Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Former Editor Speaks Out

Li Datong felt he had to speak out about abolishing term limits
The other day I blogged about the Chinese Communist Party proposing to abolish the two-term limit for presidents and vice presidents, effectively meaning President Xi Jinping's term in office could be for as long as he lives.

Many people took to social media to voice their opinion -- posting the picture of Disney's Winnie the Pooh hugging a massive pot of honey with the tagline, "Find the thing you love and stick with it" along with other subtle hints of disapproval.

This image of Winnie the Pooh referring to Xi was censored
However those images were quickly censored, along with a Durex condom tagline, "Two rounds just aren't enough" (干两次,是不够的 gàn liǎng cì, shì bùgòu de).

But one person was willing to stick his neck out. Li Datong (李大同), the former managing editor of Freezing Point, a respected magazine that was part of China Youth Daily newspaper, wrote an open letter voicing his concerns.

A translation of it can be found at China Media Project.

In it he said scrapping the term limits was one of Deng Xiaoping's greatest legacies, following the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution.

"China can only move forward on this foundation, and there is emphatically no reason to move in the reverse direction. Removing term limits on national leaders will subject us to the ridicule of the civilized nations of the world," writes Li.

"It means moving backward into history, and planting the seed once again of chaos in China, causing untold damage."

Xi seems intent on amassing as much power as possible
He implores delegates of the National People's Congress to exercise their right to vote and go against the Party's decision to amend Article 14 of the constitution to abolish term limits for the president.

After he published the letter, there were efforts made to censor it too, but people took screenshots of it and posted it upside down.

In an interview with the BBC, Li said he was too old to be worried about the authorities.

"As a Chinese citizen, I have to fulfil my responsibility and tell the delegates my opinion. I don't care what these delegates will do. It's not like the whole country agrees with the amendment, but everyone has been silenced," he said.

"I couldn't bear it anymore. I was discussing with my friends and we were enraged. We have to voice our opposition.

"In theory, NPC delegates from Beijing have to represent the several million voters in the capital. I am a voter and I write a letter to the delegates representing me. I express my opinion on the amendments. It's very safe legally.

"Even if the amendment is passed, it doesn't matter. History is often like this -- we make two steps forward and one step back. But this is against the tide of civilization and won't stand the test of time. It will be considered a farce in Chinese history in the future."

It was brave of Li to speak out -- he felt he had no choice but to voice his opinion on something he felt so strongly to be wrong. Will we hear from him again? Or will he be effectively silenced from now on?

We shall see next week what happens, but it is expected the amendment will pass with a clear majority. Who dares to go against Xi's wishes?

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Whopping Disney Bills

How about making more money for Hong Kong, Mickey and Minnie?
It was mind boggling to read that yet again Disneyland has posted a whopping HK$345 million loss for 2017 due to park expansion and asset depreciation, despite revenue of HK$5.1 billion, the second best figure since the park opened in 2005.

The number of visitors to the park also rose by 100,000 last year to 6.2 million.

We want to ask the Hong Kong government why it owns 53 percent of the theme park's shares and why we, the taxpayers, have to shell out to pay for Disney to manage it.

Imagine if this theme park was turned into housing...
Disney charges a fee set at 6.5 percent of the park's earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization. So the amount earned was HK$914 million, so the management fee is calculated at HK$59 million.

Also keep in mind the resort's American parent company also charges the park's owners royalties.

Why are we stuck with such a massive bill -- and a loss to boot?

There have been calls to scrap the theme park -- it's the smallest of all the Disneylands -- and replace the area with housing. There's already a dedicated train to connect the area so why not?

Makes good sense to me. We need to get our priorities right, and Hong Kong ain't the happiest place on earth. So why keep pretending?

Monday, 26 February 2018

Picture of the Day: Festive Lights and Lanterns

Kennedy Town is all the more festive with these lights and lanterns
It's the 11th day of the Lunar New Year... just a few more days until the traditional 15 days of celebrations are over, though it's been back to business for us ages ago.

Belcher Bay Park in Kennedy Town has gotten into a festive mood with traditional lanterns strung around the walking/running path, and near one of the entrances is this grand light display with a dog of course, sitting on top of a golden ingot and holding one up too.

Beside him are the Chinese characters 花開富贵 or hua kai fu gui, which literally means "flowers blossom, riches and honour". Pretty grand, huh?

