Monday, 31 October 2011

Wedding Belle

The celebrity wedding of the year has come and gone, with lots of hype before and during the two-day nuptials.

Hong Kong-born singer Coco Lee tied the knot with Bruce Rockowitz, president and chief executive of Li & Fung a few days ago.

Lee, 36 and Rockowitz, 52, invited an A-list of who's who to come to Hong Kong to celebrate the big event, including Oprah Winfrey, Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez and Tommy Hilfiger.

There was a 30-minute private ceremony held at Sky100 bar on the 100th floor of the International Commerce Centre, the tallest skyscraper in the city and then the banquet was at the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong.

A spokeswoman for Lee said, "Coco wore a dress by Vera Wang because she's a very good friend of the couple." She added, "very big international acts and some of the hottest US artists" would be performing for the two days.

Guests were reportedly flown in by helicopter and the hotel confirmed all 80 luxury suites were booked.

Not only were there parties in the hotel, but also at Shaw Studios in Tseung Kwan O, as it has one of the biggest soundstages in Asia.

Lee met Rockowitz in 2003 and were engaged in 2005. The singer apparently took a year off to plan the wedding which is estimated to cost about HK$150 million.

I remember when Lee came out with her self-titled album in 1996 and thought she had a lot of spunk and potential to shake up the conservative Cantopop scene.

She then made it big singing on the Walt Disney animation Mulan soundtrack and was the voice of Mulan in Mandarin.

Even bigger was being the first Chinese to perform A Love Before Time for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon at the Academy Awards in 2001.

Lee seems to be consistently working hard and putting out albums and concerts around the world.

And just for her hubby she recorded the single I Just Wanna Marry U that was released days before their wedding.

What's next for Mrs Rockowitz?

According to the Chinese press Canadian-born Rockowitz has promised Lee half his wealth -- which is estimated at HK$2 billion. So perhaps she'll take a break now that she's got money in the bank?

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Jazzing Up Central

A class act -- Alfredo Rodriguez and Richard Bona
Last night I was invited to an intimate jazz concert at Sevva on the top floor of Prince's Building in Central.

Periodically the restaurant invites artists to play live and this was the first time I'd attended one of these events.

Less than 100 people were treated to the concert that started late, almost 10pm even though the invite said 9:30pm. My friend and I rushed over there after dinneronly to find we were the second party to arrive.

Nevertheless the music was the ideal antidote after a stressful week at work. American Richard Bona on guitar and vocals and Cuban Alfredo Rodriguez on the piano provided some soothing tunes to relax to. Bona's voice had an amazing range from very low to high, and he created a number of different sounds to accompany his vocals. Meanwhile Rodriguez complemented Bona's music very well, the two of them having a musical conversation that went back and forth.

Listening to some soothing sounds at Sevva
Incidentally Rodriguez has been praised by superstar producer Quincy Jones. "Cuban jazz pianist Alfredo Rodriguez is an absolute genius and one of the most profound musicians I have ever seen."

He was true to form last night. Soon after the show started Bona was having technical problems with his guitar wired up to the amplifier and couldn't play at all. Rodriguez just continued playing as if nothing happened and it even gave him an opportunity to show off his musical talents even more. He's tall but at the piano he sits hunched over, and reminded me of Schroder in Peanuts, focused on the keys.

After the technical issues were sorted we were treated to some wonderful music including two songs where Bona recorded layered tracks in front of us so that he was singing with his own voice doing various sounds or tunes. He could sing in harmony with himself and the layered effect was amazing, which he attributed to "Hong Kong magic" but really it's the technology musicians like him can play with these days.

During the short intermission we were treated to a glass of champagne and canapes outside on the terrace, a warm autumn evening that would have been even better if we could have heard the jazz live outside.

After the concert we walked home and in Central there were many people dressed up for Halloween. We saw drunk expat teenagers in silly clown costumes, but also a guy in a fuzzy Chewbacca outfit with a girl in white with small pig-tail buns in homage to Princess Leia. We also saw many naughty nurses and girls as she-devils complete with horns and three-pronged spears.

They were all on their way to Lan Kwai Fong for a bit of fun though there was a very heavy police presence there, directing traffic.

Looking up at the skyscrapers in Central
Nevertheless the cutest were little boys and girls with their parents all dressed in costume up to see what all the fuss on the streets was all about.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Picture of the Day: Aaron Kwok

Is he or isn't he?

For a long time we've been wondering if Cantopop star Aaron Kwok Fu-sing is gay or not.

But he has a steady girlfriend, Lynn Xiong Dailing, and finally officially presented her to friends after years of fearing reprisals from devoted fans.

He hasn't said much about marriage, only that he hopes to marry before turning 50.

However, you have to wonder again what his leanings are with this latest poster promoting his upcoming concert from December 27-31 at the Hong Kong Coliseum.

In it the 46-year-old is wearing a whimsical pink crown complete with jewels that look like coloured eggs and then a number of necklaces around his neck that look like plastic baubles little girls would play with.

Even better his concert's title is: "Aaron Kwok de showy masquerade world tour live in concert 2011".

Any guesses?

Friday, 28 October 2011

The Wait is Almost Over

The CCTV tower in May 2009
The odd-shaped CCTV tower in Beijing may finally be opened next year, according to architect Rem Koolhaas who made the pronouncement yesterday.

When I was in Beijing I watched the two towers growing higher and then soon they were fused together in time for the Olympics but wasn't open for staff to work in it.

I can't even imagine how it would work logistically for a television station to have a tower that's 80 stories high. But then again it's a building that's more about making a statement than actually being functional.

Things were further delayed when some CCTV officials wanted to have their own fireworks show during Chinese New Year in February 2009. They got a hold of some grade A fireworks leftover from the Olympics and set them off near the CCTV building. Not only was it illegal to set off such powerful fireworks within city limits, but also it resulted in setting fire to the Mandarin Oriental hotel next door. There are rumours that footage from the Olympics was stored there and most was destroyed.

"The fire delayed a lot of things, but parts are open," said Koolhaas on the sidelines of a China-European Union Cultural forum. "It's not officially open yet, but it will be at the beginning of the year.

"What was complicating things was that it was treated as the scene of a crime, so it needed to be kept for a long time without interference," he said of the the fire, in which a firefighter died. Twenty people were jailed for the fire.

Koolhaas thinks people will warm up to "big underpants" as it's nicknamed in Beijing. "One should wait until it is finished. They are now taking the wall down and you can see that there is public territory in the building. And therefore the building is much more accessible and friendly than people think."

