Thursday, 31 December 2015

Dazzling Festive Lights

A beautiful reflection of the Christmas lights on the pond
Last night my parents and I continued an annual tradition in the last few years of going to VanDusen Botannical Garden and checking out the Festival of Lights.

It is on during the month of December with a short break around Christmas, and so we managed to catch the second last day.

An area had an underwater theme with coral and jellyfish
When we arrived at the garden entrance just before 8pm, there was a massive line to buy tickets! With the show closing in an hour, it was hard to fathom if those people would be able to get in. Luckily we had tickets in hand and were able to practically walk in.

Temperatures were very cold at 1 degree Celsius, but everyone was in a festive mood and the brilliant display of lights were quite the sight to behold on a clear evening.

The staff at the gardens put the show together every year and use over 1 million of them! There's a pond near the entrance where some of the lights move to Christmas music, and nearby a garden area was transformed into an underwater one complete with glowing jellyfish and coral.

A tree decorated with red umbrellas!
The rose garden was transformed into Les Jardins de Paris sponsored this year by Air France, and if people took pictures under the mistletoe with the sculpture of the Eiffel Tower in the background that are posted on social media, they would have a chance to win a pair of tickets to Paris.

One tree nearby had green lights and then decorated with red lights that outlined umbrellas! If they were yellow they would have taken on a very interesting meaning!

This year the garden expanded to add a few more stops, a sound room where people could bang on drums, ring bells and wood chimes. Another was a light room and people could light up trees nearby by having their hands hover over sensors.

Since it was so cold, there were long lines for hot apple cider, fresh doughnuts and popcorn.

The brilliant display had many photographers out in force
We managed to wander around most of the garden in under and hour. My fingers and toes were pretty much frozen by the time we left and it took me a while to defrost them!

This year Bloedel Conservatory at Queen Elizabeth Park has an "Enchanted Nights at Bloedel" that we may check out for free with our VanDusen tickets...

Generating Shock News

Li Xiaolin suddenly resigned from a nuclear power company yesterday
When I lived in Beijing, the government under then President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao tried to merge various state enterprises together to make them more efficient.

However, the biggest problem was at the top, where the leaders of each company would refuse to budge, ie step down, and so each continued ruling their own companies like fiefdoms.

That led to further stagnation, overproduction, and stock prices sinking.

But there is some light at the end of the tunnel, starting with Li Xiaolin, daughter of former Premier Li Peng.

On December 30, a deal was struck between China Power New Energy Development and State Nuclear Power Technology Company involving the payment of shares and cash for the latter's assets.

Li in Roberto Cavalli coat worth 35K yuan
The restructuring was engineered by the State Assets Supervision and Administration Commission.

Up until yesterday she was chairwoman of China Power International Development, a sister company of China Power New Energy Development.

Li, 54, was also vice-president of China Power Investment Corporation, working there for 12 years. But in July, CPI merged with State Nuclear Power Technology to become State Power Investment Group, and there was no announcement of her having any role in the new entity.

The news shocked those in the industry who assumed Li would lead State Power Investment Group because of her background.

However she was recently transferred to China Datang Corporation, a large state-owned enterprise focused on power generation.

But even more interesting -- because she had to resign from China Power New Energy Development, shares of the company jumped 19.35 percent on the Hong Kong stock exchange to HK$0.74. It was previously at HK$0.60.

The resignation also paves the way for the new boss, Wang Binghua to finally make some changes, such as set up a back-door listing in order to publicly trade the country's nuclear power assets.

No longer the "power queen", Li will have to be content in a somewhat respectable job, but with much less influence than before.

Perhaps this might have something to do with a report that came out last January by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The group found Li was director of two companies, Tianwo Holdings and Tianwo Development that were set up in the British Virgin Islands, a well-known tax haven.

The report contended that Li and many other close relatives of current and former leaders had funneled so much illicit capital that it had a severe impact on China's economy and contributed to the widening wealth gap and corruption.

And how did Chinese state media report on Li's sudden departure of China Power New Energy Development?

China Radio International said she resigned "due to her work schedule" with no further details...

Wednesday, 30 December 2015


A map showing the areas that felt the impact (light to weak)
Here in Vancouver at around 11.39pm, I heard my shower door rattling louder as the floor started shaking. Was it an earthquake?

It got louder and louder and then it subsided quickly.

Turns out it was an earthquake!

Preliminary reports say it was magnitude 4.8, and 19 kilometres north of Victoria.

I immediately went onto Twitter to quickly discover my family and I weren't the only ones to feel it!

Seems like people as far as Abbotsford felt it, and very strongly in Victoria and Saanich, as well as across the border.

