April 08, 2008
Vegemite-gate

Tragedy strikes in Hong Kong:

Australians in Hong Kong are finding expatriate life harder to cope with due to a shortage of one of their favourite foods - Vegemite, a news report said today.

Supplies of the popular spread have run out across the city of 6.9 million, where tens of thousands of Australian expatriate business people, diplomats and their families live...British-made yeast extract Marmite, which looks similar to Vegemite but has a different taste, is still available in Hong Kong but many Australians refuse to accept it as a substitute.

Let the conspiracy theories begin.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 15:58
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January 03, 2008
Hong Kong's clean air solution

The winter monsoon has brought both cooler weather and clearer skies to Hong Kong this past week. It is commonly accepted the air quality in this city is getting worse...and the clearer skies have shown how beautiful the city can be if only the government would seriously address the issue of pollution. At the same time the NPC has decided that 2017 and 2020 Hong Kong might be ready for universal suffrage in votes for the Chief Executive and Legco...but there's no chance for 2012. The carrot keeps getting dangled just a little further out of reach so that the pro-democracy parties can keep themselves mired in their dead-end rhetoric while their support continues to collapse. Meanwhile the pro-Beijing camp continue to find ways to further their intensely close ties with China's powers-that-be through declarations of fealty and loyalty, such as hosting the equestrian events for the Olympics this year.

But there's a mutually helpful plan that can tie all of this things together. Beijing is planning to use it's expertise in climate control for the Beijing Olympics, by blasting clouds, suppressing smog and whatever else is necessary to make the Beijing Olympics scarily efficient. So why doesn't The Don and his government get on the blower and ask the Beijing Olympics people if they could borrow some of that same expertise to make the Big Lychee a little less dirty and a little more clear? It's a win-win...even the horses will approve.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:45
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October 29, 2007
Stupid HK things

Why does the SCMP insist on using the most inane breakout boxes in history, simply so they can have a number in large type in the middle of an article? Typically the number is a repeat of some factoid from the attached article. For example in today's world section the box says "The numer of cars it would take to produce the equivalent emissions in a year: 440,000" in talking about the California forest fires. The article has the same information in paragraph three...but the editors assume you won't get that far. How about this: number of useless factoid boxes with numbers in today's SCMP?

Secondly, what's with the idea of politicians standing by the road side and waving to speeding motorists? If that's how politicians here promote themselves then one needs to reconsider their marketing techniques. Have there been any wave inspired car accidents yet? Has anyone driven past and thought, "I like how he waves, he's the one I'm voting for"? And can breathing noxious car fumes for hours at a time be a good thing for those aspiring to rule over us?

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 11:37
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August 20, 2007
Mental Health in HK

It's been a while but contrary to rumours this site still works...

Please check out and help pass around the word on a new HK site: HK mental health support:

This is a group for mental health patients, their family and friends in Hong Kong. We are guided to self-help approach, and aim to bring peer support for our group members. You can vent your anger here, discuss your frustrations, and share how you cope with such disease.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 14:24
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July 10, 2007
Legal tender

The question of compensation of lawyers is, if you believe lawyers themselves, a difficult one to deal with. Any hint of a "no win, no pay" system and you'll get cries and protests from the best of them. For example, in today's SCMP:

Lawyers yesterday expressed concern that they would bear the highest financial risks under the conditional legal aid fund proposed by the Law Reform Commission.

Michael Vidler, a solicitor who has handled many legal aid cases, said the "no win, no fee" principle adopted in the proposal was unfair to lawyers. "It's a bit like going along to a doctor and say, `if I get better I will pay you, if I don't get better I won't pay you'," he said.

Actually, that's a damn good idea for the doctors to consider in their current pay negotiations. But the real trick here is the analogy itself: are lawyers really like doctors? Sure losing a civil court case can be bad news, but it doesn't tend to cost you your life.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 11:02
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May 08, 2007
Vini, Vici, Visa

While Hong Kong's press was whipping up a frenzy of worry about the disaster that was to be golden week, the Mainlanders who weren't coming or who were coming but weren't going to shop actually went and spent their backsides off.

Labor Day Golden Week proved to be a roaring success with 505,170 mainlanders pouring into Hong Kong between April 28 and May 7, according to figures supplied by the Immigration Department on Monday.

This was a massive 21 percent jump on the 415,446 who visited Hong Kong last year over the same period, and came despite the bad publicity the city has been getting in the mainland media, including reports of shoppers being ripped off by unscrupulous traders.

But the biggest surprise of the Golden Week bonanza was the fact the Tourism Board received only 13 complaints from April 28 to May 6, an average of one complaint for every 40,000 visitors.

According to a Tourism Board spokesman, these were mainly about the services provided by hotels or rude staff. There were no complaints concerning shopping.

One of two things has happened: all the media focus has forced the tourism and retail trade to clean up their act, or it was all a beat up over a couple of isolated incidents. Actually, there's a third, more sinister theory...perhaps the tourism trade got a few ideas from those Falun Gong displays at the various tourist spots around town.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:34
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May 07, 2007
Bottom dollar tourism

On the weekend the SCMP had yet another article on the "Mainland tourist rip-off" theme they've been hammering away on for weeks. This time a reporter joined a trip from Beijing (I think). It cost 1,888 yuan for 4 days including flights, accomodation, meals etc. The reporter was staggered that the food was ordinary, the tour guide put the hard sell on them and they went to many shops where the guides get a commission.

What's the shock? If you pay so little for a trip to the Big Lychee, do you really think you'll be dining at Spoon and shopping at IFC? Do you think the tour guides are doing it because they love showing Hong Kong off to mainlanders out of the goodness of their hearts? There are legitimate tourism issues such as fakes in Hong Kong. But not having a tour that's up to scratch because you pay bottom dollar isn't one of them. If mainlanders are coming to Hong Kong for a view of hard-boiled capitalism, they're getting a front row seat.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:05
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May 01, 2007
Pandas and people

Some innovative thinking in Hong Kong today.

Item 1: "Tsang promises to adopt new approach towards policymaking". What is this brave new way for our newly "elected" and enlightened leadership to guide our fair city?

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen yesterday pledged a full-scale change in the government's attitude to policymaking, with public opinion at the core of its new approach.

As well as seeking deeper and broader public involvement, the government would establish communication channels with the public early in the process, Mr Tsang said.

It's just crazy enough to work....until it clashes with the interests of the 3 Bs: business, Beijing, and the bureaucracy.

Item 2: Hong Kongers' approval of the central government's policies has shot up in the past two months, according to the SCMP. What caused this jump?

Beijing's gifts of two giant pandas to Hong Kong has paid off, with a survey showing people's satisfaction with state policy towards the city surging to a 12-month high. Those happy with the central government's policies rose 7.5 percentage points to 49.3 per cent over the past two months...The figure is the second highest since the survey began in 1997.
Pandas pay off.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:34
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April 19, 2007
Roads to nowhere

It's always amusing to read about those various roads and bridges to nowhere: pieces of pork-barrel politics, make work schemes and worse. Japan was a particular victim as its government took the Keynesian attitude of spending to prime the economy to ridiculous lengths and lead to (amongst other things) corruption and waste. But it's not so amusing when it's your own tax dollars going to waste, and over at Asia Sentinel they take a look at Hong Kong's useless Stonecutter's Bridge, which you can see on any trip to the airport and wonder what the hell they were thinking.

The scarier question is once the bridge is built, what will they do next?

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 14:44
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April 17, 2007
The ties that don't bind

Say what you like about David Tang, he's got a knack for marketing. His latest effort is the absurd Mandarin Collar Society (see below the jump for a Reuters article on this new group). That link will take you the the MCS "Manifesto", which is long on why ties are bad for you and very short on why the mandarin collar (not a Mao collar, apparently) is the obvious replacement....unless you happen to be the owner of a clothing chain that specialises in a Westernised take on Chinese fashion.

It's all done with tie-in-cheek. The only problem for Mr Tang is the most people in my office already don't wear ties...or did he miss the whole "casual dress" revolution? Better yet, how can I get shares in Shanghai Tang?

16:35 17Apr2007 RTRS-Chic HK group aims to liberate world from neckties

By James Pomfret
HONG KONG, April 17 (Reuters Life!) - Dismissing neckties as antiquated soup bibs and fancy choke collars, a Hong Kong group of power dressers wants to promote the Chinese mandarin collar as a stylish alternative for the modern man.
Launched on Tuesday, the Mandarin Collar Society, which includes prominent businessmen and socialites, urged men the world over to "reorient" and "liberate" themselves from ties and embrace the short, stand-up collar worn loosely around the neck.
"I'm not declaring war against the tie, we're just trying to find an alternative to Western elegance by bringing a style that belongs to the Orient," said society visionary Raphael le Masne de Chermont, executive chairman of luxury retailer Shanghai Tang.
The society's tongue-in-cheek manifesto describes the necktie as "antiquated", "something for adversaries to grab in a fight" and an accessory inviting "enslavement" by reminding the wearer that his bosses have him by the neck.
"I've always felt comfortable in a mandarin collar, it's a very practical costume," said Andrew Yuen, a Hong Kong Chinese socialite and founding member of the society. "One would always feel more comfortable with one's own ethnic costume."
Fans of the mandarin collar aren't exclusively Chinese. Shanghai Tang has enlisted the support of former British sprinting great Linford Christie and Michelin starred French chef Pierre Gagnaire to spread the gospel with Western men.
"We're in China here, and China has to reinvent its own code of conduct and elegance and we're trying to contribute to that," said Le Masne, a Frenchman who now only wears mandarin collars.
"You will see that in four or five years it will be perfectly acceptable to wear a mandarin collar at business meetings."

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 16:49
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March 29, 2007
Don's Disneyland

The government has released the four potential designs for their very own theme park by the harbour.

Members of the public have been invited to vote on their favorite design in the next two months, after which a report will be submitted to a special selection board to be chaired by Chief Secretary for Administration Rafael Hui Si-yan for a final decision.
So you can't vote for who sits in the place but you can vote on what they sit in.

The models all seem to have lots of trees and water features, which should nicely block out the massive highway that will go past the front door while keep the governed an appropriate distance away from those that govern.

tamar1.jpg

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 08:43
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March 27, 2007
Queen's pier

While it was OK to demolish the old Star Ferry terminal, nearby Queen's Pier is to be preserved. This will lead to the ludicrous situation where there will be a pier about 40 yards inland from the (fast diminishing) harbour. It will also be a pain in the backside to the government's plans:

The plan will cause a four-month delay to the CRIII contract, with a substantial prolongation cost. The reassembling of the pier structure would cost an extra $10 million. The overall cost estimate for this option is in the order of $50 million.
Perhaps that's the key - make it appear so ridiculous that everyone will agree to knock the thing down so we don't interupt out lovely new highway.

From The Standard:

The source said that as far as the government can see, it would be more practical to disassemble the pier and store its parts for reassembling in the adjacent open space outside City Hall or at a location, subject to public consultation.
We're going to end up with a pier next to a highway and City Hall. This is considered a victory for heritage preservation in Hong Kong. Take a look...

queenspier.jpg

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:21
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March 22, 2007
Fiddling while we choke

Hong Kong's pollution has quickly become a major issue for the government. One of their easier opt-outs has been to blame those filthy mainlanders just over the border with their dirty chimney stacks belching out the smoke and soot that has become the bane of Hong Kong's air. One common urban myth is that pollution disappears during the 3 week long mainland holidays for New Year, May and October. The only problem is it turns out that Hong Kong itself is responsible for more than half of its pollution problem.

The government has pledged to deal with this scourge using "practicable measures" and that we should all relax because things are (cough, cough) getting better and "the [Environmental Protection] department reiterated that it has placed air-quality improvement on top of its agenda."

Bear that in mind as you try and pick out the skyline through the muck.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 11:02
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March 21, 2007
How much can a panda bear?

To celebarte the 10th anniversary of the Communist takeover of the Big Lychee, the city is to receive two pandas from the motherland, romantically named 606 and 610:

A pair of young pandas - described as being "in love with each other since birth" and a gift from the central government to Hong Kong to mark the 10th anniversary of the handover - will arrive before May 1...

After the two young pandas have reached puberty, at the earliest by 2008, Hong Kong will be able to keep their babies unless the central government disagrees. "As long as [the babies of 606 and 610] are born in Hong Kong, they're Hong Kong permanent residents," Li said.

This stands in stark cotrast to how humans are treated under the right of abode issue. Apparently pandas are special.

The SCMP report also includes a brief outline of the selection process for these pandas:

Feng Zuojian , the team leader, said five stringent criteria - age, physical condition, behaviour and psychology, look and genetic condition - were examined. One of the most important tasks of the team is to determine who the pandas' fathers are.

"Our genetic analysis has indicated that the two pandas we selected are following two bloodlines that have not crossed into each other in the past four generations," Professor Feng said. "Therefore they are suitable to be matched."

Why didn't they just run "Hong Kong's Next Top Panda" on TV for 12 weeks to find them instead? It would have rated through the roof.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 12:23
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March 19, 2007
Heritage

Nice piece in The Standard on the impact of "urban renewal" on existing economies. The two sides of the arguement are simple to summarise: on one hand, you can't stop progress; on the other, why detroy local economies that clearly work. The first implies there is a market failure, but it's hard to see how the market has failed if local areas effectively develop their own specialisation that works to consumers and businesses advantage. But of course if it doesn't work to the property developers' advantage, that's a problem in "free market" Hong Kong.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 12:42
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March 15, 2007
Something in the air

Some consultant has done a survey saying that Hong Kong is becoming an ever-worse place for expats, slipping behind Singapore, Tokyo, Sydney and Sierra Leone as a place to live. The city now ranks alongside Jakarta and Port Morseby in the expat stakes. The reason? That all pervasive air-pollution excuse.

This begs numerous questions, for example have the survey takers ever been to Port Morseby or Jakarta? But what is it about Singapore that makes it rank so highly compared to the Big Lychee?

Quane praised Singapore for consolidating the number one position. "I can't find another city that matches it in terms of personal security and safety. We have seen more and more companies and expatriates say they would prefer to relocate to Singapore because of the better facilities," Quane said.

That is despite the fact that Singapore ranks lower than Hong Kong in terms of press freedom and recreation, Quane added.

I don't know that press freedom is on people's minds when they decide where they are looking to live. In short, it boils down to a simple choice: do you want cleaner air (except during Indonesia's burning season) but nothing to do, or the foul stench of progress in one of the world's most vibrant cities?

Or as an ex-Hong Konger recently commented, "in the end it boils down to only two things: low income tax rates and cheap plasma TVs. What else really matters?"

Update

More from our Sydney correspondent: "The only expats who really love it here are the backapckers who don't earn enough for taxes and/or plasma TVs to be factors in their equations - they just want cheap beer," and "Did they factor this in? Doesn't happen in Hong Kong, and wouldn't be allowed in Singapore."

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 08:54
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March 13, 2007
It doesn't grow on trees

Plastic money is coming to Hong Kong and Henry Tang tells us:

Experience in countries that have introduced polymer notes suggests that they are cleaner, more durable and more secure. They are also more environmentally friendly, since they last longer and can be recycled for other use.
How can this be reconciled with Hong Kong's tremendously reduced plastic bag useage? We use hessian bags to carry the shopping but plastic money to pay for it? Why don't they just make Octopus cards compulsary and be done with cash for good?

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 11:02
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March 12, 2007
Drink it dry

There's no pleasing some people. Henry Tang finally halves the city's high grog taxes only for the worry-warts to start fretting that kids may (brace yourself) drink themselves stupid, according to the SCMP:

Binge drinking among university students could become even more of a problem because of the cut in tax on alcohol, an academic has warned...Students mainly drink beer, with increased preference for wine and spirits in their second year at university. They drink for celebration, to relieve stress and to enjoy themselves.
This contrasts with university academics and older alcohol users, who drink to deal with failure, avoid stress and depress themselves. But perhaps our aspiring students are not simply being young adults, experimenting as youngsters have since caveman times. Perhaps they are simply grooming themselves for higher political office.

Drink up, youth of Hong Kong.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 10:58
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Pandas or polls

Some of the grandees from Hong Kong who are busy in Beijing meaningless NPC and CPPCC sessions are pissed off. Why? Because they've been dissed, according to the SCMP:

Murmurings of discontent among National People's Congress deputies and delegates to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference from Hong Kong have intensified over Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's failure to host a traditional reception for them in Beijing...Mr Tsang decided not to attend the NPC because he is busy running for re-election.

Another CPPCC member said: "It was actually quite outrageous that [Chief Secretary] Rafael Hui [Si-yan] went to Sichuan to see the pandas while he could have been Donald Tsang's stand-in as the reception host."

Rafael Hui is a soon-to-be ex-Chief Secretary. Why would he bother with a boring cocktail party? The pandas are far more interesting.

While on the NPC, one delegate had some advice for PLA members:

Internet users should keep national security in mind and not reveal military secrets through online chat rooms, e-mails or blogs, said Lin Kang , an NPC delegate from the second artillery corps. He said many Web portals had set up special military columns and some experts had blogs.
Yet just over the page the SCMP reports:
To blog or not to blog? That is the question for Carl Bildt, Sweden's foreign minister who is under fire for posting too much information online in a forum his critics say is incompatible with the office he holds.

For several weeks now Mr Bildt, 57, has been writing his new Swedish-language blog, sometimes posting several messages a day and offering a running commentary on how he spends his days and sharing his thoughts on a wide range of issues...Mr Bildt's musings remain hugely popular among the Swedish public.

I can't see Hu or Wen doing anything like that sometime soon.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:29
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March 08, 2007
The clap

The enjoyable thing about reading Hong Kong's newspapers is that often the articles are so absurd they beat anything the world of fiction can produce. Sometimes it's the writing or the editing, but often it's the content that brings a smile to the face. Today has two examples.

Firstly it appears that clapping has been banned during next week's Chief Executive forum. It seems some people were put off by applause during the brief debate.

Apparently the applause by more than 100 pan-democrat Election Committee members during the first-ever televised forum March 1 upset some people, resulting in organizers bringing in the ban. Organizers said this was in line with some televised debates during the US presidential election.

However, veteran democrat politician Martin Lee Chu-ming scoffed at the ban at the March 15 forum, describing it as ridiculous..."Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's election office was quoted as saying it was referring to a similar arrangement in the US presidential election.

"If this is the case, then why doesn't the office also insist on the US system of one-person, one-vote?"

There was no comment if the people put off by the applause were in the audience at the time or in Zhongnanhai.

The second thing is even better: it appears that because the government's coffers are overflowing and they've handed out some tax cuts to the mythical "middle class", the powers-that-be have found a measly HK$300 million to throw at Hong Kong's film industry. In another blow to positive non-interventionism, it seems The Don's goverment has decided to help out entertainment moguls because they're having a hard time making as many movies as they used to. Now the government is falling for the trap of picking "champions", starting with the film industry.

Which naturally leads to only one question: will the film industry be getting a functional constituency in the new Legco election in a complete reversal of the "no taxation without representation" concept. But will they be banned from clapping the results?

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 11:54
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March 06, 2007
Drink to the top

Admist more drivel from Hong Kong's (hardly) Liberal Party on why they should get more of everything even though they haven't done anything to deserve it, comes an insight into what it takes to make it to the top in politics:

Commenting on remarks by businessman Tsang Hin-chi - a member of the NPC Standing Committee - that he intends to serve for life on the committee, Tien said if Tsang stuck to his pledge, then his widely-tipped successor, Legislative Council president Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, might have to run in next year's Hong Kong legislative elections to maintain her seat in the council.

Tien said Fan had already expressed her wish to retire next year, and reckoned she is not keen to climb the national power ladder as she has no business investments in the mainland nor does she enjoy cocktail receptions.

Work through the logic here: Rita Fan can't become a politician in Communist China because she doesn't make chit-chat and she doesn't have investments in the worker's paradise. It's a dirty business, politics.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 10:39
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March 02, 2007
Ban the bottle

Shaky points out new security regulations at Hong Kong airport. All liquids and gels greater than 100mL are banned, which begs the question: is the conveniently round 100mL the exact threshold for dangerous liquid explosives? Is 99mL of anything below the critical mass required while 101mL is a threat to flight?

There are a few reasons this decision has been reached. Firstly it must have become too costly for the airport to keep screening America-bound passengers seperately. The authorities have so enjoyed telling passengers why they can't take 5 tubes of toothpaste or their 1 litre water bottles in their carry-on luggage that their colleagues screening passengers to less exotic destinations have become jealous. Now we can all look forward to laboriously long queues at passenger screening while passengers who can't read signs argue with officers who don't give a shit. Secondly with this ban Watsons outlets at the airport will see a bounce in sales because the liquids and gels they sell are "safe", although one wonders what security screening they go through with their deliveries. Can it be a co-incidence that HK Airport gets a percentage cut of airport store sales? Finally can it be long before we magically see "HK Airport endorsed" toiletry kits for sale (at Watsons of course) with 100mL shaving cream, deodorant and toothpaste all at the same price as full size cans?

Just like Hong Kong's election, the point of all this is not that it actually does any good, but rather that it's seen to be doing something. Hands up if you feel safer now?

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 14:41
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February 28, 2007
Best transit system

Hong Kong's MTR comes in number 10 (via Kottke)...

Having ridden seven of the eleven listed, I can tell you Hong Kong is closer to number 1 than 10. The Tube as number 1? Waht are your rankings?

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 18:50
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February 27, 2007
Diversity by being the same

Hong Kong: not such a world city.

What the analysis hints at but misses is that ethnicity is not a great way to assess diversity. If more of Hong Kong's population are ethnic Chinese, what does that matter? Some will be American Chinese, English Chinese, Australian Chinese. Others will be mainlanders who come from a diverse array of places. That's not to excuse the undercurrent of racism that is very much alive in Hong Kong, especially for South and South East Asians, but it is to say that you can't judge a city's people by their faces.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 14:15
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February 12, 2007
The demographic time-bomb myth

In the middle an interesting series of pieces on the numerous flaws with Hong Kong's MPF retirement savings system, David Webb finds fears of a demographic time-bomb wanting:

Governments of developed economies around the world, and Hong Kong is no exception, wring their hands over a purported "demographic time bomb" or the "rising cost of old age social security". It makes for sensational headlines, but it is really a myth supported by the vested interests of financial institutions who push for legislative mandates or tax incentives to capture savings. Here are the realities:

  • For sure, people are living longer, and birth rates in the developed economies have fallen below replacement levels, but there is no shortage of young people from the developing world to make up for it - and migration will be incentivised by work opportunities. According to the US Census Bureau, in 2030, the world population is projected at 8.3bn, up from 6.5bn in 2006, and the percentage of working-age between 20 and 64 will be 57.1%, up from 55.6% at present.
  • As people live longer and stay fitter longer, they are able to work longer, helping to offset the increase in the retired/working ratio. In 2030, the global percentage over 65 will increase from 7.4% to 12.0%, but the percentage over 70 will be 8.0%. One option is to raise the retirement age for social security by 1 year every 5 years from now until 2027, which would keep the percentage of the population above that age static.
  • Technology over decades has produced, and continues to produce, productivity gains so that although the retired/working ratio has increased, the number of workers needed to support each retiree on welfare has reduced. We are no longer in a world of subsistence farming.
  • Those who are having fewer or no children will spend less of their lifetime income on child-rearing, increasing their ability to support themselves in retirement.
  • Finally, in the case of a recently-developed economy like Hong Kong, remember that people retiring today started work when Hong Kong was just a backward manufacturing economy with much lower real (inflation-adjusted) incomes than now. They did not have the lifetime earnings capacity that many people have today. The retirees of 2030 will, on average, be more prosperous than those of 2006, and fewer will need social welfare.
  • His analysis is entirely accurate but ignores the political dimension. Hong Kong is busy keeping people out, especially those from the Mainland coming here to have babies that may end up being the productive Hong Kongers of tomorrow. Webb's point that as society ages people can work longer is again true but the trend has pointed the other way: people are looking to retire earlier and earlier, even as they live (and live better) for longer. Eventually this will get taken care of as the pay of those close to retirement increases to entice them into working for longer, but this is likely to make income inequality worse. Ironically the old will get richer, not poorer, as they age.

    Webb's series on the MPF also notes compulsary savings schemes are all the rage for governments these days (expect medical savings accounts soon) because they are effectively a stealth tax. They are also highly regressive - the poorest are hurt the worst, especially because these schemes typically have a cap so that high income earners actually pay a far smaller percentage of income than someone earning below the cap. While saving for retirement is important, the working poor will have far greater utility from having that extra bit of cash to spend now. Furthermore the amounts being saved are tiny and, as Webb describes, get eaten up by fees and charges. These accounts will not do much to relieve the costs of supporting poorer retirees in future.

    By dressing it up as saving for the future, stealth taxes and curbs on individual liberty are easy to impose on an unsuspecting public. That's why you can expect to see more of this kind of thing.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 16:07
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    February 06, 2007
    The not-so-Basic Law

    Just back from a lovely weekend visiting sunny, albeit cold, Harbin. The snow and ice festival is an absolute must see. Just avoid Helen the tour guide.

    On the plane back I had the opportunity to read the China Daily, and in particular an editorial by former HK justice secretary Elsie Leung, explaining it is time for Hong Kongers to learn the Basic Law. After lamenting that many Hong Kongers don't understand the Basic Law, perhaps because it isn't so basic, it turns out it's all very simple:

    A paradigm shift is required for Hongkongers to accept China's sovereignty over Hong Kong. Under the British rule, they were governed by the sovereign of a nation to which they did not belong. There was the subconscious repulsion toward the sovereignty. Since nationalism was not encouraged under colonial rule, Hong Kong people would have to find their new identity as Chinese citizens after reunification. Many of them do not understand what sovereignty entails.

