Monday, 31 October 2016

Hong Kong's New Star

Big thumbs up for Mak Cheuk-wing on winning an international title
Hong Kong is so desperate for a good news story and finally we have one in Mak Cheuk-wing.

Remember her name because she's a rising star in windsurfing and she's only 13!

Mak won an international youth-class race on Lake Garda in Italy, beating out favourites Mathilde Garandeau from France and Linoy Geva from Israel to clinch the Techno 293 junior girls U-15 class.

It is Hong Kong's first world title in the Techno class.

This competition is seen as a path to the Youth Olympics for windsurfing competitors under 17 years of age.

Mak started windsurfing at nine and was humble about her win, saying she owed it to her coaches, Cheng Hing-lun who coaches her in Hong Kong, and Cheng Kwok-fai, who led the Hong Kong team to Italy.

She also thanked her parents "for supporting me and allowing me to do a sport I love".

"I am very happy to win this title this time after I missed out at the European championships."

In the Techno 293 European championships in Poland, Mak finished second.

Coach Cheng Kwok-fai said, "She is very talented. She is able to pick up new skills very quickly."

We hope this paves the way for more Hong Kong kids and their parents to realize that academics are not the be all and end all -- that it's passion about something that will really propel you to success.

Congratulations to Mak and we'll be following her career, already well on her way to more competition and pride for Hong Kong.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Remembering Prince Mikasa

Prince Mikasa was married to Princess Yuriko for over 70 years
Prince Mikasa, the uncle of Japanese Emperor Akihito, passed away on Friday morning. He was 100 years old.

Reading his obituary in the paper, I read with interest how he was the only member of the imperial family with military experience, and because of that strongly advocated peace after World War II.

After he graduated from the Military Academy in 1936, the prince served in the cavalry regiment. He graduated from the Military Staff College in 1941 and was posted to then Nanking (now Nanjing), as an Imperial Japanese Army officer under a pseudonym in 1943.

The prince was posted in Nanking under a pseudonym
That city was the site of the infamous Nanking massacre by Japanese troops in late 1937 and early 1938. When the war ended he was 29 years old and a major.

Even before the war ended the prince began criticizing Japan's military leadership. In a book published in 1984, he recalled being shocked at atrocities committed by the Japanese military while he was serving in China for a year.

"Even today I constantly feel the sting of conscience over my failure to fully grasp the criminality of war," he wrote.

In a 1994 interview with Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, the prince recalled, "I was strongly shocked when an officer told me that the best way to train new soldiers is to use a living prisoner of war as the target of bayonet practice."

After the war he devoted himself to the study of ancient Asian history and taught at such universities as Tokyo Woman's Christian University and the Tokyo University of the Arts where he was paid US$6.40 a month.

The prince advocated peace after the war
He was the first in the Imperial family to get a driver's license and advocated birth control, even though he himself had five children. "It is not easy to practice what you preach," he conceded after the fourth child was born.

Together with Princess Yuriko, 93, whom Prince Mikasa married in 1941, he had three sons and two daughters, but the three princes died in 2002, 2012 and 2014.

When he turned 100 last December, The Japan Times reported the prince issued a statement thanking Yuriko for her support during their over 70 years of marriage, saying, "Nothing will change just because I turn 100 years old."

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Fact of the Day: Park Your Car for HK$4.8M

Record sale earlier this week for a parking spot in Mid-Levels
I've been writing blog posts about how flats are getting more and more expensive and outrageously small, so tiny that they are only slightly larger than a parking space.

And now there is a brisk business to be had in buying and selling parking spaces.

The big deal of the week was for a 135 square-foot space at 55 Conduit Road in Mid-Levels for HK$4.8 million.

To put that into perspective, it's more expensive than a flat in Sha Tin north, where a 327 sq ft flat is HK$4.3 million. And you can live in it.

The parking lot entrance to 55 Conduit Road
Louis Chan managing director of Centaline Property Agency's residential department, explains the surge in prices.

"Residents at super luxury properties own more than one car," Chan said. "They have to buy an additional parking lot in the secondary market at higher prices."

There are 35 luxury flats at 55 Conduit Road, from 1,500 sq ft to 2,700 sq ft priced between HK$50 million and HK$360 million. So a parking spot here is chump change for the uber rich.

