Monday, 31 March 2014

Homeless Numbers Underestimated

A homeless person in Hong Kong photographed by Lei Jih-sheng
There seems to be a major discrepancy in numbers with regards to the homeless in Hong Kong. A City University study has found the estimate could be double what the government thinks it is.

The government's tally over 15 years ago was at 674, while the university together with three community organizations put the number at 1,414.

The Homeless Outreach Population Estimation project lasted for eight months and counted people at 180 locations, including temporary shelters and 24-hour restaurant chains, where many find refuge.

In addition the university surveyed 323 homeless people and found 40 percent had low-paying jobs with an average salary of HK$5,688. About half of the respondents had attended high school.

Constance Ching Wing-lok, project supervisor of the City-Youth Empowerment Project, which organized the study, said rising rents and low incomes force many people into the streets.

"Many of these homeless people don't earn enough even for a subdivided flat, which costs at least HK$3,800 these days."

Ching said previous government numbers didn't give an accurate picture of the situation because they did not include those who lived in temporary shelters or other temporary accommodation.

"The [government's] total number of homeless people is believed to be an underestimation, given the highly mobile nature of the homeless," she said.

The last citywide count was conducted by the Social Welfare Department in 1999. It now gets its numbers from the Street Sleepers Registry, counting street sleepers but not those living in shelters. There were 555 street sleepers recorded in 2012.

As expected, Yau Tsim Mong and Sham Shui Po had the highest number of homeless people, with two-thirds over the age of 50, the youngest at 21, the oldest 89.

Another interesting statistic is that 93 percent of those surveyed were male, with them being homeless an average of four years. One said he'd been without a home for 36 years.

Ng Wai-tung of the Society for Community Organization said the government should provide more shelters for single homeless people and extend the length of time they could stay there so that they could apply for public housing.

It is disappointing to see the government not have as accurate numbers as possible on the homeless, particularly under Chief Executive Leung Chung-ying's watch.

He has made combating poverty one of his biggest concerns at the moment, but to not have a good picture of what's going on with the homeless shows the government really doesn't understand them.

If the government did, it would try to understand that homeless people are very mobile and will go wherever they need to go to find shelter. They also go, as mentioned earlier, to places like 24-hour McDonald's just to get some temporary reprieve, a warm place to sit down for a couple of hours. And assuming that those living in shelters are not homeless is ridiculous -- that is the way to sweep the problem under the carpet. All these people need to be taken into account.

And what about learning about their plight and how they fell on bad times? Finding out how they came to this situation can help the government have adequate services in place for them such as skills training or some kind of counselling to help them on their feet.

No one chooses to be homeless and in some cases they might have made some bad choices or mistakes along the way. They most desperately want some sense of dignity, but the government seems to like to clear the streets of them, pushing them further into the fringes of society.

Hong Kong is a wealthy city and is hardly a welfare state compared to places like the UK and Canada.

If Leung's administration is determined to combat poverty, it should take these latest numbers seriously and consider 1,414 a conservative estimate of how many homeless really are in the city.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Park Visit Before the Deluge

A panoramic shot overlooking the park, Central and Admiralty
The Hong Kong Observatory raised the black rainstorm warning tonight for the first time this year with thunderstorm warnings and lots of lightning flashes.

The heavy rains are expected to persist throughout the week, though we hope not as severe as right now!

Beautiful orchids in bloom
Local media have reported that there was hail in Wong Tai Sin at 8.30pm with the size ranging from a golf ball to a person's palm. Festival Walk shopping mall was hit by hail too, causing the glass to shatter in the ceiling and caused flooding inside. There's a picture of torrential rain pouring down on an escalator area, an image that is movie worthy.

It's a huge contrast to earlier today when the weather held up and after a big brunch at Simply Life in Queensway, Admiralty, we walked off the meal with a visit to Hong Kong Park.

We first checked out the Conservatory and in the Humid Plant house we saw many orchid species as well as hydrangeas and even bamboo. It was quite pleasant in there as there weren't many people -- probably at the Rugby Sevens? Or worried about the weather?

Another section of the conservatory, the Dry Plant House, had numerous kinds of cacti that was pretty neat. Everything was laid out nicely, with signs labelling the plants and clear pathways.

A Bali Myna posing for his close up for us humans
Afterwards we headed to the aviary to see the birds, of which there are over 80 species in this man-made tropical rainforest. Again there weren't too many people, but there were a few kids at first who ran around scaring the birds away while we adults were trying to photograph them!

Nevertheless we did manage to get a few decent shots, particularly of the Bali Myna bird with its white body, black-tip tail and a distinctive blue skin around its eyes, much like a stylish exaggerated blue cat eye on a bird!

This bird seemed to be very photogenic today and posed for us humans as it stood on the wooden railing.

