Thursday, 31 August 2017

A Hong Kong Start-Up with Grit

Steven Lam with his on-demand van hire service GoGoVan
Finally a Hong Kong story about grit and determination.

Meet Steven Lam Hoi-yuen. The 31-year-old grew up in a housing estate in Kowloon, where he still lives. He was a high school dropout in Hong Kong and moved to the United States to study at a community college in California in 2005.

He excelled there academically and managed to get into University of California, Berkeley and studied business. But to afford the tuition, he did a number of odd jobs, like teaching himself how to fix iPhones, bicycles and even selling electronics on eBay. At one point he even sold hot dogs to make ends meet.

Lam (far right) with two of his co-founders
He came back to Hong Kong and had trouble finding a job and worked in a Chinese restaurant as a food delivery man. He thought of an idea with his two friends of selling advertising on takeaway boxes.

But then they couldn't find enough vans to transport the takeaway boxes (printed with ads) to the restaurants which led to the idea of GoGoVan, an on-demand van hire service.

However he had trouble getting start-up money to fund the venture.

"I wanted to borrow money from friends to start the company, but they  were saving up to buy flats," said Lam. "They said that if I failed, they will lose their homes. It was very difficult for me to borrow money.

"In our society, getting a [stable] job and buying a house is too deeply rooted in our thinking. When our generation is fighting for a place to stay or to make enough to meet our basic needs, there is no room for them to be [innovative], it's a huge problem," he said.

He eventually got HK$20,000 in initial capital and rented a small room in an industrial building. "We ran out of cash in two months," he said.

Lam will be chief executive of the newly merged company
However, GoGoVan attracted investment from New Horizon Capital, Singapore Press Holdings, and the Alibaba Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund, a non-profit initiative.

And yesterday Lam was able to announce that GoGoVan is merging with China's 58 Suyun to create Asia's largest online intra-city logistics and freight service.

Unlike most of his peers, Lam's goal was not to own a flat. "If your dream is to buy a house, then at the end, all you have is a house," he said. "At the end of the day the story I want to tell my grandchildren is not that I could buy house, but that I did something great, something game-changing."

Spoken like a true entrepreneur.

Lam, who was chief executive of GoGoVan, will be chief executive of the merged firm, which will extend its reach to 200 more mainland cities and expand further into Southeast Asia in the next two or three years.

He urged Hong Kong people who have a dream to just go for it. "Don't wait to do something, use your own hands and [go prove it]."

How many other people like Lam are there? We need people like him to help Hong Kong get its mojo back.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

The Eclectic Life of David Tang

Sir David Tang, the Anglophile Hong Kong Chinese gentleman...
A few weeks ago my friend sent me a link from The Times newspaper saying that Hong Kong-born entrepreneur David Tang wanted to have one last dinner party with friends at The Dorchester because doctors didn't give him more than a month or two to live.

I found it hard to believe -- was he ill? I didn't know he had liver cancer. But he won't be able to see his friends one last time -- he died today at the age of 63.

My first and only encounter with him was in my early 20s and went to see him in his Shanghai Tang boutique that was on Pedder Street. At the time I had only started working about a year or so and so I didn't have much money to spend, let alone on clothes. At Ladies Market I bought what I thought was a cute white satin short skirt with frog buttons on it.

The dining room in China Club in the Bank of China building
When he saw me he immediately chastised me for wearing satin -- and he emphasized it in his posh British accent -- and pointed out that it wasn't silk.

Well excuuuuuse me! At the time I couldn't afford anything in his shop and honestly thought the neon pink Mandarin collar silk jackets were outrageous (even though they were all the rage with expats).

He's had an interesting life to say the least. He was the grandson of Tang Shiu-kin, a well known philanthropist, but David Tang didn't grow up with a silver spoon in his mouth. As he tells it, his grandfather didn't like his first concubine, which meant he didn't like Tang's father and him.

"All of us were cast out of the family home and left to fend for ourselves on a very modest income that my grandfather reluctantly provided," he explained in one of his Financial Times columns.

Shanghai Tang when it was at Pedder Building in Central
When he went to England to join his parents and attend boarding school in 1965, Tang didn't know a word of English. And yet he soon began reading Shakespeare plays and appreciated classical music -- and even mastered the piano too.

He studied philosophy and logistics at King's College, and later studied law at Cambridge with a master's degree.