If this is not a sign of serious economic disparity, I don't know what is...

Friday, 28 October 2016

The Mesmerizing Courtney Act

Courtney Act performing The Girl from Oz at Sevva
I'm still starstruck.

I've just come back from talking to and watching amazing drag queen Courtney Act at Sevva on the top floor of Prince's Building. Not only does she look fabulous but can really sing and hit those high notes.

Originally from Brisbane and grew up in Sydney, Shane Gilberto Jenek was an actor and performer, and around 2000 started dressing up in drag for fun and then realized he loved it so much.

Three years later Jenek tried to be a contestant on Australian Idol as himself, but was rejected so the next day he came as Courtney Act and ended up a semi-finalist on the show.

Courtney singing her heart out
And then in 2013 Courtney Act was in the sixth season of RuPaul's Drag Race and ended as a finalist, beaten out Bianca Del Rio.

In her career Courtney Act has performed with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, got to be on the roof of the Sydney Opera House and even be an ad girl for American Apparel.

She had come to Hong Kong before, but I hadn't seen her act until now and now I know why she's someone you cannot miss.

First of all, Courtney is damn attractive. Everything is so put together, the makeup is flawless, perfectly lined and tonight her eye shadow was glittery too. Then her wig put on made her look like a modern Marilyn Monroe.

Then it's about her body -- hardly any fat on it, perhaps because she's vegan, does a lot of meditation and drinks concoctions made from Chinese medicines. And her legs! So long and skinny. When she wears a corset, her waist is accentuated too!

Once Courtney starts singing, you could close your eyes and not even know it's a man singing. The voice together with a seductive strut and flirting with the men in the room, one can't help but be mesmerized.

The show she performed tonight was The Girl From Oz, singing a number of songs that have come from Down Under that you may or may not have known about. The Aussies in the audience couldn't help but beam with patriotism.

She clearly enjoyed playing with the men!
The more serious side of Courtney explained to me beforehand about how it's important for people to express themselves, and if it means men wearing eyeliner and high heels to a nightclub then so be it!

I asked if she felt like a role model, she said it helped many people feel it was OK to do what they wanted to do, or that it was OK to be attracted to men or women regardless of your sexual orientation.

Jenek is very happy to be a man and also to dress up as Courtney; she allows him to express another side of him, but at the same time not have to worry about being caught like celebrities without make up going to the grocery store because Courtney would never do that.

Seems like a neat gig he has there, and makes sense.

But what really impressed me the most was how Courtney was such an amazing person on stage -- confident, sexy, happy, witty and flirty -- clearly enjoying herself and entertaining her audience.

The passion for what she/he does comes through and is a good reminder for all of us to find what we love to do and sing our hearts out doing it.

Now if we could only figure out how he hides his package down there...

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Two Throw their Hats into Chief Executive Race

Woo Kwok-hing talked to the media today about running for chief executive
The process of running for chief executive of Hong Kong is typically a tightly scripted affairs -- particularly if you have the blessing of Beijing.

But in the case of retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, he doesn't seem to care and believes his professional track record makes him a good candidate, as he had no political baggage and no scandals to be exposed.

He made the announcement yesterday which was a surprise to many, and then he held a 90-minute press conference today.

Unlike other previous candidates who make these formal announcements in five-star hotels or the Convention and Exhibition Centre, Woo instead chose a meeting room in the modest Duke of Windsor Social Service Building in Wan Chai.

And he didn't have an entourage of public relations staff, but two women from a PR firm, and his son and daughter-in-law who came to support him.

Woo criticized CY Leung for dividing Hong Kong society
During the press conference he answered wide-ranging questions from incumbent Leung Chun-ying's problems national security issues.

Woo's first target? Leung. "I don't think Mr CY Leung has been able to address public grievances and halt the division of our society to ensure that Hong Kong's best overall interests are served."

He also said it "really doesn't look good" that Leung put his own name as a plaintiff in the recent legal bid to disqualify two localists, Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching, who insulted China, when the justice secretary alone should be in charge.

When asked about what Beijing thought of him running, Woo admitted that he had disclosed his plans to someone in the liaison office -- though not chief Zhang Xiaoming -- and had yet to hear back.

"The message I got from people who had contacts on the mainland told me that the central government had 'no response'," he said. "But this doesn't mean they had 'no comment'."

