Category Archives: Hong Kong

Hongkietown is 10 – Hello, I Must Be Going

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Today marks 10 years since my first blog post. (See here for more details on that.)

And so, on the 10th anniversary of the blog, it’s as good a time as any to announce that I will be leaving Hong Kong after just over 17-1/2 years here. I’m moving to Manila at the end of January.

I don’t want to be overly dramatic about this but it does represent a seismic shift in my life. The reasons are purely financial – Hong Kong has simply gotten too expensive for me. I never bought a place here back when I could afford one and I will never be able to afford to buy one again. I can’t imagine retiring here and paying Hong Kong rents, or retiring into some government subsidized 300 square foot shitbox. Whether I should or should not have bought a place back when I could have afforded to is immaterial; I didn’t.

I can afford to buy a place in Manila, and quite a nice one at that, close to my office and more than 90% cheaper than a similar place in Hong Kong.  But I cannot afford to simultaneously pay rent in Hong Kong and a mortgage in the Philippines. Add in the age factor – in another year or two, I’ll probably be too old to get a mortgage. It was becoming clearer that it was a “now or never” situation.  And so it’s now. The house is chosen, the down payment made, the mortgage approved, the final papers will be signed before the end of the year.

For the past few years, to paraphrase LCD Soundsystem, Hong Kong I’ve loved you but you’re bringing me down. Hong Kong today is not the Hong Kong I first moved to in 1995 and it is not the Hong Kong I returned to in 2001. It is a territory that is managed by the rich for their own self-benefit. Hong Kong has a government that is controlled at every level by China and the billionaire property developers and has a vested interest in keeping things as they are or in tilting the field in their favor even further. There is no indication that things will change for the better (or my perception of that) in the near or distant future. “Patriotism” has been defined as maintaining the status quo rather than striving for improvement.  I increasingly feel that Hong Kong residents are like the frog in the pot on the stove – the pot starts off cold and the frog never notices how hot it’s getting until it’s too late and the frog is boiled alive.

I don’t mean to go off on a rant here (which I did, but since deleted).  I’ll simply say that Hong Kong is great if you’re rich. It sucks if you’re poor or middle class. This land was not made for you and me.

Yes, I do get that the Philippines is a third world country, or at least several orders of magnitude behind Hong Kong in many ways. I’ll probably find just as much to complain about there, possibly even more. I am not going to pretend that it is some kind of South Pacific island paradise.   I understand that there is crime, corruption and poverty, not to mention an infrastructure badly in need of renewal and upgrade. I know it is the natural disaster capital of the world. I’ve been traveling there on a regular basis since 1997 and I believe I have a good idea of what I am getting into and what the challenges will be.

If I was a millionaire, I might have chosen another destination. Tokyo or Paris or London or even New York. On the other hand, I’m comfortable there, I can find more of the things that I like there (even if some of them are relatively trivial, like Krispy Kreme or Dean & DeLuca), and I can go out at night for a fraction of the cost of going out in Hong Kong.  English is more widely used there and American brands are more widely available. I’m married to a Filipina so a permanent visa is not an issue.

I will still have the same job with the same company and I expect to be returning to Hong Kong every month or two for the foreseeable future, which means lots of opportunities to see friends and I can maintain my PR status.

I’ll still keep writing and photographing but I don’t think it will make sense to have a site called “Hongkie Town” when I’m based in Manila. (I don’t have an idea yet for a clever (or a stupid) name for a Manila blog. Any suggestions?)

I want to keep all of the Hongkie Town content online and available but the odds are that I will move it to a different hosting arrangement. This domain is for sale (along with honkietown.com, the most frequent misspelling of hongkietown.com) if anyone is interested in it.

(I’ll also be selling off quite a bit of stuff before the move – CDs, DVDs, books, furniture, appliances, car, the usual “expat leaving” stuff.)

