Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Review: Moana

Moana is another fun action adventure about finding your calling
I had extra time off for Lunar New Year and decided to check out another movie, Moana with YTSL at The One in Tsim Sha Tsui. This mall is so narrow that it really shouldn't be a mall, as the space is very awkward, and also manoeuvering to get around is tedious going up and down several escalators, or waiting for lifts.

Anyway Walt Disney seems to have ursuped Pixar completely, as the preceding credits made no mention of the plucky desk light that jumps on the letter "I" in Pixar.

A short film advising to follow your heart for some fun
And now, like Zootopia, there is a short animation completely unrelated to the feature film as a warm-up act. For Zootopia, it was a love story between two Hawaiian volcanoes, which now in retrospect was a hint of Moana, and this time it was Inner Workings.

It's a hand drawn animation that at first looks like a biology lesson in how the human body works (albeit very simplistic), how the brain, heart, lungs and bladder function. The body we see belongs to a young man who rushes to work, but along the way he is distracted by a delicious pancake breakfast, the beautiful beach, and an attractive sunglass stall owner.

However his brain puts his heart, or emotional side in check before arriving just in time to work at Boring, Boring & Glum. It's another reminder to not have a boring job -- how many people in the audience would be nodding? -- and to find your passion in life.

Moana is a strong-willed determined character in the film
Does this mean the next feature length animation will be similar to Inside Out? Stay tuned.

Moana is a great girl power story -- seems like Disney is keen on female heroes these days, as boys don't seem to mind characters like Frozen's Elsa, Merida in Brave, and bunny rabbit Judy Hopps in Zootopia.

Here Moana is the daughter and heir to the chief of the Polynesian island of Motonui, and even as a child she has an adventurous spirit, keen on going into the ocean. However, her father forbids not only her but everyone else from going past the reef, following his own scary experience when he was younger.

But the island's natural environment is deteriorating, so there is not enough coconuts, fruits or fish to feed on. Moana's grandmother tells her she must save the island by taking a green stone that is the heart of goddess Te Fiti and return it to her. It was stolen by a demi-god called Maui, and he must help Moana bring it back to Te Fiti.

Does Maui (left) look like Dwayne Johnson (right)?
It's not clear how old Moana is in the film, but probably a teenager. It's interesting she was not drawn to have the old school Barbie doll shape, but a very sturdy and strong-looking young woman who is also strong-willed and clever.

There's some hilarious scenes involving a really dumb rooster, a very shiny crab with a huge ego, and an army of evil coconut creatures.

When the characters sang, particularly Moana, they felt like they were written and staged to look like a musical. Is this something in the works for Moana, the Musical? Perhaps it has something to do with Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame for writing the lyrics.

Heihei the Rooster is Moana's sidekick, but not that helpful
In any event, girls will enjoy watching the film, boys will get a kick out of Maui, played by "The Rock" Dwayne Johnson -- and yes he can sing! His tattoos are fun too.

The animation here is really impressive. As you watch each successive feature, the computer generated images become progressively more sophisticated. This time the focus was on the hair, the sea, the details of feathers and skin. Even compared to Inside Out, Moana has far more detail that is really exciting to see and appreciate.

Directed by Ron Clements and Jon Musker
Co-directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams
Auli'i' Cravalho as Moana
Dwayne Johnson as Maui
Jemaine Clement as Tamatoa (the treasure-hoarding crab)
Alan Tudyk as Heihei, the rooster

Monday, 30 January 2017

Warm Lunar New Year

Does a Fire Rooster mean warmer temperatures in Hong Kong this year?
Lunar New Year is usually quite cold -- well cold for us who usually live in over 20 degree Celsius weather.

Temperatures usually dip around 10 degrees and last year it went as far as 3 degrees, with snow on Hong Kong's highest peak, Tai Mo Shan.

We drag out our heaters and bundle up in puffy jackets, boots, and scarves. Some even wear ear muffs, but they are mostly fashion statements...

But today -- the third day into the Year of the Rooster, it was really warm during the day -- it was so warm and humid I wore a T-shirt -- and I even got mosquito bites while in Pui O, an area south west of Mui Wo.

