Thursday, 30 April 2015

Sliding Press Freedoms

On this map, green is "free", yellow is "partly free", purple is "not free"
Yet another ranking of world press freedom has been released and Hong Kong has slid further down the list which is a sad sign of the city's reputation.

Freedom House, a concern group, has ranked Hong Kong 83rd in press freedom, down from last year's 74th place, and 71st in 2013.

The city's new position puts it in the company of such countries as Egypt, Turkey and Central Africa. The survey ranked 199 countries and territories with the categories of "free", "partly free", and "not free".

Hong Kong has maintained its status as "partly free", but the mainland was ranked as "not free" in 186th place. Taiwan was in 48th spot as "free".

The report's title this year is "Discarding Democracy: Return to the Iron Fist" which seems to aptly apply to China, Russia and North Korea.

The watchdog said in its report on Hong Kong that Beijing's enormous economic power and influence had allowed it to exert "considerable indirect pressure" on the city's media that has led to growing self-censorship.

It said the environment for press freedom had deteriorated further in 2014 as "physical attacks against journalists increased, massive cyberattacks crippled widely read news sites at politically significant moments, and businesses withdrew advertising from outlets that were critical of Beijing  and supporters of pro-democracy protesters".

Freedom House was referring to the attack on former Ming Pao chief editor Kevin Lau Chun-to last February, attacks on journalists during the Occupy protests, and the website of Apple Daily that was hit by major cyberattacks and financial institutions withdrawing advertising from the paper founded by Jimmy Lai Chee-ying.

Sham Yee-lan, chairwoman of the Journalists Association, wasn't surprised by the results, saying polls of journalists and the public here showed similar sentiments.

Norway and Sweden shared top spot in the ranking, while the United States and Britain were ranked 31st and 38th respectively, and at the bottom were North Korea (199), Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan (both 197).

For Hong Kong to drop further down the ranking reflects the situation of the city government anxious to follow Beijing's lead, and ignore the needs of residents. There is also the further politicization of issues, that leads to polarization of opinions, making it harder to come to some kind of middle ground.

While the public cares about Hong Kong's press freedom, does its leaders? That is the most telling sign.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Giving Birth to Convincing Evidence

Six women who gave birth to relatively healthy kids during the 2008 Olympics
Ah... the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games were memorable, mostly because of the amazing blue skies we had for most of the time.

That's because factories and construction sites in the surrounding areas were forced to close, imposing an unwanted holiday on those employees, and drivers could only use the roads if their license plate number ended in either an odd or even digit.

Afterward the Summer Games were over, many residents wished the light traffic would continue as well as the blue skies, but it was not to be. And these days pollution is pretty bad.

Some scientists took the Olympics as an opportunity to measure the health of babies born during that period.

The results? Babies born to mothers whose eighth month of pregnancy fell between August 8 and September 24, 2008, were an average 23 grams heavier than those born in the same period in the years before and after.

"Twenty-three grams doesn't seem big... but for a baby with already very low weight it's a big difference," said Duke University Professor Jim Zhang Junfeng, who worked on the report.

The study was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives and looked at birth data from 83,672 babies who were born full-term and whose mothers lived in Xicheng, Haidian, Fengtai and Chaoyang districts in Beijing from 2007 to 2009.

About 5,000 of these women had their pregnancies coincide during the Olympics. About the same number of women gave birth during the same period in 2007 and 2009 when there were no pollution reduction measures in place.

Overall babies born in 2008 had an average weight of 3.4kg, and those weighing less than 1.5kg showed inhibited growth and cognitive development, and were more likely to suffer from chronic diseases later on in life.

The last trimester is when the fetus experiences the most rapid period of development.

The researchers strongly believe pollutants interfered with this period of rapid development, and not the mother's age, education, residential district, gestational age, or pregnancy complications.

"In China everyone has a single child. They put whatever resources they have into their children," said Professor Wong Chit-ming, an expert on air pollution at the University of Hong Kong, who was not involved in the study. "This [paper] sends a strong political [message] to tackle pollution."

With the recent release of the documentary Under The Dome and now this scientific study, these only add more ammunition to ordinary mainland Chinese residents to push for the Chinese government to do more to tackle pollution.

It is hindering the health of future Chinese citizens, which is probably partly why Beijing has announced economic growth slowing to 7 percent, even though there is a slow down, partly attributed to global demand dropping for Chinese goods, and President Xi Jinping's crackdown on corruption and lavish spending.

The study is very telling and hopefully it and other properly-conducted studies will prove to the government the health and well being of its people are far more important than GDP numbers...

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Not Exactly Choreographed

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam encountering views counter to the government...
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is having a tough time to say the least.

Not only did people boo her and her entourage when they tried to do a bus tour through some Hong Kong districts on the weekend, but she even encountered dissent at a pro-Beijing event this evening.

At a community outreach session supposedly choreographed by the Federation of Trade Unions at Lai Kok Estate in Cheung Sha Wan, Lam fielded questions from residents.

The media watched as the first man chosen by FTU lawmaker Chan Yuen-han to raise a question said to Lam, "I want universal suffrage."

Holding a microphone, the middle-aged man added Lam failed to deliver on her promise to get rid of illegal structures in rural New Territories when she was secretary for development.

His microphone was then switched off and taken away by helpers.

The next man to speak was accompanied by an FTU officer, who read into his ear: "Support the chief executive election in 2017."

How original.

Afterwards Lam said to the media: "I've heard such views. I don't hold the view that we are unaware of split views in society."

You don't say, Carrie! But what are you going to do about it?

Having someone demand universal suffrage at an event held by Beijing loyalists is surely very embarrassing to say the least.

Former chief secretary Anson Chan Fong On-sang speculated Lam was "between a rock and a hard place".

"Carrie has no power even though you can see, reading between the lines, she is very unhappy actually with the whole way this consultation and the package of the constitutional proposals has been presented," Chan said.

She even added, "I have the distinct impression that she doesn't believe what's coming out from her own mouth."

Ouch. Guess Lam isn't winning an Academy Award for Best Actress anytime soon -- or is Chan hinting the incumbent isn't very good at her job?

Monday, 27 April 2015

Where's Our Vision?

Tung Chee-chen is impressed by Singapore outsmarting Hong Kong...
In the ongoing race between Hong Kong and Singapore, the Lion City has won the latest round in developing the most comprehensive hub for shipping and related business.

According to Tung Chee-chen, chairman of Orient Overseas Container Line (OOCL), Hong Kong's strategy was leveraging its strengths in financial services and shipping support service to get more business.

