Sunday, 30 November 2014

Tensions Flare; Family Frictions

Large numbers of people at Admiralty, who later clashed with police...
As I write (10.30pm Sunday) there are clashes between protesters and the police in Admiralty, where crowds have overtaken Lung Wo Road.

Police knew something was coming with the Federation of Students told people to come to Admiralty at 6pm and have goggles and helmets on hand.

The crazy thing is that I was just there two hours ago and while I was impressed with the turnout -- there seemed to be just as many as in the first week of the Umbrella Movement -- I didn't feel there was tension in the air.

There was lots of police presence, standing at various points where there were barricades, but other than that it seemed like a typical night in Admiralty.

However, things have escalated in the last half hour and so far five people have been arrested.

But my blog post wasn't supposed to be about Admiralty today, but about a documentary I saw before dinner time at the Asia Society as part of the 15th Hong Kong Jewish Film Festival.

It's called Life in Stills by Tamar Tal and tells the story of a grandmother and her grandson who run a photography shop in Tel Aviv.

Miriam Wasserstein with grandson Ben in Life in Stills
The shop, The Photo House, was started in 1940 by the grandfather, famous Israeli photographer Rudi Wasserstein who captured images of the place before it was formally a country from the mid 1930s until his death. There are over 1 million negatives in the shop that they carefully archive and sell prints to customers.

Grandmother Miriam is 96 years old and a no-nonsense woman who has really dry humour, while her grandson Ben has the patience to look after her and explain what is going on around her which she may or may not accept.

Their shop is facing eviction because developers want to build something new on the block, while they try to fight to stay there. Meanwhile we find out why it's only the grandmother and grandson around -- four years earlier his mother was murdered by her husband who then committed suicide.

Miriam is still reeling from her daughter's death, while Ben has compartmentalized it elsewhere in his mind and has moved on. He also reveals he is gay and moves in with his boyfriend, but does Miriam approve? We are not sure.

Wonderful photo of a younger Miriam by her husband Rudi
The documentary is only an hour long and at the end we see the shop has to move temporarily for at least three years while the new development is built; when it is completed they will get to move back, but not exactly in the original location.

We also see photographs that Rudi Wasserstein took, and perhaps for many Israelis they are considered iconic images, but more explanation and captions would have been appreciated for those not too familiar with his work.

Ben knows the camera is watching and at times looks like he's trying to act, when he should just focus on what is going on, like Miriam who acts very natural, or maybe she doesn't even realize the camera is there!

Nevertheless, the tender portrait of the grandmother and grandson is poignant, revealing the various layers they struggle with together and individually.

Here's a taste from the trailer:

Life in Stills

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Taunting the Authorities

There were light showers, with yellow umbrellas out in force in Mongkok
Just came back from "going shopping" in Mongkok with YTSL, where we saw lots of people walking up and down Nathan Road, but also trying to reoccupy the area after it was cleared earlier this week.

A crowd of people converged on Sai Yeung Choi and Soy streets, with a few holding up yellow umbrellas and people shouting things like "open the road!" and "you bitch!" at the female police officer trying to get the crowd to disperse.

Protesters giving the three-finger salute a la Hunger Games
Nearby is the Broadway Cinema, and there was a large screen showing movie trailers. Whenever the one for Rise of the Legend, about martial arts hero Wong Fei-hung was shown, people cheered, and when a commercial was on people booed.

At 11pm the screen shut down for the evening and so protesters showed their defiance by holding up their arms in a three-finger salute -- in reference to the Hunger Games...

Perhaps they'll start quoting lines from movies soon?

The atmosphere wasn't tense -- in fact it was genial though there were groups of police officers every few metres away either making sure no one got onto Nathan Road, or standing from afar and observing the situation.

At one point we saw people following someone holding a yellow umbrella and they had gone "shopping", buying egg waffles and offering them to complete strangers, or buying snacks to eat themselves. YTSL contributed by going to Hagen Daaz and buying a Dulce de Leche ice cream cone!

The crowds dispersing and moving around, has created more problems for the police to handle -- it was easier when they were all hanging out in one spot -- on Nathan and Argyle -- as YTSL points out.

Lots of police hanging around the area tonight
What's happening in Mongkok is thanks to the Hong Kong government still doing nothing about the situation. Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor refused to have a meeting with the pan-democrats as a handful of them visited her at her residence on the Peak.

"We told Mrs Lam that the government must create circumstances that are conducive to ending the 'umbrella movement'. But she gave us no response at all on this," said Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit.

Other lawmakers there were Ronny Tong Ka-wah, Albert Ho Chun-yan, Lee Cheuk-yan and Kenneth Leung.

Lam probably has her hands tied, with Beijing probably instructing her to do nothing, but really the impasse can only be resolved through some kind of dialogue.

The police are left doing the dirty work while protesters run circles around them. And this will continue, prolonging the frustration and also mockery of the ineffectiveness of the authorities in dealing with this important issue...

Friday, 28 November 2014

Triumphant Return

This prized thangka sold for $45 million

Do you know who Liu Yiqian is?

He stunned the auction world this week when he came out victorious in successfully bidding for a Ming dynasty silk wall hanging for HK$348.4 million ($45 million) after a 22-minute intense competition at Christie's auction in Hong Kong.

Usually bidding ends in mere minutes, but he was on the end of the phone line represented by Christie's China president Cai Jingjing, and the other bidder was represented by Francois Curiel, chairman of Christie's Asia Pacific.

Billionaire Liu was ecstatic about his latest possession, saying he was looking forward to bringing it back to China.

Liu Yiqian and his wife Wang Wei
"Before our country wasn't very strong or prosperous, so many things were lost to overseas buyers," Liu said. "Now that we have accumulated wealth, we need to deepen our own cultural sophistication. So we are buying Western art, to say nothing of our own art."

The rare 600-year-old embroidered silk Buddhist thangka depicts Raktayamari, the red Conqueror of Death embracing his consort Vajravetali, trampling Yama, the Lord of Death.

According to antiques dealer Hon Lau, owner of Hollywood Galleries in Central, said the thangka was a series of three, with the other two in Jokang Monastery in Tibet.

