Thursday, 27 April 2017

Arrests in Fight for Democracy

Last November's stand off with police in front of the Liaison Office
This morning nine activists were rounded up on suspected charges of unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct following a rally outside the central government's liaison office last November over the Legislative Council's oath-taking controversy.

The nine included those from Demosisto (Derek Lam Shun-hin and Ivan Lam Long-yin), the League of Social Democrats (Avery Ng Man-yuen and Dickson Chau Ka-faat), and Students Fight for Democracy (Lo Tak-cheung and Sammy Ip Chi-hin).

Avery Ng is dismayed by more arrests of activists like himself
"This is the third time doorstep arrests have been made this year. The political suppression is not over yet!" Ng wrote in a Facebook post. He claimed he had been arrested on two charges of "inciting others to cause disorder in a public place".

This follows the arrest of Youngspiration duo Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang, who were charged with unlawful assembly when they tried to force their way into Legco in order to try to retake their oaths on November 2.

It looks like in the last few months of his leadership, Leung Chun-ying doesn't want to show that he's weak, only being able to rule for one term. Or maybe he's promised Beijing to snuff out any kind of pro-independence movement by using the law to shut them up.

By trying to scare people with jail, others may think twice about continuing the fight for democracy in Hong Kong.

Youngspiration's Sixtus Leung & Yau Wai-ching were charged
It's something Amnesty International has pointed out, commenting after the nine arrests this morning.

"The repeated use of vague charges against prominent figures in Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement reeks of an orchestrated and retaliatory campaign by the authorities to punish those that advocate for democracy in Hong Kong," said Mabel Au, director of Amnesty International Hong Kong.

"The Hong Kong government should be protecting freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, but instead appears intent on intimidating people who are challenging the authorities," she added.

The first test will be on July 1, the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong to China, and Chinese President Xi Jinping will be in town for the festivities. Maybe Leung is tasked with getting rid of dissent during Xi's visit, but whatever happened to "one country, two systems"?

Deng Xiaoping himself coined the phrase so why can't the central leadership accept it?

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Even Border Town Flats Cost $$$

Sha Tau Kok is mostly closed off to the 3,000 people living there
Sha Tau Kok is a rural town that is very close to the mainland border, 11 kilometres northeast of Fanling. It was known for being the place where goods and people were smuggled across the border in the 1950s.

But the town was sealed off from the rest of Hong Kong in 1951 onwards when the Communists took power in China, and access to the town was only restricted to local residents until February 2012 when it was partially reopened.

Marin Point is the first development in 17 years
And now developers have come in and are building flats, and starting to sell them.

Far East Consortium International has unveiled its project called Marin Point, the first development in 17 years, and prices range from HK$10,196 to HK$17,815 per square foot.

These are comparable to flats -- both first and second hand -- closer to town.

There are 57 units for sale, with the average price of HK$10,175 per square foot after discounts, while the most expensive flat is a 593-square-foot flat priced at HK$9.6 million. They will be completed in October next year.

Are three-storey houses still relatively cheap in Sha Tau Kok?
To put this into perspective, existing three-storey village houses there went for HK$4,500 to HK$5,000 per square foot in December last year.

However not every one can buy these flats -- only existing Sha Tau Kok residents are allowed to purchase these units, but they are going to make a killing because eventually the frontier town will be fully opened up, and also rising housing prices in Shenzhen at HK$23,000 per square foot in Shenzhen Bay make Marin Point and other flats in Hong Kong look cheap.

How scary is that?

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

At the Mercy of Landlords

This hotel has a good location, so why does it need to be knocked down?
A property investment company that owns a hotel in Causeway Bay wants to tear it down and turn it into an office building.

SEA Holdings, a publicly-listed company, recently applied to the Town Planning Board to demolish the 29-storey hotel and turn it into a 22-storey office tower with restaurants and shops.

Why? Because it is more profitable to rent out space on a monthly basis than hire staff to look after hotel rooms and guests, and try to fill them on a daily basis.