So there you have it. In less than two months I’ll be saying so long Hong Kong, and thanks for all the fish. It’s been a slice. And thanks to all of you who have kept coming back here and reading my stuff and leaving your comments.

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Thank You Morton’s of Chicago

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For our first anniversary dinner my wife wanted steak. I initially thought about us going to Le Relais De l’Entrecote. We’d been to one of their branches in Paris during our honeymoon and I thought it would be a nice bit of synchronicity to hit their Hong Kong branch. That was until I found out they don’t take reservations.  I was concerned that we would arrive there and there could be a long wait for a table (it’s new here and HKers love to hit new places) and then we’d either wind up standing there waiting for a table for 30 minutes or choosing some nearby place at random. Not a great idea for a special dinner, right?

So I booked a table at Morton’s. I asked for a window seat, which they said they couldn’t guarantee, and I asked them to try as it was our anniversary dinner.

We arrived a bit early and our table wasn’t ready yet so we went to the bar. For my wife, the bartender’s special concoction and for me, a classic dirty martini (which they call a Mortini but it drank just the same). Fifteen minutes after we arrived, still no table, so we told them it didn’t have to be right next to a window as long as it had a view. (The Hong Kong branch of Morton’s is on the 4th floor of the Sheraton in TST, facing Victoria Harbor.)

And here’s what we ate (sharing everything). Oysters Rockefeller, Caesar salad, a 24 ounce porterhouse steak, creamed corn, mashed potato with horseradish and bacon. All of it was fabulous (actually I wasn’t that in love with the horseradish mashed potato, a plain one would have been fine by me). The steak was the star of course. Perfectly cooked, as you would expect in a steak house.  It was so tender and tasty that even though I’d asked for some English mustard on the side, I ended up never touching it. For me, this was one of those time when the saying “the banquet is in the first bite” wasn’t true because we ate slowly and savored every mouthful.

I actually hadn’t been to Morton’s in at least 7 years and I recalled that if you wanted a souffle for dessert, you needed to order it well in advance, and I wanted one of those because my wife had never had one and I know they make them good there. When I asked how long in advance I should order it, the waitress told me we were getting one on the house because it was our anniversary dinner – I asked them to please make it chocolate.

When they brought out the souffle, it had a single candle in it, and they’d written “Happy Anniversary” in chocolate on the plate. Before we could blow out the candle, the waitress pulled out a camera to take our picture as another “gift.”

As I said, my wife had never had a souffle before, and she found it pretty amazing. Two and a half hours after we got there, I asked for the bill and along with that, they brought me an 8×10 photo inserted into a card “signed” by all of the Morton’s staff.

The bill for what we had was HK$1,950 (including 10% service charge and I added in a nice tip on top of that) .  Morton’s isn’t cheap. But when you consider that the two cocktails alone were $300, I thought the price was quite reasonable given what we ate, the size of the portions and the quality of the food. The whole experience added up to a memorable first anniversary dinner indeed.

(No food photos. It was our anniversary dinner. I wasn’t gonna go, “hold on honey, let me get a shot of those oysters before you mess ‘em up!”)

 

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If John Tsang Is Against It, It Must Be Good

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From the SCMP:

Hong Kong’s economic growth for this year could be lower than the government’s earlier forecast of 2.2 per cent, the financial chief said as he warned that the Occupy movement is harming the city’s image as an international financial centre.

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah made the remarks on Monday morning following a night in which Occupy protesters escalated their actions and attempted to lay siege to the chief executive’s office at government headquarters in Admiralty.

“Some student groups have called on people to block government headquarters, and they tried to occupy Lung Wo Road … police have the responsibility to carry out enforcement actions,” Tsang said. ”What these groups have done is very irresponsible. We need to condemn them.”

Although figures from the Hong Kong Tourism Board showed that the number of mainland tourists who visited the city grew 18.3 per cent in October, compared to a year earlier, Tsang said he was not scaremongering when he warned about the impact of Occupy.

