Saturday, 30 June 2018

Who is the Prick Leaving Needles on Buses?

Who is leaving needles like this on bus seats in Hong Kong?
The ongoing news reports of passengers finding needles on bus seats is terrifying to say the least.

So far five needles have been found in the last four days, with no rhyme or reason, except they have all been found on buses run by KMB or Kowloon Motor Bus.

It seems only KMB buses have had these needles so far...
Four people have been injured from sitting on the needles, but thankfully so far the needles haven't been laced with anything nefarious. It's just frightening to think that one could possibly be sitting on a needle.

More importantly who has been doing this crazy act and why?

While KMB has asked staff to check seats before they leave the bus terminus, the company has also asked passengers to be extra vigilant and report any suspicious activity.

What's strange is that KMB claims its buses have video surveillance but has yet to release the footage or comment on it. Are the buses really recording what's going on?

More questions than answers...

Friday, 29 June 2018

Picture of the Day: Public Pay Phones

Three pay phones at City Hall Concert Hall... who uses them nowadays?
Does anyone use these anymore?

I spied not one but three payphones while waiting in line for the washroom at City Hall Concert Hall last weekend. A 2016 news report says there are about 3,000 left around town.

With everyone having on average two mobile phones, who uses these coin-operated phones anymore?

OK so maybe you need the phone and have the coins, but do you remember the phone number you need to call? I don't.

In any event Hong Kong still has a "reasonable number" of public payphones as required by the Telecommunications Ordinance, as public payphones are considered a "basic service" under the universal service obligation, which "should be made available to all persons in Hong Kong".

However, the Ordinance doesn't specify what the minimum amount is.

Is 3,000 too many or too few? It's anyone's guess...

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Celebrating the Canadian Way

Canadian Consul Jeff Nankivell says Canada is more welcoming than the US
This evening the Canadian Consulate hosted a Canada Day cocktail at the JW Marriott for Canadians to celebrate the 151st birthday of the country.

A Canadian singer performed both O Canada and The March of the Volunteers, the former in English and French, the latter in Mandarin. Hong Kong Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung was impressed by her "impeccable Putonghua".

Cheung Kong's Victor Li (fifth from left) cutting the cake
He was also impressed by Canadian Consul-General Jeff Nankivell's trilingual skills of English, French and Cantonese. He also speaks Mandarin, but tonight wasn't the right audience for it.

Nankivell gave an energetic speech off the bat, saying how Canada was a safe place to visit, how it was a welcoming country and was eager to do business with others in an indirect jab at the United States.

He continued about how it was a good place for education, and how it welcomes investment and listed the many trade agreements it has with other countries. He joked about how Canada hoped the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP would stay in place, as American President Donald Trump has threatened to abandon it.

At the end he said how Canadian food and drink were delicious -- mei sik, mei yum, ho mei. Do jie! 美吃, 美喝, 好妹。谢谢!

Inviting guests to try out their hockey skills
Cheung repeated Nankivell's mantra and added how his Cantonese was ho jeng. 好正!

Actually Cheung's spoken English is excellent. He observed of the many other national day ceremonies he had attended, never had he witnessed one that was so lively, as Nankivell even put a funny hat at one point, eliciting laughs from the audience in the ballroom.

Later on a large cake was rolled out, and the sponsors of the evening were invited to come on stage to assist. The biggest one was Cheung Kong Group, which meant Victor Li Tzar-kuoi was invited on stage, along with representatives from The Royal Bank of Canada, Bank of Montreal, Sun Wah Group and Delia School of Canada.

The other major announcement was that in September, there will be an exhibition game between the Boston Bruins and the Calgary Flames in Shenzhen in an effort to promote ice hockey in China. About time the NHL tried to shoot and score in the Middle Kingdom...

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Beware the Robocall

Avoid robocalls in Mandarin that are scams to get your money
Up until recently there was a spate of victims who were scammed by robocalls in Hong Kong. When the phone rang and you picked it up, you would hear a click and then a prerecorded message in Mandarin.

It basically said the person had a package that had to be picked up at the post office and to press a number on the dial pad to speak to a live person. It would end up being someone acting like the authorities, saying the person had broken the law because their package contained illegal items or there were insufficient funds and money needed to be transferred.

Some people were duped into giving thousands, even millions of Hong Kong dollars. For the most part residents here have wised-up and we haven't heard of more scams, except for ones involving lonely hearts. But that's another issue.

The aforementioned robocalls have now invaded the United States, Canada and Australia, targeting new immigrants from China. However, the robocalls have affected anyone with a mobile number, which is virtually anyone.

