Tuesday, 31 May 2011

A Lost Opportunity

The newspaper says it all, really

Well what do you know -- China Daily celebrates its 30th anniversary tomorrow.

Having lived in Beijing for three years it was my staple to find out the Chinese version of events and then go to the New York Times or other news agencies for the other side, or a bigger picture of the story.

However I have to say China Daily's features section was quite good, sometimes tackling interesting social issues, but other than that it was the usual cultural education it thought laowai should have about China.

Nevertheless it was considered for most foreigners to be the authoritative voice of the government and it still is.

I have a local Chinese friend who works there and she told me this morning the staff were invited to go to the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square.

When I asked her if it was as "great" as it describes itself, she replied they only got to be in a small meeting hall.

"So did you get to meet Wen Jiabao?" I asked, hoping for her to say something interesting.

"Only Liu Yunshan," she replied. He is the director of the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee. They also met Yang Jiechi, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs.

"What about Li Changchun?" I asked, as although Liu is the director, Li has party seniority as the Propaganda chief of the CPC.

She said he just sat there and gave a speech congratulating the China Daily staff.

I was very surprised to hear this as I thought this would have been a great opportunity for him to shake everyone's hand and thank them for their hard work of spreading China's "soft power".

My friend said something like this is "no big deal to them".

"But see that's the problem," I pointed out. "They should be celebrating what the grassroots are doing. They have forgotten where the CPC comes from! How are they going to keep motivating the people?"

In terms of China's long history, 30 years is not much. But when compared to how old New China is at 62, surely being around for three decades in the business of disseminating propaganda is worth something?

And as people, particularly young people are jaded and less trusting of the government, how difficult is it to give a group of young reporters and editors the VIP treatment and invite them into the room where they meet foreign leaders within the Great Hall of the People and thank them personally for their hard work?

A lost public relations opportunity to impress young minds.

And the CPC wonders why people have grievances against it...

Monday, 30 May 2011

Marching to Remember

 Yesterday I went to Central in the late afternoon for a swim at the gym when I saw police putting up barricades in front of the Bank of China building.

I assumed it was the usual weekend protests, but noticed there were many policemen congregating in groups of four or five every 50 metres or so on the lookout for the protestors.

It turns out there were some 1,000 people marching less than a week ahead of the June 4 anniversary. They walked from Victoria Park to the Central Government Offices to demand accountability for the 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square.

Some of the protestors joined the march to demand the release of artist and activist Ai Weiwei and Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo.

While this year marks the 22nd anniversary, it looks like there will be other causes to remember on Saturday.

On another related note, I met some relatives I had never met before on the weekend. They live in Guangmen, about 100km from Guangzhou. My cousin is two years older than me and already has a teenage daughter.

During dinner my uncle told them about underground churches which they knew nothing about, and how we remember June 4 every year in Victoria Park.

I had told them that the young people I worked with in Beijing had no knowledge of what happened in 1989, or if they did, they were told it was a small incident and that the students were at fault.

My cousin said many of his friends went to Beijing, but he didn't know that there were also rallies in other major cities including Nanjing.

Then my cousin's wife reminisced and said that it happened when she was in high school. "It was 1986, wasn't it?" she said.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Fung Shui Master Fights On

Chan's megawatt smile disappeared after his arrest
Fung shiu master Tony Chan Chun-chuen deserves the doggedly determined award this week.

He was arrested and charged on Thursday for forging business woman Nina Wang's will on which he based his failed bid to get his hands on her billions of dollars.

Chan, 51, was picked up by detectives when he was in the Four Seasons Hotel in Central and recalled, "It felt a bit sudden when I was arrested."

This comes a year after the High Court judge ruled Chan had used a fake will and declared the one held by Wang's siblings who run her charity as authentic.

Apparently prosecutors now have fresh evidence over the forged will as there was a forensic report on it.

Chan is keeping lawyers employed as he has some four other legal problems to deal with.

In one of them, Inland Revenue says he owes HK$330 million in taxes for his fung shui services to Wang and Chan even had the gall to ask for a judicial review over the government department's refusal to grant him an extension. He claimed he never got the notice in the first place, but Inland Revenue says it is the responsibility of the taxpayer to inform it of his change of address and this applies to all Hong Kong residents.

And the latest? Chan claims donors to Wang's charity have helped pay for the non-profit's HK$141 million legal fees and demands that their names be released. He lost the court case in February and the judge ruled he had to pay the legal fees. In Hong Kong, third parties cannot intervene to encourage a law suit. From 2007 to 2009, Chinachem Charitable Foundation received HK$132 million in donations and HK$64 million in "loans" or quasi-donations, where repayment by the foundation is discretionary.

"It seems that the sum effectively enabled the trial to go ahead," said Chan's lawyer Alexander Stock, before the High Court on Friday.

But the counsel for the foundation Jeremy Chan said, "This is a public charity. Anyone can donate," adding donors can remain anonymous.

"How can it be against public policy for the foundation to receive financial assistance to protect the public interest and the charitable foundation from the deceased, and to resist litigation against a deceptive forger who is guilty of egregiously abusing the process of the court?" he added.

One can only be flabbergasted by Tony Chan's determination to keep fighting in the courts when he keeps losing -- and over outrageous arguments that don't hold water.

The biggest winners are his lawyers who are finding any way to keep Chan's legal hopes alive.

Who's the bigger scammer now?

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Changing Spaces

Shanghai Tang will soon vacate Pedder Building
Note: HK Fashion Geek has pointed out my mistake -- it should be Abercrombie & Fitch not American Eagle Outfitters. 

Shanghai Tang has been always associated with the Pedder Building, across from The Landmark in Central.

It was the flagship shop for the brand David Tang started and is now run by a Swiss conglomerate.

But in the next few months, the quirky and stylish Chinoiserie store will be replaced by Abercrombie & Fitch.

Yep -- A&F has landed in Hong Kong.

The American fashion outlet will pay a whopping HK$7 million ($899,639) per month for the 25,000 square feet store, more than twice what Shanghai Tang is paying now.

Abercrombie better hope it can sell a lot of T-shirts.

However Shanghai Tang isn't the only tenant to be kicked out of Pedder Building, which was formerly the headquarters for Jebsen & Co.

This afternoon I went upstairs to the other floors that usually sell brand name samples, gently used handbags and shoes, cashmere sweaters and the like at bargain prices.

But I was surprised to see more shops closed down or having removal sales.

Then I went to a small boutique that I have gone to a few times before and that's when they told me that the tenants in the first and second floors had to go.

"I thought it was just Shanghai Tang that had to leave," I said to the two sales staff.

"No, we have to leave too. That's why many shops have sales. The ones having removal sales have not found another shop space. The ones who don't have discounts have another place to go to," one explained.

They said shops on the first and second floors had to vacate, including China Tee Club, a quaint, old fashioned space complete with ceiling fans and chirping birds for people to enjoy lunch, dinner and afternoon tea has to go.

Apparently the mass exodus was ordered by the landlord, though shops on the third floor and upwards are still safe.

I was sad and shocked to hear this, now wondering where the next best place was to find these kinds of high-quality clothing at inexpensive prices. Which probably explains why I bought three outfits -- each half price.

"Come back again next week because we'll have new stock again," the staff suggested, saying they would still be there for another two weeks or so.

"But what about you? What are you going to do?" I asked one young woman.

"I need to help my boss sort out this store first and once that's done I'll look for another job," she said, sounding pragmatic.