He pointed out that the number of visitors from some other places to the city had dropped.

Tsang said the number of property transaction in the first 10 months reached 5,700 a month on average, up 25 per cent on last year. Property prices have also risen 10 per cent in the first 10 months.

Basically, Hong Kong Financial Secretary John Tsang has been consistently wrong in every prediction he has ever made. If he worked in the commercial sector as a CFO, he wouldn’t be able to hold onto a job for more than 2 years, if that, but he’s held his current position for 7 years, mostly because he’s surrounded by even bigger idiots than himself and he’s proven time and again that he’s willing to do the bidding of his bosses.

What Tsang has done as Financial Secretary for seven years has been very irresponsible and we need to condemn him.

UPDATE: Some figures, also from the SCMP:

… the Census and Statistics Department announced yesterday that the city’s retail sales value in October rose 1.4 per cent year-on-year, despite a previous warning from the Retail Management Association that there might be no growth in retail sales for the month.

… official figures showed the city’s overall retail sales value in October rose to HK$38.3 billion. It went up 4.8 per cent in September.

After correcting for the effect of price changes over the same period, the volume of total retail sales in October rose 4.3 per cent year-on-year.

Sales for electrical goods and photographic equipment went up 23.6 per cent. Other consumer durable goods including smartphones went up 67 per cent, and medicine and cosmetics rose 7.6 per cent.

Jewellery, watches and clocks, and valuable goods went down 11.6 per cent, while clothes sales saw a decline of 8.8 per cent.

Caroline Mak Sui-king, chairwoman of the retail association, said the October figure was still bolstered by sales of the iPhone 6, which came out in mid-September. She believed the November figure could be better because tourists now knew how to avoid conflict areas in Admiralty and Mong Kok.

Mariana Kou, investment analyst at equity broker CLSA, said the retail market was significantly affected by the Occupy movement. The number of mainland tourists to the city was high because many tour groups were booked and paid for in advance, Kou added.

So if overall sales are up, when this Mariana Trench-mouth says that the market was significantly affected by the Occupy movement, is she saying that Occupy is actually helping Hong Kong?

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You Gotta Love the Hong Kong Public Hospital System

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What’s the best thing about the public hospitals in Hong Kong? In true Hong Kong fashion, it’s the price. It seems as if anything you need to get done there costs just HK$100 (approximately US$13). And, yes, you can pay using your Octopus card. I wouldn’t be surprised if a heart transplant costs HK$100.

About three months ago I fell down on Nathan Road. Okay, I admit it, I had been drinking (I hardly ever drink alcohol any more and as a result when I do, my tolerance is way down and I keep forgetting that). I was crossing the street, I stepped up on the curb, turned my ankle and came crashing down on my elbow. I could wiggle my fingers and toes so I figured that nothing was damaged.

The pains didn’t go away so after two months, I went to the hospital. They took two sets of x-rays, I spoke with a doctor and they gave me four or five different kinds of pills. HK$100. I had a small fracture on the bone just above my ankle; no damage to my elbow visible in x-rays. They also gave me a follow-up appointment 3 weeks later with an orthopedic specialist.

That follow-up was today. The form tells you that if you’re 15 minutes late, you won’t be seen, so be on time. Nothing there about what if I’m on time and they take more than 15 minutes to get to me. I was on time, even a little bit early. After paying my HK$100 I was taken to a waiting area with 30 seats and at least 60 people waiting.

After 75 minutes, my number was called. The doctor looked at my ankle and touched it once. He said no operation needed. He offered me some pills for the almost constant (minor) pain I’m in but I told him that the ones they gave me last time did nothing. I asked if they had anything stronger. No. Morphine? No. Medical marijuana? No.

Then I said, but what about my elbow, that hurts more than my ankle. He looked at it. He touched it once. He pronounced me a victim of repetitive stress injury. “Tennis elbow.” But I fell on it. Tennis elbow – what’s your job? Computer crap. Tennis elbow.

