Friday, 28 February 2014

The Tycoon Speaks

Li Ka-shing voiced his opinions about Hong Kong's future today
Hong Kong's richest man Li Ka-shing finally made an appearance in front of the media at the post-earnings results press conference for Cheung Kong (Holdings) and Hutchison Whampoa.

He lectured Hong Kong people to stop complaining about mainland tourists in the city because they support the local economy.

"It will be very difficult for Hong Kong if there's no support from China," he said. "Stop scolding China tourists, this is totally wrong."

But Li doesn't have to walk the streets hearing Putonghua everywhere or have to take public transport and see or smell kids urinating or defecating in the MTR carriages. Imagine him dealing with that!

In any event it was good to hear him voice his disappointment that the upcoming APEC finance ministers' conference being moved from Hong Kong to Beijing.

"I hope Hong Kong can be recognized by our own country and other countries as the ideal place to host such international meeting," he said.

And then when asked about press freedom, in particular the chopping attack on former Ming Pao editor Kevin Lau Chun-to, Li was very concerned about the state of press freedom in Hong Kong.

"Violence can in no way be right. No matter what, the rule of law is the most important (aspect) in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is nothing without rule of law."

He added press freedom "is our core value. If Hong Kong does not have press freedom, Hong Kong will face huge losses".

Li is correct on these two points. Rule of law and press freedom are what make Hong Kong different from China, and without them all confidence would be lost in the city.

Which is why we need to protect them even more than ever as we're seeing them erode so quickly after the handover.

After living in Beijing for three years, I was eager to go back to Hong Kong where I had freedom of speech, press and rule of law. I also knew these values were disintegrating too, which compelled me to come back and defend them in whichever way I could.

We cannot assume the government will defend them for us -- we need to do that ourselves or we are to blame for losing them.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Condemnation and Sympathy

It is a relief to read that former Ming Pao editor Kevin Lau Chun-to is stable after his surgery and can communicate by writing. However he needs his rest before he can give a statement to the police to further their investigation of who did this horrific attack on him yesterday morning.

Everyone has been talking about the incident and how it sends shivers down their backs.

Other than Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and the Hong Kong Journalists Association, one of the first diplomats to give a statement was US Consul Clifford Hart.

His statement read in part: "We welcome the Hong Kong Government's condemnation of this vicious crime and commitment to conduct a thorough investigation to bring the perpetrators swiftly to justice".

Today the European Union also issued a statement along the same lines.

There was speculation that perhaps Lau was involved with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists due to Ming Pao's reports of the business affairs of senior Chinese officials.

While the ICIJ didn't believe there was evidence to link the two, it was concerned that the incident "does reflect the real concern and anxiety felt by many in the Hong Kong press corps over continuing threats to press freedom".

This incident needs to be reported around the world so that people know what is happening here in terms of freedom of speech and rule of law... that they are fast eroding.

Of the attacks on journalists and commentators that have happened over the years, hardly any of them have been brought to justice.

Doesn't it also seem strange that not a peep has been heard from either Beijing or the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office about Lau's attack?

One would think it would be the diplomatic thing to do...

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Press Freedom in Critical Condition

Ex-Ming Pao editor Kevin Lau wheeled out after surgery under media glare
Former Ming Pao editor Kevin Lau Chun-to is fighting for his life after he was attacked by two men with choppers in Sai Wan Ho.

He was the editor who was shunted aside to make way for pro-Beijing Malaysian Chong Tien Siong, who has no local experience, which was one of the main reasons for Sunday's march of 6,000 people for press freedom.

Lau suffered six cuts, the most serious one was a 16cm-long wound that went from his back to his left chest cavity, severing "all the muscles" in between, said Dr Tang Chung-ngai, chief of service at Pamela Youde Neversole Eastern Hospital in Chai Wan.

"Luckily, his lung tissue, major blood vessels and diaphragm were undamaged," said Tang. A 4cm-long cut on his back near his left shoulder was a superficial one.

Just after 10.30am Lau was attacked on Tai Hong Street as he was getting out of his car and even manged to call the police to tell them he'd been ambushed and that the two attackers had fled on a motorcycle.

The chilling incident overshadowed the commencement of Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah's budget speech where he doled out few sweetners (no more electricity subsidies and cigarettes cost 20 percent more). Tsang stated Hong Kong now had a budget surplus of HK$12 billion to make a total of HK$745.9 billion in fiscal reserves.

And he still won't dole out more money.

In fact the budget speech seemed completely irrelevant after Lau's attack was reported.

What is all this money for? Some budget reporters speculated Tsang wouldn't open the purse strings until reserves hit HK$1 trillion.

Indeed what is all this money for when the city can't even protect one of its core values, press freedom.

This is a targeted attack -- so what did Lau do wrong?

Some conspiracy theorists are suggesting the attack was purposely chosen on the day of the budget when reporters were busy, and the sacking of Commercial Radio Host Li Wei-ling also happened on a Wednesday and it is also the publication day of Jimmy Lai's Next Magazine, which cannot report on the incident in a timely manner.

Lau's attack immediately reminded me of outspoken radio host Albert Cheng King-hon who was chopped in 1998 as he was on his way to Commercial Radio's station. Days after the attack he admitted he was scared for his family, but was impressed to see his wife Irene was so strong.

In the intervening years I saw him walking with a cane, determined to make his life as normal as possible, but not without safety precautions.

And now the same fate has fallen on Lau. We hope he will recover after this horrific incident because more than ever he has become a symbol of the fragility of press freedom in Hong Kong.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Hong Kong Loses Face

Beijing has decided the APEC meeting will not be held in Hong Kong
There is another ominous sign that Hong Kong is being ruled by Beijing.

This afternoon there was an unexpected announcement that Beijing would be the site of the APEC finance ministers' meetings and not Hong Kong, as originally planned. Also it will be postponed from September 10-12 to later in that month.

The reason? The Hong Kong government stated the change was made "due to the number of events and the broad range of themes and issues covered in the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation process".

"Some APEC meetings will have to be rescheduled to ensure that various APEC events would be well organized and coordinated. Accordingly. the location of the [meeting] will be changed to Beijing to facilitate logistics arrangements."


If anything Hong Kong could logistically hold such an internationally high-profile event and with it being a compact city, ministers and diplomats shifting from one meeting to another would have been no problem.

What "broad range of themes and issues" could be overwhelming to Hong Kong?

Hong Kong was probably forced into this awkward corner after the central government decided it would hijack the event and host it on the mainland instead.

Perhaps it is due to concerns of what happened in Bali last year when Hong Kong journalists were kicked out of the venue when they shouted questions at Philippine President Benigno Aquino regarding the Manilla shooting.

Also last November, lawmakers expressed concerns about the APEC event coinciding with the Occupy Central movement -- if it does happen.

So one can probably conclude Beijing wants no hint of trouble and so it has moved the entire event out of Hong Kong.

