Friday, 31 January 2014

Horsey New Year Greetings

American Consul General Clifford Hart hanging out in a cha chaan teng
The US Consulate in Hong Kong has taken the opportunity to wish people a happy new year in the Year of the Horse.

Consul General Clifford Hart and his staff created a video that already has over 45,000 views.

In it a horse puppet named Hannah decides to go to from the United States to Hong Kong to offer herself as an alternative to green power.

She presents herself to the consulate's main doors where she is greeted by a security guard and then figuratively jumps through several interview hoops with various departments.

Hannah is questioned on how she can help each department and at the end of her pitch she adds "Did you know? It's my year -- the year of the horse!"

Finally she meets Hart and he uses the opportunity to show off his talent in speaking stilted Cantonese. A very good effort compared to most expats in Hong Kong, though Hannah responds back in English. He also likes to show that he likes to hang out with locals and eat egg waffles...

Might we add the British Consul General Caroline Wilson speaks pretty good Cantonese too in her video (over 26,000 views), though I hear she's better at speaking Putonghua...

She's more serious in tone with a few horsey metaphors in her speech, but we appreciate these diplomats for making an effort to bridge the cultural gap.

Will we see Hannah the Horse puppets available anytime soon?

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Galloping into the Year of the Wood Fire Horse

The fragrant water narcissus welcome in the new year at Victoria Park
Happy New Year! All the best in the Year of the Horse!

Today was a half day of work for most people, and while there weren't many people in the gym, they were lining up at bank machines taking out money, and in supermarkets buying up food for the next few days.

I remember almost 20 years ago when the entire city was shut down for Chinese New Year. Literally nothing was open, except for public transport. My expat male friends would stock up on instant noodles because they didn't know how to cook...

But thanks to the Asian financial crisis and successive economic problems, stores open one or two days afterwards, or if you're 7-11 or Circle K you're open year round regardless of the holiday. Some shops still take the five days off as it's their one major holiday of the whole year.

In any event this year was not bad for those who sold items at Victoria Park. Some cut prices to get rid of stock to break even, others who had really popular items like phone app cushions even raised prices because they was running out of them.

The flower stalls did very well this year because the weather warmed up and the flowers started to bloom and apparently there were many people who shelled out thousands of dollars for orchid plants.

However the biggest losers this year were the chicken sellers, particularly live ones whose birds had to be culled because of the detection of the H7N9 virus in mainland chickens. But the issue is that the birds are not checked at the border and instead after they are mixed in with the local chickens.

This practice has to stop because it hurts local producers; all birds are culled because it isn't detected until an autopsy is done. Traditional Hong Kong people like to eat fresh chicken and not frozen ones, and their habits will not change. And so the government needs to rethink how it inspects food from China.

The possibility of contracting H7N9 from chickens scared of many people who would have otherwise bought a frozen chicken. It should be a must for New Year's Eve dinners, but again this year it's off the table.

Fortune tellers have predicted the Year of the Horse will be a rocky one as it is characterized by wood and fire, which could lead to "explosions" with fire consuming the wood.

Some have interpreted this as the economic bubble bursting, property prices dropping or the overall financial picture of Hong Kong. It will also be politically unsettling with the possibility of Occupy Central later this year.

What's also interesting to note is that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was born in the Year of the Horse so he will face many difficulties this year.

And by the way the Lufsig toy at Ikea was all sold out yesterday -- some 2,000 of them snapped up in a few hours. What does that say about Hong Kongers and their opinion of Leung?

Hope he's ready for the rough ride in this Horse Year.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Lufsig's Popularity Continues

The paper cut-out version of Lufsig with grandma in tow
This morning I made the paper cut out Lufsig that was given to me by the Democratic Party at the Lunar New Year Fair at Victoria Park. The "paper craft" required lots of folding and nimble fingers to put it together. In the end it does look like the doll from Ikea that coincidentally is back on sale at the Causeway Bay, Kowloon Bay and Sha Tin stores.

A "paper craft" project handed out by the Democratic Party
About 2,000 of the stuffed wolves were available today with about 700 in each store. However to ensure everyone could get one, the stores handed out reservation tickets before the store opened and each customer could only buy one HK$99.90 ($12.86) wolf.

The first person at the Causeway Bay store waited in line at 6am and from pictures in the media it looks like there was a long queue for the toy.

Some bought Lufsig as a way to show their displeasure at Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, while others saw it as a symbol of democracy. Others were keen to make money off of it, with one guy in line hoping to sell the stuffed animal online for HK$689 -- the same number of votes he got from the 1,100 voting committee.
Lufsig is back on sale in Hong Kong garnering more fans

It's hilarious that Ikea has been swept up in this controversy -- that its toy was thrown at Leung and since then has been snapped up by pro-democracy locals. The company has pledged to meet customers' needs.

"Please don't worry. In case this batch of [Lufsig] is stock out, we shall try our very best to replenish our stock as quickly as possible to meet all of our customers' demand on our ordinary range," the store posted on its Facebook page.

The next batch of toy wolves are expected to arrive in late March or early April.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Lunar New Year Fair: Report from the Trenches

An overview of the Lunar New Year Fair at Victoria Park from an overpass
I just got back from Victoria Park to see what was up for grabs at the Chinese New Year fair. As expected there were tons of people, and after entering the Causeway Bay entrance there were so many people that at one point the crowd did not move for 30 seconds.

Which phone apps do you use?
But no one got upset -- people were in good spirits and didn't complain about how it was so crowded -- it is to be expected when you go to these kinds of events. Luckily the temperature was perfect so it wasn't too warm.

What was hot this year? Lots of equine-themed toys with the Year of the Horse coming on Friday, lots of minions from Despicable Me and then some trendy things like stuffed animals from the Japanese chat app Line and cushions that looked like phone apps like WeChat, WhatsApp, the Facebook "Like" sign, and icons for Instagram and Candy Crush.

Many of the young kids liked buying helium balloons though a few Hello Kittys and minions floated up in the sky...

The pan-democrats were out in force, some keen to bash Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. Some drew giant caricatures that made him look like he was beaten up, and one even made a giant stuffed Lufsig, based from the popular Ikea wolf toy with the grandma attached. That stall, manned by The Democratic Party, even handed out a paper cut out of the toy wolf.

A giant Lufsig with grandma attached
Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, former Legislative Councillor and former leader of the Civic Party was still out in her stall wearing fingerless gloves and writing Chinese calligraphy for donations. When she first got into politics she was ashamed her calligraphy wasn't very good, but after some lessons she actually quite enjoyed it and since then has shown up writing new year couplets for donations.

