Monday, 30 April 2018

Picture of the Day: Scooter Mayhem

Lime S is one of a few scooter companies in San Francisco
The newest disrupter in San Francisco is a company offering several thousand electric scooters in the city that don't have to be docked at a station - they can be left anywhere.

Some people love using them — after signing up they just jump on them and go, saving time and money on short distances.

However, this has not only created the dilemma of scooters left all over the place, but also a lot of controversy because the company didn't ask City Hall permission to offer this service.

It was probably hoping that once people use the scooters, they would support the venture, but there's a lot of pushback from those who don't use the service, annoyed that yet another company is trying to fly under the radar without any regulations.

AirBnB, Uber and Lyft are examples of this brash behaviour. They are banking on the fact that governments are going to take a while to finally crack down on them, and when it finally gets to that point, the service would be so much a part of users' lives that the authorities can't be too severe in terms of banning the service completely.

While we didn't see hordes of people using these scooters, the service has only been around for a month or so. It just might take off — or not.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Picture of the Day: Street Cars

A vintage streetcar in use along Market Street in San FranciscoS
San Francisco is well known for its cable cars that run on steel rails with a slot between the tracks. Passengers (tourists) like to hang onto the poles for a good photo souvenir.

But did you know the city is also known for vintage cable cars?

If you take the F-line Historic Street Car, there's a high chance you will be able to sit in a cable car from as far back as 1928.

In 1982, San Francisco was going to cancel all cable car service for two years to fix the entire system.

But then cancelling the cable car would lose revenue from tourists who are keen to ride on the iconic cars.

So in the same year, the Historic Streetcar Festival started, bringing in other street cars from places like Milan, Melbourne, London and Mexico City. It was so popular the revamped old streetcars stayed in San Francisco.

It's neat to see these older streetcars in use and making people's rides around the city even more memorable for US$2.25 for adults, US$1.00 for children and seniors.

Picture of the Day: Good Company

Pictures from Barack Obama's visit to Great Eastern
We flew to San Francisco this morning and were bleary eyed and tired when we finally arrived at the hotel.

When we wanted to have lunch at around 2.30pm, it turns out many restaurants and cafes are already closed. We had to find something open and in the end the deli across the street solved our hunger pangs with hot pastrami and meatloaf sandwiches.

After a two-hour nap to battle jet lag, we headed to Chinatown for dinner. The restaurant is called Great Eastern Restaurant and it looks like your typical Chinese dining establishment.

Overall the food was average, not particularly sophisticated with really large portions. We had a lettuce wrap, a dry roast chicken, roast duck with steamed pockets, dried tofu with mustard greens, and fish sliced to pieces that were pan-fried while the bones deep-fried.

The highlight was stir-fried crab in a thick sauce that had really fresh meat. The kids at our table weren't that keen in tackling the shellfish, leaving more for us.

After we emerged from the restaurant we noticed a laminated poster. Turns out then US President Barack Obama ate there in 2012 and took pictures with staff, everyone grinning from ear to ear.

Another poster had pictures of other celebrities like basketball player Yao Ming and the late astrophysicist Stephen Hawking!

So we were in pretty good company!

Great Eastern Restaurant
649 Jackson Street
San Francisco
(415) 986 2500

Friday, 27 April 2018

Picture of the Day: Xiqu Centre Update

Lots of metallic-like scales on the building that's meant to look like curtains
Vancouver architect Bing Thom's building in West Kowloon is taking shape. I drove by it the other day and it's quite a sight.

Called the Xiqu Centre, it's a performance arts space, which is why the building looks like both a lantern when lit at night, and curtains that are parted so that curious visitors can see what's going on inside.

The building has a Grand Theatre that seats 1,073 seats and a smaller Tea House Theatre for 200 people. There are also eight professional studios and a seminar hall for Chinese opera development.

Up close the building is made up of lots and lots of twisted scales, much like a fish. It looks very industrial from the outside, but hopefully when it's lit at night it will have a warm glow to it.

It's a pity Thom isn't here to see this building completed -- he died suddenly in Hong Kong in October 2016. The architecture firm he founded 35 years ago has also changed its name from Bing Thom Architects to Revery Architecture, in the firm's goal of striving for exceptional architecture.

Nevertheless, for me it's Bing Thom's building, his mark on the city he was born in, and I look forward to visiting it when it opens.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Open Day in Western?

Interested in seeing what's going on inside the liaison office this weekend?
Anyone want to go inside the liaison office in Western this weekend?

Apparently they are expecting 1,500 guests, but critics say select groups will be invited.

That's too bad!

Office director Wang Zhimin, who recently visited the Legislative Council and pushed for patriotism to the mainland, invited opposition pan-democrats to come visit the office, which was viewed with lots of suspicion.

