Monday, 29 April 2019

No Singing Please

One singer has moved to the Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry pier for an audience
Some people like to think they are artists and want to express themselves by singing or dancing in public -- in the hopes of earning a few dollars too.

They used to hang out in Sai Yeung Choi Street South in Mongkok, wearing outlandish costumes and belting out karaoke tunes, or young people who think they are the Hong Kong version of Ed Sheeran, or dancing aunties wanting to show off their dance moves.

But after that street was shut down to performers last year, they carried on, spreading out all over Hong Kong. Some could be found by the Central ferry piers, or at the Star Ferry pier in Tsim Sha Tsui -- well the ones that I have seen.

One street performer who showed off his skills in Mongkok
But it seems the Hong Kong government has had enough of these performers' antics and want them out -- well at least the bad ones weeded out.

Those who repeatedly cause a noise nuisance could be blacklisted, and retired policemen could be recruited to enforce the possible measures.

Lawmakers on the home affairs panel passed a non-binding motion to urge the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) to review the rules to mitigate noise nuisance in parks, eliminate cash rewards for performers and increase penalties.

It doesn't seem like lawmakers have done much research on buskers and street entertainers.

Edward Lau Kwok-fan of the DAB, said the current punishment for offenders is too lenient. He seemed to think performers could earn more than HK$1,000 a day busking, so a fine of HK$1,200 was not high enough to deter them from coming back.

LCSD director Michelle Li admitted it was not illegal to give money to performers, but perhaps repeat offenders could be blacklisted.

This guy is quite well known for his Waldo look...
The department is also going to make it easier for people to be witnesses, including nearby residents and park keepers, which basically means parks are going to be very quiet very fast as soon as complaints start piling in.

However Democratic Party lawmaker Roy Kwong Chun-yu had a good point -- would there be enough manpower to handle all these complaints and enforce the rules?

Li replied training would be provided to park managers and even retired policemen would be hired  to handle the situation. Glad to know the government is thinking about employing seniors...

But who gets to decide what sounds good and what sounds horrific?

That's what a performer called Ling asked.

"What may be music to our ears may seem loud to someone else, and now that nearby residents and park managers are free to file complaints as witnesses, it has made it easier to prosecute us," she said.

Ling regularly performs at Tuen Mun park and felt the government should define the level at which noise was considered a nuisance.

Good point!

"We're just having fun, enjoying a good time with our friends and it's not against the law," she added. "I don't understand why people are trying to drive us away."

Does this mean the LCSD has to go back to the drawing board and figure out the definition of noise nuisance? But what the performers are doing is exercising their freedom of expression. Bureaucracy can't silence that.

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Hongkongers Protest Extradition

Some 130,000 came out today to protest plans for controversial extradition bill
Heartened to see over 100,000 people turn out to protest against the Hong Kong government's plan to push through the extradition bill that would have suspects sent to countries the city had agreements with, including China, Taiwan and Macau.

Critics fear it gives Beijing more authority over Hong Kong, that it could target political activists, lead to forced confessions and arbitrary detentions, and if someone is extradited to the mainland, many of us know China's "rule of law" is different from what it is in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

This afternoon some 130,000 showed up -- the largest since the estimated 510,000 during the annual July 1 protest in 2014. The police claimed otherwise, saying 22,800 were in the march.

Many fear what the government has in mind for extradition
This is ridiculous from the pictures taken by the media, especially overhead. People who arrived late at Causeway Bay had to wait two hours before they could start the 2.2km march and the did so patiently.

The march was timed just before the sentencing of Chan Tong-kai, who brutally murdered his girlfriend in Taiwan last year, but because there is no extradition agreement between Hong Kong and Taiwan, he cannot be tried there.

The Hong Kong government used this horrific crime as an argument for the extradition bill and get the public on side, but today showed people thought otherwise.

Some who spoke to the media felt the government has become more like a dictatorship and not listening to the people, calling for Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to step down, while others felt it was important to voice their opinion about the matter for the sake of their children's futures.

