Friday, 31 August 2018

With Rain Comes Umbrellas and Plastic

The view of Victoria Harbour this morning from Kennedy Town

In the last few weeks we have had cloudy skies and intermittent rain storms throughout the day so you never know when you'll need an umbrella. The other day we even had a red rainstorm warning, but the heavy rains were in the New Territories and not on Hong Kong island or Kowloon.

Nevertheless, the reality is that with rain comes plastic in the form of umbrella covers so that there is less water on the floor, less mess to mop, and less chance of people slipping.

But it does create a lot of one-use plastic.

Make your umbrella less wet with this
A local environmental group called Greens Action shamed the Hong Kong government for encouraging people to use the plastic umbrella covers at 60 of its 83 buildings managed by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.

"We are very disappointed that while the government has been encouraging citizens to adopt a greener lifestyle, some departments have failed to follow their own environmentally friendly policies," Greeners Action's Yip Chui-man said.

We have to agree. Even the MTR, which services millions of commuters everyday, doesn't give out plastic covers for umbrellas when it rains, but employs the use of industrial fans to blow dry the floor.

I recently wandered into Pacific Place in Admiralty and they had an interesting contraption to get rid of most of the water off umbrellas.

I haven't actually tried it, but basically you stick the umbrella in the slot and move it up and down to wipe off as much water as possible. The only downside is that you can't stick folded umbrellas in the contraption.

Nevertheless it's a start. The less plastic we use the better -- even if it means having wet floors.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Last Call for Bamboo Noodles

Shrimp dumpling noodles in soup were delicious at Wing Wah Noodle
Yesterday I passed by Wing Wah Noodle in Wan Chai on the bus and noticed the sign was not covered with white paper saying it was closing so I wondered if it was bought out.

I was right. Today I found out -- a month late -- that Wing Wah Noodle was indeed bought out by a restaurant group called LHGroup, though the shop will be closing in its current location tomorrow.

If you like spicy, the chilli pork noodle is your favourite
LHGroup is run by Simon Wong Kit-lung, whose father started the company 40 years ago with various restaurants including Lucky House seafood restaurant, and other ones whose names I don't recognize.

Nevertheless, while it's nice to know the name Wing Wah Noodle with 68 years of history will live on, will its noodles kneaded with a bamboo pole taste the same? Wong cannot promise the old school way of doing things will continue, only saying the operations will be "modernized"; and some of the menu items will be kept, but not all.

So I figured I should go back one last time. I made my way over there around 8.45pm tonight and walked straight in. It wasn't too busy, but maybe the staff was tired as the food came out slowly.

I tried a bowl of the chilli pork noodle (HK$48) that was quite spicy! The bits of pork were on the tough side, but when mix up with the sauce and the noodles it was quite good.

Walnut soup with glutinous rice balls filled with black sesame
Next I ordered the dumplings (sui gao) with soup noodles (HK$46) and it took a while for them to arrive. By this point there was no more pork knuckle and char siu, so many people resorted to eating wonton noodles. I like their noodles, but not the wontons -- Mak's Noodle's wontons are far superior.

Here the sui gao were fantastic -- most of the dumplings were filled with whole shrimp, wood ear fungus and a bit of minced pork to hold it together in a thin wrapper. There were three precious dumplings in one serving.

Finally I ordered the walnut soup with glutinous rice balls with black sesame filling (HK$56). I had seen a middle-aged woman sitting across from me having a bowl -- she knew the owner -- and I asked her how good it was. She reported it wasn't runny like other ones, not mixed with other things in it, so I decided to give it a go.

It took a very long time to arrive, but when it did, the bowl was piping hot. The walnut soup wasn't freshly ground, but as the woman said, it wasn't runny either, a decent consistency that was a bit more sweet than nutty-flavoured.

The glutinous rice balls filled with black sesame paste were delicious and together with the walnut soup made a nice hearty combination, a comforting dessert.

When regular customers were leaving the restaurant, many told the staff they would come back tomorrow, the last day. The owner, Cheung Tse-sau looks happy to finally pass on the shop to someone else for a pretty penny. Does she care what happens to the name from now on?

She claimed the new owner Wong was "young and sincere"... we'll have to see what he does with Wing Wah Noodle. People will very easily vote with their feet...

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Eradicating a "Mental Illness"

Uighurs coming out of Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar, Xinjiang
 The Chinese government is spinning the incarceration of Uighurs in detention centres in Xinjiang,  saying their belief in Islam needs to be treated as a mental illness. As a result they need to be treated multiple times, not just once, and for months at a time.

