Friday, 31 August 2012

Picture of the Day: Self-Saving Breather

Check out the mask in your hotel room
I've just arrived in Beijing for a few days of R&R but I hear the
heavens may open up again and unleash heavy rains again tomorrow
afternoon so we'll have to see how good my timing is.

Needless to say it's good to be back after a two-year absence and for
the most part things are familiar.

However I was thrown for a loop when I got to my hotel room and opened
the closet door.

This is what I found – a "Fire fighting filter type self-saving breather".

The woman modeling the mask doesn't look particularly attractive with
her long hair sticking out the bottom like tentacles and wearing a
bright green sweater.

Nevertheless the following is how to use the mask, which is by the way
sealed at the top like a giant tennis ball canister where you have to
pull the tab to open it:

1. Take out the fire fighting filter type self-saving breather;
2. Tear at the packing bag of fire fighting filter type self-saving breather;
3. Wear helmet and pull contractive belt fast;
4. Choose way and flee for your life decidedly.

Yep that's what it says folks. Word for word. I hope I don't need to use it.

A Cop Out

Last night I passed by the HSBC headquarters in Central and was
annoyed to find the Occupy Central camp was still there.

It has now been five days since the bank got approval from the court
for the protestors to leave and four since the High Court reinforced
the order for them to leave.

On Monday evening just before 9pm there was an impromptu concert in
the public passageway, mostly young people dancing and singing, while
the media looked on and one police van nearby to see if there was any

Perhaps the police didn't want to cause a scene that night, but surely
they have an obligation to follow through on the court order or do
they think the Occupy Central people are not a nuisance when the rest
of us think they are?

Legally the bank has no other recourse now except to hope that the
police will eventually follow through and kick the protestors out.

Now it's the police who are lame. This is not busting a triad or a
drug ring – it's people who had their 15 minutes of fame and now it's
time to move on.

Could the police just do their job and then we can all go back to
regular programming?

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Get Ready for More Mainlanders

I knew there were people who crossed the border regularly from Shenzhen to buy up goods from Hong Kong for their own use.

And then there was the iPad and iPhone frenzy when people picked up several at a time to bring back to the mainland to sell because they were cheaper in Hong Kong and not yet available in China.

But I didn't realize there were people who cross the border several times a day to ferry goods to China.

The media calls them mainland parallel importers but they're more like drug mules except they're not carrying illicit drugs.

They come into the city armed with a shopping list and buy things from milk powder to cosmetics, bring them back and then they are resold to mainland customers. Then they do it again, four to five times a day, everyday.

One woman told one media outlet she helped a Shenzhen seller one day a week for the past year. She made three trips a day, making 100 RMB ($15.75) per trip. Basically a low-paid mule, right?

And now Hong Kong may get many more of these mules particularly around the Sheung Shui area because the Shenzhen government is relaxing travel permit rules from next month, thus allowing 4.1 million non-permanent residents to come to Hong Kong on multiple-visit permits.

Shopkeepers are probably rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of even more customers, while the rest of us are going to have to deal with higher rents, more expensive goods and more social problems resulting from even greater cross-border traffic.

People coming to Hong Kong to visit relatives, shop and go sightseeing is fine, but those deliberately coming here to buy up our goods and then reselling them for even a small profit is not acceptable.

As a border patrol officer, wouldn't you be raising eyebrows if someone crossed the border more than twice in one day, everyday?

Tourism Board Chairman James Tien Pei-chun has already spoken out against the relaxing of the permit rules, claiming most of the people coming in are these parallel traders.

"They are not tourists. They are illegal workers," he said in a radio interview. He said these visitors who don't have a hukou in Shenzhen would have less purchasing power and would stock up on things like baby formula instead of visiting the city's theme parks.

While Tien may be making these statements ahead of the September 9 election, he is reflecting the views of the general public.

It'll be interesting to see how receptive Hong Kong people are to his comments. There are concerns Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying did not do enough to talk to the Shenzhen authorities about their decision and how it would impact our city... or was he complicit?

In any event more mainlanders in the city is going to result in more social tensions for sure.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

China's Economic Woes

After the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 we started hearing about the economy falling apart in North America, signaled by the demise of Lehman Brothers.

The Chinese government panicked and initiated a 4 trillion RMB ($586 billion) stimulus package.

Chinese officials explained this was the way to keep the economy chugging along as it needed to maintain that magic 8 percent GDP growth to ensure employment levels.

At the time, economists suggested this would be a good time to reform the Chinese economy, particularly the state-owned enterprises, these hulking large companies that are bloated with staff and bureaucracy. It would also be a good opportunity for China to reform its banking system and monetary policies.

But this did not happen.

Instead the 4 trillion RMB, most of the funds shored up by Chinese banks, was thrown into mainly infrastructure projects, roads, highways, government buildings, high-speed trains.

However not all the money went into all the right places.

Lots of it was siphoned off and used for joy trips to Macau and spent on the tables there, massive shopping sprees on properties overseas, luxury cars and of course mistresses.

The also thought they could encourage more domestic spending, but when there is no proper social safety net in place particularly with health care, people are still trying to save as much as they can. And besides there are only so many refrigerators and microwaves you can buy.

Banks wanted to ensure repayment so they only lent to state-owned enterprises making them even more bloated, while small- and medium-sized enterprises were struggling to get capital to expand and resorted to underground banks with hefty interest rates, resulting in some businesses going under, with their owners either committing suicide or fleeing the town or country.

Then in July 2011 there was the Wenzhou train crash that killed 40 people and injured at least 192. Later the Minister of Railways Liu Zhijun was sacked for corruption for his efforts in pushing the high speed rail network in the country.

And then most recently a newly-built bridge in Harbin collapsed and killed three and injured five. How can a bridge that was completed in November suddenly fall apart? Apparently it is the seventh bridge to collapse in a year.

These are all indications of a severely overheated economy where there was only thoughts of propping up the economy than taking the painful route of reforms to foster long-term greater efficiency but also more importantly innovation.

We are now seeing the Chinese economy slowing down with the producer price index (PPI) falling and hearing anecdotes of manufacturers stockpiled with goods and no sellers. Meanwhile inflation makes it harder for average people to buy food, and property prices continue to rise.

And then there are reports of local governments in huge debts. They cannot issue bonds to prop up the economy so they set up companies to borrow money from banks, but now they can't pay up because no money is coming back in, or not enough.

What is the government going to do to at least alleviate some of the financial pressures?

Nothing yet.

That's because the upcoming change of leadership in the next two months means Premier Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao are winding down their posts and it is assumed Li Keqiang and Xi Jinping respectively will take over their posts.

So that means it won't be until early 2013, probably after Spring Festival when new economic policies will be announced.

But something needs to be done now to start correcting China's financial picture because at this rate it is going from bad to worse.

Wen may be doing his tours of provinces these days as his final hurrah, but he's pretty much a lame duck now, handing over a pretty big economic mess for the future leaders to solve.

If only they'd had the foresight to fix things two to three years ago, because the next few years are going to be painful.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

A Smashing Statement

Before and after... making a smashing point
Some patriots sing the national anthem and wave flags.

Others paint their faces in their country's colours at sporting events.

And then there are those who are more radical in their patriotism.

Like a young Chinese man who attended the Changli International Wine Festival in Hebei.

Wearing reflective aviator glasses, the unnamed man successfully bid and paid for two bottles of Alsatian wine by Domaine Emile Beyer for 200,000 RMB ($30,000).

He then promptly smashed one of the bottles "to support the domestic wine industry" in China.