Greedy landlords are hiking up rents and what's worse is they can find a new tenant willing to pay the new outrageous amount.

Pretty soon Hong Kong will only be for the uber rich while the rest of us will be moving from shoe box-sized flats to ones the size of match boxes.

And the Hong Kong government still won't admit there is a yawning gap between the rich and the poor...

Friday, 27 May 2011

Art on a Mission

Capturing a scene from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with paint
An art exhibition has just opened at the Hong Kong Museum of Art, presenting works by Hong Kong artists, both born or based here. It's called "Legacy and Creations", which is made up of "Ink Art vs Ink Art" and "Art vs Art" that was originally shown at the Shanghai Expo last year.

I had a quick preview and some of the works were thought-provoking.

Artists are very reflective people -- they think a lot about things, decide on the statement they are going to make and then figure out the best way to convey that message through art.

My Days in Temple Street
Chiu Hing-wah's My Days in Temple Street looks back at his time living there. It's a large vertical painting with calligraphy reminiscing about how he moved to Hong Kong from China in the 1950s and lived in Temple Street because it was one of the cheapest places he could afford. He thought the place was so lively and interspersed between the Chinese characters are a theatre, a bird picking out fortunes, a fruit seller and a tea house.

Another artist Tien Chi painted Inverse, a dramatic work full of shades from dark to light, textures and brush strokes. It's a giant scroll and on it are 17 animals if you can spot them, including a monkey, a snake and bird. And they are all painted within the shape of an elephant. Tien explained that he loved animals so it was a fun project for him to do.

For Kan Tai-keung, he tries to "draw" characters in No Basic Rules. While he admits his Chinese calligraphy is not very good, he thought he'd try to experiment by creating landscapes that are painted like characters. They are broad strokes that look like a strange mountain range poking though the clouds.

Faith Moves Mountain
In Faith Moves Mountain, Lam Tung-pang drew a giant mountain range on a large sheet of wood, which he worked on in Beijing. As he drew it with pencil he would erase it, and leave the eraser bits on the wood which became part of the texture of the piece.

For more action, Chow Chun-fai produced Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, by reproducing in large scale a specific scene in the Oscar-winning movie. He chose the scene in the tea house where a character says, "I heard a true master has arrived" and captures it on canvas. He said he has gotten a lot of reaction from the public because it's such a famous movie.

Almond Chu's portrait of Ai Weiwei
And last but not least, photographer Almond Chu has a quartet of portraits named The Chinese Connection -- one of artist and activist Ai Weiwei, composer Tan Dun, poet Bei Dao and sinologist Wolfgang Kubin.

It's so timely to have an image of Ai in a public space that is welcomed unlike the graffiti on the streets. And like the Art HK 11 show where Ai's work called Marble Arm, featuring a man's arm extended with its third finger raised.

Art is a wonderful medium that helps spark conversation and discussion. And by keeping Ai in the spotlight, hopefully our voices will be heard by those illegally detaining him.

Legacy and Creation
Hong Kong Museumf of Art
Salisbury Road
Tsim Sha Tsui
On until August 28

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Picture of the Day: Fantastical Buddha

Three Heads Six Arms by Zhang Huan on display in Tsim Sha Tsui

To coincide with the Hong Kong International Art Fair that's on in the city right now, there's one piece making its giant presence known in Tsim Sha Tsui.

It's called Three Heads Six Arms by mainland conceptual and performance artist Zhang Huan at the Grand Piazza at the "1881 Heritage" shopping centre. The sculpture was inspired by fragments of Buddhist statues Zhang found in a market, and the copper statue weights 15 tonnes.

The work will be on display until June 30.

I saw it tonight and saw many amateur photographers taking pictures of it, while other onlookers wondered, What is that?

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Artistic Exhibitionists

Jeff Koons' BMW that was unveiled last June in Paris and now in Hong Kong

The Hong Kong International Art Fair or Art HK 11 has just started. It's a major trade fair where the public is also invited to come and look at and also buy art from galleries represented from around the world.

All kinds of arty people have come out of the woodwork for this show, many wearing avant garde clothing or trying to give off the air that they know something about contemporary modern art.

The event is held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre and practically every free space in the exhibition area is covered in art. There's some famous works like line drawings by Andy Warhol, fun sculptures by Keith Haring or one of the "Mask Series" paintings by Zeng Fangzhi which are fetching millions at the moment at auction.

But then there's also some really strange stuff, like drawings that a child could have done, photographic images that only reveal the skill of using PhotoShop to a series of ticker-tape screens lined up together all saying things like "time to ask a question".

Takashi Murakami's happy-looking flowers
It was nice to see Takashi Murakami's works, both sculptural and two dimensional, as they are fun and playful. Who wouldn't want to have tons of happy faces on their wall?

And then there was the BMW that Jeff Koons "painted" -- it's actually a vinyl wrap on the car. It was unveiled almost exactly a year ago in Paris and so it was neat to see it here. Since 1975 BMW has periodically invited famous artists to use its cars as canvases. They include Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and David Hockney.

What's neat about the car is that it looks like it's in motion even when it's still.

Too cool.

Quote of the Day: Financial Secretary Henry Tang

Henry Tang Ying-yen
Ah, another sign the Hong Kong government is completely out of touch with its people.
The other day Financial Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen rejected criticism that property tycoons unfairly dominate Hong Kong's economy. In fact, Tang believes these people should be held up as an inspiration to people.
He said young people shouldn't complain but ask themselves, "Why can't I become the next Sasa [cosmetics retailer]? Why can't I become the next Milan Station [sells second-hand handbags]? Why can't I become the next Li Ka-shing?"

People, particularly young people are fed up with the surging housing prices that are constantly out of their reach. That's because the government doesn't release enough land for development and mainland Chinese buyers are snapping up properties like designer bags on a shopping spree. Last Sunday Hong Kong people held a protest march, shouting, "End property hegemony".
But when asked if he thought such hegemony existed, Tang said no. 
"I would not use the word 'hegemony'. I would only say Hong Kong offers free and open opportunities for people to create their universe and realize their dreams," he said. "Hong Kong is a fair and open society. It is full of opportunities for those who are prepared to capture them."
What Tang says is ideally true, but not the reality.
Opportunities in Hong Kong are now mostly only exclusively available to those with money. Lots of it.
We cannot be like Li Ka-shing anymore. Those times of relatively inexpensive rents and manufacturing cheap goods are over now in Hong Kong.
And with his wealth, Li has made the city his own. Almost literally.
Let's see -- he controls a large chunk of the property market, owns one of the city's two largest supermarket chains, one of the two largest drugstore chains, one of only three radio stations, an internet service provider, a mobile phone service supplier and has a monopoly on supplying electricity to all of Hong Kong Island.
And Tang insists there is no hegemony?
Perhaps he doesn't realize it because he himself comes from old money, as Tang's family having made its wealth from the textile industry in Shanghai.
This is proof there is life on other planets.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Fact of the Day: IPO 2,180 times Oversubscribed

One of the outlets in Lan Kwai Fong
In a city filled with shops featuring top luxury brands, it's not unexpected to find second-hand designer shops in Hong Kong.

But how about one that just had its IPO with shares surging 65 percent on the first day?

It's called Milan Station with outlets around the city selling gently used handbags by Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Hermes and Chanel.