It would only be friendly if the public is allowed to walk onto the premises...

And for the VIP guests, there will be a pathway for visitors that will follow the loop of the building up to the canopy where the glass-floored overhang will have a view of the city from 160 metres.

While Koolhaas's firm is working on other projects in China, he hopes to do one involving a heritage building.

"I would actually love to do a preservation project here, preserving a worthwhile building of the 50s or 60s as a kind of prototype," he said. "What I think should happen is that we don't only look at old buildings or at historical buildings, but that we also begin to define the 50s, 60s and 70s as historical... so that the things that really define the character of a city like this one -- and of course a lot of the character has been defined by its communist period -- are kept."

While Koolhaas means well, he doesn't seem to understand that the Chinese want to move away from its communist shackles. While government buildings still retain the Soviet style for the most part China is keen to reinvent itself. It doesn't want a reminder of the past.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Familiar Face

There's a familiar face in the city these few days, and for some he wistfully brings back memories of the last colonial days of Hong Kong.

Chris Patten or "Fat Pang" is in town in is capacity as the chancellor of Oxford University and promoting a new English learning program developed by Oxford University Press.

The 66-year-old has gained more weight since his last visit three years ago and it wasn't because of egg tarts, though he did have his first one practically as soon as he landed.

On Tuesday he had a private dinner with former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang and he reported the meeting was apolitical.

"We talked about grandchildren. We talked about both the past and the future. And I was reminded again how Anson Chan has been one of the most outstanding public servants," said Patten who is also chairman of the BBC Trust.

He also talked highly of Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who was financial secretary when Patten was governor. "It is impertinent for me to give a report, but he exemplified the highest standard of public service in Hong Kong."

Patten still believes in "one country, two systems" saying it was more than a slogan; it was "one of the imperatives of good governance" in Hong Kong, which enjoyed rule of law and an independent judiciary.

He hopes the electoral reforms passed last year by the Legislative Council will "speed Hong Kong to full democracy in due process".

While he said he didn't know Henry Tang Ying-yen and Leung Chun-ying well, he had some advice for the chief executive hopefuls. "Understanding the profound honour of serving [the] people of Hong Kong, understanding the reason for the [city's] success are prerequisites for success. Comprehending the full meaning of 'one country, two systems' is important too."

Other than politics, Patten went to a school in Jordan to introduce the English learning program and read The Haunted Castle to children, whom he called "little hamsters".

And apparently his other favourite topic is his grandchildren of which he has eight. "Two of them are mad about dinosaurs, while the girls love princesses," he said. "I prefer the dinosaurs."

While Patten may prefer dinosaurs we hope he and his thoughts on Hong Kong won't go extinct anytime soon.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Fact of the Day: Hong Kong's Rich Spending Habits

Hong Kong is the top consumer market for luxury merchandise among 10 other markets in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Pan Asia Pacific Cross Media Survey is conducted annually by global market research firm Synovate where 20,000 affluent Asians were polled, 1,747 were from Hong Kong.

The survey has been conducted for the past 15 years and it has found that the rich are not only recession-proof, but also early adopters to technology.

In 1997, the same year the survey started, more than half of Hong Kong's wealthy owned a mobile phone; now it's 95 percent.

"Our findings have shown that this affluent group of consumers is a pillar in supporting many brands and product categories, who continue to spend despite boom or bust," said Steve Garton, managing director and global head of media at Synovate.

Fifteen years ago 48 percent of affluent consumers owned a laptop of desktop computer, and now it's close to 80 percent.

Hong Kongers are the top consumers when it comes to high-definition televisions, with the overall percentage jumping to 65 percent this year from 36 percent in 1997.

The affluent like to have expensive watches and one in three have a timepiece that costs more than $1,000, more than twice the regional average.

And when it comes to wine consumption, it has tripled since 1997. While Sydney and Melbourne are the top consumers at over 60 percent, Hong Kong is fourth at 27 percent.

Also more than half of Hong Kongers own stocks, securities and bonds which is above the regional average of 33 percent.

Meanwhile the rest of us are taking public transport, bringing home-cooked meals to work and wearing clothes until they fall apart...

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Payback Time

It's the end of the road for self-styled feng shui master Tony Chan Chun-chuen.

Yesterday he lost his four-year battle for the HK$50 billion estate of the late Nina Wang who was once Hong Kong's richest woman. She died in 2007 of cancer at aged 69.

Chan now faces the possibility of paying as much as HK$200 million in legal bills for Wang's estate Chinachem Charitable Foundation run by her siblings, as well as his own fees and possible criminal charges.

He had claimed Wang had left him the estate in her 2006 will -- which he has been charged of forging -- while Chinachem claimed it was the beneficiary in a 2002 will.

In a victory celebration, Wang's younger brother Dr Kung Yan-sum welcomed the decision at Nina Tower in Tsuen Wan flanked by his siblings and staff from Chinachem Group. "There is justice in heaven and on earth" -- a saying he repeated many times during the legal process -- was the truth.

He said the foundation could now finally proceed with its work, though they were still waiting for the assets to be transferred, which could take another two years.

Meanwhile Chan's public relations representative Lamington Consultants issued a statement on his behalf saying he was "very disappointed in the court's decision because although he had made every effort, he was unable to implement the wishes that Madam Kung Yu-sum had left before her death and he feels deeply sorry to Madam Kung."

The statement added he did not mount the lawsuit for Wang's money. "Now that the court has decided Chinachem is to manage Madam Kung's estate, Chan will respect the court's decision and at the same time hopes the foundation will use Kung's estate well, and society will watch over the foundation's operation so that the charitable funds can be used to help people in need."

Sounds like someone desperately trying to be diplomatic in the face of utter defeat.

He said in a television interview that he would discuss his next step with his lawyers -- perhaps setting up a payment schedule?

When asked about his financial problems, Chan replied he had always said, "Be frugal where possible, keep one's head down and take it one step at a time."

His next step will be on November 25 when he will appear at Eastern Court for proceedings to bring his criminal case to the High Court. He was charged in late May for forgery and using a false instrument. He was released on a HK$20 million bail and a HK$20 million surety provided by his brother.

Hopefully this marks the last time we will ever hear of this man whose delusions of grandeur have surely busted big time.


Monday, 24 October 2011

Lingo Power

After a hearty hotpot meal on McDonnell Road, my gweilo colleague and I took a taxi home. We told the driver we first needed to be dropped off at the number four ferry terminal and then my place.

He repeated the number in English and drove off. When we arrived he said, "Here you are, number four."

