Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Another 450kg Bomb Found in Wan Chai

A bomb disposal officer looks at the second bomb found this afternoon
This afternoon it was deja-vu all over again in Wan Chai -- a second World War II bomb the same size as the one found on the weekend, was found 10 metres from the first one.

People had to be evacuated from the area again, resulting in shops, restaurants, offices and hotels clearing out for the rest of the afternoon and evening.

Americans dropped bombs around Victoria Harbour in 1945
However this one, near the intersection of Tonnochy Road and Convention Avenue will be harder for bomb disposal experts to diffuse because the fuse mechanism is severely damaged and is in a harder to reach location.

In the meantime historians have surmised the American-made AN-M65 explosives were likely dropped by American warplanes during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong, which was from January 1942 to August 1945.

Military historian Dave Macri believes the bombs landed close together because of a "dive bombing tactic" that was widely used by US Navy aircraft during the war. A squadron of six to 10 bombers would dive down towards the target, descending quickly from 10,000 feet to 2,000 feet and dumping the bombs when they were at their lowest point.

The University of Hong Kong professor said, "One [bomber] would come in, and would immediately be followed by another one," which may explain why the two explosive devices were found so close to each other.

The US Air Force strikes at Kowloon docks in 1944
By dropping the bombs at a lower altitude, the pilots could identify their targets more accurately and have more success at blowing them up, Macri said.

During World War II, Victoria Harbour was heavily bombed by US forces who were trying to destroy Japanese military shipping and docking facilities, while Admiralty was another major target because the British Royal Naval base was taken over by the Japanese, according to Kwong Chi-man, a history professor at Baptist University.

It just makes you wonder -- how many other bombs are lying underground?!

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Picture of the Day: Panoramic View

Pardon the window streaks on the left, but a pretty amazing view of Kowloon
Temperatures in Hong Kong plunged down to 8 degrees Celsius -- which for the city is considered quite cold.

On top of it, the weather hasn't been cooperating and been overcast and slightly drizzling at times.

But this morning when I went to a hotel near the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre for an appointment, the club lounge had the most amazing view across Victoria Harbour.

Too bad it wasn't sunny, but it was clear enough to see Tsim Sha Tsui.

The temperatures won't be rising much anytime soon, but Hong Kong will have a supermoon to look forward to tomorrow night -- if the skies are clear enough.

Monday, 29 January 2018

26 Hours to Diffuse a 450kg Bomb

A bomb disposal officer inspects the bomb found in a construction site
Part of Wan Chai was at a standstill yesterday when bomb disposal officers successfully defused a 450kg explosive from World War II at a construction site. For 26 hours roads in the area were closed off, while people were evacuated from offices and hotels.

This is the second time in Hong Kong history that such a large bomb was discovered in the city centre.

A group shot of the bomb squad and the American explosive
The bomb squad used pressurized water and sanding to cut holes in the large cigar-shaped free-fall bomb to incinerate the explosive material inside before it could be safely removed from the site, buried 25 metres deep.

"The whole process was quite complicated. It took a bit longer than we expected," said senior police bomb disposal officer Tony Chow Shek-kin. The bomb was an American-made AN-M65, thought to have been dropped by US warplanes sometime between 1941 and 1945.

"Because the bomb was so big, we had to cut several holes to burn off the explosives inside. The space was tight and the bomb was also slanted at an angle," he said.

If the bomb had exploded, the 225kg of explosives would have sent shrapnel flying as far as 2km, Chow said.

"The shock wave and impact of the bomb could easily have measured 200 to 300 metres. The windows of buildings in the area would have probably shattered and it's possible those nearby would have collapsed," he added.

Roads were closed off and people evacuated in Wan Chai
The 1.4 metre-long bomb with a 0.45m diameter was found in the construction site of the Sha Tin-Central rail link on Harbour Road. As a result, most of Harbour Road and Convention Avenue were blocked off, and the nearby Harbour Road Sports Centre was also closed.

The last big bomb that was defused was in 2014 in Happy Valley and weighed 900kg.

Makes you wonder what other bombs are lurking beneath the surface! But at the same time it's fascinating history too.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Continuing the Fight

Agnes Chow surrounded by media and supporters tonight at Tamar
Tonight a few thousand people came out in support of Agnes Chow Ting who was told by an electoral officer yesterday that she was disqualified to run in the March 11 by-election.

The police say 2,000 showed up, but from the pictures it looks like more than that, as they gathered at government headquarters in Tamar, at one point spilling out onto Tim Mei Avenue.

Some were disappointed by the low turnout, but organizers downplayed it and instead focused on channeling the anger and frustration towards the government.

"If we cannot enter Legco, it is to force us to be forever dissidents," said Demosisto secretary general Joshua Wong Chi-fung, accusing the government of blocking young people from being heard in the legislature.

Will Edward Yui be able to run in the by-election?
Meanwhile, legal experts say the government has no grounds for banning other candidates from running in the by-election. Tomorrow is the deadline for candidates to be nominated, and attention is now focused on Edward Yiu Chung-yim, running for Kowloon West, and Au Nok-hin, who is replacing Chow for the Hong Kong Island seat.