New liaison office director Wang Zhimin
He said in February the liaison office would be open to the public on a half yearly basis. But it wasn't until yesterday that it was confirmed for this Saturday and Sunday.

Tour guides will show the 1,500 visitors around six floors of the 30-storey building, including meeting and reception rooms, exhibition space showing off the calligraphy of members of staff, and even the canteen, where guests can sample some snacks, or play a round of table tennis or snooker with employees.

However, it turns out only those who were invited by the liaison office or Beijing-friendly groups could come this weekend.

Groan.

This weekend the barricades will come down. Phew!
Democratic Party vice-chairman Lo Kin-hei, a Southern district councillor, said if the office was genuine about improving its public image, it should stop meddling in the city's affairs.

"I don't think Hong Kong people will believe the liaison office is sensitive to their concerns just because you can play ping-pong with them... I'll be happy as long as the office doesn't interfere with our issues," Lo said.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

The MTR's Bizarre Housing Solution

MTR Corp's Frederick Ma suggests a "Hong Kong Town" in Guangdong
The MTR Corporation is brilliant at thinking of how to make more money off us little guys.

The latest? To help ease the housing shortage, why not build a "Hong Kong town" across the border in China and so young people and the elderly can commute everyday (via the MTR of course)?

Frederick Ma Si-hang of the MTR says the company is already in talks with the state-run China Railway Corp to explore the feasibility in Nansha and Foshan and residents can use a high-speed rail to get back to Hong Kong to work everyday.

The complex would be near the high-speed train station
He brushed off concerns that this project would be a conflict of interest...

The "Hong Kong Town" would be located near the high-speed rail station in Guangzhou and the whole complex would have a "Hong Kong ambience" that would have residential, commercial and reliable healthcare facilities.

It would also mean governments on both sides would have to come up with a monthly pass to make the trips not only more affordable, but also help them go through immigration faster and allow people living on the mainland to pay Hong Kong tax because they work there.

Readers who have commented on this story point out the legal ramifications -- is a Hong Kong resident who lives in this "Hong Kong town" subject to Hong Kong or China laws? While the housing will be cheaper, the food and water quality on the mainland are questionable. And what does "Hong Kong ambience" mean anyway? Like Central or like Mongkok?

Container terminals in Hong Kong could be turned into flats
The main complaint from other readers was this sense of resignation of having failed at trying to find solutions to the housing issue in Hong Kong and just dumping people who cannot afford it to a compound across the border. How does that achieve anything except shift the problem -- literally?

It just shows there is not enough determination on the part of the government to really tackle the housing issue. The MTR is also looking at possibly snapping up container terminals in places like Nam Cheong and Mei Foo in Hong Kong to turn into housing.

And who would be laughing all the way to the bank?

Li Ka-shing who owns Hongkong International Terminals Limited.

Us little guys never get to win.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Picture of the Day: Man Mo Temple

Incense coils hang from the ceiling in Man Mo Temple
Late this afternoon I was in Sheung Wan and had a bit of time before my appointment, so I took a quick look around Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road. The outside was covered in a haze of smoke from the incense and some tourists were sitting around across the street away from the incense emissions.

More tourists inside were taking pictures of everything, from the carved wooden doors to the burning coils of incense and physical representations of deities, the God of Literature (Man) and God of War (Mo).

These two gods were worshipped by scholars who wanted to succeed in the civil examinations during Imperial China. The temple was built in 1847 and is the largest Man Mo temple in Hong Kong.

Step inside the temple land one feels like they've been transported to another time. Outside are western bars and cafes that are gentrifying the area, but it's neat to see Man Mo Temple standing its ground and not intending to budge anytime soon.

124-126 Hollywood Road
Sheung Wan

Monday, 23 April 2018

You May be Eating Microplastics

Microplastics like these end up in the stomachs of many local fish and seafood
Following yesterday's post about beach clean-ups around Hong Kong, Greenpeace says microplastics are found in 60 percent of a fish species called wild flathead grey mullet that is consumed by locals.

Researchers at the Education University of Hong Kong have found an average of 4.3 fragments of microplastics in each fish, with one ingesting up to 80 fragments. They come from plastic bottles, packaging, straws, cups and single-use cutlery that have been broken down in the ocean.

A locally caught flathead grey mullet in a restaurant
"Mudflats and sediments under the sea are like restaurants for marine species," says Greenpeace campaigner Chan Hall-sion. "When both of them are polluted with microplastics, that will become the food for the flathead grey mullet and other types of marine animals."

Chan says there are at least 170 marine species including mussels, lobster, silver herring and oysters that contain microplastics.