Seems extreme, but knowing China's paranoia it's now not surprising, but in reality, overboard.

What more can the Hong Kong government say except sheepishly respect the central government's decision?

A local government spokesman said the Hong Kong government would like to "thank the relevant CPG ministries, including the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council, as well as the Legislative Council and relevant organizations, for their support and cooperation over the past months".

If that isn't a kowtow I don't know what is...

Monday, 24 February 2014

Singapore's Talent Flow Concept

Could Hong Kong have mainlanders shuttling into the city daily to work?
A Singaporean has come up with a way for Hong Kong to solve its labour woes and housing shortage -- allow workers from the Pearl River Delta to commute to the city to work.

The brilliant plan comes from Paul Cheung, who was director of population planning in Singapore from 1986 to 1996. This is what the Lion City does at the moment -- 150,000 workers commute daily from Malaysia.

He says this idea is doable since transport links between cities in the Pearl River Delta region will be even better in 30 years.

"Importing labour is a very outdated concept, especially for Hong Kong. It should look at it as talent flow across the Pearl River Delta region," Cheung said.

"The core problem for Hong Kong is urban pressure. If the city adopts the flow concept, the loading on Hong Kong will be less," he added.

The Hong Kong government had planned to import more overseas workers to beef up the labour force which is expected to contract in 2018.

Cheung also gives the example of when he worked in New York as director of the United Nations Statistics Division, he said some workers commuted from the neighbouring state of Connecticut to Manhattan.

"There is no travel restriction between New York and Connecticut. People in Connecticut now can freely move to New York and work there and move back in the evening. The same can be true for Zhuhai and Shenzhen down the road," he said.

He is obviously unaware of the rising tensions in Hong Kong between locals and mainlanders. If they did cross the border to work in Hong Kong everyday, how would they be able to integrate?

While the majority of those living in the Pearl River Delta already speak Cantonese, there are so many cultural issues between Hong Kong and mainlanders that even trying to iron them out in a rational way would be overwhelming.

Cheung seems to have a simplistic view of the situation, just looking at it from a numbers point of view. Workers commuting between Connecticut and Manhattan is different from those crossing the border from Shenzhen or Zhuhai to Hong Kong to work.

Nevertheless he made an interesting observation after reading Hong Kong's consultation report.

"I don't get a good sense of what Hong Kong will be like 30 years down the road. There is no vision for the urban environment of Hong Kong, the liveability... as a home. It focuses only on... 'human capital' but ignores... other key issues, like pensions and elderly housing."

At least Cheung has that right.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Free the Press

Press freedom marchers on the streets of Hong Kong
This afternoon Hong Kong journalists and concerned citizens marched from Chater Garden in Central to the Chief Executive's office in Tamar, Admiralty to voice their fears about eroding freedom of the press and speech in the city.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association organized the "Free Speech, Free Hong Kong" march, and believed some 6,000 people took part -- six times the original estimate. However police claimed there were 2,200 at the peak of the rally in Central and 1,600 during the march.

A number of worrying trends have occurred in quick succession, including the abrupt dismissal of Commercial Radio host Li Wei-ling, who is known for her criticisms of the government, and that newspapers like Apple Daily and AM730 are hit financially because mainland-backed companies and banks have pulled adverts because of the papers' stance.

"If the freedom of press and speech is lost, other rights and freedom that Hong Kongers are entitled to would also be affected, as the media would no longer be able to speak for the people," said Ken Lui Tze-lok, a HKJA committee member.

Bao Choy Yuk-ling, chairperson of the RTHK programme staff union said, "The media in Hong Kong is currently under severe threat, and our union understands that the work of public broadcast could not stand alone. We hope a united action could help safeguarding the freedom."

It is not only the local media who feel Hong Kong is sliding the slippery slope towards censorship, but also Reporters Without Borders. In its annual report Hong Kong was in 18th position in 2002 and has now plunged to 61st out of 180 countries this year.

Meanwhile the Hong Kong government claims it safeguards press freedom in the present and future.

"As freedom of the press and freedom of speech are the major elements in sustaining Hong Kong's status as an international metropolis and continuous development, the Hong Kong government will continue to strive to safeguard these vital core values," a government spokesman said.

Then can the Leung administration explain Hong Kong's drop in press freedom of 43 places in 12 years? And this isn't even from before the handover, but after.

There were rumours over a week ago that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying would not attend the start of the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon because he was annoyed that the bank had placed advertisements in Apple Daily, his main media nemesis.

If this is true, why has the city's politics deteriorated to settling petty scores?

One feels the chaos in Hong Kong is due to the government's inaction or blind decisions, leaving its citizens to fend for themselves. There are so many issues that need to be earnestly dealt with -- from the flood of mainlanders to property prices, the city's capacity and air quality -- that the government doesn't seem to be taking a decisive leadership role.

As a result grassroots movements have to stand up for people's concerns otherwise they will not be heard. Meanwhile the pan-democrats theoretically stand together, but they are too busy criticizing each other to represent what Hong Kong people want.

It's basically become every man, woman and child for him or herself because the government isn't listening or frankly doesn't care.

Which is why we need a free press more than ever to voice everyone's opinions, good and bad.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Without China's Consent

The Dalai Lama and US President Barack Obama chatting in the Map Room
We are still hearing the ringing in our ears from the shrillness of China's voice condemning US President Barack Obama for meeting with the Dalai Lama yesterday.

The White House made a last-minute announcement of the meeting and added it would take place in the Map Room, on the ground floor of the president's residence as opposed to the Oval Office to tone down the formality of the event.

Nevertheless, the pictures of the Tibetan spiritual leader meeting with Obama must have riled up senior Chinese officials despite their attempts to encourage the president to call off the meeting.

"The US seriously interfered in China's internal affairs by allowing the Dalai's visit to the United States and arranging the meetings with US leaders," China's foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement.

"We urge the US to take China's concerns seriously, stop tolerance and support of anti-China separatist forces, cease interfering in China's internal affairs and immediately take measures to eliminate its baneful influence to avoid further impairment to China-US relations."

Yawn. The Foreign Ministry makes the same refrain each time someone plans to meet the Dalai Lama. And such petulant behaviour makes China look like a child that wants its cake and eat it too.

Meanwhile the US National Security Council stressed on Twitter that Obama was meeting the Dalai Lama in his capacity as "an internationally respected religious and cultural leader".

As for "interfering in China's internal affairs", the White House said Obama "reiterated his strong support for the preservation of Tibet's unique religious, cultural and linguistic traditions and the protection of human rights for Tibetans in the People's Republic of China. The President commended the Dalai Lama's commitment to peace and nonviolence and expressed support for the Dalai Lama's 'Middle Way' approach."

The statement adds Obama encouraged China and Tibetan representatives to have more direct talks to resolve their differences. "In this context, the President reiterated the US position that Tibet is part of the People's Republic of China and that the United States does not support Tibet independence. The Dalai Lama stated that he is not seeking independence for Tibet and hopes that dialogue between his representatives and the Chinese government will resume."