University of Hong Kong principal law lecturer Eric Cheung Tat-ming cautioned that the city's electoral system would become "arbitrary" if Yiu and Au were not allowed to run in the by-election because of what they had done in the past.

Yiu had met with Taiwan's pro-independence New Power Party, while Au had written an article calling for pro-democratic groups to band together to defend Hong Kong as it "goes through a long period of darkness".

"If that can be done, we don't know where the line would be drawn... You can even question pro-establishment politicians over their meeting with Tsai Ing-wen," Cheung said.

Au Nok-hin replaces Chow for the Hong Kong Island seat
He was referring to the city's biggest pro-Beijing party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong that led a delegation to Taiwan to meet with pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party chairwoman Tsai, who later became the island's president.

Why is the Hong Kong government politicizing the electoral process? It just makes it even more obvious that someone in the background wants to manipulate things, while wanting to destroy our faith in the city's institutions that we hold dear.

But it looks like "the invisible hand" doesn't seem to care about appearances. It just wants things to go its way and shut out the next generation.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Where's Hong Kong's "High Degree of Autonomy"?

Agnes Chow's dreams of running for political office were shut down today
The Hong Kong government is shifting the goal posts again on behalf of Beijing, this time in an upcoming by-election.

You may recall six pro-democracy lawmakers were disqualified from being lawmakers when it was decided that they did not take their oaths of office properly.

One person who wanted to run in the race was Demosisto's Agnes Chow Ting, but today she found out she was rejected as a candidate.

The reason?

Lam claims self-determination is not allowed in Basic Law
Not because she advocated independence -- we know is a complete no-no -- but because she promoted self-determination.

In a statement, the government said:

"Self-determination" or changing the HKSAR system by referendum which includes the choice of independence is inconsistent with the constitutional and legal status of the HKSAR as stipulated in the Basic Law, as well as the established basic policies of the PRC regarding Hong Kong. Upholding the Basic Law is the basic legal duty of a legislator. If a person advocates or promotes self-determination or independence by any means, he or she cannot possibly uphold the Basic Law or fulfill his or her duties as a legislator.

Wait a second. Does the government even understand what a referendum is? A referendum means everyone has a say to vote on an issue in how Hong Kong moves forward. It is not determined by a small group of elites, but democratically through one person, one vote.

But no, the government or Beijing is so terrified of this possibility that it has decided self-determination should not be allowed in Hong Kong.

Joshua Wong says youth will be even more disillustioned
However, the same government statement says earlier:

Article 12 of the Basic Law states that the HKSAR shall be a local administrative region of the PRC, which shall enjoy a high degree of autonomy and come directly under the Central People's Government.

So what does "high degree of autonomy" mean then, if we are not allowed self-determination?

Of course Chow was upset by the decision, saying, "It is obviously a political decision and political screening, and the government is trying to shirk responsibility [by passing it on] to the returning officer, who should be only in charge of executive procedures," she said. "We can see that Hong Kong is not ruled by law or [governed by] the rule of law, but only ruled by the Beijing government."

One of Demosisto's platforms is to have a city-wide referendum on the city's political future, including the option of independence from China.

"The government did not only disqualify Chow, but all members of Demosisto, and even the entire younger generation," says Joshua Wong Chi-fung, the party's co-founder. "I am not certain how many young comrades can stand as candidates in future."

Law professor Johannes Chan says Chow's rejection is illegal
Basically the government has decided Demosisto is an outlaw, that its political thinking is illegal and therefore its candidates are disqualified.

Is this how Chief Executive Carrie Lam thinks she can heal the rift between the generations? She has just inflamed the youth even more.

What is wrong with Chow running in a by-election? What are the chances of her winning? And even if she does win, Legco is still stacked with pro-establishment lawmakers. Why is the government so worried?

Legally the government may not be allowed to do what it just did, according to Michael Davis, a former law professor at the University Hong Kong. He warned Chow's disqualification was wrong and the government was on a "slippery slope", while former university law dean Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun said there was no legal basis for such a move.

A march is planned tomorrow to government headquarters, and in the meantime does Chow have any legal recourse? If so we hope her lawyers are filing the papers now for Monday morning.

The government is fixing the race by changing the rules. How convenient.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Lonely Hearts Lose Money Too

Hong Kong people continue to lose money in online romance scams
It seems many Hong Kong women are suckers when it comes to love. They are desperate for companionship and are willing to pay dearly for it.

Last year 235 people were swindled out of HK$108 million, more than double the 114 cases in 2016 that involved HK$95 million. Most of the victims are women, and more than 40 percent of them are between the ages of 40 and 50.

One such case saw a middle-aged woman losing a whopping HK$6.1 million in the biggest online romance scam the city has seen.

The scam lasted over 18 months -- and that whole time she had never met the man who supposedly loved her.

One woman recently reported losing HK$6.1 million
Through Facebook she met a man who claimed to be a retired American businessman living in Malaysia. He even sent a photo of a Caucasian man in his 50s. They later kept in touch via Facebook messenger, emails and SMS messages.

"After gaining her trust, he claimed he had HK$100 million in assets that was frozen by the authorities in Malaysia because he had failed to pay legal and tax-related fees," a police source said. "He then sought her help to pay the fees with the promise of repayment once the assets could be transferred out of the country."