So far no tsunami warning has been issued, but it was definitely an interesting experience. Hopefully no more rattling again... anytime soon!

If you are in British Columbia or Washington State, let me know if you felt it too!

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

End of an Era

There won't be payphones like this in MTR stations anymore
It was bound to happen eventually, but the payphones in all 87 MTR stations will begin to be phased out from January because Shinetown Telecom, the latest payphone operator in Hong Kong will not renew its contract after it expires on December 31.

An MTR spokesperson said the company tried to contact other operators, but no one expressed any interest.

As a result some 390 pay phones will be removed from next month, and they should be all gone by the end of the first quarter of 2016.

A payphone at Sha Tin station that will be removed soon
From 2003, Shinetown Telecom installed payphones in all of the then Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation's West Rail stations, before eventually extending service for the East Rail Line and Ma On Shan Line in 2004. Five years later its payphones had covered the entire network.

But with practically everyone having some kind of mobile phone, the vast majority owning smartphones, there was probably little money made in payphones. While it's a good service to have, it wasn't financially viable.

The number of payphones in Hong Kong will decrease significantly as a result. The Office of the Communications Authority reported in March there were 1,632 payphones across Hong Kong (including in MTR stations), down from about 1,920 in 2000.

This contrasts with the number of mobile phone subscribers -- 17.1 million -- almost 2.5 two mobiles per person in the city...

Monday, 28 December 2015

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

One of the show flats at 39 Conduit Road oozes with luxury
The address 39 Conduit Road in Mid-Levels is filled with controversy.

Built by Henderson Land Development and launched in 2009, it was this project that made the government realize how developers have numerous tricks to market their properties to unsuspecting buyers.

The developer in this case claimed to have sold a five-bedroom duplex flat on the "68th floor" of a 46-storey building for HK$439 million (US$57 million), making it US$9,200 per square foot, setting the record for the most expensive apartment in the world.

The building is not without controversy dating back to 2009
How could a building that had 46 floors have a flat on the 68th floor? It just made up the numbering because the Chinese don't like the number four. And it was also found "buyers" put in offers and somehow the deals were completed before the three-month completion period, and all but four transactions, including the record-setting sale, were later cancelled.

Henderson Land claimed the buyer of the record-breaking flat bought six units, while a newspaper reported from an unnamed source that all 24 flats were bought by one buyer through a shell company.

It was just a way to hype the property -- but to the extreme.

Severe criticism pushed the government to set better guidelines on how developers market flats, that they need to give more accurate information for buyers.

Us plebians can only dream of what it's like to live up here...
The building is back in the news today because the duplex on the 46th floor that is 5,732 square feet sold for HK$594.76 million, or HK$103,761 per square foot, the most expensive in Hong Kong and Asia. The duplex comes with a 1,754 square foot roof.

The deal was confirmed on December 24, though the original selling price was HK$646.48 million.

It now eclipses the latest sale at Opus Hong Kong that previously held the title of having the most expensive flats in Asia.

It's interesting Henderson Land is still able to sell the flats at 39 Conduit Road despite all the controversy -- and at record prices. Or maybe the uber rich don't care about these things...

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Scaring Hong Kong on Cost of Universal Pension

A number of elderly make extra cash by collecting cardboard and recyclables
Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying election platform back in 2012 included setting up a fund for the elderly, but the government seems to be scaring the public into thinking implementing such a scheme would be too expensive.

We have been hearing lots of stories of elderly residents who are too poor to look after themselves despite having worked very hard all their lives. Some are too proud to ask for welfare, others are borderline cases that aren't eligible for social assistance.

There was talk of giving more money to those who needed it, but then they would have to undergo some kind of means test to confirm they qualified for the extra funds. Then there was the issue of assets -- someone may own a flat, but not have enough cash monthly to buy food to sustain themselves -- did they qualify?

Chow proposes a universal pension paid by the government
The government got University of Hong Kong Professor Nelson Chow Wing-sun to conduct a study and in August he proposed those over 70 years of age should get a pension of HK$3,230 per month and paid for by the government at a cost of HK$7 billion per year.

He said the government should pay for it because people would be reluctant to pay into the scheme, mostly because of disillusionment with how the Mandatory Provident Fund, a mandatory savings plan, had failed miserably -- people's funds are losing value instead of gaining.

Then about a week ago the government presented two different pension plans for public consultation. One was a non-universal plan where one person living alone could not have assets more than HK$80,000, while the other was Chow's idea. The government claimed that to pay for the scheme, taxes would have to be raised.

At the same time Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor seemed to want to distance the Leung administration from Chow, saying what he was proposing was only a report, and turning it into policy was another matter.