Pecking on a banana perhaps for dessert?
There were other avian species, like pheasants and pigeons, but the Bali Myna and some colourful parakeets were the only ones who didn't mind us taking pictures of them. The parakeets were very particular though, and would only hang around if they were being fed by hand by one of the keepers...

By the time we left there was a minor sprinkling of rain, which gave no indication of the deluge we would receive tonight...!

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Visiting the Butterflies

Getting up close and personal with butterflies in Phuket
On our last day in Phuket before heading to the airport we checked out butterflies and other critters at the Phuket Butterfly Garden & Insect World. It's north of Phuket Town and in an off-the-beaten-path kind of location.

For an admission fee of 300BHT ($9.23) you can get up close and personal with many butterflies, while the insects are thankfully locked away in wired cages and boxes.

In the Breeding Room a butterfly decided to hang out on me!
Upon entering the complex we were greeted by staff who gave us a sugary drink and then a tiny plastic cup filled with a bit of banana soaked in sugar water in the hopes of luring butterflies to eat.

We wandered into the hot and humid open garden area where butterflies were flying among the greenery and orchids; our driver had told us now is not the season for viewing the flowers, but we saw enough here to make us happy.

It was difficult to photograph the butterflies at first, probably startled by another group of strangers wandering in their 'hood. But eventually we found a few lazy ones or perhaps more photogenic and didn't mind us coming up a bit closer to take pictures...

There were many butterflies with various colours and patterns
We had to follow the route which included visiting an area housing scorpions, reptiles and even cockroaches! I couldn't even bear to photograph them they were so frightening to look at, particularly the latter!!

The Pupae House is a cool enclosed space where you can see pupae hanging from wired box cages in various stages of development, with the smallest pupae a lime green colour, to the older ones a muted brown-gray. There was the odd butterfly trying to stretch its wings and flying around the small cage. Again we got to have a pretty good look at its underside!

Then we managed to get close to the butterflies sans cages in the breeding room, a small enclosed area with some orchids and a table like an altar with bananas on it. Again the butterflies here seemed nonplussed to have us there and we could take even closer pictures of them.

This creature decided to feast on some sweet bananas...
Here we could observe up close the intricacies of the patterns and colours on their wings, but it was a pity to see many of them have damaged wings, which is perhaps why they didn't fly around so much.

Nevertheless it was a wonderful experience to see them up close; staff were not even around to hurry us along and in fact the brochure encouraged visitors to stay as long as they wanted before closing time at 5pm and to take lots of pictures.

The brochure explains the Phuket Butterfly Garden breeds butterflies and then releases them annually in the hopes they will help to further pollinate flowers and fruit trees.

This butterfly sadly had a damaged wing
We wonder if the scheme really works considering the captive butterflies mostly feed on bananas already peeled for them! Nevertheless, we like the idea of the garden breeding the butterflies and hopefully educating more people about the importance of these creatures in our ecosystem.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Picture of the Day: Localization

Ronald McDonald greeting visitors outside his restaurant!
Ah McDonald's... the bastion of American fast food. It was interesting to see so many western fast-food restaurants in Patong, Phuket, but then again should we be surprised? It's where most of the tourists go in Phuket, and they are mainly from Australia, Russia, Germany and the United States; not everyone has adventurous palates.

But the delicious fresh seafood cooked with lime, chilli and lemongrass creating subtle but complex flavours... how can anyone pass that up?!

By the same token young Thais want a piece of American pie -- but in the case of McDonald's in Thailand it's chicken ham pie for a savoury taste and corn or pineapple pie for dessert.

Or how about dipping your chicken McNuggets into a berry-flavoured mayonnaise...?!

Nevertheless we like how Ronald McDonald puts his hands together like all Thais when they greet visitors -- "Sawasdee" or "Welcome!"

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Phuket Day 3: Leisurely Day

At the north end of Patong Beach are these large rocks covered in shells
Our day was filled with more sand and sun! By the time we got out of the hotel at 10am the sun was already bearing down but we trudged on, doing our daily walk on the beach.

An amazing sunset with a parachute dragged up into the air
This time we walked all the way to the north end of Patong beach where we found some rocks covered in shells and barnacles. Nearby is an idyllic looking outdoor cafe serving drinks and food. We had more mango (why can't we get mango this good in Hong Kong?!) and a lemonade before heading back to the hotel.

A few observations along our walk -- many people, mostly Russians, Australians and Germans visiting here are severely overweight, and several women had no qualms going topless to have as even a tan as possible. They probably would have gone in the nude if they could! Obese and topless are an unsightly combination, of which we saw many...

Whenever I'm on the beach I like to hunt for shells. I find it a good exercise to be on the look out for nice-looking shells and see what I can find. Today I found more larger shells than yesterday and even a small sand dollar!

