Friday, 31 July 2015

Beijing's Deja Vu

Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong makes the successful pitch for Beijing
Here we go again -- Beijing has been awarded the rights to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.

It was a pretty lopsided race to start with, though the Chinese capital was considered a weak contender in the beginning.

Originally Oslo and Stockholm were the the frontrunners, but each fell out probably due to the fact that their respective residents didn't want to foot the massive bill.

Then it came down to Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Pro-Tibet demonstrators present a dramatic protest
There were concerns Beijing would have no snow, and the usual human rights abuses -- which made me realize this was why dissident artist Ai Weiwei was given back his passport about a week ago. He's now in Germany visiting his son.

While Almaty has tons of natural snow, it didn't have the experience of holding the Games like Beijing did in 2008 (the 7th anniversary is coming up), and its own human rights issues.

Beijing promises it will snow -- dammit we will make it snow! -- by hosting the alpine events in Yanqing and Zhangjiakou (60km and 140km away respectively) from the Chinese capital.

The Chinese delegation also brought out its star power -- Yao Ming and Li Na -- interesting that the retired tennis superstar would be willing to show up, but maybe because she's a mother now, pitching for Beijing gets her some brownie points.

Now there's another reason to use the practically neglected Bird's Nest and other Olympic venues, though Beijing will surely build a few more -- ahead of schedule -- to show that it can.

Now the Chinese government can boast in its promotional literature that it is the first city in the world to host both the Summer and Winter games. It's an easy way for China to hint, Any host city in the United States ever attempted that feat?

Residents in Zhangjiakou hold a sign saying, "We did it!"
Beijing is doing its happy dance now and will do so for the next few days, though the euphoria won't last long. Memories will flood back of hutongs being demolished for Olympic venues and how the city was in lock down mode, where residents couldn't move around freely while the Games were on.

One thinks Beijing's promise of having snow -- some form of it -- on the mountains seems like a huge one that may not be fulfilled, though now that all eyes are on Beijing again, it will have to be on its best behaviour from today until 2022.

Over lunch over a week ago, a hotel executive and I were talking about Vancouver and how he went there to watch the Winter Games.

But he suggested that perhaps to help the ailing Greek economy that it would be best to hold the Summer Games every four years in Athens from now on, where it was originally held thousands of years ago.

He felt cities were needlessly going into debt holding these events, spending money to build Olympic venues that are collecting dust.

What about the Winter Games, I asked? Have them in Vancouver?

He agreed, or to do without them altogether -- after all the Olympics didn't have winter events!

Food for thought...

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Boobs are Weapons in Hong Kong

Is this how the magistrate envisioned a woman assaulting an officer?
Can someone please explain the justice?

A Hong Kong woman was convicted of using her breast to assault a police officer during a protest march against parallel traders in Yuen Long on March 1. Today Ng Lai-ying, 30, was sentenced to three months and 15 days in jail.

Ng Lai-ying was convicted of assault with her breast...
In handing down the sentence, Deputy Magistrate Michael Chan Pik-kiu told Ng and a packed courtroom: "If I do not hand down a deterring sentence, the public might mistakenly think it is a trivial matter to assault police officers during protests."

But how do you assault someone with a breast?

She was the one who sustained a bloody nose from falling on the ground!

From the pictures one can see Ng is not heavy chested -- and the police officer said his right arm was assaulted by her mammary gland. It is unclear what injuries the officer sustained...

Meanwhile a retiring police superintendent was filmed on television using excessive force beating up an Occupy protestor with his baton.

... while Franklin Chu (in white) claimed he "patted" protesters
In an investigative hearing, Sha Tin divisional commander Franklin Chu King-wai, who is now retired, said that the baton was a mere "extension of [his] arm", with which he had "patted" passers-by to speed up pedestrian traffic.

Thankfully in this case the Independent Police Complaints Council is upholding its ruling that Chu committed assault. But for him to say he merely "patted" the protesters is absurd when there is video evidence.

One wonders what his idea of an assault is.

But this is rule of law in Hong Kong, where a woman can be convicted of assaulting a police officer with her breast, and a police superintendent claims he "patted" someone with his baton.

Just another week in the city...

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Getting Duped on Call

Beware of mainland Chinese people calling to cheat you out of your money!
How did Hong Kong people get duped out of HK$85 million ($10.9 million) this month?

Apparently there are con artists posing as Chinese mainland officials from the Beijing liaison office, mainland Chinese police, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, banks or couriers.

They usually said they had broken mainland laws and were listed as wanted by the authorities. The victims -- 263 of them so far this month -- were told to prove their willingness to cooperate by transferring money to mainland bank accounts.

In the first 28 days of this month, another 466 similar fraud attempts were unsuccessful, making it a total of 729 telephone scams.

Lo Hung-mung says there were 263 victims this month
"It is three times [the number] of similar reports recorded in the first six months of this year, said Lo Mung-hung, director of crime and security.

The police say there were 200 cases involving HK$26.7 million in the first six months of this year, and only four such cases last year.

Obviously the number of scam calls has risen, and many more have taken the bait.

As a result, the Hong Kong authorities are setting up a task force led by the Kowloon East crime unit this month with mainland ones to share intelligence.

While Lo believes key figures in the scams are not in Hong Kong, he says their accomplices are in the city.

He added mainland police are also facing the same problem, with more than 10,000 cases reported in Guangdong province.

"Our lines of investigation will focus on telephone numbers culprits used to call and bank accounts where victims were asked to deposit money," he said.

Some calls showed the number of the liaison office in Western
Why reveal the investigation tactics so that the scammers will change them?!

Apparently when some scammers called, they used software that could fraudulently display the call number of the liaison office's main line, and so Lo said the police were working with the Communications Authority to try to end the practice.

How many other companies or individuals are using this same software to deceive others?

It would be interesting to hear what the conversation with the con artist was like, as it's hard to believe a Hong Kong person would be willing to help a stranger over the phone, let alone a mainlander, and a government official who was in trouble with the law.

I once received a strange phone call from someone who claimed to be my "uncle" in Guangzhou who called me out of the blue. By the way his number is +86 186 8046 2853.

Perhaps my chances of being tricked out of money is relatively slim as I answer the phone in English and many people hang up right away -- even telemarketers.

Never knew English was so scary.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

China Lottery Online Not a Safe Bet

Some punters here are hoping to beat the system at China Lottery Online
Those who play the lottery in China may want to think twice when they want to try their luck.