After my colleague left the taxi to catch the ferry that would depart in two minutes, I remarked to the driver that his English pronunciation was very good.

"Us older people will say the words even if they don't come out right. We're not afraid," he said.

I added that young people today don't speak English very well and he said that it was because they had fewer opportunities to use their language skills. "I've seen them try to explain something simple in English and can't even do it. One time someone asked why the taxi covered the "hire" sign [to indicate it was a taxi that wanted to cross the harbour] and the person couldn't even explain it clearly.

"Also there are gweilo who say to them, 'You're speaking Chinglish'." The driver implied it wasn't fair to someone speaking a second language. "The most important thing is communication and getting through to each other.

"But you know, those dark-skinned people, they are very talented. They speak Chinese, both Cantonese and Mandarin very well," he observed. "Some speak so well they hardly have any accent. Some have come here for a year and only started speaking when they arrived."

I suggested perhaps they were very good at listening, but also because they had an interest in learning. "Most gweilo don't know any Chinese because they don't have to learn because they know people will speak English to them."

The driver continued on about his amazement of Africans and their ability to speak Chinese. "You," he said, referring to me, "have a bit of an accent, but them, if I didn't see them, I wouldn't even know they were foreigners."

Ouch. I need to practice my Cantonese even more!

I have heard of some Africans speaking perfect Mandarin in Guangzhou and Beijing, and some don't mind being performing monkeys on television to give themselves more exposure. But they understand the importance of learning the language; another theory is that because most Chinese are not comfortable around Africans that speaking the local language could disarm their fears.

Either way they have a really good strategy to win over the Chinese. Now that's soft power.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

The Awkward Spin

Now that Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is dead, China has quickly changed its tune.

Previously state media described the Libyan dictator as a "Middle Eastern strongman" who defied Western threats and pressure.

At first Beijing even refused to support the rebels or to criticize Gaddafi. The Chinese government even abstained in the UN Security Council vote on whether to use force to protect civilians from Gaddafi's troops, and was highly critical of the NATO air strikes that helped unseat the dictator.

It wasn't until several months later into the civil conflict did China begin to realize that the "strongman" was losing his grip on the country. On September 12 Beijing finally recognized the National Transitional Council as the ruling authority in Libya.

And now with the dictator finally removed after 42 years of rule, China is madly spinning the story -- depicting the "strongman" now as a "madman".

Chinese state media, including Xinhua and People's Daily ran pictures of Gaddafi's corpse and describing him as insane.

It took all this time for Beijing to figure out he was in fact a "madman"?

While China is now calling for stability, unity and peace, it's obvious the government is keen to get in on reconstruction efforts in the war-torn country.

However, the NTC has followed China's actions and may not be as cooperative as Gaddafi when it came to contracts...

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Picture of the Day: Getting Ghoulish at Galaxy

The "street entertainment" at Galaxy
From the outside Galaxy Macau looks like a huge complex and so one would think there would be lots of entertainment options inside. While there are lots and lots of casino tables and slot machines in very bright lighting may I add, the shopping choices are very slim.
Capturing a moment with the goth girls

It's either Van Cleef & Arpels watches or Piaget jewellery and then it's either a jellybean store or a place to buy Hello Kitty snacks and other glucose-driven treats.

There are some strange performers who pop up around the shopping/dining complex and they try to pose like statues. Hardly riveting stuff.

But with Halloween around the corner, Galaxy tried to create a more ghoulish atmosphere with two women, one dressed like a vampiress and the other like a lost daughter from the Addams Family.

Not quite what I had in mind for getting into the Halloween spirit, though the mainlanders seem to dig posing with these goth girls...

Friday, 21 October 2011

A Brief Tragic Life

In the past week we have been watching the drama of a two-year-old girl clinging to life after being run over -- twice -- in Foshan, Guangdong.

Her little body could not cope anymore and died today.
Last Thursday she was chasing after her brother when she ran out of her parents' shop in an alley and into the busy street.
At first she was struck by a mini van that stopped, drove over her again then drove off. Then many people walked by as she lay on the road before she was hit again by another truck whose driver apparently did not see her. It was a female rubbish collector who was found her and called for help.
The doctor who is head of intensive care oat Guangzhou Military District General Hospital Dr Su Lei said Thursday Wang Yue, whose nickname is Yueyue was near brain death because there has been no brain activity since she was admitted.
Yueyue was on a life-support machine and suffered multiple organ failure since Wednesday.
The incident has sparked outrage and soul searching in China -- how could at least 18 people not stop to do anything for a child run over on the street?
Part of the problem is that people worry about getting into trouble when helping others. There have been cases in the Chinese courts where the rescuer has been sued by the victim for being mishandled and causing further injuries. 
The other is a cultural issue of not wanting to get involved in others people's situations. Others even blamed the parents for not watching their child more closely.
There is an obvious lack of social morality since the Communist Party took power over 60 years ago. In the last few years the government floated the possibility of reviving Confucianism, the very philosophy it sought to destroy, but nothing on a national scale was initiated. In fact a statue of Confucius that was placed near Tiananmen Square was mysteriously moved one night to a less prominent place. 
And then Beijing feels uncomfortable about openly endorsing religions because they promote the concept of a higher being, other than the Communist Party.
Would the government please stop this feeling of insecurity and start educating its people about treating their fellow citizens with respect? It would probably put an end to these horrible incidents we keep hearing about and maybe even fulfill President Hu Jintao's vision of a "harmonious society". 

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Picture of the Day: Multi-Coloured Rice

I just came back from The Banyan Tree Macau where the signature restaurant Saffron recently opened.

Apart from the spicy curries and even hotter tom yum koong, we  marveled at what looked like scoops of ice cream in various flavours but in fact were different coloured rice!

From left to right, it's coconut and pandan leaf, coconut and saffron, watermelon and then good ol' plain rice.

Perhaps the strangest one was watermelon which didn't have much flavour but a slight sweet aftertaste.

Definitely adds colour to your plate and palate.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Picture of the Day: Spitting

Thanks for not horking...
Hong Kong's Mass Transit Railway (MTR) likes to keep things direct with a pretty graphic message -- a person with a projectile going into the wastebasket.

"Spitting spreads germs" it says with a HK$5,000 ($643) fine if you're caught.
The transportation company probably had to put up more of these signs around its stations due to the increased number of passengers visiting from the mainland.
Perhaps while it's educating our northern cousins about social etiquette it could also add another sign asking people not to crouch?
It only makes their provenance even more obvious...