Last week Chinese wine producers wondered if European wine makers were dumping cheap wines into the mainland market, said a Reuters report. While imported wine sales are up, domestic ones are down, so the patriot claimed buying domestic wine was "priceless."

How does that make sense when the vast majority of wines made in China are undrinkable?

Nevertheless, many people criticized the young man's publicity stunt on Sina Weibo. "This is a stupid show-off," said Eddie_lj. "If he really loves his country, he can use the money to support students who dropped out of college because of poverty or other disadvantaged groups, and that would be meaningful."

Another said the other bottle was now worth 200,000 RMB. "People in the antique business play this trick a lot."

Yet another commented, "This man is so poor that all he has is money. What a pity."

Wine lovers must be wondering, "Did he really have to smash it? Why not let us drink it!"

Monday, 27 August 2012

The End of the Chinese Dream?

A book about Chinese fears and dreams
Tonight I attended a talk put on by the Asia Society, presenting British sociologist Gerard Lemos who has written a book called The End of the Chinese Dream -- Why Chinese People Fear the Future.

So I was hoping for a stimulating talk as did a number of other people in the audience, including former Chief Secretary Anson Chan.

However when Lemos began his talk, he cautioned he was not a China expert, only a sociologist and his findings were not necessarily scientific either.

What he did was he went to Chongqing in 2006 and at the time the Bo Xilai had yet to become Party Secretary of China's largest municipality of 30 million people.

The officials at the time were interested in finding out what ordinary people thought of policies and how they could plan for the future.

And while Lemos was there, making his first trip to China, he observed the Chinese liked to write wishes and put them on trees. And the higher up the tree they were, then the higher the chance the wish would be carried up to the heavens.

So the expert on social policy hit on the idea of creating another version of wishing trees where he gave people "leaves" to answer four questions:

1. Who are you?
2. What event changed your life?
3. What is your greatest worry?
4. What do you wish for?

British sociologist Gerard Lemos
He put these wishing trees in three areas in Chongqing, one near a tire factory that had employed 3,000 people that was shut down, one near some farmers' land that had been expropriated for development, and one near a historical area that has become a tourist spot.

Lemos read out some of the things people wrote down. Many said they were concerned about healthcare, particularly when they got older, as the cost of treatment and drugs are expensive. Others felt the pressures of the education system, that young people only have one shot at getting into university with the gaokao system and if they didn't get in, they would not only feel shame, but financially would wonder what to do.

He observed the high savings rate of young people, and put it down to the high cost of education, particularly now with one child.

Another issue is old age, and those prematurely laid off wonder how they are going to pay bills when they get older, while the one-child policy seems to have created unhappy families who are not seeing their traditional Chinese family values come to fruition and instead pour all their hopes and dreams into one child.

And then there are the "ant tribes", fresh graduates who are living in cramped quarters and having trouble finding work -- work that requires a university degree. They feel it is beneath them to take on a factory job, or perhaps would feel shame if it was discovered that was the only job they could get.

Lemos said he also did the wishing tree exercise in two areas in Beijing and got similar results.

What are we to make of all of this?

He wants us to read his book to find out, but basically his unscientific observations and answers from ordinary people show that in the late 1970s when China first opened up, there was the possibility of gaining wealth, of have the means to buy things, to have a better life and this is what fueled the Chinese dream.

But now some people are feeling that they are left out and left behind from the optimism and the dream, Lemos says.

What is also interesting is that when there were complaints about the system, people did not point fingers at particular officials, but felt the system wasn't working for them; they inherently knew trying to blame someone was not going to help.

Another observation was that more people were turning to religion to help them explain the world as it became more complicated. Lemos explained this was a phenomenon he was seeing in other places too -- like India and South Africa.

So really Lemos should be doing a world-wide reading with his four questions and then collating the answers to see what kind of country comparisons can be made, since he is not a China specialist.

Nevertheless, he has conducted an interesting project -- and should ask these same four questions again in another 10 years in China to see where people are with their Chinese dream.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Picture of the Day: The Last Stand

The tents at Occupy Central come down tomorrow
This was the scene at Occupy Central at HSBC headquarters this afternoon.

As usual for a Sunday they were surrounded by a sea of Filipina domestic workers on their day off.

The protestors of Occupy Central have until 9pm tomorrow night to vacate the premises otherwise the police will move in and forcibly remove them.

Those taking the last stand have said they intend to clash with police, though we don't expect much more than scuffles.

We will be relieved to see the space finally cleared after 10 months of them occupying the space.

This particular protest in Hong Kong was not very productive and for the most part ignored because their demands were idealistic.

Some were demanding the end of capitalism, while others wanted all their money back on investments that lost money; the former had no concrete steps of how society could survive with out capitalism while the latter did not realize that all investments come with risk and that nothing is guaranteed.

So let's finally get back to our daily lives or working at our jobs to make money so that we can have roofs over our heads and have food on the table.

In the end that's what life is, not camping out in Central making naive points.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Where the Moon Don't Shine

Have fun with these "moon" cakes from G.O.D
Almost a month from now it will be Mid-Autumn Festival again and already hotels and restaurants in Hong Kong are advertising their mooncakes as the ones to give your friends and families as they gaze at the large full moon.

However The Peninsula Hong Kong experienced a major faux pas recently when there was a massive line for its famous mooncakes, the first to have egg custard fillings.

The problem was that someone near the front of the line ordered so many boxes that the people behind had no chance to buy them and the hotel had to apologize, saying all the mooncakes were already sold out.

Care for a moon cake that moons you?
Perhaps a number of the potential customers were mainlanders who wanted to ensure they got the real deal, but in any event, the hotel should have limited the number of boxes one could purchase.

Next year...

Nevertheless, may we suggest a cheeky version of mooncakes -- literally!

G.O.D. stands for Goods of Desire started by Douglas Young. It's a lifestyle store selling mostly furniture, but also products that have a slight retro feel.

In any event the store has branched out into edible goods, particularly mooncakes.

And these aren't the traditional ones with patterns of flowers or Chinese characters on top.

They are cakes that moon you in various forms, from buns wearing hot pants to the full monty.

So for a naughty bite into some hot buns, G.O.D.'s mooncakes may be the ones for you!!!

Friday, 24 August 2012

Manipulating the Masses

The truth has finally come out -- everyone knew hurdler Liu Xiang was injured -- except his 1.3 billion fans.

The ruse was revealed by CCTV sports anchor Yang Jian on Wednesday, telling the audience that he'd prepared his report ahead of time after he was told that Liu had a serious injury.

"I heard about Liu's injury before the game from my personal sources," Yang said. "My superior asked me to praise this heroic athlete, regardless of the result of the race, which I totally agreed with."

So when Liu crashed into the first hurdle earlier this month, Yang struggled to hold back tears and said, sniffing audibly, "Liu Xiang was like a warrior. Even knowing he'd never make to the end, he still flew."

Now we all know Yang knew in advance what we didn't -- was that fair?

"Liu Xiang Knew, CCTV Knew, the Leaders Knew -- Only the Masses Waited Stupidly for a Miracle to Happen," was the headline of the Oriental Guardian, a commercial tabloid in Nanjing.

And obviously lots of people in China are upset right now. It's amazing we haven't heard reports of overturned cars and riots in the streets yet, protesting about yet another fallacy cooked up by the government.

Some accused CCTV of deliberately hoodwinking the audience.

"What else is going on without informing us?" asked a commentator.

Some 19,000 respondents participated in an online poll on Sina Weibo on Thursday night and 76 percent said they felt cheated after hearing the news.

