Monday, 30 November 2015

Last Swim of the Year

A view of the (empty) Kennedy Town Pool at dusk
Today was the last day to use the Kennedy Town pool before it not only closes for the season, but for another year while an extension is added to the pool, so it won't open again until spring 2017!

This is a depressing thought, as the pool is a fantastic location for me. I can look down on it to see how many people are in there and make a quick decision as to whether I should venture down there or not within five minutes.

In the summer it was a frustrating experience, as the pool was crowded with people and on top of it, the water temperature was so warm, it was on the verge of disgusting...

And then I only figured out a few weeks ago that the pool was only open for the month of November from morning until noon so I started swimming every Saturday and Sunday for three weeks. In the process i got a fantastic tan on my back!

However this past weekend the temperature dropped and my swim in the unheated pool was FREEZING to say the least, but at the same time my entire body was shocked into being awake and it automatically began swimming fast, as if to say, "Keep warm! Swim now!"

After a few laps it was still cold, but the body acclimatized to it, even though my toes were still kind of numb. Afterwards the invigorating swim was kind of refreshing, in a torturous way. But us die-hard swimmers are the same -- we love it so much we will do it in pretty much any conditions... even if it shocks our heart into action!

This past Saturday the temperature of the water was helped a bit by the sun coming out of the clouds, but yesterday it was mostly overcast so it was pretty much cold all the way. Of course the sun came out after I left the pool...

In the meantime we hope they fix the temperature reading at the entrance to the pool. It always says 25 degrees even though it's colder... and how about an actual reading of the water temperature?!

A bientot, Kennedy Town Pool! See you in 2017!

Sunday, 29 November 2015

8 Things about Clockenflap

The sunsets on Sunday on the last night of Clockenflap at West Kowloon
This weekend was my first time at Clockenflap -- the first time ever at a music festival. Eight things I learned:

The diversity of the crowd.
Music festivals draw a wide range of people who want to listen to their favourite genres, or they want to sample a variety of things that interest them. It's interesting to see who comes out to these events, and what they like to listen to. For me, I got a good taste of many things I have never heard before, but now I know what they're about. Had a good musical education for three days.

The music is loud.
As a precaution I brought some ear plugs with me, and though they didn't completely block out the loud sounds, at least it toned it down a few decibels and saved my ear drums.

Neon Indian played very poppy tunes reminiscent of the 80s
The food is pretty good.
Several Hong Kong restaurants have stands at Clockenflap. Butcher's Club had a steak burger, but it didn't fill up my Aussie colleague's stomach and cost HK$100... I had a foot-long hotdog for HK$80 and put tons of sauerkraut on it. On the second day I was very full after eating a chicken quesadilla for HK$90 from Little Burro, and then tonight had lots of thin-crust pizza from Pizza Express.

My only major complaint was that the food booths and the drinks area were not together, making it inconvenient to get both at the same time. Some places and dishes were more value for money than others...

It was all cashless, so you had to top up your card of wristband with cash before you could "buy" food or drinks.

The people watching is endless.
This is one of my favourite activities to do and managed to do a lot of it while waiting for things to happen or waiting for people. These concert goers were dressed in various fashions, like hippies with flowers in their hair, and even a group wearing bunny rabbit masks on their heads. Most people were in jeans and T-shirts, others were hipsters with their buttoned up shirts and rolled up trousers and shoes without socks.

My colleague had a fun mental checklist -- white man with rastafarian, Check. Goth girl. Check. Older rockers with faded band T-shirts. Check.

Two German graffiti artists paint containers for HKWalls
The festival is a taster.
There is no need to watch an entire set of a group or musician play. If you don't like it, or you feel hungry, there's no need to stay. Come and hang out for five minutes or the entire one-hour set. It's a great way to check out as many groups/artists as possible though your legs do get tired from standing and walking a lot.

The washrooms are atrocious.
It's all porta-potties and they aren't pretty. The Clockenflap venue is far, far away. The last decent pit stop is the Kowloon station washrooms and then you are testing your bladder. There are major lineups for the loo and be prepared for lots of liquids everywhere...

The weather can change.
Friday evening was freezing thanks to the strong winds and thank goodness I bundled up! Even then I was still kind of cold. However Saturday and Sunday the weather warmed up and there was more of a breeze than gusts. I had to schlep my jacket and cardigan around for part of the day, but as soon as the sun came down, I got warmed up with these two items of clothing.

The point is to have fun.
In the end even though I was working through the weekend (that means a 13-day stretch for me!) I did enjoy some of the music. It was fun seeing others letting loose and expressing themselves, through their dress, their choice of music and dancing. It's great that conservative Hong Kong has an event like this, and the setting -- right by the harbour -- is amazing. A number of overseas acts remarked at how fantastic it was to play with such a stunning view. Maybe the construction of M+ will be delayed indefinitely so Clockenflap can continue holding its festival here...