Okay, so what can I do about it? They can give me a splint. You mean like the support bandage thingie I got from the drug store? No, something a little bit stronger. So he gives me a piece of paper and off I go to the occupational therapy section. After ten minutes there, they give me a piece of paper telling me to come back in 3 weeks. I say to them, all I need is a splint, I can’t get that today? No. I’m in pain, I can’t get something today? Come back in 3 weeks.

And that is one of the reasons that private doctors and private hospitals continue to flourish in Hong Kong.  If you want to get an appointment the same week or you want a doctor to spend more than a minute with you, you have to pay. The public hospital system is over-burdened and constantly challenged by over-worked staff – there are continual shortages of doctors and nurses both because of budget constraints and also the inexplicably controversial issue of bringing in medical staff from abroad.

My company does supply me with medical insurance. And if I go to one of the doctors or clinics on their list, it’s often free. But my experiences in these clinics has been no better than the service I get in the hospitals.

So sometimes I’ll go see my own doctor, most often a Scottish gentleman with an office in Clearwater Bay. He charges between $750 and $1,000 a visit (my insurance will reimburse me around $200) but he’ll spend half an hour with me. And if the pains haven’t improved in the next couple of weeks, I suppose I’ll be giving him a call.

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Beijing Made Itself Look Pathetic

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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.

 

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Clockenflap’s Just 3 Weeks Away

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clockenflap

Clockenflap is Hong Kong’s biggest annual music festival and it’s just three weeks away.  The dates are November 28th through the 30th. It all happens at the West Kowloon Cultural District.

This is just a partial listing of the bands scheduled to appear this year – The Flaming Lips (will they bring along Miley Cyrus?), Mogwai, Tenacious D, Kool & the Gang, Chvrches, Nitin Sawhney, the Lemonheads, Travis, Nightmares on Wax, the Raveonettes, LTJ Bukem, DJ Jazzy Jeff and a host of other international acts, as well as somewhere around 50 local Hong Kong bands, including Noughts and Exes, Shepherds the Weak, the Stray Katz.

They’ve also got a special “family area,” screenings of BAFTA short films, a cabaret tent, all sorts of food and merch options, interactive art installations and an official after party at the nearby W Hotel.

Tickets cost $510 (Friday only), $680 (Saturday or Sunday only) and $1,280 (all three days) in advance, slightly higher at the door. There are also “premium” tickets that get you things like a shorter line for entry and access to a lounge. You can buy tickets in advance here.

 

I’ve got a fractured ankle so I probably won’t be going but I am sure it will be a fantastic event.

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Tawdry Gossip to Distract From Real Issues

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The SCMP must be delighted to have a lurid news story to fill its headlines instead of the ongoing Occupy Hong Kong story. (And, yes, I’m equally as guilty.)

For those who aren’t aware of this story, a 29 year old British, Cambridge-educated employee of Merrill Lynch in Hong Kong has been accused of the murder of two prostitutes. He lives in Wanchai, in one of the newer buildings along Johnston Road. Police were called to his flat where they found the body of a woman with multiple stab wounds. Eight hours later they found the decomposed body of a second woman stuffed into a suitcase left out on the balcony. It’s the biggest crime of its type involving a white person in Hong Kong since the Milkshake Murder more than ten years ago.

The identities of the two women have not been disclosed yet but it would appear that they were both women from Southeast Asian countries who were in Hong Kong on tourist visas, meaning that they were likely working as hookers in the usual Wanchai discos.

This inevitably leads to sidebar stories about how rich expats working in investment banks in Hong Kong lead lives of excess and debauchery. Here’s an article from an idiot who seems to be claiming that it wasn’t his fault that he couldn’t exercise any self control because everything is too easily available in Hong Kong. “Leaving Hong Kong saved my life.” Oh, puh-lease.