This angered Chow, who has consulted the government on retirement issues since the 1980s. He held his own press conference for the first time in 30 years asking: "If the government's stance is that it does not want to implement a universal retirement scheme, why does it want to consult the public?"

Carrie Lam claims the scheme would mean increasing taxes
Lam fired back saying the academic "does not fully understand the concept and management of public finances".

If Chow is unqualified to understand funding of public services, then why has he been advising the government for over 30 years?

The Hong Kong government coffers are at over HK$730 billion. Why can't Hong Kong afford to pay for a universal pension scheme of HK$7 billion a year?

Do we want more stories of elderly people sleeping in McDonald's because they can't afford a place to live? Isn't the government ashamed it isn't doing enough to help these people?

Apparently not. If Beijing is meddling more in Hong Kong affairs, surely China would encourage the city to have a universal pension scheme... at least that would be one good thing about being "mainlandized"...

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Picture of the Day: Pacific Spirit Park

Enveloped in lush greenery with shades of blue above
Today is Christmas Day and after many days of rain we had an unusually sunny day.

So we took advantage of the blue skies, though chilly temperatures in the late morning by going for a walk at the nearby Pacific Spirit Park.

Also out were many other people with their families and lots of dogs -- lots and lots of canines keen to get some exercise in the woods.

A closeup of moss and fungus growing on a branch!
Seeing the dogs sniffing each other out and being well behaved was a far cry from the dogs in Hong Kong that snipe at each other and worse -- are carried by their masters and mistresses! Dogs are for walking!

We took in the crisp clean air and enjoyed the green scenery before tucking into another big Christmas meal...

Friday, 25 December 2015

Hip Osteria in Vancouver

The restaurant encourages diners to eat family style
A good friend of mine who likes trying new restaurants went to Savio Volpe over a month ago and immediately decided to book a table for when I was back in town for me to try it.

The high ceiling and chic interior make this place hip
Located on Kingsway near Fraser, the area used to be pretty much a dead zone because it's a hard place to park and there weren't any particular stores to gives the neighbourhood some exposure, except for maybe buying Bibles?

But in recent years a Mexican restaurant called Los Cuervos Taqueria Y Cantina opened up on the same block, drawing in business with its tacos and margaritas.
Black kale salad topped with pecorino and crisp bread

And now with Savio Volpe, a new osteria that has a total hipster feel, the neighbourhood should gain momentum in becoming a new cool place to see and be seen.

Reservations are a must and we were lucky we made a booking so long ago that we got one of the best seats in the house -- a little nook area by the bar. We liked the high ceilings and the bar also had a guy slicing proscuitto and cheese, while at the back was the kitchen complete with a wood-fired grill.

The friendly waitress suggested the two of us order about four items on the menu and we obliged.

We started with a black kale salad with lemon pepper dressing, pecorino and crisp bread. The kale was chopped into bite-sized pieces and a refreshing, rustic taste. We also ordered clams, but their delicate taste was overpowered by the bits of ham they were cooked with.

Roast suckling pig, topped with fried egg and crackling
Nevertheless we must have gotten the last order of the roast suckling pig -- our waitress immediately put in the order for us -- and it was definitely a winner. The pork was so tender and juicy, topped with a fried egg and crackling that was absolutely crunchy delicious.

This main was accompanied with a side of polenta and gorgonzola that was perfect, and filling too, with its creamy, rich texture. And to wash down the meal we each ordered a 10oz glass of craft brews from local breweries in Vancouver.

For dessert, the gelato was hardly a light affair -- made by local chocolate and pastry shop Beta5, the flavours were bay leaf, lime topped with pomegranate, and chocolate hazelnut. The last one was our favourite -- chocolatey and crunchy make a perfect sweet finish.

Trio of gelato (top) Lime, chocolate and hazelnut, bay leaf
Savio Volpe
615 Kingsway
Tel: 604 428 0072

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Xi Shows who's in Control

Xi Jinping (right) sits at the head of the table, CY Leung to his right
China watchers had a field day today after Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying made his latest pilgrimage to Beijing to ask for advice on how the city could play a role in China's "One Belt One Road" initiative and the 13th five-year plan.

In photographs released afterwards, it was shown that in a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping was seated at the head of a long boardroom table, and Leung sat at one side next to Wang Guangya, director of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.

This same arrangement was also evident in Leung's meeting with Premier Li Keqiang.

What did this new seating arrangement mean?

This was a contrast to previous meetings with Xi and Li, where Leung said in two chairs side by side, giving the impression Hong Kong was on equal footing to China.

Previously Leung and Xi sat side by side in meetings
But now it looks like someone wants to send a message to Hong Kong -- you've been demoted.