Phuket Seafood looks fancy but the seafood is well priced
In the late afternoon I checked out the hotel pool which was much longer than the one I swim in back in Hong Kong which was nice. I did a few laps and the others in the pool must have thought I was strange as they were all huddled around the pool bar or playing with their kids... what's wrong with doing a mini workout?

Nevertheless it was worth burning off a few calories because we planned to check out a restaurant called Phuket Seafood that we had seen before and full of people. Again it looked like a Chinese-run establishment, with one or two staff speaking Mandarin and a tour group of mainlanders came in for dinner.

Stir-fried kale with crispy pork
Fresh seafood was laid out on ice and we got to choose what we wanted. We chose a fish and it was weighed and priced for us on the spot which made the whole process transparent. It came steamed with chillis and lime, though hardly as spicy as yesterday's lunch. The fish was again perfectly cooked which confirms Thais really know how to cook their fish.

We also ordered fried rice with crab meat -- though it didn't look anything like the picture in the menu that featured giant chunks of crab meat... however the kale with crispy pork was delicious -- stir-fried with deep-fried cubes of pork that added flavour to the dish.

Expecting it to cost over 1,000BHT ($31.25), we were surprised to find the bill came to 845BHT including a bottle of water and young coconut.

Fish steamed with garlic, chillis and lime
We tried to ask the waitress for a plastic bag to take the young coconut home, but she had no clue what we were talking about; in the end another waiter gave us the requested bag. The level of English varies widely here and it's a pity that some have no clue what you are saying, and yet don't have the common sense to ask another person to come and assist you...

There goes our second last day in Phuket and we've enjoyed the leisurely pace here, involving lots of naps, walks along the beach and fresh fruit!

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Phuket Day 2: Fishes, Cashew Nuts and More Sand

Looking up at the fish at the Phuket Aquarium
Today we started off relatively early at 9.30am as a driver picked us up to go from the west side of Phuket to the southeast side to Cape Panwa where the Phuket Aquarium is. A group of school children happened to be there at the same time as us and overall it was a neat place to visit.

We saw all different kinds of sea life, from shrimp to clown fish, electric eels, giant groupers, sharks and even sea mushrooms.They were sectioned off in relatively small tanks which seemed sad for eels and large fish who didn't have much room to move around in.

Cute little shrimp, this one with long whiskers!
Nevertheless it was neat to see things we hadn't seen before or up close. There wasn't much explanation about what we were looking at, or where their natural habitat was. We'd never seen sea mushrooms before, so colourful and looking almost like flowers.

I'd been told by a friend that Cape Panwa was a nice area, but when I saw was a small beach area; however the aquarium was right by the military base which seemed like an interesting location for it.

At the entrance of the base and every other government building and school is a picture of the Thai King who is 85 years old. His son is 65 years old, which is an interesting comparison with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles...

One big fish among small fishes...
Afterwards we headed further south to Rawai Beach. The same friend recommended this place as a good one for a seafood meal and we did just that for lunch. There are many seaside restaurants and we went to one by the beach.

We ordered mussels steamed with lemongrass, chillis, and Thai basil, but we were disappointed to see that while the mussel shells were large, the meat itself was very small! Nevertheless the broth was delicious with white rice.

Another winner again was steamed fish with lots of garlic, chillis and lime. It arrived hot over a flame which further cooked the chillis in the broth to make it even spicier. The fish was perfectly cooked, meaty and had the hint of chillis. Loved the excess garlic!

However we were very disappointed with the dessert of mango with sticky rice. Don't get me wrong -- the mango was delicious as now is the perfect time for it, but the sticky rice was hard and seemed like it was left over from the day before or not cooked enough. It was also too saccharine sweet.

Meanwhile, our fish for lunch, steamed with chills
We did a bit of shopping as well. Phuket seems to be known for cashew nuts and honey, and every other city tour includes a visit to cashew nut and honey factories. We went to a cashew nut place run by Chinese (there were red banners with Chinese characters on it) and saw how cashew nuts came from a fruit that will become ripe next month.

The nuts are extracted from the fruit using a machine and then either processed plain or a number of different flavours -- wasabi, tom yum, chocolate, paprika, honey... needless to say we tried pretty much all of them before buying some. We also tried an apple juice mixed with cashew nut juice. Who knew? It has more of an apple flavour, but refreshing all the same.

Extracting cashew nuts from the yellow fruit
Phuket is also known for rubber and our driver told us that Thailand sells a lot of latex to China. One of the ways latex is used is to make thin mattresses and we checked out a showroom where we saw lots of mainlanders lying on beds testing out these mattresses. Many bought bolsters.

We weren't quite impressed with them and they were quite expensive as well at 20,000BHT ($625).

