Saturday, 29 June 2013

Day One in NYC

Inside the nave of The Cloisters
This morning we arrived in New York City when it was overcast but the clouds parted and the sun shone through.

One bumblebee of many keeping busy pollinating the flowers
After a well-needed nap (but of course more would have been better!) we headed out to The Cloisters. We took the subway over, where we were treated to a dance show by three Korean girls in the carriage we were sitting in. It was interesting seeing Asian girls doing robotic dance moves, and were not bad, but not America's Got Talent quality.

Then we walked through a gorgeous garden filled with roses, daisies, hydrangeas, thistles and many other flowers we couldn't identify. What was really amazing was seeing lots of bumble bees congregating around the white hydrangeas.

The Cloisters was originally a monastery and in 1925 John D Rockefeller Jr bought it and donated it to the city and is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Cloisters was donated to New York City
Inside is full of religious artifacts, some are paintings, sculptures, carvings and even tombs. There is also a courtyard garden with a small fountain in the middle. Wandering around is a delight, not knowing what's around the corner, upstairs and down in the basement.

After a bite of dinner we headed to Booth Theater and watched the Divine Miss M in the one-woman show I'll Eat You Last.

As soon as the stage opened, the audience clapped and hollered loudly and in character, Bette Midler was fantastic. She played the real-life Hollywood agent Sue Mengers who was one of the best in the profession in the 1970s.

Jesus on a donkey
For an hour and an half, Midler as Menger talked about her history, how she came to Hollywood, as well as dished out about various clients, such as Gene Hackman, Barbra Streisand, Julie Harris, Faye Dunaway and Ali McGraw. Her other clients included Candice Bergman, Joan Collins, Cher, Sidney Lumet, Peter Bogdanovich, Burt Reynolds and Michael Caine.

And Menger didn't hold back with her biting, profanity-laced sarcasm or criticism of people which was what got people cracked up with laughter. She went through lots of cigarettes, though many only puffed one or two times before she stubbed them out and lit another one.

Because she didn't want to get up from the couch, she pointed at an audience member to get up and go on stage. And because she claimed the carpet was recently cleaned, he had to take off his shoes to walk across the living room to give her a silver box of cigarettes. He also bowed to her a few times to add more fun to the show.

And later in the show she rang the bell, signalling the same guy to come up again, take off his shoes and walk across to get a decanter filled with water.
Bette Midler gets a standing ovation at the end of the show

But in the end he was duly rewarded when she finished the show, came out again and invited that audience member-turned-servant to get up on stage with her.

When we emerged from the theatre, lots of people waited for the backstage door to open because Midler's car was waiting for her. We waited for a while, but gave up came home.

Friday, 28 June 2013

The Cramped Life of the Poor

Thanks to the previous Hong Kong government administrations since the handover, the working poor now have to live in spaces smaller than a coffin.

The smallest room in a flat in a Sham Shui Po flat divided into 17 cubicles measures just 2 feet by 6 feet, compared to an average coffin which is 2.3 feet by 7 feet, though a tenant does have room to sit upright.

Hong Kong doesn't have enough social housing because, gee, the government stopped constructing them. Why is that? Is it a sign of denial that the city doesn't have poor people? Or is it because there are other more glorifying infrastructure projects that are more pressing?

The people who must rent these tiny places earn barely enough to cover the rent of HK$1,500 ($193) a month. And because there are no regulations on renovating interiors, landlords can easily subdivide their flats and electrical wiring is sketchy, the cubicles are terribly stuffy and of course washrooms and kitchens are in unsanitary conditions.

People have been killed in these "fire traps" -- nine in a fire that happened in Fa Yuen Street and Ma Tau Wai Road where four perished in Hung Hom. And yet the government still does nothing.

Is this not an urgent issue? While the government has raised the minimum wage again to HK$30 an hour, what about starting to regulate these sub-divided flats and in the meantime start constructing social housing? The Urban Renewal Authority has bought many buildings and flats in various parts of the city, some of which are sitting empty. Why not fix them up and rent them to these people at a nominal rent?

And yet the government seems to drag its feet on this most pressing issue that affects a good chunk of the city's population. Their living conditions are so horrible that it results in health problems and then this adds more strain on the healthcare system.

Sixty-five-year-old Frankie Pong Chin-pang has lived in 20 square feet for four years. "This is hell. The worst is when it's hot. But my situation is not the worst. At least I'm healthy."

He earns between HK$1,000 to HK$2,000 a month doing odd jobs and there are some days where he can only afford to eat pineapple buns.

How can Pong continue like this for the rest of his life? There will be a day when he cannot physically work anymore.

Another tenant is Chan Chi-kwong who has been on the wait list for public housing since 2004. While he earns HK$5,000 a month, he doesn't have enough money to rent a bigger place at HK$3,000 plus deposit.

Two members of the Long-Term Housing Strategy Steering Committee met with some of the tenants in Sham Shui Po the other day. They saw where they lived, having to enter doors sideways because they were so narrow and saw that hallways were formed by boards.

"Seeing that, my heart just cried out," said Wan Man-yee, one of the members. Wan and Marco Wu Moon-hoi called for the regulation of these sub-divided flats and criticized councillors who rejected plans to build public housing because it would block air flow and trap pollution.

"Come and have a look at the ventilation in these subdivided flats," Wan said.

Actually, checking out these horrible living conditions should be mandatory for all councillors and housing officials so that they know where Hong Kong residents are living.

And then they should think, "Could I live in there?" And if not, how can they make lives better for these people. They are not criminals, but ordinary people who want to make a living and live relatively comfortably. What's wrong with that?

Thursday, 27 June 2013

A Sign of Change?

Potala Palace, the chief residence of the Dalai Lama until he fled in 1959
Now that Hu Jintao is not in power, we are starting to see some changes with regards to Tibet. When Hu was party secretary of Tibet Autonomous Region in the 1980s, he ruled the area with a heavy hand, though we hear he wasn't physically there much because he couldn't handle the altitude sickness.

In the last several years his administration cracked down hard on Tibetans, who revere the Dalai Lama. There were periodic campaigns where the authorities would search monasteries and private homes, and those caught with the Dalai Lama's image were punished severely.

That on top of other repressive measures, like the mass influx of Han Chinese, the insistence on economic development such as the high-speed train, and the Tibetan government in exile having practically no political leverage with Beijing, resulted in the 120 self-immolations the media has counted so far since February 27, 2009.

So we are now cautiously pleased to hear the Chinese government has loosened restrictions in two provinces, allowing Tibetan monks to openly revere the Dalai Lama. The authorities in Sichuan province announced people can display pictures of the religious leader and even ordered officials not to criticize him, according to Radio Free America reports.