The price of the thangka has been steadily rising, having been sold for $1 million in New York 20 years ago, then HK$30 million to a US collector in 2002.

Lau says the 10-fold increase in the price is because Buddhist art has been undervalued in the past.

"This thangka is a magnificent piece of historical artwork made of top-notch craftsmanship," said Lau. He said the imperial mark of "Yongle" [commissioned by Emperor Yongle in the 15th century] added great value to the piece.

"I have had collectors telling me that they wouldn't want to trade this even if they were given 10 chicken cups," he said.

Liu sips tea from his newly acquired "chicken cup"
Lau is referring to the HK$281.24 million ($36.3 million) Liu spent in April to acquire the Meiyintang Chenghua "chicken cup" at the Sotheby's Hong Kong auction.

Liu raised eyebrows when he paid for the cup by maxing out several credit cards and then had tea poured into the cup which he drank for reporters and photographers.

Liu's story is that he used to be a taxi driver and then hit the jackpot playing the stock market, while his wife is Wang Wei claims to be an art expert. They have a collection of traditional and contemporary Chinese art that is displayed in their privately-owned Long Museum, in two locations in Shanghai.

It's interesting that Tibet Buddhist art is highly appreciated and yet the current situation in the region is far from calm...

He seems to take pride in this kind of cultural colonialism, which may be quietly endorsed by Beijing.

So where did he get over HK$500 million to snap up these two pieces this year? Or did he hit the super jackpot?

Thursday, 27 November 2014

More Short-Sighted Measures

Shui On's Vincent Lo suggests using country park land for affordable flats
More tycoons are giving suggestions on how to help young people have a home.

Yesterday it was building more hostels for them so that they could save up to buy a flat.

Now others are saying homes should be built for first-time home buyers in Hong Kong's country parks. Talk about the thin edge of the wedge, down the slippery slope, tip of the iceberg... any more metaphors to add?

Vincent Lo Hong-sui, chairman of Shui On Land said, "We have to give hope to young people that they will be able to have a decent place. Otherwise, why do they want to stay here?"

Uh, young people very much want to stay in Hong Kong, but not way out in the country parks! And aren't they supposed to be protected land by the government?

Lo doesn't seem to think that's the issue. "If you have no house, it is no use having nice country parks. Land supply is the biggest issue. If we have more land supply, property prices won't rise the way they have done."

Development Secretary Paul Chan has the same idea...
Methinks Lo doesn't go hiking much, nor does he seem to care that Hong Kong's country parks are an asset to the city. He only sees it as a gold mine that needs to be exploited.

Allan Zeman has also chimed in saying only 3-5 percent "a small fraction" of country parks should be converted for affordable housing.

Again we'd like to ask -- how are these people going to get to and from these homes in the middle of nowhere? That just further alienates them and transportation costs alone would keep them at or near poverty.

These are property developers using the protesters as an excuse to push the government to release more land to be converted into flats.

Unfortunately the Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po has not ruled out the idea of using country park land for flats -- having floated it himself in early September in his blog.

However laws stipulate that country parks are designated for the purpose of nature conservation, countryside recreation and outdoor education.

So can the tycoons and Chan please go back to the drawing board and rethink how they can reuse existing land in the city? There are many brown sites or abandoned ones that could and should be developed. Surely there's another solution than destroying virgin land?

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Short-Sighted Measures

Hong Kong's a financial powerhouse but has major social issues...
Nathan Road in Mongkok was cleared earlier this afternoon, but protesters are back this evening and have re-occupied the area. We knew it would be tough to clear Mongkok and it's going to take a while, if not a lot of police manpower to keep the roads clear.

Meanwhile another think tank -- how many do we need in Hong Kong? -- has come up with the brilliant solution of solving the housing crisis by building more hostels for young people to live in and save up 14 years' worth of salary to put a down payment on a flat.

The Bauhinia Foundation has strong links with former Chief Executive Donald Tsang -- who we may add did nothing to ramp up the construction of social housing during his seven-year tenure.

The foundation also suggests easing the repayment terms of student loans, enhancing skills-based training, reviewing sub-degree courses and creating more well-paid jobs.

We're all for the latter but how's that going to come about when bosses are stingy types and rents are sky-high?!

It's ironic the foundation is pointing out things we already know -- inflation and home prices have far outpaced income growth, and that this was the key obstacle in upward social mobility of young people aged 15-24.

"If young people are uncertain about the opportunities for moving upwards, they will have no interest in or passion for society," centre chairman Dr Donald Li Kwok-tung said. "This is harmful to social stability."

Which is why so many young people were out in the streets protesting! Hello!

The foundation studied statistics from 1991 to 2014 that showed a young couple now had to save for 14 years and four months to put down a deposit on a 40 square metre flat (about 400 square feet) -- up from eight years and eight months in 1991.

The calculation was made on the average property price of private residential units and that the monthly mortgage payment would be about 40 percent of a couple's salary of HK$29,000 ($3,740).

Hong Kong also has the distinction of having the most unaffordable housing for the fourth straight year among 360 cities and countries, as well as the smallest homes according to US consultant Demographia.

While education remained the key driver to having a good income, the centre also noted the incomes of the better-educated had been eroded by inflation, while 40 percent of young people were working in hotels and retail which resulted in little chance of advancement.

And so the foundation proposed the government build youth hostels so that young people could save up to buy flats.

Many criticized this suggestion because it doesn't actually tackle the problem of property prices being out of reach of young people, and the apparently collusion between the government and property developers will only make the plan of building hostels another opportunity for the latter to rake in more money.

The entire economic system in Hong Kong is so skewed towards the rich that they keep getting wealthier, while the rest of us pay for their salaries because they have control over so many essential services in the city.

But the people in charge won't be changing the system anytime soon... so that's why building hostels is their brilliant solution.

This think tank seems to think that once young people have a home everything will be fine. They are obviously not looking at the big picture and in the long run...

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Mongkok Clashes Again

Lots of people milling outside on Shanghai Street before 7pm tonight
As expected, things got volatile today in Mongkok as bailiffs and police tried to clear Argyle Street.

