Thursday, October 31, 2013

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Another great Hong Kong achievement

Interesting to see that Hong Kong's Avenue of Stars rates number 2 in CNN Travel's list of The World's Twelve Worst Tourist Traps.  Can someone please publish a Chinese translation where it will be seen by prospective visitors from you-know-where?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

There is Not Here or Is It?

Since leaders of Hong Kong's Occupy Central movement met with a former President of Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party recently, they have been subjected to a flood of vilification by the usual pro-establishment suspects here -- despite the fact that another former DPP President held talks with Chinese officials in Hong Kong not long ago.

Beijing has always insisted that Taiwan, despite its de facto independence since 1949 and half a century of Japanese occupation earlier in the 20th century, remains an integral and inseparable part of China.  But yesterday Charles Yeung, Chairman of the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, was quoted by TVB news as saying that he is worried about Occupy Central organisers working with "foreign political forces".

So are the Taiwanese lost children of China who should be clasped to the forgiving bosom of the motherland, or subversive foreign troublemakers who need to be kept at a safe distance?  I think we should be told.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Odd One Out

So, goodbye Lou Reed.  According to Brian Eno, not many people bought the Velvet Underground & Nico album first time around, but everyone who did went out and started a band.  Sorry Brian, I guess I'm the exception that proves the rule.  But I've been a Lou fan ever since, and apart from seeing him live in the 1970s, I was lucky enough to catch the Velvets reunion tour in 1993.  Though my original copy of the first album is long gone, I also own more Velvets box sets (vinyl and CD) than I have space for.

Lou was notoriously tough on journalists, who commonly asked him stupid questions and got things wrong (not that he was above feeding them contradictory stories for the hell of it), so he would not have been too surprised to see the BBC report that he was survived by his second wife  - in fact Laurie Anderson was his third, not counting the mysterious Rachel.

There are millions of musicians, but only a handful change the direction of music: Lou was one.  And even Susan Boyle recorded one of his songs...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Stop Wining

Isn't it time LegCo stopped bashing poor old Timothy Tong?  Far from spending public money unwisely, it is obvious that the former ICAC chief was merely trying to single-handedly rescue Hong Kong's wine trade in the face of slumping high-end sales in the mainland.  Hong Kong has, after all, been declared a wine hub, and as we all know, hub status is sacred in the eyes of the government.  Anything that threatens hubness must be defeated, so far from being reviled, surely Tong should be awarded the GBM (Great Boozer Medal) for his valiant efforts. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

A good talking to

If the story that some mainland students at City University signed up for a lecture advertised as being presented in Cantonese then insisted the lecturer speak Mandarin is true, it suggests there is something wrong with the university's admission criteria.  Clearly anyone too stupid to understand that "presented in Cantonese" means "presented in Cantonese" lacks the intelligence to benefit from a university education, and should never have been given a place.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Selective Infection, Casablanca Style

TVB news reported on a Consumer Council study of toilet paper which found that one brand, BBB, was contaminated with bacteria that could cause infection.  However, "the distributor insisted that only the tested batch had the bacteria".

Yeah, sure, whatever.  Of all the toilet rolls in all the bathrooms in all the world, those pesky little bacteria just had to walk into that one...

Thursday, October 17, 2013

TV Public and Private

Credit to the Hong Kong government where it's due: watching the Legislative Council TV feed this morning, I noticed that they now show a sign language interpreter in the corner of the screen.  My memory may be at fault, but I think this is new - long overdue, of course, but welcome all the same.

Unfortunately, the government's limitless capacity for ineptitude is on full display in another matter: the granting of TV broadcasting licenses to only two of the three applicants - and one of them the notoriously incompetent PCCW.  What makes this unacceptable is the government's refusal to let the public know the reason for the decision.  They have hinted that it's because they don't feel the failed applicant, HKTV, can succeed financially, but in a supposedly free market, why not let all three have a go and fight it out in the marketplace for viewers?  "Let the market decide" is supposed to be Hong Kong's credo, isn't it?  If one fails, it won't be the first time - remember CTV?  (And it won't necessarily be one of the three newcomers - though the mighty TVB is probably unruffled, ATV will certainly not welcome increased competition.)

