opinions freely. "I still stress [the importance] of speaking the truth... We must create conditions for people to speak the truth," he said. "For the government's policy to be... in line with people's wishes, one must listen to people's opinions."

Wen also criticized the deterioration of moral standards in China, saying the tainted milk scandal and poisonous chemicals found in food are deplorable.

"A country without improvements in the quality of people and moral strength cannot be a truly strong country respected by others," he said. "We must deepen political and economic reforms... to make lawbreakers and immoral people punishable by law."

What a breath of fresh air in stodgy repressive Beijing. But what he's saying is not party consensus. Wen is going out on a limb saying this and hoping to build momentum.


Professor Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, a political scientist at City University of Hong Kong, says Wen's inability to affect political and social change was "ironic and tragic".

"It is obvious he is the symbol and the voice of the reforming forces... The fact that he appears helpless is a very good reflection of China's political reality," he said. "You have people in the party who might be interested in reforms, but they are certainly in the minority and can't do much."

Meanwhile Professor Chan Kin-man, a China expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong says the government has only itself to blame for the moral degeneration of the country. He believes the situation wouldn't be so bad if civil society groups and the media were allowed to investigate government and business conduct.

"They [the government] have made it happen... They would not allow the growth of [civil society]," Chan said.

It's interesting Wen chose the tainted milk and scandal as an example and yet didn't say Zhao Lianhai did the right thing for speaking out to get more attention about the plight of the children who had kidney stones as a result of drinking the melamine-laced powdered milk.

The lack of momentum on Wen's personal crusade pitifully shows his weakness in the central party system -- that despite being premier he does not have the support of the majority within the party. But it also shows his argument, though well-intentioned, is full of holes.

Not quite convincing, is it?

Monday, 18 April 2011

Picture of the Day: Where's the Copywriter?

There's something wrong with this sentence...

I thought the Chinglish was bad in Beijing.

But in former British colony Hong Kong it is even more shocking which is why I'm going to start documenting more offenses.

Here is the first one from the Mass Transit Railway otherwise known as MTR.

The tag line is "Caring for Life's Journeys".

Can someone explain to me what this means?

Yes we can understand the MTR wishes passengers to have a safe journey, but "caring for"?

Perhaps it should say "Caring About Life's Journeys".

Hello MTR? Need help copywriting?

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Roasting the Afternoon Away

Roasting seafood, meats and a little piggie on the barbie...
Yesterday afternoon I went to a barbecue organized by a few people at Whitehead Club in Ma On Shan. It's quite convenient to get there, changing to the East Rail line at Tai Wai and then taking the train all the way to the second last stop, Ma On Shan. From there you can either take a taxi or wait for the shuttle and the ride is less than 10 minutes.

The barbecue is located along the coastal area of Tolo Harbour and the weather was just perfect, not too hot and a nice breeze going, good enough for kites to be flown nearby. It was perfect barbecue weather.

You have to book in advance to get a barbecue pit, which are all carefully numbered to avoid confusion. Each pit comes with chairs and a table that's lined with plastic. And you can order all kinds of food ahead of time too that are all vacuum sealed so that they are marinated in sauces. There were the usual sausages and mini ones stuffed with cheese, chicken wings, curry chicken breasts, prawns, ribs and scallops in the shell but covered in gobs of butter.

A cat playing with his food
We also ordered a piglet that was butterfly cut and was quickly dunked in boiling water before being put on giant metal skewers. We kept roasting it while we barbecued the rest of the food.

Periodically older Chinese women would come by and check up on our barbecue pit and complained our fire wasn't going well so she added more charcoal and showed us amateurs how to keep the fire going by giving it more oxygen. We joked she would come back and complain about what else we were doing wrong.

Overall the food was pretty good -- after all you are cooking it yourself, enjoying the view and the company sipping beers, water and soft drinks. There are decent washrooms nearby and a giant sink with soap to wash your hands.

After a while we got tired of the eating the prawns because the shell got stuck onto the meat making it hard to peel. There were some resident cats milling around and one or two of them looked a bit on the scrawny side so we decided to feed them the prawns.

