Sunday, December 28, 2008

Giving credit where credit is due

"It is unfair and irresponsible of the [British] government to put pressure on the public to spend in order to revive the economy."
--Rt Rev Stephen Lowe, Bishop of Hulme

As the worldwide recession deepens, governments everywhere are pumping taxpayers' money into failing banks to encourage them to keep lending to faltering businesses, while at the same time offering incentives to consumers to spend more in order to revive economic activity - spending the way out of trouble. Here in Hong Kong, there have been suggestions that the government should hand out $1,000 to every citizen to keep the economy ticking over.

Then ATV News a couple of weeks ago highlighted HSBC's chief economist and its local boss both arguing that consumer credit should be curbed, and announcing that the bank will raise interest rates on its credit cards. It is unwise, they tell us, to spend money you don't have.

Sound advice, especially when you don't know how long your job may last, and some of Britain's bishops have taken the UK government to task for not agreeing with it. But HSBC is one of the recipients of British government support to keep credit lines open, so it seems a bit disingenuous of them to be arguing the opposite case in Hong Kong. Not to mention that if the banks had followed their own advice, we wouldn't be in this mess in the first place.

Oh all right then, Merry Christmas!

As possibly the last blogger in Hong Kong to do so, may I wish all my 27 readers the very best for the current Christmas season (or whatever festival you celebrate around now) and the coming New Year. I was in Japan for a few days before Christmas (more on that soon), and am now marking 50 assignments from my Marketing students, so not much time to write lately, but normal (dis)service will be resumed soon. Cheers!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

In well balanced public transport systems all over the world, taxis are seen as feeders to bus and railway routes, which do not offer door-to-door convenience but are far more fuel and space efficient in carrying large numbers of people over long distances.

However, this is Hong Kong. Our new taxi fare structure makes longer journeys cheaper per kilometre than short ones. Whatever this may do for cabbies' incomes, it can only encourage more people to make long journeys by taxi, increasing Hong Kong's already horrendous road congestion and air pollution.

I have argued before
that the Hong Kong government has no concept of an integrated transport policy. This latest move once again proves me right.

This is not, of course, their only silly decision. I am a great believer in restrictions on smoking, but these have to be balanced against the right of smokers to choose to ruin their health so long as they do not inconvenience others. So why is smoking banned in Hong Kong's public parks, where the smoke has plenty of room to disperse, but allowed in the crowded streets of areas like Mongkok, where it is literally in your face? I think we should be told.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Miraculous Transformation

I don't often eat in McDonald's, but sometimes when I'm in a hurry and it's near, I'll take the easy option. So today I tried their new Ebi Burger, an import from their Japanese operations.

This, their advertising tells me, is made of carefully selected superior shrimps, and this is illustrated with pictures of succulent fresh pink shrimp. Only one mystery remains: how do they convert this into the near-tasteless rubbery grey mass that appears in the actual burger?

At least in some countries you can get beer with your burger...

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Time Has (Not) Told Me

Just to reinforce Fumier's belief that our technology is somewhat behind the times out here north of the Red Lips Bar, here is the sundial in the park behind Eightland Gardens in Taipo. A nice design feature perhaps, but its reliability as a timepiece leaves something to be desired - the picture below was taken at 2 pm yesterday.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Above It All

It's ironic to see the Hong Kong government trying to whip up a storm of patriotic excitement over the visit of China's astronauts to the SAR. If the view from space teaches us anything, it should be that all those lines between countries on the map don't really exist on the ground. We all share the same small beautiful blue ball of a planet, and it's about time we stopped playing "my bit is better than your bit" over it.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Enormously profitable TVB is nevertheless using the recession as an excuse to fire over 200 of its production staff. They could save just as much money, and do Hong Kong a big favour to boot, by sacking some of their overpaid "talent" instead. A good starting point would be to get rid of Eric Tsang's incredibly irritating voice, Nat Chan's inane grin, and a few of the legion of brainless bimbos who plague TVB's vapid variety shows like a swarm of locusts.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Market Rates

Reports by Hong Kong's Director of Audit usually offer an entertaining insight into governmental incompetence, and the latest is no exception. It appears that almost a quarter of stalls in public markets are unlet, and many markets are losing money. At the same time, many stall rents have not been raised for a number of years.

The report offers a number of accounts of mismanagement which clearly need to be rectified, but its two main conclusions appear to be rather contradictory: that more should be done to let vacant stalls, and that too many stalls are underpriced. Surely the fact that so many stalls are vacant suggests that the rental asked for them is too high? Basic economics tells us that lowering the rent will increase the take-up of stalls; raising it will drive away more business.

There is no doubt that shopping patterns are changing, with supermarkets taking away a big chunk of the fresh food business, but it would be a shame to see Hong Kong's wet markets disappear - they are part of the local culture, and generally offer a larger selection of fresh foods, particularly seafood, than the supermarkets. Perhaps the current recession will drive customers back to the markets, which are generally somewhat cheaper.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Bringing it all back home

In considering big moral questions, it sometimes help to reduce them to small scale analogies that are closer to home.

Let's say that members of a gang invaded your home on 11 September and killed some of your family members, some of the gang members also dying in the process. Subsequently the gang threatens further violence against you.

Later you find that members of the gang, possibly including those who planned the first attack, are sheltering in another house up the street. The home owner does nothing to help bring the gang members to justice, and does not kick them out into the street where you might be able to do so yourself. So the question is, would you be justified in breaking into his home to get them yourself?

Maybe, you may say. But how about if you were likely to kill some of his children in the process?

Hmm, more difficult, huh? So the real question is, should the US attack al-Qaeda members in Pakistan against the wishes of the Pakistani government? And can they do this without "collateral damage", i.e. risking the killing of innocent Pakistanis in the process? Just one of the difficult questions President Obama will have to grapple with.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bankers with a W

Democrats in the US Congress - and responsible banks - are angry that the US700,000,000,000 they supposedly voted to rescue the economy is being diverted to help the offending banks rather than aid their victims. Why am I not surprised? At least when the British government rescued banks in trouble they changed their management; under the mendacious Bush regime it seems to be business (and bonuses) as usual for the greedy swindlers who created the mess that's now putting hundreds of thousands of hard working people around the world out of a job.

It's no surprise that "bankers" rhymes with another word that, like the financial crisis, begins with a "Dubya". And even as the world suffers the consequences of the mad Republican rush to deregulate everything, Bush is using his last days in office to strip away further regulations protecting workers and the environment - more destruction for the incoming Obama administration to undo. Obviously he is either incapable of learning or totally uncaring (probably both).

Headline on an advertising wraparound in the South China Morning Post: "W is coming to West Kowloon". Well, I suppose he has to go somewhere after leaving office, but why inflict him on us?

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Real McCain

It is ironic that John McCain's finest performance of the whole presidential campaign was his concession speech, which showed him at his best - it was calm, dignified, and generous towards President-elect Obama as well as thanking his own supporters. I wonder how far in advance it was written?

McCain didn't seem too unhappy. During the campaign, it was obvious that some of his more ignorant far right supporters had cast him as the great white defender of Christian civilisation and white privilege against the rampaging Muslim communist hordes of dark-skinned aliens with funny names storming the gate, a role McCain never appeared quite comfortable with, sometimes rebuking his supporters for their more extreme attacks on his opponent. Now he was free to be himself again - a man who may be a jerk at times, but who also has many friends on both sides of the political divide.

While McCain paid the obligatory tribute to Sarah Palin, he didn't invite his running mate to speak. Nevertheless, it appears she is already being cast in the role that never quite fitted McCain, but which she seems eager to embrace. No doubt we will hear more of her in four years' time - though if Obama runs the country as smartly as he ran his campaign, there should be little chance of him not getting a second term.

By the next election, many white Americans who still feel uncomfortable with seeing a black face in the White House will have become familiar with the idea and start to think more about his performance than his race. If he survives, that is - I hear that staff of one human rights organisation in Hong Kong are already placing bets on how long Obama will serve before someone assassinates him. Two men are already awaiting trial for planning to shoot him.