By evening there was some rain and temperatures fell again, but this year is certainly a strange one when it comes to the weather.

Does it have to do with it being the fire rooster this year?

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Facts on Lai See

Fresh new banknotes are usually handed out during Lunar New Year
In Hong Kong, for those who are single, and young, Lunar New Year is about receiving lai see (利是). In China, young people who are working give red envelopes (紅包) to their parents as a gesture of thanks for raising them.

The elderly and companies in Hong Kong like to follow the tradition of giving brand new bills -- starting new year -- which has led to a whole industry of printing new banknotes.

Lai see packets are usually filled with $20 or $100 notes
Here are some interesting facts:

HK$8 billion -- the total amount of money people exchanged to get new banknotes this year.

400 million -- the number of new banknotes needed in the run-up to the Lunar New Year.

200 million -- the number of new banknotes printed this year.

1 tonne of cotton -- needed to make 1 million banknotes.

200 million -- the number of banknotes that are yin-san or "good as new" for lai see. Banks have machines that sort out these notes.

Banks sort out notes that are good as new for lai see use too
HK$20 and HK$100 -- the most common denominations used for lai see. These bills are used most frequently and need to be replaced within 18 months.

HK$500 and $1,000 -- these higher denomination bills aren't used often and are usually replaced in two to three years.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Review: La La Land

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling star in a romantic musical called La La Land
Lunar New Year is a time to meet up with relatives, eat too much, and watch movies.

Today I went to see La La Land, and it was a nice feel-good movie for the holidays.

Viewers are immediately swept up in the opening scene of gridlock on a Los Angeles highway, but then suddenly a young woman breaks into song and dance and everyone else gets out of their vehicles for an impromptu dance party.

The opening scene is so memorable and energetic
Do they really happen?

But your disbelief is suspended then and pretty much for most of the movie.

We soon meet Mia (Emma Stone), a struggling actress trying to get her big break, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) an ardent jazz aficionado.

It takes them three chance encounters to realize a spark between them, and viewers soon disccover it's their idealism that brings them together, and only in LA.

Gosling and Stone are great together, and pretty impressive they not only sing but dance too, harking back to the singing and dancing films like Singing in the Rain and Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, but now with iphones, Priuses and cappuccinos. Gosling also plays the piano with ease.

The pair play idealistic artists pursing their dreams in LA
And the colours! They are so technicolour brilliant that you have to wonder if they were digitally enhanced like the scene where Stone and Gosling first sing and dance together at sunset. But according to director Damien Chazelle, they really did shoot the scene at the "magic hour", and they only had the chance to do five takes.

However it can't all be hunky dory -- tensions arise when the dreams of how they envision their careers take different paths, and the ending isn't what you expect it to be, but the wistful what-ifs are a bit too predictable.

Nevertheless, we couldn't help but be swept off our feet with La La Land, with the intense colours, singing, dancing, wry humour and a big dollop of escapism, especially in these uncertain times.

La La Land
Starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, John Legend
Directed and written by Damien Chazelle

Friday, 27 January 2017

Start of the Year of the Rooster

Lots of narcissus are already in bloom today due to the warm temperatures
I worked half day today, OK a bit more than half, so that by the time I grabbed some lunch at Mak's Noodles in Causeway Bay and walked over to Victoria Park it was almost 3pm!

And there were lots of people at the Chinese New Year fair! I'd gone last Sunday to take a peek but wish I had more time to check it out then so I wouldn't have to go back.

Will you win the horse race for the next chief executive?
There were so many people -- not yet to the point where you were squashed like sardines and pushed along by the crowd -- and also it was very warm, making it not so pleasant to be there for too long.

So this year I have to admit I didn't pass by every single stall, but there was quite a lot to see anyway. The political parties were out with their caricatures of the four candidates running for Chief Executive in March, while Demosisto led by Joshua Wong Chi-fung had a banner that read "Determine Our Future".

Audrey Eu Yuet-mee of the Civic Party was demonstrating her Chinese calligraphy skills. I watched her for a bit and she wrote some English with Chinese on some fai chun, or Chinese couplets which made me wonder if this was a new thing, or her own twist.