Inside there aren't plush interiors or staff wearing gloves to handle merchandise -- the bags are pretty much stacked in cubicles and the staff just greet customers as they come in.

Milan Station was started 10 years ago by former waiter and street hawker Byron Yiu Kwan-tat, but how he came to build up his store and expand so quickly is still a mystery.

What's also strange is that media report that some newer bags at designer stores can sell 10 percent higher at Milan Station, as the well-heeled can pocket a small profit just by buying the latest hot bag and then selling it to the second-hand store.

I thought people go to second-hand stores for a deal not a rip off?

In any event, the IPO did well yesterday, at one point up 77 percent, but closed at HK$2.77, 65.87 percent over the offer price of HK$1.67.

Before the IPO, the application was oversubscribed 2,180 times the amount allocated to the retail portion of the offering -- the largest oversubscription in a decade.

So what does Yiu plan to do with his hundreds of millions? Apparently to open 24 more shops in the mainland, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Hangzhou.

Sounds like Yiu may be onto bagging success -- we'll have to watch and see.

Monday, 23 May 2011

An Exhausted Health System

In Hong Kong it's best not to get sick.

That's because doctors in public hospitals are overworked and aren't well rested enough to make proper decisions about your health.

All public hospitals are managed by the Hospital Authority, which in turn is led by Secretary for Food and Health Dr York Chow. Despite doctors in public hospitals pleading for more resources, particularly man power, their requests have gone unheard.

Many of these doctors work more than 65 hours a week. On the Pearl Report on TVB, there was one female doctor who was profiled and was eight months pregnant but still pulling in her long shift. She even added some of her colleagues only went on maternity leave the day before they gave birth. How is a pregnant doctor supposed to physically keep up with all the things she has to do?

Because of the shortage of manpower, doctors must see about 15 patients in an hour. How are they supposed to give adequate care and listen to the patients' concerns if they only have a few minutes for each person?

After years of putting up with this, some doctors leave the public sector and set up their own practices. One doctor did that after working eight years in the public health system. However, he explained the perception of going into the private sector led to higher salaries was untrue. He claimed he made half of what he used to make in the hospital and that it was less stable and didn't have benefits.

Nevertheless, he admitted he was still glad he left the HA because of the stress he went through especially when he was on call for 28 hours straight.

But his leaving the system and many others like him have exacerbated the doctor shortage in public hospitals.

Specialists aren't necessarily free from stress either as there are a shortage of them too; a brain surgeon interviewed said while he was on call 15 days in the month, that meant 15 days of not sleeping well. And as a brain surgeon he had to ensure he had a decent night's sleep otherwise he would not be able to properly perform procedures that could mean life or death for the patient. "I take sleeping pills for my patients, not me," he said. He didn't want to but needed to take the pills in order to ensure he was alert the next day.

The departments with the greatest doctor shortages are obstetrics and prenatal with all the mainland Chinese coming to Hong Kong to give birth.

Currently Hong Kong has 100,000 doctors, half of which are in the public sector and 90 percent of the population go to public hospitals. That means there are 1.8 doctors for every 1,000 people. But in Singapore it's 2.2, 3.1 in the United States and between 3 and 6 for European countries.

Secretary Chow hasn't done much to alleviate the problem immediately, but he has no excuse as the chorus of complaints has been going on for years.

Hong Kong is a well-developed society and yet we don't have enough doctors to properly look after us. When they don't have enough rest, their judgment becomes impaired, thus leading to wrong diagnoses, mistakes in treatment or even death. A survey on April 18 by the Frontline Doctors' Union and the Public Doctors' Association said 40 percent of Hong Kong doctors admit to making mistakes due to long working hours.

Is that the way Hong Kong's health system should be run?

So for your own sake, don't get sick here. Otherwise you may not be in safe hands.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

The Foul Truth About Water

Dr Daniel Kammen
Yesterday at the gym I watched an interesting Discovery Channel show called Ecopolis, where Nobel Prize-winning scientist Dr Daniel Kammen talks about how we need to reduce our carbon footprint and there was a competition to see which idea was the most effective.

I only started watching the show after the first two ideas were shown, one about having urban gardens, and the other having refrigerators that were smart enough so that they reduced the amount of energy they used.

The third idea was filmed in southern California where people were invited to try a sample of water. Many liked the taste and thought it was spring water or from the tap.

It turned out it was from human waste.

But according to environmental scientists, the reality is, we will have to drink this kind of water in the future because of how we currently waste water. And this recycled water is 100 percent safe.

The waste is collected from sewers and then the solids are removed and then the water goes through a process called reverse osmosis where it is further filtered by very thin strands that are like straws that suck up very fine bacteria particles. The weave of the filters are small enough for water particles to go through, but not bacteria.

Then finally UV rays are shone on the water to zap out any remaining bacteria.

Water from reverse osmosis
The man who runs the water treatment plant admits the water has no particular taste which is why it's pumped back into the mountain spring to absorb that spring water taste.

While the process sounds disgusting it is probably the future of how we will consume water.

At the gym or in public washrooms I see so many people wasting water, from keeping the showers on while they are shampooing their hair to keeping the tap on while washing their hands or face. There is no need to keep the tap running while lathering your hands. And in a way the automatic sensor taps in shopping mall washrooms have been a good thing.

There is no education about the seriousness of the future of water shortages. In Hong Kong we are mostly surrounded by water and so people assume we will always have enough water to drink, but it's not true. While we may have water in Victoria Harbour, would we really drink it?

The government needs to implement these kinds of water treatment plants in Hong Kong. Beijing installed one before the Olympics in a bid to show its environmentally conscious ways. If it's still in use is another story, but at the time it seemed to be working well.

Oh and the other idea? It was turning cow poop into energy because of the methane gas in cow dung. Another dirty mess to deal with, but it's a reality. The more beef we eat, the more cows we need, thus higher amounts of methane gas in the environment.

So basically we need to have a more plant-based diet... and it's a good thing -- if we want the human race to survive.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Ai Weiwei Update

Finally 45 days after detaining artist Ai Weiwei, the government has come out and said the 54-year-old (his birthday was the other day) has committed tax evasion and deliberately destroyed evidence.

The report from Xinhua did not say when the charges would be laid.

Ai's mother, Gao Ying was furious over the latest announcement, saying the family still has not received official word of the police investigation or where he is being detained.

"It is horrible and shameful that a country touted for the rule of law has treated its own law like this," she said.

The Xinhua statement said Beijing Fake Cultural Development that is run by Ai was found to have evaded "a huge amount" of tax and "intentionally destroyed accounting documents", citing an initial police investigation.

The report added Ai was under "residential surveillance" called jianshi juzhu. According to Jerome Cohen, professor of law at New York University and expert in Chinese law, residential surveillance allows the police to avoid having to file the official charges within the 30-day deadline, and it is seen as an alternative to both detention and arrest, and the Chinese equivalent to bail.

Also in residential surveillance, those allegedly accused are allowed to see their loved ones.

Ai's sister Gao Ge said the charges of tax evasion are unfounded because she said Ai does not head the Beijing Fake Cultural Department. "He's not the company's legally designated representative or chief executive. We don't really understand the vague statement, but we don't believe there has been a huge amount of money involved in the company," she explained.

Friend and lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan said Ai could face up to seven years in prison for tax evasion, but warned it was the second allegation of destroying evidence that could be very serious.

The Chinese authorities are hell bent on finding something -- anything -- to charge Ai on and they may have found it.