Back to Palin, one question going around is, does she really need to wear glasses? Or does she do it to make herself appear more intellectual? I wonder.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Yes! Yes!! YES!!!

No, not Meg Ryan faking an orgasm - just me celebrating America's return to sanity.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

America's Last Chance

As American voters go to the polls today, the rest of the world holds its breath. After 8 years of Bush (I was going to say "of lies, torture, illegal war, abuse of human rights, fat snouts in the trough" and a whole lot of other things, but you know all that already), this may be America's last chance to redeem itself in the eyes of the world.

When you get down to it, the real question is not policies and the economy and arguments about who will or will not raise taxes. It's very simple - with whose hand on the nuclear trigger will you feel most comfortable: Obama's calm reasonableness, or McCain's hot temper and willingness to compromise most of his principles to win election (not to mention the prospect of it passing into the hands of Sarah Parrot with her stupidity and unscientific beliefs, as well as her own "palling around with terrorists")?

The polls look good, as do the gambling odds and the first results, but I'll still be crossing my fingers until the result is sure.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Welcome to Taiwan - Now Go Home

Mainland Chinese diplomat Chen Yunlin can no doubt expect a heated response to his Taiwan visit, which starts today, from the island's independence advocates. Just a couple of weeks ago, pro-independence demonstrators pushed another Mainland representative to the ground, and later half a million marched through the streets of Taipei denouncing Chen's planned visit.

The problem with all this is that it lacks imagination, and further violence will only get them depicted as a bunch of hooligans. Instead, why don't they turn out half a million people to greet Chen warmly - with banners reading "Welcome to the free, independent and democratic nation of Taiwan"?

As for Taiwan's repeated attempts to secure United Nations representation, China is being a little hypocritical in blocking this on the grounds that China already represents the island and a separate seat would therefore be redundant. When Belarus and Ukraine held seats at the UN in addition to being represented as part of the Soviet Union, China never objected.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The lazy incompetent's guide to educational success

Looking for freelance writing opportunities today, I came across a couple of distinctly dodgy ads on Hong Kong Craigslist.

The first says:
"We are an educational company that specializes in university admissions services. We help students to apply and gain entry to their desired programs (College / MBA / Grad School).

Part of the application process involves the drafting of Admissions Essays, Letters of Recommendation etc. We are looking for talented writers who can produce interesting and effective work, in order to market our students in the best possible light.

Each project / university application comprises of the following:
- 4 to 7 essays (ranging from 100 to 600 words each) AND
- 2 to 3 recommendation letters (each addressing 5 to 8 questions)

We will provide the student's educational and academic profile (including CV and notes) and other related information.

We pay US$50-100 for the successful completion of each project. We have thousands of students each year so you can be guaranteed consistent work if you are good!"
Having worked my arse off to get my own MBA, it pisses me off to see this kind of scam. How does blatant plagiarism present a student "in the best possible light"? It shows them up for what they are - lazy incompetent frauds.

Should you wish to suggest to these conmen that their students might be better suited to working in McDonald's than the world of higher education if they are unable to write their own application essays, their email address is (the sg indicating Singapore, though they could be anywhere). I wonder if this kind of false application is a legal offence?

The second ad is headed Freelance Wtiring [sic] Talent Wanted (Global). It seeks candidates with good writing ability and research skills, and preferably academic writing experience - presumably competence in spelling is optional. They are looking for graduates in a range of subjects - for what they don't say, but academic plagiarism would probably be a good guess here as well. Far be it from me to suggest that their email address - - should be flooded with bogus responses. No indication of their whereabouts in the address, but they ask respondents to put "Thai-writer" in the subject line, which provides a clue.

The irony of all this is that I would probably be good at doing this stuff, but I want no part of it. It's unfair to those hard-working students who make the effort to do their own work, and it devalues everybody's qualifications.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Can't talk now, I'm at the phone

For most of my life, it was usual for people to write "call me on 12345678". Now it seems to be common for people to use "at 12345678" instead.

Is this a Hong Kong Chinglish thing, or in today's digital world, do people no longer recognise any distinction between a physical location and an electronic one?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Big Man in Bed Gets Wed

Amid the heavier news of plunging stock markets, the report of the wedding of Manuel Uribe, the world's fattest man, came as light relief. But stories of these morbidly obese gargantuan eaters confined to bed always make me wonder about the role of their family. When the fatty first decides to stay in bed and asks for three breakfasts and a bedpan, why don't they just say, "Get up and get it yourself, you lazy bugger"? Wouldn't it save an awful lot of trouble?

For Uribe, there may be a better life ahead. Maintained on a strict diet by his new wife, he has already shed 250 of his previous 560 kilograms, and may in time be able to look forward to other pleasures in life than food.

Monday, October 27, 2008

I always said spammers were stupid, but this one plumbs new depths of stupidity

Text of a spam email received this morning:
Anje1lna Jo1ie p0rn video, file attached, watch him
Him? I rest my case.

Shining city on a hill - just where it shouldn't be

From the promotional material for Sun Hung Kai's new Park One development in Shatin (above), it appears that the Hong Kong government continues to learn nothing about planning.

Over the years, the Parkview development on Hong Kong Island has received a ton of criticism. While probably a nice place to live (unless your name is Kissel), with stunning views over Tai Tam Country Park, for everyone but the handful of wealthy residents it is an ugly eyesore that blights the view from just about every corner of the park.

Two decades on, and the government is still permitting developers to stain the countryside and ruin green views with massive hilltop developments that stick out like a sore thumb. When will Hong Kong be run for the benefit of the people and not the big property developers? (I know, silly question - when we get real democracy. Which may be why we don't.)

Not content with raping the countryside, Sun Hung Kai is taking liberties with the English language as well, by describing this as a "low-rise" development. Huh? To me, you, and most people, low-rise means 3 or 4 floors at most - something you can walk up without needing a lift. Far from being low-rise, Park One is about 50% higher than the building in Rotterdam that claims to be Europe's first high-rise. But then, SHK is the company that succeeded in changing the laws of physics.

Still, all is not bad news for the environment in Hong Kong. It was announced a couple of weeks ago that the disastrous Soko Islands LPG terminal plan will not go ahead. Cheers!

Monday, October 20, 2008

No More Mr Nice Guy

Another insight into the personality of John McCain, currently bidding to become the first American President to have called his wife a cunt in public.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Do I Know You?

Ever noticed that the Rolex watch commercials on television don't bother to identify the famous Rolex wearers who appear in them (and are presumably paid a hefty sum for doing so)? Apparently it's assumed that the elite all recognise each other; if the rest of us hoi polloi don't know who they are, well, we can't afford a Rolex anyway, so that's our problem.

A Slip of the Scalpel

In his final campaign debate with Barack Obama, it sounded like John McCain started to say "we need to make health care avoidable", before correcting himself and saying "affordable".

But then, when it comes to health issues, surgical precision is not McCain's forte. Asked a few weeks ago whether the use of condoms was effective against HIV infection, he replied, "You’ve stumped me", before admitting he didn't know what his own position was on the issue!

This raises two possibilities. Either:
  1. McCain is apallingly uninformed about one of the major health issues of our time, in which case he's probably too ignorant to be president; or
  2. He sidestepped the question to avoid offending his supporters on the religious right, whose self-proclaimed "pro-life" stance does not extend to saving lives that might otherwise be lost to AIDS, in which case he's too dishonest to be president. (They also don't seem too concerned about Iraqi lives, but that's for another article.)
The second interpretation here might be inferred from McCain's use of the disparaging term "pro-abortion" in the debate, rather than "pro-choice". No one is "pro-abortion" - they simply believe, as Obama clearly and straightforwardly explained, that while abortion is undoubtedly a moral decision, it is not the government's moral decision to make, but that of the pregnant woman.

But then what else can you expect from a man who chooses as his running mate a woman who believes that the innocent victims of violent crime should be pubished for nine months - if the crime is rape resulting in pregnancy?