The National Audit Office reported a month ago that a whopping 16.9 billion yuan in lottery funds from 2012 to 2014 have still been unaccounted for.

Wang Wenzhi, a veteran journalist with the Xinhua-affiliated Economic Information Daily newspaper may have the answer.

He wrote a letter to the Ministry of Finance, that was later leaked online, claiming it was technically possible for employees of China Lottery Online to install malware in computer systems "to make themselves winners", he said.

State-owned China Lottery Online operates computerized video lottery terminals and games. It also draws winning numbers and pays out billions of yuan in prize money each year.

Journalist Wang Wenzhi has uncovered other scandals before
Wang claimed the concentration of these functions in one company opened the possibility for "irregularities" in the management of data, prizes and funds.

He also said the lottery company was inadequately supervised by the authorities.

This is not the first time Wang fired a warning shot.

In May he wrote a related article that although China Lottery Online is supposed to be a state-owned business, he said it was controlled by its general manager, He Wen, who owned 60 percent of the company.

Wang accused He of using lottery funds for the benefit of the family of an unnamed government official.

While China Lottery Online generates ticket sales of more than 130 billion yuan in the 12 years until July last year, He's firms earned more than 2 billion yuan from operating the lottery.

As a result, He sued the Economic Information Daily for defamation, but the newspaper has asked the court to adjourn the case because the Ministry of Civil Affairs is investigating.

Wang is not new to exposing corruption. In an online post last year, he claimed that Song Lin, then chairman of China Resources, had a mistress in Hong Kong who allegedly helped Song launder large amounts of money from corrupt deals.

Two days after the post, anti-graft officials announced an investigation into Song, who was later sacked by the company for "suspected serious violations of discipline and law".

Either Wang is doing excellent investigative journalism, which is very hard to do, but given his Xinhua credentials it is possible, or he's got some contacts on the inside who want to take down He, or a combination of both.

Regardless, how this story unfolds will be one to watch.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Hong Kong's Teething Problems

Hong Kong children need to learn more about the importance of healthy teeth
For the most part Hong Kong people are very conscious about their appearance, washing their hands a lot and bathing. They use 220 litres of water per capita per day -- way above the global average of 130 litres per capita per day.

But you'd think that hygiene ritual would include dental care, but apparently not enough attention is focused on the teeth.

The University of Hong Kong's Faculty of Dentistry has found that two out of five children, or 37 percent of the 23,000 students in 125 kindergartens examined in the last academic year had dental cavities.

This averages out to 1.5 decayed teeth, 0.1 tooth less than two years ago. Although the overall prevalence rate of tooth decay in kindergarten pupils has dropped from 44 percent two years ago to 37 percent, Dr Chu Chun-hung, from the faculty's Community and Family Dentistry, said the situation warranted serious concern.

In the United States, the prevalence for tooth decay in children two to five years of age was 23 percent, and 18 percent in three-year-olds in Japan.

"The eruption of permanent teeth begins when they are six years old until 12. Decayed teeth could affect their learning at school, as there could be pain and fever," Chu said.

Those kids studying in Sham Shui Po, Wong Tai Sin and North District had more decayed teeth than average, around 1.9 to 2 teeth.

Dr Edward Lo Chin-man, chair professor in dental public health at HKU suggests this could be because of the parents' educational and wealth levels. He said some parents neglected the importance of cleaning the children's teeth because they think there are other more important things to look after.

Lo said the government should expand its dental care service from primary schools to kindergartens.

What's even more shocking is that in March, experts said more than 90 percent of five-year-olds in Hong Kong with cavities did not get treatment because their parents weren't aware of it, and that many patients didn't see a dentist until they were in their 50s or older.

This is such a bizarre observation considering most Hong Kong people are very conscientious about their grooming habits. But obviously they have not been taught, either by their parents or at school, about the importance of good dental care.

Having clean teeth and healthy gums also indicate the overall health of the individual, as some health problems can be detected by a dentist looking in someone's mouth.

But there are probably the usual fears of visiting the dentist and being scared of the pain, or concerns about the cost, but many Hong Kong people don't understand the benefits and the necessity of checking in with a dentist at least once a year.

As Lo says the government needs to educate people about how teeth in good condition are a sign of a healthy body, just like washing hands.

The MTR these days makes public announcements of how people should use a tissue when they sneeze, and wash their hands frequently. Maybe adding that people should brush their teeth twice a day and floss should be added...

Sunday, 26 July 2015

DAB Desperate for Praise

DAB's Starry Lee Wai-king greets NPC chairman Zhang Dejiang in Beijing
Earlier this week members of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) paid a visit to the Chinese capital, in the Great Hall of the People to meet with senior Chinese officials.

The delegation, led by Starry Lee Wai-king, told Chinese officials that the DAB needed more encouragement and recognition for its "hard work", as Beijing urged the group to take a "leading role" in uniting fellow loyalists after the failed political reform package last month.

"Many patriots have been making lots of contributions to the city, but it seems they are not given enough recognition," a DAB source said. "Not many people [from the DAB] are appointed to the National People's Congress or the Chinese People's Consultative Conference as the seats are limited, but it would be great if some 'honorary recognition' could be given."

It's amusing for the DAB for ask for this in its pilgrimage to Beijing (its first since 2006) when members of the group botched voting on the political reform package when a number of them walked out of the Legislative Council chamber last month.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying may seek a second term
They were waiting for Heung Yee Kuk former chairman Lau Wong-fat to show up, but he was stuck in traffic. And even though many legislative councillors walked out, there were still enough inside the chamber to vote and so they did, resulting in a 28-8 against the package.

It is akin to a student asking a teacher for gold stars when the pupil's academic performance is barely a pass, despite his or her seemingly "hard work".

Nevertheless, it seems that Beijing has been outwardly stoic about the political reform package failing to pass, and instead is already focused on the future.

Zhang Dejiang, National People's Congress chairman and the state leader in charge of Hong Kong's affairs, says the DAB must now work with its allies to win a two-thirds majority in Legco in next year's election.

"I hope the DAB find out what is good and hold fast to it and make a difference," he said. "It should have a clear-cut stand on loving the country and Hong Kong... and be willing to take on heavy responsibilities."

It is also believed Zhang urged the DAB to support Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, and if they win a two-thirds majority in Legco, then they will be able to pass the political reform package.

