Saturday, 30 December 2017

China Squeezes Outflows to a Drip

Time is running out for Chinese to move stacks of money out of China
It's the news many people in China who are trying to get their money out didn't want to hear.

Starting from January 1, 2018, individuals will only be allowed to withdraw a maximum of 100,000 yuan (US$15,000) a year, regardless of how many separate bank accounts or ATM cards they have, according to a statement by the State Administration of Foreign Exchange.

Under the current rules, there is an annual ATM withdrawal cap of 100,000 yuan per bank card, which is why many people have a number of cards attached to a single account, or multiple accounts with different banks.

While people will be allowed to continue to hold several ATM cards, the annual limit will apply to the combined value of all the withdrawals.

Sounds like cash withdrawals are screeching to a major halt. I can already hear it and it's deafening.

People can only move 100,000 yuan per year out of China
The foreign exchange regulator also warned that if any Chinese is found using mainland bank cards to withdraw more than 100,000 yuan from overseas ATMs within a calendar year, they will be barred from taking out cash abroad using any mainland bank card for the rest of the year -- as well as the following year.

I think I heard another loud screech.

These latest regulations are extremely restrictive, making it extremely difficult for people to make mortgage payments on homes they have bought abroad (if they haven't paid for them in cash already), or pay for children's tuition overseas, or in some cases to launder ill-gotten gains.

The regulator said the restrictions were "a necessary measure" to curb money laundering, terrorism financing and tax evasion."

It added some Chinese have been found to have used a large number of ATM cards to withdraw sums of cash overseas that far exceeded what was needed for "normal consumption", according to the regulator.

What exactly constitutes "normal consumption"? It would be interesting to know what that figure, or range would be...

The foreign exchange regulator also warned Chinese not to try to evade the rules. "People should not borrow other people's bank cards or lend them to others to help get around the regulation," the statement said.

Regardless, people knew these restrictive measures would be instituted in 2018, so there was (some) time to move as much money abroad as they could this year.

Nevertheless, the regulator says 100,000 yuan is plenty of money to spend for those traveling abroad, while "containing the large sums made by a few lawbreakers".

Will we see less mainland Chinese snapping up luxury homes and condos outside of China in 2018? That will be the sign these measures are really effective or not.

Friday, 29 December 2017

Safeguard Hong Kong

A blurry picture of a banner that says "Safeguard Hong Kong" on Lion Rock
The hiking activists are at it again.

This morning a yellow banner appeared on Lion Rock in Kowloon with the words "Safeguard Hong Kong" on it.

However, it wasn't anchored properly so it was flapping in the wind.

Police were alerted of the banner at 7.30am and by 11am they had successfully removed it, though it is unknown who put it there and for what reason.

How the Hong Kong rail station would work
However, it is believed the banner is related to the controversy over the Chinese government's state council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) insisting that the city must implement the joint checkpoint at the cross-border rail link being built to connect with Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

The National People's Congress Standing Committee has already authorized a plan where mainland Chinese officials would enforce national laws as part of the West Kowloon station.

"[Authorities] on the mainland and in Hong Kong must execute [the NPCSC's] decision," a HKMAO spokesman said to Xinhua news agency.

The NPCSC's decision was described as "an important constitutional judgment that cannot be challenged" and is in line with Hong Kong's Basic Law, according to a top Beijing expert on the mini constitution.

However, the Hong Kong Bar Association was "appalled" by the decision, saying the move was the most retrograde step since 1997, with the Basic Law being "irreparably breached" and the rule of law "severely" undermined.

The rail-link in West Kowloon is under construction
The association added the decision regarding the co-location agreement of having mainland authorities exercising mainland laws in Hong Kong territory was not supported by any provisions in the Basic Law.

"This plainly amounts to an announcement by the NPCSC that the cooperation agreement complies with the constitution and the Basic Law 'just because the NPCSC says so", the association's statement said.

"Such an unprecedented move is the most retrograde step to date in the implementation of the Basic Law and severely undermines public confidence in 'one country, two systems' and the rule of law in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region."

What is Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor going to do about this? So far she hasn't said much, which means she is complicit to her Beijing masters.

Again Hong Kong people and institutions are left having to defend the city again. It is appalling that the Basic Law isn't even respected by Beijing and instead it keeps changing the goal posts whenever it needs to keep its advantage.

Is there any legal way of challenging the NPCSC's decision? Or are we left to silently accept this latest announcement?

