Thursday, 30 June 2016

Government Pats its own Back

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam to receive Hong Kong's highest honour
On the eve of the 19th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong to China, the government unveiled its list of awards, lauding those who have made significant contributions to the city.

It was quite surprising to see the list stacked with government officials, led by Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor being awarded the Grand Bauhinia Medal, the highest accolade possible.

Some of her colleagues receive the Gold Bauhinia Star, like Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok, Wong Kam-sing, Secretary for the Environment, and Paul Chan Mo-po, Secretary for Development.

What has Paul Chan done to merit a Gold Bauhinia Star?
One can see why Lam was given the award for her tireless efforts in trying to be the face of the Leung Chun-ying administration, particularly during the Occupy protests and last year when the government was pushing through electoral reform and failed. She had to put a brave face forward, which is professional of her, but at what cost morally?

What have Wong and Chan done lately that merit recognition for their work?

Pollution, waste and recycling issues have hardly been tackled, with the government timidly implementing waste disposal costs. Perhaps Wong will say these efforts need the cooperation of other departments, but his should be leading and pushing the cause with a goal of making Hong Kong a more efficient and cleaner city when it comes to dealing with waste and pollution.

Meanwhile Chan's record is hardly stellar, embroiled in several scandals mostly involving real estate. He and his wife were found to have property that had subdivided flats, and later it was reported his family had land in the New Territories where the government had planned to develop, thus possibly resulting in a windfall. He was accused of conflict of interest and did not fully disclose all his assets.

We vote for Chan Cheuk-ming to get formal recognition
What has he done to be awarded a Gold Bauhinia medal?

On the other hand, it goes without saying that the two firemen who lost their lives in the Ngau Tau Kok fire over a week ago, Thomas Cheung and Samuel Hui Chi-kit should be recognized posthumously with gold medals for bravery.

While this honour is a token that will not bring Hui and Cheung back to their families, it is a small gesture Hong Kong can do to show the community's gratitude towards them.

Other people recognized on the list seem to be pro-establishment figures, like Starry Lee Wai-king, chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, her colleague Tam Yiu-chung, and Liu Changle, chairman and CEO of Phoenix Television.

And for Father Franco Mella in helping the disadvantaged
How about highlighting people who are fostering community in the city, helping others in selfless ways, like restaurant owner Chan Cheuk-ming or Ming gor, who feeds the poor in Sham Shui Po, or Father Franco Mella, an Italian priest who came to Hong Kong in 1974 and learned Cantonese and has worked hard to help the disadvantaged.

To me, these people should be receiving the city's highest honours. But perhaps the government is perched too high on the pedestal to see the city's true gems.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Picture of the Day: Dal Richards

Dal Richards is a bright spot on an otherwise drab sidewalk
This afternoon I wandered around downtown Vancouver for a few hours and it was a gorgeous day, blue skies, 23 degrees. Vancouverites find the temperature hot, but for me coming from Hong Kong -- it was perfect summer conditions with a light breeze.

I walked down Alberni Street to meet a friend for dinner, and on the sidewalk where Hotel Vancouver is, I spotted this colourful mosaic of Dal Richards, the city's famous big band leader who died this past New Year's Eve. He was 97 years old.

He was a fixture at the hotel, ringing in every New Year's with big band tunes for nearly eight decades.

When he passed, I wrote a tribute to him, including the time when I interviewed him.

It was so wonderful to see this artistic remembrance to Richards and see that the city has definitely not forgotten him and his astonishing contribution to Vancouver's entertainment scene for some 80 years.

Banksy's New York Show

One of the first graffiti pieces Banksy did in New York in October 2013
In October 2013, the British graffiti artist Banksy presented his artwork all over New York City. For the whole month, he produced a different piece in a different location, which he announced that morning on his website with a cheeky audio guide to go with it.

His fans, art collectors and those who happened to come across it, rushed to these places to photograph it -- or if they were too late -- to see it already painted over, graffiti-ed over by other artists, or even cut out of doors and walls as owners thought it was a free Banksy art piece.

His take on the US attack on innocent lives in Iraq
The hipster scavenger hunt was captured in a documentary called Banksy Does New York that was released in 2014 and I saw on the plane last night.

He is an elusive character -- no one knows what he looks like, and somehow manages to pull off very interesting pop culture social commentary pieces.

The documentary follows several main people, fans, journalists and art critics to discuss almost every piece Banksy did in New York, the meaning behind them, what happened to the pieces afterwards and what this says about people, art and celebrity.

Two fans in particular who are dog walkers, would jump into a car and everyday film themselves as they tried to find the latest Banksy piece. Sometimes they found it, or they got there after it was painted over, by Banksy himself? Or someone else? Or his graffiti, which defaced the wall or surface, was graffiti-ed by someone else defacing his piece. Quite ironic, but it also got people annoyed and angry that people just blatantly ruined what they felt was art. Or did Banksy care?

