October 31, 2007
Hong Kong Halloween

When and how did Halloween become such a big deal here? I can understand why Park n Shop and Wellcome want to flog as much as possible, but how does importing this pagan celebration fit in to the city's cultural landscape? Will we see politicians standing by the road side with a pumpkin and will anyone be able to tell the difference?

Tonight I'll have the pleasure of taking my kids around to get their body weight in lollies and chocolate, which they will thoroughly enjoy. I'll also have the pleasure of having to ask numerous young adults WTF they think they're doing sticking their hands out for lollies...it's often hard to tell if they're dressed up. Meanwhile everyone else will be trying to scare the living daylights out of young kids. I suppose that's the deal: nightmares for candy.

Couldn't we come up with something better?

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 13:24
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July 17, 2007
It's still good to be a man (HK edition)

Ever wonder why men in Hong Kong are smiling so much? The Census people might have the answer:

Hong Kong's population will reach 8.57 million in 30 years' time, when up to one in four people will be aged over 65 and the gender imbalance will get worse, according to projections by the Census and Statistics Department.

The department predicts the number of males will fall from last year's 912 per 1,000 females to 709 per 1,000 females by 2036.

Recent research by many men in the Wan Chai area confirm these results.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 08:26
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July 10, 2007
Hong Kong's double standards

The tabloid press in Hong Kong can be amongst the most vicious in the world...and being a small town, you never know when you're going to get caught. That's the moral of the saga of RTHK head Chu Pui-hing, who's quit after being caught by a group of paparazzi who spotted him with a young lady leaving a club. He didn't do himself any favours by ducking for cover and running away and when the media smell blood they don't let up until they get their catch. We now know all about Coco from Szechuan, his young companion, and that his wife has forgiven him (at least until the fuss has died down). Coco's career is looking up.

But what this all exposes, besides inept PR from the man that is running the city's public broadcaster, is the double standards by which Hong Kong lives. The city, like many others, has numerous hostess bars, nightclubs and the like. They are frequented by many. So what does it matter if the head of RTHK goes to a club and walks out with a woman? How is this relevant to his job? His organisation? The rule is that people in authority must be held to some higher standard, but why? Is RTHK any better or worse his activities after hours? If he hasn't done something illegal, what is the case for his leaving his post (other than that RTHK is at an all time low already and could only get worse after this)? In short, what has Mr Chu actually done wrong here?

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 11:17
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June 18, 2007
Hong Kong schools

The Sunday SCMP started banging the drum about the rapidly rising prices of debentures at private schools in Hong Kong. Starting last weekend, they repeated the effort this Sunday, albeit with little new information. But proving that in this part of the world it's been a slow news week, now The Economist has joined in and has a story on the debenture issue. It's reproduced in full below the jump. Now there are two conclusions that could be drawn from the rising price of schooling here: firstly that the market is doing its job (which is how The Economist sees it) or there is a market failure here because supply is not able to respond to demand. When was the last private school established in HK? Surely there's a large market gap for an entrepeneur to open up schools here given the rapidly rising demand. And it shows the ESF, while providing some kind of hybrid public/private education, is not valued in the same way as the private sector schools.

How long will it be until we hear calls from the private sector for the government to "do something"?

The $1m question Jun 14th 2007 | HONG KONG From The Economist print edition

What is the price of a good education?

AMONG the most commercial of cities, Hong Kong follows many markets; but none more intently than the trade in debentures tied to admissions to the city's international primary and secondary schools. These non-interest-bearing bonds are typically issued to pay for construction or other costs. Bought by parents anxious to do the best by their children, or by employers anxious to attract the best staff, they are then traded at prices set by the city's volatile economic fluctuations.

Recently, slots in international schools have become precious. The economy is booming in China's tailwind, attracting well-paid expatriates. Prosperous local residents, meanwhile, are deserting local schools because of what is seen as deterioration in English-language teaching since the reversion to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. It is not just the very rich who are worried: early this month a small group of not very well-off South Asian residents marched through central Hong Kong, demanding more schooling in English, arguing their children were suffering from having to attend classes conducted in Chinese.

Demand is high, supply is limited, and the results, at the top end of the market, are predictable: soaring prices. In 2004, the price of a debenture at the Chinese International School, possibly the most sought-after institution, sold for HK$600,000 ($77,000). On June 9th the South China Morning Post splashed on its front page a report that a family had paid HK $1m for a debenture, and then entered its child in the school's first grade. Similar, if less dramatic, price increases were reported at other international schools.

The schools all treat the debentures differently. The Chinese International School stresses that theirs does not guarantee a school place. Applicants sit a merit-based test, and some debenture-holders are rejected and some non-holders accepted. Still, holders must feel their children gain some advantage. Hong Kong International School, popular among Americans, gives debenture-holders more rights. If an applicant meets the school's standards, a debenture places him at the head of the queue. Most schools lie somewhere in between these two approaches.

All the international schools have lengthy waiting lists for all ages. So companies scoop up debentures for their staffsome expatriates are refusing jobs in Hong Kong because they cannot find schools for their children. Resale rights exist, with schools in some cases sharing the profits. Alternatively, two years ago Hong Kong International School bought back all its debentures and then reissued them at a higher pricemuch as a company might when business is good.

Even so, the debenture systems are opaquethe ratio between debenture-holders and accepted students is unknown. Schools are understandably sensitive about acknowledging the embarrassing tie between money and admittance. Raising money for education is a challenge everywhere and Hong Kong's system compares favourably with, say, British private schools, where prices are stratospheric, or American ones, where parents' contributions often can carry the same benefits as debentures, but have no market-signalling value. Hong Kong's school-debenture prices are sending two messages: there is a market for good education; and some people have the money to pay for it.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 11:54
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June 11, 2007
Why Hong Kong lawyers cross the road

It turns out, not to anyone's surprise, that Hong Kong's lawyers are just like their counterparts the world over....from last week's SCMP (I'm catching up):

Mercenary considerations had assumed greater prominence than ethical standards in the legal profession, the chief justice said yesterday. "In this competitive environment, commercial pressures have led to the profession becoming more like a business," Andrew Li Kwok-nang said at a 20th Biennial LawAsia Conference session on ethics.

