Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Black Protest of 1997

Bright and early local activists drape the Golden Bauhinia sculpture in black
Yesterday just days ahead of the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong back to China, three local activist groups covered the Golden Bauhinia sculpture next to the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre where celebrations will be held with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Protesters included Demosisto secretary-general Joshua Wong Chi-fung, People Power's Tam Tak-chi and representatives from the League of Social Democrats.

The black cloth represents the authoritarianism of China
At around 6am, the activists, dressed in black, covered the golden statue -- a gift from the central government to mark the 1997 handover -- in black fabric.

Security guards tried to stop them but failed.

"The black-cloaked statue symbolizes the hard-line rule of the authoritarian regime over the past 20 years, meaning that the Chinese government failed to honour the promises made in the Sino-British Joint Declaration, depriving Hong Kong people of civil and political rights to free elections and democracy," the groups said in a statement.

They said their move was meant to express anger and disappointment at the administration for political blunders since 1997.

"The grip on civil society has been tightened since the 'umbrella movement'. China also interferes with the internal affairs of Hong Kong through various means. Our confidence in 'one country, two systems' has waned and has been replaced by the fear of it becoming 'one country, one system'." the statement said.

Police were called in to remove the black cloth afterwards
Police were called after 6pm and they removed the cloth from the sculpture. The authorities classified the incident as a "nuisance complaint".

Pro-establishment lawmakers condemned the protest. Luk Chung-hung of the Federation of Trade Unions said it was not an appropriate way to express discontent.

"It did not respect 'one country, two systems' and national sovereignty," Luk said.

The activist groups probably did the stunt now fearing their chances of trying to get anywhere near the venue on July 1 would be impossible.

They really know how to rile up pro-Beijing groups!

Monday, 26 June 2017

Liu Xiaobo on Medical Parole

Devastating news today that Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo has terminal cancer
There was breaking news this afternoon that Nobel Peace prize winner Liu Xiaobo was being released on medical parole -- because he has terminal liver cancer.

It's bitter sweet to hear the 61-year-old is now being treated in hospital in Shenyang in Liaoning province after he was diagnosed with late stage cancer on May 23, according to one of his lawyers, Shang Baojun, citing Liu's brother.

"It seems to be very serious, very serious," Shang said. "If it was an early stage of cancer, then it would be easier to treat. But at this late stage, the treatment seems much more difficult."

The news of Liu's illness renewed calls for the academic to be released on compassionate grounds.

During the 2010 Nobel ceremony his chair was empty
"At a time when China wants to have a greater international role, it is only fitting that it should show humanity and compassion towards a man who has never committed any violent crime, but has dedicated his life to literature and free expression," PEN Hong Kong, the literature and free speech advocacy group said on its Facebook page.

Liu had previously served as president of Independent Chinese PEN, a sister organization of PEN Hong Kong.

Amnesty International's China researcher Patrick Poon said Beijing should ensure that Liu gets good medical care and access to family members, in particular his wife.

"The authorities must also stop their shameful and illegal house arrest of Liu Xiaobo's wife, Liu Xia," Poon said, "and ensure that she is able to receive visitors, travel freely and visit Liu Xiaobo."

According to friends of Liu Xia, she is worn out from isolation from house arrest, and is depressed and has a heart condition.

There is hope that Liu Xia is with her husband...
Another of Liu's lawyers Mo Shaoping said "in principle" Liu could receive visits from family members, but didn't know if his wife was with him.

Friends who know him were shocked to find out that the man they knew was so energetic before and now is seriously ill.

Apparently Liu is getting treatment from top cancer doctors now, but it's too little too late. With late stage cancer all they can do is try to ease his pain as much as possible.

This makes his imprisonment even more outrageous and cruel. He is so highly respected outside of China for his dedication to making his home country better by pushing for political liberalization with Charter 08 and yet he is condemned by Beijing and sent to prison for 11 years for "inciting subversion of state power".

At this point we can only hope his family, in particular his wife Liu Xia can finally see him without restrictions. He should at least be able to live his last days in dignity, though he probably conducted himself that way in prison too.

He said it best in his statement from his 2009 trial, titled: I Have No Enemies: My Final Statement that was read out as his Nobel lecture.