Hopefully the charges won't stick, though international pressure won't be of any help now since the allegations are of a financial nature.

We can only wait and see how this plays out.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Where's HK's Athletic Talent?

Poster advertising the 3rd Hong Kong Games

Did you know Hong Kong has its own quasi Olympic games?

The 3rd Hong Kong Games is on -- actually it started last Saturday and goes until June 5 around the city, with the 18 districts competing amongst themselves. And who are the athletes? Hong Kong residents themselves.

HKG was started in 2007 and held biennially, was probably established to follow China's commitment of promoting sport in the bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games.

There are eight competitions to choose from: athletics, badminton, basketball, futsal (a variant of football or soccer that's played indoors), swimming, table tennis and volleyball.

Throughout the games, the district with the highest total number of points from the eight competitions will be awarded "overall champion", then first and second runner-up. And -- there are two new awards added this year -- "District with the Most Gold Medals" and "District with the Best Progress". Awwww... how thoughtful.

But if you go on the website, today is Day 7 and on the right side is the chart of all the districts and none of them have received any first, second or third place finishes in any of the eight events.

Is no one taking part or we're still in the early stages? There hasn't been much hype about it in the Hong Kong media, so if it's the former, so much for its slogan of "Sport for All"...

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Parting Shot

Outgoing ambassador Geoff Raby
When Kevin Rudd was elected Australian Prime Minister in 2007 there was a lot of hope Down Under that he would greatly enhance China-Australia relations thanks to his fluency in Putonghua, having studied it at Australia National University and then was a political counsellor at the embassy in Beijing in the 1980s. He even had the Chinese name Lu Kewen (陆克文).
But in fact the opposite happened, and the lowest point occurred when Stern Hu of Rio Tinto was arrested in July 2009 for bribery and espionage and was convicted and sentenced to jail for 10 years. At the time many complained that Rudd seemed to do nothing about the case.
And although Rudd is back on the political scene as Foreign Minister, Australian Ambassador to China Geoff Raby has criticized his masters who speak Chinese but "do not understand how China works".
Raby's term as ambassador ends August 5 but he made no qualms of saying "one of the biggest challenges has been managing my own team [including] politicians and officials".

"To speak Chinese is not to know China," Raby told a gathering of over 400 high-powered executives in Beijing on Wednesday.
"Many examples can be found of people who speak Mandarin to a high level but who do not understand how China works," he said. "They may have learnt their Chinese shut up in their study reading the Analects."
According to a report from the Sydney Morning Herald, a Rudd supporter retorted, "It might be worth the while of the now unemployed ambassador to shut himself up and read the book [the Analects]."

Raby told the Australian Institute of Company Directors that while learning Chinese was "immensely valuable", it was neither necessary nor sufficient for understanding China.

Instead he criticized Australia's inability to cope with China's rise, and the lack of importance it had in national foreign policy.

"China now matters more to Australia in terms of trade than it matters to any other major country," he said. "So when we talk about acting with like-minded countries, in respect of our trading relationship we are today very much alone when dealing with China."

He advised Australian executives and officials need to know China on its own terms "whether we like it or not".

And he also slammed major Australian companies for being based in foreign-friendly Shanghai than Beijing where decisions are made.

"If you establish your head office in Shanghai, effectively you have tattooed on your forehead - 'I don't understand China'," he said. Raby also expressed surprise at the number of top executives and senior officials who have never visited or rarely visited China.

It's interesting seeing Raby make such stinging remarks about his employers but perhaps he's had enough of dealing with his "team" than Beijing officials themselves who can create their own circus at times.

His comment about understanding China without knowing Chinese is really interesting -- the Chinese have a preconception that one does not know China at all unless you know the language, but then it's never enough even if you are fluent. While I believe it's crucial to visit the country and see it, warts and all, one can pick up on things without knowing the language to a certain degree.

I do agree with his suggestion that head offices must be in Beijing -- every single decision comes out of Zhongnanhai, and even acquiring a business license must be done in the capital. So there really is no point in having headquarters in Shanghai -- you might as well be based in Inner Mongolia.

Raby was well liked in Beijing particularly by expats who felt he had a very good grasp of what was going on in China and also had a passion for books on the subject. One wonders who will replace him...

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Another Reason to Love HK

Yu Jie's China's Best Actor: Wen Jiabao
One of the reasons why we love Hong Kong is that at times it stands its ground -- much to the chagrin of Beijing.

For example, there is rule of law here, freedom of speech and the press, and there are no such things as black jails and people being "disappeared".

And now there is another reason: The 4th annual Hong Kong Book Prize organized by RTHK and the Leisure and Cultural Services Department includes books banned in China, causing mainlanders to scratch their heads.

The short list includes China's Best Actor: Wen Jiabao by Yu Jie and a memoir of veteran mainland Aids activist Dr Gao Yaojie.

The 17 members of the panel are made up of academics, cultural critics and social-policy workers.

"I picked the critique of Wen for the list and I think it reflects the freedom of publication in Hong Kong," said Dr Hung Ching-tin, a member of the panel and a research fellow with the Hong Kong Institute of Education. "Hong Kong has preserved its unique value in transferring knowledge, which could be politically sensitive, to mainland citizens. It is sort of a knowledge export and re-import process."

In China's Best Actor: Wen Jiabao, Yu criticizes the premier for hypocrisy over democratic values.

Hung said the increased number of political publications in this year's list reflected the importance Hong Kong has in maintaining information flow to China.

"This chimes with an increasingly popular activity among mainland tourists: buying books banned by Beijing in Hong Kong as souvenirs," he said.

Meanwhile online mainland users of the social networking site Twitter were fascinated that Yu's book was included in an event organized by government bodies.

This just clearly illustrates "One country, two systems" at work, and because of that Hong Kong doesn't always have to obey Beijing.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

More Food to Avoid

Watch what you eat
Breaking news -- or should I say exploding news -- is coming out of eastern China. Watermelons are exploding there thanks to the farmers who spray them with growth chemicals in the hopes the fruit will ripen faster, but instead are ruining their crops.
The fertilizer is called forchlorfenuron, a growth accelerator, and it was sprayed on the watermelons during overly wet weather and applied too late in the season which caused the melons to burst, according to a China Central Television (CCTV) investigation. The fertilizer is harmful to humans.
The telltale signs of bad watermelon are that they are fibrous and misshapened with mostly white instead of black seeds.
Danyang farmer Liu Mingsuo ended up with eight acres of ruined fruit. He told CCTV he couldn't sleep because he kept imagining his watermelons exploding.
"On May 7, I came out and counted 80 [bursting watermelons], but by the afternoon it was 100," Liu said. "Two days later I didn't bother to count anymore."
And what happened to the ruined fruit? They were fed to pigs and fish.
Since when do fish eat watermelon? And is it safe for these animals to be eating these growth hormones too? Or are we going to be seeing exploding pigs and fish too?
The government really needs to put a stop to these chemicals added to food. People in China (and Hong Kong for that matter) are worried about what they are eating. If China claims to be so powerful economically, why can't it protect its people with safe food to eat?

