Sunday, 31 May 2015

Fruitless Political Rhetoric

From left: Wang Guangya, Li Fei and Zhang Xiaoming in Shenzhen
Today was the last chance for the central government to persuade pan-democrats to accept the political reform proposal in a meeting in Shenzhen, but to no avail.

We all knew it was an exercise of going through the motions, with each senior Chinese leader giving veiled threats in their speeches.

Earlier Zhang Xiaoming, director of the central government's Hong Kong liaison office said pan-democrats would be punished in the next year's Legislative Council election.

Then Basic Law Committee chairman Li Fei insisted the government's proposal was "democratic, fair, open and just", and that the plan had received broad support, as it had taken into account the people's "reasonable views".

One wonders what "reasonable views" means...

Wang Guangya, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, stressed Beijing  would "unswervingly and sincerely support" Hong Kong in electing the chief executive by popular ballot in 2017.

The pan-democrats address the media after the meeting
"Regardless of the resistance it faces, the central government would make its best effort," Wang said.

"The central government is willing to engage different sectors in Hong Kong, including the pan-democrats, and to force a consensus within the maximum limit based on the Basic Law and the relevant decisions of the National People's Congress Standing Committee."

Is the central government really engaging a variety of sectors in the city? And what does "force a consensus" mean?

All this rhetoric for a four-hour meeting that went no where. We don't blame the pan-democrats, they are only standing their ground, and reflecting the wishes of a good number of Hong Kong people.

The central government has no idea what democracy looks like and in keeping with its interests, wants to ensure only politically correct candidates run for chief executive.

But what has 17, almost 18 years of chief executives under Beijing's leadership given Hong Kong?

There is an even greater income gap between the rich and the poor, there is no long-term planning of the city in terms of pollution, transportation, construction, real estate, the economy, education, social issues... the list goes on and on.

That's because no one is looking out for OUR interests, Hong Kong people's interests.

We want a leader who speaks up for Hong Kong and fights for us.

And yet Beijing does not want to allow that to happen under "one country, two systems".

The city is fast becoming mainlandized much to local residents' horror. Things have changed so much in less than 20 years, one shudders to think what's going to happen in the next five.

Meanwhile the 79-day Occupy or Umbrella Movement brought us together temporarily, but now what? We are back to being disparate souls, focused on our jobs and wondering if we'll be able to afford a home -- ever.

But oh sorry -- those aren't the most pressing issues at the moment -- what's really important now is to decide if we're patriotic enough to accept the political reform package.

The mainlaindization of Hong Kong continues...

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Which Side is the HK Government on?

Hong Kong, a city of the "rich and powerful" and then the rest of us
Last week Stephen Vines, a columnist in the Hong Kong media penned a column questioning the loyalty of the wealthy in the city.

He pointed out that every chief executive has sent their children abroad to study -- which would be considered an outrage in every other country.

Columnist Stephen Vines
"However, in Hong Kong, which has quite decent universities, they are not considered good enough for the scions of the powerful people, who also want to ensure that their children have the kind of familiarity with overseas countries that can lead to the acquisition of citizenship," Vines writes.

Then he says anyone who is rich and powerful in the city has squirreled their money outside of Hong Kong, particularly in places where there is strong rule of law, despite their exhortations that China is very stable, and "we have the word of the mainland's most avid cheerleaders in Hong Kong that its stability is unshakeable".

So why then has so much money been funneled to Macau (up until recently), and that our past and present chief executives have properties in London and the United States?

As a result, Vines concludes, the "next time you are subjected to the protestations of a well-heeled 'loyalist', a reality check may be in order".


But that's not the end of the story.

Why is Andrew Fung defending the wealthy and powerful?
A few days later Andrew Fung Wai-kwong, an information coordinator with the Hong Kong government wrote in to the newspaper to rebut the columnist's claims that the "rich and powerful" may not be that loyal.

Fung says real estate developers are investing heavily in the mainland, much bigger than what they have invested elsewhere. Hello? These developers are investing for a bigger payoff -- and besides this is for company profits and for shareholders. Vines is talking about individuals storing their assets elsewhere but Hong Kong.

To retort Vines' accusation of chief executives buying property outside of the city, Fung writes, "All senior members of the government have refrained from buying and selling properties in Hong Kong to avoid allegations of using insider information."

Has he forgotten about Development Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po, when it was revealed in 2013 that his wife owns three plots of land in Kwu Tung North in the New Territories that could benefit handsomely with the government's plan to develop the area?

Fung saves the best for last. When it comes to chief executives sending their children abroad to study, the government information coordinator claims, "One simple reason is to get away from the press and its paparazzi."

Seriously? That's the best excuse he can come up with?

The Hong Kong government didn't need to respond to this column, which is one man's opinion -- and it shouldn't. But it has and the gaffe is too outrageous to ignore.

The trust meter on the Leung administration has sunk even lower...

Friday, 29 May 2015

Taking a Free Ride

The Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce celebrates its birthday
Today marks the 154th anniversary of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce. And to celebrate every May 29, it sponsors all rides on trams and the Star Ferry.

They expect some 300,000 people to take advantage of it and I managed to do that.

Many riders had no idea today was "HKGCC Free Ride Day" and were shocked to see the fare collection box and Octopus card reader both covered with cloth bags.