    Some people mistake "a high degree of autonomy" to mean that apart from defense and foreign affairs, Hong Kong should have the final say in every matter. The fact is, if you look at the Basic Law, it is clear that the central government, as the sovereign from whom all administrative, legislative and judicial powers are derived and delegated to Hong Kong by the National People's Congress (NPC), has a role in Hong Kong's affairs...

    The duty to record carries with it the right to examine the validity of the law and the proposal respectively. This means the Standing Committee has the power not to record if the law is not in conformity with the Basic Law. The powers of interpretation and amendment of the Basic Law are vested in the Standing Committee of the NPC and the NPC respectively. These provisions are to ensure the implementation of the Basic Law in accordance with the basic policies of the PRC toward Hong Kong.

    In other words there's no need for those pesky courts or believing what's written on the piece of paper, because at the end of the day the good folks in Beijing can clarify for us misguided, stupid Hong Kongers what means what and when. This is why Beijing can "re-interpret" at will. Taken to its logical conclusion, there is in fact no reason for an SAR to exist at all.

    And you wonder why 85% of Hong Kongers don't understand the Basic Law.

    The same paper also explains why those mainlanders planning to have their one baby should be considerate and not have babies during the forthcoming Year of the Pig.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 12:04
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    January 24, 2007
    Driving Mr Tsang

    You know things are pretty desperate in Hong Kong's political scene when Donald Tsang's trip to his campaign office in his government car is grounds for a press beat-up. In most grown up democracies the incumbent does two things at once: they run for office and run the government at the same time. The Don tells the SCMP to do otherwise would imperil him...

    Citing an unnamed "very reliable legal opinion", he said taking leave to campaign could "amount to dereliction of duty" under the Basic Law.

    "People will take me to court. There will be a judicial review on my decision to take a holiday and abdicate the work of chief executive. And then, if something like avian flu happens, I will have to stop everything and come back to work to deal with the crisis."...

    "The last thing I want is to cheat the electoral process. It will be a fair game. I have to conduct it with the advantage and disadvantage of incumbency. It's something I cannot help."

    Why bother cheating an electoral process that is so pointless in the first place?

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 14:04
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    January 22, 2007
    Lik-ing

    Ma Lik is one of Hong Kong's better politicians, which isn't saying much. The people's SCMP dutifully reports on Ma's clever upping of expectations for the number of votes the evil democrat Alan Leong will receive in the Chief Executive election...

    DAB chairman Ma Lik expects Alan Leong Kah-kit to grab up to 200 of 800 votes in the chief executive election in March, but says Mr Leong is not suitable for the post...Mr Leong was someone who was "not too friendly" with the central government and who opposed the National People's Congress Standing Committee's reinterpretation of the Basic Law, and Mr Ma asked: "Can such a person with a total lack of ruling experience lead Hong Kong?"
    By saying Leong is going to get up to 200 (out of 7 million citizens, 200 votes should be a rounding error, rather than 25% of the votes needed to win), falling short of this target makes Leong look like a loser. While the democratic camp will talk down their expected result, the pro-Beijingers will talk it up. No, don't try thinking about it too much as it doesn't make any sense. Bear in mind The Don still hasn't got around to nominating, even though he's setting up a 12 person election office today. What do these 12 people actually do? There's only 800 people they have to canvass, and most of their minds are already made up (or made up for them). It's all about the spectacle rather than the result.

    In Ma Lik's world, it would be disasterous to have someone who believes the Basic Law should stand as it is not be subject to reinterpretation on a whim. It seems the DAB is campaigning on a platform opposing the rule of law.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 12:40
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    January 18, 2007
    And we're iBack

    Lovely holiday in the home of the Ashes, thanks.

    Slowly getting back into the swing of things here...including splurging (finally) on an iMac. Arrives next week, along with an indoctrination kit and a mantra of the virtues of all thing neatly but expensively designed.

    In the meantime, ESWN points to a story that confirms my suspicions on at least some Hong Kong beggars. If you feel compelled to give, a better mechanism is through recognised charities, but I maintain that instead of spreading one's charity giving amongst many, it makes more sense to focus on a single charity and give a large amount to that one charity...see this discussion at MR.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 15:38
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    December 19, 2006
    Baby money

    A common journalistic ruse is to quote "sources close to the government" about some controversial matter. This way you get the quote, you get the story and you get it sounding high level without having to name names. For example in today's Standard Carrie Chan parrots such a source on the topic of mainland women giving birth in the Big Lychee:

    Taxpayers would have to fork out a hefty HK$5 million for each child born in Hong Kong to mainland women, according to a source close to the government.

    The price tag would cover the child's education and medical and social expenses as well as the costs of the parents migrating to the territory.

    There's no detailing how this "source" reached the "hefty $5 million" figure, other than the traditional "rabbit out of hat" method. The article goes on to describe how all these mainland women giving birth in Hong Kong pose a danger to the city's way of life, even though senior politicians including The Don see these births as a potential demographic benefit. And of course this "hefty $5 million" is just a measure of costs, without any consideration of benefits such as providing future workers to support the growing legions of aging Hong Kongers.

    The government is in quite a muddle about these pregnant mainlanders. Funnily enough, there are a lot of them desperate to give birth here even though they largely can't afford it. There are a couple of reasons why: firstly even if they can't pay the hospital bills they know they'll get high quality medical care, and secondly under Hong Kong's Basic Law, Article 24 says the permanent residents of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be Chinese citizens born in Hong Kong before or after the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Already there's mutterings of "re-interpretation" of the Basic Law to deal with this issue...although in this case it's so black-and-white that it is hard to see how anyone could squirm out of it. Indeed Article 22 of the Basic Law clearly puts the onus on Beijing to sort out this problem: For entry into the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, people from other parts of China must apply for approval. Among them, the number of persons who enter the Region for the purpose of settlement shall be determined by the competent authorities of the Central People's Government after consulting the government of the Region. However it doesn't seem as if Beijing is too interested.

    Instead the latest solution is more pragmatic, if not draconian:

    Executive Council member Jasper Tsang Yok-sing proposed Monday that incentives for pregnant mainlanders to deliver babies in Hong Kong should be thwarted by both immigration and administrative measures.

    "This is not an incurable epidemic, but it can be curbed by economic and administrative measures," Tsang said.

    Denying entry at the border to non-resident pregnant women is a "universal and equal" immigration policy that is applicable to all, he said...Mainland mothers who fail to settle their medical bills after giving birth in local hospitals should also have applications for their children's birth certificates deferred.

    Or maybe these government "sources" could be more creative, creating a scheme for pregnant mainland women to come to Hong Kong under some kind of bond scheme which gives them a path to both repaying their hospital bills and remaining in the SAR, with all the benefits that brings to both these women and the SAR. Unfortunately "creative" and "government" are not terms that go together often.

    I will be out of blog range for the next few weeks, so hopefully some of my fellow contributors can take up the slack. Hope you have a Merry Christmas and a happy 2007.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:30
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    December 15, 2006
    Breaking through

    Why is it that Hong Kong's police were able to keep hundreds of rabble several hundred metres away from the WTO meeting last December without much fuss, but half a dozen people are able to scramble through police lines each day to protect the old Star Ferry terminal from being demolished? And what are these people trying to protect? Did any of them ever go to the old Star Ferry terminal - a dank, dark, dingy building with no architectural or heritage merit other than being built 50 years ago and having a not particularly note-worthy clock tower? Or is having a clock tower the key to protecting things in this town?

    The solution is obvious: just like Murray House, the Government could move the old ferry terminal, concrete slab by concrete slab, en masse to a new venue. In fact, I have the perfect venue: the West Kowloon Cultural District. Alternatively, the Government could plonk it at Lowu and use it as a barrier to the hordes of pregant "non-tourist" mainland women giving birth here. It will be more effective than asking these women if they are really really really really tourists just coming for a visit.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:33
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    December 08, 2006
    Empty towers

    Philip Bowring, I believe, lives in Repulse Bay. He looks into the sordid story of the still empty 129 Repulse Bay Rd. It's a very Hong Kong story.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 12:32
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    December 07, 2006
    Tourism Hong Kong

    It's all tourism in today's papers. Firstly we get the devastating news that Hong Kongers now require visas to visit Bangladesh. Secondly, now the GST is off the table it's time to talk about a depature tax to "widen the tax base", even though the government's accounts are in rude health. And finally pregnant mainlanders are causing all sorts of bother in the city's hospitals because they keep having babies here.

    Meanwhile it apparently takes a month for a US dollar cheque to be cleared here in Hong Kong, even though it's drawn on the same bank as I'm depositing it with and even though Hong Kong's currency is, last time I looked, convertible to US dollars at a set rate.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 12:34
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    December 06, 2006
    Pay to play

    Far be it for oen to question the integrity of Hong Kong's newspapers, but ESWN asks a great question: what are the "promotion" fees being paid by Alan Leong? Will Mark Clifford's high standards again be tested?

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 12:47
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    December 05, 2006
    Webb wealth effect

    The secrets to being a successful Hong Kong investor:

    1. Find a small, obscure stock.
    2. Slowly accumulate a position in the stock.
    3. Compile a thoroughly researched opinion piece on the stock's cheapness.
    4. Using your reputation as a stock picker in a gambling mad city, watch said stock appreciate 35% the day after you release the report.
    5. Repeat once a year.

    In fact David Webb concisely summarises the mania and opportunities in the current market, including an astute observation of the level of the yuan:

    In the last year, and particularly in the last few months, investors have, in our view, been indiscriminately exuberant over IPOs, commodities, energy and mainland consumer plays, and have lost sight of governance risk and fundamental valuation. A lot of hot money has also been chasing a narrow selection of large-caps, resulting in over-stretched valuations. Funds have been awash with cash and forced to invest it, and the retail public has begun to believe that all IPOs are guaranteed to make money just because some tycoon is buying it.

    In Hong Kong, inbound liquidity to the mainland has kept mortgage rates artificially low and fuelled the property bubble. After a change in international accounting standards, companies' reported earnings now include property revaluation gains, but these represent the increase in the net present value of all the future years of income attributable to such assets, so they should be excluded when calculating the core P/E of the market, otherwise you are looking at a multiple on a multiple. Complacent analysts have been quoted as saying that the market's P/E is still "reasonable" or "attractive" at 14 or 15 despite recent record high prices. However, if you strip out property revaluations and other non-recurring items such as profits from sales of businesses, then the core P/E is now about 20, and it has spent very little time up there in the last 30 years. We haven't seen this much irrationality since the 1999-00 tech bubble, and you know what happened next. So look for a big sell-off of blue chips in the coming 12 months.

    Meanwhile, if you do your homework, there are lot of cheap value stocks to choose from, particularly in the manufacturing sector, which is emerging from a difficult 2 years in which margins were squeezed by rising raw material prices. These have now stabilised or in some cases have begun to fall, allowing recovery of margins as the higher costs are passed down the supply chain. Meanwhile, the electricity shortages you read so much about in 2004-5 have been much reduced this year, as China brings new capacity on stream. You will also have read about the 3% appreciation in the RMB - but that is partly because the standard quotation of the currency is against the US dollar. In fact, the RMB has actually depreciated around 8% against the Euro in the last year, making exports to Europe more attractive and accelerating the outsourcing of manufacturing to China. This has gone some way to mitigating the rising cost of labour in China, and factories are also meeting the challenge by moving inland as the transport infrastructure improves, and by increasing automation where possible.

    The end result? There's value to be had in the stock market, and it's not in those IPOs.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 08:48
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    November 30, 2006
    Discriminating tastes

    One of the benefits of Hong Kong's political system is its slowness. The genius of the system is it allows the city to watch other countries' experiments and laws, seeing what works and taking the best parts to make the Big Lychee even better.

    The explains why its taken only 10 years for the government to come up with a unique racial discrimination law. The government has never been in a rush on this issue because Hong Kong is reasonably homogenous - less than 10% of the population is of non-Chinese ethnicity. Of the minorities, there are two main groups: the expats who are in no need of protection, and the army of domestic helpers who the vast majority of the population don't give a fig about. The law is holy (in the Swiss cheese sense of the word), as the SCMP reports:

    The Race Discrimination Bill, drawn up after more than a decade of debate, makes discrimination, harassment and vilification on the grounds of race unlawful in six areas. They include employment; education; provision of goods, facilities, services and premises; election and appointment to public bodies; pupillages and tenancy by, and instruction to, barristers; and membership of and access to clubs.

    But it includes a wide range of exemptions covering such areas as the language of instruction in schools, preferential treatment for overseas staff for reasons other than race, and differential treatment on the basis of indigenous villager status, nationality and resident status.

    It's a Claytons law: the one you have when you actually fancy a bit of discrimination, even if it's not polite to say so.

    The most intriguing part is that relating to barristers: has discrimination been such a large issue for the Bar? It certainly isn't an issue at the bars of Wan Chai.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:23
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    November 28, 2006
    Quality assurance

    Hong Kong got its first quality immigrant yesterday. It certainly doesn't say much for all of us who came here prior to Lang Lang's arrival. It's easy to tell that Mr Lang is a special person - Immigration stayed open an extra hour to accomodate him. No doubt all the other poor saps at Immigration Tower were kicked out right at 5pm, while everyone went and got their best uniforms on for the cameras.

    In fact Hong Kong already is overstuffed with quality. Take our esteemed leader, Donald Tsang. He's getting slammed for saying:

    The life expectancy in Hong Kong is among the highest in the world ... you can come to only one conclusion: we have the most environmentally friendly place for people, for executives, for Hong Kong people to live.
    The only point where The Don is wrong is the number of conclusions one can draw. In fact you could argue that Hong Kongers could potentially have even longer lives if the air was clean and the eggs pure. But that's the point...the city already has too many old people clogging up Housing Department flats, depriving younger Hong Kongers of their God-given right to live in 500 square feet of dilapidated housing for peanuts. You could also assume the tinting on The Don's car windows is particular dark, or the windows at his renovated Government House office must be particularly grimy. Or perhaps the biggest secret is the air actually isn't so bad in Hong Kong, despite the griping. That's the implication of the chart (from the SCMP) below the jump...

    What The Don is missing is a clear chance to solve several problems at once. I propose the West Kowloon wasteland be transformed - not into a park, but a site for a series of giant fans that will blow the dirty air out to sea, where it can only harm merchant seaman and fish. Due to the urgent nature of this project, it should be awarded at once without tender to a joint venture between PCCW and Disney. The fans can be shaped like Mickey Mouse, creating the first Mickey visible from space (on a clear day), and the whole thing can be funded by a combination of apartments dubbed "West Kowloon on the Peak" and a casino on Lantau. With such a genius idea, I only ask for one thing: can I be a quality migrant too?

    dirtyair.jpg



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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:08
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    November 21, 2006
    HK Civil Servants: Eat or sleep?

    It's easy to mock the efforts of Hong Kong's civil service. Some say they are lavishly paid and cossetted, a group who would win gold in the running while standing still race. But The Don, an ex-civil servant himself, decided these hard working folk deserve to only work a 5 day week, giving up the largely meaningless few hours they spent every Saturday morning pushing paper and creating forms. Yet the people of Hong Kong were concerned. How could we still guarantee the high standards we've come to expect from these taxpayer funded bedrocks of society? So The Don guaranteed the civil service would work longer hours during the 5 days they did turn up at the office.

    Now our tale takes a darker turn. Today our civil service find themselves grappling with the horns of a dilemma: do they give up some time at lunch hour to cut their working day?

    Civil servants have asked the government to grant shorter lunch breaks to reduce the working-day period, which was expanded with the switch to the five-day week. Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions organizing secretary Kwok Kam-lam said the longer working day was affecting the evening activities of workers.

    But Kwok also said shortening the lunch break could have the opposite effect on workers who may need the one hour to relieve tension from work.

    A difficult question for sure. There's only one way to solve this problem: an immediate government inquiry (with one hour lunch breaks). I'll help them out with a handy public opinion survey....


    How long do you take for lunch?
    One hour or more
    30 minutes to one hour
    Less than 30 minutes
    What's lunch?
    Everything's too busy at lunchtime because of all the civil servants so I just eat at random times
      
    Free polls from Pollhost.com

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:27
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    November 16, 2006
    A question

    For those in Hong Kong, why are government official plates all "AM"? Does it stand for anything?

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 12:33
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    October 31, 2006
    Sail away

    Every year or so a bunch of Hong Kong loonies patriots get in a boat, sail out to the disputed Diaoyu islands, get seen off by the Japanese Coast Guard and come back to a "heroes' welcome". Warning, hyperbole ahead:

    Hong Kong activists, who survived a clash with Japanese Coast Guard vessels last week in their bid to reclaim sovereignty over the disputed Diaoyu islands, are to petition Beijing to demand that legal action be taken against Tokyo for "attacking a Chinese boat in Chinese waters."

    "The Japanese actually tried to murder us while we were on the high seas," said David Ko Wah-bing, a member of the protest crew who returned to the SAR Monday to a heroes' welcome after their unsuccessful mission. "This is the first time I've actually experienced someone trying to take my life."

    Inevitably, there's also another "demand"...
    Besides initiating legal action, the activists said Beijing must demand an apology from Japan.
    But it's far thornier than you think. The Japanese promised to get rid of them if they sailed close, and they did...so you'd think they'd failed. But no...

    The Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu islands declared the expedition an "absolute success." Although the activists were unable to plant a flag on the islands, committee member Ku Kwai-yiu said they had nevertheless made the relevant governments take note of the issue.
    Yes, I can see the governments preparing to give up the recent hard won gains in the Sino-Japanese relationship because of the actions of these nitwits. And don't mention those dastardly Taiwanese:
    Lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung accused the Taiwanese government of "playing dirty tricks."

    Leung, along with five Chinese American citizens and a Taiwanese legislator, had hoped to join the protest vessel from Taiwan, but the Bao Diao II was denied permission to enter Taiwanese waters.

    A perfect microcosm of everything that's currently wrong with East Asian relations.

    On a completely different note, we're also told that large parts of Hong Kong could one day be submerged thanks to global warming. Has anyone noticed a downward trend in harbour-front property to reflect this? And the British report hasn't reckoned on Hong Kong's solution to any water problem: just reclaim it. If there's no harbour, nothing can get submerged and the government has a whole chunk of new property to sell. Thank you, global warming.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 12:29
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    October 12, 2006
    Not much ado about nothing

    It's not easy being a Hong Kong newspaper or a pundit says Michael DeGolyer, managing to fill a page in The Standard with why he's going nothing to write about. But he's right. Usually the pages of the English language press in this town are an odd assortment of wire stories, local pieces of limited interest but that proves they are "Hong Kong" papers and bits on China that are typically cobbled together from the mainland press and a week or two late, with the occasional geniune piece of reporting or journalism that stands out simply by being geniune.

    But yesterday is meant to be the one day of the year the newspapers can devote pages of coverage to The Don's Policy Address, which this year managed to say even less than usual - no mean feat. What's puzzling is this is the last chance for The Don before he runs for re-election next year, which is essentially guaranteed to happen. The beauty of not being a democracy is there was no need to sell-out to the masses with such trifles as a minimum wage law.

    But that still leaves one question. While I understand the editors at The Standard were especially busy yesterday, it doesn't mean it is worth duplicating a story on page A4 in the "In Brief" section saying China Southern Airlines may get money from Airbus, only to repeat essentially the same piece in the "In Brief" section on page A8. Still, it fills the space.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 11:14
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    September 25, 2006
    They're here

    Justin Mitchell recounts the thoughts of Iran's new consul to Hong Kong. Who knew the Iranians can justify a consulate here? But even in our tiny corner of the geopolitical landscape, absurdities abound:

    When asked why a country with so much oil and gas feels a pressing need for a nuclear program (which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has claimed is strictly for peaceful purposes and about which Iran is in conflict with the United Nations) Nekounam said nuclear power is preferable to fossil fuels because it "is cost effective ... it makes the most of resources at a minimum cost."
    You'll be interested to know that petrol in Iran costs 9 American cents per litre, which makes a marked contrast to Hong Kong's US$1.70 a litre. Remarkably, the Iranians still import oil because they don't have refining capacity and because of the massively subsidised petrol price.

    Instead of spending billions on nuclear energy and causing angst for their "peaceful" program, it turns out Iran could save itself a fortune by taking a couple of lessons in high school economics. Perhaps the consul could send a cable back to Tehran?

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 14:20
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    September 14, 2006
    Did the earth move for you?

    Around 7:55pm tonight, Hong Kong had an earthquake which lasted about 10 seconds.

    Something to note: you can't feel earthquakes if you're in a taxi going up Stubbs Rd.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 20:20
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    September 12, 2006
    That's dancing

    In today's SCMP letters page, Eric Wong writes:

    Letter writer John Dainton should have kept his comments about HSBC executive Mimi Monica Wong to himself ("Ballroom follies appal", September 9). I'm not a fan of any kind of dancing, but how one chooses to spend one's wealth is strictly a matter of personal choice. Questioning Ms Wong's professional capability highlights an intolerance and bias that is becoming increasingly pervasive in our society. It's her life and her money, after all.

    Besides, I doubt Ms Wong asked for media coverage. If Mr Dainton wants to blame anyone for this bad reality TV show, as he puts it, he should blame himself as much as the media. He's under no obligation to watch it.
    Which is 100% true. But there's a broader truth here which no-one seems to have hit upon. Ms. Wong is perfectly entitled to spend HK$120 million on ballroom dancing lessons - as Mr. Wong points out, it's her money. But in an era where the richest in the world are falling over themselves to give it away to charity it becomes a matter of proportionality. Rich people have all sorts of follies and fancies in which they openly and not-so-openly indulge. But Ms. Wong's spending is simply disproportionate to the activity at stake. Again, as a supporter of free markets, I'm not saying there should be any interfering in her decision. But what I do question is the moral compass of a society that sees someone spending that money on dancing lessons, when the same amount given to charity could do far more good that getting the applause of 50 geriatrics at a Causeway Bay restaurant. In such an age, who's lost perspective - me or Ms. Wong?

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 17:59
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    September 08, 2006
    Grand Waterfronts

    The marketing of Hong Kong property developments is a fascinating field, worthy of top flight study. The general rule is to avoid showing the flats themselves because they tend to be tiny rabbit-hutches, even the most high-end of developments. Instead you either focus on the view, the facilities, the exterior and/or get a celebrity to hawk it. As a case in point, Henderson's Grand Waterfront in Kowloon has been smothering the city with advertisements featuring Jennifer Hawkins, an Australian Miss Universe. The marketing people have shots of Miss Hawkins dressed in the appropriately glamourous style (albeit in the same dress in all the ads) and saying things like "As the new icon of 21st century luxury living dominating Victoria Harbour, Grand Waterfront captures the most majestic sea views" and "Being crowned Miss Universe before a worldwide audience of 800 million was a life-changing moment. I am honoured to be the face of Grand Waterfront, the new icon of 21st century luxury living" and "10 for perfection! The luxuriously-appointed Club@Harbour in Grand Waterfront with 10 exciting theme zones is a realm of indulgence perfectly tailored just for you and me."

    Henderson are offering a free shuttle bus to take potential buyers to the developement. Naturally such an event requires luxury catering to go along with the luxury development...right? In the fine print of today's ad:

    Premium catering from Starbucks and McDonald's available for show flat visitors tomorrow and on Sunday.
    Who knew Macca's had a premium catering division? Do you fries with that?

    If Miss Hawkins comes with the flat, then perhaps it's still worth the trip and the Big Mac.

    Update

    Albeit in a different context, Hemlock today talks about a similar topic:

    Yet there is one life form even more pitiable than the miserable wretches who will hand over wealth in exchange for the right to view a drab man with poor dress sense plod around a field trying to hit a ball into a hole. And that is – the Hong Kong, English-language advertising copywriter working on some tacky, overpriced consumer goods account. Like the forsaken and pathetic specimen responsible for making me want to be seen wearing the astoundingly ugly Zenith Defy Xtreme or Defy Classic…I would sooner gouge my own eyes out than run the risk of opening the newspaper and thinking, “that was my work.” The only consolation for the sorry copywriter must be that there is always someone worse off than yourself. Can the human race produce anything more heartbreaking than the person who looks at this ad and decides to buy one?

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 08:42
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    September 07, 2006
    On a roll

    Yesterday there was Beijing's bomb proof toilet. Today we have a heroic Hong Kong toilet story:

    Shortly after midnight Wednesday Tang, 88, found himself locked up in the washroom of a a fast-food restaurant next to City Hall in Central. "The man had gone to the washroom after a concert, but restaurant staff, unaware that someone was still inside, switched off the lights and locked him in," police said.

    The man was trapped inside for about an hour and, in a desperate attempt to free himself, burned the toilet paper to attract attention by setting off a fire alarm. The smoke filtered into City Hall, which alerted security guards who subsequently put out the fire.

    The guards called the police who rescued the man. The octogenarian was questioned by police before being released.

    Move over MacGuyver and Jackie Chan, there's a grumpy old hero in town.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 08:21
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    September 01, 2006
    Double standard twins

    Stephen Vines hits the nail on the head over the manufactured Twins controversy:

    The putrid aroma of hypocrisy hangs heavily over the furor generated by publication of compromising photos of the Twins star Gillian Chung Yan-tung in Easy Finder magazine.
    Where were all those solemn media personalities clad in black to be found when far more intrusive and damaging media reports dragged the families of suicidal teenagers into the public domain? Where were their heart-rending protests against truly disgusting pictures of murder and assault victims?

    If there was the smallest indication that any of these people were genuinely interested in the very real issue of invasion of privacy, it is strange that we had to wait for it to be manifest on the matter of Chung's change of clothes during a concert in Malaysia.