This time the prerecorded message says the person has a package at the Chinese consulate that has been there for several days and needs to be picked up, and that they should press "1" to talk to a staff member about it.

If they do press "1" they talk to a live person who claims they need their identification information and credit card numbers to verify them, which inevitably leads to money being taken.

If you do receive these calls, hang up immediately, and even better, block them on your phone.

The authorities really need to stop these robocalls. Not only are they a nuisance but they are doing something criminal.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Hong Kong Shocked by Shooting

The 44-year-old suspect being led away by police in Quarry Bay
Hong Kong got a big shock this afternoon when a woman shot four seniors in Quarry Bay Park on the east side of Hong Kong Island.

One woman died after being shot in the head, one man is in a coma from a shot in the back of his head, and the other two sustained minor injuries after being shot in the shoulder and hand.

It turns out all five people were related -- the seniors, ranging in ages from 60 to 80, were aunts and uncles to the assailant, a 44-year-old security guard.

Police search for spent cartridges in the park
She arranged to meet them in the park to settle a dispute over her grandmother's inheritance, the oldest of the siblings, who had passed away.

However, when the meeting broke up with no agreement, the seniors were getting ready to leave and that's when the woman pulled out a semi-automatic Beretta 950 handgun and shot the four people at close range before calmly walking away.

Officers from the Counter Terrorism Response Unit were on patrol nearby and rushed over to the scene and arrested the woman, who was still carrying the gun and 40 rounds of ammunition.

It is believed she fired four shots.

According to the chief inspector, the suspect was calm when arrested and did not have mental issues, but he didn't say if she had a criminal record.

The handgun was found on the suspect when she was arrested
While police have stated this is not a "random shooting", it still has shocked people in Hong Kong. Shootings are very rare and if they occur they happen around robberies.

There will be questions in the coming days of this woman's access to a weapon and 40 rounds of ammunition which seems like a lot. Hopefully this is an isolated incident. Hong Kong is considered a very safe place and this shooting has jolted many of us into wondering what is going on.

This case will eventually wind its way through the justice system and we will find out why this tragic incident happened. We already have a good idea -- it's money-related...

Monday, 25 June 2018

Procrastination at its Finest

The government still can't decide what to do with areas near the waterfront
For years there have been talks about what to do with Hong Kong's harbourfront, particularly on the Hong Kong Island side. The Harbourfront Commission was established in 2010 and essentially advises the government on what to do with the land that lines Victoria Harbour.

It was previously called the Harbour-front Enhancement Committee.

The group had already spent six years studying how best the government could develop the 73km waterfront, and suggested a statutory authority needed to be set up to centralize responsibilities for related matters.

There were big hopes that when Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor became Chief Executive, she would be more active in moving forward with the commission's recommendations.

Harbourfront Commission chairman Nicholas Brooke
However, last October she did a complete U-turn and said she did not intend to set up the HK$10 billion harbourfront authority.

The most recent news is that members of the Harbourfront Commission were flabbergasted when Rosalind Cheung Man-yee, the Development Bureau's principal assistant secretary for the harbour, proposed a plan to use some of the HK$500 million fund earmarked for harbourfront enhancement to conduct a two-year study exploring various management models, such as cooperating with district-based non-governmental groups and private companies, using overseas examples.

Commission member Vincent Ng Wing-shun, a leading architect was "confused" as to what the study would achieve. He said back in 2008 the commission set up a task force that spent three years looking at suitable models and referenced overseas examples from visiting such places as Sydney, Singapore, Liverpool, London, Vancouver and San Francisco.

"We had been studying it for six years but the government ended up discarding our suggestion," Ng said. "If we now study again... I don't know what exactly we want to achieve in the end. I put a very big question mark on that."

Residents are waiting to enjoy the harbourfront
The commission's chairman, Nicholas Brooke, urged the government to review the plan.

"I sense it's going to be difficult for this commission to endorse this study, if they believe for the right way forward is the harbourfront authority," he said. "How can we support something which we don't think is necessarily the right answer?"

Did Cheung think the commission would readily accept yet another study and allow officials to go travel around -- at taxpayers' expense -- and then write yet another report that would not be heeded?

What we don't understand is what all this foot-dragging is about. Surely developing the harbourfront is in the best interests of the city -- particularly for tourism? The other benefit is more public space for residents to enjoy. Surely they are entitled to access to the harbourfront so that it's not just office buildings and hotels that get the prime spots?

Or is it because Beijing may want control of the harbourfront -- perhaps for security reasons -- and so the government is dragging things on as long as it can so that people will hopefully forget about it?