The scammer managed to convince her to transfer HK$6.1 million in more than 100 transactions into several bank accounts in Malaysia during the 18-month period.

Why do women fall for such Machiavellian tricks? And with so much news about online scams in the news, one would think victims would realize they are being duped?

But some are too embarrassed to admit this or in denial that it's happening to them.

It's a sad state of affairs really. The more desperate women there are, the more scammers will prey on them. It's too high a price to pay for "love".

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Rewarding Loyalty to the Party

Margaret Chan is rewarded for sticking up for China at the WHO
Hong Kong officials who have been seen to further Beijing's agenda, or defend it vigorously will be rewarded, as seen by the recent nominations of four officials to be new committee members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).
Former World Health Organization chief Dr Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun, 70, is one of the bright stars for China. Since 2009, Taiwan has been allowed to attend the WHO's annual forum under the name of "Chinese Taipei", but in 2016, Chan didn't even invite Taiwan to the forum, saying it violated the "one China" principle recognized by the United Nations.
Also during the SARS crisis in 2003, Chan was seen as not being tough enough in dealing with the epidemic, and again not being fast in enough in reacting to contain the Ebola outbreaks in 2014.
Others recommended for membership in the CPPCC are Dr Ko Wing-man, previously Hong Kong's food and health minister, ex-security chief Lai Tung-kwok who had to deal with the Occupy protests in 2014, along with then police commissioner Andy Tsang Wai-hung.
"It is becoming a norm to reward former ministers [with CPPCC membership], especially those in charge of security," says political analyst Johnny Lau Yui-siu.
"One of the implications is to let incumbent and even future officials know their jobs are rewarding, and call for them to be loyal to Beijing," he says, and the Chinese government could claim that it is hearing more of Hong Kong people's views on closer integration with the mainland.
But really Beijing is only hearing one side of the story, and it's what pro-establishment figures anticipate what the central government would like to hear.
So in the end it's not a healthy sign of wanting sycophants around you, but that's Beijing with its insecurity issues. It's all about towing the Party line...

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

The Justice Minister with Illegal Structures

New Justice Minster Teresa Cheng watches as her boss Carrie Lam walks by
On January 6, Hong Kong got a new Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah, but since she was sworn in she has been embroiled in a huge scandal involving illegal structures in her properties. Yes more than one.

She used to work in the private sector and has bought a house in Tuen Mun, and other properties in Sha Tin and Repulse Bay.

When she bought them, she knew there were illegal structures on them -- the Repulse Bay one purchased as early as last September. She must have had an inkling then she would get the job as the government's top legal eagle.

Cheng's home is on the left, her husband's on the right
Surely she should have known this would be a huge potential problem for Chief Executive Carrie Cheng Lam Yuet-ngor's administration?

Did she not follow the fiasco Henry Tang Ying-yen went through in 2012?

It has been reported that in general some luxury homes in Hong Kong have illegal structures because land is so expensive the owners want to make the most out of it by carving out as much livable space as possible.

And because it takes so long to get a permit or approval from the authorities, and if they are found out, the punishments pretty much add up to a slap on the wrist that owners are willing to take the risk to go ahead with the renovations.

If that wasn't enough, Cheng bought the Repulse Bay flat for HK$62 million -- claiming she was a first-time home buyer (the other two were bought through her companies) -- so that she only had to pay a stamp duty of HK$2.635 million instead of HK$9.3 million.

Cheng's third-floor flat in Repulse Bay she bought for HK$62M
One can imagine Hong Kong people are fuming to hear how much Cheng owns, let alone having homes with illegal structures on them when she's the chief justice secretary.

And now there are grumblings in the pro-Beijing camp that it's getting harder and harder for them to support Chief Executive Lam's decision to choose Cheng to replace Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung

Maybe Cheng didn't really want to do the job, knowing this would happen. But did she know this scandal would be dragging Lam's administration's credibility down too?

Cheng hasn't said much except to apologize many times for the "inconvenience and concern caused in the community".

Sounds like she too is overwhelmed by the barrage of coverage. But if she was politically smart enough, she would have sold or attempted to sell her properties before starting her new job.

But perhaps the super wealthy don't seem to think rules apply to them, or they think they won't get caught...

Monday, 22 January 2018

"Ice Boy" Reveals Plight of "Left-Behind" Children

"Ice Boy" Wang Fuman (centre) visits Beijing for the first time
Over a week ago there was an uproar in Chinese cyberspace with the story of "Ice Boy".

Wang Fuman, an eight-year-old boy from Ludian county, in a poor area of Yunnan province became famous overnight when he was photographed with his hair, eyelashes and eyebrows covered in frost and he wasn't wearing enough clothes to keep warm. It took him over an hour to walk 4.5km to get to school everyday.

The picture went viral with many in China feeling sorry for the boy, who is a "left-behind child", because his parents have to leave home to work elsewhere, while Wang and his older sister are raised by their grandparents.

This picture of "Ice Boy" went viral
An outpouring of sympathy led to donations of over 300,000 yuan (US$46,900), but apparently not all the money went to the child -- apparently the local government only gave the family 8,000 yuan, saying it was not good for the boy to become "rich" overnight, which led to questions of where the rest of the money went.