The march also protested the jailing of four Occupy leaders
Many of the protesters also carried yellow umbrellas, symbolic of the Occupy protest leaders who were sent to jail earlier this week: Benny Tai Yiu-ting, Dr Chan Kin-man, lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun and League of Social Democrats vice-chairman Raphael Wong Ho-ming.

It's disappointing to see acting chief executive Matthew Cheung Kin-chung dismiss today's protest march, basically saying the government would not be swayed by the turnout.

He said people enjoyed freedom of speech and assembly and the right to stage protests.

"But it has to be conducted in a lawful manner. Whether the turnout is big or small is not the main concern," he said.

A mock jailing with batons was acted out by at the march
Cheung dismissed concerns about the possible abuse of the proposed extradition bill, saying it would not apply to cases involving human rights, politics or capital punishment.

The government has promised it would consider each case carefully, saying the executive authority and the court would perform their respective gatekeeping roles in handling all surrender requests. It said it would reject any surrender request that did not meet legal requirements.

May we remind the government how Beijing punished dissident artist Ai Weiwei, claiming he did not pay his taxes? And then felt it had the right to just destroy his studio in Bejiing without warning?

And the same could be said for Liu Xia, the wife of Liu Xiaobo; her brother was convicted on trumped up charges of fraud and sentenced to 11 years in jail and was later released.

How can we trust the Hong Kong government will not do the same?

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Hong Kong Bookseller Moves to Taiwan

Lam Wing-kee at Hong Kong Airport on Thursday, leaving for Taiwan
The Hong Kong government is intent on passing the extradition bill, allowing the extradition of fugitives to any place the city has an agreement with, including the mainland, Taiwan and Macau.

It's a controversial bill that worries a lot of people, including Lam Wing-kee.

You may remember him as one of the five booksellers at Causeway Bay Books who was kidnapped across to the mainland in late 2015 and reappeared back in Hong Kong in June 2016. At the time he claimed security agents in Ningbo, Zhejiang province had put him through eight months of "mental torture".

Lam resurfaced in June 2016 to tell the media of his detention
He was the only one to speak openly in Hong Kong about his experience, but now with the extradition bill coming up, Lam has decided to move to Taiwan, which he did on Thursday.

Opposition lawmaker Claudia Mo Man-ching, who accompanied Lam to the airport, said yesterday that Lam, 63, decided to leave a month ago and open a bookshop in Taiwan.

"He is extremely worried and convinced he is at the top of the list of those who could be extradited," Mo said. Lam, who was still wanted across the border, had "absolutely no faith in the mainland's legal system," she added.

Someone close to Lam said he had the blessing of the Taiwanese authorities. However it is unclear if his plans to open a bookshop will succeed or not.

Lam was one of five booksellers snatched and taken to China
This is not his first attempt at opening a bookshop there. Despite two years of planning, a deal to open a bookshop fell through last June. His partners pulled out after the wife of a Hong Kong investor complained of threats from mainland authorities.

Nevertheless, lawmaker and former secretary for security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said Lam's concerns were unfounded, since selling books was not illegal in Hong Kong and could not trigger extradition across the border.

"I really don't understand what's the basis of his worry," she said.

However Mo said the Chinese authorities could easily set up Lam by charging him with another crime.

Surely Lau would know that, or she has no idea what really goes on across the border?

In any event, we wish Lam the best of luck, but if he fails to set up his bookstore again, where will he go?

Friday, 26 April 2019

Local Veggie Dishes

A salad from Haku featuring local greens and flowers handpicked by the chef
Here are pictures of two vegetable dishes from two different restaurants in Hong Kong.

What do they have in common? Everyone on the plate was sourced locally.

Restaurants are keen on lowering their carbon footprint if possible. It's not necessarily about cutting costs as some local veg is priced more expensive than the overseas variety, but chefs say they like the freshness of the ones here that are harvested in the morning and on their doorstep a few hours later.