Monday, 16 May 2011

Temporary Relief

Yesterday was the first time any of Ai Weiwei's family were able to see him in person after over a month in detention.
The 53-year-old artist's wife Lu Qing was allowed to see him in an undisclosed location for a short period of time. He apparently looked healthy as he suffers from high blood pressure and diabetes.
According to Associated Press, Ai's sister Gao Ye said: "They weren't allowed to talk about much. They sat across a table from each other," she said. "Lu Qing didn't check the exact time, but it was a very short visit. ... It seems he's being taken care of, taking medicine on time and is able to move around. But other topics were off limits."
Despite the visit, Ai's family still has not received formal notice on the arrest or even confirmed that he was in custody.
"Now that we've seen that his health is OK, of course we are a bit less anxious, but that's not to say we want him to stay where he is," Gao said. "We really want his case to be dealt with as soon as possible and for the government to follow proper procedures in keeping with Chinese law."
Ai also told his wife he was not mistreated or tortured.
We are all obviously relieved too to find Ai is alive and well. But not only have the authorities missed the deadline of officially letting his family know of his detainment, but also the 30 days for prosecutors to prove arrest.
Can the government please explain why it is still illegally detaining him or else release the man?
China claims it follows the rule of law... then why doesn't it follow its own rules?

Sunday, 15 May 2011

A Traditional Chinese Meal

Double-boiled winter melon soup with crab meat on top

Last night I was invited to have dinner at Fook Lam Moon in Tsim Sha Tsui with some guests from out of town who have known the Tsui family that started the restaurant for over two decades.

Chicken liver with Jinhua ham and pork
The last time I was there was many years ago and in the last several months it has suffered a beating in the English media as more foreigners complain about restaurants like Fook Lam Moon for serving shark's fin soup. Many gweilo have probably never been to the restaurant and so they don't realize the fine dining establishment serves many other interesting dishes that are more sustainable. There is also the added dilemma that if your customers want to eat shark's fin, can you say no?

But I digress. We didn't have any shark's fin at all -- instead we tried some Shun Tak dishes that few Hong Kong restaurants can cook these days. For example, the first dish was a silver dollar coin-sized "sandwich" of chicken liver, Jinhua ham, and fat and lean pork. For a small portion it was full of flavour, and a bit on the fatty side.

Chicken kidneys that had a smooth texture and delicate taste
Our next dish is considered a delicacy few restaurants in Hong Kong have. It's nicknamed "chicken testicles", but really it's chicken kidneys that's been chopped into fine bits and stirred with sugar, corn starch, eggs and soup stock. The concoction has to be stirred for a long time before it's set in the fridge and then cut into slices before being deep-fried -- without a batter. The end result is a slightly crunchy outer skin and a smooth as foie gras centre with very delicate flavours. Whoever thought of creating this dish was a culinary genius.

Another appetizer was "thousand layer mountain" poetically written on our menu, but it was really marinated pig's ears that were crunchy.

Frogs legs with Jinhua ham
The double-boiled winter melon soup was beautifully decorated with chunks of meaty fresh crab meat on top. Billed as a soup with "eight treasures", it had such ingredients as roast duck, loofah vegetable, mushrooms, fresh lotus seeds, chicken, frog leg and duck gizzard. It was the perfect soup for the hot and humid weather.

Next up was frogs legs that were chopped and stir-fried with spring onions, carrots and ginger and served with slices of Jinhua ham that had been breaded and fried. The Fook Lam Moon chefs consider Jinhua ham to be far superior than Yunnan ham due to the quality of the pigs.

Pigeon eggs with crab roe, crab meat and kale
Instead of chicken, we had a "flattened" roast duck that was actually butterfly cut and roasted. The skin is crispy, while the meat is lean and hardly fatty; that's because it's a rice-fed duck and is a different breed from those for Peking ducks. A unique dish one featuring pigeon eggs that were carefully steamed so that they were cooked, but not completely white. They were accompanied with fresh crab meat, bamboo piths, crab roe and kale.

The last dinner course was lotus leaf rice, that was very fragrant. The rice was first stir-fried with chicken, crab meat, winter bamboo shoots, roast duck, dried scallops, mushrooms and eggs before it was transferred into a giant fresh lotus leaf, wrapped and then steamed. The trick to this dish is making sure the rice doesn't get mushy and so the providence of the rice is important. For Fook Lam Moon, the rice for this dish is from Thailand, but it is only harvested once a season and is grown in high altitudes. Such is the sourcing of ingredients at this restaurant.

Walnut cakes... shaped like the nut
If that wasn't enough, there were several desserts to sample. One was a walnut cake that was actually shaped to look like a walnut; inside was a walnut paste with sesame seeds. Another was glutinous rice flour with peanut paste inside, wrapped in a leaf and then steamed. We also had double-boiled pear that was hollowed out and stuffed with whole white almonds cooked in a light juice.

Needless to say the portions weren't too big and while I was full, it was just right. The trek back to Hong Kong side also helped with digesting the memorable meal.

Fook Lam Moon
53-59 Kimberley Road
Tsim Sha Tsui
2366 0286

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Kudos to Lang Lang

Prince Charles and Lang Lang
Pianist Lang Lang continues on his trajectory of stardom with another feather in his cap -- the 28-year-old was the youngest to ever receive an honorary doctorate from the Royal College of Music, with the award presented to him by Prince Charles.

Lang is also the first Chinese to be given this recognition, which he said "it's a blessing". Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen and composer James MacMillan also received honorary doctorates.

The young pianist was given the award to praise his outstanding achievements as a performer and philanthropist, inspiring young musicians.

He has apparently inspired some 40 million Chinese children to learn the piano, a phenomenon US television program The Today Show coined the phrase "the Lang Lang effect". In 2009 he was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by Time magazine.

In 2008 Lang established the Lang Lang International Music Foundation which helps cultivate the talents of the next generation and encourages music education.

Kudos to Lang for his commitment to music, not only as a performer but to opening the world of music to others.

He is the perfect ambassador of soft power for China. The government is probably thinking, "Now if only we had 1.3 billion more of him...."

Friday, 13 May 2011

Plastic Bag Rant

At the end of 2009, Hong Kong tried to do its bit to be more environmentally friendly by introducing a HK$0.50 levy on plastic shopping bags when people went to the supermarket and some retail shops.

But now we're finding out the effort has hardly made a significant dent in the amount of plastic bags thrown away. Originally it was believed Hong Kongers threw out some 5 billion plastic bags each year; and now according to the Environmental Protection Department, last year 4.4 billion plastic bags were discarded, meaning there were only 253 million fewer bags or 5.7 percent less than the year before the levy was imposed.

Another way to look at it is that each Hong Kong resident discards 1.7 plastic bags per day, only a slight improvement from the 1.8 bags they threw out before the introduction of the levy.

Hmmm something is wrong here.

These figures contrast significantly with supermarkets' claims that the number of bags handed out dropped by 80 percent since July 2009.

Another alarming statistic is that people in the city are throwing away more reusable bags, so-called environmentally-friendly bags, discarding 17.7 million in 2010, up from 10 million in 2009. This makes the situation worse as some of these reusable bags are actually made of more durable plastic so they take longer to decompose than disposable ones.

At my neighbourhood supermarket, most of the people I see do bring their own reusable shopping bags, or reuse old plastic bags. I find it's the men shopping on their own who don't bring any reusable bags (Chinese and expats) and have to buy a plastic bag. Also, there are those Chinese who only buy a few small items and get one of those plastic bags to hold fruits or vegetables and package their stuff in there because it's free.

When you go to street markets, like Ladies Market and Fa Yuen Street, all the vendors give you bags automatically; perhaps those ones should have the levy imposed on them. When people go to these places they intend to go shopping so they should bring their own shopping bag.