It's very strange for the government not to move on something as important as this when tourism is considered one of its four economic pillars. This would also be a make-work project, employing construction workers and later establishing businesses along the harbourfront.

Sounds like there's now a stalemate between the commission and government officials, with the latter winning this round...

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Is the MTR Caring for Life's Journeys?

Can we trust the MTR is making our journey on the train safe?
Can the reputation of the MTR get any worse?

Actually yes.

It has now been revealed that not 25 bars, but 5,000 of them were cut short to make them look like they were screwed into couplers on the platform for the new Sha Tin to Central rail line. Five thousand bars means about 20 percent of the total amount. But who knows -- maybe the figure could grow higher.

Lawmaker and former railway chief Michael Tien Puk-sun revealed this today on a radio show, saying anonymous sources had given him this information and he believed it was pretty much true.

Tien says as many as 5,000 bars were cut short
"The latest news I've got made me feel very uncomfortable. Someone, whom I think is very reliable, said although Leighton Contractors (Asia) was requested to fix the problems, there is no evidence of how many issues they have solved in the end," Tien said, a former chairman of rail operator KCRC before it merged with the MTR Corp in 2007.

"Recently I heard as many as 20 percent of the steel bars... were cut short."

Tien continued to say: "There may not be any problem if we conducted stress tests today, but I am worried that issues will emerge in five to 10 years, and then service on the whole railway will have to stop."

To fix the problem, he said, at least five walls at the station would have to be partially demolished for thorough inspections. If a large number of steel bars were found to be defective, more work would be required to strengthen the structure.

How many other stations are affected by these shortened bars?
That would basically make the already expensive project worth HK$97.1 billion (US$12.4 billion) even more dear. But how can you skimp on safety? If the MTR wants to right a wrong, it really needs to tear apart those walls and possibly reinstall those bars to ensure it is done correctly.

How else can you assure the millions of passengers that depend on the service everyday?

While a spokesman for the MTR Corp did not confirm the numbers Tien gave, he said a report was submitted to the government to confirm that Leighton had completed the project according to the contract and relevant legal requirements.

The report has various information obtained from the contractors and the MTR Corp would leave it to the government-appointed commission of inquiry to follow up on the matter, the spokesman said.

This seems like a tacit way of not admitting fault...

Can we really trust the MTR with all of its lines now? With the revelation on Friday that pillars supporting the viaducts at the Yuen Long station on the West Rail Line had started to show signs of sinking since 2012 but that it was not endangering the public.

How come we are learning about this now?

The MTR's tag line "Caring for life's journeys" is ringing hollow these days. It really doesn't seem to care about what is going on with its construction or maintenance of its lines.

The commission of inquiry should shed some light on this serious issue and hopefully people will be forced to testify. We the taxpayers and public who use the MTR everyday deserve to know the truth.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Ahead of Tax Announcement, Unsold Flats are Unloaded

Unsold flats that would have been hoarded longer went on the market today
The Hong Kong government is planning to introduce a vacancy tax on developers who hoard flats that are completed but not yet on the market. Usually the developer releases batches of flats in phases to see what the market sentiment is, and typically the prices of successive batches can be as much as 20 percent higher for basically the same flat.

Lam looking forward to tax announcement on unsold flats
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor plans to announce this vacancy tax at the end of this month as a way to tame rising housing prices. Developers would be financially penalized for hoarding completed flats. But while they say they are unhappy with this impending announcement, they still made hoards of money today selling off leftover stock.

Of the 176 units for sale across the city, 119 were snapped up, including 107 parking spots and 24 motorcycle spots in Tseung Kwan O.

These were not sold at fire sale prices -- the developers just didn't make more money out of them like they would have before.

Even parking spaces were snapped up earlier today
Developers are probably already trying to figure out ways of completing flats in batches, and slowing down how fast they are built, though that could cut into their labour costs.

The other issue is land hoarding. Developers have large land banks and have been sitting on empty or undeveloped tracts of land waiting for the property value to go up. And then there's the homes for "indigenous" residents in the New Territories...

There is also talk of sacrificing the Fanling Golf Course to turn into housing. Surely there are other innovative ways to create more space for people to live in? We've said all along there are many brown sites that should be redeveloped. Why are they being left unused?

We appreciate Lam's initiative with the vacancy tax, but there needs to be a multi-pronged approach to tackle the issue in a more effective way.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Good Sax!

Paris-based Habanera Saxophone Quartet has been around since 1993
YTSL suggested we get tickets for a concert we saw tonight, featuring the Habanera Saxophone Quartet from Paris. They along with the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong performed at City Hall Concert Hall and it was packed with audience members ranging from children to seniors.