After teaching English literature and philosophy at Peking University from 1983-84, he practiced law at his grandfather's law firm as well as a smattering of others in Hong Kong.

Guess law wasn't his thing, but fashion and decor instead. In 1991 he and philanthropist Tsui Tsin-tong opened China Club in the Bank of China building. One always feels privileged to come here each time, an antique space choc full of Chinese paintings, sculptures and photographs, and tons of books on the bookshelves.

Then three years later he started Shanghai Tang which as I mentioned earlier became a big hit with its quirky Chinese designs that were fun and colourful, and he had qipao tailors working on site.

Refined (and expensive) homeware at Tang Tang Tang Tang
I also remember watching Anita Yuen and Eric Tsang filming He's a Woman, She's a Man in Shanghai Tang. They were literally working out the scene as they filmed it...

But I digress. Luxury group Richemont had a controlling stake in Shanghai Tang in 1998 and full ownership of it in 2008, and it was just sold again in June to an Italian entrepreneur.

And then in 2013 he opened Tang Tang Tang Tang -- a homeware boutique in The Pawn building on Johnston Road. But the prices were so expensive that it hardly attracted much business. I did buy a pair of silver salt and pepper shakers shaped like fortune cookies for my brother and sister-in-law though...

Tang reappeared again -- this time through interior design with Howard's Gourmet with its quintessential English look, and also China Tang, his restaurant collaborations with Peter Lam Kin-ngok.

Very English decor in Howard's Gourmet in Central
Last year Tang made a passionate speech at the Foreign Correspondents Club criticizing then Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's policy address and how the administration seriously faulted in its handling of the Occupy protests in 2014.

Why did he only speak out then?

But perhaps we should thank him for at least speaking out for us.

Thank you for your business acumen, your creativity, your wit and your love of Hong Kong. 

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

National Anthem Raises Red Flags

Flag-raising ceremony at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre
The Chinese government is putting forward a proposal to stop people from using the national anthem improperly, and this could be applied in Hong Kong.

The draft law would ban people from playing March of the Volunteers at events such as funerals or using it as background music in public places.

I can't find it now, but on the TV here there are ads for the baijiu brand Wuliangye that uses the anthem in its commercials. If the law is passed, that commercial would be considered illegal, which is maybe why I can't find it online!

And those who rewrite the lyrics or make parodies of the anthem could be punished for up to 15 days in detention.

It also means that the Hong Kong football fans who booed during the national anthem ahead of the World Cup qualifiers between local and national teams in 2015 would have been breaking the law if it was in effect at the time.

Lam says residents are too sensitive about the proposed law
Following the incident, which was admittedly childish that escalated into hostility, Hong Kong's football governing body was fined by Fifa after the incident, which came during the height of anti-mainland sentiment in the city.

As a result it's a touchy issue especially in Hong Kong, though Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor says local residents shouldn't be so sensitive about it, and that it is a law that should be passed in the city.

"Protecting the dignity of the national anthem is the obligation and responsibility of the Hong Kong SAR government and indeed of all Chinese nationals," Lam said. "But the exact scope and content of the local legislation would have to be considered in light of the legislation to be enacted by the National People's Congress Standing Committee."

She likened the draft law to be similar to legislation on the national flag and emblem, both of which passed in Hong Kong.

"We are living in a more politicized environment," Lam said. "We need not adopt a very politicized stance... This particular matter of national anthem legislation does not carry any particular scope for politicization."

In a 2015 football match, anti-China sentiment was high
The Chief Executive added the law was national in scope, and not directed at Hong Kong.

However, if implemented, children in primary and secondary schools here would have to sing it, and residents would be encouraged to sing it to "express patriotism".

Already pan-democrats are wary about the proposed legislation. Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok said Hong Kong must adapt to the draft to produce a local law as many of the requirements would not be acceptable in the city.

"The 15-day detention does not apply in Hong Kong, while the city also has a very different education system from the mainland," he said.

Seems that people are are concerned about it to a degree. My question is -- does the national anthem need a law to protect it?

Isn't it expected that people would respect their national anthem, and other countries too? Or does this need to be spelled out?

For example Canada has the National Anthem Act, which states the lyrics and melody of O Canada, but allows users to freely use it for musical arrangements and it is up to citizens to exercise their best judgment.

