Category Archives: China

“The Hong Kong Government Sides With the Rich”

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Great front page article in the NY Times today.  Some excerpts:

A surge of discontent is washing over this harbor city of 7.2 million people

the underlying resentment voiced by many here is that the city’s political-business machine is rigged against them.

an elite beholden to the Chinese Communist Party has increasingly dominated the economy and opportunity, as well as politics.

“The government has sided with corporations, the rich.”

dissatisfaction with the way the Chinese government was handling Hong Kong at its highest level in a decade, with 52 percent of Hong Kong residents saying they were dissatisfied. Alienation runs highest among the young, with 82 percent of people ages 21 to 29 saying they were dissatisfied, and 65 percent of people in that age bracket saying they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with life in the city.

But the city’s income inequality has risen since China resumed sovereignty

Communist Party elite and their associates play an increasingly prominent role in the city’s business establishment. Six of the 10 biggest companies on the Hong Kong stock market’s Hang Seng index are Chinese state-owned companies, with chief executives who are appointed by the Communist Party.

Critics say Chinese patronage politics has warped the economy, shutting out qualified people and skewing wealth distribution.

“Hong Kong nowadays becomes corrupt, and becomes not performance-driven but relationship-driven.”

The Chinese government has promised to allow the popular election of the chief executive starting in 2017, but it has indicated it would retain control of choosing candidates to weed out those not loyal to Beijing.

China has already said it rejects the proposals for nomination by public petition, which would allow potential candidates to bypass a nominating committee dominated by Beijing loyalists.

“I am personally extremely disappointed and in many ways very pained to see what is happening to Hong Kong barely 17 years after the handover.”  Anson Chan

Happy days are here again. This land was made for you and me. Maybe not so much.

 

 

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This is How Stupid & Petty China Is

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From the SCMP today:

Mainland customs have detained a shipment of paper boards to be used for making ballot boxes and voting booths at a Hong Kong unofficial referendum on electoral reform, the poll’s organisers said on Thursday.

It is not immediately clear about the amount seized and if the confiscation will affect the plan on Sunday.

Paper. Blank paper. Oh my lord.

The government of the “Peoples” Republic of China is now afraid of blank paper?

Just as a reminder, Article 27 of the Basic Law: Hong Kong residents shall have freedom of speech, of the press and of publication; freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration; and the right and freedom to form and join trade unions, and to strike. 

Article 30: The freedom and privacy of communication of Hong Kong residents shall be protected by law. No department or individual may, on any grounds, infringe upon the freedom and privacy of communication of residents except that the relevant authorities may inspect communication in accordance with legal procedures to meet the needs of public security or of investigation into criminal offences. 

I hearby call upon the government of China to arrest the customs officers who have confiscated this shipment of BLANK paper because they have violated the Basic Law.

Okay, it’s a bit of a stretch …

 

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One and a Half Billion Chinese Like Shitty Music

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Okay, I’m sure not all of them like this. But apparently a lot do. From an article in the NY Times.

But no mystery is more confounding than that of China’s most enduring case of cultural diffusion: its love affair with “Going Home,” the 1989 smash-hit instrumental by the American saxophone superstar Kenny G.

For years the tune, in all its seductive woodwind glory, has been a staple of Chinese society. Every day, “Going Home” is piped into shopping malls, schools, train stations and fitness centers as a signal to the public that it is time, indeed, to go home.

One recent Saturday afternoon, as the smooth notes of “Going Home” cooed repeatedly over the ordered chaos of Beijing’s famous Panjiayuan Antiques Market, hawkers packed up their Mao-era propaganda ashtrays, 1930s telephones and “antique” jade amulets while the last bargain hunters headed for the gates.

To ensure no stragglers miss their cue, the melody plays on a loop — for the final hour and a half.

According to a manager, Panjiayuan has used the tune since 2000. She did not know why.

“Isn’t it just played everywhere?” she asked.

For a generation of Chinese youth, “Going Home” has featured prominently on the soundtrack of their lives.