Last month, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology's division of life sciences found that microbeads -- that can be found in items ranging from facial scrubs to toothpaste -- end up in the digestive tracts of fish and other marine creatures. This is not new, but confirms it's happening in Hong Kong.

And an even more mind-boggling statistic -- an earlier Education University study found Hong Kong beaches recorded an average of 5,000 pieces of microplastics per square metre -- 2.4 times higher than the concentration in the United States.

Some plastics that were found in the flathead grey mullet
If that's not enough impetus to get people to cut down on their use of plastic, I don't know what is. Some may say they don't eat local seafood, so who cares? But this is for the health of the oceans everywhere. We cannot afford to have marine life die around the world because we're dumping garbage into the world's oceans. Water travels everywhere.

There are so many small things we can do to drastically cut down on the amount of plastic we use -- like not buying bottled water, using reusable bags for groceries, not using disposable plates, cups and cutlery, and no straws.

How hard can it be to make these changes for the health of not only the planet, but us too?


Sunday, 22 April 2018

Earth Day? More Like Plastic Day

How does this mountain of garbage make Hong Kong look beautiful?
Today is Earth Day and some 1,500 people took part in beach clean-ups in Hong Kong and collected over 3,000kg of junk, most of it plastic. It included plastic bottles, plastic wrappers, plastic packaging, children's toys and cigarette lighters.

"I would say about 80 percent of what we picked up were plastic items that were only used once... and most of it was local," said Dr Robert Lockyer, director of operations at the AquaMeridian Conservation and Education Foundation, one of the groups organizing the major citywide beach clean-up.

The clean-ups were at Sai Kung, Lamma Island, Discovery Bay, Tai Po, Central and Sham Tseng.

Mainly one-use plastic items were collected on beaches
In recent months, some restaurants owned by expats have announced they are not using plastic straws anymore, and instead either using paper or metal straws, or none at all.

There is also a Facebook page that encourages people to write to restaurants, shops and grocery stores to complain about their excessive use of plastic packaging, and then post the letter on the social media site.

It's called A letter a day keeps the plastic away, and many people are posting their letters and responses from companies, but the replies are usually standard corporate ones that seem mildly concerned, but not much concrete action to rectify the situation.

Most expats and local Hong Kong Chinese who have lived abroad and are environmentally conscious, know too much plastic is bad for the environment. The focus should be on educating locals, Chinese restaurants and cha chaan tengs that they need to change their habits.

My friend YTSL regularly organises beach clean-ups and sometimes she can be demoralized when she cleans up a beach one week and then returns the following week only to see it covered in trash again.

Hong Kong's waste problem is growing every year
I try to be conscious about my grocery shopping -- using my own bag and when I'm out, carrying a thermos of water so that I don't need to buy a water bottle. But there are some people -- mostly men I have to say through observation -- who don't do either and don't think twice about paying HK50 cents for a plastic bag or buying a bottle of water.

The Hong Kong government really isn't doing enough to get people to use less plastic or legislate companies to use less packaging because the authorities aren't serious about protecting the environment.

In 2016, 10,345 tonnes of municipal waste was sent to landfills every day -- 1.8 percent more than the year before, though most of it was commercial rather than residential. Of this waste, 20 percent or 3,132 tonnes was plastic.

This has to stop soon because it is unsustainable. Is there no one else who understands this? Or is it because people are so reliant on domestic helpers to clean and cook that they are completely unaware of how much garbage they create?

Another day, another Earth Day. But environmental NGOs have more work to do to get the public and companies to understand waste is everyone's responsibility.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Picture of the Day: Congee Comfort Food

My lunch today -- thinly sliced fish congee with a plate of Chinese cabbage
One of the best places in Hong Kong to have congee is Sang Kee in Sheung Wan.

It's only open Monday to Saturday and there's often a line to get in. It has one main shop that is actually two giant rooms, and then down an alley is the original congee shop, where there is a giant vat where they make the rice porridge everyday.

I was in the area today around noon and decided to hit Sang Kee for lunch and managed to walk in for a seat by the window.

At first I was going to order beef brisket and noodles in a clear broth, but then changed my mind -- I'm trying to eat less meat -- so I asked for a small bowl of the sliced fish congee and a plate of poached Chinese cabbage.

The congee here really is comfort food -- it's creamy having been simmering for hours, and it arrives piping hot. The fish slices had no bones in them, very thin and the congee had lots of thinly sliced ginger in it.

It also comes with a small bowl of soy sauce with more ginger and spring onions. I dunked the ginger and spring onions in the soy sauce and put some in the congee to add a bit more flavouring as it's quite plain.

So good! There were lots of fish slices in there that were tender and combined with the creamy congee and spiced up with a bit of ginger was a great combination. If you are a fish expert, the fish head congee is a favourite.