Free rides on trams and Star Ferries today
"We don't have to pay today?" they asked incredulously as they got off the tram. Obviously the HKGCC isn't doing enough promotion of this free ride day, even though a few trams have the chamber's Lego-like design plastered on the outside of the trams, and was covered in the media today.

Chamber chairman YK Pang gave a statement at a press conference this morning:

"For the past 154 years, the Chamber has gone through various ups and downs with members and the community, and we have all worked hard to build a prosperous future for Hong Kong," he said. "Our birthday wish this year is for all business sectors to thrive and for everyone to have a happy and prosperous year."

Then he added a subtle political hint.

"We also hope that society can come together to make sure constitutional development moves ahead."

Should the chamber be making such comments?

Or should we just ignore it and appreciate the free (non air conditioned) ride, even though it was bloody hot today at 33 degrees?

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Fact of the Day: Costs of Smoking

Imagine how much money these cigarette butts could add up to...
You want to quit smoking? Maybe this financial fact will motivate you.

A Chinese University study assumes that if a Hong Kong smoker goes through one pack of cigarettes a day, they would spend an average of HK$20,440 a year, which could add up to more than HK$1 million in a lifetime.

If that money was well invested, the returns, when the smoker retired at 60, could buy him or her an 800 square foot flat on Hong Kong Island based on Standard & Poor's 500 Index.

"The money spent on cigarettes can be used on investment instead to potentially increase their assets," said Vivian Lee Wing-yan, associate professor at the university's school of pharmacy, who conducted the study.

The study also compared the cost of tobacco per person throughout their lifespan in Hong Kong, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Australia. It assumed smokers started at the age of 18 (very conservative!) and smoked a pack a day.

Australians had to spend the most on ciggies, spending over HK$100,000 a year, followed by Singaporeans at HK$55,000.

Second thoughts on lighting up?

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Who's Afraid of Joshua Wong?

Student leader Joshua Wong speaks to the media after returning from Penang
Joshua Wong Chi-fung is still hot -- a hot potato that is.

The Occupy student leader was invited to attend four talks in Malaysia's Ipoh, Johor, Penang and Kuala Lumpur to talk about last year's pro-democracy movement and the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

However, when the 18-year-old arrived at Penang International Airport yesterday, he was ordered to return back to Hong Kong.

While Wong "deeply regretted" the Malaysian government's decision not to allow him into the country, the country's Inspector-General of Police Abu Bakar Khalid said the purpose of the young man's visit was to explain how he had organized demonstrations in Hong Kong.

"We were afraid that what he was going to speak about would harm our security," he said. "He was also going to speak about China. We know his anti-Chinese speeches, We do not want him to jeopardize our ties with China."

Ah ha! The truth comes out.

Malaysian authorities have blocked the entry of activists before in 2012 and the following year.

Wong begged to differ about the reason why he was not allowed into Malaysia to attend the event organized by the Working Committee for the 26th Anniversary Commemoration of June 4 Incident in Malaysia.

"I understand the mainland [Chinese] government may see me as a sensitive person, but I am not there to fight for universal suffrage in Malaysia. I'm not there to plant a revolution," he said after returning to Chek Lap Kok airport.

Of course the Hong Kong government said the politically correct thing of respecting the decision of immigration authorities of other countries in clearing travellers for entry based on their laws.

So now we're wondering if this was a stunt to force the Malaysian authorities to show how conservative they are, or organizers and Wong really didn't know (or were naive?) in thinking that he would be able to enter the country without any issues.

Regardless, the secret is out -- and both Malaysia and China seem to be afraid of an18-year-old student who looks more like a nerd than a strongman...

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Leung Creates More Tensions

Leung Chun-ying tries to force pan-democrats' hand, telling them to prioritize
Beijing has invited pan-democrats to go across the border to discuss political reform with officials there -- but the mainland has decided the date will be near June 4, the 26th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown.

Many pan-democrats have said they would rather stay in Hong Kong, while Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying urges them to "treasure the opportunity" to meet three Beijing officials in Shenzhen on Sunday.

"There are June 4-related activities every year, but at such a critical moment, which is the quickly approaching vote on political reform, I think [lawmakers] should treasure the opportunity to meet Beijing officials," he said.

While it's true that pan-democrats can easily travel to and from Shenzhen, it's interesting Beijing has announced the meeting will be so close to the date, forcing Hong Kong lawmakers to decide their priorities.

The media asked Leung whether he believed activities commemorating the crackdown were not important, he said that was not what he meant.

"This year isn't a big year like [the 20th or 25th] year since June 4, and there are many people participating in June 4 [activities] in different capacities, but on political reform, lawmakers are the only people who can vote so that 5 million [eligible voters in] Hong Kong can directly elect their chief executive in 2017," Leung said.

"Is it more important for lawmakers to take part in June 4 activities, or ... the [meeting] in Shenzhen? I think they can make a choice."

Many believe when the pan-democrats get to Shenzhen, it won't be a productive dialogue but a lecture on how they are unpatriotic and only fueling "social unrest" -- a favourite term -- when in fact they are reflecting a good number of Hong Kong people's opinion about political reform package.

How can we even begin to have a mutual conversation about how Hong Kong people want to be governed -- but then again we aren't an independent state, are we?