That's the latest report from The Atlantic, that also says some one million people are being sent to these "reeducation camps" where they are forced to sing propaganda songs and learn Mandarin, and some media reports have even talked about forcing these ethnic minority Muslims to eat pork and drink alcohol.

While the authorities describe the camps are "schools", they are also being described as "hospitals".

Women waking down the street in Kashgar
In a WeChat message to Uighurs, an excerpt of an official Communist Party audio recording says:

Members of the public who have been chosen for reeducation have been infected by an ideological illness. They have been infected with religious extremism and violent terrorist ideology, and therefore they must seek treatment from a hospital as an inpatient... The religious extremist ideology is a type of poisonous medicine, which confuses the mind of the people... If we do not eradicate religious extremism at its roots, the violent terrorist incidents will grow and spread all over like an incurable malignant tumour.

Sounds serious doesn't it? Except the message is making assumptions about people's devotion to their religion.

By calling religious extremism an "ideological illness", it gives the government (in its mind) the moral authority to lock people up for months at a time, and as many as it warrants is necessary.

Police officers have confirmed to Radio Free Asia that they have been ordered to meet specific population quotas in rounding up people for these camps. In one township, 40 percent of the local population was locked up.

"It's being treated as a mental illness that's never guaranteed to be completely cured, like addiction or depression," says Timothy Grose, a China expert at the Rose Hulman Institute of Technology. "There's something mentally wrong that needs to be diagnosed, treated -- and followed up with."

The above mentioned recording from the Communist Party justifies the need for continual treatment:

There is always a risk that the illness will manifest itself at any moment, which would cause serious harm to the public. that is why they must be admitted to a reeducation hospital in time to treat and cleanse the virus from their brain and restore their normal mind... Being infected by religious extremism and violent terrorist ideology and not seeking treatment is like being infected by a disease that has not been treated in time, or like taking toxic drugs... There is no guarantee that it will not trigger and affect you in the future.

There are intimidating police patrols around Xinjiang
Having gone through reeducation and recovered form the ideological disease doesn't mean that one is permanently cured... So, after completing the reeducation process in the hospital and returning home... they must remain vigilant, empower themselves with the correct knowledge, strengthen their ideological studies, and actively attend various public activities to bolster their immune system.

Adrian Zenz, a researcher at the European School of Culture and Theology in Germany equates what is going on in Xinjiang with how the government dealt with Falun Gong practitioners in the early 2000s by reeducating them in labour camps.

"Falun Gong was also treated like a dangerous addiction... But in Xinjiang this [rhetoric] is certainly being pushed to the next level," he says. "The explicit link with the addictive effect of religion is being emphasized possibly in an unprecedented way."

US-based Uighur academic from Xinjiang Tahir Imin isn't surprised by the government equating Islam with mental illness. He believes this is the authorities' way of eradicating ethnic Muslim minorities and forcing them to assimilate with the Han Chinese.

In the end this is the government's way of dealing with extremists -- by eradicating what it thinks is religious extremism through extreme power.

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

A Scenic Way to Get Around Hong Kong

Could a hop on, hop off ferry service work on the water in Hong Kong?
The Hong Kong Transport Department has a novel way for people to get around the city -- by the water.

It's proposing a circular ferry route that would have at least five stops: Kai Tak, Hung Hom, Tsim Sha Tsui East, Central and West Kowloon, and it would start service next September.

"The... service aims to respond to suggestions from the community to introduce the 'water taxi' service between different calling points along the waterfront of Victoria Harbour to bring vibrancy to the harbour," the department said in its tendering document, inviting interested bidders.

The Transport Department proposes five piers to stop at
It seems to be pitched as a hop on, hop off service akin to a touring bus rather than a "water taxi" per se,

The 25km circular route would operate between 7am and 11pm on Monday to Saturday, and 8am to 10pm on Sundays and public holidays. The entire journey should not take more than 110 minutes.

Passengers would be able to buy round-trip tickets or half-day tickets and embark and disembark at any stop.

Meanwhile the bidders need to be able to ferry up to 150 passengers at a time, with views on both sides of the vessel. They can also propose other stops other than the five proposed.

Lawmaker Yiu Si-wing who represents the tourism sector, says the proposal looks more like a tour bus than a taxi.

"People expect fast and point-to-point transport from a taxi," Yiu said. "Here the 'water taxi' concept is a little bit confusing. It's more like a tourism project than public transport."

The ferry service would be another way to get around HK
We have to agree, but if you are taking a boat, you aren't going to be in that much of a hurry, are you? Many of the piers are already in out-of-the-way places, so people taking these services are not necessarily rushing. They look at it as another way to get around.