So it seems Beijing is still keen on passing the package as is, and that the Hong Kong government never bothered to listen to its citizens on how they want to vote for their next chief executive in 2017.

The current proposal has two to three candidates vetted by a 1,200 nomination committee with its members appointed by Beijing. Then some 5 million eligible voters in Hong Kong would be able to vote on these pre-approved candidates.

However, this was not what a number of local residents wanted, which later spurred the 79-day Occupy protests in the city last fall.

This just demonstrates how Beijing is determined to have things its way, because, as we've said before, it has no understanding or appreciation of how democracy works, and it wants to make sure the results are a foregone conclusion.

Which is why Hong Kong has had three chief executives so far who have apparently obediently followed Beijing's directives that have resulted in the city's performance declining in all aspects -- these last few weeks it's been traces of lead in public housing water pipes -- thus further evidence of complacency and no interest in having Hong Kong ruled by Hong Kong.

Beijing is currently shoring up support for Leung -- despite his incompetency and lack of popularity -- and is urging the DAB to be behind him all the way, should he seek a second term.

It's a tough pill to swallow, but knowing the DAB, they will be obedient because they really want those gold stars...

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Taxi-ing to Another Level

Uber may be everyone's private driver, but taxi drivers' biggest nightmare
In many places around the world, the mobile car-hailing app Uber is not welcomed. On the day we arrived in Paris on June 25, taxi drivers went on strike protesting Uber, by blocking all roads to the airport with their vehicles.

While the Parisians just shrugged, as strikes are a normal occurrence, the rest of us had to schlepp our luggage to from the airport to the commuter train to get into town.

New York City recently temporarily gave up trying to cap the number of Uber vehicles in the Big Apple for a four-month trial period, while in Hong Kong, taxi drivers are kicking up a fuss.

Taxi drivers smashing one of their own vehicles for attention
They even protested by smashing a red cab on Friday with sledgehammers. Why they damaged one of their own vehicles is beyond me, but maybe they were so angry they only saw red?

The drivers say they have lost 20 percent in revenue since the introduction of mobile apps in Hong Kong and are calling for the government to clamp down on car-hailing apps like Uber, as those drivers may not be properly licensed with a hire-car permit.

But what about the cab drivers themselves? Some have their dashboards lined up with mobile phones to take calls from clients who want a ride at a specific time of day and place for a slightly cheaper rate. Isn't what they are doing very similar to Uber?

Except with Uber, you can rate your driver and if there's a problem, there's remedial action taken. And also they take credit card payment, something standard in places like New York City.

My uncle told me he and his friend dined in a restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui and afterwards his friend used Uber for the first time to get a ride home. To his astonishment, a red taxi showed up within five minutes. Sounds like the taxi driver wants the best of both worlds.

Many expatriates -- a large number of them take taxis daily -- are happy to see Uber here. They are tired of drivers having a cigarette smoke smell in the car, or putting up with the seemingly arrogant attitude, or late at night choosing their customers by only rolling down their windows to see how far potential customers need to go.

While there are 50,000 red taxis here, is there room for Uber?
In areas like Lan Kwai Fong after the MTR is closed, some taxis will prowl the area and demand at least HK$200 per ride, even if it's five minutes away. Not enough people complain to the police or they find it too much of a hassle to file a report, and so the authorities don't realize this is a serious problem.

Hence Uber is a godsend for many as an alternative to the apparently 50,000 taxis in the city, who all aren't available at 4pm because the drivers are changing shifts.

Another car-hailing app called Call4van fills a need for those who have some goods to carry, but don't fit in the space of a taxi or have more passengers or luggage.

Therefore many people here don't have much sympathy for taxi drivers, even though they need to shell out some HK$7 million for a license, the equivalent of a two-bedroom flat.

I don't take taxis very often, as the vast majority of the places I go to are accessible by public transport. When I do take taxis, some are very chatty, others are busy counting their money at the red light. When I have to go to a place I'm not familiar with at all, some are very helpful, and I'm grateful they know their way around so easily.

But these drivers, many in their 50s and 60s, don't get the fuss with Uber. However, if the service is cutting into their profits, then perhaps they should stop being so picky and be the dependable service they used to be.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Is it Me, Or is it Them?

This afternoon I met a Hong Kong-born, US-trained architect. We were talking about architects in the city, and it dismayed her how they don't have the guts to tell the client that their ideas won't work, or to push their design to influence their clients.

"They just listen to their clients who have no idea what design is, and instead give the clients what they want. That's disappointing," she said.

She recalled being appointed to the committee to oversee the redevelopment of her alma mater and seeing an obvious design flaw in the plans. There were two columns, one that came down to the ground, the other column was cut off right at the middle and there were steps there.

"I said, 'Why doesn't this column come down so that it can be symmetrical?' They said, 'It's because of these steps.' I drew the steps showing they can go around the column. Don't cut off the column like a broken leg. These things they don't see. How can you not see? It's so obvious."

She sums it up to the general mentality of Hong Kong these days. "People don't have the shame to do bad things. If it's so obvious, why would you make such a mistake? It shows you're not thinking. Why would you give people the opportunity to tell you it's not good? But a lot of people don't mind," she continues.

"A lot of young people are like that. The worst thing is that they don't realize that they are not up to par. They think, 'I did it, what's wrong?' And if you tell them what's wrong, they will even feel offended and think you are picky."

Another example she cites was when she was young, competing in the Hong Kong Schools Speech Festival meant practicing the passage to the point where the pronunciation of the words was perfect and memorized.

But a few years ago when she took her child to take part in the competition, the architect was shocked to find the young contestants didn't even remember the words to the passage, let along have good pronunciation.

"It's the parents -- they just want the certificate to say their child was in the festival. That's another issue. But if you sign up for the festival, you have to make sure
the kid performs at a certain level. In the end the kid is mediocre -- even in a festival. They think that's OK."

To hear her say this is not surprising, but it is further evidence of a sad state of affairs.

After our conversation I had my own boondoggle incident to deal with.

I recently joined a new gym and wrangled a free fitness assessment that was valid within my first month.

Time flew by and now it's almost the end of the month and so I came to the gym at dinnertime, hoping to just arrange a time with a personal trainer to check my fitness ability and learn a few workout tips.

Was I too naive to think it was too difficult to arrange with the receptionist? He explained I had to contact the sales person with whom I had signed the contract with to arrange a time, but then it turned out he was on holiday.