This one is somewhat better. Over on Business Insider, it’s from someone named John LeFevre (sounds like an alias to me) writing as “GSElevator,” “things heard in the Goldman Sachs elevator do not stay in the Goldman Sachs elevator.”

I do know that investment banking is a culture of pervasive deviance, particularly in Asia,” he writes. “Hong Kong is a tropical island masquerading as a legitimate city.”

I especially enjoyed this bit. “Before moving to Asia, I highly doubt Rurik Jutting was ever called handsome by anyone other than his mom. He’s what we call a “Twelve” – the term used in Asia to describe an ugly white guy with a young, attractive, usually paid-for Asian girl. He’s a two and she’s a ten.” I never came across that term before!

The thing is that both of these articles treat sex workers like objects and not people. And while it’s probably true that the men are also guilty of this, one would expect that a writer/journalist observing from a distance might take a more enlightened view of what’s going on. 

Most of the women who do this kind of work are generally doing it to support their families; their options often being to earn a few hundred a month in their home country working in a McDonald’s or a few hundred a night (if they’re good) in Wanchai.  They are daughters/mothers/wives forced into this life by the poor economies of the third world countries they come from, made worse for women by the inequality of the sexes that is especially prevalent in poorer countries.

So what all of this means is blame Hong Kong, blame the women, blame everyone except the putz who killed two defenseless women. At least that’s my take on it.

Wait a few months for the trial. Lots more breathless headlines and lurid tales to follow, I’m sure.

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Propaganda

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Waiting for the bus to work this morning. A man from a neighboring village struck up a conversation with me. Just the usual where are you from, how long have you lived here kinds of questions. The bus arrived and we sat together. And then it started.

He told me he read in the newspaper that last year 1,000 HK students were flown to the U.S. to learn how to stage protests. He said he also read that the protesters were being paid $500 to $1,000 per day. I told him that was the blue ribbon guys, not the yellow, but he didn’t hear me. So when he asked me where I thought the money was coming from and I answered “Li Ka-Shing,” that left him speechless – for a moment.

He told me that we will have free elections in 2017 because everyone can vote for the CE. When I told him it’s phony democracy if China is picking the candidates, he said the reason we shouldn’t be able to choose candidates ourselves is so that we won’t elect someone who doesn’t love HK and doesn’t love China. I asked him, “But if some candidate said he doesn’t love Hong Kong, what chance would he stand of being elected?”

And then we reached that guy’s bus stop and he ran off the bus without answering. I don’t think he’ll be so eager to talk to me again.

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It Has Been a Week

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And by that I mean an extraordinarily busy and stressful week. Lots of catching up to do (and several different topics in this one post).

In part, I’ve been dealing with the after-effects of the death of a cousin. This particular cousin was born just two months after my mother and the two were best friends their entire lives, and by “entire lives” I mean that they were best friends for 93 years.  My father used to say that if one of them went to the toilet, she’d have to call the other and tell her about it.

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There was concern over how my mother would handle the news. I’m halfway around the world and have no brothers or sisters. Thankfully I’ve got some amazing cousins. A lot of time spent on emails and phone calls and planning to ensure that my mother would not be alone when she got the news.  Fortunately she seems to be coming through it okay, at least in the short term.

I spent a lot of time in Manila recently, very busy in terms of work and personal stuff, and staying in a hotel with really shitty Internet, basically only fast enough to deal with email. So I’m just getting caught up on all of the news of the past days now.

Friday night I went walking through the “occupied” area of Causeway Bay. It was quiet. Probably no more than a few dozen protesters camped out. It’s possible that there were more people taking pictures of the protesters than protesters themselves.

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(A replica of the giant banner that was hung from Lion Rock earlier in the week.)

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(The original banner on Lion Rock, photo from the NY Times.)

