Category Archives: Hong Kong

Asia’s World City #1,247

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The above image is from Liar Town USA, a pretty consistently amusing web site.

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The above image is not from Liar Town, it’s a photo of a book that’s currently stocked in Hong Kong’s Public Library. Asia’s World City indeed.

Meanwhile, it’s reported that 400 of the first 492 flats put on sale in Cheung Kong’s new Mont Vert project in Tai Po sold on the first day despite a “no viewing” policy. Cheung Kong reports that they had to use a ballot system as more than 10,000 people had registered as prospective buyers, and that 150 flats were sold in the first hour.

The development has flats ranging in size from studios to three bedroom apartments. The average studio apartment is 195 square feet and selling for HK2 million, or roughly US$260,000.  An executive director at Cheung Kong said this is a “stunning low price.”  Later there will be studio apartments for sale that measure just 177 square feet.  Larger flats, a whopping 932 square feet, on higher floors, are selling for over HK$10 million. That’s US$1.3 million for a 3 bedroom shoebox in Tai Po.

This place is near the Tai Po Industrial Estate, which means a bus ride to the closest MTR station, or a bus ride into central Tai Po to get another bus to get to Kowloon or HK (pretty much what I deal with every day.) So it’s not as if they’re exactly “convenient,” except possibly if one has a job in the Industrial Estate.

They’re claiming that the majority of the sales are to people who live in the area, with 75% of the buyers getting these for “self-use”.  Apparently when one buys a three bedroom apartment, one gets a special deal on buying an adjacent studio apartment.

In vaguely related news, a few days ago the SCMP had this report:

Forty per cent of Hongkongers would consider leaving the city when they retire, believing they would be financially better off elsewhere, a survey has found.

Respondents gave an average rating of 5.5 out of 10 to the question of whether they were confident their life would be satisfactory in retirement. That was down from a rating of 6.1 two years ago.

And 40 per cent said they had considered retiring elsewhere. Of those, 27 per cent would consider mainland China, while 21 per cent were contemplating a move to Taiwan. Australia, Canada and Britain were also on the list.

The average estimate of cash needed to support themselves in retirement was HK$16,600 per month – and a total of HK$3.9 million to cover their old age once they stopped working. That was up from about HK$10,000 a month in the last survey, while the total estimate was similar.

Jeanne Sau, senior vice-president of MassMutual Asia, said: “It was surprising to see the significant increase in the estimate … It shows that they are really worried about the impact of inflation on their future lives.”

She said HK$3.9 million was a significant underestimate, and the company had calculated that someone retiring at 60 would need HK$7 million to support themselves if they lived another 20 years, taking into account annual inflation of about 3 per cent.

But the 74-year-old chairman of the Association of Senior Citizens, Mak Hon-kai, disputed those figures, saying he spends just HK$5,000 a month. “Of course, that means we live a very simple life, maybe eating out at McDonald’s,” Mak said.

That’s a good plan. Eat at McDonald’s so you will need less money because you’ll undoubtedly die sooner.

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I’m Not Lovin’ It

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Years and years ago I used to eat at American fast food chains pretty regularly. And why not?  Or so I thought at the time.

Cheap, fast, tasty enough, and easy to deal with in places where English isn’t spoken. But reading Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation pretty much put an end to that habit.  I will sometimes still go for a fast food burger but I try to limit it to once or twice a month. I still visit McDonald’s pretty often, but that’s because when I’m coming home from work and get off the bus near Tai Po Market, McD’s is one place where I can run in and use the toilet with no questions asked. I’ll also confess a liking for the McD’s branches that have a McCafe coffee shop inside – open 24 hours, cheaper than *$ and oddly enough the best western style cakes in Tai Po.

The abuses of the fast food industry in the United States are well documented, but what about in China? One can only logically assume that the food sourcing and processing in China is no better than it is in the U.S. and very possibly it could be orders of magnitude worse.  These days I favor cha chaan tengs for a quick, cheap meal. I realize that they’re probably not sourcing Australian wagyu grass-fed beef for their beef hor fun and I hope they’re not using some chemical meat tenderizer or loading the sauce up with MSG, but most places probably are. Every day we pick the compromises we are most able to live with.

(I’ve got a funny story about the quality of McDonald’s beef that goes back to my days in advertising, back in the 1970s, can’t recall if I ever wrote about that story here.)