A Banksy sphinx sculpture an art dealer hopes to sell
Some art dealers were thrilled to see Banksy doing some interesting things, from witty stencil graffiti which he is well known for, as well as creative pieces, including a wall and car together with wild-looking horses in a reference to an attack on innocent Reuters reporters in Iraq, and you can hear the original recording of the US soldiers during the incident.

Another is a fun diaorama of a landscape scene complete with a waterfall and pond, another was a collaboration with a local graffiti artist and they hung their two canvases side by side from the bottom of a bridge like a gallery.

Towards the end he apparently bought an innocuous oil painting of an idyllic landscape from a thrift shop and painted a bench and a Nazi soldier sitting on it and "donated" it back to the shop, where they raised over US$600,000 to help families living with AIDS.

New Yorkers began having fun with his graffiti
But then there were greedy people who owned the building where Banksy left the graffiti and either put plexiglass over it to "protect" it, or even cut out the door or wall to keep it for themselves.

Wasn't it public art though? What designates it to be theirs?

Even worse was a rough brick sculpture of a sphinx that three guys just literally stole from a lot near where they worked. They sold it for an undisclosed sum to a European New York-based art dealer who thought he could sell it for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Most ironic was Banksy paying an old man to sell his stencil graffiti on canvas for US$60 each and only sold a few, and now they were worth over US$200,000 each.

How does one assign value to art, and is it only art if a famous name is attached to them?

An old man sold Banksy's pieces for US$60 each
It was just fascinating to see what he produced and how he was able to pull off such a large-scale project every day without being discovered. One reporter was able to get an accomplice to reveal that he had to sign several confidentiality agreements and that there is no way he could have done all this himself -- he must have had a team helping him to scout locations and execute all these pieces.

Which is why the reporter thinks Banksy knows what he is doing -- he is a businessman, and knows others are profiting from him, that his name has value, even though then Mayor Michael Bloomberg stated defacing public spaces was a definite no-no.

Banksy Does New York is a fun, comprehensive look at not only the graffiti pieces he made, but also the meanings behind them and how New Yorkers responded to them.

He must have found their reactions amusing.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Brexit Fallout Continues

Strange times in Britain these days with Brexit a hard reality to get used to
Friends and colleagues are still processing their shock and disappointment over Brexit that left us all floored on Friday morning Hong Kong time.

One colleague who is British, and has lived in Hong Kong for over 20 years, and her son was born here, is devastated that her son's job opportunities have virtually evaporated.

"Before he had 28 countries [in the European Union] to be able to work in, and now it's only one!" she exclaimed. She is angry that her older relatives voted Brexit, who wanted to keep Britain the way they remembered it from before than realize the world has since globalized at such a fast rate that no country can survive by isolating itself.

However not all of the Brexit voters were old -- even her younger friend who is an expat in Hong Kong preferred to leave the EU so that Britain could retain its "Britishness", whatever that means.

Jeremy Corbyn put himself in an awkward position politically
Another colleague is very curious about the geo-political fall out, with Prime Minister David Cameron betting his job on the line to remain, and has no choice but to resign.

It seems the referendum was an emotional issue and the remain side didn't do enough to reassure people that there wouldn't be immigrants flooding in, that even though Britain sends 350 million pounds a week to the EU, it got back much more in terms of subsidies and other benefits. It also didn't try to tell the skeptics that the Brexit campaign was wrong in saying that big chunk of money would go to health care.

Then there's Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn who was in a bizarre position. Labour is all for remaining in the EU, yet he himself is a Euro-skeptic, and so he was very low-key about campaigning to remain. He sacked one person who questioned his leadership, which led to many of his shadow cabinet members resigning.

And then there's Boris Johnson. He didn't really want Brexit... did he? He jumped on a cause to get on the political stage again, and he did it, but now he's quiet. No one wants to take on the challenge of putting Brexit in to motion now.

Will Boris Johnson continue his path to become PM?
Oh and Scotland is hinting it wants out of the UK...

Meanwhile the EU is outraged this is what the Brits really think of the union, and would rather kick Britain out sooner rather than later. The remain side is naive to think the EU will still continue to do business with them like before, though things might be cheaper now that the pound has fallen.

However the reality is that all those countries need Britain, and Britain needs the access to such a huge market to keep its economy going. Or maybe it doesn't need Britain?

The news hit Hong Kong hard of course, as the city was formerly a British colony, and many have business interests, children studying there, and so on.

Amusingly Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying stated that Hong Kong was prepared to deal with the outcome, but Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah and Hong Kong Monetary Authority Norman Chan Tak-lam both admitted they were caught off guard.

