Saturday, 31 January 2015

Apple's China Expansion

Staff standing in front of the Apple Store in Shanghai's IFC mall
A few days ago Apple announced it had beat analysts' expectations with profits of a record $18 billion in the last quarter of 2014, selling 74.5 million iPhones, while sales in China rose a staggering 70 percent.

This indicates China is the right place for Apple to further grow its business and plans are already underway to open a number of stores on the mainland, with five opening just before Chinese New Year.

Not only is Apple hiring local employees, but its senior vice president of retail sales Angela Ahrendts has already put out a call in video messages to US-based staff asking if anyone would be interested in relocating to China.

Within a few days there are reports about 200 Apple retail staff have expressed interest in making the big leap to the Chinese mainland. Ahrendts notes the offer to move to China "has no expiration date because as the business grows, our needs will only become greater, so as your personal and professional life changes, just always keep China at the top of your mind, because we're going to need you..."

But how would all-American staff be able to help with sales in China when the vast majority of the customers don't speak English? Or does the "white man card" give Apple greater prestige, even though the retail staff currently don't make that much in salary?

How would having American employees in China benefit retail operations other than standing around and saying "hi" to customers? And how would this experience help advance (if at all) the career of a lowly retail staffer?

While I would like to think the experience being in China would be invaluable to these young Americans, they could provide priceless information to management about Chinese consumer habits as well as preferences in how they use Apple products. But is that Apple's main intention?

Perhaps I'm jaded, but it seems like the highly sought-after brand is chasing the 1 billion customer market and enhancing stockholder value than really looking at the reason why they should be having more American retail employees in China.

Another hurdle would be convincing the Chinese government that Apple needs so many foreign staff in their mainland stores to grant them work visas when the mainland economy is slowing down and more young people need jobs...

Friday, 30 January 2015

Hong Kong is Beijing's "Core Interest"

Beijing reminds Washington not to meddle in Hong Kong affairs...
Hong Kong is now getting even more attention from Beijing because it is deemed one of China's "core interests".

Many believe this is Beijing's way of warning Washington not to meddle in what the mainland believes is its own internal affairs.

The reference was made in a military-to-military meeting in the Chinese capital on Tuesday between PLA deputy chief of general staff Sun Jianguo and US undersecretary of defense for intelligence Michael Vickers, the PLA Daily reported.

"The US should earnestly respect China's core interests and key concerns," Sun was quoted as saying.

His words are a veiled reference to the belief that the US plays a role in Hong Kong politics, in particular last year's protests.

"Sun is telling the US to calm down and not to have any illusions about using Hong Kong to stir things up," explained retired PLA major general Xu Guangyu.

Peking University international relations professor Jia Qingguo added, "Any attempts to demand independence is an act to split the nation. Beijing will not allow it, and is asking the US not to be involved."

But where is the evidence to prove this? How did the US participate in, and in particular influence the Umbrella Movement?

No one has come forward with any kind of credible proof, and yet this theory continues to be believed.

However, all China is doing, according to Albert Ho Chun-yan, former chairman of the Hong Kong Democratic Party, is making Hong Kong more alienated from the mainland and feeling closer to Britain and America in terms of core values. "This will only create more trouble," he warned.

China's insecure needs to spell out its territory makes many Hong Kong people feel even more uneasy about the mainland and its plans for the city.

And stressing that Hong Kong is a "core interest" heightens fears that there will be greater "mainlandization" of the city, something that will be resisted at all costs.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Publicity Stunt?

Leung Chai-yan is not shy about her conflicts with her parents
Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's daughter was in the spotlight again -- this time all over the media in the past few weeks.

Leung Chai-yan, 23, looked much different from when her parents made an emergency trip to visit her in London last June when she hurt herself by apparently cutting her wrists.

She later admitted in an interview with East Week magazine that it was the first time she hurt herself and she was at "the lowest point" in her life and that she only wanted "to do something to attract my parents' attention".

In a pre-recorded seven-part television interview this evening on Cable TV's entertainment news program CEN, Leung was seen slumped in a chair as host Natalie Mitchell tried to interview her, as she seemed to be muttering in Chinese and English.

On a televised interview series called I Am Leung Chai Yan
Leung wore a black tank dress, her hair up and accessorized with lots of bracelets and rings. It almost seems surprising she didn't sport a tattoo or perhaps there's one (or more) we don't know about.

In the five-minute interview of the first installment of I Am Leung Chai Yan, she admitted having over 100 bad arguments with her parents, with whom she doesn't see eye-to-eye.

"They judge my friends. I would get very angry," Leung says. "[They] care much about the superficial factors, like who [my friends] do academically, their family backgrounds, how they do in exams, if they are going to enter Oxford or Cambridge [University]... what their parents do.

"I understand they want to protect me. But I apparently do not look at these things. I don't care what [subject] you have failed... so long as you are a good friend and a good person," she says.

What Leung describes are every other "tiger" parents who are anxious to make sure their kids are socializing with the right people and doing academically well in school.

But perhaps because Leung went overseas for her education since the age of 12, she has become much more westernized than her parents expected and may have felt they have lost control of her, as Leung describes her mother as "strict".

Leung with her parents in London after she harmed herself
In the latter interviews, the law student admits she suffered from depression, and was "pretty familiar with the insides of a London ambulance".

But despite the conflicts she has with her parents, Leung claims she is a "filial" child. "If I could have a heart-to-heart with my parents, I would say that I want to feel loved. Not just be loved, but feel loved. There's a difference," she said in an interview with HK magazine.

The barrage of publicity around Leung Chai-yan comes as almost half of Hong Kong people believe her father's policy address failed to boost the government's popularity, according to a Chinese University survey.

One has to wonder if her dad's PR machine put her up to this, or she went out on her own to bare all about her life in the Chief Executive's family.

Leung Chai-yan is definitely not like any other child in privileged circles in Hong Kong -- which is refreshing in a way, but probably horrifying for her parents to be exposed in this way.