Yet another issue to protest about come July 1, 2018.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Tibetan's Escape to the US

A recent picture of Dhondup Wangchen who landed in San Francisco
We are fascinated by the news that a Tibetan filmmaker managed to elude police surveillance in China and escape to the United States.

Dhondup Wangchen, 43, arrived in San Francisco on Christmas Day where he was reunited with his wife and children who were granted political asylum in 2012.

"After many years, this is the first time I'm enjoying the feeling of safety and freedom," Wangchen said in a statement issued by Filming for Tibet, a group set up by his cousin that campaigned for his release.

A scene from Wangchen's documentary, Leaving Fear Behind
"I would like to thank everyone who made it possible for me to hold my wife and children in my arms again. However, I also feel the pain of having left behind my country, Tibet."

He's a self-taught filmmaker from Qinghai province where he spent five months in 2007 interviewing Tibetans about their hopes and frustrations living under Chinese rule. His documentary, Leaving Fear Behind, has many Tibetans talking about their love for exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, and how they thought the 2008 Beijing Olympics would do little to improve their situation.

Wangchen was detained in 2008, after his footage was smuggled out of China and shown at film festivals around the world, and shown to a group of foreign reporters ahead of the Olympics. He was later convicted for "inciting subversion" and sentenced to six years in prison.

Wangchen's wife, Lhamo Tso campaigned for his release
While he was in prison, many rights groups campaigned for his release, saying he was denied medical care after he contracted hepatitis B in jail, that he was forced to do manual labour and kept in solitary confinement for six months.

His case was apparently raised by the United States with Beijing "at the highest level", according to a Tibetan rights group called International Campaign for Tibet.

However, Wangchen's supporters did not explain how exactly he managed to escape, as he was under heavy police surveillance, with his communications monitored.

"The six years Dhondup Wangchen had to spend in jail are a stark reminder of the human costs that China's policies continue to have on the Tibetan people," said Matteo Mecacci, president of International Campaign for Tibet. "Dhondup Wangchen should never had to pay such a high personal price for exercising his freedom of expression."

Tibetans cannot openly worship the Dalai Lama
In the coming days, weeks and months it will be interesting to see what he has to say about how life is like in Tibet these days. Since the Chinese government began ruling over Tibet in 1950, there have been repressive measures in place, in particular since 2008 when riots erupted in the area.

Devotees of the Dalai Lama are forbidden from speaking about him, having his picture posted on the walls and Tibetans say their culture and language are being threatened by Han Chinese.

A shocking statistic to keep in mind is that more than 150 people have set themselves on fire since 2009 in protest against the Chinese government, the latest case on Wednesday. In turn Beijing calls these self-immolators "terrorists" and blames the Dalai Lama and exiled Tibetan rights groups for inciting them.

While we are pleased Wangchen is now safe, he may feel powerless to help fellow Tibetans from the outside. It's a difficult existence, but one that he and many dissidents before him have had to navigate. We hope he finds his footing and renewed purpose in his new home.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Don't Visit Beijing in 2018

Fodors is advising people not to visit the Great Wall of China...
US travel guide Fodors has a list of warnings of where people should not go in 2018.

When it comes to China, don't go to the Great Wall. Fodors says the deterioration of swathes of the structure as the reason to stay away, and the same goes for the Forbidden City because of the horrible pollution levels in Beijing.

... or the Forbidden City because of Beijing's pollution
And unless you're a seasoned climber, don't risk your life (six people died there this year) or money (US$25,000 to US$45,000) going up Mount Everest.

Some of the other places the guide suggests not visiting are:

The Galapagos Islands because of the fragile ecosystem that is impacted by tourists;

The Taj Mahal's dome is being cleaned for the first time in 369 years and probably won't be ready until 2019;

Myanmar should be avoided because of its ethnic cleansing of the ethnic Rohingya;

Don't take unnecessary risks climbing up Mount Everest
And avoid Honduras as it's one of the most deadliest places on earth because of its murder rate.

There are places that don't want tourists -- they are Venice and Amsterdam where there is a backlash against visitors. Fodors suggests staying away from these cities too.

Civic Square to Reopen -- With Strings Attached

Police surround student activists in Civic Square; other protesters outside
More than four years later, Civic Square at the Hong Kong government headquarters in Admiralty will reopen on Thursday -- but with conditions.

While it will reopen to vehicles as a drop-off point, demonstrators will only be allowed in the space if they have permits for Sundays and public holidays.

This area was the flash point in late September 2014 when young people stormed the square (which is actually round), and led to the Occupy Movement days later. It had been cordoned off since July the same year when people protested against national education.

Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow say reopening is "fake"
For student activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung, this re-opening is "fake".

"Civic Square symbolizes the basic right of citizens to demonstrate in front of the government headquarters," Wong said. "The final goal [of reopening the square] must be to restore it back to its former condition, where citizens are free to gather and demonstrate."

The possibility of reopening Civic Square was an election promise by Chief Executive Carrie Cheng Yuet-ngor, though the conditions of reopening the area seem limited at best.

"It's not a real or true reopening," said Agnes Chow-ting of Demosisto party. "It's just a political show."

How ironic Civic Square isn't open to the public
We agree. Either open Civic Square completely or keep it closed.

And the latter would continue the irony of the area's name. It was supposed to be for the people -- and us taxpayers have funded it -- and yet we're not allowed in it.

This is hardly an olive branch in good faith, Mrs Lam.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Paul Chan's Crocodile Tears

Does Chan seriously think we believe he's losing sleep over young people?
Our Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po is so concerned about young people in Hong Kong that he's losing sleep over it.

In a Christmas Eve post on his blog, Chan said ever-increasing rents and property prices had imposed a heavy burden on Hongkongers and stunted the development of start-ups and entire industries. "It gives me sleepless nights and a low appetite," he said.

Recounting previous conversations with grassroots families and other locals, Chan said many residents, especially the young were under immense pressure due to stagnating salaries and long working hours despite Hong Kong having robust economic growth at 3.7 percent this year.

The youth feel left out in the city's economic development
Chan also noted there was a shortage of land for housing, offices, creative spaces and nursing homes.

"The government is making an effort to find land and explore solutions from every possible angle," he wrote.

But some of the suggestions have been controversial, such as developing some parts of the country parks which is currently illegal, and also making a 1,000-hectare artificial island east of Lantau.

Stop with the crocodile tears, Mr Chan.

If you were a rookie in Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's administration, then maybe we would have a bit of sympathy for you, but you were previously Secretary for Development in Leung Chun-ying's cabinet AND you were discovered for owning several properties that had sub-divided flats and had land in your name in the New Territories where the government was planning to develop near there.

Housing is an urgent issue that needs to be addressed
And how can it only be now that he realizes how challenging it is for young people to establish their careers in Hong Kong if they don't have good connections or a lot of capital to start with?

If he isn't sleeping well then he should come up with some decent solutions to help young people get jobs that will move them up the economic ladder instead of being stuck in service positions, and find more land -- brown sites is something we have repeated constantly in this blog -- or the government should develop low-cost housing of its own so that there will be options other than luxury flats or micro flats less than 300 square feet.

This is the best financial secretary Lam could come up with?

Monday, 25 December 2017

China's Aversion to Christmas

Mainland Chinese don't really understand Christmas but find it a fun party
Over a week ago when I was talking to some mainland Chinese students in a Hong Kong shopping mall, they found the concept of Christmas really weird. They didn't understand the purpose of decorating trees and putting them inside, taking pictures with an elderly man with a white beard in a red suit, and what this had to do with a baby born in a barn.

It is an honest observation coming from people who grew up in a country that does not promote any kind of religion, Christianity being one of them.

While there are many Christians in Hong Kong, Christmas is very much a commercial event in the city, and it's a holiday everyone there has grown up with.

Over 3 million Christmas decorations were bought on Tmall
But in China, the Chinese government is going to great lengths to dissuade people from celebrating Christmas -- even though the country manufactures the most goods related to the holiday, from decorations to gifts.

About a week ago, members of the Communist Party's Youth League at the University of South China in Hunan province were asked to sign a code of conduct which told them not to participate in Christmas-related celebrations, according to a statement circulating on Weibo.

"Communist Party members must be role models in abiding to the faith of communism. [Members are] not allowed to have superstitions and blindly follow the opium of Western spirits," the statement said, which was signed off by the Youth League.

The memo also said party members would face disciplinary consequences if they or their direct relatives were found to be involved in religious activities on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

Instead they were instructed to hold events to promote "patriotic and traditional Chinese culture".

Yawn. And what does that mean?

China supplies 60% of the world's plastic Christmas trees
That's the same sentiment a student had in Jiangsu province, whose university had also banned Christmas celebrations.

"I am not very convinced of the school's excuse. Nobody relates Christmas to Western ideologies. Now I may not party with my friends in the school's dorm because we are afraid there will be inspections," he said.

He also didn't know the relationship between Christmas and the Christian faith.