Robbie Barnett, director of the Modern Tibet Studies Program at Columbia University in New York says that while banning photographs of the Dalai Lama was not a national-level policy outside of Tibet, the reversing of the policy attacking him is significant.

Although the Dalai Lama, 77, stepped down as political leader in 2001, Tibetans still consider him a religious leader. And we hope this relaxing of restrictions is a sign Beijing, now under Xi Jinping, is willing to talk.

For decades, the Han Chinese have not respected Tibetans for who they are and assumed that cracking down harder would finally result in obedience. But it was the self-immolations that has shocked the regime that cannot understand devotion to a higher being other than the Party.

So we hope that even though Xi doesn't seem to be doing much different as president except for his extensive campaign on cracking down on corruption, perhaps he will make his mark in coming to some ease in tensions with Tibet.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Just in Time for Tung Po

Razor clams stir-fried with black bean sauce, chilli and peppers
Yesterday after work, YTSL and I went to Tung Po in the second floor of the North Point wet market to have dinner.

Tung Po is a well-known dai pai dong and we got there just in time to snag the last small table before the owner started taking down names on the wait list, as the place doesn't take reservations for small groups.

Practically all the tables are occupied so we were lucky!
The last time I was there was for YTSL's birthday where many of us shared a lot of dishes, most notably the razor clams with black bean sauce and vermicelli, "wind sand" chicken, pork knuckle. We also ordered clay pot rice from the restaurant next door and drank lots and lots of Asahi beer in blue ceramic bowls.

Now that it was just the two of us we were limited in what we could try but decided to focus on seafood. Again the razor clams were first on our list, and we had three for HK$138, cooked with black bean sauce and chilli, with onion and peppers.

The clams were very fresh, the meat succulent and slightly spicy.

Chopped fish head cooked with eggplant came sizzling hot
We also ordered fish head stewed with eggplant. It arrived sizzling hot in a clay pot. The fish head didn't arrive in one piece and instead was all chopped up and deep-fried before it was stewed in the pot. In a way it made the fish head easier to eat and the eggplant was delicious, though probably thoroughly soaked in oil...

Another fun dish was the deep-fried shrimp balls that were slightly crunchy on the outside, and meaty inside.

All this sinfully goodness was accompanied with a bowl of rice each and a big bottle of Asahi beer... the "beer girls" were trying to promote Harbin beer which I don't think I've tried before, but YTSL prefers Asahi.

Speaking of beer, last week I went with another friend to Little Chilli, a Sichuan place that is mostly filled with mainlanders. We ordered Tsing Tao beer, but I should have looked around the walls and saw the promotion for Yanjing beer for HK$12 a large bottle! I like Yanjing for its clean, crisp refreshing taste. Next time...

Deep-fried shrimp balls go well with beer!
In the end the meal at Tung Po was HK$415 for two and our stomachs and taste buds were satiated!

Tung Po
2/F, Java Road Municipal Services Building
99 Java Road
North Point
2880 5224

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Picture of the Day: Xi Jinping's Alter Ego

Everyone smile... with the Chinese President
These days Chinese President Xi Jinping is hanging out in Hong Kong -- well the wax version of him.

Madame Tussauds Hong Kong has just unveiled its latest persona in its collection here and it's Xi. And why not? Most of the visitors to The Peak are mainland Chinese so it's an opportunity for them to get up close and personal with him.

And to mark the unveiling of Xi's likeness, some Hong Kong children posed with the statue.

From a distance he looks like the real guy, but up close a kind of caricature. However, we have to wonder if the paunch is accurate enough compared to his most recent visit to Sunnylands in California, where he was compared to Winnie the Pooh, and US President Barack Obama as Tigger.

How does the likeness of Xi Jinping look to you?
Nevertheless, we have to say, having the children pose around him, particularly at his feet seems like an attempt at fulfilling Xi's Chinese Dream -- of having obedient future subjects in Hong Kong.

Or are we reading too much into this?

Monday, 24 June 2013

Hiking from Disco Bay to Mui Wo

On the summit walking down towards Mui Wo with dramatic clouds above
My friend YTSL and I went hiking yesterday -- my first long hike! from Discovery Bay to Mui Wo. I wasn't quite sure what to expect and the fast-changing weather conditions were a primary concern.

Friendly scare crows greeted us on the way
But after much persuasion on her part, we met up at the Central ferry pier for the 2pm ferry. The last time I was in Discovery Bay was when I first arrived in Hong Kong in the mid-90s and was invited to hang out at the Discovery Bay Golf Club with a family friend.

So this visit was a complete contrast to the posh, lazy day some -- yikes -- 18 years ago. After we arrived, we walked up a main road and then towards a beach area that was occupied by mostly Filippino squatters, living in questionable conditions. They seemed to collect whatever materials they could find to shelter themselves or find deserted huts and added paths on the grass with sheets of wood or collected discarded furniture or other items for use.

The local Chinese who lived there had their own small plots of land growing vegetables, some with creatively designed scarecrows. After we passed them, our hike began on a paved path that was gentle for the most part.

Blue bugs... in action...
On the way we spotted many large spiders, one of which worked fast, making its web. Others patiently hung around waiting for their next victim. We also saw lots of butterflies and these iridescent blue bugs who clustered together and seemed to be... mating... we didn't want to bother them in the throes of passion but we did stop to photograph the evidence.

After a while we came up a long steep and wide path with wooden crosses nailed on various trees with a Roman numeral and a picture of Jesus. We were on our way to the Trappist Monastery and the crosses marked the way.

As the monks take a vow of silence, there are signs warning visitors to keep their voices low. We didn't see any monks around, but checked out the church, which had simple yet  airy feeling inside the nave and the minimalist look of the place stressed the austerity of the worshippers.

Inside the church at the Trappist Monastery
We then continued onwards and made it to a flight of steep stairs and a Chinese-style tiled pavilion signaling that we had reached the summit. And boy was it windy up there! While it was overcast, we could make out Hong Kong and Kowloon in the distance.

Then we made our way down, again steep stairs that led towards Mui Wo. We could see the crescent-shaped beach area below and of course anticipated our dinner by the pier! Many people were out in the low tide either playing by the water or working hard digging up cockles to eat. Many day trippers come to places like Discovery Bay and Mui Wo, making these outlying islands busy ones on the weekends.

Stir-fried clams with chilli and black bean sauce at Wai Kee
One of the popular restaurants by the pier is Wai Kee and along with another friend who lives in the neighbourhood, the three of us managed to pretty much polish off a set meal for four. We paid HK$180 each for stir-fried clams with black bean sauce and chilli; a soup of pork with papaya and cloud ear fungus; stir-fried vegetables, steamed fish, fried langoustines and sweet and sour pork. Oh yes and three large bottles of Tsing Tao beer and rice.

The fish was perfectly cooked and the clams were delicious. It was a challenge to eat the langoustines because we had to peel off the legs and shells that were very prickly in order to get to the meat. 