    It's also going to be interesting to see how the Government can square the circle of a "right to privacy" only a couple of weeks after they rammed through a pervasive and invasive snooping law. Or will we now see a "rights of the week" campaign?

    Worst of all, the front pages of the press will continue to show grotesque photos of car accident or murder victims. Let's see where the celebrities are then.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 08:39
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    August 23, 2006
    Albert Ho's bashing

    Hong Kong politician Albert Ho is on the mend and vowing not to be intimidated by the thugs that bashed in a McDonalds in Central on Sunday. The police are working extra extra extra hard on the case, says the government, protesting just a touch too much. It seems the likely cause of the bashing was related to Ho's legal work rather than his politics, which is both a relief and a worry.

    But there's a factor in this case that no one is talking about, simply because it's accepted wisdom. How is it that 3 thugs can walk into a McD's in the middle of Central on a busy Sunday afternoon, where at least 150 people were dining or working, and bash a man with baseball bats without anyone doing anything about it? The original reports said most patrons ran from the restaurant. The common perception is that it is better not to get involved, especially when its the Triads. But this permissiveness is part of a culture that allows organised crime to survive and thrive.

    It's impossible to say for certain, but I wonder if the same 3 thugs would have got away if they'd walked into a McDonald's in the middle of Manhattan, or London, or Sydney?

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:46
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    August 22, 2006
    Coke is it

    Legal cocaine in Hong Kong.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 21:38
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    August 18, 2006
    Travel warning

    Hong Kong airport has gone to shit.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 12:48
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    Fish out of frozen water

    Senior civil servant goes to Kowloon and survives...film at 11.

    Meanwhile Hong Kong's clever bus companies have found a dual use for their vehicles: they can transport both people and frozen goods.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:17
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    August 14, 2006
    Con-sulting

    To the Hong Kong government's surprise, there is not a single group that has come out in support of its proposed GST. Even erstwhile reliable toadies such as the Liberal Party have turned their back on the idea. All this less than a month into the nine month "consultation period". The situation is dire, reports the SCMP:

    The government will try to rally public support for a broadened tax base following a rethink of its strategy for the consultation on a goods and services tax (GST), which has so far met overwhelming opposition.
    The new strategy will be implemented after Financial Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen returns today from his two-week holiday...

    "It is time for us to refocus the discussion on the GST, to make sure people have rational and in-depth debates [on the need for a new tax] in the next stage of consultation. Otherwise, the discussion cannot go on," the source said.

    We all know what that means: endless TV ads extolling the virtues of the GST, dressed up as a public service announcement. The current ad cycle includes such edge of the seat issues as appointing even more politicians to do not very much. It makes me nostalgic for those ads on stormwater drains and old people. Meanwhile the government faces a problem: if it can't change people's minds in the next eight months (and it looks unlikely), what do they do with their GST idea? Or perhaps it is an idea the government is happy to see fail as it allows the business as usual system of selling off land to the property cartel? Henry Tang going on holidays only two weeks after launching the GST idea clearly shows what he thinks of the thing. This way he can say he tried, he headed public opinion and he moved on.

    The only question is how much taxpayer money has been and will be spent on this fruitless exercise?

    PS: I can heartily recommend a holiday at Sanya on Hainan Island, especially if you speak Russian.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:14
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    August 03, 2006
    Literal reporting

    Sometiems it's hard to tell if the SCMP is being funny or not...although chances are not. The Don is over in Guangzhou and has claimed a breakthrough on the Zhuhai/Macau/Hong Kong bridge project because there will be three customs posts instead of one (this is what constitutes a breakthrough these days). Half-way through this otherwise puzzling reporting piece comes a gem:

    Asked why he described the absence of a joint customs and immigration checkpoint as a breakthrough, Mr Tsang said: "It is the agreement which represents a breakthrough ... I think we are now seeing the end of the tunnel."

    Mr Tsang was not thought to have been referring to a rival plan for a cross-delta tunnel.

    Another reason to avoid cliches: people may take you literally. There was no hint whether the reporter bought drugs for the article.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 08:19
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    July 31, 2006
    You are what you report

    China's former president, Jiang Zemin, has written a travel diary amid much fanfare in the state-owned press...which seemingly includes the SCMP, given they have both a front pager with the stunning revelation that Beijing didn't want God Save the Queen playing just before midnight at the handover and another large article a few pages later lauding the tale of a Chinese President strutting the world stage. Mind you this is the same paper that every few months sends a report to Wanchai to report on the seedy underbelly of life in Hongkie Town. This time the intrepid Barclay Crawford braves Fenwicks and finds hookers selling coke. It's a difficult job:

    Wan Chai does not sleep, and even at 1am on a Wednesday the first thing that strikes you in Fenwick the Dock is the swirl of humanity on the dance floor. The largely besuited crowd of drunk, desperate and dateless have long forgotten their wives or girlfriends at home as they gulp their drinks and cavort with women for sale from across Asia and, more recently, South America.

    A girl dripping in makeup grabs your bottom, laughs and shows off her surgically enhanced cleavage beneath a tiny top. She is from Venezuela, her friends are from Colombia. She prefers Japan but there is money to be made in Hong Kong.

    This may be Hong Kong, but you could be in Latin America judging from the row of tables filled with girls chatting in Spanish at this large disco at the bottom of the East Town Building in Lockhart Road. The girl in green tells you she only knows how to speak English un poquito - a little - but she certainly knows how to order her drink from the scowling bar tender - "tequila rock'n'roll".

    You collect the $110 bill, of which she pockets about half, smiles, and asks whether you would like cocaine. "We have the best. Colombian," she says, eyes rolling back in her head, imitating the effect. She asks for $1,500 but you say you've only got $1,000 - the same price she whispered previously in your ear if you want to take her home.

    A number is dialled, you make out "coca, coca" and the deal is done, the delivery is on the way. Britney Spears covering I love Rock'n'Roll blasts from the DJ's booth in what could be a cue to the girls, and she asks you for another drink - along with $1,000 for the cocaine.

    But don't worry....
    The reporter did not buy drugs for this story.
    I'd still love to see his expense report for this story. And Fenwick's doesn't even have to pay for this kind of advertising...or was this done on a comp basis?

    All of which leads to an interesting new news site set up by a few ex-Standard editors and Philip Bowring: Asia Sentinel. With competition like the SCMP, they should do well.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 08:34
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    July 24, 2006
    Great moments in economics

    Hong Kong has three tunnels that join the island with Kowloon. The best located one is also the cheapest and thus extremely congested at all times of day and night. Meanwhile the two alternative tunnels cost more and are used far less. So in a startlingly example of stating the obvious, the SCMP blows the lid on an earth-shattering report the government has sat on:

    An unpublished report by prominent academics claims that by manipulating Cross-Harbour Tunnel tolls during peak hour, congestion could be eased so much that harbour reclamation or a fourth tunnel would be unnecessary...An unpublished report by prominent academics claims that by manipulating Cross-Harbour Tunnel tolls during peak hour, congestion could be eased so much that harbour reclamation or a fourth tunnel would be unnecessary.
    The estimate for a 4th tunnel is about HK$6.6 billion, give or take a cost blow out or two. What are the objections to this seemingly simple plan? It would be confusing, it would require consensus, it would pass costs on to public transport passengers, it's not feasible, people might slow down or speed up just prior to changing toll times...not one of these is a real objection. What's lacking is the political will to implement such a solution, even though our friends in Singapore managed to do so years ago.

    It's not just economics, it's common sense. It won't happen.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 12:58
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    Photo of the week

    We've found Edward's mum:

    scissorhead.jpg

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:01
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    July 15, 2006
    Malvinas of the East

    Reading an Economist article over the Falkland Islands brought to mind another ex-British colony, albeit with different circumstances:

    Britain insists that, regardless of how many countries Argentina can line up in support, it will never discuss the sovereignty question with the government in Buenos Aires unless the islands' 3,000 inhabitants, who consider themselves British, request it. Tough talk from Mr Kirchner will only alienate them further. “We believe it would be morally unacceptable”, says a British embassy spokesman, “to force them to change their government.”
    Anyone recall Hong Kongers being asked, especially those on the island and south of Boundary St?

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 21:42
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    July 14, 2006
    One step ahead

    There's plenty of fuss over the new FIFA football rankings...thankfully the Big Lychee has only slipped one spot, down to equal 117th with Kenya and New Zealand, and just pipping the Palestine team. Unfortunately Singapore is a few places ahead of us at 111th and the glorious motherland is a heady 89th. Macau is 183rd, ahead of several other tinpot little countries such as Luxembourg, Aruba, Guam and the Philippines.

    Fascinating.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 19:17
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    July 12, 2006
    Minority rights

    Hong Kong is a city where the average punter is at best ignored when it comes to politics or money. For example: say you owned a telephone company. You bought into it when there was much hype over the future of the telecommunications and then proceeded to watch the guy running it destroy massive amounts of value thanks to a takeover of an old world telecom utility by a new-fangled internet/property venture (and no, I'm not talking about AOL/Time Warner). After watching the share price sink, finally there's a glimmer of hope when a couple of private equity types say they're prepared to pay a hefty amount for the company's assets. But these private equity types may pose a threat to national security by running the phone company, so Beijing makes its displeasure known. This is despite the share price sinking because the market (and world) has decided that old world telecom companies are being rapidly superceded by broadband internet, mobile phones etc.

    Thankfully a local financier is ready to come to the rescue of the major shareholder in the company, buying him out and effectively gaining control of the company without having to launch a full takeover bid. The major shareholder, despite being the son of the richest man in the land, is so grateful to be out of the mess and feels so guilty he is even prepared to pay a special dividend to the minority shareholders who are again going to be stuck.

    Here's the maths of the PCCW deal. Richard Li is going to pay a special dividend of around 35 cents a share to the minorities. The share price was about $4.80 before all of this fuss. Francis Leung is paying $6 for Richard Li's shares. The other bids were around the $5.60 mark. But $4.80 plus 35c gives you $5.15. The minority shareholders are at least 45c a share worse off under this deal. Francis Leung, on the other hand, gets control of PCCW without having to pay a takeover premium, without having to make an offer to all shareholders and knowing that at least two other parties value to the firm at $60 billion, as opposed to the $40 billion or so his purchase implies.

    Somewhat unbelievably, Richard Li has effectively gifted about $20 billion to Francis Leung. And there's this mea culpa:

    Li, PCCW's chairman since 2000, said he will step down from the post after Leung finishes paying his initial 30 percent, or HK$2.748 billion. "I think [Leung] will make a much better new chairman of PCCW because of his experience in finance," Li told reporters. "I don't think I have been doing a particularly good job."
    PCCW shares went as high as $140 in the internet share bubble, and were $80 6 years ago, $15 5 years ago. No, Li hasn't done a very good job at all...except for getting himself out of his self-created mess. How frustrating to know someone is prepared to pay 50% more for your shares but are blocked because of false protectionist reasons - Li must be truly desperate to cash out of PCCW. It's not exactly a vote of confidence in the company's future from its current chairman and erstwhile major shareholder. And for all those who jumped up and down when CNOOC was blocked from buying an American oil company, welcome to the same thing in reverse.

    What a fine day to be Francis Leung and a terrible day for PCCW minority shareholders. I wonder if David Webb will weigh in?

    Update July 12th

    Today's SCMP reports that somewhat bizarrely, the source of financing for Leung's purchase of Richard Li's shares is....Richard Li. The bankers are apparently not interested in financing the purchase, and given how high profile this deal is you can bet the banks would have all cast a close eye over the deal. But Francis Leung is not a silly man and obviously has an ace or two up his sleeve.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 11:26
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    June 30, 2006
    Going nuclear

    UK considered China nuclear attack to defend the Big Lychee from the Commies back in 1961. 20 years later Maggie decided to defend the Falklands without bombing Buenos Aires. And ironically 30 years later Mother England was busy creating new forms of quasi-citizenship to avoid a "flood" of Hong Kongers leaving the place pre-handover. That's tough love.

    Update

    Could it be a case of picking on someone your own size?

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 13:10
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    June 22, 2006
    Vroom, vroom

    Donald Tsang today paid special praise to Hong Kong's traffic network, believing that Hong Kong's competitive advantage comes from its traffic network.

    I don't dispute that efficiency is key to Hong Kong's success. But it seems to me that sort of thinking, and the free rein government gives to the traffic and roads planning department, is the reason that all city planning is led by the nose by the road builders. That's why we have the most beautiful harbour in the world yet don't have a harbourfront promenade worth walking down. It's why a small proposed park in Wanchai will only be accessible through an underpass, and the initial plans for a park on the Central waterfront will not be put on top of buildings. That's also why streetside road pollution continues to clog our lungs.

    I fear when reading this article that the top leadership of Hong Kong still haven't gotten the message - that the road planners cannot any longer be the key determinants of how our city looks. If anyone can refute my pessimism, please indulge me.

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    [boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 15:27
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    King Don

    It is time to draw one conclusion about Donald Tsang: he is a political genius. He's managed to turn West Kowloon into a non-issue. He managed to propose partial democratic reforms that he knew the democrat camp had to oppose, making them the blockage to further changes and securing the status quo for the next election cycle. He's been lucky enough to preside at a time where there are no killer diseases or stock market crashes (yet). He's won the praise of his masters in Beijing and even managed to silence the local pro-Beijing crowd, who accept him because they have to, no because they want to. Legco will approve his boondoggle: the new Tamar government HQ. The flimsy justifications continue, as Hemlock reports today:

    is an article by construction workers’ union boss Choi Chun-wa in the South China Morning Post arguing that the Tamar project is essential as it will create 2,500 jobs for his gruff, sweaty, grimy, horny handed, malodorous members.

    According to my trusty Casio magic solar-powered calculator, that adds up to a mere HK$2,040,000 per job. For that, we could give 5,000 unskilled, underemployed members of our workforce who can’t afford to live here a million dollars each plus a one-way ticket back to their mainland pig farms, thus relieving our heartbreaking underclass-in-poverty problem and improving the dreadful, Third World gini coefficient at a stroke. When the gap between rich and poor is measured in hundreds of miles, everyone will be happy.

    When The Don tucks his legs under his new desk from his top floor corner office in this $5 billion building, he'll be entitled to smile and reflect on his success as a politician.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 13:06
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    June 20, 2006
    Putting the "p" in polite

    Dodgy survey reinforces stereotypes

    Who even knew Readers' Digest still existed in this day and age? The good people from RD conducted a global politness survey, based on several tests conducted in various cities. The survey was massively biased against Hong Kong because it included a test to see if people would hold doors open for others. In Hong Kong an open door is good for only two things: barging through or closing quickly. Putting its legitimacy in question, the survey found New York the most polite city in the world. Hong Kong was equal 25th along with Bangkok and some place in Europe with not enough vowels, just tipping out touchy Taipei, those rude bastards in Singapore, surly Seoul, cranky Kuala Lumpur and melancholy Mumbai. The survey seems to exhibit cultural bias, with the top cities being primarily Western and the bottom Asian. Or perhaps Asia is just home to a lot of rude pr!cks. Any visitor to New York will quickly realise Asia does not have a monopoly on rudeness.

    The list is below the jump. No need to thank me.

    The politeness survey:

    1 New York, USA 80 per cent
    2 Zurich, Switzerland 77 per cent
    3 Toronto, Canada 70 per cent
    4 Berlin, Germany 68 per cent
    San Paulo, Brazil 68 per cent
    Zagreb, Croatia 68 per cent
    7 Auckland, New Zealand 67 per cent
    Warsaw, Poland 67 per cent
    9 Mexico City, Mexico 65 per cent
    10 Stockholm, Sweden 63 per cent
    11 Budapest, Hungary 60 per cent
    Madrid, Spain 60 per cent
    Prague, Czech Republic 60 per cent
    Vienna, Austria 60 per cent
    15 Buenos Aires, Argentina 57 per cent
    Johannesburg, SA 57 per cent
    Lisbon, Portugal 57 per cent
    London, UK 57 per cent
    Paris, France 57 per cent
    ....

    20 Amsterdam, Netherlands 52 per cent
    21 Helsinki, Finland 48 per cent
    Manila, Philippines 48 per cent
    23 Milan, Italy 47 per cent
    Sydney, Australia 47 per cent
    25 Bangkok, Thailand 45 per cent
    Hong Kong 45 per cent
    Ljubljana, Slovenia 45 per cent
    28 Jakarta, Indonesia 43 per cent
    29 Taipei, Taiwan 43 per cent
    30 Moscow, Russia 42 per cent
    Singapore 42 per cent
    32 Seoul, South Korea 40 per cent
    33 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 37 per cent
    34 Bucharest, Romania 35 per cent
    35 Mumbai, India 32 per cent



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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 17:36
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    June 14, 2006
    Dancing dollars

    I never understood this craze for ballroom dancing, but maybe I need to re-assess things.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 13:27
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    Counting games

    The Don recently claimed that 70% of Hong Kongers support his newest white elephant - the Tamar government headquarters proposal. From his place on the top floor, The Don can gaze across the harbour (pollution permitting) at West Kowloon and ponder what next in his edifice complex. Meanwhile, 50 floors below in the basement, LegCo members can continue lamenting their low pay and why they should at least earn as much as the civil servants they question in LegCo sessions. It's all about respect, you see.

    But how did the government discover this magical 70%? Was it through a scientific polling of the public? Or an ad hoc exercise in working backwards from a result? The SCMP yesterday:

    A senior official yesterday refused to be drawn on the basis for Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's claim that there was 70 per cent support for the Tamar project. Speaking on a radio phone-in programme, Director of Administration Elizabeth Tse Man-yee said the figure was the sum of different opinions collected through various channels. "Over the past few months, we have done internal analysis," she said. "We also paid attention to newspaper editorials, letters from the public, and people who made calls to radio phone-in programmes. We gathered and organised all this information.

    "We have scientific grounds to do our analysis. We understand the public has different views about Tamar. We've also refined our project according to the feedback. "We've reduced development density and maximised opportunities for public enjoyment of Victoria Harbour. We've responded to public worries."

    Ms Tse's comment came a day after a poll of 1,033 people, commissioned by the South China Morning Post, found only 28.1 per cent wanted a government complex to be built at Tamar.

    Ms Tse said the poll result reflected the government's findings, as 28 per cent indicated the site should be a venue for recreation and cultural events while 26.4 per cent wanted a green park. "When we look at the reality, over half of the Tamar development project is for recreational land use," she said, referring to the government's plan that over half of the space at Tamar will be open.

    Will the government release the detailed compilation of these numbers? Would such a slap-dash approach even pass muster in local high schools? What will ESWN say? And if this is how the government conducts surveys, perhaps Hong Kong's a better place without such democracy.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 10:33
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    June 08, 2006
    Hui's running Hong Kong?

    Today's SCMP front page: Tsang's pick shunned so he'll ask Hui to stay

    The Don wants his mate John Tsang, who took a demotion in order to line up for the Chief Secretary job. But Mr Tsang worked for the hated Chris Patten for a couple of years, which makes him ineligible in the eyes of those who really run Hong Kong. Rafael Hui, the incumbent, has consistently said he wants to quit in June 2007. So we're going to have a Chief Secretary who doesn't want to be there, a Chief Executive who can't get his candidate up and an administration that is taking it as read that it will still be running the place after the supposed Chief Executive election next year.

    Wouldn't it be cheaper if we gave up the pretence and let Beijing actually run Hong Kong?

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 14:33
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    June 02, 2006
    HK's Free World Cup Broadcasts

    I read with interest an article in today's [unlinkable] SCMP about how locally, Wharf Cable is being circumvented as the sole source of broadcasting the World Cup 2006 from Germany. Many people, including myself, have actually watched football matches live without subscribing to Cable TV, simply by making proper use of our broadband connection. Services like TV Ants, or PP Live, for instance, are broadcasting football feeds taken from stations from around the world (but almost entirely from China, many of which are on a peer-to-peer network basis). However, the big question was, is it legal? A government spokesman from the Intellectual Property Department has said that it was legal to watch it, as long as it is just streaming and you do not actually record the games.

    I found this most interesting. It is probably illegal to upload a stream from a cable tv box, because chances are that whoever is doing it does not have permission from their own cable TV partner. It is also illegal to record, because then you would be inferring that you had a private right to own that content (all it would take would be a simple download of video capture software from the Internet). But it is apparently perfectly legal to just watch online.

    Now I got into this because the building I live in, which is in Cyberport, was developed by PCCW, who naturally were slow in allowing Wharf Cable, which competes with PCCW's own NOW Broadband TV, to run cable into our building. So short of turning up in a Wanchai bar every time I wanted to watch a match, I desperately tried to find ways of watching a streaming version of matches played by my beloved Arsenal team. And that is how I stumbled upon this service, which provides a wide variety of mainland and even other cable TV feeds (HBO, CNN, etc). There are also websites whose sole purpose is to figure out in advance the Byzantine programming arrangements of say, a sports channel in Guangdong, and can tell you with certainty when and on which mainland stations those matches will be broadcast. It goes without saying that you can do this anywhere in the world with your broadband connection, not just in Hong Kong.

    I have found thereby that Chinese gray-market ingenuity has engendered a viewing population on Broadband TV that would otherwise not exist, and has succeeded where so many other broadcasters have failed. The key, obviously, is having content people will pay for...

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    [boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 13:07
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    May 31, 2006
    Come together

    Survey finds cause of Hong Kong's population problem.

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    May 30, 2006
    Spot the difference

    In the old days, Hong Kong was a den of vice and corruption, where the cops were in cahoots with the triads and everyone made out like bandits. The family of one of the infamous "four sargeants" has finally struck a deal with the ICAC (which was originally set up to deal with this corruption). How did ICAC realise something was amiss?

    The ICAC first began investigating Hon in 1976 for "assets disproportionate" to his humble salary, which totaled HK$193,852 over a 31-year career with the Royal Hong Kong Police Force.

    By the time Hon retired in August 1971, he held 49 properties then worth HK$2.12 million, plus HK$1.24 million in investments, HK$703,000 in bank accounts and two Mercedes-Benz cars worth HK$78,911.

    That's some savvy investing. The SCMP has a short piece summarising how these comparitively lowly ranked policemen managed to control so much power and wealth. It's below the jump. Meanwhile, compare and contrast with another story in today's SCMP:
    Almost 80 per cent of raids on suspected illegal gambling dens last year ended in failure, figures released by police have revealed.
    Finally, and again completely unrelated, LegCo rolled over and approved the Tamar white elephant, although law makers are annoyed the government isn't promoting Tamar as the "people's project". That's fair enough - it is taxpayer money that's being wasted. Plus ca change and all that.

    The notorious "four great Chinese sergeants" - among them Hon Sum - began their corrupt reign in the 1960s. They were all police staff sergeants, a post that has since been abolished, and were in their posts for years, unlike today where officers are rotated.


    As officers on beat patrol had close contact with gambling, prostitution and other organised crime, the very nature of their job offered ample opportunities for graft. Those who refused were ostracised or pressured to leave.

    But, as a retired customs officer explained, this was made worse by the organisational structure of the police force, in the form of the staff sergeant and sergeant major. "A staff sergeant, while being lowly on the organisational chart, actually exercised enormous power," he said in an interview with the Post yesterday on condition that he not be named.

    "You didn't have a choice. If you refused to take bribes, you were thumbing your nose at your superiors, you would be upsetting careful arrangements maintained between crime and law enforcement - upsetting the balance, so to speak."

    There were three or four staff sergeants at any one time, and they were in charge of all the rank-and-file officers in their areas. Unlike today's division by districts, they were responsible for huge geographic areas - Hong Kong Island, Kowloon - Yau Ma Tei had its own sergeant - and New Territories. A sergeant major lorded over them.

    Notionally, the staff sergeant ranked below an inspector, but even senior inspectors had to show them respect. This is because these powerful sergeants knew the pulse of the street, and effectively controlled gang activities and the territories each was allowed to operate - all the while taking a large chunk of commissions. Peter Godber, one of the ICAC's most high-profile cases, was a chief superintendent.

    The sergeants' immediate boss, the sergeant major, communicated directly with the assistant commissioners.

    "Police staff sergeants could directly communicate with a superintendent or senior superintendent who would probably be on the take," the former customs officer said. "They were powerful because they were the links between the top brass and the low ranks."

    The four sergeants - Hon, Lui Lok, Nan Kong and Ngan Hung - effectively divided Hong Kong among themselves.

    Hon entered the police in September 1940 and retired in August 1971. When he retired, he had a fortune estimated to be worth more than $4 million on total salaries of $193,852 over 31 years in the force.

    In 1976, the ICAC bought charges against Hon for alleged bribery and applied for an arrest warrant but he had moved to Canada. The government sought to have him extradited in May 1977 but the bid failed when he fled to Taiwan, where he died in August 1999.



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    May 23, 2006
    Down the tubes

    The Standard reports on the exodus of expats from Hong Kong due to air pollution, with many heading to Singapore instead. But how could you leave a city where you can't vote for the Chief Executive but you can vote in something far more important. The SCMP reports:

    When Hong Kong's 18 district councils were asked to enter their toilets for a city-wide cleanliness contest, Wan Chai, Yau Tsim Mong, Kwun Tong and Yuen Long did not even bother. The other 14 district councils, however, submitted 28 toilets for the contest organised by the Hong Kong Toilet Association (HKTA), Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) and People's Health Actions, part of a campaign that aims to praise well-managed toilets and the hard work of their frontline cleaning staff, not to mention reminding the public about hygiene.

    Those submitted include toilets renowned for their cleanliness, such as the ones in the Star Ferry car park in Central, Yee Kuk Street in Shamshuipo, Repulse Bay and Ngong Ping Road on Lantau Island.

    From today until June 11, members of the public can vote for their favourite public toilet through the RTHK's website, while a panel of toilet experts headed by HKTA chairman Michael Siu Kin-wai and vice-chairman Lo Wing-lok will pick their favourites.