State broadcaster CCTV reported 100,000 yuan went to Wang's school, Zhuangshanbao. So where did the over 202,000 yuan go?

Maybe it went towards his "free" trip to Beijing this past weekend for three days with his father and older sister. But the propaganda website China Peace, run by the Party's Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission claims to have shelled out for the trip.

It was the first time Wang had ever been on a plane, left his hometown and gone elsewhere. He also marveled that people in the Chinese capital had indoor heating, which probably led to him wondering why he didn't have that at home.

"It's very cold at home, but very warm in Beijing. At home, we have to burn charcoal at night for warmth. In Beijing, the rooms are so warm -- I only need to wear one layer of clothing. This is the first time I've come across heating, it really is a miracle," he said. "I want to see how children in Beijing go to school, and whether they need to walk a long way everyday."

He and his sister in their bare home
He might also be shocked to find kids in the big city get driven by car or take the bus, not many actually walk to school -- let alone 4.5km -- to get to class.

And apparently to make life better for Wang, his father has been given a job in his hometown so he doesn't have to be away from his children. Is he really going to earn enough money to support the family? And what about the other parents of "left-behind" children? Is the government going to offer them jobs too?

These stop-gap measures hardly solve the problem of "left-behind" children. It wouldn't be a surprise to find after six months to a year that Wang's father needs to leave again to support his family.

The government really doesn't seem to care or understand the plight of these people and that the economy is dependent on migrants like Wang's father to work in big cities. However, the sacrifices they make are a big impact on the family's emotional well-being.

"When I saw the photo, there was pain in my heart," says Wang's 28-year-old father. "I couldn't stay home and look after my children -- I had no choice. If I didn't leave and find work somewhere else, my two kids would've have had nothing to eat."

How is Xi Jinping going to solve this problem? With "left-behind" children, their education level is lower which leads to less opportunities later in life, stuck doing menial work and unable to further improve their situation.

If China values these 60 million children, then it will do something, but so far not much has been done for them. If Xi wants to eradicate poverty by 2020, these children need to be on the priority list.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Another Year, Another 10K

At the starting line -- which is a five-minute walk ahead!
Hard to believe but another Standard Chartered Marathon has come and gone.

I was lucky to be picked in a lottery to run the 10K and I remember being on our Silk Road trip in September when I received the email. I excitedly managed to pay the HK$350 online with my credit card (via VPN) and just remembered the race would be in late January.

And then suddenly it was mid-January. Where did the time go?

Looking over Victoria Harbour there's a big fog at 6.30am
I went to bed around 10.30pm and thought I had slept somewhat soundly when I looked at my phone. Midnight.

Then I woke up again at 3am and the when my alarm sounded at 4.30am.

I made breakfast and was out the door by 5.30am to get to the first checkpoint by 6am for the 6.45am start. It was pretty dark, but whenever I am on the way to the race I am surprised to see so many people up so early in the morning -- who are not running.

This year the weather was warm and a bit humid. By the time I got closer to the checkpoint there wasn't much need to wear the plastic rain poncho to keep warm. And there were tons and tons of people. Some were late for the first heat at 6.15am!

As I hadn't trained much this past week as I was away in Guangzhou, I found this year's run to be quite a slog, wondering when I would pass the next kilometre, which isn't a good sign. I tried to keep a steady pace and at the same time dodge lots of people who were either walking or running slower.

There's several thousand people in each heat for the 10K
By the 6km mark, a mild cramp had set in and I walked for a bit before continuing on and having an energy jelly helped me get my energy back, but then again past the 8km mark I walked a bit more. Somehow I managed to convince myself to finish the race for good and kept going, even at the sharp turn towards the end that has a very steep hill. I just kept pushing on, remembering that I'd trained for the incline last week.

At the end I tried to run faster, but wondered if my legs would keep going or not. But I made it! 1:09:51.

Not my best time, but not my worst either. I was very happy to finish it.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Picture of the Day: Vanity Bath

Do you really want to watch yourself taking a shower with the mirror in there?
These last few days I was in Guangzhou again and stayed at a decent three-star hotel in Yuexiu district, which was relatively near Ershadao, or Ersha Island where we needed to work.

Anyway at the last minute we tacked on an extra stay a day earlier in the hotel, but when we checked-in, they said we could stay in a suite the first night but then move to a smaller room the remaining days of our stay.

That was annoying, but admittedly it was a last-minute change to our reservation.

What a nice room! The suite had a living room, bedroom, large bathroom with a bathtub, and even a walk-in closet with a vanity table! And it's a three-star hotel.

However, it was quite amusing to see a mirror above the bathtub. So do the Chinese think people like to look at themselves in the mirror while they are showering? And isn't it hard to keep a mirror clean when it's in the shower?

But you never know -- the Chinese were probably the first to pioneer clear glass walls between the bathroom and bedroom, and now mirrors in the shower... What will they think of next?

Friday, 19 January 2018

Take Out Guangzhou Style

Late lunch feast of fish, chicken, tofu, vegetables and rice. All the food groups
These last few days in Guangzhou we've been eating a lot of take-out food. It's not the fast-food variety but somewhat nutritious and definitely Chinese.