A plate of fried langoustines that took a while to polish off
In the end we were too full for dessert -- soft ice cream cone at McDonald's -- and also we only had minutes to spare to catch the ferry back to the city.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Snowden Leaves Hong Kong

Edward Snowden has checked out of Hong Kong and now heads to?
Intelligence contractor Edward Snowden has landed in Moscow and is probably onward to another destination -- Cuba? Venezuela?

We only heard about it a few hours ago that he had boarded an Aeroflot flight, thus ending his dramatic stay in Hong Kong.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying must be so relieved at not having to deal with this political hot potato, as the day before the United States had filed for Snowden's extradition and it could have resulted in a long, drawn-out affair.

What's interesting is that the Hong Kong government told the US that documents from Washington did not "fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law" and therefore requested more information.

This seems a bit strange because Hong Kong usually complies with the US and University of Hong Kong law professor Simon Young says local laws have a very low threshold before a provisional warrant can be in place.

"The US government will wonder why the Hong Kong government feels the surrender paperwork needs to be fully in place before the provisional warrant can be obtained," he was quoted as saying.

So we wonder if Beijing had a hand in giving Hong Kong the green light to do whatever it could to get Snowden out of the territory...

It's too bad all the excitement over Snowden is now over, because late last night I read a New York Times article that said he was lying low in a flat in Western district which is where I live!

And then there was a Greenpeace boat anchored near Kennedy Town which made me wonder perhaps he would be smuggled out of the city on the boat and headed to somewhere and become a complete recluse.

But now perhaps he'll be warmly welcomed by Russian President Vladimir Putin and given honourary citizenship like Gerard Depardieu?

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Picture of the Day: Brother and Sister

An older brother crossing with his younger sister hand-in-hand
Whenever I see small kids, usually their parents or domestic helper are holding them by the hand.

And typically siblings either chat up a storm, are having rowdy fun, or teasing each other which results in fighting.

But this afternoon on the bus home I saw an older brother take his younger sister by the hand and get onto the bus. They were completely on their own, no adult in sight.

They bounded up to the top floor of the bus so I didn't see them interact most of the ride, but later they came down early for the next stop. While they waited by the back door, he made sure his younger sister held onto the railing usually reserved for wheelchair users.

At one point she leaned her head onto his chest and he caressed her head.

I followed them out the door and again they were holding hands as they walked across the street.

My parents used to talk about when they were young how they and their siblings looked out for each other -- and what I saw today is what I imagine it must have been like.

When we were kids, my brother and I used to fight "like cats and dogs" as my mom likes to describe it. Never in a million years would we have held hands crossing the street on our own like that...

Friday, 21 June 2013

10-Year Deja Vu

The public will voice their opinion of CY Leung on July 1
July 1 is going to be a big day for Hong Kongers, many of whom will probably use the public holiday to show their displeasure towards the government.

Public trust and confidence in the Hong Kong and central governments have plunged to 2003 levels when over 500,000 people took to the streets in a mass protest.

A poll conducted by the University of Hong Kong's Public Opinion Programme showed that distrust of the central government had reached a record high of 45 percent, while 37 percent distrusted the Hong Kong government, comparable to that of 2003.

More than 1,000 people were polled between June 10 and 13. Only 32 percent said they trusted the government, while those who distrusted it rose from 26 percent to 37 percent. Only one in four trusted Beijing, compared to 45 percent who did not.

For the first time since the handover, people who were confident in "one country, two systems" failed to outnumber those with no confidence at 47 percent each.

Pollster Robert Chung Ting-yiu says the figures were "a worrying situation", while the director of the public governance programme at Lingnan University Dr Li Pang-kwong, said this showed a deep distrust of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's administration.

"The lack of trust has put the government in an unfavourable position, as the public will always cast doubt on its policies, which will take time to show their effects," Li said. "It has now become an urgent issue to restore trust, or his governance could be dragged deeper into crisis."

However, Li said the size of the July 1 rally this year would probably not be the same as the one 10 years ago.

As if to dismiss the latest survey, Leung said, "one country, two systems" has been well implemented. "If anyone thinks there are any problems with its implementation, we should step up publicity on the Basic Law," he said.

Uh huh. How is learning more about the Basic Law going to make us trust the government more?

Perhaps Leung has forgotten he has a few scandals on his watch, such as former ICAC head Timothy Tong Hin-ming accused of wining and dining mainland officials with lots of booze and gifts, while former executive councillor Barry Cheung Chun-yuen's HKMex is mired in controversy for dramatically shutting down...

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Number Crunching with Chinese Characteristics

Premier Li Keqiang can't control the exaggerated numbers on China's economy
We cannot help but be amused by the Wall Street Journal's story about China manipulating its numbers to make its economy look good.

How bad is it? Even Premier Li Keqiang doesn't believe in the numbers, according to a confidential memo sent by the US Ambassador Clark Randt that was published by Wikileaks.

Li basically said when he evaluated Liaoning province's economy, the only digits he followed were those from electricity consumption, rail cargo volume and bank lending.

But now even the National Bureau of Statistics is outright saying the figures it gets from provinces and counties are grossly exaggerated.

One example is the economic development and technology information bureau of Henglan, a town in Guangdong province.

A state statistician investigated a sample of 73 firms out of 249 in the data and found 38 of them were too small to be considered large firms so they should not even be included, and a further 19 either stopped production, moved to another town or ceased to exist.

But here's the more damning part -- 71 companies examined by the statistics bureau had an industrial output of 2.22 billion yuan ($362 million) in 2012, but that the local government recorded it as being 8.51 billion yuan, almost four times the actual figure.

What's sketchy is that the firms were supposed to input the data in an online platform, but for some reason staff from the Henglan economic development and technology information bureau input the numbers themselves. Also, relevant government leaders knew about the distortions but chose to ignore them.

And now with the economy slowing down, local governments are keen to look good because economic output affects their chances for promotion.

But what about when they grossly overstate the figures by almost four times?

The NSB was able to discover the exaggerated figures thanks to a whistleblower. But what about other jurisdictions, counties and provinces?

So you have to wonder, is China really the second-biggest economy in the world?

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

In with the Wrong Crowd

Is blind activist Chen Guangcheng being manipulated by right-wing groups?
A year flies by and so it has for Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng.

After his dramatic escape from rural Shandong to the US Embassy in Beijing that nearly derailed then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's China visit, Chen has lived in New York for a year, learning as much as he can about American law and legal institutions.

He was promised a year's stay in New York University and now it's come to an end.

Either Chen has forgotten the terms of the agreement of his one-year fellowship at NYU or he has become swept up in living in the Big Apple.

He claimed the school was kicking him out due to "unrelenting pressure" from the Chinese government, as NYU is preparing to open its Shanghai campus at East China Normal University.