It's a real mess and it's going to take a long time for it to be sorted out. But it's a new reality everyone has to get used to. Everyone.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Remembering Bill Cunningham, Fashion Fan

Bill Cunningham taking pictures of people attending New York Fashion Week
I was dreading this day would come and it did. New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham has passed away at 87.

He had been hospitalized recently following a stroke.

Every Saturday evening Hong Kong time I looked forward to watching his video reports, narrated slideshows of the latest trends he saw on the streets of New York.

Sitting in the front row at a Carolina Herrera show
He had a scratchy voice, but full of energy and wit, describing people as "crazy kids" and what they wore, but he had such enthusiasm talking about what he saw, and put it into historical context, that it made me realize that fashion isn't just about what's on the catwalk -- it's about what people are wearing on the street.

For him, fashion shows gave people ideas of how to interpret what the trends are but in their own way. And it also made me see that there are people out there who are individualistic, who aren't afraid to make their own fashion statement.

Or he would notice the changing of the seasons, or colour themes, like everyone wearing black and white stripes, or pink, or leather biker jackets, or fur collars. It was amazing how he would find so many people wearing similar things.

From his video reports showing fashion trends on the streets
Through Bill I became more observant about what other people wore too and saw trends there were happening in Hong Kong too.

I was mesmerized by him after watching the 2010 documentary, Bill Cunningham New York by Richard Press. The director followed Bill as he photographed people and put his columns together.

He always ensured there was a space between him and the subject -- he would photograph the high society ladies, but would never eat with them -- not even a glass of water. He was very ethical, and also true to himself.

When he was young, fashion was always his thing. His family was worried about him being so passionate about it, but he started by opening a millinery shop where he made hats, and would do jobs on the side to pay the bills.

Practically everyone was a subject for Bill to photograph
He did have high profile clients come in, but when hats began to go out of fashion, he picked up the camera instead and started writing about fashion. It was then that he discovered fashion on the street as the story he should be covering, with the pictures to prove it.

When my cousin lived in New York, he bumped into Bill once and had a picture taken with him; another friend who loves fashion, also saw him one wintry day. My brother recalls seeing on the subway a few months ago.

While Bill loved fashion, he himself was not a fashion plate. He lived very simply, wearing a shirt, his denim workman jacket he got in France, a pair of khakis and comfortable shoes, riding on his bicycle.

One of Bill's columns in the New York Times
His studio apartment above Carnegie Hall up until 2010 was filled with filing cabinets of negatives and pictures... one wonders what will happen to all those images...

Once the Metropolitan Museum of Art asked to exhibit his photographs and he declined; But I hope there will be some kind of dedication to Bill somewhere in New York -- like 57th Street and 5th Avenue where he used to stalk?

Thank you Bill, for being inclusive and enthusiastic about fashion. You've encouraged me to look at it with fresh eyes and greater appreciation. We will miss you.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Up The Peak for Sunset

Managed to capture the sunset from The Peak looking over Kennedy Town
Last night I saw an acquaintance's stunning picture of Hong Kong at dusk from The Peak on Instagram which inspired me to get up there too.

I didn't plan it out too well, but managed to get on the No. 13 Kotewall bus at 6.20pm in Central and made it up to the start of the Morning Trail on Kotewall Road at around 6.40pm.

It was still light at that time, but I knew sunset would happen soon. Most people were walking down The Peak, only me and two other women were walking up and I walked past them.

Hong Kong at dusk on the Morning Trail
The Morning Trail is a good workout, though the signage is quite amusing because it is posted every 100 metres.

Soon it started to get dark, and the trees illuminated by a bright orange glow from the sun.

Luckily there was a clearing at one point on the west side looking down on Kennedy Town and some local amateur photographers were taking pictures of the sunset and I joined in. A gweilo stood off to the side, trying to have his own private nature moment, while others chatted around him in Cantonese.

After several pictures, I continued on my way, and when there was a fork in the road where the path is flat, I made a sharp left turn to walk towards what YTSL calls "the money shot", where all the photographers come take pictures of Hong Kong in the evening.

Watching the sun go down on a clear (and hot!) day
Because the path was flat, I picked up the pace and soon got to one of the few photo sites, and as I kept going, there were more and more people, many speaking Putonghua.

I finally reached the Peak Galleria in 4.5km, and together with 5.5km running in the gym, it was a pretty good workout today.

I quickly wandered through the Peak Galleria, which is slated to be renovated in phases soon. The shopping mall has an eclectic selection of shops, from SaSa and Coach, to a small space with lots of toy vending machines crammed in it, a Japanese dollar store, a supermarket and a shop selling smartphone accessories.

Many mainland tourists capturing the scene below
It was time to go and the wait for public transport was really long -- I had to wait for three minibuses before I could get on, though the line-up for the No. 15 bus wound around the block and a massive line for the Peak Tram. Taxis did a brisk trade.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Black Friday -- Brexit and Blaze

Prime Minister David Cameron announces his resignation after Brexit result
At noon I was in complete shock over the Brexit results, but I was not the only one. Many British colleagues were in disbelief that their fellow countrymen had opted out of the European Union.