And of course Chinese New Year wouldn't be complete without flowers. The flower stalls sold lots of orchids -- some of the more expensive pots cost HK$6,888, and then there are the plum blossom trees, the Chinese equivalent of Christmas trees that people have at home and hang lai see envelopes on the branches.

There were lots of chrysanthemum flowers and water narcissus, some already in bloom -- which aren't the ones you want to buy now -- but they were so fragrant, their scent so gorgeous that I could smell it all day. I was tempted to buy some bulbs that were about to bloom, but in the end I decided my green thumb skills weren't good enough to a) discern which bulbs to buy and b) look after them well enough for them to bloom in time for Chinese New Year!

Beautiful and fragrant water narcissus already blooming
Another pungent scent was that of stinky tofu... it led to some food stalls that were also selling sugar cane drinks, squid balls, strawberries on sticks glazed in a syrup coating, and even chuar -- meat on giant skewers that were roasted on a grill then dipped in a giant tray of cumin that also smelled delicious. But alas I was still full from dinner!

After almost two hours touring around and the purchase of the stuffed rabbit from the Japanese phone app Line, I made it home and realized I was really wiped out. Done and dusted for another year.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Let Kids Be Kids

Children who have more time to play and sleep will learn better
I've written about this before -- toddlers barely out of their diapers are already attending school. And now parents are even looking for tutors for their 15-month-old babies.

Finally a retired teacher and now private tutor has come out with a book on how children should be educated.

Canadian Pat Kozyra's book is called Tips and Tidbits for Parents and Teachers and much of her advice is common sense... but perhaps for Hong Kong is too hard to swallow.

First of all she says children with too many scheduled activities can lead to a "chronic lack of sleep" and attention disorders. "This amount of regular good sleep is so important for a child but this doesn't seem to happen in Hong Kong," says Kozyra.

"I'm also observing more pupils with physical tics now than ever before. [Such tics] can be a sign of too much stress. Are we forcing these children to learn too much too fast? And what's happening to play?"

Kozyra came to Hong Kong in 2001 and taught at two international schools until she retired last June. In her book she says there are developmental benefits of children playing with simple toys such as balls.

However, she sees parents who want her to practice conversation with toddlers as young as 15 months old, while some children told her they had to take as many as 12 to 15 tutorials a week.

She hints part of the problem is good schools raising the bar higher for children to get in, and it's resulted in expecting children to read fluently at a young age when in other parts of the world they are not able to read at all. She cited Finland where children do not start reading until they are seven years old and also develop into the best readers in the world.

Another tip for parents is the importance of reading -- and this cannot be tutored, only be encouraged by the parents' initiative. Kozyra suggested parents should spend "quality time" with their children by reading to them.

"I often hear experts say you shouldn't stop reading to your children until they're in university. You can laugh at it but this is what the experts say. Most children just love to hear mummy or daddy read," she said.

One other important issue about parenting is the amount of time children in Hong Kong spend with domestic helpers. This is why, Kozyra says, it is critical to incorporate maids into the children's upbringing. Parents should have good communication with their domestic helpers and ask them to report the children's bad behaviour instead of ignoring it or blaming the maid for bringing it up.

"Note that your own attitude toward your helper will be reflected in your children," she said. She has seen children hitting, kicking and spitting at the helpers; part of the problem is that the domestic helpers spoil the children so that they won't upset their employers.

Kozyra's last point is an interesting observation, and very true. Some people in Hong Kong don't realize how their treatment of others, particularly domestic helpers, impacts their children.

And in light of the recent cases of Indonesian maids being treated less than human, one wonders how the children in those families treat others inside and outside the home.

In any event we hope Kozyra's warnings to parents to let their children have more playtime and rest will be heeded. The last thing Hong Kong needs are the next generation to hate learning and have nervous breakdowns by the age of 12.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Trying to Crush Civil Society

Xu Zhiyong on the cover of Esquire in 2009
We are not surprised but very disappointed to see Chinese President Xi Jinping crushing any kind of development of civil society.

This morning lawyer Xu Zhiyong was sentenced to four years in prison for "gathering a crowd to disturb order in a public place".

His crime? Calling for transparency and accountability of the Chinese government, that the country should be governed by rule of law.

The government likes to say that is is, and hopes the more times it says it, the more it becomes fact.

But the government's claims are far from the reality.

In fact Xu's own case was hardly an exercise in the rule of law.

His lawyers were not allowed to cross examine the prosecutor's witnesses, who only had to give written testimony and not appear in court;

His lawyers were not allowed to bring in their own witnesses; and they unsuccessfully challenged the legality of holding separate trials for Xu and the other activists, as it would have helped them in their defense.

As a result Xu and his lawyers did not speak during the one-day trial and in the end he tried to read out a manifesto calling for democratic change, freedom of speech and rule of law. After 10 minutes he was cut off by the judge, but the entire speech was put online.

After the verdict was read out and Xu said, "The court today has completely destroyed what remained of respect for rule of law in China," according to his lawyer Zhang Qingfang.

There is no rest for the wicked because the Chinese government has arrested another mild-mannered, rational activist, a Uighur professor by the name of Ilham Tohti.

Ilham Tohti lecturing to students in 2009
The authorities have accused him separatism and inciting ethnic hatred, and to indite him further, have suggested he has links to the terrorist group ETIM (East Turkestan Islamic Movement).

Tohti has been detained since January 15 when he was escorted out of his apartment on the campus of Minzu University of China by police. They took some 15 bags of documents, computers and cell phones while his wife and two children watched.

The Urumqi State Bureau of Security accuses the academic of inciting violence against the Chinese authorities and recruiting people to join the movement for an independent East Turkestan nation.

"Ilham Tohti exploited his status as a teacher to recruit, entice and coerce people to form gangs, and to collude with 'East Turkestan' leaders in planning, organizing and assigning people to go abroad to join in separatist activities," the statement said.

However, interviews with Tohti and his writings couldn't be further from these claims.

Ever since the Urumqi riots in 2009 that claimed almost 200 lives, he has been trying to explain that Uighurs feel repressed thanks to pro-Han Chinese policies in Xinjiang. Much of Tohti's academic work is about the high unemployment of young Uighurs who cannot compete for jobs with Han Chinese migrants.

He was advocating that the Chinese government revisit its economic policies in Xinjiang as well as its heavy-handed presence there.