At the same time, Commerce Secretary Greg So (who seems increasingly intent on competing with Paul Chan and Eddie Ng for the "minister least trusted by the public" title) argues that the government cannot release the reason because some of the information supplied by the three companies is confidential.  Why?  They are applying for a share of a public resource - the limited bandwidth available for broadcast television - so why doesn't the public have a right to know on what basis that resource is allocated?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Let me see if I've got this straight...

So, after Hong Kong property prices rise into the stratosphere, making a home unaffordable for anyone who doesn't have one already, the government finally recognises that the market is "overheated".  To fix this, they introduce extra stamp duty on property, making it even more unaffordable.

With me so far?  Good.  Now after months of this, the market is almost dead.  No one can afford to buy, so no one can sell.  So some developers start making promotional offers, including stamp duty rebates, in an effort to get the market restarted.  This, our esteemed Chief Executive solemnly declares on last night's news, "could have a negative impact on the property market".

So, let me see if I've got this straight.  The government makes property more expensive in order to make it more affordable.  Then when this bizarre policy somehow actually starts working, with developers effectively lowering their prices, far from welcoming this, the government pronounces it to be unhelpful.
You couldn't make this stuff up, could you?  Does anyone understand what's happening?  I can see two possible explanations:
  1. The government doesn't know what the hell it's doing; or
  2. despite its proclaimed commitment to more affordable housing, the government is secretly conspiring to keep prices out of reach of aspiring homeowners.
Take your pick...  I plump for number 1, but this being Hong Kong, number 2 isn't totally unthinkable.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Lies, Damned Lies, and People's Daily Statistics

I have studied statistics three times in my life: for my Economics A Level, my BSc and my MBA.  Each time, I have learned enough to pass the required exam, then promptly forgotten most of it.  What has stuck with me, however, is a profound awareness of how statistical evidence can be twisted to support a point of view, and consequently a deep scepticism about many of the statistics I read.  Whenever I see statistics being cited to support an argument, I instinctively start to ask questions.
On TVB news last night, Caroline Mak, Chairwoman of the Hong Kong Retail Management Association, was attempting to argue that the influx of mainland shoppers was beneficial to Hong Kong.  In ten years, she said, retail sales in Hong Kong have gone up by 158%.  However, she admitted that the number of retail sector staff has only risen by 22%, and the number of shops by 13.5%.  This undermines her own argument, since it reinforces the belief of most Hong Kong people that the influx of mainland shoppers has done little to spread prosperity in the SAR - creating only a small number of extra jobs at the grassroots level, while bringing massive profits to the luxury goods chains and a handful of big commercial landlords.

Mak also argued that "retail space is often overlooked in land planning".  Really?  How come every single government proposal for the Wanchai-Central Shopping Mall Bypass included retail facilities, even though the government insisted that it made only the minimum necessary encroachment on the harbour?  How come the airport acquired a second terminal which serves more shops than airlines?  Let's get real here.

Even more unreal is the People's Daily article arguing that Hong Kong needs more mainland immigrants for its economic development.  Setting aside the article's (deliberate?) misquoting of Professor Chow Po-chung of CUHK, its statistics are highly questionable.  The education level of new immigrants, it claims, is continuing to rise, with 17% now having received tertiary education against 28% of the existing Hong Kong population.  However, this is an inappropriate comparison.  The Hong Kong figure includes many old people now in their 70s. 80s and above who never had the opportunity for higher - or sometimes any - education.  Since most new arrivals are in younger age groups, the appropriate comparison would be against the corresponding age groups in Hong Kong, and would certainly be far less favourable to the immigrants.

Much is being made of the need for more workers to support Hong Kong's growing elderly population, and the People's Daily suggests that the influx of new arrivals can help alleviate this burden.  However, Hong Kong government figures show that the majority of these arrivals fall into low income groups, with over half seeking public housing, and a large percentage also seeking to receive social security.  In other words, far from helping relieve the pressure on Hong Kong's beleaguered middle class, they are in fact adding to its burden.  Furthermore, the percentage from provinces other than Guangdong is growing, meaning that their children need additional educational support to thrive in local schools.

Disclaimer: this article only presents statistical analysis for academic research purposes.  I cannot suggest that pouring large numbers of lowly-skilled people into what is already one of the world's most crowded places may be a bad idea, in case I am accused of prejudice against them.  (But it is.)