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Two Debuts at Clockenflap

More music followed on the second day of Clockenflap at West Kowloon
I spent a second day at Clockenflap and for me it was interesting to watch two artists make their debuts at this music festival, Leah Dou and Denise Ho Wan-see.

Dou is 18-year-old and is an indie artist who released her first album in Japan recently. However she is best known as Faye Wong's daughter.

Leah Dou (left) performing at Atum stage
The young musician with pink and blonde hair ran onto the stage and sang several English songs, and addressing the audience mostly in English, and a few words in Cantonese. However the vast majority of people who came to see her were Chinese and gave her a warm welcome.

However it was soon over as her set was only half an hour long, but enough to have fans who knew her music and were appreciative of her coming to the festival.

Even more people came out to see Ho an hour later. The non-Chinese crowd who had just seen Earth, Wind & Fire left the area, and it was flooded with a sea of black heads.

She immediately observed this and pointed it out to the crowd who shouted her name out, while she waved to a few people she seemed to recognize in the audience. One guy shouted out "Ho Wan-see!" and the openly-gay singer replied, "My husband!"

Denise Ho made her fans happy performing tonight
Known for being active in the Occupy protests last year, Ho asked the audience how Hong Kong people were, and they roared and shouted. She also said she'd sing Cantonese songs, much to their delight, as a sign of her love of the city and culture.

She too had hair that was blonde -- and wore a boyfriend jacket, black hot pants and boots.

Because of her participation in the Umbrella Movement, her record label dropped her and she was banned from performing on the mainland. And so she gave a heartfelt thank you to Clockenflap for inviting her to be one of the few local acts to perform.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Picture of the Day: Clockenflap2015

ANWIYCTI warmed up the crowd at 5.30pm as the sun came down
It's been a long day, going to work and then going to Clockenflap Music and Arts Festival for the first time.

The weekend music festival has been going on since 2008 and some 45,000 people attended last year. In the last few years it's been held at West Kowloon and now we can see why -- gorgeous view of Hong Kong Island as a backdrop and listening to music in an open space.

Not only that you can wander around and see other musical acts going on simultaneously.

A gorgeous sunset to start Clockenflap 2015 off!
Interestingly many people bring their very young kids, and of course there are teenagers, young women showing off as much skin as possible when it's freezing and windy, and then older folks who are well versed in music festivals, wearing boots and parkas.

The music ranged from instrumental rock from a local band called ANWIYCTI or Another World if You Can Take It, to Damien Rice with his acoustic guitar and his audience rapt with his ballads, and then Love Psychedelico from Japan with their own version of 1960s rock n roll.

More tomorrow...!

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Hong Kong Not Quite Cultural Sophisticated

One of 31 statues by Antony Gormley placed around the Central area
Hong Kong is becoming a more cultural city in the last few years, with ArtHK that has evolved into Art Basel. That on top of the art auctions we have twice a year from Christie's, Sotheby's and Bonham's as well as several other Chinese auctioneers and one would think the city was fast becoming the cultural leader in Asia.

Not quite.

British sculptor Antony Gormley's Naked Man sculptures have been erected around the city and they've caused a lot of confusion since they were unveiled last week.

The statues evoke a sense of watching and being watched
The life-size sculptures made of fibreglass are placed on the top of buildings, such as City Hall lower block, Hip Shing Hong Centre, New World Tower II, St George's Building and Queensway Government Offices.

However, in the first few days, those who actually noticed the sculptures thought they were real people standing on the edge of these buildings and called police, concerned they were potential suicide jumpers.

There were 29 such reports in two weeks.

Of the 31 sculptures, 27 were placed on rooftops mostly in the central business district, while four others made of cast iron were placed at ground level.

One statue on Queen's Road Central was an "obstruction"
But those ones on the ground also received complaints. One standing at Queen's Road Central by Theatre Lane was determined to be an "obstruction", and was fenced off by the Highways Department staff on Tuesday.

Three railings were made into a triangle around the sculpture, but after a picture of this was posted online, there were criticisms of how the government handled the situation, but the authorities held their ground.

"Our contractor temporarily fenced off the concerned area for inspection. The inspection confirmed that the concerned footpath was in proper condition and the area was immediately reopened," said a spokesperson from the Highways Department.

Why did the Highways Department do this? Why didn't they explain to the complainant that it's a work of art for Hong Kong residents to enjoy?

For someone to call it an "obstruction" is ridiculous -- in fact Gormley wants people to be more aware of their surroundings, as it is a project that explores the concept of watching and being watched.

27 of the 31 statues are placed on rooftops in Central
We can only imagine someone may have bumped into the statue while staring at their smartphone, and instead of being pleasantly surprised by the public art, was annoyed and called the Highways Department in a bid to remove the offending "obstruction"...

What does this say about how culturally sophisticated we are?

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Is CY Leung Extending an Olive Branch?