But there continue to be eruptions of violence -- though we are not quite sure to what extent because foreign journalists are not allowed in the area. We are dependent on Xinhua reports that are not always accurate or spin a news story into opinion...

Officials say last Friday 12 people were killed in a town near Xinjiang's border with Kyrgyzstan in a clash involving explosive devices. State-run media said police shot six people in Aksu prefecture and six others died from three explosions with no further details.

Exile Uighur groups claim the clashes are caused by aggressive police tactics, while the police describe them as "terrorists" armed with knives and farming tools.

Tohti, who is fluent in both Mandarin and Uighur, has been trying to be the voice of reason, the middleman who is trying to diffuse the tensions between the two ethnic groups.

But the government deems him as unacceptable and in fact wants to brand him a terrorist.

What has he done wrong? What has Xu Zhiyong done wrong?

Both are trying to gently push the government in a direction towards greater harmony and less tensions, but yet the authorities see these two as a threat.

At this rate the hope for a flourishing civil society has been set back for the next few years. Meanwhile Xi's main goals are to further consolidate his power and the power of the Party.

Rule of law has become a metaphor for what the Party wants, not the People.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Li Na Conquers Australia

Li Na raises her arms in victory after winning her second Grand Slam title
Li Na has proven she is not just a one-hit wonder.

The 31-year-old won the Australian Open defeating Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova 7-6 (7-3), 6-0 tonight in Melbourne. It was the second Grand Slam the Chinese tennis player won after the French Open in 2011.

She attributes the win to her confidence, largely thanks to the psychological pep talks she has with coach Carlos Rodriguez since she started working with him in 2012.

Li's win also proves that the Chinese state system doesn't work for everyone. In 2008 she split from the Chinese Tennis Federation that previously ran her career and took a 65 percent cut from her earnings, according to CNN.

She now chooses who she wants to work with and also takes all the winnings and sponsorships -- which has made her a rich woman, as she acknowledged in her victory speech, by first thanking her agent Max Eisenbud, who she shares with Maria Sharapova.

Then she thanked her husband for being her hitting partner, mixing drinks and giving up his tennis career to be with her. "Thanks a lot, you are a nice guy. Also you are so lucky," she said in front of the audience.

He was in the stands laughing and clapping with delight. It's not the first time she's ribbed him publicly which is great, but also shows he's a progressive Chinese man as most mainland men wouldn't stand being ridiculed -- even if jokingly -- by their wife. Then again when she pulls in millions of dollars in sponsorships and wins, who cares?

In any event her speech was endearing to her fans, and she knows what to say, like thanking the sponsors for putting on the event.

She is definitely a fantastic role model for aspiring Chinese athletes because she demonstrates that sports isn't just about winning, it's about having fun and enjoying yourself on the court.

While the clock is ticking for her to chase after two more Grand Slams, Li shows that she's got a lot of determination to win and win big.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Cecil Chao Ups the Ante

Cecil Chao still thinks Gigi (right) should marry a man, not Sean Eav (left)
Poor Gigi Chao. Her father Cecil Chao Sze-tsung doesn't understand her sexual preferences and that she is married -- to another woman.

Two years ago Cecil announced he would give HK$500 million to the suitor who wins his daughter's heart. But after 20,000 applicants, he was disappointed none of them caught her heart and now he's doubled the "dowry" to HK$1 billion.

"I don't want to interfere with my daughter's private life," he said in an interview on January 20 with Malaysian paper Nanyang Siang Pau. "I only hope for her to have a good marriage and children as well as inherit my business."

He also insisted Gigi was still single and that it wasn't too late to change her thinking because she's only 33.

However she hit back in an interview with a Hong Kong paper. "First of all I'm concerned about his use of the word 'dowry' in an Asian country, as it is well known that dowry deaths are a human rights concern in India, and I don't want people to step backward on hearing this news," she said.

"Secondly, I don't think my dad's offering of any amount of money would be able to attract a man I would find attractive. Alternatively, I would be happy to befriend any man willing to donate huge amounts of money to my charity, Faith in Love, provided they don't mind that I already have a wife. Third and lastly, thank you Daddy, I love you too," she said.

Faith in Love Foundation is a charity Gigi founded that encourages volunteering to alleviate poverty.

Her response to her father doubling the "dowry" was markedly different from her reaction two years ago when she said she was "a really lucky girl to have such a loving daddy, because it's really sweet of him to do something like this as an expression of his fatherly love".

Perhaps she was hoping that the incident would go away and tried to spin it in a light-hearted way, but he also forced her out of the closet -- which she bravely handled.

She has since become an outspoken advocate for LGBT rights and is a founding member of the gay rights group Big Love Alliance along with other celebrities, Denise Ho and Anthony Wong. The alliance works to reduce discrimination against sexual minorities through public education and support networks.

However this latest development in Cecil upping the ante has made Gigi's partner of nine years, Sean Eav, "distraught".

Nevertheless, Gigi is doing her best to take it all in stride. "I understand that he loves me, it's just he's from another time and it's difficult for him to understand the plight of the LGBT [community]. At the office it's business as usual. At family gatherings we hug and dance. And we just agree to disagree on what marriage is and family is," she said.

When will Cecil Chao come to his senses and realize his daughter isn't going to marry a man any time soon?

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Fighting Words

Xu wants to create a more just society in China... what's wrong with that?
Xu Zhiyong is an activist lawyer and academic who is considered to be the leader of the New Citizens' Movement. In 2012 he wrote the movement sought "to completely destroy the privileges of corruption, the abuse of power, the gap between rich and poor and to construct a new order of fairness and justice".

The group called for the end of corruption, which is also in line with what Chinese President Xi Jinping is doing with his current campaign, but the leadership was not happy that this grassroots organization was advocating this and promptly arrested Xu.

He was put on trial yesterday without specific charges -- and no foreign media nor diplomats allowed in. As a result, Xu and his lawyers felt the proceedings were not open nor just, so they refused to speak in court.

Xu's lawyer said his client tried to read out a statement that spelled out his ideas of "liberty, justice and love", but was cut off by court officials after 10 minutes after he asked why China did not follow the practices of other countries having officials declare their assets.

His full statement was made available online, in which he questioned whether the authorities took citizens' constitutional rights seriously and said they had "deep fears" of public trials and "the looming free society".

Six other activists were also put on trial today and Xu added in his statement that the others were not guilty because they were pushing for democracy and the rule of law, and that he was willing to pay a price for his ideals.

There's no verdict yet in Xu's trial, but it is expected he and the others will be found guilty of the alleged crime of "assembling a crowd to disrupt order in a public place".