During the day things were relatively calm, but by evening things began getting tense and people swarmed the area.

I happened to be invited to an event at Langham Place and during the evening rush hour the MTR was quite busy and the exit to Argyle Street was obviously blocked off with police and MTR staff standing in front of the cordoned off area, and people had to inch slowly to the other three exits to the area.

From the hotel above we could see mostly police standing around to prevent protesters from occupying the area again. A few hours later around 9.15pm I took the picture at left, with police still holding the area.

A tense-looking standoff on Shanghai Street
But soon after I got home after 10pm, fresh clashes erupted again and at 10.45pm police used pepper spray to disperse the crowd. Police say 80 people were arrested, including lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung.

This is what happens when the government does not solve this problem with a political solution. When Mongkok and Admiralty are cleared and things are returned to "normal", frustrations will continue to simmer on the surface again and break out again into another form of protest.

Beijing and the Hong Kong government need to seriously consider what they are doing with residents here because just trying to shut down a two-month-old protest is not going to solve anything.

This is not just about universal suffrage, but about the yawning wealth gap, the lack of opportunities for young people to move up the social ladder, the inability to afford a home, the feeling that mainlanders are taking over Hong Kong, and so on.

We need to have a dialogue and we need to start talking now.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Fact of the Day: Get Rich is Glorious... then Emigrate

Back in 1992, then paramount leader Deng Xiaoping made his famous southern tour visiting Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Zhuhai, where he reportedly said, "To get rich is glorious!" (致富光荣! zhi4fu4guang1rong2).

And millions of people in China took this literally, creatively finding ways to make their wealth.

But now that the uber rich have made their money, they want their kids to get the heck out of motherland.

According to the Hurun Research Institute based in Shanghai, about 80 percent of mainland tycoons want their children to study abroad.

This compares to 1 percent in Japan and 5 percent in France.

Of the Chinese tycoons surveyed, 30 percent want to send their brood to the UK for primary education, while 36 percent want their children to go to the United States for university.

Sounds like they don't mind their kids having a mixed-up British-American accent...

The report added overseas education was the main reason why tycoons wanted to emigrate.

Sounds like lots of money flowing out of China, apparently for better education...

The report doesn't ask if the tycoons want their children to come back to China after their studies, but the results of that question would also be very telling...

Sunday, 23 November 2014

New Traffic Observations

Strange seeing cars here on a Sunday; helpers on sidewalks
Every Sunday Chater Road in Central is closed off for domestic helpers to have another spot to hang out during their precious day of rest.

However, this afternoon was strange to see there were no police barricades to block the street and to see cars going through the area. Buses continued on their Sunday routes, which meant avoiding Chater Road, but private vehicles and trucks continued there, which meant the domestic helpers had to set up their quarters on the sidewalks.

From what I remember this street was still blocked for domestic helpers while the Occupy movement was happening. Or did the authorities think they needed to road open to deal with Sunday traffic, which is quite light?

More helpers occupying the sidewalks (left)
Meanwhile the passageway at HSBC headquarters on Queens Road Central has always been a favourite spot for these hired help as well, but in the last two months, the bank has taken up the space by erecting a display that won't be unveiled until March of next year.

It seems the bank was worried about Occupy protesters taking over the space after several people literally camped out in the area two years ago during the Occupy movement in New York.

And so the domestic helpers have no choice but to hang out outside the bank. Admittedly it's now quieter going through the area, but the massive display has made it difficult to move freely in the passage area.

In addition, I saw several men in suits with earpieces, patrolling areas in front of IFC mall, along the footbridge next to Standard Chartered Bank, and the footbridges from Chater house and World Wide House to Exchange Square. They were not only there to prevent domestic helpers from lingering in the area, but also hawkers trying to strike a deal reselling the iPhone 6 outside IFC.

These new measures are a clear attempt to get rid of what some people think are eye sores, but also interesting to note it was several buildings doing this at the same time.

Is this a concerted effort to push domestic helpers out of Central, or at least the main shopping areas so that customers will be able to move around more freely and with less guilt?

Again it's the government that hasn't done much to offer domestic helpers a space of their own for some relaxation on their only day off. Some go to churches and parks, but they can't hold the some 320,000 (as of 2013) helpers in the city.

We will keep an eye on the situation next weekend to see if the patrols are still in force...

Saturday, 22 November 2014

A Much Needed Break

Shopping mecca Causeway Bay may see a few store front changes in the year
During the first few weeks of the Occupy movement, a few landlords were kind enough to lower rents for tenants whose businesses were affected in Causeway Bay.

And now it seems this is going to be a trend as it wasn't just Occupy that resulted in the slowdown in business, but also fewer mainlanders coming to Hong Kong and fewer buying large quantities of goods.

Blame it on Chinese President Xi Jinping's ongoing crackdown on corruption and no one wants to be seen spending way beyond their means...

In prime shopping districts, it is expected that rents next year will decrease into double-digit percentages after years of raising rents as high as 60 percent in 2012.

Sales of luxury goods dropped 14.7 percent year-on-year in the first nine months of 2014.

We may also see the face of Causeway Bay changing, with some luxury brands and cosmetic stores like SaSa closing and/or relocating stores from prime shopping locations.

Will this mean the return of mom-and-pop shops? Probably not, but this may signal lower prices for consumers in non-luxury brand stores that will benefit the rest of us, and perhaps dining there will be more value for money...

Hopefully this trend will expand beyond Causeway Bay... God knows we a serious re-balancing of the city's economy.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Bagging Another Tiger

Mountains of cash, gems, jade and antiques were found in Xu Caihou's home
Can you imagine what a tonne of cash looks like?

Xu Caihou, a former vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, was expelled from the Communist Party in late June and his case was handed over to military prosecutors.

And now it has been reported he took tons of bribes in exchange for promotions, so much so there was more than a tonne of cash and precious jade in his basement.

The cash wasn't just yuan, but also US dollars and euros, and there were also lots of precious gems and hundreds of kilograms of expensive jade, as well as rare antiques.

"Case handlers had no option but to call more than 10 military trucks before all the confiscated property piled up like mountains from this former Central Military Commission vice-chairman's house could be taken away," said the report from Phoenix Weekly, a magazine run by Phoenix Television.