However, Tung said, Singapore lured business away by targeting key companies."For example, Singapore has targeted many Norwegian companies, convincing them to set up offices in Singapore. With word of mouth, more Norwegian companies flocked in."

He added Singapore began this strategy after the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984 when there was uncertainty about Hong Kong's future.

Tung, who's older brother is former Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, added he was struck by Singapore's forward-thinking in expanding its port infrastructure.

"I'm very impressed with the building of the port in the way that Singapore anticipated future growth," he said. "No other countries or ports in the world are contemplating similar investment. Singapore is pulling away from all its competitors."

While Tung is swallowing humble pie gracefully, we have to wonder what Hong Kong's leaders are thinking about when it comes to the city's future.

What plans do they have for Hong Kong 10, 20, 30 years from now? Are they even thinking that far ahead? Or should we really ask, is Beijing thinking that far into the future?

For a business leader to admit Hong Kong was outsmarted by Singapore is embarrassing to say the least.

This also echoes Hong Kong's tourism strategy, warmly welcoming mainland tourists and not searching new markets or wooing back other ones. And now with the slowdown in China, the city is caught flat-footed with the knock-on effect of fewer mainland visitors here and businesses suffering.

So what is our strategy? How is Hong Kong going to continue to thrive, especially in these turbulent times?

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Picture of the Day: Cheap and Cheerful

These flowers looked beautiful and smelled nice too!
As I was rushing to the MTR in Central yesterday, there was an old man sitting on a folding chair at one of the station's entrances.

Apparently he was a regular, as one woman greeted him and asked what flowers he had to sell.

They weren't the small white flowers that are very fragrant, and some taxi drivers used to put in their vehicles to act as natural air freshners, but were in fact gardenias.

He was selling them for HK$35 ($4.50) for a small bouquet, and two other women and I bought a bunch each.

They really have a strong perfume scent, but hardly overpowering. However, I have no idea how to look after them, as they were obviously cut from a bush due to their thin woody-like stems, and not really meant to be flowers to be kept indoors.

Today they already look withered, but at least their floral aroma still lingers...

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Quote of the Day: Leave Like Rats

Crowds of protesters greet the electoral reform bus that quickly drives off
Hong Kong Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is not having the easiest time trying to sell the electoral reform package she announced earlier this week. And today was no different.

Kennedy Town is usually laid back, but earlier this afternoon, the district was crawling with police, who put up barricades along the normally open sidewalk along Forbes Street at the MTR station.

It was in the morning that I found out Lam would be making a trip to the neighbourhood and it seemed like there would be tension. Even the police were anticipating it, with one officer carrying a backpack with banners rolled up, instructing the crowd not to rush forward...

Lam, along with Secretary for Security Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung, and Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah sat on the upper deck of a double-decker bus.

They waved to people, but when the bus arrived in Kennedy Town around 2.45pm, media reported complete chaos, so much so that the bus didn't stop and drove off.

Jack Chan Hon-ting, a 30-year-old resident of Kennedy Town summed it up: "I clearly saw them coming in and leave like rats in three seconds. I couldn't even see the faces clearly. [Chief Executive] Leung Chun-ying said community outreach was an 'easy job' -- he is right in this sense."


But he's right.

Others wondered if Tsang was testing out his food truck idea and handing out food to people -- as that might help them win support for the electoral reform package -- through their stomachs.

And even though other senior officials like Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Secretary Raymond Tam Chi-yuen and Health Secretary Dr Ko Wing-man also came along for the ride, the tour was not well received in Kennedy Town...

Perhaps it's time to go back to the drawing board?

Friday, 24 April 2015

Vindication At Last

HKTV chairman Ricky Wong is very pleased with the High Court's decision
HKTV founder and chairman Ricky Wong Wai-kay was grinning from ear to ear this afternoon after news broke that the High Court had ordered the Chief Executive in Council (CEIC) to reconsider its decision to deny HKTV a free-to-air license in October 2013.

Justice Thomas Au Hing-cheung said the government had failed to follow the policy that stipulates there should be no limit on the number of broadcasting licenses issued. He allowed the judicial review launched by HKTV and claimed the government's decision failed to take into account the legitimate expectation of the television station with regards to any changes in policy.

"The CEIC should have regard and take into account the policy as constructed in this judgement and HKTV's legitimate expectation," Au wrote in the judgement.

HKTV had been encouraged by the government to apply for a free-to-air license and was the first to apply on December 31, 2009. iCable Communications and PCCW subsidiary HK Television Entertainment applied the following year, and were approved in October 2013, while HKTV was shut out.

One of HKTV's hottest actors is Gregory Wong
The station had already sunk over HK$900 million into staff, production and constructing a multimedia centre in Tseung Kwan O, which is why Wong felt he had no choice but to lodge a judicial review, arguing that a 1998 government policy stipulates that the broadcast market would be open to fair competition and would not limit the number of licenses issued. 

The judge said the government had effectively decided that "there should be a limit of no more than two licenses that could be granted", and that the three applicants were considered and ranked which of the three should be given a license.

"The decision is therefore in my view made not in adherence to the policy," the judge wrote.

If the government wanted to change the policy, the judge said, it could only do so lawfully by taking into account the legitimate expectation of the parties involved, and to publicly justify its action.

However, "The government had failed to do so in making the decision... and in any event [it] had not given any reasons for why [it] decided to change the policy," Au wrote.

Wong was victorious, saying he had popped open three bottles of champagne to celebrate.

"The most important thing now is that the court has handed down the judgement and the Chief Executive in Council should, according to law and the judgement, reconsider its decision and reach a conclusion that will make most Hong Kong people happy," he said.

Wong called on the CEIC to issue a free TV license to HKTV, so that Hong Kong people could enjoy high-quality free TV programs.

Talk about vindication. Wong stuck to his guns and luckily with deep pockets, has the judge siding with him in this case. Wong will not be pushed around.

It is also a mini moral victory for others as proof that the government cannot impose new policies illegally, that there is still some kind of recourse in Hong Kong.

Now what to do about that electoral reform package...

Thursday, 23 April 2015

A Gulf Between Them

Carrie Lam, centre right is mobbed along with boss CY Leung (in white)
Now that the electoral reform package has been released, it's time for the Hong Kong government to sell it to the public.

Things got off to a bad start yesterday. After unveiling the package in Legco, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung, and even Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying tried to visit residents in Mei Foo, but the senior officials were drowned out by protesters and loud boos that they had to beat a hasty retreat.

Dozens of people used amplifiers, saying, "2017, we are doomed", and "we want real universal suffrage", overpowered Lam's voice.

As Leung escaped back to his vehicle, some shouted, "Resign, CY Leung".