The thing is, 40-year-old Xu is anything but a radical. He is a soft spoken, rational person who has thought a lot about what is wrong about China and wants to fix it in a logical way -- on a case-by-case basis.

Born in central China's Henan province, Xu was 14 years old when he decided "to be a worthy Chinese citizen, a member of the group of people who promote the progress of the nation", he said in 2008. "I want to make people believe in ideals and justice, and help them see the hope of change."

He studied law at Lanzhou University in Gansu province and then later at Peking University. He then became a law lecturer at Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications.

In recent years he has tried to help many people, such as doing pro bono work in 2009 for families who were affected by the melamine milk scandal, and he was beaten for trying to visit blind activist Chen Guangcheng who was under house arrest.

He and a group of legal scholars started the Open Constitution Initiative in 2003, a grassroots organization promoting rule of law and constitutionalism. However, the authorities tried to shut down OCI by slapping it with a massive tax bill (claiming its donations were from overseas and should be taxed), and declared the group illegal. Xu was arrested but then released a month later after international outcry.

By arresting Xu and putting him and others on trial this week show the government's paranoia in grassroots groups that are pushing for rule of law and more openness, and is trying to squash the New Citizens' Movement.

Conversely by trying to destroy this group, other Chinese have taken an interest in New Citizens' Movement -- because if the government doesn't like it, the group must be doing something right.

So if and when Xu gets locked up behind bars, there is hope others will pick up the mantle and continue spreading his words behind the New Citizens' Movement. All he wants is for people to be more aware of their rights, as well as their right to protect their rights.

They shouldn't have to fight for rights that are inherent... but in China it's an ongoing battle between the state and the individual.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Fact of the Day: HK Flats are "Unaffordable"

Many families in Hong Kong live in cramped conditions like this one
We already knew this in Hong Kong, but now we have proof -- the city has the most unaffordable housing in the world -- for the fourth year in a row too.

The survey of 360 cities was done by US-based consultancy Demographia, and it found Hong Kong was number one, followed by Vancouver and Honolulu.

Hong Kong's median home price was found to be more than HK$4.02 million ($518,181), while the annual median household income of HK$270,000 was nearly one-15th of the home price.

As a result Demographia rated the housing affordability in the city as "severely unaffordable".

"It is impossible for the salary income to catch up," said Hong Kong Polytechnic University real estate professor Eddie Hui Chi-man.

He said that property prices continued to rise as the government did not increase the land supply. Hui says the housing problem will continue for the next two years as it will not be eased until more housing is available in 2016.

"Despite the government cooling measures in the property market, property prices would only drop a few percent this year,' he said. "The prices are still out of the budget of ordinary families."

Demographia calculates that if housing exceeds three times annual household incomes, then serious political issues need to be addressed with regards to land supply, infrastructure planning, provisioning and financing.

When compared to other Asian countries, Singapore's media home price is 5.1 times the gross annual median household income.

And people wonder why Hong Kong people are so obsessed with the housing issue...

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Pictures of the Day: Flabby Buddhas

The rolling flesh of these naked Buddhas led to complaints to take them down
Competition is stiff these days which is why companies on the mainland try to differentiate themselves from others with a gimmick or two to catch people's attention.

In the case of a hot pot restaurant in Jinan, Shandong province, there were two giant statues of what looked like naked and chubby Buddhas clambering on top of the roof of the building.

They looked like Buddhas because of their long earlobes but also one of them had his hands clasped in prayer.

But did they have to be butt naked? And really fat?

From a distance they're eye-catching, but stark naked?
"I burst into tears when I saw naked Buddha's climbing over the wall! How can a nation with thousands of years of history have so little respect for its own culture?" a monk from a monastery in Qinghai wrote on his microblog.

Monks microblog?

In any event, the building's developer issued a statement saying the two figures were just "two happy fat people".

But now, as the statement adds, the two sculptures have been taken down due to "defects".

Because they lacked clothing, perhaps?

Monday, 20 January 2014

Grandpa Wen's Letter

Ex-premier Wen Jiabao with wife Zhang Peili (far left) with Ng Hong-mun
Former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao must not be enjoying retirement so much... he seems very concerned about his legacy even though he left office over a year ago.

He sent a hand-written letter to Ming Pao columnist Ng Hong-mun, that was published in the paper. In it Wen insisted on his innocence in a bid to try to contain the damage after a explosive article by the The New York Times that reported from publicly-available sources that his family and relatives accumulated $2.7 billion in assets during his leadership.

"I want to walk the last journey in this world well," Wen wrote. "I came to this world with bare hands and I want to leave this world clean."

It is interesting to note Wen says "I" and not "my family" or "we"... So while he may claim innocence he still isn't clear on whether his family benefited from his position in government or not.

However it is well known that his wife Zhang Peili reportedly help control the Chinese diamond market and is known as China's "Diamond Queen", while his son Wen Yunsong or Winston Wen heads one of the country's largest private equity firms.

Wen may be pressured to come clean as another former member of the Standing Committee Zhou Youkang is apparently under investigation for corruption.

Zhou's associates and former aides are currently being investigated for graft, and China watchers believe Wen is worried he may be next.

When The New York Times story came out, Wen's family threatened to sue, but did not follow through.

Columnist Ng said in an article that he befriended the former premier from his writings, and he was invited to Beijing in April 2011 for a meeting and banquet with Wen.

Ng did not say if he received permission to publish the letter.

But one can surmise that Wen was keen to send a message proclaiming his innocence without publicly saying it.

Chinese President Xi Jinping's campaign to crack down on lavish spending has sustained its momentum after over a year -- usually these exercises last a few months and things return to normal. But no one knows how long this latest one will end.

It will be a matter of time before we hear if Wen is also investigated. If that happens, the former premier's hard work of trying to cultivate the image of Grandpa Wen will be wiped out.

No one will look at him the same way again.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Pre-New Year Rituals

Many locals come to Wong Tai Sin to pray to the gods to improve their fates
Yesterday my friend and I made our second annual pilgrimage to Wong Tai Sin ahead of Chinese New Year on January 31.

We arrived late in the afternoon and thankfully it wasn't too busy, and a beautiful day to visit.

The temple is very organized, with designated places for people to light their incense, and periodically staff remove these joss sticks from containers in front of altars so that they don't get too crowded and catch fire, or people burn themselves. It's a shame people use a lot of the incense sticks, but everyone wants to make their offerings to the gods.