Whether it will soften her father's image or make him more human will be interesting, but for now she has definitely set tongues wagging...

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Supposed Answer for Hong Kong's Social Ills

Matthew Cheung's brilliant plan to get more parents back to work, not to kids
The Hong Kong government has come up with a brilliant plan to make the city even more productive.

It is proposing an after-school care program for kids where the students would get help with their homework and be served dinner.

Don't worry about funding the program -- the government is taking care of it with HK$400 million, half from the government (ie your hard-earned tax dollars) and half from big business.

"[Students] will be inspired by professionals from accounting firms, hospitals and retired officials, who will show them how to cope with life's challenges," explained Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung. "They will be nurtured and have their language skills sharpened."

The scheme will be launched this September, offering "whole-person development opportunities" from 4pm to 9pm for primary and secondary students.

Each chosen school would be given HK$600,000 by the government and target 10,000 students recommended by teachers in districts like Sham Shui Po, Tuen Mun, Tin Shui Wai and Western.

Cheung adds: "It will free up mothers. It also promotes a tripartite cooperation, reducing the city's hatred of the rich," he said. "The kids might feel grateful when they grow up and might be given internships... The next chief executive may even be chosen from among this bunch."

Currently there are about 500,000 stay-at-home mothers, and in a census survey three years ago, 8 percent said they would consider returning to work if the right assistance was given.

So this after-school care program the answer?

First of all, how is the government going to get professionals to tutor these students in homework? Everyone's too busy to take time off to help kids with their homework. At best they'll have time say after 7pm... and former officials mentoring young people? What would former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen tell kids about meeting life's challenges, when there is an eminent announcement of possible corruption charges?!

Second, there are so many reports that Hong Kong parents are not spending enough time with their children, and now the government is encouraging the adults have even less time for their kids. There are too many latch-key children in the city, not to mention reverse dynamics in their relationships with domestic helpers...

Children grow up in a more healthier environment when their parents spend more time with them and teach them themselves. This nurturing is important to help foster more confidence and in turn independence; why would a parents prefer to have their children reared by others, unless they aren't fully committed to their children's well-being? Cheung hints that at present parents don't nurture their kids and hence their language skills are poor. That's a lot of preconceptions and stereotypes...

And it's cheeky for Cheung to even suggest this after-school program will reduce "the city's hatred of the rich", because it would be those wealthy companies that would employ these mothers to do menial jobs because they have been out of the work force for a while.

Does he think the implementation of this program will prevent another Umbrella Movement?

He really is on a different planet...

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Fact of the Day: HK's Crime Rate Drops

People being arrested the morning of July 2 after the mass protest march
Today the Hong Kong Police Commissioner Andy Tsang Wai-hung said the city's crime rate had dropped 7.1 percent in 2014 compared to the previous year.

In his briefing to lawmakers on the year's law and order situation, Tsang said there were 936 cases per 100,000 people, the first time the crime rate dropped below 1,000 cases per 100,000 since 1973.

That means there were a total of 67,740 crimes in all categories reported last year, a 7.1 percent decrease from the 72,911 cases in 2013.

Arrests for robberies saw a big plunge of 38.2 percent, and burglary was 24.4 percent.

The number of arrests also dropped, with 33,679 arrested by police, an 8 percent year-on-year decrease.

These arrests include the ones for those who "occupied" Central the evening of the July 1 protest march, as well as those who were part of the Umbrella Movement. So imagine if there were no protests last year -- the crime rate would probably be even lower!

So how dare people like Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and Commissioner Tsang accuse those who participated in the 79-day protest of being unlawful. Were shop windows broken? Were police vehicles turned over and set on fire? Was there any looting?

Tsang has to admit that the protesters were peaceful save for a few skirmishes, and that Hong Kong people are civilized and respect "rule of law".

It's like people complaining that the MTR's performance rate at over 99 percent is still not good enough.

Could we please step back and look at the big picture?

Monday, 26 January 2015

Review: Shaun the Sheep

A fun film for all ages, but particularly for those who love sheep!
On Saturday YTSL and I went to see the preview of Shaun the Sheep, the latest production by Aardman Animation, best known for Wallace & Gromit, Chicken Run and The Pirates!

Shaun the Sheep is apparently already a well-known TV character in the UK, and now has his own feature film clocking in at 85 minutes. The animation created by Aardman goes back to the basics of stop animation, where the characters are painstakingly manipulated one frame at a time.

I remember trying to do this during a summer course in animation where we made flipbooks, but also one project we did as a whole class was create a stop animation short moving figures against a colourful background to music. That was fun, but imagine doing this for hours day in, day out... that takes dedication!
Some passersby take pictures on smartphones in the film...

But the latest movie is very cute, where Shaun is a young sheep who is tired of the same old routine everyday on the farm and then is inspired by an ad he sees on the bus to take a break and ends up in the big city. The consequences are funny -- you can't even take your eyes off the screen for one second because there might be something amusing you may have missed.

There are even references to today's modern life, with people taking pictures with their smartphones and using social media...

Also interesting is that the characters don't actually speak a language... everyone mumbles or makes sounds, while the body language makes what they are "saying" very clear.

This not only makes it easier not having to translate the film, but also makes it pretty much universal.

The sheep hanging out with The Farmer -- Is it Nick Park?!
Shaun and his other sheep friends are adorable, though he is the undisputed star of the show.

I hope others will appreciate this style of animation that is different from computer-generated ones. It's like the difference between drawing and taking a photograph: both can be artistic, but drawings can have more depth to them because they were created with a hand, whereas a photograph is done by a machine.

It just makes you appreciate the craft so much more because a lot of work has gone into each second...

Sunday, 25 January 2015

A Tough Slog!

Waiting for runners in Heat 2 to start their race just as dawn breaks
I went to bed early, but pre-race jitters resulted in not enough sleep sleep for the 10K run as part of the Standard Chartered Marathon.

My race was third of five heats, as I had grumbled a year earlier about being in the second heat at 6.45am.

