Friday, 30 December 2016

Lunching at Le Crocodile

The signature chocolate petit fours at Le Crocodile
A friend from Hong Kong who visits his family once or twice a year in Vancouver had asked me earlier about eating at French fine dining restaurant Le Crocodile.

He didn't know any friends or relatives here who had eaten there before and even though he wouldn't mind eating there alone, he had wanted to try it and I volunteered to accompany him for lunch.

Delicious lobster bisque topped with creme fraiche and chives
I made the reservation before I arrived in Vancouver to ensure a table and was given the choice of either 11.30am or 1.30pm. I chose the latter so we wouldn't be rushed, but also, other than dim sum or brunch, who eats lunch at 11.30am?

The menu doesn't change much, but there are a number of daily specials to choose from. We decided to stick to the perennial favourites.

My friend had the classic Alsatian onion tart (CAD$11.50) that was a very large slice (I had it last year), and it wasn't too heavy, a touch of ham in it.

I also tried a spoonful of the "Le Crocodile classic" tomato and gin soup (CAD$7.50). It has a wonderful tomato flavour lifted by the gin, making it a refreshing, but also heart-warming soup!

Venison medallions with chanterelles and spatzle
For my starter I had the lobster bisque served with Cognac and topped with creme fraiche and finely chopped chives (CAD$9.50). The flavour was so pungent, though not too rich or thick. Good to the last drop.

Not long afterwards our mains arrived. My friend had the fresh pappardelle pasta served with braised veal cheeks, in a pinot noir reduction and truffle oil (CAD$23). The veal cheeks were so tender a knife was hardly needed to cut through them. The pasta was also delicious, having soaked up the red wine sauce.

I ordered the venison medallions, New Zealand venison that was raised in Duncan, on Vancouver Island, with a rustic chanterelle sauce served with spatzle, an Alsatian/German twisted egg noodle, again perfect to mop up the sauce with.

Fresh pappardelle with braised veal cheeks in a red wine sauce
We heartily enjoyed each bite, appreciating the attention to cooking, the ingredients and the cozy but not too stuffy ambience.

My friend couldn't think of another comparable restaurant in Hong Kong. I suggested perhaps Va Bene in its heyday on D'Aguilar Street, but he wasn't too familiar with the restaurant.

There just aren't many authentic French restaurants, that aren't too formal, and yet not so casual that the staff don't know what they are serving.

We were too full for dessert, but the restaurant still gave us a scoop of delicious pear sorbet accompanied with a giant mint leaf! We also got the signature four chocolate crocodiles.

Refreshing pear sorbet with a mint leaf to finish the meal
I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to walk off the meal! I'm glad my friend had a good impression of the restaurant, and maybe we will start our tradition of meeting up in Vancouver for lunch at Le Crocodile.

Le Crocodile
Suite 100 - 909 Burrard Street
(604) 669 4298

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Happy Birthday LXB

Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo turns 61 years old in prison today
Today is dissident Liu Xiaobo's birthday. He is marking his 61st birthday in jail, serving his seventh year of an 11-year sentence for inciting subversion of state power when he wrote and circulated his "Charter 08" petition, demanding greater democratic rights in China.

On Christmas Day, several former pan-democratic lawmakers in Hong Kong, like Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho Chun-yan protested outside the Liaison Office, demanding Liu be released, and that house arrest immediately end for his wife Liu Xia, and the persecution of other dissidents, like rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, former Wukan village chief Lin Zulian, and Beijing-based activist Hu Shigen.

Activists like Lee Cheuk-yan held a Liu Xiaobo protest
Ho, who is chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movement in China, said after the protest that even though China looks powerful on the surface, "It appears to be so paranoid and so frightened in hearing dissenting voices."

He said locking up more and more non-violent people asking for the recognition of basic rights indicates the "inside is weak and maybe quite fragile."

Liu's 11-year sentence is meant to harshly punish him, but also act as a deterrent to those who think the Chinese should fight for democracy.

What's interesting to note is that this year also marks the sixth anniversary of frosty relations between Beijing and Norway after the Nobel Committee awarded the highly coveted Peace Prize to Liu in 2010.

However, earlier this month, Norway's Foreign Minister Borge Brende made an unannounced visit to Beijing and on December 19 the two countries announced a normalization of relations.