Doesn't sound like it was receptive...

So today Lam tried another tact to try to change people's minds by saying if they accepted the package now, there was a chance -- a chance -- that Beijing would amend the electoral framework.

Emily Lau hopes to change Beijing's mind on electoral reform
This morning on Commercial Radio, she said the National People's Congress Standing Committee had a constitutional right to revise the electoral framework in light of the actual situation if the next Hong Kong government decided to roll out another round of reform.

"At the second step [of the so-called five-step reform procedure], the Standing Committee has to make a decision on how to amend the electoral system," Lam said. "It can make a decision based on the actual situation -- such as the ways to make the governance smoother -- at that time."

So basically Beijing can monitor the situation and tweak it as it sees fit -- and there's a good chance that if Hong Kong people continue to protest for universal suffrage, it doesn't mean China will grant it to us -- and in fact the opposite could happen.

Lam is not outlining the possible circumstances in which the electoral system could be amended, and the language is probably vague enough to give Chinese leaders enough leeway to justify whatever changes they wish to make.

Elections are not something the Chinese government is familiar about. While it likes to say it rules by consensus, there's a lot of backroom politicking going on. And if members of the National Congress do vote on something, it is pretty much sanctioned already, and the vote justifies their pre-determined decision.

So what will it be, folks?

Accepting the package now in the hopes there will be tweaks later -- but that could go in the opposite direction, or to hold out for something better?

The pan-democrats continue to stand firmly in the veto camp, though they seem disillusioned as well.

Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing said, "We need to step up efforts to change the situation and make Beijing willing to make changes." She said these would include efforts to explain to Hong Kong and Beijing officials what the pan-democrats see as the plan's negative impact on Hong Kong.

Does she really think China will listen to them? There is so much mistrust between the two parties, and also the pan-democrats lost moral ground during the Umbrella Movement that it's hard to see how the they will win back the public's support.

Things are so divisive that the chances of finding middle ground seem too remote...

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

As Expected

Rimsky Yuen, Carrie Lam and Raymond Tam holding copies of the reform
Today was the deadline for the Hong Kong was to present electoral reforms for the next chief executive elections in 2017. And as expected, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor explained that those interested in becoming the city's next leader would have to garner at least 120 votes of support from the 1,200 member voting committee, who are picked by Beijing.

That means between five to 10 candidates can be chosen. But the final two to three candidates would need support from at least half of the nominating committee before they could be on the ballot that over 5 million Hong Kong people could choose.

Pan-democrats made a strong fashion statement of protest
The fixed race is definitely on and the pan-democrats, also as anticipated, were not pleased.

They wore black with yellow "x"s across their chest vowing to veto this electoral reform package and walked out of the legislative chamber in protest, as they believe it does not go far enough in terms of offering true universal suffrage.

However Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying warned that this was the best possible chance for Hong Kong to have universal suffrage under Beijing.

"As of now, we see now room for any compromise," Leung told the media. "To initiate any political reform process is not easy. If this proposal is vetoed, it could be several years before the next opportunity."

There are some who believe Hong Kong should take this package now, because the privilege may be taken away forever if we don't accept it, whereas others think this doesn't go far enough and we should fight for more.

Student leader Joshua Wong Chi-fung threatened occupation of the streets again if the package is passed through Legco.

Did Lam purposely choose to wear this colour suit today?
We're back in the same stand-off position we were in during the Umbrella Movement -- nothing has changed. Did the protesters stay out on the streets for 79 days for nothing? Did the Hong Kong government not listen to the people?

It's interesting Lam chose a cream-coloured suit with a string of pearls to make her announcement today. Was this her fashion sign that she is innocent, and that she should not be condemned?

We also note Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung's stylistic choice of wearing a suit vest as part of his outfit. Does he think his sartorial style will conquer the rag-tag pan-democrats who range from the disheveled Leung Kwok-hung to sharp suited Alan Leong Kah-kit?

Seems like today's announcement was more style over substance...

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Good Idea Gone Bad

Students going to China was a good intention, but making it mandatory wasn't
I believe that all young people should go to China to see what it's like there. The country is fast becoming a powerhouse to be reckoned with, not just economically, but politically and socially too.

That's why it's important to be there on the ground, to see it first hand, to witness the authority the government has over its people, and how the trickle down effect of wealth isn't really working and how people live day-to-day.

By living there for a period of time, then young people will have an idea of how the country works or doesn't work, and have a better understanding of the mindset of people there, so that when they become the next generation of adults, they will have a better idea of how to deal with China not only on a personal level, but in the political and economic arena too.

So the University of Hong Kong had good intentions when its pro-vice-chancellor and vice president, professor Ian Holliday announced on Friday at a student union dinner that by 2022, all undergraduates must spend some time on the mainland.

It was a way to ensure "everybody has the opportunity" of one learning experience on the mainland and one internationally. Apparently there would be two parts, a "Greater China" stream covering the mainland, and possibly Taiwan and Macau, and an international stream for the rest of the world. Activities would include classes, internships, field trips or professional training.

However, Holliday got into trouble when he warned, "If you don't agree with the policy, then please don't come to HKU."

What kind of threat is that? And making it mandatory for students by 2022 seems much too far off, but also forcing people to go is not the answer.

As a result, Holliday had to backtrack on his words. "I apologize unreservedly for the clumsy and inappropriate remarks," and promised students would be consulted first.

Seems like a bit too late for that. Didn't Holliday know that anything regarding the mainland in Hong Kong is an extremely sensitive issue? Or did he not get that memo?

A union poll on the day Holliday apologized showed 97 percent of undergraduates opposed any arbitrary requirement to go to a particular place to study.

Vice chancellor professor Peter Mathieson tried to tone down the controversy.

"Clearly, enrollment in any university includes an element of choice for applicants to know about HKU's policies and expectations so that they can decide whether it suits their needs or not," he said.

"These [developmental] opportunities may be anywhere in the world, but obviously in view of our geopolitical situation, mainland China will be one target area," Mathieson said. Such experiences would help students develop a "truly global perspective".

HKU may have had good intentions, but it didn't go down so well with the students. It's going to take a while for things to calm down.

Unfortunately this is bad timing because people really need to get to know and understand China beyond the headlines, which force knee-jerk reactions. Because the more we know about the mainland, the greater our chances in dealing with the giant more on our terms.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Rant of the Day: Weather Reports

It was overcast with a brief bout of showers -- but that was on Saturday night
Last week and up until today, the Hong Kong Observatory warned that today would bring thunderstorms.

I checked the website again today and it said there would be "thunderstorms later"... whatever "later" means.