But -- if the central government wants us all to get along, and have former president Hu Jintao's aim of a "harmonious society", then perhaps Beijing should earnestly consider what Hong Kong people want.

And if Hong Kong government officials didn't act like Beijing's henchmen, and were passionate advocates for the city, then maybe we'd have more respect for them and the Chinese government?

And maybe more things would be passed in the Legislative Council by now?

The ball is in Beijing's court.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Picture of the Day: Toby in Hong Kong

Meet Toby, your BFF in Hong Kong
Hong Kong's shopping malls continue to be in a race to find the next coolest thing to promote (within budget), which is why we won't be seeing the likes of that giant yellow rubber duck anytime soon.

Times Square in Causeway Bay currently has "Happy Toby to You" by Gary Baseman, who is coincidentally celebrating 10 years of Toby, a seemingly feline cartoon with a fez hat.

Party time with Toby and his pals celebrating 10 years
The American artist says: "Toby is your shadow. Your mirror. Your best friend in the whole wide world. He can smell your fear. He is addicted to your insecurity. He knows how to push your buttons. He is no Teacher's Pet. He loves you. He truly loves you".

The artist, illustrator, animator, toy designer, TV/film producer and performance artist likes to explore what he calls "pervasive art", where the goal is to blur the lines between fine art and commercial art.

In the Times Square Living Room Museum until June 11, check out what Toby and his friends are up to in the city -- it's a wacky sight.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Checking Out Affordable Art

A Yue Minjun image made of tram pictures
This afternoon I went to check out the Affordable Art Fair at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. It's much smaller than Art Basel, but without the pretense which is refreshing, as the works on sale range from HK$1,000 to HK$100,000.

There's no limit -- use receipts to make art!
There also aren't as many outrageous pieces, keeping it focused to a practical, novice crowd. Interestingly while 62 percent of the galleries were from Hong Kong, the second-biggest showing was from South Korea at 22 percent, followed by Singapore (12 percent) and Japan (3 percent).

A lot of the art on show was very accessible, and for the most part fun. How about the painting of Hello Kitty crossing out the "C" in "Celine" and writing "F" on top for "Feline" by Andre Tan for HK$16,250?

Zoie Lam busy drawing cartoons on the wall
Another cool one was by Aldo Williams, using thousands of images of Hong Kong trams and maps to create a collage of a Yue Minjun-like image, which is why it is titled Thanks to Yue Minjun1, for HK$29,100.

We also liked the Mona Lisa found object collage by Jane Perkins, definitely a one-of-a-kind for HK$33,250, and if you had that on your wall, you'd probably find something interesting in it everyday, with all the different items in there to recreate Leonardo da Vinci's most famous portrait.

Another painting by Kim Yeong Su called Sunset Clouds and Trees in Spring (HK$45,000) looked like a cross between Chinese realism painting and Monet's waterlilies. Go figure.

One piece that caught my eye was Scott Chan's series of colourful drawings called Holiday (HK$4,000), that on closer look reveal they were drawn on receipts from cosmetics shop Bonjour, and supermarkets Wellcome and Park N Shop. Now there's no excuse not to make art anywhere.

A collage of Mona Lisa by Jane Perkins
Another popular artist was Ric Tse, who creates diorama scenes out of Lego and then photographs them. All of his pictures relate to Hong Kong in some way, attracting interest from young and old.

A few artists made art in front of visitors, like Zoie Lam, who drew numerous cartoon-like characters on the wall that looked funky.

I finished going through the show in just over an hour. Events like these get the public more exposed to art which is a good, and also learn the value of art, instead of just hearing the astronomical prices for big names sold at auction.

You too can have some decently-priced art on your wall!

A mashup of portrait and waterlilies

Saturday, 23 May 2015

A Drenched Weekend

The overcast and rainy skies looking towards Kowloon this morning
Where has all this rain come from?

On Wednesday Hong Kong was covered in rain, so much so that by the time we left the office around 6pm, amber rainstorm warning quickly graduated to red.

A friend and I met for dinner, and luckily the restaurant we chose was relatively close to the MTR station in Tsim Sha Tsui East so we were pretty dry. Though once we sat down, a Japanese guy at another table was doused in beer on his backside thanks to the clumsiness of the waitress.

What can you do when the restaurant is quite new? He braved the chills with some Japanese whisky on ice.

By the time we finished dinner, there was another massive downpour, but after we waited a few minutes, the density of the rain decreased to a manageable degree and again we quickly made our way back to the MTR station and then home.

And then today was another wet dramatic experience. I went to the gym in Central when it wasn't raining hard, but after I came out just after 4pm the Hong Kong Observatory has just announced the red rainstorm warning and I was caught in a massive downpour.

I only walked a relatively short distance from Cheung Kong Park to the MTR station, and the paths and roads were completely flooded.

It made me wonder if the Highways Department and in the case of the park, the Buildings Department had done enough in terms of clearing storm drains to prepare for the wet onslaught.

In the park there aren't any drains that I could see and was walking through several inches of water. Ironically the manmade waterfalls were still operating, creating even more water volume.

Crossing the road at Queen's Road Central was hazardous and flooded, while the area next to Prince's Building and the MTR station was also covered in water.

It's days like these that you wish you invested in a pair of rubber boots, but in this case Crocs would have to do.