We are waiting for Liu to come to Oslo to receive his award
In the two governments' joint statement, they acknowledged the deterioration in the bilateral relationship had been "due to the Nobel Peace Prize award and events connected to the prize." It added, "The Norwegian side is fully conscious of the position and concerns of the Chinese side and has worked actively to bring the bilateral relations back to the right track."

Brende did not mention anything about human rights. That would be expected, particularly if a country is keen to restore economic ties with Beijing again.

According to Norwegian data, in December 2010, exports of whole salmon to China was 1 million kilograms, that plunged to 315,000 kg in January 2011, and 75,000 the month after.

Despite normalization of relations between the two countries, Liu's Peace Prize still stands and we are patiently waiting to watch him go to Oslo to receive it.

Happy Birthday Liu! We have not forgotten you.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Our Princess Leia

Princesses can also hold their own, in a galaxy far, far, away...
There are only a few more days left in the year and it was very sad to hear the news that yet another celebrity who made an impression on my youth was gone.

Actress Carrie Fisher passed away this morning at the age of 60, a few days after she had had a heart attack on a flight from London to Los Angeles.

Actress Carrie Fisher died today at the age of 60
We all thought our Princess Leia had died.

Many of us remember when Star Wars came out in 1977, watching this beautiful brunette woman with these large buns around her ears and dressed in white.

Up until that point, my preconceptions of what a princess was was developed from watching Walt Disney movies, like Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Snow White -- how the princess or the beautiful woman was saved by a dashing prince and how they would live happily ever after.

Princess Leia shattered those old fashioned images for me -- and countless other little girls -- love her. While she might be a princess, she was very adept at shooting guns to kill storm troopers, knowing her way around the Death Star, wearing a long dress that covered her up and flat boots, and even having funny zingers to fend off the attentions of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker.

Fisher in Star Wars with Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford
The next Halloween I was Princess Leia though I remember it was very cold wearing that thin white outfit with a brown belt. But we all wanted to be Princess Leias and Luke Skywalkers.

Watching the original Star Wars trilogy again in my 20s made me see how the dialogue was much more wittier than my six-year-old brain could figure out, and I could see the sexual chemistry between Han Solo and Princess Leia.

She redefined for me the definition of a heroine -- that she could achieve things herself -- she didn't need to depend on a man. They seemed like tools she could use to achieve her means.

I didn't watch the thinly autobiographical Postcards from the Edge, but I later saw Fisher in When Harry Met Sally..., another favourite movie of mine, where she plays Sally's best friend Marie, who immediately clicks with Harry's best friend Jess and they soon get married.

Fisher with Bruno Kirby in When Harry Met Sally...
It was lovely to see Fisher again, and saying some funny lines.

Now I feel like I should read some of her books, where I am reading in obituaries that she was an even better writer than actress, writing about her life experiences as the daughter of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, growing up in Hollywood and getting into drugs, and being diagnosed bipolar.

Carrie Fisher, thank you. Thank you for telling an entire generation of little girls in the late 1970s that we too can be our own Princess Leias -- able to hold our own, witty, smart, strong and caring.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Getting Something We Didn't Ask For

We may see a replica of this in Hong Kong in West Kowloon in a few years
There are a lot of questions as to why a HK$3.5 billion dollar replica of the Palace Museum is being added at the West Kowloon Cultural District.

The biggest question is why there isn't any public consultation over it -- do we really need a replica of the Forbidden City that's worth that much money? Or is this meant to be a subtle hint that Beijing isn't as far away as we think?

According to legislation on the arts hub it says: "the Authority shall, in relation to matters concerning the development or operation of arts and cultural facilities, related facilities, ancillary facilities and any other matters as the Authority considers fit, consult the public at such time and in such manner as it considers appropriate".

Carrie Lam says the project doesn't need public consultation
However, Hong Kong Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who is also chairwoman of the authority's board, said the project didn't need public consultation because it was run by the authority and not the government, and also it was being funded by the Jockey Club and didn't need Legislative Council approval.

Lam also lobbied every member of the board personally to get them on board the project -- which they only heard about last month.

One board member reported the project was already underway with architect Rocco Yim Sen-kee leading the project. You may remember him as the one who designed the relatively new government complex at Tamar.

Lam insinuates this project is not one that would go down well in a public consultation.