Determined not to be caught in a rainstorm -- it's not fun being completely soaked -- I armed myself with a big umbrella, and an old pair of shoes I didn't mind getting wet.

However, all day the rain did not come and I lugged the umbrella around all afternoon.

Then this evening around 7.35pm the Hong Kong Observatory issued a thunderstorm warning from then until around 9.30pm. But not even an hour later the warning was cancelled. So I schlepped home carrying this big umbrella and not opening it once!

What is going on? There was not even a polite explanation of why the situation had changed.

Tomorrow the forecast is 95 percent rain... we shall see about that...

Sunday, 19 April 2015

When Wham! Went to China

Wham! was the first foreign band to perform in China 30 years ago
Thirty years ago this month Wham! was the first foreign group to play in China. The country had come out of the Cultural Revolution and in 1985 beginning to open up to the world.

Wham!'s manager Simon Napier-Bell hatched a plan to have George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley to perform in China and garner international attention to increase their chances of playing in the United States.

Napier-Bell started working on Chinese officials 18 months beforehand, and he managed to get an audience with them by taking them to lunch. Apparently no one had access to decent food at the time except for foreigners, and so each time he visited China, he would lure them through their stomachs. He recalls by the end he hosted some 40 officials at a banquet.

George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley got lots of attention
"I didn't every really pitch. I didn't want to ask a yes or no question," says Napier-Bell. "I started off saying, 'You know if it would be really nice if a western pop group could come play in China', and then the next time I would say, 'I'm the manager of a western pop group, and it would be great if they could play in China', until eventually I said, 'If we could one day play in China it would be great if it could happen in April'."

In the end concert dates were set in Beijing and Guangzhou.

But because no one knew of the band at all, the manager got Chinese singer Cheng Fangyuan to rerecord the songs in Chinese, and the bilingual cassettes were given away with the tickets -- that at the time were priced at 50 cents, about a month's wages.

Wham! manager Simon Napier-Bell
Many were sold to cadres who had behaved well, and government officials. "About 20 percent of the audience were foreigners who lived in Beijing and knew how to react and they led the way," remembers Napier-Bell.

The concerts were a confusing sight for the Chinese, who didn't know how to react. They had never heard music so loud, nor seen people dressed in such outfits before. When George Michael was clapping, they thought he wanted applause, while the police were terrified a riot would break out and made everyone sit down.

However, Napier-Bell's plan of garnering media coverage worked -- probably too well. There are pictures of Wham! on the Great Wall, but the duo hated the media attention.

"They were mobbed by photographers," says their manager. "When they did the gig there were 96 television crews in the front half and over 200 reporters and photographers from foreign countries. They took them for their forcible sight-seeing on the Great Wall. They were mobbed the whole time. They didn't enjoy themselves."

A cassette with Chinese and English versions of the songs
In the end coverage of the duo was on ABC, NBC and CBS News every hour on the hour for eight days in a row. And after they returned home from China, they started getting bookings in the US. Napier-Bell proudly adds they did this in record time, as no other artist had managed to do this in such a short time.

And the Chinese translation of Wake Me Up Before You Go Go?

Here's the original version:

Wake me up before you go go
'Cause I'm not planning on going solo
Wake me up before you go go
Take me dancing tonight
I want to hit that high (yeah yeah)

The Chinese translation:

Wake me up before you go go
Compete with the sky to go high high
Wake me up before you go go
Men fight to be the first to reach the peak
Wake me up before you go go
Women are on the same journey and will not fall behind

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Short-Term Thinking

Many families in Hong Kong live in cramped conditions like this
Yesterday a colleague asked me if I knew of any places available for rent.

It turns out her landlord is increasing the monthly rent of her 270-square-foot flat in a 30-year-old building in Sham Shui Po to HK$13,200.

That amount is just mind-boggling as it's just enough room for a bed, one's worldly possessions and a tiny kitchen and bathroom.

I've lived in 300 square feet, but for over HK$13,000?

She has been looking for alternatives, but only has a few more days until she has to let the landlord know if she's staying or not.

My colleague is no spring chicken, but she doesn't make much money, though enough to cover living expenses, including looking after three cats. However, the rent increase would be too much to bear financially.

"Everyone is snapping up cheaper flats, not the luxury ones, and not everyone can get the lower priced flats, so rents are going up," she says matter-of-fact. "I can't even begin to think of buying a flat -- HK$4 million doesn't get you much these days."

Mont Vert microflats in Tai Po, far from the MTR station...
It's true -- and as developers find more ways to screw buyers, the only affordable housing are microflats, where there's basically only enough room for a bed and bathroom. You'll be lucky if you have room for a hot plate and a bar fridge. Did we mention these places are located in areas that aren't near public transport?

Young people in Hong Kong who don't have parents with fat bank accounts have the short end of the stick. How is society supposed to develop when salaries are frozen from 10 years ago, so the next generation has no choice but to live with their parents well into adulthood, the opportunity to move out getting increasingly remote as property prices skyrocket.

Depressed salaries do not help the economy -- it prevents young people from buying flats, getting married and having children. Meanwhile the rich get richer, and the social inequality worsens.

I hope my coworker does find a decent place that isn't exorbitant soon... it also illustrates how greedy landlords can be. Maybe it's time Hong Kong introduces some kind of rent controls? But the rich will probably kick up a fuss and the government will back down...

The other shocking news was that The Excelsior hotel in Causeway Bay may be torn down to make way for an office building. The hotel has been there for 42 years and has a fantastic location by the MTR and shopping areas, and the basement holds Dickens bar where many go there to grab a drink or watch football games on the big screens.

While it is a fact office buildings are much less labour-intensive than hotels, the possibility of tearing down The Excelsior is so short-sighted.

Central used to have the Hilton (now Cheung Kong Centre), Furama (now AIA Central) and the former Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong (now another office building). The only hotels in the main Central district are the Mandarin Oriental and its sister property in the Landmark.

Despite many objections, 27 Lugard Road will be developed
It seems ironic that while Macau is building more hotels, Hong Kong is keen to knock them down and instead have places for guests to stay in the oddest locations like the Murray Building, and the Peak.

The Town Planning Board has approved the development of a boutique hotel on 27 Lugard Road on Victoria Peak, which is where many tourists, and locals like to walk around the Peak. Despite 3,215 objections to the proposal and only 278 expressions of support, the plan was given the green light unanimously by the board.

Does everyone in Hong Kong have short-term thinking?

Friday, 17 April 2015

Dior Then and Now

Raf Simons impressed by how Dior's archival pieces are still so modern
I am mesmerized by designer Raf Simons' eyes. They are so clear and bright -- an intelligent person who has the smarts and optimism to get through life.