Local green peans with granite of pea juice at Beet Restaurant
I have heard the strawberries grown here are just as costly as the ones imported from Japan, but the former are praised for tasting absolutely delicious. I have yet to try them.

Nevertheless it's heartening to see more restaurants here keen on going local and it also surprises and impresses guests to hear that what is on their plate was grown a few hundred kilometres away.

It's a far cry from several years ago when I saw some small organic farms in the New Territories that were haphazardly growing whatever they could wherever they had land. Supply was small and of course quality was hardly consistent.

We're glad to see more local vegetables on menus and hope the trend continues because they taste delicious!

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Women Surpass Men in Buying Suits

This show resonates with Chinese women who encounter gender bias daily
Women in China are snapping up more suits than men these days, thanks to a popular streaming TV series called All Is Well (都挺好 dou1 ting3 hao3).

It's about a typical traditional Chinese middle-class family that values sons over daughters. The protagonist, Su Mingyu 苏明玉 (played by Yao Chen) stands up to the gender bias in her own family by dressing in suits in every episode to show off her fierce independence.

The character Su Mingyu has struck a chord with Chinese women, who are following her sartorial sense on social media, sparking a national shopping trend for fashionable suits.

Since the show started in March, she has worn things like a Burberry suit, Max Mara coat, Erdos cashmere sweater and Stuart Weitzman boots. Su Mingyu definitely has expensive taste, but seems like she can afford it.

Su Mingyu wears stylish clothes that reflect success
She projects the ideal look of success that most Chinese women aspire to -- luxury suit-wearing, financially independent, and mentally strong despite going through gender discrimination all her life.

This coincides with the 2019 China Fashion Data Report issued by Alibaba, where the word "suits" was the most searched keyword on Taobao last year for women; the sales volume of women's suits surpassed that of men for the first time on January 27, 2019.

The search for "大哥廓西" literally meaning "big bro, shoulder-padded suit" in Chinese, grew 317 percent year-on-year, with sales up 39 percent.

And with All Is Well inspiring women to consider dressing in suits, perhaps the power suit will translate to even more sales than men's suits this year.

Women are keen to emulate Su Mingyu's fashion sense
Perhaps this is a sartorial way for women to achieve gender equality in China?

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Four of Nine Occupy Leaders Jailed

Dr Chan Kin Man (left) and Benny Tai (centre) were jailed for 16 months
Today nine people who were found guilty on public nuisance charges related to the 2014 Occupy protests found out their fate.

In the end four of them were sent to jail -- two of the founders of "Occupy Love and Peace", Benny Tai Yiu-ting, and Dr Chan Kin-man were both sentenced to 16 months, while legislator Shiu Ka-chun, and League of Social Democrats vice-chairman Raphael Wong Ho-ming were handed eight-month sentences.

The judge, Johnny Chan Jong-herng considered Reverend Chu Yiu-ming's poor health and had his 16-month sentence suspended for two years.

Tanya Chan revealed she a brain tumour diagnosis
Then lawmaker Tanya Chan Suk-chong's lawyer revealed shocking news in the court, that his client was suffering from a life-threatening brain tumour the size of a ping pong ball and needed to undergo surgery in two weeks. As a result then judge adjourned her sentence.

And former lawmaker Lee Wing-tat had his eight-month sentence suspended for two years as the judge considered his years of public service.

Meanwhile former student leaders Tommy Cheung Sau-yin and Eason Chung Yiu-wa, were sentenced to 200 hours of community service, and eight months' of jail respectively, but Chung also had his jail sentence suspended, with their ages (25 and 26 respectively) taken into consideration.

Although the judge criticized the nine for putting their political demands before the lives of others, he also noted the protests were non-violent, and the goal was not motivated by "greed, lust, anger, or monetary reward", though the obstruction was serious and its duration extensive.

Reverend Chu Yiu-ming wept as he left court
"The nine defendants just looked up to their aspirations... but they failed to notice the ordinary folks who needed to use the carriageways," the judge said, describing their would-be "martyrdom" as "contorted".