This time though, I was able to take the MTR from Kennedy Town to Tin Hau which made the stress of getting there pretty much stress-free, and there weren't the hordes of people like there were last year crowded in the station.

Getting to the starting line in Fortress Hill
However, I thought I was prepared for the race, and watched the weather conditions. Yesterday was very windy and so I thought I'd better be ready with leggings to go under my shorts.

But as soon as I walked out of my building I realized I was going to be too warm -- the temperature was far from cool, but by then it was too late to go back up to change...

At least I wasn't like other runners in the second heat who were still getting to the starting line when their race had already started! Apart from that everything was pretty much as it was before, though the starting point was several metres further east than the previous two years.

It was dark when I arrived at the starting check point and by the time 7.15am rolled around, the sun was already up. And when I began to run, I got hot very quickly, probably because of the leggings. I removed my light jacket and tied it around my waist, but even then that didn't help cool things down much.

For me the run was quite the slog -- I was already getting tired by the 4km mark, sweating profusely! It was not good -- breathing heavily and trying desperately to keep pace with others. I started off OK, but soon petered out to the point where I stopped four times along the route for a few minutes to catch my breath.

Perhaps another challenge was having so many runners squeezed into the lanes because one lane had to be reserved at all times for emergency vehicles. That made it at times difficult to pass people who were walking or stopped suddenly. Runners had to be aware of what was going on at all times.

As I walked, seeing so many people on the highway reminded me of the Umbrella Movement -- except this one was approved and planned by the authorities! It was only a few months ago we could freely wander around the streets...

A man carries an Umbrella Movement banner as he runs!
When I approached Causeway Bay and past the 9km mark, I started to pick up the pace in one last push. As I slowly climbed up the ramp that took us to Victoria Park, I heard a woman scream and a thud as I looked back down to see a young guy who had fallen face down onto the road. Luckily first aid staff were very close by, but one had to wonder if he fell because of an accident or of exhaustion?

Throughout the race I tried hard to push myself and to keep going, but maybe mentally I wasn't psyched up? I tried to make up for it at the end, in the last stretch, trying to run as fast as I could to the finish line even though I could feel my heart might leap out of my chest from working so hard.

I could hear big cheers as I approached the finish -- were they for us? No -- there was a marathoner who was crossing the finish line next to us...

Boy was I glad that was over! I looked at my timer on my iPhone to see that I was only off my previous time by over two minutes. It wasn't as bad as I had assumed, which makes me wonder if I started off too quickly.

Nevertheless, I was just relieved it was done and made my way home.

Post Script -- It was reported today (January 26) that the young man I saw collapse 100 metres from the finish line passed away in hospital. He was 24 years old.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Jack Ma Yun Speaks his Mind

Jack Ma talked about a wide range of topics at the World Economic Forum
Charlie Rose interviewed Alibaba founder and executive chairman Jack Ma Yun at Davos at the World Economic Forum. The video is here.

Someone did not brief Rose on how to pronounce Chinese words and names... it was excruciating hearing him say Hangzhou wrong as well as tai chi! Hello?! Who is your research assistant!

Nevertheless, it was a wide-ranging 44-minute interview asking Ma about his background and how he became successful with Alibaba. Ma was born in 1964 in Hangzhou and grew up during the Cultural Revolution and around the age of 12 fell in love with English.

But he said there were no English books so he went to what is now the Hangzhou Shangri-La and would take foreigners around on tour of the city for free to practice his English.

This was how he got the name Jack -- a tourist from the US suggested it, and after practicing for years, people were impressed by Ma's English, saying he sounded much like a native speaker. Ma added he also learned different things from visitors, who taught him things he never would have learned in school or from his parents.

Charlie Rose interviewing Jack Ma in Davos
He talked about being rejected many times, not only in his application to Harvard (10 times), but also Alibaba's IPO the first time around. "I don't know anyone else who was rejected 30 times," he says humbly.

In 1995 he visited the US for the first time and tried the internet for the first time in Seattle. The first word he typed in? Beer. He found there were beers from different countries, but beers from China were not mentioned.

His second search word was "China" and there was no information on the country, so he suggested to his friends that they create a website that he admits looked hokey.

Ma came up with the name Alibaba in the US. He asked a waitress in a restaurant what she thought of the word Alibaba and she said, "open sesame". He asked more people o the street, and they said the same and so the name stuck. "It also starts with A," he said with a smile.

The company has 100 million buyers online everyday and has helped create 14 million jobs. Some 800 million use Alipay.

Rose asked Ma about his relationship with the Chinese government, and the response was direct. He said he didn't want to do anything with the authorities when it came to business, but felt it was important to keep them abreast with what's going on with regards to ecommerce and the internet. "Be in love with the government but don't marry them," he said.

When it started, many wondered if Alibaba would work because most transactions in China relied on guanxi. But now the company does 60 million transactions a day so there must be some kind of trust, he says. Customers don't know who the seller is and yet they give them money in the trust that they will get the product they want.

For the first few years Alibaba was just surviving, but he saw how the company changed people's lives. Ma wasn't making money, but he would go to restaurants, and later find out his bill was paid by a happy Alibaba customer.

Not only does Alibaba sell Chinese products to the world, but vice versa. He gave the example of American cherries, where the fruit was pre-ordered and then sent over to China within 48 hours of being picked. He also cited selling 300 tons of nuts to the mainland as well as Alaska seafood.

When Rose changed the subject to Hollywood, Ma immediately said that his favourite character was Forrest Gump. "He's simple and never gives up. People think he's dumb but he believes in what he is doing," Ma explains. "Life really is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get."

Towards the end of the interview, Rose says Ma is one of the richest men in China. Ma is humble about it, and tries to explain it's not his money, but investors who believe Alibaba can do better with the money than the government, which is why he feels he must be responsible.

Ma also feels it's crucial to spend more resources on young people, because he observes they lose hope, vision and complain. "We were also depressed at the time, but we found opportunities," he says.

Interesting to hear Ma trying to inspire young people to keep going, and he is the poster boy for being China's Forrest Gump in his determination. He definitely is a trailblazer -- not without his stops and starts -- but can others follow his example?

