Thursday, 31 May 2018

My "Bing Sutt" Experience

A cuppa Hong Kong style milk tea this morning
In a follow-up to yesterday's blog post about the "bing sutt" in the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai, this morning I arrived early and there wasn't much of a line.

Some exhibitors or visitors to Vinexpo, the wine and spirits fair, ordered a western breakfast or wanted an espresso or coffee to take away (which cost extra for a disposable cup). It's interesting they were not keen on trying something different, or they didn't get the concept.

I perused the menu and you could order snacks like braised chicken wing with sweet soy sauce (HK$50 for four pieces), or two mini pineapple buns with butter (HK$28), or three mini egg tarts (HK$30). It's a pity those overseas visitors didn't know what those things were to even try them. Or there was no one there to explain what they were, or visuals.

Since I already had breakfast, I had a cup of Hong Kong style milk tea for a whopping HK$30. It's usually less than that, but it's a captive audience here. I had a "booth" to myself and enjoyed the view while drinking the milk tea that wasn't too sweet.

The "tiles" on the walls and floor of the "bing sutt" were actually computer print outs, but they looked pretty good from a distance. Other decorations were real, like the wooden birdcage (no birds in it).

Nevertheless, the caffeine in the milk tea wasn't too strong because after I finished it and walked towards the seminar I was attending, two friends had to wave frantically at me to catch my attention!

Anyway I still had fun having a sanitized experience in this "bing sutt", a quiet moment to myself before the chaos of the day...

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Picture of the Day: Temporary Bing Sutt

People at Vinexpo enjoying a bite to eat and a drink in a "bing sutt"
A large wine and spirits fair called Vinexpo is on right now in Hong Kong. It's a three-day event for people in the industry -- for wine producers to showcase their latest products, and for wholesalers, restaurants and hotels to see what will fit on their wine lists.

The show is being held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre and just outside the hall is a temporary "bing sutt" -- literally an "ice room", but is actually a traditional cold drinking house. They are the predecessor to the cha chaan teng, with its small tiled floors, hanging fans and folding chairs and menu items plastered on the walls.

Here the Hong Kong Tourism Board recreated one -- and it's a neat way to showcase local food culture for visitors overseas. They can have milk tea, a pineapple bun and a bowl of wonton noodles without having to go outside and deal with language issue.

The only fault here? The line was too long to even get a bite to eat -- which is the point of a bing sutt -- to be able to grab a quick snack and drink. That's because inside the exhibition hall there was no cafeteria to be found to buy a sandwich or even drinks.

When I was here yesterday I didn't have time (or the patience) to wait in line so I ate the power bar I happened to have with me and didn't eat some dumplings until I got back to the office at 4.30pm.

Maybe if I go early enough tomorrow I can finally try something in this "bing sutt"...

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Lives of Cardboard Grannies in Numbers

More than 80 percent of recyclable collectors are elderly women
Old women pushing trolleys stacked with flattened cardboard, or dragging around bundles of cardboard are common sight in Hong Kong, but they are still shocking reminders that there are some people in the community who are scraping by in one of the most prosperous cities in the world.

Most do not want to depend on the government for help
They are called "cardboard grannies" and concern group Waste Picker Platform has done a survey of 505 of these people. The findings are good background information for us to know more about them.

* They make on average HK$716 a month
* There are an estimated 2,900 people on the streets collecting rubbish daily
* 80 percent of them are women, where 82 percent are over the age of 60, the oldest 96
* More than 60 percent have scavenged for more three years
* They spend on average five and a half hours a day collecting recyclables
* Each time they pick up 35kg of cardboard and go to recycling shops 1.9 times per day
* Including financial aid and wages from other jobs, they still make less than HK$5,000 per month
* Almost 90 percent of respondents collect recyclables for economic reasons
* 25 percent rely on collecting garbage to meet basic needs

On top of these statistics, the cardboard grannies have to contend with being chased away by the government's hygiene staff and 9.5 percent of those surveyed experienced having their belongings confiscated.

Most cardboard collectors are over 60, the oldest is 96
How can we solve this issue? Many of these elderly women refuse to receive handouts from the government, and at the same time they are helping the city recycle, one cardboard sheet at a time.

The government really needs to learn more about these cardboard grannies and talk to them and find out their needs and concerns. Waste Picker Platform has started the ball rolling with insightful statistics, but meaningful dialogue needs to take place.

How can we help them understand they are entitled to fringe benefits as an elderly person, but also allow them to keep their dignity of earning their keep?

That is the question that needs to be asked.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Imports of Date Rape Drug on the Rise

Female revelers in Hong Kong need to watch their drinks carefully
The Hong Kong police is confiscating more of the chemical used as a date rape drug in the first four months of this year than the whole of 2017.

It's pretty shocking and scary that men are actually procuring gamma-Butryolactone (GBL) from Lithuania, and importing it into Hong Kong by the litre.

Gamma-Burtryolactone can be used as a date rape drug
GBL is usually used as an industrial solvent to remove paint, oil, ink and graffiti. A 350ml bottle of it in Lithuania costs HK$150 (US$19). When the colourless liquid is imbibed, users can experience euphoria and reduced inhibitions.