In Dior and I, director Frederic Tcheng follows Simons from the first day he meets the team of couturiers at Christian Dior, the people behind the dazzling haute couture pieces, to eight weeks later when he presents his first collection.

Simons is understandably anxious -- no one has only two months to put a collection together -- and on top of that transition from doing ready-to-wear to haute couture. There are language and cultural barriers, but the atelier is used to creative directors coming and going, and they take it all in stride.

Simons' fresh floral take on Dior's feminine silhouettes
Some have been there for decades, and they have magical skills to turn fabric into gorgeous suits, dresses, tops and skirts, the tailoring perfect. Even down to the last minute they are carefully hand-sewing things -- a group of them overnight if need be.

They love what they do and are there to serve not only the creative director of the moment, but also honour the spirit of Monsieur Dior. They love the idea of working for the fashion house, the history, but also the grandeur associated with the name.

With time quickly ticking away, Simons decides to pay homage to Monsieur Dior by taking the founder's classic pieces and style and reinterpreting them with innovative fabrics and modern touches.

It turns out the Belgian's style is very similar to Dior's -- as Tcheng cleverly picks out passages from Dior's memoirs and has them read out as voice overs, reminiscing about presenting his first collection at the age of 41, the frustrations, the tears, anxiety and excitement.

Simons uses Sterling Ruby's paintings to make his pieces
We see Simons with flashes of brilliance -- taking artist Sterling Ruby's paintings and making fabrics out of them, and deciding that the space where the fashion show will be held will have walls completely covered in flowers, an inspiration from Jeff Koon's floral Puppy, but also from Dior's childhood home as well.

In the end it comes together and the audience is mesmerized by the sumptuous designs that are feminine and sexy, silhouettes that are reminiscent of Monsieur Dior and yet have a modern touch.

They are not just Simons' ideas, but of the entire atelier -- it was them who translated the sketches into three-dimensional designs that take exceptional talent and experience to pull off. Interestingly the atelier are impressed by the accuracy of Simon's team's sketches, down to the millimetre, though haute couture is a work in progress, as they literally work on a model to figure out exactly what they want to do.

As a result Dior and I gives the general public insight into what it takes to put a collection together, as well as have greater appreciation for haute couture. They cost tens of thousands of US dollars to make, and so they are a form of art.

But throughout it all, it's Simons' eyes that show his emotions -- he is honest and scared, elated and frustrated.

Some criticisms of the documentary are that there was no context, that Simons was coming to Dior after John Galliano was fired in 2011 for making drunken racist slurs in a bar.

However, one could argue that kind of context could detract from Simons' story, and focusing it on him and Monsieur Dior is already a good contrast and interesting story to tell.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Retail Blues

Where are the shoppers and the lines in front of luxury brand boutiques?
The Hong Kong retail industry is in a slump because its core customers, wealthy mainland Chinese are not coming in droves anymore. They either can't be bothered with the negative experiences they have in the city, or find better deals for luxury brands elsewhere like Europe.

So who has to make up for the slack? The local market. More than 10,000 shops, restaurants and tourist attractions are offering discounts or promotions to local residents.

In the HAPPY@hongkong Super Jetso campaign that starts April 27 to May28, shoppers can get coupons if they spend a certain amount of money, or special deals for locals staying in hotels here.

Tommy Li Ying-sang, convenor of the campaign, said he has not estimated how many businesses will be offering "locals only" promotions.

"Let me stress again that the principle [of the campaign] is to create a happy shopping atmosphere. We welcome both locals and tourists," he said.

Creating a happy atmosphere? How about making sure staff serve customers with a smile?

Hong Kong is one of three places in the world where customers are unlikely to see smiles on shop staff's faces in a survey of mystery shoppers.

The city was ranked 39 out of 41 countries in a "smiling index" of the service sector conducted by the Mystery Shopper Service Association last year.

Around 2,000 mystery shoppers visited shops around Hong Kong specializing in 40 different products and only found 48 percent of service staff smiled at them.

In the bottom three ranking, Hong Kong was ahead of South Korea at 47 percent, and Slovenia at 46 percent.

Meanwhile at the top was Ireland at an impressive 97 percent, followed by Greece and Puerto Rico sharing third spot at 93 percent.

When it came to greeting customers, Hong Kong was in second last place at 58 percent, and Macau at the bottom with 53 percent.

It's quite ironic that Hong Kong, which depends so heavily on the retail industry here and the customer service is appalling. Perhaps this is why Hong Kong's retail sales numbers are so bad?

Anders Wong Siu-leung, chief executive of the Hong Kong Mystery Shopper Service Association, said long working hours and pressure were among the reasons front line staff didn't smile.

How about it's because the hours are long and pay is not appealing so people treat it as a job than as a passion? Not many people in Hong Kong derive joy from serving others. But if service staff smiled more than maybe -- just maybe -- they'd ring up a few more sales?

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Paul Chan: Earnest or Full of Hot Air?

Does Development Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po really mean what he says?
We like rags-to-riches stories, and Hong Kong Development Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po is no exception.

Yesterday he told secondary students near Shek Kip Mei about his impoverished life growing up in a squatter camp.

"Not only did we have to share a kitchen, but we didn't have our own toilets either," he recalled. "We had to walk quite the distance to use a public toilet. I still remember that when I first saw toilets with seats... I couldn't get used to them. I remember that if you looked down into the public toilets, you could see insects crawling around. To this day, thinking about those toilets makes me shudder."

Hmmm, too much detail!

While gambling and drugs were rife, he said he had to work after school and struggled to keep up in university because he had not been taught in English before. His family also lost their home in one of many fires that affected the camps.

"Because I come from a poor family, my parents couldn't give me much of a leg up in my career," he said. "But it doesn't matter, because we have friends: in secondary school, we studied in groups; at university, we collaborated on student organizations. People you meet outside work... these people are your assets."

Chan became an accountant and lawmaker before joining government.

But as a government official he has faced a number of scandals, including ties to a firm that owned subdivided flats; conflict-of-interest accusations over farmland that would rise in value due to a scheme his bureau was pushing through, and last year he and his wife were defeated in a libel trial after he and his wife accused their daughter's classmates of cheating.

When he was challenged about the farmland, Chan quoted the Bible to defend his record of public service. And as he ended his speech to the students, he quoted evangelist Rick Warren.

"If we come into money, it's not meant for us or our family. We should share it with those in need," he said. "We should share our blessings with other people... If we get into positions of power, we shouldn't forget that that power should be used to help the least privileged."

Oh really? Are you going to share what you've made? Or how about getting Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah to loosen the public purse strings?