While he didn't disclose his platform, Woo said political reform was his top and only priority because failure to make progress in the past 19 years had plunged Hong Kong into division and conflict.

Regina Ip confirmed she would run for CE too
"When political reform is resolved, everything else will become easy," he said. Housing, a major issue taken up seriously by the chief executive, was "less important", Woo said.

Probably triggered by Woo's shock announcement, New People's Party leader Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee confirmed today on Commercial Radio that she is interested in the top job too, though she won't formalize her candidacy until after the 1,200 election committee assembles in December.

She said while Woo may be strongly experienced in law, he may not know much about the economy, livelihood issues and housing.

As a result, she plans to make housing and land the top issues in her campaign.

Ip also made a dig at supposed front runner, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, saying he hadn't accomplished much in the past decade.

The claws are out!

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

The Paralysis in Legco Continues

Shielded by pan-democrats, Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Leung enter Legco
There was more drama at the Legislative Council this morning. It's so strange how things can change so much within two years.

To start, surrounding Legco were thousands of protestors, pro-Beijing ones who denounced Youngspiration localist lawmakers Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching for saying their oaths wrong two weeks ago.

Pro-Beijing protesters demand Leung and Yau resign
They chanted slogans, waved Chinese flags and had placards saying Leung and Yau should resign.

When they were first sworn in on October 12, Leung and Yau had said "the People's Republic of Chee-na" instead of "China" which the pro-establishment says is a variation of the derogatory term "Shina" used by Japan during World War II.

Legco President Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen voided their oaths and so they were going to try to take them again last week, but the pro-establishment walked out of the Legislative Council chamber so there wasn't enough quorum.

Then last night Andrew Leung made a U-turn and decided to wait until the court decides on the judicial review of his decision on allowing Sixtus Leung and Yau to re-take their oaths.

Andrew Leung abruptly adjourned the meeting again this week
He seems to have caved into his pro-Beijing colleagues' and Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's demands, but Andrew Leung claims he is following protocol. However at this moment, the way things are headed in Legco, there is no precedence.

This morning there was even a notice on the door to the chamber saying Sixtus Leung and Yau should not be allowed into the chamber.

However, in a dramatic fashion, some pan-democrats shielded the pair, escorting them in, surrounded by the media, who spilled into the chamber. Sixtus Leung and Yau had hoped that by entering the chamber they would have a chance of being sworn in.

But Andrew Leung immediately told the pair to leave, but they refused, and so he adjourned the meeting.

Excuse me -- as a taxpayer and voter, I'd like to know when will this insane fiasco ever end?

The pair already acknowledge their mistake and all of us would like the people we elected to get on with business.

How long do we have to wait for this pair to be sworn in?
The political grandstanding, particularly from the pro-establishment side is ridiculous. At the same time the pan-democrats are in uncomfortable territory -- they want to support the process of Sixtus Leung and Yau getting sworn in, but not necessarily what they stand for.

But they all called for Andrew Leung to step down, claiming he was incompetent as Legco President, and besides, his paperwork seems dodgy too.

No doubt Sixtus Leung and Yau were childish about what they did two weeks ago, but they have probably grown up intensely in that time and realize that they did go too far, and that Legco really means business.

But at the same time they see people more than twice their age throwing tantrums in Legco which makes you wonder -- who's taking the high road here?

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Truly Minimalist Living

Can you imagine living in a space slightly larger than this parking spot?
Last week we talked about some really tiny flats. There's more.

Swire's Star Studios on Wing Fung Street has studio flats are only 142 square feet.

That's 10 sq ft bigger than a standard private car parking space, according to the Planning Department.

Swire has units at Wing Fung Street that are 142 sq ft
The development, adjacent to Three Pacific Place in Wan Chai, has 120 units, six of them 142 sq ft, and 60 percent of them ranging from 206 to 240 sq ft, the largest ones are 490 sq ft.

These flats will be smaller than AVA62 in Jordan that currently has the smallest flats on the market at 152 sq ft.

"Hongkongers have to sacrifice their living quality as the sky high property prices and rents have gone beyond the reach of the general public," says Pang Shui-kee, managing director of SK Pang Surveyors.