It's past midnight and it's finally calm, no rain. The forecast for tomorrow is for more heavy rain, but we hope today was the last of it -- for now.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Stateless Kids in the City

For nine years, Siu Yau-wai (right) has lived in Hong Kong illegally
Last month, a 15-year-old girl jumped to her death from her parents' flat in Repulse Bay. It was later discovered the daughter of a senior British executive and his Filipina partner, did not have a birth certificate. And as a result, she and her younger sister didn't have Hong Kong Identity Cards and weren't able to go to school.

This brought into question how many other children there are in the city like this and another case turned up this week.

In 2006, a grandmother brought her three-year-old grandson across the border from Shenzhen after his parents abandoned him. They decided he was a "bad omen" after his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and the father lost an arm in an industrial accident.

They apparently left Siu Yau-wai in a "paper box" on the mainland shortly after he was born, and their whereabouts is unknown.

The 15-year-old girl's parents who didn't register her or sister
How the grandmother, Chow Siu-Shuen, found her grandson three years later has not been clarified, but nevertheless she took the boy back to Hong Kong using another child's ID card and two-way permit.

The boy, Yau-wai, now 12, has spent his childhood in a small public flat in Kwun Tong with his 67-year-old grandmother and grandfather, 80.

They lived in constant fear because he didn't have any papers, so they were terrified of letting anyone in their flat. If someone from the Housing Authority or census staff came, the boy would escape down the back stairwell to the park below, Chow said.

While she home schooled him, Yau-wai liked to read and would only go to the library at night "to avoid crowds", and could not borrow books because of his lack of status, nor could he see the doctor when he was ill. His grandmother would resort to home remedies or take him to see a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, as ID cards are not necessary.

The boy said he had friends, but none knew he didn't go to school, and neither did their neighbours.

But after reading about the tragic circumstances around the 15-year-old girl's suicide, Chow decided it was in the best interests of Yau-wai to turn herself in and hand him over to the authorities.

Chow was arrested on suspicion of aiding and abetting others in breach of condition of stay, and was granted bail, while the boy was given an identification document allowing him to stay for four weeks, subject to renewal.

"We must now face the reality. We know there may be legal consequences," said the retired grandmother. "If I die one day and he does not have documentation... he will have no way to live."

Yau-wai was assessed and found to have primary three education level, about four years younger than him.

For now Chow and her grandson are free to walk the streets without fear, but what's next? Should he be allowed to stay in Hong Kong?

If he is granted permanent residency, there are fears that many other children who are in similar cases to Yau-wai or the teenager in Repulse Bay will start coming forward. How many really are there in the city?

It also seems not enough is done to enforce the Births and Deaths Registration Ordinance, that while staff may try to follow up on cases that haven't registered, they are not persistent enough and feel the onus is on the parents, who have a year to do the right thing.

However, the media has found there were 543 children from July 1997 to March this year who were registered after the children turned one, with 71 cases since 1997 that were not registered.

If you register a child 42 days after birth, the birth certificate is free, otherwise you have to pay HK$140. After one year it jumps to HK$680.

The story of Yau-wai seems strange, as how would his grandmother know where to find him three years later if he was abandoned in a cardboard box? A quick DNA test would verify their relationship.

But in the meantime, is Hong Kong going to see a flood of children coming out of the woodwork to claim residency?

Should be interesting and we'll only know once Yau-wai's situation is cleared up.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Quote of the Day: Lau Ming-wai

Lau Ming-wai seems to think he can solve young people's financial problems
Ah it's easy for the rich to dispense advice when it comes to money.

Late last month Lau Ming-wai, 34, became chairman of the government-appointed Commission on Youth, despite concerns the young tycoon would not be able to relate to Hong Kong's young people.

He retorted he had people skills and empathy, and that if he fell on hard times he too would apply for public housing.

Shall we take a moment to remind readers Lau is also head of real estate developer Chinese Estates after his father, Joseph Lau Luen-hung was convicted of graft in Macau.

So the younger Lau's advice for young people was that they have to make sacrifices if they want to buy a flat.

"When you earn HK$15,000 a month, if you spend all of it or have only HK$1,000 left, are you willing to sacrifice a bit? Watch fewer movies or travel less to Japan?" he told the online forum "Are you willing to sacrifice HK$500 or HK$3,000?"

His comments were mocked soon after the video went viral.

Some internet users pointed out a flat at Chinese Estates' projects in Kennedy Town is for sale for about HK$4.8 million.

If one saved HK$3,000 a month, it would take 54 years just to make the 40 percent down payment on the flat, according to online media outlet Stand News.

Someone seems really out of touch. Where's the empathy?

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Corrupt Officials Capitalize on Bureaucratic Loopholes

China's bureaucracy makes it easy for corrupt officials, difficult for citizens
Late last month Chinese Premier Li Keqiang blasted officials for the hoops ordinary citizens have to go through to get things done, such as having to prove one's mother really was his mother in order to get an overseas travel permit, or being recommended for a model worker award, but then needing to submit a form with stamps from eight different government agencies.

He might also be fuming when it was discovered a fugitive official wanted on corruption charges was able to flee China to New Zealand even though his passport was confiscated.

The fugitive, only identified as "Ge", fled the mainland in January 2008 after graft busters disciplined an official he apparently bribed.