At any rate, we now have the latest food scandal in China. And again, it is a reminder of how corrupt and greedy some people can be. I don’t want to paint a nation of 1.5 billion people with the corruption brush, because that would be a gross exaggeration, but it does seem that these things – where people running companies make decisions that knowingly put peoples’ lives at risk in exchange for a little extra profit – occur more frequently in China than anywhere else. (Yes, I know, General Motors.)

So here’s the thing, in case you haven’t read it elsewhere. There is a food processing company in Shanghai called Shanghai Husi Food Company. They are 50% owned by an American company. They took expired beef and chicken and repackaged it, changing the expiration dates to make it appear that the meat was still fresh, and then sold it to fast food chains in China and Hong Kong.

HK McDonald’s is one of their customers. So are Starbucks, KFC and Burger King.  And apparently this is not a one time occurrence – this was standard operating procedure at this company and has been going on for years.  The company maintained multiple sets of records to help them perpetuate this dangerous fraud. (I suppose one might argue that if it’s been going on for years and no one has died from it, it’s not that big a deal? Yes, it is that big a deal. It’s a level of risk that is unnecessary and unacceptable to any rational person.)

McD’s in HK has reportedly removed all of the menu items that were made with food sourced from Husi. Last night as I passed one Tai Po branch of McD, I saw they had large red signs in their windows – all Chinese-only – that were probably informing customers of this. (I guess they didn’t bother to post English versions of the sign because they don’t care about their white or brown customers.)

Here’s a few McD’s facts courtesy of the SCMP:

  • There are currently 239 branches in Hong Kong employing more than 15,000 people.
  • The first HK McD opened in 1975 on Paterson Street in Causeway Bay. The 3,000 square foot restaurant paid $64,500 a month in rent.
  • In 1992, 7 of the 10 busiest McD’s in the world were in Hong Kong.

Old joke:

A retired American comes to Hong Kong as a tourist. He’s booked everything first class. He’s met at the airport by his tour guide, who says to him, “Welcome to Hong Kong Mr. Smith. I imagine you’re tired after your long flight. I’ll take you to your hotel where you can take a shower and relax for a bit before we get started.”

But the tourist says, “No! I’ve waited my whole life to come to Hong Kong. I love Chinese people. I love Chinese food. I want to get out there and start experiencing Hong Kong right away. I don’t want to go to the hotel yet. I want you to take me to the most popular restaurant in Hong Kong!”

So the tour guide shrugs his shoulders and takes him to McDonalds.

Unrelated HK food items:

The first location of the Press Room, the one on Hollywood Road, has now closed after the landlord reportedly sought to increase their rent by 500%. Because why should the landlord continue to make a reasonable profit from a successful business that has been there for years and probably always paid their bills on time?

The same group operates The Pawn in Wanchai, which has now closed. Reports differ as to whether this is going to be just a renovation or if it will re-open with a new name and concept (but still managed by the same group).

The SCMP quotes food critic Walter Kei (whoever he is, a quick Google on his name turns up a press release from The Link calling him “a renowned gourmet traveller and wine taster.”)

Food critic Walter Kei said the proliferation of trendy restaurants was another problem.

“There are too many restaurants in the market,” he said. This led to cut-throat competition and drove up staff costs.

Kei said that with high rents and labour costs, the only cost that could be cut was food.

This was compromising quality but consumers didn’t know because food writers and critics weren’t telling them. “The so-called food reviews are only to promote new places, not the quality of the content,” he said.

“Writers are afraid of offending restaurants.”

As a result, Kei said, people had higher tolerance of bad ingredients and bad food sourcing.

He’s probably correct. HK culture cares about size of portions and price and not so much about taste, while the great majority of HK food bloggers who write in English only review places that give them free meals.

Restaurateur and critic Lau Kin-wai said he shut the doors of his famous Yellow Door Kitchen a couple of months ago more because of staff issues than rent.

“I can’t hire someone to wash dishes even with HK$10,000 a month,” he said.

I suspect there’s a little bit more to it than that. Now that my wife is working as a waitress, I’m getting to hear directly about how shittily some restaurant owners and managers treat their staff.

 

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Food, No Pics

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Okay, no griping in this one, at least I don’t think so. Well, maybe a tiny bit.

HK English language food bloggers, with a few exceptions, tend to review those places that give them a free meal. They get invited to tasting sessions or just get invited (or, ahem, ask to be invited). The places they review are mostly on Hong Kong island – Lan Kwai Fong and points further west all the way out to Kennedy Town. Once in awhile they’ll figure out some way to get across the harbor – it’s hard! – for a place in Elements or in one of the more social-media-savvy hotels.