    Mr Siu said the winning toilets should meet four criteria which are known as "Cash" - an acronym for comfort, accessibility, safety and hygiene. He said the design and hygiene of the city's public toilets had improved a lot in recent years. "Some toilets here even have devices to remind you to do something such as flushing water," Mr Siu said.

    Voters are also encouraged to submit the address and a picture of any public toilet they believed needed urgent improvement. "We will pass the information to the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department for follow up," said the HKTA's Lo Wing-lok.

    Who knew the city had a panel of toilet experts? Or that reminding people to flush was progress? I urge you to take part in this vital piece of democracy. If you don't speak up on the toilet issue, who will?

    Ironically, in Singapore they can vote for their leaders (well, sort of) but not their toilets. Who's more civilised?

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 08:22
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    May 18, 2006
    Blown away

    Every typhoon has a silver lining. Chanchu, one mother of a storm, has steered clear of Hong Kong. Not by co-incidence, today is one of the clearest, pollution free days the city has had in a long time.

    For the low-down on how Hong Kong prepares for incoming typhoons, you need to read Hemlock's Tuesday and Wednesday entries.

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    May 11, 2006
    Hong Kong quotes of the day

    The SCMP is Cathay Pacific's in-house newsletter. The top of the front page leads with the heroic story of passengers that stuggled through a Cathay flight where the air-conditioning had broken down: A London-bound Cathay Pacific flight was forced to return to Hong Kong after a faulty air conditioning valve left more than 200 passengers gasping for air for four hours. Cabin crew fanned distressed passengers and gave them iced towels. Some lay down in the aisles. Yes, that's front page news.

    The article heavily relies on an interview with Amisha Hira, age 26, who provides us our first quote of the day:

    "My driver in economy class told me the situation was even worse there, with at least two people lying down in the walkway."
    Those poor plebs in economy.

    Staying on the Cathay theme, the second quote of the day comes from Bobo Chan, a Cathay flight attendant (not stewardess). She tells the SCMP:

    Her two children, aged four and 12, also receive the benefits until they reach the age of 23. She said she takes her children to a hospital at least eight to 10 times a month.
    Do you now understand why Hong Kong's hospital system has a serious problem?

    Why all this coverage of Cathay? Could it be a co-incidence that Cathay is one of the SCMP's top advertisers?

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 08:22
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    May 09, 2006
    Assorted Hong Kong news

    A few bits of Hong Kong news that, cobbled together, make up today's post.

    1. There's been a fuss in recent days over the discovery that...prepare yourself...Hong Kong school kids cheat in their exams. In the English exam, the examinations authority gave the website that quotes were sourced from. Crafty students nicked off for toilet breaks, used their web enabled phones to look up the website and thus had all the answers for the fill-in-the-blanks questions on the paper. Naturally there's been an uproar, but I can't see why. If a pimply 18 year old student is able to out smart the worthies from the government education bureaucracy that set the exams, they should get full credit for their efforts. The exam rules did not, as far as I can tell, ban students from using their phones in this way while outside the examination room. If the exam setters are so stupid as to put URLs on the paper and the supervisors can't control the kids with their phones, they are the ones that should be punished, not the kids.

    2. Better air quality top priority for Hong Kong's Environmental Protection Department. That's a relief. But maybe charity begins at home. A disturbing report says that a staggering 86% of kids admitted to hospital with respiratory problems have dads that smoke at home. The mums find it too difficult to stand up for their kids' lungs at a risk of dmoestic tension with their chimney husbands.

    3. Time magazine does a number on Disney's Hong Kong woes. Lots of reports of staff walkouts and worse at the not-so-magic-kingdom. Obviously well worth the massive subsidies the government put into it.

    4. While on government subsidised boondoggles, Cyberport bursts to a massive 54% occupancy rate...at least in the corporate area, which is what was used to justify the project in the first place. Meanwhile PCCW's massive residential property developments are going great guns and with a far higher occupancy rate.

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    May 07, 2006
    Can Greenpeace say sorry now?

    A few weeks back Greenpeace made a big splash with the shocking and scary announcement that some vegetables stocked in supermarkets in Hong Kong had dangerous levels of pesticide (fellow blogger HK Dave looked at the issue when it hit the headlines - read the comments). They got the requisite front page coverage, the supermarkets immediately took the suspect produce off the shelves and an investigation was duly ordered.

    Today, buried deep in the SCMP, comes the investigations results:

    Test results on vegetable samples from supermarket chains following pesticide claims were satisfactory, the government said yesterday. The tests were conducted after Greenpeace said last month that some vegetables sold at two major supermarket chains contained banned pesticides and excessive levels of other chemicals.

    Mak Sin-ping, of the Centre for Food Safety, was satisfied by the test results, saying: "Let's say if some indicators were passed, it does not automatically mean the sample is poisonous. It depends on the quantity that was eaten."

    A government spokesman said: "The testing method was also in accordance with Codex Alimentarius Commission's guidelines as well as international practice. That means tests were conducted on the whole edible portion of the vegetable...The 39 samples were tested for 70 pesticides.

    Much ado about nothing and all that. Funny how it doesn't seem to get the same headlines. Anyone seen Greenpeace's press release?

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    April 20, 2006
    Room to move

    The government has announced a slightly scaled back version of the Tamar development, to give a little more cover and face to those politicians rushing to support the white elephant project. But finally the real reason Donald Tsang is so keen on the move to Tamar has become clear: he wants more room. Below the jump is a SCMP chart showing how the CE's office space will rise by 36%, a small increase on the original 2003 plan. This contrasts with everyone else, who's spaces have been reduced compared to the earlier plan.

    Make way for the Chief.

    tsangspace.jpg



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    April 11, 2006
    Awards

    Yesterday was a big day for Hong Kong's press, with the eagerly awaited Hong Kong News Awards 2005 lunch. This is where newspapers get to give themsevles a pat on the back in an orgy of self-congratulation. Both The Standard and SCMP have run pieces today detailing where they won, came runner-up, got citations and merit awards. It all smacks of a school's awards day, where everyone gets something and goes home a winner. In a town where there are only two English language newspapers, having them split awards in such catagories as "best English headline" and "best in business news writing (English)" seems ludicrous. It's got to be the most ridiculous awards show since the Oscars.

    At the same ceremony, Donald Tsang weighed in with his thoughts on what the punters ought to be reading and how papers should be run:

    "[One of the challenges] journalists face now is whether they should produce more reports popular among consumers or reports of significance to society. We all know that popular news is not necessarily significant news. Sensational tabloid news reported by paparazzi, as seen world-wide, often secures high readership. Such news, however, seems to leave no mark in history," he [Tsnag] said...

    "Journalists should strive for depth rather than just speed, presenting full details of news stories highlighting their meaning to the present world," he said. "Apart from quantity, one should also seek to enhance the quality of content, writing, graphics, artwork and printing. Only by doing so can traditional newspapers survive under this challenge."

    So it's important to write what's worthy rather than what people want to read, but it's also important to put form over substance. But the Don had something to say about me, too:
    "Now bloggers come from all walks of life, writing with inside information, to produce explosive results. They are the competitors of conventional journalists.

    "But the credibility of bloggers may be questionable so journalists should stand firm in upholding professional integrity to win readers' respect."

    There was no mention if there was laughter after that last sentence was spoken.

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    April 07, 2006
    Left right out

    The DAB continue to perform a difficult move badly: the backflip. The Don drops in and tells Hong Kong he only wants to deal with friends and suddenly the DAB will wave through the Tamar development. The Don already managed to get a few Democrats on board and now has enough support to get the thing through. That's a stunning achievement, given most of the public are opposed to the idea, and is a testament to Tsang's political cunning. This comes just days after Tsang announces he no longer is interested in talking to opponents and only wants to deal with sycophants.

    Stephen Vines has a go at both James Tien and Donald Tsang and makes some telling points. It's a read the whole thing kind of editorial. The money quote:

    The big difference between Tsang and Tung is that Tsang has spelled out his determination to ignore political opponents whereas Tung merely followed this policy without annunciation.
    Vines also notes that Tsang draws his support from "a mixed bag of leftist and business-dominated parties". He's right - Hong Kong could be the only place in the world where these two theoretically opposed groups actually form the dominant ruling cabal. Now this city is often (mistakenly) held up as a bastion of free markets. Economics says the in free markets people persue their own interests to maximise benefits for themselves. So applying that to local politics, what is it that both business and leftists have in common that can make them work together? My guess is simply political power, but I'd be interested in other opinions.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:49
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    April 06, 2006
    The little Lychee

    You would suppose that being the richest and most successful Chinese city in the world would make Hong Kong a secure, confident place. Its politicians and chattering class would be full of good advice for their Mainland cousins on how such success could be replicated. Mainland leaders would hang on their every word, collecting pearls of wisdom from the Pearl River Delta.

    Instead the Big Lychee suffers from an incredible inferiority complex, even though China's leadership keeps telling the city not to worry. Try today's Standard (screenshot below the jump):

    SAR's role shrinks as firms lift China focus. Shockingly, local companies are making more money in the Mainland relative to Hong Kong.

    Wen eases worries on marginalization. China's Premier tells us not to worry. For once we should take him at his word.

    standard.gif



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    April 05, 2006
    Reasons to become a cop

    Yesterday saw the funeral of Tsang Kwok-hang, the policeman killed in a gun fight in TST with an apparently crooked colleague. But if morale is flagging amongst our boys in blue, there's something to cheer them up:

    The ethical standards of the police have been placed under scrutiny after an activist campaigning on behalf of sex workers wrote to lawmakers requesting that the practice of undercover vice officers receiving sexual favors be prohibited.

    Referring to information provided by activist Zi Teng about police officers receiving daily sexual favors, barrister and lawmaker representing the legal sector Margaret Ng told a Legco security panel meeting: "[I feel that] the image of the police force is completely destroyed. Is it really necessary? Personally, I find it very hard to accept."

    It is the police force's practice to allow undercover officers to receive certain sexual favors in order to collect evidence targeting triad-controlled establishments offering sex services.

    It's not easy, but someone's got to do it. I look forward to seeing the new recruitment ads.

    ESWN has more on what constitutes a sexual favour.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 08:57
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    April 03, 2006
    Slash and burn

    It's well known that the TV in Hong Kong is mediocre at best. Luckily our law courts more than make up for it. The latest is a story involving triads, lawyers, sex, affairs, a kung-fu master, a knife attack in a foot massage parlour and (inevitably) an Annie Pang connection...and it's all ad free.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:24
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    March 28, 2006
    David Webb on HK privacy scandal

    David Webb details the full background and the lack of government action over the massive invasion of privacy when data about people who had complained about the police was posted on the net. Even if you've been following the case in the HK papers, you need to read the whole thing. Hong Kong's government keeps pushing its high-tech credentials but the lack of reaction is stunning. When the top management of the MTR KCR feud Donald Tsang drops everything to sort it out, but when 20,000 people's data is plastered on the net, there's nothing. It would be amazing if it weren't so predictable. One can imagine that if the leak had been of top civil service pay and benefits, the reaction would have been very different.

    Update (3/29)

    Naturally now the contractor at the heart of the scandal is pinning the blame back on the IPCC.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 16:40
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    March 21, 2006
    New Hong Kong movie

    From a friend, the movie poster of Hong Kong's latest drama...

    Backstab Mountain

    Brought to you by the KCRC.

    backstabmt.jpg



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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:09
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    March 20, 2006
    Cops and robbers

    One of the very best things about movies is the safety they offer - you know that at the end of 2 hours the whole thing will be over and you can return to reality. Even as the stories suck you in, you allow yourself to go on the journey because it is conducted from a comfortable middle-distance away from the events themselves.

    Sometimes, however, reality gives you a movie-like scenario that's all too real. The Friday shooting of 2 Hong Kong cops by another seemingly corrupt one would (and likely will) make a great movie one day, but for now it is simply a tragedy. Despite appearances to the contrary, this city's seedy underbelly still thrives and survives.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:02
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    March 13, 2006
    Wrong number

    Tien resigns amid feud screams The Standard. An excited Hong Kong is beside itself now that James Tien, leader of the Liberal Party (the world's only business political party) has stood aside. Imagine the disappointment when it becomes clear that it's his brother Michael quitting as head of the crack-prone (no, not the drug) KCRC. It must be a slow news day.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:42
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    March 09, 2006
    Apple of Beijing's eye

    It's fair to say that the Chinese, in general, like a bet. And the Beijing leadership are no exception. Much to the consternation of various people who matter, the latest five-year plan omits Hong Kong's self-declared status as a tourist and logistics centre:

    China's surprise omission of Hong Kong's self-proclaimed status as a tourist and logistics center in its Eleventh Five-Year Plan has alarmed SAR Chinese People's Political Conference delegates as well as local National People's Congress deputies...Hong Kong's role as mentioned in the plan is to maintain its status as an international financial center as well as a commercial and shipping hub. The plan has shifted to Macau where the mainland will help develop tourism and diversify its economy.
    Lost on the CPPCC and NPC delegates all in a flap is that Hong Kong has managed to become the logistical and tourist centre it is today without any help from any of the previous 10 five-year plans. Indeed one could look at the omission as a blessing - we've already got the dead hand of the local government in these sectors without needing bureaucrats from Beijing getting involved as well.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 08:59
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    March 02, 2006
    Epoch Times break-in?

    I'm no fan of the Epoch Times or the Falun Gong. But it does some curious that the International Federation of Journalists* has managed to scoop Hong Kong's English language papers on a break-in at the Times's Hong Kong offices:

    Yesterday, the Hong Kong office of the English-language newspaper, The Epoch Times, was broken into by four unidentified men, who smashed a glass door at the entrance of the building and wreaked havoc in the offices, including entering the computer room in the print shop and wrecking office machines and computers.
    Co-incidentally, the Government's snooping bill is making good progress.

    * I've no idea how reputable the IFJ is, so strong caution is advised.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 10:51
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    February 28, 2006
    Wooly thinking Part 1

    The letters page of the SCMP can be a dangerous place. Take this rant from today's paper:

    I am fed up with hearing the refrain that many people fall outside the direct tax net (82 per cent of the population, says Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce chief executive Eden Woon Yi-teng; 42 per cent of the workforce, says Post columnist Tom Holland).

    In fact, most of the workforce pays indirectly by being deprived of decent salaries and because there is no minimum wage. They also indirectly pay rates (if they rent public or private units) as well as tax. Yet they have as much right to a democratic life as Mr Woon. These are people who do not get the huge bonuses paid to company directors, nor do they have very high salaries and benefits, such as the pensions of senior civil servants. They are the poor, who work for little, contribute hugely to the economy and have little to show when they retire without a pension. Their homes are often small, they have to apply for education waivers and may yet face the prospect of applying for charity for health care, if hospital charges rise.

    They will not be able to afford health insurance, for which taxpayers may get tax breaks, nor will they get tax allowances for children and housing. Our financial secretary showed much more concern for the "haves", that is, the Liberal Party voters, than the "have nots".

    Mr or Mrs Name and Address Supplied manages to get so much wrong in such a short space. Ask a first year economics student about minimum wages and they will tell you that artificial floors on price (wages are the price of labour) can prevent an equilibrium developing. In English that means that a minimum wage means some people who would be prepared to work for less than the minimum will be prevented from doing so, and employers who would employ such people are also prevented from doing so. You have the supply, you have the demand, but the minimum wage prevents the two from getting together. Even stranger is the idea that the poorly paid "contribute hugely to the economy". Whether you like it or not, our society measures contributions to the economy in an extremely effective manner - money. The poor don't get tax breaks for health insurance - they get free access to great public hospitals. They don't get access to allowances for children and housing because they don't pay income tax and live in government subsidised housing. It seems apt to quote new Hospital Authority chief Shane Solomon:
    Speaking at an impromptu media gathering at the authority's headquarters Monday, Solomon said one of the things that intrigued him was that Hong Kong has a low tax policy and a highly subsidized health-care system at the same time.

    "Of course, my view is superficial at this stage, but from observation it is a country with very low taxation and a highly subsidized health system ... a bit unusual," he said.

    The common fallacy is that tax cuts favour the rich. In fact, tax cuts favour those who pay the most tax, which funnily enough happens to be the rich. The poor do it tough - silly stuff like this letter won't make things any better.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 08:47
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    February 27, 2006
    Great moments in HK sport

    The SCMP reports that a start has been made on Hong Kong's equestrian facilities for the 2008 Olympics:

    Work on constructing equestrian facilities for the 2008 Olympics has started in Fanling, and the government will this week announce the launch of a company to organise the event.
    It is understood the equestrian company was registered with the Company Registry on February 15...A government source said the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (Bocog) was expected to inject between $300 million and $500 million for the company's operation. The Hong Kong Jockey Club is to spend another $800 million to construct the games venues in Sha Tin and Fanling.
    So how many people does it take to organise the horse-y events of the 2008 Olympics, and more importantly, where do you put them all?
    It is understood the equestrian company was registered with the Company Registry on February 15. An office will be set up in Wan Chai and up to 80 full-time staff will be hired to prepare for the Games events. The company will operate until the end of 2008.
    For the geographically ignorant, please see the map below the jump. Wouldn't it make more sense, and be far cheaper, to rent space in Fanling for these people?

    hkmap.gif



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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 08:34
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    February 23, 2006
    Take it away, Charlie
    ...in the background was the sneaking worry about creeping corruption and the gradual undermining of Hong Kong's greatest asset - the rule of law
    Prince Charles in 1997, from his The Handover of Hong Kong or The Great Chinese Takeaway.

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    February 22, 2006
    West of Eden

    It takes quite an effort to not only annoy the citizens of this town, but the property developers as well. The government has gone back to the drawing board on the West Kowloon cultural district, having realised they can't even please some of the people some of the time with the tortured process this development has taken to date. The answer to appoint a "high powered" committee to again assess what facilities are needed, which makes one wonder what the government has been doing until now if it just realised the need for such a body.

    Is it mildly embarrassing that a large chunk of reclaimed land sits idle in such a prominent harbourfront position? Will some bright spark now propose that Kai Tak become the new cultural district, the government ditch the Tamar proposal and turn it into the West Kowloon government district? Or will even more dangerous ideas take hold, such as turning West Kowloon into a Central Park style oasis in the middle of a congested and polluted city?

    No, Hong Kong quivers in anticipation with how the government will turn West Kowloon into even more of a gift to property developers. The developers have spent an estimated HK$300 million on West Kowloon so far - and they aren't stupid businesses. They spent the money in the hope of far greater returns and that hasn't gone away, even if the structure of the proposals will change. In the interim, the city wonders what is the next white elephant on the government's plate? The government's DNA contains a boondoggle gene and it is a dominant one.

    Update

    Expressing itself quickly, the boondoggle gene forces to Henry Tang propose a gold warehouse at the airport in today's budget. Fort Knox at Chek Lap Kok.

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    February 21, 2006
    Kai Tak landing photos

    For the nostalgia buffs, some photos of planes landing at the old Kai Tak airport below the jump. Feel free to share your own white knuckle experiences.

    Click each thumbnail to enlarge.

    hkfly1.bmp

    hkfly2.bmp

    hkfly3.bmp

    hkfly4.bmp

    hkfly5.bmp

    hkfly6.bmp

    hkfly7.bmp

    hkfly8.bmp

    hkfly9.bmp




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    February 20, 2006
    Cracks in Hong Kong's wall

    Hong Kong is an immigrant's city - it has been made great on the back of the efforts of those coming to turn a small fishing village into a world class city. But one of the city's less proclaimed groups face daily discimination despite the massive amounts they contribute to the place: the army of domestic workers. For example, a domestic worker can never claim the permanent residency in Hong Kong, even if they meet all the other criteria. All other visa holders can qualify (basically you have to live in Hong Kong for 7 years). So today's SCMP report proves very interesting indeed:

    Immigration officials have been urged to clarify their policy after two children of a long-time Filipino domestic helper were granted right of abode. Hong Kong-born Dariel Domingo, 13, and his sister, Darlene, 11 - who study at local schools, speak Cantonese and read and write Chinese - were granted right of abode on February 3.

    The children are due to collect their Hong Kong permanent identity cards tomorrow.

    Mark Daly, a human rights lawyer who helped the children, said: "What is unusual is the children being granted [right of abode] and the parents not having it."

    Administrative slip-up or breaking change in Hong Kong's immigration policies? What is the status of the parents should they lose their jobs and thus their domestic helper visas? And how does this leave those children denied right of abode by Beijing in the first "interpretation" of the Basic Law? If Immigration now gives the parents right of abode, it seems impossible to deny the right of abode in the opposite direction (i.e. from parents to children).

    Great moments in policy progress, brought to you by some flunky in Immigration Tower.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 14:22
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    February 13, 2006
    Breathtaking Hong Kong

    Marathons are difficult things...but when 22 runners end up in hospital thanks largely to heavy air pollution, you know there's a problem. The annual Hong Kong marathon has seen at least one man listed as critical. It is impossible to work out how many of the problems were a result of air pollution, but this year's race had double the problem cases of last year.

    Yesterday's roadside air pollution reading was "very" high (as high as 142 in Causeway Bay and 136 in Central), a level that the Environmental Protection Department warns caution is required for anyone with heart of respiratory illnesses...perhaps they'll now add marathon runners.

    I don't know Donald Tsang realises it yet, but the environmental and air pollution in particular are fast becoming a major issue. A nice big fat park at West Kowloon could work wonders...and cue the jokes about "Hong Kong - take your breath away".

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    February 10, 2006
    Sharing know-how

    In today's coals to Newcastle file, The Standard reports that Hong Kong's finest are sharing the valuable head-kicking lessons learnt during the WTO conference with the one group of people you'd think wouldn't need the help at all...China's police:

    Hong Kong police are sharing their crime fighting and crowd control skills with their mainland counterparts in an effort to ensure harmony in a country where public demonstrations and police-civilian clashes are on the rise, Police Commissioner Dick Lee said. In a speech to the Lion's Club Thursday, Lee disclosed that 100 junior police staffers were recently sent to Chinese People's Public Security University in Beijing and other law enforcement agencies and police training schools throughout the mainland.

    In addition to sharing the experiences they faced during December's World Trade Organization demonstrations and the 2004 tsunami relief efforts, the Hong Kong cops also received some training and observed their mainland counterparts on the job.

    Next time there's an uppity little village in China, they can look forward to a good ol' fashioned Hong Kong smack-down, rather than those crude and flimsy Mainland techniques.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 08:55
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    February 01, 2006
    Hong Kong's demographic deficit

    An article in The Standard sees Donald Tsang's recent announcement to cut civil servants' work week to five days (from five and a half) could lead to a baby boom:

    Chief Executive Donald Tsang's proposal last month to reduce the work week for civil servants to five days may very well boost productivity - and not just in the work place. "The five-day work week will allow Hong Kong people more time for courtship and more time to make babies," said Paul Yip, senior lecturer with the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science at the University of Hong Kong.

    And babies are just what Hong Kong needs, as a host of factors - including a teetering birthrate and a longer lifespan - are wreaking havoc on the city's demographics.

    Honey, I don't have to work tomorrow, let's have another kid instead. Back here on Planet Earth, the real factors in Hong Kong's low fertility rate are easily found:

    :

    Hong Kong residents put in an average of 55 hours of work each week, according to a 2004 study conducted jointly by Hong Kong University's Corporate Environmental Governance Programme and equal opportunity group Community Business. Singaporeans, in contrast, averaged only 50 hours of work a week in 2005, according to the Ministry of Manpower. Furthermore, of the 1,000 Hong Kongers who responded to the study, more than 75 percent said they were suffering from stress and a lack of exercise, and 28 percent said they took sick leave simply to recover from long work hours.

    All this time at the office is one reason often cited for why Hong Kong ranks near the bottom in surveys comparing the frequency of sex in various countries.

    Hong Kongers aren't doing it enough. But there's more to the problem:
    "Who would have three children in Hong Kong's present climate? For starters, it's expensive, and the education system is in a mess." [said Paul Yip]. Even if every family was to have the recommended number of children, Yip argued, Hong Kong simply does not have the educational, health care and housing resources to support such population growth.

    But Yip said he has had a hard time persuading people that Hong Kong's population decline is a pressing issue. With a fertility rate of 0.93 in 2004 - which means the average woman will have less than one child in her lifetime - Hong Kong currently has one of the lowest birth rates in the world. In 1988, it was 1.4 percent. The minimum replacement fertility rate is 2.1 children for each couple.

    Hong Kong faces the same problem many developed economies face. People are living longer, getting richer and having fewer children. The changing composition of age distribution means more retireees, less kids and less workers to support both. Is that so bad? Not necessarily - it will mean economic growth in aggregate will slow or even decline, but per capita GDP may stay the same or even continue to increase. It means more school closures and more hospital openings (and more fitness corners for seniors, although my kids loving playing on them).

    But Hong Kong also faces some unique problems. The average apartment size in this city is 600 square feet. Try having a family of 5 in that space. Pollution is bad and getting worse. People are wealthy enough now they don't need to have kids to support them in old age.

    But for all the doom and gloom, there is an easy and obvious solution. Immigration. I've said it before - the easiest way to avoid this demographic crunch is to open the immigration gates to those prepared to come and work, filling in the missing age brackets. It requires massive cultural and government policy changes. But it is easy, pays for itself in the medium term and quick. The same applies to Japan, which is even more advanced in its aging population problem.

    Hong Kong's well compensated civil servants could use their compressed work week to contemplate how to make greater immigration happen. Then they can go home and have some more kids.