The article reported Xu was forced to "bow his head and admit defeat" when confronted with the list of items.

We have to wonder how Xu's stash stacks up compared to Wei Pengyuan, former deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission's coal department who had 200 million yuan in cash in his flat.

Both are from very powerful departments in government.

While the amount of cash may be pretty close, it seems like Xu wins hands down for the value of his ill-gotten gains for sure including the gems and jade...

It really makes you wonder -- how may more tigers need to be caught?

Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Battle for Viewers has Begun

A toast of victory for Ricky Wong (centre) with the launch of HKTV online
HKTV boss Ricky Wong Wai-kay got his comeuppance with the launch of his widely-anticipated online television station yesterday that had over 1 million downloads, far beyond his expectations.

"I thought I would only have 30,000 to 50,000 viewers this morning," he said.

Wong suffered a massive setback when the government rejected his application for a free-to-air license last year. It sparked massive protests at Civic Square in the government headquarters in Tamar.

He then tried to get a mobile TV license but told this could not go ahead for technical reasons and so he went online instead.

There were 330,000 downloads of HKTV's app via smart TV or set-top boxes, and 670,000 downloads through mobile devices. There were 250,000 viewers in the first seven hours of service.

Live streaming was available from 8pm and on-demand viewing of the crime thriller Borderline and political drama The Election were available from 6am.

Some people complained on social media that they could not access HKTV's website after live broadcasts began at 8pm, and Wong promised to try to fix the glitches as soon as possible.

Seems that Wong chose November 19 to launch HKTV's online service on the same day TVB celebrated its 47th anniversary.

Wong Cho-lam (left) proposes to his girlfriend on TV...
And in the battle for ratings, one of its stars, comedian Wong Cho-lam wore a red checkered suit and carrying a massive bouquet of red roses, proposed to his long-time girlfriend actress Leanne Li Ya-nan during the anniversary gala.

After he gave a heartening speech, Wong Cho-lam presented her a three-carat diamond ring, and she promptly took off the ring she was wearing and put on his before even accepting the proposal.

Oh yeah -- I do!

Talk about using the romantic strategy in the battle for ratings...

Apparently TVB chairman Norman Leung didn't know about Wong Cho-lam's plan to propose on TV, but was apparently moved to tears...

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Broken Glass Signals the End

It's very sad and disappointing to see the Umbrella Movement will be coming to an even swift end now that glass has been broken on the 52nd day of the occupation.

Soon after I published my blogpost after 1am, some masked men stormed the Legislative Council building and broke a glass window. Clashes with police went on for several hours that included the use of pepper spray and batons resulted in six were arrested.

Occupy Central and pan-democratic leaders are claiming the violent protesters were "misled" thinking legislative councillors would be talking about a yet-to-be discussed bill on internet freedom.

Lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung rushed to Legco when he heard about tensions rising and tried to stop the break-in but according to him, was thrown aside, though not injured.

Before this incident happened, pro-establishment lawmakers were proposing to build a three-metre-high fence outside Legco after protesters against a new town complex attempted to break into the building earlier this year.

Now it will be harder for pan-democrats to object to the proposal now that some protesters actually broke in late last night.

And in fact this gives the police and the Hong Kong government every right to shut down the Umbrella Movement -- evidence that protesters are violent.

It's a sad end to the protest that originally inspired thousands to come out to support it after the pepper spray and tear gas, that resulted in an explosion of art, creativity, community and conversation.

It will only be a matter of time when the areas will be cleared and then life will go back to "normal", with many issues still unresolved...

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Picture of the Day: Artistic Umbrella

A fantastic drawing of the protests -- in the shape of an umbrella!
My friend YTSL showed me a picture she took of an amazing black and white drawing shaped like an umbrella and inside it was an artistic recording of the many incidents that have happened in over seven weeks.

Entitled Umbrella Revolution, there's the Time magazine image of the man holding two umbrellas, Lion Rock, Umbrella Man, the bus in Mongkok that was covered in messages, numerous tents, Chinese President Xi Jinping holding an umbrella (three times) -- and even Jesus, and Hong Kong Police spokesman Steve Hui Chun-tak, who gives police briefings at 4pm with a clock drawn behind him. Musician Kenny G couldn't not escape this artist's satirical hand, drawn with a sign that says "I [heart] RMB".
Similar in style to this Northern Song Dynasty painting?

There's also a study corner, protesters and police clashing in Mongkok, and the umbrella is outlined with barricades and traffic cones.

I can't help but think this is the 2014 version of the famous Along the River during the Qingming Festival from the Northern Song Dynasty. The scene depicts people crossing the bridge as well as people on boats, depicting everyday life.

A case of art imitating art -- minus the satire?

Monday, 17 November 2014

A Last Look?

Protesters are still out in force on the 51st day of the Umbrella Movement
Media are reporting that police will begin helping bailiffs execute court injunctions at two protest sites, beginning with Citic Tower in Admiralty as early as tomorrow and Mongkok later this week.

These barricades may be taken down as early as tomorrow
I took one more look around Admiralty tonight and saw as many tents as there has been on Harcourt Road, but these will probably be removed later. They didn't seem to be occupied by many protesters, though there were a number of us wandering around the area. This evening people made speeches, others busy folding umbrellas out of paper, or even making T-shirts with Umbrella Movement decals on them.

Nearby is Citic Tower and there are lots of barricades up, making it somewhat difficult to access the building, though there is an overpass bridge linking it with Queensway. But in terms of vehicular traffic there are disruptions to getting there and so those bigwigs with chauffeured cars can't get to their offices...

Some road signs creatively adapted
It's amazing to see today marks the 51st day of the occupation and there are still a number of people out there determined to see this to the end.

But the protest is coming to an unglorious end through court injunctions that aren't even being filed by the government for the good of the people of Hong Kong, but by companies that are forced to fend for their own interests.

This demonstrates how inept and passive the Hong Kong government is in looking out for the best interests of its citizens. If anything the Umbrella Movement has laid bare the fact that the city is not working, the growing wealth gap, how economically repressed the next generation is, the collusion between tycoons and government and people's determination that they are Hong Kong people and have no attachment to the mainland.