"It is very difficult to conduct a public consultation because it involves the central government and the related ministries," she said. "You can imagine that, if we were to ask the public if they wanted to have more exhibits from the Palace Museum more than half a year earlier, everyone should respond positively. But if more than half a year later, someone disagreed with it, it would be very embarrassing."

Civic Party's Tanya Chan Suk-chong and deputy chairwoman of the Legco panel monitoring the West Kowloon development, was unconvinced.

"Did she mean that public consultations must be avoided if opposition is expected?" Chan said.

The airport's air traffic control system hasn't been working well
But it sounds like this is the way things are being done in Hong Kong now -- tough, accountable questions are not being asked, let alone answered these days, which is why we have things like a newly installed air traffic control system worth HK$1.56 billion at Hong Kong International Airport not working properly, where planes disappear off radar screens for several seconds, and yet aviation officials insist this is not a risk to air safety.

So if air traffic control lose sight of a plane on their radar screens for 12 seconds, there isn't a problem?

And now we seem to be getting a replica of Beijing's Palace Museum whether we like it or not.

Welcome to the ongoing mainlandization of Hong Kong, or China's version of soft power.

Either way it's not very reassuring.

Monday, 26 December 2016

Another Artist Gone

Christmas will be a sad anniversary to remember George Michael's death
It was a shock this afternoon to hear that George Michael had died at the age of 53. There has been no word yet on the cause of death, but his passing adds on to 2016's sad list of artists who have been taken from us.

They include David Bowie, Natalie Cole, Prince, Glen Frey, Maurice White, Leonard Cohen and Alan Thicke.

But George Michael represented our generation. We fell in love with him when Wham! first came out singing Wake Me Up Before you Go-go, Careless Whisper and Everything She Wants.

Michael proved he was more than just a pretty face later on
Wham! was the first pop group to perform in China in 1985 and it was their creative manager who managed to woo the Chinese through their stomachs, as retold in last year's blog post.

Michael became even more popular when he went solo with hits like I Want Your Sex, Faith, and Freedom '90, and always at this time we would hear him around this time singing Last Christmas.

This was sadly his last Christmas, and we will miss him, a big part of many teenage lives, thrilled by this man's good looks, but he also proved he was much more than that, a true artist who was true to himself.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Picture of the Day: Merry Christmas to One and All!

Mr and Mrs Fox having a dapper Christmas at Elements Mall in Kowloon!
In the approach to Christmas, the shopping malls in Hong Kong fiercely compete to outdo each other in terms of decorations and installations.

This year of all the ones I've seen, my hands-down favourite is the Fantastic Mr Fox display at Elements mall above Kowloon Station.

Many of the main characters are seated along a long banquet table having a magnificent feast they bagged successfully from the three farmers.

The only thing missing from this installation is George Clooney's voice!

In any event, Merry Christmas to everyone!!!

When Will it Stop?

That's what 50 sq ft of space looks like -- could you live in a space like that?
Just when we thought flats couldn't get smaller, a developer in Hong Kong has done so.

When completed in September 2018, Chun Wo Property Development TPlus apartments in Tuen Mun will have flats that start at 128 square feet.

How much space is that?

After deducting for the balcony, bathroom and kitchen, that only leaves 50 sq ft of living space.

To put that into even better perspective -- 50 sq ft is smaller than an average parking spot.

Ironically the parking spots at 134 sq ft are bigger than some of the actual flats.

Could this not be more wrong?

But people in the real estate industry don't even bat an eyelid, saying developers could make even smaller flats if there is a market for them.

"History tells us that when developers or owners rush to launch mini properties, regardless of whether they are flats, office or shop units, that's sending out a message that capital is drying up, says Joseph Tsang, JLL's managing director and head of capital market who has been in the industry for three decades.

"Simply put, there are fewer buyers out there with the money" to afford apartments of decent, normal sizes," he said.

Most of the buyers of these shoe box flats are investors who rent them out to university students and fresh grads getting jobs, and it's the ones from the mainland who are willing to pay rents a year in advance.

It's a pretty good deal for landlords, not only getting the money in hand in advance, but also the yield is about 6 to 7 percent per year.

However, if the flat is not located near the city centre, the resale value is limited, because fewer potential homeowners would consider making such microflats a permanent home.

Another interesting fact is that average flat prices are a record 19 times the gross median income, according to a January survey by US-based Demographia, which defines any region with median income multiple higher than 5.1 as "severely unaffordable".