He added the group never apologized to the public for causing such an inconvenience for 79 days.

After he walked out of the dock, Chu burst into tears without his friends, Tai and Chan.

 "In the past five years, we have never been apart," the reverend said, before leaving court. "Today, they were sentenced to jail. I'm in immense sorrow. I am truly willing to go with them."

The relatively light sentences show the judge felt the defendants were honest about their motivations, though he said they were "naive".

The unforgettable protest in 2014 that lasted 79 days
This was a relief, because if the sentences had been harsh, tensions would have continued to rise. Can we finally move forward? That depends on Carrie Lam administration -- or shall we say Beijing? This case has dragged on too long and today it has finally ended.

It's a sad day for the fight for democracy in Hong Kong, though some might say it's just a blip in the long term...

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Tiger's Taste for Maotai Takes him Down

Wang Xiaoguang is the latest official to be jailed for 20 years for corruption
While you may think Chinese President Xi Jinping has been busy with Belt and Road, and the Greater Bay Area, don't think he hasn't had time to bag more tigers. One more was recently taken down, the former vice-governor of Guizhou province.

Wang Xiaoguang, who was in power from 2009-2016 was sentenced to 20 years in prison and fined a record 174 million yuan (US$26 million) for taking bribes, embezzlement and insider trading.

Wang was known as the "Maotai collector"
The prosecution claimed that Wang had taken advantage of his position to receive 49 million yuan in bribes, made 163 million yuan from insider trading of stocks and embezzled 4.8 million in land sales proceeds in 2000.

What did he do with all that money? Apparently he liked to collect rare orchids and Maotai, a kind of baijiu that is distilled from sorghum.

The court said Wang's sentence was light because the 57-year-old pleaded guilty to all charges.

In a confession, Wang said he was "addicted to orchids" and the National Supervisory Commission or anti-corruption watchdog said he had amassed so much Maotai that he became known as the "Maotai collector" and even obtained liquor licenses for his relatives to help him sell it. His wife reportedly dunked a lot of the prized Maotai down the sink before the authorities came to arrest him.

Another no-no was that Wang had "enthusiasm for reading politically incorrect overseas publications", a veiled reference to books and journals about Chinese political gossip that people would buy on their trips to Hong Kong.

He also had a penchant for collecting rare orchids like these
But sadly those days are over for Wang.

While a number officials were caught for having mistresses or too much sex, Wang was nabbed for too much Maotai and orchids. Guess each to their own...

Monday, 22 April 2019

Don't Take the Peanuts

Cathay Pacific has found cabin crew have pilfered a lot of stuff over the years
Cathay Pacific is trying to continue to slash costs to save HK$4 billion (despite posting a HK$2.3 billion profit in 2018), but it looks like it may have found a reason why it's spending a lot of money too.

There seems to be a lot of pilfering going on, with flight attendants freely taking items on the plane, from cutlery and wine glasses, and even bread.

One of the more popular items are Haagen-Dazs ice creams
Apparently the theft of the items amount to "untold hundreds of millions" over the years, according to sources.

One of the more popular items is the pot of Haagen-Dazs ice cream served on flights. Some cabin crew are known to have freezers stocked with these ice creams.

"In view of an increasing number of reported losses of company property, we have informed our cabin crew that random inspections will be carried out," a company spokeswoman said.

Cathay had already warned staff in January in a memo about the "unfortunately increasing trend of company property discrepancies". Does everyone know what "company property discrepancies" mean?

Bottles of unopened wine and caviar have been taken too
The cabin crew will be inspected upon disembarking the plane, and they may only take with them cabin crew-designated meals, as well as fruit, water, and plastic-wrapped sandwiches.

That means they aren't even allowed to take the wet wipes or even peanuts.

"Zero tolerance means you are not permitted to take off the aircraft any item other than what the company has authorized as per the policy," said Ed Higgs, general manager of in-flight services.

"If anyone removes company property, irrespective of the value or if you believe it will be thrown away, you will be subject to discipline which may include termination."