Is this how Beijing wants Hong Kong to be? Today the start of the long-anticipated stock connect scheme, where mainlanders can invest in Hong Kong stocks and vice versa.

This minion may be removed tomorrow!
But the day ended lower, with not many mainlanders keen on investing in Hong Kong... perhaps the propaganda machine works too well...

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Picture of the Day: Discounted Lufsig

Stock up on Lufsigs while stocks last!
The other day when I was in Causeway Bay, I popped into Ikea to take a look around.

Note to self -- do not go on a Friday evening at 9pm. Traffic-wise, it looks deceptively fine in the store, as there aren't as many people checking out the showrooms.

Over a year ago Leung tried to have fun with Lufsig...
But once you arrive at the cashier, there are massive lines. 

I usually don't end up empty-handed in Ikea, and picked up a pack of napkins. But as soon as I saw the lines to pay, I gave up.

However, I noticed a bin with Lufsigs, or the wolf character in Little Red Riding Hood, who wears a red and white checkered shirt and jeans with suspenders, while holding grandma in his paw was on sale.

He became famous about last December when protesters threw the stuffed toy at Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and it quickly gained notoriety because of his association with a wolf, and also the toy's Cantonese translation sounded like female genitalia.

These days protesters like to use the toy as a metaphor...
But now that it seems like the Umbrella Movement may be winding down in the next week or so, the Swedish retailer has also decided to move its Lufsig stock. Originally priced at HK$99.90 ($12.88), it's now HK$84.90!

With the discounted price, is that a subtle sign Leung has lost favour?

One can only hope...

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Denied Entry to Motherland

The three seats where the student leaders were supposed to sit on the plane
You really can't fault the students for trying.

They attempted to speak to the Hong Kong government. Finally there was a "debate" that the students won hands down through public opinion, but then nothing more has happened, because really it's Beijing that instructs the Leung administration on what to do.

Then the students suggested the pan-democrats resign en masse to trigger an election as a kind of referendum, but these politicians were too scared to actually lose their seats.

And then earlier this afternoon student leaders tried to escalate things by attempting to go to Beijing to petition their case.

But they only got as far as Hong Kong International Airport.

Three representatives of the Federation of Students tried to board a Dragon Air flight to Beijing earlier this evening but were denied the opportunity to even leave Hong Kong.

Apparently their home return permits were invalid...

Perhaps someone above instructed Dragon Air not to process their tickets? Even on the flight there were three seats with stickers on them with a red line running through them, indicating these were where the three students, including Alex Chow Yong-kang were supposed to sit.

It's also quite ironic, as someone on Twitter pointed out: "Denied entry into a country whose government insists that you belong to it?"

How true.

And how sad.

No one is taking these students seriously except their supporters, which is making this battle even more frustrating. These are the very people Beijing needs to woo and yet it denies them the opportunity to step foot in the motherland.

Just as well. I was concerned that if they did have that slim chance of entering the Chinese capital, they might attempt a public protest and then they might disappear into a black jail somewhere...

One would have thought the trio would have been allowed onto the plane but then turned back in Beijing. However, authorities obviously thought they'd save them the trouble.

There was an impromptu protest at the airport which didn't last long.

And then what happened in Admiralty tonight? Even more people showed up again...

As I said, you can't fault the students for trying to move things forward.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Pictures of the Day: Occupying Causeway Bay

The quiet scene at Causeway Bay earlier this evening
Tonight I happened to be in Causeway Bay and took a quick look at the Occupy site there.

It's pretty sad -- occupying a few lanes of Hennessy Road and only allowing traffic going westbound on one lane.

When I last visited on October 1, the occupation spread all over Hennessy Road and everyone sitting all over the street. And there was no traffic all the way to Admiralty and Central really. But now it's very much a shadow of its former self.

An angry Totoro stands guard!
There are several rows of tents and some people occupying them, and spurts of art work here and there.

During rush hour most people ignored the protesters and walked across Hennessy Road while a few posed for pictures just in front of the tents and such.

If the police move in next week it could be quite easy to clear Causeway Bay because it is such a small number of people and tents in the area.

Overall they didn't disrupt traffic too much going westbound, but surely people going eastbound may find it a nuisance...

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Questionable Use of the Law

How Admiralty looked two weekends ago... what will it look like next week?
It's always interesting when a judge speaks out and in particular about the application of court injunctions to clear the protest sites at Admiralty and Mongkok.

Speaking in a personal capacity, Mr Justice Henry Litton, a non-permanent judge of the Court of Final Appeal, questioned the "curious" handling of the applications, describing the orders as being "extremely odd". He also questioned why the Hong Kong government did not take over the lawsuit initiated by the taxi and bus operators.

In a rare speech on Occupy and the rule-of-law issues at the University of Hong Kong, Litton said: "A civil court process was being invoked for what I feel is a public order issue."

He said he was "intrigued" when the case was first heard ex parte basis, wherein the party affected, in this case the protesters, were not present to defend their actions.

"The process of going to a court to seek an order behind the back of a person to be affected by the order is a most drastic remedy, because the unvarying principle of common law is no one's interest should be affected without having been given an opportunity to be heard."

He added only in an urgent situation would justify an ex parte hearing, and also questioned the urgency.

So Litton went to Mongkok to check out the situation himself on a rainy day. He did find the court injunction in a plastic container that was only written in English and was "not easily legible".

He observed the notice did not clearly state how the plaintiff would clear the site -- whether bulldozers or dump trucks would be used, for example, which also made it "an extremely odd order". Which is why he wondered how this would have satisfied the court, though "anything less would demean the rule of law".

And if it was an "emergency", why hadn't the plaintiffs acted immediately? observed Litton.

He also had some critical words for the Secretary of Justice, Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung, who didn't exercise his right to take over the court action to enforce the rights of the public, but instead it was the police who had to help the bailiffs execute the order.

As for the application for Citic Tower, Litton said it was different because the owners were trying to protect property rights.

The latest is that the High Court has rejected the appeal by protesters, which will now allow bailiffs to clear Mongkok.