Some moaned they were deeply ashamed of being British, while others were outraged their parents -- first generation immigrants -- had voted Brexit.

Someone on Twitter posted that now we'd see Boris Johnson become the next prime minister, and Donald Trump the next president.

Politician Boris Johnson on one of his bad hair days...
Both of them have bad hair.

Last weekend at the gym, I watched part of a BBC documentary about why people were choosing for or against Brexit.

Basically many people living outside of London were for Brexit, as they felt overwhelmed by the amount of immigration into the country and felt staying would lead to even more people coming in, taking jobs and taking advantage of education and health services.

The BBC found education-wise, the children did quite well academically because their parents felt it was a priority for the next generation to integrate into the community.

However, in terms of accessing health care, one doctor told of how she saw many cases of families living together under one roof, each family living in one room of a home, and so illnesses were easily passed around.

Counting votes in the Brexit referendum
They also didn't have much money to spend on housing, so their usually rented low-quality homes that were more prone to mould, which resulted in respiratory diseases.

Some people were concerned more immigrants would push salaries lower, making profit margins even smaller, while others said some sectors like seniors' homes were in dire need of immigrant labour because educated young people were not interested in looking after old people.

Within families, couples are split down the middle whether to stay or go, but mostly it's a younger generation/older generation divide. While 64 percent of young people were for staying in the EU, 58 percent of seniors preferred Brexit, and one wonders if perhaps the population of older people outnumbered the younger ones, which led to today's result.

The deadly fire in Ngau Tau Kok has claimed two lives
The other sad story in Hong Kong, is that a fire continues to rage in Ngau Tau Kok, and firefighters still cannot control the blaze that's been going on since Tuesday at 11am.

It erupted in an old industrial building where a few floors have been converted into a mini storage facility. According to firefighters there are 200 lockers per floor, basically subdivided rooms separated by metal sheeting.

The challenge is that firefighters do not know what is in each of the lockers and have had to try to open each one. Today they showed pictures of what they saw in the building, and reported seeing flames in different colours, which indicated they were burning at different temperatures due to different materials.

There were also concerns that hawker stall equipment was stored here as well, some maybe storing gas tanks, but this has not been confirmed yet.

Initial reports were that firefighters fought with their commanders on how the fire should be contained, and that the order to be sent into the building to try to contain the blaze from inside may have caused the first firefighter, Thomas Cheung to lose his life. The second died last night, Samuel Hui Chi-kit, succumbing to his injuries. Two others were also injured.

Firefighters are exhausted trying to battle the blaze
Many questions need to be answered, including why did industrial buildings built before 1973 not have to be retrofitted with fire sprinklers? And why aren't there regulations for how mini storage facilities do business? Shouldn't there be rules on what can and cannot be stored? And what about insurance?

A lot of people have lost their treasured belongings that they can never get back. But at the same time, two lives were lost trying to fight this fire that still continues to consume the contents inside.

The pollution levels in the area are pretty bad too, affecting residents who may opt to be evacuated from there temporarily.

We can only hope the firefighters can finally contain the fire and put it out. And then we can begin to ask why it happened and what can be learned from this.

As for Brexit, it will take two years for the reality to set in.

How can there be so many things going wrong these days?

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Fact of the Day: Hong Kong Loves Clothes

Hong Kong people love to buy clothes, so many they don't wear them all
Greenpeace has found Hong Kong people spend HK$3.9 billion on clothes they never wear, or only once or twice.

The environmental advocacy group interviewed 2,000 people in Hong Kong and Taiwan on their spending habits.

On average Hong Kong people own 94 pieces of clothing, Taiwanese 74.

Many shoppers tend to purchase clothes at fast fashion shops
Of the 94 items, 15 of them, or 16 percent were either never worn or only once or twice.

The group then calculated that if each garment cost HK$100, the value of the underused clothing totaled HK$3.9 billion.

In addition, the survey found more than half the respondents in Hong Kong never thought of buying from second-hand shops, 64 percent of them not wanting to wear old clothes.

Many also didn't know about ecologically friendly products, such as clothes that are animal-friendly, handmade or produced following fair trade principles, nor did they know where to buy such items.

Another frightening statistic is how many clothes are thrown out each year -- 100,000 tonnes annually over the past decade. That amounts to the rate of 1,400 T-shirts per minute.

A 16-foot tall mountain of clothes equal to 7.5 tonnes
Meanwhile on Facebook there's an AJ+ video going around about a Japanese man in Tokyo who only had three shirts, four pants and four pairs of socks. We aren't told how many underwear he has...

He only has 150 items and is happy to keep it that way.