Leung later said the new seating arrangement "reflects the constitutional position of Hong Kong and the central authorities", but lawmaker Wong Kwok-kin of the pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions put it more bluntly.

"It has highlighted... the subordinate role [of Hong Kong]," he said. "Beijing did not stress its role in the early years after the handover to avoid scaring off Hong Kong people, but the central government has changed its policy in the wake of the Occupy protests and the failed political reform."

Meanwhile Democratic Party leader Emily Lau Wai-hing remarked the new protocol was unnecessary and degrading, only confirming existing fears about the future of "one country, two systems".

"People would only have a stronger impression that Leung has failed to uphold the city's high degree of autonomy," she said.

All these explanations are plausible, but what about what Xi said during his meeting with Hong Kong's leader?

Xi noted "new circumstances" had arisen regarding one country, two systems, both in Hong Kong and in the international community. He promised the central government would be steadfast and unshaken in its commitment to the policy and "make sure its implementation does not get distorted".

If Xi doesn't want things to "get distorted", perhaps he himself could explain the new seating arrangement so that we're all on the same page?

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

French Fine Dining in Vancouver

Delicious beet salad with buffalo mozzarella on a bed of arugula
Fine dining in Hong Kong is an expensive affair: the surroundings are sophisticated, the ingredients are gourmet, but after being a few thousand Hong Kong dollars emptier in the wallet, you wonder, what did I just eat?

And more importantly, was it worth it?

Classic Alsatian style onion tart was quite filling as a starter
That's why eating out in Vancouver is such a treat and compared to Hong Kong, hardly breaking the bank for fresh, local ingredients in not so haute couture plating, but who cares? It will be eaten anyway.

One solid dining establishment is Le Crocodile, a French restaurant opened by chef Michel Jacob 22 years ago and continues to be a favourite among Vancouver foodies.

It's not hard to see why the place has flourished this long -- efficient courteous service, quality ingredients cooked pretty consistently and I have yet to hear anyone have a bad meal here.

Tomato and avocado salad with Dungeness crab
After returning to Vancouver a few days ago, I took my parents to Le Crocodile for dinner and it was nice to be back in this restaurant. With the Christmas season in full swing, the restaurant was packed to the gills -- there were even diners being seated at 10pm.

The menu is extensive and combined with the daily specials, it can be hard to choose what to eat.

What's also nice is the price range, but you're here to splurge so why not? To start I had the classic Alsatian style onion tart (CAD$11.50) that was more like a giant slice of pie. It was choc full of onion and bacon, and accompanied with curly endive in a mustard dressing.

Alaskan black cod on saffron tagliolini and lobster tempura
If my parents weren't there to help me, I would have been practically full already and we'd just started! The beet salad with buffalo mozzarella with honey and mustard dressing (CAD$19.50) was a lighter and refreshing option, along with the tomato and avocado salad with Dungeness crabmeat (CAD$16.50).

My main was one of the specials -- Alaskan black cod on a bed of tagliolini in saffron sauce, topped with lobster tempura (CAD$45.95). The black cod was perfectly cooked, smooth and silky in texture, and the saffron sauce was slightly tart, soaked up by the pasta. The only fault was the lobster tempura that had a thick batter and was overcooked.

A rich fresh pasta with tiger prawns and lobster meat
Meanwhile, the fresh fettucine with lobster meat and grilled tiger prawns (CAD$29.99) had a heavy, rich sauce that took a while to finish, though the grilled tiger prawns and sea scallops served over angel hair pasta and fresh mussel "veloute" (CAD$29.50) was a lighter choice.

We made room for dessert, and the grand marnier souffle (CAD$10.50) was so light and fluffy it was definitely like eating puffs of flavoured clouds. We also enjoyed the selection of five sorbet scoops: lime, mango, passion fruit, coconut and mixed berries. Coconut had the most intense flavour of the bunch.

Sorbets: Coconut, lime, mango, mixed berries, passion fruit
If that's not enough, we were sent on our way with the signature chocolate crocodiles for our petit fours -- in this case petite trois.

The bill including tips? Just over CAD$200 (HK$1,114) for three, no alcohol. For the same price, perhaps only one diner could get similar quality of food and service. Mind you, chef Michel is not about avant garde presentations -- he does not use specially designed plates nor fancy forks and knives. At most there's doilies to decorate the plate.

Vanilla sauce poured into the souffle
That's fine because the rest of the dining experience is solid and as we said before, consistent. What else do you need when it's fantastic value for money, particularly now with the Canadian dollar falling...!

Le Crocodile
100-909 Burrard Street (at Smithe)
Tel: (604) 669 4298

A Heavy Price for Free Speech

Pu Zhiqiang will be released soon, but cannot practice law again
Human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang was handed a three-year suspended jail sentence for posting online comments that were critical of the Communist Party. While he will be released in days, he will not be allowed to practice law again.