Friday, 23 January 2015

Fact of the Day: Hong Kong has World's Least Affordable Homes

Hong Kong is a city of shoe boxes people are scrimping and saving to live in
Should we be surprised? But the numbers are bare to see.

The rankings came out this week -- with Hong Kong having the unenviable position of having the least affordable real estate market in the world, followed by Vancouver in an annual report by Demographia International Affordability Survey.

It tracks 378 metropolitan markets in Canada, the United States, Australia, China, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdom.

The survey calculates affordability by comparing median house prices with median incomes - the higher the home prices relatives to incomes, the more unaffordable the market.

Last August a survey by Chinese University of Hong Kong calculated that a couple would have to save all their income without eating for 14 years to afford a 400-square-feet flat in the city.

"When we conducted our first survey in 2002, a typical household would need only five years' savings to buy at 400 sq ft flat in Kowloon," explained Terence Chong Tai-leung, associate professor in the university's department of economics. "Now they would have to stop eating and live [on the streets] for 14 years to save enough money for a flat."

How encouraging. Which explains that because income does not match rising property prices and rents, people put off getting married and having children.

Meanwhile in Vancouver, the Demographia survey said the median home price was CAD$704,800, 10.6 times higher than the median household income of CAD$66,400 in 2014.

That's the worst affordability ranking Vancouver has ever received in the survey's 11-year-history, compared to 10.3 times higher than incomes in 2013. By the way, Hong Kong is rated 17.0 times higher than incomes this year, the highest ever recorded in the study too.

Surely this is going to fuel more discontent for those in the Umbrella Movement who are angry this and many other social and economic issues have not been addressed... which is probably why this story wasn't given much if any coverage in Hong Kong media...

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Keeping the Momentum Going?

Jimmy Lai talks to the media after his visit to police headquarters
Today there was an advertisement in the Asia edition of the Wall Street Journal where a group of pro-democracy financiers in Hong Kong listed "10 requests" to the Chinese Communist Party.

These include asking Beijing to "refrain from interfering in the administrative affairs of Hong Kong" and to "establish a system of genuine universal suffrage" as well as defend the city's freedoms.

"Three years ago, I was just like any other trader in Hong Kong. I didn't care about politics... but things have changed so much it is important for finance people to speak up and to stand together to fight for true democracy," said hedge fund manager Edward Chin of HK Finance Monitor 2047, which took out the ad.

He added the letter outlining the 10 points would be given to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The pro-democracy campaign group consists of 70 finance workers, and had previously supported the Occupy Central movement.

"The economy is being hindered by the lack of democracy here," said corporate governance activist David Webb, who is also part of the campaign group.

"Hong Kong has to start looking at whether we're going to... preserve the current systems that we have, or whether we are now on the slippery slope of erosion and assimilation and absorption into the mainland system."

It's curious to see people in finance take out an ad like this -- don't they just care about making money?

In the meantime it's hard to tell what their real motive may be. Some critics think these so-called campaigners give the impression they are supporting the pro-democracy movement, but in fact hope this will benefit their balance sheets, while others say Hong Kong was previously under colonial rule -- didn't they also make money then?

For now we look at this as another form of support for the Umbrella Movement -- though it seems to be slowly being dismantled by the authorities with the leaders being called into the police station.

Upon their request, Next Media founder Jimmy Lai Chee-ying visited the Wan Chai police headquarters yesterday and he was very forward in asking the police to charge him immediately.

However Lai later reported the authorities refused his request, "but they said they had the right to ask me to report back any time", he said.

Sounds like they are trying to use any opportunity to exercise their powers -- the point of almost abusing them, like they did with "chalk girl", a 14-year-old who was arrested for drawing pictures with chalk on the former Lennon Wall in Admiralty and was separated from her family.

Seems as if both sides are testing the "rule of law" which will be a healthy exercise. However, it would be in the best interests of the police not to overstep their boundaries too much, as they need to rebuild their reputation after their heavy-handed approach to protesters during the Umbrella Movement...

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Buble Entertains Hong Kong

Michael Buble performed tonight in front of screaming fans in Hong Kong
Back in the mid 1990s, I used to listen to a radio host called David Berner in Vancouver. He would rave about a 16-year-old singer called Michael Buble who would perform weekly at the Georgia Street Bar & Grill at the then Georgia Hotel downtown.

One time I rounded up some friends and we went to see him sing in the cosy space. I just remember he was very cute, but also he liked to sing Frank Sinatra numbers with similar phrasing, though his voice was thin and didn't have the fullness of the legendary singer.

The big band was introduced like a basketball team
But I resolved to remember Buble and in the end he did become a big star. He performed at former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's daughter Caroline's wedding in 2000, where he was introduced to superstar producer David Foster, who then produced Buble's self-titled album in 2003.

And since then the boy from Burnaby hasn't looked back.

Tonight was the first time I'd seen him perform almost 20 years ago and when he came out with a literally fiery start with Fever, he seemed to slur the words which made us wonder if he was drunk! But he seemed to over-sing the Peggy Lee song to put his own stamp on it.

Buble looks classy singing in his tuxedo
After a few songs he stopped to chat with the audience and he was hilarious. He said he went to Ladies' Market and got the best deal from a guy who was willing to sell him a "real" Prada bag for $100. "Who got the better deal?" he asked.

He asked if the audience liked the pyrotechnics in the first song and when they said "yes!" he said, "Well we used up most of the budget for that, so it's all s*** from here."

Buble also explained that he likened his concerts to first dates, where he and the audience get to know each other and then if they really like each other then they'll be some bumping and grinding.

He gave the audience at the back some closer face time
The screens immediately cut to a family with a girl about two years old with them. He also introduced the big band with him as if they were a basketball team, and say things like, so-and-so should work for Subway because he's made my six inches a foot long!

He also encouraged people to raise their hands (some did), and then put them on the lap of someone else...