The other point worth bringing up is that before the Olympics there were concerns of Liu's ankle, as he pulled out of a pre-Olympics race in July and his coach Sun Haiping had mentioned Liu's foot injury beforehand.

And just before the race, state media played down Liu's appearance.

So should the Chinese sport management system finally admit the inevitable and say Liu is retiring for good?

He cannot compete in the Olympics anymore so what is there left for him to do? It would also be too shameful for him to try to get endorsements anymore. This ship has sailed.

It'll be interesting to see Liu put out to pasture... seeing how previous Olympians have fared, ranging from multimillionaires to begging on the streets, one wonders what his next move will be.

In the meantime shame on everyone who was in on the ruse -- including Liu.

It's bad enough that mainlanders have to deal with fake food, terrible air pollution, and corruption.

And now they can't even believe if their sports heroes are for real anymore?

What more credibility does the state have left?

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Going Linsane for Jeremy

Houston Rockets' Jeremy Lin has landed in Hong Kong
Hey everyone! Linsanity is in town!

Jeremy Lin checked into the Hyatt Regency Hong Kong in Tsim Sha Tsui yesterday and earlier was in Dongguan to officially open the J-Lin Basketball Camp 2012.

It's also his birthday today and so far there are no public plans to celebrate.

Tomorrow he's celebrating his 24th birthday the day after by attending -- what else -- a basketball event -- for 100 school kids at K11 shopping mall, followed by a private church-organized event on Sunday to share his Christian faith at the AsiaWorld Expo.

Shouldn't be too hard to spot a super tall Chinese-American in Hong Kong, should it?

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Apple Daily Stops Corrupting Young Minds

It's the sign of the times when one of Hong Kong's most profitable newspapers shuts down its adult section.

Apple Daily is no long publishing its adult section that was a part of the paper since its founding in 1995 because people can now go online for salicious material.

A notice yesterday informed readers that the section, containing nightlife guides and reviews of pornography would be discontinued after completing its "historical mission".

Guess it didn't further explain what "historical mission" was.

Apple Daily editor Cheung Kim-hung said closing the section had nothing to do with advertising. He said removing it would not harm the daily circulation of 230,000 copies daily.

"We think it is time to close it," Cheung said. "We believe there are not many people reading the section. Times have changed. People looking for similar content will go online."

Cultural critic Chip Tsao agreed, and predicts other newspapers will eventually follow suit, as only the Oriental Daily, The Sun and Hong Kong Daily News still have the adult section.

Tsao explained the adult sections thrived in the 1960s and 1970s with almost all Chinese-language newspapers offering titillating content baring lots of flesh to attract lower-income readers.

"They lived in squatter areas and worked as labourers. They had little income and entertainment, so they read such content," he said.

To Yiu-ming, associate professor of journalism at Baptist University, said adult content catered only to a minority of readers and were ultimately businesses. He believes the closure of the Apple Daily adult content section was due to the entertainment business moving to the mainland and Macau.

Meanwhile, Choi Chi-sum, general secretary of The Society of Truth and Light, a Christian concern group was happy with the news and hoped this would decrease the harm towards adolescents.

"I believe they did so not because of their guilty conscience but [out of] commercial consideration," Choi said.

However, while there's one less point of access to porn for young people, the internet will still be their go-to place for research on the topic.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

A Tale of Two Teas

The chocolate mousse cake at the Mandarin Cake Shop
This past Saturday I had afternoon tea -- twice.

Both were at the Mandarin Oriental, first at the Cake Shop, then at Cafe Causette.

I went to the gym first without eating lunch so by the time 3:30pm came around, I was starving to say the least.

The cake shop at the Mandarin is a sight to behold, with amazing sculptures made of mostly marzipan.

Nevertheless, you cannot book seats at the square bar in the middle so we waited patiently for two seats together to open up.

It was about 3:45pm by the time we got to sit down but when I opened the menu the server promptly told me that practically all the savouries -- salads, sandwiches and quiches were all sold out.

Excuse me?

She suggested perhaps I could have some yogurt, but when she checked, those too were all sold out.

How could that be, on a Saturday afternoon at such a popular destination for afternoon tea?

In the end I ordered a scone set, which was one (one!) raisin scone with clotted cream and the hotel's signature rose petal jam.

Hardly impressive.

Afternoon tea sandwiches for taitais who just want to snack
My friend had already eaten lunch and ordered two desserts and insisted I also try the chocolate mousse cake. That was deceptively light and fluffy, though rich and creamy. It arrived before my scone.

And while I was eating my scone, a middle-aged man plonked himself next to us and promptly ordered a burger that came with two thick patties, melted cheese, lettuce and tomato and fries.

How come he was able to order a burger and I was stuck with just a scone?

As time passed, we were able to grab a small table at the nearby Cafe Causette (there was a 45-minute wait earlier).

Again we were not given the full coffee shop menu but an afternoon tea one.

I ordered the afternoon tea sandwiches that were HK$118 ($15.21)!

It included three mini buns filled with a light savoury cream topped with tiny bits of cucumber, chives and apple bits, along with ham and smoked salmon sandwiches.

In the end I was relatively sated, but how could there be nothing left to eat at the cake shop?

Going there for afternoon tea was not my idea, and I won't be going back again anytime soon.

While I agree that the early bird gets the worm, this is a hotel that has a popular afternoon tea, so why not be prepared than disappoint?

Mandarin Oriental
5 Connaught Road
2522 0111

Monday, 20 August 2012

No Surprises Here

Gu Kailai is behind bars... but for how long?
As expected, Gu Kailai was handed a suspended death sentence for murdering Briton Neil Heywood.

While she confessed to the crime, the court said because she had psychological problems and Heywood had supposedly threatened her son Bo Guagua, she was handed the suspended death sentence, though it did not clearly state how long that would be.

Suspended death sentences are basically translated as life in prison, but if someone demonstrates good behaviour he or she may be released earlier.

The Dui Hua Foundation that works on human rights in China believes Gu could serve as little as nine years in prison because after two years she would be eligible for medical parole in seven years.

Meanwhile Zhang Xiaojun, the family aide who was an accomplice to the murder was sentenced to nine years in prison.

The four officers who covered up the crime were convicted, and their verdicts have yet to be announced.

Two British diplomats were allowed to attend the high-profile trial which is a major concession on the part of China as these kinds of court cases are usually held without any outside observers.

And the British embassy in Beijing tried to be diplomatic in its reaction to the sentence.

"We welcome the fact that the Chinese authorities have investigated the death of Neil Heywood, and tried those they identified as responsible," it said in a statement. "We consistently made clear to the Chinese authorities that we wanted to see the trials in this case conform to international human rights standards and for the death penalty not t be applied."

While there was no death penalty, the trial didn't exactly follow the rule of law.

As Law Professor Jerome Cohen of New York University explains, "The story tries to make it look like simply a private matter engineered by Gu without the knowledge, participation or cover-up of her husband [former Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai]. The judiciary is told what to do by the party in cases of importance, like this one."

Now attention focuses on the impending trial of former police chief Wang Lijun and also what has happened to Bo as he hasn't been seen publicly since April.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Picture of the Day: View from The Peak

A rare crystal-clear view of Hong Kong Island and beyond from The Peak tonight
My friend YTSL is an avid hiker and every Sunday she climbs up a different mountain or path that I've never heard of. She loves the sense of adventure, especially when she encounters interesting creatures along the way.