Then I asked the receptionist to please help me arrange it, and gave him two possible dates and times to work with.

Following my workout about an hour later, I returned to the receptionist only to find he had done nothing about it, that I had to go one floor down (where I was earlier) to talk to the personal trainer desk myself.

When I got there and explained what I was requesting, a young woman and man said they would call me several hours later to arrange it -- by whatsapp.

"Can we not arrange it now? Is it so difficult?" I asked, now getting really irritated. How hard can it be to find one personal trainer available at two different dates and times?

She promised half an hour later she would get back to me.

So I showered, got dressed, and went back downstairs.

The woman was not there, but the man was, immediately jumped up from his seat and said he would do my fitness assessment tomorrow.

Could he not have offered right away half an hour ago? I cannot understand how things work in this gym, but already I am not impressed. It has a flashy appearance, with beautiful people in its advertisements, but in reality fulfilling simple requests to make its members happy seems to be the most difficult task.

Are they not bright, or am I asking for too much?

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Chinese Super Travelers Conquer Poles

Two Chinese tourists pose for pictures on Antarctica
When we talk about travel, someone always mentions mainland Chinese tourists. And these days it looks like they have pretty much conquered the entire planet.

More of them -- well the wealthy ones -- are going to far-flung locations like the Arctic and the Antarctic. There were only 99 Chinese tourists who visited the Antarctic in 2005-2006, but the number has risen to 3,042 in 2014-2015, according to the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO).

One of them was Zhang Mengying, a 31-year-old manager from Guangzhou, who had always wanted to visit the Antarctic, the Arctic and the equator.

She took a more than 30-hour flight from Hong Kong to Buenos Aires, transited in Dubai and Rio Janeiro. After a night's rest, she took another flight to the Argentinian town of Ushuaia, the southernmost tip of South America to embark on a week-long cruise of the Antarctic.

"The most impressive thing was the impact it had on my soul," Zhang said. "Seeing the magnificent, breathtaking beautiful scenery and animals around me, I couldn't help thinking that nature was so great that all big and small disputes in our society were meaningless."

The trip also made her more conscious about global warming, but traveling such far distances surely doesn't help the carbon footprint situation...

A pair of penguins captivate some Chinese tourists
Apparently trips to the North and South Poles make up one-third of tours Chinese "super travelers" took last year.

The Hurun Chinese Luxury Traveller report polled 291 such travelers, defining them as those with at least 10 million yuan and had spent at least US$30,000 on travel in the past 12 months.

"The recent popularity of Antarctica with the Chinese luxury traveler shows how much experiential travel is now on the cards," said Hurun Report chairman Rupert Hoogewerf.

Based on travel numbers, to the Antarctic, China is ranked fourth, after the United States, Australia, and the UK.

Charles Wang, in charge of tours to the Antarctic and the Arctic for HH Travel, an upmarket brand for travel website, says, "Over the last two to three years, our Antarctic clients have been doubling by the year.

"One interesting phenomenon is that in the past, only entrepreneurs, gold-collar workers and retirees went to the Antarctic. But now, the tourists are becoming younger," he said.

HH Travel offers two trips: a 12-day trip to the Antarctic Peninsula for almost 200,000 yuan ($32,221), and a more than 20-day trip to the Falkland Islands and South Georgia Island for 300,000 yuan ($48,331).

Isn't it cold taking wedding photos in the Antarctic?
And how do Chinese tourists behave on these trips?

There have been reports of them charging at groups of penguins, chasing them or getting to close to take pictures. Some even take wedding photos there...

Beijing retiree Yang Yuan, 50, went to the Antarctic in January. "I was stunned by the pure scenery and was moved by the service of my American cruise operator, who spared no effort in protecting the environment," she said.

While it's great to have the Chinese appreciate practically pristine environments, do they understand the importance of protecting them as much as possible, wherever you live?

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

600 Days Later

Ai Weiwei's selfie with his passport finally in his hand
I follow Ai Weiwei on Instagram and was surprised to see a selfie of him with his passport.

He finally got it!

He wrote: "今天, 我拿到了护照。"

"Today, I received my passport."

Ai has been waiting 600 days for this day to come, when he was detained at Beijing International Airport trying to fly to Hong Kong in 2011.

After that he was taken away and detained for 81 days and prosecuted for tax evasion, a charge that he was convicted of and his studio was fined 2.4 million yuan in penalties and back taxes.

Some may remember that many ordinary people came by his home and folded bank notes into paper planes to fly into his property to help contribute to the fine.

He also later exhibited dioramas, scenes that showed him being detained, and his bare living quarters, how guards would stand close to him while he showered and went to the washroom.

Ai believes the trial for tax evasion was really to punish him for trying to investigate how many children died in the Sichuan earthquake in May 2008. It seems that a disproportionate number of young people were killed because of shoddy construction of schools there.

Today the 57-year-old explained that when the authorities took his passport away, they gave him no indication of when he would get it.

"I only can say why not? They have promised for the past four years to give it back. Now they finally give it to me. They always say it's in the process but I just need to be patient," he told The New York Times.

Being unable to travel severely restricted his ability to organize exhibitions abroad, but his army of staff have been able to help facilitate this. He was not allowed to show his work in China either, up until last month when he had his first solo exhibition in Beijing, a sign that things were looking up.

Ai plans to go to Berlin soon to see his six-year-old son, Ai Lao, who has been living there for the past year with his mother. The artist also plans to get a medical check-up, to follow up on the 2009 emergency brain surgery he had there after he was beaten in the head by the police in Chengdu.

Things are slowly getting back to normal for Ai, which must be a relief for him, but knowing his rebellious character, he will probably continue to criticize the government through his art, though perhaps in a more subtle way. We shall see.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

The Vilification Begins

Ling Jihua now faces a string of possible corruption charges

Former Chinese President Hu Jintao's one-time top aide Ling Jihua is now being used for target practice by state media, as he was recently formally arrested and stripped of his Communist Party membership.

The 58-year-old is being prosecuted for alleged corruption, violating political rules, organizational discipline and failing to protect secrets of the Party and state.

An investigation into Ling already began in December, but now the Supreme People's Procuratorate will launch a criminal investigation into corruption allegations.

According to Xinhua, Ling apparently took large bribes and sought profits for his close friends and associates. He was also accused of illegally acquiring a large amount of "core secrets" of the Party and state.