City Chamber Orchestra finished its season tonight
The concert was part of Le French May, originally a month to celebrate the culture of France for a month, but it has since stretched to two. This was the last event for Le French May, and the last concert of the season for the local orchestra.

To warm up the audience, the chamber orchestra led by guest conductor Vahan Mardirossian, performed Three Pieces for Chamber Orchestra by Astor Piazzolla. The orchestra was accompanied by pianist Julie Kuok, whose instrument was placed behind the players instead of in front.

We found the first movement slow, but things jazzed up with the second and third movements.

Next came Habanera, and together with the orchestra they performed Ferrer Ferran's Saxiland for Saxophone Quartet and Strings. It's not often you see four saxophonists playing together and with such a range, from soprano to tenor, alto and baritone saxophones!

The musicians were led by Armenian Vahan Mardirossian
During the intermission we bumped into YTSL's friend who once studied music composition and remarked the piece was either meant to punish the saxophone players or they were demanding something more difficult. Either way it was impressive.

After the 15-minute break we reconvened to hear Four Preludes for Saxophone Quartet, Strings and Percussion by Fazil Say. It was quite an abstract piece for the most part, with lots of drumming, even the bongos! But at times the saxophones made interesting sounds that were as if they were plucked like a string instrument. How did they do that?

The audience was thrilled by their performance, and they performed three encores. This is our favourite one -- Tango Virtuoso.

Have you ever seen a quartet of saxophones not only play well together but have a choreographed act too?!

Featuring Habanera Saxophone Quartet
With the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong
Guest conductor Vahan Mardirsossian
Pianist Julie Kuok
City Hall Concert Hall

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Where to Start July 1 March?

Last year's July 1 march had a colourful and healthy turnout
The annual July 1 march is weeks away and organizers still haven't secured a spot where protestors can gather before it starts.

It turns out a pro-Beijing association has taken over the usual spot, Victoria Park, with a three-day cultural event featuring lion and dragon dances to mark the 21st anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong to China.

For the second year in a row, the Hong Kong Celebrations Association, an umbrella group of 40 pro-Beijing societies, has been given priority to use all six of the park's pitches over the annual march that draws tens of thousands of people.

Will Victoria Park look like this instead with many lions?
Civil Human Rights Front deputy convenor Au Nok-hin said the Leisure and Cultural Services Department had been "unfair" in processing applications to use the park's football pitches on July 1.

"With the participation of political parties, it has become a political event, not a charity event," Au said.

Meanwhile the pro-Beijing association chairman Cheng Yiu-tong said it was necessary for the three-day event to have all six pitches. "We need such a large venue... Even if we were willing to share the six pitches [with the front], the police would not agree to it."

Really? Six pitches are needed for three days of lion and dragon dancing? Surely there are other ways to celebrate July 1? Oh wait -- there is also an exhibition on the "Greater Bay Area" plan -- a social and economic integration of Hong Kong with Macau and nine mainland cities.

Encountering pro-Beijing protestors along the way
Another way to remind us that we're a part of China and that Hong Kong is just another Chinese city...

In the meantime the front organizers are struggling to secure a meeting spot for its march. While it has applied for the march to begin at either East Point Road or Great George Street, the police would rather the march started on the park's central lawn.

Aren't we back at the beginning again? None of this would be a problem if the LCSD just approved the march to start at Victoria Park on July 1 and then allow the pro-Beijing group to have its festival on July 2. Monday is a holiday anyway...

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

MTR Cutting Corners, Losing Credibility

Construction at one of the stations along the Central-Sha Tin link
An ambitious transportation project for the MTR is the Sha Tin to Central link. It promised to get commuters between the two destinations within 30 minutes. When the project was announced, housing prices in Sha Tin immediately went up.

However, it has now been revealed the MTR hasn't been watching its contractor, Leighton Contractors (Asia) carefully because the builder hasn't been following the plans property and then shoddily fixing them, making everyone wary of even wanting to use this transport link when it's finished.

Who will trust the safety of this line?
It's not a cheap infrastructure project at HK$97 billion, and yet it seems like corners were cut. Leaked photographs showed workers cutting steel bars so that it looked like they were screwed correctly into platform couplers.

It was reported last month there were five instances between August and December 2015 where more than 25 steel bars were cut short. They were unable to screw them in properly because of shoddy construction work and also some areas were filled with concrete making it impossible to screw in the steel bars properly.

A sub-contractor, Fang Sheung refused to cut the steel bars so Leighton apparently hired workers to do this job.