Maybe going from stop to stop will be tedious, but what better way to get around in a leisurely way without having to deal with traffic jams on the road?

Yiu also says having so many piers to maintain will be costly and that may be the case, but tourists would definitely enjoy this service, as the Central to Tsim Sha Tsui route is so short -- a 25km route would be a nice way to spend some time looking at Hong Kong from the water.

I hope the proposal does materialize -- surely not only tourists but residents would use the service too. And there's nothing wrong with tweaking it once it starts. The service at least deserves a chance.

Monday, 27 August 2018

Uber Gets more Competitive with Taxis

Uber will be raising its fares from Wednesday, still cheaper than taxis
Uber still isn't legal in Hong Kong, though there are many who use the service.

Starting on Wednesday the car-hailing service will be raising its fares so that the starting fare is HK$18 on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, while it will still be HK$8 in the New Territories.

Currently taxis start at HK$24, so Uber is still less expensive -- as long as there isn't a surge in requests for cars.

Hong Kong taxi drivers can be rude or difficult to deal with
It seems Uber is targeting customers who want to be driven longer distances as it will be cheaper overall, compared to those going shorter distances.

There will also be a charge of HK$2 per minute after the driver has waited at the pick-up point for three minutes. That will definitely make it more efficient for Uber drivers to pick up more people.

The Hong Kong government is still stalling on establishing regulations to make it possible for Uber to function legally in Hong Kong despite many members of the public clamouring for the service. They are fed up with instances of rude taxi drivers who choose to reject passengers or will charge excessive amounts after the MTR is closed. Then there's the aging cars they drive, where passengers sink into the seats at the back, some with the shock absorbers next to non existent. And yes there's the lingering cigarette smoke...

Meanwhile Uber drivers seem to be making a pretty penny. About two weeks ago I chatted with one who started driving full time a few months ago, as he could make HK$30,000 to HK$40,000 a month.

The car-hailing service still isn't legal in Hong Kong
As an early riser, he could do as many as eight trips in the morning to get people to work, and then take a break mid-morning until the afternoon and evening rush. And if he was particularly busy today, he would not hustle as much the following day, basically making his own hours.

The driver added he used to be in sales and here he didn't have to deal with the hassle of pleasing customers and office politics -- as long as he got clients from A to B there were no complaints. Not bad for just driving people around. And he will probably be making more money come Wednesday.

The government is desperate for the taxi industry's support, which is why it has procrastinated on dealing with Uber. But if fewer people take taxis, which many are, then the industry will have no choice but to reform and give a better service. That's all we want in the end...

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Property Market Finally Softening but Still Pricey

Some 96 percent of the units at Cullinan West II were sold this weekend
We never thought we would see this, but developers are starting to lower their prices because of rising interest rates, a slowing economy and a depreciating Chinese currency.

This past weekend Sun Hung Kai Properties dropped the prices of its flats to an average of HK$23,893 per square foot after discounts of up to 20 percent, about 10 percent lower than a previous batch that went on sale in December.

The 364 units ranged from 269 to 1,500 square feet
It's still shocking that people are paying over HK$20K per square foot, but the market was willing to shell out, as SHKP was able to see 96 percent or 350 out of 364 units at Cullinan West II at Nam Cheong MTR station in Kowloon.

"The good turnout means the market still has liquidity. Once developers are willing to lower their selling prices by 5 or 10 percent, it will encourage investors and buyers to quicken their purchase decisions," said Colliers International's deputy managing director Vincent Cheung Kiu-cho.

The developers also offered first-time mortgages of up to 80 percent of the flat's value, much higher than the standard mortgage ceiling of 60 percent of a property valued below HK$10 million (US$1.3 million), and 50 percent for those above HK$10 million.

That's a very good enticement for first-time buyers if they can't make a big down payment.

More than 4,800 prospective buyers bid for 364 units
The flats' areas ranged from 269 to 1,500 square feet, with prices starting at HK$6.28 million. Gulp.

For an indication of the demand, more than 4,800 prospective buyers signed up for the 364 units, an average of 13 bids for each available flat. However, Alfred Lau, an analyst with Bocom International, says the sales response was "satisfactory", and expects developers to offer even bigger discounts soon.

"There are only 364 units in this batch and the pricing was not aggressive in the first place, largely in line with nearby average selling prices," he said.

Some buyers bought more than one unit -- one bought six
"If these units had come in two weeks earlier, they would have sold at the full price. This further confirms the slowing momentum. Developers may need to offer a larger discount if they wish to push the volume."