Remember the Ritz-Carlton and the Furama in Central?
What's also contentious is that the hotel, the Crowne Plaza Hong Kong Causeway Bay is only eight years old so knocking it down would not only mean more waste in our landfills, but more importantly less rooms for visitors to stay in.

In Central there used to be a handful of hotels like the Hilton, Furama, and Ritz-Carlton; now it's only the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong and the Landmark Mandarin Oriental.

How can the Hong Kong Tourism Board lure more visitors to the city if more hotels get torn down?

But it seems like there is actually a glut in the market when it comes to hotel rooms in Hong Kong -- many low to mid-range ones are struggling to be able to charge HK$1,000 a night.

The Murray Building will be turned into a hotel by 2018
For example Ibis Hong Kong in Sheung Wan,  charges just under HK$1,000 a night on weekends, but come weekdays, it's just over HK$600 a night.

One critic of the plans to knock down the Crowne Plaza says property developers don't lose a night's sleep squeezing as much as they can out of us, neither do landlords who double our rents -- they think someone else will take it.

That's why these people are called psychopaths.

But in the meantime, The Murray Building in Central used to be an office building and is now being refurbished into a hotel by keeping the outer shell intact.

Quick fixes aren't what we need in Hong Kong. We need a more visonary, steady approach to development. Knocking down an eight-year-old building is not the way to go.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Gabriela Montero Living with Music

Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero is a whiz at the ivories
Today I had the opportunity to interview an amazing pianist who is classically trained, but can also improvise, much like a jazz musician -- on the spot.

Gabriela Montero is a Venezuelan pianist who will be performing tomorrow night at City Hall Concert Hall, playing Schubert and Schumann in the first half, and then after the intermission, she will take suggestions from the audience of what to play -- as long as they hum it to her.

She explained that improvisation was something classical musicians did in the 16th and 17th centuries, when composers would write "cadenza", and expect the musician to add their own flourish.

But later on, musicians didn't know what to play, and eventually it was written out, which is why people like me have always thought that classical music was about playing the piece exactly as the composer had intended, down to every last note.

Here she is riffing off of Bach's Goldberg Variations:

As someone who learned classical music on the piano, I could never even dream of improvising -- I thought it was something only those who were well versed in music could do, but Montero is in an league of her own.

When she was a baby she was already playing a toy piano in her crib. By the age of five she gave her first public performance and at eight performed her first piano concerto.

She likes to connect with the audience with improvisation
I brought up the description of being a prodigy, but she doesn't like the word, saying it separates her from others. She also frankly admitted she quit piano twice, one time not touching the piano for two-and-a-half years because she didn't want music to dictate her life.

"Just because I'm good at it doesn't mean I like it," she said. It took her years to reconcile with her talent and also the fact that she was a single mother meant that she had to use her skills as a musician to support her family.

Now she seems very happy to be making music on her own terms, and using it has a platform to speak out about her home country that is falling apart due to the corrupt government, with people starving from not being able to get access to food.

In 2011 she wrote Ex Patria as an emotional musical picture of what is going on in Venezuela, and while she has performed it 10 times, including a recording, she hopes she doesn't have to play it again.

The following year Amnesty International made her an honorary consul, where she uses the position to talk about Venezuela, and she is now basically in self-imposed exile; if she were to return, she says she would be put in jail. She now lives in Barcelona with her husband and two daughters.

But back to the improvisation -- I hummed her Teresa Teng's famous song, The Moon Represents My Heart.

She played what I hummed perfectly on the piano, dabbled a bit with it and then began to play. And watching her riff off the phrase in various styles was amazing. We were just spellbound watching her play.

After she finished, she said that when she improvises, it has to be recorded because she cannot play it exactly the same again -- the music flows through her onto the keys and once it's over, that's it.

Montero seems at peace with her spellbinding talent, probably thanks to age and having tried to quit twice and then coming to terms with it, but also determined to use it the way she wants to.

She has a warm spirit and eager to share her music with everyone.