"I was bewildered. We had seized his passport so how could he leave the country?" Gao Guangshan, from the Huainan procuratorate said. "It was only after I checked with the Qingdao public security [bureau] that I found out that he had written [to the bureau] claiming that his passport had been lost and was issued a new one."

Ge's passport had been seized in Huainan in Anhui province, but then he was able to receive a new one in Qingdao. From there he went to Shanghai wit his wife to leave the country.

The investigation into Ge was stopped in 2010, but was reopened last year when Beijing launched its Fox Hunt operation to track down fugitive officials.

When Ge's wife returned in China for a visit, investigators advised her to persuade Ge to turn himself in, which he did in February.

Now there's an effort to close up this loophole by authorities by cracking down on officials who travel on private passports.

Note to corrupt officials abroad -- Once you flee China, don't even think of ever going back. If Ge's wife hadn't returned, Ge would probably still be living it up in New Zealand...

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Imposing Limits on the Forbidden City

A pilot plan next month will limit the number of visitors to the Forbidden City
The next time you visit Beijing and want to go to the Forbidden City, make sure you're one of the lucky ones who get to go in.

Management is trying out a pilot scheme to limit the number of visitors to 80,000 per day from June 13. Shan Jixiang, director of the museum says visitor number control is a must to protect the security of both the cultural relics and tourists.

The Palace Museum has had more than 10 million visitors annually in recent years; in the last three years, numbers exceeded 15 million, more than the Louvre and the British Museum, Shan said.

This has resulted in great pressure on the museum's service standard and safety control, Shan said.

What service standard and safety control?

Each time I went there, security guards looked bored, or several times would shout at visitors not to use flash, but were ignored and gave up, or the grounds were not kept clean thanks to lots of littering, and spitting... I don't even want to know if there was urinating in the former imperial palace!

Limiting the number of visitors would be a good start, but guides must advise their tourists of the rules, and if any are violated, the guide should be held responsible. And those visiting on their own and violate the rules should be accountable.

There will also be a real-name registration system for buying tickets, while group tickets must be booked online.

That's the end of our public service announcement for today.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Li Na's Story Plays Out on Screen

Li Na holding the trophy after winning the 2014 Australian Open
Tennis star Li Na has retired and is expecting her first child later this year. But the tennis player who was the first Asian to win a Grand Slam tournament at the French Open in 2011 and did it again at the 2014 Australian Open, is going to have her career played out on the big screen.

Hong Kong filmmaker Peter Ho-Sun Chan will make a biopic of Li and she will act as consultant on Li Na: My Life, based on her autobiography.

Tang Wei is a possible contender for the role of Li...
Her story is compelling because she went through the state-sponsored system, got frustrated and broke through to have her own say in her training and managed to prove to not only China but the world she could win on her own terms.

The relationship between her and her husband is also intriguing, as he helped her build her career and upended the typical male-female dynamic, particularly in Chinese culture.

"The story between her and her husband is very atypical, in fact a lot of things with Li Na are very atypical for Chinese people. It shows a very different side of contemporary China," Chan said.

"She broke the rules and defied conventions and, against all odds, became a legend. I'm mesmerized by what she has been able to accomplish and what she represents as a symbol of hope for millions of people around the world," the director added.

... and so is Fan Bingbing...
"I had to make a lot of sacrifices in my life in order to become the best tennis player I could be and the film project makes it all worth it. Hopefully, the film will be able to inspire others to believe in themselves and follow their dreams," Li said.

Filming will start this fall with a release date in 2016. Chan is looking at either having an actress play Li or get a tennis player to play her. Some names already mentioned include Li Bingbing, Fan Binging, Tang Wei, Vicky Zhao Wei and Hong Kong actress Isabella Leong Lok-sze.

If one of those actresses are chosen, they will have to ditch the salad lunches and reall start to gain those muscles in the arms and legs otherwise who will believe she is Li Na?

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Kimchi-Making Sunday

My first attempt at making kimchi! Will find out how it tastes in about a week
A friend of mine invited me to attend a kimchi making class today and I jumped at the chance because I periodically like to do something with my hands other than type on the computer!

We went to a kitchen studio in Chai Wan where Korean American Mina Park is general counsel at an investment bank and off hours has Sook, a business where she cooks for friends and clients, and holds classes to teach people how to make kimchi.

Chives, garlic, ginger, red pepper powder, daikon in the bowl
Park has lived in London, France and around the United States, and through her mother gained a passion for cooking. When we came to her spacious studio, her aunt and uncle were there; Park has also learned family cooking from her aunt too, her mother's sister-in-law, who learned recipes from Park's grandmother.

There are many different kinds of kimchi, and Park said those who live in the south of Korea south generally use fish sauce, while those in the north may use beef broth; the recipe can also vary according to families and individually to what kinds of tastes they want to have in their kimchi.

She showed us how to make whole cabbage kimchi, which requires getting those thick oval-shaped napa cabbages, chopping them into quarters and soaking them in salted water overnight and squeezing out the excess water. We also had to do this with the daikon, as the ones in Hong Kong seem to hold more water than the Korean ones.

Mixing the rice paste into the sauce
Then we got to making the sauce, where we minced a head of garlic, same with ginger, roughly chopped garlic chives, and chopped the daikon into slices then julienne them.