While Chan had it tough going to school in the 1960s, things in Hong Kong were still relatively egalitarian. These days students that don't have laptops and know how to use the internet, are completely left behind in the digital divide.

We wonder if he realizes this, but perhaps he's been too busy claiming his daughter's classmates were cheating...

Chan seems to prefer sending out trial balloons of policy ideas on his blog than have discussions with the public, and then gets into trouble with possibly benefiting handsomely from his own department's policies.

Many don't believe he's the right person for the job.

But we're wondering that if he believes "we shouldn't forget that power should be used to help the least privileged", then how about giving us a leg-up on democracy and granting us true universal suffrage?

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Finally Free -- For Now

The five women activists who were released on bail Monday evening
After months of lobbying internationally, including by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden, as well as Chinese rights campaigners, five women activists were finally released on bail yesterday evening.

They were detained on the weekend of March 8, International Women's Day, when they were planning to demonstrate against sexual harassment on public transport. They were picked up on suspicion of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble".

The campaign to get them released that featured the tag #FreeTheFive included strong words from American presidential candidate Hilary Clinton and Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations.

The quintet were released because prosecutors did not immediately decide to press criminal charges, and instead police asked that the five be charged with organizing a crowd to disturb public order.

Wei Tingting, 26, Wang Man, 32, Zheng Churan, 25, Li Tingting, 25 and Wu Rongrong, 30 have been released on bail, but would be monitored by the police for one year, and could not travel without informing the authorities. They could be detained by police at anytime and interrogated further.

On Friday, Kerry made a statement saying China should "immediately and unconditionally" free the five women.

"Each and every one of us has the right to speak out against sexual harassment and the many other injustices that millions of women and girls suffer around the world each and every day," he said. "We strongly support the efforts of these activists to make progress on these challenging issues, and we believe that Chinese authorities should also support them, not silence them."

On Monday afternoon, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said that China "lodged representations" with the US over those comments and that "the Chinese legal authorities are handling this case in accordance with the law."

The actual campaign that they were organizing through We Chat was supposed to have people handing out leaflets and stickers on buses and subway carriages to call attention to sexual harassment on public transportation.

This crackdown on activists who weren't doing anything political, and instead trying to promote a civil society, is quite harsh, and perhaps is meant to scare other rights campaigners from continuing their activities. Or does the government consider them a threat because they are pointing out the truth?

These five women are not new to activism -- in 2012 they campaigned for more public toilets for women, and in 2013-14, campaigned against domestic violence.

They are only doing what they believe is right and just, though they are sticking their necks out to do so.

We are relieved they are released, though not unconditionally is worrying. These women are pushing for civil society, and they are trying to do this through non-violent means. So why detain them? What they are doing is for the good of everyone, and doesn't the Chinese government want its society to look just and equal?

Beijing is only creating more embarrassment for itself domestically and on the international stage...

Monday, 13 April 2015

Still Business as Usual?

Is the new restriction on visits to Hong Kong going to impact parallel traders?
We now hear the latest measures limiting parallel traders coming to Hong Kong to once a week has become effective immediately, and reaction has been swift.

Some say because there is still such a high demand for goods from Hong Kong across the border that parallel trading businesses will find other ways to get stuff that's in demand, like milk powder, chocolates, shampoo and toothpaste.

"Instead of hiring one person to conduct the trade three times a day, they will probably hire three people to do it once a day," said student Dicky Chung, a North District resident.

An employee at a pharmacy in Sheung Shui suggested that parallel trading ringleaders would recruit Hong Kong people to transport products. "We're talking about a HK$200 profit margin per day, or about HK$5,000 to HK$6,000 a month. Who wouldn't do it?" he said.

We will have to wait and see how this new restriction will affect parallel traders -- will they hire more people to help them bring goods across the border? Is it really that worth it? Or because it's harder to get access to these goods that prices for them in China will increase?

The Hong Kong government claims the latest measures will reduce the number of parallel traders by 30 percent, or about 4.6 million a year, but it is believed parallel traders will have something up their sleeves to keep their lucrative businesses going.

No one has a good idea of how much really is brought across the border to resell and how much profit is made out of parallel trading. Obviously mainlanders are doing a brisk business otherwise they would not be doing this on a daily basis. But it would be interesting to find out exactly what kinds of products are in demand, who buys them and why.

Besides, we need this market research for the shopping malls we're apparently building near the border just for this segment of people who come to Hong Kong...

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Being Socially Responsible

Chen Qiaoling (above) and Chen Hongrong recorded China's food scandals
Three years ago, Chen Qiaoling and Chen Hongrong, both graduate students at Tsinghua University's School of Economics and Management, founded Yueyaduo Food Safety Research Centre.

They published a book called China's Food Safety Record in January, documenting all the food-safety scandals reported in the media in recent years.

It took them two years to compile the book, and the pair paid for all the expenses to produce it. This book is the first to record food-safety incidents in China, and has been compared to former CCTV news presenter Chai Jing's self-financed documentary, Under the Dome, about China's air pollution.

Originally Chen Qiaoling thought after graduation she would have a stable job in Beijing, then buy an apartment and a car, and get a hukou or residency permit. But Chen Hongrong challenged her. "Shouldn't you do something beneficial to society and shoulder your social responsibility?" he asked.

Chai Jing made a documentary about China's air pollution
"I was touched by what he said. Hearing the phrase 'social responsibility' reminded me of a course I had taken about business ethics and social responsibility," Chen recalled. "I told him how the course included a case about food safety, and we started talking about the widely reported food-safety problems in China. We decided to do something about the issue, because it was an essential part of everyone's life. Nobody can escape from it."

As neither of them had taken courses related to food safety, the pair had to do extensive research. To gather more information on the ground, they went to nine provinces and municipalities, including Zhejiang, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Hunan, Fujian, Shandong, and Hebei provinces, as well as Beijing and Tianjin.

They went to local farmers' markets, farms and supermarkets and surveyed people's opinions about food safety.

"We found that many people only had a very limited understanding. For example, some thought that if an agricultural product has been sprayed with pesticide, it is unsafe; others thought all food additives were not safe," says Chen.

"From these surveys, we realized that we needed to come up with something to let the public know what food safety is."

They were inspired by Harvey Wiley, the first commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration in the early 1900s. He and his colleagues published a series of reports on many food-safety issues that made the government, food producers and the public realize the need to improve the situation.

After compiling the book, Chen says there are two important issues regarding food safety in China, one of which is that many Chinese lack integrity.

"Many producers know they are using meat from dead pigs and cows, and that they are producing counterfeit food, but they don't care," she says.