Some buyers bought more than one flat. In one case, one splurged HK$156 million for six units, five for the family to live in, one to rent out. Another bought three units ranging from 1,200 to 1,500 square feet for a total of HK$120 million.

Still staggering for most of us, but there are others who have money to spend and are looking to snap up some good deals...

Saturday, 25 August 2018

Secret Treat

Two servings of Japanese red bean and milk, with a grass jelly drink
A nice tip if you happen to be in the Grand Lisboa in Macau and want a nice and relatively cheap treat.

On the second floor is Crystal Lounge — and no it doesn’t serve Cristal Champagne.

Instead it’s Hong Kong-style snacks like pineapple buns, French toast with peanut butter filling, egg tarts, and chicken curry served like a cafeteria.

But apparently the best treat is the red bean float made with Japanese red beans and milk.

We only heard about this local secret after we finished a six-course dinner, but some of our dining companions somehow managed to find more space for a second dessert.

They reported the red bean was very thick, unlike the ones in Hong Kong that are very watery.

Not bad for MOP 50!

Friday, 24 August 2018

Living in a Haze

This picture of Central was taking at 6pm with a very hazy skyline

For the past two weeks Hong Kong has been shrouded in haze. Even periodic heavy rainstorms can't wash the humid grayness away from the city.

It's pretty much unprecedented and today was particularly gray.

Air pollution levels were off the charts today in Hong Kong
Many of my colleagues remarked about the hazy weather and one was so mortified by the air pollution readings that he posted on our internal messaging system that the AQI or Air Quality Index was 175, deemed "Unhealthy" in red type.

Thanks for that, but what can we do?

It feels very humid outside, but the recent and current typhoons around the region have caused air movement to stagnate. It's particularly bad for children and the elderly as well as people who have asthma, and I've been trying to stay indoors as much as possible.

The Environmental Protection Department issued a warning, saying the air quality would remain bad until next week, as light winds were unable to disperse the pollutants in the air.

Pollution was made worse by people burning money tonight
Tonight when I was coming home, I saw people burning things on the street and lighting candles -- it's the eve of the Hungry Ghost Festival that starts tomorrow until September 9 this year. That means every evening people will be burning "hell money", creating even more air pollution.

I feel for the businesses that are near these people burning things, as the ashes end up blowing into their premises and they didn't ask for it, let alone breathing in the smoke.

While they are only burning money and incense in the evenings, creating less air pollution would help, especially when we're dealing with this terrible haze!

Thursday, 23 August 2018

The Leung Airport Bag Fiasco is Laid to Rest

Leung Chun-yan (far right) left her bag at the check-in counter two yeras ago
Can I jog your memory?

Back in March 2016, then chief executive Leung Chun-ying's daughter, Leung Chun-yan was catching a flight to the United States when she left her bag at the airport check-in counter and only realized it after she had passed through immigration and security.

What did she do? She called daddy to fix the problem. He called Cathay Pacific and demanded that they take the bag through security and pass it to his daughter who was already at the gate. He claimed there was a courtesy service that helped passengers with their left-behind bags.

Leung Chun-ying claims today's ruling is "political"
The airline staff tried to explain the rules to him, that it was the passenger's responsibility because they should be present when the bag is undergoing security screening.

Meanwhile, the Airport Authority felt it was the airline's responsibility to take the bag through, while the Aviation Security Company (AVESCO) said it had no objection to the airline taking the bag, contravening the airport's own security rules.

The Hong Kong Aviation Security Programme (HKASP) rule at the time was: "All screening of cabin baggage shall be conducted in the presence of the passenger."

In the end a CX staff member did take the bag through security screening and gave it to Leung Chun-yan just before her flight took off.

Following the incident, airport security changed the rules, saying that only suspicious bags that needed to be screened a second time required the presence of the passenger, thus trying to make the Leung Chun-yan incident end.

However, flight attendant Law Mei-mei filed for a judicial review, as she was concerned whether a flight attendant should be allowed or required to take unattended baggage through security screening.

Passengers must be present when their bags are being checked
And today the judge ruled airport bosses broke their own safety rules in the baggage fiasco two years ago.

Justice Anderson Chow Ka-ming declared decisions made by the Airport Authority and AVESCO contravened HKASP in force at the time. He concluded the government had later amended the security rules specifically to address the Leung case.

Chow also rejected Leung's argument that the airlines had a courtesy delivery service.

In a comment to Chinese media, Leung said the judgment was a "political act rather than a safety issue" but did not elaborate.