Mao Xiaojie, a junior at the Communication University of China in Beijing, said, “They’d play it over and over again at wedding banquets.”

Her classmate Zhang Dawei had more academic associations. “This is what they put on when they’re kicking us out of the school library,” he said.

Emma Zhang first encountered “Going Home” in a cafe many years ago, and then at home, at school, in bookstores, shopping malls and health spas, and on the street. “I used to think the tune was really nice and catchy,” she said. “But now I’m sick of it.”

Decades of easy listening to this one recording, with its undertones of social engineering, have led to certain habits. “Whenever I hear ‘Going Home,’ I finish things faster,” said Cheng Gang, 35, who works in finance.

On the popular Chinese video-sharing website Youku, “Going Home” accounts for four of the 10 most-played videos in the saxophone category, with 313,786 plays over the last three years.

“Nobody knows why the Chinese even like Kenny G so much,” said Jackie Subeck, a music and entertainment consultant from Los Angeles who has been doing business in China for 12 years. She first heard “Going Home” in China in 2002, when it was blasting on her hotel television. At the time, Ms. Subeck was trying to help establish a music royalty collection process in China, so the popularity of “Going Home” was more bitter than sweet. “That song’s on nonstop play and doesn’t collect a penny,” she said.

To add insult to injury, Ms. Subeck was once delayed for hours at the old Beijing airport, where the food court was playing a loop of Kenny G music videos. “We just sat there drinking beer and watching incessant Kenny G,” she recalled. “It was terrible.”

Which is my cue to break out an excerpt from Pat Metheny’s famous Kenny G rant.

Stepping back for a minute, if we examine the way he plays, especially if one can remove the actual improvising from the often mundane background environment that it is delivered in, we see that his saxophone style is in fact clearly in the tradition of the kind of playing that most reasonably objective listeners WOULD normally quantify as being jazz. It’s just that as jazz or even as music in a general sense, with these standards in mind, it is simply not up to the level of playing that we historically associate with professional improvising musicians.

Not long ago, Kenny G put out a recording where he overdubbed himself on top of a 30+ year old Louis Armstrong record, the track “What a Wonderful World” … when Kenny G decided that it was appropriate for him to defile the music of the man who is probably the greatest jazz musician that has ever lived by spewing his lame-ass, jive, pseudo bluesy, out-of-tune, noodling, wimped out, fucked up playing all over one of the great Louis’s tracks (even one of his lesser ones), he did something that I would not have imagined possible. He, in one move, through his unbelievably pretentious and calloused musical decision to embark on this most cynical of musical paths, shit all over the graves of all the musicians past and present who have risked their lives by going out there on the road for years and years developing their own music inspired by the standards of grace that Louis Armstrong brought to every single note he played over an amazing lifetime as a musician. By disrespecting Louis, his legacy and by default, everyone who has ever tried to do something positive with improvised music and what it can be, Kenny G has created a new low point in modern culture – something that we all should be totally embarrassed about – and afraid of. We ignore this, “let it slide”, at our own peril.

I once found myself on the same flight as Kenny G. He held the bathroom door open for me so I didn’t kill him. Please don’t tell Pat Metheny.

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A Reminder That Hong Kong is Part of China

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If headlines are designed to draw your attention and make you read the article, this one in the SCMP today certainly succeeded: Hong Kong bloggers could be affected by rumour law, experts warn.

So from the headline alone, I got worried. I am, after all, a Hong Kong blogger. So, on to the article, starting with a first paragraph that reads like a third.

Microbloggers in Hong Kong could also fall under the mainland’s new rules on internet rumours if Beijing considers their posts “seriously prejudicial to national interests”, legal experts warn.

Fortunately, the second paragraph put my fears to rest.

The mainland’s judicial authorities recently declared that anyone who posts an online message deemed to be defamatory and forwarded more than 500 times or viewed more than 5,000 times could be jailed for up to three years.

Saddly, I must admit that to the best of my knowledge, no post on this site has attained that level of popularity.

Hong Kong has its own legal system and enjoys judicial independence. However, legal experts in the city and on the mainland warn that people in the city who use mainland sites to post microblogs, known as weibo in Chinese, could still face the legal consequences.