"Hatred can rot away at a person's intelligence and conscience," he wrote. "Enemy mentality will poison the spirit of a nation, incite cruel mortal struggles, destroy a society's tolerance and humanity, and hinder a nation's progress toward freedom and democracy. That is why I hope to be able to transcend my personal experiences as I look upon our nation's development and social change, to counter the regime's hostility with utmost good will, and to dispel hatred with love."

Liu Xiaobo, we will not forget you.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Superficial Economic Progress

This picture in Times Square was taken last year but still applies today
A local newspaper asked Hong Kong documentary filmmaker Ruby Yang her thoughts on the last 20 years since the handover in 1997.

She said it was superficial progress, that it was all focused on the economy and asked, what about people's livelihoods?

Yang really hit the nail on the head -- superficial progress. The government doesn't like to admit there are serious problems, in particular with the economy. However, the wealth gap between the rich and poor has gotten even worse, with the Gini Co-efficient at a record 0.539, up from 0.537 in 2011.

This means the city's wealthiest make 44 times more than the poorest. Interestingly Hong Kong is behind New York as the second-most unequal city in terms of income.

So while we have people who are uber rich and at the other end of the scale people barely scraping a living, the economy is faltering, but the government doesn't seem to notice.

Around dinnertime today I went to Sogo department store in Causeway Bay to buy a few things and was shocked to see how empty it was. The place is usually packed with shoppers and you'd have to elbow your way through the crowds.

But tonight there were none.

A friend had made this observation to me a few days earlier and I was very surprised, but this time I saw it for myself.

Granted the mad summer sales ended a few weeks earlier, but individual brands still had discounts though they weren't enough to entice people to buy.

People cannot afford to shop in Hong Kong -- heck they can't afford to spend much money except for basic expenses. People may be looking, but not many are actually getting their wallets out.

The only place that was busy was the basement grocery store, but while there were customers there buying food, the cashier line was empty.

There were mainlanders in the department store, some were buying -- saw one woman with her suitcase open on the floor and she was literally filling it up with her purchases like a jigsaw puzzle, while others were conducting a Sunday afternoon window shopping exercise with the emphasis on exercise.

Meanwhile most locals were empty handed.

As my friend said to me, this economy is unsustainable with housing prices through the roof and people priced out of the market.

So yes, Ruby Yang is right -- we are experiencing superficial progress -- to the benefit of whom?

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Fact of the Day: Number of China's Rich X9

The wealth gap in China is getting even bigger with even more wealthy people
A private survey has found the number of rich people in China has risen nearly nine times in a decade.

Those with at least 10 million yuan of investable assets hit 1.6 million in 2016, up from 180,000 in 2006, according to the 2017 China Private Wealth Report by Bain Consulting and China Merchants Bank.

The overall value of the private wealth market rose to 165 trillion yuan last year, growing 21 percent annually from 2014-2016. It's expected to reach 188 trillion yuan this year.

The rich spend a lot of money on luxury and invest abroad
There are about 120,000 "high net worth individuals" who had at least 100 million yuan worth of investable assets, up from fewer than 10,000 people in 2006.

The percentage of rich people with overseas investment rose to 56 percent this year, up from 19 percent in 2011.

The top four destinations for investment were Hong Kong, the United States, Australia and Canada, though Hong Kong's popularity fell 18 percent and the US fell 3 percent from 2015-2017.

Respondents said their top reasons for investing overseas was to diversify risks, capture market opportunities and migrate.

The wealthy are concentrated in major cities and coastal areas, but the survey found 22 provinces have at least 20,000 high net worth individuals.

One thing wealthy Chinese can't buy is class...
One can't help but wonder if this wealth amassed in a short period of time is due to loose credit from banks and they've taken advantage of this to invest in real estate and other appreciative assets.

The other possibility is investing early in property and it has significantly appreciated within a decade.

Either way it's a staggering number of nouveau riche in China who are looking for places to spend their money. They are definitely looking overseas for greater security and better living environment.

Anyone who has the access to some kind of wealth are trying to get it out of the country through investing in insurance products or real estate.

But the one thing they can't buy is sophistication and manners.

Friday, 23 June 2017

The Straddling Bus is Dead

This hybrid bus was supposed to alleviate traffic and air pollution -- not!
Guess it was too bizarre to be true.

The Chinese-designed "straddling bus" that was supposed to allow cars to run underneath it has reached the end of the road.

It was originally hailed as "the future of public transport" because it was supposed to be a bus-train hybrid that would create less air pollution and transport commuters faster by avoiding traffic jams.