"The virtue of the profession, which distinguishes it from a business, is that in its practice, the selfish pursuit of economic success is tempered by adherence to ethical standards and a concern for the public good," he said. "But this virtue has been eroded. To put it bluntly, mercenary considerations have assumed much greater prominence at the expense of ethical standards."

Obviously the chief justice hasn't heard of Adam Smith, the invisible hand and that pursuing self-interest is serving the public interest. But the judge is a lawyer, and we all know lawyers are a "profession" (i.e. a protected guild that can restrict entry and competition for their own benefit). And lawyers would never allow avarice to sully their reputations...
Mr Justice Li cited the case of a client who asked his lawyer for a breakdown of his bill. The itemised account included a charge for "recognising you in the street and crossing the busy road to talk to you to discuss your affairs, and recrossing the road after discovering it was not you".
Absolutely brilliant. It's almost worth paying that bill a reward for the creativity and imagination it takes to come up with stuff like this. Lawyers live in 6 minute increments and crossing the road is never easy.

Thanks to J. for the pointer.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 14:41
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April 21, 2007
The real Chinachem mystery

The Economist profiles the late Nina Wang...the whole thing is a good summary of the Chinachem saga, but with a couple of highlights:

...The origin of Nina's and Teddy's fortune has always been mysterious and became more so as it grew. The Wang fortune originated in Shanghai, where the two met as children. They migrated to Hong Kong in the 1950s after the communist takeover, when getting out was hard and shifting wealth even harder. (Many Hong Kong fortunes are hard to explain, and it is considered bad manners to ask questions about their origins.) By the 1970s, the Wangs' company, Chinachem, owned vast swathes of the New Territories, the stretch of land between Kowloon and the Chinese border. The firm eventually erected more than 300 buildings, many of which were controversial because they circumvented zoning laws or were said to skimp on quality.

But the oddest aspect of Chinachem's management was not how tough it was on costs and quality or how it finessed local building authoritiesfamiliar complaints, justified or not, about many landlordsbut rather how lax it was on revenues. Hong Kong tycoons are known for working their assetserecting buildings, filling them up, raising rents, then knocking them to rubble when demand allows for bigger replacements. In contrast, Chinachem had empty buildings, none more bewildering than a project Nina launched in 1997 when she spent more than $1 billion to build a curious funnel-shaped apartment block in Hong Kong's lovely Repulse Bay. Not a single one of its 184 units has ever been rented or sold, notwithstanding a booming market for flats. She subsequently built a 42-storey Nina Tower and at her death was building an adjoining 88-storey Teddy Tower in a depressed area of Kowloon, where typical corporate-tower clients are unlikely to want to work...

Speculation abounds about who might be the heir to Ms Wang's fortune. [Note: not any more, it's not so-badly off property developer and ex-feng shui guru Tony Chan Chun- chuen. Now we're in for a repeat of the last battle of wills, much to the lawyers' delight, and already the rumours are starting]. Reports first suggested it would go to charity, then to family members. More quietly, many people wonder how much of a fortune there is to inherit. Property empires rarely lack debt. Projects have partners. And Chinachem's cavalier attitude towards management suggests it was operating outside the world of disciplined, credit-scarred bankers. Just because it was never clear who Ms Wang's backers were does not mean they do not exist. Pigtails and pets were always a wonderful distraction. The question that remains is: from what?

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 22:49
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March 16, 2007
Helping the help

Mike Poole talks about free trade and the Filipino maid over at Asia Sentinel. The article explores why helpers protested in Hong Kong last month, and notes:

This situation of chronic dependency is what Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen would call an unfreedom. He argues that freedom of exchange and of opportunity must be central to economic development. A country can build sustainable wealth, measured over the long run and not just a few decades, only when freedoms such as employment, adequate healthcare and education are in place to develop human resources.

Thats clearly not the case in the Philippines, but this notion of economic freedom is very close to the Pilipino word kalayaan, which implies social cooperation for liberty and its rewards. The problem in Hong Kong last month was that for one group of Filipinos, the home government tried to separate economic freedom from development policy, their kalayaan from their employment contracts.

Poole also notes the decline in real wages of helpers in Hong Kong plus the hit they have taken due to the peso's strength against the Hong Kong dollar (which is effectively the US dollar). What it doesn't touch on is the potential impact of a minimum wage law in Hong Kong for domestic helpers.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 13:34
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Taking for a ride

American sailors fall foul of Hong Kong's most notorious, says the SCMP:

What started as a show of old-fashioned American hospitality has revealed a dark side to Hong Kong's normally professional and respected taxi drivers. Sailors who caught taxis from Fenwick Pier in Wan Chai to the American Women's Association "meals in the home" programme last week were charged hundreds of dollars extra for short trips.

One driver claimed he would call police if the sailors didn't pay his overpriced fare, while another charged a group of sailors HK$483 - providing a fake, written receipt when challenged - for a ride that would normally cost about HK$40. Another group was stung with a HK$100 "night" surcharge, while yet another driver asked sailors to pay an additional "per person" charge on top of the HK$60 on the meter...

Mrs Ryback said the sailors were told not to get into trouble while ashore, so they usually paid rather than have the police involved."Not only does this hurt the visitors, it's worse for the majority of hard-working and competent drivers in Hong Kong," she said.