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

An Inauspicious Start

After Henry Tang Ying-yen admitted to having "strayed" last week, public opinion of him has plummeted and is now making Beijing wonder if he is worth backing as the next Chief Executive of Hong Kong.
While the Chinese government prefers a leader who is pro-business, it has to keep in mind Hong Kong people do not think highly of who was originally the frontrunner.
A recent survey conducted by the University of Hong Kong found underdog Leung Chun-ying's popularity has risen to 29.1 percent of 533 respondents, while Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, a member of the National People's Congress Standing Committee is at 19.2 percent. Tang is currently at 14 percent.
And if it was just a two-horse race, 52.3 percent would choose Leung over Tang by 30 percentage points. Twenty-five percent said Tang's admission that he "strayed" did not go down well with them while 67 percent said it had "no impact".
Meanwhile many people seem annoyed by Fan who continues to sit on the fence to decide whether or not she will run for the CE position.
Her comments recently sparked outrage when students asked her about her stance on June 4 at a seminar at Chinese University.
While Fan described the incident as "unfortunate" she said she was not sure what really happened, adding that she had no authority to comment on whether the June 4 movement should be vindicated.
This angered Ding Zilin, one of the advocates of Tiananmen Mothers who accused Fan of "having no regard for facts and talking irresponsibly". She also questioned if Fan was trying to placate Beijing because she was deciding to run for CE.
Fan's response? "I understand the pain Ms Ding has over the loss of her son, and I respect her views. But what I said all these years is what I believe. So I do respect her, but I maintain my own stance."
Fan claimed she only knew about the 1989 incident through watching CNN as she was in Hawaii at the time. She claimed she later saw reports from non-American news agencies that showed people singing as they left Tiananmen Square.
"So I can't really prove what actually happened in Tiananamen [Square]... I can only say I'm unclear what happened at the time," she said. "I don't think my statement was offensive nor did I say Ms Ding was wrong in any sense."
Ding refuses to accept Fan's explanation, saying to the media: "She is a politician, she is not a victim. She might be full of hope for her political career. But this just shows that she is extremely stubborn and that she is a politician who has no sense of conscience or humanity."
Let's take stock of what we have in Hong Kong's race for chief executive so far. We have one candidate who has "strayed" and we don't know how extensive his extracurricular activities have been, and another who claims to be in the dark about what happened on June 4, 1989.
Not a very good start to the race is it?

Monday, 17 October 2011

Occupy Hong Kong Continues

After work I went to my gym and on the way I usually pass through the HSBC headquarters.

And there was a small group of about 50 people, mostly in their 20s and 30s with signs that read, "Down with MPF [mandatory provident fund]" and "class war".

They are the ones left over from the Occupy Central event that happened on Saturday afternoon when about 500 people went to Exchange Square in Central to protest various things including the widening income gap and how developers are profiting from people trying to buy a place to live.

It was one of several movements that was inspired by Occupy Wall Street which since moved to Times Square and spread to other cities in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asian cities like Tokyo.

Yesterday the Hong Kong protestors moved from Exchange Square to the HSBC building and police swarmed the area even though the place was mostly occupied by Filippina maids on their day off.

Nevertheless the police continued watching over the protestors tonight who even lugged a couch to the open area, set up several tents and had a generator going to voice their grievances to the public.

While what they're doing is admirable, it probably won't be long before the bank will get the protestors to move their brigade elsewhere.

Fact of the Day: Dirty Hands

I hate to be the harbinger of bad news, but it's true -- people in China have poor hygiene.
A Ministry of Health study has found one in 25 mainland women wash her hands properly and for Chinese men it's only one in 35!!!
The report says many people do not wash their hands at all after going to the toilet and others do not use soap or clean water. But I can attest to the fact that there are some washrooms that don't offer soap or even running water.
The statistics were revealed by health ministry spokesman Mao Qunan while addressing an event marking the fourth Global hands Day on September 15. Only China would celebrate such days as these... but in a good way.
He admitted the report showed the government needed to urgently step up efforts to promote better personal hygiene.
Residents in Beijing and the provinces of Zhejiang, Yunnan, Shaanxi and Liaoning participated in the study based on hand-washing standards set by the World Health Organization.
It says people should wash hands before eating, after going to the toilet, after completing a manual task, upon finishing work for the day and after visiting a hospital or coming into contact someone who is sick.
The proper way to wash one's hands is to use running water and soap or other cleaning products for at least 20 seconds.
While people in cities fared better in cleaning their hands, gender was not a factor.
Perhaps it would help if soap was provided in washrooms -- many, particularly public ones do not offer soap and paper towels, but it's true -- people think they're hands are still clean.
When I worked in an office in Beijing, I was cleaning my hands when I saw my colleague come out of the stall and about to open the door to leave the washroom. I asked her if she wasn't going to wash her hands and she said she thought her hands were clean.
This coming from a university-educated woman.
It just goes to show China does not educate its people on the right things to know. While facts about China's GDP figures are nice to have in the back of their minds, perhaps more knowledge about personal hygiene would be more useful...

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Picture of the Day: Where's the Polisher in HK Part2

I passed by the shop window of Wing On department store today and this was what I saw:

"Imaging having nothing to hide".

I looked up the official website and the tagline should say "Imagine having nothing to hide".

Either the regional Estee Lauder office here didn't receive instructions correctly or they thought their English was pretty good...

Or did they run out of the letter "e"?

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Meal of Last Resort

Thursday night was a rough one for me -- I had to finish an assignment late in the office and couldn't finish it until 9:15pm.

Then my colleagues and I took the train homeward bound. We went our separate ways getting off at our respective stops but I had the farthest to go back to Hong Kong side.

It was almost 10pm by the time I arrived at Hunghom Station in Kowloon and to avoid eating dinner too late, I decided to get a bite to eat.

However when I emerged from the turnstile I saw Maxim's fast food restaurant was already closed and so was Starbucks. The only dining option available other than standing at the 7-11 eating a cup of instant noodles or McDonald's.

I opted for the latter and was surprised to see the fast food place was still bustling at this hour.

Trying to pick something somewhat healthy to eat at McDonald's is difficult especially when the restaurant chain thinks it's making your life easier by only offering set meals that include large fries and a large soft drink.

I asked for a fillet of fish and milk and was asked to pay HK$22.50 ($2.89). I was flabbergasted to find I could not order a la carte and since the cashier had already punched in the button for a set meal would I like to have the fries anyway? And since when was a small carton of milk HK$9? At every other convenience store it's less than HK$8!