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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:18
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    January 17, 2006
    Civil servants are different

    David Webb has letter of the week in SCMP today, commenting on the fanciful theory that Hong Kong will outlaw "expat" packages:

    I refer to the article "Race law to put tough curbs on expat deals" (January 11).
    If Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs Stephen Fisher is serious about denying permanent residency to anyone getting what he calls "expat packages" or "overseas terms", then would he please tell us how many civil servants of his grade or above receive housing, rental allowances, overseas education for their children, air-conditioning allowances and other perks from their employer?

    What utter hypocrisy.

    The form of remuneration should have no bearing on a person's eligibility for permanent residency. Employers should be allowed to remunerate employees in whatever form they choose to recruit and retain talent, whether from Hong Kong or overseas, permanent resident or not. The total cost of compensation reflects the free-market value of an employee to an employer. How it is structured, in cash or benefits, is usually driven by other considerations.

    The government should instead remove its fiscal incentive to structure packages. Employees should be taxed on the full value of all benefits received, including housing. Currently, housing or rent is only deemed to be worth 10 per cent of the value of the other income from the employer.

    Civil servants in aggregate are probably the greatest beneficiaries of this. If housing were taxed at its rateable value, broadly equivalent to market rent, then the government could afford substantial cuts to the percentage rate of salaries tax without reducing inland revenue. Tax employees on what they are paid, not how they are paid.

    You can hear the choking on Albert Road from here.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 11:15
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    January 11, 2006
    Law and disorder

    A compare and contrast exercise.

    The Standard reports Differing wage scales will be legal:

    Paying foreign workers more than local employees for essentially the same job will not be a crime under Hong Kong's proposed race discrimination laws, an official said Tuesday.
    Meanwhile the unlinkable SCMP screams Race law to put tough curbs on expat deals:
    Hong Kong companies will have to justify their offers of generous "expat packages" to foreign employees under an anti-racism bill now in an "advanced stage of drafting". They will have to prove the recruit has expertise not readily available in Hong Kong, and permanent residents will not be able to receive such special terms...

    Mr Fisher also said the bill would make harassment and racial vilification an offence, but would not necessarily cover racist "name-calling" unless it was done in the context of the "protected areas" of employment, education, provision of goods and services, public bodies, barristers and clubs.

    Same facts, very different angles. Hong Kong's proposed racial discrimination laws are close to useless. Racist abuse is dependant on where it happens, not what is said. The law will not cover mainland Chinese, which in itself is disciminatory. Furthermore it won't do anything to change the other institutional racial barriers. For example, domestic helpers can never qualify for permanent residency, while others here on employment visas can qualify after 7 years. Many here look at domestic helpers (mostly Filipinas, Indonesians, Thais and Sri Lankans) as serfs or even sub-human. If you're going to outlaw racial discrimination, either do it properly or don't do it at all.

    While on Hong Kong law, our favourite rabble of 14 protesters are due in Kwun Tong magistracy today. A litany of minor Korean politicians, Hong Kong trade unionists and other odd-balls continue their efforts to subvert the rule of law by staging hunger strikes and threatening travel boycotts. Thankfully the government's attitude remains the right one - these protesters will be tried by a court of law, not a court of media and public opinion. There has not been one legitimate arguement for dropping the charges. These protesters are getting a first hand lesson in what rule of law really means. Getting others to rant and rave on your behalf doesn't get you off, sunshine. The NYT is calling the situation diplomatically sticky. Somehow I don't see relations between South Koera, Hong Kong and China being affected by this.

    Economic world beater Hong Kong has only 10% of its population paying income tax while more than half its population live in government housing. As one of the 10% paying tax, it's good to know my tax dollars will be going to putting these people in jail if they are found guilty. It should prevent some of the dollars being wasted on empty exhibition halls (AsiaWorld Expo at the airport), West Kowloon, Kai Tak, Tamar...

    By the way, who is paying defendant lawyer and democrat Martin Lee's fees? Protesting ain't cheap.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 08:59
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    January 10, 2006
    Cry, freedom

    There's been much bally-hoo over Microsoft's closing of Michael Anti's popular blog on MSN spaces in China. It's a nice combination - the evil of China's firewall and Microsoft's rolling over at the first instance. That said, as a corporate decision it isn't so hard to understand. Microsoft is a company, not a public service. The same is true of Yahoo. Bear that in mind and the whole dispute isn't about free speech but what companies operating in oppressive regimes need to operate. It is not a black and white question - oil companies operate in questionable regimes all the time as well. The moral questions posed are for each company to face and answer. But place yourself in the shoes of the Microsoft flunky who received the request to shut down Anti's site. What would you do?

    Let me set some homework. What's the difference between the Anti incident and the rolling over by Hong Kong ISP's in handing over the identities of 22 alleged file sharers? One ISP intends to fight the demand, but three of them have meekly rolled over. It will be an interesting test of Hong Kong's Privacy of Data Ordinance, not to mention a host of other legal issues. It seems Hong Kong is leading the world in the prosecution of file sharers. How do we get the 14 WTO protesters onto a file-sharing program?

    While we like to think the internet is free and liberal, it is not. Companies and governments are involved. The internet hasn't changed the rules - we are learning it is subject to the same rules as the real world. That's a shock for some.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 12:47
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    January 04, 2006
    Guest post: Hong Kong in 2006

    John Louis Swanie of What Comes to Pass on the year ahead for the Big Lychee:

    I know I sound like an old man who is just itching to dash out a letter to the Times signed "yours faithfully, Thomas Martin, 52 Highbottom Greens, Ponceneyton" but I'm genuinely tired of "two thousand and X". Why can't we just call them "Twenty-Oh X"? It fits with convention and makes the year sound less like a battery-powered cheese grater.

    It occurred to me, whilst I was mouthing the words to every year of the coming decade (I'm left wondering exactly how I pass my degree modules when I spend time on such pursuits), that '06' when said in the 'archaic' pattern of our forefathers sounds a like the cantonese for "so tasty"; "Ho Sik!"

    Is this some good omen for future profit? Will this annus delicere herald a bright new beginning for Hong Kong?

    In the typically infuriating manner of almost every other pundit my answer is, "yes and no".

    From a financial perspective, I expect Hong Kong to grow. It may be farcical to attribute a lack of political autonomy to economic growth as the pro-Beijing camp have for so many years, but the bottom line is that we can expect 'business as usual' in the coming year. Sir Donald may not have any particularly ripe gifts for the cartels for the coming year (at least not ones of the same caliber as his predecessor) but the status quo isn't going to be shaking anytime soon.

    We've finally gotten past the years of Hong Kong writing itself off after the fallout of the '97 crash and then limping through the gloom of the Tung-SARS sucker-punch. The only thing which can and historically has, held Hong Kong back is itself - the territory has never suffered the full force of currency speculation and the artificially inflated property market is its own doing.

    A leader directly after 1997 had the opportunity of either bolstering or shelving property speculation as a means to make money but he instead decided to hide under the carpet, so we are left with a rather ill-fitting financial waistcoat - stretched by the portly excesses of the pre-97 years but just about wearable. This will not change in the coming year and I expect to see property prices rise at a healthy rate.

    Perhaps 2006 will be the year that the Cyberport really starts bringing in that new generation of high-tech investment we've been promi-Pffft-HAHAHAHAHAH! My apologies, it's almost impossible to resist poking fun at one of the more entertaining White Elephants in our midst. It does however act as a serviceable segue into the other important 'public-works' matter: Disneyland.

    I expect Hong Kong Disneyland to plod along at the pace it has set out for itself. Fueled almost entirely by vacationing mainlanders, the Hong Kong Disneyland will do little to help Hong Kong's pre-existing tourism industry in the year to come. We will know this to be true once the Tourism Board haul Jackie Chan out in front of some cameras to waste a few billion HKD on another grand advertising scheme featuring our _one remaining_ sail-powered junk and the same arial footage of the Po Lin Buddha that every person in every country around the world (including, Hong Kong) has seen eighteen times before.

    From a political point of view, I predict the most boring year imaginable. Anson Chan, who has been loitering in the democratic wings of Hong Kong politics, will go from innocuous to irrelevant. Sir Donald will begin channeling vintage-Sir David Wilson and do absolutely nothing on the suffrage front - we'll not hear of a political reform agenda until he's sure he's out the door and that won't be for a few years yet.

    No one will address the massive, glaring constitutional hole in the Hong Kong judiciary's continued application of _post 1997_ UK House of Lords decisions such as _White v White_ and we will happily float along with the ghostly hands of the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary on our judges' shoulders.

    So a good year for Hong Kong? It depends on where you stand. We'll have our annual march, rabidly support football teams with whom we have no ethnic or legal ties during the World Cup and then shut up and make money. Nothing that happens in Hong Kong will affect our political status, change will come when China has finished putting out its many domestic fires or if it fails to deal with them outright.

    Ultimately though, I'll be a happy Hong Kong resident if I can find the new address of the Tai Cheung bakery.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:50
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    December 30, 2005
    Beijing, Hong Kong, Macau and Chicago

    Stephen Vines in The Standard sympathises with Donald Tsang during his "duty visit" to Beijing, explaining how this yearly ritual follows closely what has always happened for Hong Kong's rulers. The difference in Beijing insists on doing the assessments in public:

    surely there's a less humiliating way of conducting relations between the central government and the SAR. Schoolchildren might expect to have their report cards made public - although even this is frowned upon these days - but heads of government should be treated better.

    However, this is unlikely to happen within a system that maintains the old Chinese imperial principle of tremble and obey. The leaders in Beijing keep their grip on their vast empire not by being nice or by conceding liberal doses of devolved power, but by making it absolutely clear that all real power resides at the center, and that the center not only manipulates the levers of control but does so in full public view.

    There is an interesting contrast between how China treats its SARs and its provinces. The SARs are vassal states but the provinces are different - they are political power bases (for example the Shanghai faction) and often compete with or ignore Beijing's orders. There is a great irony that the "One Country, Two Systems" idea that drives the Special Administrative Regions actually lands them under greater central control than China's provinces.

    The other stark contrast is between Hong Kong and Macau. Macau's Chief, Edmund Ho, is and has remained Beijing's darling. Ho has turned Macau from a sleazy den of vice and gambling into a modern den of vice and gambling, embracing the gift of a gambling monopoly from his Beijing masters. The Macanese never expected democracy in their future and their previous colonial masters, the Portugese, never toyed with such ideas. Running a colony a fraction of the size of Hong Kong is, funnily enough, a fraction as difficult. But my sympathies today lie with the people of Macau, especially those near the grand opening of Fisherman's Wharf:

    ...singer Francis Yip and American soft-rock group Chicago, both top acts of the 1970s, will officially inaugurate the project by performing their signature songs for free on New Year's Eve in the complex's Roman amphitheater as part of a program to include fireworks and a show by a British acrobatic troupe.
    Even at free it's too expensive. Hong Kong might have its troubles, but Macau can keep Chicago.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:48
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    December 22, 2005
    Hong Kong: World City?

    People have been debating for several years about whether or not Hong Kong truly is a World City, and whether the label Asia's World City is really appropriate for a city with such a homogenous population.

    Well, today at the opening of the rather ambitious exhibition facility near the airport called the Asiaworld-Expo, Donald Tsang unintentionally gave us some insight into this claim:

    When we adopted the brandname ‘Asia’s World City’ for Hong Kong a few years ago, it was intended to be partly descriptive and partly aspirational. We have since been working hard to live up to the promise of being a premier city in the region and beyond. With the opening of AsiaWorld-Expo, we have turned another small part of our vision into reality.
    So the Don is admitting that Hong Kong is trying, but it ain't there yet...

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    [boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 18:59
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    December 06, 2005
    Hong Kong's next white elephant

    Slowly forming on the horizon is the next boondoggle, the HK-Zuhai-Macau "gamblers expressway". The latest estimate is the 29 kilometre bridge is going to cost more than HK$50 billion to construct, about $30 billion more than first thought. That's one hell of a jump in estimates. And you thought getting the home renovation quote was tricky. Only Hopewell's Gordon Wu has jumped at the chance to construct this bridge. That seems strange: under the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) model, the builder of the bridge is able to collect tolls for a set period of time before hadning it over to the government. This typically means the operator can charge whatever they like in order to achieve their desired return on investment. The contracts are typically iron-clad and often governments are forced into making additional concessions to the operators.

    For example, both the Eastern and Western harbour tunnels were built under this model. There was a massive hue and cry when tolls were raised at the Eastern Tunnel, but there isn't anything the Government can do about it. Absurdly the cheapest cross-harbour tunnel is the government owned Central tunnel, which is the most convenient geographically. But due to political pressure, the government keeps tolls at the Central tunnel artificially low, resulting in traffic chaos and huge jams at all hours (try getting through at 1am on a Saturday) while the other two tunnels are deserted.

    BOT seems a great way for governments to get the private sector to build infrastructure at little or no cost to the public purse. But it is not the same a private sector road. For the gamblers' expressway the SAR government estimates traffic volumes could reach as high as 80,000 vehicles a day. I'm preapred to wager that bridge will never see that volume of traffic until China turns into a liberal democracy. Sir Gordon will get his 10% (or whatever the guaranteed return is) plus the kudos and connections with the HK, Macau and Guandong governments.

    And we end up with a bridge no-one needs.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 08:49
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    December 02, 2005
    Lawyering around

    The Article 45 Concern Group, a pro-democracy bunch of barristers, are turning themselves into a political party that "aspires to become Hong Kong's ruling party". What's the term for being ruled being a bunch of lawyers instead of civil servants? Is that an improvement?

    Even more worryingly, those that deal with barristers on a daily basis are wholly unimpressed with them. For the third time in three months, the Court of Appeal is pissed off with slipshod lawyers appearing before them. If they can't get their briefs right how can they expect to rule the city?

    So kids, if you're casting about for a profession, I can heartily recommend journalism. If you're lucky, you can follow Doug Crets and spend two days "reporting" from Laguna.

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    December 01, 2005
    We interupt this broadcast

    Hong Kongers were outraged last night when their normally woeful TV viewing was interupted by a 5 minute pleading from Donald Tsang, Beijing's cheerleader in chief in Hong Kong, to stay at home on Sunday and to pass his electoral reforms. There was much debate whether these 5 minutes counted against the compulsory API quota for the night. And did The Don thank George W. for the idea?

    A senior Tsang aide said that if the broadcast turned out to be popular with the public, it might turn out to be a regular part of Tsang's political repertory.

    "We borrowed the idea from the president of the United States who appealed to the country on TV when he announced the US military invasion of Iraq," the aide said.

    There is a certain irony in comparing Hong Kong's struggle for democracy with the American invasion in Iraq and Iraqi democracy. Obviously this public servant has had an irony by-pass.

    The biggest question was whether this plea was an own goal or a canny move by The Don to head off the expected large turn-out for Sunday's democracy march? Has The Don blundered on the one thing Beijing trusted he would sort out? Only time will tell.

    As a first test of political skill, this is a big one. The Don must have a contingency plan. Ideally he would firm up his previous pledge to announce a timetable for universal suffrage during his second term, after 2007. In other words, set a timetable for a timetable. The democrats must then be prepared to accept that offer and hold him to it. Beijing has to sit back and shut up about it, trusting their man in Hong Kong to do right by both them and the people he supposedly represents. It's all long odds. But the alternative is worse - because at this stage there is none.

    Full text of Tsang's speech below the jump.

    Fellow Hong Kong citizens, as far as I can remember, former governors or the former chief executive had rarely spoken directly to the community on television about constitutional development issues. I have chosen to do so tonight because democratic development in Hong Kong will soon enter a defining stage in December. Will we be able to stride ahead? Or will we be left marching on the spot, going nowhere? The Legislative Council will have to make a decision in three weeks' time. At this crucial juncture, I feel that I must speak to you personally about my thoughts. Our proposed constitutional development package is a democratic package. It can enable Hong Kong to take a big step forward along the road to universal suffrage. It significantly enhances the democratic element of the method for selecting the chief executive by doubling the size of the Election Committee from 800 to 1,600. All the 400 District Council members directly elected by more than 3 million registered voters will be included in the Election Committee. For the 2008 Legco, the number of seats will increase by 10. Five will be returned through direct elections in the geographical constituencies. The other five will be elected from among the district councillors, and will likewise have an electorate base of 3 million voters.

    Over the past few weeks, I have thought long and hard about whether we could develop a better and more feasible package. We all know that there are different views in Hong Kong about the pace of achieving universal suffrage. While some consider that the current pace of constitutional development as proposed in the package is not quick enough and would want to have universal suffrage for the chief executive and Legco elections as soon as possible, others are concerned that by moving too fast we may undermine the merits of the current system, which would impact negatively on balanced participation.

    Our proposed package might not be all things to all people, but I believe that, after a long period of public consultation, it has given due regard to the aspirations of different sectors of the community. The proposed package has not come easily. So I personally appeal to you all: do not let the hard work and efforts of the past two years be wasted. I really cannot see any other option that can better suit Hong Kong's current circumstances, and be acceptable to all interested parties.

    We are now facing a real danger of our democratic development coming to a halt. Some people insist that the government should propose a timetable for universal suffrage right now; otherwise, they will not support our reform package. Their stance puzzles me. Why should there be a conflict between supporting the government proposals - which advance democracy in Hong Kong - and wanting a road map and timetable for universal suffrage? How can the demands for a road map and timetable be served by rejecting the government proposals? What good will this do to democratic development in Hong Kong? Will this approach benefit the people of Hong Kong? Indeed, is this the wish of Hong Kong people?

    Various opinion polls indicate that most Hong Kong people support our proposals. More importantly, a majority of Hong Kong people feel that the electoral arrangements for 2007 and 2008 should be handled separately from the issue of a timetable for universal suffrage. This underlines the pragmatism of Hong Kong people, who believe that constitutional development should not be hamstrung by the debate over a timetable for universal suffrage. They think we should pass the constitutional development package first so that we can move towards universal suffrage from 2007 and 2008.

    To achieve the ultimate goal of universal suffrage, the first step will be for Legco to pass our proposals. As for a road map and timetable, I have pledged to discuss these matters in the Commission on Strategic Development and other channels as soon as possible. We cannot rush the matter; but we will not be playing for time either.

    Fellow citizens, we are at a crossroads in our democratic development. If Legco passes our reform package, we will take a big step towards our goal of universal suffrage. With the success gained, there is a greater chance of reaching a consensus on how to achieve universal suffrage.

    However, if the package were unfortunately voted down by Legco, then constitutional development for 2007 and 2008 would come to a halt. If this happens, how can we realistically expect to reach a consensus on proposals for the chief executive and Legco elections in 2012 and secure the necessary support from two-thirds of the legislators? Would rejecting our reform package bring us closer to our goal, or make it more distant?

    We are one step away from advancing democracy in Hong Kong. I will do my utmost to secure legislators' support for our package. I fully support the move towards universal suffrage in accordance with the Basic Law, and there is also consensus among legislators to move towards that goal. There is no practical difference between us. The only difference is whether or not a timetable for universal suffrage should be linked to the proposals for the 2007 and 2008 elections. I hope that all legislators will cast their votes sensibly, with full regard to the overall interests and wishes of Hong Kong people.

    Promoting democratic development is the common wish of the [Hong Kong] government and the Hong Kong people. It is also the established policy of the central government. Let us work together to push forward our constitutional development with a pragmatic attitude. Let's not miss this opportunity before us.

    If we choose to mark time rather than stride ahead we will be further away from our goal of universal suffrage, not closer to it.




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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 08:57
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    November 30, 2005
    Basic Law fractions

    David Webb continues his excellent series on the Hong Kong Government's proposed constitutional reforms (the first part was on the crooked and rigged corporate voting in functional constituencies). This time he teaches the world's smartest government that 20% of 70 is not 12 and finds the government's proposal clearly breach the Basic Law. There's plenty more of sensible suggestions, and by being sensible are thus disqualified from consideration by the government.

    Go read and enjoy. Then march on Sunday.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 18:16
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    November 25, 2005
    No room at the inn

    Hong Kong's hotels have announced they no longer expect to be full during the upcoming WTO meeting, which again calls into question how much holding this event will cost Hong Kong. The Chinese embassy in Karachi gets a faxed statement warning luxury hotels in Hong Kong and China could be attacked, to which China says, "Go ahead, make my day." Hong Kong Disneyland announces it has passed the 1 million guest mark, if they include all the warm up days, visits by contractors and government officials, people that intended to go but didn't get around to it and double counting rabid dogs and beetles.

    Meanwhile things keep getting better for Hong Kong's menfolk: the proportion of married women falls thanks to a gender imbalance, improved educational attainment of women, and a rising trend of Hong Kong men marrying Mainland women.

    Welcome to Fantasy Island...."the plane, the plane!"

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:13
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    November 24, 2005
    Nothing to protest

    "Trade blocs lower their sights still further for HK talks" screams the front page of the SCMP on the upcoming WTO* talks. Being a silver lining kind of city, we're told this is a good thing:

    Key members of the World Trade Organisation have acknowledged they will be unable to agree on a framework for a trade liberalisation pact at next month's Hong Kong summit. They have only outlined a road map for concluding the current trade talks by the end of 2006.

    Activists readying to stage protests at the six-day gathering said the leaders' acknowledgment meant demonstrations would not be as volatile as predicted..."It is obvious now that not much will be coming out from the summit. Everyone involved has adjusted their expectations. Since not much is going to happen in Hong Kong, protests will not be as heated as people had thought," one activist said.

    Which hopefully means the idiots from the Korea Peasants' League will keep their arson kits for more home grown activities:
    "Today the [South Korean] government declared a death sentence for 3.5 million farmers," said a joint statement from the Korea Peasants' League and six other farmers' unions. "We hereby declare an uncompromising struggle against the current government. and we will stage campaigns to stop foreign imported rice from entering our ports and set fire to foreign rice storage facilities."
    This is in reaction to the passing of a slight liberalisation of Korean rice imports, raising the quota from 4% of comsumption to almost 8% in return for a 10 year grace period before liberalising imports completely. Some thanks. What a shame they won't be visiting us.

    * Does WTO stand for Wanchai Take Over?

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    The rain in Guangdong falls mainly in Hong Kong

    A bureaucrat's instinct when faced with a problem is to cover it up. And so it has proved in Harbin, where a toxic chemical spill into the Songhua river has finally been confirmed. Rumours had swept Harbin on Monday of some kind of water trouble, which lead to scenes of panic buying and water hoarding amid the confusion. The government cut off the water supply "at wee hours Wednesday" (could Xinhua be in the pun business?), leaving a city of almost 4 million literally without water. The chemical spill has passed Harbin at around 5am this morning and supplies have resumed again, although would you drink that water?

    Far more interesting will be whether the chemical plant where the explosion occurred will be investigated and prosecuted if (as seems likely) found negligent. Much depends on how long media focus remains on Harbin.

    Perhaps because I come from Sydney, Australia, a city and country constantly worrying about water supplies, I find the next water story staggering. It all began back in 1989, when Hong Kong reached an agreement with Guangdong to secure water supplies for the Big Lychee. That agreement gave Hong Kong priority access to Guangdong's water (which supplies 80% of Hong Kong's water needs), in return for Hong Kong paying well in excess of normal rates. In typical style the deal allocated a rising amount of water to Hong Kong to allow for growing water usage over the years. According to the SCMP, Hong Kong is due to receive 810 million cubic metres a year of water from the East River. But because public servants have no idea how to guage future demand, it has turned out Hong Kong has used less than its full allocation. The twist is Hong Kong has already paid for that water. So what does it do? It dumps it in the sea! Between 1999 and 2003 more than 500 million cubic metres of water, which at the agreement rate of HK$3.085 a cubic metre represents HK$1.5 billion worth, was dumped because Hong Kong's reservoirs were full.

    The new agreement is a step in the right direction. Hong Kong will guarantee to buy a minimum of 600 million cubic metres and pay only for what it uses. In return it will increase the per unit price by 10%.

    Haste makes waste, but waste is a hasty bureaucrat.

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    November 17, 2005
    Prime Office Rants

    Do you ever see two articles in a newspaper on the same day and wish they combined them together? I did, today, in the Hong Kong Standard. But then again, that's the function of columnists and fulminating bloggers like ourselves. One was about how Hong Kong office rents went up 75% in the third quarter of 2005 from a year ago and 17% from just three months ago! Shocking stuff. Central has become one of the most expensive places to work in the world. Respect your cubicle! It's only going to get smaller.

    But then came the bombshell about how Sir Donald 'Bow-Tie' Tsang's new office digs right on the harborfront in Central (prime office space in case I need to spell it out) will be 'alright' because the harbor views of buildings behind the new Government HQ will not have their views overly blocked by a 130 to 160 meter tall building (30% more than the height of the CITIC Tower) than will minimize efficiency, maximize exclusivity for our leadership and apparently not drain the public's purse at all.

    HA! Believe me, if Tsang's administration takes a turn for the worse, Tamar-gate will become a big issue. Doesn't the Donald realize that that the Tamar site is poisonously bad luck for government civil servants? The Harbourfest was held there for goodness' sake!

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    [boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 08:59
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    November 16, 2005
    Sir Donald Appleby

    Sir Humphrey Appleby of Yes Minister on committees:

    Well, it's clear that the committee has agreed that your new policy is a really excellent plan but in view of some of the doubts being expressed, may I propose that I recall that after careful consideration, the considered view of the committee was that while they considered that the proposal met with broad approval in principle, that some of the principles were sufficiently fundamental in principle and some of the considerations so complex and finely balanced in practice, that, in principle, it was proposed that the sensible and prudent practice would be to submit the proposal for more detailed consideration, laying stress on the essential continuity of the new proposal with existing principles, and the principle of the principle arguments which the proposal proposes and propounds for their approval, in principle.
    Donald Tsang's expanded Commission on Strategic Devlopment has 153 members, only 10% of whom are democrats, even though they are around 40% of the imperfect Legco. But it's not about the numbers:
    A government source said the purpose of the body is to engage in lively debate - not to reach consensus agreement. "It'll serve as a useful vehicle for meaningful exchanges. So democrats should not focus on their numbers but whether they can offer outstanding views," the source said.