Lawmaker and rail expert Michael Tien Puk-sun called on the government to dismantle the five concrete panels on the platform and check the steel bars, even though the MTR claimed the problem had already been fixed.

"I suspect the platform is still riddled with faulty steel bars. The best way is to remove a portion of the concrete at the platform for sample inspection. If some steel bars are still found to be faulty, I demand the government remove the remaining 27 panels and conduct checks on the remaining steel bars," he said.

He added that under law the MTR must conduct checks on 20 percent of the couplers, or 5,200 in this project.

"If the MTR really did inspect all 5,200 couplers, its staff needed to sign papers to certify it. It needs to deliver proof that it fulfilled its job in its report," he said.

To Kwa Wan station seems to be unsafe with its wall
The report was not handed in on time last Friday and instead this past Tuesday, and the government even defended the MTR, saying it was because Monday was a public holiday.

Excuse me? This is the lamest excuse on something so serious that it affects millions of passengers' safety everyday. Surely one would want to make sure there was nothing wrong with the steel bars.

And then it was found there was a problem with a wall at the To Kwa Wan station. A wall on the platform station was found to have its reinforcement bars removed and "shaved thin". Apparently this was done because when it was being constructed, workers deviated from the original design.

While the MTR admitted the wall had deviated from the design, the company claimed there were no "safety risks".

For now construction has stopped at the convention centre station in Wan Chai which is being excavated. Tien believes there was more shoddy work there, which is why work has been suspended.

It's shocking that the MTR is not closely watching its contractor doing work -- it's just like any renovation job -- you need to monitor workers carefully to see if they're doing the job to your specifications.

In this case the contractors are not, and they even tried to cover it up. This is not a door that was installed the wrong way or the wrong paint was used on the walls. This is about serious errors that could affect the safety of millions of passengers everyday.

Surely that's enough to warrant stopping the project and seeing what's going on?

But also the MTR is not looking out for our best interests -- the MTR is government owned so we taxpayers have a stake -- and instead it doesn't seem to care about safety at all.

We understand the desire to rush the project along, but this is about safety.

Now no one wants to take this train at all. They have lost faith in the project and the MTR. However we don't have any other viable means of transport to compete with the MTR so we're stuck with it, but that doesn't give it an excuse to have contractors that are doing shoddy work.

The pride of Hong Kong is fast becoming the shame of the city. No one is doing any reputation management of the MTR, or if they are, they are doing a crap job at it. It makes you wonder if the other MTR lines are safe...

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Liu Xiaobo's Likeness in Hong Kong

Earlier a bust of Liu Xiaobo was on display at the Times Square mall
A few days before the 29th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in June 4, there was a makeshift booth set up on the edge of the Times Square shopping mall in Causeway Bay and it featured the bust of the late Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.

The group of activists who were manning the booth received notices from the mall, which is owned by Wharf Holdings, saying they did not get permission from the mall to have a stand and if they didn't leave they would be sued for illegally using the space and using loudspeakers to disseminate political ideas and solicit donations.

Times Square threatened legal action against the activists
At first they came to a temporary agreement, and the group even unveiled a 1.5 metre high statue of Liu sitting in a chair and smoking a cigarette last Tuesday. However, the mall issued another letter saying it was seeking an injunction order if they refused to leave.

So earlier this afternoon, the group avoided legal action by putting Liu's statue on a set of wheels and slowly moved him to Paterson Street, also in Causeway Bay to a nearby mall called Fashion Walk. The activists are hoping to display the statue until July 13, the first anniversary of Liu's death.

We'll have to see if the statue remains at the second mall without too much trouble. The activists were hoping to stay in Times Square because so many people pass through the area everyday, thus increasing awareness for Liu manifold.

Activists moved the statue to nearby Fashion Walk
It was the perfect place for mainlanders to know more about who he was and what happened to him, but the mall's owner would rather they not get into politics and come into the complex to shop.

So Liu now has a new home... how long will he get to stay there?

Monday, 18 June 2018

Review: The Quest of Alain Ducasse

Ducasse in the farm that grows vegetables for Plaza-Athenee in Paris
Yesterday I happened to see that the documentary, The Quest of Alain Ducasse was showing tonight and decided I had to go see it.

The French chef with 21 Michelin stars under his belt was just in the vicinity last week with the opening of his two restaurants in Morpheus, the latest over-the-top hotel to open in Macau.

So I wanted to know what made the 61-year-old man tick -- and although the film shows scenes of the French chef tasting numerous delicious-looking dishes from Paris to London, to Kyoto and Hong Kong, we don't really know much about Ducasse himself.