More offerings and bows to the gods
We also contributed to the mass pile of incense, buying a packet each and lighting them. Then we visited each of the gods of wealth, health, blessings and then Wong Tai Sin or Great Immortal Wong himself.

After placing most of the incense there, we paid a visit to the god of marriage, but we didn't subject ourselves to a strange ritual in how you present red ribbons to the deity before tying the knot on the marriage rope between statues of a bride and groom. I did it last year and got me no where!

We visited a few more deities before picking up a can filled with bamboo sticks and did "kao cim" where you decide what you want to ask for, then shake the can at an angle until one stick comes out that has a number on it.

When this was done we hunted down a fortune teller to help us decipher the poems correlated to the numbers we had.

My friend wanted to see a relatively famous fortune teller and there was a line in front of his stall. We waited about half an hour, and got in just before 5pm, closing time.

As a result he was very quick with reading my fortune, rambling on as if he'd said this many times before (probably true), throwing in cliche phrases here and there.

The god of marriage is popular at this time
Basically all he said was: These fortunes aren't great so just stay the course. HK$60 please.

I didn't take much stock into what he said -- while they were somewhat related to my birth month and year, he didn't ask me much more than that and didn't make any calculations, hence the stock phrases.

So while he says to stay the course, I'd rather take fate into my own hands and make some lemonade this year with a splash of vodka to make things more interesting. Life's too short to pick out crappy fortunes.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Opening Tourism Gates Wider

Can you imagine even more visitors in places like Causeway Bay?
The Hong Kong government continues to bank on mainland tourists to prop up the city's economy.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So Kam-leung projects there could be 70 million visitors in the next three years and 100 million within a decade to Hong Kong.

He also claimed the city could cope with the extra visitors, but did admit there could be problems, like congestion in the MTR.

"There will be an impact on citizens... they may not be able to get on the MTR and need to wait for the next train," So said.

He obviously has not taken the MTR during rush hour, where commuters have to wait three or four trains before they can get on.

This was one of the complaints of angry residents who believe the government is out of touch with what is really going on in terms of overcrowding for transport services and how there are fewer quieter places left to enjoy in the city.

Critics not only suggested setting a limit to the number of visitors to Hong Kong but also predicted there would be even more tensions between locals and mainlanders.

However So insisted that because Hong Kong is an open port, "we cannot and should not set a limit to the number of visitors," he said, adding that tourism accounted for 4.5 percent of the city's gross domestic product and provided 230,000 jobs.

Activist Roy Tam Ho-pong of the Population Policy Concern Group, says there is a big gap between what the government says to what the people feel. He said the government failed to take into account citizens' views.

"The streets are full of shops selling cosmetics, electronics, gold jewellery and pharmacies," he said. "Citizens are angry about the elimination of shops which cater to their needs."

Tourism heads, including Travel Industry Council executive director Joseph Tung Yao-chung and tourism sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing thought So's estimates were reasonable and that there should be more hotels in rural areas.

The government also wants to encourage tourists to go to less conventional attractions and to Lantau. Isn't Disneyland there already? And what other places would mainlanders like to visit when they'd rather shop in Causeway Bay, Tsim Sha Tsui and Mongkok?

It really does seem like the government has thought out its tourism strategy and in particular how the city is going to cope with millions more visitors. Officials have no realization that Hong Kong is pretty much at capacity already -- but more importantly mainlanders are going elsewhere like Europe and North America to shop.

While Hong Kong may be their first destination abroad, it doesn't mean mainlanders will come back again and again. It's either the government's wishful thinking or belief that opening the city's doors even wider will gain more approval from Beijing...

Friday, 17 January 2014

Cruel Intentions

Indonesian domestic helpers protesting against violent mistreatment
This week we read about the shocking plight of Indonesian domestic helpers in Hong Kong. One is now recovering in hospital back in Indonesia after suffering injuries to her legs as well as cuts and burns all over her body she claims were inflicted by her employer.

Erwiana Sulistyaningsih is 23 years old and she came to Hong Kong last May to work for her employer in Tseung Kwan O. When she returned to Indonesia on January 10, a friend had to help her walk through the airport because she was in so much pain, according to the Association of Indonesian Migrant Workers' Hong Kong branch.

It also said her employer gave her HK$100 and told her not to speak to any Indonesians before she boarded the plane.

Indonesian consulate staff tried to contact her employer but he refused to open the door; only when police arrived did he comply, but even then gave very few details.

And now a second Indonesian woman has come out to say she was also suffered similar injuries to Erwiana back in 2010. Yesterday 28-year-old Bunga said she suffered 10 months of beatings and even death threats.

"One time the employer got so angry she dragged me onto the balcony and threatened to throw me off it. She made me beg for my life," Bunga said. "I told her that she could beat me as much as she wanted, but I went on my knees and begged her not to kill me because I had a son."

She also said she was not allowed out of the Tsueng Kwan O flat and was locked inside when the family went out.

Bunga also told of how her employer threatened to pay the Indonesian police to kill her family back home if she told anyone about the mistreatment.

What is going on here? Isn't Hong Kong supposed to be a civilized society?

We are seeing more cases of maids being violently mistreated by the employers. Why is this happening? Are these employers sick people who take pleasure in inflicting pain on others?

Worst of all there are no proper checks and balances when women from the Philippines, Indonesia and now Bangladesh come to Hong Kong to work as domestic helpers.

First there are some unscrupulous employment agencies that demand extremely high service fees particularly from Indonesian maids who think they can make back the money working in Hong Kong.

However, they end up being indentured slaves because to pay for the employment fees, the agencies lend the women money with high interest and so they can hardly ever pay back the entire amount.

Also not all these agencies are looking out for the maids' best interests and aren't there when they need help. In Indonesian cases, sometimes the consulate isn't available either.

Some employers may not have the patience to deal with Indonesian domestic helpers because of their lack of English skills and the need to completely train them to do housekeeping and cooking.

And then the Hong Kong government seems to turn a blind eye to the conflicts between domestic helpers and their employers. To avoid having too many maids without jobs hanging around the city, the domestic helpers have only two weeks to find another job otherwise they have to leave.

It seems like the government doesn't want to interfere in what goes on in people's homes, but surely it should be aware of how its residents are treating foreign workers -- as they would other human beings.

There are stories of maids living in very cramped quarters -- because the government has not legislated the requirements of the space -- some even sleeping on kitchen and bathroom floors.

How many more incidents of badly beaten domestic helpers does it take before the government steps in and lays down the rules?