While some minimalists say they feel content having less, others say having less stuff reduces the chance of injury during earthquakes. 

I'm just trying to de-clutter! I don't think I'll ever get to whittle the number of my possessions down to 150, just less stuff would be a good goal...

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Killing the Shark Fin Trade

Shark fin soup is a delicacy that will be even harder to find in Hong Kong

Finally Cathay Pacific and Dragon Air have banned shark fin shipments on their airlines with immediate effect.

This comes after years of activists shaming the airlines to stop carrying them, most recently a few weeks ago with the conservationists dressed up as sharks and hanging around the Cathay check-in area.

Cathay Pacific caved to pressure by finally banning shark fin
They did this after Cathay claimed it would not impose an outright ban, but instead set up a panel of experts to decide on a case-by-case basis whether the shipments were from a sustainable source.

How can one find sustainable sharks? Farming them just for their fins seems even more inhumane.

And how can you decide on a case-by-case basis? The proposal just sounded completely daft. Sitting on the fence just gave the wrong image for Cathay.

Meanwhile the pressure was raised a notch when HK Express became the first local airline to ban shark fin shipments last month which was a bold move that won lots of praise from the public.

Three dozen other airlines, including British Airways, American Airlines, Qantas, Singapore Airlines and Emirates, have also banned carrying shark fin on their shipments, making it harder for those in the business to carry on their trade in Hong Kong.

Hundreds of fins found drying on a rooftop in Hong Kong
According to government statistics, shark fin imports to Hong Kong fell by 42 percent between 2010 and 2015 to 5,717 tonnes. In the same period there was also a plunge of 72 percent drop in imports by air to 450 tonnes.

Thanks to massive public awareness campaigns, many Hong Kong diners shun eating shark fin soup, though many high end restaurants still have it listed discreetly on the menu, or it's an off-the-menu item.

If anyone orders it in Hong Kong, it's usually mainlanders who don't seem to have any environmental concerns about eating the fin of an animal.

But now even these customers are few and far between with Xi Jinping's ongoing corruption crackdown, leading to a slowing down of the economy both in China and Hong Kong.

Shops in Sheung Wan selling shark fin will disappear
And now with even fewer transport options for importers and exporters to trade in shark fin in the city, the number of these shops in Sheung Wan will disappear eventually. This will probably drive up the price of shark fin, and will people still want to pay that much to eat it?

Some purists argue that shark fin soup should still be on the menu to keep the culinary tradition alive. But food is an ever-evolving culture, and it's time to let shark fin go.

While eating it might increase your intake of cartilage, it'll definitely raise the level of mercury in your body.

And is that worth it?

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Official Wackiness in Wukan

Wukan Communist Party secretary Lin Zhuluan who is now being detained
The story of bookseller Lam Wing-kee and the ongoing allegations against him and his own rebuttals continue, while Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has been caught completely flat-footed on dealing with this issue, that only demonstrates where his loyalties lie.

But there's another incident brewing in the fishing village of Wukan in Guangdong province, where local residents were protesting land seizures. The authorities tried to shut them up by kidnapping Lin Zuluan, the local Communist Party secretary.

Thousands called for Lin's release on Sunday
They took him from his home in the middle of the night on Saturday and has detained him since. Since then state media have had a field day, with Lufeng prosecutors claiming Lin had allegedly pocketed a lot of bribes through contracting out infrastructure projects.

But villagers didn't believe a word of these allegations and thousands of them continued to protest on Sunday and called for Lin's release.

Then an official claiming to be from the Shanwei prosecutors' office called Lin's wife, Yang Zhen, and put Lin on the phone.

They had hoped he would dissuade her from leading villagers in their protest, but the plan backfired.

Lin's supposed confession of taking bribes
"Do what you think is right as long as it's legal," he said over the phone in the conversation she recorded. "If someone is trying to arrest you, do not go easy on them."

However he also added a warning: "Do not go to a protest just because others told you so."

But since then, Lin has apparently confessed to taking bribes and deputy village party secretary Zhang Shuijin has replaced him, and told villagers not to participate in protest marches.

Yesterday there was a video clip circulating on social media of Qian Hanpei, deputy chief of Donghai town harassing the media with an umbrella when reporters tried to interview him.

Qian Hanpei (white shirt) trying to assault reporters
"You reporters are just like dogs," Qian said when asked of Lin's condition. He was recorded threatening to strike cameramen and reporters with the butt end of his umbrella.

And now Hong Kong media have been accused of "inciting, planning and directing" the Wukan land protests.

Apple Daily and newcomer Initium Media were named by and official in Shanwei in Guangdong province for the turmoil and added measures would be taken according to the law.

This is probably the first time Hong Kong media have been directly blamed for planning and directing mass protests. But Apple Daily's chief editor Chan Pui-man denied the paper was involved in any way other than covering the incident.