While mainland police can’t make an arrest in the city and there is no extradition between the two sides, people who post “libellous messages” could be detained and charged if they cross the border, said Professor Dong Likun, a senior research fellow at the mainland-based Institute of Hong Kong and Macau Affairs, a think tank under the State Council’s Development Research Centre.

“If the weibo posts in Hong Kong disseminate false remarks with malicious intention and cause serious damage to the rights of the mainland [government], the mainland [government], as a victim, can sue the person [in Hong Kong] according to the damage,” he said.

Alternatively, the mainland government “can take legal action under the mainland laws once the person is found to be on the mainland”.

Now the kicker:

Dong said both options were complicated and would only be used in “very exceptional cases”.

[Professor Zhao Yun] also said he believed mainland authorities would adopt a more lenient threshold against Hong Kong residents when it came to applying the new rules.

One would like to believe from the preceding two paragraphs that all of this stuff is relatively benign. But maybe not so much.

Weibo have become increasingly popular in the city. Sina Weibo has 2.5 million Hong Kong users, according to a company report released this year.

Because many Hong Kong weibo users have amassed a strong following on the mainland, some microbloggers in the city are concerned about the possible effects of the new law.

One veteran mainland journalist based in Hong Kong whose Weibo account has attracted a million followers said: “I hope I can survive in this tense environment.” He refused to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.

 

 

 

 

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New Music From Graham Earnshaw

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Graham Earnshaw and I have been friends for almost 20 years. We met online long before I even thought of moving to Hong Kong and when I did move here, it didn’t take him very long to decide to leave town and move to Shanghai. The first time I visited him in Shanghai, in October 1997, he was singing at the bar at the Mandarin – he’d translated Sting’s “An Englishman in New York” into Shanghainese and changed a few lyrics to make it “An Englishman in Shanghai.” And in the mid-00′s, he was one of the owners of Shanghai’s Park 97 bar, which meant I could always get a table there at 1 in the morning with whatever ragtag retinue I’d assembled that night.

All fine and dandy you say, but just who is Graham Earnshaw? Graham’s been there and done that – journalist, businessman, musician, film extra and sushi eater. He was one of the only foreign journalists in Tiananmen Square when the tanks rolled in. He was accused of being a spy by North Korea and claims to have started the first rock band in China. He’s lived the kind of life that makes everyone else feel like an under-achiever. It’s the sort of tale that one day will be made into a film that will have people comparing him to Harry Flashman and Biggles, except in his case it’s all true.

Hit this link to read a bit about his adventures.

So aside from having been a journalist, translator and businessman, he’s also a musician. He’s released a few CDs over the years – generally the proceeds all go to charity. From time to time he’ll send me a track to comment on and tonight he sent me this link. It’s his latest song, The Motive.  As he puts it, “A comment on a key issue of the day – online monitoring by the powers-that-be. The location of the point of view is somewhere western. As to the opinion expressed, whatever it is, my place of residence is probably not irrelevant.”

So please, click here, check out his latest song, and then leave a comment either on his soundcloud page or over here.

Bonus! Seems as if you can find anything on Youtube and here’s a video of Graham singing at the British Embassy in Beijing 30+ years ago.

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Day Dreaming

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I made a quick trip up to Shenzhen this afternoon. Living in Tai Po, it’s really easy for me to get there – just 3 stops on the train, I almost don’t even have to think about it.

I was on my own and had a leisurely lunch in the Lo Wu mall – not at Laurel, which is probably the best place to eat in the mall, but almost always has a long line as a result. I went to the place on the 4th floor – is it called Lee Yuen? Something like that. I’ve eaten here a lot – it’s never going to be “great” but it’s always good enough.

I ordered three items off the dim sum menu and a pot of tea. They serve the tea nice here. A small pot, with the leaves and a strainer on top. A second pot of hot water, sitting on a stand, a candle underneath to keep the water warm.