No Idea

I envy those bloggers who seem to have time to live a life, hold down a job, and still write 5,000 words before breakfast. I guess they don't need much sleep.

No doubt some of them have already written a lengthy analysis of Donald Tsang's policy speech on Wednesday. I haven't studied it in depth, but I do have two short comments.

"This is not a time for innovation," declared Donald after the speech. Dead wrong! The system of unbridled self-interest that has dominated the world economy since the Thatcher/Reagan era (when greed was elevated from one of the seven deadly sins to the supreme virtue) has reached an ugly dead end with the current financial crisis, hopefully giving way to a new age of fairness and responsibility. Meanwhile Hong Kong's traditional role as China's gateway to the world is becoming redundant, as a newly confident China ceases to need an intermediary and deals with the outside world directly.

Given this situation, innovation - i.e. new ideas about Hong Kong's future role - is exactly what we need at this moment. Either that, or slide into irrelevance.

Donald's other mistake was in declaring that the minimum wage to be set under the long overdue minimum wage law - to be introduced in the coming year, no doubt acompanied by bleats of protest from employers - may still be insufficient for a wage earner to support a family without receiving additional social welfare assistance. If this is so, then what is the point? What this means in effect is that the taxpayer is subsidizing irresponsible firms that underpay their workers, giving them an unfair cost advantage over more responsible companies that pay their employees a fair wage. Great system, huh?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Would you buy a used bank from this man?

I didn't catch the whole story because it was on the Chinese channel, but this morning on the TV news there was some senior official from the World Bank talking about providing financial advice to developing countries.

Looking at the current state of the developed world's financial system, this seems a bit like the Pope giving advice on sexual techniques.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

What is Wealth?

According to the conventional wisdom, people are seeing their wealth eroded all over the world by the current financial crisis. Except they aren't; not really, because that wealth never existed.

Real wealth consists of goods and services that people actually need or want, and use. The total quantity of these should not be in the least affected by the banking crisis. We have just as much land to grow food on; just as many mines to dig out raw materials from; just as many oil wells to extract fuel from; just as many factories to produce goods in; just as many workers to work in those factories or in shops or restaurants or wherever else they are needed; just as many ships and trucks to deliver goods; just as many cars to drive, just as many houses to live in; just as many CDs to listen to, pubs to drink in, restaurants to eat in, clothes to wear, books to read, TVs to watch, planes to fly, parks to relax in, schools to study in, sports grounds to play on, churches to worship in if so inclined, and so on ad infinitum. In short, just as much wealth.

Those things are real wealth. All the rest - bits of paper, entries in ledgers, magnetic impulses in computer storage - money, in other words - is fictional wealth; a set of symbols that we have agreed on to represent real wealth.

How did the human race get in a position where these symbols so dominate our way of life that their absence, or a disturbance in their supply, can threaten our access to real wealth? Where large numbers of people spend their working lives manipulating these symbols without adding one iota to the underlying store of real goods and (useful) services? Foreign exchnge dealers, for example, convert one set of symbols into another set, without adding to the value of the goods represented by those symbols (i.e. creating wealth) in the slightest.

In their greed, America's bankers forgot that money is only a symbol, and created more and more symbols in the form of subprime mortgages until their nominal value far exceded the real value of the houses they were supposed to represent. (Real value is essentially measured by what goods could be exchanged for in a perfect barter system.) They then packaged up these inflated symbols and passed them on to other greedy bankers around the world, who also wanted a slice of this largely fictitious wealth. Some of these in turn resold them to the public in the form of yet more dubious financial instruments such as Lehman's minibonds.

Finally reality intruded and it became clear the emperor had no clothes - these symbols did not represent anywhere near the value of the real wealth they claimed to represent. The result: banks left with insufficient meaningful symbols to meet their obligations; angry people demanding to know why they had been sold worthless symbols; and governments around the world pouring meaningful symbols (representing the labour of taxpayers) into financial institutions to rescue them from the consequences of their own stupidity.

So what next - back to barter?

Monday, October 06, 2008

When You're Smiling...

To Sarah Palin's Image Consultant: telling your client to smile is not a bad idea, but not all the time! Intelligent Americans would like to see their potential president display a bit of gravitas, not an inane fixed grin. I'm sure she's got a good dentist, but it would be more impressive if she had a better grasp of the facts. For example, characterising Iran's president Ahmadinejad as a dictator is wrong on two counts: first of all, he came to power by winning a majority of votes from Iran's people, which is more than can be said of current US leader George W. Bush; secondly, the real power in Iran does not lie with him, but with the clerical leadership.

Still, nice teeth.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Poor Guys in Space

China's latest space mission fulfilled all its objectives, but at a cost - the new Chinese-made space suit alone cost over US$4 million. Still, China is clearly up there with the big guys now, which is exactly what its leaders want.

Want to bet that next time it's engaged in world trade negotiations, China will still claim to be a poor backward Third World country in need of trade concessions to help it catch up? Hmmm.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Getting Your Priorities in Proportion

  • Amount requested by President George W. Bush to bail out greedy Wall Street bankers: US$700 billion.
  • Amount pledged by world leaders and philanthropists to fight malaria (which kills more than a million people annually): US$3 billion.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Distant Drums

It's been a bad year for great musicians - Temptations songwriter/producer Norman Whitfield passed away a few days ago. Now the latest entrant to rock'n'roll heaven is drummer Earl Palmer.

You may never have heard of Palmer, but you've certainly heard his work - a jazzman at heart, he played on an astonishing array of all-time great recordings, from Fats Domino and Little Richard's pioneering early rock'n'roll in Palmer's native New Orleans, to "River Deep Mountain High" and other Phil Spector classics in Los Angeles, finding time in between to drum on everything from TV theme tunes to movie soundtracks, and even record a piece or two under his own name (The A Side blog has one). He is also said to be the man who first applied the word "funky" to music.

Palmer's autobiography, Backbeat, is a great rock read, taking the reader through a colourful life that went from tap dancing in vaudeville as a child to accompanying Frank Sinatra at the White House.

"I invented this shit"
was Palmer's legendary response to a young rock band worried that he might not be able to play in their style. He sure did.

Disclaimer - I get a small commission from Amazon UK if you buy the book through the picture link here.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Surely No Coincidence?

Average number of rolls of toilet paper used each day in The Pentagon: 666.

Blame It All on Mummy

As former Taiwan First Lady Wu Shu-chen again fails to attend court, claiming to be ill, it's interesting to observe the development of the corruption cases against her, former president Chen Shui-bian, and other family members. Chen claims his wife illegally transferred US$20 million of his campaign funds overseas without his knowledge. His son, accused of transferring US$31 million overseas, claims he merely signed documents prepared by his mother, without checking their contents.

The younger Chen's trust in his mother is touching indeed; I would trust my own mother with my life, but if she asked me to sign some bank forms, I think I would at least display a little curiosity as to what they were all about before sticking my name on the dotted line. Apparently the Chen family's strategy is to heap as much guilt on Wu as possible. As a wheelchair-bound invalid, she could presumably look forward to more lenient treatment than the able-bodied members of the family, if convicted.

Why does all this somehow remind me of the story of the girl who murdered her parents, then asked the court for clemency on the grounds that she was an orphan?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

My Untainted Humps

As the Chinese contaminated baby milk scandal continues to worsen - 69 brands from 22 manufacturers recalled; 3 babies dead; 6,200 seriously ill; several export markets also involved - one wonders if Chinese women realise what those two "lovely lady bumps" on their chest are for. And no. I'm not being facetious (sadly).

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

(Not) Taking Care of Their Own

Mr President, the death toll in Iraq is approaching one million!

Who cares, they're all Muslims anyway. [Not true, by the way - the nearly 2000-year-old Christian community in Iraq has been almost entirely forced out of the country.]

Mr President, hundreds of thousands are still homeless in New Orleans!

Who cares, they're mostly black and poor anyway.

Mr President, hundreds of people have been tortured in Guantanamo Bay.

Who cares, they're all terrorists anyway. [Also not true.]