In minor news, “musician” Kenny G was photographed viewing the protesters in Admiralty earlier in the week.  Stunningly, this upset the astonishingly insecure Chinese government. Apparently they feel their country of 1.5 billion people might be threatened by images of a second rate musician who is inexplicably popular in their country looking at some students participating in a bit of nonviolent protest.

And so Mr. G hastily announced that he wasn’t showing support for the students, he was just there as a tourist. Presumably he did this because he had some upcoming concerts in China and didn’t want to see them get cancelled. Which makes one wonder – does a man who has sold more than 75 million albums around the world need an extra million or two so much that he’s willing to throw away any presumed principles to get that money? At this point he’s not already rich enough that he can’t risk getting banned in China?  Kenny G, go home.

(NY Times: Stars Backing Hong Kong Protests Pay Price on Mainland) (HKSAR Film No Top 10 Box Office: Anthony Wong: Without Dignity I Would Rather Not Eat This Bowl of Rice.)

Of course the biggest thing that happened while I was away was C.Y. Leung’s explanation that Hong Kong can’t have true democracy because Hong Kong has too many poor people and majority rule might mean that the majority gets what they want and that the minorities (translation: the rich and the super rich) would be under-represented and might somehow suffer.

It’s a tacit admission that Leung (and those who came before him) have done nothing to deal with the issues of poverty and inequality in Hong Kong. They don’t have to, because they are not elected, and so they are not accountable to the general population.

Leung said that if candidates were nominated by the public then the largest sector of society would likely dominate the electoral process.

“If it’s entirely a numbers game and numeric representation, then obviously you’d be talking to the half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than US$1,800 a month [HK$13,964.2],” Leung said in comments published by the WSJ, the FT and the INYT.

It’s a stunning display of ignorance of how democracy works in other countries. Because most if not all democracies will put laws in place to protect the rights of minorities (and by “minorities” I don’t mean “billionaires,” I mean ethnic, gender, religious and so on).

Let’s look no further than the United States. How do the minority rich protect their assets there? First of all, by donating massive amounts of money to finance the campaigns of the candidates they like. It works. The Koch Brothers. In the United States, huge numbers of people vote in favor of tax regulations that only benefit the rich and are actually to the detriment of the poor. The Tea Party. There’s no reason this wouldn’t work in Hong Kong.

Oh, I get it. The rich might have to spend one or two percent out of their billions that they don’t spend today in donations to candidates. But it’s something they’ve already been doing for decades one way or another. The British rich started it, the Chinese rich just follow their lead. Hmm, foreign influences? (SCMP: How Hong Kong’s business elite have thwarted democracy for 150 years.)

For once, Big Lychee says it best. “It is stunning and grotesque to see a Marxist sovereign power declare that its mission is to shield a small, mainly hereditary, landed oligarchy of hyper-wealthy from the poor (not to mention a large chunk of the in-between middle class).”

Now, a few excerpts from an interview that good ole CY did on ATV a week ago.

Leung: So we have a situation where one side wants civic nomination and the Basic Law doesn’t allow for it. And therefore some students have actually come up to say that we should amend the Basic Law. Now we all know … (Host: That’s never gonna happen.) Ever since the Basic Law was promulgated in 1990 and came into force in 1997, it has not been amended.

Which is not entirely true. There have been additional “instruments” added, reinterpretations and decisions. So the mechanism does exist to do this. I am not aware of anything that says that the Basic Law is carved in stone and cannot be amended for all eternity.

A constitutional reform of this nature and scale is pretty unprecedented in Hong Kong and the world at large, and we could expect controversies.

“Unprecedented in … the world at large”? Oh, like when women were given the right to vote in other countries? I’d say the precedent is there in every country. A constitutional amendment to free the slaves maybe? And as for the “we could expect controversies,” what’s the issue there? We don’t have a “controversy” right now? Why does avoidance of controversy take precedence over trying to get things right?

There is obviously participation by people, organisations from outside of Hong Kong, in politics in Hong Kong, over a long time. This is not the only time when they do it, and this is not an exception either.