However she is also a major film buff and today she watched two movies presented by the Hong Kong Summer International Film Festival 2012; she still wanted her hiking fix and suggested we go for a night stroll around The Peak tonight after her second movie.

I warned her about the massive crowds of mostly mainlanders on The Peak but we decided to give it a shot anyway.

We waited for the No. 15 bus at Admiralty and when it arrived 15 minutes later we were dismayed to find it was already full. Add to that the constant twists and turns the bus makes as it winds its way up The Peak almost left me sick to my stomach. And people like living up there?

When we finally made it to the Peak Galleria that houses the bus terminus, we were shocked to see a massive line for the bus going back down and hoped that after our walk the crowds would have dissipated a bit.

I've done the walk around the circumference of The Peak before many years ago, but never at night before. For the most part the paved path is lit and the only people you encounter are photography enthusiasts and some crazy joggers who passed us twice.

We came for some exercise, but also the fantastic view.

A few days ago we had Typhoon Kai-Tak come by and it was overcast and rainy for a few days. But today was very clear and it was the perfect day to go up and try to take some panoramic shots.

Here's one of the best of the lot that I took, with the ICC tower on the far left, followed by the colourful The Center, and to the right of it the tall building is IFC, and then at the far right is the Bank of China all lit up.

When we emerged from our nice hour-long walk, there were still tons of people waiting to get down by either mini bus, taxi or bus.

We figured the fastest way was by bus and we managed to get onto the third bus -- and have seats too. It was another roller-coaster ride and we zipped down to Wan Chai in less than 15 minutes.

Seems like the driver either had to rush back up again to do another round, or wanted to finish his shift as fast as possible...

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Know Thy Candidates

The Legislative Council elections are on September 9 and this will be my first time voting.

However the election process is very confusing as there is a geographical constituency you vote for and then a functional one (if you belong to one of the sectors).

I didn't think I belonged to a particular one, so when I registered I didn't sign up and the registration form didn't list all of the functional constituencies either.

In any event since I registered my mail box has been inundated with election flyers from the various candidates -- and there are 14 "parties" -- some are independents -- who are running in Hong Kong Island.

Tonight a televised debate was broadcast and all 14 "groups" were squashed on an oval-shaped stage with observers above them. Some had only one person, others had three to five people. That's because as I understand it, in an earlier election they won by popular vote and if the main candidate had more than enough votes to meet the quota, the spillage could go towards the second candidate and so on.

At first there was simultaneous English translation of each of candidates introducing themselves, but after that the debate got too complicated for the translator to keep up. However it was impressive to see the sign-language guy interpreting almost two hours of debates.

It was also interesting to see all 14 "groups" given a say -- albeit only a few minutes. However when it came to debates, people seemed to have less than 20 seconds to make rebuttals or comments, which hardly gave them a chance to say anything.

Each "group" wore their number as that is how they will appear on the election ballot, and some even verbally reiterated their number as they answered questions so that voters would remember them.

Some of the issues they talked about were property prices, national education and the economy, mostly with predictable answers depending on the party's philosophy.

Candidates included former Legislative Council President Tsang Yok-sing, Regina Ip, Miriam Lau, Tanya Chan and Cyd Ho, the last four of whom are women.

Two of the five independents were not cut out of a politician mold -- one wore a New York Yankees baseball cap, while another seemed to shoot his mouth off making bizarre comments.

Nevertheless it was interesting to watch "democracy" at work and now my next challenge is figuring out how to fill out the ballot on September 9!

Friday, 17 August 2012

Word of the Day: Ding Zui

Was this woman in the courtroom really Gu Kailai?
The verdict in the Gu Kailai case will be handed down on Monday morning.

There are still discussions about the trial, if it was fair, if she presented a strong defense, and if the facts presented were even correct.

But there was even more buzz around Gu herself -- was that really her?

In previous pictures, the wife of Bo Xilai kept herself not skinny, but not overweight like the woman we saw in the Hefei court room.

Some speculated perhaps it was the side effects of the anti-depression drugs she was taking.

On closer inspection, the woman in the dock seemed to have a more rounded chin, compared to Gu's which is more pointed.

That led to wild speculation that possibly that woman in court was a body double.

Earlier this month, The Slate published a fascinating article about how China's wealthy and influential hire body doubles to do hard time for them.

In many cases the person hired doesn't even look like the convicted.

As the story says, there's even a term for it --  顶罪 (ding3 zui4) or "substitute criminal" as ding means "substitute" and zui is "crime".

And the use of body doubles in China has been documented since the late Qing Dynasty -- even to be a substitute in executions.

What a crappy way to earn a living.

In any event, we're more interested to know -- was that really Gu?

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Emotional Connection with a Piglet

Movie poster for The Pork of Music
I have yet to see The Pork of Music, starring the loveable silly piglet McDull, but already the locally-animated movie is a big hit on the mainland.

It starts showing in Hong Kong today but since it was released last month in China, the film has struck an emotional chord with audiences.

"I didn't expect so many would leave the cinema in tears,"said Brian Tse Lap-man, the husband of Alice Mak Ka-bik, co-creators of McDull.

"Perhaps our story of how McDull and his folks struggled to survive in a twisted society has touched an even more twisted society, to the point they shed tears over it. That goes beyond my script," he said.

In The Pork of Music, the piglet's former kindergarten is fighting for survival. The headmaster is going to lose the rooftop day care to a big property project, and the only thing the children have left are the songs he taught them as a choir.

"Even when they are ground down to nothing, they still have music, and no one can take that away from them," Tse said.

"The headmaster's persistence in imparting music to the young reflects a good number of Hong Kongers in their pursuit of their goals. Even if they fail in the end, something precious will stay on, and that's the spirit we champion."

"Our stories are never written for a particular age group, and we hope everyone will get something of their own out of them," Mak said.

The film includes interpretations of classical music performed by the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, as Tse is a flautist by training. For example, Schubert's Impromptu in B Flat Major becomes Breeze in Spring Kisses Me Like an Egg Tart.

Cultural critic Perry Lam believes its McDull's lack of intelligence that appeals to audiences.

"We Hong Kongers have been exploited so much by the developers that we feel safe with the piglet's dumb image, which may even garner for some a feeling of superiority," he said.

Sounds like the movie is already a Hong Kong classic.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Desperate Measures

The bizarre news story of the day comes from a family that robbed businesses to pay off gambling debts.

It's a sad story where a scavenger mother and her two adult children were arrested after robbing a goldsmith's and a guesthouse.

The 53-year-old mother made money by collecting waste paper and cardboard, while her 21-year-old son racked up HK$200,000 ($25,780) in debts from gambling on horse races and soccer matches. They were arrested Monday, while the 26-year-old daughter was arrested last Friday.

According to news reports, the father had died of cancer and so it seems there are some family and financial issues that have been simmering for a while.

The trio allegedly stole cash and jewellery valued at HK$34,000 and the mother and son were apparently trying to rob passers-by when they were picked up by police on in North Point about 7.30pm Monday.

Police seized a folding knife, a paper cutter and a bag of plastic cords from the son.

They had been sleeping in parks and shelters because they were afraid to go home and no one would take them in, police said.

A senior police officer explained two teams of detectives from the Eastern district crime squad worked around the clock for three days over the weekend to track them down.

"Our officers had to lie in wait in locations where the two suspects might show up and interviewed all the relatives and friends they might contact," he said.

The trio apparently posed as customers to snatch two gold necklaces worth about HK$30,000 from a goldsmith's shop in North Point before escaping on July 31.