Leung Chun-ying with his wife Regina on election day last Sunday
Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying struck a conciliatory tone by inviting those newly-elected young democrats to join advisory bodies that help shape government policies.

He said the government was willing to listen "regardless of political stance", as long as these people were in the business of serving the public.

Some welcomed the announcement, while others were skeptical. After all Leung is known as "the wolf"...

Clarisse Yeung, who won the Tai Hang consitituency
Was Leung sincere in wanting to address the problem of disenchantment among young people which led to the Occupy protests last year?

"I am glad that many young people ran in the election. Whether they won or not, my colleagues will contact them to know about their interest in serving the community," he said.

"Some advisory bodies and organizations would have vacancies from time to time. If they're interested, I'll invite them to join these bodies and represent the new generation... The government is willing to listen to them regardless of their political stance."

About 50 candidates who were inspired by the Umbrella Movement stood in this past weekend's district council elections. In total they received more than 70,000 votes, while 16 NeoDemocrats got more than 42,000 votes. NeoDemocrats are active in localism, for example protesting against parallel trading.

Francis Yam Kai-bong of the NeoDemocrats in Tai Po
Chinese University political scientist Ma Ngok is skeptical about Leung's sincerity.

"The district council poll showed that the people are very unhappy about the status quo and the lack of change in the political landscape... but based on CY's way of appointment in the past, I am not sure whether he will give a fair chance to people with different political backgrounds."

How genuine is Leung? We're tired of words and want some real action.

Hong Kong people have spoken. It's time to serve their interests!

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Elton John Proves Why He's Still Standing

Rocket Man Elton John is back in the house
Just got back from the Elton John concert at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai.

It should be noted here that he comes just as Dolce and Gabbana's Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana were just in town a few days ago. Wonder if the two sides ever sorted out their differences on the definition of "family"...

Great digital graphics as the backdrop to the concert
In any event the concert was pretty much a full house with a wide-ranging age group, but probably more concert goers in their 40s and 50s.

We saw him last time almost three years ago where he had an opening act, but this time he launched straight into his concert that lasted about two hours and 15 minutes. John also wore almost the same outfit -- this time a blue sparkly suit with "Fantastic" on the back.

He performed pretty much non stop over 20 songs that were mostly from the 70s, where as three years ago it was more from the 80s.

While there was Candle in the Wind and That's Why They Call it the Blues, John also sang the perennial Rocket Man, Yellow Brick Road, Believe and Sad Songs Say So Much.

Many chances to watch John on the keys
John didn't do much talking, just finishing each song to loud applause and going up to get a sip of water and returning to his grand piano.

It's pretty neat that two musicians have stayed with him pretty much throughout John's career -- Davey Johnstone on guitar and vocals and Nigel Olsson on drums and vocals. He wore a headset the whole time and gloves while banging away on the drums all evening.

Another keyboardist, guitarist and percussionist rounded up the band. All of them wore suits or at least a shirt and waistcoat to make the group look sharp and classy.

John's still going strong at 68 on the keys -- his fingers flawlessly play the piano with lots of energy and singing his heart out.

When John said this is my last song, we got up as he performed, Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me, but it turns out it wasn't the last one -- he also sang The Bitch is Back, I'm Still Standing and Saturday Night's Alright.

We decided to beat the crowds and left the venue as he started playing Crocodile Rock.

John was an energetic performer tonight
After this show he goes to South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, and a few places in Australia before breaking for Christmas, and then on January 19 performs in The Colosseum in Las Vegas for several dates before going to Paris in early February and then back to the United States.

One can't complain he's not working hard -- does he still need the money? In any event he looks like he's enjoying himself on stage and hopefully will be back again soon.

Monday, 23 November 2015

After the Race

Fifty "Umbrella soldiers" fought for seats on the district council, seven won
The results of the Hong Kong District Council election yesterday were interesting, with some big wins, big losses and a few surprises.

Albert Ho lost his seat yesterday
The big win for Hong Kong was that of the 3.12 million people eligible to vote, 47 percent cast ballots. That's a huge jump and many believe last year's protests sparked the public's interest in democracy and taking advantage of their right to vote for those who will best represent their grassroots interests.

However the biggest shocks were two pan-democratic heavyweights who lost their seats -- The Democratic Party's Albert Ho Chun-yan, and Fredrick Fung Kin-kee of the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood.

Junius Ho soundly unseated incumbent Albert Ho
Ho was beaten by his main rival, former Law Society president Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, who vehemently opposed the Umbrella Movement. Another reason Albert Ho may have lost is because he was caught looking at pictures of scantily-clad women on his tablet during Legco...

The next interesting observation was that the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong or DAB didn't see a rise in support, but a slight dip. Established lawmaker Christopher Chung Shu-kun was defeated by a relatively unknown "Umbrella soldier", Chui Chi-kin, which is very interesting. Chui and six other "Umbrella soldiers" won seats on the district council.