Its not just happening in Hunan and Jiangsu provinces, but also Liaoning and Shaanxi provinces, where people were banned from gathering for celebrations on December 24 and 25.

But commercially Chinese companies love Christmas. Over 600,000 Christmas trees and 3 million decorations were bought on T Mall, owned by Alibaba. China makes over 60 percent of the world's plastic Christmas trees.

What's wrong with Christmas with Chinese characteristics?
Liu Kaiming, head of the Institute of Contemporary Observation in Shenzhen, said he finds it absurd for local institutions to ban the celebration of Christmas because it is a "Western festival".

"To Chinese people, this festival is not much different to the Singles' Day on November 11, it's for shopping," he said.

"China has long been using a Western calendar. We celebrate the New Year, Labour Day, and Women's Day based on Western origins. Are we going to ban all of them?" he said.

"This is China's dilemma -- it is largely opened up to globalization now, but it also holds back from embracing full-scale globalization because of domestic politics," Liu continued.

"The recent political emphasis on the 'revitalization of Chinese culture' from officials may have prompted local units to use this season as a chance to show loyalty by following the party line."

This relates back to President Xi Jinping who expects all cadres to show unwavering loyalty to the Party.

It's not just Christianity under fire, but also Buddhism and feng shui -- there's only one thing to believe in -- the Party.

Now if only the Party had Christmas-like celebrations then maybe people would be more on board.


Saturday, 23 December 2017

Review: Small Talk

Many times A-nu (left) is silent when her daughter asks her tough questions
On the plane back to Vancouver, I watched an intriguing Taiwanese documentary called Small Talk (日常對話) that was released last year. It made its international premiere at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival where it won a Teddy Award for Best Documentary Film. It has also recently been nominated as Taiwan's pick for the foreign-language film category in the Academy Awards.

A-nu is more at ease with her many girlfriends
It is a brutally honest film about filmmaker Huang Hui-chen and her relationship with her lesbian mother A-nu, who is a Taoist priestess at funerals. Huang says in the beginning that even though she has lived with her mother most of her life, she knows almost nothing about her, always not home and wants to know why. Is it because she doesn't love her two daughters? Is it because they were adopted?

Through a series of tough face-to-face interviews, as well as footage meeting her mother's siblings, talking to her mother's lovers past and present, and even old home movies of Huang growing up, we along with Huang find out more about A-nu.

We discover she knew from a young age that she was lesbian and Huang doesn't understand or at times is naive about what it's like to be gay, and we discover how she is very generous and loving towards her several girlfriends.

In one scene, A-nu plays with her granddaughter
When asked to comment about their sister's sexuality, her brothers and older sister either don't want to talk about it or don't seem to care. They seem embarrassed to talk about it, and would rather discuss her failed arranged marriage to a man.

Before when I used to watch Chinese movies, there would be a lot of silence between characters and I thought it was for dramatic effect, but this is what happens in reality. There are very long pauses when A-nu answers Huang's questions, or complete silence; you can tell she is thinking about something but says she won't answer the question and gets up to leave, with Huang left sitting in the chair disappointed not to get more information.

However she is persistent and the climax of the film is quite intense. As viewers we don't quite know what happens in the end -- are things better or worse between mother and daughter?

Huang with her Teddy Award
Although the pace seems slow, Small Talk attracts viewers with its intriguing premise and we go on a journey with Huang to find out more about A-nu. Her lovers recounting how she seduced them are the light-hearted moments in the film and reveal a touching side of A-nu that Huang was completely unaware of, though they are equally balanced by the dark experiences both mother and daughter faced.

The film is executive produced by famed director Hou Hsiao-hsien, giving it not only professional weight, but also an endorsement to talk about LGBT stories. Will we see more from Taiwan? That would be light years ahead of Hong Kong...

Small Talk (2016)
Directed by Huang Hui-chen
88 Minutes

Friday, 22 December 2017

HK's Bank of Stationery

Joel Chung wants to help students get the supplies they need
I love stories where grassroots individuals come up with creative ways to help the community in a big way.

The Bank of Stationery is the latest one I've come across.

Joel Chung Yin-chai loves collecting stationery and usually scours old shops that sell old exercise books, pencils and such.

But the 52-year-old believes that underprivileged children may not have the right school supplies, hindering them from doing their best academically. And that's how he started Bank of Stationery last December.

Boxes of pencils and pens are collected
"One night I was thinking that Hong Kong has different types of banks for the underprivileged, such as food banks, clothing recycling banks and toy banks, but what about a stationery bank?" he said. And then he immediately set up a Facebook page called Bank of Stationery.