Less than a year after its unveiling, the bus has gathered dust
However, the widely hyped vehicle in the city of Qinhuangdao was dogged by difficulties and controversies. Local residents complained that the straddling bus was a traffic obstacle, making it hard for cars underneath to see, while the straddling bus would have difficulties making turns and there were questions if it could sustain its own weight and that of its passengers.

"It can only run on wide and straight roads," said Sun Zhang, a transport professor at Tongji University in Shanghai. "In big cities where roads are winding and jammed [with traffic], such roads are in short supply."

State media outlet The Global Times criticized the project for being "stuck in a concept with no real breakthrough", and for not realistically taking traffic problems into account.

The paper was also critical of the Transit Elevated Bus (TEB)'s funding source using peer-to-peer investment platforms. Huaying Kailai, the parent company of TEB Tech, which was to produce the bus, had reportedly raised billions of yuan online by convincing investors they were getting in on the ground floor of the next big thing.

Workers are dismantling the test site in Qinghuangdao
But it seems the company spent less than 200 million yuan (US$29.2 million) on research and development. And it doesn't seem like the project was ever approved by local authorities, as many government departments denied any connection with the project or gave it their blessing.

So now workers have begun dismantling the test site and will demolish it by the end of the month. Meanwhile the giant vehicle that is covered in dust -- less than a year after its debut -- will be moved to a nearby parking lot to wait for further action.

The "straddling bus" is now officially a dud.

Wonder what the next big thing will be...

Thursday, 22 June 2017

China's Cheap Labour No More

There are still armies of factory workers -- but they want better pay to stay
On my first day at work in Beijing at a state media company in 2007, my new boss took me out to lunch and I remember him saying the supply of migrant workers was "limitless".

He believed (or wanted me to believe) there was an endless supply of cheap labour for factories.

I was very skeptical -- eventually the country would run out of migrant workers because everyone had one-child families save for ethnic minorities.

Ten years later I wish I could go back to him and say, "Remember you told me the supply of factory workers was 'limitless'? You were completely wrong!"

Workers come from the countryside and are hardly "limitless"
Factory owners are having a tough time not only finding but retaining workers these days.

Rising labour costs have led to a high turnover rate among factory workers. Wuhan University did a survey of factories in Guangdong and Hubei and found 26 percent of workers in the Pearl River Delta had changed jobs.

"With high turnover, they have to pay workers more to retain them," said Albert Park, one of the designers of the survey and is a professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

The average monthly wages in China rose to 4,126 yuan (US$603.78) per month in 2015, almost comparable to Brazil and much higher than developing economies like India and Vietnam.

In addition, in order to gain subsidies and tax benefits from the government, more than one-third of mainland factory owners try to gain favoritism from the state or the Communist Party. More than half surveyed received government subsidies, which account for 2.6 percent of their sales revenues.

Some factory owners resort to using robots to cut costs
About 23 percent of factory owners do this by serving in local parliaments and political consultative committees, while 39 percent are party members.

Because of rising labour costs, 40 percent of manufacturers in Guangdong and Hubei use robots in production. To Park, this means factory owners aren't sure demand will improve and so they are cautious about making large investments.

How much has changed in a decade! While we're pleased to know migrant workers are earning more money, the cost of living for them has increased too.

What they really need is access to education to further improve their employment opportunities. However, this is the next hurdle that really needs to be tackled so that children of migrant workers will at least see more hope for the next generation in terms of social and economic mobility.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

An Early Canada 150 Celebration

Red maple leaf-shaped cookies appropriate for the birthday event!
Tonight I went to a celebration for Canada's 150th for those living and working in Hong Kong. It was held in the ballroom of the Island Shangri-La and a lot of effort was put into organizing the event.

Walking into a hallway leading towards the ballroom, there was a giant long poster on both sides of the narrow corridor to give the impression you were walking into a forest. Once inside, one side of the room represented the west side of Canada, the other the east side.

Leung Chun-ying and Jeff Nankivell have a toast on stage
Not only were there gorgeous video images to show off the different areas of the country, but also food too. The side with British Columbia and Alberta had fantastic roast beef, fresh salmon and tuna, while the other side had mussels, lobster and ham.

There were also mini burgers, Ambrosia apple crumble, very chocolatey Nanaimo bars and maple bacon oatmeal chocolate chip cookies shaped like maple leafs.