This is perhaps due to the young vote coming out in droves, rallying others to cast their ballots on Facebook. These rookies will have a lot to learn in the coming year and it will be interesting to watch them evolve from protest organizers to trying to influence policy at the grassroots level.

Gary Fan fights for localism on the district council and Legco
Then there are the NeoDemocrats, who are more radical in their beliefs, and in yesterday's elections won 15 out of 16 seats. One of them is Gary Fan Kwok-wai, who is also the group's only representative in the Legislative Council. He is very active in promoting localism, urging the government to make Hong Kong people the priority in setting policy. Fan also protested against parallel trading in the New Territories.

In Kennedy Town & Mount Davis, as expected DAB incumbent Chan Hok-fung kept his seat. It's strange Youngspiration, a party established following the Umbrella Movement would choose to contest this area when there is already a Democratic Party candidate. Why not choose a neighbourhood that isn't contested or only has a DAB politician running?

Hopefully the "Umbrella soldiers" will conduct a serious post-mortem on their performance and be more strategic about where they run and how they conduct their campaigns. Nevertheless, considering they hardly had many resources, youth is on their side and perhaps they will do better in the future.

In the meantime there are lots of questions regarding the elderly been driven to polling stations by "volunteers" and strangely given their Hong Kong ID cards after they arrived. After voting, some seniors told reporters they couldn't remember who they voted for or that they were instructed who to vote for.

Ah the drama. But in the meantime pleased to see Hong Kong's political consciousness awakened! The Umbrella Movement was not in vain after all!

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Get Out the Vote

Today was the District Council election and already by 11.30am there was a reported increase in voter turnout of over 340,000, up 10.9 percent from last time.

There are 867 candidates fighting for 363 seats. The pan-democrats didn't do well last time and so it will be interesting to gauge public sentiment a year after the Occupy protests.

In Kennedy Town, the candidates had their armies of volunteers out in force, handing out flyers and holding banners, and the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB) had a van blaring out messages as it went through the neighbourhood.

I went to vote and it was a very quick process. I just had to show my Hong Kong ID card -- the voter card wasn't even necessary -- and then I was given a ballot and an ink stamp with a tick on it. The ballots include the candidates' pictures and names making it easy to vote.

And then we had to fold the ballot and stick it in the box. Done!

When I walked out of the polling station, I was stopped by a university student who was doing exit polling for the University of Hong Kong Public Opinion Programme. She asked a number of questions, such as who I voted for, why I voted for that candidate, when did I made that decision, did I take part in the protests last year, as well as my age and occupation.

This survey should be very interesting, as it will give a clearer profile of the voters and their motivations to vote.

There weren't many people voting when I was there, though there was a large group of police officers at the entrance -- checking their phones.

Kennedy Town is pretty much a DAB stronghold so I'm not expecting big changes here. Complicating the vote are two pan-democratic candidates, Sin Cheuk-nam of the Democractic Party and Chow Sai-kit from Youngspiration, who is an "Umbrella Soldier".

Chow is one of the activists from last year's protests who believes going into politics and running for a seat will help influence government at a local level. It's an admirable idea -- and he was still out on the streets passionately voicing his stance this evening before the polls closed, in the hopes of persuading some people to vote for him.

It will be interesting to see how these newcomers perform in this election as well, but in Kennedy Town the pan-democratic vote is split so it won't go very far...

Throughout the campaign it was very quiet until the last few days. Perhaps it reflects how Hong Kong people do everything at the last minute?!

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Tung Still in Denial...

Tung Chee-hwa still doesn't understand the underlying tensions in Hong Kong
Former Hong Kong chief executive Tung Chee-hwa is still hammering away at the premise that Hong Kong people don't know enough about China which is the root cause of the tensions between locals and mainlanders.

He said this during a speech marking the first anniversary of Our Hong Kong Foundation, a think tank he founded.

Tung also criticized pan-democrats for filibustering against government initiatives and voting down the political reform package that would have allowed the public to directly vote for the next chief executive in 2017.

"A minority of Hong Kong people ignored the achievements made by the Chinese people... selectively focused on individual incidents and magnified them to an unlimited extent," Tung said. "They created conflict... and the so-called 'China-Hong Kong conflicts' -- this destroyed the 'one country, two systems' principle."

Need we be so dramatic?

Tung did not elaborate on what conflicts he was referring to, but it is believed to be about human rights and corruption on the mainland.

During his speech he urged locals, particularly young people, to understand China, because President Xi Jinping's recent visits to the United States and Britain showed that "to understand the country is to understand the future, and to be ignorant about it is to be ignorant about the world".

It sounds like either someone suggested Tung say this, or he felt this comment would get him brownie points. Either way did he have to point this out, when it is quite obvious Xi has the upper hand these days when it comes to economic power?

Tung then added he was touched by young people who felt passionate about justice and ideals, but that it "pains his heart" that they needed to take to the streets to express their discontent.

"If everyone is hot-blooded on the streets, will Hong Kong continue to prosper and be stable?" he asked.