Along with the dog are red fish-shaped lanterns that are homonyms for wealth. Can't go wrong with that.

Last night it was really nice walking through the park with these lanterns lit up to create a warm atmosphere. Too bad it'll only be around for a few more days...

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Xi President for Life

The Communist Party is changing the rules for Xi Jinping to rule for life
The big news today -- there have been rumblings about it for a while -- the Chinese Communist Party is going to abolish its two-term limit for the presidency to allow Xi Jinping, 64, to effectively rule for life, making it the biggest political change in decades.

Previous leaders typically had two five-year terms, but Xi's ability to consolidate so much power since his ascent in 2012 puts him in the ranks of "paramount leader" Deng Xiaoping and the "Great Helmsman" Mao Zedong. 

"Xi Jinping thought" will also be added into the constitution, making any challenge against him a threat to Communist Party rule.

Wang Qishan may replace Li Keqiang as Premier
Originally the two-term limit was meant to prevent the cultivation of cult of personality like what happened with Mao.

But with no heir apparent in sight, or perhaps Xi isn't interested in cultivating one, it seems the authoritarian Xi is keen to continue his grip on power for a while yet. And why not with his signature project Belt and Road still underway, perhaps he wants to see it through.

Sinologists have also been discussing the possibility of Wang Qishan, Xi's right hand man in the anti-corruption campaign, to become his next Premier, replacing Li Keqiang, who has been really quiet for a few years. Maybe he and Xi didn't see eye-to-eye.

With Xi amassing so much power, one really doesn't want to mess with him.

Social media post of Winnie the Pooh making the rounds
As China expert Willy Lam, adjunct professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong and in 2015 wrote a biography about Xi, notes, the Chinese leader needs to be careful with his even greater power.

"Xi Jinping is susceptible to making big mistakes because there are now almost no checks or balances. Essentially, he has become emperor for life."

Meanwhile on social media in China, there's an image of Winnie the Pooh (in a Disney cartoon reference to Xi), hugging a big honey pot.

It says: "Find the thing you love and stick with it."

Makes sense, no?

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Jaw-Dropping Real Estate

A rendering of what Victoria Harbour (the development) will look like
The other day I met up with an acquaintance I haven't seen in a while. She told me she was working on a property development called Victoria Harbour. It's being developed by Sun Hung Kai in North Point and apparently has unobstructed views of the water, hence the name.

What's the price per square foot? A whopping HK$40,000 (US$5,113) per square foot.

My jaw fell to the floor when she told me.

There are studio flats all the way to five-bedroom ones. I can't even imagine how much those would cost.

Construction of the buildings is already underway
Back in November, Sun Hung Kai Properties only released 10 units for sale, and prospective buyers had to hand over a HK$7 million cheque just to be able to view the units. If they decided not to buy, then the money would be refunded.

Victor Lui Ting, deputy managing director at SHKP said at the time that demanding the money up front was an "appropriate practice", as flats at Victoria Harbour are considered rare products.

The fact that developers can legally do this is outrageous -- the price per square foot is already a deterrent for most buyers anyway!

Included in the development will be a hotel and shopping mall of course that will be anchored by the largest Yata department store in the city. The hotel will apparently be young and hip with an all-day dining restaurant and a bar. Wonder what rents will be like for retail spaces there.

And apparently the owners (the Kwok family, now run by Raymond Kwok Ping-luen as his brother Thomas is in jail for bribery) aren't in a hurry to sell because they'd like to have some of those flats for themselves.

My jaw is still on the floor from hearing the price her square foot...

Friday, 23 February 2018

Picture of the Day: Lai See Envelopes

Some of the more creative lai see envelopes this year celebrating the dog
This being the Year of the Dog has heralded many displays featuring cute canines and it also extended to lai see envelopes.

Designers have been given a lot of space to create some fun envelopes and these are the favourite ones I received this year.

Clockwise from the left is one from Harbour City, with a complicated way to open the envelope by releasing its folded paws to be able to get the money note inside. Why does the dog not have eyes? Seems weird, but cute nonetheless.

Next the red and gold envelope from auction house Christie's gets the award for best graphic design. Look closely and not only are there red dogs, but gold ones too!

We also can't resist the gorgeous face of this mutt from the SPCA that says 一狗万利.