This demonstrates how prices in Hong Kong have outpaced income growth, making decent-sized flats out of reach of average income earners. As a result, people either have to buy small, buy old or far from the city centre.

In 2013 the Hong Kong government doubled the stamp duty on second-time home owners and last month it set the standard rate at 15 percent, again making buyers more interested in smaller flats as the tax decreases with the size of the floor space.

When will the government see that these tiny flats are inhumane to live in? Or is it too busy counting its takings from stamp duties to notice? Making Hong Kong more and more unaffordable is not a healthy way to run a city.

Most of the buyers of these microflats are investors anyway and not first-time home owners, so developers aren't really fulfilling market demands.

Government officials should really see what a 128 sq ft flat looks like and could they picture themselves living in one?

The same goes with the MTR during rush hour.

They really are oblivious to the reality of the average Hong Kong resident.

It's time to put an end to inhumane living spaces.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Trump's Sabre-Rattling Man

What will the addition of Peter Navarro mean for Trump's China policy?
US President-elect Donald Trump continues with his war mongering with today's appointment of UC Irvine economist Peter Navarro to head the new National Trade Council for US trade and industrial policy.

If anything Navarro seems to be inspiring Trump's beliefs that China has been taking away American jobs, polluting the planet and spewing propaganda to justify its totalitarian regime.

The 67-year-old has written several books on the Middle Kingdom, like Death by China, Crouching Tiger: What China's Militarism Means for the World, and The Coming China Wars: Where They Will Be Fought, How They Can Be Won.

Trump seems to be influenced by Navarro's writing on China
They are ominous titles and Navarro seems to be egging on a fight with China, standing behind Trump and daring to poke the dragon in the eye.

Is this really necessary? And besides, China and the US' economies are so closely interlinked, adding the military card just makes things even more tense than they need be.

So if America doesn't pay back the trillions of dollars worth of US Treasury bills China holds, then the US is going to do payback time in the form of nukes?

And Navarro seems to forget that China is the world's factory, which is why it is polluting the environment at the cost of consumers' (mostly American) desires. If we needed less stuff then maybe the country would be less polluted.

Provoking war with China seems completely absurd, but then again we are now in the age of Trump where he seems to have the idea of stimulating the economy with military escalation...

One of Navarro's books about China
It is a frightening thought that this is what Trump is keen to do and giving Navarro license to fulfill his predictions.

Sounds like China needs to be the more reasoned panda than the eagle who seems keen on trying out its arsenal...

Picture of the Day: Challenging Conditions

Students had to sit outside breathing in air pollution while writing exams
In Linzhou, Anyang, Henan province, 480 students were made to sit outside in the choking smog to write their exams.

The eighth grade pupils had to take the exams on Monday afternoon when local education authorities said schools should close from Monday because of the severe air pollution, according to Dahe News.

Pictures taken by a parent show the students in a football pitch either squatting or seated with low stools used as tables.

Visibility was so bad that day, it was down to only 200 metres.

The school principal didn't seem to understand what all the fuss was about.

"We thought that since we had already organized it, why not just finish the whole process [despite the school being ordered to close]," the principal said.

Ah, the pragmatism of the Chinese wins over health concerns of sitting outside and breathing in severe smog...

Monday, 19 December 2016

Leung Crying for Sympathy

Leung finds it hard to write his policy address without Tsang's help
Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying hasn't been a happy camper since Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah suddenly resigned last Monday, fueling speculation he was keen on running for his boss' job next March.

Leung said he and his team were busy preparing for the policy address and without Tsang there, Leung had to stay up until 3am looking over a draft of the speech.

How come Tsang can leave his job as soon as he resigns?
"The measures in the address would need financial support, and involves the work of the financial secretary's office. So traditionally, December to February are the busiest times for the chief executive and financial departments," said Leung.

In that case, why doesn't Tsang's undersecretary have the info, along with others working in the fiance department? Or did his entire team leave en masse too?

And isn't it strange that he can just resign and leave the job just like that? The rest of us have to give a minimum of a month's notice, while for those in senior positions, it's three months.

What is also interesting is that Beijing hasn't yet approved Tsang's resignation... or does he need to work on this policy address first?

Regardless, Leung isn't getting any brownie points from anyone -- everyone's more interested in who's replacing him...