The sauce is straight forward -- in a large bowl throw in all the garlic, ginger, chives, daikon, and about 1 1/4 cup of Korean red pepper -- the coarse kind -- otherwise it could turn out to be much spicier than you expect! 1/4 cup fish sauce and 2 tablespoons of fermented baby shrimp, and 1/4 cup roasted sesame seeds. Then we added some salt to taste. You could also add thinly sliced carrots for an extra crunch.

A rice paste also needs to be made, mixing sweet rice flour with hot water and constantly stirring it over high heat so that it will thicken. This needs to be cooled down before it is added to the spicy red mixture.

Once it is mixed in, then it's time to put on plastic gloves and take the cabbage that has been cut into quarters, squeeze out the excess water and then use your hands to slather the red spicy mixture onto each leaf.

Adding the spicy mixture to each cabbage leaf
After that's done, it's ready to be placed into the glass jar and Park advised we had to "be aggressive with your cabbage", by pushing it rather forcefully into the jar to ensure air bubbles are pushed out otherwise the fermentation process won't work well.

Squish squish squish.

Our jars were not large and so we were only able to squeeze in that one-quarter cabbage and maybe a few extra leaves. She warned us to leave some room at the top otherwise your jar of kimchi could explode! Park said it happened to her once and it was not a pretty sight...

So she suggested we could open our jars once a day as the kimchi fermented at room temperature to avoid the gas buildup at the top. Since it's relatively warm these days, the fermentation process will be quite fast, so Park advised we could leave the jars outside for about two days and then put it in the fridge. It will continue to ferment there, but not as fast. We have to wait about a week to be able to eat it.

It was lots of fun making it, and it's definitely one of those events where it's less of a task when a group of friends get together to prepare it, much like making jiaozi, or dumplings.

We'll see how my kimchi fares and if it works out I'd been keen to try making it again! Fermentation is the rage these days, and anything homemade taste even better... right?

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Meet Cartoon Deng

A cartoon likeness of Deng Xiaoping in a new animated documentary
How did I miss this news earlier this week?

There is a new animated documentary about paramount leader Deng Xiaoping that was released yesterday.

The cartoon Deng appears in about a dozen scenes re-enacting several Chinese historical events as part of the documentary Mr Deng Goes to Washington, about his landmark visit to the United States in 1979 and met then US President Jimmy Carter.

Mixed with the cartoon animation are rare archival footage and interviews.

A scene from Mr Deng Goes to Washington
What's interesting about this film is that Chinese leaders have rarely had their likenesses translated into cartoons, as it was considered politically sensitive or inappropriate for senior leaders to be made into caricatures.

However, after a 24-year-old animation-production student at Beijing Film Academy drew the cartoon Deng, it was presented to his family and given the green light.

In one scene, the Chinese leader visits Siminton, Texas, where the Josey sisters performed a rodeo show for him. At that event Martha Josey rode her horse to the stands where Deng sat and put a white cowboy hat on his head.

But according to the documentary, not many knew that one of the sisters had fallen off a horse that day.

Deng adjusting his cowboy hat given to him by Martha Josey
"Deng Xiaoping was concerned and sent his own doctor to check on her," says director Fu Hongxing. "The sisters have been training on horseback since they were children, so the girl was all right. But they were touched because Deng cared so much about two country-girls in the US. The memory remained in their minds for more than 30 years."

Whether it's blatant propaganda or another soft-power initiative by China, Mr Deng Goes to Washington may spark more interest in the US to learn about its relations with the Middle Kingdom.

Every bit helps as the the US seems to be faltering in its China policy at the moment and needs more bright creative minds to smooth over diplomatic tensions...

Friday, 15 May 2015

Guanyin, Goddess of Lifesaving

Guanyin standing in her colourful tiled robes on a lotus flower in Repulse Bay
Today I got a chance to visit Repulse Bay, and with blue skies, and 32 degrees it was hot! The place was crawling with tourists, their coaches parked outside by the newest development, The Pulse.

It's a sleek shopping/lifestyle/dining destination that is perfect for the summer months, though can it sustain during the winter? It has some hip dining spots, a cool gym and yoga studio, and lots of options for kids.

Near her is this happy Buddha sculpture
Next to this complex though is a quirky place. It's where Guanyin or the Goddess of Mercy stands in her mosaic-tiled glory, several feet high. There's a quasi-looking temple building behind her, but it's really the Hong Kong Lifesaving Society clubhouse. Inside it are several glass-door fridges filled with cold drinks.

We noticed some Thai tourists who prayed in front of the Guanyin statue, and purposely rubbed some statues, probably in the hopes of good luck. There were also mini shrines with Thai script on them too.

The Goddess of Mercy is not related to the sea, but the society seems to have adopted her as the Goddess of Lifesaving.

And then there were lots of statues, like twin lions, horses, and so on, as well as tablets, each bearing plaques to explain who donated them and when, from British government officials from colonial times to wealthy local donors. These stone gifts were haphazardly placed so there was no rhyme or reason to where they were placed.

Nevertheless, further down from the Guanyin statue are more colourful tiled ones shaped like fish and people, creating a really kitsch sight.

Across from her is an emperor-like statue, also made of tiles
It reminds me of the Tiger Balm Garden in Tai Hang, that was Hong Kong's original amusement park, but that is long gone after then owner Sally Aw Sian sold the property to Cheung Kong, Li Ka-shing's company in 1998...