Finally, a red and blue thick envelope from ba&sh, a fashion brand. Pull the gold tab and a and the red dogs turn into a red background with gold lettering that says "Happy Chinese New Year!"

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Picture of the Day: People Day

A captivated crowd watching the tail-end of the dragon dance at lunchtime
Today is the seventh day of the Lunar New Year -- which means it's 人日 (ren2ri4) or "human day" or in Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak "peoplekind day"; in other words, everyone's birthday.

How people want to be automatically a year older during Chinese New Year I won't quite understand, but Times Square shopping mall in Causeway Bay celebrated with four lions and a dragon.

At lunchtime the piazza was covered in people watching the lion dance and my colleague and I walked by as it was finishing up. The lions did dramatic acrobatic leaps up on poles while the dragon ran around in circles.

Near the end there was a pop sound and the lions and dragon spewed out rectangular-shaped tissue paper confetti for a dramatic finish. They also threw small stuffed red dogs into the audience.

Here's a picture of the crowd watching the dragon doing its last dance before the show was over.

Happy 人日 everyone!

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Hold Your Mother's Hand

Be like Xi Jinping and hold your mother's hand, OK?
The Chinese state -- or shall we say Chinese President Xi Jinping -- wants to tell you what to do.

And these days he wants you to hold your mother's hand.

On February 19, People's Daily began its "Hold Mother's Hand" #牵妈妈的手# campaign on social media, starting with a video about white collar workers in cities who are "too busy" to visit their mothers.

A video shows urban workers too busy to call their mothers
They are at work all day, while their mothers sit by themselves in the living room or kitchen by the phone, waiting for their child to call.

"How long has it been since you last spoke to your mother about what's on your mind?" the ad says. "How long has it been since you had a taste of your mother's cooking? Or since you went together on a walk? How long has it been since you held her hand?"

Talk about laying the guilt trip on thick.

Then there's a scene of a young woman scrolling through her phone and seeing a picture of President Xi holding his mother Qi Xin's hand during a stroll outside. He can be heard reading the first lines of a Tang poem: "慈母手中線,遊子身上衣", which means, "The threads from a caring mother's hand, are in the clothes of a traveling son".

After seeing this image of Xi, these workers then call mom
By the end of the video, people are smiling when they call their mothers, who in turn are so happy to hear from them.

Tugging at the heart strings.

But the image of Xi and his mother reiterates how he is the "People's Leader", and that he is the "Father of the nation", as his nickname is "Xi dada"...

So go on -- hold your mother's hand. Xi and she will be happy.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Mini Hong Kong Brings on Nostalgia

A girl looks on at a street scene that looks quite real, but is very small
My dad bugged me to go see the "Feature of HK" miniature exhibition at Olympian City and I finally got around to it because it's closing in two days. I got to the shopping mall at Olympic station after work and there was a line-up to get in. Luckily it was a short wait, but it wasn't fun having to jostle with everyone else not only to get a decent look of the exhibits, but also take pictures.

A traditional shop decorated with Chinese New Year flowers
Nevertheless it was kind of disappointing there wasn't an introduction to the exhibition -- the general public probably didn't care, but it would have been nice to know who the people were behind these pieces -- they are all locals as far as I know, some of whom have even published books on how they make these miniature dioramas.

Some of the pieces were very large, like a replica of the Tai O former police station that is now a hotel, or a series of stalls along cobblestone steps that looks like Pottinger Street, another about wooden huts for people living on Mount Davis Road.

But many of them were small, specific shops, like a cha chaan teng, or a barber shop, jewellery store, shoe shop, one selling roast meats or a general store. The amount of detail that went into each one was staggering, from the individual pieces of candy or fruit in the grocery store to the old school green floor tiles of the barber shop.

The detail of this grocery story is quite amazing!
There was one store that sold snacks like fish balls and egg waffles, lanterns for Mid-Autumn Festival, and another selling dried seafood and even eggs! Even the tea shop had tea cakes wrapped in paper.

People looked at each one, fascinated with the detail and they would comment about how the scene reminded them of their childhood. For most of the visitors who were over 40, it was a trip down memory lane.

A lot of research when into each piece but also trying to recreate the items with as much detail as possible was amazing. It's definitely a labour of love, but perhaps to see people so fascinated with what they have done is probably rewarding enough for them.