But in larger doses it can cause sleepiness, confusion, dizziness and in extreme cases, death.

So far 131kg of GBL, a clear and odourless liquid was seized in the first four months of this year, compared to 124kg for the entire 2017.

Earlier this month a male model and an Australian man were arrested in possession of 13 litres of GBL. They were arrested in a flat that was only 500 metres from Lan Kwai Fong, a trendy restaurant and bar area in Central.

"We recently noticed date rape drug in parcels arriving from Lithuania destined for Hong Kong. The parcels stated boldly that the contents were chemicals for industrial use," said a source. "The liquid is commonly used as an industrial cleaner in some countries and is perfectly legal. It is widely available online."

GBL is a clear, odourless liquid that can be added to drinks
While GBL is a controlled drug in countries like the United States, Canada and Sweden, in other places like Poland and Russia, a license is needed to sell it. Hong Kong lists GBL as a dangerous drug since 2012, so trafficking GBL to Hong Kong carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and a HK$5 million fine.

The Hong Kong Security Bureau's Narcotics Division said on its website that this clear, odourless liquid is often used as a date rate drug and is added to flavoured drinks to mask its salty taste.

The case of these two men will go through the court system, but in the meantime women in Hong Kong need to be careful when they go out and watch their drinks like a hawk. Don't say I didn't warn you...

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Giordano Ad Criticized as Sexist

Are these four words the way you would sum up a "family"?
Hong Kong society's expectations of women are back in the imperial dynasties when it comes to images of them depicted in advertising.

A lot of the ads I see in the MTR station or on television expect women to look beautiful -- have flawless skin, a big bust thanks to her push-up bra, and she has to have a flat stomach, in other words not eat.

And if you have a family, then you have to be a perfect mother that dotes on her children and looks after her husband, because after all, he's the breadwinner.

But statistically some 52 percent of women in Hong Kong work, compared to 65 percent men. And many of those women don't know how to cook, let alone have time to clean because they're busy working. The cost of living is so high in the city -- look at housing prices -- that at least two incomes are needed to keep a family afloat these days.

So it was an affront to women in Hong Kong when they saw this ad for casual clothing brand Giordano a few days ago. Called "Team Family Series", it shows a "family" with each member wearing a different T-shirt. The father's says "work", mother's says "cook", while the two kids have "cry" and "play".

If that's how one sums up a family it's very pathetic. Don't kids "study" and not just "cry"?

An expatriate woman, who is also a mother was outraged when she saw the ad showing the mother as being stuck in the kitchen, and immediately went about shaming Giordano on social media for being sexist. Soon there was an onslaught of angry women criticizing the local brand for being way behind the times.

Giordano did respond and said it had received a number of complaints, but added it was proud of its clothing apparel that is designed for everyone regardless of ethnicity, nationality, culture or gender.

"We agree that the ultimate products could be a better way in presentation that is one of the many ways to presenting the love to family which did not reflect our entire true values," said a statement on Giordano's Facebook page.

It added the words chosen for the T-shirts were meant "to depict different, random aspects of life."

Hmmm that's truly random.

While many of the ads have been taken down, this one was spotted at Kowloon station, and the "Team Family series" is being sold in some stores.

The worst thing about ads targeted at women in Hong Kong is that many men have expectations that women should look beautiful, flawless and perfect in every way. Many of the ads in Hong Kong depict fantasy rather than reality, and if it is the latter, it's how sad or pathetic real life is.

Advertisers and advertising agencies have to take some responsibility for their depictions of people and life. Or is it consumers who can't face the reality of life and advertisers are trying to provide some kind of aspiration?

How sad is that?

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Ashkenazy Returns to Hong Kong

Ashkenazy returns to Hong Kong with a pastoral-themed concert
The last time I saw Maestro Vladimir Ashkenazy perform in Hong Kong was many years ago, a piano recital at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. We sat above the stage so that we could see his fingers on the keyboard, but I can't remember what the program was. I just thought it was amazing that he was still playing so well at his age.

And now he's 80 years old and back, this time conducting the Hong Kong Philharmonic in a program that includes talented violinist Esther Yoo, a Korean-American who is only 23. It's a pity for the second concert on a Saturday night (tonight) that the seats were barely half full, but that meant a quieter audience in general.

The third piece was Beethoven's Symphony no. 6, Pastoral
When Ashkenazy came out, he wore his usual jacket with a white turtleneck shirt underneath. And he just wanted to get the program started with right away, beginning with Russian composer Alexander Glazunov's Chopiniana, a delightful, accessible piece, and the conductor kept the orchestra in military precision.

Next Yoo came out in a bright red sparkly dress to perform Glazunov's Violin Concerto, just over 20 minutes that was definitely a vehicle to show off the violinist's talents, from playing chords to plucking, soft to loud. She had her eyes closed for most of the performance, setting the pace and enjoying herself on stage.

In reading her biography, the Korean-American was born in the US and raised in Europe since the age of six. She picked up the violin when she was four and made her first concert debut at eight. Talk about young talent.