How this whole event has played out so far -- and even dragging the media into it is pretty crazy. If anything, Chinese officials haven't thought the plot line carefully and the end result.

Trying to assault reporters does not win brownie points.

Monday, 20 June 2016

App for Paid Coverage

A screen grab showing the various jobs on offer
There's car hailing apps in China like Uber and Didi Chuxing that help you get to where you want to go, but what if you want a reporter to write a flattering story about your company, perhaps because your boss wants to inflate his ego, or a way to boost your stock price?

Then it's time to get onto the app Zhao Jizhe (找记者) -- "Find a Journalist" in Chinese.

Much like those car-hailing apps, Zhao Jizhe offers services to companies who are willing to pay a range of prices for media coverage. For as little as 1,000 yuan (around US$150), you can get a decent write-up in one publication. But shell out 8,000 yuan, and the article will be written by a senior writer and guaranteed coverage in 25 publications, including four well-known ones.

First companies post their demands and deadline, and then the journalists who fit the bill will bid for the job, touting which publications they can place the article in. Then the company picks the best person for the job and then arranges payment through the app.

This is very similar to the old school way of doing journalism in China -- with red envelopes.

At press conferences, companies would hand out hongbao in the hopes they'd get good reports from journalists.

Hardly anyone refused these red envelopes because hey -- it's cash! And companies would claim it was "transportation money" for the reporters to get to and from the press conference or event. The amount could range from a few hundred yuan to several thousand, depending on the firm. The higher paying companies were usually car or oil industry related...

This would seriously affect not only the quality of journalism, but also the readers' perception of the companies they were reading about. Perhaps paid journalism is how some stock prices went up? Someone should do a study on that.

In any event Zhao Jizhe is very much on the same lines, though the high-tech version.

Unfortunately journalists in China are paid so little, that the money is very tempting. We all need to make a living, right?

But then again who believes what's written in state media anyway?

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Women Through Annie Leibovitz's Lens

An exuberant portrait of former First Lady Barbara Bush
Photographer Annie Leibovitz has an intimate exhibition on in Hong Kong until next Sunday called Women: New Portraits. She specifically chose a location that was hardly a comfortable gallery or centralized spot.

But for me it was convenient because it was in my neighbourhood, in an industrial building in Kennedy Town.

Photographs were exhibited side by side with no captions!
We had to register our names first before going up an old school elevator where you had to manually close the doors before it would move.

On the third floor of the building was an empty shell of something, a large area hollowed out, gritty and a bit stuffy. On the far end of the room were her portraits that seemed scattered in a random order.

Near the middle of the room were three screens set up in a semi circle, and chairs forming the other half of the circle for people to sit and watch an on-going slide show of Leibovitz's numerous photographs of women over the decades.

There were photographs of Meryl Street, the late Zaha Hadid, several of Hillary Clinton several years ago, former First Lady Barbara Bush, Malala Yousafzai, and a string of supermodels from the 1980s, like Cindy Crawford, Kate Moss, Amber Valletta and of course Naomi Campbell.

Four Las Vegas showgirls before and after
The pictures on the far wall were not large format photographs and they were placed close to each other, so visitors were all crowded trying to look at the pictures. The captions were not placed next to the pictures, so you had to keep looking at the program to find out who each person was.

This was the most frustrating part of the show, not being able to quickly find out who the person was so that one could either look up their biography in the program or move onto the next image.

For an exhibition shown in Hong Kong, it was disappointing to only see two Chinese faces -- and they weren't even from the city. One was Wendi Deng Murdoch taken post divorce last year -- is she still relevant? And Yao Chen, an actress and microblogger on Weibo.

Leibovitz's famous photo of John Lennon and Yoko Ono
Nevertheless we were happy to see portraits of Aung San Suu Kyi, Jane Goodall, ballet dancer Misty Copeland, chef and restaurateur Alice Waters, and tech executive Sheryl Sandberg. Caitlyn Jenner was there too...

We also got to see the intimate photograph of a naked John Lennon wrapped around a clothed Yoko Ono, hours before he was shot and killed on December 8, 1980, and next to it a portrait of Ono a year later, profoundly changed.

There's also an intriguing set of eight photographs. They show a quartet of Las Vegas showgirls wearing their costumes and full make up, and then black and white photographs of them before their transformation. The differences are so stark -- shows what a lot of make up and razzle dazzle can do!

I quite enjoyed looking at the portraits projected on the screens, though there wasn't much time to take in the images before they moved onto the next one.

The determination and femininity of the late Zaha Hadid
But this also demonstrated how many photographs Leibovitz has taken over her decades long career, and in many cases how each portrait reflects each subject's personality.