"As early as last August and September, the Chinese Communists had already begun to apply great, unrelenting pressure on New York University," Chen said in a statement. "The work of the Chinese Communists within academic circles in the United States is far greater than what people imagine."

This was disputed by the school and his mentor, Professor Jerome Cohen, who helped negotiate Chen and his family's arrival to New York in the first place.

Cohen was in China when this latest fracas erupted and was unable to immediately defend the school and ask Chen what was going on.

"Mr. Chen seems to be taking advice from a group that thrives on accusation, rumour, suspicion, gossip and malice," Cohen said in an email. "So far not a single fact has been adduced to support their allegations" about NYU.

While Cohen did not name the group supposedly advising Chen, it is believed they are right-wing groups who align with his anti-abortion stance, thanks to Chinese American activist Bob Fu, that are either instructing Chen or encouraging him to make statements that have yet to be substantiated.

It should be noted that Chen's statement was released by Mark Corallo, a Republican crisis-communications strategist who previously worked for Karl Rove and John Ashcroft. Need we say more?

Chen's plight one year after leaving China illustrates the challenges dissidents face when they go into exile.

At first they are overwhelmed by the immense freedom they have in places like the US, and then they must overcome the culture shock of living in another country, let alone learn another language.

Then it's about figuring out the next step -- do they drop their cause and find another career, or do they try to find another way to keep their relevance not only in the media, but also outside of China. Tiananmen leader Chai Ling seems to have done well in the former category, while Wang Dan the latter.

Not everyone can accomplish this tricky balance, let alone do this well and it seems Chen is still finding his way. It's only been a year and he has been busy making lots of speeches, but if he did think he could stay longer at NYU, he is naive.

One also wonders what kind of advice he'd been given, particularly by Cohen who is a China legal expert, and if Chen accepted the octogenarian's wise counsel.

Right now it looks like Chen has turned his back on Cohen, and we surely hope this is not the case; otherwise he looks like an ungrateful person who has squandered a precious year away...

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Unemployment Blues

When I lived in Beijing from 2007 to 2010, I worked in a state-owned enterprise. There was lots of bureaucracy and it was very regimented. At 10.30am and 3pm an outdated woman's voice from the 60s would erupt the silence and the recording instructed people to stop and do eye exercises.

Hardly anyone bothered to obey the voice and continued working while hearing this old school music while she chanted "one, two, three, four" and telling people what to do. Finally I asked someone what this was about and they explained these were eye exercises they did in elementary school, but not anymore. So why continue to broadcast this if no one was doing it?

But it's a state-owned company and it just follows the rules.

Like every other company, there were many people who didn't seem to do anything at work all day. Or they tried to look busy. When fresh graduates started work with us, they went through the same rite of passage.

At first they were eager to begin their careers and make a difference in the world. However, they soon saw how work was a monotonous chore people did, day in and day out. The smart ones got out quickly, while the others, who didn't mind having much to do and being paid for it, stayed on.

Many of these graduates weren't the cream of the crop -- but rather a government directive to state-owned enterprises to absorb a number of them to keep unemployment numbers down.

It didn't matter what if anything these fresh grads were doing -- as long as they had a "job" it was fine. But really they weren't learning much or doing anything particularly useful.

This made me realize that in China there are not enough jobs for educated people. There are lots of factory jobs, but no university graduate will do a job that is physically demanding -- that's why they got a degree in the first place!

Many refused to get low-paying jobs, or ones that were not related to their fields because they felt they had special knowledge that should be used. They wanted to hold out for a better job, but they soon realized if they did not graduate from Peking University of Tsinghua University, they were not going to get the best jobs, let alone the top-paying ones.

So they had to lower their standards, lower and lower. It's gotten to the point where there are too many graduates.

A record seven million will graduate this year, but less than half of them will find work.

That's because the economy is slowing down and companies are unsure of what the future will bring.

While Premier Li Keqiang recently led the cabinet meeting on May 16 ordering schools, government agencies and state-owned enterprises to hire more graduates, it's a short-term solution and hardly a productive long-term measure.

The State Council has encouraged young people to get jobs at small private companies, but since these fresh graduates are of the "only child" generation, they are not as keen to take risks and would rather have a steady long-term job.

A prominent broadcaster named Wang Zhian created an uproar when he wrote on his microblog that graduates should take jobs at moving companies, packing and unpacking customers' items.

The young people didn't take too kindly of his advice of doing manual labour.

However, he said: "The most important thing for [new graduates] is to figure out a way to survive, and if that means you have to become a moving company worker, then so be it. You can't live off your parents forever."

I agree. Students in China don't have the culture of working summer jobs when they are in school so they don't understand how hard it is to make a living, let alone appreciate what their parents have provided for them.

They need some "toughening up" and gaining any kind of work experience, no matter how lowly is better than just having an academic degree.

How many will actually take Wang's advice will probably only be a handful, but they will be ahead of the others in terms of learning how to make lemonade out of lemons.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Clamouring to be Heard

We love Hong Kong, but does the government love us back?
I just came back from a party where I reconnected with some people, one a British expatriate and a Hong Kong-born resident who seems more comfortable speaking English than Chinese.

The local was complaining about the dire situation in Hong Kong, how our institutions are breaking down, the chief executive is not showing any kind of leadership and how we are fast becoming a mainland city.

Meanwhile the expat seemed to think everything was ticking along fine -- and this is someone who has lived here for more than half her life and established a prospering business not only here but regionally as well.

She thought it was great that locals were protesting every weekend, exercising their freedom of speech and admired the fact that they stood in the rain on June 4. She said she supported them all the way. And she has seen Hong Kong come back each time after a crisis such as SARS and the financial crisis, and admires its resilience.

After saying her two cents' worth, the expat left the party and while she and the local are friends, the latter was not surprised nor pleased by her friend's response.

The local said this was the expatriates' typical reaction to Hong Kong. They love living here because the city gave them an opportunity to find work, establish businesses and enjoy the high life; they are not really interested in what is going on in terms of politics or the environment or social issues. As long as they can make a comfortable living compared to their home country, then were happy. If there was ever a problem they could get on the next plane back.

But for locals, there isn't much choice (unless they are carrying a foreign passport). This is their home, and they are frustrated seeing how life has turned out post 1997. They don't see "one country, two systems" actively enforced -- instead they see Hong Kong fast becoming another Chinese city. They want democracy -- universal suffrage -- and yet they feel their interests being represented. And then don't get them started on the mainland invasion...

While Hong Kong seems to be of two solitudes, that is probably the same result in every other city where expats live.

However, I have to say that for overseas Chinese who live in Hong Kong and have settled here, they are fretting like the locals. I can't speak for everyone, but in my case, I left Hong Kong after seven years in 2001 and at the time thought Hong Kong was a good place to start off my career and it was time to move onto the next chapter.