The dining area is made particularly dim in the place but as I sit down to eat my pathetic dinner I see lots of people, mostly young ones lining up for fast-food grub.

McDonald's in Hong Kong is doing a good job grabbing its market share in the city -- and the result is that more and more of us are going to get obese.

There isn't much awareness here about what healthy eating is which is why fast food chains aren't pressured like they are in North America to offer "healthier" options. Unless you consider a cup of corn a good alternative...

Friday, 14 October 2011

Still in the Lead

Portrait of Ai Weiwei by Hong Kong photographer Almond Chu
Who is the most powerful person in the world of art today?

According to London-based ArtReview's 10th annual "Power 100", it's artist and activist Ai Weiwei.

It said: "Ai's power and influence derive from the fact that his work and his words have become catalysts for international political debates. They have reminded his colleagues and the world at large of the fact that freedom of expression is a basic right of any human being."

It's a sure sign that the media and art world were becoming more aware of what is going on in China.

"My art is about communication and about consciousness," he said. "My so-called activism is part of my art and I cannot really separate them because my purpose is to protect the very essential right [to] freedom of expression."

Ai also made it on Time magazine's list of 100 most influential people this year.

While he says his political activism is "quite dangerous", the 54-year-old vowed he would not back down. "How can I give up? That is the value of life and the value of being an artist. It's not a matter of choice.

"Today is a time of change not just in China but also in the world -- Arab, Asia, Africa... so artists always have to play an important role in this kind of change."

His troubles with the authorities culminated into being taken into custody in April and then later charged with "economic crimes". He wasn't released until June.

During the time he was detained, his family had no idea of his whereabouts and whether he was alright, as he has diabetes and high blood pressure. He was physically roughed up and also constantly watched my security only a few feet away from him at all times.

He says his experiences were not uncommon, making people outside of China become more aware of what is going on in the country in terms of human rights.

"I can use myself as an example for people to understand that... China is not just some nation which is getting rich, but there is a price to pay for not having these essential rights."

Since his release in June, Ai is still watched by the authorities and is careful about what he says. He is not supposed to officially give interviews not talk about his experiences being held in communicado.

Last month he told an Austrian radio station that he feared for his safety. "I may lose my life... they [the government] can make me disappear," he said.

Nevertheless, the government had little to say about the art world's high praise of Ai. Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said the honouring of the artist was politically motivated. "To make judgement from a political perspective and political prejudice is against the purpose and principle of the magazine," he said.

It was a weak attempt to spin the story. The more the government refuses to acknowledge Ai as one of its biggest sources of soft power, the more he is celebrated abroad.

Who's winning the public opinion battle?

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Trying to Salvage a Legacy

Donald Tsang addresses the media after his policy address
Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang made a last-ditch attempt in his last policy address yesterday to raise his sagging popularity with measures to address problems the public has been complaining about.
In the speech entitled "From Strength to Strength" he outlined a number of proposals to ease the housing issue which is foremost on Hong Kongers' minds. Tsang said that 17,000 subsidized homes would be available for lower income families (monthly incomes of HK$30,000 or less) from 2016 for four years and more land for 20,000 private homes a year.

Some critics complain this initiative was done before and created a glut in the market during Tung Chee-hwa's administration and this will only repeat history.
Then Tsang thought he'd address young people's concerns of not being able to own a flat by offering the creative suggestion of having hostels for single people aged 18-30 to live in to gain some independence. Huh? What they were protesting about was government being too cosy with property developers, not being homeless.
There weren't many initiatives in the two-hour speech in terms of tackling air pollution except that the government would inject HK$180 million into buying 36 electric buses on a trial basis. It's something that should have been done years ago. What about doing more to curb the pollution of private cars and trucks as well? There seems to be more luxury cars on the roads, particularly Maseratis than hybrids and electric cars.
Another curious suggestion is setting up an "international cuisine college" in Pok Fu Lam to help young people become professional chefs. Tsang claims the school will be set up to address the high turnover in the food industry, but perhaps it's because of crap salaries and tough bosses?

And there is still a social stigma attached to people becoming cooks as many are typically not well educated; but are these culinary graduates going to be the next Joel Robuchon and Alain Ducasse?
Perhaps one of the good things Tsang spoke about was that seniors and disabled will only have to pay HK$2 for all MTR lines, buses and ferries at any time of the day. And there will be monthly tickets for seniors to use public swimming pools. While it's great to see the government promoting healthier lifestyles among the elderly, why not young people too? That way everyone's health care costs can go down, and with less sick days productivity will be boosted even further?
Seems like the Hong Kong government has only thought one step ahead rather than a few steps more...

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Quietly Turning the Tide

It is heartening to see two independent candidates in China win elections at the grassroots level in Guangdong.
They were elected to a district people's congress in the southern Chinese province in a year that has seen an unprecedented number of candidates contesting polls across the country without Communist Party backing.
Guo Huojia, 59, from Xintiandi village, and 37-year-old Xiaxi village chief Li Youzhou won seats in Foshan's Nanhai district on September 28. Both have been involved in fighting for the rights of residents affected by illegal land grabs.
They are the first successful independent campaigners to emerge in what is seen as a break through year for independent candidates running for local legislatures. Previously there were sporadic candidates not linked to the Communist Party who ran for local congresses, but they hardly got any media coverage probably due to instructions from the top.
This year there were academics, journalists, bloggers, lawyers and farmers who ran and attracted a lot of attention and put on serious campaigns.
Guo began campaigning for land rights in 2007 and took the provincial land and resources department to court in August for allegations that it illegally permitted land development.
In his election, Guo won more than 2,000 votes over a government-backed rival. "I am still very excited that I was elected, even though I had expected victory," he said. "I will focus on the land issue and social welfare to better protect my people's interests."
China analysts say Guo's and Li's wins could mark a turning point in China's political evolution, and it has been a tough road for them, as many independent candidates have met interference from the authorities who have either disrupted campaigns or harassed them.
Some critics think it is too early to be optimistic as these local lawmakers may not be able to exert any real decision-making power. Local congresses are the lowest rung in the government structure and so they are relatively powerless bodies in the complex political system.
Nevertheless, in Chinese politics, any step forward for grassroots candidates -- and in particular independent ones -- is a giant step forward. And to see such a large number of people running without the support of the Communist Party shows they are tired of the one-party system and want to create change.
May the tide quietly rise and gather strength in numbers.

They have endured too much to let a victory like this go unnoticed.  