I agree wet markets should be able to give out plastic bags because who's really going to bring a plastic bag to hold tofu or meat? But they could put it in their own reusable bag.

It's really disappointing to see no significant drop in the use of plastic bags in the city. Admittedly I am at times at fault for not bringing my shopping bag with me 100 percent of the time, but I do reuse the bags for other things before discarding them.

But perhaps the government should expand its bag levy on other retail outlets so that we don't need to build incinerators and further pollute the environment.

And while I'm on this track, can I rant about air conditioning? The air conditioning temperatures set in Beijing were perfect. They were just cool enough, but not frigid temperatures that you had to put on a coat indoors. Also shops and restaurants did their best to conserve the use of cool air by making customers go through plastic blinds to go in and out.

In Hong Kong though, there is no thought to the end user; buses have arctic temperatures in them. One letter to the editor complained about having to wear a winter coat on the hour-long bus ride. How difficult is it to adjust the temperature and the engine wouldn't have to work as hard to keep the air conditioning going at such low temperatures.

And then there are many shops and malls that have no doors to stop the cool air from escaping the premises. The cold air is quickly sucked up by the heat and humidity, wasting energy and forcing the air conditioners to work even harder. How is this energy efficient? How is this helping the environment?

Does the government not care about making Hong Kong have a better living environment? Everyday people complain in newspapers here about the terrible air quality or how there's so much garbage everywhere, or that they don't want a landfill or incinerator in their backyard. People are willing to make changes if the government facilitates avenues for them to do so. Trying to cut down on the plastic bags is one, but what about imposing design requirements on malls and shops to prevent so much cold air from escaping? And what about implementing a recycling program in every apartment building?

The Tsang administration seems to be dragging its feet on pushing for more measures to improve the environment. We only have one planet. All the money in the world is not going to save it from being completely unlivable.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Mixed Feelings Three Years On

It's the third anniversary of the Beichuan earthquake in Sichuan province that killed some 20,000 people.

The media are showing amazing pictures of how the town was destroyed and three years later is almost completely rebuilt.

The place has now become a tourism destination, with tour buses showing visitors a memorial park which are keeping the souvenir shops and restaurants busy.

Because of the earthquake, the reconstruction of the area has led to the establishment of more than 200 shops, from food outlets to jewellery stores, creating some 4,000 new jobs.

One resident, Wang Chengyi used to do odd jobs and now runs a Qiang-style restaurant with his brother. "Honestly life is easier after the earthquake," he said. "I don't need to go out working for others."

He said he earned between 6,000 RMB to 8,000 RMB ($923-$1,230) per month, about average for the over 20 restaurants in the area.

But for those who lost their loved ones in the 9.0-quake, they are still trying to heal their wounds. On Monday some parents whose children died at Beichuan Middle School tried to meet with Premier Wen Jiabao, who was affectionately known as "Grandpa Wen" during the rescue efforts. They are still demanding an investigation as to why so many schools collapsed while others nearby were still standing; however they were monitored by security officials, making it difficult for them to meet with the premier and hand over their petition.

Meanwhile some parents have successfully had babies since the quake, some 700 of them to replace the child they lost.

One parent, Zhu Huayin, 40, lost his son who was eight and daughter, 16, in the school collapses.

"I went to the schools many times but nothing came out of it," he said. "Eventually I accepted compensation of 30,000 RMB ($4,616) and gave up."

Six months after the quake he married a woman who had also lost her spouse and now the couple has an 18-month-old daughter. There will be a small generation of children with much older parents because of what happened three years ago.

While they are lucky, there are those who have tried to have another child and have had miscarriages, blaming it on the high levels of formaldehyde in their prefabricated emergency housing or on the poor living conditions and intense pressure to conceive again.

The government had hoped having another child would diffuse parents' anger, but there are those still wanting justice.

Xiong Yonghao lost his 11-year-old daughter in the quake. He even went to Beijing to file a petition and demanded an investigation into the shoddy construction of schools in the quake-hit area, but got no response.

"We got no feedback. The letter was like a stone lost in the sea," he said. He has also contacted lawyers in Beijing to take on his case, but no one would, owing to the sensitive nature. "It's never about money," Xiong said. "We don't want compensation. We want justice."

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Quote of the Day: Wang Qishan

Wang Qishan believes he has control of the ball...

Paramount leader Deng Xiaoping used to say that China should "keep a low profile and never take the lead [in world affairs]".
But it seems his wise words have been shoved aside at the recent US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Washington.
In a rare interview on The Charlie Rose Show, Vice-Premier Wang Qishan claimed that most American media did not cover China much and when they did, their reports were biased.
"It is not easy to really know China because China is an ancient civilization and we are of the Oriental culture," he explained to host Charlie Rose. "The United States is the world's number one superpower, and the American people, they're simple people."
That condescending tone is hardly productive but clearly indicates senior Chinese officials believe they have the upper hand in Sino-US relations and are taking the ancient imperialist view that anyone who is not Han Chinese is inferior.
Jin Canrong, vice-director of the School of International Studies at Renmin University in Beijing said he was surprised by Wang's statements.
"Wang knows diplomacy well. Such remarks might lead to a bad impact," he said. "But on the other hand, it is a reflection that Chinese officials are more confident in expressing themselves. They probably would not make such a comment several years ago."
Meanwhile foreign journalists in China must feel like they are banging their heads against the wall, trying very hard to report on the actual situation on the ground, but their editors back home are expecting more general stories or ones that don't have to go into the vagaries of Chinese bureaucracy.
There are lots of stories to tell in China, many of them dramatic and newsworthy. Illegal jailings, fake food and confiscating land to name a few. But to call Americans "simple" may have gone over the line. And with trillions of dollars at stake, senior US officials are probably desperately biting their lips to keep their Chinese guests happy...

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Learning to be Patriots

As if they don't have enough to study already, now Hong Kong students are going to take a course on how to appreciate China.

The curriculum will make national education a compulsory subject for all schoolchildren in Hong Kong from next year onwards.

This is all because Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen promised to improve Hong Kong students' knowledge of China in several policy addresses after President Hu Jintao said the children should have a better understanding of the nation when he visited the city in 2007. Tsang must have been really embarrassed or is giving Hu big face.

The proposal says schools should free up 50 hours of a school year, or about two lessons a week for this nationalism course. Described as an identity-building approach, students will learn to sing the national anthem, attend flag-raising ceremonies, understand the Basic Law, support national sports teams and understand Chinese culture.

The course will also include civic education and social etiquette such as learning to be polite and keep promises.

Students will not be tested on what they have learned from the course; it will be subjectively decided by the teachers, parents and classmates. The criteria? Whether the pupils feel proud to be Chinese or consider the needs of their country when planning for the future.

This proposal of the curriculum seems so ad hoc -- how does nationalism fit in with being polite? What does a child learn from attending flag-raising ceremonies other than being annoyed at having to wake up at the crack of dawn and sing the Chinese national anthem? Or know every single person on the Chinese national diving team?

It seems like a hastily conceived course without much thought of how this will benefit students in any way, except perhaps knowing more about the Basic Law and how the current detention of artist and activist Ai Weiwei is completely illegal.

And do students really need to think about China when thinking about their future? All they care about is getting into a good university wherever that is and after that a decent job.

Democratic Party legislator Cheung Man-kwong, who represents the education sector, says the curriculum amounts to political brainwashing.