Our relatively new Consul General Jeff Nankivell impressed the crowd packed into the room with his pretty good gweilo Cantonese and then joked that he now had our attention...

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was an honoured guest at the event. I wasn't sure how the audience would react, but on the whole they were supportive. Maybe it's because he's leaving in a matter of days so it didn't matter anymore?

He gave a lengthy speech, but not before praising Nankivell for his Cantonese. Leung explained that his parents came from northern China and when they came to Hong Kong tried very hard to speak the local lingo, but it sounded like the consul general's. That got a few laughs.

A video presentation showing the western provinces
Leung's speech was the usual spiel, and he had to throw in the Greater Bay Area and how Canadians can take advantage of that. Uh right. But he joked how Canada is turning 150 years old, but looks so young with a 45-year-old prime minister, and how Canada and Hong Kong share the same birthday.

Afterwards an Edmonton born singer Joyce Lee took to the stage and belted out Summer of '69 by Bryan Adams. Woohoo.

Perhaps most moving for me was singing the national anthem... I don't get to sing it often but when I do I feel very proud to represent my country.

My favourite time singing the national anthem was during the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010. I was taking the bus downtown to get to my shift at work to cover the Games when the bus driver announced we would sing O Canada. It was the best rendition ever.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

The Parking Spot Bubble

Parking spots are a hot commodity in Hong Kong for the uber rich
Hong Kong property analysts are saying people should invest in parking spaces because their value has risen 270 percent in the last 12 years.

A few days ago, a business executive paid a gobsmacking HK$5.18 million on a parking space in a residential development in Sai Ying Pun. It's not even Central.

One parking spot was sold here for HK$5.18 million
In 2005 the average price for a parking spot was HK$396,000, but as of April this year it's HK$1.47 million.

During the same 12-year period, flats rose 256 percent.

The reason for car parking spaces rising higher in value is that three government car parks have closed for redevelopment -- Tsuen Wan Transport Complex Car Park, the Middle Road Multi-storey Car Park in Tsim Sha Tsui, and Murray Road Car Park in Central.

Since 2013, the city has lost 1,888 parking spaces due to changing land use.

For the first five months of this year, prices for parking spaces have gone up 12 percent to an average of HK$1.46 million. During the same period, 3,013 parking spaces changed hands for a total value of HK$4.3 billion.

But if you're looking to break into the property market, owning a parking spot before having a roof over your head is absurd.

Murray Road Car Park (above right) has closed in Central
And how much rent can you charge for a parking spot? Not as much as if you rented the same amount of space to actually live in. It would take you forever to make back the money you paid for the spot. Not really financially viable.

Which makes parking spaces only in the realm of the super rich who need places to park their cars.

Real estate is not a game us ordinary folk will ever win at -- the rules keep changing to make it near impossible for us to have any kind of leg-up on the system.

So maybe speculating on parking spaces is the next big thing. Get ready for a really big bubble.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Greg So: Trying to Leave on Good Terms -- Not

Commerce minister Greg So when he announced HKTV did not get a license
Outgoing Commerce and Economic Development minister Greg So Kam-leung has revealed that HKTV should have gotten a free-to-air license four years ago, and that he almost cried when when he had to announce the government's "collective decision" which resulted in 300 people in the broadcast industry out of work.

In 2013, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his advisers rejected the application by outspoken businessman Ricky Wong Wai-kay for the broadcast license due to a "basket of factors" -- which are still unknown to this day.

So claims at the time he felt HKTV should have a TV license
"At the time I suggested three licenses should be granted because I believe in competition," So said on a RTHK program on Monday. Only i-Cable's Fantastic TV and PCCW's HK Television Entertainment Company were awarded licenses.

"I tried my best to convince the members at the Executive Council meeting, but I also had to respect the collective decision," he added. "I was trying not to cry when announcing the news [as some 300 people would lose their jobs]," he said.

Are we supposed to feel sympathy for So? Does he want the public to think he was the only rational person in the room but no one was listening or that he was out-voted?

When he was asked about his feelings over implementing a decision he did not believe in, So said: "It was part of my responsibilities... I had to explain to the public. This is the spirit of accountability system."

How about more like, I had to go along with it, otherwise I'd probably be sacked?

Why was So not questioned about the food truck debacle?
So also talked about Uber and its ongoing legalization problems in Hong Kong. He suggested that perhaps the government's regulations were perhaps not accommodating enough for this sharing economy trend.