The Beijing Second Intermediate People's Court found Pu, 50, guilty of "inciting ethnic hatred" and "picking quarrels and provoking trouble", according to a report by Xinhua news agency.

According to legal experts, the suspended jail sentence means Pu will be put on probation for three years and if he violates the terms or commits offenses in the next three years, he will have to serve his original sentence.

His lawyer, Shang Baojun says lawyers who have been convicted have their lawyer's license revoked. "To be incriminated over one's speech in seven microblog messages -- this is a very heavy price indeed," Shang said.

Amnesty International said the suspended jail sentence was "a deliberate attempt by the Chinese authorities to shackle a champion of freedom of expression".

However, Xinhua said the court handed down a light sentence because Pu "pro-actively confessed to his crimes and showed remorse". It added Pu would not appeal.

We do not know exactly what happened in the court room, but we do know last week that he was adamant about rejecting the charges against him. So what happened between then and now is unclear.

He was convicted on the basis of the content of seven microblog messages that were critical of the government's handling of an ethnic conflict in Kunming, Yunnan province last year, and sarcastic comments about two officials.

Xinhua reported the court said between January 2012 and May 2014, Pu posted messages eight times on various Weibo accounts "to stir ethnic relations and incite ethnic hatred". It said his messages were retweeted 2,500 times and had 1,300 comments, and thus had "provoked internet users' strong ethnic hatred and confrontation feelings", and his behaviour had "posed social danger that has reached a serious level".

As a result, this had caused "psychological damage", and had "lowered [people's] opinions of society", and created "chaos in cyberspace" and a "bad influence in society", and his behaviour had "gravely disrupted social order".

The court makes it sound like Pu was someone disseminating hate literature. While reposting his message 2,500 times is a lot, when compared relative to the number of people in China, it's not a big exposure.

Nevertheless, Xinhua said Pu apologized and showed his willingness to accept punishment during the trial. It added that Pu told the court that through his ordeal, "he has experienced the progress of rule of law, the improvement of the law, and progress of society"...

Was his trial a sign of progress of rule of law in China? The lawyer who suffers from diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, was detained for 19 months without trial and no access to his family.

Beijing has effectively silenced yet another of its critics in a harsh way. He will be made into an example for others to conform even more to the Party line.

But China needs people like him to point out the country's flaws that must be addressed and dealt with. He and others like him want to hold the government accountable so that it will be a more effective one.

How will China's civil society ever be able to flourish when it is so badly needed now?

Monday, 21 December 2015

The Force Awakens

Star Wars fans will enjoy reminiscing with The Force Awakens
I am not one of those die hard Star Wars fans who was counting down the days for the latest installment of the franchise, but I have to admit I fondly remember the original characters, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia and Chewbacca.

Before the prequels, The Phantom Menace came out in 1999, I was in Hong Kong at the time and my colleague, a total Star Wars fan -- he has models of all kinds of things from the movie -- got me to go with him to see the original Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

The last time I had seen it was when I was about eight years old and so watching it again many years later was an interesting experience. In particular I loved the witty dialogue between Princess Leia and Han Solo, and having a better understanding of "the force" and how good and evil can be complicated -- that it's not always black and white.

Loved the witty repartees between Han Solo and Princess Leia
I only saw The Phantom Menace and wasn't too enamoured with it, which is why I didn't see Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith.

So it was with mixed feelings that I went with my dad this evening to see The Force Awakens at our neighbourhood theatre.

We saw the late show and as my dad predicted, the theatre was not full, though the seats that had bums in them were mostly young men in their 20s.

Nevertheless for father and daughter, it was a nice way for us to relive the original Star Wars in a new movie.

I'd read The Globe and Mail's Kate Taylor's review of The Force Awakens. She pointed out the parallels with A New Hope -- an orphan on a desert planet, a cryptic message falling into her possession and then somehow joining the resistance to fight the dark side.

And I can see why Taylor yawned at this -- what's new here? Nothing really, except to help fans recapture a lot of the nostalgia from A New Hope, and the movie, directed by JJ Abrams and written by him, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt does it well.

Rey, BB-8 and Finn flee from the evil Empire
There's even a bar scene that invokes the famous cantina scene in the original, and how some people can feel "the force".

Harrison Ford as Han Solo is is same self 38 years older, and clearly enjoying himself on the screen. Newcomer Daisy Ridley as Rey is fantastic -- a really strong female character that is refreshing to see, and John Boyega as Finn is the sensitive new age guy.

The fight scenes are pretty predictable -- the rebels' X-wings battle the Empire's starfighters, while Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) battles it out with Rey, this time in a snowy forest scene.