There are hardly any biographical details about him, how he was born in 1956 in Orthez, in southwestern France and that it was his grandmother's cooking -- the smells that wafted up into his room -- that got him interested in the kitchen.

Ducasse revolutionized French cuisine, doing away with heavy creams and butter and opting instead for light, rustic cooking that showcases the freshness of the ingredients. He's also gone a step further in making his Parisian restaurant Plaza-Athenee feature vegetables and seafood but no meat.

It is clear he is passionate about what he does -- he insists on servers pouring Champagne in front of guests and will personally rearrange the furniture too. He only has praise for his army of chefs around the world -- there are only minor details to be worked out in their new menu items. The dishes for him are practically perfect. Or is he saying this in front of the camera?

He looks over the Hong Kong skyline at the then Spoon
What was completely glossed over in the documentary was a plane crash he survived in 1984. He and four colleagues were flying in a small plane from St Tropez to Courcheval in the French alps when the weather turned bad. They could have opted to land in Lyon, but they decided to press on when through the clouds they suddenly saw a mountain in front of them and it was too late to divert.

He was thrown out of the cockpit into the trees, the only survivor of the crash, though he lost a lot of blood. It took him months to get over the trauma but it also made him look at life succinctly.

"It helped me to realize what is important and what is not," he has said in an interview. "It taught me to step back from the kitchen, and open my eyes to the vastness of the world."

And so The Quest of Alain Ducasse is a non-stop travelogue of him flying all over the place, constantly in search of new flavours, new ingredients, encouraging his staff and checking out possible business ventures (Mongolia, anyone?). He has even started a culinary school in Manila where some street kids are taken in and trained to become cooks, sponsored by the man himself. He is moved listening to the young women thank him for giving them an opportunity to earn money for their families.

Handing certificates to cooks at his culinary school in Manila
When he visits China, he takes several of his staff to see a sturgeon farm for caviar two hours outside of Shanghai. There's a giant fish farm, rearing sturgeon that are very large. One of the most jaw-dropping scenes is watching a giant sturgeon sliced open, revealing millions of black caviar pearls.

Ducasse has been advocating Chinese caviar for years and only uses them in his restaurants. In the tasting room they use mother of pearl spoons to scoop out large dollops and everyone marvels at how sublime they taste.

There are no scenes about his private life, only to note that he has four children, three of whom are young children.

After watching the film I wasn't hungry, which was disappointing, but also how little I have accomplished next to this man who has how many restaurants around the world?

But it's his relentless passion for food, curiosity about new things that make me realize that this is what keeps him going everyday. The old adage "Do what you love" definitely applies here and Ducasse is an excellent example.

The Quest of Alain Ducasse
Directed by Gilles de Maistre
84 Minutes

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Canada Goose Takes Flight in HK

For mainlanders this is the must-have winter jacket these days
Hermes, Chanel, Gucci and now Canada Goose.

The Canadian down jackets are a must-have for mainland Chinese shoppers, and while they have been flying off the racks in luxury department store Holt Renfrew, the US$900 jackets will soon be available in Hong Kong.

This past Christmas when I was in Vancouver, mainlanders descended on racks of Canada Goose jackets at Holt Renfrew, trying them on and snapping them up. I've heard stories of them calling up their friends in China and asking them what size and colour they want, and buying 10 to 12 at a time.

The Chinese are snapping up the jacket in Canada stores
How do they even pack them all into their suitcases?

The latest news is that a sign in Chinese in a Toronto store states shoppers can only buy two jackets per day, probably due to complaints from local residents unable to get their hands on the prized jackets.

Dani Reiss, president and chief executive of Canada Goose knows he's onto a hot product and is eager to expand to Asia.

"A lot of people from the mainland often go to Hong Kong to buy products. That's one of the reasons why it makes sense for us to have a store in Hong Kong," Reiss said. "Even though it's a warm-weather climate, [where the temperature] almost never goes under zero."

Dani Reiss plans to open stores in Hong Kong and Beijing
The Toronto-based company will have two flagship stores, one in Hong Kong, the other in Beijing, and an e-commerce presence on Alibaba's Tmall, and set up an office in Shanghai.

The Hong Kong store will be in IFC mall and is expected to open in the fall. An interesting fact is Reiss is the third generation to run the company that was started by his Polish immigrant grandfather in 1957.

There should be no problem in selling Canada Goose in Hong Kong -- it's subtle in its look, very functional and it's a status symbol to wear. What more do you want in this day and age when Chinese luxury spending has to be a bit more discreet these days?