"If its business model does not contradict the objectives behind our legislation, shouldn't we consider amending the law to allow better development for a sharing economy?" he asked.

Guess that hot potato will be passed onto chief executive-elect Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's administration to handle come July 1.

However, during the RTHK program, did no one challenge So on the abysmal failure of the food truck initiative? Last week the government finally admitted that perhaps some of the locations weren't good for customers. Hello?! We could have told you that!

He should have been raked over the coals for this half-baked idea that got worse and worse.

But perhaps this topic was one he insisted on refusing to talk about, though he was keen on getting the sympathy vote from the public.

Sorry Mr So -- can't have it both ways.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Picking on the Little Person -- Again

Many elderly people would rather collect cardboard than get handouts
It seems the Hong Kong authorities really like to bully those beneath them. This time officers from the Food and Environmental Health Hygiene Department (FEHD) arrested and fined an elderly woman for selling a piece of cardboard to a domestic helper for HK$1.

The woman, surnamed Chu, sold the piece of cardboard last Sunday and then six department officers approached her and charged her. Chu was taken to the department office and later the police station, where she said she was released on bail for HK$30, leaving her with only HK$4 left in her wallet.

A protest was held today for a woman fined by the FEHD
A group of 30 people protested at the Central Western District Environmental Hygiene office today. The organizer of the event, a man surnamed Au said: "The behaviour of the officers is cold-blooded. We urge the department to drop the charges, return the cart it confiscated from Chu and stop all these actions targeting grass-roots workers."

Lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick was also at the protest and said a lot of elderly people were trying to make a living from collecting recyclables like cardboard. He criticized the government for focusing on giant infrastructure projects instead of helping those who desperately need help.

Civic Party Eastern District councillor Lai Chi-keong, who exposed the incident last week after the woman sought help from him, said she had refused to apply for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance because she did not way to rely on others.

The incident is similar to the cleaner who was fined last year
He added she suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and gastritis, and had turned down donations and assistance offered by many after the incident came to light.

This episode is a reminder of when the FEHD fined a 71-year-old cleaner HK$1,500 last year for allegedly dumping water on the street in Wan Chai. A photo of her bursting into tears went viral online and the authorities later withdrew the fine.

Can the authorities please use some common sense and compassion? Many elderly on the streets collecting cans and cardboard are too proud to receive handouts. They are not the ones who should be penalized unless they are breaking serious hygiene regulations!

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Picture of the Day: Smiling Trams

Caught the tram with its smile in Central this evening
Hongkong Tramways has come up with a way to rejuvenate itself in the hopes of luring more people to ride trams -- by giving them a smile.

Almost a month ago the company unveiled the new look -- in the picture you can see the lights of the tram has a pair of eyes and nose, and a smile on its bumper.

The company hopes this new look and slogan, "Catch a Ride, Catch a Smile" not only encourages people to smile, but also reminisce about riding "ding dings" as they are affectionately called.

Even the sign posts at tram stops have this new logo of the green tram, and of course the subtle smile.

Some 200,000 passengers ride trams everyday, but the company may have to mull raising fares to keep up with rising transportation costs.

So here's a shout out to people in Hong Kong to try to ride the tram as much as possible -- it's an iconic part of the city we can't give up using.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Blaming Occupy for Closing Shop

Carnegie's in Wan Chai is closing down after 25 years in business
It's been a tough year for restaurants and bars in Hong Kong.

A number of them have closed down, citing rising rents, or the clientele they used to target (ie bankers) are fast becoming extinct.

Reading some of the news articles, the owners of some of these establishments cite the Occupy protests in 2014 severely impacted their businesses, and after the 79-day protest, their customer base never recovered again.

W's Entrecote didn't see customers come back after Occupy
It's really interesting to hear them say that -- it's several of them, not just one or two, and it makes you wonder why that is or how could that even be possible, that it is a lame excuse.

But perhaps the hassle of going to these areas forced patrons to head elsewhere and they found other bars and restaurants to patronize that they felt had better atmosphere, or better value for money, or better food on offer and didn't bother to come back.

So maybe Occupy influenced consumers' habits in where they went to eat and drink,  and also it's capitalism -- if people aren't interested in your products and/or services, they will go elsewhere, leaving you in the dust.
This bar cites road closures during Occupy impacted business

It's even more acute in Hong Kong where overhead costs are so high and profits are razor thin. If you don't have a solid game plan in place that is executed well, nothing can save you.