However, as Hu's top aide, he would have access to confidential information, so it is unclear what this allegation means.

Xinhua also added Ling allegedly sought benefits for his wife, and that he traded his power for sex and had extramarital affairs with several women.

Nationalist paper Global Times was the most severe of the state media outlets, chastising Ling for destroying himself because of his hunger for power and greed.

His son's car crash that Ling tried to cover up
"The case of Ling is not simply about law and order violations, but also the unrestrained growth of greed and ambition of an elite and powerful person, which leads to distorted behaviour," the editorial said.

The Global Times added Ling ignored the power and influence of the internet, perhaps referring to the March 2012 car accident in which his son Ling Gu and two female passengers died in a Ferrari that crashed on one of Beijing's ring roads.

Ling Jihua tried to cover up the accident, getting special forces to take care of the incident instead of the police, and trying to scrub evidence from the internet, but was eventually found out, along with arranging for his other alleged misdeeds.

"He seemed to strongly believe that his power could enable him to 'cover the sky with one hand' [fool the public], however... he didn't realize that he was under close scrutiny," the editorial said. "He wasn't punished initially simply because it wasn't the appropriate time."

That's because his boss, Hu was going to step down later that year and perhaps the Party thought it would be too much attention focused on Ling when it should be on incoming President Xi Jinping.

As a result, Ling lost his chance to climb the upper echelons of power, and instead was relegated to a non important position with the long title of vice chairman of the national committee of the Chinese People's Consultative Conference, and head of the United Front Work Department.

At this point Ling can only go further into free fall if state media are given the green light to tar him further.

Having been expelled makes him completely vulnerable and his former boss cannot help him at all, nor would Hu want to be associated with him anymore.

It's a sad ending for a guy who tried to rise to the top by hitching a ride with his boss who was president of China. Too bad Ling's son smashed up his luxury sports car, ending his own political chances, otherwise Ling's destiny would be very different today.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Hotel in the Clouds

Looking up at The Shard which houses the Shangri-La London
The last documentary I watched on the way back to Hong Kong from Paris was The Shard -- Hotel in the Clouds, which followed the opening of the Shangri-La London in February 2014.

While the building itself looks totally amazing -- and it reminds me to visit London sometime soon! -- the documentary focuses more on how the hotel hires the staff, trains them and how they fare in the first few weeks after opening.

Construction was delayed for about a year, and when things were finally moving ahead, the management decided to up the ante and set an opening date so that there was a definite deadline.

Looking at the view of London from the tallest hotel in Europe
The Shard is not located in the city centre, making it a bit of a trek for guests to stay in, but the floor-to-ceiling views seem to be well worth it, as the hotel floors are from 34 to 52. There are stunning views of Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf, St Paul's Cathedral, Tower Bridge, the Houses of Parliament and Tate Modern.

Apparently the Shangri-La's policy is to hire local staff, and for many of them who come in for interviews have never stepped inside a five-star hotel, let alone worked in one. There are two men who have been friends for a long time and apply to be bellboys. They are gobsmacked by the place.

It's funny watching them hold plans of the building and see how many elevators they have to go to because the building gets narrower and narrower towards the top.

There's also a server called Angela who previously worked in pubs but is now being trained to be one of the wait staff in the fine dining restaurant. She thinks she isn't cut out for it, but her attitude -- that she loves serving people and it makes her happy to do so -- is the reason why she was hired.

The wine sommelier explains that logistically wine needs to be constantly moved from the basement of the building to the top otherwise it's embarrassing for guests to have to wait so long for their favourite bottle to arrive, similarly clean glasses need to be constantly ready.

Luxurious rooms at the five-star hotel
Staff get a quick lesson in Chinese hospitality -- how to hold chopsticks, and that Asian guests may slurp their soup, which is not a sign of rudeness like it is in Western culture, but that of satisfaction. The staff are also taught a few words in Mandarin, like the name of the hotel. But are they really going to remember that?

A 19-year-old straight from culinary school who was the top student, gets a job in the restaurant as the lowliest member of the kitchen staff. He has to pick out all the leaves for decoration, but he learns fast  and soon moves on to sauces.

Just before the hotel opens, they have a trial run with some staff acting as guests in the hotel. The two bellboys get to stay in the hotel and are chuffed at being treated like VIPs.

But when it comes to dinner, they waited a very long time for their dishes to arrive, though they weren't complaining with the free drinks they got in return for their patience.

The next day the general manager holds an emergency meeting and criticizes his managers for the poor performance overall -- it's very interesting that the Hong Kong-based hotel group allowed this scene to be shot, but it is a crucial part of the story.

Finally the hotel opens to much fanfare, with Mayor Boris Johnson giving a speech and looking puzzled as the lion dance seems to go on forever. The actual banquet that day seems to go off without much of a hitch and then the guests start checking in.

Soon after the opening, the communications team has to deal with the fact there are design flaws in the hotel -- some guests can look directly into the bathroom of adjacent ones, and so blinds have to be quickly installed. They also try to spin it, saying the English aren't prudes either...

It's because of this major design fault that members of Luxury Travel Intelligence voted the Shangri-La London as the worst hotel opening in 2014.

Nevertheless, other guests seem not only impressed by the amenities, but service too, with one wealthy couple so charmed by Angela's service that they are willing to pay for her to stay one night so that she realizes she deserves to be working in the five-star hotel.

The young culinary graduate invites his parents to lunch and he gets to plate their dishes. It's obvious they are beaming with pride and tell him so, which is touching. One would probably not get the same reaction from parents in Hong Kong...

At the end, a Frenchman enters the hotel room and is in awe of the view. Then he looks over to his right and observes with amusement he can look into the next door's bathroom...

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Picture of the Day: Minis

Two Mini Coopers, old and new spotted in Kennedy Town
Today my cousin and I had a fish and chip lunch on New Praya, Kennedy Town and parked in front of our restaurants were two Mini Coopers -- the classic model and the new one.

We couldn't resist taking a picture of the two of them together -- and both in red!

How cute is that?!

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Getting Hitched to Reality of Marriage

The documentary looks at what happens to couples after they get married...
When people get married, do they really know what they are getting themselves into? Do they know what challenges they will face and how they will deal with them? With 50 percent of marriages ending in divorce, why do people still tie the knot?

Those are the kinds of questions New York-based documentary filmmaker Doug Block asks in his film 112 Weddings.