Picture of the Day: Snow!

The backyard was covered in snow this morning with more flakes falling down!
This morning we woke up to Vancouver covered in the white stuff falling for much of the day.

It's so peaceful when it snows -- no one wants to go outside and so it's quiet and somewhat relaxing to watch the flakes come down and slowly accumulate to about 7cm today.

Luckily it wasn't too difficult to get around, but we spent most of the day indoors to stay warm.

Some shrubs weighed down by the accumulation of snow
Tomorrow will have temperatures well above zero and rain for the next few days...

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Trump Messes with China Again

China has taken a US underwater drone that probably looked like this one
Following President-Elect Donald Trump's chat on the phone with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, tensions between China and the United States have escalated further after the former seized a US navy underwater drone in international waters in the South China Sea.

Trump's initial tweet reacting to the incident
The US claims the drone was used for research purposes, while China says it was "professional and responsible" in taking the device, and Beijing says will return it in an "appropriate manner" without elaborating further.

And to further escalate the situation, Trump waded into the issue with an off-the-cuff tweet -- "China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters - rips it out of water and takes it to China in unpresidented [sic] act."

What he really meant was "unprecedented", which he changed an hour later.

Handling his public statements would be the ultimate nightmare for any press secretary because Trump seems to like to shoot off whatever knee-jerk reaction he has on Twitter, completely unfiltered. Which also means spelling mistakes are highly probable.

China's unprecedented construction in the South China Sea
Will this end come January 20 when he is formally inaugurated as the 45th president?

We shall see, but in the meantime, China can very easily play the tit-for-tat game with Trump. It's like a wise cat biding its time with a mouse that thinks it can outsmart a feline with nine lives...

Friday, 16 December 2016

Regina's Bumbling Start

Yesterday Regina Ip announced she will run for Hong Kong's top job
Ah Regina, you're one of the first out of the gate, but not many are impressed with your campaign start so far.

Yesterday at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee formally announced her candidacy for the next chief executive with the slogan "Win Back Hong Kong".

But many wondered why the need to win it back? From whom?

There was also a major blunder with the Chinese version of the slogan. Trying to be clever, in the character "win" or "yeng", the bottom part was removed to put the English word "win", but then the upper part of the character is associated with death... was she making a premonition?

Critics say she has a few errors in her campaign slogan...
Apparently the English version of her platform is riddled with grammatical and spelling errors, which does not bode well, nor the fact that while she was keen to give the impression she was sporty, she proposed Hong Kong bid for the 2021 National Games. But in fact it was already announced November last year that the annual athletic games would be held in Shaanxi province.

Someone didn't do their fact checking.

Other than that, during her 45-minute presentation, Ip made no effort to try to make herself more personable or friendly, talking about her background to demonstrate her motivation to want to run.

Instead she launched straight into the nine policy areas she would tackle, such as land supply and public finance, and education. Ip also wants to bring back Article 23 to the Legislative Council to pass. Good luck with that...

Even members of the audience didn't seem that enthusiastic about what she had to offer. There is also the lack of heavyweights who attended yesterday's event, aside from former chief secretary David Akers-Jones, who seems to have weird choices in who he thinks is best for the job. His last choice was Leung Chun-ying...

After the announcement, Ip took questions from the media, but eyebrows were raised when a TVB reporter asked a question in English, but Ip replied in Cantonese.

Maybe she was nervous?

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Fact of the Day: Eating Too Much Red Meat

Too much red meat isn't too good for you, increasing the risk of cancer
Did you know that you might be eating too much red meat everyday?

A relatively small survey of 1,013 Hong Kong people found 26 percent of them were eating twice the amount of red meat recommended at over 160 grams per day.

The survey conducted by the Anti-Cancer Society found during hotpot, barbecue or Korean grill meals, the average consumption of red meat was 270.1g, while for processed meat it was 103.2g.

Hotpots and Korean grills entice people to eat too much meat
Dr Rico Liu King-yin, chairman of the cancer education subcommittee of the Anti-Cancer Society says no more than 510g of red meat per week was recommended, which comes to a daily limit of 73g or the size of two mahjong tiles.

In that case I am over the daily limit a lot!

"Studies suggest the risk of colorectal cancer could increase by 17 percent for each 100g portion of red meat eaten daily," Liu said.