Or how about spinning the wheel for the next CE?
At the stall of the New People's Party, its founder Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee running for CE, there were no customers interested in buying rooster-related merchandise... while Lee Cheuk-yan was trying to get people to have fun by poking their head in a hole where a jockey's head would be first in a horse race with the other CE candidates not far behind.

Meanwhile there were many rooster or chicken-themed merchandise to buy. It was disappointing not to find a rooster that looked like Donald Trump. But then again when people were ordering merchandise many months ago, little did they know or think of something like that. Surely a Trump-looking rooster would have been really popular, especially on social media.

Gorgeous orchids (that aren't cheap either!)
The fair wasn't all political satire, there were also lots of snacks and puddings for the new year, and of course flowers. Many narcissus were already in bloom because of the warm weather and their fragrance is intoxicating. One stall sold roses covered in glitter! Also the orchids were lovely too -- some very expensive and in the thousands of dollars!

Wishing everyone a Happy New Year of the Rooster!

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Picture of the Day: Trumping the Rooster

The giant inflatable rooster that bears a resemblance to Donald Trump
Well, it is the Year of the Rooster and the Year of Trump.

So why not mash them together?

That's what a Seattle-based graphic artist had in mind when he designed giant inflatable roosters whose headgear look very similar to the new American president.

"I can definitely say Mr Trump has a lot of similarities in that he likes to tweet," says Casey Latiolais.

"And he also likes to tweet at or around sunrise, and if you take away the fact that roosters are kind of loud and self-absorbed, then I think you can start drawing similarities that way."

The factory in Zhejiang province producing these inflatable birds can't keep up with demand for these Trump-like roosters, with workers going on their annual Spring Festival holiday.

But it's funny how Latiolais has drawn a link between the rooster and Trump, who likes to rule the roost, strut his stuff and puff up his chest...

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Leung Still Bulldozing Ahead

Tai Lam Chung Reservoir at Tai Lam Country Park
Even though Leung Chun-ying has five more months in office as Chief Executive of Hong Kong, he still insists on pushing through plans to develop protected country park land for public housing.

He has already instructed relevant government departments to carry out a preliminary study.

The latest news was revealed through the housing minister, who admitted that the administration's target of building 75,000 public housing flats within the five-year term could not be met because it was "not quite pragmatic".

How much land in Hong Kong is "lower in ecological value"?
Leung said he had decided to commission a feasibility study to "identify possible sites for non-profit-making use at the edge of country parks with lower ecological value" as the public demanded more details.

What does he mean by "lower in ecological value"? Does he think developing land on the edge of country parks makes it more OK than if it was within the country park?

It's like trying to say you're less guilty of eating a chocolate because you just nibbled the corners instead of popping the whole thing into your mouth.

"With this preliminary study, we will present as soon as possible the possible sites," he said.

Leung proposed that in exchange for building public flats and non-profit homes for the elderly on protected sites, the government would designate more areas of high conservation value in country parks.

An overview of Aberdeen Country Park
How do you decide which areas have more conservation value than others? Shouldn't they be protected equally?

Acting development minister Eric Ma Siu-cheung said yesterday at a Legislative Council meeting that the government hadn't started work on the proposal yet, but would "actively follow up" on it.

Former civil service minister Joseph Wong Wing-ping said it was unlikely the study would be completed within five months, and that the next government had no obligation to follow up, but that housing would continue to be a hot issue.

Wong instead suggested the next government should seriously consider prioritizing brownfield sites, some 1,200 hectares to develop, or large tracts of land leased cheaply to private clubs, such as the 170-hectare golf course in Fanling occupied by the Hong Kong Golf Club.

The latter idea has been floated before, resulting in pitting the rich against the poor and it's an ugly, bitter feud. But maybe we need to have this conversation.

Since Leung took office in 2012, his administration has only built about 51,000 public housing flats, well short of the 75,000 promised.

Brownfield sites are the way to go.

Hope someone's listening.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Time to Give Up Materialistic Culture

Lots and lots of clothes that are bought and thrown out every year
According to a survey by environmental group Greenpeace, Hong Kong residents spend about HK$10,000 (US$1,290) a year on clothing.