Some of the places that have recently closed are past their prime, or becoming too old school for millennials who are looking for something more exciting or interesting.

As the saying goes, the only constant is change.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Singapore's Sibling Feud

Lee Hsien Loong's siblings accuse him of betraying his father's legacy
A curious feud has erupted among family members of Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew's three children.

It emerged earlier this week that Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's two youngest siblings spoke out on Wednesday online, saying they were being harassed so much that "Lee Hsien Yang feels compelled to leave Singapore".

"Since the passing of Lee Kuan Yew, on 23 March 2015, we have felt threatened by Hsien Loong's misuse of his position and influence over the Singapore government and its agencies to drive his personal agenda," the siblings said in a Facebook statement.

Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang say they are harassed
"We feel big brother omnipresent. We fear the use of the organs of state against us and Hsien Yang's wife Suet Fern," they said in a six-page document.

They added: "We feel hugely uncomfortable and closely monitored in our own country. We do not trust Hsien Loong as a brother or as a leader. We have lost confidence in him."

The issue is that the two younger siblings are the executors of their father's will, and in it, Lee Kuan Yew wanted the family home, which is near the Orchard Road shopping district, to be demolished after his death, or after his daughter Lee Wei Ling, who had been living with her father for years, moved out.

They claim Hsien Loong is planning to preserve the home as that "would enhance his political capital", though Lee Kuan Yew did not want the public to "trudge through" his family home after he died.

At stake is the family home Lee Kuan Yew wanted demolished
And now the government has admitted there is a secret committee evaluating the future of the property.

While Premier Lee has claimed to recuse himself from government decisions regarding the home his father lived in for seven decades, Hsien Yang said his brother's actions contradicted his position.

"He [Premier Lee] goes to the cabinet committee and says, 'Oh, my father wasn't quite so unwavering in his wish. You know, he would have accepted that the government has a right to do what it does'. What is all this sophistry? What, are you quibbling and trying to play with words, to try and say that it might be all right?"

This public airing of the spat between the siblings is very unusual but also reveals cracks in the ruling family's fabric. Singaporeans may be embarrassed or intrigued by the seemingly acrimonious fight.

Lee Kuan Yew didn't want his home to be a tourist site
If and when Hsien Yang does go into self-imposed exile, it will be a strong vote of non-confidence for Hsien Loong. How will Singaporeans feel about their city state now? Or have they lost respect for the ruling party, the People's Action Party?

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

The Privilege of Parking

Can you imagine paying over HK$5 million to be able to park your car?
A Hong Kong executive has paid a world record HK$5.18 million (US$664,260) for a parking spot in Sai Ying Pun.

Kwan Wai-ming is the executive director of Huarong Investment Stock Corp and needed a third parking spot in The Upton, a new mixed business and residential complex.

The last record price for a parking spot was HK$4.8 million at 55 Conduit Road in Mid-Levels last October.

The price beat the record at 55 Conduit Road at HK$4.8M
In this case, Kwan probably lives at The Upton, having forked over HK$75.6 million in 2014 and 2016 for two units in the building, and then last January he bought two parking spaces at HK$3.78 million and HK$3.98 million.

To put this into perspective for ordinary folk, there's a parking garage across from The Upton where it costs HK$3,000 to rent a parking spot there.

But Kwan is paying for the convenience and security of having his cars in the same building.

The rest of us would use HK$5.18 million to buy a flat to live in -- if given a chance.

Ah, the lifestyles of the rich and obnoxiously loaded...

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Dennis the Mediator

Dennis Rodman (centre) arrived in North Korea today via Beijing
Hmmm former NBA star Dennis Rodman is back in North Korea to hang with his buddy Kim Jong-un.

Rodman arrived earlier today via Beijing and was mobbed by journalists.

"I'm just trying to open the door," Rodman told them. "My purpose is to actually see if I can keep bringing sports to North Korea, so that's the main thing."

Rodman has built a rapport with Kim Jong-un
The former basketball player spoke quietly and was escorted through customs and immigration by two handlers.

Rodman claims to have good relations with US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim, which would put the celebrity athlete in a very good position if he were able to try to lessen tensions between the two countries.

Tensions have heightened on the Korean peninsula due to Pyongyang's nuclear and missile tests, and it vows to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the US mainland, which if it does become a reality would create a very dangerous situation for Trump.