But distance makes the heart grow fonder. When I was back in Canada, I found myself eagerly following any news about Hong Kong and wished I had the chance to participate in the July 1, 2003 march against Article 23 in which half a million people turned out.

And then my three years in Beijing made me appreciate Hong Kong even more -- how its freedom of speech and press need to be protected even more than ever.

Now that I've been back for almost three years now, I feel more connected to the city than say the expat speaking earlier, but obviously I don't know all the rants and complaints locals have because I can't read Chinese media.

Nevertheless I feel I have some kind of stake in the city and am disappointed to see our government not really interested in our concerns, but those of Beijing. We have become second-class citizens in our own city -- where else do you see that in the world?

We are seeing more cases of corruption and not enough checks and balances... the list goes on.

Yes we protest every weekend -- but that hardly changes the system; it just disrupts traffic for a few hours. Do the officials really care?

But yes life goes on. More local groups are setting up to represent every other interest, and meanwhile a man by the name of Benny Tai is organizing an Occupy Central protest next year.

So everyone is trying to find their way to change the system. Some are doing it legally, while others, like Tai, feel there is no other way to get government to listen except by breaking the law.

Hong Kong residents are unhappy. So why not listen to us for a change, CY Leung? We're paying your salary!

Sunday, 16 June 2013

The Effects of Mainlanders Behaving Badly

"Ding Jinhao was here" has been taken off but it gives mainlanders a bad rep
The story of the teenage boy from Nanjing who was identified as the one who carved his name on a 3,500-year-old Egyptian temple has caused mainlanders to pause and wonder why they are such horrible tourists.

A fellow Chinese took a picture of the defaced temple and posted it online as an example of mainland tourists not behaving when abroad.

The boy, Ding Jinhao was quickly exposed and his school's website was even hacked into. While his parents apologized, they are not poor country bumpkins as they could afford to take their son to Egypt of all places.

"We have taken him sightseeing since he was little, and we often saw such graffiti. But we didn't realize we should have told him that this is wrong," the mother said.

When Xinhua published a picture showing the graffiti had been erased, some sharp-eyed internet users noticed the writing was above adult height, which means Ding must have had some kind of adult assistance.

Maybe the parents need to explain themselves again?

There's a shopping list of grievances against mainland Chinese tourists, including not queuing up, talking loudly, wasting food and spitting.

May we also add they carry tons of cash, making them prime targets for thieves?

What makes this worse is Chinese from other places from Singapore, Hong Kong and North America are also presumed to be from China and are also victims of robbers.

And now the latest news is that six students studying oenology in the wine-producing region of France were attacked by three drunk men shouting racist insults at them. One female student was seriously hurt in the face by a glass bottle thrown at her.

It is believed the police went to see the three men about the noise they were making, and after the authorities left, the trio went to where the students were living, assuming it was them complaining about the din.

While some mainlanders online are suggesting people avoid traveling to France, others are of the opinion that only students of wealthy families or officials could afford to study there and so they should not get any sympathy.

In any event, this incident has happened on the eve of Vinexpo, one of the largest wine events in the world that is held every other year in Bordeaux, and alternately in Hong Kong. China is France's biggest market and with its economy slowing down significantly, France cannot afford to have bad press now.

As long as no one calls for the boycott of Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Hermes, then France's economy will still keep going...

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Liu Xia's Chinese Nightmare

Liu Xia's handwritten letter to Xi Jinping published on Twitter
The wife of jailed activist and Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo has written an open letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

It is dated June 12, a few days after her younger brother Liu Hui was convicted and sentenced to 11 years in jail for defrauding a contractor of 3 million RMB with a business partner.

President Xi Jinping:

I am Liu Xia, a citizen of the People's Republic of China. I have been under house arrest and have lost all my personal freedoms since October 2010. No one has told me any reasons for detaining me. I have thought about it over and over. Perhaps in this country it's a "crime" for me to be Liu Xiaobo's wife.

I think the prison sentence of my brother Liu Hui, which was handed down on June 9, 2013, is totally unjust. I doubt whether the judicial authorities and even the whole public power system were really administering their rights properly.

Under the current rule of law, we should see justice in state power, instead of ruthless crackdowns with violence; any events that erase individual rights will all cause tragedy, thus casting a dark shadow over the aura of the state power's legitimacy.

Justice in criminal cases will only be manifested in actual cases. I cannot imagine justice, which is what we're hoping for, would be realized through disrespecting and even disregarding the rights of the accused.

Mr. Chairman, the China Dream that you mentioned will have to be realized through every citizen. I hope the China Dream won't turn us individuals into the "China Nightmares."

Today is the traditional Chinese Duanwu Festival (Dragon Boat Festival). Can you ever imagine how our family is feeling during the celebrations?

Citizen Liu Xia

We admire her bravery in managing to get this letter out in the open thanks to her lawyer Shang Baojun who posted pictures of it on Twitter.

Xi will not respond of course -- government leaders don't comment on individual cases. But this is the only way she knows of expressing her opinion about her tragic situation since she is cut off from the world, living under virtual house arrest, with no access to the internet or phones.

Average citizens won't have seen the letter either which is a pity -- they need to know Liu Xia's plight and rally around her and her family.

But it's not to be. Hopefully foreign governments and prominent people will put more pressure on China.

Again we ask on her behalf -- why is it a crime for her to be Liu Xiaobo's wife?

Friday, 14 June 2013

Murdoch Splits From Wendi

Rupert Murdoch and Wendi Deng heading down splitsville after 14 years
Eyebrows were raised when media mogul Rupert Murdoch divorced his second wife after 32 years of marriage and then promptly married Wendi Deng, who is theoretically old enough to be his granddaughter.

But now after 14 years of marriage Murdoch is calling it quits, filing for divorce in New York.

How the mis-matched pair met is a well-known yarn -- they met at a company party in Hong Kong where she was working as an intern at Star TV and grabbed the opportunity to impress her boss.

She did so well that they got married two years later on a yacht in New York.

Murdoch undoubtedly saw Deng as his ticket to the China market and they did try several times to get into the mainland market but nothing happened.

In the meantime she made the most of the marriage, having two daughters with him, Grace, 11, and Chloe, nine. Grace's godfather is former British prime minister Tony Blair, and the two kids also have star-studded godparents in the names of Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman.

They were even baptized on the banks of the river Jordan, apparently the same spot where Jesus underwent the same ceremony...

She also used her husband's connections and ingratiated herself with Hollywood stars and players, and introduced Murdoch to internet billionaires such as Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Twitter's Jack Dorsey.

Perceptions of Deng as a gold digger changed to tigress in July 2011 when she smacked a protester who tried to throw a shaving cream pie at Murdoch during a British parliamentary committee hearing into New International being accused of phone hacking.