Finally we made it back to our hotel and after a nap we did another walk along the beach at sunset. There seemed to be much more garbage washed up on the shore today compared to yesterday -- beer bottles in particular -- but no one seemed to mind. We didn't see any garbage cans for people to throw trash in...

These cashew fruits will be ripe next month onwards
It was neat seeing small kids playing on the beach, busy making sandcastles for the first time or thrilled to play in the water.

There were parachute sailings for 1,200BHT and we watched a few mainlanders try this ride that lasted only a few minutes. They were strapped into a vest followed by a thin life jacket.

A mainlander trying his hand at parachute sailing
After they were attached to the parachute they were pulled by a speedboat with another guy hanging onto the passenger to help anchor them. Must have really interesting views up there, though you sometimes have to wonder how safe those things are...

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Phuket Day 1 -- Sun and Sand

Catching the sunset at Patong Beach
This morning my mom and I took an early morning flight to Phuket. We haven't been to Thailand in a very long time and thought we'd like to take in some sun after a dreary winter in Hong Kong.

Everything went smoothly up until we were seated on a Dragon Air flight. It's a small plane, three seats each side. My mom and I sat in the middle and aisle seats and across from us another middle-aged couple. However sitting in both window seats was a young married couple and the woman pulled a long face having to sit apart from her husband.

Wearing a thin black shirt and jean shorts, and sporting sunglasses, she sat in her seat but was not happy and kept staring at her husband, he was also wearing sunglasses and looking at her. He asked the flight attendant to move them to have two seats together and the flight was pretty much full.

Tourists walk along the beach or swim in the ocean
The flight attendant asked us if we could move, but we refused out of principle -- it's a four-hour flight -- do you really have to be together? However the problem was solved and they were moved to another aisle which was good for us, having the window seat free.

My mom thought it was terrible that the husband had to give in to his wife's demands as she looked annoyed and threatening to have a temper tantrum.

Nevertheless, our flight was on our way and relatively smooth.

At Phuket International Airport, there's either transportation that's booked in advance or metered taxis so we went for the latter. We told them where our hotel was and it seemed like a flat rate of 800BHT even though his meter was running and came to just over 600BHT when we arrived.

Our driver was friendly enough, wearing a severely pressed shirt and he was quite professional; he only answered his phone when it rang -- an iPhone no less -- and even though he received many text messages he didn't check them while we were on the road.

And what a winding route it was! We took some side streets with many speed bumps and into what looked like remote areas which reminded me of Vietnam which I visited almost a year ago.

The last of the sun's rays
There are shacks and fields, and then a luxurious-looking tiled home, or a compound with box-shaped homes on stilts. We also saw many skinny cows at one point.

Finally we made it to Patong Beach and our hotel, which is just off the main road. We wandered around for some food and found a Thai restaurant where we were practically the only customers at 2pm.

The staff took our order but we waited for over half an hour for the food to arrive. But good things come to those who wait -- we had a large grilled fish enough for three to four people, vermicelli with vegetables and tom yum goong that was speckled with bits of red peppers but wasn't too spicy. The restaurant threw in a small plate of stir-fried vegetables probably to apologize for the delay.

Nevertheless the food was fantastic. The fish was perfectly cooked though a bit bland. It was enhanced with lime and a spicy sauce on the side. Pretty soon we demolished it along with everything else. Sorry but we forgot to take a picture of our feast!

After a nap we wandered out in the late afternoon the famous beach. The sand is so fine and soft, the temperature of the water is nice too. However the visitors to the beach come in a range of sizes -- mostly large sunburned ones from Russia...

A cute crab tile we found along the sidewalk!
Thailand is famous for its fruits, but we were hard pressed to find any fruit stands apart from the ones that sell cut fruit. On the edge of the beach we did buy a mango and guava and then on the way back to the hotel managed to find the only fruit stand on Patong Beach.

The mango was so sweet and smooth, hardly fiberous and the seed was very thin! Wax apples were crunchy and fresh young coconuts hit the spot.

Everyone seems to come out of hiding in the evening after the hot day in the sun and the nightlife here is bustling. There are shops selling tacky souvenirs, small massage places with young women trying to lure customers in, other stands with fake handbags and wallets, as well as bars and restaurants selling fresh seafood.

Many places seemed to have hardly any business -- which made me think of China where young people manning stores played with their phones while waiting for customers.

At one point we saw a bright red open-air taxi pull into a nightclub spot and several young pretty girls coming out -- straight out of the scene from Golden ChickenSSS when Sandra Ng's mammasan character leads her girls to entertain some clients...

We've pretty much done Patong and are looking forward to some adventures tomorrow on other parts of Phuket. Stay tuned.