Esther Yoo picked up the violin at the age of four
After the piece was over, Ashkenazy put his baton between his teeth to clap for her and then made an action like playing the violin so he could leave the stage. She performed an encore, saying she was thrilled to be back in Hong Kong.

Finally after an intermission, Ashkenazy was back to conduct Beethoven's Symphony no. 6, Pastoral. It definitely evokes pastoral scenes of idyllic rolling hills, flocks of sheep grazing and young lovers having a budding romance.

The five movements seemed to be compressed into three, as Ashkenazy didn't want to waste time with formalities. The drama began to build in the third movement onwards with the wind section holding their own. And soon it was all over, and the Maestro went around shaking the musicians' hands.

She seems self-assured on stage at the age of 23
Ashkenazy's Pastoral
Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall
May 25-26
Glazunov Chopiniana
Glazunov Violin Concerto
Beethoven Symphony no. 6, Pastoral

Friday, 25 May 2018

Tibetan Let Down by Rule of Law

Tashi Wangchuk is concerned about losing the Tibetan culture
A few days ago, a Tibetan who was hoping to petition the Chinese government to have better teaching of the Tibetan language, was thrown in jail for five years, convicted for "inciting separatism".

The thing is, Tashi Wangchuk doesn't want to have anything to do with independence. He just wants to preserve the Tibetan language and culture.

To that end he tried to file a lawsuit against local officials for going against China's constitution that says all ethnicities in China "have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages".

However he couldn't do that, so he traveled to Beijing in the hopes of getting China Central Television (CCTV) to shine a spotlight on the issue of how the quality of teaching Tibetan has fallen and how he wants to protect the language from being sidelined by Mandarin.

Beijing seems intent on more Chinese spoken than Tibetan
But when he tries to approach the CCTV building in Beijing, he sees security guards asking visitors for their ID cards and he worries he will be taken in by the police. In a touch of naivety, he thought state media was open and was always searching the truth.

Then he tries to find lawyers to take on his case, but many of them say the Chinese government has done good things for Tibet, particularly economic development. Either they are pro-Beijing or they just don't want to get involved.

His attempt to petition the government and expose his story led to him being detained in 2016 after appearing in a New York Times video chronicling his journey. Most recently that video was used as evidence against him in a four-hour trial in January, saying he was deliberately inciting separatism and trying to discredit the government's international image and treatment of ethnic minorities.

Tashi was previously a shopkeeper and learned Tibetan from his brother, who had studied with a monk. In 2015 Tashi tried to find a Tibetan teacher for his niece, traveling through several provinces but couldn't find any.

In the video by the New York Times, Tashi says: "The local government is controlling the actual Tibetan culture, such as the spoken and written language. It looks like development or help on the surface, but actually the goal is to eliminate our culture."

Did he not make his argument clear, using the Chinese law to push China to preserve Tibetan language and culture?

Apparently Beijing was not pleased by this tactic and turned the tables on Tashi. He is a young man who has thought long and hard about how to bring change to his people. Tashi tried, but in the end sacrificed himself for the cause.

In the video he talks about how over 100 Tibetans have committed self-immolation. He observes they didn't do it because of a family dispute, but because they feel so strongly about the Tibet they know disappearing that they have lost hope that things will get better.

He doesn't think he would do that, but he can now see how desperate some people are, that they practically have no choice left but to accept the inevitable -- that Beijing controls Tibet, despite it being called an "autonomous region".

For now Tashi will appeal, but trying to silence him with jail is only going to create more resentment against the Han Chinese...

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Picture of the Day: Overlooking Victoria Harbour

Clear skies and brilliant sunshine resulted in this photo looking west
After 6pm I arrived at the spa in the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong for a badly needed massage (it was painful!) and just before my treatment I managed to catch the sun about to set for the evening.

No where else in Hong Kong can you have a jaw-dropping view like this from the 116th floor! Everything looks so tiny...

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Picture of the Day: Putting Bets on the Horses

Our stack of bets that didn't amount to much in the end!
A good friend took me and another girlfriend to the races tonight at Happy Valley. We had a delicious meal of baked cod with Malaysian spices (ie spicy soy sauce), and an appetizer and dessert buffet, but when it came to horse racing we weren't very good punters.

I tried to do my homework and study the racing section of the newspaper ahead of time, but only managed to glean some picks from the racing journalists.

In the first race I picked two horses to place and they both came in! For a HK$40 bet I made HK$58!

After that it was all downhill -- lost the next four races. Thank goodness we left after the fifth one and cut our losses. My friends fared worse than me -- they didn't win at all!

Nevertheless it is fun to sit in the member's area, enjoy some dinner and drinks, catch up and then go place some bets every half hour.

In the end we have a pile of HK$10 and HK$20 bets that amounted nothing, but we had a fun evening anyway.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Picture of the Day: Plant-based "Meat"

My spaghetti sauce using plant-based "meat"
On the weekend I tried cooking a non-meat substitute called Beyond Crumble in a spaghetti sauce.

Beyond Meat was started in 2009 by Ethan Brown who questioned why we were eating meat from cows, how it was not very efficient to raise them, nor environmentally good for the planet.