Then they were alleged to have robbed a guesthouse of HK$4,000 also in North Point. They tied up the attendant, 57, at knife point.

The son and daughter are also suspected to have tried to steal money from a cash register at a convenience store in Sai Wan Ho on July 28 and police are trying to find if there are connections with other recent crimes.

As most of the alleged crimes occurred in North Point and Sai Wan Ho, the trio was very random in picking their targets and didn't think to be even more random geographically.

The saddest part is that the mother is said to have used up all her savings to pay off her son's previous debts.

While it's understandable the mother wants to help her son clear his debts, was wiping out all her money the smartest thing to do?

And who came up with the idea of resorting to robbery? Why get the entire family involved?

It's sad and pathetic, and reveals the lack of morals in this family. Their desperation has probably caused them to think of no other solution except to steal from others.

The eventual court case will be interesting to hear, particularly their testimonials. Are there more families in Hong Kong in the same position?

Now I know why RTHK has done a series of television programs dramatizing the impact gambling has on individuals and their families.

It's a bigger and more wide-spread problem than we think.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Time to Un-Occupy Central

The Occupy Central hangout will go in less than two weeks
The Occupy Central protestors have 13 more days to vacate their campground under the HSBC bank building in Central.

Orders from the High Court came down yesterday, giving the rag-tag group until 9pm on August 27 to leave the plaza.

Master Reuden Lai Tat-cheung ruled that the protestors, who had been inspired by last year's Occupy Wall Street movement in New York, had no legal basis to occupy the site.

However the people at Occupy Hong Kong are determined to put up a strong resistance.

"We will stay until the last minute," said Jojo Wong, 22, who sleeps at the camp three nights a week. "We are prepared [to be forcefully removed by the police]."

Tam Mei-kam, who is the mother of the late Canto-pop star Anita Mui Yim-fong is another protestor refusing to budge. "I am not going to leave this place and I am going to make it bigger."

She and her son Mui Kai-ming have been voicing their discontent over how the bank dealt with her daughter's estate. According to news reports, they brought bamboo poles and sandbags to the camp. We'll see how they use them...

In any event we will be counting down the days until the police move in and tell the protestors to leave. And if they don't, remove them by force.

The public passageway has become like a garbage dump, with old couches, tables, chairs, blackboards, books and tents. While it looks relatively orderly, it doesn't belong outside and in Central.

It's surprising HSBC didn't file this injunction much earlier for hygienic reasons as people were actually cooking on mini stove tops people usually use for hotpot dinners at home.

So while we admire these people for sticking it out this long, it's time to pack up and go.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Abandoned in Hong Kong

We are saddened to discover that a growing number of mainland parents are abandoning their mentally handicapped and chronically ill children in Hong Kong, partly because they don't have the financial resources to care for them or they think the city's healthcare system will somehow help them.

One of the more recent cases is a three-year-old boy who was left here by his parents because he was born with an agonizing and deadly skin disease.

Shun Shun has lived at Prince of Wales Hospital ever since he was born.

The hospital is going to try using pioneering stem-cell treatment to give him some relief from the painful blisters that cover his whole body because the outer and inner layers of his skin are unable to bond.

It was only recently that the treatment gained approval from the hospital's ethics committee, and also it took some time to get approval from his mother. She recently gained residency in Hong Kong and is now in the process of making Shun Shun a ward of the city.

In the two years to last December, police have found at least six abandoned children, including an eight-month old boy with a heart problem in Sheung Shui and a mentally-disturbed boy between five and seven years old on a street in Lau Fau Shan.

Charity St James' Settlement says more mainlanders are seeking its advice on how to care for the children they gave birth to in Hong Kong and who are mentally disabled or have chronic health problems.

"We usually persuade them not to give up on their child," said Wendy Wong, senior manager of St James' family and consulting service. "Some parents explained their difficulties in keeping their child -- the costs and the efforts needed to get special care in the mainland are too high."

What is frustrating for local charities and the police is that the mainland mothers travel to Hong Kong to abandon their children -- mostly on streets or in public hospitals -- and there is no way to contact the parent. Some avoided contact, perhaps worried about the possible consequences, or simply could not be found.

"They either fear what other people would think of them, or they do not want to start the paperwork process at all," Wong said.

She advises the parents should not simply leave their children here, but formally give up guardianship of their child to the Social Welfare Department, which will then arrange for adoptions. Wong hinted that it was easier for a child to be adopted before the age of three and so if parents decide they cannot care for their child, they must make the necessary arrangements as soon as possible.

How do you advise parents of their options if many of them don't seek social help?

It's bad enough that a child is abandoned by their parents and even worse when they have health or mental issues through no fault of their own.

Currently the Social Welfare Department is caring for 742 abandoned children under the age of 18.

That's 742 too many.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Short-Term Happiness

One of my relatives is a teacher and she recently came back from a nightmare trip taking a class of high school students to New Zealand for two weeks.

The school she teaches at is in Tsing Yi and is not considered a top institution by any means. So you can imagine the kinds of students who go there.

In any event, at a recent dinner she ranted non-stop about the students she had to look after and how they didn't seem to have any care in the world as long as they had money.

When one of her charges lost 600 New Zealand dollars ($488), she asked what happened to it and the student just shrugged and said that they'd put the money in their pocket and then it was gone.

The student's mother immediately wired over 300 New Zealand dollars.

Another had a very expensive camera he borrowed from his father. He put it in his backpack, but then carelessly threw it on the floor. "What about the camera!" my relative exclaimed. "Oh it's OK -- if it's broken we'll get another one back in Hong Kong."

The students had home-stay accommodations, but for some reason many of them were not fed enough by the home-stay parents. As a result, many of them spent a lot of money going out to buy food and towards the end of the trip even asked my relative to borrow money.

She also observed them constantly buying stuff -- anything they liked, they purchased immediately without realizing they had to budget for the rest of the trip. Oh and some had never gone on a plane before or traveled overseas.

As a result many experienced culture shock at the quietness of New Zealand, how bus stops were far from each other and shops were closed soon after dinner time.

When we asked in exasperation what kind of students these were, my relative explained that while their families may be relatively well off, the parents were too busy working to take their kids on holidays, and just gave them money as compensation.

Needless to say she was relieved when she came back home.

Meanwhile my relative's father was listening to all of this and made side comments of how pathetic and useless the next generation was going to be. This is ironic as his other younger daughter has manipulated him so much that he does everything for her, from pouring juice to carry bags for her.

Hopefully he now realizes that he too has had a part in raising a totally dependent child!

Money does not solve all problems and neither does complete dependence.

A number of Hong Kong parents fail to make this distinction, all caught up in making money.

A German expat once remarked to me that Hong Kong did not seem like a happy place. "When I walk around I hardly see people with smiling faces," he observed. "You have to wonder why they are so unhappy."

His comments have stayed with me because it's true. How many happy people have you seen walking along the streets of Hong Kong?

We have to find a happy medium somewhere.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

The City of Malls

Hong Kong really is a paradise for shoppers.

Today Hysan Place, which replaced the long-gone Mitsukoshi, has finally opened after years of construction.

A relative of mine checked it out yesterday and of course there were hordes of people wanting to the first to scope out Hong Kong's latest shopping mall.

One of the shops in there is Eslite Bookstore from Taiwan which promises to open 24 hours a day on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. This is quite curious considering fewer people, particularly young ones are reading these days. But we'll have to see if Eslite can create night owl bookworms in Hong Kong.

And then there was huge hype over Abercrombie & Fitch finally opening its doors at the Pedder Building in Central.