We thought our pig was done...
However, they were too hot when they were fresh off the grill and they would paw the prawns playing with them a bit. Then it didn't know how to eat it so we helped out by cutting it open at the bottom of the head. From there the cats gobbled them up for the most part, shell and all.

There is a concession stand to buy more food or snacks and we got a bag of marshmallows thinking it would be our dessert. But we couldn't resist and started roasting them, though they got too soft before they got golden brown.

After four hours of roasting the pig we assumed it was done and asked another woman to come by to chop it up. However she didn't come for a long time and we joked she could smell that it wasn't ready. Finally a young man came by to check up on our big and as if on cue said it wasn't done yet.

He added more coal to our barbecue pit, got a fire going and then started roasting the pig right in the fire -- putting it in the pit of flames for a few seconds and then lifting it up again, and repeating it over and over until the back was finally a deep russet colour -- almost 30 minutes later. Since we were waiting for the pig to be ready, we continued our marshmallow fest and actually finished the entire bag.

... But apparently not -- it needed a dose of real flames
Finally the pig was pronounced done and the man carried it to a table where there was a cutting board and meat cleaver. He hacked the head off and the proceeded to chop the pig in half down the middle and then into pieces that were served onto two plates.

The end result? The skin was delicious, hard and crispy, with a layer of fat underneath followed by tender meat. Most of us had already eaten so much that one piece of the roasted pork was enough and were ready to go home.

In the end it was about HK$1,500 for nine of us. Sated and tired, we boarded back on the shuttle bus and made the long journey back home.

Whitehead Club
Sai Sha Road
Ma On Shan
2631 9928 (barbecue hotline)

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Banking Gripe

Banks in Hong Kong are really annoying me these days.

One of the biggest banks in the city (its name is four letters) likes to rip off its customers with service charges on just about everything. Recently I had to ask for a reference letter to another bank (long story) and how much did it cost? HK$300 ($38.59) for what is basically a form letter.

This big financial institution also claims its internet banking is very secure -- and that's because it makes you order a silly black oval gadget where you press the button and a different number combination comes up so that you can do internet banking. How is this safer than a password?

Then there is another regional bank (its name has three letters) where I just started banking with and wanted to deposit a cheque today, a Saturday.

I get to the counter and the teller says they don't accept cheques on Saturdays.

Excuse me?

So if the bank doesn't accept cheques on Saturdays then what are they doing from 9am to 1pm? She wasn't busy anyway -- what's the big deal about processing a cheque?

She told me to write down the account number, if it was for the savings or current account and my phone number and then drop it off in a box near the bank entrance.

I was anxious about doing this, but as I don't have time to do banking during the week this was my only option.

It's times like these when I miss banking in China seven days a week. You may have to wait for service, but you can even get banking done on a Sunday.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Keeping Ai in the News

There is someone on the streets of Hong Kong spray painting an image of Ai Weiwei on the sidewalks with the question, "Who is afraid of Ai Weiwei?"

At first they started appearing on Cochrane Street along the Mid-Levels escalator in Central and on Wing Lok Street in Sheung Wan, but they were also spotted in Kowloon too.

Police have classified the case as one of criminal damage and detectives from the Central police station are investigating. It's been reported the possible suspect is a woman.

The 53-year-old Ai has not been heard of since he was detained on April 3 at Beijing Capital International Airport.

And finally Hong Kong officials are going to ask the Chinese government about him.

Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, a Hong Kong member of the National People's Congress Standing Committee said she would ask relevant departments about Ai's case.

"The law stipulates that police have to notify a detainee's family about his detention within 48 hours. Why wasn't his family informed? I don't know who Ai Weiwei is and whether he is a dissident. But every Chinese citizen should enjoy the same legal protection," she said.

While she is correct about the law, one wonders if she is naive about the reality of rule of law in China. How come it took her so long to speak up about this? And how could she not know who Ai is? Where has she been?

In any case it'll be interesting to see what response she gets -- perhaps a warning not to meddle in the country's internal affairs.

Regardless diplomatic pressure needs to be kept up if we want Ai released soon.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Fact of the Day: World's Most Expensive Real Estate

Hong Kong has some pretty rich people who can afford the city's rising real estate prices. I'm not one of them, but just stating that for the record.