I had my iPad with me – I almost always forget to take it with me when I head up there. I sat there eating slowly, taking my time. You can smoke in Shenzhen restaurants, something I definitely appreciate. So I read a few magazines on my iPad, sipped my tea, smoked my cigs, ate and it’s like I was in a bubble, in a good way. The world just slipped away, my cares and my woes and all the stress I’m carrying on my back lately along with it.

Since I work in Wanchai, I tend to eat lunch in the Wanchai bars every day. Delaney’s, Spicy, White Stag, Canny Man, Queen Vic, China Hand, those places. There’s always people there at lunch time drinking beer or wine. I’m not jealous of those people at all, but I suspect they’re pretty happy with the way their lives have turned out.

For me, I think I’d be pretty happy if I could do a two hour dim sum lunch every day, just sit there in my bubble, reading, not thinking about much of anything. My life hasn’t worked out in such a way that I can do that – but the fact that I can do it sometimes doesn’t exactly suck either.

And despite the heat and humidity today, I got home before 6 PM in a very good mood indeed.

Movies watched so far this weekend – Olympus Has Fallen (a blatant Die Hard rip-off with a blah Gerard Butler that still manages to be entertaining), The Great Gatsby (I hate to see a director I like stumble so badly, may write more on it later).

I’ve also been watching a new Showtime series – Ray Donovan. He’s a “fixer” for a Hollywood lawyer with two brothers with a lot of baggage and a very wicked father who just got out of the joint. It’s not terribly original. But it’s got Liev Schreiber, the always amazing Jon Voight and the always weird Elliott Gould. The first season’s half over and I don’t think it’s going to get where it wants to get, but it’s entertaining enough. (It also has a lot of cable TV series sex scenes, definitely NSFW, and I have to wonder about the reactions of people sitting next to me on the bus who might glance over at my screen at certain moments and think “this crazy gweilo is looking at porn on the bus!” So far at least no one has complained.)

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China – Job Outlook Not So Hot

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Here’s some disturbing facts.  Another 7 million are about to graduate from universities in China. Ten years ago they had 2 million grads a year. This is a big thing. Except, many of these new graduates aren’t going to find jobs, or will find jobs that they are way over-qualified for.

Businesses say they are swamped with job applications but have few positions to offer as economic growth has begun to falter. Twitter-like microblogging sites in China are full of laments from graduates with dim prospects.

Graduating seniors at all but a few of China’s top universities say that very few people they know are finding jobs — and that those who did receive offers over the winter were seeing them rescinded as the economy has weakened in recent weeks.

A national survey released last winter found that in the age bracket of 21- to 25-year-olds, 16 percent of the men and women with college degrees were unemployed.

But only 4 percent of those with an elementary school education were unemployed, a sign of voracious corporate demand persisting for blue-collar workers. Wages for workers who have come in from rural areas to urban factories have surged 70 percent in the last four years; wages for young people in white-collar sectors have barely stayed steady or have even declined.

Relatively slow growth is still creating enough jobs to provide full employment for the country’s blue-collar workers. But much faster growth may be needed to create white-collar jobs for the graduates pouring out of universities.

One response, endorsed by the State Council, is to urge more graduates to take jobs at small, private companies. But a generation of people who grew up under the government’s “one child” policy has proved risk-averse and slow to join or set up new companies.

Chinese students have been gravitating toward majors that are perceived as academically less demanding but likely to lead to careers in banking. Business administration and economics majors have proliferated, partly because the country’s many new private universities find them inexpensive subjects to teach. Programs in engineering and other sciences, with their requirements for costly labs, have grown more slowly.

As in the West in recent years, financial services is an extremely popular field among college graduates, who besiege banks, brokerage firms and other businesses in the sector with job applications. Ministry of Human Resources statistics show that average pay for banking sector employees, at $14,500 a year, is twice the level of pay in sectors like health care and education.

Graduates from the best universities still have a strong chance of finding a job, particularly if they do not set their sights too high. Lin Yinbi, a senior graduating in trade and economics from the prestigious Renmin University in Beijing, said that he had job offers from a heating company and a supermarket chain, but was still applying for a well-paid bank job.