Apparently that incident and the phone-hacking scandal brought them closer, but now it seems the marriage has broken down "irretrievably" according to Murdoch's divorce papers. However, the proceedings will be relatively smooth as the couple signed a prenuptial agreement and she will get control of company shares through her two children.

Deng seems to have gotten a good deal from her 14 years with Murdoch -- money, a glamorous lifestyle, children and more money. She's done well for the daughter of a factory manager in Jinan, Shandong province. What's next, Wendi?

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Tough Interviewee

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is in New York trying to drum up business in the Big Apple, but all everyone wants to talk to him about is Edward Snowden who is holed up somewhere in the Fragrant Harbour.

Bloomberg Television's Sara Eisen tried to pepper him with questions about Snowden, but he kept replying he would not comment on individual cases. She then changed tack and tried to get him to explain how Hong Kong would deal with cases like Snowden's, but again he would not talk about generalities at all, or explain that the city follows rule of law.

She tried to get him to explain "one country, two systems" and all he would say was that Hong Kong follows Basic Law. No one outside of Hong Kong knows what that is.

Giving up temporarily, she then asked him about currency markets and Hong Kong's economy, the globalization of the renminbi. Here he talked, but all his answers were so general that they gave no insight into the city and how it is a financial centre.

His responses also indicated he was not at all prepared for the interview and was not informed enough on the above financial topics to demonstrate his knowledge but also why people should invest in Hong Kong.

One of Eisen's last questions was whether Hong Kong should un-peg from the US dollar. Leung's reply? He said, "We don't even talk about it" which is ridiculous and financial columnists were probably choking on their drinks listening to him. They are going to pounce on this because there have always been some murmurs here and there about de-pegging from the greenback.

In fact people are wondering why we are still pegged to the US dollar now...

Eisen tried one more time to get Leung to make some kind of statement about Snowden, or to clear up any kind of misunderstandings out there about Hong Kong, but he didn't take the opportunity and again shut it down.

He could have said Hong Kong is a city that follows the rule of law, or Hong Kong values freedom of speech and these are core values that make the city special from the mainland, or that Hong Kong will follow due process with respect to any case in the city.

In the end he gave an impression of someone who was hiding something; while it is true he cannot discuss individual cases, he also didn't want to say anything that could be used against him later which may indicate Beijing had instructed him to keep quiet.

But was his forcefulness in which he refused to comment speaks volumes.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

More Guilty than Charged

Former rail boss Liu Zhijun at his corruption trial in Beijing on Sunday
Former disgraced Chinese railways minister Liu Zhijun is now awaiting his fate after his trial was over. He could pretty much get the death penalty for amassing so much wealth during his tenure of the railway system -- way more than what he was accused of.

During the trial it was revealed investigations recovered almost 350 flats and more than 900 million yuan. The amount is much more than the amount of bribes Liu is accused of taking.

At Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People's Court on Sunday, Liu was accused of using his influence to help his business associates win contracts and promotions, and accepting 64.6 million yuan in bribes between 1986 and 2011. That averages out to 2.58 million yuan per year. Hardly shabby.

But then the Beijing Times said the authorities had managed to confiscate large amounts of cash in various currencies. There was 795.5 million yuan, HK$85 million, $235,000 and 2.2 million euros. What can we say? Liu likes to play the global currency market.

There were also other valuables, flats, vehicles and shares recovered, but the Beijing Times report didn't explain why these weren't included in the charges against Liu.

So if he accumulated some 900 million yuan, that works out to about 36 million yuan per year for the 25 years he was in this position.

From 2.58 million yuan to 36 million yuan. Quite a difference. It seems his defense lawyers may have made up the smaller number in the hopes of making Liu look less corrupt.

Meanwhile a microblog post on the mainland is calling for officials to publicly declare all their assets or retire, while another online post has congratulated Liu for being the first high-ranking official to publicly declare his assets.

We wonder who will be next...

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Gone Without a Trace

Where is he now? Edward Snowden was interviewed by The Guardian in HK
We find it quite odd that former CIA technical assistant and now whistle-blower Edward Snowden chose Hong Kong to reveal himself as the one who claimed to have classified documents about a top-secret US surveillance program.

The 29-year-old claimed to choose the city because of its "commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent".

But what he did in fact was create a diplomatic kerfuffle for both the US and China with Hong Kong in the middle. Even though the city signed an extradition treaty with the US before 1997 with China's blessing, as we know, the CY Leung administration has no qualms asking Beijing what to do.

Snowden was seen in a video released by The Guardian speaking in a hotel room in the W Hotel in Kowloon and it was later revealed the American had checked out of The Mira hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui, but it was unclear how long he had been staying there even though he first arrived in Hong Kong on May 20.

Now Snowden has "disappeared" and we are assuming having worked in the CIA that he knows a few things about keeping a low profile. We wonder if he was somewhat naive in thinking he could stay in Hong Kong freely particularly when his face has been splashed all over the papers and every other person has a smartphone.

So we think that he may have either left the city or knows someone who is keeping him underground. But we tend to think it's the former as it seemed like this was his first trip to Hong Kong.

In any event, we find his mission of exposing the US government program of basically vacuuming up all communications on our phones and emails for collection and then if later need be, call them up if there is any suspicion that any of us could be potential terrorists is a pretty frightening prospect.

No stone is left unturned unless you don't have a cell phone, don't use email or internet banking, or have an ATM card. That pretty much eliminates 90 percent of us.

Snowden has now allowed us the opportunity to talk about this surveillance openly and how we feel about it. We hope there will be productive conversations around this pressing issue and some kind of checks and balances will be sorted out.

While we all want to be kept safe, do they really need to know I posted food porn pictures on Facebook yesterday?

Monday, 10 June 2013

Sunnylands Summit Highlights

Xi Jinping and Barack Obama go tie-less in Sunnylands for talks
The recent summit between US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Sunnylands, California, unfolded pretty much as expected because not much really happened.

Both sides agreed they would not accept North Korea as a nuclear-armed state, and
the bonus of agreeing to make a joint effort in reducing emission of hydrofluorocarbons.

Do they look like Tigger and Winnie the Pooh?
And as anticipated, neither side could move forward on hacking as Obama warned cyberspying would put a dent in their relationship, though Xi would not take any responsibility. Why would he? It's not been proven he put out the order...

In any event, the Chinese in the mainland were eagerly watching the proceedings and began to think creatively -- or was it something in the water or the air?

They started imagining they were watching Xi and Obama strolling on the grass like Winnie the Pooh and Tigger.

The other amusing part was when Xi told Obama that he swims 1,000m everyday, but this was mistakenly translated as 10,000m. Obama looked surprised then looked at Xi.