Yes, there is documented “participation” by organizations from outside of Hong Kong. Beijing.

(NY Times: Beijing is Directing Hong Kong Strategy, Government Insiders Say)

(Yeah, I know I’m being a bit disingenuous. Hong Kong is part of China. But if Leung wants to say “outside of Hong Kong,” shouldn’t we take him at his word? And Hong Kong is, oddly anough, also part of the world. But this is all consistent with Chinese strategy, to denounce “foreign influences” when those opinions are at odds with the party line.)

Host: So you haven’t answered the question. Will there be a violent crackdown? You say multiple rounds of talks. You have to observe law and order in Hong Kong. How do you do that? Will the Police one day say, okay, enough is enough, it’s gone off for too long? How long can you tolerate this?

Leung: I shan’t use the word crackdown. 

Uh-oh.

Meanwhile, Legco panels have voted down requests to investigate C.Y. Leung’s HK$50 million pay off from an engineering firm in Australia, There was no suitable explanation of this decision, at least not in the SCMP. This despite reports that he tried to get an additional HK$37 million in payoffs from that firm.

Only one thing is clear. Beijing will not give the students what they want. And the students will not back down, at least not so far. But it has to end, one way or another. There has already been too much violence. But as cynical as I am, I remain an optimist at heart. And I am fervently hoping that this will have a peaceful conclusion. If true democracy seems to be an unattainable goal for 2017, what is the government willing to offer and what are the protesters willing to accept in order to bring this to an end? I wish I had an answer to that. I wish that anyone had an answer to that.

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The Entertainer in Hong Kong

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Do you remember those big thick dining out coupon books? New York had them (maybe still does) and Hong Kong used to have them. You’d buy the book and for a year you’d get all these “buy one, get one free” discount coupons for restaurants and other places around town.

Once in awhile I’d buy them. The potential savings almost always seemed to make them worthwhile. Except I’d never have the damned book with me when I passed some restaurant. And in Hong Kong, places come and go so fast that after a few months probably half the places you have coupons for have closed and there are no coupons for all the new places that sprang up to replace them.

Enter The Entertainer. (Yeah, okay, it was so obvious that I couldn’t resist.)

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It’s a company that started with a coupon book in Dubai and has now spread the concept to the rest of the middle east, plus Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, South Africa and London. The global stats on their web site claim 10,000+ global outlets (but you’d have to buy one subscription for each territory to get at all of those), 1 million redemptions per year, $1.3 billion in revenue “driven” to merchant partners.

They’ve got the traditional coupon book if that’s your thing, but they’ve also updated the concept by having a smartphone app. So now you don’t have to lug the book around or clip any coupons. Just load the app on your phone and you’re ready to go.

The Hong Kong app or book will run you HK$595 for one (calendar) year. There’s also a try-out version of the app, one month for HK$149. You can download the app for free and then choose a subscription via an in-app purchase or buy directly from their web site.

They say they’ve got 333 merchant partners in Hong Kong plus 126 hotel partners worldwide. The screen shot below – just 5 listings – already shows you 3 hotels, 1 restaurant and a Chinese medicine clinic – so that gives you some idea of their range.

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Scrolling through their Hong Kong listings,  I saw some places that I regularly go to and more than a few that I’ve been wanting to check out. Obviously they have good coverage for Central. (And, just as obviously, nothing in Tai Po, no big shock there.)

A very partial list of the restaurants they have in Central just to give you some idea of their range:

Al Forno, Alfies, Aqua Luna, Boqueria, Cafe de Paris, Cvche, French Window, Gold, Holly Brown, Pizza Express, Staunton’s

The deal is usually get one main course free when you buy one (the free one is the cheaper of the two). You get multiple coupons for most places, so you can go back to places you like more than once and still save. I’m sure that you can think of plenty of places that are not included, but the point is that there are plenty of good places in there.