Women: New Portraits by Annie Leibovitz
3/F, Cheung Hing Industrial Building
12P Smithfield Road
Kennedy Town
Until June 26, 2016

Saturday, 18 June 2016

More Questions Than Answers

Lam Wing-kee (in the hat) with Albert Ho (right) at the march this afternoon
The weather was erratic again today and I almost left my flat without taking an umbrella.

When I got to the bank, the bank teller turned around and saw it had begun to pour. "Did you bring an umbrella?" he asked.

I didn't want to wait around, so I trudged up the hill through the rain in flip flops to the gym and luckily it was a short walk, but my feet were soaked.

Soon afterwards it stopped raining.

But then it started again about an hour later.

Lam speaks to the protesters in Causeway Bay
I worried that it would rain for the scheduled march to protest against Beijing's alleged suppression of free speech following bookseller Lam Wing-kee's revelations of how he was detained for eight months on the mainland.

But Hong Kong people really do care about what is happening to our city -- some 6,000 of them braved the threat of rain this afternoon to march from where the Causeway Bay Books shop used to be to the liaison office in Western in three hours.

Leading the charge were Lam and lawmaker Albert Ho Chun-yan, whom Lam contacted when he had second thoughts on returning to the mainland with the hard disk from Causeway Bay Books.

Lam's revelations this week have shocked and frightened a lot of people in Hong Kong. Even more shocking is today's reported statements from former secretary for justice Elsie Leung Oi-sie.

Quoting Article 6 of the Chinese Criminal Law, she warned that Hong Kong people could risk being detained on the mainland if they had broken mainland laws in whole or in part in Hong Kong.

Excuse me? That's completely news to me, and I'm sure the rest of us 7 million people in Hong Kong.

Elsie Leung now tell us the laws are not what we thought
Has this been in effect since 1997? If so, no one told us that.

Therefore, according to China, Lam broke the law by mailing banned books from Hong Kong to the mainland.

"Hong Kong people should not assume they would not be arrested for acts which contravene the mainland's laws when they return to the mainland, simply because of their capacity as Hong Kong residents," she added.

Leung also said Article 7 of the same document states that mainland law is applicable to any citizen of the People's Republic of China who commits a crime outside the territory.

"It's my understanding that, whilst the Chinese Criminal Law does not apply in Hong Kong, the extra-territorial reach of Article 7 does extend to Hong Kong," she said.

It's chilling -- absolutely chilling to hear this now, almost 19 years later.

Again -- how come we only found out about this now? And we thought all along it was "one country, two systems", but in fact it isn't what we thought.

Who was the one who lulled us into thinking everything would be OK until 2047? Where were the British in negotiating this? And what about the Hong Kong experts who were involved in drafting the Basic Law? How come no one told us this was in the law?

Too many questions, and not many answers.

Very troubling indeed.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Telling the World -- For the Record

Lam Wing-kee told the media his ordeal on the mainland as a warning
Yesterday one of the missing booksellers who came back this week, Lam Wing-kee, plucked up the courage to tell Hong Kong media -- and the world -- that what we feared all along is true.

He gave a long detailed statement about how he was going to visit his girlfriend in Shenzhen, but was detained after crossing the border, and taken to a police station where he had to forfeit his travel documents. The next morning he was given breakfast then put on a train to Ningbo.

All along, Lam kept asking those who had captured him what he had done wrong and no one would answer. He was questioned and then given papers to sign with two clauses -- promise not to contact his family and not to contact a lawyer.

He said he was questioned about his role in Causeway Bay Books and why he mailed books to the mainland. He replied that mailing books to the mainland wasn't illegal in Hong Kong.

Lam was then kept in a small padded room for several months, watched by six groups of two people 24 hours a day. While he was fed meals, he cleaned his teeth with a toothbrush that had a string tied to it that a guard held on to, to prevent him from trying to swallow it and commit suicide.

Interestingly Lee Po denies that he was kidnapped to China
At no time was he allowed to step outside or contact anyone.

Probably because he was on good behaviour, he was later taken back to Shaoguan in northern Guangdong province. Lam kept negotiating with them until finally they let him go back to Hong Kong on condition he bring back the bookstore's hard drive with the names of all the customers who bought books.

But Lam didn't return and is refusing to go back. For this decision, which he agonized over for two sleepless nights, he has sacrificed his relationship with his girlfriend to reveal to the world the Chinese government's true colours.

"This is not just about me. This is about the freedom of Hong Kong people. The Chinese government has forced Hong Kong people into a dead end," he told the media.

"I just want to pass on a message: we here, including Hong Kong journalists, we Hong Kong people are all in the same boat. [The disappearances] can happen to you too for sure. If we don't speak up, if I don't speak up being the last of the five, then there is no hope for Hong Kong."

Lam said he had to be "very courageous" and that "I also want to tell the whole world. This isn't about me, this isn't about a bookstore, this is about everyone. This is the bottom line of the Hong Kong people This is Hong Kong people's bottom line -- Hong Kong people will not bow down before brute force."