Don't say you haven't been warned.

But what is wrong with taking leftover food that will be binned or opened bottles of wine? Or do they donate the uneaten food to a charity, and have proper ways to re-cork the wine for later use? 

Staff shouldn't even think about taking peanuts or wet wipes
It has taken this long for Cathay to realize some cabin crew are pilfering items? There is some mismanagement here.

And what about the airline's huge mistake in 2016 when it lost a whopping HK$8.46 billion on bad fuel hedging bets? Heads rolled, but taking pots of Haagen-Dazs hardly compares to losing billions of dollars.

Nevertheless, this is the new reality for Cathay Pacific flight crew. So put down those company-branded pens, peanuts and ice cream. It's just not worth it.

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Picture of the Day: Only in WhereYuen Long

Where else can you buy bananas on a bike with a banana leaf draped over it?

Earlier this week, I met up with an acquaintance who lives in Yuen Long, in the northwest of the New Territories. She moved there when she was three-years-old, so she practically grew up in the area.

She's a food writer but also passionate about her neighbourhood so she took me around to various parts of town to see where some of her favourite eating spots were.

One area is nicknamed "food street" because the whole street (pedestrian only) was full of eateries, though we were there too early in the morning so they hadn't opened yet.

However, there was one banana farmer who had pitched his bicycle in the area with his locally-grown bananas in the basket and decorated with a giant banana leaf. Soon after I took this picture, some curious onlookers approached the bicycle. Wonder if it translated into sales...

Saturday, 20 April 2019

A Dark and Rainy Day

This mid-afternoon became very dark and very wet
This spring in Hong Kong weather-wise has been very strange. We've had a prolonged spring which started off great, but now as summer is approaching, the weather has become more humid and unstable.

The aftermath of flooding in Tai Hang
Today was particularly dramatic. As I headed to Central for a haircut it was very humid and afterwards I made it to the gym just as raindrops were starting to fall.

It got so bad that around 2.40pm the sky turned black, turning day into night with lots of thunder and lightning. The Hong Kong Observatory raised the Amber rainstorm warning, that quickly turned to Red.

Many people were holed up at the gym and the food counter there made a killing today with people snapping up sandwiches and drinks to wait for the rain to subside.

Restaurants and hotels around town must have had good sales too, as the storm hit just as the lunch hour was ending with people lingering and ordering more, though staff must have missed having a decent break.

By the time I left Central at around 3pm the rain wasn't too bad but there were lots of big puddles. A friend in Tai Hang showed me a picture of massive flooding there and that earlier it was a severe windstorm where he was, claiming it was like being in a typhoon.

The skies cleared up for the rest of the afternoon and evening
Later in the afternoon the weather actually cleared up and people starting emerging and rushing out to do shopping or other errands, though the supermarket and wet market near my home weren't too busy.

Wonder what tomorrow brings...!

Friday, 19 April 2019

Chinese Women Buying Security

Successful women own property for security and also status in the family
The obsession to buy a home in China continues, but we're happy to discover that more Chinese women are realizing this dream.

Despite having to deal with the gender pay gap of earning on average 16 percent less than men, Chinese women have found ways to buy homes under their own name. Last year 46.7 percent of all homeowners were women in 2018, which compares to only 5 percent just two years earlier.

Over 47 percent of women over 30 bought their own homes
These numbers came from a report by real-estate broker platform Beike Zhaofang 贝壳找房, which surveyed thousands of women aged 18-50 in 12 cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Wuhan. 

For single women over 30 years of age, 47.1 percent of them bought their own homes. More than one-third managed to buy their property without a loan, and 23.4 percent own more than two properties.

Either these women got a lot of help from their parents, relatives and friends, or they have high-powered jobs, or even really generous sugar daddies giving them lots of cash...

Media outlet Southern Weekly tried to find out why this phenomenon was happening and most women they interviewed cited "a sense of security" as the main reason for buying their home(s).