Mr President, thousands of middle class Americans are having their homes repossessed because they can't keep up with their mortgage payments.

Who cares, that's the system - when you invest, you take a risk. Sometimes it doesn't pay off.

Mr President, Wall Street is in trouble! The big investment banks are going bust!

Oh my God, this is terrible, these are our people! What can we do to help them?

Nothing, Mr President; we've spent all the money we had and more on your war in Iraq and handouts to the rich already.

So finally, the mountain of bad karma piled up by the Bush regime is beginning to topple down on its beneficiaries. And so incompetent is the government, it can't even bail out its own people, the heart of the Republican elite, the very ones whose interests this administration has been all about serving from the beginning, from the consequences of their own greed, folly and mendacity. Which would be enjoyable to watch, if it wasn't that many innocent victims are going to get hurt in the process as they see their hard-earned homes, insurance policies and pensions become worthless.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

7-9 and the Marginalised Elector

7-9 is English for what the Americans prefer to call 9-7, i.e. today. The Hong Kong government, uncomfortable with the fact that the territory was a British colony for a century and a half, prefers to use the American format in its promotional advertising for today's Legislative Council election. Since "9-11", the New York skyline is not the only thing reshaped by Osama bin Laden.

"Shape your future"
say the posters; and even though we know that our future will continue to be largely shaped for us by the usual unholy alliance of Beijing politicians and local business bigwigs, it is important to send Beijing a clear message that we want to have a bigger say in our own destiny. So, get out there before 10:30 pm and vote! (unless you're planning to cast your ballot for the DAB, in which case, why not stay at home and read a good book instead? I recommend George Orwell's essays, particularly "Politics and the English Language").

Which brings me to an interesting question: why do Hong Kong politicians pay so little attention to the English-speaking voter? We all know - particularly since Florida in 2000 - that elections can be won and lost by only a few votes, and this is even more so in Hong Kong's rotten boroughs - the Functional Constituencies. Given this, you would think that an astute politician would not overlook any possible group of potential supporters, yet there are still candidates whose election publicity is entirely in Chinese, without even a pointer to an English version on their website. I heard from a friend that one famously hirsute local LegCo member even refused to answer questions put to him in English during a previous election campaign, although he speaks the language.

This time around, more candidates seem to have picked up the nessage - even the DAB - but there are still exceptions. Yet I suspect this group of voters, far from being of marginal significance, may be larger than anyone suspects. In fact, it consists of three distinct subgroups: expatriates settled here such as myself; the long-established local South Asian community, many of whom speak Cantonese but do not read or write Chinese; and possibly the largest of all, those Chinese people born in Hong Kong who grew up overseas following the great wave of emigration in the 1980s and 90s, but have since returned to their birthplace. Many of these speak Cantonese but were educated in English, and may be more comfortable reading it than Chinese.

OK, lesson over, go and vote.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Signs of the Times

That's nice, but will the food taste better?

Beauty isn't what it used to be!. Thanks to DC for this one.

Make up your mind!

Yes, but where do the other 90% of kids get educated?

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Pretentious? Moi?

Hong Kong property developers love to give their properties pretentious and silly names. Take Grand Central Plaza in Shatin, for instance - it's not Grand (unless Ikea has moved considerably upmarket in the few weeks since my last visit), and not Central. As for the Plaza part, the original Spanish word denotes a public open space like a town square, but in American (ab)usage, adopted in Hong Kong, has come to indicate a shopping mall. Oh well, a half out of three ain't bad.

Then there's Luard on the Park, a serviced apartment block in Wanchai. The "park" referred to is Southorn Playground, but I suppose Luard on the Patch of Scruffy Tarmac Surrounded by a Few Tatty Trees doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

However, for real pretentiousness, you only have to look to the world of showbiz - a headline on the BBC news website a couple of days ago reported Jude Law calls for world ceasefire. I don't want to disparage any attempts to advance the cause of world peace, but would that be Jude Law the respected international statesman? or Jude Law the Hollywood actor who hit the scandal pages for his affair with his children's nanny?

Monday, September 01, 2008

Do they even know it's wrong?

Many long term residents of Hong Kong have remarked on the deteriorating standard of English in the territory that likes to proclaim itself "Asia's world city". Wellcome supermarket continues to display posters in some of its branches exhorting customers to "Use less plastic bags". Good idea, but as someone pointed out several years ago, shouldn't there be a companion campaign educating the public to "Use fewer water"?

Then there is this sign:

Only one thing wrong with this: you don't prosecute a vehicle, you prosecute the driver. Do we have anyone left in the government who knows the difference?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Acts of Government or God

While many disasters can be blamed on the Hong Kong government, it's a bit much for Stanley residents to claim, as today's Morning Post reports, that "the government is entirely to blame" for the tragic death of a 19-year-old girl crushed by a falling branch from a tree in the village. The fact is that every year around the world, thousands of people are killed or injured by falling trees. These incidents are known as natural disasters, or in insurance terminology, "Acts of God" (or whichever imaginary supreme being you choose to blame for the universe)..

While the government is right to recheck other old trees, and will no doubt review its inspection techniques, which appear to have missed some warning signs in this case, falling trees are a natural event. If we cast around looking for someone to blame for every Act of God, we will end up like the USA, where people's first reaction is to look for someone to sue whenever anything bad happens to them.

I also fear that this accident will lead to demands from the more ignorant sectors of the population for the removal of any tree that might possibly fall on anyone at some future time, leaving our city even more a desolate mass of concrete than it is already.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The man who invented R&B

The great record producer Jerry Wexler, the man who coined the term "rhythm and blues" to replace the old "race records" epithet, has died aged 91. There's a nice tribute here at The B-Side blog..

I have a copy of Dusty in Memphis signed by Wexler. Ironically Dusty Springfield was so paralysed with nerves in Memphis that only the backing tracks were recorded with the ever-reliable studio crew there; Jerry had to coax the vocals out of her during a number of follow-up sessions in New York. This painful process eventually brought forth one of the finest of the many great albums that bear Jerry's name as producer.

Wexler was a man of many talents: a successful businessman, except for his one great mistake of selling out Atlantic Records to Warner Brothers, which he came to regret; and a songwriter whose name appeared as co-composer of some of the records he produced. But his real genius - like that of Geroge Martin with the Beatles, an ocean away - was in getting the best out of srtists, and never more so than with Aretha Franklin. Aretha's earlier and later recordings show occasional flashes of brilliance, but her reputation as the Queen of Soul rests solidly on the string of magnificent masterpieces she turned out at Atlantic under Wexler's direction.

In the last few years many of the greats of the music business have passed away: Ahmet Ertegun, who founded Atlantic Records; Ruth Brown, who fought him for years for unpaid royalties, while always respecting his musical taste; Bo Diddley just a couple of weeks ago; Wilsonn Pickett; ... the list goes on and on. Now there's another bright star in rock-n-roll heaven - R.I.P., Jerry.
Disclaimer - I get a small commission from Amazon if you buy the CD through the link here. This is the version with additional songs; there's another one with the mono versions of the singles from the albums. Both are great.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Thieving Magpie

Well, I found the identity of my sodturner - just a few minutes ago, I caught a big fat magpie in the act (though I wasn't quick enough to get a photo). Puzzle solved - now, how do I stop him doing it?

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Sods' Law for the birds

We recently had our garden returfed, as the grass had degenerated into 90% weeds. Just as last time we did this, within the next few days we found on several occasions that the local birds had succeeded in turning over some of the the squares of turf, presumably to get at the bugs or other tasty morsels beneath them.

I don't know which bird is doing this, but as each piece is about one foot square, it must take quite a bit of strength. Does anyone know if this is common behaviour for birds? And which species might be responsible?

Outrageous Arrogance and Surprising Intelligence

There seems to be no limit to the arrogance, insensitivity and sheer inhumanity of the Bush regime. Having destroyed Iraq at enormous human and financial cost (see the right sidebar), they are now complaining that the Iraqis should be the ones paying to repair the damage. Bloody cheek!