Singing-wise he was good, but again the voice lacked volume in some songs, though was perfect in ballads.

Fans at the back enjoying Buble's performance
Towards the end of the concert he made his way through the excited audience to where the sound technicians were (and we were sitting two rows in front of them). There was a mini stage and the opening act, a cappella group Naturally 7 were already there to perform with him.

But everyone was thrilled to see Buble, particularly those in the nose-bleed seats who got a much closer look of him in the flesh. We hoped Buble would come to us, but in the end he was several feet away. At one point he took someone's smart phone and sang directly into the screen. Someone's never deleting that video footage!

After that Buble returned to the stage where he sang The Beatles' All You Need is Love, and a loud pop revealed millions of heart-shaped tissue paper falling from the ceiling.

Heart-shaped tissue paper falls to All You Need is Love
We left soon afterwards as it was getting late, but Buble sure satisfied his fans tonight. And we're pleased Vancouver's hometown boy is one heck of an entertainer. No wonder he has so many fans and probably converted a few hundred more tonight in Hong Kong.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Children as Pawns

Young children in PLA uniform attended Sunday's inauguration of the cadets
The push back against Occupy has already begun with the formation of the Hong Kong Army Cadets Association. Apparently it is aimed to make youngsters "aware of their responsibilities and obligations are Chinese citizens", but there's a lot of confusion surrounding it.

On Sunday the group was formally inaugurated in Ngong Shuen Chau naval base, a restricted area on Stonecutters Island, with Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's wife Regina Leung Tong Ching-yee dressed in uniform as the group's "commander-in-chief".

Only select media were allowed to attend, including Wen Wei Po and China Central Television, were allowed to attend.

Many senior government officials were there, including Leung, central government liaison office director Zhang Xiaoming, Security Secretary Lai Tung-kwok, Education Secretary Eddie Ng Hak-kim, and Youth Commission chairman Bunny Chan Chung-bun.

Controversy surrounds the cadets and their function in HK
Former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa is said to be the group's honorary president and his wife Betty Tung Chiu Hung-ping is said to be an honorary adviser.

Apparently some 200 members of the association marched in the event, but now it has been revealed that many were duped into attending, drafted to make the numbers of recruits look better.

One of the "recruits" named Jackie, claimed he saw an ad for the event posted on Facebook for alumni of a military summer camp organized by the Education Bureau, the PLA and a non-profit group called Concerted Efforts Resource Centre.

Those who took part in the ceremony would get a free PLA uniform. He agreed to go along and was told by staff from Concerted Efforts that he was not being recruited to the cadets.

However, he and others were introduced as "members from different columns" of the association.

Another Form One student said all 120 of his classmates attended the event on the understanding that they were spectators.

Some people, including Wong Yeung-tat, leader of pro-democracy group Civic Passion, are concerned the cadet group would use military training to indoctrinate young people with Communist Party values.

"It will make it easier to accept the sets of values being taught to them," he said.

So Wong has announced Civic Passion will form a group of 14 to 18 year olds who will counter the cadet group, which is open for those six years and above. What these teens will do is unclear, but surely a direct polar opposite of the cadets.

When children are young, some take part in groups like Beavers, Scouts and Girl Scouts. They learn survival skills like camping to first aid, teamwork as well as compassion for others.

What are these young people learning in cadets? Are they being taught what exactly "rule of law" means? Are they expected to cite the Basic Law by heart? Perhaps they have to practice marching, singing the national anthem and conducting the flag raising ceremony?

And why are the secrecy surrounding the inauguration and not allowing other media outlets to attend? What is there to hide?

But more importantly, do these children realize they look like they are being used as pawns in the war of rhetoric that is further dividing the city...

Monday, 19 January 2015

China Changes Tune on Li Ka-shing

The tycoon used to be lauded on the mainland, but now China thinks less of him
Hong Kong's "Superman" Li Ka-shing used to be the darling of the city, but in the last few years, particularly during the dock workers' strike in March 2013, things got ugly, tarnishing his image.

People also grew tired of his companies that are so ingrained in our lives (Park 'n' Shop, Watson's, Fortress, Hong Kong Electric, Cheung Kong, and venture capitalism with Horizons Ventures), that residents grumbled under their breath for him for having such a big stake in Hong Kong.

However for the longest time, China held him up in high regard, mainly for his investments and donations on the mainland, and the government told its people this was the man to emulate.

No more.

Last week Li announced he would be restructuring his businesses and re-registering them in the Cayman Islands, which will boost shareholder value more than anything else.

This did not please Beijing one bit, with state media launching a negative campaign against him.

In the last few years Li started selling his assets in cities like Beijing and Shanghai; this caused the Chinese media to brand him as a speculator, and warned him to balance his business vision and his love of the motherland.

Last week Global Times ran an editorial, saying the tycoon is no longer an ideal role model for the Chinese, and that instead people should learn from the younger generation, such as Jack Ma Yun of Alibaba and Lei Jun of Xiaomi.

"In comparison to the huge size of the Chinese economy, Li Ka-shing's total investment in China is now like a drop in the ocean," the editorial said.

Definitely a sign of belittling the businessman despite his previous contributions to China's economy.

One mainland columnist went as far as to describe Li as a "big tiger in the property market", alluding to Chinese President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption drive of "catching tigers and flies".

Now that Li's influence in China is waning, perhaps he has been downgraded to a "fly", but in any event, he's not welcome with open arms to the motherland anymore.

Not that Li probably cares; he's only looking out for his own interests.

And that may be the only point that Hong Kong people and China may agree on.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Backtracking Promises

Leung Chun-ying gave himself and his cabinet a pay rise on Friday night
At 11.06pm on Friday, the Hong Kong government disseminated a press release that said Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was giving himself and politically appointed officials and executive councillors at pay rise that would make their salaries consistent with 2009 levels.

That means Leung would be making HK$371,885 ($47,975) per month compared to HK$351,880.

Legislators raised a stink about this because it was done in a "stealth" manner, quietly announcing it just before midnight at the start of the weekend, but government officials defended the move, saying it did not need lawmakers' approval because they were reinstating the salaries to 2009 levels.

However, Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man said the decision to undo the pay freeze was due to an improved economic situation.

Really? What planet is he on?

Back in 2009, then chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and his cabinet took a voluntary 5.38 percent pay cut to "stand shoulder to shoulder" with the people during the financial crisis.

Then in 2012 a month before Leung took office, he bowed to public pressure and scrapped his proposal to raise his salary once in office. At the time he said: "the entire political team of the next-term government will have their pay frozen" at the 2009 level.

It might be interesting to note here that Hong Kong's politicians are some of the best paid in the world.

Civic Party lawmaker Kenneth Chan Ka-lok says Legco should be debating Leung's pay raise because it involves taxpayer money.

Others said the increase in salary was fine, but objected to the way in which it was done, and that Leung should defend his actions.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said some cabinet members felt higher wages would help recruit talent. He also added the government waited until Legco approved civil servants' pay rise -- voted on Friday evening -- before
the press release was issued.

So Cheung says the restoration of their salaries to 2009 levels is going to help the government recruit better people? How is that optically even possible?

After all the government has been through, particularly its silence during the Umbrella Movement and just executing whatever Beijing tells it to do, why would you even need to hire people with brains to do that?

How about explaining their pay rise to the impoverished elderly who are trying to survive on government handouts, or the 200 employees of Standard Chartered to who unceremoniously sacked, as well as other workers, whose companies shed some staff just before Chinese New Year.

So much for buying into Leung's election platform slogan, "One heart, One vision".

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Running for a Reason

People trying to find their names on the wall. Mine's there... somewhere...
This afternoon I picked up my runner's kit for the Standard Chartered Marathon next weekend. I'm not running 42km, but just under one-quarter of it (10K). While I've made great strides in fighting my cold in the last few days, I don't know if I'll be 100 percent for race day. Oh well!

Interesting that at the entrance to the area to claim the running kits, a gweilo was handing out small sheets of paper. Turns out it was to notify runners that the second ever Pyongyang International Marathon will take place April 12 this year, with the full marathon, half marathon and 10K.

Look! The green T-Rex wins the marathon!
"This is a unique opportunity to be part of history and to run in one of the world's most secretive and fascinating countries," the flyer says. Wonder how many people will be intrigued enough to sign up.

After collecting the kit, I quickly wandered the area where sponsors set up booths, and aside from the massive lineups to test people's fitness or play games to win prizes, there were Lego creations interpreting the upcoming marathon.

Perhaps the best one was having the green dinosaur from Toy Story winning the race...

A splash of yellow and umbrella logo to add to the race...
But also leaving Victoria Park, there were some men holding up plastic bags with a yellow wrist band and a sticker saying "I want genuine universal suffrage" with umbrella decals. They handed them out to anyone interested.

Wonder how many people will be wearing these paraphernalia next Sunday...

Friday, 16 January 2015

Desperately Seeking Young FOBs

Hong Kong apparently needs even more people to keep it going...
The Hong Kong government is looking to second generation overseas Hong Kong people to come back to the city to work to solve the aging demographic and lack of skilled labour.

However, do they want to come despite the pollution, crowded environment and not to mention soaring rents and property prices?

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying talked about a pilot scheme in his policy address on Wednesday, where children born to permanent Hong Kong residents who have emigrated, can apply for a one-year visa to look for jobs here. Applicants need to be aged 18-40, have a university degree, and prove they can afford to live in the city.

However, last year about 3,000 second-generation overseas Hong Kong people had their applications rejected for identity cards, and this is the exact demographic the government is now targeting.

This lack of foresight isn't going to help the situation, and the government is hardly making the city enticing when it blames young people for taking part in the Umbrella Movement last year.

Or maybe the Leung administration thinks the calibre of young people they are looking for either a) have no clue what is going on politically, socially and economically in the city or b) they would be too well educated to even participate in civil disobedience.

But when you are inviting second generation Hong Kong people to the city, it doesn't necessarily mean they can read, write or speak Cantonese. But seems like Leung is overlooking the language part as long as they are literate in English...

There could be people who was to make a go of starting out their careers here, though entry-level jobs here hardly pay enough to cover rent. And do we need more ABCs and CBCs who are loud-mouthed and pissed drink in Lan Kwai Fong?

But there could also be bankers keen on making even more money in Hong Kong, but those practicing law, medicine and dentistry could have a hard time getting licensed here without writing those exams that are almost impossible to pass -- or can the government help them bypass the system?

Now that would be a big selling point for more young professionals to come here.

Have you thought of that, CY?

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Speeches by Numbers

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying gets ready to make his policy address
A guest columnist of a local paper made it his task to go through all the previous policy addresses by all three Hong Kong chief executives, Tung Chee-hwa, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and Leung Chun-ying.

David Dodwell, executive director of the Hong Kong-Apec Trade Policy Group was looking for how many times they used these four words: democracy, consensus, inequality and youth.

Tsang mentioned "democracy" nine times in each policy address, while Tung mainly ignored it except in 2004 when he made 27 references to it when he talked about "enlightened and people-based governance".

Then CE Tung Chee-hwa takes questions from the media
Dodwell is particularly frustrated when it comes to the word "consensus". "The word has been continuously on the lips of every one of our leaders -- Tsang took it to a crescendo in his first two policy addresses in 2006 and 2007 with more than 10 references in each address -- and their failure to achieve consensus has again and again been used as an excuse for inertia following consultation after consultation."

Consensus, says Dodwell, is not possible in politics. He says it is about trying to build coalitions of support through compromises in order to get things done.

"In obsessing about 'consensus', our leaders have demonstrated their failure to acknowledge that differences of opinion are reasonable, natural and normal. They have also hobbled all effective policymaking power," he writes.

When it comes to the word "inequality", especially in light of the recent protests, Dodwell finds Tung only mentioned it twice in his nine years in office, while Tsang showed a bit more interest in it in 2011 and said it nine times when introducing the "My House Purchase" scheme to help people afford housing.