We should add there are many families who treat their domestic helpers very well, not quite to the extent of a family member, but some are paid more than the mandated salary, or given extra pay for working overtime.

This latest incident has made Hong Kong look like a place filled with evil employers so why would anyone want to come here to work as a domestic helper?

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Commemorations Have Already Begun

Imagine Tiananmen Square 25 years ago filled with people calling for change
This year marks the 25th anniversary of what happened in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, and already activists have begun marking the event with a five-month hunger strike.

People are not going without food for all five months -- they are taking turns not eating for one day, while holding protests at various Chinese embassies and diplomatic missions around the world.

The campaign, dubbed "a global seige" in Chinese, is organized by several people including dissident Wang Dan, calling for the Chinese government to be held accountable for what happened a quarter of a century ago.

Wang already began the hunger strike on January 1 and Democratic Party lawmaker Albert Ho Chun-yan and League of Social Democrats members Andrew To Kwan-hang and Avery Ng Man-yuen each took their turns not eating on the three days that followed.

The former dissident leader hopes the momentum will continue until June 4 and one can expect this year's event at Hong Kong's Victoria Park will be a huge turnout to say the least.

The Chinese government would not care if someone went on a hunger strike to protest against it for killing thousands of civilians, but protesting loudly and in large groups in front of embassies would be highly embarrassing.

I didn't know this, but there will be the first permanent museum of the incident opening in Tsim Sha Tsui in April.

It is initiated by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Movements in China, which bought space in a building for HK$9.7 million and made the announcement on December 21.

"We want to target the younger generation, those born after the massacre, and the mainlanders, who live in a place where the words 'June 4' are banned," said alliance chairman Lee Cheuk-yan. "The museum might help them to understand their history objectively."

Last year the alliance had a temporary museum set up in Sham Shui Po and then moved it to City University this year, attracting some 21,000 visitors. Lee said the temporary museum could not display more valuable items for security reasons but the new space may solve that problem.

It is expected the museum will charge HK$20, a reasonable amount and there surely will be curious mainlanders wanting to see why they can't find this information online back in China.

It looks like this year China will be on the defensive, as dissidents come out of the woodwork and activists descend on various Chinese embassies around the world, calling for accountability.

But China will definitely be silent on the issue, 25 years later. It hasn't even begun to resolve the Cultural Revolution, let alone Tiananmen Square. Nevertheless we just want the victims to know they have not been forgotten and we continue to fight for justice.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Bathroom Relief

Lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun barely fits into this bathroom in Tuen Mun
It must have been a shock for legislators to have a first-hand look at what really tiny bathrooms are like.

For example, New People's Party Michael Tien Puk-sun has lived a privileged life and also co-founded the G2000 clothing chain before he went into public service.

But yesterday he got a chance to inspect some flats in a Tuen Mun public housing estate where the bathrooms are, as residents describe them, "inhumanely small".

How small is "insanely small"? The space is so tight one can barely turn around in it without his or her body parts hitting something. Residents have to shower above the toilet and that's also where the sink is too.

There's a picture of Tien and his shoulders practically fill the width of the bathroom walls and he's barely able to raise his right arm without bumping into the wall.

He looked at the flats with fellow lawmaker Wong Kwok-hing and now these bathrooms at Po Tin Estate will be enlarged by 30 percent for a bit more elbow room. The renovation will cost up to HK$80 million and take three weeks per flat.

"After the improvement works, they will be able to accommodate two people," Wong said.

Chan Han-sum is 81 years old and has lived in the estate for nine years. She finds it a drag when she bathes and washes her hair. "I've hurt my head and elbows many times before when I turned around or picked up something in the bathroom," Chan said. She is now looking forward to her bathroom becoming bigger now.

One may wonder why the bathrooms were built so tiny in the first place, but the estate was originally a temporary accommodation for homeless people not eligible for permanent public housing. The 8,736 flats range between 88 to 305 square feet. Then many of the flats were turned into public rental housing in 2004.

Nevertheless, we have to wonder why even homeless people are subjected to such tiny spaces -- or are they supposed to be so grateful to have a roof over their heads that bumping their arms and heads in tiny bathrooms should be a given?

Wong urges the Housing Department to learn from this experience. "Although interim housing estates are intended to provide only temporary accommodation, I hope the department can be more people-oriented and avoid inhumane treatment of residents."

In the end we are all human beings and a bit more space would give people dignity and in turn self-esteem and happiness. We know that space is at a premium in Hong Kong, but it's not like the city isn't rich.

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah is trying to scare us by projecting that Hong Kong's reserves will run out in 20 years because of the rising numbers of elderly the city would have to take care of by then.

What about being more concerned about today's problems?

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Standing Up to Beijing

Beijing's tentacles seems to be creeping into Hong Kong one way or another, as some believe the city is "ruled by Western", referring to the Hong Kong Liaison Office in Sai Ying Pun.

Others think Beijing's influence on Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is too strong and believe he is not looking out for Hong Kong interests as he had promised.

In any event it's reassuring to hear that the city's judiciary intends to be impartial in upholding rule of law and not allowing any interference from Beijing.

Yesterday during the opening ceremony for the 2014 legal year, both Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li and Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung both reiterated that it was important for judges to remain independent and follow the rule of law in both spirit and letter, as well as have transparency.

They may have made these statements to respond to Liaison office propaganda chief Hao Tiechuan, who said last year that Hong Kong could not exercise separation of powers because the chief executive had more power than the legislature and the judiciary.

However Ma said the Basic Law stipulated clearly and repeatedly that Hong Kong exercised separation of powers between the executive, legislature and judiciary, and that there was "no cooperation" between them.

"Some have even indicated that they would compile a list of judges whom they considered politically biased and would request their removal," Yuen said. "However well-intended their subjective motives might be, such conduct should not be encouraged," he said.

"Deliberate attempts to act in breach of the law, even for causes which may sound noble, should not be encouraged."

So rest assured. While some government policies may seem like they are kowtowing to Beijing, at least the judiciary claims it won't stand for any meddling.

And skeptics wonder why Hong Kong still hasn't become another Chinese city...

Monday, 13 January 2014

Hopes for Greener Hong Kong

These recycling bins look cute, but hardly big enough for Hong Kong
Last month, two green groups in Hong Kong organized a one month pilot project to get residents in Tai Kok Tsui to recycle as much of their waste as possible.

In the end 90 percent of 88 households took part and they managed to reduce the amount of trash going to landfills by 30 percent while the amount of recyclable material increased fivefold.