Last year, the World Health Organization classified the consumption of red meat as probably carcinogenic to humans, while processed meat was carcinogenic to humans.

The local study also found that respondents were aware of the increased cancer risk of eating too much red meat.

"I think this is in part due to a lot of people in Hong Kong having a habit of going out for meals, in which they cannot control the portion of food served," he said.

The daily amount of meat should be 73g or two mahjong tiles
Uh huh. Especially hot pot and Korean barbecue restaurants, where large platters of meat are on the menu.

However, Liu said healthy eating could lower the risk of cancer by 30 to 40 percent, and that red meat should not be avoided entirely because it is rich in nutrients.

So keep that in mind folks -- you should only eat two mahjong tiles' worth of meat per day...

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Woo Unveils Platform

Retired judge Woo Kwok-hing unveiled his platform today running for CE
Just when we thought Hong Kong chief executive contender former judge Woo Kwok-hing was fading into the background, he came back today releasing his platform way ahead of everyone else.

He said the platform tackled issues that incumbent Leung Chun-ying failed or refused to deliver. Woo has also secured the support of Andy Ho On-tat, who was the top aide to former CE Donald Tsang Yam-kuen.

Woo promoted his 47-page booklet outlining a number of policy proposals he said were the culmination of him talking to a wide range of people in the past six weeks.

One proposal would be to regulate Uber in Hong Kong...
"Those who have shared their ideas with me may find I have borrowed some of their insights for my policy blueprint," he said.

His top priority is political reform, vowing to broaden the electoral roll of the Election Committee that will select the city's leader in March from 250,000 to one million voters.

Another is to abolish the TSA or Territory-wide System Assessment for Primary Three pupils that has been criticized for putting extra pressure on students in the form of exam drilling.

Woo also wants to develop brownfield sites -- degraded farmland in the New Territories that are currently occupied by recycling workshops and other operators -- for housing.

He would also regulate Uber despite taxi drivers' protests, and AirBnB accommodation services for tourists.

As the first out of the gate in October announcing his candidacy for CE, Woo doesn't think much of his pro-establishment would-be rivals.

Another would be to scrap the TSA exams for primary three
"Those aspirants who have been waiting, the pan-democrats know full well what they are waiting for. What they wait for runs against pan-democrats' principles. They should not support those candidates," he said.

While former Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah tendered his resignation on Monday, there is speculation Beijing may take a while to confirm him as a candidate, with one Chinese academic claiming Tsang may not be politically correct enough.

However, we shall see. It took two days to confirm Henry Tang Ying-yen but eight for Donald Tsang.

In any case, Woo's platform is pretty much what many people in Hong Kong would like to see. But does he have Beijing's blessing?

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Government Proposes 12.4% Pay Rise

Senior Hong Kong government officials will be eyeing a double-digit pay rise
Hong Kong's top officials can expect a 12.4 percent pay rise next year, the first increase in 15 years.

The government added that it was getting harder to attract talent because of the city's political atmosphere.

This I find strange since I know a few people who have managed to get government positions, making it still a very sought-after job. Granted they are not senior positions, but if they do well they can get promoted and in turn get better pay.

Many are turning to civil servant positions because of the high salaries and this year it looks like employers are only going to give out 4 percent pay rises, if that.

Carrie Lam is the highest paid government official
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen said the proposed double-digit pay rise was "very moderate and reasonable", and "only fair", given that salaries for top officials had remained frozen since 2002.

The pay rise factors in cumulative inflation since 2012, and there will be a new mechanism to adjust the top officials' pay annually in line with the consumer price index used for households in the relatively high expenditure range, similar to the renumeration for Legislative Council members.

How nice to have a salary that increases along with inflation...

So a political assistant will get around HK$104,000 a month, while a minister currently gets HK$298,000. The chief secretary is the highest paid minister at HK$330,000.

While the proposal will be debated in Legco next Monday, some lawmakers aren't convinced senior ministers deserve it.

Does the government know many of us won't get pay rises?
"Few ministers have been truly accountable to Hong Kong citizens," said Wu Chi-wai, the new chief of the Democratic Party said of the 12.4 percent pay rise. "The popularity of several ministers remains unacceptably low. We cannot make a decision just on the grounds that the growth in their pay lags behind inflation."