Recently it was reported by a sister publication of the Wall Street Journal that a collection of 22 luxury homes near the top of Victoria Peak, a development called 8 Severn Road has "the priciest address on the planet". The price? HK$57,032 per square foot.

My monthly salary doesn't even cover one square foot.

And then if you want to get a commercial space, Causeway Bay seems to have really expensive spots. A 50-square-foot retail space on Cannon Street has a monthly rent of HK$120,000 or HK$2,400 per square foot. It's the most expensive retail space in the city. Rent for that store has more than doubled in eight years.

As a result, mom and pop shops are being driven out of the area, stores that have been there for decades selling Chinese snacks or dry goods. What are they being replaced with? Luxury watch stores.

After all, mainland Chinese visitors need to buy a watch as their Hong Kong souvenir...

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

The (Pathetic) Media Spin Continues

It's interesting watching how the Chinese government is spinning the Ai Weiwei detainment. Yesterday Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei again gave few details of where the 53-year-old was being held and what exactly he was being accused of.
"Public security authorities are conducting investigations on the Ai Weiwei issue. I have no new information to share," he said. "No one is entitled to sit above the law. Anyone who breaks the law will definitely be brought to justice. No matter what reputation one might have in the past, once he breaks the law, he will have to face legal punishment," Hong said.
That's fine, we all agree with that people should face punishment if they have broken the law, but the Chinese government is illegally detaining him in order to find if he has broken the law!
Then to cap it off, Hong has to add the "hurting the feelings of 1.3 billion Chinese people" excuse. "The Chinese people also feel confused: why is that some people in some countries consider a Chinese suspected criminal as a hero? The Chinese people are unhappy about this."

The truth is, not many members of the general public know who Ai Weiwei is -- he's one of these people who is better known in foreign circles mostly because of his art, but also because he speaks good English due to his time in New York.
Meanwhile the Chinese media's campaign to discredit Ai by saying he plagiarized someone else's art has backfired.
Earlier in the week a Xinhua article claimed Yue Luping, an art professor with the Academy of Fine Arts of Xian in Shaanxi province accused Ai for stealing Yue's creative idea.
But yesterday Yue said those accusations were taken completely out of context.
"I have never said it was plagiarism," Yue said. "I only said it was 'similar' or 'a clash'." 
He was referring to Fairytale, where Ai flew 1,001 ordinary Chinese to the German city of Kassel as "living exhibits" in an art show in 2007.
Yue said he felt he was being used.
"I felt like I was playing a role in their play. I didn't want to be a part of it. Xinhua didn't contact me to verify my remark and I felt I had to clarify. It was reckless to publish it without checking with me, which I think has harmed Xinhua's credibility."

Ouch. A big black mark against Xinhua and its quest for media expansion to tell the world the "truth" about China.

Another development in the Ai case is that his staff say he was offered membership to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference before his arrest. It is not clear if it was provincial or national or what Ai's thoughts on it were.

Perhaps it was the government's attempt to bring Ai into the fold in the hopes of toning down or silencing his criticisms if he was one of them.

One can infer that someone didn't like Ai's answer...

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Picking on the Little Guy

There's a 74-year-old man here by the name of Ng Yuk-fai who sells egg waffles made in a street cart in Causeway Bay. The batter is poured into a cast iron mould that has "bubbles" and then the two halves are put together, flipped around and put over a hot gas flame. When it's done, the batter becomes a sweet-tasting yellow pastry that have bubbles that are hollow inside.

He is trying to make a living without handouts and the authorities keep arresting him. Ng has been selling egg waffles for over 30 years and on Sunday he was arrested for the sixth time this year because he doesn't have a license.

Officers from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department are shutting down these street food vendors on the premise of environmental hygiene, even though Ng is known as "the old egg waffle man".

When Ng was being arrested, an angry crowd gathered and protested. "Give the old man a break. At least he's making his own living and not collecting social security," one shouted.

Sunday was the third time he'd been arrested in a week, the 10th time since early February.

"The arrests are getting more and more frequent," said Sam Cheuk Cheung-sam, manager of the restaurant outside where Ng was arrested. "He never got in anyone's way, he's only trying to make a living."