Peggy Chan, local director of Hong Kong residential at JLL, estimated the monthly rent would be about HK$90 per sq ft, which meant the tiniest flats would cost HK$12,780 per month.

But before your jaw drops further, Swire's development, that will be available in the fourth quarter, will probably be in demand because it is located in between Wan Chai and Admiralty, near restaurants, public transport and Central.

At least there are lots of restaurants downstairs to choose from
It's amazing how much developers/landlords are asking for in terms of rent, but we also have to wonder how you live in such a small space? Obviously a bed is a priority, but then what else? Where do you put all your stuff? Sounds like hard core minimalist living.

But more importantly, at what point will the tiny size of the flat be considered inhumane?

Monday, 24 October 2016

Two More MTR Stops

Passengers crowded into the new stations to check them out
Hong Kong now has two more MTR stops on the Kwun Tong or green line.

It used to start or end at Yau Ma Tei, but now Whampoa and Ho Man Tin have been added.

The two stops were supposed to open last August, but there were engineering problems, space constraints and limited construction hours to avoid disturbing residents.

A map on the train showing the new MTR stops
However, the over one year delay didn't deter excited commuters who were ready to ride the train at 6.10am yesterday, a Sunday morning.

Even before the shutters were barely raised, over 100 people rushed into Whampoa station and cheered as the train pulled away from the station.

However seconds later the train came to a sharp halt and Adi Lau Tin-shing, operations director at the MTR explained that with any new system, new equipment and operation, there will be teething problems that have to be resolved.

But the people on the new train didn't seem to mind -- they were just too excited to have consistent transportation in their neighbourhood, or they are MTR diehard fans.

Some people were really, really excited to be on the first train
Already 108,000 people used the new stations up until 5pm yesterday, but the station is designed for some 146,000 passengers a day.

It is hoped the new stations will relieve traffic congestion in Hung Hom district, while Ho Man Tin station will become the biggest interchange station on the MTR network as it will eventually connect with the Sha Tin to Central line.

While it's exciting to see more areas becoming easily accessible, it's also the sad reality they are becoming more gentrified too...

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Too Much Cash to Stash

Imagine hiding US$31 million worth of cash in your home... where to put it?
Here's some jaw-dropping news -- a corrupt Chinese official was handed a suspended death sentence earlier this week after he was convicted of taking bribes from more than 200 companies worth US$31 million worth of cash.

The money was found in a sparsely furnished apartment in Beijing owned by Wei Pengyuan, a former deputy director in the coal department of the National Development and Reform Commission, China's economic planning agency.

Wei Pengyuan received bribes while working at the NDRC
The 210 million yuan is the largest amount prosecutors have retrieved in cash from a corrupt official in a single operation since 1949, according to state media.

CCTV broadcast a news story showing how Wei was thought to be a modest official who cycled to work. But then it turned out he owned a black Audi (like every other Chinese official) and he would park it near the office and keep the folding bicycle in the trunk of the car.

The authorities raided his apartment, and only when they lifted the mattress of the bed did they find boxes and boxes, and suitcases full of 100 yuan notes bundled in bricks. There were also denominations in US dollars Hong Kong dollars, British pounds and Euros.

Apparently the cash had been sitting there for two years untouched after they were taken out of the bank.

He put the cash in suitcases, bags and boxes under his bed
The report added it took 14 hours for staff to count all the money, and four of the 16 counting machines broke down. News stories always like to add that these counting machines malfunctioned, or perhaps it was because they were made in China?

Wei managed to get all these bribes from conducting coal project reviews and bidding, and also helped others sell equipment illegally between 2000 and 2014, state media reported. He definitely didn't waste time trying to amass as much as he could.

Unfortunately the report doesn't say exactly how Wei was caught in the end, but for an NDRC official to cycle to work seems strange unless he really did live nearby.

If Wei's stash had all been in 100 yuan notes, it would have been over 2 million bills! That is so much cash taken out of circulation... wonder if the hoarding of so much cash by corrupt officials has contributed to China's economic slowdown...

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Fact of the Day: 61 Million Left-Behind Children

There are 61 million left-behind children like these ones in China
In China, the latest survey by the National Health and Family Planning Commission reveals there's a staggering 61 million left-behind children, a third of them younger than 17, who are not raised by their parents.

The mothers and fathers have gone to mostly coastal cities to find work to send money home and only see their children once or maybe twice a year.