A small bowl of congee was HK$32 and the plate of vegetables with oyster sauce was HK$19. When I was leaving, there was a line of hungry diners at the door.

Sang Kee
G/F, 10 Hillier Street
Sheung Wan
2541 1099

Friday, 20 April 2018

More Lecturing from Beijing

Qiao Xiaoyang says advocating independence is not freedom of speech
We welcome Qiao Xiaoyang to Hong Kong, but perhaps he didn't read the report on the results of a study done by City University the other day that concluded the rise of localism does not mean a lack of patriotism for China.

Qiao is a retired chairman of the national legislature's law committee, and he told 200 top local officials at a closed-door seminar today that he did not consider pro-independence calls to be freedom of expression, a fundamental right enshrined in the city's mini constitution.

But Hong Kong's Basic Law allows freedom of speech
One of the attendees was Ronny Tong Ka-wah, an adviser to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. He quoted Qiao as saying: "[Advocating independence] is hurtful to national feelings and contrary to the national constitution.

"Under the constitution, Hong Kong is a region under China's unitary system. So, Hongkongers have the duty to uphold the constitution and shouldn't do anything against the constitution and oppose the unitary system on the mainland."

You gotta love the argument that speaking out for democracy is "hurtful to national feelings". How is that even substantiated? That kind of news would be censored in Chinese media anyway so it wouldn't be hurtful to anyone.

Perhaps Qiao hasn't read Hong Kong's Basic Law? In Article 27 it says: "Hong Kong residents shall have freedom of speech, of the press and of publication, freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration; and the right and freedom to form and join trade unions and to strike".

Ronny Tong was one of 200 who heard Qiao's speech
But maybe no one at this seminar dared to point this out to him.

He also said while the central government would maintain a capitalist system in Hong Kong, it would be unconstitutional to "subvert the socialist system led by the Communist Party", said Wong Kwok-kin, a member of Lam's Executive Council.

Qiao is the second mainland representative within a week to speak at seminars on Hong Kong's constitutional order being part of China, following Beijing's liaison office director Wang Zhimin, who on Sunday hit out at local activists for challenging national sovereignty.

Statements like his continue to breed resentment against Beijing in Hong Kong... it also shows an utter lack of understanding of the city and its people, only expecting them to conform to its demands.

This inevitably leads to more tensions and conflicts that aren't going to get better anytime soon.


Thursday, 19 April 2018

Can You Live in 123 Sq Ft?

How small a space can you live in? One developer thinks it's 123 sq ft
We talked about incredible-shrinking flats yesterday and now they're getting smaller. A developer, Wing Kwok Enterprises, will be building a 27-storey residential block in Sham Shui Po where the smallest unit will be 123 square feet.

To put that into perspective, that's smaller than a 20-foot shipping container, or an American-sized parking space.

"At that size, the unit will most likely feature only an open kitchen, and a shower room, which typically add about 10 percent of the total area," said Victor Lai Kin-fai, a managing director of Centaline Surveyors.

Why so small?

"The average square footage price of smaller flats will be higher than larger apartments, which will further encourage developers to build ever smaller units," he said.

Is it no wonder then, that 27 percent of Hongkongers don't expect to ever afford a home, which "definitely deserves everyone's attention," said Nerida Conisbee, chief economist of REA Group, a digital advertising firm that specializes in property.

REA conducted a survey of 1,003 respondents that showed another 16 percent of people have no plan to buy property at all because prices are beyond their reach.

Has Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan actually seen a microflat? Has he spent the night in one to find out first hand what it's like to live in such cramped conditions?

Hong Kong government officials really have no idea what the average Hongkonger goes through on a daily basis...

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Incredible Shrinking Homes

How small a space are you willing to live in? Or rather you can afford?
The housing issue in Hong Kong continues to heat up. In the last day or so, there have been reports that there will be more and more microflats coming into the market in the next few years.

Last year there were 691 units on the market, over eight times more than the 79 in 2015; smaller flats between 215 sq ft and 430 sq ft jumped to 6,200 last year, from 2,056 in 2015. The Hong Kong government forecasts 6,852 private flats smaller than 430 sq ft will be completed this year, accounting for 38 percent of the overall supply of 18,130 private flats this year.

Tiny spaces leave people feeling claustrophobic and depressed
There have been calls to regulate the minimum size -- some of which are smaller than the dimensions of a jail cell here. Our Hong Kong Foundation that's run by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa has estimated the average size of private flats completed between 2018 and 2022 would be 681 sq ft, or equivalent to five standard parking space -- an 18 percent decrease from the average of 833 sq ft in the past decade.