This means the average person spends about HK$800 a month on clothes, and if every person in Hong Kong spent around the same amount, that would add up to HK$25 billion a year on new threads.

Hong Kong people spend twice as much on clothes compared to their Taiwanese counterparts, according to the survey of 2,000 people, half from Taiwan, the other half from Hong Kong.

Chinese New Year means new clothes to wear
Usually the third to last day of the lunar new year, or in this case January 25, is supposed to be for spring cleaning, making it a good time to take de-clutter. However, it is also the new year custom to buy new clothes, typically red ones to wear in the first few days of the Lunar New Year.

The survey also found 40 percent of the 1,000 people surveyed in Hong Kong could only resist the urge to shop less than a week, whereas for Taiwanese it was 22 percent.

Bonnie Tang Man-lam of Greenpeace said this was due to Hong Kong's focus on consumer culture, with people unable to resist two-for-one sales tactics or free shipping. She added friends and social media also influenced people to buy on impulse.

Some 60 percent of those surveyed admitted the satisfaction of shopping only lasted a day, creating a cycle to need to fill a void.

But perhaps it's time to de-clutter instead?
Another fact that came to our attention is that Hong Kong has 885 mini storage facilities. Imagine how many lockers that would be, and surely a number of them filled with personal items like clothes.

Folks -- it's time to be ruthless and really start paring down our closets and getting rid of what we don't need and giving them to the less fortunate who would appreciate extra clothing, or other items.

Maybe it's time for Hong Kong to stop its obsession with materialism and perhaps focus on the community? We'd all be better for it in so many ways.

Monday, 23 January 2017

A Leg-Up on the Competition?

Regina Ip gamely showing off her matching boots to host Stephen Chan
The race for the next chief executive of Hong Kong is already more interesting.

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee made an appearance on Commercial Radio this morning and the visit was captured on Facebook Live.

The host, Stephen Chan Chi-wan has been getting each of the candidates to do something different to show another side of them, like having Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and John Tsang Chun-wah take off their glasses.

Carrie Lam had trouble using her Octopus to Ap Lei Chau
However, Ip didn't have any because she claims she can still see quite well. Nevertheless the observant Chan noted that Ip's outfit, footwear and handbag were all matching, in a peacock blue.

She obliged, showing off the handbag and then pushed her chair back before holding up her leg with her hands to present the same blue coloured heeled boots.

Talk about trying to get a leg-up on the competition.

Her assistant later revealed the boots were bought at Lane Crawford for HK$1,000 two years ago. Interestingly no price quoted for the handbag.

Who else has matching clothes, shoes and handbags except maybe the Queen and the Duchess of Cornwall?

Lam recently moved to Convention Plaza in Wan Chai
After flashing some leg, Ip held up two Octopus cards, one for parking and one (we should note for seniors) to use on the MTR.

Chan asked her if she knew how to take the MTR to which she confidently replied affirmative.

It was a jab at Lam, who didn't seem to know how to use her Octopus card when she took the MTR to Ap Lei Chau to visit the community there.

Lam also bizarrely revealed that she ran out of toilet paper after recently moving into a serviced apartment in the Convention Centre, and that she took a taxi in the middle of the night to get some.

There were questions of how much carbon footprint she generated from her quest for TP, but isn't it more important that Lam be more familiar with the MTR?

If she doesn't really know how to use the MTR, how can she even begin to understand the issues the average Hong Kong person faces on a daily basis?

Commuters wait for many trains before getting on at rush hour
Every CE candidate should take the MTR at rush hour and see what it's like. It's no joke that one has to wait at least four or five trains to go by before getting on, and how commuters are squashed in there like sardines.

And they should visit people who live in subdivided flats, spending up to half of their salary on rent even though the living conditions are appalling. Why is it that when banks lend money for mortgages, the applicant cannot spend more than half their salary on the monthly payment back to the bank, but this rule is not applied to rents?

And they should see how much waste is generated on a daily basis, how many items are not recycled, and see how much food is dumped from households, restaurants and hotels, and how non-profits are trying to salvage a tiny fraction of that food, but more needs to be done.