Friends of the Earth and Greeners Action organized the experiment as the government is planning to decide how to best introduce paid waste removal.

Each household received 15 large plastic bags which would have cost HK$3 each, and 45 smaller bags valued at HK$1 each. Even though the households didn't actually purchase the bags, they did think twice about what they threw away.

Before the pilot scheme, the households involved threw away on average a total of 110kg of waste per day. In the first week of the experiment the amount of garbage dropped 19 percent and then by the last week it was down 30 percent.

"We talked to the households after the campaign and 78 percent told us their awareness of waste reduction had been boosted through the campaign," said Angus Ho Hon-wai, executive director of Greeners Action.

There were also recycling bins placed in the building and the participating residents were educated about the importance of recycling. As a result before the campaign just 5.4kg of material was recycled per day. But it increased by 5.3 times in the second week, and then ended up being 16kg per day in the last week of December.

So many glass bottles are dumped in the trash everyday in HK
It's a good indication that the government has not done enough to educate residents about recycling and making it easier for people to do it. There are many people in Hong Kong who want to recycle but have to make an effort to bring the materials to the nearest street corner that has the bins and even then most of the time they are overflowing.

Others have no awareness of recycling and use the bins for garbage. Again this is the government's fault for not actively educating residents about the importance of recycling and how it is good for the environment.

For me, recycling is relatively convenient with bins located outside my apartment building, but at times it can be packed to the gills and I have to cram paper and plastic bottles in there.

However there is no permanent glass recycling system set up which is ridiculous in such a cosmopolitan city where many restaurants serve wine and people drink beer from glass bottles. Hong Kong Cleanup says the city produces 300 tonnes of domestic glass waste but only 1 percent of it is recycled!

Currently volunteer groups go out to collect bottles and even then they have to compete against the city's garbage collectors which is ridiculous.

A few days ago in an annual survey, I suggested to my building's management that there be glass recycling and today one of the staff contacted me to say it will take four months to get that sorted but in the meantime they will try to offer glass collection once a month.

Cities like Vancouver have already gone a step further with food recycling. All kinds of food items from fruit peels to bones and leftover food can be placed in a bin that is collected once a week like the garbage and recycling. Yes it can be smelly particularly in the summer, but it's for the greater good -- for the next generation.

It will take Hong Kong many years yet to follow suit. We need to everyone on board to make recycling a regular habit before we can even begin to address the icky issue of food recycling. But the government really needs to make it more convenient for people otherwise especially in Hong Kong, many won't bother.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Tower of Cool at PolyU

PolyU's Innovation Tower looms in the skyline at dusk
The other day I had a chance to take a peek inside the new Jockey Club Innovation Tower on the campus of Polytechnic University.

The unfinished stairways have a sculpted look to them
There's no mistaking the building when you see it -- a large white structure that seems to have no sharp angles and feels like it should be in some futuristic community. Oh wait -- aren't universities supposed to be projecting into the future?

It was designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid who was the first woman and Muslim to win the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004. She describes the fluid character of the building is "generated through an intrinsic composition of its landscape, floor plates and louvers that dissolves the classic typology of the tower and the podium into an iconic seamless piece."

Still unfinished, but the building has undulating waves
While the striking structure is easy to find on campus, getting there is trying as the usually clear signage at Poly U was virtually non existent to get to Innovation Tower even though it's on the map.

However, once you get there, the building -- which still has yet to be finished by March -- is white, clean and open in the foyer. There are temporary exhibitions in this new home for the university's School of Design, and offices, meeting rooms and work spaces upstairs.

We watched some construction workers on the ninth floor putting the finishing touches on a sculpted stairway, and one was periodically blowing dust our way which made us feel like we needed to wear masks!

Inside bamboo scaffolding prove useful here
Nevertheless, it was interesting to see bamboo scaffolding used in the space -- the workers going up and down them like monkeys -- which was a nice Hong Kong touch to the otherwise white space.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Divorced from Reality

Florence Tsang Chiu-wing (right) fought over Samanthur Li-kan's assets (left)
In 2011 Hong Kong was riveted by a high profile divorce case between Samanthur Li Kin-kan and Florence Tsang Chiu-wing.

Li is the son of Samuel Tak-lee, head of Prudential Enterprise that has a collection of global real estate developments and owns the Prudential Hotel in Jordan.

The divorce proceedings came about when Tsang got pregnant and refused Li's demand that she get an abortion, and then she discovered he was having an affair.

Thus began a legal battle that allowed the rest of us to peek into the lives of the uber rich.

The court heard how Li liked to splurge more than HK$100 million on himself, and at one point had a Boeing business jet, two yachts, 28 cars and millions of dollars worth of wine.

Meanwhile she claimed she was used to her lavish lifestyle, and the court awarded her HK$250 million for a property in Hong Kong, HK$30 million for a place in London, HK$2.5 million for two cars in Hong Kong and another HK$1 million for a set of wheels in London.

She also got HK$5 million to buy a yacht and HK$4.6 million to enable to her to join clubs in both Hong Kong and London.

In the end Tsang was awarded a whopping HK$1.4 billion which must have freaked out all married men in Hong Kong. Part of the reasoning was because the court felt Li and his father had deliberately tried to lower the value of Li's assets by transferring some of them into the father's name.

Li and his father appealed to the Court of Appeal and yesterday it slashed Tsang's divorce settlement to HK$411 million, saying the lower court was wrong to include Li's multi-billion dollar real estate investment in Japan, which was developed with seed money from his father (that he bought back for a nominal sum of HK$1).

The Court of Appeal also ruled that Tsang had her own assets and so HK$411 million would be enough. Li had already given her HK$202.8 million already so the remaining balance was HK$208 million.

Will Tsang be able to live comfortably on HK$411 million her ex-husband gives her? It more than covers the lifestyle she seems to have demanded.

The lesson learned? The rich get mind-boggling richer and even their ex-wives aren't living too shabbily even though their original settlement was reduced by two-thirds.

And people wonder why Hong Kong women only want to meet rich men...

Friday, 10 January 2014

Whopping Fine for Zhang Yimou

Zhang Yimou has to shell out for three kids
Yesterday Chinese officials said film director Zhang Yimou must pay more than 7.5 million yuan ($1.24 million) in fines for violating the one-child policy -- I mean family planning rules.

He admitted recently that he and his second wife have three children.

A district government in Wuxi, Jiangsu province said investigators concluded the couple ignored the policy by having the children without approval -- and before they got married.

Double whammy.