A small barbershop complete with green tiles
Nostalgia about Hong Kong from several decades ago is still very emotional for people. It makes them realize how much things have changed in the city, for better or for worse. It will be a theme that businesses will continue to exploit to tug at the heart strings because most people have fond memories of the past.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Cries for Sympathy Leave Bad Taste

This year there weren't fireworks to mark the start of the Year of the Dog
The Year of the Dog wasn't as boisterous this time with the cancellation of the fireworks on the second day of the new year.

It was the seventh day after 19 people died and 66 injured in a horrific bus crash in Tai Po and in Chinese tradition it is believed on that day the souls of the dead visit their loved ones for one last time.

Many restaurants like this one capitalize on the fireworks
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor made the right decision out of respect for the victims and their families, but that decision wasn't easy to make -- as expected local businesses were financially hit by the fireworks cancellation.

"On the surface, it seems like it would not be a big deal to cancel [the fireworks], but there is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes that travel agencies have to take care of... there are bound to be losses," tourism sector legislator Yiu Si-wing said on a radio show on Saturday.

Yiu added restaurants with a view of Victoria Harbour, where the fireworks are usually held, would be affected the most. "According to my understanding, one-third of the customers had backed out of their reservations," he said.

During the same radio program, Travel Industry Council chairman Jason Wong Chun-tat suggested the government should give priority to the affected industries if the government was going to organise any activities in the future.

Jason Wong hopes travel and restaurants get help in the future
Yes fireworks are a big deal in the city -- hundreds of thousands of people turn up on both sides of Victoria Harbour to get a good spot to watch them. Some make reservations at restaurants with a view, prepared to pay a bomb for their vantage point.

However with the cancellation of the pyrotechnic show, restaurants probably lost out the most, having ordered a lot of fresh (and expensive) ingredients beforehand and with many customers cancelling -- perhaps a bit to easily -- they took a big hit.

But these businesses were capitalizing on an event they didn't have to pay for in the first place. They would still have business (probably not at prices as jacked up) anyway because of the view.

Yiu says there are losses in the restaurant industry
More importantly, can we have some respect for the dead? For these legislators to hint there should be sympathy for the tourism and restaurant sectors is too much. Lives were lost -- can you put a price on that?

This also demonstrates how tough things are in the restaurant and tourism sectors to make a buck -- with rents sky high, customers are really paying the rent than enjoying good food and service at a decent price.

Many establishments are just trying to keep their heads above water these days as 2018 is going to be another challenging financial year.

The legislators were also probably hoping they could get the sympathy of Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po ahead of the upcoming budget speech at the end of the month. But he seems pretty tight lipped -- about everything.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Review: The Post

Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee and Meryl Streep as Kay Graham in The Post
Many years ago I read Washington Post publisher Kay Graham's autobiography, Personal History. I didn't know much about her, but as one of the few women in power in the journalism business, it seemed like a must read.

She was hardly an aggressive powerhouse, instead pleased that her father, Eugene Meyer, had chosen her husband, Philip Graham to take over the Washington Post. However her world fell apart when Philip Graham committed suicide in 1963.

She details her career as The Post publisher
Kay Graham took over and did the smart thing -- hiring people smarter than her. She worked with Ben Bradlee and their major break was publishing the Pentagon Papers that was the inspiration for The Post, starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks.

At first The New York Times was ahead of the game, revealing the American government knew the war in Vietnam was a massive loss of lives, but that it would rather do that than admit going to war there was a mistake.

Then US President Richard Nixon got an injunction to stop The Times from publishing further, which gave The Post the chance to do further coverage.

During the film we see Graham as the only woman in the room full of bankers to discuss a public offering, and at first deferring to Frederick Beebe, the company's lawyer who later became chairman of the board. A character called Arthur Parsons who is a member of the board is fictional, but represents the opinion of many that a woman should not be running a paper.

Graham begins to realize, while the women's movement is happening, that she is the boss, and it is Bradlee's wife Tony, who points out how courageous Graham is to decide to publish the Pentagon Papers.

Publishing the Pentagon Papers was her hardest decision
There is a subtle scene of vindication when she walks out of the Supreme Court and there are women lining the steps as she walks down, admiring her. It's also nice to see one of the top Post journalists was Meg Greenfield, who wrote editorials, but was part of the Pentagon Papers team.

There were also witty remarks here and there, but just barely enough humour to get through the film.