Ng is fined HK$800 ($103) each time he is arrested and his cart confiscated. Yesterday he built his seventh cart from scratch this year and went back on the street again.

What also made the bystanders angry was that the authorities seemed to be picking on Ng and not on those selling fake items on the street. "If they arrest Ng, they should arrest them too," said neighbour Janice Hung Man-yin.

Ng doggedly continues to do what he knows best -- make egg waffles because his children who are 15, 17 and 18 live with his wife who is 40 in Lufeng, Guangdong.

While Ng admits the authorities have every right to arrest him, he only wished it wasn't so frequent.

He came to Hong Kong in 1958 during the Great Leap Forward and went into egg waffle selling after his venture into trading gold and watches with mainlanders went sour.

Ng makes about HK$6,000 a month selling waffles for HK$10 ($1.28) each. He usually sends HK$4,000 a month to his family and the rest he spends on himself.

However, with the HK$800 fines accumulating, Ng has some HK$20,000 in debts.

With all the media attention on Ng it will be interesting to see how the government handles the issue from now on. They can't get the public too riled up or it'll be another item on the laundry list of things they will protest about.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Picture of the Day: Happy to See You

Japanese koi at the Bank of China tower in Central

If you visit the Bank of China tower in Hong Kong, there is a giant shallow pool at the back filled with Japanese koi.

They range in size from a few inches to over a foot long, and all kinds of colours and colour combinations, like gold, black, orange and white.

However they seem quite lonely, swimming day in, day out in the pool.

On my way to the gym on Saturday I stopped and looked at the koi and they immediately came rushing towards me with mouths open, probably thinking it was feeding time.

So is their keeper the only one who gives them attention?

While I'm not asking you to feed the fish, if you pass by there, do say hello to them. They will be happy to see you.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Picture of the Day: Protesting Superman

On Friday and Saturday a group of young people set up camp at Cheung Kong Centre to protest against "Superman", aka Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong's richest man.

They declared him a symbol of "injustice and property-developer hegemony".

This follows a ParknShop protest held on March 26 where several young activists filled up supermarket carts with items, lined up at the check out and then refused to pay for them. The place was so crowded that police had to be called in and there was a quarrel between the frustrated supermarket manager and an activist that can be see on YouTube, though I can't find the clip at the moment.

While many were angry at the activists for holding up customers at ParknShop, a lecturer at Baptist University's department of social work Shiu Ka-chun says this is a clear message to the government that public discontent has reached a "critical point".

"Mr Li used to be an idol of Hong Kong people. But now he becomes a symbol of so-called property hegemony," Shiu said. "The government should be aware of the growing discontent and perhaps take a stronger stance against the developers."

Cheung Kong declined to comment, but will the government ever take a stand against the developers?

Hardly seems likely.

Will the protests continue?

Stay tuned.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Uncomfortable Ride

In the media here you hear about horrific stories of how badly some Hong Kong Chinese treat their Filipina maids, from verbally abusing them to hitting them and even injuring them.

When the employer is not a nice person it makes for a horrible one year for the Filipina who is usually here on her own with not many friends let alone family for support.

And then there are those who treat their maids quite well and have a happy co-existence.

Last night I was shocked to witness how one Chinese woman verbally abused her maid in front of strangers in the tram we were riding in.

They got on and the employer immediately berated the Filipina, making her say the Cantonese words "see ga che" -- at least 20 times. "Say it! Say it!" the Chinese woman ordered her in Cantonese. The maid recited it over and over, counting with her fingers and the rest of us immediately empathized with her.

"Now remember it for next time, OK? Your Cantonese is absolutely horrible. It's not good enough. You need to practice. What's this colour?" the Chinese woman said pulling at her pink long-sleeve shirt.

The maid was silent as she didn't know the Chinese word.

"Pink!" the employer shrieked in Cantonese. "Pink! What about this colour?"

The Filipina said the wrong colour.

"Orange!" the Chinese woman said. "This one?"

"Black," the maid replied.

"No! Hak sik!" the employer said. "Black. Your Chinese is so bad. You have to learn Cantonese, do you understand?"

The maid probably nodded her head as no words came out of her mouth. The humiliation was too much to bear and excruciating for us to witness.