Monday, 24 March 2014

An Afternoon in Cheung Chau

Boats in various colours lined up along the beach at Cheung Chau
My mom is visiting these few weeks and today we were planning to go to Yuen Long and eat some local dishes there. However our transportation didn't work out (long story) so we decided at the spur of the moment to go to Cheung Chau for lunch.

It's a place my mom hasn't visited in around 50 years since she was a student, and the weather was just perfect to be outside. We happened to catch the 12.15pm ferry which took almost an hour to get there.

When these orangey-red flowers bloom, spring is here!
The last time my mom was there was to visit a classmate of hers whose family lived on the outlying island. She remembers it having one-storey houses so she was surprised to see it quite developed, with three-storey houses and the waterfront lined with souvenir stands and restaurants.

We wandered down the promenade and saw the many fishing boats moored there, and the small stands selling the famous Cheung Chau bun-themed souvenirs, cloth bags that look like colourful fish and other handicrafts.

The restaurants are doing a brisk business, with staff holding out menus and quoting prices for two seafood dishes and a vegetable one. The prices ranged from HK$118 ($15.20) to HK$198 and we picked the one which was busiest -- which was the cheapest one!

Fantastic steamed fish with black bean sauce
Most of the outdoor tables were occupied so we sat inside -- with the air conditioning and fans turned on. We ordered prawns, sliced in half and steamed with loads of pan-fried garlic, but it was a pity they were slightly overcooked and so the meat was limp. However the steamed fish, butterfly, with black bean sauce was excellent and great with a bowl of rice.

The vegetable dish came free and we asked for choi sum that were the young shoots so they were delicious with again lots of minced garlic. However after our mini feast we weren't quite full (sharing a bowl of rice), so we also ordered a seafood wok, that was basically braised tofu with prawns, fish fillets, squid and vegetables.

Here the prawns were crunchy, and the tofu silky delicious. Needless to say we were stuffed by the end of that for HK$160! We waddled out and then wandered around a bit to walk off the lunch.

Constructing the Cheung Chau bun tower
We passed by the basketball court where men were constructing the steel conical frame for the upcoming Cheung Chau Bun Festival from May 3-7. People compete to scramble up to the top of the bun tower (made of plastic buns!) for bragging rights.

Visitors descend on Cheung Chau during this period and bakeries do a brisk business selling those famous buns that I have yet to try.

Next to the basketball court a giant bamboo theatre was being erected with a stage at one end and a slope towards it for the audience to sit. Here Cantonese operas will be performed during the same period.

And also nearby is the local temple, though the building is new-looking, the altar is quite old...

A makeshift theatre nearby being built out of bamboo
We passed by the beach and saw a golden retriever enjoying being in the water. He was constantly wagging his tail, but didn't seem to have any goal in mind, just hanging out in the water, then coming out, shaking all the water off, rolling in the sand and then repeat. Bless his owner who must have a heck of a time washing him afterwards...

The next stop was the snack street and little boutiques selling handmade items like jewellery and batik shirts, leather bags and postcards. These were fun to look at, but for the most part quite expensive.

We made it back to the ferry pier with time to spare before the next ferry and spied the famous fish ball stand didn't have a lineup and decided to buy a cattie of fishballs to take home to try.

The temple has a mix of old and new
And since we were so full from lunch we decided to have a simple dinner of vermicelli, fishballs and Chinese spinach with turkey broth. The fish balls aren't smooth like those at Tsui Wah, but quite chewy. Yum!

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Verdant Party Favours

A party favour I took home... a small measuring cup with mini cacti!
This afternoon I attended a colleague's wedding held at Hullett House in Tsim Sha Tsui.

We expected my coworker to have a sophisticated, stylish wedding, but in fact it turned out to be a bohemian hipster ceremony and reception.

Here's an even cuter cactus planted in an eggshell!
The signage with the bride and groom's names were embroidered and decorated with floral designs, and there were cute decorations of squirrels and hedgehogs made of straw and pine cones. There were also pots or baskets of flowers here and there with no uniformity.

After the ceremony, we were seated at long tables where there were small cacti plants potted in ceramic tea cups, measuring cups and even egg cups as well as glasses.

Not only were these decorations for the tables but also party favours for the guests to take home. The bride chose cacti because they are easy for people to look after because people in Hong Kong can be too busy to even remember to water plants!

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Michelle Obama's Soft Power

Never seen Chinese President Xi Jinping posing with so many women before
First Lady Michelle Obama's putting on a good show of soft power during her visit to Beijing these few days.

She did the usual touristy things like visit the Forbidden City -- without any other tourists around -- and tried her hand at calligraphy and table tennis.

First Lady Michelle Obama with her counterpart Peng Liyuan
However for her counterpart Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping, acting the hostess seemed nerve-wracking for her -- despite being used to performing on stage.

The political arena was new for Peng and admitted she was nervous when she and Mrs Obama were writing calligraphy.