Meanwhile, Paris Hilton, of all people, has done a good job of making John McCain look ridiculous, after he compared Barack Obama to her as a lightweight celebrity in a campaign ad. I have long suspected that behind that fluffy party girl image, the Hilton genes have given Paris a sharp entrepreneurial brain; her response to McCain confirms that she also has a lively sense of humour.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A Few Post-Typhoon Suggestions

To the Hong Kong Observatory
I know weather forecasting is an imprecise science, but could you try not to sound so confident that no higher signals will be raised next time we're on number 3?

To TVB and ATV
When we wake up and find there's a number 8 signal, the only thing we really want to know is how long we can go back to bed for. If you must give us all the other boring stuff about cancelled ferries, fallen trees and scaffolding, and calling the airlines before going to the airport, could you just scroll along the bottom of the screen how long the signal is expected to be up for?

To the Hong Kong Government
Aren't you ashamed that your system for allocating Form 6 secondary places is so inefficient that students and their parents are willing to risk their lives staying out queuing in a Number 8 Typhoon to secure one of the last few precious places? It doesn't work that way for university places.

And why aren't there enough places in the schools for every student who meets the qualifying standard anyway? Don't tell me you're short of money when you're just about to spend billions on the Hu Jintao's Ego Memorial Bridge to Macau without even asking the taxpayers whether they want it.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Back to Bad Habits

A few weeks ago I praised China's exemplary response to the Sichuan earthquake. I suppose it was too good to last.

Learning from Failure

"I know how to win wars"
--Republican Presidential candidate John McCain

For some reason, devout Republicans in the US seem to think that because of his military experience, their man McBush can be trusted to do a better job of defending the nation than Democratic rival Barack Obama. I am not at all sure why - how does fighting on the losing side in a war in which you spent five years as a PoW qualify you to win wars? However heroic McCain may have been during this ordeal (and unlike those in his party who smeared John Kerry's record during the last election, no one questions that), the key issue here is not courage, but political wisdom.

In the same speech, McBush came out with another classic line:
"Understand this: When I am commander -in-chief, there will be nowhere the terrorists can run, and nowhere they can hide."
Except, presumably, the Iraq-Pakistan border that exists only in his imagination.

OK, let's pass that one over as a slip of the tongue. What, you may ask, about McCain's years of service on the Senate Armed Services Committee?

Er, would that be the same Committee that endorsed the war on Iraq on the basis of "intelligence" reports supplied by a gung-ho President eager to flex his testicles? Reports that Barack Obama, I, and probably you as well, had no diffiulty recognising as lies, as indeed they proved to be? Reports that a credulous John McCain apparently swallowed whole?

Need I say more?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

All for the love of - a new telephone?

And another thing that puzzles me: why are people willing to spend several days of their precious life queuing to be the first to get their hands on the new iPhone? It's only a phone, albeit one with some nice gadgets. Why don't they just wait a few weeks till they can get it without having to waste time lining up?

There are a number of things I would be willing to queue overnight for, but not a mere tech toy. For example:
  • Democracy in Burma
  • A cure for cancer
  • An end to genocide in Darfur
  • A free trip to Mars
  • A workable Middle East peace settlement
  • A private dinner with Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu
  • The closure of the US torture camp at Guantanamo Bay
And last but not least:
  • Tickets to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band live in Hong Kong (are you reading this, Bruce?)

A light in the darkness

Something that puzzles me: in police dramas on television, whenever the cops enter a dark building, especially the basement, they always walk in flashing their torches (flashlights for American readers) around in the darkness. Why don't they just switch the light on?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Nowhere to go but down (with a little government assistance)

Apart from the odd RTHK offering, Hong Kong television seldom serves up any real investigative journalism. So all the more credit to ATV for their Inside Story programme on Tuesday night. I've often poked fun at ATV for their mistakes, but this was worthwhile viewing.

As you may have read, the ever so caring Hong Kong government is planning, without consulting taxpayers (many of whom have already made substantial personal donations), to spend HK$10 billion of our money to aid those made homeless by the recent earthquake in Sichuan. Meanwhile back home, ATV's programme revealed that the same caring government is waging an undeclared war; not on homelessness, which would be creditable, but on Hong Kong's homeless.

Hong Kong has never had a coherent policy towards the homeless. In the past, it has been common for the Social Welfare Department to hand out blankets to them during cold spells, only for another arm of the government to steal their bedding and dispose of it as rubbish the following day in order to tidy up the streets.

Now as if those who have already fallen off the bottom rung of the economic ladder didn't have enough problems already, in recent weeks the government has been making a concerted effort to drive them out of their traditional refuges, even though their presence there is not illegal. A playground in Mongkok that previously accommodated 50 street sleepers is now locked at night and patrolled by security guards. Spaces under flyovers are being fenced off or otherwise made uninhabitable, and their former occupants are being told to, in effect, go away and disappear.

Presumably this is all in the name of improving Hong Kong's image before the expected hordes of Olympic visitors start turning up in a couple of weeks, but a true "World City" would try to solve the problems of these people, not just sweep them out of sight like so much human litter. That would take money - for more social workers, affordable housing for the poor, better mental health care and more effective substance abuse treatment programmes - all of which Hong Kong could afford if it wanted to. That's if the government didn't prefer to spend our money on follies like the Donald Tsang's Ego Memorial Complex on the Tamar site, and the Central Bypass Shopping Mall.

But even before that, it would require seeing street sleepers as individual human beings of value with their own individual difficulties, not as an amorphous mass of garbage to be swept under the carpet. ATV's programme (which will be repeated at 12:30 tomorrow, Saturday 12 July, if you missed it) gave them a voice, but is anyone in government listening?

See Also: Homeless II - Photo Exhibition of Street-sleepers

Making It Better:

Street Sleepers Action Committee Limited


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Where can I get me some of them there juicy worms?

The current TV propaganda for the Olympic equestrian events in Hong Kong proudly informs us that 60 million earthworms are at work keeping the venue green. I'd like to get hold of some of those.

No, seriously, no kidding. After weeks of heavy rain, my little patch of garden in Taipo is a horrible mass of compacted heavy clay, where I've never seen a single worm since moving in five years ago. I reckon a few thousand earthworms would make a big improvement to the soil, but where do I find them? I don't suppose digging up the Olympic venue would make me very popular, but if the government can get hold of 60 million of the critters, there must be somewhere here that sells them. Anyone know where?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Nokia No use

I'm no Luddite, but I sometimes doubt whether mobile phones are entirely a good thing. For one thing, there are the inconsiderate jerks who yak away on them in cinemas and other unsuitable venues. (I was greatly embarrassed recently when mine rang while I was sitting in the public gallery of a magistrate's court, although I thought I'd tuned it off.)

Then there is the invasion of privacy: one used to get home and be asked "Where the hell have you been?" Now you can be called up at any time and asked "Where the hell are you?" And of course they give telemarketers another channel for bothering people.

All of which is by way of introduction to the fact that the Nokia phone I've been happily using for the past few years was becoming harder and harder to switch on and off. Finally I decided the switch had had its day, and took the phone into the Nokia service centre in Causeway Bay. There they took one look at it and instantly declared it too old to fix - "no spare parts". Of course they suggested I trade it in on a newer model.

Hmmm - why would I want to buy a brand that breaks down and can't be fixed? Maybe I should try a Sony Ericsson instead - after all, I've got a Sony TV that's still working fine after 15 years or so.

But really I don't want a new phone at all, just for this one (for which I only recently bought a new battery) to carry on working. I'm not a gadget freak who salivates over the next generation iPhone or whatever. My eyesight is crap, so i don't text muxh and I need a decent sized screen. Most of the newer phones have keyboards too small for my large fingers. I have a PC for Internet access, an MP3 player for listening to music, and a digital camera for taking photos, so I don't need those features in my phone - am I the last person in Hong Kong who just wants to use his phone for voice calls?

Given the number of old phones being discarded, is there any third-party repair service that can cannibalise another phone for the part I need? Or do I just have to resign myself to buying a new one? And how do I choose from the thousands on the market?