One hopes the good ladies of Fenwicks and Wanchai are paying attention.

It's probably time to add to my Hong Kong taxi guide.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 12:09
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November 17, 2006
Davy Chow's Locker

As we all know, real estate comes at a real premium in Hong Kong. And that goes for the dead, too - an actual burial here in Hong Kong with all the trimmings would probably set you back close to HK$1 million. Maybe more.

Obviously, not everyone can afford that. Or even the HK$150,000 or so it would cost to rent out a funeral home room and a tiny slot to place your loved one's urn.

So the Hong Kong government is now proposing that they would cremate the dead, and then have a designated area next to the sea where the ashes would be dump...oops, I mean deposited with dignity. Health Secretary York Chow:

"We are exploring with the relevant government departments to designate suitable areas in Hong Kong waters for sea burials and put in place a well devised application mechanism with clear approval criteria and conditions,"
I wonder if this is the government's last-ditch attempt to stymie a proper Hong Kong harborfront?

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 17:10
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November 14, 2006
The Future of Online Shopping

OK, so I've heard a thing or two about 'Froogle', the online store assistant belonging to Google. This being my first visit, I type in 'Hong Kong' just to see what they offer for denizens of our lovely city.

The first item was from Sotheby's - some precious vase. So was the second. Precious cultural artifacts both.

The third item was a tacky Christmas souvenir that celebrates the harbour.

But the fourth will take some topping. It was a thong with a red Hong Kong bauhinia (in case I need remind you, the sterile hybrid orchid that is our city's symbol).

Clicking through, I think the 'sell' copy says it all:

Panty-minimalists love our casual thong that covers sweet spots without covering your assets putting an end to panty-lines. This under-goodie is "outta sight" in low-rise pants. Toss these message panties onstage at your favorite rock star or share a surprise message with someone special ... later.

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 15:19
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September 17, 2006
Liberal Commies

Try to read this without laughing, for this is what passes for a leading political party in Hong Kong these days. The SCMP reports:

Despite being the head of a political party that counts many of Hong Kong's rich business leaders among its members, Mr (James) Tien said he felt ashamed after touring the [Communist Party's Central] School.

Mr Tien said he realised that the Liberals could never match the mainland's ruling party in either resources or ideology to create a machine capable of turning party members into loyal and disciplined cadres.

He must have been joking...I hope. My advice is to be very careful what "corporate training" you attend.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 08:33
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August 04, 2006
Brought to you by Pfizer

A hard Hong Kong man is hard to find.

The article doesn't quite spell it out, but it's pretty clear: "you need Viagra, whether you know it or not". Who'd have thought a drug company would sponsor such a survey with such, um, commercially viable results?

Isn't this kind of article Barclay Crawford's thing?

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 14:10
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July 27, 2006
Hong Kong's air

Two months ago Donald Tsang told us air pollution isn't that bad in Hong Kong. This week he's seen the smog and launched the Action Blue Sky Campaign, ironically on one of the most polluted days of the year. But the Don needs to stop this campaign immediately before he adversely affects our health. The unlinkable SCMP reports:

Despite the city's lifestyle and often choking pollution, its men live longer than those anywhere else on the planet and women's life expectancy is second only to those in Japan, a Japanese government survey has found. The average lifespan of a Hong Kong man is 79, ahead of Iceland and Switzerland with 78.9 and 78.6. Japanese men live for an average of 78.53 years.
Hong Kong women were second at 84.7 years, just behind the Japanese. Help your fellow citizens: turn your air conditioning up and let's celebrate with some dim sum.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:01
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July 07, 2006
Gweilos in their Paddies

Have any of you seen this ridiculous ad being shown on English-language TV: "Stop illegal cultivation" because illegal cultivation erodes hillside slopes.

While this is a perfectly valid message, the fact that government funds were being spent on English language television ads is ridiculous. I can't imagine the 2% of English speakers are major culprits in the illegal cultivation racket.

Are we talking about Lamma Island hippies growing their weed on hiking trails?

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 12:29
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June 26, 2006
News not fit to print*

The biggest story in the Hong Kong at the moment is one you won't find the pages of the SCMP.

* In English language papers.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 13:21
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May 07, 2006
Hong Kong's missing children

The SCMP's Sunday magazine leads with an article titled "Million-dollar babies", where Simon Parry and Hazel Knowles "investigate" and find it costs a lot of money to raise kids, ergo to urge to procreate is being superceded by the urge to recreate. The article leads with the staggering estimate reached by Janice and Louis from Tai Tam, that their new baby Luke will cost them HK$11.67 million. This implausibly precise number comes thanks to Louis, a private equities dealer. A man with almost as much time on his hands as bloggers, I would welcome a look at his no doubt comprehensive spreadsheet analysis. Some of the numbers of Luke's cost to age 26:

1. Kindergarten........$252,000
2. Schooling.............$1.8 million
3. Higher education...$3.2 million (overseas, naturally)
4. Food....................$949,650
5. Clothes................$1.87 million
6. Transport.............$438,000
7. Pocket money......$720,000
8. Glasses...............$176,000
9. Dentistry.............$100,000
10. Language/music lessons................$832,000

Why age 26? Apparently that's the cut-off for kids to get on their feet these days. Forget about working part time as Luke studies in high school and uni. His folks have already decided the kid will need specs (I seem to manage with one pair of glasses for 3 years at a time, which makes one wonder what kind of specs they're planning to put on this kid). Lucky Luke will get more in pocket money than most Hong Kongers earn. Assuming Louis and Janice (an MD in an ad agency) have a combined income of $2 million (no doubt a very conservative estimate), they're earning $52 million over the next 26 years to cover this outrageous parasite of a baby.