The independent commission that was tasked to come up with the pay recommendations noted there was no mechanism currently for annual pay adjustments and that ministers' salaries had fallen below the level of public sector pay, while remaining significantly lower than that of the private sector.


Do these people putting these recommendations not know how the average citizen in Hong Kong makes per month? It's hardly in the six digits.

If economic times are good, then maybe we can talk about pay rises. But the economy has been stagnant this past year, and will be in the next two years, and the government is not doing enough to clamp down on rising rents, getting developers to build more low-income housing, encouraging small businesses or helping the poor.

There needs to be some evidence to show the government has served the people well before getting a well-deserved pay rise.

Many would agree that the government seems even more out of touch as ever, as evidenced by this proposal for a double digit pay rise when many of us will be lucky to have one, if at all.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Voting for Change

Counting votes in the various professional subsectors for the Election Committee
To say we are pleased with the pan-democrats doing so well in yesterday's election to choose who will be part of the 1,194-member Election Committee is an understatement. And probably many people in Hong Kong will agree.

A record 326 seats were won by pan-democrats, when they were hoping for 300, making the pan-democratic voice worth around 25 percent of the overall seats in the Election Committee.

This compares to 2011 when they only won 211 seats.

A lot of things have changed since then.

John Tsang resigned today, getting close to his campaign run
As we mentioned yesterday, people are becoming more politically active, and in this case, professionals in Hong Kong are very concerned about the eroding rights and freedoms in the city and are keen on universal suffrage.

Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a political scientist at Chinese University, said pan-democrats' victories in professional subsectors showed that the days when Hong Kong professionals only cared for the interests of their respective sectors are gone.

"The basis of the governance in Hong Kong would be undermined if Beijing does not take measures to address the alienation of professionals in Hong Kong," he said.

The pan-democrats won big in legal, education, higher education, health services and welfare subsectors. They also secured seats in accountancy, and architectural and surveying, and even Chinese medicine, previously a pro-Beijing stalwart.

Not much has been heard from former Judge Woo Kwok-hing
Another political scientist at Chinese University, Ma Ngok, added the individual votes by these professionals also showed middle class discontent.

"They are unhappy with the government and current political system," he said. "The  next administration should find ways to rebuild the professionals' confidence towards the government."

The speculation over who will run (and who will win) continues. Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor continues to be a favourite because she is a moderate, while John Tsang is inching ever closer to launching his campaign bid by resigning this afternoon as Financial Secretary.

Although she has yet to formally declare herself in the race, Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee has already welcomed the growing pool of possible candidates.

Retired judge Woo Kwok-hing was a refreshing choice early on, but now he seems to be fading into the background, particularly because it doesn't seem that he has any backing from Beijing.

Nevertheless, it's very promising to see the results of Election Committee vote -- everyone is taking these exercises very seriously and it shows how serious many are about creating change within the system. 

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Another Strong Voter Turnout

Leung made his surprise announcement to the joy of many on Friday
The Umbrella protests in 2014 didn't result in Beijing giving Hong Kong universal suffrage, but it did make its residents much more politically educated and active.

This was evidenced by the record number of people who came out to vote during September's Legislative Elections -- 2.2 million or 58 percent of the population. Towards the 10.30pm deadline, there were still massive lines at polling stations in places like Quarry Bay and people were willing to wait hours just to cast their votes.

Meanwhile there were already plans for the pan-democrats to try to get as many people elected into the Election Committee that will choose the next Chief Executive in March. They had a campaign called "ABC", "anyone but CY" [Leung].

The "Anyone but CY" or ABC campaign by pan-democrats
However, it's interesting that Leung Chun-ying chose Friday afternoon to make his shock announcement that he would not be running for re-election, which might have meant to halt the momentum gathered by the pan-democrats.

But last night they held a rally in Chater Garden -- report here from my friend YTSL -- who said the fight must continue regardless, as candidates like Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee are not exactly appealing to the pan-democratic camp.

So today all eyes were on the 230,000 people in various sectors who were eligible to vote in those who will be part of the 1,194 in the Election Committee to choose Hong Kong's next leader.

The latest reports are that as of 9.30pm, 98,215 of the 230,000 had voted for 733 seats of the 1,194. Some are in sectors that ran unopposed (ie. Li Ka-shing) or are ex officio members.