The lack of hukou or residence permit in big cities prevents parents from bringing their children with them because they don't have access to decent housing, schooling and health care.

Many are raised by grandparents or relatives in hometowns
So these children are left to mostly grandparents or relatives to care for, and there are many sad cases of them dying.

Last June, four left-behind children from the same family, ranging in ages from give to 13, committed suicide together by swallowing pesticide in Bijie, Guizhou province. And in November 2012, five boys died from carbon monoxide poisoning after starting a charcoal fire to keep warm inside a dumpster.

Experts believe these incidents happened because the parents were not around to raise them.

But at the same time, where else can these parents go to try to make a better life for their families? Provinces like Anhui, Henan and Sichuan are the sources for the most migrant workers, as 44 percent of rural children in these areas are left behind, way above the national average of 35.6 percent.

What is the central government's response?

In February, the State Council, China's cabinet, issued a guideline to local authorities to improve the physical and psychological health of such children. But there are no details on exactly how they would do that. And would Beijing come to check on the the local authorities to see if the have implemented any programs to benefit left-behind children?

They only have access to basic education which isn't enough
They are the most neglected people in society next to orphans.

Sixty-one million children is not a number to dismiss -- it's almost the population of Britain. And yet they barely get basic education and health care, let alone the emotional support they need to grow up to be confident and relatively happy people with decent jobs.

The government needs to do more for these children, but anything effective and immediate doesn't seem to be a priority. Beijing likes to parrot how it has lifted more than 800 million people out of of poverty.

But what about these 61 million children? They are the next generation who deserve at least a chance to thrive.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Typhoon Haima Shuts Down HK

No traffic on the roads in Kennedy Town this morning
This morning at 6.10am, the Hong Kong Observatory raised the Typhoon No. 8 signal, which would last for most of the day, as Typhoon Haima came close to the east side of the territory.

In Kennedy Town just before 9am, winds started picking up with only a few drops of rain. Hardly any traffic was on the roads, save for some taxis trying to gauge passengers, but the MTR was running.

In Belcher Bay Park, a handful of people could not forego their exercise regime and continued doing laps around the park, while leaves and small branches were scattered on the ground.

Many had the day off work today with the T8 signal
The commute to Taipo was painless with hardly any cars on the road. But around 11am the winds got stronger as Typhoon Haima made its approach around noon.

One of the trees in front of one of our fourth floor windows started bending almost horizontally. We saw it and ran to the window. But when we got there, it didn't bend back as far again. It was also raining very heavily at times.

However, after lunch I looked out the window and the tree was gone! It had snapped and fallen along with a few others.

Not until 5.20pm did the observatory lower the signal to Typhoon No. 3 and by the time I came home from work at 7.20pm, it was like this morning -- windy and light showers.

For most people it was a day off work and many businesses were shut. Francis Lun Sheung-nim, chief executive of financial group GEO Securities estimated Hong Kong may have lost over HK$5 billion in business.

This tree in the foreground had fallen after lunch!
That's a massive sum, but probably true, seeing as most of the city was shut down, including the airport, the stock exchange, banks, schools and then all the way down to independent businesses.

Now at midnight the typhoon signals have been cancelled. What a week! We had black rain on Wednesday where lots of roads particularly on the east side of Hong Kong were flooded, and then yesterday was sunny and calm. And then today's chaotic mess.

Tomorrow we could see the sun again...

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Fact of the Day: Microflats Getting Even Smaller

Can you live in a tiny space like this day after day, year after year?
Just when you thought Hong Kong flats couldn't get even smaller, they are.

Emperor International Holdings will have the tiniest flats in the city when it plans to launch a project where each unit measures 61.4 square feet or 5.7 square metres.

One can barely even fit a mattress in that space.

Located at 17-19 Yik Kam Street in Happy Valley, the project -- which is yet to be named -- converts an existing 21-storey commercial building into a residential one.

The unit's current measurement doesn't include the space allocated for a kitchen and bathroom.

But when they are added, the space is still smaller than a project in Jordan called AVA62. There each unit measures 152 square feet -- including a balcony -- selling for HK$20,000 per square foot or HK$3 million.

Microflats are very popular because average home prices have soared beyond the reach of average salary earners, prompting developers to scale down.