There is etiquette when the national anthem is played, but there are no strict guidelines.

Perhaps in China's case there are some insecurities, or as pro-establishment lawmaker Wong Kwok-kin believes, Beijing may have been upset by the rise in pro-independence sentiment and the insults hurled during the football matches that let to this latest development...

Yet another step in the mainlandization of Hong Kong...

Monday, 28 August 2017

Picture of the Day: Statue Square Post-Typhoon

Sir Thomas Jackson's statue seems to be surveying the fallen tree in Central
After work I went to the gym -- which some middle-aged women members there say is like "going to work".

On my way to the Central MTR station, I passed by Statue Square and saw it was cordoned off because a giant tree had fallen down right in front of the statue of Sir Thomas Jackson, who was the chief manager of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation now known as HSBC.

Jackson seems to be surveying the damage, following Typhoon Pakhar. Luckily in Hong Kong we are relatively well prepared for typhoons and clean up is relatively fast afterwards. Guess that's where part of my tax dollars go.

But there are reports in the Chinese media that there may be two more typhoons coming in the next week or so! Crazy weather this year!

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Typhoon Pakhar Storms in on Sunday

When the typhoon signal was lowered to T1, storm clouds began to gather...
Typhoon Pakhar approached Hong Kong in the early hours of Sunday morning which meant a lie-in for most people. The Hong Kong Observatory raised the T8 signal for the whole morning with an amber rainstorm warning as well.

While the rain wasn't particularly heavy in Kennedy Town, it kept coming down in a northwesterly direction. Down below in an apartment complex across the street, I could see two white plastic chairs had blown into the swimming pool (they have since been fished out).

There's going to be questions about why two hikers didn't get down by Saturday evening from Kowloon Peak. A woman had an injured leg and had trouble making the descent, and rescuers tried to get to them yesterday evening. But it took 160 rescuers, including one fireman who was injured, to help them get down.

Most of Sunday was rainy thanks to Typhoon Pakhar
The typhoon conditions made it treacherous for everyone to descend the mountain, so the rescuers had to build a rain shelter and call for more reinforcements.

Then there was a ship that was sinking and 11 crew members had to be saved at the height of the storm. By the time the rescuers arrived, the ship's bow was already submerged.

Within 30 minutes of locating them, the sailors were rescued by helicopter.

After the typhoon signal was lowered to T3, the city slowly sprang back to life. Apparently gyms were very busy once they opened around 3.40pm. People must have been having cabin fever in their flats.

As for myself, I headed to the Kennedy Town Swimming Pool at 9pm though it started raining heavily.

When I got there, I was thrilled to find only a handful of people in the entire complex. I had the 25-metre pool practically to myself, though the water wasn't very fast today so it was a bit of a slog.

Nevertheless, it was refreshing and quiet. Another weekend gone, just like that.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Hampering People's Right to Know

The black line shows Typhoon Pakhar's estimated path, just south of HK
Only a few days later and Typhoon Pakhar is approaching Hong Kong tomorrow morning.

This time however, it looks like it will pass by to the south of the city and so we may not get up to T8, let alone T10.

Nevertheless, Macau may be hit again, and the casino hub has barely gotten back on its feet with another typhoon coming.

Macau has barely recovered with Typhoon Pakhar on its way
The residents there have told the media of how fast the water level rose and how there was little time to save themselves, let alone their loved ones or their shops.

At least four Hong Kong journalists tried to go to Macau today to continue reporting on the clean-up efforts, but they were denied entry by Macau immigration.

They were each handed a form with their names filled in, saying they "posed a risk to the stability of internal security". The media included two reporters from Apple Daily, and one from online portal HK01.

Apple Daily's editor-in-chief Ryan Law Wai-kwong said the reason used by the Macau authorities was "absolutely ridiculous". He said he did not see how media reporting could constitute a threat to the city's internal security.

Supermarket staff in Macau selling goods on the street
Law said the move had not only hampered press freedom, but also affected Macau residents' right to access the latest information regarding the disaster relief effort and the coming storm.

"If Macau locals could not get hold of this information, they might face another disaster very soon," he said.

Perhaps the reporting of how the Macau government was slow to warn residents and that major infrastructure was unable to withstand the typhoon embarrassed the authorities and now it wants to limit its exposure.