Researchers say the trend of building microflats getting smaller will continue. Developers say that's because there is a demand for them, especially from those buyers who want to finally own a home, but at what cost financially and in terms of mental health? How is a tiny cramped space good for one's self esteem? How many years will it take for them to pay off the mortgage?

Pro-government lawmaker Alice Mak Mei-kuen from the Federation of Trade Unions said the government needs to safeguard buyers' rights.

"I know that many buyers now feel regret after purchasing nano flats. Even if the government won't legislate a flat's minimum size, will you consider introducing guidelines about it?" she asked.

How long can someone live in a tiny space like this?
However, Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan said there was no need to regulate the size of flats because buyers wouldn't be able to afford bigger ones due to rising property prices.

"If we set out some guidelines stipulating the minimum floor area of a flat, it means that aspiring home buyers will face a minimum price for a larger unit. Will they be able to afford this [greater] minimum price? We have big reservations about this," Chan said.

Land supply, he says is the issue. Perhaps that's because the government is constantly pushing its agenda of reclaiming more land on Lantau that has received a lot of opposition because it disrupts the environment and the species that live in the area.

We've been calling for the government to put more effort into re-developing brown sites, but there hasn't been much in the news about it seriously looking into these areas. The sites may seem small, but they add up and it's the more sustainable way to go. And maybe it's time to stop the quota of allowing 150 mainlanders to settle here everyday? Just a thought.

It's time for the government to be more creative; blaming market demand is not the answer.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Localism is not Anti-China

Pushing for greater democracy in HK does not mean being against China
As we've mentioned many times on this blog, the Hong Kong government and Beijing do not understand what young people want for themselves and the city, equating localism with being unpatriotic. And now researchers at City University have confirmed this is wrong.

A team of political scientists questioned the common conception that a rise in localism was making people feel "less Chinese" and "more like Hongkongers". The researchers concluded it was Hongkongers' mistrust of the central government, rather than a lack of a broader Chinese identity that prompted them to resist the motherland.

Chinese leaders jump to conclusions about Hong Kong
Official rhetoric has stepped up against localists, claiming they are "colluding with external forces" to advocate self-determination or independence for Hong Kong. On Sunday the head of Beijing's liaison office, Wang Zhimen, said the lack of a national security legislation was a "major weakness" for the city.

However, research leader Professor Linda Li Che-lan said, "There seems to be a common prejudice in the policy circles that local and national identities are in a zero-sum relationship.

"Critics often equate localism with being unpatriotic. And some think people would love Chinese more if localism could be eliminated. This is very wrong."

She warned Beijing against being bogged down by "misconceptions" and "misdiagnosis", and said top-down demands for patriotism risked pushing more Hongkongers into rejecting their national identity.

People still felt strongly Chinese during 2014 protests
In surveys, people were asked how strongly they identified themselves as being a "Hongkonger" or "Chinese" on a scale of 0 to 10. Scores for local Hong Kong identity hovered around 8 since 1997.

Even during the Occupy protests pushing for greater democracy in 2014 and the surge in localist sentiment in 2015 and 2016, people were still strongly attached to Hong Kong.

What researchers found was a stronger Hong Kong identity meant a stronger Chinese identity and vice versa. "Hongkonger and Chinese identities are not an either/or thing," Li said.

Her team found the biggest factor in the weakening of a feeling of Chinese identity in recent years was people's distrust in Beijing.

"This very strong association suggests that... feeling Chinese and trusting the central government in Beijing has taken on an almost synonymous connotation for many Hong Kong citizens," the paper said.

Li urged the central government to rethink it's policy on Hong Kong. "Rather than stressing its overall control over the city or instilling nationalism, it should try to restore Hong Kong people's confidence in it."

It's funny how it takes an academic paper to explain what we've known all along, but then again this doesn't mean the central government will really examine this paper either, perhaps thinking the researchers are biased.

But it's true -- Beijing should not be ramming patriotism down Hongkongers' throats. It just doesn't work.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Red-Faced Tencent Artificial Intelligence

Tencent's translations of the Boao Forum were hardly impressive
At the Boao Forum for Asia last week in Hainan, Tencent was keen on showing off its AI or artificial intelligence translation system, but it looks like this technology won't replace humans anytime soon.

The simultaneous translation system spouted gibberish that was displayed live in a big screen at the event and in a WeChat mini program. These included garbled characters, repeated words and even broken Chinese. There were many screen shots of these posted on social media last week.

A screen shot shows the gibberish
Tencent quickly acknowledged the errors and promised to improve in the future.

"The AI interpreter had some errors and gave wrong answers to several questions during the forum," Tencent said in a statement. "Our simultaneous [translation] machine, an artificial intelligence (AI) product, has a drawback, but it is still learning and growing."