Wang Zhian, a prominent Chinese broadcaster whose microblog has more than 200,000 followers, created a stir this spring by recommending that college graduates take jobs packing and unpacking homes for moving companies.

So, plenty of jobs still for factory works and janitors and waiters. But everyone wants to work in a bank. An educated middle class with high rates of unemployment is probably not going to sit around idly waiting for things to get better. And if there’s one thing the Chinese government fears more than anything else, it’s social instability.

 

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The Nightmare of Modern China

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NY Times: China’s Great Uprooting: Moving 250 Million Into Cities. Hit the link for the full article and accompanying slideshows. Some excerpts:

China is pushing ahead with a sweeping plan to move 250 million rural residents into newly constructed towns and cities over the next dozen years — a transformative event that could set off a new wave of growth or saddle the country with problems for generations to come.

The government, often by fiat, is replacing small rural homes with high-rises, paving over vast swaths of farmland and drastically altering the lives of rural dwellers. So large is the scale that the number of brand-new Chinese city dwellers will approach the total urban population of the United States — in a country already bursting with megacities.

Across China, bulldozers are leveling villages that date to long-ago dynasties. Towers now sprout skyward from dusty plains and verdant hillsides. New urban schools and hospitals offer modern services, but often at the expense of the torn-down temples and open-air theaters of the countryside.

China has long been home to both some of the world’s tiniest villages and its most congested, polluted examples of urban sprawl. The ultimate goal of the government’s modernization plan is to fully integrate 70 percent of the country’s population, or roughly 900 million people, into city living by 2025. Currently, only half that number are.

Top-down efforts to quickly transform entire societies have often come to grief, and urbanization has already proven one of the most wrenching changes in China’s 35 years of economic transition. Land disputes account for thousands of protests each year, including dozens of cases in recent years in which people have set themselves aflame rather than relocate.

Some of these problems could include chronic urban unemployment if jobs are not available, and more protests from skeptical farmers unwilling to move. Instead of creating wealth, urbanization could result in a permanent underclass in big Chinese cities and the destruction of a rural culture and religion.

On the ground, however, the new wave of urbanization is well under way. Almost every province has large-scale programs to move farmers into housing towers, with the farmers’ plots then given to corporations or municipalities to manage. Efforts have been made to improve the attractiveness of urban life, but the farmers caught up in the programs typically have no choice but to leave their land.

The primary motivation for the urbanization push is to change China’s economic structure, with growth based on domestic demand for products instead of relying so much on export. In theory, new urbanites mean vast new opportunities for construction companies, public transportation, utilities and appliance makers, and a break from the cycle of farmers consuming only what they produce. “If half of China’s population starts consuming, growth is inevitable,” said Li Xiangyang, vice director of the Institute of World Economics and Politics, part of a government research institute. “Right now they are living in rural areas where they do not consume.”

Farmers are often unwilling to leave the land because of the lack of job opportunities in the new towns. Working in a factory is sometimes an option, but most jobs are far from the newly built towns. And even if farmers do get jobs in factories, most lose them when they hit age 45 or 50, since employers generally want younger, nimbler workers.

This has been tried experimentally, with mixed results. Outside the city of Chengdu, some farmers said they received nothing when their land was taken to build a road, leading to daily confrontations with construction crews and the police since the beginning of this year.

But south of Chengdu in Shuangliu County, farmers who gave up their land for an experimental strawberry farm run by a county-owned company said they receive an annual payment equivalent to the price of 2,000 pounds of grain plus the chance to earn about $8 a day working on the new plantation.

It’s failed everywhere else in the world, so why not do it in China?

One thing that occurs to me – aside from everything else, herding people together into shitbox highrises will make them easier to keep track of and control.

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Say Goodbye to Rice

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Last Sunday afternoon I was in Mong Kok with a friend. It almost seemed as if Portland Street, in the area around the Langham Place shopping mall, was nothing but Mainland Chinese pulling wheeled suitcases behind them – loading them up with whatever shopping they were there to do. At this small pharmacy on a side street, there was a line out the door and I watched woman after woman come out holding as many packages of Pampers as they could carry.  I’m thinking to myself, “This is what they come here to buy? They can’t find Pampers in Shenzhen? Is the price so much cheaper in HK?”  I don’t know the answers to those questions.