Wives usually do not have their names on the deeds
For successful women in high-paying jobs, home ownership is a statement of independence. Southern Weekly interviewed a female senior manager at a finance firm who owns three properties, which resulted in her having an elevated status in the family, making her even more confident as a woman.

Also as most families only have one child, the parents are more supportive in helping out their daughters in buying a home, or will even outright buy real estate for them. In addition, parents from older generations see buying a home as a safe investment that will give the daughters security when they retire.

Many women have parents helping them buy homes
The jump in female home ownership is also a result of high divorce rates. Typically when women get married, the husband has already bought a home and the woman's side is expected to contribute caili or betrothal gifts in the form of cash or gifts, such as furniture or cars.

And so in the event of a divorce, the wife is left with nothing, because her name is not on the deed.

But with 46.7 percent of home buyers now being women, they are actively protecting themselves (and their parents) from financial ruin. It's another big step in forcing Chinese men to confront the reality that yes, women do hold up half the sky -- for themselves.

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Study Xi Jinping for Money

Get brownie points by studying Xi Jinping
The Little Red Book has gone digital.

The famous pocketbook of quotations supposedly spoken by Mao Zedong has been upgraded to studying "Xi Jinping Thought" through an app called Xuexi Qiangguo, or "Study Powerful Country".

Once people open the app, they are supposed to read the articles in it -- but they are also quizzed too.

Xuexi Guoqiang is an app for people to read more about Xi
It doesn't matter if you get the answers wrong -- you still get points for trying.

And of course the more time you spend on the app the better, because it's all about amassing lots and lots of points to show how dedicated you are in studying Xi Jinping thought.

It turns out this activity is not just for individuals to show how devoted they are to the Communist Party of China and Xi Dada or Grandpa Xi, but even companies can get in on this and reap some big benefits.

A company called Zhejiang Taida Miniature Electrical Machinery Co, that produces ventilating fans, received a so-called "red impetus loan" of 3 million yuan (US$447,000), said chairman Qiu Rongquan at the recent bi-annual Canton Fair.

The loans are given to companies that have solid businesses after promoting the Communist Party, Qiu explained.

Xi's app is the digital version of the Little Red Book
According to Huzhou city government, where the company is based, the loans are guarantee- and collateral-free, with reduced interest rates to help private companies develop. Qiu said his company received the loan at the benchmark interest rate, whereas it would usually pay 20 to 30 percent above the rate.

What a bonus! And just for promoting the CPC!

Previously the Chinese government would freely give loans to state-owned enterprises, but now it seems more interested in dangling carrots in front of private companies that badly need the capital injection.

Qiu encourages his employees to use the Xuexi Qiangguo app, and apparently it has paid off, receiving government support.

The "red impetus loan" may be used to be part of the 5 million yuan Qiu planned to invest in research in development, upgrade machinery and attract talent. In this way he hopes to more effectively compete with Germany and Taiwan and increase the company's market share from 10 percent to 30 percent.
Devotion to the app can lead to company loans

See it's so easy to study Xi Jinping thought. You could hit the jackpot!

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Hong Kong Needs Better Taxi Service Now!

There are too many complaints about taxi service in HK and no will to fix it
Hong Kong's taxi industry is in a horrific state, with complaints up 2.2 percent to a record high of almost 11,000 last year. 

Perhaps there are more complaints because customers have also used Uber and there is such a stark difference between the two services in terms of comfort, cleanliness, driving skills and friendliness of the drivers.

The government thinks people will pay more for better service
Though the government has not mandated the taxi industry to reform itself significantly -- like new vehicles or fine individual drivers for bad service, or insist on standardized courses they must take -- it has instead suggested customers will pay more for a premium service.

This idea was completely slammed by the Competition Commission, which released a 90-page document to lawmakers in the Legislative Council today. The competition watchdog said having a franchised taxi scheme where the starting rate at 50 percent more is hardly a benefit to the riders.

"While there are likely to be some consumers less sensitive about the fare they pay, it makes no economic or common sense to assume they will demand higher fares," it said.