The plant-based "meat" in Beyond Meat is made from Canadian yellow peas, coconut oil and potato starch, and a bit of beet juice to make it look like beef.

I have tried the Beyond Meat burger patty that looks like beef, sizzles like it on the stove and while it doesn't taste like beef, it doesn't have a rich feeling in your stomach.

Coincidentally I have also tried Impossible Foods and the burger patty tastes of wheat, its main ingredient, which threw me off, but as shredded meat in a pancake pocket it was fantastic, and in chilli fries.

So that experience inspired me to try Beyond Crumble (plant-based bits of "meat") in a spaghetti sauce.

When cooking it, you're advised to cook the "meat" last, which is the opposite of what one would usually do with real beef. So I cooked the onions and garlic together, followed by celery and carrots with a bit of chopped mushrooms before adding a can of whole tomatoes and then added Beyond Crumble with chicken stock and some water.

Open the bag and there are what look like cooked beef balls, that after a short time of simmering, broke down into small bits and somewhat gelled with the tomato sauce.

The verdict? Again after eating spaghetti with the sauce, I was full, but didn't have that heavy feeling in my stomach.

It's an interesting product, but at the same time, it's not a completely natural one either. It's something to eat once in a while, but it will never replace meat.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Love Does Not Equal Money

Scammers take advantage of lonely women in Hong Kong
Hong Kong has a lot of lonely women. Part of it is statistically there are more women than men (in 2016 there were 3.96 million women, 3.37 million men), and also men prefer women who are younger, or may go across the mainland to find their mate.

That leaves some women in Hong Kong desperate to find someone and con artists are taking advantage of these lonely souls.

There have been 119 women duped by online romance scammers out of HK$75.9 million (US$967,000) in the first three months of this year, five times the amount of the same period last year.

They con Hong Kong women out of millions of dollars
The latest victim? A woman in her 40s who works in a financial institution and was swindled out of HK$14 million in a so-called online romance that lasted eight years, the longest scam recorded so far.

She first "met" the man in August 2010 in an online dating profile, where he claimed to be a white male and a film director. After befriending her for three months, he started to ask her for money, claiming he was detained by Malaysian authorities for being caught carrying £300,000 in breach of the country's laws.

He began by asking her to transfer HK$10,000 and then used various excuses to get her to give him more money. In the end she made a staggering 200 to 300 transactions in amounts ranging from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Throughout the eight years, she never met him in person.

It wasn't until the victim talked to her family about getting more money (she had already spent her savings and borrowed some) that she realized she was duped and called the police.

These shadowy figures can hardly be found again
Official police data shows 93 percent of the victims in the first quarter this year were women, almost 12 percent of them professionals. More than 80 percent of them were between the ages of 31 and 60.

How lonely and desperate do you have to be to willing to part with your money? It's very sad to hear of yet another case of a women being cheated out of her hard-earned money, but this only motivates scammers to continue to focus on women here.

It also shows how warped their sense of what love is -- that it is closely tied to money. Another observation is that so many of these scams have been reported in the media and yet these women don't wonder if their so-called relationships are real. Maybe it's denial...

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Housing Prices Still Going Strong

Everyone still wants to get into the property market, including millennials
Young Hong Kong people might be complaining about the ever rising property prices, but this weekend they dug deep and dived into the real estate market.

According toe real estate company Colliers International Hong Kong, buyers snapped up about 250 units in four projects in the past three days, with prices ranging from HK$19,975 to HK$28,235 (US$2,545 to US$3,600) per square foot. Prices having continued to rise for 24 consecutive months, proof that housing prices aren't falling anytime soon.

Wings At Sea II in Tuen Mun had 100 units sold on Sunday
One of the projects by Sun Hung Kai Properties, Wings At Sea II, at Lohas Park, Tseung Kwan O, sold 100 units on Sunday, according to Sammy Po Siu-ming, chief executive of Midland Realty's residential division.

He said around half the buyers were millennials, who probably got help from their parents for the down payment or to pay the mortgage. This is the only way young people can afford to buy a home in Hong Kong, which was judged the world's least affordable housing market by US planning consultancy Demographia for the eighth successive year in January.

Meanwhile 78 units at Sun Hung Kai Properties' Mount Regency in Tuen Mun were sold out in three hours on Saturday, bringing nearly HK$400 million for the city's second-largest developer.

Grand Oasis in Kai Tak sold 50 units worth HK$700 million
Flats smaller than 430 sq ft on Hong Kong Island costs an average of HK$16,103 per sq ft, while for Kowloon it's HK$13,763 per sq ft, according to the Rating and Valuation Department.

Demographia's report says the media property price in Hong Kong now stands at around 19.4 times the median annual household income, compared to around 8.5 times in London, a city that is also deemed one of the most unaffordable places in the world.

Despite the financially challenges, millennials in Hong Kong are getting into the property market. They accounted for 32.3 percent of all new mortgages taken in the first quarter of 2017, up from 19.1 percent in the same period in 2013, according to figures from credit bureau TransUnion.