"I am pretty much sure that he [Trump] is happy with the fact that I am over here trying to accomplish something that we both need," Rodman said, when asked if he had spoken to the American president.

He also has a friendship with US President Donald Trump
US Under Secretary of State Thomas Shannon said today in Tokyo that Rodman was traveling as a private citizen.

"We are aware of his visit. We wish him well. But we have issued travel warnings to Americans and suggested they not travel to North Korea for their own safety," he said.

So the world is watching, Dennis. We hope you can persuade Kim, who you describe as "an awesome kid" to put down his nuclear toys and play basketball with you instead...

Monday, 12 June 2017

First Typhoon of the Year

Typhoon Merbok passes through Hong Kong
Over the weekend the weather was so hot that I barely went outdoors. Then late last evening the Hong Kong Observatory said the weather was unsettled and could lead to the possibility of a typhoon.

MTR commuters rushing home early from work
This morning it was bright and sunny, but when I left my home to head to the bus stop, it started raining! After we got into the office, Typhoon signal No. 1 was already hoisted, and then less than an hour later it was up to Typhoon No. 3.

By lunchtime people were speculating when it would be Typhoon No. 8 -- so that they could go home early.

After 4pm the observatory issued an announcement that Typhoon 8 would be hoisted on or before 5.30pm -- Typhoon Merbok was approaching much faster than expected.

And indeed T8 was issued at 5.20pm. By that time I was already on my way home, and there are pictures of the MTR packed with commuters.

We're expecting heavy thunderstorms the next few days
Merbok is expected to make landfall shortly in Mirs Bay in Tai Pang Wan, northeast of Sai Kung Peninsula.

So while we got to go home relatively early, it's back to work tomorrow as the typhoon will have passed over us overnight...

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Why Stress Out our Children?

Children in Hong Kong are stressed out as well as their parents
It's shocking to discover Hong Kong children are more stressed out than ever, particularly concerned about their academic performance, followed by trying to meet their parents' expectations.

The Hong Kong Paediatric Society and the Hong Kong Paediatric Foundation released a damning report today saying children are suffering a worrying decline in their mental health in the past decade that is pushing their parents to a breaking point.

"There was no designated section for children in the [chief executive] policy addresses, not to mention a comprehensive child health policy and the children's commission," foundation chairman Dr Chan Chok-wan said.

The emphasis on academics is the main reason for their stress
The report said the government failed to tackle the "root causes" of declining mental health among young people, and this resulted in a "vicious cycle" in which parents are pushed to the brink of emotional breakdowns.

In the report that included surveys that asked 1,300 parents what they thought their kindergarten and primary school-aged children were stressed out about. Sixty percent of respondents said academic performance, followed by parental expectations at 50 percent. High self expectations was next at 38 percent, and socializing with friends was 26 percent.

About 70 percent of the parents admitted suffering from emotional problems as a result of childcare pressures, while almost two-thirds of parents had insomnia due to the same reasons.

Eighty-eight percent of the parents reported not getting enough support from the government.

Meanwhile the average number of child suicides is about 23 since 2010, though it increases after temporary government measures are stopped.

Leung Chai-yan has had her battle with mental illness too
Chan criticized Hong Kong's last three chief executives for "not being effective nor directional" on child welfare policies to improve the situation, and suggested Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was the worst.

This is ironic considering his adult daughter Leung Chai-yan has been suffering from mental health issues; she was in a hospital in Sha Tin a few months ago, though there is no recent word on her status.

The foundation chairman also repeated calls for the government to have a dedicated children's commission to advocate for child welfare issues, but thinks the government would not do this because it would lead to stricter guidelines.

"There is also a perceived manpower constraint. But the children's commission would be the one which would deal with all these affairs. The money used would be much better utilized. That in the long run is the best way to handle this issue," Chan said.

There have been calls for a children's commission for many years now -- how much longer do we have to wait? It is quite obvious the education system is stressing out children and their parents rather than making learning fun and educational.

Hong Kong also doesn't have enough child psychologists to diagnose issues in children to give them timely therapy. And there is too much emphasis on academics than giving children more freedom and space to play and relax.

Are we at a breaking point now, or do we have to wait until there's a spike in child suicides before the government does anything?

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Trying to Preserve Tai O

Tai O fishing village is Hong Kong's "Venice of the East"
The other day I went to Tai O for a work assignment, and today I remembered there's a teacher there who wants to try to raise greater interest in the sleepy fishing village on Lantau.