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Fact of the Day: Star Ferry Names

The Star Ferry is a relaxing way to cross the harbour -- and cheap too
The word "iconic" is overused a lot these days, but when it comes to the Star Ferry in Hong Kong, it really is iconic.

It has been an integral part of Victoria Harbour for 120 years, ferrying people from Tsim Sha Tsui to either Central or Wan Chai and back, and it's still the cheapest form of transport in the city.

The ferry service started back in 1888 when Parsee merchant Dorabjee Naorojee Mithaiwala founded the Kowloon Ferry Company. Ten years later British businessman Sir Catchick Paul Chater bought the fleet of four ferries under the Star Ferry Company.

But did you know the original meaning of their names, Morning Star, Evening Star, Rising Star and Guiding Star?

They were all inspired by British poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, whose poem, Crossing the Bar has the opening line: "Sunset and evening star, and one clear call for me!"

Friday, 15 June 2018

West Kowloon Rail Checkpoint is a Slippery Slope

The West Kowloon Rail station will be ready by the third quarter this year
After numerous discussions, debates and filibusters, the controversial border check point at the new West Kowloon rail terminal was passed last night at the Legislative Council. The so-called co-location bill went through following a 40-20 vote.

This means mainland Chinese immigration officials will have the authority to assert mainland laws on a part of Hong Kong soil.

While some believe this is the best way to solve the problem of having border checks in one location, this is technically a violation of the Basic Law according to lawyers at the Hong Kong Bar Association.

Debates about the issue were overturned by pro-establishment
That's because the Basic Law states no mainland law shall apply in Hong Kong except those relating to defence, foreign affairs and "other matters outside the limits" of the city's autonomy.

Any exceptions must be listed in Annexe III of the Basic Law before they can be applied.

However, the National People's Congress Standing Committee ignored this important procedure and endorsed the legal foundation for the checkpoint plan late last year, which resulted in pan-democratic Hong Kong lawmakers opposing the bill.

More than 70 amendments were submitted to Legco in a bid to delay Thursday's vote.

To counter the filibustering by the pan-democrats, Legco President Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen capped debate time for the bill at 36 hours to ensure it would be passed before the legislature's summer break in mid-July. He also only allowed 24 of the amendments to be debated.

Legco President Andrew Leung limited debate on the issue
Now that this major hurdle has been cleared, the station can be completed and apparently will be in operation by the third quarter this year.

Civic Party lawmaker Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu said the vote had opened a Pandora's box to further unconstitutional arrangements being imposed on Hong Kong.

"Its passage comes not only at the cost of our core value of the rule of law, but it also shows people the legislature is only a rubber stamp," said unionist lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung.

This was a contentious issue because it is about a lack of trust of China and what it will do next. It really does signal the start of a slippery slope that none of us knows will go next... except maybe Beijing.

We can only continue to safeguard whatever rights and freedoms we have left...

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Impossible Chilli Cheese Fries

Looks yum, right? The "ground meat" is plant protein by Impossible Foods
My colleagues and I were in Central around lunchtime and following our appointment we had a late lunch at Beef and Liberty in Lan Kwai Fong.

On the menu were the usual burgers, along with one vegetarian featuring a patty made from beetroot, brown rice and kidney beans. There was also the Impossible Thai burger -- using a plant-based protein made to look like beef.

Three of the four of us had beef burgers, while one went vegetarian and had not only the beetroot burger, but also the Impossible chilli cheese fries. It features the "meat" broken up and combined with kidney beans, Cheddar cheese, spring onions and sour cream.

If you were given two plates of this dish, one featuring real beef and the other the Impossible beef, it would be very hard to identify which was which, not only in terms of appearance but also taste.

When it's mixed in a flavourful sauce (and melted Cheddar helps too!) then the Impossible chilli cheese fries were just as good as real ground beef. But why eat meat if you don't have to or want to?

Price-wise the real beef and Impossible version are the same price at HK$62. It's really a no brainer.

More and more hotels and restaurants in Hong Kong are embracing not only Impossible Foods' products, but also Beyond Meat, another "beef" protein substitute, and also Omnipork, that is supposed to mimic minced pork that can be steamed, stir-fried, deep-fried and wrapped in dumplings.

It's great to see these establishments trying out these new products -- apparently people in Hong Kong eat more than three times the daily recommended amount of meat, the equivalent of two 10oz steaks per person.

This is hardly unsustainable nor healthy. With alternative "meat" products on the market, we really need to try them out and even if it's one day a week or even one meal per day, it's better than nothing.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Picture of the Day: XX Shades of Grey

It's not a black and white picture -- it just turned out that way!
This morning I woke up and saw this picture outside.