"It is more important to give students a comprehensive and true picture of China," Cheung said. "National education should not be teaching students to toe the Communist Party's line, but to understand universal values."

Another critic, Ho Hon-kuen, vice chairman of Education Convergency said: "If it is not an open examination subject, students will not take it seriously."

Chief curriculum development officer Dr Cheung Wing-hung rejected the criticism. "The design of the curriculum is to encourage students to look at an event from different perspectives before building up their own values," he said. "Teachers are free to discuss any topics in class."

Surely he wouldn't be too pleased if teachers talked about the Tiananmen Square massacre in class and how that has affected how the Chinese government rules over its people today.

As expected, the Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union is concerned the new course will increase the teachers' workloads.

The proposed curriculum is under consultation until August 31.

Hopefully parents and teachers will be up in arms about this silly curriculum proposal so that it goes back to the drawing board.

Learning to appreciate Chinese culture is a good thing, like poetry or playing Chinese music instruments, but not when students are learning bits of information that only seem to be geared at appreciating the Party than the country.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Keeping to a Minimum

On May 1 Hong Kong instituted its minimum wage law of HK$28 ($3.60) per hour to much debate. Some complained the city should not have a minimum wage because it was a capitalist society, or that companies wouldn't be able to make ends meet. Others of course welcomed the higher wages.

However scheming employers are finding ways to cut costs. Some laid off staff before May 1, others reduced the number of work hours or even break times. Last week the Labour Department found that a boss was reported to have deducted wages from workers for taking toilet breaks to offset the new minimum wage.

Only in Hong Kong would an employer cut wages if one of his staff went for a two-minute pee.

There's also speculation that Chinese restaurants have cut the number of waitstaff and cooks due to the new minimum wage law, resulting in slow service and waiting a long time for food to arrive at the table.

We all understand companies are striving to make a profit and with high rents that can be difficult. But hey -- we all need to make a living too.

And since the government instituted this minimum wage law, perhaps it should also implement some kind of law that prevents landlords from increasing rents over 30 percent?

Only seems fair, don't you think?

Sunday, 8 May 2011

A Strange Secret to Keep

Earlier this week one of my colleagues told me a secret -- she adopted a baby girl several months ago.

She's in her late 40s and tried for many years to have a child. That didn't work out and she and her husband decided to adopt. I assumed she got the child from China, but she said it's a local baby from Mother's Choice.

"Do you want to see her?" she asked me and got her mobile phone from her purse to reveal a cute Chinese seven-month-old baby with lots of hair. She brought her home when she was two months old.

At first my colleague who didn't have much experience with children didn't think she would bond with the child as a mother would with her own baby; but as time has gone by, she loves carrying the girl and attending to her needs.

However I couldn't understand why this had to be a secret. Who wouldn't want people to know they had a baby?

Then she told me the adverse reactions she had from some of her friends, particularly men who were shocked she and her husband had adopted. They didn't make disaparaging remarks, but it sounded like they looked down on my colleague for taking home a baby that technically wasn't their own. As a result their circle of friends has gotten smaller.

Which is why she has hardly told anyone at work about her relatively new pride and joy. "I'm telling you because you grew up overseas so you understand," she said. "But you have to keep this quiet."

The upshot is that my colleague's mother is thrilled to have this grandchild, and looks after her while my colleague goes to work. She had told me she went to have dinner at her mother's place every night and now I know why -- to collect her daughter.

It's very disappointing to see Hong Kong people so backwards when it comes to things like adoption; it was a common practice in older generations in Chinese families. Adoptions were seen as a means of survival particularly during tough times, though they were usually to families they knew. Or children were adopted because the couple was childless and could afford to take in one or more child who came from an impoverished family.

For example in my family, adoptions happened one and two generations ago. So why is it such a stretch for middle-aged people in Hong Kong to accept someone adopting a child?

Something that brings so much happiness to my colleague and yet she is too scared to share her joy with others.

It's a strange secret for her to keep. It's fine now as she's a baby, but what will happen to the child later when she grows up?


Saturday, 7 May 2011

Beat Up Now, Apologize Later

There's a story coming out of Sichuan that the police there are apologizing after they severely beat up a teacher they thought resembled a fugitive they were looking for even though other teachers and students tried to stop the assault.

Yu Hui was getting out of a taxi and about to enter an awards ceremony recognizing him as an outstanding teacher in Shehong county on Tuesday when he was assaulted. He is suffering from bleeding in his skull and is being treated in a local hospital.

Teachers and students, incensed by what happened to Yu, took to the streets demanding an explanation from the county government. A Shehong county police spokesperson said Thursday the beating was a misunderstanding because the suspect "looked kind of similar" to the teacher. Yu fled the police because he thought they were robbers. The seven policemen have been suspended pending further investigation.

A teacher at the school said the county's public security chief who is also the deputy county chief, came to the school and apologized, bowing three times on Thursday.

"He admitted the police were at fault and vowed to punish the wrongdoers severely and take care of all necessary medical costs and compensation," he said.

"We basically accepted their apology. After all, the incident had already happened, so there is not much we can do now. But we asked to send at least four of our teachers and students to be part of their investigating team to monitor their progress. We need to make sure all evidence collected is genuine."

More than 100 students and teachers at Shehong Middle School were at a farmhouse restaurant for the awards ceremony. Yu was attacked as he stepped out of the taxi.

State media give this account of what happened: "Yu and police officers clashed after Yu was mistaken as a fugitive", but photos online show Yu was the innocent one as the policemen were unharmed and Yu was the one covered in blood and bruises.

The teacher explained Yu's side of the events: "A plain-clothes officer tapped his shoulder and said: 'Brother, there's something I need to talk to you about.' But Yu thought he was a robber so he ran and the next thing he knew was that he was severely beaten by seven policemen. He was screaming for his life and I've heard the beating lasted for about 30 minutes. Some teachers heard his screaming and rushed to help."

The entire school was upset about the attack, as Yu had worked there his entire teaching career after graduating from university and was an outstanding language teacher and class teacher.

"We understand Yu is now being treated by a team of specialists and his situation is basically stable, but he's suffering from minor internal bleeding in his skull," the teacher continued. "His doctor told us Yu shouldn't be suffering from long term injury."

This incident clearly illustrates the heavy-handed nature of the police on the mainland, where they don't mind beating up people first then apologizing later. What's more shocking is how they beat him up so horribly when physically detaining him would have been enough.  It's also interesting the county public security chief is also the deputy county chief, as he is literally accumulating his power to the wrong effect.

Hopefully Yu will recover though he will have tremendous psychological trauma to deal with in overcoming his fear of the police or even just groups of men. The students are also losing out on having one of their top teachers in school -- all because some police officers wanted to act tough.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Ad Campaign That's Out of This World

Galaxy Macau opens May 15 and it wants the world to know about it

Hey folks! Galaxy Macau is opening on May 15! We've got the world's largest rooftop wave pool complete with sand, 50 restaurants to choose from, more than 2,000 rooms combined at Banyan Tree Macau, Hotel Okura Macau and Galaxy Hotel, oh yes and of course casinos!

Hong Kong clearly got the message from Wednesday when the entire MTR station at Tsim Sha Tsui was completely plastered in Galaxy Macau advertisements. That's nearly 10,000 square metres, making it the largest metro station-wide advertising campaign in China, of not the world, boasts Amy Chan, managing director at JCDecaux Transport Hong Kong, the sole agent for advertising in the six Hong Kong MTR train lines.