You heard it here folks -- the US doesn't support Tibetan independence and neither does the Dalai Lama.

So China, what's the problem? If the mainland continues to call the Dalai Lama "a wolf in monk's robes" and "a devil", then who can take China seriously?

Friday, 21 February 2014

Brazen Theft

A coat like this was stolen on Wednesday
On Wednesday evening a daring shoplifter walked out of the Burberry store in Tsim Sha Tsui with an almost HK$1 million alligator skin coat.

Security cameras show a Chinese man in his 30s or 40s taking the jacket off the mannequin and walking out out of the three-story store within a minute.

Shop assistants were apparently busy with other customers that they didn't realize the very expensive coat was missing until they were doing stock taking at closing time.

The report is gobsmacking on two counts. First is that according to a police source, some designer brands do not like putting security tags on their merchandise.

The Burberry store on Canton Road in  Tsim Sha Tsui
"They think it will ruin their design and damage their brand name," the source said. "They rely on surveillance cameras and security personnel."

And in Tsim Sha Tsui, the source added, luxury stores report on average two to three thefts per month. "They are opportunists and usually act alone. They target designer goods that do not have security tags."

Burberry in Hong Kong is not commenting on the matter, saying it is under investigation, but one has to wonder... losing a HK$995,000 ($128,276) coat surely should be something closely watched?

But secondly -- who needs an alligator skin coat that is worth the amount of two years' rent for a place around HK$40,000 a month?

The theft of the expensive coat illustrates there are shoppers out there who can easily afford an item like this, and those who obviously would not because they don't have decent living conditions or enough food to eat.

A coat like that would easily be spotted when worn in Hong Kong so it must have already been taken out of the city and sold in the mainland where tastes are, shall we say, more extravagant?

Or is this a new trend where shoplifters procure items for people for a fraction of the price tag?

In any event, it's quite amazing a shop would have an almost HK$1 million coat for sale, and another for a shoplifter to brazenly walk out with the coat without anyone watching.

Hong Kong never ceases to amaze.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Second Life

I just found out about a neat website called, where "jup yeah" means take or pick up things in Cantonese.

If you have some stuff at home and don't know what to do with it or who to give it to, then you can upload pictures of it on this website and add a brief description.

Then if someone is interested in your stuff, they will contact you through the website and then the two of you can arrange a mutually agreed time to meet and pass over the goods.

You can also request things on the site and hope that someone will reply. When I last looked someone was looking for a khaki scarf, another for a piano!

Most items are clothes, handbags, shoes, and baby items.

JupYeah started on Boxing Day 2011 when a few friends got together to have a swap party and now the public event has some 1,000 attendees. Last year they put the concept on line so that swapping can happen virtually anywhere, anytime.

It's a great concept, particularly in Hong Kong where it's mostly known as a city of material consumption. Everywhere there are advertisements taunting people to buy, buy, buy and then many do succumb to retail therapy.

But then where do they put all that stuff? Or perhaps you receive gifts from people that aren't much use to you, but perhaps someone else would want it. JupYeah is the perfect place for that too.

The main thing is that the items you upload onto JupYeah should be in relatively good condition and something someone will find useful.

The person who told me about this website explained that every December she receives many calendars from clients and doesn't know what to do with them because she only needs one.

So she advertised them on JupYeah and it turns out many students responded, saying they'd like to have these calendars. So she arranged a time to meet them in Central and distributed them. She was pleased to see so many happy faces.

It's heartening to see that there are people in Hong Kong trying to do their bit to reduce consumption and waste in the city and that I too have an option of knowing where to give away decent stuff that someone else might need.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Are HK Children Happy?

Children at the Hong Kong Book Fair stocking up on their favourite reads
The lives of Hong Kong's next generation are not getting better, according to the child happiness index by Lingnan University.

The study was commissioned for the second year by the Early Childhood Development Research Foundation, surveying 1,119 students aged eight to 17 from September to October 2013.

The happiness index rose from 6.91 in 2012 to 7.23 last year, with the index maximum at 10.

However, the scores fell when it came to insight and fortitude -- two of the four determinants for happiness. The other two are love and engagement.

Researchers saw a decline in fortitude to 6.64 out of 10 from 7.10. They said it was "worrying and should be attended to" as it indicated children may not know how to deal with situations that did not meet their expectations.

Lead researcher professor Ho Lok-sang said the decline was "rather significant".

"There were several children who committed suicide last year, which showed that the resilience of some of our children is quite weak," he said. "Parents should guide their children, starting from an early age, [on] how to deal with pressure, as it is a major source of unhappiness."

To grade their fortitude, children surveyed were asked to respond to statements such as "you have the courage to face difficulties" and "you won't give up easily once you have decided to do something".

In order to test their insight -- an ability not to compare themselves with others and learn from their mistakes -- they were asked to respond to statements like "we don't need to be better than others, but need to try our best".

The results for insight dropped from 6.37 in 2012 to 6.19.

In addition the survey found children from poorer families tended to be unhappier. "When children want to take part in some extra-curricular activities but their parents do not have enough money to support them and ask them not to do that, there may be some conflicts within the family, thus making children unhappy," Ho said.

The study also found the children suffered pressure from schoolwork and extra-curricular activities, which could adversely impact children's happiness.

It's a sad state of affairs when children aren't perceived to be happy because things get  more complicated when you get older. If children cannot handle the pressure that is imposed on them now, they will find it even harder to deal with stress as they grow up.

That said children in Hong Kong are deprived of childhoods with parents signing them up for all kinds of extra-curricular activities from the age of 18 months in the hopes that will give their children an edge in being accepted in schools.

Many parents know they aren't giving their kids enough play time and yet the guardians get sucked into the rat race of keeping up with the Joneses because they would feel guilty if they didn't push their child enough to get the best education.

Which is why we will see this happiness index go down further with each passing year and children will have every right to blame their parents for their unhappiness...

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Finality of Death

Li Junjie (left) with two police officers on the roof
Tonight everyone was talking about the young man who jumped to his death this afternoon from Chater House in Central.

The police confirmed a 33-year-old man surnamed Li jumped from the roof of the building around 2.08pm. While the company has not officially confirmed the man's identity, several employees identify him as having worked at JP Morgan, where the investment bank has its main regional headquarters.

Several policemen were seen on the roof of Chater House trying to persuade the man to step away from the edge, but Li jumped before Hong Kong emergency crews arrived. He landed on the four-lane westbound carriageway outside the building and was taken to Ruttonjee Hospital but was declared dead at 2.31pm.

According to some JP Morgan employees, Li was a junior-level investment banker who played supporting roles in several projects.

There's lots of speculation as to why this young man committed suicide: some theories say that he had just received a bad work appraisal, or that he screwed up on some trades.