However, as Law says, it's important for everyone to know how Macau is doing and this is crucial information that needs to get out. Not only that, but it forces the authorities accountable to its people.

It only shows the government has something to hide, or cannot bear being under scrutiny. Either way it's not how the authorities should react during a crisis.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Macau's Weaknesses Laid Bare by Hato

A van partly submerged into the water in Macau after Typhoon Hato
The story these few days has been the impact of Typhoon Hato in Macau. At least nine people have died and the destruction in the casino hub is shocking.

There are images of blown out windows, flooding in the streets, debris everywhere, cars dangling from bridges... it's like a bombed out city.

Windows blown out in an apartment complex
I contacted a friend of mine to see if she was OK and she sent me a video of her using her dog's leash to hook onto the window clasp to keep the window from flinging open. She wasn't able to keep her window shut when Typhoon Hato hit.

It demonstrated that perhaps her building was not built properly, or the windows themselves are not good quality.

The scenes of destruction and the slow response show the Macanese government has not prepared for typhoons with proper drainage, emergency plans, and supplies even though it is such a wealthy city.

Even the casinos were shut down with blackouts despite having backup generators. There's video on social media of one luxury hotel casino where some 20 staff struggle to keep the main doors closed while the wind is blowing so hard.

Residents line up for water from fire hydrants in the city
Two days later, today, the People's Liberation Army was called from the Macau barracks to come out and help clean up -- something that should have been arranged yesterday. While the help was greatly appreciated, there were again questions why the government didn't ask for assistance right away.

Basic supplies are scarce -- there isn't enough drinking water and some homes still don't have electricity. People are lining up at fire hydrants to take water, even though the government has asked them not to do so. Supermarkets are raided for water as soon as they have supplies and of course it costs much more.

Macau Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai-on last night apologized to residents and families of the victims, and said that the head of the observatory Fong Soi-kun had resigned for not giving people enough time to prepare or take the typhoon seriously.

The PLA came out to help clean up the city today
My friend told me the government just thought the typhoon would only hit Hong Kong, but in fact it just passed by the city and moved on to Macau before making landfall in southern China.

And now with Typhoon Pakhar on the way this Sunday, will Macau be ready to deal with that too?

A few weeks ago a friend had told me that there were reports saying five typhoons would be passing by Hong Kong soon and I thought it was crazy. But now we have the second one coming, it might not be so crazy after all!

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Adventurous Dining at Serge et le Phoque

Pan-fried scallops with red cabbage and squid ink sauce at Serge et le Phoque
Last night after the typhoon signal finally went down to T3, I ventured out for dinner with my aunt and her friend.

Spanish prawn two ways
I was prepared with rubber boots, but they were not necessary as there was hardly any rain, though a lot of debris on the road from tree branches.

We headed to the restaurant through what a street that is usually bustling with shops and customers but last night was completely shut and quiet. Serge et le Phoque is a hipster French restaurant located near the Wan Chai wet market and we were the first to arrive.

The place is hardly pretentious, which makes customers relaxed and curious about the place. Not long after we were seated, chef de cuisine Nic Chew (ex-L'atelier Robuchon and St Betty's) spotted us and came by to say hello. We asked what was on the chef's menu (HK$850 per person), but he was vague, only hinting the restaurant specialized in seafood.

Based on scant information we decided to go for it.

After a cucumber granite with a touch of spiciness, our appetites were whetted for an unknown feast. It started with skewers of four mussels each, lightly seasoned, followed by a Spanish prawn -- the meat extracted from the shell and again only lightly seasoned, accompanied by the head that was cooked tempura style. The flavours on both were intense and flavourful.

Sea bass ceviche with avocado and seaweed
Next came a refreshing sea bass ceviche with some fresh avocado slices topped with sesame seeds and dry seaweed. When we finished the dish, we were instructed to mop up the vinaigrette sauce with bread.

This was followed by pan-fried scallops with an interesting pairing of red cabbage and dressed with some squid ink sauce. I don't usually like red cabbage, but this one hardly tasted bitter.

My favourite dish came next -- mackerel decorated with a thin slice of daikon -- but what's underneath? Why some uni of course! And a beautiful smattering of fresh peas too. The fish was cooked perfectly and the uni added the umami umph.

We were also given a side of colourful beetroots garnished with grated fresh wasabi that was more like dry powder to perk up the dish.