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Fact of the Day: Macau's Fledgling Bookworm Population

A book publisher friend of mine recently told us Macau is not a big market. He explained a city with a population of 500,000 only had three bookstores. One sold religious books, another Portuguese ones, and the other presumably Chinese.

There is a bookshop in The Venetian but he joked that since most people preferred gambling to reading, there wasn't a huge demand for reading materials -- unless it was perhaps a how-to book on cleaning up at the casino tables.

But joking aside, the number of bookshops a city has really does give a good idea of the interest in education of its residents.

Unless of course these bookworms would rather borrow books from the library...

Monday, 10 October 2011

Practicing what they Preach

It's refreshing to discover there are some Hong Kong Chinese people who are environmentally conscious and it's not because they have tight budgets.
The newspaper today has a short profile of an intellectual property lawyer who is not just talking about protecting the environment, but also doing it.

She can well afford to buy designer clothes, but Rachel Pang Hoi-yan had made a conscious decision not to and as a result she hasn't bought new outfits for a year and a half.

"This black pullover I am wearing is an abandoned one, and so is this handbag. This is the first time I have mad a made-in-France handbag. There is no way to tell it is second-hand."

She and her husband even furnish their flat with second-hand furniture and appliances.
When she first solicited her friends for cast-off clothing, they weren't sure she was serious about it, as many Chinese have a negative attitude towards second-hand clothing, thinking it's dirty or strange to wear someone else's clothes while in the west it's considered hip or chic.

Nevertheless some friends did contribute clothes and now Pang advertises them on a blog and people come and either take the clothes they are interested in or donate more.

The couple also eat sustainably -- renting a 7,000 square foot piece of land and grow organic vegetables as it consumes less energy than producing meat.

"It is easy to tell people to protect the environment but it is difficult when it comes to practice," she said. "If we are serious about protecting the environment and making it the philosophy of our life, it will have a profound impact on every aspect of our lives." She adds that's why there are still people who refuse to acknowledge climate change.

Pang believes Hong Kong is geared towards consumerism, which is not a sustainable lifestyle.

"In Hong Kong shopping is an entertainment. We wander in malls every weekend, so we keep consuming. Fashionable clothes are getting cheaper and cheaper, and new designs rolled out quickly. Our way of living is unsustainable."

She hopes that through her grass roots actions, people will think twice about buying something.

With the economy starting to go slightly downhill, people may hesitate about consuming, but more because of their wallets than the earth...

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Making a Statement

Hu Jintao is centre left, while Jiang Zemin stands at centre right
This morning as I was eating dim sum in a restaurant with relatives there was a news report on the television screens and the major story was about former President Jiang Zemin. There was so much footage of him and I couldn't see or hear what the story was so at first I thought he had died.

But later in the afternoon I saw another hourly news report that explained it was the first time Jiang had made a public appearance since Hong Kong TV station ATV falsely reported he died in July.

He was at a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the October 10, 1911 Xinhai Revolution in the Great Hall of the People, coming out after President Hu Jintao. They stood in front of a giant portrait of Dr Sun Yat-sen flanked by red flags and the years "1911" on the left and "2011" on the right.

The 85-year-old Jiang was aided by an assistant and he gripped the back of chairs for extra support. While he was physically weak he still had his portly figure so he's still eating well.

Hu and Jiang sat together and after the current president made a speech and went back to his seat, Jiang smiled and shook hands with him perhaps as a sign that there are no conflicts between them.

But maybe it also shows the former president is still well enough to meddle with Hu's agenda in the background...

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Celebratory Feast

Bamboo clams stir-fried with peppers and black bean sauce
A few of us celebrated a colleague's birthday earlier this week by going to a restaurant of her choice in North Point. It's called Tung Po and is actually a dai pai dong on the second floor of the food market. The place is very popular so it's best if large groups book in advance which is what we did.

Deep-fried golden prawns with their shells on
We were seated in a corner area and the decor is pretty much bare bones with white tiled walls with some movie posters and a simple large round table with a lazy Susan on it. Wait staff are casually dressed and some wear rubber boots as the floors aren't the cleanest.

You are given a large kettle of tea, not only for drinking but to clean your utensils as well.

But you're not here for cleanliness -- you're here for the good food.

After a few rounds of Asahi beer poured into cold bowls, we started eating. First came the deep-fried pork knuckle that were more about cartilage and bone than anything else which makes it very similar to chicken feet. Those who enjoyed gnawing bones had fun pigging out as it were.

Clay pot rice with Chinese sausages and diced pork
Next came deep-fried "golden sand" prawns, which were unfortunately cooked with the shell on so it required some deft de-shelling or just eating the whole thing in tact. The prawns while meaty were slightly on the salty side.

We also had excellent soya chicken, meaty, juicy and had a crisp dark skin. I was pretty much addicted to the chicken and every time it swung near me on the lazy Susan I had to get another piece.

For the vegetarians at the table we had braised tofu with vegetables, and a claypot of vermicelli and Nappa cabbage.

Another winner was the bamboo clams -- they were laid out nicely on top of the rectangular-shaped shells, stir-fried with black bean sauce. They were cooked perfectly, the stringy clams very fresh.

We also ordered two clay pot rice dishes where the rice and ingredients are cooked right in the clay pot. It takes a while for these to cook so we drank more beer and watched the table next to us, mostly a group of young men in suits trying to get each other drunk, shouting and swearing at each other and playing drinking games. We wondered if they were a bunch of repressed accountants trying to relieve some stress.

Clay pot rice with minced pork and salted egg yolk
Finally the clay pot rice came -- one with steamed minced pork and salted egg that was excellent, as well as another with Chinese sausages and diced pork. Everyone took a turn to eat the rice, trying to scrape off the sides where there were crunchy bits of rice. Some were burnt to the bottom but we pretty much finished both.

Then we paid the bill -- not even HK$200 a head -- and were on our way out when the waiter brought out dessert -- herb grass jelly with ginger in it. My colleague remarked the last time she ate this dessert it was so spicy from the ginger but this time admitted it was tolerable and finished the whole bowl.

Thanks to birthday girl YTSL for these pictures. Her blog is here. Hope we have another cheap and cheerful feast again soon.

Tung Po
2/F, Java Road Municipal Services Building
99 Java Road
North Point
2880 9399

Friday, 7 October 2011

"Peace" Prize Interrupted

This year the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to three women -- Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian Leymah Gbowee and Tawakul Karman of Yemen.

The trio were chosen for their "non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work."