Most telling is that in all three of his policy addresses so far totaling more than 50,000 words, not once has Leung uttered the word "inequality". Has he not learned anything from the Umbrella Movement that went on for 79 days last year?

Then CE Donald Tsang explains his initiatives to reporters
Youth was also a word not used much by our previous leaders, with Tung only saying it 18 times in his 1998 policy address, while Tsang largely ignored it until the last two years of office.

Meanwhile Leung has mentioned this demographic 17 times in 2013, 25 last year and 31 yesterday. But were they for the right reasons?

In his policy address, he basically declared war on the students, blaming them for "putting forward fallacies" regarding nationalism and self-determination. Leung also hit out at Undergrad, a University of Hong Kong Student Union magazine for "advocating independence" which he deemed unconstitutional, but students rebutted by saying they had a right to freedom of speech, and that the article examined Hong Kong's history and identity...

Dodwell notes that after re-reading what each of the administrations promised to do in their policy addresses, he finds a decade later not much has come to fruition. What does this say about our government and why people are so frustrated?

Should it not be surprising the Umbrella Movement happened and people will be out on the streets again on February 1?

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

CY Leung's "Rule of Law"

Leung Chun-ying's policy address includes his ideas to re-educate the young
Days before Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying delivered his policy address this morning, he and other government officials kept insisting that people should follow "rule of law".

It is a mantra they have repeated since the start of the Umbrella Movement and he reiterated it again in the beginning of his speech.

"The rule of law is the foundation of Hong Kong. The democratic development of Hong Kong must therefore be underpinned by the same. As we pursue democracy, we should act in accordance with the law, or Hong Kong will degenerate into anarchy."

Uh huh.

Paul Shieh questions the government's use of "rule of law"
But the outgoing chairman of the Bar Association, Paul Shieh Wing-tai, took aim at government officials on this point when he spoke at the start of the new legal year on Monday.

"There was an increase in the tendency on the part of the executive... to emphasize the 'obey the law' aspect," he said. "To the untrained mind or the unsophisticated, this may sound respectful to the concept of rule of law.

"However, in my view, and in the view of the Hong Kong Bar, ironically that would have the opposite effect of misleading the public."

He said that citing the need to "do things according to the law creates the misconception that many phenomena in society are the inevitable consequences of adhering to the law when plainly they are not. Law had become the scapegoat or excuse".

So while the legal experts decry the misuse of the phrase "rule of law" by the government, Leung and his administration will most probably continue to use it as an excuse to justify anything the government does.

According to Shieh's observations then, either the Leung administration believes we Hong Kong people are uncouth, or they hope constant repetition will finally make us believe everything the government does for us is for our benefit.


Regardless the government is not bridging the difference between perception and reality effectively.

In today's policy address, Leung had a section focusing on young people, looking at national education again "to reinforce students' interest in and understanding of Chinese history and culture and broaden their global outlook".

He also announced a subsidy for students to participate in at least one mainland exchange program in both the primary and secondary schools, as well as double the number of primary and secondary schools with sister schools in the mainland within three years.

"This will help further promote experience sharing between sister schools, enhance teaching and learning effectiveness, and relieve teachers from some of the administrative work," Leung said.

"At the same time, we will explore with mainland provinces and cities to expand and enhance such exchange and cooperation," he continued. "Young people can broaden their horizons through two-way visits, life experience activities, cultural and service collaboration as well as job-seeking experience sharing."

Interesting how Leung is keen to get Hong Kong students more integrated with the mainland when a study by the Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre last fall found two-thirds of young people refuse to work on the mainland because they worry about quality of life, rule of law and food safety there.

The Chinese government really needs to do more to clean up the situation, than trying to force young people into accepting the mainland.

While the occasional trip to the mainland would be good for young people to experience, the visit may either heighten their critical thinking skills in separating propaganda from reality, or further exacerbate the differences between mainlanders and Hong Kong people...

That's what one country, two systems is for, right?

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Attacking HK's Press Freedom

A man with a firebomb about to attack Jimmy Lai's home in Ho Man Tin
It's strange that even though the Occupy/Umbrella Movement is over, and Next Media Founder Jimmy Lai Chee-ying has been asked to report to the police next week, that his home and head office would be attacked with firebombs in the early hours of Monday morning.

They were coordinated attacks because the first one happened at about 1.45am Monday when a man wearing a surgical mask and hood threw a Molotov cocktail at the front gate of Lai's home on Kadoorie Avenue in Ho Man Tin. He then fled in a seven-seat car driven by another person.

A security guard put out the fire and called police; Lai was at home at the time.

Then five minutes later there was another firebomb hurled from another car at the gate of Next Media's headquarters on Chun Ying Street in Tseung Kwan O. The car was driven to another entrance and another Molotov cocktail was thrown.

Again security guards put out the flames and called the authorities.

The two cars were later found torched on Tai Woh Ping Road in Shek Kip Mei, and Sham Mong Road in Cheung Sha Wan before 2.30pm. In one report the license plates of the two cars were removed...

Lai was at the Admiralty protest site practically everyday
Police said that while no one was injured in the attacks, they are looking for possible motives. "The attacks were calculated," a police source said. "We believe it was designed to send a warning rather than an attempt to harm anyone."

Meanwhile the pan-democrats condemned the attacks, saying it was an attempt to silence the media and create "white terror".

Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing said the police must do its utmost to solve all cases of violence against media workers, or the city would become "lawless".

"Most of the cases [of violence against the press] were not solved. This is just like sending a message, 'You can go hit them because there will be no consequences'. This is lawless."

Lai has experienced attacks before -- most recently during the Umbrella Movement when someone threw offal at his face at the protest site in Admiralty in November.

And in June 2013, someone rammed a stolen car into the front gate of his home and then an axe and a machete were placed on the driveway before the perpetrator(s) fled the scene.

What Lai and Next Media represent is freedom of the press -- since many of the big advertisers will not buy ads in his stable of publications, what he publishes in print and online are pretty pure in terms of free speech and media.