Solomon Au Yeung has been teaching at the primary school there for the past two years and has grown to love the area -- so much so that he has started an IndiGoGo page to raise an ambitious US$150,000 to be able to rent a shop space and sell local souvenirs and snacks, and it would be the meeting point where guides could take visitors around.

On his crowdfunding page he writes: "As more and more of the locals are moving out for work, some of the traditional stores may have to close down once the original owners retire, [sic] it's a pity to see their products/handicrafts (which not only are of high quality, but more importantly, reflect the cultural value of the place) have to disappear all of a sudden..."

Solomon Au Yeung wants to help preserve Tai O's culture
He wants to set up a "Cultural Concept Store" to preserve the local heritage, and take tourists around on tours.

Sounds all neat in theory, but the reality is that so far no one has donated any money because he's asking a lot from donors who don't know much about Tai O. He should really be pitching the Hong Kong Tourism Board which has the money to help fund his cause.

But we admire his willingness to put himself out there and try to sell his idea to potential patrons.

Tai O used to be a thriving area with lots of fish and seafood that the villagers would make into salted fish, fish sauce, and dried seafood. Today you can see some stalls selling dried fish maw and conpoy.

A lot of young people have moved away from Tai O to be closer to town for work, and so elders are left minding the store (literally).

It's a very laid-back place, where you don't even need to lock your door, air conditioning is sparse and people get around by foot or on bicycles.

The only time the place is busy is on the weekends or special holidays like Dragon Boat Festival; otherwise it's a pretty quiet neighbourhood.

We'll have to check back on Au Yeung's page to see how he goes.

Here's his page: www.indiegogo.com/projects/building-a-cultural-concept-store-in-hong-kong-community#/

Friday, 9 June 2017

Musical Ping Pong

Whoa what a finale! Incorporating table tennis with music. How novel!
This evening YTSL and I had tickets to watch a concert by the Hong Kong Philharmonic called "Ping Pong Diplomacy", harking back to over 45 years ago when the table tennis team from the United States visited China.

It was considered a world-changing event in Sino-US relations, breaking the ice and paving the way for then US President Richard Nixon to come to China and meet with Mao Zedong.

Conductor Yu Long commissioned a piece -- featuring table tennis in the music! -- by Andy Akiho and it was performed for the first time two years ago by the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra.

Were the table tennis players going to use up all those balls?
But before that music. Yu led the orchestra in a rousing Tchaikovsky piece called Serenade for Strings, op. 48. I had forgotten Yu likes a fast tempo but was soon quickly reminded when the opening, which is supposed to be like a sonatina, seemed very rushed.

He tried to make the second movement, a waltz, markedly slower, but it too speeded up towards the end, as well as the finale.

I forgot to add that the musicians weren't dressed in formal wear, but black T-shirts and jeans instead which was a weird look, perhaps to make the audience not feel so bad to be casual either.

There was no intermission, and the stage was set for Akiho's Ricochet: Triple Concerto for Ping Pong, Percussion, Violin & Orchestra with three movements.

We the audience were forewarned that ping pong balls could fly into the crowd. This we had to watch.

The piece starts with a violinist making eerie sounds on her instrument, and then a percussionist stands by the ping pong table and starts playing on drums with it. Two actual ping pong players, both American, but one Caucasian male in a shirt and red bow tie, the other a Chinese woman, in a red sleeveless cocktail dress and black heels approach the table and actually start playing table tennis.

At times they rally, and then they start hitting balls towards the audience. They use tambourines to hit the ball so that they too make music, and she hits the drum on the ping pong table hard as a solo passage.

Imagine writing the music for this piece? Ping pong player hits drum; ping pong player uses tambourine to hit balls five times...

It was unpredictable when they were going to hit balls into the audience. In the end the violinist and percussionist each grab box of balls and dump them onto the table to end the piece. So crazy yet so fun!

Kids scrambled towards the stage to grab whatever orange balls they could.

It was just so interesting to see how table tennis could be incorporated into music and it works. The two ping pong players knew exactly when to hit and when to stop, catching the ball. They had several balls in hand just in case shots didn't work out to keep the momentum of hitting the ball going.

It was fun, lively and unpredictable!

Ping Pong Diplomacy
Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall
Tchaikovsky Serenade for Strings, op. 48
Andy Akiho Ricochet: Triple Concerto for Ping Pong, Percussion, Violin & Orchestra