The Chinese President is a portly man, though we're not dissing his ability to swim or his fitness regime, but does he really swim 1K everyday? Or if he did it would surely take him at least an hour to complete.

The Great Helmsman showing off his strokes
But then again we should remember that the 73-year-old, chain-smoking Mao Zedong managed to break world speed records in his Yangtze River swim, as Xinhua reported -- and he even had time to pass on tips to other swimmers along the way...

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Vindictive Government

Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years in jail in 2009
A day after watching jailed activist and Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo recounting his experiences in Tiananmen Square during the spring of 1989 in the documentary The Gate of Heavenly Peace, we find that his brother-in-law was sentenced today for 11 years for financial fraud.

State prosecutors accused Liu Hui, the manager of a real estate company in Shenzhen, of working with a colleague to steal 3 million RMB ($490,000) from a man named Zhang Bing through a complicated fraud scheme.

Liu Hui maintains his innocence and his lawyers plan to appeal. "As Liu Hui's defense attorney, I definitely do not approve of this verdict, because we see this fundamentally as a civil issue, and it fundamentally does not constitute criminal fraud," lawyer Mo Shaoping told reporters.

Liu Xiaobo's wife, Liu Xia, and sister of Liu Hui, was in the courtroom and briefly spoke to reporters in tears before she was whisked away by car.

"I absolutely cannot accept this. This is simply persecution. This is completely an illegal verdict," she said.

Liu Xia added she had completely lost hope in the government, adding that should could not leave her house, referring to her house arrest as the authorities have cut off phone and internet access to her home and limited visits with her family.

This verdict does not jive with what happened earlier in the week when the Chinese government suddenly allowed Hu Zhicheng, a Chinese-American businessman to finally leave China after five years in limbo. This came just before Chinese President Xi Jinping met with US President Barack Obama in California.

But now, after their talks -- which were only somewhat productive -- Beijing is back to its vindictive attitude. It seems hell-bent on destroying Liu Xiabo and anyone related to him -- using the democracy activist as an example to those who are even remotely thinking of trying to organize a Chinese version of the Arab Spring.

However the Chinese don't want violence nor do they want to overthrow the government -- they want reforms and changes to make their lives better, from making it easier for migrant workers to get a hukou to social security, quashing corruption and implementing rule of law.

Many of these grievances were the same ones 24 years ago that were aired from Tiananmen Square. Surely the government doesn't want history to repeat itself...

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Essential History Lesson

Chang'an Avenue today -- completely different from what it looked like in 1989
Four days after our June 4 candlelight vigil in Victoria Park was temporarily snuffed out by a torrential downpour, YTSL and I went to see the documentary The Gate of Heavenly Peace by Richard Gordon and Carma Hinton.

I've heard and read about this three-hour film and had wanted to see it and when we read it was playing at the Hong Kong Arts Centre, we immediately bought tickets.

While it was a long documentary, I was too riveted to wonder when it would end (unlike the guy sitting next to me who kept checking the time on his phone). It is probably the most comprehensive compilation of the chronological events that led to the night of June 3/morning of June 4, and all the politics and historical context around those six weeks in Tiananmen Square.

The film interviews some of the prominent players as well as a spectrum of others: student leaders Wang Dan, Feng Congde and Wu'er Kaixi, and excerpts of an interview Chai Ling did with American journalist Philip Cunningham; then professor Liu Xiaobo and his friend and Taiwanese pop star Hou Dejian; writer Dai Qing; some workers who were caught in the protest, as well as former government officials.

Their recollections of those days together with lots of footage gave an extensive picture of what was going on. But even better was the historical context, starting from the May 4 Movement in 1919, and how students since then have played a role in trying to instill nationalism, reforms and democracy. It also shows how those same demands were repeated in 1976 and again in 1989.

Tiananmen Square is more a public park than public space
It also showed how China was ruled when Mao Zedong came to power in 1949 and how he was described as the poet, while his subordinates were the ones who had to actually run the country. Dai Qing admitted how she was so indoctrinated and worshiped Mao, but when he incited the Cultural Revolution she was disillusioned.

Meanwhile two former government officials, no one senior, but they gave interesting insights. One was working in the administration in 1989 and she herself was shocked when Premier Li Peng refused to come out during Hu Yaobang's official funeral to meet with some students who had presented a petition on their knees.

The other felt he might have a better chance at changing the country by working from the inside, but in the end we don't know if he was successful if at all. It seems he felt this would be a more effective way of trying to implement reforms than sticking one's neck out from the outside.

Then the documentary moves forward in recounting in chronological order how things unfolded. It started with the passing of former General Secretary Hu Yaobang. As one person recalled, when a man dies, people only start to remember the good things about this person and the students and workers not only displayed their public grief, but also used his death as a talking point about what is wrong about the country, from inflation and corruption, to mass lay-offs and no ability to vote.

The convergence on the square grew and led to greater discussions on how China should change and the students began drawing up a list of demands. But their requests were completely ignored; the authorities refused to even make contact with such idealistic students, even though they themselves had similar views when joining the Communist Party.

Outspoken people at Tiananmen were noticed and began to be seen as leaders. Wang Dan seems to be the most idealistic at the time, while Wu'er Kaixi was the charismatic one, waving flags on convoys. However Chai Ling seems to be a mercurial character, captured on video saying one thing one day, and then saying something completely opposite the next day.

Nevertheless, the movement grew so much that the student leaders now realized what it was like to run a mini state, trying to maintain the momentum of enthusiasm, trying to avoid factionalism and even coups, as well as mundane but urgent issues of sanitation on the square.

The documentary shows the army was called into the square several times and each time up until June 3, they were halted by ordinary people and workers, who denounced them as not being protectors of the people, and how dare they harm the students. Eventually they had to give up and turn back, but not without the good will of the people who fed the soldiers food and drink.

Finally the government made a half-hearted attempt to reach out to the students, but they felt they were not treated equally at the table; another time a few of the student leaders were granted an audience with Premier Peng, and Wu'er showed up in pyjamas demanding their requests be fulfilled.

But then things became more and more complex, as the government refused to give in and the student leaders were divided on what to do next. Some students started a hunger strike hoping it would make their call more urgent, but again the authorities didn't seem to listen, or perhaps they were divided. Unexpectedly, General Secretary Zhao Ziyang paid the students a visit in the early hours with a young Wen Jiabao trailing behind him.

Zhao tried to tell the students he had failed them and had come too late to save them. They didn't understand his foreboding message and felt that as a member of the establishment, he didn't seem genuine. But that would be the last time Zhao would be seen in public as he was ousted from his position and put under house arrest until his death in 2005.

In his memoirs, Zhao recounted how he tried to advocate a moderate line, that the government should talk to the students and resolve the situation peacefully. However the hardliners that included Peng managed to persuade Deng Xiaoping that chaos would erupt if the government did not take back the square with force.