The first two days of seeing the shirtless boys hollering and clapping around town was fun, but now we're pretty much tired of the publicity stunt. It's ironic considering these models are supposed to be promoting hip clothing, but instead are showing off their buff bodies...

Perhaps the marketing department has gone a bit overboard...

So it'll be interesting to see how Hysan Place does, as it's apparently more geared towards locals than mainland tourists. But really, don't mainlanders want what we have?

Friday, 10 August 2012

Picture of the Day: Anniversary Celebrations Still Ongoing

A shockingly sad display celebrating the handover in Central
Ah Central. It's Hong Kong's business district where investment bankers and power brokers hash their billion-dollar deals while high-end fashion labels show off their latest stylish designs that are quickly snapped up by tai tais and nouveaux riche.

So it's jarring to see this horrific-looking display in Statue Square that marks the 15th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong to China.

It's a kitsch presentation of Chinese-style lanterns, representations of fireworks, people in traditional Chinese dress and even a junk in the centre.

Couldn't the city come up with a better, more suitable design than this one that persists in presenting pathetic stereotypes of Chinese culture?

Please don't tell me my tax dollars went to this set up which surely must be the laughing stock of most major cities.

And you thought the logo for the London 2012 Olympics was bad...

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Contriving an Open Shut Case

Defendant Gu Kailai in the courtroom today
The most anticipated court case in China ended in seven hours today.

Gu Kailai, wife of former Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai was brought into court and she and her family aide Zhang Xiaojun did not dispute the murder charge for the death of Briton Neil Heywood.

The prosecutor revealed that on the evening of November 13 last year, Heywood was invited to a party Gu held at a hotel and he got drunk and vomited.

She went to his hotel room and when he asked for some water, she added poison that Zhang had delivered to her and made Heywood drink the liquid.

As for the motive behind the killing, the prosecutor said Gu felt Heywood was a threat to her son Bo Guagua's personal safety and she decided to kill him.

The defense said that though Gu murdered Heywood, he shared part of the blame for causing her emotional distress to drive her to commit the dirty deed.

The trial is over and sentencing will be held at a later date.

About 140 people packed the courtroom in Hefei, including Heywood's family and friends and two British diplomats.

Gu looked like she was in good health and dressed in a black jacket, trousers and white shirt, her body language seemed to give an air of quiet defiance.

China analysts had speculated the trial would be short -- but this short?

It's quite obvious the Chinese government wants to sweep this episode under the carpet as quickly as possible, and it doesn't seem to have touched on Bo at all, thus having no link to him, nor any mention of the immense wealth the family accumulated through bribery and corruption.

As a result, it's just about Gu and her murder charge.

But the way the trial was conducted was hardly following the rule of law.

"The whole thing is already too compromised and dominated by politics to persuade anybody," said Beijing-based legal analyst Randy Peerenboom. "I don't think there are many people who think this is going to be handled fully in accordance with all of the legal stipulations in criminal procedure without political intervention, said the associate fellow at the Oxford University Centre for Socio-Legal Studies.

Meanwhile New York University law professor Jerome Cohen was concerned that Gu had not received her full rights as a defendant.

"Gu has been alone with her accusers for months," Cohen said. The case has shown "how limited the meaning of the rule of law is in China," he said.

In addition there was no testimony from French architect Patrick DeVillers mentioned in news reports about the trial -- unless he will be tried later?

In any event tomorrow is the trial of the police officers who were charged with covering up the investigation into Heywood's murder.

State media are saying this trial will strengthen people's confidence in China's legal system, that no one is above the law regardless of their status or power.

The political spinning of this court case only demonstrates how contrived it is and we will never get to the truth of why Heywood was killed.

Is that really justice?

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Picture of the Day: Four Years Ago

Fireworks over the National Stadium

Exactly four years ago this was the picture I took during the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

I remember the deafening roar of the fireworks that exploded all around us and never seemed to end.

My how time flies!

Liu's Last Hurdle

Liu Xiang down and out during the Men's 110m hurdles
It was a sad case of deja vu yesterday.

Liu Xiang crashed out in the Men's 110m hurdles on the first hurdle, and he fell over looking bewildered.

Then he hopped on his left foot to the final hurdle and kissed it as if to say goodbye and then sat in a wheelchair to be taken for medical treatment.

It was a pathetic ending to the biggest anticipation of Liu's comeback since he walked off the track just moments before the race at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 to the shock of his 1.3 billion fans.

According to Feng Sheyong, leader of China's athletics team, said the initial reports suggested Liu snapped his right Achilles tendon, adding the injury was "quite serious".

Feng said the 29-year-old had never recovered from the ankle injury he sustained before the Beijing Games. "Many reports said Liu had fully recovered from the injury, but he has not," he said. "He always has a strong reaction in his right ankle after each race, but fortunately most competitions finish in one race and he has ample time for treatment.

"The London Games is a bit different, with three races leading to the final. In preparing for them, there has been reaction in his ankle, but we did not expect it to be that serious."

Feng said team doctors did not give Liu painkillers, just regular medication.

"At the point of taking off, the tendon bears a lot of pressure, and at the moment the injury occurred, he froze," Feng continued. "He got up and finished. It shows that it's not all about winning, but showing the Olympic spirit to the world. This is the end of the season for him as he needs time for medical treatment."

When asked if Liu would retire, Feng replied: "It is not the time to talk about that. Lots of athletes get injured and come back. It depends on many factors. I hope the fans understand that anything can happen."

There was mixed reaction about what happened to Liu.

Some Chinese sports commentators cried on air, while Bai Yansong of CCTV said: "At least he made the attempt this time. For an athlete like Liu Xiang, he has achieved a lot of successes and made great efforts over the past four years to stand ready again for the Olympics. Despite regrets, let's pray for him."

Celebrities and entertainers sent their best wishes to Liu via microblogging sites, including pop singer Faye Wong who wrote: "It's okay and there are many more hurdles ahead in life to get over. Fight!"

Some fans were frustrated and bitter that Liu could not race and wondered if he and his coach Sun Haiping were holding back information about the extent of Liu's injuries.

"How come Liu did not spend much time doing warm-up in such chilly weather? Even state television reporters spotted it," said Zhao Jing, an online commentator.

TV footage showed other runners practicing going over hurdles, while Liu only jogged to the first hurdle.

"It appeared to be a staged show to fool the mainland public while pleasing his sponsors," commented a microblogger.

What's also strange is that state media were playing down hopes for Liu even before the race and a CCTV reporter in London admitted the propaganda authorities had issued gag orders.

"An instruction was circulated among our colleagues Monday, saying it should be considered a victory as long as Liu showed up at the starting line."

Other mainland reporters said they had received orders from above banning critical coverage of Liu.

Baptist University associate professor of physical education Lobo Louie Hung-tak also questioned Liu's preparedness for the race.

"Liu only flew back to London this week after training in Germany. he might not have been able to recover or adapt to the environment in time," Louie said. "It doesn't appear to be the recurrence of his Achilles problem, because Liu has maintained good form this season so far."

Professor Joanne Chung Wai-yee, head of the Institute of Education's department of health and physical education said Liu looked relaxed before the race.

"I don't think his injury was related to psychological problems or pressure," she said. "From the television footage, Liu looked fine before he jumped the hurdle. Therefore, I believe his injury was incurred when he tried to jump."

Meanwhile I contacted my friend, who, four years earlier was emotionally upset when Liu was unable to compete in Beijing.

Again many friends contacted her to see what her reaction was to Liu's second time of not being able to complete the race.