One 2,617 sq ft flat at Mount Pavilia sold for HK$74 million
Another developer, Wheelock Properties sold 50 units at Grand Oasis in Kai Tak within one and a half hours of its launch on Friday, raising HK$700 million, while New World Development's Mount Pavilia in Clear Water Bay, sold 17 units on Saturday. One flat that is 2,619 sq ft sold for HK$74 million, or HK$28,235 per sq ft.

Even though the government has tried to implement cooling measures to the property market, they aren't working... though it must be secretly happy to make more money from stamp duties, while property developers are laughing all the way to the bank.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Fans Shocked as Jet Li Ages Rapidly

A picture of him from a video message for Chinese New Year this year
Fans are shocked to see martial arts star Jet Li, 55, not looking well these days.

Recent photos of him revealed how hyperthyroidism and spinal problem have taken a toll on his heath. The star of such films as Lethal Weapon 4, Romeo Must Die and Expendables 2, revealed five years ago he has been suffering from hyperthyroidism.

Recent photos of Li taken in Chengdu
A recent photo of him taken in Chengdu shows his frail appearance and he apparently needed assistance to walk.

Hyperthyroidism causes changes in a person's metabolism and heart rate, and is usually treated through medication, which Li is taking. He said last year in Beijing that his strong belief in Buddhism as well as meditation and scripture reading helped him stabilize his condition.

He also said doctors warned him in 2013 that he would wind up in a wheelchair if he didn't stop making physically demanding action films.

He is well known for portraying Wong Fei-hung
"I'm just a regular guy. I'm not Wong Fei-hung. I'm not Huo Yuanjia [kung fu heroes he has portrayed on film]. I'm just like you," he also said last year.

Li said he was also suffering from leg and spinal problems and that he was unable to stand straight for too long, his poor health the result of decades of demanding film roles, stunts and injuries. He first started making films in his teens after he was crowned a wushu champion in the late 1970s.

It is sad to see such a favourite star deteriorate so quickly in the last few years. We can only hope he is not in too much pain.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Appeals for Liu Xia's Freedom are Rejected

Liu Xia and Liu Xiaobo's last days together before he died last July
Liu Xia, wife of the late dissident writer Liu Xiaobo recently revealed she is losing her will to live. It was a plea in the hopes of leaving China, as she is currently under house arrest for a crime she did not commit.

One of Liu Xia's poems that she read in a video
Germany said earlier it would welcome Liu, who suffers from depression and believe to be in declining health, after a recording was released of her crying in desperation and indicating she has given up hope of being able to leave China.

"If I can't leave, I'll die in my home," Liu said during a recent phone call she had with her close friend Liao Yiwu, a writer who recorded their conversation.

In response the other day, over a dozen international writers and artists together with Amnesty International and PEN America have appealed for her release by issuing videos of them reading Liu Xia's poems.

Some of those reading the poem include Rita Dove, JM Coetzee, Paul Auster, and Khaled Hosseini.

However, China rejected this latest plea, saying Liu Xia's right to travel can only be determined by the Chinese government.

"It is a matter that falls within China's judicial sovereignty," Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on Thursday at a regularly scheduled news conference. "She is a Chinese national [and] we of course handle the relevant issue in accordance with our laws and regulations."

Liu Xia is depressed and does not have the will to live longer
No matter how much attention Liu Xia gets from the outside, China refuses to back down -- it is determined to punish her along with her family for her association with Liu Xiaobo, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison for "inciting subversion of state power" in 2009. Before the Nobel laureate died last July of liver cancer, Liu Xia was only able to see him for a few days.

It is curious why the Chinese government sees Liu Xia as a threat and does everything it can to make her life nothing short of hell -- not being able to receive visitors, not being able to go out without being followed, and tapping her phone calls.

She has no choice but feel like there is no hope left for her except to die and rejoin Liu Xiaobo in another world. Surely Beijing wouldn't want that to happen?

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Nathan Law Quits Demosisto

Nathan Law was the youngest elected lawmaker to the Legislative Council
Former legislator Nathan Law Kwun-chung has had enough and is quitting Demosisto, the political party he co-founded.

The 24-year-old pro-democracy activist made the announcement yesterday on social media, saying he was stepping down as chairman of the two-year-old party, while co-founder Joshua Wong Chi-fung remains Demosisto's secretary-general.

Law said in his Facebook post on Wednesday that he is not abandoning his vision or beliefs, but wanted to "open up paths that were not explored before".

Law (far left) with Joshua Wong and Alex Chow at Occupy
"Since the umbrella movement, I have been living in the vortex of the political storm. In the face of the stern political situation, I found myself overloaded both physically and mentally. I need time to rally my forces and think about the road ahead."

Indeed he has been through a lot since he and Wong started Scholarism exactly seven years ago this month and since then Law has been in the public eye, particularly during the Occupy Movement in 2014.

Two years later the duo started Demosisto and Law ran and won a seat in the Legislative Council elections that year.

However, Law was dogged with law suits and jail time -- he, Wong and Alex Chow Yong-kang were convicted and jailed for six to eight months last August for their role in the Occupy protests that were deemed illegal.

Also after he was elected democratically into Legco in 2016, he was disqualified last year by the court for his improper oath-taking in which he made a short speech before taking the oath.