His remarks clearly illustrate how out of touch he is about what happened last year. People went out to occupy the streets for 79 days because they had no where else to voice their grievances. Even their elected representatives didn't voice their concerns in the Legislative Council.

People had to do it themselves. And on the whole, they did a good job, creating a mostly peaceful demonstration save for a few skirmishes that unfortunately ended badly.

If Hong Kong people were happy with their work, their job prospects, able to buy flats and afford children, then yes -- Hong Kong would prosper and be stable.

But when the authorities are not offering practical solutions to the housing issue, the yawning wealth gap and job opportunities, then yes -- people will resort to desperate measures to have their voices heard.

But Tung does not see it that way. He seems to think people who cause trouble are a nuisance.

That's because he's not listening and not appreciating what we plebians have to go through.

Get your head out of the clouds on the Peak and see what's happening down at ground level, Grandpa Tung.

Then maybe -- just maybe -- you'll change your tune...

Friday, 20 November 2015

Pictorial Past

Bound in happiness -- a year's worth of magazines
My great aunt passed away over a year ago and her daughter-in-law began cleaning out some cupboards that were filled with lots of old books kept from over the years.

Features of the famous Chinese opera performers of the day
Two interesting ones she found were The Happiness Pictorial (幸福) from 1956 and 1957. These were monthly magazines one could buy or subscribe to, and if you wished, you could buy a hardbound copy of a whole year's worth.

I guess my great aunt or great uncle liked these magazines so much that they bought the hardbound ones.

A double-page spread on toys, old and new
We flipped through them and it was a fascinating look at what life was like over 60 years ago. Each issue featured an array of different topics, such as dim sum today, or western baking, the latest fashions, space for local photographers to showcase their work, cartoons, and travel.

The pages were mostly covered in pictures with Chinese text with some English translation. So as someone who doesn't read much Chinese, this was a fascinating read into Hong Kong at the time.

First of all the layouts weren't particularly effective, and pictures should have been edited down. The writing wasn't particularly informative or well written, but gave us a general gist of what was going on.

Contrast these pictures with today's harbour scenes
Each cover would feature starlets and my relatives explained to me that many in the 1950s and 1960s committed suicide because they were in relationships with men who treated them badly.

On the back cover there was always an ad for White Flower Oil or 白花油. Back then back page cover ads in colour were HK$1,000!

Artwork was also featured, like water colour paintings, wood block prints and paintings by artists like Pablo Picasso.

The content was so random that one had to wonder what was the point of this magazine, but perhaps during this period, it served a wide audience, who may have enjoyed different aspects of it. This was obviously before the days of specialization!

A beautiful wood block print within the book
Nevertheless, it's such an intriguing look at how people during that time saw lifestyle and what it meant to them.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Fact of the Day: Hong Kong's Most Expensive Flat

Looking up at Opus Hong Kong, the city's most expensive flats
Swire Properties is probably chuffed now that it has sold its last flat in the Frank Gehry-designed Opus Hong Kong for a record HK$509.6 million ($65.8 million), making it the most expensive one in Asia.

The 5,444 square-foot unit is on the 12th and top floor on 53 Stubbs Road, and includes two parking spaces and a 1,508 square foot rooftop. So that translates to HK$93,608 per square foot.

The Frank Gehry-designed building is on Stubbs Road
It took three years to finally sell the last unit, but the record high price also demonstrates the uber rich don't mind paying a few hundred million to secure a prestigious address; meanwhile the rest of us plebians are struggling to pay the bills because everything's more expensive than before, and we're doing more work at work because our employers are not hiring staff to replace those who have left.

The wealth gap is growing bigger and bigger in Hong Kong and the government doesn't seem to be the least bit concerned about this serious issue.

It probably thinks the two groups can coexist just fine -- with one group serving the needs of the other to keep the economy going...

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Incompetent Leadership

Chi Tak Public School in Wong Tai Sin has been left vacant for years
Ah, the incompetency of the Hong Kong government continues.

People are complaining about how buying a flat is out of the reach of many young people, and so the government has suggested perhaps it's time to develop currently forested areas in the New Territories that are supposed to be protected.

Many disagree, while others, out of greed or necessity back the idea.

However, an audit report has found of the 234 vacated schools listed in the Education Bureau's system that was set up in 2005, 105 of them continue to be unused, and another 14 weren't even registered.

Also around 80 percent of the 234 schools are primary schools.

"This is an obvious serious breach of duty on the government's part. They always say Hong Kong has a shortage of land... yet what they are doing is wasting precious public resources," said Democratic Party chief executive Lam Cheuk-ting, who has been advocating for re-purposing empty school sites.

Either these sites should be reopened because there are so many mainland Chinese students coming putting pressure on schools by the border, or they should be redeveloped for possible low-income housing.

The government doesn't do enough to tackle food waste
Why is the government letting these places be neglected? The audit report was also not impressed at how the authorities were keeping track of the vacant schools, and recommended the vacant ones be used as soon as possible.