The one-month blitz includes exterior billboards, wrap-around graphics on pillars, stickers on the floor and platform screen doors, posters and graphics on the wall and ceiling. Talk about covering all bases.

Tsim Sha Tsui station was chosen as most mainlanders frequent the area for shopping and dining, as well as international tourists.

Galaxy Macau refused to divulge how much it spent on this lavish advertising campaign, only to say it was included in the HK$15.5 billion ($2 billion) total investment in the casino resort.

"We wanted to make a significant impact on the marketplace and get our message across to the 2.7 million passengers who pass through that station everyday," said Peter Caveny, head of investor relations at Galaxy Entertainment Group.

He hints there will be more Galaxy promotions to come, including wrap-around advertising on buses and taxis, print media advertising, commercials and ads on internet portals.

Looks like there's no limit to what Galaxy Macau will do to get the word out that it's opening -- it's been delayed many times -- which probably makes it even more anxious to prove it really will open its doors next Saturday.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Heads Up for Ai Weiwei

The 12 animal zodiac heads re-interpreted by Ai Weiwei

In New York on Wednesday Mayor Michael Bloomberg officially unveiled "Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads", a series of bronze heads of animals in the Chinese zodiac that are reminiscent of the ones in the old Summer Palace before it was plundered by Western forces in 1860.
Ai Weiwei was supposed to be at the opening, but is still detained somewhere in China since April 3. And so the ceremony turned into a public call for China to release the artist cum human rights activist.
Bloomberg called Ai's detention "very disturbing".
"This is a message from America to the whole world that we are the place where people can come and express themselves," he said. "China would be well served to listen to our message and to copy us."
The mayor continued, saying "freedom is our competitive advantage" and called free expression "the most valuable of all New York City's riches".
"The more a city embraces diversity and tolerates dissent, the strong it becomes," Bloomberg added. "And there is no place on earth that gives freer rein to more voices and viewpoints than New York City."
During the ceremony dozens of artists and cultural leaders including artist and director Julian Schnabel took turns reading Ai's writings and interviews.
It's quite appropriate for Ai's exhibition to start in New York, where he lived from 1983 to 1993 and studied at Parsons, the New School for Design. The show continues on to Houston, Los Angeles, Pittsburg and Washington.
While the Chinese consulate in New York made no comment about the event, one wonders how or if Bloomberg the news outlet will be impacted by Beijing after its owner publicly called for Ai's release.
Bloomberg the mayor didn't seem to worry about repercussions if any. "If you start setting your beliefs on what's important to your pocket, you're not going to be a very happy person, nor is society going to benefit," he said.
Perhaps the Chinese government should heed Bloomberg's warning -- with the widening gap between the rich and the poor there aren't many happy people there...

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Smashing Preconceptions

An article in the Japan Times says more than 150 mainland Chinese reporters went to Sendai to report on the earthquake and tsunami on March 11 and the experience ended any prejudice they had towards the Japanese.
Many Chinese still hold grudges against the Japanese for what happened during the Sino-Japanese war and in particular the Nanking massacre in 1937. The Chinese government likes to trot out these anniversaries not only to fan the flames of patriotism, but also encourage the Chinese, particularly young people to hate the Japanese.
One of my ex-colleagues in Beijing who is in her late 30s, well traveled and educated, told me she specifically avoided buying a Japanese car after what the Japanese did to her family.
These prejudices are further enforced in textbooks and in schools, so the hatred towards the Japanese is fully ingrained by the time young Chinese become adults.
However, for this handful of young Chinese, their perceptions have been changed forever.
In the Japan Times story, the reporters were particularly impressed by the orderly and patient behaviour of the survivors and the relative transparency of the information that was given. In the end many said they felt greater respect towards the Japanese.
Thirty-eight-year-old Chen Jie, a cameraman from Beijing News admitted he originally felt distrust and resentment towards the Japanese for a long time. But "the prejudice that I felt gradually disappeared while I was there, trying to cover the disaster damage," he said. "In the 14 days I spent on the assignment, I learned much more than I would have done if I read books for 10 years," he added.
For Chen, his strongest impression of the Japanese was "the cool and collected" manner of the people in the devastated areas, including the direct survivors in the disaster. He was moved seeing the people wait patiently in line in front of shops and that shop owners didn't raise prices to gouge people, and even family members trying to restrain themselves from crying openly during burials.
"I was surprised that I was given priority treatment at a gas station, as I had an emergency pass," he added. Other Chinese reporters made similar observations.
The dramatic change in the reporters' long-held beliefs reveals how outdated young Chinese people's perceptions are of Japan and how manipulated they are into believing the Japanese are still their enemy.
It is understandable for their parents and grandparents to continue to harbour resentment towards the Japanese for the unspeakable acts that happened to them over 60 years ago, but for today's generation who are living a better life, what right do they have to continue to have such prejudices? Can they not see for themselves what the world is really like?
Giving Chinese reporters opportunities to see the world as it really is only makes them realize what kind of country they are living in...

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Yum Candy Fun

Sticky candies with intricate designs and yummy flavours
Yesterday after work I wandered through a mall in Tsim Sha Tsui called K11 which houses the Hyatt Regency hotel. Anyway in the basement floor which connects to the passageway between Tsim Sha Tsui station and Tsim Sha Tsui East, there's a candy shop called Sticky.

It's an Australian company that prides itself on being "highly skilled and dedicated confectioners" who create what look like cute little candies that taste good too.

Rolling some slabs of candy out
At the store you can watch two guys at work wearing gloves, pulling and rolling giant slabs of coloured candy on a heated table.

They weren't doing much when I was there except cutting giant thick strips of candy and putting them on top of each other.

If you watch the video on the website, they make a gigantic roll with several layers and then roll and pull it at the same time to make it a very thin roll that they then cut into long sticks and then chop into bite-sized pieces. Pretty amazing.

What's neat is that there are all different kinds of flavours and designs within the candies, making them great for birthdays, corporate events but also weddings where the newlyweds can give away either candies with hearts in them or even the double happiness Chinese character xi(3) 囍.
Preparing to manipulate some candy on a heated counter

Customers can buy a bag of one flavour, or mixed bag, but they aren't that cheap. A bag of 70 grams is HK$48 ($6.17), while 150 grams is HK$98 ($12.61).

Nevertheless, the taste is not too sweet, though it is 100 percent glucose.

The best part about Sticky? It's tagline is "Love your lollies".

Will do.

Shop B201, B2/F, K11 Mall
18 Hanoi Road
Tsim Sha Tsui
3170 0228

Monday, 2 May 2011

Where's the Copywriter? No. 2

HKUST may have one of the world's best MBA programs, but not in copywriting...

The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) is one of the youngest of nine tertiary institutions in the city as it was started in 1991. However in that short time its MBA program has been ranked sixth in the world by the Financial Times this year.

The campus all the way out in Clearwater Bay, but that only makes the environment more conducive to studying rather than having other distractions close by.

So this year HKUST celebrates its 20th anniversary and is making this fact known by shelling out for a bunch of street pole banners like these along Queensway in Admiralty.

The tagline? "HKUST 20th anniversary celebrations: Our Miracle Continues".

Is it supposed to be a miracle the university is still in existence?

Or is it a miracle the underdog university is one of the best in the world?

Either way it makes HKUST sound more like a fluke than a post-secondary institution destined for greatness.