So now that Abrams has firmly re-established the Star Wars franchise with big thumbs up from fans, where does it go from here? That's the real question.

And we will wait with avid anticipation...

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Safety First

The green minibus on its side, with four dead after a truck rammed into it
On the day I left for Vancouver there was a tragic accident in Pat Heung, New Territories involving a minibus and a truck.

The two vehicles collided in an intersection in broad daylight. From a video taken from a vehicle on the opposite side of the intersection the truck was traveling on, it seems the truck did not stop, though a double-decker bus did, and the green minibus did not.

The minibus fell on its side and slid to the other side of the intersection. Four people died, including a three-month-old baby girl, and 14 others injured.

There are calls for passengers traveling in any vehicles to wear seat belts, and this is absolutely important. Maybe some of those lives could have been saved. And perhaps the Legislative Council should consider making it mandatory for anyone in a moving vehicle to wear a seat belt.

By the same token, these minibus drivers are notorious for driving recklessly. Everyone knows that getting into one of these tin cans, especially those going to and from the New Territories, means putting their lives at risk, even if they used to joke about it until now.

Why hasn't the police cracked down on these drivers for going beyond the speed limit? They are responsible for everyone who sits in their minibuses. But no, they are thinking more about how much money they can make, which means driving faster to get as many trips in as possible.

This thinking is completely wrong and has to stop.

Also -- there are many buses, mini buses and taxis where the seat belts aren't working or no where to be found. Again this issue must be fixed as soon as possible, particularly on mini buses and taxis.

It's time Hong Kong people demand safety as a priority when it comes to public transport. And buckle up.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

HK Police Sweetens Image with Milk Tea

Hong Kong Police try to soften their image -- with milk tea, not tear gas
The Hong Kong police is trying hard to present a positive public image after the bad impression it left from handling protesters during last year's Occupy Movement.

Chief superintendent Steve Hui Chun-tak, nicknamed "Four O'Clock Hui Sir" for his 4pm briefings everyday during the 79-day protest, is moving on to become district commander of Sham Shui Po next month.

Steve Hui (left) with his successor Joseph Au with milk tea
His replacement is chief superintendent Joseph Au Chin-chau, who admits preferring to be more low key. His previous position was head of the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau, dealing with such cases as the chopper attack on former Ming Pao editor Kevin Lau Chun-to, and an alleged bomb plot hatched at an abandoned ATV studio complex in Sai Kung.

So if Au doesn't want to be in the limelight, speaking out on behalf of the Hong Kong Police will be a cartoon character called Kong, who will prepare and serve the city's famous beverage, milk tea at the force's headquarters, and report gossip or stories from other officers.

Kong will also be featured in a comic book story each week on the force's Facebook page, where he will convey anti-crime messages.

"Milk tea is a classic drink that we cannot live without in daily life," said a police source who requested anonymity. "We want to use it as a link to bond with the community and attract young supporters as they love reading comics."

Hui was nicknamed Four O'Clock Hui for his news briefings
Some frontline officers speaking on condition of anonymity, were not impressed by this new PR strategy. They didn't understand how milk tea had anything to do with their work and were concerned the cartoon character would invite further ridicule.

We too have to wonder about this milk tea strategy. Does the Hong Kong Police think it can win more supporters one cup at a time? Or drowning locals in milk tea laced with caffeine will bring about a softer opinion about police officers? And are Hong Kong people really that infantile in that they only way to get through to them is by writing comic books?

Either way it seems rather silly.

Sounds like it's time to go back to the drawing board...

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Fact of the Day: How Women get Rich

There are some very wealthy women in Hong Kong...
What's the easiest way for women to get rich in Hong Kong?

Inherit the money from their husbands or fathers.

That's according to a report by Swiss bank UBS, which found about 90 percent of its wealth management arm's top female clients in Hong Kong have at least US$1 billion in this way, while the other 10 percent were self made.

Francis Liu, managing director at UBS Wealth Management said: "Within these clients in Hong Kong, we frequently see female billionaires concentrated in businesses that operate in the real estate and consumer sectors."

The bank, which co-authored the report, found the number of female billionaires in China is rising on the mainland in particular because of the now-defunct one-child policy.

"We see numerous families in which the only child, being a daughter, inherited the family business," said Liu. "In a number of heavyweight listed companies in China, daughters of founders and business leaders have inherited the reins."

The report said Asian women who were billionaires in US dollars were on average 53 years old, whereas in the United States it was 59, and 65 in Europe.

Around the world, the number of female billionaires has increased from 834 in 2010 to 1,347 last year, accounting for 11 percent of the total number of billionaires.