Around this time a year ago, China was outraged that dissident writer Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize, who was stuck in jail unable to receive his award. His wife Liu Xia has been under virtual house arrest too, her internet and phone lines cut off, only able to receive close family for the past year.

It was recently revealed Liu was allowed to go home to Dalian last month -- for 30 minutes -- to observe the formal mourning period for his father who passed away. His three brothers were also able to visit him in jail and reported Liu was in good spirits. There is hope his wife will be able to see him later this month.

After Liu was awarded the prestigious prize, China sought to downplay the the historic event by revealing the Confucius Peace Prize.

The "cultural protection department" started the prize and awarded the inaugural one to Taiwanese vice-president Lien Chan though he was completely unaware of it and didn't come to claim it or the 100,000 RMB ($15,684) cash reward. So to save face, the organizers handed the award to a little girl who they refused to identify.

Perhaps the silly behaviour of this department prompted its parent organization, the Ministry of Culture to suddenly cancel the second Confucius Peace Prize which should have been awarded around now.

Three weeks ago the organizers had announced a short list that included Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the 21-year-old Panchen Lama picked by Beijing, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Yuan Longping, the agricultural scientist known as "the father of hybrid rice".

However the award was apparently scrapped for "violating relevant regulations" and that the department was not authorized to stage such an event and had "severely breached regulations on social organizations".

One wonders what these regulations were but more importantly why was this department allowed to give this award away in the first place?

Perhaps last year was a desperate face-saving measure that resulted in more jeers than healing political wounds, though Norway is still paying financially for the loss of orders for Norwegian salmon in the mainland.

Wonder what that young girl did with all that money? Buy a flashy car or several designer handbags?

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Steve Jobs' Legacy

This morning Asia woke up to the news that Steve Jobs had died.

At this point I will hazard a guess there were some tributes left at the Apple store in IFC mall here in Hong Kong which opened a few weeks ago.

As I passed by the store on the way to work I could see customers already in there looking at gadgets.

There's no disputing Jobs' legacy as a visionary who came up with amazing products and services, going well beyond anyone's expectations but his own.

But there's also his 2005 commencement address to the graduates at Stanford University.

He talks about looking back and connecting the dots. He had decided he would drop out of college and instead of focusing on academics he took courses he found interesting -- like calligraphy for example.

And because of it he gained an appreciate for different type faces and the spacing between them so that when he made the Macintosh computer, it was the first to have a selection of typography.

He also told the graduating class to believe in themselves:

You have to trust in yourself Sometimes life's going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life. And the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking -- and don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And just like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking, don't settle.

The third thing he talks about is death -- that we will all die. He said he wakes up everyday and says to himself that if today is his last day on earth, would he like doing what he has to do that day? If he found himself saying no too many times then things would have to change. He said the thought of death quickly pares our thoughts, wants and needs down to the most basic:

Your time is limited so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the opinions of other people drown out your inner voice. And most important have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Some find their path early, others late. But it's also the journey along the way that makes life what it is.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Trying to Mend his Ways

Henry Tang Ying-yen, tipped to be Hong Kong's next chief executive, admitted publicly yesterday that he cheated on his wife.

At first he described the allegations as "very entertaining" but then a few days later said he had "strayed".

In a Chinese-language statement issued jointly with his wife Kwok Yu-chin, Tang, 59, admitted having been unfaithful. Part of it reads, "I have strayed in my love life and I feel deeply remorseful and guilty."

He said his wife had forgiven him and for that he was "very thankful".

The statement ends weeks of rumours that he had an affair with Shirley Yuen, his former administrative assistant and now CEO of the Hong Kong Chamber of Commerce. She strongly denied being involved and was angry for being linked with Tang's love life.

Another woman who worked as Tang's personal assistant also denied having an affair with him. "I and the other assistants had heard nothing about him having any extramarital affairs back then," said Elizabeth Chan, who now works in the PR industry.

Tang was forced to make the statement after his wife of 27 years responded to the gossip in an article published by Oriental Daily's Eastweek magazine in which she said there had been "difficult times" which were now over.

Less than two hours after Tang's statement was released, an impromptu news conference in front of his home on The Peak. The couple came out hand in hand, but said they had nothing further to add.

What is the point of that? Either say something or don't bother making an appearance.

Analysts felt that while his admission of guilt would not affect his chances of becoming Chief Executive, the lack of transparency could dog him during his campaigning.

"Whenever Tang shows up at any event, reporters will keep on asking [about his love life]," said Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung.

However some felt the confession had to come sooner rather than later in order to appease Beijing's concerns over the morality of Hong Kong's next leader.

Tang's written statement is unclear whether he only had one affair or more than one and the public relations company that issued the announcement refused to clarify, only stating that he "strayed".

Regardless, the whole event confirms men in positions of power have the urge to cheat. An article in Time magazine says there are many reasons ranging from lack of self-esteem (Bill Clinton) to narcissism (John Edwards), or those from privileged families who are indulged and show little self restraint which Tang perhaps fits in this category.

So now we have a front running chief executive candidate who comes from a wealthy family, hasn't really had to work for his money, encourages young people to aspire to be Li Ka-shing and now reveals he's cheated on his wife.

How does this bode well for Hong Kong's future?

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Paying for Face

An architectural drawing of the China Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo
Adding to the woes that China's economy is slowing down, Shanghai is presented with a 19 billion RMB ($2.4 billion) bill for the World Expo 2010 last year.
Organizers had used nearly 13 billion RMB in bonds and loans to pay for construction and other costs.
Although the six-month fair made 1.05 billion RMB in operating profit, the city still has to pony up 19.7 billion RMB for the cost of building the site.
The fair, which ran from May to November last year brought in 73 million visitors, the highest number in the fair's 160-year history. 
The government of course hailed it as a major success, but now one wonders how the city is going to pay for the massive bill.
An official report by the Shanghai municipal audit bureau released on Friday showed that the expo cost 31.7 billion RMB to build and run -- 3.1 billion RMB more than the original budget.
Ticket sales were meant to be the main revenue source, but then visitor numbers grew due to discounted and free tickets. In the end tickets worked out to be on average 100 RMB ($15.67) per person, the price of a concessionary one. All adults were supposed to be charged double that amount.
It turns out the municipal government handed out at least 10 million tickets -- one for every Shanghai household -- just before the opening of the fair. In addition it is widely believed more free or discounted tickets were available through state-owned enterprises.