Nevertheless, we also liked the scenes of watching the reporters using rotary phones, using pencils and furiously typing on old school typewriters -- how did the news ever get out like that? They typed the stories out that were then sent to the sub editor who edited them with a pencil.

The story was then sent to be typeset with blocks of words put together into paragraphs. What painstaking work! Once that was put together the presses would run. The film also showed dozens of people putting the paper together, bundling it and distributing it.

Nowadays it's all done on the computer, cutting out many laborious steps as well as staff needed, though newspapers still need reporters to provide stories for the paper. Printing has become more automated and accurate with computers so that there is better printing quality.

Old school newsrooms -- an army of reporters and typewriters
But imagine being in the newsroom at the time when this story was breaking -- that feeling is still important today -- that reporters are to serve the governed, not the governors.

Bradlee's feisty character is how movies like to portray chief editors and for the most part we'd like to think they are -- they set the tone and energy of the paper and employees. The way the reporters were dressed at the time is also pretty accurate -- they were hardly fashion plates and still aren't (except for those covering fashion).

So The Post has a pretty good feel of how people looked and acted at the time, a contrast between high society and scrappy reporters who are determined to tell the truth.

And yes -- Graham really was interrupted during a party when she was asked to make the call whether to publish or not.

The film didn't tug at the heart strings as much as Spotlight, but The Post reiterates the importance of a free press, and that women should not be underestimated.

The Post
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks
116 minutes

Saturday, 17 February 2018

New Year, New Flavours

Grand Stanford Harbour View's sugarcane and sweet potato CNY pudding
It's only the second day of the Lunar New Year and I feel like I've eaten way too much already!

But the highlight is probably the 年糕 neen goh, or nian gao that's only made during this time of year. It signifies promotions or prosperity in the coming year, so it's a must-eat during the holidays.

The latest Peninsula flavour is pineapple
It's basically made of glutinous rice flour mixed with brown sugar, though these days Hong Kong hotels and restaurants have become creative in coming up with a variety of new flavours.

I tried the traditional one yesterday at the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong, where slices were lightly pan-fried in an egg wash that was perfect when it was warm, chewy and not sickly sweet.

The Peninsula Boutique has come up with a new flavour this year -- pineapple. It has a yellow colour of course, but even after it's panfried, it's quite bland. Someone suggested having little bits of pineapple in it for texture and added flavour. We agree.

However, at The Royal Garden, one of the latest ones they have come up with is red date with low sugar. There is the distinct red date taste -- and there's even some whole Xinjiang-sourced dates within the pudding. We quite liked this one.

Four Seasons Hong Kong has an intriguing creation this year -- aloe vera with lotus root and jasmine. Aloe doesn't have much taste which is why jasmine tea flavour is added, and for texture, bits of lotus root are mixed in. It's refreshing and somewhat healthful.

The Four Seasons has aloe vera, lotus root and jasmine flavour
One year I tried a dual-toned pudding that featured sugarcane flavour and purple sweet potato from Grand Stanford Harbour View. It's also not too sweet and a bit healthier with the root vegetable mixed in.

But there's only so many slices of New Year pudding you can eat!

Friday, 16 February 2018

Picture of the Day: First Day of the Year of the Dog

The clouds disappeared to reveal blue skies while riding the Star Ferry today
Today was the first blue sky Hongkongers have seen in... yonks.

It's been cold, miserable and overcast for weeks and then suddenly for the first day of the Lunar New Year there were blue skies and the hottest temperatures we've seen for the holiday in 11 years at 24 degrees Celsius.

Some districts like Happy Valley, Kowloon City and Sha Tin recorded up to 27 degrees.

The Hong Kong Observatory says a maritime airstream affected the coastal areas of Guangdong province, though cloudy skies are expected in the next few days again. Groan.

We'll take what we can get!

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Ushering the Year of the Dog

In the late afternoon there were thousands of people in Victoria Park
Happy New Year of the Dog!

I just got back from Victoria Park where the largest flower market is, and it was pretty full of people. Lots of them were clutching large cushions shaped like dogs, or eating long bamboo skewers with strawberries covered in sugar. On the news we saw people selling cushions shaped like egg custards but we didn't see them. Too bad!