The list could go on and on.

But we really have to give to Ip today for having a bit more fun, being game to show off what a fashion plate she is, though she did have to use her hand to raise her leg, which made us wonder where her core is...

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Chinese New Year Countdown

Many people checking out the New Year market in Victoria Park today
Many people in Hong Kong are anxiously preparing for Chinese New Year on Saturday. The wet market near where I live was extra busy, with people buying up all kinds of fruits, vegetables, and meats to prepare for upcoming reunion dinners this week, though officially it's on Friday.

And today was the start of the Chinese New Year markets around town, the biggest of which is in Victoria Park in Causeway Bay. I checked it out this afternoon and luckily it wasn't packed, though still lots of people.

Vibrant-coloured orchids for sale as well as other plants
I didn't have time to go through all the stalls, but the orchids were gorgeous, and this one pictured here is a kind that I've never seen before.

There were of course many rooster-related items, particularly stuffed toys, phone covers, cushions and trinkets.

And what's a Hong Kong fair without some politics, particularly in an election year?

The Democratic Party had a modified game called "fish prawn crab", a kind of gambling game, with caricatures of the four candidates -- Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, John Tsang Chun-wah, Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, and Woo Kwok-hing. Even possible candidate Jasper Tsang Yok-sing was in the mix too.

Another stall manned by the League of Social Democrats sold cushions shaped like luncheon meat tins. It was a reference to former pro-Beijing lawmaker Wong Kwok-hing's condemnation of legislative filibusters, that he once said wasted enough taxpayer dollars to buy thousands of cans of luncheon meat for the poor.

We saw some young people roaming around with a basket of stickers and it turns out they had political satire. One of them was a take on Shanghai calendar girls of the 1920s, featuring two women, and the heads were of Regina Ip and John Tsang...

I intend to go back again to check all the stalls out, and maybe pick up some flowers too!

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Hong Kong on Trump's Radar?

Now that Trump is President, how will he really deal with China, Hong Kong?
I was up late last night on my mobile, on Twitter and seeing people's reactions to Donald J Trump being inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States.

Almost everyone on my Twitter feed was horrified of having a reality TV star, billionaire, and businessman who has been accused of sexual harassment, of not paying bills and being bankrupt several times take over the Oval Office.

Senator Marco Rubio is concerned about Hong Kong rights
Beijing will be nervous to see what Trump will do -- he has threatened to slap a 45 percent tax on Chinese imports as part of his "American first" slogan. And can he really get companies to come back to the United States without raising prices for good and services so high that customers balk at paying them?

He may lay off questioning China about its human rights, but it seems Florida senator Marco Rubio, who is co-chair of the bi-partisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China, has Hong Kong on his radar.

A few days ago Rubio said he is looking forward to reintroducing the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.

"America must show leadership and support these values in our foreign policy," he said in an email through his spokesman.

The bill was proposed following the incident of the five missing booksellers at Causeway Bay Books in 2015 and were detained by the mainland authorities without any legal representation or notice to their families.

The missing booksellers incident sparked a new proposed law
And so the bill proposes punitive measures against any government officials in Hong Kong or the mainland responsible for suppressing basic freedoms in the city.

The law would require the US president to identify persons responsible for the surveillance, abduction, detention or forced confessions of booksellers and journalists in Hong Kong or other actions suppressed basic freedoms, and to freeze their US-based assets and deny them entry into the country.

It's an interesting proposal, but would it work in reality? How can one prove where the orders came from for the authorities to detain the five booksellers? We still don't really know. And what if they don't have American assets or care to visit the US?

Regardless, it's interesting Hong Kong is on Trump's radar, and it might be either amusing or embarrassing having him speak out on the behalf of 7 million residents.

But hey -- any attention is good attention, right?

Friday, 20 January 2017

Hong Kong Getting More Depressed

Hong Kong seems to have more depressed people since about three years ago
There are concerns there may be a growing number of depressed people in Hong Kong. According to a survey by the Mental Health Association of Hong Kong -- a non-profit group funded largely by the government -- says around 5.5 percent of 2,351 people show signs of clinical depression, almost double the number in 2014.