Eerily Chai alludes to this too in her interview with journalist Cunningham. At one point she says, "What we are actually hoping for is bloodshed" and "Only when the square is awash with blood will the people of China open their eyes."

And that's what happened on the evening of June 3 -- though technically not on the square. People died trying to prevent the tanks and soldiers from entering Tiananmen. Everyone was shocked the army used live ammunition -- one worker recalled seeing his colleagues die -- shot in the head and chest.

Thankfully Liu Xiaobo and Hou Dejian managed to persuade the army to allow the students time to evacuate the square and Liu should be credited with saving thousands of lives. At the time he, Hou and two others were on a hunger strike, trying to keep the movement alive. But when they heard about people being shot dead in the streets, they worried about the students' safety.

Hou says outright that he never saw any student crushed by tanks, nor did he see any of them shot in the square.

It was sad seeing Liu talk -- he completely immersed himself in the students' cause 24 years ago and went to jail for 22 months. And now he is languishing in jail again -- this time an 11-year sentence for wanting to push for the same reforms and democracy in China with Charter 08.

Another young woman who was a professor at the time, told of her hopes and concerns for the students as she visited them every day at the square. She even recalled having a rifle pointed at her that deadly night and how she managed to find her 12 students.

But the film also interviews Ding Zilin, who lost her 17-year-old son Jiang Jielian on June 3, and how she lost all faith in the government. She then quietly started finding other mothers who had lost their child that night and together they have founded Tiananmen Mothers. They are pushing for the government to apologize for the deaths but have yet to hear anything.

Hong Kong played a belated role, raising some HK$14 million for the cause, shipping over tents and supplies... but what happened to the rest of the money?

The documentary is essential viewing for everyone to have a better understanding of China, its people and how 1989 was a watershed moment in modern Chinese history. It may not be publicly discussed, but it has affected an entire generation of people one way or another.

One unemployed man in his 40s paid the price for speaking out days after the massacre. He gave a passionate rant to a foreign reporter and for that he was sentenced for his counter-revolutionary stance with a 10-year jail sentence.

And so today no one talks about what happened in 1989 and indeed it has been completely scrubbed out of the history books. Very few people under 30 in China knows the truth.

But history will continue to repeat itself until the government changes its ways...

Friday, 7 June 2013

Picture of the Day: Sky Views

The view of the sunset from the New Territories
The last few days on the bus home from work in the New Territories, I've been snapping pictures of the sky, as it's very clear and today in particular there were some fluffy white clouds.

This photo in particular is quite dramatic, somehow against the light, making the foreground of hills very dark and yet the sky a vivid blue with a burst of sunlight through the wavy, wispy clouds.

Does the photograph above look similar to Van Gogh's Starry Night?
It reminds me of an impressionist painting -- or even perhaps Van Gogh's Starry Night?

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Secret Message

A screen shot of the message when read vertically
Despite the torrential rain on June 4, tens of thousands of people still stood in it to commemorate the victims of the Tiananmen crackdown. I have to admit I left after a while, but lots of people refused to leave Victoria Park.

It just demonstrates how Hong Kong people are determined to show to Beijing that they will stand up for causes they passionately believe in and this is one of the biggest ones.

An interesting brouhaha has emerged in the past day related to June 4 -- during a broadcast on Now Business Channel that night, one of the programs showed a multiple choice question on the screen with four answers listed below, one after the other that should have been read horizontally.

However, if they were read vertically, the words were 毋忘六四 or "never forget June 4".

As soon as producers realized what was going on, they immediately pulled the survey off the air and now the TV station says those who participated in the wordplay will be punished.

The reason for the harsh punishment is that Now TV is trying to get a free-to-air TV license.

But we beg to differ. In fact we think Apple Daily should hire these clever writers to plant more clever messages in the media. Not only will circulation rise even higher as readers try to find these secret missives, but also it'll be Hong Kong's version of soft power.

How about it, Jimmy Lai?

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Finally, A Happy Ending

Dr Hu Zhicheng is back in the US
The insane ordeal of Hu Zhicheng is finally over after five years.

He was born in China and went to the United States where he became internationally known as an expert in the development of catalytic converters that are used to limit pollution in cars. With a doctorate in engineering, Hu holds almost 50 patents and has conducted research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and worked for multinational companies.

Then in 2004 Hu returned to China with his family and hoped his knowledge would help China in building cleaner automobiles. He started working for a company in Jiangsu as chief scientist and president. Then his wife, Li Hong, who also has a doctorate in engineering, set up a company supplying materials to Hu's employer.

But then troubles began when Hu angered a well connected businessman of a competing company, and accused Hu of stealing information and providing it to his wife's company. In 2008 Li took the children back to the US for a holiday, but Hu, sensing things would turn nasty, told them not to come back.

He was right. Before the US Thanksgiving holiday, Hu was arrested on commercial theft charges. He was jailed for 17 months while police investigated the case and eventually found no wrongdoing.

So after he was freed, Hu thought he could leave the country and be reunited with his family. But that was not to be. Every time he tried to cross the border, the authorities would not let him leave, because his competitor filed a lawsuit seeking financial compensation.

Being pragmatic, Hu started working for the same company that had employed him, but now in Shanghai. While he was allowed to travel within the country, he was not allowed to leave it.

But suddenly on Monday, Li received a call from a relative in China to say Hu was on a flight back to Los Angeles.

"We're grateful, we're very, very grateful for everybody's help and we're really happy to have him back home," Li said on behalf of herself and their two children.

Some believe Hu was released just before the upcoming summit between American President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping in California.

But Hu's ordeal should have never happened in the first place. However, it smells of someone being jealous of his knowledge and experience and wanting him to pay dearly for it; this someone also has very strong guanxi in order to not only arrest Hu on alleged trumped up charges and also prevent him from leaving the country.

He believes it started when the businessman tried to sell him inferior components and Hu refused to purchase them, but the well-connected executive refused to take no for an answer.

Hu only wanted to help his mother country become better, and yet his fellow Chinese did not see him as one of them.

In the meantime, many credit Hu's daughter Victoria for campaigning for her father's release. She was able to visit her father in 2010 and put up a petition on that collected over 60,000 signatures and set up a Facebook page called "Help Victoria's Father Dr Zhicheng Hu Come Home."

With his arrival, on Facebook she posted: "After 5 years, my dad is finally home! Watching him walk around trying to find the chopsticks is the best feeling ever."

Her mother tried diplomatic means to get her husband home, but somehow their prayers were miraculously heard on Monday.

While the Chinese government claims to warmly invite overseas Chinese to come back and share their knowledge, we're assuming Hu will never return to the motherland again. His ordeal is a warning to any Chinese outside the mainland that coming back can be like being in no man's land.