Talk about free giveaways. Seems like pumping attendance numbers was more important than actual profits.
Another rumour was that staff at national pavillions inflated official gate numbers, but expo organizers denied this.
The increased budget may have been due to poor attendance in the first month which promoted organizers to have more live performances and more staff on hand. Strong inflation in wages and construction materials were other factors as well as some countries backing out of building their own pavillions and using rented facilities built by the organizers.
The costs were paid by a number of sources:
2.66 billion RMB from Shanghai government
2.86 billion RMB from commercial and social donations
1.20 billion RMB from a dedicated cultural fund
5.50 billion RMB from the sale of expo bonds
7.50 billion RMB from loans from banks, capital funds and "other methods"
That total is 19.72 billion RMB. So doesn't that mean 11.98 billion RMB still needs to be paid up? Why is Shanghai still on the hook for over 19 billion RMB, or are there other costs we're not told about?
The audit says bills have either already been paid or in the process of being paid. And the report is only restricted to the 5.28 square kilometre site, not taking into account the massive infrastructure improvements made -- which some estimate at up to 400 billion RMB.

Just like the Olympics where giant architectural structures like the Beijing National Stadium or Bird's Nest were built just for show, the Shanghai Expo was another face-saving event to prove the Chinese really do have tons of people who are interested in expositions even though no one wants to either participate in them or visit them.

After all those warnings to Shanghai residents telling them not to wear pjamas on the streets and hang out laundry, they will have to pay the giant bill when it was the various government departments who put on the costly charade.

How was the Shanghai Expo, Better City, Better Life?

Monday, 3 October 2011

Stock Jitters

The Hang Seng Index is plunging downwards at a fast rate these days.

Today it dropped over 770 points to close at 16,822.15.

The fall of 4.4 percent, the lowest in 2.5 years was due to mainland financials and property companies. There are also fears the Chinese economy is going to hit a hard landing with no sign of the Chinese government injecting a stimulus package like it did in late 2008.

Even casino stocks fell, with Galaxy Entertainment losing 19 percent on fears of a credit squeeze on private firms on the mainland would affect gambling revenues. This is an interesting development as most believed up until now that gambling was recession proof.

While some investors are scared and are trying to cut losses, others are waiting for stock prices to fall even further.

It will be a good time to look for good deals, but my question is, as the economies in Europe and the United States need to become more fiscally responsible, from the countries right down to individuals themselves, doesn't this mean overall that GDP numbers will be falling as well? In that case would that mean we're not going to see stocks make people as wealthy as they did before?

In other words are we ever going to see the Hang Seng climb over 30,000 points like it did in October 2007?

Perhaps this explains why people are moving into property instead -- perhaps more of a sure bet.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Word of the Day: Ham Sup Lo

Hong Kong has a lot of ham sup lo (咸湿佬). Ham sup lo means men who are perverted or having their minds in the gutter -- all the time.

The city also has a lot of naive girls who don't have much sex education to protect themselves from these ham sup men.

The latest case? A self-styled feng shui master was found guilty Friday for tricking his girlfriend's 15-year-old sister into having sex to dispel evil spirits and then convinced her that the "ritual" had to continue for the next five years.

Yuen Yuk-kin, 43, told his victim who was below the legal age of consent that the fever she had for two weeks was because of her boyfriend infecting her with undesirable spirits during sex.

He said the only way to get rid of these spirits was to have sex again -- but with him.

The fever then went away and the girl started believing Yuen had magical powers.

He then convinced the girl, with whom he'd been dating her sister for three years that the sexual "ritual" had to continue otherwise she would contract cancer before the age of 30.

Yuen began having sex with her everyday in 2004 and then this gradually became weekly until last year when the girl finally thought it was suspicious that he needed more time to "cure" her.

Then when he tried to end the "rituals", he threatened to break up with her sister but warned this might lead to the elder sister's death because she was fragile and could commit suicide.

The judge said Yuen exploited the girl's fears for her family's well being.

What kind of hocus pocus garbage is this? How can men get away with telling such ludicrous stories? And it took her six years to figure out what he was doing was wrong?

Yuen is not the only one -- there have been many other similar cases over the years.

What I don't understand is why these girls haven't had any proper sex education. What are they learning in school? And why do they think a feng shui master can cure them by having sex with them?

Are girls that gullible? Very much so it seems.

In a city like Hong Kong where literacy rates are in the 90 percentile especially among young people, you'd think their critical thinking skills would be on the alert for scams and this one is completely outrageous.

Perhaps the sex ed teacher did not go over the section entitled "beware of ham sup lo pretending to be feng shui masters to get into your pants".

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Wen's Campaign Continues

Premier Wen Jiabao continues to be the lone wolf crying for changes in the Party system.

Last night on the eve of the 62nd anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, Wen made a speech pledging to address the country's biggest social issues, including inflation, the growing income gap, unemployment, food safety, corruption, environmental destruction and social injustice.

"We will make great efforts to guarantee and perfect democracy and resolve the problems that most concern the people and that most directly involve their interests," he said in remarks published on government websites.

"We will make great efforts to advance the opening and reform and continue to push forward economic, political, cultural and social system reform. We will make great efforts to safeguard social justice, and ensure the people's democratic rights and judicial fairness."

Of course Wen doesn't mean democracy in the western sense of multiparty elections but rather inviting more of the party elite more say in ruling the country.

This building of consensus hasn't really worked for Wen, as his rather liberal remarks seem to be sidelined particularly when he says them abroad. But this time his speech was published for the record which means someone sanctioned it.

When I started living in China four years ago, I found the premier a refreshing figure who really knew what needed to change and actually spoke out about them.

But it soon became evident that Wen is quite powerless in trying to implement changes to the system and few are willing to back him and his ideas. Also he would say one thing but then do another, as the Sichuan earthquake in 2008 was a good example. When he visited the quake-hit region, he promised the government would do all it could to help the victims.

However when local activists tried to investigate why so many government-built schools collapsed killing many students, they were jailed for subverting the Chinese state.

Wen knows his time is running out -- he must hand over the reins of power to his successor, expected to be Li Keqiang next year. And so he's trying to use any opportunity he can to speak out.

According to Yu Jie, author of China's Best Actor: Wen Jiabao, the premier knows the system is falling apart.

"There is only one objective for all that Wen Jiabao has done since he took the reins, and it is to 'act'. He knows that this old car -- the Chinese Communist Party -- is going to fall apart," Yu writes in his book.

"He himself is not a driver with the charisma and ability to stop the car or switch path... As a result, all he can do is to be like a puppet, acting as long as he can."

So are his pronouncements for democracy a heart-felt monologue? Or is it a warning foreshadowing what may come if his words are not heeded?

Only time will tell.