More information will come out in the next few days, but one wonders why people choose to end their lives this way.

I still think about my friend Ying who also jumped to her death in Beijing last June, trying to comprehend why she didn't seek help and instead chose to burden her family and friends with grief.

Or perhaps they were living with demons we can't even begin to understand and for them the only solution they can think of is death.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Escalating Anti-Locust Behaviour

Lines like this on Canton Road are common with a particular clientele in mind
The anti-locust brigade is out in force again.

Yesterday some 100 protesters marched from the Star Ferry in Tsim Sha Tsui to Canton Road and got a lot of attention.

The beginning of the march was already tense with protesters clashing with people opposing the demonstration and police had to intervene.

Then along Canton Road which is lined with luxury brands such as Hermes, Chanel and Gucci, the protesters held up signs that said "go back to China" and "reclaim Hong Kong" or carried colonial flags as a symbol of their mistrust of the Chinese government.

Things got uglier when protesters booed or hurled verbal insults at mainland tourists passing by. The atmosphere was so tense that some shops decided to close.

Some mainland tourists were either surprised by Hong Kong people's supposedly "civilized" behaviour, others disappointed their tourist dollars were not welcome here.

Senior Hong Kong government officials saw pictures of the protest and were mortified, calling it "regrettable" and that mainland tourists had been "humiliated" and how it tarnished Hong Kong's image as an international city.

"The harassment of the tourists on Canton Road is very regrettable," said Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So Kam-leung. "Hong Kong has been very friendly not only to our tourists, but to other people conducting business here. This sort of harassment should not be repeated in Hong Kong."

Meanwhile Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok condemned the "humiliation" of mainland visitors and that some shops were forced to close.

"The protesters have affected the business activities in the area, as well as the public's activities here," he said.

And Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen was reportedly "shocked" when he saw the protest covered on TV.

The response of these government officials further proves they are definitely living in a bubble.

The anti-mainland sentiment has been simmering for years and the term "locusts" came out just over two years ago when Hong Kong people crowd-sourced enough money to put a full-page ad in Apple Daily openly describing mainlanders as this kind of insect using up goods and services meant for locals.

At that time the Hong Kong government did nothing to quell the tensions and instead stood by as landlords continue to be greedy by kicking out local businesses and inviting international chain stores to be tenants.

The authorities have made no effort to bridge the gap between locals and mainlanders, only using the reasoning that they boost the tourism sector in the city, but in fact the money goes to the headquarters of international stores and not locals.

And so it is actually shocking and disappointing to see senior government officials react this way, as if they didn't see protests like this coming at all.

Things are only going to get worse if the government continues to be blind to the reality of the situation. While verbal attacks are a form of assault, tensions need to be de-escalated soon, or physical attacks may be next.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Another Pre-Dawn Run

On the way to the starting line many runners take souvenir pictures...
After a night of very light sleeping I woke up at 3.20am to get ready for the 10K run that is part of the 2014 Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon.

I've been running regularly and in the last few months increased my distances on the treadmill and added a few interval training sessions in the hopes of improving my time last year of 1:07:30.

But 3.20am is too early to do anything and though I'm going through the motions, my eyes aren't quite wide open -- and don't even open throughout the race either!

Learning from last year, panicking because there were no buses or taxis in Kennedy Town in the late hours, I booked a taxi ahead of time and he was there at 4.30am on the dot.

When I got in he kept asking me if the license plate number was the one I'd been given and I said yes over and over. Apparently if a taxi driver picks up the wrong person, they are punished by not being allowed to take reserved taxi requests for a week.

Still dark out but many people getting ready for the 10K
He told me that he'd just been to Shau Kei Wan and the highway was closed off for the marathon so he had to take the regular streets and then rushed all the way to Kennedy Town to pick me up.

We got there in less than 15 minutes, though with the hefty surcharge of HK$30 the fare came to HK$95. I was too groggy and anxious to argue about the extra charge and just paid the fare and got out.

I'd arrived a bit too early at Tin Hau MTR station, but I guess it was a way to get acclimatized. It was cold and I was dressed in a running jacket, the race T-shirt, shorts and leggings. I was shocked to see some people (mostly men) just dressed in singlets and shorts. Others were either like me or bundled up even more.

At around 5.20am (and after three trips to the loo) I made my way up to the on ramp to the starting line. It was definitely cold with the wind and I tried to keep my legs moving. Many people were taking selfies or group pictures with friends which made the event more fun for them.

Finally we counted down the seconds and at 6am sharp we were off. The head winds were bearing down on us and I was so glad I had a jacket on. Like last year people constantly passed me and I decided to just keep pace; though I tried to keep pace with people in front of me and they either went faster or I passed them. As a result it was kind of hard to know who to follow.

Last year there was a sign indicating 1km but this year there wasn't and I was wondering how far we'd gone when the 2km sign was on my right. We headed east past North Point, Quarry Bay, and in front of me a sea of black heads bobbing up and down towards Shau Kei Wan.

At the start, checking out construction nearby
We passed the Hong Kong Film Archives building several hundred metres before we made a sharp U-turn onto the stretch of highway heading towards Causeway Bay. There wasn't much cheering at the water stations, oh well, perhaps the residents in the area complained... but it's only for one morning!

Nevertheless we were buoyed by university students who cheered us on from the overpass. On the whole everyone was quiet, focusing on their runs or already walking. At the halfway point I took off my jacket and wrapped it around my waist. At 6km I was still feeling good, although I was already breathing heavily. I tried not to push myself too much on the inclines and then take advantage of the downhill areas.

On the way back the sky got lighter and lighter and soon we were at 7km and then the 8km point. The run was almost over already! Another water station and I tried to run and drink at the same time which is a really bad idea and spilled water onto my shoe which soaked into my sock...

All this time more people are passing me and I'm wondering what's going on because last year those who had passed me were lagging behind and I passed them. But then I remembered that I was in the first heat where runners had to finish the race in 1:10 -- they were around the same ability as me or much better.

The last stretch is a sharp turn onto the on ramp which has a pretty steep incline so there wasn't much point in trying to accelerate here, but when I go to the top and started heading down towards Victoria Park it was time to kick in and use up the rest of the reserve energy I had left.

I didn't pass many more people but ran as fast as my legs could carry me to the finish!

It was a good run for me, feeling more confident having done it before and the training paid off in terms of being used to the long distance.

I just checked the website and my official time is 1:06:38, net time 1:05:57, so I shaved just under a minute from last year's time. Whoo hoo!

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Censoring Bad News

Press freedom around the world according to Reporters Without Borders
Reporters Without Borders has released its 2014 World Press Freedom Index and Finland topped the list for the fourth consecutive year followed by Netherlands and Norway, also the same as last year.

Meanwhile the last three positions are held by Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea. One hundred and eighty countries were covered this year.