And it wasn't because the employer couldn't speak English -- she knew a few words too. So why force the maid to learn Cantonese using the worst teaching method possible?

The monthly wage of maids here is only HK$3,580 ($460.65). For lower middle-class families this is affordable and also very helpful for them in running their household efficiently.

But does that give employers the right to abuse them like slaves?

The employer then thought the maid wasn't feeling well because she looked tired and asked her so -- in English.

The Filipina nodded, but wouldn't explain why.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Still Pushing for Accountability

Individuals in China who are pushing for rule of law and accountability from the government are not isolated cases -- they are part of a collective effort to establish the country's civil society.

When Ai Weiwei was arrested, milk activist Zhao Lianhai spoke out on Tuesday, telling the authorities to leave the artist alone. "I told them that if they are stepping up the crackdown [on dissidents], they should start with me," Zhao said.

But the 38-year-old father whose child was sickened by melamine-laced milk was punished for speaking out.

On Wednesday he was taken away by police for questioning and threatened to throw him back in jail if he continued to speak out about other dissidents.

This warning only emboldened him -- he said he would go on a hunger strike and was prepared to die. Zhao claimed he tried to reason with police to re-examine the situation and realize how extreme their actions were, not to mention illegal.

"I repeatedly told them the situation would only get worse, or even spin out of control if they didn't change their attitude," Zhao added. "I also said, 'I know you're part of the [authoritarian] system and I understand your fear... but I still hope there's some effort that can be made to alleviate the tension'. I was really hoping they would have a good think. I told them that would be good for the next generation as well."

It's very daring of Zhao to say these things, but unfortunately they are in vain. It's impossible to reason with police who have been given orders from above. The last thing they want to do is lose their jobs.

In any event, it's the treatment of Zhao in prison that is even more shocking.

He told a Hong Kong newspaper on March 11 that he was force fed mainland-produced milk -- a horrific reminder of how his five-year-old son and some 300,000 children were sickened and six died by drinking melamine added to milk.

Zhao had been sentenced to two and a half years in prison for "provoking quarrels and making trouble" and was given parole in December after mounting pressure from Hong Kong politicians and the public.

He was kept in an empty ward in Anzhen Hospital for 18 months and only allowed to go home after he lost his temper.

When they started force-feeding him the mainland-produced milk powder, Zhao said, "I threw up for half an hour."

He went on a hunger strike and said if they were going to force feed him, they had to use imported milk powder or congee. For two days they fed him imported milk powder and then officials tried to strike a deal with him, promising him medical parole.

However, he said: "Finally when everything was agreed, they asked me to give up my appeal and confess."

Zhao said he felt tricked after state media released a note he had written to his lawyer that claimed he admitted his guilt to justify his sentence. At the time many questioned the authenticity of the note.

And now Zhao could go back to jail any time now, another high-profile activist who is only fighting for the next generation, for a better government that cares for its children.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Parting Shot

US Ambassador Jon Huntsman making his speech in Shanghai

Now there are reports that Ai Weiwei is suspected of committing economic crimes... that can mean everything from not paying his taxes to not getting proper business licenses.

Today Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei finally confirmed 53-year-old Ai was taken into custody on Sunday.

"Ai Weiwei is under investigation on suspicion of economic crimes," Hong said. "It has nothing to do with human rights or freedom of expression," he added. This is the first time an official has commented on the case.

Hong added other countries have no right to interfere in the case.

In his farewell speech in Shanghai, American Ambassador Jon Huntsman took the opportunity to not only talk about China-US relations, but also to criticize China on its human rights record:

It should come as no surprise, for example, that the United States will continue to champion respect for universal human rights, which is a fundamental extension of the American experience and a bedrock of our world view.

Long after I depart Beijing, future Ambassadors will continue to visit American citizens like Dr Feng Xue, who was wrongfully convicted of stealing state secrets and is now serving an eight-year sentence in prison far from his family in the United States. They will continue to speak up in defense of social activists, like Liu Xiaobo, Chen Guangcheng and now Ai Weiwei, who challenge the Chinese government to serve the public in all cases and at all times.