In addition, 9.1 percent of respondents scored a medium level on the depression index, which means they should be monitored for depression, up 8.6 percent in 2014.

Ching Chi-kong, an assistant director of the association, believes people had an outlet to voice their frustrations during the 79-day Occupy protests.

The 2014 Occupy protests allowed people to let off steam
"At that time, people had somewhere to express their anger and they may have hoped for change," he said. "If we think we lost something, we will get depressed more easily."

Another factor, suggests Dr Benjamin Lai, psychiatrist and chairman of the association, is the economic downturn that could contribute to "a high chance of depressive symptoms".

But look more closely at the survey results and 35.8 percent of respondents did no exercise for at least 30 minutes during the week, and only 18.1 percent did so only once a week.

"We need a balance in life, so it's not just about money or work," Ching said.

The Hospital Authority estimates about 1.7 million people suffer from various mental illnesses, but wait times for mental health treatment were the longest of all public health services. This is partly because there aren't enough trained psychiatrists and psychologists in the public sector.

Exercise is a good way to relieve depression and stress
The economic downturn has made it harder for people in Hong Kong. There are constant fears of being made redundant because companies are concerned about their bottom line, and there are fewer opportunities for people because some may be holding onto whatever work they have even though they may not be happy in the position.

No wonder so many don't have time for exercise, but just some movement for 30 minutes a day would alleviate some of the stress and rush of endorphins could people feel a bit better about themselves and manage their stress better.

It's tense times in Hong Kong -- for pretty much this entire year. We can't feel sorry for ourselves, or commiserate -- there's no time really. We have to have that can-do attitude and keep pushing forward.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Finally Mr Moustache in the Race

John Tsang formally announcing his bid to become the next chief executive
Former Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah is the fourth and probably last candidate to run for Hong Kong's next chief executive.

He finally made his announcement this afternoon in Central, against a backdrop that included the words "trust", "unity" and "hope".

"If there is no trust, if Hong Kong people are not united, our young people will not have hope in our future," he said, adding that the qualities were important for the city to progress.

He said there were many people in the city who were thinking of emigrating, and this concern inspired him to run for chief executive.

Tsang believes CY Leung is on the right track on housing
Tsang described himself as a good listener, willing to reach all walks of life. And he said "inclusion" is a core value of Hong Kong.

"I'm not here alone," he said. "I'm sending an invitation to all 7.45 million Hong Kong people so that together we can make Hong Kong a better place."

He added, "Hong Kong never speaks with one tongue. Hong Kong does not just served the business sector or the labour sector."

However, he seems to agree with current Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in finding land to build more housing. Leung's policy address yesterday hinted at exploring the possibility of building low-cost housing in country parks that led to heavy criticism from environmentalists.

But while Tsang claims to be a listener, he emphasized he would not interested in those advocating Hong Kong independence -- probably a prerequisite from Beijing.

"They flatly do not know what Hong Kong is, because China has forever been the core of Hong Kong people's identity," he said.

Who will be the better candidate, Lam or Tsang?
"A great city has a strong country [behind it]. Without Britain, there would not have been London. Without the United States, there would not have been New York. Hong Kong can become better because it is embracing a great motherland."

Yikes. Tsang really is laying it on thick.

But here we go -- the race is on. It'll be interesting to see if Carrie Cheng Yuet-ngor will win the hearts and minds of young people, while Tsang's more liberal attitudes may not inspire confidence in the older generation. He also has a bizarre track record of greatly underestimating government revenues in the annual tax budget.

Perhaps his temporary successor Paul Chan Mo-po will do a better job?

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

"Explosive Shopping" Evaporates in Japan

Mainlanders aren't snapping up as many products as they used to in Japan
Hong Kong isn't seeing as many big shoppers from the mainland, and it looks like the same is happening in Japan.

Mainlanders used to clear shelves there of all kind of products, from chocolates to toilet seats, a phenomenon the Japanese called bakugai, or "explosive shopping".

How come we in Hong Kong didn't come up with a term like that?