In North America, Canada ranks 18, while the United States is down at 46, while in Asia, Taiwan is number 50, Japan 59 and Hong Kong is 61. Where's China? Way down at 175 compared to Zimbabwe (135), Burma (145), Philippines (149) and Singapore (150).

In its report on China, RWB says:

In a speech shortly after his appointment as Communist Party general secretary in November 2012, Xi Jinping addressed journalists directly: "Friends from the press, China needs to learn more about the world, and the world also needs to learn more about China. I hope you will continue to make more efforts and contributions to deepening the mutual understanding between China and the countries of the world."

Woe to any journalist who thought he was saying "Describe China's start realities" when what he really meant was "Follow the Party's propaganda to the letter!" Since the speech, the authorities have arrested more journalists and bloggers, cracked down harder on cyber-dissidents, reinforced online content control and censorship and stepped up restrictions on the foreign media.

This past year China seems to be cracking down even more so on journalists, drying up hopes that Xi would be a more liberal leader when it came to the media.

In fact RWB's 2014 World Freedom Press Index has been censored so that the mainland doesn't even know where it stands globally in terms of press freedom.

The State Council Information Office ordered all media in China not to report on the annual index. The directive says: "All websites are kindly asked to delete the article "180 Countries Ranked in 2013 Press Freedom Index; China at 175th" and related content".

"Although this measure is not surprising, coming as it does from one of the countries that control news and information the most, we firmly condemn this act of censorship," said Benjamin Ismail, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific Desk.

"It is a perfect example of the Chinese government's policy of gagging the media and justifies China's position in the latest index, 175th out of 180 countries, a fall of two places from its position last year. We urge the authorities to withdraw this directive."

All we can say is, good luck, but it ain't happening.

However many people in China know the propaganda machine is working harder than ever these days and don't quite put much stock into state media.

Some can virtually jump over the Great Firewall and get information from outside China, while others find ways to physically get themselves out of the country to see what's really going on, mainly in the name if education.

It's becoming more and more of a farce.

How do Chinese leaders live with themselves, knowing what they're doing is a lame attempt at covering up the truth?

Friday, 14 February 2014

Picture of the Day: Fish by Frank

Frank Gehry's glowing fish were inspired by an accident
Canadian architect Frank Gehry is known for his buildings that defy description because they are in shapes that go against convention.

Over a year ago in Los Angeles I enjoyed checking out the Walt Disney Concert Hall that looked like a mass of silver paper strewn all over the roof.

A lovely touch was the garden that had a rose-shaped fountain made with broken blue and white tiles dedicated to Lillian Disney, wife of Walt. Sadly the building was completed six years after she died, as she pledged $50 million to the project.

Gehry has also made his mark in Hong Kong with Opus One, that were briefly the most expensive flats in the city. There are only 12 units in the building that have great views of the city below.

On a much smaller scale are his fish lamps made from ColorCore formica mounted on a wire frame. Apparently the story is that when Gehry was working on a commission for Formica in the 1980s, he accidentally dropped a piece of ColorCore laminate which shattered and to him the pieces looked like fish scales.

Gagosian Gallery in Hong Kong is showing some of fish lamps that glow from within. The shapes of the fish are simultaneously rough and fluid due to the uneven shapes of the material, but the light shining in them give them shape and depth.

Along with the fish were some alligators or were they crocodiles?

Nevertheless the fish were appropriate for Chinese New Year with the saying 年年有鱼 or "May every year end in a surplus".

Frank Gehry: Fish Lamps
Until March 1
Gagosian Gallery
7/F, Pedder Building
12 Pedder Street

Thursday, 13 February 2014

HK's Erosion of Free Press

Radio host Li Wei-ling was fired, but the station gave no plausible reason
Hong Kong's press freedoms continue to erode with the sacking of Commercial Radio host Li Wei-ling Wednesday afternoon.

She finished her show, went out for lunch and soon afterwards received a call that her services were no longer needed. She wasn't even allowed to go back to the station to collect her personal belongings.

Sources say Li was calm about it. On her Facebook page she wrote: "Although they can ruthlessly remove me from my position, they can't stop me from monitoring Hong Kong's current affairs."

The Journalists Association said it was "highly concerned" about the dismissal, saying the station's lack of explanation was "not responsible".

"Commercial Radio's abrupt and ruthless sacking of Li was shocking," said lawmaker and former journalist Claudia Mo Man-ching. "There was not even a notice period for her."

The sacking came less than three months after Li was controversially moved from the prime-time breakfast program On A Clear Day to the less popular Tipping Point which she joined early in her career with the company.

The incident follows on the heels of Ming Pao, where the paper moved its chief editor Kevin Lau Chun-to to the online division, and now at the helm as deputy editor is Chong Tien Siong, a Malaysian with no local experience.

Staff at the 55-year-old paper protested by organizing rallies and petitions. Columnists such as Martin Lee Chu-ming, the Democratic Party's founding chairman left his space blank in the paper to show their discontent.

Chong is considered pro-establishment and so journalists at the paper are concerned of the future of Ming Pao, as well as the new editor's lack of local experience.

What is going on in Hong Kong? How have press freedoms eroded so quickly -- less than 20 years after the handover?

Back in 2003 everyone was united under one cause -- opposing Article 23 -- the subversion law.

But now there are so many issues people are worried about -- pollution, landfills, inflation, housing, democracy, the mainland invasion, national education and press freedoms, so it is hard to build a strong base to fight against them effectively.

However press freedom is so crucial to having a civil society. That is how the community can be sure the government, corporations and others can be held accountable for their actions and give ordinary people a voice.

Li was known as an active government critic. She used the airwaves to voice her discontent with the Leung Chun-ying administration -- but she was also probably voicing the opinions of hundreds of thousands of other people.

The government needs to hear these criticisms whether it likes it or not; only then can it improve on its governance.

When there is no outlet for people to voice their true opinions then you get a place like China, where protestors have to go to more extreme lengths to have their voices heard. Does Hong Kong want to have a reputation for having black jails and persecuting critics by locking them up or harassing them and their loved ones to no end on taxpayers' expense?

We are living in One Country, Two Systems. Let us, Hong Kong, show China what a civil society is, that we can flourish economically and socially because we have things like freedom of speech, rule of law and a free press.

Because of these assurances, this is what makes Hong Kong and truly international city. When these values start to erode then trust in the city starts to fade and investment disappears... and it could soon morph into another Chinese city.

Is this what Hong Kong wants?

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Cleaner Air in Five Years?

Christine Loh is pushing for Hong Kong to clean up its air... will it clear up?
Undersecretary for the Environment Christine Loh Kung-wai believes we'll be seeing a dramatic improvement in Hong Kong's air quality in the next five years with measurable results starting in the second half of this year.

That's because objectives set out in last year's air quality road map have been met with little political resistance compared to other environmental issues like waste, energy and conservation.