Later Louis admits they could raise Luke on the cheap, for a total of $2.61 million. That's no doubt the no-private-school, no-pocket-money, one-pair-of-specs, hole-in-shoes, stinky-breath estimate. I wonder if Louis's estimates on his private equity deals vary so much?

The article continues the myth that money is what matters when it comes to having babies. Yet the notion is clearly wrong - poorer countries and poorer people generally have more babies, not less. These "costs" of having kids are often blown out of proportion. In Hong Kong schooling can be almost free or subsidised for the vast majority of residents. The city boasts some excellent tertiary institutions. That's saving you $5 million already. If you want kids, the financial burden is rarely a deciding factor.

What are the more likely factors? Growing wealth means people feel less need to have kids as an insurance policy, to support them in old age. Better health systems means lower infant mortality, so you don't need "strength in numbers". Social mores are changing and the decision to not have kids has become far more accepted than any time in the past. A plethora of distractions and alternatives have made the decision tougher too. Hong Kongers live, on average, in 500 square foot apartments. That's not especially condusive to kids. The city's growing pollution problems are another factor. The list goes on.

The decline in birth rates is happening everywhere. It's not a crisis. Greater immigration is one obvious solution. Better child-care, improving government schools, curbing pollution can all help. Does it really matter to people's well being? If people are feeling better off, then not having a following generation to support them becomes a non-issue. Look at Japan - its population has already started to fall, just as everyone's getting excited about that country's economic recovery. What we need to get used to is nominal growth rates may become static or even decline, but per capita rates continuing to increase. In short, those of us who are left on this good planet will continue to enjoy better living standards. And we won't have to share it with as many people.

Having a child is one of the biggest decisions any couple can make. Governments and do-gooders have no place in the privacy of a couple's bedroom. That includes in the decision to mate. Campaigns to encourage people to have kids are a waste of money. Who's ever heard of someone deciding to have a kid because they saw a Planned Parenthood poster?

My kids enjoy Chicken Little. The birth rate "debate" is a classic example of "the sky is falling" - people assume the decline in birth rates are a bad thing without knowing why. It's a piece of conventional wisdom in the worst sense. It's different to what humanity's been used to, but that doesn't make it bad.

We're just not making kids how we used to. And we're not making parents how we used to, either. Memo for Louis, Janice and Luke - if the high estimate proves to be out, I've got 3.9 kids of my own that are happy to take any leftovers.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 13:37
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April 19, 2006
Ghost ghosts

They're not making gweilos like they used to. The SCMP reports:

Warnings that Hong Kong is becoming less attractive to top foreign professionals have been underlined by figures indicating that the number of western expatriates working and living in the city plunged last year.
Arrival and departure records of foreign expatriates showed the number of Americans, Britons, Canadians and Australians dropped by 14 per cent - from 93,000 to 79,190 - continuing a steady decline in recent years.
Hemlock will be pleased. Chart with the details below the jump.

Of course this is actually a very serious problem for the Hong Kong government. Expats are not coming in the same numbers as they used to because of worries over air pollution and the exorbitant rise in income taxes from 15% to 17%. Aussies, Yanks and Poms are reluctant to come to a city where a half decent bottle of plonk costs more than vintages in the homeland and where petrol is the most expensive in the world. But there are two real concerns. Firstly, how can the high end luxury rental market survive with a dwindling number of company paid rental allowances? These renters are the cream of the crop for developers. Secondly, these expats tend to be income taxpayers...a rare thing in this city. The real losers are mainland tourists who come to Lan Kwai Fong of an evening to gawk at these expats in their natural habitat.

Luckily the government will soon announce a recruitment drive for the senior eschelons of the civil service as part of a rescue effort to save that dwindling and ever-rarer species: the gweilo.


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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:14
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April 07, 2006
The toilet truth

A real "only in Hong Kong" story to see you though the weekend: the eccentric English judge and the case of the missing toilet seats.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 15:04
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February 07, 2006
Silk Road Artefacts in Hong Kong

There is an article in the unlinkable SCMP today, entitled History Lessened, which asks why Hong Kong people have not turned out in droves for a major show of artefacts from China's Silk Road at the Hong Kong Cultural Museum:

The three-month show is a world-class event. It cost about $3 million to assemble and includes some of the world's oldest treasures from one of the most inhospitable regions on Earth to represent, under one roof, one of the greatest eras in history: the world's first international trade route which involved the world's greatest civilisations - China, Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and Rome.

But, despite all this, the exhibition has received little publicity.

The problem lies in the promotion, or lack of it. The Hong Kong Heritage Museum insists it has utilised almost every promotional channel available: a TV commercial, billboards in MTR and KCR stations, the Airport Express, Star Ferry, Cross Harbour Tunnel and Eastern Cross Harbour Tunnel. The Hong Kong Tourism Board and Information Services Department are also promoting the exhibition to foreign tourists and journalists.

So why isn't there more buzz?

Claire Hsu, executive director of non-profit research centre Asia Art Archive, believes presentation is the problem.

"Museums in Hong Kong seem to use the same design or packaging when promoting their exhibitions," says Hsu. "I don't see these as a creative way of promoting exhibitions, especially when you compare them with other major museums around the world. It's all very generic."

That's all very well, of course, and true. But let's face it, the government has not been able to sell the Hong Kong people very much lately, be it new rules on chickens, a West Kowloon Cultural development or harbour reclamations.

While cultural options often do get short shrift in Hong Kong, I think one major factor is that people here are very busy and work extremely hard. Frankly, putting such a major show in a Museum in Sha Tin was a mistake as it is perceived as inaccessible for many Hong Kong islanders. Having said that, please do visit, because it is very worthwhile. If you know how to get to Tsim Sha Tsui, it's not too hard from there - just take the KCR to Sha Tin station, and take a cab or a museum shuttle bus just outside the station. Details below the jump.