Mackerel with uni on top, daikon and fresh peas
Another interesting combo was the only meat course, roasted guinea fowl that was tender, and topped with salmon roe and garnished with some fresh oyster mushrooms. Very creative.

A side dish of boiled then roasted half cabbage came out that also had butter in it. What a novel presentation.

By this point we were full, but would we like some cheese? My aunt said yes please! She was given a plate of blue cheese and brie and we shared it along with the crusty rye bread we'd been eating all evening.

Finally dessert. The restaurant's signature is the dacquoise -- a kind of soft macaron with vanilla custard in it and decorated with icing sugar and I'm pleased to report it's still quite good.

Opera cake garnished with whiskey jelly... so good!
But even better was the Opera cake -- chocolate cake with whiskey jelly on top! A nice small slice was the perfect amount for us to savour.

Serge et le Phoque
G/F, Shop B2, 3 Wan Chai Road
Wan Chai
5465 2000

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Storm of the Year: Typhoon Hato

Trying to keep dry while Typhoon Hato lashes Lei Yue Mun waterfront
Hong Kong woke up to the strength of Typhoon Hato that was T8 around 5.30am and quickly went to T10 just after 9am.

My flat in Kennedy Town was very noisy thanks to the wind passing through the elevator shafts, howling louder than the wind outside. And at some points I could feel the building swaying -- not a lot, but enough to feel like things weren't quite steady.

Some storm watchers braved the severe weather conditions
I stayed home like most people, as buses, trams, ferries and outdoor MTR trains were stopped, including the Airport Express and hundreds of flights cancelled at the airport. Even the stock exchange was closed all day.

This was pretty much unprecedented, as us underlings have always had a theory that tycoons might have a hand in deciding the severity of the weather because they were in the business of making money.

Many typhoons have blown through overnight, or the T8 signal isn't raised until 5pm or 6pm when people were leaving work anyway.

But this time the typhoon really was severe, as there are videos on social media showing giant waves crashing into walls, flooded underground car parks, trucks tipping over, a revolving door spinning madly, and even hordes of cockroaches fleeing on a ledge.

There were many areas reporting extensive flooding
By around 5pm the signal was lowered to T3 and by 6.20 it was T1, and finally all signals lowered.

Some market analysts are calculating that the loss in business today was estimated between HK$4 billion to HK$8 billion. Those numbers include tourism, transportation, marine, financial services, agriculture, event organizing, entertainment, administration and import-export firms.

And even though some businesses managed to open, there were hardly any customers to serve because the weather conditions were so bad not many wanted to venture out.

I feel for shop owners and restaurants who lost a lot of business today, but this time the typhoon really was quite serious. The last time we had such a severe typhoon was in July 2012 when Typhoon Vincente hit.

Tonight Wan Chai MTR station was very quiet!
In any event all is calm again in Hong Kong and it's back to work and school for everyone tomorrow. But we'll all have stories about Typhoon Hato that we'll be telling for years to come.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Mainlanders' Preferred ATMs

Almost all bank account holders in China use UnionPay ATM cards
Macau was told to clamp down on excessive cash withdrawals by mainlanders from ATM machines, and in May apparently installed facial recognition technology for security reasons.

That scared them off in Macau, but this has resulted in more mainlanders going to Hong Kong to withdraw cash using their UnionPay bank cards.

ATM withdrawals in Macau have decreased dramatically
When the media asked the Hong Kong Monetary Authority about how big the impact was on the local banking system, the monetary chiefs refused to confirm or deny there was a surge.

However they do know by how much because the authority has instructed local banks to submit data on cash withdrawals by UnionPay cards through the ATM network -- both the volume and the timing of the withdrawals.

But the HKMA just doesn't want to comment, saying: "We are not in a position to comment on any dialogues of a supervisory nature".

Macau ATMs now use facial recognition technology
The spokesman even added there are no plans to install facial recognition technology in ATMs. Good for us to know.

Currently mainlanders can withdraw up to 100,000 yuan (US$15,000) in cash overseas and remit up to US$50,000 worth of foreign currency offshore annually.

Those who use UnionPay cards (which is practically everyone who has a bank account in China), can withdraw up to 10,000 yuan per day for each card they have.

As a result they open as many bank accounts as they can to be able to withdraw tens of thousands of yuan per day.