And then the Environment Bureau has had its knuckles rapped by government auditors, who said the bureau hasn't done enough to deal with food waste in a timely manner, not is it accurate in projecting into the future. Sounds like Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah has the same problem...

Food waste has actually risen 13 percent in the past decade and the government is inching its way towards charging for waste disposal, eight years behind the original target.

Talk about major procrastination!

The bureau was also criticized for overstating how much a food waste treatment pilot plant in Kowloon Bay could process, and significantly underestimating how much the first phase of an organic waste treatment facility on Lantau Island would cost.

As a result the delays have just literally added more garbage in the city's landfills.

Interestingly the Correction Services Department and Hospital Authority have the highest amounts of food waste, more than the city's per capita average. The amount of food waste in prisons ranged from 0.02kg to 1.61kg per day, and at hospitals it was 0.06kg to 0.58kg daily.

Undersecretary for the Environment Christine Loh
In 2013, Hong Kong generated 5.49 million tonnes of solid waste, of which two-thirds went to municipal landfills, the rest to recycling. About 25 percent of all solid waste is food waste.

Say... isn't Christine Loh Kung-wai the Undersecretary for the Environment? When she set up Civic Exchange in 2000, the think tank held the government accountable for its actions (or lack of) with regards to the environment...

The government's lack of action on these two important areas just illustrates its incompetency, that it really has no idea what it should be doing, or that it doesn't care.

It obviously is not serving Hong Kong people, which is what we are paying it to do. It's not that the government lacks money or access to intelligent experts. It just seems to refuse to do what is best for the city and its residents.

Which is why people feel the government is acting more in the interests of Beijing than Hong Kong...

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Pathetic Appreciation of Hong Kong

The campaign sounds like the government is giving itself a pat on the back
Yay! It's time to "Appreciate Hong Kong"!

The Hong Kong government has decided to spend our taxpayer dollars to try to rebuild relationships with the public after the 79-day Occupy protests last year.

The "Appreciate Hong Kong" campaign is also backed by the business sector and others to basically allow low-income families to go to amusement parks and visit museums free of charge, or attend new events or enjoy discounts.

The promotion officially starts December 1 and runs until the end of April. This is the third city-wide campaign the Leung Chun-ying administration has organized since 2013, following "Hong Kong: My Home", and "Bless Hong Kong".

"The political reform I worked on for the past 20 months has triggered huge disputes in society," said Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. "Many people think society has seemingly been radicalized and divided, with some worried that Hong Kong will stagnate."

Free tickets for the poor! Come and get them!
Rather than be pessimistic, she said Hong Kong people should take the opportunity to appreciate and "do something for" the city.

Some of the initiatives: 10,000 free tickets to Ocean Park for low-income families; Hong Kong Disneyland Resort donates 13,000 tickets for students with special needs to visit the park; all public museums are free to the public in January; and the Hong Kong Amateur Athletic Association will organize a marathon carnival three times in January.

As expected, lawmakers were not impressed by the campaign. 

"The deep-rooted conflicts in Hong Kong cannot be resolved simply by offering free visits to Ocean Park and asking conglomerates to donate millions," said Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok.

He said the government should do more substantial things like offer more job opportunities for young people, reform the political system and uphold the rule of law.

Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung agreed the campaign would not do much, but hinted the government was under pressure from Beijing to ease tensions.

Other families can visit Disneyland on Lantau Island...
With the district council elections coming up this weekend, DAB lawmaker Ip Kwok-him denied the campaign was meant to give a boost to pro-Beijing candidates.

The campaign "Appreciate Hong Kong" sounds like an ill-conceived idea that was executed in a rush and the result is pathetic.

So 10,000 families get to visit Ocean Park, but that's not going to help them put food on the table in the long run. And giving them what are promoted as discounts for products sounds like a chance for companies to get rid of their stock and still make a profit.

This just demonstrates yet again how the Hong Kong government is in denial about the real cause of last year's protests -- that it affected a whole range of people, not just low-income families.

Young people are concerned about the yawning wealth gap and not being able to afford a flat, not enough job opportunities, and the mainland encroaching on Hong Kong and its unique culture and language.

And the poor -- how about building low-income housing, or regulating these subdivided flats, or forcing developers who build luxury housing to build low-income ones as well?

How difficult is that to figure out?

And yet our taxpayer dollars are being spent on these frivolous activities that are token gestures that are borderline condescending.

The government really doesn't understand what's going on in the city, or it is denial about actually tackling the real issues that affect us.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Further Mainlandization of Hong Kong

The mainlandization of Hong Kong continues with whole office buildings being snapped up by mainland companies.

Evergrande Real Estate has agreed to buy Mass Mutual Tower in Wan Chai from Chinese Estates Holdings for a record HK$12.5 billion. The happy seller? Joseph Lau Luen-hung, who snapped up the $48 million blue diamond for his little Josephine a day earlier.