Pots of gorgeous orchids for sale
Students at the market hone their selling skills, as many schools rent booths and try to sell merchandise. Most of the time they break even selling plush toys or snarky items like canvas bags with a caricature of tycoon Li Ka-shing and it says, "Are you a man or are you a dog" with a picture of a canine.


Another canvas bag said "Error 404. Site not found". Sound familiar?

The snacks were pretty popular too. We saw one woman rolling globs of glutinous rice flour paste into an orangey nutty mixture and then cutting them up for people to eat. That was delicious, around HK$25, and dragon beard candy was only about HK$15.

Even HK$25 succulents could be snapped up
For many people eating these snacks are nostalgic -- you can't find them often around shops or street corners anymore, so now's the time to indulge. We also go a kind of wafer with desiccated coconut and sugar wrapped in a thin crepe that was HK$8 for two.

We also saw Occupy leaders Benny Tai Yiu-ting and Chu Yiu-ming waving to people and smiling. They were soliciting donations and in return people could get fai chun or Chinese couplets with good wishes for the new year.

A friend remarked the pan-democrats trying to solicit donations weren't getting much love from the public this year, perhaps focusing instead on the holiday than political activism. With the Hong Kong government legally cracking down on civil disobedience, it tempers people's appetite to protest.

Nevertheless, visiting Victoria Park was not too stressful -- everyone was in a good mood and patiently making their way through the lanes.

Many picking up flowers for the start of the new year
新年快乐!恭喜发财!身体健康! 万想如意!

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Fact of the Day: Instant Soup Noodles are Very Salty

So many different kinds of instant noodles, so much sodium in each pack!
I don't know about you, but I try to avoid eating instant cup noodles unless it's the last thing left on the planet to eat.

Not only are the noodles deep-fried, but now I have another reason to avoid them like the plague -- the soup base is laden with salt. How much you ask?

A study of 10 types of Asian soup noodles by the Hong Kong Consumer Council and the Centre for Food Safety shows more than 75 percent of the samples contain so much sodium that it can affect high blood pressure and heart disease.

Instant noodles have enough sodium for three days' worth
Of the 100 samples, 76 of them contained sodium levels that exceeded the World Health Organization's (WHO) recommended daily sodium intake of 2,000mg for an average adult. The average sodium content of the samples was 350mg per 100g.

The sample with the highest sodium was a type of spicy rice noodles that contained a whopping 6,000mg per bowl -- triple the WHO limit.

Perhaps people needed a gallon of water while they ate these noodles to wash down the saltiness!

"Eating one bowl of these rice noodles will consume three days' worth of sodium in one sitting," warned Dr Henry Ng, the centre's principal medical officer.

The other noodles were in tom yum soup, spicy noodles with pork belly and cuttlefish balls, barbecue pork ramen in pork bone soup, dan dan noodles with spicy and minced pork, stewed beef noodles and seafood laksa.

"Even the lowest sodium sample, a wonton noodle with 1,200mg, exceeds the intake limit by 80 percent, Ng warned. "The high sodium content in most of the samples in the test is putting consumer health in jeopardy with increased risks of high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases," he said.

Avoid eating them altogether or cut down on the soup base
Ng advised consumers to either cut down on drinking the soup base or avoid it in order to cut down their sodium intake. But even if you do that, you're still ingesting way beyond the recommended amount from WHO.

What I don't understand is why the Hong Kong government is not insisting on producers of these noodles, and heck any other processed food product, to drastically cut down on their sodium content?

People in Hong Kong buy products without thinking about how much sodium is in them. Shouldn't the government be looking out for its residents' well being? That in turn would help reduce medicare costs.

If anything the government should encourage its citizens to be as healthy as possible, with the aging population outstripping the number of babies born each year.

While it's great the Consumer Council comes up with these warnings periodically, more needs to be done to educate the public on the perils of processed foods and businesses should be encouraged to find out ways to produce good, healthy food at a decent cost.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Bus Tragedy Shakes HK's Core

Last Saturday night rescuers tried to get passengers out of the wreckage
A tragic bus accident on Saturday evening left 19 dead and over 60 injured, prompting the city to lower flags at half mast today and to scale down activities for the upcoming Lunar New Year.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has canceled the Chinese New Year fireworks that would have been held on Saturday, a week after the accident. It is believed on the seventh day after death that the dead person's spirit returns home for a final farewell with loved ones.