Thursday, 14 May 2015

No More Spooky Subways

Some colourful zombies wandering around on campus for Halloween
If you're ever in Beijing, please don't wear ghoulish costumes that may freak people out in the subway.

That's according to new rules where the Chinese capital has issued guidelines on wearing "bizarre dress" and "horror makeup" inside the train network.

While the new rules didn't explicitly impose a ban, it didn't specify a punishment for violations, nor did it explain why these new rules were coming out now.

No more scaring passengers on subway trains
"Some costumes will cause panic, thus posing a threat to security [within the station]. So we discourage people from wearing them even though they are not banned," said Liang Jianwei, deputy head of Beijing's transport police.

Last year Beijing temporarily banned costumes on trains ahead of Halloween, which is becoming increasingly popular with young people.

However other Chinese cities have had problems with Halloween costumes, like a 31-year-old man who looked like a zombie and created chaos in Shanghai's subway station, running around with a scarred face and "attacking" terrified passengers.

Meanwhile a three-year-old Shanghainese girl was terrified when she encountered four people dressed up as nurses with what looked like bloodstained faces on a subway train.

While Halloween is a relatively new concept for mainlanders, they will have to understand that dressing up like this is only for one night out of the year, while those keen to scare others should save the frights for their friends and like minded party goers, not on public transport...

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

A Fun Wipe Out

Street artist Invader's quirky exhibition at PMQ
PMQ or Police Married Quarters in between Soho and Sheung Wan, has a fun art exhibition on until this Sunday called Wipe Out, featuring the fun creative mosaics of Invader, a French street artist.

A pixelated portrait of Invader
He has made tiled mosaics of the original video game Space Invaders as well as other things like Mario of Super Mario Brothers, and the Pink Panther in over 60 cities around the world.

In 2001 until last year, Invader created a number of mosaics that were placed around the city, but it's the Highways Department that has taken down some of them, which he finds amusing, but some diehard fans formed a group to try to recreate the mosaics.

And in the Hong Kong context Invader has created mosaics specific to the city, like Bruce Lee, Doraemon and of course Hong Kong Phooey.

The last time he was here he happened to be staying in Admiralty during the Occupy protests and made a few mosaics inspired by the movement.

One of his projects not related to Hong Kong is called Art4Space, where he and a partner created a tiled mosaic of a space invader and attached it to a mini video camera and a GPS locater sealed in a box which was then put at the end of a giant weather balloon that was filled with helium.

Can you see Bruce Lee in this mosaic?
The plan was to see how high the balloon could go -- higher than the height airplanes travel at and film the entire experience before the balloon pops and as the box and mosaic fall back to earth, a parachute would automatically open so that they would fall safely back to the ground. The GPS would allow the duo to find them.

They did this in Florida and covertly, wearing plastic white jumpsuits and covered their mouths, but the drawback was that because it was so hot there -- hello it's Florida! -- they were sweating profusely in their suits.

Their first attempt failed because the helium tank didn't have enough helium to fill the balloon and they had to retreat and wait a few days for the next good day. The second attempt was perfect and the balloon took off, and at one point they lose track of the balloon because it reached the stratosphere where there was no signal.

A cute slogan that kind of says it all, doesn't it?
Four hours later it came down and emitted its location, but it took them a while to find it. They realize that phone GPS systems put the location to the nearest road, not necessarily the exact point.

It was the next day after hours of walking through other people's private properties did they finally find the camera and mosaic intact and saw the video which they showed us speeded up in parts.

What an interesting exercise.

The mosaics are colourful and cute -- and strangely look better when you look through them in the camera of the smartphone. It all makes sense!

This is one of the more fun art shows that hopefully inspires others to create art that is city-specific, and also have fun or poke fun at things or yourself. Art is everywhere if you look.

Love Hong Kong Phooey here
Wipe Out: An explanatory guide through Invader's creative universe
May 2-17, 2015
2/F, PMQ

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Company Holiday China Style

Li Jinyuan has made a name for himself treating over 6,000 staff to France
A few days ago a Chinese billionaire and half his workforce of 6,400 people went on a massive incentive trip with him to France.

Talk about a logistical challenge in booking flights, hotels and coaches for several thousand people to tour around Paris and Nice.

Li Jinyuan, founder and chairman of Tiens Group got a lot of attention from local and overseas media for not only treating so many employees at once to celebrate the company's 20th anniversary, but also making them spell out "Tiens' dream is nice in the Cote d'Azur" for the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest human-made phrase.

Spelling out a message using 6,400 people to make letters
Some critics claimed Li was just getting attention for himself, showing off his wealth, and using the trip to push his employees to work harder. Isn't that what incentive trips are about?

Tiens Group makes its money in direct selling, moving 11.5 billion yuan last year in health care, skincare, and household products in China and other countries.

It was estimated the massive group spent HK$113 million on the four-day trip to Paris and Nice. Some employees showed off their purchases -- around 13 million euros -- that included lots of luxury name brand goods.

Li claimed his staff were well behaved on their free holiday, helping to improve the image of mainland tourists abroad. He must have given them a lecture about this before they went on the trip.

And how did Li amass his riches to be ranked 24th on the Hurun China rich list with a personal fortune of 35 billion yuan?