Mr Justice Thomas Au Hing-cheung said the protesters' case for an appeal was unsound and refused to delay the injunction.

Lawyers for the protesters had said the court should not be addressing a question of public order through civil litigation, and added the plaintiffs had not given sufficient evidence that it had suffered any "particular, direct and substantial" loss as a result of the protest that was over and above the inconvenience suffered by the general public.

But Judge Au said those points had been heard in earlier hearings and refused the application to appeal and to delay the injunctions.

Outside the court, barrister Margaret Ng for the protesters complained the court and the plaintiffs did not explain how the court order will be carried out.

"The order will affect a lot of people in the area. They should have the right to know details of the court order. Otherwise, it will be unfair," Ng said.

One has to wonder about this ruling and it brings to mind what Litton said yesterday...

The supposed start of clearing the sites did not happen this week and so it is expected to happen next week. There will probably be lots of people going to Admiralty and Mongkok this weekend one last time... if it really is the LAST time...

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Rant of the Day: Remembrance Day

Handmade ceramic poppies "planted" around the Tower of London's moat
Yesterday I dug out my poppy -- the British one with no pin -- and put it through the buttonhole of my polo shirt. I tried using a safety pin to pin it to my shirt, but made the poppy look worse.

So I wore the poppy to work and some British and Canadian coworkers noticed that I wore the poppy, but no one else.

I have to add though it's hard to find a poppy if you don't know where to get one...

If you don't have a hole in your lapel, where to put the poppy?
A mobile medical clinic happened to come to our office to give employees who requested it, a flu jab and I went to get one. When I walked in, the local nurse pointed to my poppy and asked me if I wore this pretty flower for a reason.

I said, "It's November 11!" and then she was kind of taken aback but soon realized she should have known.

Only in Central did I see British suit types wearing poppies, and yesterday morning the cenotaph in Central had several wreaths around it, ready for the Remembrance Day ceremony later in the day.

Why do Hong Kong people not mark Remembrance Day anymore? Or is it because it's not a British colony anymore?

Have the Hong Kong people forgotten the British and Canadian soldiers who fought in vain (and lost) the city to the Japanese in World War II? Or are they resentful of the Japanese occupation?

Regardless, this is Hong Kong's history and a part of the city's identity too.

In any event, it just seems sad and disappointing that Hong Kong people do not remember the war dead. Or is that a gweilo war that didn't concern them?

A moving tribute to soldiers who have fought for Britain
This year more Canadians and Brits have come out to remember the soldiers who fought not only in World War I and II, but in Iraq and Afghanistan. This year marks the 100th anniversary of World War I.

In London, there was an amazing display of ceramic poppies, all handmade and "planted" in the moat of the Tower of London by volunteers, thousands and thousands of them to create a sea of red.

It is a beautiful tribute to those who gave up their lives for their country, fighting for freedom.

And isn't that what people are sort of doing in Hong Kong right now?

OK the colours are different, but I just feel it's so important to remember where we came from to figure out where we are now...

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Is it Really the End?

A Yayoi Kusama-esque poster of the protest
Tomorrow might be the beginning of the end of the Umbrella Movement.

The High Court has ruled that police can now arrest protesters who defy bailiffs trying to clear the sites at Admiralty and Mongkok, which may happen as early as tomorrow (Wednesday).

Mr Justice Thomas Au Hing-cheung says this means officers could remove or arrest people who have ignored or insisted on breaching them. However, officers must give a brief explanation of the order at the point of arrest.

Au said he allowed police to do this because the rule of law and due administration of justice were at risk of being "seriously challenged and undermined", as some protesters have been openly disobeying and flouting court orders.

In addition to the police support, the Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung may also "consider taking appropriate action against persons who may have committed the offence of criminal contempt".

Will Totoro leave the protest site as well?!
Two injunctions were first granted on October 20 to clear parts of Nathan Road and clear the entrances and exits at Citic Tower in Admiralty.

However, lawmaker Albert Chan Wai-yip said the court only took into account the plaintiffs' arguments and not those of the protesters. Is anyone going to appeal?

In the meantime how are protesters going to handle themselves if bailiffs do come to try to repossess the streets. Are they gong to put up a resistance and fight? Or are they going to give up peacefully and get dragged into police vans?

During the first few weeks of Occupy, we kept thinking it would end soon, with Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying threatening to clear the streets. But it never happened.

And then most recently with the injunction granted last month, there wasn't much success either. So is this time really the end?

We'll have to find out tomorrow...

Monday, 10 November 2014

Lunch Treat

Four of us polished off half a roast goose for lunch!
Around noon, a colleague came over to me and said he had a craving for bo jai fan or claypot rice.

It's a great dish to have in the winter time, but unfortunately these claypot rice dishes aren't available until after dark. Why it's a dinner meal I have no idea, but that's just the way it is.

So we thought of another suggestion to eat roast goose instead. In Taipo there's only one place to hit, and that's Yat Lok (一樂燒臘). Last week it was awarded a Michelin star.

Even Anthony Bourdain has been there and in the restaurant there's a TV screen with a loop that shows the clip of him eating there. Other than that there's lots of aquariums probably for fung shui purposes.

We arrived before 1pm and there were still several tables available. We ordered half a roast goose, along with kale stir-fried with cured meats and sauages, as well as a plate of goose intestines stir-fried with salted vegetables and peppers.

I had a bowl of lai fun, or thick rice noodles with the roast goose, that arrived at the table with a slightly darker skin, but the meat was still very moist and tender. While I like eating the meatier pieces, I still like eating the leg part too and chewing the bone clean.

For me the kale was on the oilier side because of the cured meats, but was definitely flavourful to counter the bitterness of the vegetable.

Meanwhile the intestines were long bits and slightly crunchy which was new for me. I liked the pairing with the salty vegetables to add more savouriness to the dish.

The meal came to $450 for four of us, and while it was definitely more expensive than our canteen food, it was far superior than what we usually eat for lunch in the office!

A nice treat... once in a while...