Hong Kong Cabin Crew Federation spokeswoman Carol Ng Man-yee said her group, an umbrella organization that includes Law's flight attendants' union -- was "very pleased" with the court ruling and demanded the Airport Authority and Civil Aviation Department apologize for going against their safety-first principle in the 2016 incident.

Carol Ng (second left) was very pleased with the ruling
"What would I tell Leung Chun-ying and his wife? I'd tell everyone the same thing: it's everyone's obligation to follow the rules," Ng said outside the court.

Ng is now calling for the reinstatement of the original rules for safety reasons.

The Airport Authority respected the ruling, but stopped short of saying it would appeal, as the rules were already amended.

Finally vindication that everyone -- that means everyone -- must follow the rules when going through airport security.

The fact that Leung still insists he is right, and that the ruling is a political one just reveals how he and his family still believe these airport safety rules do not apply to them at all.

It also shows how the Aviation Authority and AVESCO bowed to Leung's demands, throwing security concerns out the window.

Can we please have more back bone in Hong Kong? Or is this a sign of things to come?

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Fintech Company Pays Through the Roof for Rent

Cheung Kong Center has office space if you're willing to pay through the roof
 Housing prices aren't the only real estate prices going up -- office space is too.

Today it was reported a cryptocurrency trading company has signed a lease to take over the 45th floor of Cheung Kong Center -- the headquarters of tycoon Li Ka-shing -- for a whopping HK$225 per square foot. For almost 20,000 square feet, that's almost US$600,000 a month.

The going rate in the building is HK$200 to HK$210, but BitMEX must have been keen to secure the entire floor which is why they were willing to shell out even more.

Cryptocurrency trader BitMEX is renting at Cheung Kong
This will have a knock-on effect on other companies renting in Central -- meaning they will have to pay more too.

Looks like cryptocurrency traders are the ones who can afford the outrageous rents in Central because everyone else is moving to places like Wong Chuk Hang and further east like Quarry Bay.

Managing director of Cushman and Wakefield John Siu made an intriguing comment on the news of BitMEX renting at Cheung Kong Center. "In the past half year, we've seen more digital currency or blockchain companies coming to look for spaces in Central. [Central] can polish the image of a company."

Does BitMEX, which was founded in 2014 need some embellishment? In an interview in July with one of the founders, the company is worth US$3.6 billion and its trading volume is US$3.3 billion in 24 hours, making it one of the largest trading platforms of bitcoin in the world.

Fintech companies like the prestigious Central address
Denis Ma of JLL or Jones Lang Lasalle believes fintech companies are going to be the ones looking for space in Central, as traditional financial institutions have slowed their expansion in Hong Kong.

Can you imagine paying US$600,000 a month in rent? In the United States, one can get a house for that -- every month. Li Ka-shing must be laughing in his retirement. While cryptocurrencies might be virtual, you still need an office to trade them...

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Hong Kong Leader at a Loss for Words

Carrie Lam couldn't find the words to denounce Andy Chan today
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was so angry -- she was at a loss for words.

The other day, stoked from all the publicity of of speaking at the Foreign Correspondents Club last week and causing a major kerfuffle in Hong Kong, Andy Chan Ho-tin decided to ratchet it up a notch. He sent a letter to American President Donald Trump, calling for China and Hong Kong to be kicked out of the World Trade Organization.

Chan called for China and HK to be kicked out of the WTO
It's laughable to say the least, but Chan actually dared to ask that the WTO membership be revoked for China and Hong Kong, citing a "rapid deterioration of freedoms" in the city and the loss of autonomy under Chinese rule.

He wrote that the US government should suspend the "differential treatment" given to the city under the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act, meaning China-targeted tariffs and trade policies would be applied to Hong Kong too.

Currently Hong Kong is benefiting from the trade dispute between China and the US, as many American fruits meant for the mainland are landing in the city at cheaper prices. 

Today before meeting with her advisers in the Executive Council, reporters asked Lam if she thought Chan's letter was appropriate.

"Of course such action is not appropriate," she said. "And just describing it as inappropriate perhaps has not reflected the public outcry and anger with that sort of action. I can only say that this is deeply regretted."

Chan wrote a letter to Trump, but there was no response
That's it? "Deeply regretted"?

How about absolutely abominable, or completely outrageous, totally despicable, utterly reprehensible, downright repugnant, terribly obnoxious...

Mrs Lam! There are so many adjectives you could have used!

In the end a spokesman from the US consulate in Hong Kong said Hong Kong was treated as "a special administrative region distinct from China for purposes of US domestic law".

"We judge that Hong Kong retains a sufficient level of autonomy to justify continued special treatment by the United States for bilateral agreements and programs."