Like Hong Kong, Japan is seeing steady numbers of tourists from China, but they are more careful about where they spend their money. Last year they were the biggest spenders, splashing out about 227,800 yen per person (US$2,008), but that figure was down 18.9 percent from a year earlier.

Japanese toilet seats used to be a popular item for the Chinese
Visitors from Hong Kong spent even less, plunging 23.6 percent year on year.

"I would not say that the decline in spending by Chinese tourists has been 'dramatic', but it has come down quite a lot," says Martin Schulz, senior economist with the Fujitsu Research Institute.

"There are two primary reasons for this, the first of which is that the yen has become stronger and that has an immediate cost impact on tourists," he said.

"... the products Chinese tourists were buying in the Ginza -- the big suitcases, the heated toilet seats, the brand name cosmetics -- are all available in China now."

He also suggested Chinese travellers who have been to Japan before are going further afield in Japan, to places where there are fewer shopping opportunities, and are actually more interested in services, which Schulz says is good for high-end restaurants and hotels.

Mainlanders don't buy as much cosmetics as they used to
The only way there will be a second wave of bakugai is when the yen weakens again to the point where more Chinese visitors will be enticed to come to the Land of the Rising Sun, but he's not so optimistic.

Service staff are probably relieved at not having to deal with such a deluge of customers, but their bosses might be annoyed they didn't capitalize enough on bakugai.

Ditto could be said for Hong Kong...

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

China is Open for Business

Chinese President Xi Jinping addresses the World Economic Forum in Davos
Xi Jinping is the first Chinese President to address the World Economic Forum, and today he used the platform to take the high road, making the case for globalization in a time when the UK will implement Brexit and President-Elect Donald Trump advocates isolationism.

In his speech, Xi promised to improve market access for foreign companies, and said China has no intention of devaluing the yuan or launching a currency war.

He said protectionism had to be opposed and the finger-pointing stopped.

"Those who push for protectionism are shutting themselves inside a dark house. They have escaped the rain and clouds outside, but also missed the light and air," he said. "A trade war will only lead to suffering on both sides."

Xi says China is open to foreign companies... really?
Since his predecessor Hu Jintao's leadership, China has been protectionist too, making it harder and harder for foreign companies to do business in the Middle Kingdom. And with the further media suppression on foreign journalists and outlets, people on the outside find it harder to get the information they need to objectively assess the situation.

So if Xi really does keep his word, it will be interesting to see China open its doors for more business -- but are companies willing to pay higher wages for labour? And will this still be cheap manufacturing, or something higher up the manufacturing chain?

In addition, Xi said there was no point in blaming globalization to the Syrian refugee crisis or the 2008 financial crisis. He said there was "no justification for wiping out economic globalization all together".

How does the Syrian refugee crisis have anything to do with globalization, when it's a civil war in the country?

What kind of president will Donald Trump be?
Nevertheless, it seems Xi is keen to stimulate his country's economy -- apparently it grew just over 6 percent in 2016 -- and perhaps get rid of its overproduction.

As the inauguration of Trump drawer closer, many are trying to come to terms with the new normal in Washington. Will he continue to see it as one big reality show in the White House, or will he really take the job seriously and help those who voted him into office?

Xi is probably looking on horrified at having to deal with a man who makes knee-jerk pronouncements that may or may not have substance. However, he is probably impressed by how Trump handles press conferences by shutting reporters down...

Monday, 16 January 2017

Carrie on the Hustings

Carrie Lam announced her intention to run for the next chief executive today

Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has officially thrown her hat into the ring for the next chief executive of Hong Kong.

Her resignation was approved by Beijing (along with John Tsang Chun-wah's), and she wasted no time in announcing her intentions.

At a press conference in the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, Lam stepped out for the first time as a political candidate, and perhaps being herself for once, because as a civil servant, she had to follow the lead of her bosses.

"Like many of you, I am worried about the discontent that has emerged in our society," she said in English. "I know our younger generation is concerned about the lack of upward mobility and the cost of housing. I share the desires of many -- that we must reignite Hong Kong's can-do spirit.

"I am ready and willing to take up the challenge... I fully realize it's a tall order, but with the passion to serve, and faith in the people of Hong Kong, I am confident that together we will succeed," she continued.