Peng picked up a brush and wrote a four-character saying: "Only people of great virtue are suited to undertake great things".

Mrs Obama got the hang of table tennis and had a lot of fun, adding, "My husband plays. He thinks he's better than he really is."

Today the First Lady gave a speech at Peking University, saying that freedom of speech particularly on the Internet and in the news media was the foundation for a vibrant society.

Mrs Obama trying her hand at calligraphy with Peng Liyuan
"Time and again, we have seen that countries are stronger and more prosperous when the voices and opinions of all their citizens can be heard," she said. The United States, she continued, respected the "uniqueness" of other cultures and societies. "But when it comes to expressing yourself freely, and worshiping as you choose, and having open access to information -- we believe those are universal rights that are the birthright of every person on this planet."

While criticism of Chinese leaders are quickly wiped out of cyberspace, Mrs Obama explained that not everything was rosy for her and President Obama.

"My husband and i are on the receiving end of plenty of questioning and criticism from our media and our fellow citizens," she said. "And it's not always easy, but we wouldn't trade it for anything in the world."

Speeches like these give the average Chinese a mini insight into what life is like in America; and usually they are made on the progressive campus of Peking University.

Mrs Obama extolling the virtues of free speech at Peking U
With Chinese and American students present, perhaps Mrs Obama will do her part to influence the next generation of leaders... if the Party loosens up...

Friday, 21 March 2014

Picture of the Day: Affordable Art Fair

A refreshing sip of Coke before resuming an artful pose
The Affordable Art Fair kicked off today for the public and after work I made a quick visit before heading to dinner.

Held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, we had to walk quite a ways to get there.

While it's not nearly as big as Art Basel, there was lots to see and I only saw a fraction of it. The whole point of the fair is to showcase art that is under HK$100,000 and so they would be definitely pieces you'd put on your wall or home (as some as sculptures).

Exhibitors represented artists from around the world, mostly Europe and Asia, and local artists were out in force.

When we arrived the Arty-Licious Evening started and there was a hip hop dancer doing his break-dancing moves to a captive audience. There was also a live art demonstration by Emma Hack who did some body painting.

We caught Hack and her model just as they were taking a break, with the artist helping the model sip some Coke before continuing her pose.

If you're looking to start your collection or decorate your walls, check it out. Until Sunday.

Affordable Art Fair
Until March 23
Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Another Attack in a Month

Lei Iun-han was injured yesterday in attack by three masked men with pipes
Hong Kong has experienced another attack on press freedom after two people involved in the launch of a new newspaper were attacked yesterday.

Lei Iun-han, 46, director and vice-president of Hong Kong Morning News Media Group and news controller Lam Kin-ming, 54, were injured by three masked men with iron pipes in broad daylight on Science Museum Road in Tsim Sha Tsui.

The assailants -- wearing caps, surgical masks and gloves fled in a getaway car driven by a fourth man. Lei suffered injuries to her nose and knees, while Lam his right elbow.

Today a 30-year-old local man was arrested, apparently the owner of the silver Toyota sedan, that was later found abandoned in Wong Tai Sin.

Lam and Lei said they received no prior warning to the attack and it was over in a few seconds. A police source claimed the assailants were targeting the female victim (Lei), but she told police she didn't know why she was attacked.

It is the second time in four weeks after former Ming Pao editor Kevin Lau Chun-to was brutally attacked by men with choppers in Sai Wan Ho. Two men involved in the incident appeared in court today.

What is going on? It's very troubling to see these things happen in Hong Kong where press freedom is already fragile, and made even more so by these two attacks.

"Hong Kong is a lawful society. We will not tolerate any savage act. We must condemn such violence," said Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok.

Nevertheless it is a good sign to see the United States concerned about what's going on here.

US State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said Washington was concerned about the recent spate of attacks.

"While the details of the most recent attack are not completely clear, we are troubled by a series of incidents over the past year that seem to target Hong Kong media figures," she said.

Psaki said press freedom was crucial to the city's success and reputation as a leading centre of global commerce. "We expect Hong Kong's law enforcement authorities will fully and transparently investigate these incidents," she said.

Hong Kong cannot continue having these attacks -- Lau's February 26th incident was already shocking. If more of the city's media are frightened by violence, how can people feel safe?

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Ideas Worth Spreading

TEDxHongKong held its event tonight at Polytechnic University
I just came back from attending my first TEDxHongKong event that was held at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hung Hom.

I'd heard of TED Talks before but wasn't familiar with the locally organized TEDx events. So when there was an opportunity to attend tonight's event I decided to spend a few hours to hear speakers with "Ideas worth spreading".