Chan's request won't be entertained anytime soon. In the meantime we hope Lam will be brushing up on her vocabulary when it comes to adjectives. The more fiery the better.

Monday, 20 August 2018

A Stock to Watch

Shoppers could buy everything from junk food to staples at this chain store
For many Hongkongers 759 Store is a shop they like to browse in, especially for snacks from Japan, though it has grown to include ones from Europe and the United States. It also carries noodles, rice, sauces, and even frozen seafood.

I've written about 759 Store before, and the shop got its name from the parent company's stock number on the stock exchange.

However, it was shocking to find out yesterday that the founder and owner, Coils Lam Wai-chun, died unexpectedly on Saturday at the age of 60. It was disclosed he had diabetes for a long time.

Coils Lam died on Saturday at the age of 60
Instead of the parent company's stock falling, it more than doubled in value today. On Friday it closed at HK46.5 cents and then today went as high as HK$1.04 before closing at HK89 cents. That's because investors think positive change is on the way.

"The passing away of the founding chairman is sad news. However, it also give hope to investors that it may have the way for a major restructuring, or even merger and acquisition opportunities. This has led buyers to rush to bet on the stock on Monday," explained Jeffrey Chan Lap-tak, founding partner of Oriental Patron Financial Group.

"The 759 Store in fact is very popular and has a leading market position among snack retailers. Its [financial] results were not good in recent years, mainly due to an over expansion of the number of stores a few years ago. But the reduction of stores in the past two years has already helped the company get back on track. It may well be a target of acquisition," he said.

Like many small and medium-sized enterprises, they were dependent on their founders, like Lam in the case of 759 Store. Lam and his wife Law Ching-yee own 70.89 percent of CEC International, the parent company.

The future of 759 Store looks positive in terms of stock value
"Now the founder has died. We will need to wait and see if the new management can lead the business forwards," Chan said.

On Sunday the board held an urgent meeting and decided executive director Tang Fung-kwan, 48, will become the new chairwoman of the company. She joined the group in 1993 and was appointed executive director in 1999. She is responsible for the overall management of the procurement part of the business.

Lam founded 759 Store in 2010, competing with supermarkets by offering Japanese and Korean snacks, like cookies and chips before expanding to rice, coffee, and even wine.

It'll be interesting to see how the company fares post-Lam -- will it succeed or fall apart? The company will need to make some wise decisions, but so far cutting down the number of stores from 270 to 220 is a good start. Maybe the chain will be bought out, or maybe with the injected investment they can do other things.

Definitely a stock to watch!

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Cooking Up an Unappetizing Show

Sexist: Three male hosts watch three women cook

Last night I was reminded by how bad -- no atrocious -- the programs are on TVB when I watched an episode of Cooking Beauties.

Three male hosts and a guest judge observe three female celebrities prepare the same dishes for them to sample and decide who is the winner.

Cantopop singer Joey Wong has trouble handling a live fish
The women wear sleeveless tops so they have to wear "sleeves" that go up to their elbows in case they get their arms dirty or splattered with hot oil. And the dishes they are making aren't easy -- presumably there's someone behind the scenes instructing them on what to do.

However, not all the female contestants know how to cook -- some of them have very bad knife skills and they almost chop off their fingers, or they have no idea how to cut up meat, let alone fish.

Back in June when the show started, the Communications Authority received over 800 complaints from viewers about how the three contestants handled a tiger grouper.

In order to kill them, one fish was thrown into hot water, another thrown on the floor. This is meant to elicit laughs from the audience, but many viewers at home were not amused.

A statement from Happy Animal Lab and Hong Kong Veg Society condemned the "unnecessary pain to animals". It also criticized the amount of food wasted, as many of the dishes were inedible (again for laughs) and had to be thrown out.

The contestants wear "sleeves" and the men watch them cook
"When fish and crustacean are thrown on the floor or a heating saucepan alive, as they cannot make any sound, the audience would not realize their pain. Because of their silence, the audience ignore their suffering. Their silence also results in their sacrifice in a farce," the statement read.

"If the animals are replaced by a pig, a chicken or a cow, will the audience still find this interesting?"

All good points.

But my main beef is that the show is sexist -- why is it that the women have to cook for the men who will judge them? And why just expose these women's short-comings when it comes to their culinary skills? Why not make both men and women compete? And have the judging panel include both men and women?

Some of the female competitors were so bad in executing their dishes that some of the judges gave them negative points, again for laughs. How is that amusing?

These "interns" wear form-fitting chef jackets and short skirts
Another part of the show are about a dozen "interns" dressed in form-fitting chef jackets and short skirts. Sometimes they are called on to compete against each other in a 10-minute cooking test. Real female chefs don't wear short skirts and aim to look pretty in the kitchen. They are there to do their job and do it well.