Mainlanders now prefer to withdraw cash from Hong Kong
And now Hong Kong is the preferred city to get their gobs of cash out before they hit the casinos. It's good to know the city is still relevant to mainlanders... they may not want to shop here anymore, but at least we're a convenient ATM for them...

Monday, 21 August 2017

Size Matters

Architect William Lim's conceptual flat with two bedrooms in 194 square feet
There's much discussion about nano flats -- the hottest selling housing units in Hong Kong these days, because many young people are priced out of the market and can only afford the tiniest of flats -- less than 200 square feet.

If a couple shares a nano flat, a lot of gymnastics is required to flexibly move around the tiny space, as well as hardly any possessions, but one Hong Kong architect seems to think he has the answer.

Architect William Lim and his creative design ideas...
Architect William Lim, managing director of design firm CL3 says: "We should think of them as three-dimensional spaces. We have traditionally looked at spaces as floor plans, but if we start looking at them in three dimensions, we could have different levels within the space."

He has created a conceptual flat that consists of two bedrooms, a kitchen and a living room -- in 194 square feet or 18 square metres. Lim is able to achieve this by putting the bedrooms on top of the bathroom and kitchen.

While the concept is not new, particularly in places like Japan, Lim says flats in Hong Kong have a minimum height ceiling of 2.5 metres (8.2 feet), and some are as high as 10 feet, which makes "a flat within a flat" possible.

He also wants to prove that a space doesn't have to be completely utilitarian -- the show flat will be decorated with high-end furniture, including a Baccarat crystal chandelier.

One of the nano flats in Mont Vert in Tai Po
Lim says when it comes to living in style, quality of space, not quantity is most important.

If a developer gave him the opportunity to design a block of flats, he would probably never be able to do it his own idealistic way. Developers are not interested in having too high a ceiling when they can cram more units into the same volume of space. They and their management companies want to collect as much in management fees as possible...

And then his comment of quality of space and not quantity is important is completely out of touch. If someone can barely scrape enough together for a down payment for a 200 square foot apartment, they are not going to be able to afford a Baccarat chandelier, nor would they want one. The same goes for designer furniture. It's all well and good to make a show flat look enticing, but in reality, those who can afford to buy these tiny living spaces will probably hit Ikea and not Tom Dixon.

Oh and the ones who can afford to buy more than one of these flats are probably landlords so they won't be installing crystal chandeliers in a rental.

We like Lim's idea of trying to use vertical space as much as possible, but he's not being realistic.

And the psychological impact of living in tiny spaces can't be healthy. How is that quality of life?

Trying to sell nano flats as an idealistic aspiration mocks the people who are struggling to enter the housing market with the tiniest of flats. Size does matter.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Strength in Numbers

Thousands of people at Johnston and Luard roads waiting for march to start
It turns out there weren't only a few people outraged about the jailing of the three Occupy leaders, Joshua Wong Chi-fung Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang -- there were tens of thousands of them.

Police estimated there were about 22,000 people who started the march at Southern Playground in Wan Chai -- which probably means there were many, many more people willing to be outside in the hot sun, pouring with sweat.

We were stuck on Luard Road for an hour --  in the shade!
I took the MTR from Admiralty to Wan Chai and there were so many people getting on the train that I knew already that lots of protesters would show up. That was the biggest concern of my friend YTSL who worried that only a few people would show up like on July 1.

One would think the 20th anniversary of the handover would be enough to spur people to get out into the streets, but it was this hot button issue of jailing what the foreign media are calling "Hong Kong's first prisoners of conscience" that got people out.

YTSL and I managed to find each other and then headed out the to the Johnston Road exit where it seemed everyone else was heading, but after we got out of Southern Playground, we barely moved for an hour.
Some confused tram riders refused to get off...

We speculate the police underestimated how many people would show up and so the march was halted from starting in order to get enough manpower to close the streets and stand along the march path.

Or they were trying to make protesters annoyed enough that they would leave before it began. A few elderly people did -- it really was quite hot -- but other than that the rest of us stayed put and shouted "hoi lo!" or "let us march!"

At around 4.15pm we finally made our way up Luard Road and then turned left onto Hennessy Road. A few people tried to pump up the crowd with slogans, but for the most part we just wanted to show our presence.