Everyone was gobsmacked by Lam's revelations, that they can detain anyone they wished for as long as they wanted, without following rule of law. Already pundits are predicting this latest news will impact pro-Beijing political parties' votes in the upcoming Legislative Council elections.

Who will have any trust in the Chinese government with such testimony?

Even more bizarre is that Lee Po denies Lam's statement that Lee told him that he was kidnapped from Hong Kong.

And now the Chinese government is very angry that Lam has told everything, and claims that he has broken mainland laws as a Chinese national.

So does that mean they're going to kidnap him from Hong Kong? Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying says "Relevant authorities in China are authorized to handle the case in accordance with the law".

Then basically "one country, two systems" does not exist according to China's eyes, that Hong Kong residents do not follow rule of law in the city, but Chinese law? Since when did that happen? We were not given any notice of that.

We were told we would follow "one country, two systems" until 2047, and yet the missing booksellers' case shows this is not true at all.

Who misled us?

The Chinese government feels it can detain anyone it likes, regardless if he or she has a foreign passport, and prevent them from having contact with loved ones and lawyers.

This extra judicial attitude is alarming and as Lam says, the world should take notice.

He was very courageous to speak out, knowing the consequences of his actions.

The Hong Kong government has been frighteningly quiet on the issue, only reiterating that it was illegal for outside authorities to operate on Hong Kong soil without permission.

But are mainland authorities considered "outside authorities"? and did they get permission from the Hong Kong government?

Acting Chief Executive John Tsang Chun-wah was mum, and stonewalled when asked questions regarding Lam's safety in the city.

His unwillingness to seem to want to demand answers from Beijing was a clear indication that Hong Kong appears complicit, or at least a silent partner in all of this.

Hopefully Lam will be safe in Hong Kong, but one never knows...

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Gao Zhisheng Predicts the End of the CPC

A photo of human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng taken in April this year
Human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng is still alive, but under house arrest and has been denied medical care since his release two years ago.

This was the latest news from his 23-year-old daughter, Grace Geng Ge. She was in Hong Kong to represent her father at the release of his book, Stand Up China 2017 -- China's Hope: What I Learned during Five Years as a Political Prisoner.

Geng introduced the book at the Legislative Council building where she met with Hong Kong lawmakers and the media.

Gao, 52, currently lives with his brother in a remove village in Shaanxi province, and can't even go beyond the courtyard of the home. And because the condition if his teeth are so bad, he can only eat liquid foods and has been denied access to a dentist.

His daughter Grace Geng Ge presents his book in Hong Kong
Geng, her mother and younger brother have lived in the United States, and she says she hasn't seen her father for seven years. Trying to communicate with him is difficult, and she said their last conversation was six weeks ago, when guards happened to stray from their post.

In 2011, Gao was jailed for "instigating subversion of the state" until 2014, and was in solitary confinement for three years, according to his manuscript that was smuggled out of the mainland.

He told AP he wrote the book, "to expose the truth and crimes of this regime".

"This book is my way of posing resistance," he said. "I wrote it secretly because I had to hide from the minders who watch me around the clock."

It details the physical torture he experienced, from having an electric baton held to his face, having to wear a blindfold when he went to the toilet, and one time when he was deprived of sleep and forced to stand; if his knees faltered they would be struck. When he showered, no less than six guards watched him, and he was not allowed to speak.

When Gao was finally released, his wife Geng He said he lost 23kg and could barely eat and talk.

Gao talks about his torture and predicts the end of the CPC
His book also talks about 2017, he says he received a message from God saying it will be the year the Communist Party's rule over China will end. The book also outlines a plan to build a democratic China after the party's collapse.

When he was released two years ago, Gao chose not to be reunited with his family, believing that China needed him.

"At the very beginning, I did not totally understand. I wondered why our father couldn't be with us," Grace Geng Ge said as she sobbed with emotion.

"But... after some time, I came to think of his decision as truly great. He loves the Chinese people so much that he put his family in second place. I think that what he thinks is very, very great, so I am very proud of it."

She added her father was prepared for possible retaliation after the publication of his book.

"He is ready physically and mentally," his daughter said. "And he told us: 'I hope you can be ready'."

His book is being published in Taiwan, but as of yet hasn't found a distributor in Hong Kong, following the incident of the five missing booksellers and concerns of self-censorship.

We shall see if Gao is right about his prediction of the CPC. Many, like Gordon Chang, have been predicting the demise of the party for the past 10 years.

Will next year be the one?

In the meantime, Gao's selflessness shows that everything he does is for the good of the country. He was upholding rule of law when he defended the likes of the Falun Gong and fought for farmers' land rights.

And now he remains in China, waiting patiently for a democratic China to blossom. We hope he is right.