Around 6pm on last Saturday, a full KMB bus traveling from Sha Tin race course to Tai Po suddenly swerved out of control and flipped on its side while making a turn near Tai Po Mei on Tai Po Road.

Some passengers on the bus say the bus driver was frustrated because people complained the bus was 10 minutes late, and so to make up for the time, he drove the bus at a much higher speed that may have caused the crash.

The 30-year-old bus driver Chan Ho-ming has been remanded in custody facing a charge of causing death by dangerous driving.

Families of the dead observing Buddhist rites at the site
Many members of the public went to the Red Cross centres to donate blood -- some waiting hours to do a good deed, while others donated money, over HK$42.5 million to give to the 84 families affected. There will also be a judge-led inquiry into the incident.

But there were many warning signs before. Bus driver unions have said before that bus companies are not doing paying drivers better salaries, there are too many part-time drivers, and they don't have enough rest time between shifts.

There are calls for the government to do more the regulate the public transport system -- after all it is the one that makes the rules -- or is it too cozy with the tycoons that run these transport companies and so it has a laissez-faire attitude towards safety?

The government has the numbers: over the past 25 years the number of accidents involving public buses has risen dramatically from 1,404 in 1991 to 2,631 in 2016, while accidents involving other types of vehicles have shown a steady decline.

There's also the issue of more vehicles on the road. In 1991 there were 374,952 registered vehicles in Hong Kong, but by 2015, that figure almost doubled to 714,927. Meanwhile, the city's population has grown by almost a million since 1997, more of them in the middle and lower class, most likely to be taking the bus.

Carrie Lam (centre) visiting the injured in hospital
Does this mean the government doesn't care about what happens to people who take buses? Doesn't seem like it.

Senior officials will go through the gestures of being low-key in the next few days, not trying to show them enjoying themselves for Chinese New Year, and doing the right thing by cancelling the fireworks, but surely more needs to be done to fix the problem.

The issue is that a lot of Hong Kong people are stressed out. They are tired, in some cases hungry or not eating properly, depressed and angry. The pressures on them are becoming harder for them to bear. And yet the government continues to have an even bigger surplus and has no idea what to do with it.

That disconnect is shocking and outrageous.

We need a government that cares about the people, not just today, but tomorrow, five, 10, 15, 20 years down the line too.

The inability to make far-sighted decisions shows this government and effectively Beijing, do not put the priority on Hong Kong people. And that's what the Occupy protests were about in 2014.

The Umbrella Movement was about telling the government that the people were tired of flats being way beyond the reach of young people, about the lack of creating jobs and industries, and of not respecting local culture, instead kowtowing to Beijing.

In the end the calls for change fell on deaf ears and people were jailed and kicked out of the Legislative Council. It just shows the Hong Kong government really has no ideas; it doesn't even want to build bridges with the next generation, as shown by its shutting out of young people from running in the upcoming by-election.

But we digress. We mourn those who have lost their lives in this senseless tragedy and wonder if the authorities will really do something to reduce the number of bus accidents in the city. Our lives depend on it.

Monday, 12 February 2018

HK Government's Whopping Surplus

All eyes will be on Chan when he delivers his budget at the end of this month
Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po will be giving his budget speech on February 28 and already the projections are that Hong Kong will have a surplus.

How big a surplus?

At least seven times the original estimate of HK$16.3 billion to just under HK$120 billion. But it could go as high as between HK$160 billion and HK$180 billion. If that's the case, then it will beat the record set last year when the surplus was HK$92.8 billion, eight times the estimate of HK$11.4 billion.

Economic experts have criticized the government for not only its conservative math skills, but also its failure in investing in things like public hospitals, and helping the elderly and the young.

Previous administrations didn't do enough for the elderly
They warn that with the growing elderly population, the government's revenue will shrink, while it will cost more in healthcare to look after them.

Two economists said the government failed to take into consideration the "China factor" that fueled rises on the Hong Kong stock market and the record-high land prices in recent years into its surplus projections.

"Hong Kong has been experiencing the biggest structural economic growth and it is because of China," said Franklin Lam Fan-keung, founder of think tank HKGolden50 and a former investment bank analyst who served the government's Central Policy Unit during the Asian financial crisis in 1997.

"But we did not food the growth, we did not pour money into social and economic infrastructure... Offices, hotels, and hospitals ended up being very expensive in Hong Kong.