What I do know is that a couple of days ago The Atlantic ran a piece on deadly rice in Guangzhou. This is not the first article I’ve come across on this topic though it is the first one I noticed in western media. It does go deeper into the, ahem, root cause of the problem.

The latest in China’s rolling cascade of food safety disasters comes from Guangzhou — the capital of Guangdong province in southern China, and one of China’s largest cities — where 44 percent of rice samples were found to contain poisonous levels of cadmium. That rice was being served to unsuspecting diners in restaurants around Guangzhou.

Unlike many other Chinese food scandals – rat meat sold as lambmilk tainted with melaminedead pigs in the river – the cadmium-laced rice isn’t just the result of unprincipled food providers trying to cut costs. Instead, it’s a reflection of the heavy levels of heavy-metal pollution that can be found throughout China’s farm lands. The country loses $3 billion a year to soil pollution.

While it’s less outrageously stomach-churning than, say, rat meat masquerading as mutton, the “cadmium rice” scandal, as the media has named it, is much harder to fix. Health inspectors can crack down on fake meat. But the soil pollution crisis is the result — and a telling example — of layer upon layer of state planning gone awry. Here’s why.

No ministry is accountable for regulating soil pollution, and earlier this year, the State Council pushed back setting up a soil pollution prevention system from 2015 to 2020. That’s despite the fact that between 40 percent  and 70 percent of China’s soil is already contaminated with heavy metals and fertilizers. That results in toxic levels of lead in a third of China’s rice and high levels of cadmium in another one tenth of it.

The government categorizes soil pollution levels as a “state secret.”This despite the fact Chinese academics have long been documenting the toxic effects of soil pollution — for example, one Chinese scientist found that the soil in at least half of China’s provinces and administrative zones is severely contaminated. The authorities have declined to publish the results of the first national survey of soil pollution, started in 2006; scholars involved in the project say the government has suppressed the preliminary findings.

It’s not just industrial runoff — it’s farmers, too. In addition to being a major agricultural producer, Hunan, where the rice was grown, is also a major producer of non-ferrous metals — one likely contributor to the high cadmium levels. In the last few years, a rising number of Hunan agricultural products have been found to contain toxic substances. And despite widespread soil pollution, there aren’t restrictions on planting in polluted soil, say academics. Plus, farmers use a lot of of phosphate-based fertilizers that contain cadmium, which is expensive to remove. One scientist estimates that improper disposal of fertilizer means that farmers leave around 65 percent of it to pollute soil and water. But the shortage of land and water resources leaves farmers with little choice.

The central government encourages this toxic production because it desperately wants farmers to grow rice. The pressure on farmers to produce comes from the government, which is anxious to keep food supply — and, therefore, prices — stable. Not only does it encourage high output, but it sets a minimum price for rice and other staples. Any time the price dips below that threshold, the government buys up rice from farmers and socks it away in the state rice reserve. And it bumped that up another 10 percent  at the beginning of this year, even though it was already way higher than international market prices.

Local governments flout regulations with impunity. There so far has been no reaction from the authorities in Hunan, where the rice originated,reports Xinhua. Meanwhile, the local Guangzhou Food and Drug Administration initially ignored laws requiring it to tell the public which brands contained the toxic substances, which companies had sold and distributed it, and what the health risks were. Though it eventually bowed to pressure and named the manufacturers and the brand of the “cadmium rice,” it still hasn’t released details.

Click over to read the rest of this very interesting article.

The whole baby milk powder thing didn’t personally affect us; there are no kids in our house.  But rice? If people start swarming over the border and buying every sack of rice in Park & Shop and Wellcome? That’s going to be a big problem – for everyone of course, not just for me.

And let’s face it, if 40-70% of China’s farm soil is polluted, that means this is in more than just rice. How much of our produce comes from China? According to the New York Times, 92%.