One of them is a HK$11.4 billion initiative to replace 82,000 old commercial diesel vehicles starting from next month. Another is to replace catalytic converters, devices that reduce harmful emissions, on 20,000 light buses and taxis powered by LPG.

This initiative is expected to be approved by the summer, while another plan to retrofit 1,400 franchised buses with selective catalytic reduction devices is projected to be also approved this summer.

She explained that currently the biggest emissions in Hong Kong is sulphur dioxide and so in addition to the streets, the city is pushing to legislate all ocean-going vessels berthing in Hong Kong must use low-sulphur fuel; this is expected to happen in the summer and take effect early next year.

In 2012, a study found 75 percent of deaths linked to sulphur dioxide in the Pearl River Delta each year were Hong Kong people.

Also, smaller ships will be required to switch to cleaner marine diesel, a plan she hopes to get started on from April 1.

"We think, after the implementation of both measures, we will see an estimated 20 percent drop in local sulphur dioxide emissions. This is really quite substantial," she says.

However she stresses it's important for the community to be "galvanized" for all the measures to succeed, and that while government should take the lead, corporations and people should do more to make their own contribution to help clear the air.

This can be difficult when more of the wealthy buy cars and hire chauffeurs to drive them; the rest of us can't even afford private cars, but still appreciate the pretty efficient public transportation system we have here.

There are still cars idling when they could be turned off and not enough legal enforcement in this area, and there needs to be a serious discussion about streamlining bus routes even further.

But in the end, are we really going to see such a dramatic improvement in the next few months?

We're optimistic, but not holding our breath. The main issue is getting people to understand this is the one world we live in and we are polluting it more and more each day. All the money in the world will not scrub the environment clean in an instant; we need to do our part, from walking more to using cleaner technology to help everyone breathe a bit easier.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Passionate Olympian

As the sole Hong Kong athlete at Sochi, Barton Lui Pan-to waves the flag
The Sochi Winter Olympics are well underway and Hong Kong's only athlete competing in the international event has made his appearance and exit in a flash.

Barton Lui Pan-to was the first male athlete to represent Hong Kong in the men's 1500m short track and didn't make it past the second heat, coming in fifth out of six with a time of 2 minutes 22.139 seconds.

However for the 20 year old it was not his time that was important, but the whole Olympic experience.

"This is the first time I came here, to the Winter Olympics, representing my hometown Hong Kong," he said. "I am so touched and so excited to be competing in front of thousands of people in the crowd, and my friends sitting in front of the TV. It is the first time for me to feel so many people on my back.

Lui (221) races against his idol Victor An in the second heat
"They did not really care what my results is or whether I am going to get a gold medal because I am here already. I thank my family and friends and everyone who cares about me and who loves me."

Spoken like an Olympian.

When asked to go over the race, Lui was thrilled to be racing in the same heat as his idol Victor An [originally South Korean but competed for Russia], but found the whole thing overwhelming.

"At the moment the referee started the race I am blank, so happy -- I have never experienced that before," said Lui. "It is a unique feeling. I will treasure this moment and remember it for the rest of my life, and share it with my friends and hopefully my kids."

Lui started skating when he was 10 years old at Cityplaza in Taikoo Shing and watched the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver when he was studying and training in the host city.

That inspired his Olympic ambition and since then his parents have mostly financed his training in China with a provincial team in Harbin and in South Korea. His proud parents were in the stands cheering him on last night.

"I have been travelling everywhere non-stop because I love short track, nothing else," he said.

"The Winter Olympics is not something that everyone can go to. For four years, every athlete in every country and every skater is fighting for this and surviving all those races and training just to be here," explained Lui.

He has perfectly captured the essence of what it is like to be an athlete chasing the Olympic dream, living the moment and then remembering it forever.

Hopefully he will inspire other Hong Kong kids to follow their dreams -- athletic or not -- but also realize that it takes hard work, determination, discipline and most importantly passion to succeed in anything.

In any event he's already decided he's going to train hard for the 2018 Winter Games. Watch out for Lui!

Monday, 10 February 2014

HK Drops in Fashionable Ratings

Apparently Hong Kong's not so stylish anymore compared to Shanghai...
Say it isn't so! Apparently Shanghai has overstepped Hong Kong in becoming Asia's most fashionable.

Hong Kong had been top dog regionally for the past five years, but now according to a survey by US-based Global Language Monitor, it has dropped eight spots to 20th in teh world, the sharpest fall of the top 20 cities.

Shanghai is now 10th in the world, followed by Tokyo in 11th spot, and Singapore at 18th. New York took the global top spot over London.

GLM measures fashion trends by tracking print, electronic and social media for top words and phrases. It has been doing these rankings annually since 2004.

While the report says Hong Kong was "still a strong global presence", 2011 research from McKinsey says China is expected to account for 20 percent or 180 billion yuan in global luxury sales next year.

Legislator Michael Tien Puk-sun, founder of G2000 clothing chain says there aren't many opportunities for local fashion designers because of exorbitant rents. He added fashion retailers were losing out to shops selling watches and jewellery.

Perhaps the real reason is that mainlanders come to Hong Kong and snap up all the designer luxury brands here to wear back in China because us locals can't afford them!

But what's interesting to note -- a tip from YTSL -- that although Hong Kong had a record 48.6 million visitors in 2012, a 16 percent increase from the year before, tourism only accounts for less than 5 percent of the city's GDP.

Is this why the Leung Chun-ying administration believes Hong Kong has a greater capacity to take in even more tourists?

On the other hand we wonder what makes up 95 percent of Hong Kong's GDP...

Sunday, 9 February 2014

The Marital Pressure's On

Baihe website helps singletons get matched up to please their elders
Over Chinese New Year, young mainland men and women who are single dread going home for the holidays because they know they will be grilled by their parents and relatives asking when they will get married.

During my time in Beijing, there were news stories about men willing to be their pretend boyfriend and actually go to the woman's hometown and stay with her family -- sex not included -- for a fee.

They would meet before the actual Spring Festival just to see if they could somehow get along, go through the terms of the agreement and then go ahead with the farce.

I don't know anyone who actually resorted to that route, but it seemed the men were trying to fill a desperate need, though the reality of the situation must have been awkward to say the least.

And now a dating website is under fire for pressuring young women to hurry up and find a mate.

Matchmaking website Baihe has come out with a TV commercial about a well-to-do young woman and her aging grandmother. Viewers can see the family is wealthy as the living room seems quite large... In any event after the young woman's university graduation, her grandmother asks her when she will get married, and she persists as the young woman grows older.

Grandma keeps persisting that her granddaughter get hitched
It gets to the point where the young woman decides she must do something about this with the help of Baihe and in the last scene she is dressed in a gorgeous bridal gown covered in lace and pearls and finally tells her grandmother on her hospital bed that she has finally tied the knot.

The commercial has provoked some interesting online reactions, some infuriated that the website has played the "filial piety card" in order to pressure young people to rush into marriage just to please their elders. Some are so angered by the site that they promise to boycott it -- a usual knee-jerk reaction from mainlanders who are annoyed at anything.