"At this junction, it is incumbent upon the government to restore faith, propel the economy, reduce inequality, and build greater consensus."

She also hinted changes would be made if she was the city's next leader. "My view today is that the governing team of the next administration should be injected with new blood."

Wonder if she is referring to the shuffle of officials since she and Tsang quit. Secretary for Labour, Housing and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung is now Chief Secretary, while Paul Chan Mo-po is now Financial Secretary, a promotion that raised eyebrows considering the latter's involvement in several scandals.

"I'm afraid good governance requires higher standards -- public participation, the rule of law, societal consensus, timely response, accountability. A higher level of transparency is also required," Lam said.

The fiasco over the Palace Museum project seems to have died down, though more could have been done to promote it in a better way. Some arts experts claim the collection in Beijing is far better than what Chiang Kai-shek took with him to Taiwan.

So why wasn't this point made earlier on -- in fact why haven't we even seen these treasures before in the Forbidden City?

It's all very mysterious.

In any event it'll be interesting watching Lam campaign for her job despite apparently being Beijing's favourite. She'll still need to prove her worth to a skeptical audience, particularly the younger crowd who already believe she's been co-opted by Beijing.

How can she -- and frankly all the other candidates -- prove they are making Hong Kong's interests a priority?

Oh and can someone tell Lam next time not to wear a pale coloured outfit when standing in front of a white background? On television she looked like a floating head...

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Picture of the Day: Baby Fire Roosters

Lots of baby roosters hanging out in an office lobby
Chinese New Year is around the corner and it will be the fire rooster -- which means those who are born this year or back in 1957, are trustworthy, have a strong sense of timekeeping and responsible at work.

Many companies, hotels and restaurants have started decorating their public areas with New Year decorations.

In the lobby of an office building in Sheung Wan I spotted this cute arrangement -- lots of baby roosters hanging out on a tiered red platform.

They all wear little cross-body bags -- wonder what's in them?!

Not only are they sitting around, but also hanging out randomly around the floor.

Perhaps it's a fire rooster occupy exercise?

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Father of Pinyin Dies

Zhou returned to China in 1949 to help the country -- by creating pinyin
I was kind of dreading this day -- but it has come. The father of pinyin, Zhou Youguang, has died at the age of 111. He died this afternoon (Saturday), a day after his birthday in Beijing.

It's pretty amazing he lived this long, and I suspect it was keeping his mind active that kept him going.

He was born in 1906 during the Qing Dynasty and as a young man he lived and worked in the United States as a Wall Street banker.

When the Communists took over in 1949, Zhou returned and was tasked with creating a new writing system using the Roman alphabet.

"We spent three years developing pinyin. People made fun of us, joking that it had taken us a long time to deal with just 26 letters, he recalled to the BBC in 2012.

He had kept active, writing many articles and books
However, it has helped millions of people, including me, to learn how to pronounce words in Putonghua properly.

It is now widely used on phone apps to help people communicate. They can type in the pinyin and from there choose the Chinese character they need.

Developing the pinyin system helped protect Zhou from Mao's political purges, but eventually Zhou was sent down to the countryside for re-education during the Cultural Revolution.

As he became older he grew more critical and outspoken about the present day Communist Party and wrote several articles and books that were banned.

In an interview with NPR in 2011, Zhou said he hoped to live long enough to see the Chinese authorities admit the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters around Tiananmen Square in June 1989 was a mistake.

Wishful thinking on Zhou's part.

He added that most ordinary people did not believe in the Communist Party, and that the vast majority of Chinese intellectuals favoured democracy.

Beijing can probably breathe a sigh of relief that another one of its critics has passed. They couldn't do much to Zhou considering his immense contribution to the country, but we hope he will see justice in the end.

I wrote a blog post about him when I was in Beijing. One of my colleagues at the time went to visit him and told me later she thought he was a wonderful, sweet man. He wasn't a typical Chinese elder who towed the party line, but instead had a lot of interesting things to say about a wide range of subjects.

Thank you Mr Zhou for creating a writing system that has made Chinese more accessible to so many people and in so many ways.