Many yellow umbrellas reminiscent of the Occupy protests
One elderly protester seemed keen to pick fights with anyone, police officers in particular with verbal slurs, but his friends dragged him away or told him to calm down. We're just here to march, mister! No need to start a fight!

From Hennessy Road onwards to the Court of Final Appeal in Central, it was pretty smooth sailing and we could walk at a decent pace. Tons of buses going west were stopped in their tracks, along with trams going in each direction. We wondered why people would stay in the trams because they wouldn't be moving for quite a while...

It was kind of bizarre how we had to wait for an hour at the starting point, but it took less than an hour to march to Central. When we got to the end, volunteers were soliciting donations for the three pro-democracy groups that organized the march: League of Social Democrats, Demosisto and Civil Human Rights Front.

Afterwards people rallied at the Court of Final Appeal
They asked for a minimum of HK$10 but I saw several people put HK$100 and even HK$500 bills in the boxes.

We didn't stay behind for the rally, as there were thousands of people behind us who had yet to arrive, but we were just pleased to voice our opinion with our feet!

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Picture of the Day: Bamboo Scaffolding

Skilled labourers making bamboo scaffolding, much like spiders making webs
The other day as I was walking to the bus stop, I saw some men putting up bamboo scaffolding on a building that looks slated for major renovations.

How they put the bamboo up so quickly and safe enough for people to work on is amazing and you have to wonder how they do it.

This practice, which apparently dates back 1,500 years, isn't even done in China, where construction companies there prefer to use steel when building the frame around new buildings.

However, the bamboo scaffolding guys here are like spiders, creating these "webs" of scaffolding several times their size and weight, and making them very quickly and at a relatively lower cost.

There are about 1,700 registered bamboo scaffolders in the city, but like many traditional industries, fewer people are entering the field because of the low pay, adverse weather conditions, particularly in the summer, and regulations have meant younger recruits need to pass tests to get a license.

We can only hope the tradition of bamboo scaffolding continues in Hong Kong -- that's what makes the city of skyscrapers even more astonishing.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Joshua Wong's Mom Hits Back

Nathan Law, Joshua Wong and Alex Chow before sentencing yesterday
 When Joshua Wong Chi-fung was in the spotlight for his activism starting back in 2011 to protest against national education, his parents were media shy. But following Wong's sentencing yesterday, his mother could not help but make a statement.

Grace Ng Chau-mei wrote a letter to her son before the sentencing that was only released afterwards on Wong's Facebook page.

Wong is now staying at Pik Uk prison near Sai Kung
In it, she said Wong, 20, had sacrificed personal and family time since first entering political activism in May 2011, for the sake of "building a more beautiful Hong Kong".

Ng criticized the Hong Kong government for pursuing the stiffer sentences. "The justice department vowed to imprison them based on what they said... and to eliminate young people's passion and ideals, as well as their vision and commitment for the society," she wrote.

"Why is Hong Kong so depraved now to be treating this generation of children like this?" she asked.

In a reference to the biblical figure Joshua, who led the Israelites in the conquest of God's "Promised Land" in Canaan, Ng wrote: "Dad and I gave you this name 'Joshua'. So don't forget what God told Joshua: reflect on whatever you do, follow the truth, and you can be courageous."

While Wong's parents were not in court on Thursday, Ng visited him today at Pik Uk maximum security prison near Sai Kung.

A reminder in strength in numbers to create change
There he will have to study and attend vocational training, and as he is underage, he has to march military style to the canteen for meals, and clean his own toilet.

When he turns 21 in October, he will be moved to another correctional facility.

However, he may not have to be there long -- his lawyers are preparing applications for Wong, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang be granted leave to prepare for their appeal.

Last night and today on many people's Facebook feeds, they posted pictures they took during the 2014 Umbrella Movement as a reminder of what the trio (and tens of thousands of others) were fighting for.

Some felt it was yet another blow in the fight for self-determination, others a nostalgic reminder that we should not forget what happened almost three years ago.

No one knows how this will end, but it is important not to give up -- that's exactly what the Hong Kong government wants people to do.

This is about the city's future, and jailing the next generation isn't the solution.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Three Occupy Leaders Jailed

Joshua Wong in a police van before being sent to start his prison sentence
Joshua Wong Chi-fung hasn't been afraid to stand up for his convictions, but today he, along with Alex Chow Yong-kang and former legislator Nathan Law Kwun-chung will face their biggest test yet -- prison time -- for storming Civic Square, that led to the eruption of the Umbrella Movement almost three years ago.