They also have deals for various services – fitness places, salons, photo studios and others. The deals with the biggest potential for savings are the hotel deals – get one night free for each paid night. There’s a choice of hotels for places in Thailand, Malaysia, Bali and around the Indian Ocean. (Unfortunately no hotel discounts for the place I go most often, the Philippines.)

I’m looking at the “new” category right now and I see DiVino, Genie Juicery, Spasso, Carpaccio and a few others. So it appears this is continually being updated.

The app needs a bit of work. Every establishment, regardless of type, has a little fork-and-knife icon next to it. Restaurants, hotels, nail spas, kids activity centers all have a fork and knife next to their name.  You can’t immediately tell the ice cream parlors from the nail spas.

Also, don’t click on that top center bit where it says “Hong Kong” with the “ALL” underneath. The choices that then pop up are “Near Me” and Alphabetically” and no matter what you do, all you’ll get is a pop up box telling you that you have to make a selection from a non-existent list of filters. Every time I hit that “ALL” by mistake, I have to kill the app and start over again.

My wife and I both work in Wanchai. So a couple of nights ago I figured I’d try out The Entertainer app for dinner for the two of us after work. You can easily search the app by district (also by name, shopping mall, hotel or cuisine), so I did a search on Wanchai.

Looking for the places closest to us, there were two – Doghouse and Trafalgar. (Lots more choices around Brim 28 and Star Street but we were both tired and not in a walking mood.) I chose Trafalgar, a British style pub) since they’ve got that 5th floor outdoor deck and it was a nice night for eating outside.

When we got to Trafalgar, we didn’t have to show any coupon or mention anything in advance. We simply ordered what we wanted – my wife was in a steak mood and got their $298 rib eye; I ordered the $158 chicken parmigiana since I don’t see that on too many menus here.

When we finished eating and it was time to ask for the bill, I showed the screen on my phone to the waitress. She brought the manager over, the manager entered the restaurant’s PIN into the app, and they brought the bill over with my chicken parm for free. So they’d knocked off the $158 (and also no 10% service charge for that, so my actual savings was closer to $175). It was simple and relatively hassle-free.

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(One thing I should add – the portions at Trafalgar are big. My wife said that next time we should just get one main course and one starter or salad and split everything. I said that’s fine but I still have two more “coupons” for the place and they’re only good on the main courses, so we’ll just have to “suffer.”)

The app lets you combine multiple “books” – manage multiple subscriptions within one instance of the app.  This is a nice touch for people who may travel frequently to the same destinations. I wouldn’t get this for Singapore, where I tend to eat in hawker centers anyway, but would definitely consider it for my next trip to London.

They’ll start selling their 2015 app and book in November with an early bird discount. I’ll be posting more info on that once it becomes available.

One thing I forgot to mention and it’s one thing that makes this different from other coupon books I tried – there’s nothing that says you can’t use this at “prime time” on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday night.  The Rules of Use say, “All offers can be used at any time during regular opening hours unless specified.” The only blackout days are Hong Kong public holidays and Rugby Sevens and Chinese New Year weeks (at merchant’s discretion).

So $595 for a year and I saved $175 my first time. Clearly, even if I use it just once or twice a month (we don’t go out that often), I’ll end up saving far more than the $595 cost. And there’s no book to lug around or coupons to clip, so I always have it with me and will actually continue to use it. The Entertainer is an old concept brought up to date and well executed.

Full disclosure – I was given a free one year subscription to The Entertainer in Hong Kong in exchange for a review. But, here’s the deal – when they first approached me, I would not have agreed to this if I didn’t like what they were offering. And they made no specific requests for content in the post, merely that I try it out and report on my experience. I’m genuinely happy with this and plan to keep using it.

UPDATE: Oops! If you want the one month “try out” membership, you can only get it by following this link.  (It’s not an affiliate link or anything like that.) And I’m told this is only good up until November 10th, after which just annual memberships are available.

 

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