Yat Lok 一樂燒臘
5 Tai Ming Lane
Taipo Market
2656 4732

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Still No Breakthrough

Joshua Wong and Alex Chow lead a small march through Central today
I took some friends from out of town to a foot massage place in Central and as I came out and walked along Queen's Road Central there was a protest march across the street.

Student leaders Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Alex Chow Yong-kang lead the march holding a sign that said they demanded dialogue with China's leaders.

There was some spurts of yellow and people periodically shouting slogans, "I want true democracy", "Hong Kong people want to govern Hong Kong". A few of the marchers carried yellow umbrellas, the real ones or one made of balloons.

At first it looked like a lot of people, but after walking towards the end of the procession I could see it wasn't a very large turnout, over 1,000 at best. The relatively small march was organized by the Civil Human Rights' Front.

Does this mean the Umbrella Movement is wavering? Or poor organization on the part of the Front?

Meanwhile the Federation of Students were outright rejected by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa in its request for him to help facilitate a meeting between the students and state leaders.

Knowing where Tung stands, it was quite obvious he was going to tow the Party line...

"[Tung] thinks they are just repeating their views and stance in the letter, which won't help break the impasse," his spokesman said. "Mr Tung points out that the central government understands the different views in Hong Kong. The decision of the National People's Congress Standing Committee on August 31 will not change."

Perhaps Tung has become public enemy Number 2 after Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying...

Again Tung is adopting the stance of not even hearing the students out. What is wrong with that? As someone who is considered to have such influence in Hong Kong affairs one would think he would try to find some kind of wiggle room so that the occupation of the streets could end in the short term.

But no -- he shut the door before even hearing their concerns.

So much for being the elderly wise statesman in this situation.

In the meantime it looks like the protesters are digging in deep to wait this out for the next few months. Does Tung think the kids are out camping for fun? Has he even gone there to look at the protest sites for himself and see there are people of all ages there, including those his age and older who also want true democracy?

Saturday, 8 November 2014

False Alarm

The protests are going on in this picture... but can you see them creating havoc?
We wonder if Beijing is getting the correct information on the ground about what's really happening in Hong Kong after we read there are two mainland academics who are advising the central government on Hong Kong affairs.

Huang Ping, vice-chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, and Chen Xinxin, a legal affairs expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences claim that the ongoing protests are a threat to "Hong Kong security" which is related to national security.

The pair wrote an article published in the latest issue of Hong Kong and Macao Journal, saying the protests have paralyzed the city for six weeks, upset social order and undermined rule of law.

"It also has some elements of a 'colour revolution' and has already threatened 'Hong Kong security'," the two academics wrote. "Hong Kong security is a crucial determinant of national security of China, which is Hong Kong's sovereign country."

Have Huang and Chen actually been to the protest sites from the beginning and watched them evolve? Have they seen that the protesters have been mindful of the public space they are occupying, and that there was no damage to storefront windows, police vehicles or provoked attacks on police officers?

These two are just part of the ongoing chorus who say the Umbrella Movement is illegal and that the protesters should leave the sites and go back to their lives.

The academics are completely missing the entire point of the protest and why people resorted to civil disobedience. Perhaps that's why they are living in an ivory tower...

Johnny Lau Yui-siu is a political commentator who covered the drafting process of the Basic Law in the 1980s as a journalist. He says "Hong Kong security" was not the focus among drafters at the time.

"The two academics simply invented a new term to serve the political needs of targeting Occupy Central," he said. He added there was no need to panic about "Hong Kong security". "I understand that Beijing won't send the People's Liberation Army to the streets of Hong Kong unless there is serious looting and disturbances," he said.

The shrill voices of Huang and Chen need to chill -- or do they hope that by publishing this fear-mongering paper they can win some brownie points with Beijing?

Hardly impressive from this end.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Fact of the Day: Hong Kong's Lost Generation

Remember Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's comment about how democracy in the city would result in a welfare state because the vast majority of people are poor?

He's technically correct.

According to census figures, the ratio of those under 25 years of age who are still living with their parents has increased from 93.9 percent in 2006 to 95 percent in 2011. For those aged between 25 and 34, the ratio rose from 43.9 percent to 47.7 percent.

That's a lot of (aging) boomerang kids.

And why is that? Young people's salaries have stagnated, while inflation and property prices keep rising. The median income for people aged 15 to 24 remained at HK$8,000 ($1,031) for the decade between 2001 and 2011. The median income for those aged 25-34 only rose by HK$250 in the same period to HK$12,500.

Why are these people making so little money?! It's shocking to read this is the norm, not the exception.

No wonder they have no hope of ever owning a flat, and why they are out occupying the streets even in the rain today.

Meanwhile the High Court is hearing the final arguments in the corruption case involving former chief secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan and Sun Hung Kai tycoon brothers Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong and Raymond Kwok Ping-luen.

We have heard how the Kwok brothers funneled millions of dollars to Hui to be their "eyes and ears" in government. And then we heard about what the former civil servant spent his money on -- CDs, lavish dining, hotel rooms, maintaining horses and a mistress.

Talk about the haves and the have nots.

Because of this case and how the Umbrella Movement was handled, there is no respect for the government.

How can anyone trust an institution that has no clue how to resolve the situation and also allows certain tycoons and companies to take advantage of the system to further skew the wealth gap?

This is why we need change. This is why we need true democracy in Hong Kong.

We really do have economic slaves in the city. And they are our next generation. How can they even begin to support a civil society when they can barely survive themselves?

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Jockeying for Position

Regina Ip seems keen to do whatever it takes to garner political attention...
After Hong Kong police unleashed tear gas on mostly student protesters in Admiralty on September 28, pro-Beijing New People's Party's chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said the police were right to do this on people armed with only masks and umbrellas, which sparked more anger towards the former security chief-turned-politician.

Throughout the Umbrella Movement she has tried to act as Beijing's messenger, sending words of warning to the students that they must accept the electoral reforms as set down by Beijing on August 31, and that civic nomination is impossible.

Last week when Liberal Party chairman James Tien Pei-chun was ousted from the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, Ip took the opportunity to castigate Tien for suggesting Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying should step down to try to break the impasse between the protesters and the government.