The Silk Road: Treasures from Xinjiang, Hong Kong Heritage Museum, 1 Man Lam Rd, Sha Tin. Mon, Wed to Sat 10am to 6pm, Sun and public holidays 10am to 7am. From Thur to Mon, $20 for adults, $10 for full-time students, disabled and senior citizens. For Wed, $10 for adult, $5 for full-time students, disabled and senior citizens. Ends Mar 19. Inquiries: 2180 8188 (Via SCMP)

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 18:04
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January 18, 2006
Shiny happy Hong Kongers

Festive happy Hong Kongers baffle FCC members.

Film at 11.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 15:41
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December 16, 2005
Rules of the Road and Train

Allow me to ask a question: of those of you who take public transport on a daily basis, particularly in Hong Kong, how many of you get up for elderly people?

I do, and do think that more people in this city should. But before you think that this is going to be a moralistic post, I must confess that there is a caveat: I won't get up for older people that dye their hair (unless they're on crutches or look like they're going to fall over).

I know it seems a bit crass, but basically I don't for two reasons: 1) they clearly want to be young, and to be regarded as young. Why offend them by offering them a seat? 2) By trying to hide their age, and pass themselves off for something they are no longer, I figure they lose their natural entitlement to my seat.

Am I a hard-hearted jerk? Or acting sensibly and fairly?

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 15:03
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December 06, 2005
Roach Rant

Before I begin, let me preface this rant by pointing out that although I have categorized this post under "Hong Kong people", I only refer to roaches here from a societal standpoint.

I read this article today about how two brothers running a Chinese restaurant called the Sea Palace in Somerset (in the UK) were actually fined 20,000 pounds(!) by the authorities. A roach apparently popped out, quite chipper and unhurt, from one unfortunate lady's king prawn dish. Clearly a zero tolerance policy.

Contrast this with the experience of my wife, when on lunch break at Pacific Place in Hong Kong, dining at the ZEN Cantonese restaurant. She has a roach phobia, let me say in advance. So imagine how distressed she must have become when she felt something odd crawling up her pant leg. She put a hand on the offending motion, and discovered to her horror that it felt winged and had six legs and mandibles.

She called sharply for attention from a waitress. She could not do much physically, however, other than trap the offending insect between the material of her pants and her bare skin. A waitress eventually ambled up, advised her to try to 'flush' it out, and when she was able to collect herself enough to do that (with some even more alarming misdirections) the waitress trapped it with a bowl and escorted it away.

Rather than offering her a free meal, however, they just gave an offhand apology and explained that the fumigator had been that day, causing some restlessness in the roaches' ranks.

I thought pesticide did more than that...but perhaps resturanteurs in the city have historically been more inured to pests. I don't normally cross-post, but you'll find a history of small nasties in Hong Kong here. To be fair, the incident I describe was a couple of years ago, so maybe ZEN's gotten that under control...

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 21:57
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November 28, 2005
Helping helpers

Philip Borwing rants about the state of domestic helpers and low-paid workers in today's SCMP (full article below the jump). It's a hit and miss affair. He starts out on the right foot, complaining about the unequal application and enforcement of labour laws when it comes to helpers and low paid workers. He also notes the economic and social benefits of domestic helpers. Then he goes off the rails:

At the current level of their minimum wage, it could be argued that domestic helpers are no worse off than the lowest-paid unskilled workers. But the fact that foreigners are prepared to work for half the minimum, or less, does not make it right. It suggests that society tolerates an underclass segregated by race, rights and income.
No, what it suggests is the minimum wage is too high. Minimum wages create an artificial floor in the "price" of labour. As a consequence the price of labour is too high, and fewer people get employment as helpers than would otherwise be able to. At the margin the minimum wage may be too high for those who would otherwise employ a helper, and too high for those who would work for less. That's not to say sub-standard working conditions should be tolerated. Far from it. The government is morally culpable if it does not equally enforce laws for all residents. But that's a seperate and very different issue.

Bowring then points out how much worse off helpers are in Singapore before coming out with this zinger:

Sadly, it is perhaps not surprising - given the tendency of members of Singapore's elite to believe in the superiority of Chinese genes - to find that only women from the "brown" countries of South and Southeast Asia qualify to be employed in this particular form of servitude...they [the helpers] contribute to the economy but get almost nothing back.
His thoughts on Singaporean superiority complexes asisde, there is a major piece of the puzzle missing. Helpers are not compelled to take these jobs. They are also not forced to stay in them. Yet most of them do. Why? Because despite the appalling pay, crappy conditions and terrible work, they are prepared to do it. It beats what they could be doing back home, and they are still earning far better than they would otherwise.

Yes, there's a line to be drawn. There is a need for certain minimum working conditions to protect fundamental human rights. A minimum wage is not one of them. Patronising helpers by telling what's in their interests does not help. These are consenting adults agreeing to labour contracts. Let the market do its job and it generally does it well. So long as governments actually enforce their laws as they should, the system works to everyone's benefit. If you feel guilty about it, pay your amah extra and give her better working conditions. I do.

The shame of an underclass

Does Hong Kong really need an underclass of low-paid contract workers? Do we not demean ourselves by demeaning others? Two recent news items are worth pondering: first, the case of a domestic helper being paid just $100 a month; and second, the fact that the government is to allow the import of 5,000 low-paid workers for the textile industry. The first case may be exceptional, but what is not exceptional is the widespread underpayment of domestic helpers, especially Indonesians, and the lack of effort by the government (and the Indonesian consulate) to enforce the law.

The textile workers may be exceptional, too, but the exception shows the lack of principle of certain business interests close to the Tsang government - who are demanding special favours - and the government's susceptibility to them.