Law campaigning in 2016 with the Demosisto party
He quoted Mahatma Gandhi in saying: "You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body, but you will never imprison my mind." And then as he took the oath, when it came to the word "republic", he changed the tone of his voice as if you ask a question -- "I swear allegiance to... the People's Republic of China?" he asked.

Although his oath was validated by the clerk, there was an unprecedented legal challenge mounted by then chief executive Leung Chun-ying and Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung. First it was Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Baggio Leung who were disqualified, then Law along with three others.

So one can imagine Law might be mentally and physically exhausted after what he has gone through. He also hints it's time to figure out another way to fight the establishment, though how else can one do that without doing something illegal these days?

The pro-Beijing side must be elated -- one less opponent to deal with (for now), and now there is speculation how much longer Demosisto will be around now that one of the co-founders is leaving.

It's not easy to walk away from something you have started, but perhaps Law feels now is the time to take a break and figure out what to do next.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Two Hong Kong Reporters Attacked in Four Days

This morning Now TV's Chui Chun-ming was violently handcuffed by police
In the span of four days, two Hong Kong journalists were attacked for doing their jobs -- reporting on stories in China.

The first happened on May 12 when Chan Ho-fai, a reporter with i-Cable News tried to cover the 10th anniversary of the Sichuan earthquake in Dujiangyan, near the provincial capital of Chengdu.

He was kicked and beaten by two men when he saw a group of men surrounding a car with a Commercial Radio reporter inside.

"I saw a group of men surrounding a car with a Commercial Radio reporter inside. When I wanted to take a picture with my phone, two men suddenly grabbed me by each arm and dragged me away," recalled Chan.

i-Cable's Chan Ho-fai gets a strange apology from two men
He was dragged from the scene to a nearby river where he was repeatedly kicked and kneed in the stomach at least three times.

"When I kept calling for help, they kept kicking me in the head, and kneed me in the stomach... They just kept kicking and wouldn't let me go," he said in a video recalling the incident.

It lasted between five to 10 minutes before officials from the city's propaganda department came to separate them.

Chan said the two men would not reveal their identities, and one of them said they were from the area.

Meanwhile today's incident happened this morning around 9am when Chui Chun-ming, a cameraman for Now TV was covering the Beijing Lawyers Association's hearing that had to do with human rights lawyer Xie Yanyi.

On Now TV's own footage, Chui was held down by at least four people and then handcuffed by two uniformed police officers, but not without Chui's left temple bleeding.

Chan reporting from Sichuan in this screenshot
Just before the incident, Now TV had approached Xie, but were stopped by officers. The crew cooperated with police and gave them their press passes and ID cards.

Chui felt the officers were holding their press passes and ID cards for a long time; when he asked for their info back, he was violently forced to the ground and taken away.

Xie's wife, Yuan Shanshan, who was there, said Chui was beaten by "five or six policemen," while dozens of officers stand by.

"The policemen asked [Chui] for his ID and promised to let him in after checking the documents. But after the examination, the officer refused to return the ID and pressed him to the ground when he asked for it," Yuan recalled.

"It was total chaos. Five or six policemen beat the reporter, hit his head until he was bleeding and forcibly dragged him into a police car. My husband [Xie] was beaten and dragged into a police car as well when he tried to stop the officers from taking the reporter away," Yuan said.

At 11am, Chui was taken to a local hospital by Beijing police. There he was uncuffed and his wound was examined. Two hours later he was released.

Speaking to Hong Kong media after his release, Chui said he was forced to sign a "statement of repentance".

Cheung the government was concerned for journalists' safety
"[An officer] insisted I was wrong and told me to admit it. He said if I don't, I will lose my press pass," Chui said.

The statement claimed Chui had tried to "grab" his press pass from an officer. Chui admitted he was emotional at the time, but denied any physical contact.

Although he initially refused to sign the statement, Chui said he "had no choice" but to sign it, as he was not allowed to make contact with his company at the time.

In Chan's case his employer i-Cable said in a statement the company was "enraged" by what had happened, and called the incident "unacceptable", while Now TV lashed out at Beijing police, calling the incident "unreasonable and violent obstruction" of its reporting crew.

On Saturday, Hong Kong Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip Tak-kuen said the city's leadership was "very concerned about the [i-Cable] incident".

Later that evening the two men were suddenly brought to Chan and apologized, saying they had lost family members in the earthquake. When asked to which family members they lost, one of the men gave a strange answer, saying they were from the surrounding area and were neighbours.

In Chui's case, acting chief executive Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said the Hong Kong government was concerned about the personal safety and freedom of Hong Kong reporters working on the mainland, and expected no more incidents to happen.

What is going on? What have these reporters done wrong that requires them to be violently handled? Were these two incidents meant to scare Hong Kong media into obedience?

It's shocking and terrifying to see any reporters being treated this way, and the Hong Kong government must work with the central government to ensure Hong Kong journalists are not harmed. How is there going to be any trust in China when they are roughed up like this?

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Review: Borg vs McEnroe

Shia LaBeouf as John McEnroe and Severrir Gudnason as Bjorn Borg
OK one more movie review before talking all things Hong Kong and China. Another interesting movie I watched was Borg vs McEnroe, a story about the two tennis superstars, though more focused on the Swede when he was going for his fifth Wimbledon title in 1980.