Chung has a 4,000 square-foot warehouse in San Po Kong where he collects items that donors have given him and packs items for those who want them. About 90 percent of the stationery are brand new, from big offices that have left over office supplies to individual donors.

One donor was a mini storage operator who gave boxes of pens after confiscating them from his tenant who was overdue in rent.

He claims in the past year some 100,000 students have benefited from his charity, using some 400,000 items.

Browsing through the Facebook page, there are pictures posted of packets of pencils, bundles of pens, staples, hole punches, exercise books, magazine holders, calculators and even mannequins for dressmaking, printers and a violin!

People reply back if they want the items and he holds them for the person until they come to pick them up.

Even a violin was donated and given away for free!
Chung hopes that he can help low-income families same some money on school supplies every month, though there is an environmental benefit too.

"I wouldn't say the stationery bank has been very successful, but at least tens of thousands of these brand new stationery items that would have ended up in landfills are now in good hands, benefiting those in need," he said.

So wonderful for students to have someone like Chung who wants to make sure they have what they need, and for people to have a place to donate these kinds of items. He's right -- there isn't a place to recycle stationery items and so glad he's made it a reality.

Several mannequins for dressmaking
Bank of Stationery
Block B, 1/F, Unit 1B, Wing Chai Industrial Building
27-29 Ng Fong Street
San Po Kong.

Picture of the Day: Christmas Feast with Chinese Characteristics

Roasted soy sauce chicken in a jenga nest made of sugar cane sticks
Last night my parents' friends invited us to have dinner at Dynasty Seafood Restaurant, well known in the city for its high quality Chinese cuisine.

However with Christmas fast approaching, we were the second round of diners, though it took some time for the first batch to finally vacate the table we were scheduled to eat at.

Stir-fried fresh lobsters were very meaty
We finally got started after 8pm, and our patience was well rewarded with some fantastic dishes.

There was roast soy sauce chicken with the meat roughly extracted from the bone in a pile that was surrounded by sugar cane sticks. It's been a while since I chewed on sugar cane, though these were just a touch sweet, but I didn't see much correlation between them and the chicken.

We also had fake shark's fin soup, mostly in terms of flavour because my bowl just had broth and cabbage in it. Another good one was fresh lobsters stir-fried with lots of meat, and a braised duck dish that had slices of very tender duck combined with a variety of mushrooms.

Geoduck was a nostalgic (and expensive) treat!
But perhaps the most memorable dish was the geoduck. Not one, but two were thinly sliced and blanched in boiling water before being seasoned with beansprouts and golden chives with some light soy sauce.

I hadn't eat geoduck like this for years! When we were much younger, over 30 years ago, they were 99 cents a pound! Now it goes for around CAD$50 a pound! How things change over time!

Afterwards our host who is an accomplished baker made a beautiful raspberry tart with a hint of orange liqueur... so good!

Gorgeous raspberry tart with a firm but flaky crust
Dynasty Seafood Restaurant
108-777 West Broadway
Vancouver, BC
Tel: 604 876 8388

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Video of the Day: Snow!

I’m still getting over jet lag — waking up around 5am and then going back to sleep around 8am.

So I was quite shocked to wake up to snow this morning! Actually most of Vancouver was too.

This video was taken before we headed out onto the treacherous roads that hadn’t been salted ahead of time. Along Arbutus Street we saw five trolley buses down.

Snow is best for pics when the snowflakes start falling, because as soon as it starts melting, the idyllic scene isn’t as pretty.

In the afternoon wet snow/rain was falling so shovelling the snow was actually more slushy and wet, not to mention very heavy too!

Hope tomorrow won’t be too perilous on the roads!

Disrespecting Anthem Means No Graduation

The Hong Kong College of Technology has a political slant on its education
It is disappointing to see a Hong Kong school has punished its graduates for not standing up during the national anthem by forcing them to leave their own graduation ceremony and not receive their certificates.

Two social work students from Hong Kong College of Technology sat silently while March of the Volunteers was played during the ceremony at a Ma On Shan campus, defying a new school rule which defines disrespecting the national anthem as misconduct.

The staff cut short the anthem not long after it began when they saw not everyone was standing. The two graduates were told to leave along with more than 10 other students who were supported the pair.

Chan told the students the school loves the country and HK
The incident lasted 20 minutes and the two graduates didn't receive their certificates.

Afterwards president and principal of Hong Kong College of Technology, Chan Cheuk-hay, spoke to the pair after the ceremony.