A social and economic case can be made for allowing foreign domestic contract workers. They enable more spouses to work, thus benefiting the economy as whole as well as the employer household. However, there also seems to be a connection between the easy availability of domestic help for the middle class and the very low birth rate. Instead of making child-rearing easier, it encourages local women to work, and earn, full time.

At the current level of their minimum wage, it could be argued that domestic helpers are no worse off than the lowest-paid unskilled workers. But the fact that foreigners are prepared to work for half the minimum, or less, does not make it right. It suggests that society tolerates an underclass segregated by race, rights and income.

The law at least lays down reasonable working conditions. Thanks to freedom of speech and the activities of the media and non-governmental organisations, abuses do get exposed. Hong Kong has yet to go as far down the road as the likes of the Persian Gulf states and Singapore in relying on a transient underclass. In the oil-rich Gulf, years of dependency both on low-paid, unskilled workers from India and skilled workers from many countries have left a legacy of a native population unwilling to do menial jobs, often too lazy to learn skilled ones, yet expecting high incomes for doing little work as government servants.

The Singapore example is closer to Hong Kong's case. The extent of the exploitation of foreign workers there is seldom discussed. But it came as a shock to learn that foreign domestic workers do not enjoy any legal entitlement to days off. There were howls of protest from some employers when the government recently suggested that all contracts should provide one day off a month.

At present, domestic helpers are exempt from the working-hours and days-off provision of the Employment Act, so leave and wages are determined by individual contracts. Pay averages only 15 per cent of the city state's median. One survey found that 50 per cent of helpers get no days off and only 10 per cent get one day a week - the legal minimum in Hong Kong. Many maids are not allowed out of the house.

Sadly, it is perhaps not surprising - given the tendency of members of Singapore's elite to believe in the superiority of Chinese genes - to find that only women from the "brown" countries of South and Southeast Asia qualify to be employed in this particular form of servitude.

Apart from 150,000 such maids, Singapore also has some 600,000 other "non-residents". Many are well-paid bankers, businessmen academics and engineers. But rather more do the dirty and dangerous jobs, stock the thriving brothel business or otherwise work for wages far below the norms for residents. They contribute to the economy but get almost nothing back.

Beware, Hong Kong, of this shocking example.

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November 26, 2005
SCMP gone to the dogs

Many of us complain the SCMP has gone to the dogs. Now, in the "things you don't expect to see on page 4 of the newspaper", comes...


Happy birthday, Sharen. The same picture can be seen from Harcourt Rd., near the Excelsior Hotel and has been spotted near the Aberdeen Marina Club.

Something about money and sense, or fools and their money, or barking up the wrong tree...

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October 24, 2005
Asia's sad obsession with Nazi-ism

The headline reads Naked Nazi porn provokes Hong Kong fury (NSFW), although the article itself points out it has not provoked fury or outrage, yet. Below the jump the article is reproduced sans NSFW photos and it's an entertaining read.

Yet is the outrage from the English language press over the use of Nazi memorabilia as a marketing gimmick unjustified? We've previously looked at Asia's ambivalence to Hitler. While many here wonder what the big deal is, I'll leave it to commenter Joe to pose the problem in a different light:

...ignorance isn't an excuse. I'd imagine that the equivalent of that would be someone standing on the London Tube or the 'A' Train in New York in full Japanese Imperial Army regalia.....but the difference is that wouldn't happen (unless someone knows otherwise of course).

Can you imagine, if that did happen and the Chinese press caught wind of it?

Besides the offensiveness of such trivialising of Nazi-ism and its evils, the double standard, the ignorance, the insensitivity and incomprehension are massive. As Jonah Goldberg wrote in an excellent piece last week, Hitler is suppose to define the outer limits of evil, not the lowest threshold. There's no point in comparing evils - each attrocity is unique. But for a contintent that has endured its fair share of evils, Asia's fascination with Nazi-ism reflects an intolerance that is all too common.

There's no outrage here. Just sadness and pity.

(Article via Spirit Fingers)

Akasi, a quarterly publication for the discerning Nipponophile, has become the latest convert in Hong Kong’s love affair with Nazi Germany. The October issue of the top-shelf glossy is dominated by pictures of an attractive young lady partially dressed as a tank commander and cavorting with wartime general Heinz Guderian.

But unlike every other local business that naively or cynically cashes in on Nazi notoriety, Akasi has yet to generate a single raised eyebrow. Until this reporter spotted a copy on the top shelf in a Causeway Bay 7-11 last week.

In Hong Kong’s English language media, there are few subjects more likely to generate an outraged print campaign than the use of Nazi memorabilia as a marketing gimmick.

There's nothing a Hong Kong girl loves more than a man in Hugo Boss with a handbag. To many Hong Kongers, Nazis represent the epitome of desirability. Their tanks were made by Mercedes and Porsche; their uniforms were original Hugo Boss. Twenty years after the last British skinhead tired of the joke, it’s still not unusual to see a Hong Kong teen in an Adolph Hitler European Tour t-shirt.

And whether it be a karaoke den with photos of Germans executing prisoners (a strange choice of decoration, admittedly), a fashion store decorated with swastikas, a TV station describing its ad breaks as “the final solution” or a coffee shop picking Hitler for its daily quote, German wartime symbolism is never far from the editor’s outrage button.

Yet somehow, Akasi’s efforts have slipped below the radar. It’s hard to imagine how this could be, since Hong Kong 7-11’s are apparently full of penniless gweilos looking for love these days, and from our experience, at least some of them are likely to be journalists.