For someone to send a warning now doesn't make much sense particularly since Lai has formally stepped down as editor-in-chief to apparently spend more time with his family, unless there's another angle to this story we are not aware of.

But Lau is right. The police really need to get to the bottom of this incident and any others involving journalists. Our freedoms in Hong Kong are quietly crumbling, and while we made of show of this during the Umbrella Movement, we still need to do whatever we can to keep propping them up...

Monday, 12 January 2015

Thoughts on The Interview

Did you see this to protect freedom of expression?
I finally watched The Interview starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, curious to see what all the fuss was about, that led to threats of terrorist attacks by a group called Guardians of Peace if the movie was released on Christmas Day.

The story, about a TV host who goes to the Hermit Kingdom to interview (and assassinate) the youngest and most elusive leader, Kim Jong-un.

Seth Rogan's and James Franco's characters go to North Korea
What happens is a series of outrageous, racist or sexist jokes or incidents that can only be dreamed up by a bunch of men who are still stuck in their prepubescent period.

It takes the premise of what little people know about North Korea and creates a preposterous plot, with really bad gags and even worse, over-the-top violent scenes that make viewers wonder if they're supposed to be funny or not.

The Interview, as some critics have said, should never have been made. It's just so improbable and heinous that it's shocking that it was even given the green light.

While there has been much talk about how this movie has impacted US-North Korean relations in reality, even more enlightening is that the comedy was filmed in Vancouver.

Rogan and his friend Evan Goldberg made the film with their production company Point Grey Pictures, after their high school, Point Grey Secondary School where the two met.

Downtown Vancouver doubles as New York in the movie
There are scenes of the exterior of the Vancouver Art Gallery, and the downtown area doubling as New York (not). There's also a scene in a newsroom, which is actually the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's office, and there are lots of wilderness scenery with British Columbia trying to be the desolate areas of north eastern China and North Korea.

Attention over the movie has quickly faded since the initial burst of interest on December 25, which makes one wonder if The Interview would have garnered any kind of attention if there were never any threats in the first place.

And hopefully it will fade further in the distance as a very expensive lesson for Sony Pictures, Rogan, Goldberg and Franco to learn.

Randall Park who plays the Supreme Leader, said that when he got the part, he ran it by his immigrant South Korean parents, who he says, thought the premise of the film was hilarious.


Maybe it's a Hollywood thing...

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Passengers Behaving Badly -- Again

The emergency door exits were yanked open for some fresh air...
More and more Chinese mainlanders are traveling and it's a booming industry in the country even though there aren't enough pilots to fly them.

However these passengers are quickly gaining a bad rep for their manners on airplanes.

The latest?

Opening up the emergency door exits because the flight was delayed due to snow.

First there was a three-hour delay due to rain from Dhaka, Bangladesh to Kunming. Then passengers got angry when the ongoing flight to Beijing was delayed more than two hours, from 8.45pm to 11pm.

A previous incident where another person opened the door
Some passengers initially refused to re-board the plane, demanding compensation, but finally they were coxed onto the plane by 1.40am. However it took more than an hour to clear snow from the plane, so when the aircraft finally began taxing at 3.17am -- more than seven hours behind schedule, some passengers pulled open three emergency door exits, forcing the pilots to stop the plane and return to the gate.

A person on Weibo reported -- and then the post was later deleted -- that the pilot exchanged angry words with the passengers. The post said the air conditioning was turned off at 3am and some passengers complained it was hard to breathe, and asked to get off the plane for fresh air, but the air crew refused.

The Weibo post then reported that the pilot shouted: "Are you going to die soon? If not, just wait."

Then the plane began moving, catching some passengers off guard, causing them to fall over.

The incident has sparked debate in China, with some blaming the pilot for not handling the situation well, while others believe passengers should not be pulling open emergency doors.

There's another incident of an apparently illiterate farmer who was caught smoking in the washroom of the plane and was fined HK$2,000 and had to give up his travel documents.

How about some kind of explanation of why it's crucial to clear snow off a plane before it takes off?

Some women were caught in a brawl over a crying baby
Another well-known incident from last month was when four passengers made a scene, scalding the flight attendant with hot water from instant noodles and threatening to bomb the plane due to a row over seating arrangements.

Then there was the passenger flying from Hangzhou to Chengdu who yanked open the emergency door just before take off to "get some fresh air".

Oh and don't forget about a cat fight on a flight from Chongqing to Hong Kong about a bawling baby...

How is China going to teach its 1.3 billion people about airline etiquette and safety? It seems like the motherland assumes its children know how to behave on planes without even giving them instructions...

Or perhaps it's because the Chinese are tired of being treated badly by their superiors that now as passengers, they feel entitled to their idea of just treatment?

China, you've got a long way to go, baby

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Picture of the Day: Sunset in K-Town

Looking at the sunset from Victoria Road
These last few days I've been fighting a cold thanks to sitting next to a mainland girl on the plane who was about four years old and coughing at my face at times... I was regretting not bringing a mask with me and now am paying for it.

However I do wonder how effective a mask is in blocking viruses from a coughing, phlegmy kid sitting next to you who is not instructed by her mother to cover her mouth...

A small crowd of people with cameras waiting for sunset
In any event I tried to rest today, but after a prolonged nap it was 5pm and I felt like going out for a stroll. I headed up Victoria Road in Kennedy Town, thinking I would go find the scenic spot I'd discovered back in April.

It turns out I didn't walk up Victoria Road far enough, but instead found another place where young couples like to go for cheap dates.

I followed a group of them down the stairs with the bright green railing to a hut where a man lived -- he was running his washing machine -- but nearby was a dock and many people were standing around.

One more picture of the sun setting by the water
I'd just come around 5.20pm when the sun was starting to set and it was either young couples or amateur photographers there ready to wait for the giant fiery orb the sink into the ocean.

Today was a bit hazy, but that's when you get the brilliant colours of the sunset... thanks to air pollution!