One more thing: if I need to buy a new phone, how do I dispose of the old one in an environmentally responsible way? And how many old (but often still functional) phones end up in landfills rather than being recycled?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Get out and don't come back

The abrupt closure of the Tatami Hampton Hotel this week is another blow to Hong Kong's already sagging reputation as a tourist destination. Whatever the legal wrangles over the hotel's ownership, when a private residence changes hands the residents cannot be evicted at a moment's notice. Yet apparently under Hong Kong law it is perfectly legal to toss forty hotel guests, many of whom will have paid for their accommodation in advance and may have little spare money with them, out into the street without warning or compensation. This is simply wrong, and the government and Tourism Board need to work together to ensure that it cannot happen again.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

4 - 1 = H5N1

It's not only ATV News's English that is suspect; their mathematics may need a brush-up as well. On tonight's 7:30 news they translated a Chinese farmer's words as, "Sales went down by a quarter. I sold only 100 ducks when I usually sell 400."

That is not going down by a quarter, that is going down to a quarter. If his sales went down by a quarter, he would be selling 300. It's just as well his sales didn't fall by 90%, or ATV would have had an opportunity to misuse the word "decimate" - though in fairness, most of the population of Britain gets that one wrong too.

So if ATV is so bad, why don't I watch TVB news instead? Mainly because I find them too parochial - TVB usually leads on a domestic story and has less adequate coverage of major international events.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Thanks from all the fish

Do my ears deceive me, or did Belinda Lloyd really say on ATV news last night that floods in southern China had made many houses inhabitable?

Does ATV employ any competent writers or editors? Do the reporters actually think about what they are saying? Does anyone care except me?

Monday, June 16, 2008

And now for something completely different (from reality)

A couple of weeks ago, when it became known that leaked Hong Kong police records had appeared online, the first reaction of Police Commissioner whatshisname was to appear on the TV news claiming that police computers are secure. Immediately after him, Security Secretary Ambrose Lee appeared to reassure the public that government computers are secure.

So, that's all right then.

In other recent Hong Kong Government announcements:
> Sharon Stone to be guest of honour at Olympic Games.
> Falun Gong to be Hong Kong's official religion.
> Monty Python's parrot "not dead".

Most pretentious job title of the week

PARKnSHOP is advertising for a Replenishment Assistant - or as it used to be known, a stock checker.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Among my possessions

The publishers of HK magazine are advertising for a new editor for their other publication, The List. Among the stated requirements is this:
"The applicant should possess a university graduate".

I didn't know slavery was still legal in Hong Kong - but at least our slaves are well educated.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

But wouldn't it be more comfortable horizontally?

The text on this paper towel dispenser in Guangzhou's Baiyun International Airport suggests that China's programme to improve the English on signs in Beijing for the forthcoming Olympics has not been extended to other provinces.

Incidentally, why do all new airport terminals look as if they were designed by Norman Foster? (or perhaps they are all designed by Norman Foster?)

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Advertisement for Myself

Unlike the near-confessional detail of some blogs, I generally keep my personal life out of this one, but today I will make an exception; the fact is, I am looking for work. I have no idea who reads this apart from a small number of friends and family, but maybe it will reach someone appropriate, who knows?

If you, or someone you know, is looking for help with copywriting, editing or proofreading of English language documents of any sort - reports, proposals, corporate profiles, correspondence, website text, press releases, advertising and promotional materials, speeches and presentations, procedure manuals, etc. - I can probably help, whether it's a single page or a major project.

In addition to 15 years experience of providing corporate communications services for many clients, including numerous well known brands and leading companies, I also have extensive experience in business process improvement. I began my career in systems development, moved into IT systems quality management, then broadened my scope to quality management in the wider world.

I have been involved in projects as varied as ISO 9001 and 14001 compliance; Business Process Reengineering; the development of strategic plans and business plans; creation of mission and vision statements; Balanced Scorecard preparation; conducting job evaluations; compiling competency profiles; developing training plans and curricula; job evaluation and preparing job descriptions; and the odd bit of teaching thrown in.

I am also a published writer (not just here!) who has had about 40 articles appear in magazines.

If any of this sounds useful, please get in touch (serious enquiries only, please). You can leave a comment here to contact me - as the blog is moderated, I will receive it but it won't be published online. And by the way, I also have a bunch of qualifications ranging from an MBA degree to an advanced certificate in food hygiene, despite which I won't charge you an arm and a leg!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Dead People Day

I have quite a few things I want to write about, but no time to do so. But I did just want to mention the passing of Bo Diddley at age 79 - of the six towering figures who shaped early rock'n'roll, he is probably the one who earned least recognition (and money), despite his songs being recorded (or ripped off) by everyone and his dog. Now he's joined Elvis and Buddy Holly in rock'n'roll heaven. 54 years after it all started, we should be thankful we still have Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Little Richard around.

And today is of course June the 4th. Take a few moments to remember, because after 19 years, there are many people in positions of power who would prefer you to forget.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Open Letter to a Hollywood Heartthrob

"I'm not happy about the way the Chinese are treating the Tibetans because I don't think anyone should be unkind to anyone else. And then this earthquake and all this stuff happened, and then I thought, is that karma? When you're not nice that the bad things happen to you?"

--Sharon Stone

Dear Ms Stone,

I am sure you mean well, and I'm not happy about China's treatment of Tibet either, but are you aware of the following facts:

  • > The mountainous western part of Sichuan, where the earthquake struck, was historically part of Tibet before China annexed it.
  • > Many, perhaps the majority, of the people in this region are ethnic Tibetans.
  • > China is not a democracy.

So are you saying that Tibetans are being karmically punished for the way a government they did not choose and have no control over treats their ountry? And is it "kind" to tell five million people who have lost their homes, their possessions, their jobs and in many cases their children that it's their own fault for having the misfortune to live in a dictatorship?

How do you apply your theory to the events in Burma? Already suffering the karmic burden of having to live in a country controlled by a corrupt clique of crooks, many of them are now suffering a double dose of bad karma from the recent destructive cyclone.

Furthermore, if people's misfortune can be seen as a karmic payback for the evil done by their government, how do you view 9/11? After all, a succesion of elected American governments has done a lot of questionable things in various countries around the world.

In fact, do you even know what you are saying? Or should you do a little more research and analysis and thinking things through before making political statements in future?

Private Beach

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Getting a bit above ourselves, aren't we?

ATV's English news on Thursday night seemed to have scored an exclusive scoop, with its bold statements that "Premier Wen tells ATV ..." this and "Premier Wen told us..." that. That is, until you saw the accompanying visuals: yes, dear, you and the fifty reporters from other media outlets who were also present. Don't get over-excited, OK?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Leeches and Vampires

I received my first fake Burma cyclone relief email yesterday, headed RECOVERY FUND NOTIFICATION, and purporting to be an appeal for the Burma cyclone victims - it doesn't take these leeches and vampires long before they scent blood to suck.

The usual email scams are bad enough, but taking advantage of disasters to divert well-intentioned help away from people who have lost everything already is unspeakably sick. I hope these scammers rot in hell where they belong.

If you want to help in Burma (or China), make sure the help really gets to those who need it. World Vision, for example, has aid workers on the ground in both countries getting help to the needy.

Making It Better:
World Vision Hong Kong

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

...but would Beijing like it, Donald?

"Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man."

--attributed to Saint Francis Xavier, founder of the Jesuits

Did you notice that Donald Tsang couldn't resist crossing himself during the three-minute silence for China's earthquake victims yesterday? Once a good Catholic boy, always a good Catholic boy.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Hong Kong's Multifarious Musea

How many museums do you reckon Hong Kong has? Ten? Twenty?

Try closer to fifty, many of them little known even to locals. The best known are probably those managed by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, but others are run by other government departments, public bodies, educational institutions and private organisations.