One student said to him: "That we sat down [during the anthem] did not mean we don't respect the national anthem. And if we sang the song, it would not mean we loved the country.

"We don't understand why the school rejected the social work students it trained up during the graduation ceremony just because of a national song."

He or she has a point there -- they are only telling Chan how they really feel and are metaphorically standing up for what they believe in, something educational institutions try to instill in students. However, these days what kinds of values to believe in is another issue...

The students held the view the Chinese government was not serving the people, and that they, as social work students, should speak out.

But Chan said the institution, established as Mongkok Workers' Night School in 1957 and led by a board of pro-Beijing members, had always loved the country and the city.

The students felt they stood up for what they believed in
"The [college] is an institution which loves the country and Hong Kong," Chan explained to the students. "It has been upholding the patriotic flag and is uncompromising.

"And we never retreated even under colonial rule, during which we were suppressed... if you didn't know about this during your admission, you have picked the wrong school."

Pretty tough words on what should have been a day of celebration.

This is not the first time students have protested when the national anthem is played, though it is the first time students were kicked out. Chan has had to deal with rebellious students before.

At the graduation ceremony at the same place in November last year, Chan scolded students for "insulting the anthem" after some social work graduates raised signs during the song, protesting China's 2016 interpretation of the Basic Law.

We understand there are rules of decorum, but kicking students out for not standing for the national anthem?

They are not disrespecting the anthem, they are not holding up signs nor shouting protests, but just not standing.

They are honest in saying the words of the national anthem don't mean anything to them. Is that wrong, so wrong that they are not entitled to their graduation certificates?

It seems very heavy handed for a college that isn't particularly well known either -- unless Chan wants to become notorious for imposing serious punishments on what he considers unruly students.

The government isn't doing a good job in allaying people's fears about the mainlandization of China, and some educational institutions are blindly obedient without considering the possible consequences of imposing such rules around the anthem.

While a law was passed in September where people who mocked the March of the Volunteers would be punished with up to 15 days in jail, enforcement of that law has not been passed in Hong Kong or Macau yet.

Until it is legally enforced, why punish students for not standing up for the anthem?

Sunday, 17 December 2017

The Effects of Pushing out "Low-End Population"

Migrant workers gathering their things and getting ready to leave Beijing
Last night I met up with a friend from Beijing who's visiting Hong Kong and we caught up since we last met up.

I asked him about the evictions of the migrant workers and he shook his head, sad at the turn of events.

Following a fire in Beijing's Daxing district that killed 19 people, the local government has used the tragedy as an excuse to get rid of the "low-end population", though this campaign has been happening for the past year.

Parts of Sanlitun have been completely demolished
When I was in Beijing in April, the back streets of Sanlitun, where many expats hung out and used to buy cheap DVDs, or have manicures and pedicures, massages and buy cheap clothing and food, were being torn down.

"Beijingers are happy the streets are cleaned up and feel that the city is now becoming more international like London and New York," my friend said, adding he didn't like Beijing anymore because these colourful aspects of the city were now fast disappearing.

In other words, Beijing is gentrifying.

He told me about a small restaurant across the street from where he lived. It wasn't really a restaurant -- a kind of shack -- where they sold all kinds of food, from jianbing or a savoury pancake, to fried chicken wings, noodles and char-grilled lamb skewers called chuar.

It was run by a bunch of young guys from Henan. While my friend described them as a bit on the tough side, perhaps dealing in things other than food, they were nice people, who he got to know as acquaintances. He'd stop by after work for a beer, or pick up a snack for his wife to bring back home, and have a quick friendly chat. They were also open until 5am.

But now they were gone and he didn't know where they went. More importantly he didn't know where to get his snacks and drinks now.

Some people are hardly given much notice to leave
The small cigarette and liquor shops that supposedly sold items that were collected by senior government officials as "gifts" and sold for cheap are also gone. The last time I was there, the closet-sized sex shops had also disappeared.

Not all expats have the same view as my friend who is from the UK and has lived in Beijing for many years. These foreigners like seeing migrant workers gone and the streets are now cleaner, or getting rid of businesses that didn't fit in the neighbourhood, like the aforementioned shack selling food and perhaps were noisy late into the night.

Nevertheless these were businesses that were convenient, cheap and useful for many residents, and what are left behind are empty stalls, or areas that have been completely demolished, leaving no trace of their previous existence.

However my friend has the last laugh -- expats are complaining it's hard to find an ayi (a maid) these days. Gee, I wonder why?