My colleague loves ordering take-out whenever he's in Guangdong because it's much cheaper and more varieties than in Hong Kong.

On Wednesday night we finished our work late so we ordered take out as soon as we arrived back at the hotel.

I had fish and pork congee with some choi sum in soy sauce and that came to around 22 yuan. The congee was very good, lots of flavour and almost creamy in texture.

Late dinner of mixed vegetables with rice noodles in soup
The next day we had a late lunch and again ordered several dishes, including Hakka ones, like salt-baked chicken and braised tofu stuffed with minced pork. There was also delicious fish slices in a spicy preserved vegetable broth, braised pig trotters, wood ear fungus with chillis (very spicy!), string beans with eggplant, and soup and rice. For four people it was less than 300 yuan.

We also had a late dinner, and mine consisted of noodles with vegetables like mushrooms, tomato, cabbage and even a quail egg. The noodles were packaged separate from the broth to avoid over cooking them, and the soup didn't have MSG. Only 29 yuan.

Fantastic choices if you have the app and can read Chinese... and have mobile payment! Will be making sure my China assignments are with this foodie...

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Word of the Day: Lang Qing

At lunchtime today and colleague was telling me about slang words he had learned from the media and asked me if I knew them.

Not being able to read Chinese or watch Chinese TV I didn't know what he was talking about.

One of the words he taught me was lang4 qing1 青.

He explained that in China there are young people who have jobs where they don't have much to do all day. Some try to act important and look like they are "working", but really aren't busy, partly because they don't need the money, or they are doing these time-wasting jobs to get the benefits. Many state-owned enterprise jobs are like this, or government positions.

As a result, talent and brain power of young people are wasted, which is why they are called langqing.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Picture of the Day: Incomprehensible Propaganda

What a strange propaganda message to put at the train station...
At the Guangzhou train station where the taxi queue is, the billboard is covered with propaganda.

This one made my mainland colleagues laugh because they didn't know how to translate it for me.

But the first line talks about how it is good to be able to take care of your basic necessities like food, shelter and clothing.

That's a far cry from the late Deng Xiaoping's motto of, "To get rich is glorious". President Xi Jinping is aiming to alleviate poverty by 2020 which is a very tight deadline. But he seems determined to make it happen.

The second line of this poster talks about China going to war and winning the battle with socialistic characteristics.


How the two lines are related we may never know...

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

What's Left of Old Macau

Leal Senado Square in Macau by day on a Sunday morning
I visited Macau on the weekend and it was nice to finally visit the old parts of the casino town. Usually I am there for work and literally go in and out of hotel complexes in the quickest time possible.

The square is deserted in the evening with shops closed
But this time my friend and I wandered around after dinner on Saturday night and Sunday morning. We were on the Macau side and walked to Leal Senado Square that was quiet. The Christmas decorations were being taken down so there wasn't much of a lively atmosphere.

We wandered down the street and most of the shops were already closed, but we managed to find a 24-hour supermarket and bought some Portuguese olive oil.

The next morning we went back again, hoping to find other shops open, most of them sold snacks, clothing or pharmacies selling milk powder -- much like Hong Kong.

In the small lanes many of the shop spaces were empty or even moving out of the area -- rising rents were probably the culprit.

Many of the shops have shuttered
The last time I visited around the ruins of St Paul's Cathedral over three years ago, the shops below used to be mostly ones selling antiques, but they were all replaced with snack shops -- Macanese egg tarts, pork chop buns and beef jerky.

It is disappointing to see Macau's old flavour disappearing, but perhaps it's the sign of the times. They are all catering to the mainland market, which is looking for delicious souvenirs.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Hong Kong Must Protect Children

A memorial for five-year-old Chan Sui-lam who suffered horrific child abuse
In recent days Hong Kong has been reeling from a shocking child abuse case that led to the death of a five-year-old girl.

Chan Sui-lam was allegedly thrown at the ceiling many times and poked in the chest with scissors at home. Her father, 26, is a transport worker, and stepmother, 27, a housewife, were both charged with murder last Monday.

But this was not the only incident -- four more cases of child abuse were reported in three days, and parents and foster parent were arrested.

The Social Welfare Department's Child Protection Registry has 2016 figures that show 107 of 892 incidents of child abuse against children under the age of 18 took place is the New Territories, followed by 102 in Kwun Tong, 85 in Tuen Mun and 77 in Kwai Tsing.

But social welfare workers believe this is only the tip of the iceberg. A study by the University of Hong Kong from 10 years ago estimated about 70,000 children were subjected to "severe violence", or corporal punishment by the parents each year and these cases were most always unreported.

Social workers say stress factors like financial hardship, estranged relationships, living in small quarters like sub-divided flats, and for new immigrants, the struggle to integrate in Hong Kong can lead to parents taking their frustrations out on their children.

Lee Yu-po, service manager at Against Child Abuse, said the districts with higher numbers of child abuse cases had more low-income families.

"Many live in cubicle apartments... they might not be able to rest properly and the tight living space could also result in more family conflicts."

Also, of the low-income families, some are immigrants, mostly from the mainland, who may be poorer and less educated.