Here is a list:

1. Aberdeen Country Park Visitor Centre
2. Airport Core Programme Exhibition Centre
3. Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
4. Dr Sun Yat-sen Museum
5. Fanling Environmental Resource Centre
6. Fireboat Alexander Grantham Exhibition Gallery
7. Flagstaff House Museum of Teaware
8. Health Education Exhibition and Resources Centre
9. HKMA (Hong Kong Monetary Authority) Information Centre
10. Hong Kong Correctional Services Museum
11. Hong Kong Film Archive
12. Hong Kong Heritage Discovery Centre
13. Hong Kong Heritage Museum
14. Hong Kong Housing Authority Exhibition Centre
15. Hong Kong Immigration Museum
16. Hong Kong Maritime Museum
17. Hong Kong Museum of Art
18. Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence
19. Hong Kong Museum of History
20. Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences
21. Hong Kong Planning and Infrastructure Exhibition Gallery
22. Hong Kong Police Museum
23. Hong Kong Public Records Building
24. Hong Kong Racing Museum
25. Hong Kong Railway Museum
26. Hong Kong Science Museum
27. Hong Kong Space Museum
28. Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre
29. Hong Kong Wetland Park
30. Lantau Link Visitors Centre
31. Law Uk Folk Museum
32. Lei Cheng Uk Han Tomb Museum
33. Lions Nature Education Center
34. Madame Tussaud’s
35. Museum of Ethnology
36. Ping Shan Tang Clan Gallery
37. Plover Cove Country Park Visitor Centre
38. Po Leung Kuk Museum
39. Sai Kung Country Park Visitor Centre
40. Sam Tung Uk Museum
41. Sheung Yiu Folk Museum
42. Shing Mun Country Park Visitor Centre
43. Tai Mo Shan Country Park Visitor Centre
44. Tao Heung Foods of Mankind Museum
45. Tsuen Wan Environmental Resource Centre
46. Tung Wah Group of Hospitals Museum
47. University Museum and Art Gallery, The University of Hong Kong
48. Urban Renewal Authority's Information Centre
49. Wan Chai Environmental Resource Centre

There may be more, depending on how you define "museum". For example, many of the buildings declared as ancient monumnets by the government are open to the public, though not formally classified as museums. And many other places have museum-like collections of memorabilia, such as the Hard Rock Cafe's display of rock artefacts.

Please add a comment if you know of any I've missed.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Bluntly Awful Songs

I think I may be going mad. This morning I heard a song on the radio, thought, "that sounds nice,", then found it was by James Blunt. Only I don't like James Blunt - I thought his massive hit "You're byoo-dee-farl" was horrible, at least in part because someone smart enough to graduate from my old university should at least have learned how to pronounce "beautiful" properly.

I am not alone in this dislike: readers of The Sun in Britain voted the song the most irritating of all time. I am happy to say I have not heard most of the others in their Top 10 (an unintended benefit of living well out of the western cultural mainstream in Hong Kong), though The Macarena certainly deserves its place on the list (and Shout doesn't).

Several of the same songs turn up on Rolling Stone's Top 20 list, while another poll provides a few more to avoid, as does this one, while a BBC viewer suggests that football songs are the most annoying. Another BBC respondent there suggests that the whole Cantopop genre should be condemned, which seems a bit harsh even to those who have had the misfortune to hear Twins attempting to sing....

My own list probably betrays my age: I would certainly include the following:
> Copacabana by Barry Manilow
> Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep by Middle of the Road
> Mickey by Toni Basil
and of course anything by Michael Bolton, whose voice I find intolerable.

Ultimately what such lists prove is that there's no accounting for taste: I actually enjoy a few of the songs listed - Tub Thumper, for example - while even the worst of them (My Humps, anyone?) sold millions, so someone somewhere must like them. Which doesn't make them bearable - after all, millions of people voted for George W. Bush.

IQ Test for Americans

Email received this morning:

United States Department of the Treasury
Over 130 million Americans will receive refunds as part of The White House program to jumpstart the economy. Our records indicate that you are qualified to receive the 2008 Economic Stimulus Refund.
The fastest and easiest way to receive your refund is by direct deposit to your checking/savings account. Please follow the link and fill out the form and submit before May 17th, 2008 to ensure that your refund will be processed as soon as possible.
etc., etc. Since I'm neither an American citizen nor a US taxpayer (who would want to be, considering the USA is one of only two countries in the world to tax its citizens on their worldwde income, even if they're non-resident?), it was easy for me to recognise this as an obvious phishing scam. But I wonder how many US taxpayers, eager to get their refund quickly, will fall for it and hand over their bank account details to a complete stranger?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Race for the White House (geddit?)

Quote of the Day:
"Hillary Clinton ended Tuesday night with a big victory in West Virginia, showing once again that old, white, poor, uneducated people really don't like young, witty, urbane, well-educated black men. Quelle surprise."
--Chip Collis, How Obama WON Tuesday, in The Huffington Post (also known as Huffpost), the essential blog for anyone interested in American politics.

Another Huffpost quote today:
"7% of the voters in West Virginia voted for John Edwards. Faced with a black man and a white woman, these voters chose a white man who isn't running. And these are Democrats."

--RJ Eskow, Even The Racists Are Deserting Hillary. Eskow goes on to say, "The 'black candidate is unelectable' discussion is one Democrats usually hold in private. In public they're supposed to say :'If you won't vote for my opponent because of his race, I don't want your vote.' (Wink, wink.) Hillary broke that rule..." "To succeed in politics, you have to deal with ugly facts sometimes. Here's one ugly fact: Some voters won't vote for a black man. Here's another: Some of the same voters won't vote for a woman. It's foolish to think you can advance the rights of one group by inflaming prejudices against another. The best way to fight racism or sexism is to fight all prejudice."

The irony here is that Edwards, the "white man who isn't running", endorsed Obama, the black man who is, after the primary. Bye bye, Hillary.

Meanwhile, following up yesterday's post, two news snippets from the BBC:
"Nearly 15,000 people died and 25,000 are still trapped in the earthquake that hit China, official media say."
"The UN sharply increases to 2.5m its estimate of those severely affected by Cyclone Nargis in Burma."

Another BBC report on the dire conditions in Burma here. And a quote from another BBC report yesterday:
"In the former capital Rangoon, itself badly damaged by the cyclone, one man summed up the frustrations of a nation. 'When we had demonstrations last year the soldiers were everywhere,' he said. 'Where are they now?'"

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Tale of Two Disasters: Compare and Contrast

I've been critical of China often enough in this blog - most recently only yesterday - so it's only fair that I should give the Chinese government credit when they get something right. There could hardly be a greater contrast than that between the handling of two natural disasters: the Sichuan earthquake and the Burmese cyclone.

Within hours of Monday's deadly earthquake in Sichuan Province, which has killed at least 12,000 people so far and left possibly hundreds of thousands homeless, the Chinese government had rushed rescue teams into the area, and 50,000 troops are hard at work locating survivors and clearing blocked roads to enable supplies to reach the area. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao was quickly on the scene to demonstrate the central government's concern and assess the situation for himself. China has also welcomed offers of assistance from overseas, and journalists are apparently free to visit and report on the earthquake zone.

"We must treasure every second and do our utmost to save survivors," Wen is quoted as saying - not a message that appears to have reached Burma, where the callous clique of bandits in uniform that runs the country is still hindering relief efforts, almost two weeks after Cyclone Nargis swept over coastal communities, killing more than 34,000 people according to the latest official figures (probably grossly understated).

Although as many as 1.5 million people now face homelessmess and the threat of disease and starvation, the Burmese regime continues to deny visas to international aid experts and to confiscate relief supplies arriving in the former capital Rangoon (Yangon) - reportedly either diverting them or relabelling them to appear to be from the Burmese military. The long standing ban on foreign reporters (who might tell the truth about conditions in the country) is also still firmly in place, with the government seemingly committing more resources to enforcing it than to solving the problems reported on.

Some aid is trickling through, but so inadequate and tardy has been the official response to the disaster that even the mormally impeccably doiplomatic United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, rarely directly critical of UN member governments, has described it as "unacceptably slow".