    "With the enhanced role of the commission," Tsang said, "we will spend more time with the public in discussing preliminary policy ideas before we formulate a policy." He likened the commission to the role that yeast plays in baking bread saying the discussions will yield a "soft, fluffy loaf" of policy, acceptable to all.

    More like a souffle. Isn't the idea the policies are fashioned via consultation with the public, legislators and key stakeholders? What are civil servants, the chocolate chips? Isn't this committee merely doubling up on work that should be done by Legco? Will the public servants who formulate policy (and in Hong Kong, they formulate as well as implement) be happy with a renewed committee adding their $0.02 on every policy?

    Of course they will be - it was their idea to restart this committee in the first place. Much better to have an unwieldly group of 153 going nowhere fast rather than listening to those pesky members of the public. Souffles do not rise twice.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:31
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    November 14, 2005
    The Prince Charles Hong Kong Diaries

    I never much cared for Prince Charles. As an Australian (small "r") republican, he is the offspring of a Greek anti-semite and an in-bred German, who by dint of genetics is wealthy enough to not have a real job and famous for being himself. He decided he preferred a pruny hag over a young hottie as a lover and feels he is qualified to pontificate on whatever he likes because he's, you know, royal. But perhaps I need to alter my view. Turns out Prince Chuck has made a habit of sharing his "real" thoughts on various events with around 100 of his nearest and dearest. Just three days after President Hu visits the UK, lo and behold the Prince's thoughts on the Hong Kong handover ceremony are shared with the world:

    In the journal, he described Chinese diplomats at a ceremony as "appalling old waxworks", the paper [Mail on Sunday] reported.

    He also allegedly called a speech by then-Chinese president Jiang Zemin as propaganda, and slated the function as an "awful Soviet-style" performance. The newspaper reported that the Prince wrote: "After my speech, the President detached himself from the group of appalling old waxworks who accompanied him and took his place at the lectern. "He then gave a kind of "propaganda" speech which was loudly cheered by the bussed-in party faithful at the suitable moment in the text."

    He considered the ceremony a "ridiculous rigmarole" (unlike, say, a royal coronation). Perhaps we've finally uncovered Hemlock's identity? The SCMP relates this interesting bit:
    Prince Charles also talks of his flight arrangements for the handover ceremony. Initially, he was puzzled "as to why the seat seemed so uncomfortable" before discovering he had been put in club class while political dignitaries had been seated in first class. "Such is the end of empire," he writes.
    His royal posterior is not used to such seating. I can reveal other parts of the report...

    Rather bumpy landing at yet another colony of ours...my our ancestors got around a bit. Flew in over some shanty town called "Kowloon" and could see what the poor dears were eating for breakfast. It certainly didn't look like kippers and tea. Rather attractive stewardess on the flight, reminds me a bit of Camilla...

    Got off the plane in the usual regalia and discovered that summer here is hot. And humid. It's a little squidgy in my underpants! Met some fat Englishman who tells me he's the Governor here, which is nice as he seems like a good Tory. No dobut he'll be back here one day flogging a book of his experiences while everyone remembers what a great chap he was, even though they all despise him now...

    They've put me up at a rather nice place called Government House. Good old colonial place, but could do with a fishpond or two...

    My, there are a lot of Chinese here...

    It turns out I'm here to yet again witness another bit of the Empire dropping off and going its own way. Not a word of thanks for all the things we've done for them. This time they won't even join the Commonwealth. At least I got a tour of the nice new airport - plenty of British firms doing work there. Nice way to sneak a fair bit of cash I believe we had stashed here back to the Old Dart. That Patten chap isn't as dumb as he seems...

    The handover ceremony was a miserable affair and such is my lot that I had to sit on stage, stay awake and smile. It's not easy. No wonder Mummy didn't want to come. The Chinese army came marching in - might need to get the troop at the Palace to come over and learn a few things...



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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:57
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    November 11, 2005
    Patten Shows HK How It's Done

    I get nostalgic every time I read about former Governor Chris Patten. I didn't always agree with what he tried to do, but his touch with the local people was Clintonesque. The former Conservative Party Chairman that ended up as Hong Kong's last Governor by being voted out of office ended up being the most savvy politician to have graced the city's political stage in modern times. He always knew when to talk tough, when to tell jokes, and when to give totally unprepared Hong Kong Chinese people big bear-hugs.

    I like him particularly when he strongly advocates my deep belief that Hong Kong is a mature society that is ready for democracy, as he did yesterday:

    "This is an extraordinarily mature society," the popular ex-governor, who is on a four-day visit, told business leaders. "People are asked to make very difficult choices everyday of the week. They are capable of making more."
    Of course, he knows better than anyone that this city, wealthier than virtually any borough in Britain, has had the requisite capacity to make decisions for some time. But time has mellowed his tongue and shown him the value of tact with respect to China (and his former subordinate), as shown in a Q&A session reported by the Standard:
    Asked during a talk at Hong Kong University later Thursday for his views on the latest reform package proposed by Chief Executive Donald Tsang, Patten ducked the issue.

    "You know my view on democracy very clearly. If you don't, you must be living on Mars, or maybe in Pyongyang," he said. "I'm not going to set myself up as a football referee and comment on his [Tsang's] performance, but I'm sure Tsang will do the best possible job for Hong Kong."

    Fei Peng for Chief Executive in 2012!

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    [boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 08:41
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    » Daai Tou Laam Diary links with: Chris Patten Swoops Through Hong Kong
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    November 09, 2005
    Spin Can Make Polls (and Politics)

    ESWN will love this. A poll has seen the Hong Kong public give Legco a "satisfaction" rating of 28%, as opposed to 23% dissatisfied with Legco. Chief Executive Donald Tsang's satisfaction rating is 58%. What headline would you come up with on those stats? The SCMP came up with this:

    A record-high 1 in 4 happy with Legco

    Completely factual, completely besides the point.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 15:23
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    November 07, 2005
    Bit Torrent Guy Deserves Jail

    As you may well know, the first person worldwide successfully prosecuted and sent to jail for using the software BitTorrent was Chan Nai-Ming, aka "Big Crook." He has been put away for illegally downloading and distributing "Red Planet", "Miss Congeniality" and "Daredevil."

    I know as bloggers we often tend to have sympathy for such people. But doesn't he deserve the slammer for his lousy taste in movies?

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    [boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 20:06
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    November 05, 2005
    First case of bird flu in Hong Kong

    Breaking news - photographic evidence of the first case of the new bird flu infecting local Hong Kong wildlife. Parents are advised to keep children well clear of the infected area...

    birdflu .jpg



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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 23:15
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    November 04, 2005
    Missing the point but hitting the foot

    It seems Hong Kong overflows with organisations who's sole purpose is to act as a front for its "President" or "Chairman". There's David Akers-Jones's mob, for one. Another would be Dolores Ballabares' United Filipinos in Hong Kong. Doug Crets tells us Dolores has engaged her mouth without her brain.

    The Asian Migrants Coordinating Body and the United Filipinos in Hong Kong - local organizations that assist migrants - announced Thursday the beginning of month-long protests that they hope will "junk the WTO."

    According to Dolores Ballabares, chairwoman of the United Filipinos in Hong Kong, up to 5,000 migrant workers will next week turn the SAR into a carnival of parades, singalongs, door- to-door protests and street-corner teach-ins. "As migrants, we are calling to junk the WTO, because we believe it affects domestic workers and our profession here in Hong Kong," Ballabares said..."What the Hong Kong government is doing is implementing the policies of the WTO," Ballabares said.

    She said that this was part of a twofold struggle, since most migrant workers come to the SAR to escape the same policy in their home countries...The actions, which are part of a global campaign to "defeat the agenda of neo-liberal globalizations that destroy [migrants'] lives," begin with an education series on November 6. Migrant worker representatives will conduct open-air teach-ins at the Star Ferry terminals, on the streets of Central and wherever they can gather a large number of migrants. On November 13, migrant workers will sing songs in Central at lunchtime and during evening commutes. Then comes "embassy hopping," when migrants from six Asian countries will protest at their respective embassies.

    The highlight, according to organizers, comes on November 27 with the Hong Kong People's Mardi Gras "against globalization and the WTO."

    What a month of fun November will be.

    Dolores would like to junk the WTO because free trade has allowed hundreds of thousands of her compatriots to escape crushing poverty, chronic corruption and incompetent governance and make a living for themselves while providing the largest source of foreign exchange for the Philippines. If not for the minimum wage even more of Asia's poor could find a chance to do the same, while sending back money to family in their home country. At the same time in those home countries exports have often proven the only viable and growing sector in economies shackled by cronyism, rigged markets and corruption. Free trade has proven to be a boon for economic growth in both developed (ie employer) economies and developing (ie employee) economies. So Dolores should be encouraging Hong Kong to implement the policies of the WTO, rather than organising a spreading of the ignorance she is so deeply steeped in.

    I would like Dolores or any of her co-loonies to provide an example of the agenda of neo-liberal globalizations that destroy [migrants'] lives. All I see is pig-headed populism.

    If Dolores could get away from her Mardi Gras plans for a minute, she'd realise there is a court case of massive import for the people she supposedly represents. The Standard reports on a potential High Court review of ban on right of abode for domestic helpers.

    The Hong Kong government's immigration policy of excluding all foreign domestic workers from being considered as "ordinarily resident" and, therefore, ineligible for unconditional stay could face scrutiny in the High Court if leave is granted for a judicial review next month....[Justice Hartmann] agreed to adjourn the hearing until December 12, when he will decide on whether to grant leave for a judicial review.

    The Immigration Ordinance states that a permanent resident can be "a person not of Chinese nationality who has entered Hong Kong with a valid travel document, has ordinarily resided in Hong Kong for a continuous period of not less than seven years and has taken Hong Kong as his place of permanent residence before or after the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region." However, "a person shall not be treated as ordinarily resident in Hong Kong while employed as a domestic helper who is from outside Hong Kong."

    Despite domestic helpers contributing an estimated HK$13 billion a year to the local economy, not to mention saving the Government a bundle in child and elderly care, they are still widely and official considered second class residents.

    In short, Dolores is cursing the people she should be thanking and missing the story she should really care about. Does her organisation have elections?

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:50
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    November 02, 2005
    Five morals

    Singapore's former Prime Minister has taken another leaf out of the China book and said that there can be such a thing as too free a press. The SCMP:

    Former prime minister Goh Chok Tong has defended Singapore's pro-government media industry from international criticism, saying a liberal press is not necessarily good for every country...Lee Hsien Loong, said Singapore's government and economic performance proved the city-state's system worked.

    "Western liberals often argue that press freedom is a necessary ingredient of democracy and that it is the fourth estate to check elected governments, especially against corruption," he said in a speech on Monday night. "But a free press by western standards does not always lead to a clean and efficient government or contribute to economic freedom and prosperity."

    The article doesn't mention if he provided examples to support this last statement, but I doubt it. Singapore was ranked 140th out of 167 countries for press freedom, while China was 159th (and Hong Kong 39th). As if to back up the ex-Prime Minister, the SCMP notes China's enlightened policy to coverage of bird flu:
    ontrols over reporting on bird flu outbreaks have been tightened, despite Beijing's pledges to employ "complete openness" in the fight against the potentially catastrophic virus.

    In a recently issued directive, the Publicity Department ordered newspapers to seek approval from the authorities before publishing any reports on new outbreaks of bird flu and any animal or human deaths which result...

    Apart from the reporting of outbreaks and any deaths they cause, news about an exercise to prepare for the closure of ports in the event of human-to-human transmission of H5N1 has also been kept under wraps. Authorities were wary that news of the drill could spark speculation that human cases had been reported, according to government sources.

    This stands in stark contrast to what the Secretary General of ASEAN was saying just yesterday: that Asian countries need to be open about bird flu news. It also contradicts comments by disease control director Qi Xiaoqiu on openness over bird flu. But remember, a free press is not necessarily does not always lead to a clean and efficient government or contribute to economic freedom and prosperity.

    As a vote of thanks to Singapore, it appears PBoC's Huijin Investments has rejected Singapore's state-owned Temasek Holdings from taking a 10% stake in Bank of China (although Bloomberg contradicts the Caijing Magazine report). Why the rejection? The SCMP again:

    "Huijin is BOC's major shareholder and at present it does not agree with Temasek becoming a strategic investor," a senior China Banking Regulatory Commission official told the South China Morning Post...The eight-member board of directors at Huijin, which controls 78.15 per cent of BOC, voted to reject the deal because Temasek's investments were seen as excessive, according to a report in Caijing magazine...

    "What the government wants to do by allowing foreign strategic investors is to bring in the products, the management skills and the banking technology, and Temasek is not actually a bank," said Frank Gong, the chief economist at JP Morgan. "Temasek clearly doesn't bring as much to the table as Bank of America and Royal Bank of Scotland," added ABN Amro banking analyst Simon Ho, referring to the two banks' investments in China Construction Bank and BOC, respectively. "It brings a lot of money but not banking technology per se."

    That's what not having an open press gets you.

    Meanwhile in soon-to-be-police-state-for-a-week Hong Kong, an example of press freedom gone wrong. Again the SCMP:

    Journalists adopting unethical tactics to pursue stories are ruining press freedom and destroying the credibility of the media, industry representatives warned yesterday. The accusations came after two reporters from a Hong Kong-based publication allegedly broke into Canto-pop star Gigi Leung Wing-kei's room in China World Hotel in Beijing last month while she was there to attend a Ferragamo fashion show...

    Tam Chi-keung, vice-chairman of the Journalists' Association and convenor of its ethics committee, condemned media members who worked "under the umbrella of press freedom but were actually destroying it".

    And you thought Western paparazzi were bad. At least you know in Hong Kong your personal data and privacy are well protected by the mis-named Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data. Right? Ummm...the SCMP one more time:
    A privacy watchdog has found no reasonable grounds to launch an investigation into the disclosure of e-mail subscribers' information by Yahoo! that led to the imprisonment of a mainland journalist.

    Commissioner Roderick Woo Bun told a special Legco panel meeting on information technology and broadcasting yesterday that Yahoo! Holdings (Hong Kong) had only disclosed information related to an office of a Chinese newspaper. He said that according to a verdict of the Changsha Intermediate People's Court in Hunan , "the information disclosed by Yahoo! ... to mainland authorities was only about the Contemporary Business News office in Hunan, which is not personal data".

    Calling Rebecca MacKinnon.

    To sum up: free press is bad for you, agreeing with China won't get you a piece of their banks, being a celebrity sucks, China learnt nothing from SARS and your email isn't private. Welcome to the Asian Century.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 10:20
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    October 28, 2005
    Closed border caption contest

    York Chow Yat-ngok, Hong Kong's health minister, was simply following the mainland's lead when he declared that Hong Kong might shut its borders if there were any hints of human-to-human transmission of bird flu. Obviously The Don spat his cereal at whatever fancy hotel he's staying at in Washington when he heard that, judging from today's SCMP report:

    The government is set to backpedal on the pledge by health minister York Chow Yat-ngok that the borders will be sealed if a bird flu pandemic knocks on the door of Hong Kong. This follows what a government source said last night was local and international concern about the enormous social and economic effects of such a move.

    It also follows a denial by the Ministry of Health of a statement by Vice-Minister of Health Huang Jiefu , who said earlier China would seal its borders if there was even one case of human-to-human transmission of bird flu...

    The Hong Kong government source told the South China Morning Post that instead of sealing the borders completely, officials were now thinking about various "border controls" to stop an outbreak. "We need to tone down this matter a bit. The whole government needs a more thorough discussion on this topic because it is a very complicated issue," the source said.

    Apparently a possible widespread pandemic isn't a big enough social and economic consequence on its own. "Local and international concern"? That'd be one hotel room in America's capital and Upper Albert Road.

    Reading between the lines can be far more interesting than reading the lines.

    And so to the first Bird Flu Caption Contest. Below the jump is the photo the SCMP used to accompany the border closing that wasn't story. Random prizes for the best entries.

    A dead bird lies in a field in Wantang village.

    birdflupic.jpg



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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 10:52
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    October 21, 2005
    Tsang's moral hypocricy

    There has been a big fuss over Donald Tsang's "privatisation of morals" comment in relation to the government's incredible appeal against the homosexuality age of consent in Hong Kong. Today Stephen Vines in The Standard points out the curious hypocricy (he's too polite to call it that) in A Moral Disconnect:

    Leaving aside the dubious notion that any moral view is shared by all of society, Tsang raises a question at the heart of the debate over the extent to which the state should intrude into the lives of its citizens....On the one hand, he believes that society should be able to dictate one particular form of sexual activity between adults who have reached the age of consent, but he has no other stated views on the state's attitude to other forms of sexual activity that may or may not be viewed with distaste by the majority of the population.

    So far, so inconsistent, but let us look further into Tsang's views, where more significant inconsistencies are revealed. He is on record as being skeptical of legislation to outlaw discrimination on grounds of race and, even more so, on grounds of sexual orientation. Tsang says he is still pondering racial discrimination laws, but has no interest in the other form of discrimination. One of his arguments is that laws cannot change attitudes and are, anyway, unlikely to be the most effective way of resolving these problems.

    Advocates of these laws say that legislation sets a benchmark for what society regards as acceptable in the equal treatment of all citizens, and that the very presence of legislation helps to change attitudes. Tsang fully accepts this argument when it comes to a law that regulates which sexual acts are permissible between consenting adults in private, but maintains that a law which outlaws unequal treatment on grounds of race or sexual orientation is inappropriate. This is so even when this kind of discrimination goes beyond the private activities of adults and can cause real jeopardy to the victims of unequal treatment. Tsang is also reluctant to legislate on matters relating to the establishment of minimum wages for employees or even on matters such as the prohibition of idling engines for waiting vehicles.

    In all these cases, he has argued that persuasion is better than law and that the government must be careful not to become too intrusive in the lives of its citizens...

    Hong Kong, which self-consciously prides itself on its place among forward- looking world cities, is likely to emerge as a very curious place in this cosmopolitan world if, as Tsang suggests, its government feels the need to spend its time going to court to defend the right of the state to regulate what goes on in the privacy of bedrooms, while adamantly refusing to enact legislation that seeks to create equal treatment for all its citizens and to preserve minimum standards that are of benefit to the least advantaged.

    Besides which, peeking into the privacy of the bedroom is rarely a savory activity.

    Hong Kong is in danger of going down the American route, where leaders religious values infect their policy making decisions. Last I checked, Catholicism was not the state religion of Hong Kong. Let's keep it that way.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:34
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    October 20, 2005
    The Slug Moves On

    It has finally been reported today that Elsie Leung, Hong Kong's Secretary for Justice, has resigned and has been replaced by Wong Yan-Lung. I know little about Mr. Wong other than the fact that he is a well-respected member of the local legal community and a member of the Article 45 Concern group, but he has got to be better than Ms. Leung, the walking embarrassment to Hong Kong jurisprudence that lurched during her incredibly long 8-year tenure from one fiasco to the next. I find it somewhat amusing to rearrange the letters of her name to spell "Slug in Eel".

    Lest we forget: she spearheaded the effort to obviate the need for a Court of (Semi-)Final Appeal early in Tung's tenure to reinterpret a ruling it made on 'Right of Abode' claimants in Hong Kong. She defended her decision not to prosecute Sally Aw, then owner of the Standard, for grossly defrauding the public and potential investors with totally fabricated circulation numbers, by saying that prosecuting the Tung crony would 'run the risk of losing jobs.' There's more but I think those two snippets will refresh your memory and hopefully your outrage. And yes, democracy in Hong Kong might help remove the tumor of incompetence faster and earlier from the local body politic, instead of Mr. Tung's 'ministerial' system.

    Go on, Mr. Wong. You can do better. You'll clear that low bar as long as you've got a 2-inch vertical leap.

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    [boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 19:51
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    October 18, 2005
    Donald Tsang's bedroom eyes (Updated)

    Hong Kong is beloved by libertarian groups around the world for its apparent flat tax structure and its apparent laissez-faire economy. While that's mostly fallacy, it helps Asia's World City score highly on various surveys, so it keeps the mutual appreciation society going. But there are some things Chief Executive Donald Tsang can't contemplate privatising. From the SCMP:

    Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has waded into the controversy over the age of consent for homosexuals, warning against what he called the "privatisation" of moral standards. Mr Tsang said that while he was a devout Catholic, his work had not clashed with his conscience during his 30 years in the civil service.

    During a question-and-answer session yesterday on his policy address with more than 1,000 young people, Mr Tsang was asked whether he would defend moral standards in Hong Kong. The question was referring to an August High Court ruling which overturned a law that criminalised buggery for men under 21 on the grounds that it was discriminatory. "Everyone has moral values, especially over the issue of sexual discrimination," Mr Tsang said. "But there are things I feel strongly about. I believe the privatisation of morals has become a danger in society. Some people say `since what I do does not affect others and it has nothing to do with other people, why should I be constrained?' I have reservations about this because a moral is a value shared by the entire society.
    Now that's a question. Is a moral a value shared by the entire society? I would contend the very opposite - morals are personal values. Societies often have morals in common (e.g. incest) but others they disagree about (e.g. abortion). Donald Tsang hit the nail on the head with his question - why should what happens behind closed doors between consenting people be anyone else's business? Clearly it shouldn't so long as it does not affect others. It's a basic principle of a free society. Legislating morality, which is effectively the opposite of its "privatisation", is a throwback to the bad old days when the government knew best. Morals are privatised because they are private.
    Mr Tsang stressed that while he respected the court's ruling, it was also important to protect young people. "I think it is a bit too much if we allow people as young as 14 or 16 to have this; from a state of no choice to overturning the law."

    The government has already filed an appeal against the High Court ruling.
    The principle is simple. There should be no distinction in the age of consent between homo- and hetro-sexual sex. If you're old enough for one, you're old enough for the other. Instead of paying lip service to ideas of equality and anti-discrimination, Donald Tsang needs to stop preaching and start acting like a man of principles. Here's hoping Hong Kong's High Court agrees.

    At least Mr Tsang finished on a funny note:

    Mr Tsang also weighed into the controversy over claims Disneyland Hong Kong is exploiting workers. "I believe the [Disney] management are smart people and it will be improved if we give them time and room," he said.
    From what I'm told, Disney people have had plenty of room at their park, even during the national day holiday week at the start of October.

    Updated (10/18)

    Jake van der Kamp from the SCMP on the same issue:

    Donald should stick to his day job and stop trying to play God

    "I believe the privatisation of morals has become a danger in society. Some people say `since what I do does not affect others and it has nothing to do with other people, why should I be constrained?' I have reservations about this because a moral is a value shared by the entire society."

    Donald Tsang Yam-kuen
    Chief Executive

    How revealing. Mr Tsang is a political man but this was not a political observation. It was a religious one and it poses the question of how far it colours his thinking as our Chief Executive.

    The context in which he made it was a question and answer session on Saturday with more than 1,000 young people following his policy address. He was specifically responding to a question about a judicial ruling that a law which criminalised buggery for men under 21 was discriminatory.

    Let us leave the specific context aside, however, as Mr Tsang's response was a more general comment on manners and morals in society anyway. The difficulty I see is that he did make a crucial distinction he really ought to have made. Here is the question for him:

    To what extent, sir, is a sin a crime?

    If I deliberately mislead my wife about where I have been this afternoon, I tell a lie. If I deliberately mislead shareholders of a company of which I am director, I also tell a lie.

    In the first instance, a government official may tell me that I have acted immorally but that is as far as his authority carries. In the second instance, he may again tell me I have acted immorally but in this case he may also legitimately bring charges against me in a court of law.

    It comes down to a question of the limitations of government and enough has been written about it to fill any number of libraries. Over time, however, most societies have drawn a line between moral offences that endanger the social fabric and those that do not.

    Telling a lie to my wife may endanger my marriage but society can carry on quite well if I do so. Telling a lie in a prospectus is fraud and carries a distinct risk to the social fabric. It may not be as great a risk as permitting murder or robbery but we would all find it much more difficult to deal with each other if we permitted fraud.

    Both offences may be equally heinous sins to God, to put it in the classic terms of the Roman Catholic faith to which Mr Tsang subscribes, but government is not God and a sin is not necessarily a crime. By long established convention we make it a crime only if it threatens the social fabric.

    I wonder if Mr Tsang is not at risk of blurring this distinction. He speaks as if private morals were something new. They are not. He recognises this himself when he goes to the confessional. He confesses to a priest, not to the commissioner of police. Are we to think this something new?

    The sad fact is that public interference in matters of private morals has throughout history invariably led to horrendous religious wars or brutal oppressions.

    Western societies in particular have learned through bitter experience that there is good reason to keep God and government in separate spheres. China may consider itself blessed that it rarely made this mistake.

    It may be true, as Mr Tsang says, that moral values in any society are shared by that entire society. It may be equally true that government is common to that entire society. This does not, however, automatically mean that moral values are a government matter. Water is wet. So is oil. Is water therefore oil? I fail to see the crucial step of logic in his implied thinking here.

    It is no more than implied, I know. He did not come right out and say that certain homosexual activity under the age of 21, leaving aside any question of whether it endangers the fabric of society, is morally repugnant and that he therefore has the right to bring the full weight of government against it.

    It was a fairly strong implication, nonetheless, and I think it worth noting because there are many people in this town who are a little worried about the emphasis that Mr Tsang places on strong governance.

    Just how far does he intend to carry it? Do his reservations about the "privatisation of morals" mean that he would like to adopt a Singapore-style Big Daddy government in which matters of personal and private conduct are subject to government scrutiny for common codes of moral rectitude?