The plan was to have some 600 franchised taxis or 3 percent of exiting cabs in the city offering this premium service. Who would pay for a more expensive taxi ride? No one!

Many people would rather have the option to use Uber
The commission suggested the taxi franchises come up with service proposals set at a minimum level. 

However, the government said it believed the franchised taxi services would offer better protection, more assured service quality, and more transparency on fares to passengers than existing illegal online hire car services.

While the government means well, people just want to get from A to B as quickly and efficiently as possible without having to sit in a smoky-smelling vehicle with seats that sink one foot down, or be forced to listen to the taxi driver chatting to his friends, or listen to silly talk shows on the radio. And also don't get me started on why all the taxis in Hong Kong seem to be unavailable from 3.30pm to 4.30pm because the drivers are handing the taxi to another one.  

Hong Kong Taxi Owners' Association chairman Wong Po-keung did not think the scheme would meet the government's objectives to improve the service quality of existing cab drivers.

Some drivers have too many distractions
"It fails to look at the root cause of poor service. We have submitted many different proposals to the government in the past four years but it has turned a deaf ear," Wong said. "It is like refusing to heal a patient and creating a new person instead."

We agree. Civil servants once again are completely out of touch with the reality of the situation and are bending over backwards to not deal with the problems in the taxi industry head-on. 

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Hong Kong's Press Freedom Sinks Further

Andy Chan's talk at the FCC called into question press freedom in Hong Kong
We're not surprised by the report today that press freedom in Hong Kong is at its lowest in six years, as perceived by the public, who for the first time cite concerns of Beijing's influence.

Several incidents made the headlines last year: the Hong Kong government expelling former vice president of the Foreign Correspondents' Club Victor Mallet, the government's banning separatist Andy Ho-tin's Hong Kong National Party, mainland Chinese officials attacking Hong Kong journalists in Beijing and Sichuan, and cancellation of talks by Chinese dissident Ma Jian by Tai Kwun.

Shirley Yam (left) says the low score is concerning
A survey was jointly released by the Hong Kong Journalists Association and the Public Opinion Programme of the University of Hong Kong on Tuesday, and it revealed almost one in four journalists said their superiors had pressured them to cut coverage on the city's independence controversy.

This was when separatist Chan was invited to speak at the FCC in August and it later resulted in Mallet's visa not being renewed and he was forced to leave Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association chairman Chris Yeung Kin-hing said: "The public and journalist community are increasingly worried. Some responses are even alarming."

The annual survey was conducted between January 21-24 to 1,003 people, who gave the city an overall score of 45 out of 100, a record low since the survey started in 2013. More than one-third of the respondents (368), said Beijing's influence was their main concern, followed by self-censorship, decline in confidence in legal protection for journalists, diversity in voices, and supervision by mass media.

Ma Jian's talk in HK that was off then on was also an issue
The survey also interviewed 533 journalists between January and February, and most were worried about self-censorship, followed by Beijing's influence. The journalists gave a score of 40.9 out of 100, similar to last year.

In a question for journalists only, 112 of 516 respondents, or 22 percent, said their superiors had applied pressure for less or zero reporting about the controversy surrounding those calling for the city's separation from China.

Shirley Yam, the association's vice-president, said the number was significant.

"Our survey covered 35 news organizations. It means on average, three to four reporters in each has had that experience," she said.

Yam cited the worst scores under the press freedom index went to the prevalence of self-censorship, pressure from bosses or management, and scruples on criticizing Beijing.

"Can't you see the big picture here? Journalists find self-censorship more widespread and reports ruffling the authorities' features are more often pushed down by senior media figures."

What was Andy Hui doing in the back of a car?
It's a chilling effect but it's sadly going to continue in newsrooms across the city.

Perhaps even more depressing is that this story was dwarfed by the report of Cantopop star Sammi Cheng Sau-man's husband Andy Hui Chi-on was caught on camera kissing another woman in the back of a car...