And to meet the demand, as many as 5,000 small flats are in in the pipeline every year until 2019, almost triple the average in the last decade.

We get that developers are appealing to investors and first-time buyers to create flats that are somewhat affordable.

But who wants to live in flats like that? What are the psychological effects of living in such tiny spaces?

It can't be good for one's wellbeing...

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Legco's Outrageous Circus

Paul Tse (centre) instigated the pro-establishment walkout of Legco
Today was a descent into chaos in the Legislative Council.

The High Court ruled late last night that the two Youngspiration lawmakers, Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang could retake their oaths, and Legislative Council President Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen allowed them to do that too.

So everyone expected to watch how the young politicians would recite the oath this time.

However the spotlight was hijacked by the pro-Beijing side, when Paul Tse Wai-chun spoke before the meeting, suggesting lawmakers should walk out of Legco if the pair do not apologize and genuinely swear the oath.

Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching must wait another week
After 11am, two other lawmakers were sworn in before pro-establishment members started walking out of the chamber, so the president had to ring the quorum bell.

Then outside the chamber, the pro-establishment formed a human wall, and Leung Kwok-hung or "Long Hair" stood in front of them in protest, hurling luncheon meat at them before there was a shouting match for 10 minutes.

Andrew Leung had to adjourn the meeting 19 minutes after it started because of the lack of quorum and Yau, Sixtus Leung and another localist have yet to be sworn in.

It's ironic to see the pro-Beijing camp stopping all proceedings and paralyzing Legco over the oath-taking, insisting the pair apologize and that they must acknowledge that Hong Kong is China.

Meanwhile the president has won big points by observers for trying to stick to the rules and give the localists -- who had opposed his run for the job -- to take the oath again, though he too is now at odds with his colleagues.

It's lonely at the top for Legco President Andrew Leung
It's all a downright mess really. Can we just get the formalities over with? The Younspiration folks have learned their lesson and promise to take the oath properly. But now they have to wait yet ANOTHER week to do that.

Meanwhile the judicial review filed last night with the High Court to look at Andrew Leung's decision to allow the Youngspiration lawmakers to retake their oaths was revealed to be lodged by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and Secretary for Security Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung.

Seems like CY doesn't mind his popularity sinking even lower...

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Gov't Seeks to Stop Democratically Elected Lawmakers

Sixtus Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching are in court this evening
BREAKING -- Just before midnight Tuesday, the court rejected the injunction application to stop Youngspiration's Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hung from retaking their oaths, but the judicial review of Legco President Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen's decision to allow the pair to retake their oaths has been allowed.

Right now a High Court judge is deciding whether to stop two lawmakers from taking their oaths again tomorrow after the Hong Kong government filed a last-minute court order.

The action was filed against Youngspiration's Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang as defendants and interestingly controversially newly minted Legislative Council President Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen was named co-defendant.

The young lawmakers arrived at court at 8.30pm and slammed the government for not giving them enough time to get proper legal advice.

Andrew Leung is also named as a co-defendant in the case
"They have not even supplied us with the documents [before the hearing]... This goes to show the government is willing to strip us of our qualifications at any cost," said Yau.

Sixtus Leung said they would do their best to defend themselves as well as the city's dignity and interest.

Meanwhile Legco president Leung instructed his lawyer to object to the government's application for a judicial review of his decision to allow Yau and Leung to re-take their oaths on Wednesday.

This is the first time the government has sought to invalidate the status of democratically elected lawmakers.

What is going on?

Yau and Sixtus Leung had already announced they would not create anymore antics and retake the oath properly after getting a landslide of criticism for saying "the People's Republic of Chee-na" instead of "China", and Leung claiming the pronunciation was due to his "Ap Lei Chau" accent.

The court decides if the lawmakers should retake the oath
While there are questions of Andrew Leung's exact citizenship situation, what has he done wrong? Where does it say that lawmakers are not allowed to retake their oaths? Is the government claiming the pro-Beijing president is not doing his job?

Our political system is showing cracks with things that could have been resolved through discussion and compromise, now are being resolved through the courts.

Judges should not have to decide on every single matter.

How can the government decide to invalidate the votes of Hong Kong people who voted for Yau and Sixtus Leung?