One particular one was Martin Radford, a former teacher in the UK and Hong Kong, who then in 2010 got involved in a ministry full time, in particular the Inner Cities Ministries. It's a Christian mission that works with the South Asian ethnic minority community in Hong Kong, especially the Nepalese who live in Yau Ma Tei.

ICM's Martin Radford
He started off by saying Hong Kong hides its poverty extremely well, overshadowed by skyscrapers. And he explained that with poverty comes powerlessness -- the inability to change one's situation.

However he believes we as a community can help bring about transformation, which is a step beyond change. Radford made the comparison between a caterpillar and a butterfly. A caterpillar just focuses on eating leaves all day, whereas a butterfly flies over the caterpillar, beyond just eating leaves.

But he adds you can't just dig into your pockets to give money to poverty; it's like just adding wings to a caterpillar and that doesn't necessarily make it a butterfly -- it's still a caterpillar eating leaves.

So the best way to create transformation, Radford says, is to change through relationships. It is important to engage with people to transform them, and this is particularly critical for adolescents.

One of the slides he showed was that of women in a room hunched over sewing machines. Radford said these Nepalese women were taught how to sew and have so far made 500 children's outfits. Not only do they gain new skills, but these clothes have been sent to places like Bangladesh and India to people even more poor than them.

Teaching people how to cook at Taste of Grace
The mission also teaches them how to cook, which is a good way to build relationships with people. How can you share meals without talking, he asks. Some of the people who learned how to cook are also asylum seekers who aren't allowed to work until they have refugee status. But here they can learn skills they can use.

Radford says Nepalese kids have a hard time learning in Hong Kong. At home they speak Nepali, but don't know how to read the language. Then they go to local schools where they learn English and Chinese, but can't really figure out how the languages work. To them they are all disparate symbols that aren't connected. But the mission tries to help them figure it out through storytelling.

Another way to empower the Nepalese is through performing in a park in Yau Ma Tei. And he says empowerment is important because horizons are not easy to see when you are trying to look up. But when you rise up, the sun is the same for you as it is for Li Ka-shing, he says. It's a bold statement, but an optimistic one.

For example the mission took some Nepalese kids on a week-long camp. Some had never experienced having a shower, or changing their socks daily. But he says once they learn and experience more then the return on investment is incalculable.

Tutorial sessions for kids run by volunteers
That's because transformation happens when human beings care for other human beings, which is Radford's takeaway line.

We don't hear much about the Nepalese community in Hong Kong -- or is it because we choose not to? I know many typically work in the restaurant industry but where else? Are they making decent wages? What do they want to do with their lives?

But perhaps more importantly they want to be recognized for who they are and accepted into the community. And until we reach out to them, they will continue to remain in the fringes.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Couching Weather Predictions

We are barely into spring and already meteorologists are predicting Hong Kong will encounter four to seven typhoons this year.

The Observatory is couching itself with vague warnings because weather patterns have become increasingly unpredictable thanks to climate change.

Freak weather conditions like flooding in Britain, snowstorms in the eastern United States and record-setting heat waves in Australia are making it harder to accurately predict the weather, Observatory director Shun Chi-ming said yesterday.

"We can't attribute every extreme weather condition to climate change, but if you piece all of these extreme events together, we can feel that climate change is happening," Shun said. "To some extent, this will make our forecasts more challenging."

Typhoon forecasts are usually made based on the sea surface temperatures of the Pacific Ocean and are "normal", he said.

Shun explained the unusual cold winter this year was because of atmospheric "blocking" where regular air streams stagnate, causing temperatures to go above or below the normal range and have extended periods of extreme weather.

He said this was due to the close relationship to the melting of Arctic ice because of increasing sea surface temperatures.

"As climate change progresses, more extreme weather will arise," Shun said.

There are projections there will be about seven typhoons coming within 500 kilometres of Hong Kong, about the same as last year, whereas 2012 saw five that included a No. 10.

In addition it is expected there will be less rainfall this year at between 1,700mm to 2,300mm, which is considered normal to below normal.

And to cover all bases, Shun says rainfall will either be light or very heavy. "We anticipate a rise in the number of extremely wet years in the 21st century, but the likelihood of drought episodes remains."

Meteorologists believe Hong Kong's sea levels will rise 40cm by the middle of the century due to the rise in temperatures by 2 degrees Celsius.

From April, the Observatory will present a nine-day weather forecast to replace the current seven day one due to technology allowing for more accurate forecasts.

So basically have the umbrella on standby and if you don't have them yet, invest in some good rubber boots, Hong Kong's latest fashion accessory.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Plan B Overwhelmed

A baby hatch in Xi'an where parents can leave their child safely
It's sad to read that a Guangzhou child welfare centre that set up a "baby hatch" for parents to leave abandoned babies has had to close temporarily because it is overwhelmed with so many children.