"Some new immigrants tend to have a more traditional Chinese mindset, thinking that beating a child is part of their upbringing," says social worker Raymond Fung Hing-kau.

Other traits of abusers include drug addiction, mental health problems, teenage pregnancy and a history of being abused.

Guidance and counselling on issues such as home safety, managing emotions and taking are of children are being advocated, but there aren't enough resources for these services done by volunteers.

Child protection advocates also say the government isn't tough enough on abusers, and that other adults should be empowered to rescue children from these dangerous situations.

Then there is the problem of not enough social workers in schools to help identify cases -- they are underpaid and the turnover rate is high at 30 percent. Because of the heavy workload, the social workers end up prioritizing cases that seem more serious.

In addition teachers aren't equipped to deal with child abuse cases -- currently the guidebook is 300 pages long -- and advocates say there needs to be clearer guidelines.

And then strangely, because kindergarten education is not compulsory, there is no need for the bureau to follow up on cases where a child has been missing classes.

So it seems Hong Kong has many holes in the system that need patching up, but advocates say it's also just as important for neighbours, relatives and friends to step up if they see something wrong.

There has been talk for years of having a child advocate for the city and it's about time the government appoint someone to carefully look at this sad and horrific issue from top to bottom and put children's needs and safety first.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Picture of the Day: Fresh Beef Hotpot

Cabbage, beef, potato, tendon and tripe ready to be put in the hotpot
A few days ago I was in Guangzhou for work and on our final day there, my colleague and I finished our work early and had lunch in a popular hot pot place called Shantou Bahelihaiji beef shop.

It apparently specializes in serving fresh beef from cows that have been culled only four hours earlier. I find that a bit hard to believe as it takes time for blood to be drained from the carcass, and how can fresh beef be distributed that quickly around to the various branches in Guangdong within that time frame?

Nevertheless we had to wait for about half an hour with a ticket in hand, so it must be pretty good. We were hungry watching diners walk in and getting their fill.

Our number was finally called and our table was on the second floor in a cramped space. But we were here! The menu is focused on all kinds of beef from various parts of the cow, to beef meatballs, tendon, tongue, brisket and so on.

To balance it out we also got some turnip, potato and cabbage. Strangely there was no tofu on the menu. A few steps away was a sauce station for diners to create their own sauce to dip the cooked food in. There was the usual array of fresh chilli peppers, minced garlic, coriander, spring onions, oil and soy sauce, but no sesame oil which seemed a bit strange.

The hotpot with clear broth was placed in an induction burner and it took a while to heat up, but finally when it was boiling we were in business. The beef balls were very bouncy -- unlike the frozen ones I've eaten so many times, making freshness the defining factor.

The menu also suggests how long each item should be cooked for, ranging from seconds to minutes. We followed the directions which made sure the meat was cooked just so, resulting in a very tender texture. My colleague was in meat heaven.

While the beef tendon looked shriveled up and dry, once they were cooked, they were fantastic, chewy and flavourful. Another was tripe that was cooked within 10 seconds and was very crunchy. What looked like an endless number of meat dishes, turned out to be just right, along with our vegetable dishes.

Did I mention my colleague mistakenly ordered a giant 1.5 litre bottle of juice, so I had to help him finish it -- well most of it. In the end the bill for our hotpot meal was 270 yuan for two!

Friday, 12 January 2018

Review: Cut from a Different Cloth

Actor Idris Elba collaborated with fashion brand Superdry on a collection
Apologies for not blogging for the past few days -- I was in Guangzhou on an assignment and was quite busy coupled with jetlag, that I didn't have time to write anything.

I'd like to mention one more documentary I saw on the plane and that's Cut From Different Cloth. Did you know the casual fashion brand Superdry is actually from the UK? Many assume because it has Japanese writing on its clothes that it's Japanese, but it's not!

It was started in 1985 and its appeal was its combination of Japanese-looking American preppy wear. The company does admit the Japanese writing doesn't have much meaning in English, but it misleads customers into thinking the brand is from the Land of the Rising Sun.

In 2015, Superdry did a collaboration with actor, musician and DJ Idris Elba to create a capsule collection. And Cut From Different Cloth follows this journey of how the collection came together.


Elba is seen in the back of a car talking about how Superdry started sending him clothes to wear unsolicited and so he did. He enjoyed wearing the clothes and later on they pitched the idea of a collaboration.

Julian Dunkerton and James Holder watch Elba being fitted
Early on there are scenes of him going through all the possible pieces from T-shirts to shirts and coats. He puts on many of them and makes comments, picking out the ones he likes, and there are tons of swatches, zippers and buttons to choose from on the table.

There are also scenes of the team picking out male models to wear his clothes and Elba's personal stylist is saying how it's important to find models who have the Idris Elba look -- not too skinny, not too young. There are calls to model agencies looking for models who are 30 years old and up.

Then there is the fashion shoot with Idris Elba in co-founder and then CEO Julian Dunkerton's home, hiring one of the top fashion photographers to do the job. He too gets to put on a few of the clothes to get an idea of what they feel like.