On the same day as the Mass Mutal Tower sale, Chinese insurer China Life bought an office block tower with a two-storey retail block at One HarbourGate in Hung Hom from Wheelock & Co. for HK$5.85 billion.

Experts say this trend will continue as more mainland companies expand their presence in Hong Kong, snapping up office space in prime locations...

So it looks like we will have more mainland landlords... is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Economically Hong Kong needs the money, but in the long term surely this just accelerates the pace at which the city integrates with the motherland?

In the meantime, tensions between mainlanders and locals continue to simmer.

This afternoon I went to the Body Shop in Times Square to buy something before going back to the office and a young mainland man was shouting loudly and angrily at one of the staff there. She looked completely unfazed even though he sounded threatening.

He was already shouting when I arrived, and thought he would stop soon, but he kept on his tirade in a very demanding tone. Another staff person was trying to sell more things to me, but this young man's loud voice was so disconcerting that I almost left.

When I went to the cashier to pay, he stormed off, and it seems he was annoyed he couldn't get a discount on something he wanted to buy. A mainland woman who was shopping in the store apologized for his behaviour, but the shop assistant who was shouted at was polite and said it didn't matter, and that he only wanted to buy something that wasn't expensive.

Then this evening my friend and I went to Caprice Bar in the Four Seasons Hong Kong for drinks with another friend we hadn't seen in ages.

However a young mainland family walked in -- and the child was whining in Mandarin. We are in a five-star hotel where a room is over HK$6,000 a night and a boy is making loud noises in a bar.

The parents try to quieten him down, but he keeps going. When we were misbehaving, our parents immediately took us outside to make us quiet. But why is he allowed in a place like this?

Eventually they are seated in the restaurant where dandan mian is not on the menu.

I know that Hong Kong people can treat mainlanders badly, but the two above examples are bad form too.

Money is what drives our relationship, not mutual respect.

And as long as they keep throwing money at Hong Kong, staff will have to put up with outrageous behaviour, while the landlords -- more and more mainland ones -- will be raking it in... What do they care?

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Nature Versus Science

The famous Queen's Head at Yehliu Geopark
Two years ago my mom and I visited Taipei and her friend took us to the Yehliu Geopark to see the sandstones that are shaped by the water and wind into some fun recognizable things, like pineapple buns, morel mushrooms, and candles.

But the most famous is the "Queen's Head" that is supposed to have a similar likeness to Queen Elizabeth I.

More mushroom-looking sandstones in the park
However, a recent news report says that the 4,000-year-old natural sculpture might be in danger of collapsing, as the neck is getting 1.5cm to 1.6cm thinner each year, making it harder to support the 1.3-tonne head.

Scientists are trying to save the landmark, but others are split over how to tackle erosion.

"The neck may become too thin to support the head and might break off within the next five to 10 years, if nothing is done," says Hsieh Kuo-huang, a professor at the Institute of Polymer Science and Engineering at National Taiwan University.

"Any strong earthquake or severe typhoons may bring down the rock formation," says Hsieh, who is one of the scientists studying to preserve the rock.

He and his team have developed paints to protect the rock and strengthen the neck area. The paint was tested on rocks near the Queen's Head in August, but it peeled off, and the concoction has been tweaked and reapplied again elsewhere to test.

Other scientists say nature should take its course and if the head falls off, then so be it.
Natural erosion has created these "candles" by the water

"As the coastal landscape was made by erosion, the lifespan of the Queen's Head is limited," says Pan Han-shen, an activist from the pro-environment Tree Party. "I don't understand why we would want to freeze its lifespan."

Seeing the sculpture in person is quite impressive, but for the park administrator Kuo Chen-ling to say the rock could be moved into a museum seems very strange. The rock formation and many others scattered around the geopark bring in over 3 million visitors per year, but how much longer will they last?

It is an interesting idea to want to preserve the Queen's Head, but is it logistically feasible? Seems like Mother nature should be left to her own devices and eventually it will fall down. Maybe she is shaping another rock as we speak?

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Paris is Crying

The Arc de Triomphe was a remembrance of those who fought for democracy
It is shocking what happened in Paris -- so far 128 people killed and hundreds injured after coordinated attacks were made on the City of Lights.

Bars, restaurants, a concert and football match were targeted and Islamic State has claimed responsibility.

We will find out more in the coming days, but we find this particularly sad having visited the city only a few months ago.

Practically everyone we came in contact with was very warm and welcoming, and the city wasn't too difficult to get around by metro (aside from the taxi strike against Uber the day we arrived). Paris has such history and culture, that one cannot help but appreciate how it influences the rest of the world.

There are too many questions now, but in the meantime we pray for Paris and its people, and hope this is not the start of more horrific things to come.