I had read about the documentary in a newspaper article almost a year ago and was curious to actually see it. And on the flight back to Hong Kong I had that opportunity.

Documentary filmmaker Doug Block
Block is an award-winning documentary filmmaker (The Kids Grow Up, 51 Birch Street, The Heck with Hollywood!), who funds his passion by being a wedding videographer.

He started doing it over 20 years ago and in that period has shot 112 weddings. He narrates the documentary by saying, "I found it unexpectedly thrilling to be a wedding videographer. We're always struggling to gain access to our subjects, and here I was being granted a front-row position as an ordinary couple experience perhaps the most extraordinary day in their lives (and being paid well for it, no less!).

When his 25th wedding anniversary came around, it prompted Block to go and find the same couples again to see how marriage had affected them, if it was what they thought it would be, and how they fared.

He tried to track down some of his favourite couples; a few may have moved away and he lost contact with him, while others had divorced and didn't want to talk on camera.

In the film each interview starts with footage from the wedding, and then the couple is interviewed. Even though they are trying to present the best side of themselves, their body language and the words they choose are more telling.

Wedding #71, Block says, Jenn and Augie's was one of the most joyful he had ever witnessed. After eight years, they were still in love with each other with one child, but financially things were tight and admitted they were fighting more than when they had gotten married.

Augie said that after a fight one would want space, but in reality they are in this together because of the child and so they have to work hard to make things work. "My wife and I agree 95 percent of the time. But that 5 percent, we're just at each other's throats."

Olivia and Dennis were Wedding #49, with Olivia wearing a kind of pearl-encrusted crown that made her look like a medieval princess walking down the aisle. After they got married, the couple moved to Tulum, Mexico for her to be a massage therapist, and him a scuba diving instructor.

When their daughter Lily was born, they moved back to New York, but when she turned three, Lily was diagnosed with a brain tumour which threw their lives into turmoil.

The two parents completely focused on their child, with the constant fear of losing her at anytime, which put their lives into perspective as well. They needed each other to help Lily get better, and as they are interviewed, Block pans up above the casual white shirted-couple on the couch to reveal an elaborate gold-framed portrait of their daughter, who looks sad.

Dennis says, "There is no real book on how to take care of a child who maybe taken from you at any moment, and dealing with that fear. You're thrown into a living nightmare that never ends."

However, Block reports on his website that Lily is now 10 and her parents say is "kicking ass".

Tom and Yoonhee looking back on their wedding day
There was one mixed-race couple in the documentary, Yoonhee and Tom, Wedding #43. They met on a plane and Tom wouldn't give up pursuing her, even though she was supposed to finish her masters degree in music, and her father back in Korea had already arranged a teaching job for her there.

But she fell in love with Tom and decided to give up her career for him, much to the chagrin of her father, who at first refused to come to the wedding, but did come in the end. Yoonhee and Tom now have two children.

Block asks them if he thinks it was fate for them to meet on the plane. While Tom immediately dismisses the possibility, Yeehoon, who seems very bubbly and optimistic, looks out into space and says, "Life can be funny. Life can be very funny because, I mean, why did it happen, you know?"

Alexander and Janice just after finishing their own vows
Another loving couple was Janice and Alexander, Wedding #111. Both their parents were very displeased to find out the couple did not want to have a "wedding", as it involved ownership, right of lineage, and possession, values they did not believe in; instead they had a three-day "partnership ceremony", and Block shows a scene of them right afterwards, so excited, and Alexander saying, "We did it! We did it!"

Thirteen years later they still seem happily together, with two daughters, and the older one keenly aware that though they are her parents, they are not legally married.

When Block contacted them, though, Janice and Alexander decided it was time to really get married, and was lucky enough to record their very small ceremony in their living room, which was just as emotional, if not more, with their children as witnesses.

The documentary managed to dissect a few marriages that had gone sour. Janet and David, (Wedding #83) had beautiful wedding, but seemed strange for the groom to reveal how many meds he was taking -- was this to calm his nerves or was he always like this?

After seven years and a child later, the marriage was over, and David, with disheveled hair, sitting in a small apartment is honest about what happened. He was a struggling screenwriter and didn't get too far, while it seemed Janet wanted her husband to grow up and take responsibility of looking after the family.

Block wasn't able to get Janet's side of the story, but David is not malicious at all, taking complete blame for the end of the marriage and admires her for being with him throughout that time.

However the same could not be said of Sue and Steve, Wedding #1. When Block contacted Sue about doing the documentary, she said she had just filed for divorce the day before. She had recently found out her husband had been cheating on her and had another woman, which was a complete shock to her.

The filmmaker was able to get Steve's side of the story, where he says the marriage became lifeless, particularly when three children were in the picture, and things were very routine.

In the end there is a scene with Sue looking back at her wedding photos. She says she can look at them because it's a different person in the picture.

One sad couple was Danielle and Adam, Wedding #90. Block remembers Danielle as a radiant bride, but when he met them again five years later, she was severely depressed, something she had before, but the sadness was magnified after taking hormone pills to get pregnant.

With the two of them together, she looked despondent and very pessimistic, saying how she could not contribute as much as she wanted to the family because she was tired all the time.

But her husband was so stoic and even said on camera: "I personally feel like you're completely worth waiting for, for this to fix itself one day. And even if that's never, I still think that I wouldn't want to do this with anyone else, you know?"

Wedding #112: Heather and Sam after their ceremony
To add more depth to 112 Weddings, Block also interviewed a lesbian couple who were also wedding photographers. Anna and Erica have been together for four years and are keen to get married, to be recognized legally as a couple.

And then as a counterpoint to the previous weddings, Block follows Heather and Sam, Wedding #112, and both are very articulate in talking about their hopes and dreams of what they want their marriage to be like. The film ends with the end of their wedding ceremony, and they begin walking literally into the sunset, into the unknown.

112 Weddings makes you realize that there are a lot of things people don't necessarily consider when they get married, but by the same token, you don't know how you will deal with a situation until it happens, and it requires teamwork. Love and communication are essential, but also can the relationship sustain through time? No one knows until they actually go through with it...

Friday, 17 July 2015

Mark Landis' Art and Craft

Mark Landis in his apartment, with his father's portrait behind him
The second documentary I watched on the way to Paris was Art and Craft, about Mark Landis, an art forger. I had read the story in The New Yorker almost two years ago, so to see him in action in this film was fascinating.