In between these key scenes are explanations of how Dunkerton does business (he stepped down at CEO in 2016). He says landlords always want to show you spaces they want to fill, but they aren't necessarily the space you want. He says it's important to be where the foot traffic is. He also waxes on how flying on a private jet allows you to do business in three countries in one day.

Ah the lifestyles of the rich and famous.

Models wearing the collection on the day of the launch
Meanwhile Dunkerton gives a lot of credit to the company's success to co-founder and head designer James Holder, who is known for his attention to detail -- to the millimetre. At one point in the documentary, an employee who is in Turkey to check out a textile company producing items for them, gets a text message from Holder saying he doesn't like the designs they have and wants to redo them all.

The employee is flabbergasted and doesn't know what to say, knowing he's on camera.

But the campaign pulls through down to the wire, from the clothes, to the models, the look of the store and the fans who come out for the launch.

It's interesting to watch because Superdry doesn't actively seek publicity, so there isn't much known of what goes behind the scenes with this brand.

Cut From Different Cloth (2017)
Director: Richard Terry

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Monkey Business with Curious George

Well-researched and beautifully executed documentary mixed with animation
Another wonderful documentary that you can tell the filmmaker has poured their heart and soul is Monkey Business: The Adventures of Curious George's Creators that was released in June last year.

For the past 75 years, millions have loved reading Curious George books as children, but not many know about the couple who created the lovable simian character.

Margaret and Hans Rey created Curious George
Filmmaker Ema Ryan Yamazaki gives a pretty comprehensive presentation of Hans and Margaret Rey not only through interviews with their literary executor, Lay Lee Ong, some academics, and even the Rey's neighbours in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, who back in the 1950s were young children that Hans would play with and entertain.

These interviews are interlaced with historical footage and -- even better -- animation of Hans and Margaret that are dropped into the black and white film to illustrate they were there.

They were both German Jews and Hans was originally dating Margaret's older sister when they met -- Margaret was only around nine years old. But they later kept in touch and while he went to Brazil to work with his entrepreneurial brother-in-law, Margaret later paid a visit to see him and decided they should get married and start an advertising firm.

Hans was always an artist, and even his studying medicine could not keep him from doodling. Margaret saw his talent and incorporated his cartoons with her copywriting and photographs for ads.

They left Paris by bicycle with only some precious items
They tied the knot in 1935 and moved to France, but this was just as Adolf Hitler was making his plans to take over the continent. By using cartoons of Hans and Margaret, Yamazaki is able to illustrate how the Reys were able to escape the Nazis in June 1940.

Hans built two bicycles out of spare parts and together they rode hundreds of kilometres south of Paris, to get to a town where they sold their bicycles to catch a train to get to the southwest coat to take a ship to Lisbon.

While they were in Paris, they had started writing a book about Fifi the monkey who later became George. They took this manuscript with them, and just before they escaped the French capital, they received an advance for the book that helped fund their journey.

The couple in their later years in the United States
They managed to get on a ship to the United States and thanks to one of Margaret's sisters who lived in Long Island received a letter from an editor who was familiar with the monkey book and gave them an advance for more Curious George books.

There are seven in total and each of them are a collaboration between the husband and wife.

It's so interesting they would spend their summers in Waterville Valley in the 1950s, at the time when anti-Semitism was very popular in the United States. The children neighbours, now in their 70s, remember Margaret as being scary, while Hans was very nice.

So while much is discussed about the Reys and how Curious George came about, there isn't much information about the Man in the Yellow Hat. Guess he will continue to remain a mystery.

Nevertheless the animation really makes Monkey Business an endearing film, inserting the couple into the story to "reenact" scenes in their lives and definitely adding a humorous touch.

Monkey Business: The Adventures of Curious George's Creators
Directed: Ema Ryan Yamazaki
1 hour and 21 minutes

Monday, 8 January 2018

Review: China's Van Goghs

One of the "factories" that churn out copies of famous paintings everyday
On my flight back to Hong Kong, I watched several documentaries, which I much prefer over movies, mostly because I can learn new things about different people, cultures, companies and countries.

A very interesting documentary I saw was China's Van Goghs that was released in 2016. Directed by Yu Haibo and Kiki Tianqi Yu, it focuses on Dafen, in Shenzhen that is the world's largest oil painting village.

Apparently it was started in 1989 by a Hong Kong artist and entrepreneur by the name of Huang Jiang, but with a name like that, he most probably was originally from the mainland. German media outlet Der Spiegel reports he was an errand boy in Hong Kong before he started copying art work and then went back to China to find cheaper space and labour.

Zhao Xiaoyang paints a large version of Van Gogh's portrait
When Huang started there were 20 painters -- now there are over 10,000.

China's Van Goghs focuses on two artist-entrepreneurs: The main character is Zhao Xiaoyang from Hunan province. He, his wife, brother and his brother-in-law have painted over 100,000 copies of Van Gogh's works.

Another character is Zhou Youngjiu from Guangdong, who has a mini factory of his own, where his employees have churned out over 300,000 copies.

There are numerous scenes watching these artisans at work all day, painting the same famous works over and over again. It looks like grinding factory work instead of something that should seem spontaneous or have more artistic merit. But hey, it's a way to make a living.

Zhao has been painting Van Gogh's works for 20 years. He feels that having copied his works for so long that he believes he knows the Dutch artist -- even seeing him in his dreams.