The baby hatch, where parents can leave their child, knowing they will be safe, has collected 262 babies since the program started on January 28, according to Xu Jiu, the director of the centre.

He told a press conference on Sunday that the centre usually has around 1,000 beds filled, mostly with orphans whose parents had died, but now the total was 1,121 because of the high number of babies abandoned. There are already 1,274 cared for by foster families.

Xu said resources were tight and didn't know when the baby hatch would be open again. He added that parents should not leave infants in the baby hatch now because surveillance footage would be given to the police.

All of the abandoned babies have illnesses, such as cerebral palsy (42 percent), Down's syndrome (15 percent) and congenital heart disease (12 percent). Nine percent of the total babies died. It is believed the babies were abandoned because the families may not have the resources to afford the medical care.

An abandoned child plays with a caregiver in Xi'an
Abandoning babies in China is illegal, but the baby hatch program started to prevent infants from being left in dangerous conditions, like on the street. The parents enter the room, leave the child there and press a button which gives them a few minutes to leave without anonymously and escape prosecution.

There are 25 baby hatches in 10 provinces and major cities, but there was a lot of controversy when they began because some critics felt it encouraged parents to abandon children.

However, the vast majority of the cases are children with illnesses that average families would not be able to cope with physically or financially without government assistance.

Ye Fen, the director of social welfare in the civil affairs bureau in Guangzhou said the city would provide financial aid to poor families with sick newborns to reduce the number of abandoned children.

Meanwhile the government is also considering giving free medical treatment to young children born with a disease. That would greatly help families, but again, they need more than just free medical treatment because there are physical demands of looking after children who need constant care.

It's admirable to see China have these baby hatches that were pioneered in Shijiazhuang in Hebei province over two years ago. Parents would never abandon a child if it was one that was planned for. But when they don't have the resources to even begin to look after the baby properly, it shows there's something wrong with the system.

Hopefully the baby hatches will be reopened but also a more comprehensive medical plan in place for these children to live productive lives and also help the parents focus on providing for the family.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

The Soft Sell

Use this brand's skincare products and you too can look like this!
A while ago a colleague introduced me to an eyebrow pencil that I quite liked and then last month ran out and went to the boutique to get another one.

One would think the transaction would take 10 minutes, but instead I was sucked into the store, invited to have a seat on the plush chair and would I please fill out my details for their database?

Polite aggressive only begins to describe the service at the store in IFC.

I didn't really want to do this, but now comfortably seated it was harder to flee. I duly gave them as basic information as possible, but then the sales girl quickly assessed my skin and then started testing specific lotions on the back of my hand to try.

One required having to use a cotton pad to rub the lotion into the skin which she claimed made it smoother... perhaps because the pad buffed my skin?

After that she gave me a whole slew of samples to try and an instruction booklet on how to use them all.

And before I could leave the premises I had to book a mini facial or a session on how to use their make-up product range. I opted for the former and we set the appointment to a month later, today.

In the back of the store is a small room and in the counter in front of where I sat was a whole array of skin care products. She was going to apply each and every one on my face at one point or another.

She gently cleaned my skin and the began applying a calming lotion, then a serum, placed a hot towel on my face to open my pores then another serum. This was followed by the application of a mask for five minutes.

The sales girl returned, removed the mask and then began applying a whitening cream, which I really detest using (because it bleaches the skin and makes the skin layer thinner). Then a magical moisturizer that apparently does all kinds of things, from even out skin tone to reduce puffiness around the eyes to a bit of whitening again.

Finally she added SPF 50 on my face and even added a bit of foundation cream on and filled in my eyebrows again with the same shade eyebrow pencil I usually use.

Like most beauticians, I was expecting her to chastise me on my skin which isn't the greatest during winter, but she instead said it was pretty good. Nor did she hard sell me on any of the products, except for the mask, saying there would be a new product launch later this week.

So I left feeling beautified and more knowledgeable about this skincare line. I probably can't even afford the whole slew of products, but it was interesting to see how they were used. Perhaps the best tip is that I need to treat my face a bit more delicately from now on...!

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Pictures of the Day: Banyan Tree

Fantastic shot looking up at a Banyan tree in Kennedy Town
Last week YTSL and I explored Kennedy Town at night and discovered there are many eateries to choose from!

The roots, large and small hang on to the stone wall
Davis Street has several options, from high-end French bistros to pizza and Mexican and pubs. And then a small alley houses a Belgian beer pub and we tried some beers there.

After walking around a bit more we discovered a decent sushi place and Chinese on the same street, and where a pub is that serves authentic Thai on Thursday evenings.

Along Forbes Street we could hear people playing basketball above us and as we looked up we saw these Banyan trees perched above whose roots scaled down the stone wall in tangles.

Some roots look similar to ginseng!
We marveled at the sight and couldn't resist taking a few pictures.