He's a curious character, living by himself, doesn't seem to have any friends, his parents have passed away and doesn't have any kind of job, which makes viewers assume he is living off his inheritance.

But Landis has an incredible talent of being able to copy art work. When he was young he enjoyed drawing and painting, and was encouraged to do it, taking courses.

Around 1988, he copied an illustration and donated it to a California museum as an original. The forgery was undetected so Landis did it again. And again and again, for over 20 years, to different art institutions, including more than 50 museums.

Landis will contact the various places, pretending he is Stephen Gardiner, Father Arthur Scott, Father James Brantley, Mark Lanois, Martin Lynley, and John Grauman.

When he talks to the museums, he always gives a sob story, of his mother passing away and wishing to bequeath an art work or two, or how his sister had passed and wanted to give a painting away -- except that he was an only child.

He likes to buy his art supplies at Walmart, even the frames, which he says are cheap, but look great. Then he goes home that is cluttered with stuff everywhere, including the floor, and he sits with the television on, drawing on his bed.

As he paints, Landis explains how easy it is to make paper look old -- by covering it in coffee. And then he would frame them with those inexpensive wooden frames from Walmart. Looks pretty darn good.

As a result many of the museums accepted his paintings and hung them in their galleries. He specifically chose smaller ones as they would not necessarily have the resources to detect forgeries, and wouldn't it be rude not to accept a free gift?

However, in 2007, Landis donated several works to the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, and the registrar, Matthew Leininger, took a closer look at the paintings and realized not only were they fakes, but that Landis had offered similar if not the same pieces to other museums.

Leininger started alerting other museums and they were not only horrified, but embarrassed. The FBI was also contacted, but legally Landis had not done anything illegal even though the intent to deceive was there. The fact that Landis did not accept any monetary payment made it near impossible to stop him from continuing what he might call his hobby.

In Art and Craft, there are interviews with Leininger, and he is a sharp man, but also obsessed. He was so caught up in chasing down Landis that the museum sacked him for spending too much time on the case during office hours, so he continued doing it as a stay-at-home dad. It's probably telling that his wife is not on camera.

We also see Landis visiting a medical clinic regularly, and he seems underweight, probably because he eats frozen dinners and crackers, and lots of coffee. He seems to be autistic, or schizophrenic, or bipolar, but highly functioning.

In the end, there's an exhibition held specifically showcasing Landis' work and he is invited to attend. There he meets mostly admirers and charms them, while Leininger wants to confront Landis, but in the end realizes there isn't much he can do to the star of the show.

Art and Craft a fascinating portrait of Landis, and case study on what to do with art forgers who aren't interested in it for the money.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Ebert's Life Itself

Reviewers Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert look like professors on TV
On my flights to and from Paris recently, I limited my time watching movies and such as I needed to get as much sleep as possible. But I made sure I watched a few documentaries.

The first one was Life Itself, documenting the last few months of Pulitzer prize-winning film review Roger Ebert's life as he was dying of cancer in 2013 at the age of 70.

Filmmaker Steve James deftly wove Ebert's memoir of the same name with scenes of following him around as he went in and out of hospital, or at home, and interviews with friends, filmmakers, and his wife Chaz.

Ebert the day after he won a Pulitzer Prize for his review
We learn that at an early age Ebert, who hailed from Urbana, Illinois, loved words and writing. By the time he started in newspapers as a undergraduate, he was already writing stories like a seasoned reporter.

His colleagues talked about how Ebert would just take charge of the situation, or just the way he wrote a story showed how observant he was, and chose words that perfectly summed up the situation or his opinion of something.

Later he got a job at the Chicago Sun-Times and was loyal to the end, despite the paper going through financial difficulties. It was here that he was assigned to review movies from 1967, and latched onto the beat like it was a natural thing to do.

An interesting fact is that he helped Russ Meyer write the screenplay for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, which had a crazy combination of sex, violence and bawdy dialogue. It didn't do well in the box office, but now is considered a film that was ahead of its time.

In 1975 he and Gene Siskel began doing film reviews on television. As their former producers pointed out, these two did not have the look for TV at all, looking like university professors, and Ebert in particular too keen to show off his expansive vocabulary.

For his wedding to Chaz, Ebert splashed out on the nuptials
What was also pointed out in Life Itself was that the two hated each other. There were outtakes of them verbally jousting with insults that were quite intense. It's amazing they didn't kill each other on camera.

But as they became more successful on television, they realized they needed each other to keep the show going and their relationship became more amicable.

However, when Siskel was diagnosed with brain cancer in May 1998, he did not tell Ebert, and died in February 1999, much to the shock of everyone.

Ebert was very upset, and according to his wife, decided that if he was ill, he would go very public with it to let everyone know. What was very sweet was seeing him and Chaz together -- you could tell they loved each other very much.

He married her at the age of 50, and accepted her children and grandchildren as his own. She is successful in her own right, a trial attorney, but it seems towards the end of his life she spent a lot of time looking after him.

Cancer did not keep Ebert's spirits down -- he kept writing
In 2002 he was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer, and though it was removed, cancer kept coming back, to the point where he was unable to speak. He adopted a computerized voice, and in many of the scenes, it's horrifying at first to see there is a giant hole in his mouth, the chin part hanging out because his lower jaw is gone.

However, he still kept up his spirits, chiding his wife, or being light-hearted. Director James had so many questions for Ebert towards the end that he couldn't answer them all, which is probably why he turned to Ebert's memoir -- that thankfully is narrated in his own voice -- as well as interviews with friends to give some answers.

What was interesting was that despite being ill, Ebert was keen to keep writing. He started a blog and tweeted. He embraced these new online mediums so well that it enabled him to not only keep in touch with his existing fans but garner new ones too.

One young African American filmmaker reminisced about meeting Ebert when she was a young girl, and took a picture with him in the 1980s. That chance encounter inspired her to make films, and when Ebert reviewed her film and gave it a good review, she emailed him with the picture they took decades ago, telling him the story of how they met.

He immediately blogged about it, complete with the picture, which she found so touching.

Ebert knew he had a good run, and wrote this three years before he died:

I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. What I am grateful for is the gift of intelligence, and for life, love, wonder and laughter. You can't say it wasn't interesting. My lifetime's memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris.

I remember watching him and Siskel on television, making passionate arguments for and against whatever movies they were reviewing. Ebert was the more studious-looking one, Siskel more suave and debonair. I didn't like one more than the other, but found it interesting how much they loved movies.