At that time I was a kid learning how to play tennis and every summer watching Wimbledon with my family was a big event in our house. We would scream and shout at the television when there were double faults, or the ball went in or out.

In Borg vs McEnroe, we see the cool and collected Bjorn Borg against the brash and vituperative John McEnroe, but the focus is on the former and how he became the world's number one player.

It turns out that Borg was very similar to McEnroe in his abrasive behaviour. As a child the Swede loudly complained to the chair umpire about the ball being in or out, threw his racquets on the ground and brooded.

This threatened his burgeoning tennis career until a coach took an interest in his potential but warned him to never show his emotions and instead channel that energy into his playing.

Borg was followed constantly by the media with his girlfriend
As an adult, Borg becomes obsessive about details -- everything has to be the same. He has to be picked up in the same car, stay in the same hotel, his girlfriend meticulously packs his tennis bag and Borg even walks on each of his 50 racquets to check their tautness and from there decides which ones he will use during the match.

But for this impending Wimbledon final against McEnroe, Borg seems unsure of himself and unable to control his jitters.

Meanwhile McEnroe doesn't have much discipline, though in his childhood his father would parade him at the dinner table with guests to show off the boy's mathematical genius.

The night before a Wimbledon tournament, McEnroe is partying in London with fellow New Yorker and player Vitas Gerulaitis, who gives the young underdog intriguing information about his opponent.

The film recreates the 1980 Wimbledon final
He explains Borg turns down the thermostat of his hotel room so low so that his heart rate is below 50 (meaning his girlfriend has to bundle up to sleep with him), his parents can come watch him play every other year, but they have to wear the same clothes, and he always carries two towels with him onto the court, no more, no less.

McEnroe has his own idiosyncrasies. He gets a marker from the hotel and starts writing out the tournament draws and how he intends to meet Borg in the finals, which means a long list of players he needs to beat beforehand. One of them is Peter Fleming, who thinks they were going to have a friendly match, but for McEnroe it's all business.

At last the final begins and it feels literally like a replay of what happened, including a nail-biting 34-point tiebreaker. At one point Borg encourages McEnroe to focus on the game, perhaps to show off his coolness.

Decades later, Borg and McEnroe at a friendly match
In the end the viewer wonders -- who is the better person? Borg or McEnroe? Was it worth all the hard work, sweat and tears to become these top tennis players? A lot of sacrifices were made to get there, as well as determination.

It turns out Borg's real-life son Leo Borg, plays his younger self, which suggests he gave his blessing to the movie. The older Borg in his 20s is played by Severrir Gudnason who doesn't show much emotion, and one can't help but admire his gorgeous mane of hair.

Shia LaBeouf is McEnroe, and relies on the usual spewing of profanities and snarky comments to portray the American challenging Borg.

The only real part is at the end with actual pictures of the two separately and together. There are also footnotes to say McEnroe beat Borg the following year and the Swede decided to retire at the age of 26. In the film Borg hinted not knowing what he was going to do with his life without tennis, but financially would be fine from all the endorsement contracts.

Borg vs McEnroe really gives the psychological insight into the two characters, though the former in particular. Those parts of the film are most fascinating, while the actual tennis match in the end is too drawn out and loses momentum.

Borg vs McEnroe (2017)
Starring Severrir Gudnason, Shia LaBeouf
Directed by Janus Metz Pedersen
Written by Ronnie Sandahl

Monday, 14 May 2018

Review: California Typewriter

Actor Tom Hanks loves typewriters so much he has 250 of them -- that work
On the flight back to Hong Kong I watched several movies. One was a documentary that was a labour of love called California Typewriter, named after the shop in Berkeley, California that repairs and sells old typewriters.

An African-American called Herb Permillion III, a former IBM employee, started the shop believing that people would go back to this mechanical machine, but his dream doesn't quite work that way -- there are fewer people interested, and more typewriters are dumped at flea markets.

From the store we meet some customers who love typewriters and explain their connection to this machine. Singer-songwriter John Meyer talks about how he used to write songs on his computer and backed up all of them, only to realize he never looks back at these old lyrics; whereas when he types them out, it's easy to refer to and corrections can be made.

Herb Permillion III in his shop, California Typewriter
Meanwhile author and historian David McCullough observes how it is important to see for example presidential speeches and how they were written and corrected, and that can only be done with speeches that were typed out. He says it's important in terms of history to understand what the president was thinking at the time.

Others talk about their relationship with the machine. For example actor Tom Hanks enthusiastically talks about how he has a collection of 250 typewriters, and each of them makes different sounds when you type on them.

One time one of his friends wanted a typewriter and he sent it to them only to find it parked on a shelf instead of being used. He says he prefers receiving notes that were typed on a typewriter than on email. Good to know.

Singer-songwriter John Meyer prefers typing out his songs
Playwright Sam Shepard talks about how he can write plays easily on his typewriter, that he never did get along with the computer screen. He says he feels closer to his words when he hits the keys that print the letters onto the paper that he can immediately touch.