Cooking Beauties is a horrific show on so many levels. The fact that it still isn't cancelled just shows how tone deaf TVB executives are and it send the wrong message about women, men, and cooking.

Actor Nicholas Tse who has a cooking show and is a judge is looking more credible even though he isn't a bona fide chef either...

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Carrie Lam Does Facebook Live

Last night Carrie Lam (left) held a Facebook Live even to take live questions

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was keen to show young people she is willing to reach out to them and held a question and answer session on Facebook Live yesterday.

She sat at a boardroom table on the left, with two hosts on the right, armed with laptops fielding questions for 48 minutes. In the end Lam answered 30 inquiries.

This isn't much different from her scrum with reporters
According to comments on the Facebook page, the most popular issue was housing, at 786, followed by the one-way permit scheme at 572, and 459 comments on the "Greater Bay Area", that links Hong Kong and Macau with nine other cities in Guangdong, including Shenzhen, Jiangmen, Zhaoqing, Guangzhou, and Dongguan.

Some questions asked sarcastically if she would move to the Greater Bay Area, while others asked why relatives involved in the one-way permit scheme couldn't reunite on the mainland instead of Hong Kong.

Interestingly 473 questions posed by members of LGBT groups with key words of "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" were completely ignored by Lam.

"Many people hoped the chief executive would respond to [calls for an] anti-discrimination law on sexual orientation and gender identity," said Billy Leung, convenor of Hong Kong Equality Project. "However, the two hosts repeatedly avoided raising questions about the issue."

He wondered of Lam deliberately refused to answer those questions, as some questions were picked from a box, and others chosen by the two hosts.

Democratic Party lawmaker Roy Kwong Chun-yu declared the event a failure because she didn't read the comments herself, so she didn't genuinely interact with netizens.

Meanwhile, Frankie Ngan Man-yu, chairman of the Young Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong agreed she should have addressed the comments directly, though he thought it was a good start, and hoped she would do this regularly.

Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung said: "The most important message is her gesture -- Lam wants to show she is up to date and not afraid of using Facebook."

The most popular issue last night was housing
He said it was more like a PR exercise than a genuine consultation, as it was almost impossible for her to gain support from the audience, who were mostly anti-government.

It is quite daunting to take questions live, but she should be used to this, answering reporters questions once a week at the Legislative Council. The only thing different is that these questions are directly from the people.

All I can say is practice makes perfect, and Lam should do this more often, and even read the comments herself so that people can genuinely see she is reading what they are saying, even if they are snarky or critical of her.

This way young people (ie those under 50) will feel that Lam is really listening to their concerns and trying to address at least some of them...

Friday, 17 August 2018

Home Buyers Walk Away

Buyers are more cautions with higher mortgage rates and cooling measures
After 27 consecutive months of house prices rising, buyers finally started having second thoughts. The first half of this year was very strong, with prices going up 13 percent, though people are starting to retreat, even if it means losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in deposits.

St Martin II in Tai Po has had buyers lose their deposits
One buyer who had purchased a HK$7.25 million studio unit in Tai Po, New Territories two weeks ago has now cancelled the purchase and forfeited the 5 percent deposit, or about HK$362,700 (US$46,200).

Five other buyers cancelled their purchases of flats in Yuen Long, which totals HK$2 million in penalties.

There seems to be a gloomy outlook due to banks raising mortgage rates, the ongoing Chinese-US trade war, the inactive stock market, and the Hong Kong government trying to cool the property market.

As a result, some developers have cut prices in the hopes of boosting sales, like Sun Hung Kai with its Cullinan West II development on top of Nam Cheong MTR station. The average price was cut by 10 percent to HK$23,893 per square foot after discounts.

Even Park Yoho Milano in Yuen Long has seen cancellations
"Seeing some developers tag their new flats at a less aggressive level or even lower down the prices, buyers are expecting more cheaper new flats to be put onto the market soon," said Vincent Cheung Kiu-cho, deputy managing director for Asia valuation and advisory services at Colliers International. "The sentiment will last at least a quarter."

But don't pity the property developers -- they are cutting prices by 10 percent and are still making a killing.

UBS has predicted housing prices will drop as much as 10 percent from this month to the end of 2019, while Citibank has forecast a 7 percent fall in the second half of this year.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Beijing's Fiery Response

Andy Chan's speech at the FCC is still riling up Beijing days after
Following Hong Kong National Party convenor Andy Chan Ho-tin's controversial talk at the Foreign Correspondents Club on Tuesday, Beijing came out blasting with fiery tones.

