Beijing Made Itself Look Pathetic

Every now and then the Big Lychee blog has some bit of writing with which I fully agree and which I couldn’t possible improve upon. This is one example.

If the Chinese government had some halfway decent public-relations advice, it would have allowed the three Hong Kong student activists tovisit Beijing on Saturday. It would have given them a meeting and photo-op with a barely medium-ranking official from a vaguely ‘relevant department’, arranged a brief tour of the Great Hall of the People, and seen them off at the airport with a pat on the head and goody bags full of T-shirts and panda bear refrigerator magnets. In other words, humour them as a busy but generous-spirited mature adult would any naïve kids.

But of course, no. The Chinese Communist Party could never get its head around something so subtle. In a world divided between abject shoe-shiners and enemies to
be crushed – and nothing else – Beijing had to make itself look childishly vindictive. By barring entry to its own citizens as if they were undesirable foreigners, the Chinese government also blatantly contradicted its own official line that Hongkongers belong to the motherland. (Asia Sentinel has a good piece on how the insistence that Party = Nation is alienating younger Hongkongers and Taiwanese.) And by acting scared of a clutch of geeky teenagers, Beijing made itself look pathetic and the scrawny bespectacled kids look strong.


Good HK Background Pieces from NYTimes and HBR

From the NY Times, a profile of CY Leung (excerpts below):

Mr. Leung, 60, is the man on whom President Xi Jinping of China is relying to quell the enormous pro-democracy demonstrations that have gripped this financial capital and pose one of the biggest challenges in years to Communist Party rule. At the same time, Mr. Leung has become a main target of the protests, blamed for authorizing the riot police to tear-gas the protesters and seen as a symbol of Hong Kong’s lack of democracy.

Hong Kong iPhone Rant

Well, not really a rant. Just frustration.

If you were to go to the US Apple web site today (as I did just now), you can buy an unsubsidized iPhone 6 and wait 7 to 10 days for shipping.

If you go to the Hong Kong Apple web site today (as I did just now), you cannot buy an iPhone 6. It just says “currently unavailable.”

I tried the system for reserving one for pick-up in a store that day. Woke up at 7:50, got to my computer and just started hitting refresh. Up until 7:59, come back later. At 8 AM, a code. You have to send an SMS with that code to Apple and they send you a reservation code. You then have to input that on the web site. But I was unable to get my SMS delivered until almost 8:20 AM. 20 minutes of “not delivered/try again.” And the result was no phone.

Apple announced that they sold 10 million iPhones on opening day. It’s probably more like, took 10 million orders. Reportedly they are manufacturing 400,000 per day through their various out-sourced suppliers.

Here in Hong Kong, those people who are lucky enough to get through buy as many as they can. (You’re allowed 2 iPhone 6’s and 2 iPhone 6 Plus’s per order.) Mostly they are not buying them for themselves. They’re buying them to sell at a profit.

Word is that all of this reselling is causing Mong Kok prices to drop, but if you consider that the top of the line iPhone 6 plus was selling for up to HK$20,000 in Mong Kok (against a list price of roughly HK$8,000), a 25% drop in price still makes it too damned expensive. And with the drop in prices, there are reports that people are now hoarding them to bring to HuangQiangBei in Shenzhen to sell there. I’ve seen friends posting photos of their purchases on Facebook. Now and then I’ll leave a comment asking if they’d sell one to me and the response is invariably, “No, I want to wait a few days and see how much profit I can make.”

Yesterday the Hong Kong police failed to arrest some smugglers who were loading boxes of iPhones onto a boat in Sai Kung at night. They left behind 15 boxes with 130 phones. Who knows how many they got away with?  We can certainly guess how they managed to get so many.

I’m not going to pay a premium to get one. And I’m not going to order one through a mobile company such as 3 or SmarTone as I don’t want to get stuck into another 2 year contract.

So I just have to wait. It’s just a pain waking up before 8 every morning and sitting in front of the computer only to be disappointed. Frustration grows and my desire to get one grows in proportion to my inability to get one.

Here’s a site that’s tracking availability of iPhones in local shops.  I have no idea of how accurate this information is.  C refers to the shop in Causeway Bay, I to the shop in IFC in Central, F for Festival Walk in Kowloon Tong.



Of course all of this insanity is because the iPhone 6 isn’t available legally in China yet. I almost wonder if Apple has colluded with the Chinese government to make them scarce here to take HKers’ minds off democracy.

I mean, let’s face it, there is no good news in Hong Kong these days. Here are just a few headlines from today’s paper:

  • Rafael Hui got secret $11m payment from Beijing
  • Scuffles break out as students call on CY Leung to meet for talks on political reform
  • Ex-housing boss to lead arts hub (so it won’t be an “arts hub” much longer, but who ever expected promises to be kept?)
  • Thousands join Hong Kong students’ democracy protest as classroom boycott begins (okay, a grand statement, but it won’t change a thing)
  • Ex-civil servant who poured boiling water on maid avoids jail
  • Beijing to take a more active role in Hong Kong’s affairs (so “one country two systems” didn’t make it 15 years, let alone the promised 50)
  • One in five Hong Kongers “considering emigration” as pessimism hangs over city
  • Beijing shifts from indulgence to hard line on Hong Kong

And lets not forget about how last week Hong Kong’s air pollution hit new record highs as Guangdong factories went full-speed to pump out as much product as they could before the week-long break starting next week.

So yeah, I’d rather think about getting an iPhone 6 because the real news is just too fucking depressing.

UPDATE: Yes, writing this post unjinxed me. This morning I was able to get through the reservation system and have a iPhone 6 reserved for pick up today. Last night while doing some checking around, I found that local Chinese language web sites DCFever and HKGolden have hundreds if not thousands of ads for iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. While most people are asking for relatively extreme mark-ups, there are also quite a lot listed at just HK$100 or $200 above the regular list price. One sort of tip for HKGolden – if you’re trying to register there, I’m told they will actually only accept registration from certain email domains. In other words, I was unable to register using my email addresses from Gmail, Yahoo or Netvigator. One friend, who works for the local government, told me he had to use his government email to be able to successfully register there.

“The Hong Kong Government Sides With the Rich”

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.



This is How Stupid & Petty China Is

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 …


One and a Half Billion Chinese Like Shitty Music

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.

A Reminder That Hong Kong is Part of China

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.





New Music From Graham Earnshaw

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.

Day Dreaming

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.)

China – Job Outlook Not So Hot

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.