Others suggested that perhaps people should be having conversations with their elders that pressuring them to get married does not help the situation.

"Besides the conventional family values, people shall not sacrifice their own happiness to comply with their family members' unreasonable demands," commented Peng Xiaohui, a prominent sexologist and Central China Normal University professor.

But not everyone has the same idea as Peng.

Some not only think of it as a Confucian ideal to strive for, but are only thinking in the best interests of the child or grandchild to find a mate to share their happiness and burdens together.

However, not all elders know how complicated and difficult the dating scene has become thanks to the proliferation of divorces, mistresses, long-distance relationships and so on.

Dating websites can either solve the problem or make them even more complicated...

It all comes down to luck.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Bomb Scare in Happy Valley

The giant World War II-era bomb packed with 450kg of explosives
On Thursday afternoon Hong Kong had quite a shock when a 2,000-pound bomb from World War II was discovered in a Happy Valley construction site.

Some 2,200 people who were within a 200-metre radius of the bomb had to be evacuated, including guests from the Cosmo Hotel and Cosmopolitan Hotel and Xinhua News Agency on Queen's Road East.

The device was an AN-M66 that contained 450kg of explosives -- enough to knock out a few buildings.

It was the biggest bomb of its kind dropped on Hong Kong by US bombers as part of a one-day pounding of Japanese positions on January 16, 1945.

Senior bomb disposal officer Jimmy Yuen Hon-wing of the Explosive Ordinance Disposal Bureau said a US bomber flying out of Guangzhou had carried the bomb but it must have landed on soft ground and failed to detonate.

The police team poses with the diffused bomb with two holes
Yuen said they didn't dare move the bomb in case it could cause severe damage in the area and a controlled explosion was out of the question as well.

In the end the team worked overnight and managed to diffuse it by 7am the next morning. Yuen said there were technical problems in drilling holes into the bomb because it had so much explosives in it.

"Because the explosive inside was very sensitive, we had to cut the shell in a low-temperature environment, so the process took longer than expected," he said.

This was the biggest assignment in his 22-year career for the 55 year old police senior superintendent.

Yuen and his team had to cut two holes into the casing of the bomb in order to get in to diffuse it. They had to keep the temperature of the cutting gear down to 400 degrees Celsius and while they thought it would take them a few hours, stretched into nine.

Where did the hotel guests stay at that evening? Other hotels, including The Peninsula... which under normal circumstances would have cost them a bomb...

Friday, 7 February 2014

HK's Poverty Documented

Photographer Lei Jih-sheng has followed the lives of the homeless in the city
A local photographer has documented how Hong Kong's homeless have been pushed to the margins in recent years.

Lei Jih-sheng has spent the last 15 years recording the lives of the city's street sleepers through photographs.

"Over the years, citizens have been more caring and understanding of the homeless, but the government has been going backwards," said Lei.

He explained that when he first started his project in 1999 with the nonprofit Society for Community Organisation, the homeless could sleep freely under overpasses, footbridges and in playgrounds, parks, stadiums and many other places in Sham Shui Po, Yau Tsim Mong and Wan Chai.

But around 2007, local councils started spending millions of dollars on "community beautifying" projects, such as fencing the areas under bridges or paving the ground with cobblestones.

As a result this forced the homeless out of these areas and into hellish living environments, such as subdivided flats in dilapidated buildings or even public toilets, Lei said.

He added the homeless were independent minded and wanted to earn their own living.

In an exhibition at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui that starts on Monday, Lei's photographs show shoebox-sized rooms that cost a good chunk of the money they make from odd jobs, and they have to apply for social security.

Lei's photos will be on show at the Cultural Centre next week
"I'm not a slob," says Ah Kong, who's 59 years old. "I'm a person who's willing to work hard. I have no drug addiction, debts or criminal record, but I still end up on sleeping outdoors in Hong Kong, and claiming social security."

He said that he had a good job in the 1970s and 1980s as a stage designer for TV stations and film production companies like Shaw Brothers.

But then he was laid off in the 1990s when the local film industry shrank and Hong Kong's economy dropped off. Ah Kong then went across the border to the mainland for work.

However the factory he managed in Guangdong closed down in the early 2000s and ended up working illegally in China, losing his job, coming back to Hong Kong, then went back to the mainland again for work as a black market worker.

He has been back in Hong Kong for almost a year now and hopes to get a security guard license and find a full-time job, though he is unsure of how he can afford a roof over his head.

"I claim social security only when I really need it," he said. "When I had jobs I never applied for it. But now rents are so high, even social security can't cover them."

Meanwhile 31-year-old Man-chai recalls being woken up four or five times a night by police officers when he slept outside. "They were very rude," he says. "Sometimes they kicked you awake, and sometimes they used batons."

He now lives in an attic room above a toilet that costs HK$1,500 a month and the roof leaks when it rains. He says that sometimes he'd rather sleep on the streets.

Lei's photographs over the years have been compiled into books and the latest one, Homeless III will be sold at the exhibition. He remembers presenting the first book to then chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who was very surprised.

"He said he had never heard there were so many homeless people in Hong Kong," Lei said. "I want our policymakers to read this book so they'll start thinking how they can improve their policies on poverty."

Why are the authorities treating the homeless so badly? What did they do wrong?

All the homeless want is to be treated with dignity. We know the government considers them sleeping on the streets to be an eyesore so it should provide decent housing for these people who are down and out. Instead we have a financial secretary who constantly claims there is not enough money in the city's coffers, but in fact he always miscalculates how much is actually coming in.

Once the homeless have roofs over their heads then they can focus their energy on finding jobs and working hard. A city as rich as Hong Kong surely has some heart for these people?

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Not Quite Prepared...

The race is next Sunday! Are you ready? Seems like most HK people are not!
Next weekend is the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon 2014 and it was shocking to read that one-third of the people surveyed who ran the 10K last year risked they health because didn't even train for it, according to a university study.

Another one-third trained for it, but only once a week, said the Baptist University study, which indicates how many people in Hong Kong are unaware of how much training they need to do and the health risks involved in not preparing for the race.

Dr Lobo Louie Hung-take who lead the study, said 10K participants should be training three times a week -- 40km to 48km of running -- in order to reduce injury risks, even though they were not running competitively.

But the study found people only ran 9.7km per week throughout the year before the race.

The university questioned 1,146 runners who took part in last year's Standard Chartered Marathon events, with about 25 percent who ran the 10K, 50 percent in the half marathon, and the rest in the full marathon.

It was shocking for Louie and his team to discover 32 percent of half marathoners just trained twice a week and one-third of marathoners less than three times a week.

"Generally speaking, half and full-marathon runners should train about five to six days a week with at least one day of rest," he said, adding that training should be "tapered" down 10 days or so before the race, in other words, now.