Watching Life Itself helps viewers understand where Ebert came from, his passion for writing, for movies, for life. He was admired by his colleagues and directors, particularly Martin Scorsese, who was indebted to both Ebert and Siskel for supporting him and his career. The Raging Bull and Gangs of New York director executive produced the documentary.

Ebert lived an amazing life and enjoyed every moment, and he is indirectly encouraging us to do the same.

I thought I would only mention each documentary briefly, but it turns out I'll save the other two for the next blog post!

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Harder to Defend

Don't mess with Zhongnanhai, as the government cracks down on lawyers
It is troubling to read more than 100 people were detained by police on the mainland over the weekend, from human rights advocates to lawyers in an unprecedented crackdown that state media are calling a nationwide operation to smash a "criminal gang".

The People's Daily claims the operation launched by the Ministry of Public Security was to "smash a major criminal gang that had used the Beijing Fengrui law firm as a platform since July 2012 to draw attention to sensitive cases, seriously disturbing social order".

The article said the firm's director, lawyers and one of the lawyer's husbands were detained for "seriously violating the law", though the exact charge was not given.

It also claimed the group was "colluding with petitioners to disturb social order".

In the article it claimed high profile activist Wu Gan was "a key player" in stirring up a public outcry over the fatal shooting of an unarmed man, Xu Chunhe, by a policeman in Qingan, Heilongjiang in May, while the lawyers were accused of being involved.

"These lawyers publicly challenged the court... and mobilized troublemakers to rally petitioners... outside the court," the story said.

Teng Biao says the campaign mocks China's "rule of law"
As of yesterday evening, 106 people from 15 cities and provinces have been detained, summoned, questioned or were missing, according to Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group; 82 have been released.

However, of those released, at least three were taken away for a second time, says a lawyer who did not want to be named. Two were known to be released again.

Former human rights lawyer Teng Biao who is now a visiting fellow at Harvard Law School, says the Qingan incident was only a pretext to clampdown on rights activists and lawyers, who have been critical of the government over the years.

He said the crackdown made a mockery of the authorities' claim to "rule the country by law".

Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch finds the latest development alarming, as it showed the Ministry of Public Security's interpretation of "disturbing public order" as ever expanding.

"That these lawyers are a 'major criminal gang' is a new and serious allegation, one that demonstrates the authorities' willingness to warp the law beyond all recognition," she said.

China has always claimed it has followed "rule of law", but the Party is consistently above the law. As a result, the rules keep changing to suit its goals.

On the outside the government claims it has a constitution, and a just legal system, but in reality it is becoming, as Richardson says, more and more warped.

Foreign companies have seen they are not able to do business on equal footing in China, and will get punished for corruption, even though every other firm has to grease a few palms to get things moving.

And for years we have seen activists forced to become silent, and now the next step is to detain their legal representatives, their lawyers, who will find it harder to defend clients because they themselves are on precarious ground.

This sends a frightening chill in the human rights activist community -- it forces them to either retreat or continue their work with the utmost courage. Either way we salute them for doing their best in such a difficult environment.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Doing a "Good" Job

Apparently CY Leung is doing a good job, according to Beijing...
Should we be surprised?

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying came back from two days of reporting his work progress to Beijing, and was told the central government was "very satisfied" with his performance.

He met with National People's Congress chairman Zhang Dejiang, and Leung said, "[Zhang] was 'highly affirmed and is very satisfied' with my performance -- and the SAR government -- over the past 20 months on political reform."

Leung added, "[Zhang] said he would firmly support me and the administration to rule [the city] in accordance with law."

This is highly amusing considering the pro-Beijing lawmakers flubbed so badly on the vote last month, and lots of people came out to protest against Leung, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung when they were campaigning around the city for the public to accept the political reform proposal.

And the fact that Beijing would support Leung if he ran for another term proves how tight he is with the Xi administration, where loyalty equals competence..

Nevertheless, Leung was diplomatic about possibly running for a second term, saying, "If there is room and opportunity, I will make the greatest efforts to serve Hong Kong."

Veteran China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said Zhang may have just encouraged Leung as a formality, and that it would not necessarily mean he had won the central government's blessing.

The thought of Leung staying on for another term was a bad sign for Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit. "It would be a catastrophe for Hong Kong if he serves for another five years."

Monday, 13 July 2015

Another Blame Game Begins

Residents in five housing estates are collecting water from other sources
Over the weekend it was discovered five public housing estates in Kowloon City, Kwai Chung, Sham Shui Po, Sha Tin and Tuen Mun have excessive lead in the water samples and it is believed this came from the pipes.

The levels of lead were found to have exceeded standards set by the World Health Organization.

The Hong Kong government was quick to reveal licensed plumber Lam Tak-sum as being responsible for installing the pipes, saying it was the media that demanded to know.

This is a complete 180-degree turn from the government refusing to divulge how much it had spent on the campaign push for residents to accept the political reform package that failed last month in the Legislative Council.

Licensed plumber Lam Tak-sum surrounded by the media
But back to the story. As expected, the media swarmed the wheelchair-bound Lam today and while he admitted to taking some responsibility for the pipes connecting the water mains to the housing blocks' water supplies, not all of the blame should be shifted on him. The pipes were made from pre-cast material, so how could he know what material was in it?

The government says he should have known, and that Lam was also responsible for the pipes connecting the water tanks and households.

But who paid for the pre-cast material? Why didn't someone in the Water Supplies Department check to see if the pipes were the correct ones to be used?

But more importantly, why is the government not investigating the incident properly before assigning blame?

In the meantime, residents in these housing estates are terrified of the possible health impacts, as practically all of them use the water for cooking, bathing and drinking (boiled water).

At first the government gave out bottled water to residents, but this is not feasible in the long term. And Secretary for Transport and Housing Anthony Cheung Bing-leung is suggesting that all the fresh water pipes would have to be replaced, which would impact thousands of households; and yet there should be minimal disruption for these families.

Uh yeah.

This is a major infrastructure problem in existing buildings and you are asking that there be as little disruption as possible?

Obviously Cheung has not undergone a renovation in his home before, or understands the complexity of the problem at hand.

People are going to be inconvenienced, but for how long is the main issue.

In the meantime, the way this government is handling the situation is far from ideal. It is not taking leadership on the issue and would rather blame someone for it instead.