Staff seemed to enjoy their free trip and the shopping too
He left school at an early age and began working in an oil field at 14 years of age. He made money by selling clothing, audio recorders and grain during his free time.

Then Li moved to property, but got out after the government started implementing tightening measures, and so he started manufacturing his own calcium supplement and selling them.

His company is ranked 7th in direct sales in terms of sales on the mainland, following such competitors as Amway of the United States, Malaysia's Perfect China, and Infinitus of Hong Kong.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Still Waiting for an Outcome

ICAC chief Simon Peh defended how the agency takes time investigating
The head of the Independent Commission Against Corruption hit back at Hong Kong's recent decline in an international corruption perception ranking, saying it had nothing to do with how long it takes the agency to investigate high-profile cases.

Commissioner Simon Peh Yun-lu said this at the ICAC's sixth international symposium, where more than 500 guests from 60 countries or jurisdictions attended to exchange views on the latest graft-busting strategies and tactics.

Last year Berlin-based Transparency International placed Hong Kong 17th from 15th, scoring 74 out of 100, down one point from 2013. ICAC has received a lot of heat for taking two years or more to investigate such cases as Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po, former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and former ICAC commissioner Timothy Tong Hin-ming.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying also spoke at the symposium, stressing that Hong Kong remained "one of the cleanest cities in the world".

While Peh would not comment on individual cases, he would only say graft investigations now require collaboration with overseas law enforcement agencies, and as a result took longer to complete.

The investigation into Donald Tsang is still ongoing...
Back in mid-March, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung announced Tsang's fate would be known soon, as the investigation had entered its "final phase", adding the investigation was "not as simple as one perhaps reads from newspapers".

It's now mid-May. What is Yuen's definition of soon?

What we know so far is that when Tsang was chief executive from 2005 to 2012, he allegedly agreed to a low-rent deal for a luxury Shenzhen flat with a businessman who owns a Hong Kong radio station. Tsang also allegedly accepted complimentary or cheap rides in private yachts or jets for travel to Macau and elsewhere.

Either the ICAC is slow in putting two and two together, or they have dug up even more dirt on the former chief executive which would be interesting.

At any rate, we want to know what Tsang's fate is -- we are taxpayers who deserve the truth.

So how can Peh blame us for thinking the longer we wait, the more we wonder what is going on behind the scenes?

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Migrant Labour Crossroads

Young people in rural areas are lured into factories hoping for good pay
When I lived in Beijing from 2007-2010, there was a lot of work for people with little education -- restaurants, factories, security guards, retail. But there didn't seem to be enough work for educated people.

Millions of graduates out of universities were keen to start their careers and wean themselves off of their parents, only to find their wages hardly matched their expectations. They were soon ground down psychologically and for some physically by the monotony of their work. Many were depressed to find they were a tiny cog in a massive machine that kept churning mindlessly in one direction.

When I first arrived in the Chinese capital, my boss enthusiastically said China's economy would continue to boom for sometime because there was a limitless supply of migrant workers from the countryside who would be lured to the city to work.

Many migrant workers find it hard to move up in society
They really are the ones doing the mundane work. There is a steep learning curve in the beginning, not only in how to do their job, but adjusting to city life and hoping not to be taken advantage of. But once they understand the lay of the land and where they fit in society (near the bottom), it's a near impossible climb up.

My boss' prediction was completely false as I predicted, and these days fewer migrants are taking the gamble of moving to the cities. The good thing for them is that factory wages have increased significantly in the last few years, but can migrant workers keep up with factory work becoming less labour intensive and more mechanized?

Do they have enough education to keep up with labour demands?

Development economist Scott Rozelle at Stanford is concerned about this issue.

He and other co-authors have written a paper and found that China does not have a very well educated workforce. From analyzing census data, Rozelle found far fewer migrant workers completed secondary education, contrary to Ministry of Education official figures.

One of the reasons they may be dropping out of school is because the lure of getting a relatively high-paying job, and also many kids of migrant parents living in cities are unable to get a decent education because of hukou or residency permit issues.

Development economist Scott Rozelle
As a result the next generation of migrant workers are going to miss out on job opportunities because there will be a demand for more educated workers.

The paper says:

Wages are rising and low-wage manufacturing is moving out. China is already making plans to become an economy that will be based on higher value-added, high-wage industries. This will mean, of course, that there will be a high demand for skilled labour. International experience demonstrates that individuals will need to have to have acquired skills taught at the level of high school or above if they hope to be competitive in these higher value-added industries. If China fails to endow its labour force with such skills, not only will many individuals have a difficult time finding employment, the newly emerging industries may also falter from a short supply of skilled labour. The whole economy may experience slower development.

This may not be a prediction China's leaders want to come true, but they have not done anything to help migrant workers and their families get a leg-up on society through education and other social benefits.

The authorities seem to purposely keep this segment of the population at the bottom rung of the ladder, thinking China always needs to have cheap labour. They close down schools for migrant children and because of hukou issues, they cannot go to the same schools as Beijing residents, thus creating an even greater social and economic divide.

But if Beijing wants the economy to develop, then its people need to have the right tools to progress along with it. And if migrant workers are left behind in the next step of China's economic development, there will be lots of unhappy people who could spark civil unrest -- the last thing senior officials want to hear.

So why not give migrant workers a chance? It's a win-win situation.