Here’s an excerpt from an article in the New York Times from last October that partially discusses this issue, in light of the rise in demand for organic produce locally:

Kimbo Chan knows all about the food scandals in China: the formaldehyde that is sometimes sprayed on Chinese cabbages, themelamine in the milk and the imitation soy sauce made from hair clippings. That is why he is growing vegetables on a rooftop high above the crowded streets of Hong Kong.

“Some mainland Chinese farms even buy industrial chemicals to use on their crops,” Mr. Chan said. “Chemicals not meant for agricultural uses at all.”

As millions of Hong Kong consumers grow increasingly worried about the purity and safety of the fruits, vegetables, meats and processed foods coming in from mainland China, more of them are striking out on their own by tending tiny plots on rooftops, on balconies and in far-flung, untouched corners of highly urbanized Hong Kong.

“Consumers are asking, will the food poison them?” said Jonathan Wong, a professor of biology and the director of the Hong Kong Organic Resource Center. “They worry about the quality of the food. There is a lack of confidence in the food supply in China.”

That, as it turns out, is one of the good things about living in Tai Po. This is farm country. We have an elderly neighbor who has taken a liking to my gf and she has this habit of giving her some of whatever she’s picked in nearby fields that morning.  Tai Po has several wet markets and all of them have vendors selling locally grown, organic produce. Yes, you pay a little bit more. But more and more, it’s worth it.

Hong Kong is totally unprepared to become a shopping center for China’s every day needs. Oh sure, let them scoop up all the gold and Rolexes and shitbox apartments they want. But daily staples? I predict things are gonna get a lot uglier here.

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How Does Hong Kong Get Out Of This?

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milk

 

So today, I go out to this alleyway between two buildings, which is where a lot of office workers go to smoke.  I see this piece of paper taped up on the wall and, as you can see from the above, it’s some ad for buying baby milk powder. And I thought to myself, this is how someone starts a business now, this is where someone sees an opportunity, that they have some source for cans of this stuff and are doing some kind of, well, I don’t know if it’s illegal, probably not, but some kind of odd business.

How did things get to this? First start off with a shitty, corrupt government in China. And then with some people (not all, and probably not most, but some) who are so willing to put profits above the sanctity of human life that they start selling bogus milk powder laced with cheap chemicals that are actually poison. They don’t care that it’s poison. It’s profit. No, don’t ask me what happened to these sick people that they got that way, the point is that they did.

And so people in China no longer trust the baby milk powder supply. They don’t trust the manufacturers. They don’t trust the government to police it. They don’t trust that the shops are selling what they say they’re selling.

And for some of them, they’re close enough to Hong Kong and rich enough that they can get a visa and come down here and buy some.  And then some people get the idea to start bringing cases of it across the border to sell at a profit. So the supply chain gets overwhelmed and there’s none left for local families. So the government attempts to stop it by, possibly illegally, putting a two can limit on cross border immigration.  And despite that, a lot of it is still going over the border. Two weeks ago in Shenzhen, I saw people gathered just outside the train station loading up carts with dozens of cans of the stuff.

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We need this stuff.  This is, no joke, one of the things that fuels our economy. Because without milk powder to feed the babies, mothers can’t go out and work, and it takes two incomes (or preferably three) now to be able to afford some Sun Hung Kai shitbox in the middle of nowhere. No milk powder, moms have to stay home and the economy collapses.

Let me tell you – when I lived in Hong Kong from 1995 to 1999, I never went to Shenzhen.  Why would I? There was nothing there. Then in the early 00′s, when I did start going, for 35 RMB Peking duck and 80 RMB saunas, you’d come out of immigration in Lo Wu and it would be like walking out of the Port Authority bus station in New York.  Damned unpleasant. Something to be endured. Some place to fight your way through until you reached civilization.

Over time that changed. Lo Wu got (mostly) cleaned up. You come out of that train station now, it’s clean and nice and the only people who bother you are those trying to bring you to their knock-off shops in the shopping mall.  And hey, some time try going over the Shenzhen Bay Bridge to Nanshan district. Gleaming new office towers and housing. Tree lined streets with public art and parks everywhere. Elevated outdoor shopping malls. I’d be thrilled to work there.