Apparently the whopping fine was calculated based on the couple's annual income.

So perhaps unlike the rest of us Zhang has more than enough to easily pay the fine?

What's fascinating is that Zhang seemed so keen to be back in the government's good books (leading to his direction of the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics) that he neglected to inform the relative authorities about his having more than one child. Surely if he had done that earlier, we probably wouldn't be writing about this now.

But alas Zhang was caught and now he is paying the consequences.

Perhaps this is also a government tactic to kill the chicken to scare the monkeys?

Nevertheless many bloggers in China criticized the high fines and said this was driving away top talent from the country, that the fines would probably line corrupt officials' pockets and one even encouraged Zhang to leave the country.

It will definitely be interesting to see what he does next in light of this scandal that happened several months ago. Perhaps a movie based on his run-in with the government?

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Brash, Bold... Bust?

Chen Guangbiao selling cans of "fresh air" with his likeness on them
Chinese tycoons. They think they can buy up whatever they want.

But Chen Guangbiao is finding this out the hard way.

The multimillionaire made his wealth in tearing down buildings and bridges and recycling the material, and has done publicity stunts like sell canned fresh air and handing out cash to victims of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

But probably his biggest stunt so far was his opinion piece in the January 5 edition of the Global Times where he wrote he was disappointed in the negative coverage of China and felt that he could influence American media by buying $1 billion worth of shares of the New York Times.

He even warned readers that he was serious and that it was not a joke.

This past week he did fly to New York and hoped to have a meeting with shareholders of the Times but this did not pan out. He probably didn't know that the company is set up so that there are two kinds of shares: ones that are publicly traded but do not affect the running of the company, and the others that are majority controlled by the Ochs-Sulzberger family that has owned the paper for more than 100 years.

After his failed attempt, he was ridiculed in the media for his business card that he purportedly handed out to the media:

Apparently this is what his business card looks like...
It has a passport picture of him on the left and on the right are numerous grandiose titles he obviously made up for himself. They include: "Most influential person in China", "Most prominent philanthropist of China" followed by "Most charismatic philanthropist of China", and we love this one -- "Most well-known and beloved role model".

Despite his public setback, Chen is undeterred. In fact he is know publicly pondering buying another paper. "I am going to talk to the Wall Street Journal and find out if it's for sale," he said in an interview with Sinovision, a New York-based TV station.

Chen added he was well aware many American newspapers were owned by Jews and that he had "equally competent IQ and EQ" compared to Jews. "I am very good at working with Jews," he said.

Chen likes to demonstrate he has gobs of cash lying around...
Uh huh.

So we are waiting with baited breath to see what the WSJ will say.

In the meantime we get the sinking feeling that Chen isn't leaving the US until he acquires an American paper.

Americans appreciate someone who's brash and determined, but probably not the way Chen is presenting himself...

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Sky-High Viewing

Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in Behind the Candelabra about Liberace
On my flight back to Vancouver I watched three movies: Don Jon, Behind the Candelabra and Despicable Me 2. It's an eclectic mix, but I've been wanting to watch them and glad I was able to catch up.

Behind the Candelabra, about the relationship between Liberace and his much younger lover Scott Thorson was very compelling thanks to the top notch acting by Michael Douglas as the top entertainer and Matt Damon as the young man who was still trying to figure out his identity.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson in Don Jon
I admire Joseph Gordon-Levitt for writing and directing Don Jon. He examines how pornography can affect young men's perceptions about love and relationships, that the highly-sexualized images they see online are contrived and not very fulfilling.

Despicable Me 2? It was fun, not particularly clever but an interesting storyline. Love the minions, who are apparently going to have their own movie...

I also like watching documentaries which YTSL knows all too well and watched one called Wonder Woman! The Untold Story of American Superheroines, which talks about the origins of the comic book character and how her existence empowered but also hindered the women's liberation movement.

Comic book aficionados were interviewed as well as historians and Gloria Steinem recalling in her childhood how Wonder Woman was very inspiring, but that men didn't take the feminist movement seriously.

The documentary even interviews Lynda Carter who played Wonder Woman. She either has an amazing skin care regime or has a very good plastic surgeon because she hardly looks like she's aged at all.

Lindsay Wagner who played the Bionic Woman looks more "real" and is also interviewed. She says she receives fan mail from women saying that because of you I work at NASA now, that show that even a comic book character on TV can have a lasting impression on a girl.

Parker Mah and Bethany Orr interview a Chinese immigrant
And then I watched Being Chinese in Quebec or Etre Chinois au Quebec. Two fourth generation Chinese Canadians, Parker Mah originally from Vancouver and Bethany Orr who was born in Hong Kong but her ancestors had roots in Quebec, go on a road trip to find other Chinese Canadians in the predominantly French-speaking province.

Not only do they have this in common but also their ancestors came to Canada in the 1800s and had to pay the head tax subjected to Chinese immigrants. It wasn't until 2006 did the Canadian government apologize and financially compensate only those who were still alive or their spouses.

Mah and Orr try to quiz mainland Chinese immigrants in Quebec about the head tax but they don't know anything about it so the documentary then quickly shifts its focus to interviewing Chinese Canadians on how they got to Quebec and how they like living there.

It's impressive to see the mainland Chinese immigrants speak decent French though a bit haltingly. For the most part they are able to express themselves and quite like Quebec. Many find the people are friendly and humorous and their laid-back lifestyle teaches the Chinese to relax and have some balance in their lives.

One young family immigrated to Quebec for a better life for their son, another who has two PhDs is working in a convenience store because his French isn't fluent enough to get a teaching job. They also meet two young Chinese women at a nearby university, one of which explains she couldn't understand why the receptionist said "Salut!" every morning because to her it sounded like "stupid" in Mandarin!

The two intrepid reporters also talk to second and third generation Chinese Canadians who recall having to translate everything for their parents when they were growing up, the racism they endured, and how these experiences inspired them to do community service work, or to become a lawyer to defend their rights, or even to be a politician.

We also see the varying degrees of linguistic ability. While Mah is fluent in English and French, he can't speak a word of Chinese, though Orr speaks Cantonese but can't read or write. They meet a third-generation Chinese Canadian whose family runs a restaurant and she is trilingual in French, English and Cantonese.

Mah is impressed and reflects on his own upbringing -- that his parents were more keen on him integrating into Canada than know more about his own ethnic culture.

It was interesting to meet the different people and their various outlooks on life and identity. One would probably assume that the Chinese Canadian experience in every province would be very similar in terms of the variety of experiences.