Incidentally Zhao has a client in Amsterdam who he has painted copies of Van Gogh's works for over four years. Apparently their professional relationship is so good that if Zhao can pay for his return plane ticket, this client will host him -- pay for his accommodation and food.

Zhao paints his version of Cafe Terrace at Night
This prospect makes Zhao very excited -- not only would it be his first time going outside of China, but also see Van Gogh's originals up close to help him further appreciate the works he copies daily.

His motivation is very strong because he admits (after having copious amounts of alcohol), that he didn't even finish elementary school education -- it was too expensive for his mother to pay for, making Zhao ashamed of his background. But perhaps this trip will make up for it.

Once he's there Zhao is shocked to discover his client is hardly a gallery owner, but has a souvenir shop where they sell hundreds of these fake copies per month -- at eight times the cost he charges for the paintings.

It's a sad realization for the Chinese artisan, which makes Zhao question his desire to be a so-called artist.

Zhou on the other hand is too busy to go on this trip of a lifetime. In one scene, he berates one of his employees for getting the proportions of a Van Gogh self portrait completely wrong. It had been corrected three times, and now it's almost looks finished, but doesn't look like a decent copy at all.

It is not clear how it got to that point at such a late stage, but the young painter throws down his brush in frustration saying he won't paint anymore, but Zhou ignores him and orders him to fix the painting.

Both Zhao and Zhou realize that if they want to become true artists, they need to follow their own calling -- not copy someone else's works.

The documentary is so interesting because it not only reveals the mundane lives these artisans live, but also delves further into their aspirations not only for themselves, but for their children. They are careful to make sure the next generation "eat bitterness" too so that they know it's not easy to make a living.

Dafen is also a microcosm of China's factory industry and mentality -- that the artisans need to find other ways to make money other than copying others.

Following Zhao in Amsterdam and Paris was fantastic seeing Europe through his eyes, how his preconceived ideas about big cities weren't the same as in China, in particular how clean Amsterdam was. He was also thrilled to see people's appreciation for his original art, when he spontaneously painted in the same spot Van Gogh painted Cafe Terrace at Night.

These little observations are what make China's Van Goghs a wonderful documentary, and it's a reminder of the wage and education disparity in the country that has so far to go before there is more equity in society.

China's Van Goghs
Directed by Yu Haibo and Kiki Tianqi Yu
Released 2016
80 minutes

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Gastown Dining

A highlight dish -- crispy Pacific octopus under the ribbons of kohlrabi
Last night friends took me out to two restaurants last night across from each other on Carrall Street in Vancouver's Gastown, just east of the downtown core.

We met at Blarney Stone, an Irish pub at 4.30pm for a drink before heading across the street to L'Abattoir, a very hot restaurant that's been around for a few years but I've never tried until now.

The funky-looking bar set up at L'Abattoir
For Happy Hour, from 5.30pm to 6.30pm at the bar, all of the appetizers are 50 percent off, except for the spiced foie gras and baked oysters.

Almost everything looked great on the menu and we decided to try four dishes to whet our appetites because one of my friends had a brain wave to try another restaurant nearby afterwards.

The dishes came in pairs. First out of the gate was the confit Albacore tuna (CAD$19/$9.50). It was light and refreshing with guanciale, a cured meat, with turnip, mustard and tonnato sauce.

But things were even better with the crispy Pacific octopus (CAD$20/$10) that wasn't too chewy, with good flavours from the lemongrass and fermented chilli and topped with long ribbons of kohlrabi.

Delicious pan-fried veal sweetbreads on toast
After a short break came the other two dishes. First came the popular dish of pan-fried veal sweetbreads on toast (CAD$17/$8.50). Admittedly the sweetbreads don't have much taste, but it's the garnish that's interesting, like pickled shallots, sauce gribiche, a kind of mayonnaise, and some veal tongue.

The last plate was veal tartare (CAD$21/$10.50), a beautifully presented dish with bits of crunchy bacon, grilled cabbage, horseradish and rye. It was light, but didn't have much taste.

Afterwards we headed back across the street again and next to Blarney Stone is Tempranillo. I heard it used to be Japanese izakaya and then last year was turned into a Spanish tapas bar.

Chorizo sausages braised in Basque cider
The place was empty when we walked in -- owner Bill Robitaille blamed it on people having thin wallets after the New Year, or trying to keep up their New Year's resolutions in the first few days of 2018.

No matter, we had the restaurant to ourselves for practically the entire evening. I got free rein of the menu choices.

First off was the sardines that were stored in oil and then topped with a tomato sauce. It went well with crusty bread that was heated up.

Next came chorizo sausages braised in Basque cider with garlic and shallots. Now that was delicious and perfect for a cold day. It was hearty and warm with lots of flavour.

Wet rice dish featuring duck confit, pear and walnuts
The main dish was the highlight of the evening -- a wet rice dish featuring pieces of duck confit with chunks of pears and walnuts that was absolutely divine with the flavours and textures, and again ideal for the weather we were having.

Very memorable, both in terms of the food and company.

217 Carrall Street
(604) 568 1701

280 Carrall Street
(604) 720 3145