He says his ayi may leave next year if she too is pressured, but doesn't know where to go. She doesn't want to go back to Anhui province, and do what? She has lived in Beijing for over a decade and makes good money cleaning people's flats.

The Beijing government may think it's doing a good thing getting rid of the "low-end population", but really it's shooting itself in the foot. These migrant workers keep the city going. They were the ones who built all the new buildings and infrastructure, but you deny their children education because they don't have hukou or a residence permit, and now you force them to leave because you consider them an eyesore?

How is that equality in the so-called socialist People's Republic of China?

Friday, 15 December 2017

China's Evolving Definition of Human Rights

Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia suffered human rights violations

With the year ending in just over two weeks, China has already hailed 2017 as one of "remarkable" progress in human rights, including its achievements in anti-corruption and legal reform, which don't have much, if anything to do with human rights.

The latest State Council white paper listed international cooperation on counterterrorism and climate change, as well as the "Sky Net" program to hunt down and repatriate fugitives accused of corruption as human rights achievements.

So forcibly bringing back people to stand for corruption charges is a good thing for human rights?

In the past China has included the right to peace, and the right to economic development.

Migrant workers are being forced out of Beijing
How random and irrelevant to consider these under the meaning of human rights (everywhere else).

Many international critics focused on the detention and death in custody of Nobel Peace Prize-winning dissident Liu Xiaobo and how he was only briefly reunited with his wife Liu Xia before he died of cancer in July. Afterwards his body was hastily cremated and the ashes dumped at sea to avoid some kind of memorial for democracy activists.

His widow is still closely watched by the authorities and her whereabouts are still unknown. Doesn't she have human rights?

There are also human rights violations in pushing migrant workers out of Beijing on the pretense of a fire in Daxing District on November 18 that killed 19 people. Following the fire, the authorities immediately launched a 40-day campaign to get rid of the "low-end population", a word that has since been banned from China's cyberspace.

Migrant workers who provide essential services or do jobs that no one else wants to do are being pushed out of the Chinese capital with very little notice and the experience has been so harsh and violent that they don't feel welcome anymore and have no choice but to go back to their hometowns.

Uyghurs' DNA are now being collected by the police
Did the authorities realize what effect this vicious campaign will have on how the city will function from now on?

But another shocking human rights violation is a recent report from The Guardian that says DNA, fingerprints and other biometric data are being collected from Uyghurs in a "health check", called "Physicals for All". It is unclear if patients are aware this data is being collected and shared with the police.

"The mandatory databanking of a whole population's biodata, including DNA, is a gross violation of international human rights norms," said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. It is even more disturbing if it is done surreptitiously, under the guise of a free healthcare program.

"Xinjiang authorities should rename their physical exams project 'Privacy Violations for All', as informed consent and real choice does not seem to be part of these programs," she added.

However, China is ignoring its critics and continuing this terrifying project -- even if someone hasn't committed a crime.

So when China says it's had a "remarkable" year in human rights, it really is living in a parallel universe where its definition is so far removed from everyone else's.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

25% Hongkongers Can't Afford Basic Needs

One-quarter of Hongkongers are considered deprived of basic necessities
The Hong Kong government acknowledges there are poor people in Hong Kong, but it's the number that it can't seem to decide on because it can't determine the exact definition of poverty.

It prefers to just look at income levels, but critics say this is not enough, as some people may own flats, but have no income and have run out of savings, or they barely make enough to make ends meet and live in squalid conditions. Some don't want to bother reaching out for social services or they don't qualify for certain subsidies.

Chinese University researchers have come up with another way to determine if someone is poor by seeing if they can afford 23 essential items or services. These include three meals a day, a dental check-up once a year, afford new clothes or go out with family or friends once a month.

Researchers say poverty should be calculated by deprivation
If they were not able to afford at least two or more of these items they were considered deprived.

They interviewed 1,476 people in 2014 and the same participants again last year. They found that one in four of them were deprived last year, 24.7 percent, which compares to 28.8 percent in 2014.

Researchers say the city's economic growth, historically low unemployment ration and higher salaries attributed to fewer deprived people, but it doesn't mean poverty has been eliminated at all.

Of those who took part in the study, 26.7 percent were unable to afford to get a regular dental check-up, though it was down from 38.7 percent three years earlier.

The study also showed that those who were defined as deprived were 1.5 times more likely to be less physically healthy, and 1.3 times more likely to be less mentally healthy compared to those who could afford all 23 items and services.

Chinese University associate professor Wong Hung who conducted the study said the research showed the government's official definition of poverty underestimated those who were socially disadvantaged in Hong Kong.