More importantly, the magazine pulled out all the stops to ensure someone would be offended: They’ve put the girl on the front and back covers, dressed her in death’s heads, seig-heiling on a swastika backdrop. And just in case anybody missed the connection between the uniform, the tank the swastika and the jackbooted nipple tweaking love interest, the magazine even has a centrespread article about Guderian’s life and works.

With poses like this, it's hard to imagine Asak's publishers were not aiming to offend. Guderian is often credited as an architect of the Blitzkrieg and a vocal proponent of the destruction of Warsaw. He rose to become Hitler’s army chief of staff before conveniently falling out with him a few days before the war ended.

As Guderian has been dead for fifty years, getting him to pose for Akasi would have proved difficult. But the magazine found a cunning way around that little difficulty: They popped down to the shops and bought a plastic replica.

And they did the same thing with the tank.

But we’re digressing. If it was news notoriety Akasi was after, something went badly awry. The directors of the Calvin Group, which publishes Akasi, must be kicking themselves over the acres of scandalised newsprint they’ve failed to inspire. This cynical attempt at media manipulation should have generated a maelstrom of outraged Sunday front pages and inside page follow-ups.

But it hasn’t. All they’ve managed to do so far is inspire this one solitary Web report. How could they have so misjudged the media?

It could be that the strip is simply too silly to horrify anyone. Anyone who can pose a topless babe alongside an Action Man with a moustache must surely possess a sense of humour. And you’d have to be either a satirist or a very disturbed tank nerd to think of Photoshopping topless triplets into a Tamiya Tiger tank.

Or it could just be that the girl is just too cute to cause offence.

At the time of going to press, Netnewsasia had been too lazy to bother contacting Akasi, so we have no informed opinion on the publisher’s motives. All we can offer is speculation. We also noted that the printer’s name is Flying Wind. If that's not significant, we don't know what is.

Pictures on this page have been reproduced in the public interest. As a concession to those readers for whom the sight of an unclothed nipple may cause distress, Netnewsasia would like to point out that we have carefully avoided reproducing any display of muff in this report.

This is a great pity, because it’s an awfully nice one.

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October 09, 2005
Inferior racism
Dating a Chinese used to be frowned upon because it was controversial, but dating experts and commentators say locals are now avoiding cross-cultural relationships because they are no longer "fashionable". Spurred by the media frenzy over [an] actress being seen with a Chinese, a prominent media commentator recently devoted his column to the lack of appeal in dating Chinese. In a controversial and often scathing indictment of today's expatriates, the former BBC journalist and regular television pundit Chip Smith said in his column: "In this day and age hanging out with a Chinese is `out'..." Writing in Easyfinder magazine, Smith said the pre-colonial population of rich Chinese sailed off into the sunset with the ex-governor and the Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation after the handover.

"The ones who stayed behind were left to fend for themselves. They had no choice but to move to dorms on Lamma Island or to rent stone houses that people in Sai Kung use to house pigs," his column said.

"Clad in T-shirts, shorts and a pair of flip-flops, nowadays you see them buying beer from 7-Eleven so they can get the free gifts. They even try bargaining with the new mainland immigrant cashier to try to get a 10 per cent discount." Smith warned local girls not to hang out with Chinese in Lan Kwai Fong unless they wanted to have a one-night stand in a small flat with "a guy who was muscular but did not last long in bed".

He concluded: "In this day and age you have to be careful when choosing a gweilo. They no longer have cars or property. You might end up stepping on a penniless landmine. It's too much to sacrifice for a passport."

Asked to reflect on his column, Smith told the Sunday Morning Post it reflected his personal observations and those of his friends. "Hong Kong used to be an international city and English was important. But now we are just like the mainland. We talk about loving the motherland. In today's atmosphere dating a Chinese is like selling out your country."

Today's SCMP, with one exception - I changed the word "westerner" to "Chinese". The headline is even more offensive: Have HK girls stopped looking for Mr White? How does it read now? On with the tripe:
However, Mak Hoi-wah, assistant professor in the Department of Applied Social Studies at City University, believes that the trend has to do less with racism than with the fact that westerners and locals are now much closer. "The difference in social status has decreased and the lines of racial division have softened," he said. "Also westerners today feel there is no need to put up a front. People just don't feel that westerners are anything special anymore."

Anne Chow, owner of dating service Diamond Single Club, said that members used to admire westerners but clients rarely requested to meet westerners now. "We have 5,000 members but there is only one girl who always requests to meet westerners. It is not discrimination but people just don't think it's a talking point any more."

Mr Hon of Match Maker dating service said cultural differences were too much to handle for most people. He said that since it was now so easy to emigrate, westerners were even less appealing because Hong Kong people were no longer willing to put up with differences in return for a passport.

"Most people find cross-cultural relationships difficult. Usually in the beginning they are happy. But once they start to understand each other they realise they cannot accept the differences. There's not much magic left when you watch him cut his toenails," he said. "The clients who ask for westerners mostly want to emigrate to places like North America. But now it is very easy to do it on your own - through business connections or relatives. As a result only about 3 to 4 per cent of our clients now request to meet westerners."

The main question this raises is the one no-one talks about: why is racism considered acceptable when it's done by non-Westerners? Even the SCMP editorial staff miss the point entirely:

It is not so long ago that many Hongkongers faced a future armed with passports issued by the British government. Now the wheel has turned. Few have gone anywhere. The new Hong Kong SAR passports in use now outnumber the others. Expatriates who have stayed and the many thousands who have made their home here since then prize permanent resident status. But while some things may have stayed pretty much the same, others have changed. The end of colonial rule redefined the relationship between locals and westerners. The anachronism of life under a foreign power was swept away in the legal moment of the handover. The social landscape has also changed, apparently - though not as dramatically. As we report today, evidence of changing social attitudes is to be found in one of our more humble living archives - the files of dating agencies and singles clubs. They tell the story more succinctly than any formal research or social commentary. Many clients of one singles club once admired westerners and were keen to meet them.