Monday, 15 April 2019

Picture of the Day: Upside Down Flag

Chinese flag was flying upside down on Friday morning at the Liaison Office
We can't help but be amused by the incident of the Chinese flag hoisted upside down outside the Liaison Office in Western District on Friday.

A picture of it went up on Facebook at 7am on Friday with the caption: "Inverted national flag. What happened? A special occasion?"

By 2pm on Friday, the post had attracted about 300 comments and some 2,800 responses, including 1,500 "haha" messages and about 1,000 likes.

The post was shared 500 times, one of them was Joshua Wong Chi-fung, co-founder and leader of the Demosisto Party.

"How to interpret this? Would people be considered to be breaking the national flag law for posting this picture?" Wong asked on his Facebook page.

The National Flag and National Emblem Ordinance says a person who publicly and wilfully desecrates the national flag can be fined up to HK$50,000 (US$6,378) or jailed for three years. 

So who committed this shameful act right in the office that represents Beijing?

The Liaison Office would not publicly assign blame, only to say: "We have seriously reprimanded the staff member, and we would like to thank the Hong Kong society for their concern," an official with the office said. "We will improve our management to make sure that this will not happen again."

And we are sure this will NEVER happen again at the Liaison Office, of all places. 

We want to know -- how long did it take the Liaison Office to know the flag was flying upside down? It shows that even the minions and officials who walk into the building didn't even notice something was wrong...

Update on Foster Dog

This guy has a forever home on Lantau Island
Last week I posted a picture of this Sheltie that my friend was fostering with the hopes that the dog would be adopted.

I suggested to my friend that he make the appeal on Facebook and he got a flood of inquiries -- 126 of them -- and a dozen requests for more information. In the end the dog didn't have to attend the dog adoption event -- an expat couple on Lantau Island adopted the Sheltie, who will be a companion to their other older dog they took in last year.

So all's well that ends well for this cute guy, who deserves a loving home.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Fact of the Day: Hongkongers are Overworked

Hongkongers are some of the most overworked people in the world
A study released today has found one in five employees work an average of 11 hours a day, with security guards working the most.

The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions analyzed the latest labour data from the Census and Statistics Department and found 20 percent of the city's 3 million employees worked an average of 55 hours per week last year, or an average of 11 hours a day for a five-day work week.

Half of food and drink employees work 56 hours a week
"Hong Kong employees have been working super long hours for years," says Mung Siu-tat, chief executive of the confederation. "This is because the government has never taken any concrete measures to ease this problem, which has been harming workers' family well-being, health and even lives."

People who work in security, food and drink, land transport, construction and retail industries have the longest working hours.

Almost half of security guards work 56 hours a week, a quarter of them work a staggering 72 hours. Also almost half of food and drink employees work 56 hours a week, along with one-quarter of land transport workers, 16 percent of construction workers and 16 percent of retail employees.

On top of that their salaries hardly compensate for the hours worked -- entry- and mid-level employees saw an average growth in their salaries of just 0.7 percent between 2008 to 2018 -- after taking into account inflation rates, while gross domestic product per capita rose annually by 2 percent.

"This shows that even though employees work so hard, they cannot get reasonable returns," Mung says.

Many security guards work 12 hours shifts, six days a week
While the government set up a Standard Working Hours Committee in 2013, it was only two years ago that the committee recommended the government require employers to establish agreements with entry-level employees about working hours and overtime compensation arrangements.

But the government has so far only promised to introduce working hours guidelines in 11 industries, with no plans announced yet to legislate standard working hours.

This shows the government doesn't care about the city's 3 million workers, the ones who keep Hong Kong's capitalistic characteristics functioning, whether it be feeding people, selling customers products, or making sure a property is safe from intruders.

Instead it's all about helping companies squeeze out as much labour as they can from their staff to ensure a profitable bottom line. If they're burned out, just hire the next person.

In 2016 financial services firm UBS released a study of working hours among 71 world cities and found Hong Kong workers had the longest.

Is this something we really want to brag about?