This will only further galvanize the already fractious situation, creating more tension in the city and its residents wonder if anything will ever get done politically.

Can we all please move on? We've only just started this new session of the legislature and already it's a mess.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Picture of the Day: Typhoon 3 Evening

The Star Ferry approaching Tsim Sha Tsui against a curtain of showers
Not one but two typhoons are coming towards Hong Kong this week. One is named Sarika that is expected to make landfall tomorrow in Hainan, while the other is Haima, that will be closest to us on Thursday.

After attending an event in Tsim Sha Tsui after work, I opted to take the Star Ferry across to Hong Kong Island.

Hardly anyone on the boat this evening!
There were only a handful of passengers on board so it was such a pleasant and quiet ride! No one spoke, no one played games on their phone, or if they did it was on silent.

Everyone else must have headed for the MTR instead. What a nice way to get home without the crush of people scrambling to get home!

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Hardly Helping the Poor

A "coffin-sized" home is the situation for many living below the poverty line
When Leung Chun-ying was running for chief executive, he pledged to tackle poverty issues, giving the impression he is a man of the people, unlike his then competitor Henry Tang Ying-yen who seemed to be with the elitist crowd.

But four years after Leung became the leader of Hong Kong, the number of poor has increased to a six-year high under his watch.

How did that happen?

Leung's pledge to fight poverty has had no effective results
The Hong Kong Poverty Situation Report 2015 was released yesterday, and it showed 20,000 more people were living below the poverty line in 2015 compared to the year before, a total of 1.34 million.

The poverty line was set up in 2013 and calculated as half the median household income according to household size. Those living below it are considered poor, even taking into account government subsidies and handouts.

Around 477,500 are categorized as "working poor" families, of which 14,200 are degree holders.

The elderly at 65 years and older are most vulnerable, as one in three live in poverty, while one and two-person households are likely the elderly and single-parent families.

Social workers criticized the government for just throwing money at the problem instead of trying to get at the root cause, such as providing more low-income housing, and not taking into account actual living costs.

One in three elderly live in poverty in Hong Kong
"The current poverty line for a one-person household, HK$3,800, is too low. How could someone earning HK$4,000 per month not be considered poor?" asked veteran social worker Ho Hei-wah of the Society for Community Organization.

"A coffin-sized home already costs them some HK$1,000. How could they live with the rest of the money?"

At the Commission on Poverty summit on Saturday, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-nor tried to spin the results as saying the the poverty rate was "stable", much to the dismay of social workers, who find it bizarre that even though the government claims to be working hard for the poor, its efforts have hardly made a dent into trying to reduce the poverty rate.

As this latest report is seen as a kind of report card on Leung's performance as chief executive, the results are shockingly bad. Can we not have some long-term goals on how we can help the poor live better lives than just think about short-term solutions?

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Beijing Reveals Liaison Office's Flaws

Beijing found some issues with how the liaison office here is run
It looks like all is not well with the Liaison Office in Sai Ying Pun, known as the one that rules Hong Kong from Western district.

The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection revealed a number of issues following a recent inspection of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council.

Chief inspector Ning Yanling said the party's leadership in the office is not strong enough, nor is the implementation of the central leadership's decisions firm. Also, the choice and the use of personnel is not satisfactory, there is no timely reshuffling of grassroots personnel, there is loose and lax management of the party, and they took up more office space than allowed.

Zhang Xiaoming is the current director of the liaison office
The office should strengthen its leadership and "push forward new developments in the work on Hong Kong and Macau", and strictly adhere to political discipline," Ning said.

The commission also said the office should give "corruption risks" existing in the leadership and their subordinates high priority, and set up the monitoring and use of funds, he said.

At the same time the report acknowledged the office "had made certain achievements in implementing the party's basic requirement regarding the work on Hong Kong and Macau, and strengthening party discipline".

While no officials were singled out in the report, Wang Guangya, the director of the office, was quoted as saying the office accepted the feedback push forward new developments in its work, and implement the recommendations of the inspectors.

To add to the findings, Sing Pao, which has regularly covered the operations at the office, ran a front page story on this most recent report.

Wang Guangya acknowledged mistakes and vowed to reform
It cited an earlier commentary from the paper that suggested the office had been corrupt ever since the time of former director Liao Hui, who is a mentor of current office head Zhang Xiaoming. Liao is considered quite influential in political and business circles.