Handouts don't solve the poverty issue, researchers say
The government makes its calculations based solely on income and household size, and so the poverty line is at half the median monthly household income according to household size. Those who live below the poverty line are considered poor.

With that calculation, one in five people were living below the poverty line last year, a record high.

Wong said, "Handing out money or cash vouchers to people might not necessarily solve the city's deprivation problem. The government should implement more specific community programs so people can directly benefit from them."

This is not a new suggestion and the government doesn't really do anything, instead depending on NGOs and charities to fill the need.

Wong and his colleagues are suggesting to the government that it include deprivation as part of its determination of who is in poverty or not. It would probably increase the numbers which the authorities wouldn't be happy about, but these people are in desperate need of services and resources to keep their heads above water.

With Hong Kong being such a wealthy city, there is no excuse not to help the neediest.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Picture of the Day: Nanjing Massacre at 80

People gathered at the Cenotaph in Central... are they allowed there?
This morning I took our company shuttle bus to work and on the way we passed by the Cenotaph in Central.

I was shocked to see a bunch of people standing there and holding large Chinese flags.

Then I remembered it was the 80th anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre, but why were these people standing there?

The Cenotaph is a war memorial that commemorates the dead in the two world wars who served in Hong Kong in the Royal Navy, British Army and the Royal Air Force.

What does it have to do with Nanjing?

If they want to commemorate the Nanjing Massacre they need to find their own cenotaph!

Nano Flat Prices Keep Rising

The nano flats are being built in Yuen Long at HK$15,000 per square foot
The prices of flats in Hong Kong keep going higher.

Now nano flats that are 192 square feet are being sold for HK$2.99 million -- in Yuen Long.

Yes Yuen Long, along the West Rail line in the New Territories.

It's part of a development called Park Reach that has 63 units and the average price of a flat there is more than HK$15,000 per square foot. After a maximum discount of 5 percent, the average selling price is HK$14,975. Whoohoo -- a HK$25 savings per square foot. You can get a McDonald's set lunch for that.

The HK$14,975 per square foot price is 10.5 percent higher than the average price of a flat at 50 major housing estates in the city tracked by Ricacorp Properties.

Despite the tiny size, property agents believe buyers will be keen for the units because they can get a loan of up to 85 percent of the flat's value from the developers.

So now developers are also the bankers. Guess the government doesn't think that's a conflict of interest...

By the way the smallest flat is 192 square feet. The largest? 310 square feet.

Talk about real minimalist living...

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Taxi Association's U-Turn on Uber

Will taxis finally stop protesting and finally cooperate with Uber?
Just the other day two Hong Kong taxi groups were threatening to sue the government if it followed recommendations by the Consumer Council to relax regulations to allow Uber to operate in the city.

But now there seems to be a complete 180-degree turn, as Uber is interested in working with taxis to share the market.

"... the taxi industry may not have the technology platform like ours to provide tailor-made services," explained Kenneth She Chun-chi, Uber Hong Kong's general manager. "If we cooperate together, they can also make use of our backup customer service and even capitalize on our good image to regain consumer confidence as they are now having an image problem."

Uber's Kenneth She says taxis can benefit from its technology
Wow dragging the Hong Kong taxi industry into the 21st century. How novel!

And the vice-chairman of the Association of Taxi Industry Development Ng Kam-wah is open to the idea of working with the ride-hailing company.

"We think that there is room for the taxi trade to cooperate with Uber as this will be a win-win situation for us," he said. "The taxi industry could benefit form the ride-hailing platform, effective marketing and good customer image of Uber, while Uber can operate legally with the taxi vehicles," he added.

They sound like they are practically singing the same tune.

However, Ng points out that Uber charges a certain percentage of the drivers' income, but he would prefer the charge goes to the customer to pay rather than the driver. He doesn't want drivers' incomes to be affected.

Why is Ng Kam-wah suddenly keen on working with Uber?
But that's the whole point -- Uber helps drivers get customers through its technology so it is only fair that drivers get charged for that. It's just like taxi drivers having to pay for their licenses. Something's gotta give.

And are those crusty taxi drivers in their 60s really going to know how to use the app and deal with these new ways of charging customers and collecting money online?

We find this sudden about face very interesting and wonder what made the taxi association change its mind about Uber.

However here at The Fragrant Harbour we're all about action, not words. If Ng really does get his association moving in adopting Uber's technology and the culture of ride-hailing apps, then transportation in Hong Kong is going to get significantly better.

The ball's in your court, Ng.