Now, only one girl out of 5,000 consistently asks to meet westerners. A dating agency says only 3 or 4 per cent of clients ask to meet westerners, and then only with an eye to emigration to places like North America.

This trend cannot have happened overnight. But interest has been excited by the media frenzy over actress Cecilia Cheung Pak-chi's new relationship with a westerner. Whereas once this would have been seen as upwardly mobile though controversial, now it is regarded as "unfashionable".

One Chinese commentator was frank. According to television pundit Chip Tsao, the fact that an expatriate is now less likely to be a well-heeled catch makes dating one harder to justify. He says dating a westerner now is like selling out your country. Dating agencies focus on difficulties in relationships arising from cultural differences and point out that easier emigration makes westerners even less appealing.

It would be good to think that a more positive view of the trend taken by social studies professor Mak Hoi-wah is on the right track. Far from reflecting racism, he thinks it has more to do with the division between westerners and locals having been blurred in the past eight years. Westerners no longer feel the same pressure to put up a social "front" and locals do not see them as special any more.

This can be seen as a natural redressig [sic] of social distinctions of colonialism that have long since ceased to have any place in modern Hong Kong. As such it is to be welcomed as a healthy sign of the growing maturity of a harmonious multiracial society. That is Hong Kong's strength, and one that should be allowed to evolve naturally.

A healthy sign of a mature, mutliracial society is where the colour of the skin of a local starlet's boyfriend isn't newsworthy. Idiocy like this story are the sign of a society still grappling with a massive inferiority complex.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:00
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September 12, 2005
Hong Kong's sisters are doing it for themselves

The SCMP continues to report the news that matters:

Hong Kong women are becoming increasingly sexually liberated and willing to make sexual demands on their partners...The survey found 80 per cent of women had initiated sex with their partners. However, only 3 per cent said they have frequently done so, with 40 per cent saying their partners made the first move in most cases.

The survey was conducted jointly by the Association for the Advancement of Feminism and the University of Hong Kong since 2002. Seventy per cent of the respondents had completed university or higher education...30 per cent of young women in their early 20s had pre-marital sex.
The survey also found almost 70% of young women in their early 20s lied in sex surveys.
...Hong Kong still had a long way to go because sex education at most schools run by the Catholic Church needed to be more open about the topic to educate youngsters.
It could be a long wait if you want the Catholic Church to be more open about sex education. Any faith based on a virgin birth is going to have all sorts of trouble teaching hormone-ridden teenagers the facts of life.

More disturbingly...

The survey found 60 per cent of women practised safe sex with partners, mostly using condoms. Worryingly, the survey found 40 per cent of women had been indecently assaulted, while 15 per cent said they had been pressured into unwanted sex. Sixty per cent said they had been sexually harassed, but 90 per cent of them did not go to the police.
More results below the jump.


Of respondents to the sex survey:

80 per cent have initiated sex

3 per cent are usually the one to initiate sex

40 per cent usually let their partner initiate sex

80 per cent have told their partner how they want to be touched

70 per cent have masturbated

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August 19, 2005
Hello Kitty riots

Don't get between Hong Kongers and the latest Hello Kitty toy. That's the moral of today's sordid tale from the SCMP:

The opening of an art exhibition of Japan's most famous cartoon character degenerated into farce at the Arts Centre yesterday as more than 1,000 outraged fans complained about unfair arrangements preventing them from getting a limited edition Hello Kitty toy. After hours of heated discussion, manufacturers Sanrio Hong Kong vowed to produce another set of the toys to calm the crowd.

Exhibition organisers and Sanrio hoped to bring Hong Kong fans an artistically inspiring and nostalgic experience to celebrate Hello Kitty's 30th birthday. But fans who had queued since 11pm on Wednesday night had just one goal - to buy one of 300 "detective-style" Hello Kittys made especially for the exhibition. The exhibition opened at 10.30am and the 300 toys, plus other limited edition items such as umbrellas, went on sale when the doors opened. Only 70 fans were allowed into the hall at a time.

By noon, however, more than 1,000 were queuing outside.

Fans - some of whom took the day off from work - complained to the organisers for letting too few people in. Each visitor was allowed to buy only one of the sought-after toys, but some people walked out carrying more than two. The queue moved only three metres each hour. At least they should tell us how long we have to wait. Do we have to queue up all night to get in?" said gift shop owner Eric Lee Tai-cheong, who had been there with his wife since 10am.

As organisers struggled to provide fans with answers, tickets - which cost $50 each - were still being sold. By 1.30pm, fans were told the 300 Hello Kittys were sold out. Inside the exhibition hall, fans roared with outrage as they discovered that less than 20 of the toys were still for sale. Desperate fans, who even tried to steal reporters' press passes, gathered in the hall's lobby.

Hiro Nishino, deputy general manager of Sanrio (HK), told angry fans the company would produce more toys for those who attended. "We are sorry that we made you unhappy," said Mr Nishino. "Immediately we will make a second version. The price will not exceed that of the detective Kitty [$600]."

"This is better than nothing," said student Stephen Chow Chun-ho, who was there for seven hours.

Asia has seen this kind of thing before, for example via McDonald's in both Singapore and Hong Kong. It will always remain a mystery to me why Hello Kitty holds such appeal, why it drives people to such desperate measures. No doubt there's a sociologist or two researching the phenomena.

But let's not miss the bigger issue here. An art exhibition for a mouthless cat, a cartoon character? I'd rather see a Disney based exhibition to help promote Hong Kong's majority interest in HK Disneyland. Japan might have the Hello Kitty bus. We've got the world's only Mickey Mouse train.

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