Perhaps in a spooky part of the film, Silvi Alcivar is able to compose poetry on the spot for people -- she never worries the words won't come out. One time she wrote an elegant elegy of a woman who recently died and her husband was overwhelmed by how the poem touched him.

An interesting inclusion in this story is artist Jeremy Mayer, who, inspired by the movie Metropolis, takes apart typewriters and rebuilds them into sculptures. He admits getting a lot of criticism for what he does, but explains he loves typewriters too, just in another format. He is a struggling artist, but putting his work online has helped -- someone who bought his deer sculpture actually works in Silicon Valley.

Artist Jeremy Mayer takes apart typewriters to make sculptures
There are also those who turn to typewriters because they want to unplug themselves from the computer and go analog, much like people preferring vinyl over iTunes, or they definitely feel compelled to get away from computers, feeling they are taking control of their lives.

Each of the perspectives are interesting, but some of the interviews could have been a bit shorter, and more infuriating is the lack of subtitles to identify the interviewees. Nevertheless, California Typewriter is much like a love letter to the machine. Perhaps it will inspire others to rethink their lives and actually invest in a typewriter. Wouldn't that make the shop owner Herb fulfill his dream?

California Typewriter (2016)
Written, shot and directed by Doug Nichol
Starring Tom Hanks, Sam Shepard, David McCullough, Jeremy Mayer, John Mayer

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Picture of the Day: Ghiradelli Hot Fudge Sundae

The Ghiradelli hot fudge sundae takes teamwork to polish off
Ghiradelli is the famous confectionary that was started in San Francisco in 1849 by Domenico Ghiradelli.

While the chocolates themselves are a sweet souvenir from the West Coast city, digging into a Ghiradelli sundae is an experience, much like Beard Papa cream puffs (we tried of of these too).

We found ourselves in the food court in the basement of Nordstrom in downtown San Francisco and my cousin suggested a dessert -- Ghiradelli classic hot fudge sundae.

Originally she was going to buy one for each of us, but I managed to persuade her to just get one for five of us to share.

It came in a large plastic cup, filled with vanilla ice cream, that were smothered in a hot fudge sauce. The dessert was then topped with whipped cream, Marashino cherry, and chopped almonds. WHOA.

At first we were unsure what to think of this cup of sweetness, but once we dipped our spoons in there and tried it, the sundae was so good! Wish there were a bit more chopped almonds though.

Nevertheless, with teamwork, we managed to devour the sundae, resulting in each of us gaining several hundred calories that we had to promptly work off...

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Sichuan Earthquake 10 Years On

Many buildings collapsed during the magnitude 8 earthquake in 2008
Today is the 10th anniversary of the Sichuan earthquake that killed at least 87,000 and injured 370,000

I distinctly remember that day. I was in Beijing working in the office on the sixth floor of a low-rise building and at 2.28pm, I suddenly felt woozy, like I had drank something strong and was feeling the effects in my head.

Except I wasn't getting drunk, but feeling the powerful reverberations of the earthquake that was magnitude 8 on the Richter scale, the epicenter in Wenchuan county, in Sichuan province.

A memorial clock perpetually stops at 2.28pm
The following days and nights were constant updates of the horrific scenes of utter devastation, with many buildings leveled to the ground. It was discovered 7,444 schools were destroyed in the quake, while other buildings nearby were still standing.

Many of the dead were children (over 5,400), which led many grieving parents to ask about the construction of these institutions -- to them they seemed like "tofu schools", buildings that were shoddily built.

Premier at the time Wen Jiabao promised to launch an investigation to find out the truth, but 10 years on parents are still waiting. They are angry and disappointed not much has been revealed, let alone not much compensation, which probably makes them feel there's some kind of cover up.

Ai Weiwei began his activism with the Sichuan earthquake
The tragedy also sparked citizen reporting -- as many victims were not named at first, some people like Tang Zuoren and artist Ai Weiwei created their own activism with an army of volunteers by trying to find out all the names of those who died.

At first a large number of names were missing, but thanks to the efforts of volunteer       activists, as many people they could find were accounted for. I remember years later seeing a piece of work where Ai set up a small room and inside the walls were covered with computer-generated charts of the student's name, age, and sex.

It was a stark and factual reminder of a tragedy.

This marked the beginning of Ai's activism in China, that later led him to have a brain hemorrhage thanks to Chinese police beating his head because Ai dared to try to find the truth.

Shoes still lying around 10 years later.
Also this was the last time that reporters in China could go outside their city, county, province to report on a major story. Perhaps because there were so many negatives -- the roads were blocked and hard to get heavy equipment there, the chances of finding people alive were less apparent with each passing day.

As a result, since then, when tragedies occur, all domestic media outlets must use official state media, particularly Xinhua stories. No one can do independent reporting anymore.

Meanwhile the government quickly turned this into a national tragedy for propaganda -- with official days of mourning, and there was so much money donated. Did it really go to the victims? We don't know.

The government can't stop people from remembering this incident, But what happens from now on? Will the authorities finally tell the truth of what happened to the people who seemed to have died unnecessarily? What comfort can leaders give them?