No wonder women in Hong Kong are keen to get rich quick...

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Xi's Internet Vision

Xi Jinping gives the keynote address calling for a system of cybersecurity
The World Internet Conference has started in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province, and it seems there are double standards when it comes to foreign reporters and local ones covering the event.

Turns out all overseas guests and tech tycoons were given a Mi Note LTE by Xiaomi, for not only making calls but also using wifi.

All these smartphones were pre-installed with an app offering helpful information about the conference agenda, and was theirs to keep after the conference.

The coveted Xiaomi phone to jump the firewall
Also -- the guests reported being given special access to websites that are usually blocked on the mainland, such as Facebook, Twitter and Google.

One Hong Kong reporter was put in a hotel near the conference site and was given an individual account and password for his in-room wifi.

There he was able to access the normally blocked sites. But if he switched off the account and tried to use the regular internet, he was unable to access the same sites.

Local media not only did not get the Xiaomi phone, nor special access to the blocked sites. Even worse, they had to stay in hotels further away from the conference venue.

Meanwhile Chinese President Xi Jinping gave a 30-minute speech, spelling out his vision for a new system of cybersecurity governance to prevent cyberterrorism, and that each country had its right to set its own rules.

"There should be no internet hegemony. No interference in another country's internal affairs. No engagement in tolerating or supporting internet activities that damage another country's national security," Xi said. "We should respect other countries' rights to peaceful involvement in international cyberspace governance, including their choices of internet development, regulation and public policies."

Not having access to the internet is counterproductive
Ah, that favourite word -- hegemony. Only China uses it liberally to jab at countries like the United States for its supposed control over the world.

But really, no one "owns" the internet. While it is understandable that it needs to be regulated for things like violent pornography, racism, holocaust deniers and so on, the internet should be accessible to everyone who wants access to information.

We are living in an age where being able to access this information is so crucial to one's education, job and well-being that to deny it to people by claiming the need to regulate for "national security" is not the way to help a country develop its citizens and economy.

It seems like the Chinese government wants its people to remain in the dark -- one of the last few ways it can control its citizens through the information they receive.

It's quite ironic China is hosting this internet conference and trying to persuade others of its case for each country controlling its own internet and not to interfere in other countries' affairs.

Sound familiar?

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Human Rights Lawyer on Trial in Beijing

Pu Zhiqiang was on trial yesterday for what he wrote on Weibo
Yesterday one of China's most outspoken human rights lawyers, Pu Zhiqiang defended himself in court on charges of inciting ethnic hatred or "provoked trouble" by writing microblog commentaries critical of the Communist Party.

Pu's lawyer Shang Baojun said the three-hour trial at Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People's Court ended with no verdict, though he expected one "very soon".

The trial took place 19 months after Pu was detained by police after he attended a private seminar to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Many believe his detainment and subsequent trial are a way to silence him and warn other rights advocates not to speak out.

Plainclothes police in black masks shoved supporters around
Pu is charged with "inciting ethnic hatred" and "provoking quarrels and provoking trouble" for the content of seven Weibo messages he posted online between July 2011 and May 2014.

He could face up to eight years in jail.

The online messages are mostly critical of the government's handling of an ethnic conflict in Kunming, Yunnan province last year, and sarcastic comments about two officials.

Shang, Pu's lawyer, said while Pu admitted his microblog writing style was "sharp, caustic and sometimes vulgar", "he said he didn't think he had incited ethnic hatred or provoked trouble. He had no such intention," Shang said.

Pu was not asked whether he admitted to his guilt during the trial.

Security was tight outside the courthouse and while there were many supporters, some of whom were pushed around forcefully by plainclothes police wearing black face masks while talking to foreign media.

Even foreign diplomats were roughly handled, including American diplomat Dan Biers who tried to read out a statement. It took a while before the situation calmed down before he could read it out in its entirety.

A supporter was forcefully pushed to the ground while filmed
He said the United States embassy called for Pu's release and urged "China to uphold fundamental civil rights and fair trial guarantees".

"Lawyers and civil society leaders such as Mr Pu should not be subject to continued repression but should be allowed to contribute to the building of a prosperous and stable society," Biers read out in his statement.

Some of Pu's supporters outside the courthouse chanted, "Pu Zhiqiang, not guilty!"

"He is a good lawyer who helped the underprivileged. He should never be convicted," said Zhang Jie, a petitioner from Jilin province.

Another from Henan province said: "How can he be charged just because of a few words he said?"

China law expert Eva Pils at King's College, London, said Pu's trial was "part of a crackdown on civil society [and] was clearly related to his free speech advocacy and role as a government critic".

"The authorities have made it clear that they see rights lawyers in particular as enemies of the state [and] that it treats the human rights movement as a subversive force it aims to annihilate," she said.