Wong was sentenced to six months, Law eight, and Chow seven. Because their prison terms are longer than three months, they are ineligible to run for a seat in the Legislative Council for the next five years.

The trio were defiant before the sentences were handed down
Speaking before the ruling, and expecting to be behind bars, Wong said he wanted to see a "hopeful Hong Kong when I am out [of prison] next year", while Law declared he had no regrets about his activism.

While we know the trio are steadfast in their beliefs, are they physically strong enough to deal with prison life? Look at former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen -- he couldn't even handle two months and he had it really cushy.

Nevertheless we're deeply disappointed in the ruling. Wong and Law had already served their community service sentences that were originally handed down by trial magistrate June Cheung Tin-ngan, along with Chow's suspended three-week jail sentence.

The trio had testified they stormed Civic Square in the hopes of securing talks with then chief executive Leung Chun-ying over the restrictive framework set by Beijing over how Hong Kong would elect its next leader.

The storming of Civic Square led to the Umbrella Movement
Cheung had ruled the case was atypical, and that it called for a more lenient and understanding attitude since the three were young student activists who expressed their demands based on genuinely held political ideals.

At the time she said a deterrent sentence would not be fair.

However, the Hong Kong government wasn't satisfied with the punishment meted out and demanded a judicial review of the sentences, with prosecutors saying they were too lenient and sent the wrong message to young people.

Do those sentences send the wrong message? Are they too lenient? Or do they reveal the government's intentions to bend the law however it sees fit to punish those who try to defy it?

The three will already be punished for life anyway -- they cannot go to the mainland to travel or work, they will never be able to get a proper job in Hong Kong. Financially they are already stymied and they are less than 30 years old.

The government seems heavy-handed in this case, but it's meant to send a warning to others who may think they can take the trio's place to continue the fight.

"The freedom of assembly is never absolute," wrote Wally Yeung, a vice president of the Court of Appeal, who added the court must uphold the importance of public order even though "sentencing ambitious, idealist young people to immediate imprisonment" was not a judgment he made "readily".

Then why did the trio of judges decide on these sentences?

Fellow protest leader Lester Shum says the three plan to appeal their sentences.

On Twitter Wong posted this message soon after his sentence: "They can silence protests, remove us from the legislature and lock us up. But they will not win the hearts and minds of Hongkongers."

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Lam's Tale Apparently Full of Holes

 Lam was arrested last night; today he was charged with misleading police
The bizarre story of Democratic Party member Howard Lam Tsz-kin took another turn today as he has now been charged with misleading police, as the authorities are finding his story implausible.

Footage shows Lam was there an hour later than he claimed
Yesterday news organization Fact Wire released video footage its reporters had gathered where Lam claimed he had been abducted by mainland agents. Instead of seeing him bungled into a van in Yau Ma Tei, he was walking on his own with a knapsack on his back. He was also in the area an hour after he claimed the incident took place.

There was more CCTV footage of him getting onto a minibus in Mongkok to go to Sai Kung and he wandered around the beach. Originally he had claimed his abductors had dumped him there in his underwear and he somehow managed to have money to take a taxi home.

Police also questioned why the crosses of staples on his thighs were so neatly done, and there was no sign of him struggling. Staples on other parts of his body that he couldn't reach could have made the claims more plausible.

Police say the staples in his thighs were too neat to be forced
Lam's case will be heard tomorrow in Kowloon City Court, though he will not be present because he claimed to be feeling unwell and was still in hospital.

Another issue is that Lam has a history of mental health issues including depression and suicide, and the authorities think that perhaps the stapling was a form of self-harm, but he insisted he was mentally fine.

Meanwhile the Democratic Party is slowly backing away from Lam, after they had rallied around him during his press conference last week. The whole incident further disintegrates whatever integrity the party had left, making it the laughing stock of local politics, dragging down the likes of Martin Lee Chu-ming with it.

Police searched for more clues on Sai Kung beach today
Why would anyone want to support them now, but the only alternatives are a bunch of kid activists or patriotic pro-Beijing supporters. There isn't much choice left. The pan-democrats are really lucky it's not an election year...