"The second problem is the government cannot implement its regulations effectively. For example, China has set standards for edible oil, but a food-stand owner who sells deep-fried dough sticks isn't aware of them. He also won't know how to check whether the oil he uses complies with the standards. This is why more government guidance is needed."

At first only 200 copies of China's Food Safety Record were published for friends and family, as the authors didn't think anyone would read the book, let alone be willing to pay for it.

But after the book was in bookstores, they were surprised to find many people wanted to buy them, including civil servants, teachers and students majoring in agriculture, and people in the food industry, as well as readers who were concerned about the issue.

"Many people seem to think that it is very difficult to shoulder social responsibility," says Chen. "But actually once you start, it is not that hard at all. It is something many people can do. Many just don't have the courage to take the first step."

We thank Chen Qiaoling and Chen Hongrong for taking the initiative to do the research to put this book together as the definitive record on China's food-safety. Hopefully the government, particularly the central government will take notice and see the shortcomings in implementing its food safety measures and devise more effective ones.

The main issue of integrity is a troublesome one, whose root lies in morality. When people have no morals, then ensuring food safety is very difficult. How does one change the attitudes of unscrupulous people? It's going to take a long time to root out...

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Breakthrough at Last

Anger against parallel traders have escalated to protests and pepper spray
Finally after years of complaints that have led to protests and physical altercations, the Shenzhen municipal government has announced today that permanent residents visiting Hong Kong will be limited to one a week.

It is predicted this latest measure, that has yet to be announced when it will be implemented, will cut the number if visits by this group of people by 30 percent and crackdown on rampant parallel trading.

A notice circulated on the internet said that an urgent meeting had been held in Shenzhen at 11am on Saturday on a decision by the State Council to approve an "adjustment" in the number of trips a multiple-entry permit holder could make to Hong Kong.

The online announcement was confirmed by both Shenzhen police and Hong Kong government sources.

Parallel traders will have to reduce their visits to Hong Kong
If a multiple-entry permit holder fails to visit Hong Kong in a single week, the quota could not be used for future visits, so the maximum number of visits each year is 52.

The Hong Kong government said it had submitted the proposal to the central government to adjust the multiple-entry policy a few months ago. "Any adjustment to the policy is pending the central government's announcement," it said in a statement.

It is a relief to hear this is finally happening, though this proposal should have been submitted a few years ago when some Hong Kong people began calling mainlanders "locusts" for snapping up all kinds of goods to take home.

We have to wonder if the Hong Kong government thought this tension would blow over, or was in denial this problem would escalate to skirmishes with both police and parallel traders. Or did was Beijing not interested in entertaining this request?

Nevertheless we're glad someone is finally listening and will soon implement what we hope will be the beginning of other measures to reduce tensions between mainlanders and locals in the city.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Nostalgic Walk

Bringing up memories of Hong Kong by walking around Central
This evening I met up with a friend who was born and raised in Hong Kong, but has since lived abroad in the United States and is now based in Shanghai.

She is here for a short visit, and was very happy to have me take her around Central, reminding her of her old haunts.

When we met up at IFC mall, she was thrilled to have met up with four friends in one afternoon -- only made possible because of the convenience of Hong Kong.

I quickly showed her around one floor of the mall and she was very impressed by all the brand names and especially the Apple store, where there was a relatively small line of people keen on checking out the new Apple watch.

Then we headed out towards the Mid-Levels escalator, but not before seeing the Hang Seng Bank headquarters, where her father used to work.

As we walked through what used to be the Central wet market, she was immediately reminded of the time when she was a child and went with her housekeeper to the market where they bought all kinds of fresh ingredients.

My friend remembers horrified watching chickens being killed, and in particular a frog chopped in half, one half jumping forward, the other half jumping towards her. "I promised myself never to go back there again!" she said.

On the escalator she marvelled at the shops and restaurants along Shelley Street and was thrilled to see old establishments, like Mak's Noodles still around, and the Central Police Station that will be turned into a public space.

We walked along Staunton Street where she saw the bars and restaurants in action -- Tex-Mex, Nepalese, Italian, British... boutiques selling dresses and jewellery... and she wondered if people lived upstairs and I confirmed that was the case.

Just in time we made it to PMQ, Hong Kong's latest landmark that's about a year old. She wondered why the place wasn't as lively as Soho, but I explained PMQ needed more promotion, but also because it's more about giving a platform to young artists and entrepreneurs. The place is busier on the weekends, but more needs to be done to give these businesses a bigger boost in terms of exposure.

We had a lovely meal at Isono, the casual Spanish restaurant on the sixth floor, including a large salad, seafood paella, and a small plate of cured Iberico ham on the house.

Over dinner she told me about meeting a friend of hers she hasn't seen in 19 years, her first boss, and her next door neighbour when they were growing up, so it's been a very nostalgic trip for my friend.

She has done some errands in Hong Kong, like reactivating her bank card, but also renewing her return home permit -- as she still has one that's a beige passport-sized book and her black and white picture is from when she was in her early 20s!

I joked it was an antique, and she said even the staff at the bank thought her bank card from five years ago was a piece of history...

Ah young people!

After dinner we walked back to Central MTR. At Queen's Road Central she pointed to LHT Tower which houses Gap and Lupa, and asked if it was still Queen's Theatre. It wasn't I said, but celebrity chef Mario Batali has a restaurant here...

And next door at Melbourne Plaza was where her mother used to work for her uncle who had a business there.

So many memories conjured up in one evening!

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Beijing Calling Baymax

Some telephone booths painted to look like the inflated robot Baymax
We love this story from Beijing, where more than 30 public telephone booths in the Chinese capital were painted to look like Baymax, the inflatable healthcare robot from the hit animated film Big Hero 6, which is very popular in China.

The booths in Haidian district, in the northwest side of the city, have been repainted white with the robot's signature black eyes.

The makeover was done by eight young people as a way to remind people not to lose touch with their families and friends.

One of the painters surnamed Jiang, told the Beijing Times, that the group painted the booths in the early hours of last Sunday.

Animated movie Big Hero 6 is a hit in China
He said before mobile phones, people used public telephones to contact their loved ones. However, most phone booths were worn down, seldom used and covered in dust and advertising stickers.

"We cleaned and beautified them at the same time," Jiang said. "We used the motif of Baymax, who's such a warm character to remind the public to stay in touch with those they care about.

"We also felt that Ching Ming was the best time to remind everyone to show more care for their loved ones, so we won't regret failing to stay in touch after they leave us."

However China Unicom, which owns the booths, is not pleased with the makeover and says the refurbishment is not allowed and will restore the booths to their original colour.