While she's still idolizes him, she seems more concerned about his injury and if it will hinder him from living a "normal" life.

With plenty of money earned from sponsorships, Liu will most probably be fine for the rest of his life, but will never be able to prove to the world he was just a one-hit wonder.

It will be interesting to see how Chinese history will remember this young man, who carried the hopes of 1.3 billion people on his shoulders, but was unable to execute twice in a row.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Guessing Gu Kailai's Trial Outcome

Speculation is rife over Gu's sentence
The trial of Bo Xilai's wife Gu Kailai is to start Thursday and there is a lot of speculation of what will unfold and more importantly what her sentence will be.

She has apparently confessed to murder and economic crimes, and though she is charged with intentional homicide, she seems to have escaped allegations of the latter, even though the family amassed huge sums of money through bribery and transferred them abroad.

Also not having the economic charges means this does not directly involve Bo, however there is speculation he will get some other kind of internal party punishment.

"If Gu were not charged with economic crimes, Bo won't face too huge a problem," said Beijing-based lawyer Pu Zhiqiang. 'The high-ups want to see an uncomplicated and quick ending."

"The way the authorities made the distinction [between murder and economic crimes] showed there was some under-the-table deal," said Ong Yew-kim, a Hong Kong-based legal expert.

We will soon find out what this "under-the-table deal" is.

According to an unnamed source who is part of the prosecution team, this person said Gu was "gracious" and "relaxed" during questioning. "Gu told investigators everything she could remember and, as for those accusations about which she couldn't remember clearly, she asked the investigators to go ahead and write up anything they'd like to," the source said.

The only physical evidence left from Neil Heywood's body is a piece of his heart cut out by former police chief Wang Lijun, according to British media. However, because the body was cremated so quickly without an autopsy, many are speculating that due to limited evidence Gu will not likely receive a death penalty, but a commuted death sentence (life in prison).

It is up to the defense to explain Gu had Heywood murdered because she allegedly believed he was a threat to her son Bo Guagua's security.

How they will prove this will be interesting, however, because she has not been able to get access to Beijing lawyers her family had hired for her and was instead issued court-appointed lawyers, she will most probably have a very weak defense which is perhaps why some deal has been worked out.

It's interesting that British diplomats will be allowed to attend the trial, but not foreign journalists; perhaps the Chinese government feels this is a diplomatic gesture, but will not get at the real motives behind Gu's decision to have Heywood murdered. Perhaps the authorities think British diplomats only want to know how Heywood was killed, but really the reasons why are also just as important.

Nevertheless, it shall be interesting to find out what happens in this trial, one we've been waiting for since February when Wang fled to the US consulate in Chengdu and spilled the beans.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Picture of the Day: Butterflies

The geodesic dome that houses over 1,000 butterflies
At MGM Macau there's a butterfly exhibit on everyday until October.

Many butterflies hang out on a giant Datura flower
Called "The Magic of Butterfly Reinvention at MGM", it features a large geodesic dome with over 130 species of butterflies, over 1,000 in total.

Luckily the line wasn't too long and as luck would have it, the young woman counting the number of people to go in stopped at me.

When I pleaded that I was just one person, she let me in.

Inside is a fantasy space, with giant curly willow vine created by UK artist Tom Hare and large Datura flowers. For a high-tech touch, there are some 60 iPads placed around the space with animations of butterflies.

The butterflies seem to prefer children over adults
But we'd really come to see the beautiful insects themselves.

Many of them hung out beyond arm's reach and thought that if they were immobile we'd give up, but we were too excited and snapped away with our cameras.

Strangely the active butterflies seemed partial to children, who apparently had no problem coaxing the insects into their hands.

And then after about 10 minutes our time was up and we were ushered out after our up close and personal visit with these beautiful creatures.

A closeup of a butterfly, whose back wings are a brilliant blue
The Magic of Butterfly Reinvention at MGM
Daily until October, 10am-10pm
Free admission
MGM Macau
Avenida Dr Sun Yat Sen
NAPE, Macau

Sunday, 5 August 2012

More Repression in China

Muslims around the world are marking Ramadan, a holy month of fasting and visiting mosques.

However, those living in Xinjiang have been told by the authorities they are not allowed to do this.

A statement from Zonglang in Kashgar district, said "the county committee has issued comprehensive policies on maintaining social stability during the Ramadan period. It is forbidden for Communist Party cadres, civil officials [including those who have retired] and students to participate in Ramadan religious activities."

The statement urged party leaders to bring "gifts" of food to village leaders to ensure that they were eating during Ramadan.

There were also similar notices posted on other local government websites, including the Wensu county urging schools to ensure that students do not enter mosques.

This is the most outrageous sign of the government trying to prevent its people from practicing their own religion which is guaranteed in the constitution -- as long as it's sanctioned by the government.

Xinjiang is home to about 9 million Uighurs, most of whom are Muslims. There has been many incidents of unrest, in particular violent riots that broke out in July 2009.

The tensions built up over the years are mainly due to the authorities viewing Uighurs with suspicion and trying to control them through repression rather than through dialogue and conciliation.

Meanwhile the Uighurs just want to continue their way of life and keep their language and culture, but Beijing is insistent on integrating this ethnic minority by forcing them to learn, speak and read Chinese in order to find employment and having more Han Chinese living in the northwestern part of China.

And now this latest development of not allowing them to observe Ramadan is yet another form of repression.

During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk and through prayer strive to be more pious and charitable.

Isn't it ironic that most of these Uighurs are trying to practice their religion to be good people in society and yet their leaders are trying to force them not to?

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Riding High

Lee Wai-sze looks the most excited, with Guo Shuang and Victoria Pendleton
Hong Kong has its third ever Olympic medal thanks to Sarah Lee Wai-sze who won bronze in the women's keirin race in cycling.

Lee Lai-shan won gold in windsurfing in 1996 and Li Ching and Ko Lai-chak won silver in the men's table tennis doubles.

"I'm very excited," Lee Wai-sze said. "Last year my coach [Shen Jinkang] helped me make progress. We all worked really hard and that's why we've got this breakthrough. I was feeling very confident and believed I could win a medal."

However Shen was more subdued in his praise.

"I think she could have got silver or even the gold medal," he said. "Sometimes she wasn't brave enough to seize opportunities. I'm glad but not completely satisfied. There won't be a huge celebration for us because I was expecting a better result."

Meanwhile Hong Kong officials are thrilled to bits as the city is hardly an athletic powerhouse so to win any kind of medal is considered an amazing feat.

This is the first time the women's keirin event is in the Olympics. The race is all about tactics and then speed.

In it, the racers follow a motorized pacer for 5.5 laps and then once it leaves the track, the cyclists have 2.5 laps to outperform their competitors and win the race. One doesn't want to go out in front most of the time as others can follow behind and benefit from the wind flow. However, those behind need to find the right time to break out and move to the front and be able to sprint to the finish.

The New York Times has an excellent video that explains all of this here.

Of course Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying extended his congratulations:

"We are all very proud of our cyclist Lee Wai-sze who has tried her utmost to strive for excellence in the Women's Keirin. Her perseverance and tenacity has best exemplified the can-do spirit of Hong Kong. Hong Kong people are all graced by Lee Wai-sze's outstanding achievement.

"We will continue to give full support to sports development and cheer for our athletes. We wish them success in the forthcoming competitions."

Lee really has the can-do Hong Kong spirit, born and raised in Ngau Tau Kok, Kowloon. Apparently she was pretty much the lone woman in her sport, having to train with men and on some ways that only makes women better athletes.