For example, it translated "Belt and Road Initiative" -- China's international infrastructure development plan that covers more than 68 countries -- as "a road and a waistband".

Cue the laughing emojis.

So while critics are laughing, human interpreters can breathe a bit easier, knowing their jobs are still in tact -- for now.

"I do not think the technology is mature enough... Maybe in the next two years," said Lim Huisin, who has served as a conference interpreter on the mainland for the past five years. "I am not too worried about being replaced by a machine."

Personally I'm glad to hear this AI translation system isn't up to scratch yet -- the top translators in China are excellent -- they really do translate things quite accurately and with good English! Try to beat that, AI!

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Taking a Chance on Hainan

Tourists in Hainan will soon have horse racing to play along with surf and sand
The Chinese government is keen on developing Hainan into more than just "China's Hawaii" -- it's going to add horse racing and lotteries to the mix of entertainment that seems to be welcome news in the region.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club said in a statement that while "there has not been any discussion" so far with the Hainan authorities, but it would be pleased to exchange views on the promotion of equine sports there, if invited.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club welcomed the latest news
"The club is aware of the news reports that... the State Council... supports Hainan province developing equine sports," the club said.

Late on Saturday night the guidelines were released, a day after Xi Jinping announced plans to develop Hainan to have more economic freedom and greater market access.

While Beijing bans all kinds of gambling, it allows two types of lotteries, including one where punters predict the outcomes of international football [soccer] matches. It also allows horse racing but not betting. Sounds like an oxymoron, but that may change soon.

Since the 1990s there were attempts to get horse racing off the ground in China, with proposals in Guangzhou, Hangzhou and Nanjing. In 1992 a race course opened in Guangzhou, but was closed seven years later as an "unsatisfactory experiment".

Hainan's development will not impact Macau too much
Meanwhile analysts in Hong Kong believe this latest development will not impact Macau much, as the former Portuguese enclave has a fully developed industry that includes entertainment, conventions and exhibitions.

Hong Kong legislator Yiu Si-wing from the tourism sector believes the city can benefit from tourists who get a resort atmosphere from Hainan, and then the international city experience from Hong Kong.

With the central government's blessing, horse racing will happen soon -- but can you bet on it? Hard to say.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Picture of the Day: Sunset

Glorious sunset yesterday from Kennedy Town
I'm not usually home early on weekdays -- I'm either still in the office or out on assignment.

But on Friday afternoon I finished an assignment early and came home to see this fantastic sunset. I had to take a few pictures of the sun peeking out of from the thick clouds.

Admittedly though, pollution probably has something to do with the radiant colours...

This sunset didn't last long -- within about 15 to 20 minutes the sun disappeared behind the clouds and it was soon dark.

Friday, 13 April 2018

Sampling of Sushi Saito

The minimalist look of the dining area of Sushi Saito using natural wood
On Thursday I had my first bona fide omakase experience at Sushi Saito, the latest premium high-end Japanese restaurant to open in Hong Kong. Select media were given a sneak peek, but no free lunches here -- we all shelled out HK$1,480 plus 10 percent for the lunch.

A few days before we were reminded to arrive 15 minutes before the seating at noon -- if you don't show up you will be charged, and do not wear any perfume or have a cigarette or cigar smell.

The chef de cuisine has worked for Saito for several years
As a result, many of us worried about being late and arrived at least half an hour early to ride up to the 45th floor of the Four Seasons Hong Kong for the highly-anticipated meal.

Sushi Saito is a three Michelin-starred restaurant that is also number 26 on the Asia's 50 Best Restaurant list that's located in Tokyo. Chef Takashi Saito is known for being very particular with his ingredients and only serves eight guests at a time in his small restaurant that is near impossible to get a reservation.

So when there was an opportunity to try it here, I jumped at the chance.

We soon understood why it was important not to wear any scent -- Saito wants his guests to soak in the fresh wood smell in the small restaurant that seats in total 16 seats, but today it was only seven. The large dining table seating three on one side, four on the other, the two thick slabs of gorgeous wood from a 400-year-old Japanese cypress.

Apparently each time they wipe down the table top, the scent from the wood comes out. Once in a while they will sand it down with the finest sandpaper and then polish it. It was so smooth I couldn't help but keep stroking the table top throughout the meal.

Grilled sea perch (back) with pickled turnip
There is a ritualistic etiquette to the meal -- the chef makes a sushi for each person on their plate and it should be eaten practically right away because he has made it for you at that moment.

There is no wasabi or soy sauce to dip it in, so just pick it up with your hand and put it in your mouth. To cleanse the palate, there is a small mound of finely shaved pickled ginger and it is refilled as necessary.