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Not very appealing

Is there anyone left at the Pro-China Morning Post who knows English?  This headline on their website suggests not.

Nancy Kissel can appeal all she likes against her husband's murder, but that won't bring him back from the dead.  What they presumably mean is appeal against her conviction for her husband's murder - a very different thing.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Hidden in plain sight

The recent article by British Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire saying that Britain stands ready to help Hong Kong in its move towards full universal suffrage has brought the expected response from the pro-Beijing crowd, all indignant at the idea that China could possibly have anything to learn from foreigners (funny how many of them, including Chief Executive CY Leung, send their kids to British schools - not to mention that China officially proclaims its allegiance to a political creed originated by a German Jew).

NPC member Rita Fan, one of the many leading political figures in Hong Kong who loyally served the British for years before suddenly discovering their latent Chinese patriotism in 1997, warned people not to be naive about offers of help, saying her experience tells her that governments always have their own hidden agendas (TVB news, 5 October).  So Rita, what's the hidden agenda behind all these offers of "help" and "cooperation" that Hong Kong keeps receiving from your friends up North?

In reality, most "hidden" agendas are pretty transparent.  In this case, Britain has several interests: to ensure the continued successful implementation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the "one country, two systems" principle , lest it be accused of having sold out the people of Hong Kong; to be seen as a champion of democracy; and (most importantly) to maintain stability and the rule of law in Hong Kong in order to keep it safe for continued British trade and investment.

Meanwhile  China seeks to earn the love of Hong Kong people and give them a warm cuddly feeling towards the motherland, with a long-term aim of transitioning from "two systems" to "one country"  So far, many of its efforts in that direction seem to have backfired; flooding us with mainland tourists to help our economy has earned Beijing more enemies than friends here.  Nevertheless, they will keep trying to balance the stick of stern warnings to behave ourselves with the carrot of economic incentives.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

First Adventures in Photography

Scanning some very ancient black & white negatives recently (possibly 50 years old), I was reminded of the camera that produced them.  I have taken pictures with my Dad's Brownie 127 and my grandfather's old Brownie box camera, but the first camera I remember owning for myself in my teens was this little beauty:
The specification was somewhat sparse: fixed aperture, no focus control, no exposure control, certainly no autowind or zoom.  A viewfinder (of sorts) took the form of a foldout metal frame that offered all the accuracy of a Hong Kong government budget forecast.  The lens, though proudly proclaiming itself "bloomed" (apparently this means coated so as to increase its light transmitting power) gave all the fine resolution of a transparent shirt button.
However, this simple piece of equipment did have several advantages:
  • It was dirt cheap (from Woolworths, then still a mighty name in retailing).
  • It took 16 half-frame shots on 127 film, making it economical on film as well.
  • Very little could go wrong with it (though with advancing age mine began to leak light around the edges and needed to be sealed with black tape after changing each film).
Thinking about it for the first time in decades, I Googled "Woolworths camera" and with only a few minutes of research was amazed to find not only these images, but the original instruction sheets (which I don't remember ever possessing, not that they were really needed) and the history of the camera - apparently it dates back to the 1930s, though mine appear to have been the 1950s "updated" model.

And the results: about as good as you would expect, and sometimes better - this is one of the more acceptable examples (not too bad considering it's from a very old negative):
By the way, does anyone have any idea where this is?  I wasn't systematic about keeping photographic records back then, and many of my old shots are a total mystery now.  I only know it's in the UK somewhere.

Anyway, after a couple of years I graduated to a more modern Instamatic and started getting better pictures, though it was still a few more years before I got my first SLR (once I started working and could afford it).  Now we have cameras that do almost everything for you, but don't necessarily give better pictures - just more accurately exposed and sharper lousy ones!

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Excuse me?

According to the BBC, "Reacting to the latest initiative to eradicate tobacco use [in Ireland], a spokesman for smokers' group Forest Éireann told Irish broadcaster RTÉ it was "morally wrong to de-normalise smoking".

Excuse me?  An addictive product kills a large percentage of its users, sickens many more, and is the single largest cause of avoidable premature death in most countries around the world, and these people believe we should consider this normal?  What planet do they live on?