Zhang Xiaoming, director of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, strongly hinted it was time for the city to enact Article 23 of the Basic Law, which among other things, demands Hong Kong "prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People's Government".

Zhang claimed Chan and the FCC were committing sedition
"This incident has reminded us we have to reflect and review Hong Kong's inadequacies in protecting national security," Zhang said on Wednesday, but he stopped short of urging the city to push Article 23 forward.

He referred to a speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping in Hong Kong last July, when he called for the implementation of the constitutional order of the Chinese constitution and the Basic Law. Xi also urged the Hong Kong government to "improve and complete" systems related to its mini-constitution.

Zhang accused the 27-year-old Chan of committing a crime under Article 9 of the Crimes Ordinance, which covers sedition, and the FCC of assisting him in committing the offence.

"The HKNP and people, including Chan, have plotted, organized and carried out activities with seditious intent -- they want to break up the nation," Zhang said.

He claimed both were breaking the law, as the HKNP is not a registered group, and the FCC "aided" Chan's seditious intention.

Lam is waiting for a good time to enact Article 23
"[The club] knows Chan and HKNP's motives, but it ignored the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and SAR government's repeated advice. It stubbornly invited Chan to give a speech at the FCC," Zhang said.

Meanwhile Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor came out to say Article 23 would be enacted eventually, and she was still waiting for the right time.

Did Chan play into Zhang's hands? In some ways it seems like it, but Zhang is blowing a lot of hot air in the form of verbal threats. Chan and the FCC have not incited violence and so they have not done anything illegal.

But by the same token, Zhang and Lam played into Chan's hands, perfectly illustrating what the young, composed activist feels about Beijing and Hong Kong government officials. The former acting like an "empire", the latter meekly obeying whatever the empire says.

Lam seems to be under the gun to get Article 23 implemented, but she will now have to wait for tensions to die down -- but will they?

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Reality Check on "Ethnic Cleansing"

Fewer mainlanders are immigrating to Hong Kong each day

The same day Hong Kong National Party convenor Andy Chan Ho-tin spoke at the Foreign Correspondents Club yesterday, decrying China was performing "ethnic cleansing" in the city by having 150 mainlanders move here everyday, the statistics show otherwise.

According to figures released by the Census and Statistics Department on Tuesday, some 41,000 mainlanders moved to Hong Kong in the past 12 months ending on June 30, which is a drop of 14,700 compared to a year ago. It is the biggest drop in a decade.

The last steep decline was from 2005-06 and 2006-07 when the number fell by 14,900 to 44,700.

The one-way permit scheme allows spouses and children born across the border to be reunited with their families in Hong Kong.

Andy Chan claimed China was doing "ethnic cleansing"
Paul Yip Siu-fai, chair professor of population health at the University of Hong Kong, says it could be due to several factors, but one possibility could be the city becoming less desirable from before.

"For married couples that want their kids to come to Hong Kong, it must mean that the city has something better to offer to them," Yip said.

"But it's become more expensive to live here, especially housing, so it is worth looking into whether people are less willing to come because Hong Kong is less attractive to them," he said.

Anti-mainland sentiment is another possible factor deterring mainlanders from settling here, with the lowest number of people using the one-way permit scheme totaling 34,000 from mid-2013 and mid-2014, just before the Occupy protests.

Sze Lai-shan, a veteran social worker from the Society for Community Organization who helps new immigrant families settle in Hong Kong, said some mainlanders might not be as eager to move to the city, in part because of the improved living standards across the border. 

"It is especially the case for Hong Kong women getting married to mainland men. The husband won't want to come to Hong Kong. Usually the Hong Kong wife will go settle in the mainland," Sze said.

Accumulated there are over 800K mainlanders in Hong Kong
This is the trend Marion Chan Shui-yu, deputy commissioner for census and statistics is seeing. Such partnerships rose from 19 percent of all cross-border marriages in 1996 to 33 percent in 2016. In an interesting twist, the number of mainland women marrying Hong Kong men in cross-border marriages dropped from 81 percent to 66.7 percent in the same period.

It used to be that mainland women would marry much older Hong Kong men in the hopes of hitting the jackpot, but now it seems they have wised up after hearing many stories that not every Hong Kong man is rich. There are also many financial problems once the women and children move to the city -- the women cannot work right away and even then they are typically not well educated and can only find low-paying jobs.

So while there may be fewer mainlanders moving to Hong Kong each year, they are accumulating. There are over 800,000 since 2004, it's not a small number -- and growing.