Talk about deflating an opportunity to ring in more business...

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Misaligned Opinion

Leung Chun-ying is wondering where all the mainland shoppers are...
Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying says there is an "alarming" drop in the number of visitors coming to the city in recent weeks and he blames it on the stronger Hong Kong dollars, the economic situation in other countries, but most importantly on protests against parallel traders.

This was confirmed by Travel Industry Council executive director Joseph Tung Yao-chung who said the number of mainland tour groups dropped 20 percent since the anti-parallel trader protests.

Leung says there was an alarming drop in the number of visitors coming to Hong Kong during the Easter break. Maybe it's because there China does not celebrate the crucifixion and then rebirth of Jesus, nor does it believe in bunny rabbits and Easter eggs?

This past weekend people in China were busy marking Ching Ming! Perhaps they wanted to pay respects to their ancestors than go shopping in Hong Kong?

In any event, for Leung to say the drop is "alarming" is amusing, as the Hong Kong government hasn't done much to mediate the situation, which has led to protests escalating to minor skirmishes with the police.

But the bad publicity surrounding mainlanders crossing the border several times a day to buy up Hong Kong stocks of milk powder, shampoo, chocolates, cookies and skincare products to bring back to the mainland to sell has resulted in possible changes to travel permits.

Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office deputy director Zhou Bo said the individual visit scheme that allows residents of 49 cities to travel to Hong Kong without joining tour groups, and multiple-entry permits that grant 2 million permanent Shenzhen residents unlimited trips were to be "refined to better suit Hong Kong's situation"... whatever that means.

There have been countless debates in the media about parallel traders -- some readers welcome them because after all, Hong Kong is a port city that became what it was through trading.

Others are tired of not being able to buy necessities because shops are cleaned out by parallel traders and want more restrictions in place.

It's interesting that both the Hong Kong and Chinese governments did not forsee the impact of parallel traders in the city, and how this would negatively affect our community.

All this because China cannot get its act together on food safety -- since at least 2008.

What's really "alarming" is Leung not thinking parallel traders are hurting Hong Kong's image, but the protesters.

Didn't he pledge to serve Hong Kong people and their interests?

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Hong Kong Blind to Guide Dog Demand

Two of only 30 seeing-eye dogs that are working in Hong Kong
It's a sad statement of Hong Kong when you find out there are only 30 guide dogs for the 1,700 of the 170,000 visually impaired in the city.

Even though a lot of people raise dogs as pets here, not many understand the use of guide dogs or why they are crucial in helping the visually impaired get around and be independent.

Today I read that all of Hong Kong's guide dogs are from overseas -- Japan, Taiwan, the UK and United States.

But a few weeks ago, four labrador puppies were born here, and people or companies have a chance to name them if they shell out at least HK$50,000. The Hong Kong Seeing Eye Dog Services, the centre that owns the puppies, wants the names to start with the letter "H" to denote "Hong Kong".

"It is important that we have our own guide dogs," said centre chairman Raymond Cheung Wai-man. "Hong Kong's environment, traffic and public facilities are very different form those in other places, so local dogs can provide better help to the visually impaired."

Four more potential (and cute!) guide dogs are being raised
What he says is probably correct, though I can't help but think it sounds like guide-dog security, much like growing one's own vegetables for food security reasons.

Nevertheless, having a puppy growing up used to Hong Kong's environment would definitely be of help to the visually impaired. While these puppies' parents are both guide dogs, that doesn't necessarily guarantee they will all be suitable to become guide dogs, because it depends on their temperament, obedience, ability to avoid objects and find destinations.

However, having home-grown dogs is a good start and better late than never. Cheung says it takes about a year to determine if a puppy will be suitable for further training which will take another year before they become fully-fledged guide dogs.

He also called on the government for more resources and allow public housing tenants to host dogs so that the service could develop faster in Hong Kong. Cheung said at the current rate it would take 50 years for each 1,700 visually impaired person to get a guide dog.

Again, what does that say about our city?

Monday, 6 April 2015

Finally to be Laid to Rest

Zhao Ziyang in his courtyard home in Beijing
Yesterday was Ching Ming and the family of late Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang received some good news. Finally a decade after his death, the ashes of the liberal senior official will now be allowed to be buried.

"They [the authorities] have agreed to have them buried together," Zhao's son-in-law Wang Zhihua said, referring to the late leader and his wife Liang Boqi who died in late 2013.

Zhao was virtually under house arrest after he was expelled from the Party for opposing the military crackdown on the students in June 1989 in Tiananmen Square.

Zhao in Tiananmen Square telling students to leave
He apparently spent his days chipping golf balls in the courtyard of his home and after he died in 2005, it was later discovered that he made secret recordings of his life, and in particular the last year he was Party Secretary, that led to the publication of the book, Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang.

Since then his ashes have been kept in the courtyard of his home in Beijing because there was no previous agreement with the government on where his remains would be buried.

When he died, the Party, which determines burial arrangements for its members, offered to inter his ashes at Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetary, but his family wanted him to be buried privately because they worried about future access to his ashes.

The authorities were anxious around the time of Zhao's funeral, concerned it would spark large-scale mourning. They were so paranoid, that on the day of his funeral, police and security agents were posted on every corner along Chang'an Avenue and many of his supporters were barred from the ceremony.

Zhao's account of his life through recordings
A few years ago people were allowed to visit his home to pay their respects at Ching Ming, and since then more have come, and even media covered the event. When Zhao's wife died over a year ago, the issue of his burial came up again.

Wang said yesterday that officials from the Party and the Beijing government had met with the family in recent months to discuss finding a burial site for Zhao and Liang. While nothing has been settled yet, the family said it was a step forward.

"Their attitude was sincere and we can talk about things," said Zhao's youngest son, Zhao Wujun. "We just want the old people to be buried peacefully."

It's interesting the authorities are still concerned about Zhao's burial being a flashpoint to remind people of the Tiananmen Square massacre 26 years ago this June. He was a popular leader at the time, whose opposition to the crackdown made him a symbol of conscience.

Political commentator Zhang Lifan believes that while the authorities are allowing Zhao's ashes to be buried, it did not mean they would rehabilitate his reputation, and officials would still be worried about his grave becoming a pilgrimage site.

It very well could become one, considering more than 100 people came to his Beijing home this year. Not only does this indicate people's unwavering loyalty towards him, but also they have not forgotten what happened almost 26 years ago.

And when more and more people remember, Beijing will not be able to hide the truth much longer. It may be smug in thinking a whole generation of young people do not know that thousands of people in and around Tiananmen Square were killed, but through remembering Zhao they will -- eventually.