Because Chinese people got rich. Maybe not as rich yet as Hong Kong people but it’s going that way. They say that in 10 years salaries in Shenzhen are going to be as higher or higher than they are in Hong Kong. I think it’s gonna be less.

And now we don’t go to Shenzhen.  Shenzhen comes to us. Because the RMB is stronger than the HK dollar, shopping is cheaper in Hong Kong for luxury goods and imported goods, and they come flooding across the border buying not just gold and jewelry and homes, they buy whatever they can carry back in over-sized wheeled suitcases.

The people in China got rich. At least some of them. Because the government there made a deal with the people. “We’ll make you rich as long as you keep your mouths shut and let us have absolute power and every now and then kill a few thousand just because they think democracy might be a good idea. You keep your mouth shut, look the other way, and you can have a Rolex and an SUV.”

Meanwhile, most of the people in Hong Kong did not get rich. Many got poor, or poorer. Because there is no such deal in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is owned and run by six companies that have a vested interest in keeping people ever-so-slightly above the poverty line so that they can continue to buy goods from these despots without ever challenging their reign.

Hong Kong minimum wage law? That works out to around HK$5,000 a month. That’s US$650 a month. That’s why people live in cages in Sham Shui Po or subdivided fire traps in Mong Kok. Tell me you’ve had a day where you don’t see an 80 year old man or woman digging through a garbage can for discarded beer cans and bits of cardboard, pushing some cart up a steep hill to a recycling center to get enough money for a bowl of porridge. “Please, sir, I want some more.” “More? You want more?”

Dock workers? They aren’t allowed to leave their 5×5 cages during their entire 12 hour shift. No lunch break. No toilets – they have to shit in their cages and wrap the shit in newspapers and carry it down at the end of the day.  Guess who owns the docks? Li Ka-Shing. Sure, he can claim that he only owns the place, he doesn’t supervise it, he’s out-sourced that. You think one word from him wouldn’t give them a 30 minute lunch break? But he doesn’t want that. It might cut into his profits. Because the US$30 billion he’s got apparently isn’t enough.

C.Y. Leung wants to contribute $100 million of Hong Kong’s money for disaster relief in Sichuan. What about disaster relief in Hong Kong? Because, yes folks, there are indeed some people doing well here. Some folks are making lots of money. But they’re a tiny minority. All of the statistics show the gap between rich and poor is getting wider. That the number of people living below or near the poverty line is increasing.

And so Hong Kong gets overwhelmed by mainland Chinese demands for goods available here to the point that there’s nothing left for the people who actually live and work here.

I mean, check out this post from Hong Wrong about how the massive drop in gold prices last week led to people flooding over the borders to buy gold here and literally cleaning out the shops.

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This week it’s gold. This year it’s milk powder. What’s next? Rice? Petrol? This is our new normal. Better get used to it.

So I tried to think of a solution. Something came to mind.

What? Throw out one country two systems now. Open the border. Let Chinese rules apply here.

Because once China steps in, maybe the first thing they’ll do is get rid of the Li Ka-Shings and Sun Hung Kais and New Worlds, breaking up their tight fisted oligopolies over ever corner of our market, or at least forcing the market open to real competition – because none of these pigs could survive a day when they’re not colluding with each other on prices and telling the government what laws to pass.

Sure, it’s gonna mean that we get censorship. The Great Firewall of China will sit over our Internet. But there are ways around that. Our newspapers suck. But they already suck. Universal suffrage?  Were we ever really going to get it anyway?

Well, okay, maybe not.  Let’s face it, all it would probably mean is that we’d get a bunch of new companies owned by families of army generals and politicians. Probably we’d have poison milk powder too.  We’d still be bad off, just in a different way.

So, no, I don’t know what the answer is. I do know that the system we have now ain’t working and our fearless leaders don’t have any more clue than I do on how to fix it.

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