He makes each piece per person and then goes around again making the next one using different seafood. We started with a slice of monkfish liver seasoned in light soy, some sugar and seasoned with grated yuzu.

I can't remember all the names of the other dishes, but they included grilled sea perch (divine), a small fish called kohada seasoned with lime juice, maguro or tuna, squid with a bit of lime juice, large prawn, and clam. This was followed by a slice from the futomaki roll with two cubes of tamago or sweet egg that is considered dessert, and miso soup.

Kohada with a touch of lime juice and shaved ginger
The whole meal was accompanied with Champagne -- Saito considers it the best pairing with sushi, even better than sake.

We were surprised to find that in the beginning the sushi rice was quite warm, and also when the chef de cuisine served uni or sea urchin, it was quite cold, having just literally been taken out of the refrigerator -- it should be around room temperature. But perhaps Saito prefers to keep the uni as fresh as possible and not sitting out too long.

Nevertheless we quite enjoyed the experience and weren't stuffed either.

We found out afterwards behind the bar is a cabinet that when opened reveals blocks of ice to keep the fish chilled. These are considered better than refrigerators that can dry the fish out. Saito wants the fish to be as fresh as possible.

The prized maguro that has been aged for seven days
Since reservations here will be difficult to secure, I won't be going back to Sushi Saito anytime soon, but appreciated the opportunity to try it!

Sushi Saito
45/F, Four Seasons Hong Kong
8 Finance Street
Central

Thursday, 12 April 2018

#MeToo 20 Years Later

Gao Yan was a top student at Peking University before she committed suicide
The fledgling #MeToo movement in China got a big boost recently when a literature professor at Nanjing University was suspended for allegedly sexually harassing and raping a student 20 years ago.

At the time 21-year-old Gao Yan, who was a start student, told her friends that professor Shen Yang, who was teaching at Peking University had forced her to have sex. He also apparently spread rumours that Gao was mentally ill.

Shen, 62, has denied the accusations.

Professor Shen Yang allegedly sexually harassed Gao
Her classmates have been pressing for justice ever since she died. During Qing Ming last week when Chinese families sweep graves to remember their relatives and ancestors, one of Gao's friends, Li Youyou posted an essay online, chastising Shen for not apologizing.

"Twenty years have passed. Your constant lies and crimes should be put to an end," she wrote.

In an interview with The Beijing News on Friday, Shen described the accusations as "malicious defamation".

The essay spread quickly online and some Chinese media wrote stories about it, which may have led to to him being fired.

Even Gao's parents complained to the university in 1998 about the alleged sexual assault, and while the tertiary institution did conduct an investigation that found Shen did have sex with Gao, it only issued him a demerit and did not terminate his employment contract.

Shen is the second prominent professor to be sacked due to allegations of sexual misconduct after Chen Xiaowu of Beihang University.

The movement is slowly growing in China (with other names)
Universities in China need to address the power imbalance between students and professors, but also the same patriarchal hierarchy in companies too.

Nevertheless, getting more people to talk about #MeToo or #MiTu or #woyeshi (the Chinese version) is important. And as some say, eventually truth prevails.


Wednesday, 11 April 2018

No ID, No Subway Ride in Urumqi

Some passengers got to try out the new subway in Urumqi yesterday
Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang will have its first metro system up and running by the end of the year and already the government has stated that Uyghurs need to produce their identification cards before they can buy tickets.

This is in addition to other regulations that Uyghurs need to produce their ID when buying train tickets and long-distance bus rides (since last March).

If you are caught using someone else's ID card, you can be fined between 50 to 200 yuan (US$7.90-$31.70).

Uyghurs need to show ID to buy subway tickets
Maya Wang, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, says the requirement is "part of an ever tightening web of surveillance and control in Xinjiang".

The government claims violence is rooted from Islamic extremists and separatists, but Uyghur advocates say it's the government's repression of religious freedom and unfair ethnic policies in the region that have resulted in resentment and violence.

Han Chinese authorities have been increasing security and surveillance measures throughout the region since 2016, including thousands of newly installed street-corner police stations.

These days Urumqi residents often have to provide their ID or undergo facial scans at the city's numerous security check points.

"Think of how many checkpoints an Urumqi resident must go through every day," Wang says. "And you are already required to use your real name for intra-city travel."

Security continues to be very strict in Xinjiang
All this monitoring using the latest technology coupled with heavy policing has resulted in what critics describe as a "massive police state".

It's so extreme that in some stations, no liquid, not even water is allowed, according to one resident who wished to remain anonymous.

"I think everyone is already mentally prepared for how strict the subways will be," he said.