While the majority are expected to be pro-establishment, the pan-democrats are hoping that of the 352 they have running in 14 sectors, they can get 300 of them. That would substantially put a dent in any candidate's chances, and make the race much more interesting.

Wonder who Li Ka-shing will be voting for next March...
It's pretty amazing when you think about it, how people are looking at every legal avenue where they can make their voices heard. Many people are doing their bit from actually running in the Legco elections, to this Election Committee, to participating in rallies and marches.

Something is being done and while the actions may seem small, they are going to add up. Beijing cannot ignore what is being done, even though it is trying hard to shut down pro-democratic voices.

When I see people with young children at protest marches, it is a sign they want better lives for their next generation. And they are educating them early on to understand that if you want something, you have to fight for it or defend it.

We cannot take anything for granted in Hong Kong. We must fight for our rights and freedoms from disappearing. And we must fight for what is best for the city because our leaders certainly aren't!

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Picture of the Day: Snake Soup

The thinned out snake soup at Tim's Kitchen was a disappointment
The temperatures these days aren't exactly freezing cold, but it is winter, which means it's the season for snake soup!

Last weekend I remembered I hadn't had snake soup yet, and being in the Sheung Wan neighbourhood, I decided to head to Tim's Kitchen to see if I could have a bowl.

It was after 7.30pm and the place wasn't as packed as it was before; I hadn't been back for a few years.

Nevertheless I ordered a bowl of snake soup (HK$138) and looked forward to the hearty concoction.

Soon it arrived in a mini clay pot, but more for presentation. The soup looked choc full of ingredients, but when I tried it, the soup was more diluted than what I remembered, and there was hardly a hint of mandarin peel, usually used to hide the snake meat smell.

Though a small portion, the braised pomelo skin is a winner
I also ordered another seasonal specialty -- braised pomelo skin with shrimp roe (HK$90). Now this dish was how I remembered last time. Portion-wise it's on the small side, but the skin was braised to the point where it practically melted in the mouth, and seasoned with the piquant flavours of the shrimp roe.

The dish uses a lot of shrimp roe sauce, so I got a bowl of rice to drizzle the sauce on top. It hit the spot.

While the snake soup wasn't as satisfying as I had hoped, the braised pomelo skin was a nice finish.

Tim's Kitchen
Shop A, G/F-1/F, 84-90 Bonham Strand
Sheung Wan
2543 5919

Friday, 9 December 2016

CY Leung's Shock Announcement

Hong Kong was in shock to hear Leung would not be running again
The breaking news we never thought would happen -- Leung Chun-ying has announced that he will not run for re-election -- did happen.

He made the announcement at a hastily arranged press conference at 3.30pm this afternoon, citing family reasons.

"If I run my family will suffer unbearable pressure due to my electioneering... I must protect them," he said.

Last night he was seen at Prince of Wales Hospital in Sha Tin where his often troubled daughter, Leung Chai-yan was said to be receiving treatment for an unspecified ailment.

He cited family reasons, perhaps because of his daughter?
It is believed Leung made up his mind after consulting Beijing, and perhaps the powers that be felt it was best that he not continue leading Hong Kong for another five years.

Leung claimed his decision was not due to any lack of endorsement from Beijing, saying, "[The central government] has always supported me and said I have done a good job."

The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office also issued a statement after the announcement, saying it deeply regretted Leung's decision.

"Mr Leung has steadfastly implemented the 'one country, two systems' formula and the Basic Law since taking up office, and has made important contributions in defending national sovereignty and security," the office said, adding Beijing had always fully affirmed Leung's work.

Ray Yep Kin-man, a political scientist at City University, said the announcement, that came two days before the polls for the Election Committee, might be Beijing's way to still have a hand in influencing who will become the next chief executive.

Some pundits believe Carrie Lam has a good chance to win
"Beijing is worried about the uncertainty if pan-democrats win 300 seats in the committee and another 200 candidates who oppose Leung are returned," Yep said. "With Leung's decision not to run, the 'Anyone But CY' campaign will lose its momentum."

While many people are still trying to absorb the news that Leung is no longer in the picture, others are already speculating who will win, with some saying it will be Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee who will be making a big announcement on Thursday, or it could be Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, or Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah -- if the two make any moves to declare their candidacy.

It's basically a wide-open race, which makes it much more interesting, but the fundamental question remains -- who will lead the city for Hong Kong people's interests and not Beijing's?