Meanwhile Burma's military rulers, whose greed, corruption and mismanagement have achieved the rare feat - rivalled by Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe - of transforming a country rich in natural resources from one of the wealthiest in its continent to among the world's poorest, remain holed up in paranoid seclusion in their isolated slave-labour-built new capital Naypyidaw, at the opposite end of the country from the storm-struck Irrawaddy Delta, showing no signs of any genuine concern for the plight of their people.

So, is this a case of "China good, Burma bad"? Well, not quite - real life is seldom that black and white. The murderous Burmese junta's main trading partner, and strongest overseas backer, is China...

P.S. Immediately after posting this, I turned to Spike's blog to find him saying something very similar, with the added thought that the US Government's response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 more closely resembled Burma's than China's - lest we forget.

Making It Better:
China donations - Oxfam Hong Kong
Burma donations - Hong Kong Red Cross

Interesting Reading

"If file sharing is destroying the music industry, then how did Warner Music Group increase its sales in the first quarter 7 per cent to $989 million?"
From the latest issue of (Bruce Springsteen biographer) Dave Marsh's periodic email newsletter Rock & Rap Confidential (just linking those two genres is already an unorthodox move). Sign up for it here.

"The severity of Chinese repression in Tibet since [1959] is well-documented. There is severe repression of Tibetan Buddhism, which in 1997 was labeled as a “foreign culture” Virtually all classes in secondary and higher education in Tibet are taught in Chinese not Tibetan, resulting in a high drop-out rate among Tibetans. Urban development has generally benefited Chinese immigrants, large numbers of whom have moved to Tibet and who are now about 12% of the population in the Tibet Administrative Region. Tibetans are routinely detained for long periods without charge or sentenced to long prison sentences for peacefully advocating independence or maintaining links with the Dalai Lama. Torture and ill-treatment in detention is widespread. Freedom of expression is severely restricted. Peaceful political demonstrations are invariably broken up and their participants arrested. Tibetan culture is treated as inferior to Chinese culture, and most key posts in the government and the economy are held by Chinese. Those few Tibetans who are able to enter Chinese government service do so at the cost of alienation from their own people and culture. Tibet’s environment and natural resources are ruthlessly exploited in the interests of China."
Hong Kong's Law Society commissioned Senior Counsel Paul Harris, an expert in constitutional law, to write an article examining the legal basis of the case for Tibetan independence, then chickened out of publishing it. Fortunately maverick publisher (and well known campaigner for the rights of minority shareholders) David Webb displayed more testicular fortitude - you can read the whole article on his site.

Monday, May 12, 2008

How Global Is That?

You may not have noticed that yesterday was the Global Day of Prayer, with prayer gatherings in many countries, including one at the Hong Kong Stadium.

Strangely, for an event that claims to be global, only the world's 2.1 billion Christians appear to have been invited to the party. Missing from the invitation list were 1.5 billion Muslims, 900 million Hindus, 376 million Buddhists, 23 million Sikhs, 14 million Jews, 7 million Baha'is, 4.2 million Jains, 4 million Shintoists, 2.6 million Parsees, 600 thousand Rastafarians, and hundreds of millions of other faiths (figures from this site). Now, if you could only get all that lot praying together, you might even get me to join in.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Just horsing about

Headline from today's South China Morning Post:
"The government said yesterday it would not welcome anyone who "seeks to damage the solemnity" of the Olympic Games in Hong Kong."
Solemnity? Excuse me? We're talking about a bunch of people riding horses around here, not a funeral ceremony.

Monday, May 05, 2008

If the epithet fits, wear it

"Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."
--Dr Samuel Johnson

News reports of Friday's Olympic torch relay in Hong Kong stated that some peaceful protesters were physically threatened by elements of the pro-Beijing rentacrowd supporting the relay. "Goons and thugs", anyone?

In Macau's torch relay on Saturday, the ratio of athletes to Beijing toadies (19 out of 120) was even lower than in Hong Kong.

This site has some interesting points to make about the whole kerfuffle:

* The Olympic torch relay is not an ancient Greek tradition, but originated as a publicity stunt for Nazi Germany in 1936.

At that time, Germany's ally Japan was preparing for its bloody invasion of China, which resulted in millions of Chinese deaths. Today the 1936 Games are mainly remembered for two things: Leni Riefenstahl's magnificently crafted propaganda films, and black American sprinter Jesse Owens making a nonsense of Hitler's theories of white racial superiority.

* The Chinese translation of “Olympic flame” has misinterpreted it as “Olympic sacred flame”.

This is psychologically significant because it makes any protest against the torch relay not a political act, but an act of sacrilege. So an atheist regime has God on its side ...

Friday, May 02, 2008

Running Out of Ideas

It seems appropriate that it should be raining on the day of Hong Kong's Olympic torch relay, which is kicking off as I write. Leaving aside the issue of human rights in China, public interest in the event has already been severely dampened by the yawn-inspiring selection of 120 runners chosen to carry the torch.

While no one would dispute the right of first and last runners Lee Lai-Shan and Wong Kam-Po to participate, some of the others between them are odd choices indeed. Sports people get less than half the slots, with past medal winners for Hong Kong in the Asian Games and (before 1997) Commonwealth Games being left out in favour of an ill-assorted bunch of clapped-out pop singers (apparently representing "culture", the other half of HK Olympic boss Timothy Fok's LegCo constituency), big company bosses and never-clapped-in politicians. It's rumoured that even the Donald wanted to take part, but his advisers warned him (correctly) that this would be seen as one ego-trip too far.

Imagine you have trained your butt off to do your best for Hong Kong in your chosen sport, then find the Olympic torch being carried instead by the likes of grumpy old man Tsang Hin-Chi, whose only known exercise routine is to open his mouth to say "Yes" to Beijing and chide as unpatriotic those who disagree with him.

The reason given for selecting all these non-sporting figures is apparently to "represent the various sectors of the community". Apart from the glaring omission of major sections of the public (any trade union leaders? any democrats?), if the government really wanted to involve the community, they would have staged the relay yesterday when the community was on holiday and people could come out to show their support, not today when they're all back at work.

"Bah, humbug!" is the only appropriate response to this whole mismanaged event.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Way You Do the Things You Do

Immediately following the horrific train accident in China a couple of days ago, Chinese authorities immediately dismissed two senior officials of the railway, then announced that an inquiry would be held to determine the cause of the crash.

Wouldn't it make more sense to hold the inquiry first to determine who was at fault before taking action against anyone? And if they already have a scapegoat to carry the can, why do they need an inquiry?

Meanwhile, following today's disastrous bus crash which saw (at last count) 18 people on their way to church here in Hong Kong come face to face with God sooner than they expected, transport officials insisted the road is safe because they've put up plenty of warning signs telling motorists not to exceed the speed limit. Yeah, knowing Hong Kong drivers, that would really stop them speeding ...

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Made in China

You may think this is exaggerated, but as so often in life, reality outstrips fiction: the BBC reports that Tibetan flags used by anti-Olympic protesters may have been made in China.

Most Olympic protests have focused on Tibet, but the South Korean leg of the torch relay highlighted another stain on China's grubby human rights record - the forcible return of thousands of refugees who have fled repression and starvation in North Korea to a regime which is known to imprison and even execute them on their return.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Suffer Little Children

"What does it mean to speak of child protection", asked Pope Benedict on his recent US visit, "when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today?"

It means that millions of people worldwide, unlike an alarmingly high percentage of Catholic priests, are able to enjoy erotica without being inspired to sexually abuse young children. The Church is supposed to aspire to higher standards, not blame its failings on society's temptations.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Stealing from the slightly richer to give to the poor

Trailer on TV for a coming current affairs programme (maybe the Pearl Report, but I wasn't really paying that much attention; this is from memory):

"Hong Kong's health system is breaking down under the pressures of an aging population and the rising cost of new medical technology. Who will pay to reform it, if not the middle classes?"

Er, the rich?

Uh-oh, what am I saying, forget I said that, don't even think about it.
This is Hong Kong.