It really doesn't have to be this extreme, but the heightened security measures in that region just make tensions between Han Chinese and Uyghurs even worse. When will the mistrust end?

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Review: Better Angels

The home in Muscatine, Iowa that Xi Jinping stayed in back in 1985
This evening I got to watch a preview of a documentary called Better Angels by two-time Oscar-winning filmmaker Malcolm Clarke.

It's a strange title for a film about the relationship between the United States and China, but it's taken from a quote that Henry Kissinger says at the beginning, how better angels will make our future better.

So aside from the big names like Kissinger, former secretaries of state James Baker and Madeleine Albright, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, and even former Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, the documentary follows different, ordinary people on how the other country has affected them.

A picture of Xi (far right) in front of that Muscatine home
One is a teacher from Texas who goes to China to teach English and American football and is grateful for the opportunity to not only make money to support his family, but also learn more about the culture; another is a blind man who travels around the world and when he's in the US he wants to go to Muscatine, Iowa to visit the house that Chinese President Xi Jinping stayed in in 1985. It turns out another Chinese man bought the home and turns it into a "Friendship House".

There are sympathetic portraits of Chinese who oversee factories in the US and Ethiopia, and how they hardly get to visit their families, and how some Americans employed in these Chinese factories are so thrilled to have a job following the financial crisis in 2009.

One neat scene is watching a Chinese man showing American kids how to use an abacus and how it stimulates their interest in math. After a few lessons they turn into human calculators.

A teacher appreciates his life in China with his Chinese wife
The stories don't necessarily weave together nicely, but they each show a nuanced side of the Chinese or Americans. However, there are some heavy weights like Wanda's Wang Jianlin, who's filmed singing and the audience in the ballroom is cheering him on... this was obviously before the company got into trouble with the central government...

Clarke was at our screening and afterwards he explained the film took over three years to make and they had to re-edit the film following Donald Trump's election win. The British director also said he got all the big name people he wanted mostly because he would drop names of other people in there and so they didn't want to miss out in being in the documentary.

He's currently showing it to small audiences here and there, and there are plans to show Better Angels at the Asia Society in Hong Kong (maybe because chairman Ronnie Chan gets his say in the film?).

British director Malcolm Clarke
Clarke's strategy is to have a wider release in the US before showing it in China, where he had to get layers of approval; but because the film is practically positive about China -- and Xi -- that it got the green light. And Clarke is keen on making more films about the country because he finds it so fascinating -- good and bad.

Better Angels isn't for everyone, but for those interested in learning a bit more about China, this gives a more intimate view of how it impacts people at a grassroots level.


Monday, 9 April 2018

More Benefits for the Rich

Some of the top landlords own thousands of properties in Hong Kong
In this year's budget Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po tried to give more benefits to the middle class, and for the most part they were little concessions here and there, like waiving government rates that are paid quarterly.

He raised the waiver from a maximum of HK$1,000 per quarter in the last financial year to HK$2,500 per quarter for a full year.

Property owners can save up to HK$10,000 a year (whoo hoo!) on each flat, but it looks like the uber rich will have the last laugh because they not only own hundreds of properties, but thousands of them, saving millions of dollars from paying these government rates.

Paul Chan thought taxpayers would like the rates waivers
The top 10 landlords in Hong Kong own over 40,000 properties among them and so they will benefit from waivers worth HK$256 million (US$32.8 million) this financial year.

According to figures from the Financial Service and the Treasury Bureau on Monday, the top ratepayer alone was expected to receive a concession of HK$102. 6 million from the 15,645 rateable properties owned.

Can you imagine owning that many properties? You and your extended family never have to work, just collect rent and live very well for the rest of your lives.

Then the next nine ratepayers will save between HK$8.9 million to HK$23.3 million for the 1,258 to 5,038 properties they hold.

Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun believes the landlords are property developers, and the government is just helping them become even more rich.

But James To believes it's the developers who benefit the most
"It is utterly inappropriate to offer over HK$102 million to someone who owns over 15,000 units," he said. "That's returning the wealth to the wealthy."

He said properties owned by companies should be considered as investments and so they should not benefit from these rates concessions.

"These investors do not need help from the government... Why should the government benefit these big conglomerates," he said.

"Even if middle-class citizens use a company [they set up] to buy a flat for self-occupation, the rates waivers should only be limited to one unit."

Also, most tenants don't benefit from the rates waivers as their landlords usually paid them, which means these properties are for commercial use, not for private use.

So once again the government hasn't clearly thought out this rates waiver and done enough research to realize that the biggest benefactor are those who own thousands of flats, while those who are only allowed to own one (or can only afford one), the benefit is a small gesture.

The ones who really need help -- renters and first-time home buyers -- are shut out.

Where is the love?