Will she inspire the next generation of Hong Kong people to compete against the world's best? Hard to say when there isn't that much appreciation for sports (except for football and perhaps badminton).

But with her wonderful big grin and passion for the sport, we hope that she will set an example for more young people to go faster, higher, stronger.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Picture of the Day: The A&F Boys

These men are willing to bare all for Abercrombie & Fitch
Abercrombie & Fitch is officially opening its doors next Saturday, August 11 at 11am, and to drum up some excitement, the American fashion brand has brought in some eye candy to get tongues wagging.

A number of male models -- cute complete with six packs -- have arrived in the city and are staying at the W Hotel in Kowloon.

This afternoon they were creating quite a scene at the Pedder Street building in Central, so much so that police had to cordon off the area to avoid pedestrians from getting too carried away by the sight of bare flesh.

Yes the men were only wearing red shorts and were hollering and clapping to get an audience.

Love that the pair of Chinese lions have their eyes blindfolded, perhaps from seeing so much flesh?

And the men definitely stopped traffic. People stopped, stared, took pictures and couldn't believe they saw so many good looking men in one spot before.

The women were secretly lusting over them, the men secretly sizing themselves up to these young hot bods.

The end result? People's Facebook feeds flooded with pictures of these men only creating more free hype for the store.

But will it translate into millions of dollars in sales just to pay the HK$7 million (HK$902,000) monthly rent?

We shall see...

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Becoming More Liberal in the PLA?

General Liu Yazhou adding a dose of liberalism to the PLA
It is interesting to note that the People's Liberation Army has promoted a liberal lieutenant into a full general. Does this mean the PLA is trying to soften its image towards the rest of the world?

Liu Yazhou was promoted Monday along with three others. He once warned his hawkish military colleagues that China must embrace American-style democracy or accept a Soviet-style collapse.

He has also supported democracy since the early 1980s when he was a military reporter for the PLA. And when he wasn't working he wrote military novels that enjoyed moderate success.

How could he be able to rise with such liberal beliefs? It's probably thanks to his princeling background as his father Liu Jiande was a senior army official and his wife was the youngest daughter of the late President Li Xiannian.

Liu is also proficient in English, having learned it while at university and read a wide range of Western works which probably instilled Western thinking in his ideas.

"Liu was a torchbearer who helped the Chinese people keep up with the world's military advances through his articles in the 1980s, as the country was waking up from the Cultural Revolution," said Ni Lexiong, director of a research centre on sea power and defense policy at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.

"Liu's promotion indicates the party and the PLA want to polish an image that they are going to recruit people with different political views."

In 2009 Liu gave an internal speech to mid-level officers, approving of the decision of two former PLA generals to refuse to suppress protestors in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

He also wrote an essay in 2004 entitled "Western Discourses" that urged Beijing to launch political reforms, and two years ago Hong Kong-based political affairs magazine Phoenix Weekly interviewed him.

"If a system fails to let its citizens breathe freely and release their creativity to the maximum extent, and fails to put those who best represent the system and its people into leadership positions, it is certain to perish," he was quoted as saying.

"The secret of the United States' success is neither due to Wall Street nor Silicon Valley, but its long-surviving rule of law and the system behind it. A bad system makes a good person behave badly, while a good system makes a bad person behave well. Democracy is the most urgent thing; without it there can be no sustainable growth."

Here's more of this thoughts from the same interview:

Besides the power of money, what power has China's continuing economic strength and increasing growth brought? China's unprecedented ability to throw financial resources at large scale governance plans continues to increase, to the point where the old brand-name developed Western countries are left staring in disbelief. But having a lot of money only shows the growth of a nation's hard power. It does not show there has been any corresponding increase in soft power, because there are many problems that cannot be solved with a pile of money.

Today, one thing that leads people to be anxious about Chinese society is that from top to bottom, anything is possible if you have money. There is a sense of enthusiasm that money can take care of anything. It brings with it a desire for instant gratification, a manner of believing and behaving as if it is acceptable to use money as a panacea, at the expense of ignoring the crucial details and improving how we are perceived.

By using money to grease the wheels, you lie down with dogs, and you get up with fleas. You don't end up with people who share your values. In the end, often what you get is people scrambling for their own personal gain, and the price just keeps going up. An example is the investing that China is doing in Africa. The way that Chinese businessmen use money to bribe officials at home had become endemic. But the ability of African governments to administer and control their societies can never compare with ours.

The money makes life better for officials, but it does not do anything for the average person, and it is common for local tribes of guerrillas to toss a bomb or send a letter to blackmail someone. In addition, using money to get things done not only makes the officials' appetites even greater, it also makes the average person have an extremely negative impression of China's government and Chinese enterprises.

Relying solely on the power of money will not further China's national interests abroad over the long term. On the contrary, it cannot further domestic safety and stability. People who blindly worship the power of money are backward and fatuous people. No matter whether it is used to pacify domestic affairs or expand influence abroad. Only people that have both cultural and ideological superiority, in addition to economic power, are a truly strong people, people worthy of admiration, people who can inspire others.

We have high hopes for Liu to influence the PLA and senior officials with more liberal ways now that President Hu Jintao's repressive administration is almost over.

The last thing China needs is more suppression and more liberalization otherwise it is isolating itself even further not only from the rest of the world but from its own people and the reality of the issues the country is facing.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Entertaining Band of Pirates

Movie poster for The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Last night my friend YTSL and I watched The Pirates! Band of Misfits at Grand Cinema in Elements mall.

We opted for the 2D version as we didn't think the 3D one would offer much more in terms of special effects.

As a result, tickets were not much of a problem and we got some comfortable seats that also vibrate depending on the sound effects.

This is the fifth feature-length film by Aardman Animations and director Peter Lord and his crew have come up with a great pirate adventure that is a visual and audio feast full of laughs.

I could hardly recognize Hugh Grant's voice as the Pirate Captain who is constantly praised for his "luxuriant beard", and he leads a rag-tag group on a rickety boat pillaging whichever ships they come across.

He wants to enter the Pirate of the Year contest, but his chances are practically nil when his competition includes Black Bellamy voiced by Jeremy Piven and the seductive Cutlass Liz with the voice of Salma Hayek.

But how can Pirate Captain prove his worth?

He somehow gets mixed up with Charles Darwin and the scientist realizes Pirate Captain's feathery companion is not a parrot but the last surviving Dodo bird...

And then all heck breaks loose and it also involves a sword-wielding Queen Victoria.

The attention to detail in this movie is amazing. In the opening scene there's a fight on the pirate ship and one pirate uses a live lobster to beat up another, complete with the crustacean's eyes blinking. Queen Victoria's motto is "I hate pirates" engraved on her crown and the creators had fun naming the various shops and pubs in 19th century London.

Pirate Captain's crew are definitely a band of misfits -- there's Albino Pirate, Pirate with Prosthetics, and Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate who is actually a woman but no one seems to notice or question why her beard is different.

Apparently I missed a few quirky details in the film, such as the bumper sticker on the back of the ship that says "Honk if you're seasick" and Queen Victoria's treasure room has a gold Shaun the Sheep, Wallace and Gromit.

We also loved Darwin's sidekick, Mister Bobo who was adept at using flash cards to say his lines. Darwin says of him: "I thought that if you took a monkey, gave him a monocle and covered up his gigantic unsightly behind, then he would cease to be a monkey and become more of a... Man-Panzee if you will."

The Pirates! Band of Misfits wasn't knee-slapping hilarity, but good fun.