"Yet with so much money [at hand], the government didn't build a new hospital or build a land bank, and elderly people's savings have been eroded by inflation," Lam continued. He said former financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah had taken an overly frugal fiscal approach and failed to invest to grow the economy.

The government needs to invest in infrastructure like hospitals
Meanwhile Chinese University associate professor of economics Terence Chong Tai-leung expected the stamp duty to expand, making duty paid on property and stock purchases the biggest source of government income and further driving up total revenues.

It is shocking to find the government has totally missed the mark --again -- and again -- for underestimating its revenues. Do they think the general public will be so thrilled to hear that the surplus is X number of times the original estimate?

Sounds like really bad accounting skills and as Lam said, not taking into account how mainland Chinese buyers have totally jacked up housing prices in Hong Kong. The next question is what will Financial Secretary Chan do with the mind-boggling surplus?

If he can only think of one-off sweeteners and nothing long term then we know what we're in for. If this administration really cares about Hong Kong people then it will have the foresight to think really long term on how it can make lives better for its residents 10, 20 years down the road, not in the coming year.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Rice + Bunny = #MeToo

A Chinese way to be part of the #metoo movement with a bunny and rice
The Chinese are pragmatic -- if they find something blocking their way, they'll think of another way to get around it.

Like the #MeToo campaign that's gathering momentum in the West. The latest casualties are two men who worked closely with US President Donald Trump -- staff secretary Rob Porter and speechwriter David Sorensen.

Chen Xiaowu was sacked after sexual harassment claims
In China there is greater awareness of the #MeToo movement, with many women posting their experiences, though the only big victory so far was the sacking of a Beijing university professor, Chen Xiaowu, after Luo Xixi revealed she had been sexually harassed by him 12 years earlier.

The #MeToo movement in China knows eventually there will be attempts by the censors to wipe out allegations of sexual harassment and rape in Chinese cyberspace so there is already a homonym created -- Mi Tu or 米兔, which literally means "rice bunny".

It's cute, easy to remember and emojis can be used too.

The Chinese government doesn't want the #MeToo or #mitu movement to gather too much momentum -- its patriarchal society is rife with allegations of sexual harassment and assault and it could lead to the top ranks of the leadership.

More women are speaking out in China
That would just shake the Communist Party to its core -- other than corruption.

Nevertheless it's wonderful to see women finding the courage to speak out about what happened to them as a way to process their emotions and also know they are not alone.


Saturday, 10 February 2018

How Senior HK Officials' Luck Affect the City

Can you tell what kind of Year of the Dog Carrie Lam will have?
On TVB Jade tonight there was a segment where a host asked a fortune teller about how the Year of the Dog would be for Hong Kong's four senior officials.

She first asked about Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, and the fortune teller said born the Year of the Rooster and roosters are typically hard working and so busy that she doesn't even have time to look after her family (and get toilet paper).

Apparently Cheung's mouth area shows his managerial skills
Part of this need to do everything stems from not being able to depend on others. As a result, she has to be careful looking after her health so she doesn't get run down.

Nevertheless, he also said due to her facial features (people in their 60s and onwards means examining their mouth and chin area), she is a very smart person and uses money well. The host then joked that Lam may be using our public money too well for big infrastructure projects and he agreed.

Next up was Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung. He was born in the Year of the Rabbit which makes him a nice person, but the fortune teller examined his mouth area and said that he's not very good at managing those underneath him...

Chan seems to furrow his brows often... why is that?
Does this mean his ideas aren't well executed or he doesn't have the right staff working for him?

The host asked about Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po, and he's a Sheep. The fortune teller observed that Chan seems to furrow his brows often and this may mean that he's trying to keep things together, but it's tough going. The fortune teller suggested Chan was probably working too hard or taking things too much to heart...

Finally, new Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah. She is 60 which is her year, the Year of the Dog. However when it's your year, it's fan tai sui, usually considered not a good year for you -- but the fortune teller said it can mean lots of changes, good and bad.

The Year of the Dog won't be too good for Cheng...
He hinted it also depends on how you handle these changes, for better or for worse, and that buying items to deflect bad luck may not necessarily help solve the problems.

It was quite amusing hearing these general observations about our senior officials. We'll be watching closely to see if their attributes really are true or not. But it seems Cheng's woes regarding the illegal structures at her three properties really aren't a good start to the Year of the Dog...