The United States will never stop supporting human rights because we believe in the fundamental struggle for human dignity and justice wherever it may occur. We do so not because we oppose China but, on the contrary, because we value our relationship. President Hu and Premier Wen have both acknowledged the universality of human rights. By speaking out candidly, we hope eventually to narrow and bridge this critical gap and move our relationship forward.

It's interesting to note other than a US state department spokesman, Huntsman is the only highest American official to date to speak out about Ai's situation -- President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have remained strangely silent. Which is probably why Huntsman, a possible candidate for the 2012 elections decided to take a stand.

Nevertheless, the world needs to continue to speak out for Ai and all the people who have been "disappeared" by the police, threatened, beaten up and detained all illegally. These people and many others have been trying to establish a civil society, which the government feels threatens its legitimacy.

These victims are the canaries in the coalmine -- they are trying to tell us what is really going on in China. When they are all gone we will never know what will happen next.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Where is Ai Weiwei?

Have you seen this man?

We all want to know where artist and activist Ai Weiwei is and for him to be released.
It has already been 72 hours since he was detained at Beijing Capital International Airport on Sunday when he tried to board a flight to Hong Kong.
Since then we have not heard where he is. His wife Lu Qing is very concerned. "I am now exceedingly worried, particularly as his physical health is really not good. He has high blood pressure and diabetes," she was quoted as saying.
Technically the Criminal Procedure Law says in most cases police have three days to detain someone before deciding whether to release them or to apply to prosecutors for an arrest warrant. In special cases the authorities have up to seven days and even rarer circumstances up to a month.
It's been three days so what is Ai's status?
Beijing has remained ominously silent despite calls from the United States, France, Germany, Britain, the European Union and Australia, as well as Amnesty International and other human rights groups demanding his release.
As the police searched his home and studio, it seems they are intent on finding something to prosecute Ai with and will probably take the 30 days to find the evidence they want.
This latest development is a sad state of affairs in China -- no make it appalling.
"Ai Weiwei's detention is definitely a turning point in the ongoing crackdown because the arrest of someone of the stature of Ai could only have been carried out with approval of someone in the top leadership," said Nicholas Bequelin from Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong. "It is designed to send a signal that no matter how prominent you are, the police can arrest you at any time they choose."
Well-known painter Chen Danqing, a close friend of Ai's said although the detention was no surprise, it showed the authorities were more brazen in suppressing dissent.
"They were going to do this sooner or later," he said. "But the way they did it was different from before. This shows that they [the government] don't care about their international image anymore."
Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's director for the Asia-Pacific region said: "Ai Weiwei was not even involved in any call for jasmine protests. There seems to be no reason whatsoever for his detention, other than that the authorities are trying to broadcast the message that China's time for open dissent has come to an end."

Before Ai was detained and during the so-called jasmine protests in China, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said for people who want to make trouble "no law can protect them". The government is now openly saying this as an explicit warning.

People in China are becoming more brave in speaking their thoughts, which is why the government has decided to take a harder line on dissent and using high-profile Ai as an example. The writing was already on the wall with Charter08 and now it has regressed to this.

China needs more brave souls to push back -- if they dare.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Needless Paranoia

It was reported today workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant dumped 11,500 tons of low-level radioactive water into the ocean in order to make space for even more toxic water.

During a radio interview, a nuclear expert explained that what the workers were doing was the lesser of two evils, and that the ocean was the best place to put it as it would dilute the water, though there would be safety concerns for those living closest to the plant.

The key word here is relative, and understanding that while radiation levels are reported as being high outside of the vicinity of quake-hit area, they are still way below the maximum levels for humans. The expert also explained the radiation leaking from Fukushima is only about 10 percent of the amount from Chernobyl and though projections have already been made over how many people will probably get cancer, they are still much lower than the numbers for the Russian nuclear power plant.

The other day a friend back home told me she and her relatives were planning to travel to Asia this summer, but were hesitant at first because of the radiation from Japan.

They hoped that by July things would have cleared up.

"They've stopped the leak now," she asked.

I had to explain that the situation still was hardly under control and it would take months if not years for it to be completely over with.

Then she expressed concerns of the radiation as some was detected in Beijing which is why some of her relatives didn't want to go to China. I replied that traces of radiation had been found on the shores of Vancouver, so everyone around the world was getting some of it.