    Constrain yourself from constraining others in these matters, sir. My sins I shall take up with God. My crimes alone are your business.




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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 07:22
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    October 05, 2005
    Get out of the kitchen

    These stories, all from today, are related. You join the dots.

    1. The SCMP:

    The number of hours with reduced visibility at Hong Kong International Airport hit 237 last month, the highest figure for September since 1997.

    2. The SCMP:

    The number of people who watched the $7.7 million video showing highlights of the controversial Harbour Fest will never be known, InvestHK said yesterday. Harbour Fest organisers InvestHK and the American Chamber of Commerce had promised that the 45-minute video - aimed at promoting Hong Kong after the Sars outbreak in 2003 - could reach 500 million households worldwide.

    But the government's investment promotion arm now says the final viewing figure will not be available because many overseas stations did not have ratings...since February last year, the report said, the video had been shown on two MTV networks, the international and Indian channels of Star World, on TVB Pearl and Phoenix TV, which is shown on the mainland, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines.

    The report says Phoenix alone may have accounted for up to 300,000 viewers. (Ed. - that's still a little short of 500 million.)

    InvestHK said there were no further plans to broadcast the video because of TV rights restrictions and the long time lapse since the music festival was held.

    Harbour Fest was held in 2003. An official inquiry into the role of InvestHK director-general Mike Rowse in the public-relations fiasco is continuing.

    3. The Standard: five prosecuted in swoop on "Rat Alley" restaurants. Lan Kwai Fong's best strip of cheap restaurants, vibrant with al fresco eating, chaotic waiters and that Indian guy with the Elvis sideburns. Not any more.

    4. The SCMP:

    The Asia-Pacific region boasts some of the world's most liveable cities but also a number of the most wretched capitals on Earth, according to survey results released yesterday...Tokyo was ranked 16th and Auckland 20th along with Osaka, Kobe and Wellington. Hong Kong was ranked 41st, while Seoul and Singapore tied for 54th place.
    What knocked Hong Kong's score? The survey says...
    ...cities in Japan, New Zealand, Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan all offer a good standard of living, with a humid climate bringing scores down slightly.
    It's all about the humidity.

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    September 30, 2005
    Hong Kong boom town

    Ian at False Positives has links to the Globe and Mail's survey on Hong Kong, looking at Hong Kong's booming economy, the return of Canadians to Hong Kong, an interview with the ubiquitous Allan Zeman and on the two systems theory. Ian also mentions three offline articles on HK Disneyland, the property market and praising Hong Kong's infrastructure. It seems the G & M journos managed to tick every box in the Hong Kong cliche toolbox. Ian notes the massive gap in the article - any discussion on the politics of the city.

    By way of contrast Stephen Vines draws attention to the dichotomy of Donald Tsang: the difference between his vast personal ambition and his timidity in political reform:

    Why is it that what is personally good for the chief executive is unrealistic for Hong Kong? As long as the SAR is prepared to aspire to no more than second best in terms of democratic development, the overall development of Hong Kong will be stunted. Realists demand the best and Hong Kong, if nothing else, is a city of realists.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 12:24
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    September 23, 2005
    Cat fight

    Mouthless cat or ruthless corporate machine?

    kitty.jpg

    The Standard reports on the long arm of Sanrio and its damn cat:

    Hello Kitty's copyright holders are threatening to sue FM Theater Power, a local drama troupe, for infringing its intellectual property rights, it was revealed Thursday.

    The stage enthusiasts, a group of secondary students and drama lovers, said they received a letter Wednesday last week from local solicitor Victor Chu and Co representing Sanrio of Japan accusing them of stepping on Hello Kitty's copyright tail.

    Sanrio requested that the drama group disclose all the details of activities connected with the production, promotion and staging of the play Kitty Hunter, including advertising materials, ticketing information, audience counts, revenue and profit...Banky Yeung, artistic director of the group and writer of Kitty Hunter, said the drama was simply a love story about a girl named Kitty, even though plush Hello Kitty toys are used as props and images similar to the cartoon character serve as promotion materials...

    ...the play has been staged 59 times in various places including the academy's theater and cultural venues managed by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department since 2000.

    The good news for the theatre troup is this kind of publicity will do far more for ticket sales than any flyer.

    If you can stomach it, you can eat Hello Kitty.



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    September 22, 2005
    Hong Kong's Times Square

    Today the SCMP profiles Hong Kong's Times Square - not the Causeway Bay shopping centre, but Mongkok's Portland St. Just as New York City cleaned up Times Square, so Mongkok is being transformed. The opening of the massive Langham Place office/hotel/shopping centre complex has changed the area from a red light district to a fashionable tourist and entertainment mecca. The new centre has resulted in rising rents (by 75% according to the SCMP), forcing out the triads and brothels and bringing in wealthier shoppers and tourists. But hookers and triads don't disappear, they just move their place of business.

    To that end I highly recommend reading Times Regained, from The New Yorker about the history and regeneration of Times Square. Much of it applies to equally to Hong Kong and Mongkok, with one important exception. Some excerpts (but read the whole thing):

    ...There are, of course, people who miss the old Times Square, its picturesque squalor and violence and misery and exploitation. Those who pointed at the old Times Square as an instance of everything that capitalism can do wrong now point to the new Times Square as an instance of everything that capitalism can do worse. Where once Times Square was hot, it is now cold, where once varied, now uniform, where once alive, now dead. Which just proves, as with the old maxim about belief, that people who refuse to be sentimental about the normal things don’t end up being sentimental about nothing; they end up being sentimental about anything, shedding tears about muggings and the shards of crack vials glittering like diamonds in the gutter...

    The myth they [authors of two books on Times Square] want to dispel is that the cleanup of Times Square in the nineties was an expression of Mayor Giuliani’s campaign against crime and vice, and of his companion tendency to accept a sterilized environment if they could be removed, and that his key corporate partner in this was the mighty Disney, which led the remaking of West Forty-second Street as a theme park instead of an authentic urban street. As Traub and Sagalyn show, this is nearly the reverse of the truth...

    The story follows, on a larger scale than usual, the familiar form of New York development, whose stages are as predictable as those of a professional wrestling match: first, the Sacrificial Plan; next, the Semi-Ridiculous Rhetorical Statement; then the Staged Intervention of the Professionals; and, at last, the Sorry Thing Itself...

    Of all the ironies of the Times Square redevelopment, the biggest is this: that the political right is, on the whole, happy with what has happened, and points to Times Square as an instance of how private enterprise can cure things that social engineering had previously destroyed, while the left points to Times Square as an instance of how market forces sterilize and drive out social forces of community and authenticity. But surely the ghosts of the old progressives in Union Square should be proudest of what has happened. It was, after all, the free market that produced the old Times Square: the porno stores were there because they made money, as part of a thriving market system. Times Square, and Forty-second Street, was saved by government decisions, made largely on civic grounds. Nothing would have caused more merriment on the conservative talk shows than the luts regulations—imagine some bureaucrat telling you how bright your sign should be—but it is those lights which light the desks of the guys at the offices of Clear Channel on Forty-second Street, and bring the crowds that make them safe. Civic-mindedness, once again, saved capitalism from itself...

    This last point is where the New York/Hong Kong comparison falls down. Here civic-mindedness is non-existent in Government circles. Make Tamar a park instead of building a new Legco building? Make West Kowloon a park and arts complex rather than a property development? Stop reclaiming the harbour for evermore roads and office projects?

    A simple dose of civic-mindedness could do wonders for this city. It's a shame it will never happen.



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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 11:14
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    September 15, 2005
    Hong Kong Contingency Fees

    Hong Kong's Law Reform Commission is trying the old faithful, contingency fees or no win, no fee for certain civil cases. I like to think they are following my humble suggestions from February after the lawyers again complained they weren't paid enough by legal aid.

    Contingency fees help that mythical but favourite beast, "the squeezed middle class", who don't qualify for legal aid but can't afford lawyer's fees. Contingency fees are a wonderful idea. Those with a case but without enough money can still have their day in court, knowing that if they lose they do not face financial ruin. The lawyers can compete on a commercial basis, claiming cases on their ability to win them. The lawyers also act as a brake on frivilous cases, as no lawyer will take on cases they see no prospects of winning.

    The relevant closed shops welcome the deal with their traditional "it's great in theory..." line:

    Bar Association vice chairman Andrew Bruce said the commission is highly respected and that the Bar looked forward to being consulted on the issue.

    However, he added, this was "something we should be very cautious about." Bruce feared that commercial considerations might undermine the primary consideration of independent legal advice. "To us, access to justice means access to quality justice: legal advice which is truly independent," he said.

    You see a lawyer would never consider the money an important part of their advice. It's all about the law and being an officer of the court. If having an artificial distinction between barristers and solicitors leads to higher fees, that's the cost of "quality justice". If having a self-regulating body that deliberately limits competition amongst its members results in higher fees, that's the cost of "quality justice". If these same bodies deliberately restrict the number of new entrants to their ranks and thereby ensure demand always exceeds supply, that's the cost of "quality justice". (Note you can easily substitute the words doctor for lawyer and justice for medicine here.) The SCMP has more of the lawyer's cautions on this "double-edged sword":
    Law Society president Peter Lo Chi-lik said that according to the traditional argument against conditional fees, giving lawyers a bigger stake in a case's outcome creates temptation to "bend the rules".

    He also said while such an arrangement may enhance access to justice for those who wish to sue, it may also inadvertently encourage nuisance lawsuits.

    The threats of disbarment, fines and even jail for "bending the rules" should be enough to counter those temptations. We've dealt with the idea of nuisance lawsuits already - if a lawyer isn't getting paid unless they win the case, they'll prove a very effective filter against such cases. Wait until the Law Society imply we're moving towards "American style litigation". America has long had contingency fees, but that's not the problem with their legal system. If anything, that's one of its strengths. The problems are in torts and other areas. But it's always a nice bogeyman to throw out their to scare the punters.

    It boils down to this: lawyers will hide behind high minded notions of "balancing principles and value judgments". Unfortunately for them, a competitive market has proved extremely adept at doing just that. The biggest hint that contingency fees are a good idea is the obvious one: that lawyers don't like it. If they are fighting the idea, it's because they know full well they are giving something up. It will be their clients who will take the gains, but clients are a diverse, diffuse and poorly represented group. It's the age-old problem of micro-economic reform. A small special interest group will bleat loudly about their potential losses, while the gains are spread widely amongst the wider public. If only their were representatives of that public interest.

    But the last word must lie with retiring District Court judge Fergal Sweeney, from the SCMP:

    The Justice Department yesterday defended private lawyers hired to prosecute complex commercial crime cases after a retiring judge was quoted as saying many were lap sap, or rubbish.

    District Court judge Fergal Sweeney, who will retire tomorrow, told Ming Pao that taxpayers' money was wasted as many defendants who should have been convicted were acquitted because of these lawyers.

    The judge was reported to have said 20 per cent of them were lap sap but yesterday he told the South China Morning Post there had been a misunderstanding.

    Underestimation or misunderstanding? These are the comments of a judge that has dealt with lawyers full time for years.

    Other Reading

    Fumier comments on contingency fees and notes it's nothing new.



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    September 08, 2005
    The long arm of the law

    Senior Chinese Government officials decided it would be a good idea to collate the thoughts and intentions of the legislative intent of the Basic Law, Hong Kong's constitution, in a compendium. Naturally many suspected this was a stealthy way for Beijing to further stamp its interpretations of the Basic Law. But nothing could be further from the truth, says another official. It is merely a historical document, a matter of academic research. It will not be used as a guideline for interpretations nor will it affect judicial decisions. I wonder if they will also seek out the views, thoughts and opinions of the Brits involved in drafting the Basic Law?

    By complete co-incidence the SCMP reports a renewed push for Hong Kong to conclude an agreement with the mainland on enforcing civil court judgements in each jurisdiction. Why would Hong Kong's legal fraternity be worried about such a reasonable proposal?

    Lawyers and business leaders in Hong Kong last night welcomed the prospect of such a deal, but said stumbling blocks remained. Chief among their worries were the quality of mainland justice and whether mainland authorities could enforce Hong Kong court judgments.

    "Mainland courts might not arrive at judgments as impartially as Hong Kong courts do," said Stanley Lau Chin-ho, deputy chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries.

    The rest of the article has similarly hedged quotes. Interestingly Taiwan and the mainland have had a mutal recognition agreement for seven years. Essentially Hong Kong's lawyers are saying they don't have enough faith in China's legal system.

    Remember, the Basic Law compendium will not be a legal document. We have Beijing's word.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 11:29
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    When Batman and Superman fight, only evil wins*
    "It is always very difficult to strike the right balance, particularly in exchange rate management, between withholding key information for the purpose of retaining some constructive ambiguity on the one hand, and transparency that theoretically enhances efficiency and credibility on the other.

    ... the free market does not always give priority to public interest. It is indeed advisable to keep something up our sleeves, whether it is key information or the right to change the rules of the game."

    That's Joseph Yam, head of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority. Jake van der Kamp in today's SCMP discusses the quote and why it is wrong, as well as the potential for another Asia crisis (see below the jump). But I need to quibble with something more fundamental: the nature of markets.

    A market is nothing but a collection of buyers and sellers. Each agent makes decisions as to what to buy/sell, in what quantity and at what price. If a buyer finds the right product at the right price in the right amount, they buy it from a seller who has the right product at the right price at the right amount. It is simple and ingenious. My Yam has made a common mistake. A market is not an entity in itself. It has no morals. It never acts in the public interest. This was the key insight of Adam Smith:

    It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.
    If each agent pursues their own self-interest, we are all better off. The market is the aggregation of all these individual self-interests. The market doesn't prioritise public interest. It is, by definition, the public interest.

    What Mr. Yam means is the free market does not always go how the HKMA would like it. That's a very different thing. He's not alone. Any time you hear or read someone bleating about the evils of "the market" and how it acts contrary to "public interest", be clear what both those terms really mean.

    On the subject of dysfunctional markets...


    Jake rightly explains that while Saint Alan Greenspan can get away with constructive ambiguity, the HKMA is in a very different position. Hong Kong's monetary policy is exceedingly simple: you get 7.8 Hong Kong dollars for every US dollar, or vice versa. It's robotic, it's well understood, it's credible and it works. It was setup in response to the debacle that was Hong Kong's monetary history. Thanks to some inventive policies it survived the 1997 Asia crisis, although it resulted in 7 years of deflation as a consequence (if your currency can't devalue, your prices have to fall).

    Jake also notes in general the 1997 Asia crisis was survived, rather than dealt with:

    ...government policy muddles once again threaten to unsettle monetary affairs in Asia. The last time they did so the result was the Asian financial crisis of 1997. On that occasion it was exchange rate rigging in Thailand that set things off. At present it is fuel price subsidies in Indonesia that have come unstuck because of higher oil prices. This has led to rupiah interest rates soaring and the rupiah plunging.

    The sad history of Asian central banks since 1997 has been one of first blaming others for their troubles and then resorting to the same old pre-1997 game of rigging their US dollar exchange rates without adopting a formal and transparent mechanism such as we have in the peg. The US dollar may have fallen dramatically against major currencies over the past three years but you would not know it to look at the exchange rate history of most Asian currencies over that period.

    We have certainly had constructive ambiguity at work here but not St Alan's sort. All that Asian central bankers have done to stave off a repeat of the 1997 experience is starve their domestic economies of capital investment by building up massive foreign reserves in the hope that this will scare off the speculator.

    Perhaps they will succeed on this occasion but, if they are determined still to rig their currencies, there is only one good way of ensuring that Indonesia's troubles go no further than Indonesia. It is to do what we did in 1997 by having a formal fixed currency system in place and sticking to the rules it imposed on us in a transparent manner that served the public interest.

    * I should note, the title has absolutely nothing to do with this post. But it's a good one. Thanks, Tom.

    Other reading

    Sun-bin translates more on Joseph Yam and the RMB basket.



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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 10:44
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    September 07, 2005
    High level TV

    Enjoying the view from my Central eyrie, I cast an eye upon the rapidly dimishing Hong Kong harbour and enjoy watching Asia's World City in action. My attention rapidly shifts to the most ridiculous site in a city full of them: a massive electronic display at the top of the new mobile phone shaped AIG Tower in Central. While certainly edifiying for the occupants of Cheung Kong Centre, Citibank Plaza and the Bank of China buiding, it otherwise broadcasts above a population oblivious to its presence. And what quality broadcasts! So far I've enjoyed watching the worker bee in charge log in to his computer, read some emails and finally boot up a screen saver that revolves around displaying an advertisement for AIG and random colours.

    A brilliant sales job by whomever sold the display (a poor quality photo is below the jump). I'd check the warranty, though. There appear several large blocks that are broken...I think. It's hard to tell.

    The AIG building is now truly a Hong Kong landmark. Perhaps we can organise a switch. Put Hong Kong's regular TV up on the AIG building and broadcast the AIG screensaver to the Big Lychee's 7 million TV sets.

    Who would notice the difference?

    The AIG Building's Big TV in the Sky

    aigtv.jpg



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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 14:51
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    August 19, 2005
    Hong Kong's gender imbalance

    Jake van der Kamp looks at the latest Hong Kong census data and sees a massive increase in the number of females compared to males over the past 15 years. Dave looked at the same data a couple of weeks ago, asking if men are an endangered species in Hong Kong. Jake says:

    This change in the sex ratio over just 15 years is once again an enormous one.

    The explanation may in part be a technical anomaly. We now count only the resident population in our census - people who live here most of the year. In 1990 we included everyone. It is probable that more men than women among Hong Kong ID card holders are mainland residents for reasons of work and are thus not included in the figures.

    But the far more likely reason is the phenomenon in recent years of Hong Kong men bringing home mainland wives. The widespread perception is that mainland women are more willing to accept husbands with lower incomes and are less demanding of them. Unfortunately, it also turns out too often that these women find themselves unhappy here and wind up on social assistance.

    The imbalance is one that costs us money as well as potentially leading to social strains.

    While that may be partially true, I also suspect that as Hong Kong has become richer more people employ domestic helpers. The vast majority of such helpers are women of the ages where the biggest changes in the sex ratio have occurred. It shouldn't be too hard to test the hypothesis by looking at the origin of females today and back in 1990, given most helpers are from SE Asian countries.

    Either way this imbalance is a mirror image, albeit writ small, of what China faces in the years to come. If van der Kamp's theory is true, then Hong Kongers are making the mainland's gender imbalance even worse. It's good news for Hong Kong's remaining bachelors: an increased supply of women. I've said it before: it's good to be a man in Hong Kong.

    hksexratio.jpg



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    July 09, 2005
    Of horses and mice

    First, the good news. The SCMP reports:

    A $21.4 billion surplus has been recorded for the 2004-05 financial year, largely a result of additional receipts from land premiums, salaries tax and stamp duty.

    The surplus was $9.4 billion above the revised estimate of $12 billion announced in the 2005-06 budget, with spending $7.5 billion lower than forecast. Revenue amounted to $263.6 billion while spending totalled $242.2 billion. Fiscal reserves stood at $296 billion on March 31, $20.7 billion more than in the previous year.

    Mind you it also reports Roddy Murray is in trouble again for causing a fuss at a Lantau McDonalds and overstaying his visa. So the happy news the Government has balanced its books 2 years early should mean there's plenty of scope to cut taxes...for example the disgraceful and discriminatory tax on foreign domestic helpers for starters. Or cancel the rise in income tax next year, which will cost $3.3 billion. It still leaves plenty in the kitty for whatever The Don fancies.

    Now the bad news. Hong Kong was given the equestrian events of the 2008 Olympics. Which simply means the Hong Kong Jockey Club, a de facto Government agency, will spend $800 million in a land grab for an event which even the Government admits doesn't add up economically. And as if that's not enough, there are reports that Shanghai has now set aside land for a new Disneyland park and are hoping to have it open by the 2010 Expo, although naturally Disney are playing it down. Hong Kong Disneyland is effectively a Hong Kong Government venture and was lavished with public funds because it was to be Disney's only Chinese venture. Shame the Government forgot to insert that into the contract.

    It's all good for the horse-loving mouseketeers of this town. It's not for the taxpayers.

    Update 11th July

    New Disney CEO lays out his China plans, specifically stating plans to open a park on the mainland.

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    June 16, 2005
    Labouring the point

    Hong Kong is considered one of the best places to work in Asia for helpers, partly because of the strict contract and labour laws that govern their employment. But the theory does not translate to practice. There has been a massive shift towards employment of Indonesian helpers instead of Filipinas, partly because employers can get away with paying Indonesians far less than the minimum wage without fear. Now let's contrast two articles in today's newspapers.

    The Standard says cheated employees 'will have to blow the whistle' if they've been cheated on salaries by their employers, and testify if they want redress, otherwise the Government won't help them. The article is concerned with Government contractors but the same applies for domestic helpers. For proof, let's turn to a staggering case reported in the SCMP:

    A Labour Department suggestion that a domestic helper who complained about harassment, death threats and abuse by her employer should be less sensitive and focus on her work has been described as "hopeless" by a judge... Under discussion was a Labour Department reply to a five-page hand-written letter sent by Ms Aquino detailing the extensive abuse she said she was suffering at the hands of her employers, Betty So Mei-ngor and her husband, Leung To-kwong.

    In the letter, dated December 7, 2003, Ms Aquino alleged Mr Leung wanted to kill her, that he and his daughters had tortured her, and that he was demanding $40,000 from her because their dog had got onto the sofa. She claimed Ms So constantly yelled at and belittled her, fined her, withheld money and threatened her with violence.

    Project officer Kwok Fu-ming from the department's Tuen Mun branch office replied on Christmas Eve that year. "Do you think you should be so sensitive to the insulting words exhibited by the employers," he wrote after saying the contents of the letter had been noted. Focus on your job and reflect your feeling toward your employers' temperament. Should you need further service, approach Family Services Centres of Social Welfare Department or other non-governmental services at your district."

    Discussing whether or not to call Mr Kwok as a witness with Ms Aquino's representative, David MacKenzie-Ross, Judge To said the response was "hopeless"...Ms Aquino alleges she was sacked after the family discovered she had three deformed fingers. It is alleged that, knowing she could not sack her for having a deformity, Ms So instituted a campaign of harassment to try to get her to quit.

    Ms Aquino documented the haranguings she said she received from Ms So as well as the items for which she was fined and forced to replace or pay for out of her own pocket. These included being fined $5 for eating a piece of bread and $50 for not closing the refrigerator properly.

    Ms So has denied she dismissed Ms Aquino because of her disability. The hearing continues next week.

    You would think the Labour Department's job is to intervene in cases like this to protect employees. You'd be wrong. Is it because of the undercurrent of racism in this city, where helpers are often considered slaves and sub-human? Is it because this city is based on protecting the big over the little in commerce? Is it because a poor city rapidly became a rich one? Is it simply incompetence from Hong Kong's "underpaid" civil servants?

    Domestic helpers are taxpayers in this city, despite their low wages. They pay and average tax rate that is higher than what a person earning HK$1 million pays. There is something very, very wrong with the system.



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    April 22, 2005
    Why the Basic Law matters (Updated April 22nd)

    Yesterday Secretary for Justice Elsie Leung had her defence of the Government's rush to ask the NPC to interpret Hong Kong's Basic Law over the term of the next Chief Executive.

    Today Michael DeGolyer explains why it all the protesting matters in the best newspaper article on the topic to date. I urge you to read it all (reproduced below the fold but the conclusion bears repeating: Rules really are made to be followed, not broken. Either rewrite the rulebook or play by it. Something else I read today (I will update when I find the link) noted that "rule of law" is an alien concept in Chinese political culture. Mandarins were only about results although ostensibly they were about the means to that end as well. Process was not important. This Basic Law debacle is the same. The concept of rule of law, even in Hong Kong, has been trumped by the Confucian respect for authority. I have no idea how the two ideals can be reconciled, but somehow they must.

    ** I'd be very grateful if anyone else comes across the link/blog so I can include the link. **

    Update April 22nd

    * ESWN posts a translation of a counter-essay from a pro-Beijinger.

    The rules of engagement Recently a student asked, "Why are the Democrats always stirring up trouble?'' Since local affairs reporting in the Chinese-language press sometimes differs dramatically from English-language local news, I asked him to clarify.

    ``Democrats demand Tung Chee-hwa step down. He does, they complain. Democrats want to reform the chief executive election in 2007, but when Beijing says Donald Tsang can only stay until 2007, Democrats insist the Basic Law says he must serve five years, until 2010. Democrats know Beijing wants Tsang, but they make Lee Wing-tat run against him. They know Lee cannot win. Why do they do this? Why do they always cause trouble and oppose everything?''

    Good questions.

    Even after filling in as acting chief executive for a few weeks, Tsang is obviously so much more competent than Tung at running the government that most people just want to forget the Tung era ever happened. Yet the Democratic Party seems to insist on raining on the parade, no matter who's leading it, no matter what tune the band plays, and no matter what direction it marches.

    I am not a Democratic Party apologist or a member of any party in Hong Kong. Like many expatriate professionals, I'm probably closer in policy outlook to the Article 45 Concern Group than the often populist Democrats.

    What I want, and what most people want, is good government. But getting it is the trick, a bit like John D Rockefeller's reply when asked how to get rich: ``Buy low, sell high.'' Sage advice. Absolutely fool-proof. Pulling it off regularly is the catch.

    Democrats fundamentally believe good government is not a matter of outcome but process. Since Confucius, Chinese governance theory has held that good character and good education makes for good rulers. With good rulers and good government, the good outcome wished for was reached.

    Hence the eight-legged essay on Confucian classics as the civil service entry test - education on how to be good as a means to winnow the good man and ensure good government.