It was found the average half-marathoner ran 20km per week and marathon runners 43km. However Louie's team recommended 48-64km and 48-80km respectively.

He warned that insufficient training could lead to injury and even death. Some runners can experience serious cramps or push themselves too hard after "hitting the wall" -- when the body is depleted of glycogen and stalls due to a shortage of energy.

"It's like a car that's being pushed to keep going even when the fuel tank is at empty," Louie said. "In some serious cases, runners can collapse, be in a state of shock, start hallucinating or fall into a coma."

Last year 37 runners ended up in hospital due to injuries compared to 38 in 2012.

Louie does a lot of research on physical education, but one has to question his warnings that are meant to shock people. From my experience most Hong Kong people are not physically fit and once they have cramps they usually stop running, basically giving up because they don't know how to continue running with the pain.

When I ran the 10K last year I was shocked to see so many people walking the route instead of running it, because in my heat we were expected to finish the race between 1:10 and 1:20.

Walkers would have taken at least two hours to finish, so what are they doing in this race? They took spots that should have been for those eager to run but were unable to sign up online due to space limitations.

While I agree with Louie's suggestions on how much training people should do for the half and full marathons, he recommendation for those running the 10K to run at least 40-48km a week seems excessive.

The timing of the study's release is also pointless now, less than 10 days before the race. Louie should have done this soon after people completed their online registration so that participants would have enough time to prepare and do more research on how to train for the race.

Nevertheless the professor should continue his research this year to gauge how much training people did for the February 16 race as well as survey participants about their eating and lifestyle habits. There's a captive audience right at the finish line. As Nike says, Just Do It.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Picture of the Day: The Lego Movie

There were lots of Lego Movie characters hanging around near the cinemas...
Just came back from the preview of The Lego Movie at Cine Grand Century in Mongkok.

All I can say is -- if anyone has ever played with Lego, they will love this movie that premieres tomorrow in Hong Kong, Friday in North America.

The creative storyline and how it was put together was amazing, the dialogue is hilarious. And of the voices, Morgan Freeman is the best!

The kids loved the amazing animation and the adults the witty lines and innovation.

Just brings you all back to when you played Legos when you were a kid...

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Already at Capacity

Macau was already full during Lunar New Year, and Hong Kong close behind
Over the Chinese New Year holiday Hong Kong had a deluge of mainland tourists, but Macau was completely flooded -- so much so that some areas were at a complete standstill.

There were about 2.7 million people, mostly mainlanders, who crossed check points at Gongbei Port and Zhuhai over the week-long holiday -- more than five times the city's population of over 550,000.

On Sunday alone there were 200,000 mainlanders who came to Macau. If you didn't get a ticket a day or two in advance, you had to get in the queue early just to get a decent ferry time. For example you were in the queue at 11am, the earliest you could leave Hong Kong was after 2pm, and from Macau you had to wait at 11am to get the 11pm ticket.

At the Ruins of St Paul's, tourists were shoulder to shoulder and police had to set up one-way pedestrian systems to ensure the ongoing flow of people.

"What is normally a five-minute walk has become 15 minutes if not longer, " said June Chan Yun-wai, who wanted to go to the pharmacy when she was stuck in the crowd at Largo de Senado, the square in the centre of Macau.

Newspaper vendor Ben lai Hou-kei who has had a stall near the square for four decades said it was more crowded than last year. "There was little planning by the government," he said. "And the ruthless pace of mainlanders conflicts with the local way of life."

In both Hong Kong and Macau both governments have not done any proper long-term infrastructure planning to handle greater capacities in terms of tourists.

People still fuming at Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So Kam-leung's projection that there could be up to 70 million visitors in the next three years, up to 100 million within a decade in Hong Kong.

He even said, "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 obviously has not seen for himself how packed it is in the MTR these days during rush hour in particular.

Some NeoDemocrats, Gary Fan Kwok-wai and Roy Tam Hoi-bong were in Mongkok holding up banners saying "Reduce the solo travellers scheme" because they felt the city has reached its capacity.

But if you go to major cities like Beijing and Shanghai, their rush hours are nightmares compared to Hong Kong's and Macau's so they hardly think it's at capacity. Besides it's none of their business -- they just want to fulfill their shopping lists for luxury handbags and milk powder because buying real things is a more pressing issue to them than crowded spaces...

Monday, 3 February 2014

Mainland Invasion of Anarctica

Chinese tourists getting up close with some blue-eyed shags in Antarctica
Cai Mingdong is a 36-year-old former financial journalist who now runs a company that offers tailor-made tours for China's nouveaux riche.

He himself had travelled extensively in Europe and North Africa when he studied in the UK from 2002 and 2003. After he came back to Ningbo he became a financial and property reporter, interviewing the wealthy and became fascinated to learn how they spent their money in their free time.

Cai Mingdong offers tailored tours for China's rich
Then in 2010 he was driving around in New Zealand and when he was at one tourist attraction, he was surrounded by mainland tourists.

"They were really interested in my car trip, thinking it was much more interesting and adventurous than the organized trip they were on. Some even wanted to quit the tour group and join me. I suddenly thought I had found a way to sail into a 'blue oceans' market," he said.

He knew that there were wealthy people who were limited by the tour routes and felt he could offer them something more memorable and worthwhile. Some itineraries include a summer camp to play at the Kobe Bryant basketball academy in the United States, a camping and driving trip around New Zealand, see art and history museums in Europe and investigate America's property market.

Cai says his company looks after everything, from applying for visas, renting vehicles and contacting local property agents and universities.

While we applaud Cai for filling a niche market, it is also disturbing to find that more Chinese tourists are keen to visit Antarctica in increasing numbers.

Over the Lunar New Year holiday, a group of more than 100 mainlanders visited the Antarctic Great Wall Station on King George Island close to Chile, overwhelming the scientists as they were trying to go about their work, Xinhua reported.

More than 2,300 mainlanders paid up to 500,000 yuan to visit the southern continent from November 2011 to March 2012.

A group of mainland tourists visiting Antarctica
As a result some academics, including Dai Bin, director of the China Tourism Academy, are calling for some kind of regulations to limit the visitors' impact on this sensitive environment.

China issued its Tourism Law last year, but this was mainly a guideline on how tourists should behave when visiting overseas. It does not include specific offenses with penalties nor any mention of the Antarctic.

Last year freelance travel writer Zhang Yifan joined a tour of 200 mainland tourists to Antarctica.

"I don't think mainland tourists behaved differently compared with those from other countries," Zhang said. "Anyone would get excited to see wild penguins in their native Antarctic habitat. I didn't see anyone throwing rubbish or spitting. The only problem was that sometimes tourists got a bit closer to photograph animals than the tour guide had advised them."

Nevertheless Dai believes the tourists should be respecting the environment and not disturbing scientists who are there conducting research. "It's understandable that we all admire rare animals, but Antarctica is not a campus," he said.