It seems the liaison office here is run as its own fiefdom and not necessarily following Beijing's orders. We're all curious to know what kind of corruption is happening in the office, money not properly spent.

Does this have to do with filling the coffers of pro-Beijing party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong to help them in their campaigning and political activities?

And taking up more office space? What does that mean? Did someone spread out their stuff on other desks they weren't supposed to use?

It's all so intriguing.

The office is scrambling to fix errors of its ways and from now on we may see a change in how it deals with Hong Kong politics. More restraint? Picking its fights carefully?

We shall see...

Friday, 14 October 2016

Clearing the Issue on Windows

The Philippine consulate wants to ban domestic helpers from cleaning windows
There have been far too many incidents of maids -- oh I mean domestic helpers -- falling to their deaths to clean windows for their employers.

Either the bosses are not giving advice on how to clean the windows safely, or they are expecting every inch of the windows to be clean, which in some cases is absolutely impossible without falling out.

I periodically clean the windows of my flat, but there are some areas I cannot reach at all and just have to leave them as is. Nothing's perfect.

Cleaning windows outside is dangerous at any height
But alas, there have been several cases of maids falling out of windows only to die, and that's not worth it at all.

Despite complaints from the Philippine government through the consulate here, the Hong Kong government up to now has done nothing about it.

It was only when the consulate announced earlier this week that a new contractual clause with Filippino domestic helpers state that cleaning the outside of windows was no longer part of their duties did the Hong Kong government freak out and ask for time to figure out how to solve the matter.

So the fact that several domestic helpers have died because they fell out of windows while working in Hong Kong was not enough of an impetus for the government to look into the matter and perhaps discuss the issue with the Philippine consulate?

It seems civil servants also expect super clean windows even though the view outside is basically smog anyway.

The ban was supposed to take effect on Sunday, but after the Hong Kong government pleaded for time, did the consulate postpone the ban until November 14.

Matthew Cheung needs more time to sort out the issue?
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung welcomed the delay, saying more time was needed to work out the new measures as well as seek a balance between the interests of employers and domestic helpers.

What's there to sort out? This is a matter of safety; everyone will have to just deal with either cleaning the exterior of windows themselves, figure out a procedure and tools to clean them safely, or leave them as is.

By the same token the Philippine government should have discussed the issue with the Hong Kong authorities before instituting the ban.

In Singapore, domestic helpers there haven't had to clean the exterior of windows since 2012, unless the employer is present to supervise the work and a grille is installed and locked at all times during the process.

If and when this contractual clause comes into effect, it could also lead to other countries to have similar clauses in their domestic helpers' contracts, like Indonesia.

As many of these domestic helpers are the main bread winners back home, making their work more safe would be a win-win for everyone. And anyways, haven't we already developed self-cleaning window technology?

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Tennis Star Serves Hong Kong Elderly

Johanna Konta (right) serving a meal to a senior at Food Angel's canteen
It's nice to see top international athletes doing some charitable work in Hong Kong.

The other day British No. 1 women's player Johanna Konta who is here for the Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open 2016, visited Food Angel's canteen in Sham Shui Po.

She along with Chinese players Liu Chang, Zheng Saisai, Lu Jiajing and Nao Hibino helped serve fish fillets and tofu in a crab meat sauce to elderly seniors in the area.

Konta was very happy to help out in her small way, saying, "It was a wonderful cause to be distributing food that would otherwise be wasted to people who really need it".

Food Angel rescues some 4 tons of most raw ingredients daily, from vegetables to meats and seafood, and turns them into 6,000 nutritious meals for the underprivileged.

I visited Food Angel last year and am impressed by how they can do this in such a small kitchen, and they invite volunteers to come and help out whenever they can. Upstairs is a canteen where elderly residents in the area usually come for lunch and dinner to socialize and have a healthy meal they otherwise could not afford.

Unfortunately there is only so much food the charity can rescue each day, and the government isn't doing enough to legislate supermarkets and wet markets to donate their unsold produce to places like Food Angel instead of dumping them into landfills.

However, for now, Food Angel's got it right, by getting as much publicity as possible in the hopes that greater public awareness will hopefully inspire more people to help out, and get more businesses behind them.

For more information go to Food Angel's website.