The Hong Kong Observatory issued a thunderstorm warning with a few intermittent showers. Luckily by the time I left for work it wasn't raining because by lunchtime it was pouring down. Later there was an amber rainstorm warning that wasn't cancelled until 6.15pm.

What's neat about this picture is that I didn't use a black and white filter -- it was just several shades ranging from white to black.

The next few days will continue to have showers and thunderstorms.... and it's only the beginning of summer.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Farce and Follies in Singapore

Perhaps Trump is saying: Smile! The entire world is watching us!
Today was the big day -- two unpredictable leaders meeting in Singapore, talking about the serious issue of nuclear weapons.

In the end it looked like the perfect photo opportunity for both North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump. They met, shook hands, smiled at the cameras and then retreated to supposedly thrash out a deal.

The two leaders sign a very vague agreement
They unexpectedly signed an agreement where Trump "committed to provide security guarantees" to North Korea, and Kim "reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula."

The agreement has no specific timeline or what exact steps Kim needs to take to prove that he is dismantling nuclear weapons in his country or having inspectors checking for accountability.

Trump even said during a news conference that the naval drills the US and South Korea conducted would be suspended because they were "provocative" -- probably to the horror of South Korea and Japan. Were they even consulted on what Trump would say?

The event was almost as entertaining as their impersonators
And of course these exercises are supposed to be "provocative" to keep North Korea in line, but now Trump is using the same vocabulary as the Pyongyang. What side are you on, Trump?

While Kim retired to his lavish room in the St Regis Singapore that the Singaporean government said would pay for, Trump had a ball taking reporters' questions for over an hour.

Some fantastic quotes:

"I don't want to go against the press. Today is too important."

"He's a very talented man," Trump says of Kim. "I also learned he loved his country very much."

[If Trump is wrong about trusting Kim Jong-un?] "I may be wrong, I mean I may stand before you in six months and say, 'Hey, I was wrong. I don't know that I'll ever admit that but I'll find some kind of excuse."

Maybe Trump should reread his book
While commentators are optimistic that the two leaders have moved away from bellicose statements and now talk of a new relationship between the US and DPRK, the threats were started by Trump himself and now he has deescalated them. Why is he being praised for that?

Without having to promise any specifics, Kim definitely won this round.

Perhaps Trump needs to re-read his book, The Art of the Deal, because he was hoodwinked by Kim who hardly did anything for this summit except show up.

Monday, 11 June 2018

More Hongkongers Fleeing for Canada

The political and economic situation in Hong Kong is making people leave
Is Canada ready for a second influx of Hongkongers?

The first happened in the 1980s with fears of 1997 looming, but now with high living costs, the reality that China is not retaining the "one country, two systems" promise, and the Hong Kong government doing Beijing's bidding rather than its local residents', many Hong Kong people are looking for the exits, particularly Canada.

There is a 30 percent increase in applications to emigrate to Canada, as official figures show 1,561 people applied for permanent residency there. Currently there is an estimated 300,000 people in Hong Kong who hold Canadian passports.

The 2014 Occupy protests led to more people emigrating
If they leave en masse, it could mean a severe brain drain in Hong Kong, as most of them are from well-educated and middle class families.

The Canadian government has seen 1,206 Hongkongers applying for residency in 2016, 1,092 in 2015, 1,481 in 2014 (the year of the Occupy protests), 977 in 2013, and 963 in 2012.

Hong Kong parents are sending their children to Canada to study even if they don't have Canadian passports.

Last year a record 1,270 Hongkongers were admitted as permanent Canadian residents, the biggest influx since 1997. That contrasts with 630 in 2016.

David Ley, professor emeritus of geography at the University of British Columbia says there was a "clear demoralization" about the future when he interviewed educated Hongkongers.

Geography professor David Ley of UBC
"Largely it was to do with fears of decreasing freedoms and declining human rights. A few were encouraging their children to leave and wanting to leave themselves. I think [having Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor as the city's leader] is a symptom, not the cause," he said.

"Of course, for young people, there is also the impossible burden of the housing market. That has also led to some out-migration of young adults from Vancouver, another high-priced market."

Hongkongers will find real estate in Vancouver slightly cheaper than Hong Kong, but what will they do for jobs? A few months ago a friend told me that her friend, a senior HR manager, is ready to emigrate to Calgary, where her husband is from. She is even prepared to work as a cashier in a supermarket just so that her kid can go to school there. 

My friend also wants to leave Hong Kong, feeling the political climate is not promising, but she doesn't have the means to emigrate. 

How can you reassure her and say it's OK to stay here?