"But geographically we're further away so it's not as bad," she said.

And then today I got an email from a friend in the United States who told me a mutual friend of ours was "very very worried" about me with the radiation situation, even though he lives in Singapore.

Do these people know something that I don't?

I tried to reason that if people in Hong Kong thought things were really bad, the entire city would have been a ghost town by now. A few weeks ago they were madly rushing to buy salt, so imagine if they found out the radiation levels were serious in Hong Kong?

It's interesting to see the levels of paranoia, particularly the further they are from the epicentre.

But more importantly, I hope people realize that what happens in one place will affect the rest of the world -- that they will finally wake up and see that yes climate change is a global issue and yes we are seeing traces of radiation from Japan arriving on shores of various countries.

We only have one planet, folks. If we screw it up, that's it. Game over.

It's time to realize our dependence on energy has to be curbed now. We will never be able to live without it, but we can use it much more efficiently and less frivolously.

And now is the best time to start.

Monday, 4 April 2011

A Repressive Harmonious Society

Some disturbing news happened over the weekend in China, signaling the repression continues.
Instead of outing those against the state like the Communists did during the Cultural Revolution, the government chooses to detain or disappear its critics, making it harder for them to make their dissenting voices to be heard.
On Sunday artist and activist Ai Weiwei was detained at Beijing Capital International Airport. He was on his way to Hong Kong for business, but instead police told Ai's assistant who was with him that he had "other business" instead and didn't get on the flight.
It had been assumed the 53-year-old was relatively protected due to the status of his late father, a well-known poet; but now it appears this isn't enough of a shield for those who criticize the government. 
Ai's studio at Chaochangdi, a place in the outskirts of Beijing I have visited before, was surrounded by 15 to 20 police officers. A reporter tried to take a picture of the area with the cellphone, but it was grabbed by police and the image was deleted. "You are not allowed to be on this street. You must leave," instructed a police officer.
A nearby resident said, "I went outside to see what was going on and I saw a lot of police... I cannot understand it. What has he done?"
Earlier in the week the police had visited the studio three times, mainly to check the staff -- particularly the foreign ones -- were properly registered.
During the raid yesterday the assistants were rounded up and detained at the police station for hours before being released. Many of them were scared and shaken up by the whole ordeal.

There is still no word on what happened to Ai.
Meanwhile, Liao Yiwu, author of The Corpse Walker had to cancel his upcoming promotional book tour in the United States and Australia.
He was issued an order by the police on March 28 that he was forbidden from leaving China.
"I had originally planned to travel to San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, New York, Washington and other cities and to give lectures, readings and musical performances at Harvard, Yale and other universities as well as participate in the New York literary Festival where I was to make a speech and perform, and to have a dialogue with writers from around the world on the theme 'Contemporary Writer and Bearing Witness to History'," wrote Liao. "Now all this has been canceled.
"Ever since my return from Germany last year, I have been closely monitored. The police have 'invited me to drink tea' many times. My writing has been repeatedly interrupted," he continued.
"I have once again been forbidden to travel abroad for national security reasons. Over the last 10 or so years I have strived to get the right to travel abroad 16 times. I succeeded once and failed 15 times."
Ai, Liao and several well known human rights lawyers are detained. Who knows how much longer this will go on.
What have these people done wrong?
According to China's report to the Universal Periodic Review, a mechanism of the Human Rights Council in February 2009, the country states:
"There is no censorship in the country" (paragraph 71);
"No individual or press has been penalized for voicing their opinions or views" (paragraph 71);
"There are no black jails in the country" (paragraph 69);
"There is no such thing as law enforcement organs using state secrets to suppress human rights defenders" (paragraph 104).

The way China functions on paper and in reality are like night and day.

And in this case, its attempt to create a "harmonious society" through repression is frightening.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Picture of the Day: Counterfeit Soup

Sometimes heading out to a new place in Hong Kong is an adventure in itself.

For dinner I schlepped to Tung Chung on Lantau Island, very close to the airport. And I was amazed to see the mall, called Citygate, had tons of "outlet" stores in it. The place was a zoo, with mostly mainland Chinese shopping like there was no tomorrow.