This cartoon of Ip with a broom relates to her previous career...
"Mr Tien's remarks heightened the uncertainty and instability of the situation," she said.

She sounds like the class monitor...

Her latest idea is to give the students seats on the nominating committee for the next chief executive in 2017 -- but that would mean seriously reducing the 60 votes currently allotted to the agricultural and fisheries sector.

"Our party is strongly of a view that we should give votes to young people and women since they are under-represented on the existing Election Committee," Ip said after meeting Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Yuet-ngor and other officials.

If one didn't know much about Hong Kong politics, one would appreciate her for thinking of these two groups. However, she gained more enemies with the statement, as students didn't think this would help the currently stagnant system, and the agricultural and fisheries representatives were hardly amused by her idea of losing votes.

It's very similar to Leung saying earlier in an interview with foreign media that he needed to court stakeholders like athletes to get votes...

One wonders what senior mainland officials think of her... do they give her special instructions to inflame people? Or are they going ballistic in private?

And if she's not supporting the Umbrella Movement, can she please refrain from wearing yellow? Or is this another tactic to get more media coverage?

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Macau's Loss, Vegas' Gain?

Gambling revenues in Macau continue to drop for the fifth consecutive month
Macau is suffering its fifth straight monthly decline , with last month's earnings plunging 23.2 percent year on year to 28.025 billion patacas.

The crackdown on corruption on the mainland is to blame, along with a ban on smoking indoors and now the Umbrella Movement which has entered its sixth week.

On Monday Macau's secretary for economy and finance, Francis Tam Pak-yuen, says the government still predicts revenue gaming growth to continue to slow down "for a period of time", but did not elaborate on what kind of time frame he was looking at.

That news led to gaming stocks dropping from a range of 0.6 percent for MGM China to 3.4 percent for both Wynn Macau and Melco Crown.

It seems the ban on smoking indoors that began on October 6 may have had a negative effect on Macau, though it's most probably the street protests that probably scared off mainland visitors from coming to both Hong Kong and China.

China Union Gaming released a report Monday that said: "... the creation of a new high-level office on anti-corruption indicates to us that the broader [anti-graft] drive is far from over and that the greater number of human resources allocated to this department indicates that the number of cases that are prosecuted could continue to grow".

The report noted the number of bribery cases that are being prosecuted rose by 31 percent year on year to 6,500 so far this year.

Also, Chinese gamblers may be traveling further, to places like Las Vegas to avoid scrutiny.

Wynn Resorts saw a rise of 9 percent rise in its Nevada properties, compared to the 5.6 percent drop in Wynn Macau.

Wonder if this signals the beginning of Las Vegas' gambling revival?

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Beijing Deja Vu

Here we go again... China bidding for another Olympic Games...
Have you heard that Beijing wants to do what no other city has ever done before and become the first metropolis to host both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games?

The Chinese capital has already put in its bid for 2022 and the only other city competing for the honour is Almaty, Kazakhstan because Oslo, Norway gave up, along with Lviv, Ukraine, and Krakow, Poland.

These other cities withdrew their applications either because their citizens were not interested in hosting the event, or the cost was too much -- particularly after it was revealed Russia spent $51 billion on the Sochi Games, more than the $40 billion China spent in 2008.

Here's the video to evoke the warm fuzzy feelings of the Olympic Games all over again:

It's pretty bizarre watching some of the Summer Olympics venues be turned into winter sport locations. The Water Cube transformed into the curling venue? Are they going to freeze the Olympic-sized swimming pool?

And Wukesong where basketball matches were held would be transformed into an ice hockey rink?

The city doesn't get much snow these days, which is why the downhill skiing portion would be held in Zhangjiakou, 200 kilometres northwest of Beijing.

So it pretty much looks like Beijing is the hands down winner -- but wait -- what about the air?

A few weeks ago the Beijing Marathon took place and city officials were embarrassed as runner had to breathe in the toxic air and several quit part way through the race, unable to breathe.

And now with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit happening in a few days, the Chinese capital is still covered with haze and dangerously high air pollution levels.

Media director of Beijing's bid committee Wang Hui -- who by the way was also the media spokesperson during the Summer Games -- said the city would implement a two-step plan to clean the air with targets for 2017 and 2022.

"Beijing has called upon cooperation in major provinces and districts in northern China and will mobilize all its resources to clean up the air and bring down the air quality index value," Wang said. "We'll make sure by 2022 the air quality in Beijing is the best for athletes to compete."

Why should they only be concerned about athletes? Why not clean up the air for the residents of the city?

The China Face machine is back up and running again, fulfilling this need to present an image to the world and not being concerned about its own citizens.

If China wins again, what will Ai Weiwei do in response?

Monday, 3 November 2014

Fact of the Day: A Stack of 200M Yuan is Really High

Only a small fraction of the bank notes stashed in Wei Pengyuan's flat...
We'd like to interrupt our daily programming to bring you this interesting factoid:

When you stack 200 million yuan ($32.68 million) in single 100-yuan notes on top of each other, it measures 200 metres high, which is 6 metres taller than Times Square in Causeway Bay.

This came up after investigators found a corrupt coal official had stashed 200 million yuan in local and foreign currency in his home.

Wei Pengyuan was deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission's coal department and it looks like he may have received a lot of kickbacks.

He bought several flats with his ill-gotten gains and used one of them to store his cash.

How much 200M yuan stacks up against an average-sized man, and a building
"It marks the largest amount of money in cash we have seized from a corrupt official during a single operation since 1949," said Xu Jinhui, an official from the Supreme People's Procuratorate overseeing the handling of graft cases.

Investigators used 16 cash-counting machines, and four of them broke down. Was that due to the overwhelming amount of cash or because the machines were made in China? Or is that not a relevant question to ask?

In any event, the powerful NDRC is responsible for both policy planning and approval for development projects, these officials are highly susceptible to taking a few bribes here and there...

News reports say Wei dressed plainly and even rode an old bicycle to work to avoid bringing attention to himself.

But why didn't Wei flee the country earlier? Or did he think he would never get caught? Or 200 million yuan wasn't enough?

It also makes us wonder how many others have as much or more than Wei stashed somewhere...