There are health concerns for Pu as he suffers from diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. Requests for bail have been rejected by the court.

China needs people like Pu to hold the government accountable, but the authorities clearly see him as a threat. We shall see what the verdict is, but it probably won't be what we are hoping for...

Monday, 14 December 2015

Taxpayer Dollars go up in Flames -- Literally

A prototype electric bus that had a short circuit and burst into flames yesterday
Hong Kong is finally getting on the electric bus bandwagon, but it had a slight setback when a prototype that was designed in the city but built across the border burst into flames yesterday.

The fire department believes it had a short circuit which overheated the battery.

The Hong Kong Productivity Council designed the bus and reported it had passed several tests on the mainland before it was delivered to Hong Kong.

Are we sure the bus was properly tested in China? One wonders what kind of "vigorous testing" it went through...

The HK$40 million project began in August 2013, funded by the government's Innovation and Technology Fund. The electric bus was built at HK$3.8 million -- twice the price of a diesel bus.

While it was designed in Hong Kong, the electric bus was manufactured in China because of the lack of manpower and space to build one in the city.

Ironically the council's chairman, Stanley Lau Chin-ho, vouched for the bus's safety back in October for a promotional event.

"Although the coach was assembled on the mainland, it underwent nine months of tests in Chongqing and Dongguan to ensure its safety. I am sure there would not be any problems," he said.

Uh huh.

The single-decker bus was supposed to be able to cover 380km on a four-hour charge and travel up to 70km/h with 75 passengers.

Did Hong Kong really have to design its own bus? Could it not have bought one from other companies who already have the expertise in doing this? Why try to reinvent the wheel?

And another thing: last year Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said in his policy address that the government would promote the use of electric vehicles and would fund the purchase of 36 single-deck electric buses by franchised bus companies.

Wait -- why would the government pay for 36 electric buses to be on the road? Why not mandate them to have X number of electric buses by a certain year, and Y number in subsequent years?

Why do taxpayers have to shell out for bus companies where we pay bus fare already?

It's completely illogical.

And now a prototype has burst into flames and is now a charred skeleton.

Oops there goes HK$3.8 million...

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Making a Snow Globe

My snow globe complete with Santa and panda!
Periodically my company arranges social activities to do after work or on the weekends, and earlier this week there was a snow globe-making class that cost HK$130 per person for materials.

The last time I participated was when we made a leather card holder that ironically wasn't big enough to hold our name cards, but I still use it as a case for my Octopus card...

This day though was probably not as challenging in the needle department, but still demanded flexing those creativity muscles.

Some examples of design combinations by the instructors
In the boardroom was a plastic sheet covering the large table and there were flat plastic boxes filled with small items in it.

The instructors invited us to first choose the "stage" with a rubber bottom that would fit the snow globe on top. Some had a bouquet of stars, another with hearts, or baubles.

And then we were told to pick items we wanted to include in the snow globe. This was the hardest part because there were so many things to choose from! In hindsight I probably should have chosen a more timeless design, but seeing as it was December and getting close to Christmas, most of us were inspired to do a snow globe with a wintery festive scene.

It took a while to decide what to include, but then I managed to gather a number of things and then the instructors told us to arrange these small things and use blue sticky tack to temporarily stick them together.

These are only a few of the small items we could choose from!
We were given tips to put things on top of each other -- so I put my small Santa on top of a present to give him a bit of height, and same with my small Christmas tree. An instructor suggested I cover up small empty spaces by adding flowers or small hearts on the "stage".

Once this was sorted, we were given glue to stick everything together. For my Santa standing on a present, these two had to be glued together first before being glued on the stand, which required a bit more waiting time.

This was the meticulous part of the exercise, and at times I had to use tweezers to place tiny items on carefully.

Finally once these were all dried, the instructor got a glass globe, filled it with water and we were invited to choose the sprinkles that would be floating inside. She quickly took small scoops of each and swirled them in the globe. What fun!

Then my "stage" with the items glued on were inserted into the water-filled globe and secured, with more water added in through a squeeze bottle. He shook the globe vigorously several times to make sure it wasn't leaking and then it was glued onto a stand that  I had chosen earlier.

Couldn't fit the penguin (left) or the star (right) or mushrooms!
Again I waited several more minutes for the glue to set before I was done! The whole thing would be completely dried after two hours.

It's fun to shake, though I noticed that some areas where I had mistakenly left some glue exposed, the tiny snow flakes and sparkles I put in the globe have stuck on to these parts! I thought the glue had dried before it went into the globe, but perhaps not entirely.

No matter -- it was fun anyway to be able to have a creative outlet for about two hours.