And there were quite a few deals to be had, with New Balance running shoes at least half off, same with Rockport. Vivienne Tam also has an outlet store there too, with her gorgeous Asian-inspired dresses and outfits at least 50 percent off. Diane von Furstenberg also had a boutique there, with a promotion where the more items you bought, the greater the discount.

There are also quite a few dining options, from Cantonese to Italian, Subway sandwiches and of course McDonald's.

And there is one Chinese fast-food restaurant that gets the sustainable seafood message.

One of the promotional posters at the entrance says "Broth Soup Counterfeit Shark's Fin with Chicken Shreds" at HK$19 ($2.44) for 14 ounces.

Looks like someone got too excited using the thesaurus when looking up another word for "fake"...

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Old School Cantonese Food

The decor at Lin Heung has hardly changed over the years

There's a restaurant in my neighbourhood that's considered a Hong Kong institution in terms of serving authentic Cantonese cuisine.

It's called Lin Heung Lau (蓮香樓) and it doesn't try to modernize its dishes -- it just does them the way it has always done them -- take it or leave it.

And seeing by the numbers of people waiting on the stairs for a table is proof this old school restaurant is popular with locals.

The restaurant's name is printed on the dishes
For starters you have to rinse your own tableware, and there are also spittoons for those who are so inclined to show off their other oral skills.

During the day it's a dim sum place, but it's not my cup of tea as it's practically impossible to get a table, let alone a seat and the waiters are surly old men who don't seem to care about treating customers well.

However in the evenings, the atmosphere has calmed down and the waiters are much more friendlier and less stressed.

Tonight we celebrated a large family gathering with some special dishes that had to be ordered in advance.

Eight treasure duck
To start off the meal, giant white tureens were brought to each table and it was a soup made with pig lungs and almonds (HK$400). It's a tedious soup to make, as the pig lungs have to be cleaned properly and almond juice is made by blending the almonds with rice and then put through a strainer. A relative explained this soup was very nourishing for the body, which would help stave off coughing when sick or strengthen the lungs.

It was a creamy white broth, with lots of small cubes of pork and had a delicate taste with no MSG.

Next came the eight treasure duck called Lin Heung Special Duck (HK$180), which is stuffed with lotus seeds, glutinous rice, beans and salted egg yolks. It's then deep-fried and then stewed. We all liked this dish and pretty much massacred the duck, the meat very tender and all the flavours combined together very well.

Braised garoupa with dried tofu skin
We also had giant king prawns (HK$160) that were panfried, a plate of water spinach served in a broth with roasted garlic and preserved eggs and salted egg whites (HK$100). Another signature dish is the crispy chicken ($180) served with shrimp chips that the kid inside us all love to munch on. The skin was a beautiful shiny dark brown colour, not dried up, and the meat very tender. There was also a braised garoupa with vegetables and dried tofu skin (HK$330).

To finish the meal we had the in-house dessert, a sweet soup of beans with coconut flavour and malai goh, or steamed cake that wasn't too saccharine.

Lin Heung is great for dinner, but you need a big group of people to eat all the food, thus the special occasion.

Lin Heung 蓮香樓
160-164 Wellington Street
2544 4556

Friday, 1 April 2011

Gone, but not Forgotten

Today after work I went to Central and on the way to the gym I passed by the Mandarin Oriental.

On the west side of the hotel wall were lots of flower arrangements that were set up and they had messages that proclaimed their love for Leslie Cheung or that they missed him.

People crowded the narrow sidewalk and either checked out the scene or paid some kind of tribute to the singer and actor who jumped to his death from the top floor of the Mandarin when he was at the gym exactly 11 years ago today.

When news first broke, at first it sounded like a cruel April Fool's joke, but it wasn't.

It was my first time seeing the amazing floral memorials there and sadly I didn't have my camera with me otherwise I would have taken a picture.

This was not about leaving a few flower stems on the sidewalk -- these were full-on giant flower arrangements of roses, orchids, lilies and other tasteful bouquets to remember an artist who tragically cut short his life for reasons unknown.

It was a good indicator that Cheung will not be forgotten anytime soon.