    In reality, mandarins were expected to do whatever it took to achieve the imperial government's objectives. Tax farmers delivered agreed sums to government, full stop. Though form counted, especially preserving the appearances of obedience and harmony, outcome, not good character, was what really mattered.

    Such attitudes survived the collapse of empire, nationalists, warlords and communists.

    That is why China's government struggles to implement what they describe as ``rule by law.'' Cadres should follow written rules governing what is permissible or required instead of delivering results, no questions asked.

    The difference between outcome and process is a matter of ends versus means. For example, while rape and making love might both end in pregnancy, the way impregnation occurred makes all the difference. Even if the impregnator-rapist were a husband or supposed lover, and even if the mother loves the offspring, means matters.

    Process-focused regimes forbid things like torture while result-dominant regimes tend to cross the line. Even America, where legal systems traditionally emphasize process over outcomes, wandered astray at Abu Ghraib. Winning a war outweighed the ethics of the means chosen to wage it.

    Democrats believe having good government is the objective, but to ensure it regularly occurs, and to ensure that if a government is not good it will be replaced with one that is, is to insist that processes be scrupulously followed at all times. This is what they mean by ``rule of law.''

    Though Democrats strongly support chief executive election reform in 2007, they believe more strongly that the rules as set down constitutionally must be followed. Even if the outcome is good this time - ensuring reform in 2007 and putting a competent person in charge - breaking process weakens the overall power of the law to constrain bad behavior.

    History proves the Democrats right.

    The first National People's Congress interpretation in 1999 followed a Court of Final Appeal ruling. The government should have amended the Basic Law then, but arguably they had a constitutional right to appeal for clarification.

    But there was no legal case or government appeal before last April's unilateral NPC intervention that interpreted away Hong Kong's right to debate, litigate, if need be, then appeal to central authorities on the 2007-08 reforms.

    This year our government has short-circuited legal procedures altogether mid-case in its haste to ensure an outcome: an election of the chief executive by the present Election Committee on July 10 before its term expires.

    This outcome-dominated thinking threatens our process-oriented Basic Law and common law constitutional tradition.

    Rules really are made to be followed, not broken.



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    February 21, 2005
    Cut price labour

    On Friday I wrote about domestic helpers in Hong Kong. Today's SCMP reports on the rapidly changing make-up of this workforce. At the end of January there were 120,400 Filippino domestic helpers compared to 91,700 from Indonesia, according to the Immigration Department. In 2000 there were more than 150,000 Filippinos and around 50,000 Indonesians.

    Why the rapid change?

    A survey by the Association of Indonesian Migrant Workers showed about 90 per cent of Indonesian helpers were earning between $1,500 and $2,500 a month...
    "The Indonesian recruitment agencies are the ones facilitating the underpayment so that even before the helpers arrive in Hong Kong, they are not aware that there is a minimum wage. They only know how much salary they have agreed on when they were in Indonesia," he [Eman Villanueva for the Asuian Migrants Co-ordinating Body] said.
    Now that is a scandal. The Immigration and Labour Departments need to do a better job of informing newly arrived helpers of their rights while at the same time ensuring enforcement of the minimum wage. Otherwise what's the point of having a minimum wage at all? This is not about the economics of a minimum wage. It's about the Government providing equal protection to all Hong Kong residents. A couple of prosecutions and some jail time for employers paying below the minimum wage would work wonders.

    Update: Chris also examines Mr. Phooey's original article.

    Update 2: (14:03 23/3) HK Macs suggests a deposit with the government and compulsary standing orders.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 10:27
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    February 18, 2005
    Helpless

    The Economist (reproduced below in full) looks at amahs (domestic helpers) in Hong Kong. Somewhat more condesendingly, so does HK Phooey (already the cause of much angst).

    The Economist begins with a question: why are people the reporter presumes should be miserable actually happy? The article has the interesting theory that is the nature of Filipinos in general. However it misses some rather important facts. A major bone of contention is the de facto tax on helpers in Hong Kong. The Government cut the minimum wage for helpers by HK$400 a month while imposing a new HK$400 per month tax per helper. The minimum wage is now HK$3270, implying a tax rate of 12.25% whereas a Hong Konger earning this amount pays zero. Furthermore the tax is regressive, being a flat HK$400, so the lowest paid helpers effectively pay proportionately more in tax. That's a grievance The Economist curiously overlooks.

    More puzzling for a magazine of The Economist's ilk is the absence of free market forces. No amah is forced to work here. They come by choice to pursue higher wages than are available in the Philippines. It is demand and supply and globalisation at work. Low priced labour goes to better paid jobs with a minimum of Government interference. The HK Government mandates minimum living conditions, although the article indicates this is more observed in the breach. That is true but needn't be - amahs can and do stand up for their legal rights. The isolated incident mentioned in the article where one amah was burnt by her employer for not cleaning properly forgets to mention the outrage in the press, the woman being charged and the matter dealt with by the law.

    As an aside, the article notes although the Filipinos in Hong Kong come from poor families, over half have college degrees. 'Tis true. As anyone who has ever interviewed amahs would know some of these degress come from such institutions as beauty colleges. There are degrees of degrees.

    The article contains a telling paragraph:

    It was not always thus. Two generations ago, the Philippines was the second-richest country in East Asia, after Japan, while Hong Kong was teeming with destitute refugees from mainland China. Among upper-class families in the Philippines, it was common in those days to employ maids from Hong Kong. But over the past two decades Hong Kong has grown rich as one of Asia's “tigers”, while the Philippines has stayed poor. Hong Kong is the closest rich economy to the Philippines, and the easiest place to get “domestic” visas. It has the most elaborate network of employment agencies for amahs in the world.
    It's free trade and globalisation at work. I don't see any pseudo-slaves. I see economic opportunists, just like the rest of us. I've seen elsewhere (but can't find the link) some argue that HK's economic rise is in part because of this army of helpers. They have provided a cost-effective child care and support system that has enabled many people, especially women, to choose to work. Isn't that the dream of many feminists?

    I'm not saying life is all rosy for amahs here. They work damn hard for their money and earn a low amount compared to Hong Kongers (median HK wage is HK$10,000 a month). But they are here of their own volition. Don't be so patronising as to decide they "should be miserable but aren't". Like any adult, their decisions should be respected rather than questioned. They may be happy because that is their nature; they may be happy because they earn more than a doctor in the Philippines; they may be happy because they work and live in a first world economy. Hell, they may not be happy but choose to do the work for the wages regardless. The point is it's their choice.

    And so we move to Mr. Phooey. He has partially paraphrased The Economist's article and turned it into a condsending screed on the nature of amah employers in Hong Kong. His generalisations are patronising at best and racist at worst. For example:

    Considering that the 'minimum' (i.e., set) monthly wage for foreign maids, the backbone of middle class HK Chinese society, is but HK$3,670 a month, we may assume that the 'free' in the superlative "the world's freest economy" refers to the freedom the HK Chinese (and others) enjoy to openly enslave and exploit workers from poorer states, who, perhaps not wholly coincidentally, typically have darker skin, (which in fact, at least as regards the comparison with the HK Chinese, is principally and purely a result of the Filipinos' not squandering their pennies on skin whitening products).
    "Enslave and exploit"? I will pay HK$10,000 for proof that amahs are forced to work in Hong Kong. I dare say Interpol and the HK police would be interested too.

    Mr. Phooey airs and rebuts two of the justifications for hiring helpers. They can be summarised as (a) amahs are paid a lot compared to where they come from and (b) if we didn't employ them they'd have nothing. (a) is a statement of fact while (b) is an insidious and meaningless remark. My justification is far more simple: as an employer I offer a wage, interview candidates and make an offer. A consenting adult evaluates the offer and accepts or rejects as they see fit. They are paid a lot compared to where they come from. That's why they're here, away from family and home. It's called economics. If Mr. Phooey thinks there should be a higher minimum wage for amahs he's welcome to campaign for it. I fear it would mean many the amahs he professes to help would end up being fired and forced to leave HK if that was the case. But otherwise what are "HK wages" that amahs should earn? Does the opposite apply as well? Should those that are paid higher than "HK wages" earn less?

    Mr. Phooey says:

    "It is a lot of money where they come from". This is clearly as outlandish as it is hideous. For, working by this logic, the slave master-to be may as well go to the poorest country in the world to recruit their maid so that it is even more 'where they come from'. In concert with this logic, we may very well ask how long it will be till HK is busting at the seams with domestic helpers from the Mainland. After all, one would only have to pay them a mere $500 a month, for that too would be 'a lot of money where they come from'. Of course, there are very good reasons why this is not the case now, not least the fact that they have no English to speak of.
    He answers his own question. The potential exists for Mainland helpers to replace the current mix. The HK Government has even introduced measures to encourage the trend. But it hasn't happened for good reason. Filippinos do speak English well; they also tend to have a better work ethic. If the market thought that Mainland helpers would be better value for money they would be here. But the Government has mandated a minimum wage. And the market, hundreds of thousands of people, have made individual decisions that they prefer Filippinos (and Indonesians etc.). If the minimum wage was lower more Mainland helpers would be employed because more Hong Kongers would be able to afford to employ them.

    The Economist's article redeems itself with some insights into the culture and condition of Filippinos in Hong Kong. Mr. Phooey, on the other hand, has nothing but disgust and disdain for HK Chinese and most western expats employers with his holier-than-thou attitude and crass generalisations. It's a shame because deep within his post there are good points made. Some amahs are treated atrociously by their employers. Some employers do seem to put a greater value on their car than the helper who minds their children and home. But covering it all with bile and malice obscures the points behind his almost hatred of employers.

    Both articles miss the main point. Amahs are adults who are here because they want to be. They are free to leave or complain if they are unhappy or conditions are not up to scratch. Given 240,000 helpers are in Hong Kong with many more desperate to come the numbers speak for themselves.

    No-one said the free market was pretty. But the alternatives would be enough to make even the happiest amah frown.

    The Economist - An antropology of happiness

    ONCE a week, on Sundays, Hong Kong becomes a different city. Thousands of Filipina women throng into the central business district, around Statue Square, to picnic, dance, sing, gossip and laugh. They snuggle in the shade under the HSBC building, a Hong Kong landmark, and spill out into the parks and streets. They hug. They chatter. They smile. Humanity could stage no greater display of happiness.

    This stands in stark contrast to the other six days of the week. Then it is the Chinese, famously cranky and often rude, and expatriate businessmen, permanently stressed, who control the city centre. On these days, the Filipinas are mostly holed up in the 154,000 households across the territory where they work as “domestic helpers”, or amahs in Cantonese. There they suffer not only the loneliness of separation from their own families, but often virtual slavery under their Chinese or expatriate masters. Hence a mystery: those who should be Hong Kong's most miserable are, by all appearances, its happiest. How?

    The Philippine government estimates that about 10% of the country's 75m people work overseas in order to support their families. Last year, this diaspora remitted $6 billion, making overseas Filipino workers, or OFWs, one of the biggest sources of foreign exchange. Hong Kong is the epicentre of this diaspora. Although America, Japan and Saudi Arabia are bigger destinations of OFWs by numbers, Hong Kong is the city where they are most concentrated and visible. Filipina amahs make up over 2% of its total and 40% of its non-Chinese population. They play an integral part in almost every middle-class household. And, once a week, they take over the heart of their host society.

    It was not always thus. Two generations ago, the Philippines was the second-richest country in East Asia, after Japan, while Hong Kong was teeming with destitute refugees from mainland China. Among upper-class families in the Philippines, it was common in those days to employ maids from Hong Kong. But over the past two decades Hong Kong has grown rich as one of Asia's “tigers”, while the Philippines has stayed poor. Hong Kong is the closest rich economy to the Philippines, and the easiest place to get “domestic” visas. It has the most elaborate network of employment agencies for amahs in the world.


    A bed in a cupboard

    Although the Filipinas in Hong Kong come from poor families, over half have college degrees. Most speak fluent English and reasonable Cantonese, besides Tagalog and their local Philippine dialect. About half are in Hong Kong because they are mothers earning money to send their children to school back home. The other half tend to be eldest sisters working to feed younger siblings. All are their families' primary breadwinners.

    Their treatment varies. By law, employers must give their amahs a “private space” to live in, but Hong Kong's flats tend to be tiny, and the Asian Migrant Centre, an NGO, estimates that nearly half of amahs do not have their own room. Some amahs sleep in closets, on the bathroom floor, and under the dining table. One petite amah sleeps in a kitchen cupboard. At night she takes out the plates, places them on the washer, and climbs in; in the morning, she replaces the plates. When amahs are mistreated, as many are, they almost never seek redress. Among those who did so last year, one had her hands burned with a hot iron by her Chinese employer, and one was beaten for not cleaning the oven properly.

    The amahs' keenest pain, however, is separation from loved ones. Most amahs leave their children and husbands behind for years, or for good, in order to provide for them. Meanwhile, those families often break apart. It is hard, for instance, to find married amahs whose husbands at home have not taken a mistress, or even fathered other children. Some amahs show their dislocation by lying or stealing from their employers, but most seem incapable of bitterness. Instead, they pour out love on the children they look after. Often it is they who dote, who listen, who check homework. And they rarely stop to compare or envy.

    Under such circumstances, the obstinate cheerfulness of the Filipinas can be baffling. But does it equate to “happiness”, as most people would understand it? “That's not a mistake. They really are,” argues Felipe de Leon, a professor of Filipinology at Manila's University of the Philippines. In every survey ever conducted, whether the comparison is with western or other Asian cultures, Filipinos consider themselves by far the happiest. In Asia, they are usually followed by their Malay cousins in Malaysia, while the Japanese and Hong Kong Chinese are the most miserable. Anecdotal evidence confirms these findings.

    Happiness is kapwa

    Explaining the phenomenon is more difficult. The usual hypothesis puts it down to the unique ethnic and historical cocktail that is Philippine culture—Malay roots (warm, sensual, mystical) mixed with the Catholicism and fiesta spirit of the former Spanish colonisers, to which is added a dash of western flavour from the islands' days as an American colony. Mr de Leon, after a decade of researching, has concluded that Filipino culture is the most inclusive and open of all those he has studied. It is the opposite of the individualistic culture of the West, with its emphasis on privacy and personal fulfilment. It is also the opposite of certain collectivistic cultures, as one finds them in Confucian societies, that value hierarchy and “face”.

    By contrast, Filipino culture is based on the notion of kapwa, a Tagalog word that roughly translates into “shared being”. In essence, it means that most Filipinos, deep down, do not believe that their own existence is separable from that of the people around them. Everything, from pain to a snack or a joke, is there to be shared. Guests in Filipino homes, for instance, are usually expected to stay in the hosts' own nuptial bed, while the displaced couple sleeps on the floor. Small-talk tends to get so intimate so quickly that many westerners recoil. “The strongest social urge of the Filipino is to connect, to become one with people,” says Mr de Leon. As a result, he believes, there is much less loneliness among them.

    It is a tall thesis, so The Economist set out to corroborate it in and around Statue Square on Sundays. At that time the square turns, in effect, into a map of the Philippine archipelago. The picnickers nearest to the statue itself, for instance, speak mostly Ilocano, a dialect from northern Luzon. In the shade under the Number 13 bus stop (the road is off-limits to vehicles on Sundays) one hears more Ilonggo, spoken on Panay island. Closer to City Hall, the most common dialect is Cebuano, from Cebu. Hong Kong's Filipinas, in other words, replicate their village communities, and these surrogate families form a first circle of shared being. Indeed, some of the new arrivals in Hong Kong already have aunts, nieces, former students, teachers, or neighbours who are there, and gossip from home spreads like wildfire.

    What is most striking about Statue Square, however, is that the sharing is in no way confined to any dialect group. Filipinas who are total strangers move from one group to another—always welcomed, never rejected, never awkward. Indeed, even Indonesian maids (after Filipinas, the largest group of amahs), and Chinese or foreign passers-by who linger for even a moment are likely to be invited to share the snacks.

    The same sense of light-hearted intimacy extends to religion. Father Lim, for instance, is a Filipino priest in Hong Kong. Judging by the way his mobile phone rings almost constantly with amahs who want to talk about their straying husbands at home, he is also every amah's best friend. He is just as informal during his Sunday service in Tagalog at St Joseph's Church on Garden Road. This event is, by turns, stand-up comedy, rock concert and group therapy. And it is packed. For most of the hour, Father Lim squeezes through his flock with a microphone. “Are you happy?” he asks the congregation. A hand snatches the mike from him. “Yes, because I love God.” Amid wild applause, the mike finds its way to another amah. “I'm so happy because I got my HK$3,670 this month [$470, the amahs' statutory wage]. But my employer was expecting a million and didn't get it. Now he's miserable.” The others hoot with laughter.

    The Filipinas, says Father Lim, have only one day a week of freedom (less, actually, as most employers impose curfews around dusk), so they “maximise it by liberating the Filipino spirit”. That spirit includes communing with God. Some 97% of Filipinos believe in God, and 65%, according to a survey, feel “extremely close” to him. This is more than double the percentage of the two runners-up in the survey, America and Israel. This intimate approach to faith, thinks Father Lim, is one reason why there is virtually no drug abuse, suicide or depression among the amahs—problems that are growing among the Chinese.

    The lifeline to home

    There is, however, an even more concrete expression of kapwa. Quite simply, it is the reason why the Filipinas are where they are in the first place: to provide for loved ones at home. Most spend very little of their monthly HK$3,670 on themselves. Instead, they take it to WorldWide House, a shopping mall and office complex near Statue Square. On Sundays the mall becomes a Philippine market, packed with amahs buying T-shirts, toys and other articles for their siblings and children, and remitting their wages. More than their wages, in fact: many amahs borrow to send home more, often with ruinous financial consequences.

    Father Lim tells a story. An eminent Filipino died while abroad, and it was decided that local compatriots should bid the coffin adieu before its journey home. So amahs showed up to file past it. When the coffin arrived in the Philippines and was re-opened, the corpse was covered from head to toe with padded bras, platform shoes, Nike trainers, and the like, all neatly tagged with the correct addresses.


    It is their role as a lifeline for the folks at home that has earned the OFWs their Tagalog nickname, bayani. By itself, bayani means heroine, and this is how many amahs see themselves. Another form of the word, bayanihan, used to describe the traditional way of moving house in the Philippines. All the villagers would get together, pick up the hut and carry it to its new site. Bayanihan was a heroic, communal—in other words, shared—effort.

    It is no coincidence, therefore, that Bayanihan House is the name the amahs have given to a building in Hong Kong that a trust has made available to them for birthday parties, hairstyling classes, beauty pageants and the like. One recent Sunday, during a pageant, one of the contestants for beauty queen was asked how she overcame homesickness, and why she thought the people back home considered her a hero. She looked down into her audience of amahs. “We're heroes because we sacrifice for the ones we love. And homesickness is just a part of it. But we deal with it because we're together.” The room erupted with applause and agreement.

    “Nowadays, bayanihan really means togetherness,” says Mr de Leon, and “togetherness is happiness”. It might sound too obvious, almost banal, to point out—had not so many people across the world forgotten it.



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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 18:20
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    December 29, 2004
    REDUX: HK Parents

    First posted: September 25th, 2003

    In some ways I feel sorry for our helper Jacquie. She's a lovely Filapina lady, attends church weekly and loves the kids. Unluckily for her Mrs M and I are parents who like being actively involved with the kids. We want to bring them up, and we take the good (eg kisses) with the bad (too numerous to mention). We make sure we get them up each morning and put them to bed each night. It is great having someone to do many of the menial jobs around the house so we have even more time to spend with the girls. She helps when we ask her to and is great with them. But there is a line we draw, somewhere, to seperate parenting from helping.

    What prompted this rant? On Saturday afternoon I was looking after little PB. We went to the playground at Disneyland, which has a good spread of equipment. PB plonked into the swing and spent the best part of an hour in it. This gave me plenty of time to think. Looking around there were at least 12 other kids in the playground. Yet I was the only parent. The rest were helpers. There are plenty of reasons for this. Often parents are away, or have functions, or simply want to get the kids out of the house for a while. But it certainly struck me as unusual to not see any other parents at all.

    What really struck me was one little 5 year old boy. He was sitting on a bench, playing with his helper's hair. Every 5 minutes or so he would start kissing her and cuddling. Not just a one off little peck on the cheek. He was clambering for more and more kisses and clinging to her desperately. She felt uncomfortable with this and kept fighting him off once he got too boisterous each time. Another 5 minutes and he would start again. Plainly this little boy was pleading for affection. Clearly he wasn't getting this from home and the helper must be the only adult figure he knows who shows him such affection. This is what leads to the emotionally retarded kids playing in that playground on Saturday.

    Many parents here see helpers as a way to outsource parenting. They can live their lives as if the kids didn't exist. Long weekends away, shopping, night clubs, whatever tickles their fancy. We also sometimes take advantage of this - we'll sometimes leave the kids with Jacquie and go shopping on Saturday afternoon. We are even thinking about leaving the girls for a day with her to go to Macau. It is part of the luxury of life here. But we make sure we are the kids parents' and the kids (and Jacquie) know that. Many parents are surprised to find the kids aren't that interested or close to them. It's not too surprising given the kids hardly know these people. Yet when these parents decide they want to dip into the game for a while they are shocked the kids would rather spend time with the helper and shun them.

    I don't know quite why this all bothers me so much. I think it might be seeing a 5 year old boy casting around for a parent, surrogate or real. Hong Kong enjoys and encourages the worship of material goods. But there's a lot of emotional damage done in the process.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 00:22
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    September 27, 2004
    A price above rubies

    What are Hong Kong's army of domestic helpers actually worth to the economy? Around HK$13 billion a year. That equates to over HK$50,000 per person, a sizable contribution. The helpers are estimated to spend around HK$800 a month in Hong Kong (the monthly minimum wage is HK$3,270); 36% care for children, saving employers HK$2.1 billion a year in child care fees; 10% care for the elderly, saving HK$2.5 billion for families each year in nursing care. The helpers remit most of the rest of their salary back to their home countries; in the Philippines these remittances are the largest exports at US$6.5 billion a year.

    The best part for Hong Kong is this:

    According to Dr Vivian Wee of the South East Asian Research Centre at Hong Kong University: "The government saves an unbelievable amount. They haven't invested in the care of the elderly or childcare.''
    Despite this, Hong Kong has twice cut the minimum wage for maids since 1997. The latest cut last year of HK$400 a month co-incided with a new "training levy" (read tax) of the same amount. Domestic helpers are still discriminated against in a myriad of ways. They are ineligible for permanent residency after being in the SAR 7 years, whereas foreign professionals can claim it. They get a maximum 2 weeks to find another job if terminated. They can be terminated at any time, basically without cause. They cannot bring any family members to HK. They cannot work outside of their employment contract. Many people ignore or look right past these people as if they are almost less than human. They are often treated disgracefully, abused and treated like an underclass.

    Yet without them Hong Kong would not be the low taxing "free" economy that is today. It is built partly upon this army of low wage earning helpers that replace or supplement many of the normal functions of Government. Great way to say thanks, isn't it?

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 11:59
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    September 20, 2004
    Paying the price

    The HK Government is planning to introduce anti-racial discrimination laws. While exemptions exist for small business, none (as far as I understand it) exists for the Government itself. So I would assume there is a prima facie case for the domestic helpers of Hong Kong to launch a lawsuit against the HK Government for its disgusting helper tax, where the very lowest earning non-Hong Kongers have to pay a tax of HK$400 a month even though locals earning the same amount do not (the threshhold is HK$108,000 for locals; helpers minimum wage is HK$3,270/month).

    Any lawyers care to correct me?

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 15:31
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    September 17, 2004
    Selection

    It's a slight problem when your proposed anti-discrimination law is discriminatory itself. 95% of Hong Kongers are Han Chinese and like any society with such a huge majority of one race (see Japan for an even worse example) racism doesn't just exist, it's often not even considered unusual. Those that suffer the worse are the SE and South Asian workers that form the backbone of HK's army of helpers and menial labour. "Foreign professionals" (read Westerners) have different rules and are treated to far more subtle forms of racism. But that's for another time.

    There are two main problems with the proposed law. Firstly discrimination against mainland immigrants will not be included in the bill's scope. The reason? Because they are Han Chinese, so it is considered a "social" form of discrimination rather than a racial form. Who knew some forms of discrimination are better than others? The other problem is the 3 year exemption for any business with 6 or less employees. As to why small businesses are able to discriminate when it's not acceptable for larger businesses or the general public is hard to fathom. The excuse "More than half of the companies in Hong Kong are small ones. Will the legislation help ethnic minorities in finding a job? I don't think so,'' is baloney. It certainly won't help them as it stands. It really makes no sense at all. There's no increase in paperwork or any cost for the business. All they have to do is give non-Chinese people a fair chance. Why do they need an exemption for that?

    You cannot legislate people's opinions away but you can certainly give victims of racism the tools they need to fight it.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 10:20
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    July 01, 2004
    It's Good to be a Man (Hong Kong version)

    Hong Kong tourism needs to change their slogan to "Hong Kong, City of Women". The SCMP reports:

    The proportion of men to 1,000 women is projected to fall dramatically, from 939 last year to 698 in 2033. Two years ago, the prediction was 771 males to 1,000 females in 2031.

    Frederick Ho Wing-huen, commissioner for census and statistics, offered three explanations for the drop in the ratio of men to women.

    "One, many domestic helpers are coming to Hong Kong. Two, and this is the major reason, more mainland wives are joining their husbands in Hong Kong. Three, women live longer than men," Dr Ho said.

    With a ratio like this I expect the next 30 years will see a large rise in single male tourists to Hong Kong. Of course it was good the Government put numbers on this but any visit to a Wanchai bar could already tell you the way this ratio was going.

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    [boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:11
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