Friday, 13 November 2015

The Lady's in Charge

Everyone will be watching how Aung San Suu Kyi leads Burma
Exactly five years ago today, Aung San Suu Kyi walked free after 15 years of house arrest and the electoral commission announced her party, the National League for Democracy won an overwhelming majority in Myanmar or Burma's first openly contested election in 25 years.

According to the constitution that was amended by the military, Suu Kyi technically cannot become president, but she has said that she would lead the country anyway if the NLD won.

Suu Kyi's release from house arrest exactly five years ago
The party earned over 80 percent of the vote, demonstrating the people are anxious for change -- however it won't come easily. The NLD has enough of a majority to pass bills, but the army has 25 percent of seats and controls key ministries, so there needs to be cooperation on both sides.

Suu Kyi will meet with President Thein Sein and army Commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing next week, probably to make the transition in power as peaceful as possible, and that the next government will be inclusive.

When she was under house arrest, I didn't think I would see her released in my lifetime, let alone win a relatively democratic election.

How times change -- and fast!

The Lady reading when she was under house arrest
It will be interesting to see how she leads Burma. While she was a symbol of democracy, she didn't speak out for ethnic minorities when she was leader of the opposition. There were spats of violence and Suu Kyi kept silent that seemed uncharacteristic of her, and raised doubts of her ability to unite the country.

Which is why it's kind of surprising how she and the NLD won such an overwhelming majority, but perhaps it's because everyone is clamoring for change. Will she deliver? We shall see.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Joseph Lau's Bling Bling Spree

Joseph Lau paid over $48 million for this gorgeous blue diamond at auction
Billionaire Joseph Lau Luen-hung was not shy about revealing he was the mystery buyer who snapped up a 12.03-carat blue diamond at auction in Geneva for a record-breaking $48.4 million -- for his seven-year-old daughter Josephine.

After he secured the winning bid, Lau promptly renamed the rare stone "Blue Moon of Josephine".

A few days earlier he bought another rock for his little girl, this time a 16.08-carat pink diamond for $28.5 million and named it "Sweet Josephine".

Lau was convicted in a bribes-for-land racket in Macau
Back in 2009 he showered the then one-year-old with another blue diamond, paying the then record price of $9.5 million for 7.03 carats.

The man has good taste in diamonds. But for a seven-year-old?

Another major fact to consider is that while he is listed by Forbes to be the sixth-richest man in Hong Kong with $9.8 billion in assets, Lau is also a fugitive, after being jailed in absentia in Macau in March last year for his part in a bribes-for-land racket involving Ao Man-long the most corrupt public official ever convicted in the city's history.

Lau received a five-year jail term, but has not served one day because the former Portuguese colony does not have an extradition treaty with Hong Kong. As long has he doesn't step foot in Macau, he's safe for now.

So why is the billionaire showering this one daughter with over $86 million in diamonds when he has four other children?

On Tuesday Lau also bought this diamond for his Josephine
He has a son and a daughter with Bo Wing-kam, another daughter and son with Yvonne Lui, and then Josephine's mother is girlfriend Chan Hoi-wan, who also bore him a son in 2012.

One can imagine Josephine can't go around anywhere now without an entourage of bodyguards as she plays with her new sparkling baubles...

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

November 11's Many Meanings

This year not many people wore British poppies in Hong Kong
Today is Remembrance Day for those in the UK and Canada. Considering Hong Kong was a colony of Britain, and many British and Canadian soldiers died defending the city against the Japanese in World War II, it's shocking that not many people wore poppies today.

Last night I went to an event at the British Consulate and was very surprised to find hardly any people -- English people -- wore the red paper flower on their lapels.

Granted the poppies aren't easily available everywhere, one has to go out of his or her way to wear one.

Can I also add how hard it is to wear a British poppy? It's a paper red flower with one green leaf, supposedly pointed at 11 o'clock, and then they are put together with a plastic green stem.

Men can easily wear this poppy by sticking it in the lapel buttonhole. But what if you're not wearing a jacket or it doesn't have a lapel buttonhole?

These last two days I've pinned it to my jacket, and amazingly it hasn't been destroyed. I miss the Canadian poppies, which comes with a pin instead of a green plastic stem so it's much easier to wear.

Jack Ma with Daniel Craig during a gala TV show
In any case, the other important day to mark here is Singles Day in China.

No one knows exactly when it started, but sometime back in the mid-1990s, when four single male university students decided to have a kind of anti-Valentine's Day, since November 11 is 11/11.

It eventually grew into a day for single people to get together, and then retailers quickly caught on, marketing it as a day to treat oneself to buying something special.

Then Alibaba hijacked the idea as November 11 being Singles Day and an opportunity to buy things online.

Last year Alibaba made $9.3 billion, and this year by 5pm beat the record with $10 billion.

This year Alibaba boss Jack Ma enlisted the help of Daniel Craig to push up sales on a gala TV show, and Kevin Spacey does a funny take on Singles Day with this video:

As the President of the United States, his Frank Underwood character makes it seem like anything in the US is for sale...