For us, we’ve been concentrating on restaurants in Tsim Sha Tsui lately. That’s because it’s where my wife is working. So I’ll meet her and we’ll almost randomly try spots nearby.

Before this, I liked going to Ashley Road. This dead end street must have 50 restaurants on it, and there’s everything from high end stuff that I can’t afford to kebabs, Chinese fast food and a terrific bar called Castro’s that makes a mean mojito.

Now we’ve gone further east. And we’re finding some pretty terrific spots that may not serve Michelin-notable food but which are cheap and cheerful and, yes, satisfying.  Plus what I’m seeing is that some parts of TST, particularily around Hart and Prat Avenues, seem to attract primarily local crowds. Hart Avenue has a large number of bars – there’s Tequila Jack, several branches of M1, Hair of the Dog, Roadside Inn, Fatt’s Place, Cali Cali, even a place called Piss Bar.

So here’s a quick run-down of some of the places we’ve tried so far – and as always, I’m eager for your recommendations in the area.

In no particular order:

Over at Chungking Mansions, we’ve tried three spots. Delhi Club, Taj Mahal Club and a very friendly ground floor place whose name I can’t recall. We like them all. The difference between Delhi and Taj Mahal for us is that at TM you can order tandoori chicken while at D you can only order tandoori chicken leg. The difference between the two for my wife is that she says the waiters at Delhi Club are younger and better looking.

Bricklane has two branches practically across the street from each other. The larger of the two is called Bricklane Gallery, and they’re famous for their Eggs Benedict. I don’t eat eggs. The rest of the stuff there is decent (shepherd’s pie, burger, fish & chips and so on), they have a nice and not-too-expensive wine list, and I find it a comfortable place to sit and let the night go by. (I did my birthday dinner here this year.)

Tequila Jack’s, aka TJ’s, has Mexican-ish food that’s no better nor no worse than what you’ll find at Agave or Coyote. The draw here is some outdoor tables, Dos Equiis beer, $10 taco Tuesdays and $99 (or maybe it’s now $109) steak Saturdays.

Tonkachi is a small basement Japanese restaurant with a Japanese owner, Japanese chef and some Japanese staff. The one time we’ve eaten there so far, all of the customers surrounding us were Japanese. They use premium Kuroshima black pork for their tonkatsu – the breading was authentic, mine was slightly overcooked. Their sashimi is noticeably better than what you’ll find at places like Sushi One (but of course not as good as what you’d get at the $1,000+ per person places).  And it was a friendly and relaxing place.

We’d previously tried the famous Chicken Hof for KFC, but in this heat that far end of Kimberley Road is a bit of a hike. A couple of nights ago we tried Chum Chum Mi and really enjoyed it. They have outdoor seating (which I’ll keep in mind for when the temperature dips down a bit). They do great KFC there (and you can get half orders) as well as having a full menu – Korean BBQ if you’re so inclined but we went for seafood pancake and kimchi fried rice with our KFC and everything was really good.

While larger streets such as Cameron Road and Granville Road have seen many of their cheap & cheerful spots replaced by branches of Sasa, in between there’s a short street called Hau Fook Street that is lined with restaurants and fills up with people every night. We found a place here called Caterking Dim Sum which serves decent dim sum until 1 AM (2 AM on weekends).

Other places we’ve tried around here include a branch of hot pot specialist Calf Bone King and the Beijing style Tai Fung Lau, which from the looks of things has been around for at least 50 years. I’m really anxious to give Spring Deer a try (not for Peking duck but for some of their other old school Beijing dishes) but the last time we went there (a Monday night!) they were full and we weren’t given an option to wait, simply told to try another night.

One other nice thing about when we have dinner around here is if we’re up for it, we’ll then head to the branch of Holly Brown at K11 for some gelato or the new branch of Passion on Mody Road for some cake.

There’s also the place where my wife works, but I suppose if I was to recommend that it would be a bit suspect. But it’s actually a place I ate at a few times before she started working there and we are quite happy that we do like the food in the place where she works.

We’ve had a lot of great nights out around here lately and have always managed to keep the bill for two way under HK$500. (Some nights we’ll splurge after dinner and take a taxi home instead of the MTR if we’re really feeling tired.)

Anyway, as I said, what spots are your favorites? Which places should we try next?

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London and Me

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July 1st, along with its massive protest march in Hong Kong, has come and feels long gone. I’d meant to write something on it, but I kept stumbling and life got in the way, as it has a habit of doing. Ultimately I ended up on a very hastily arranged business trip to London – a trip with very mixed results from a business perspective but also a trip that further enhanced my love affair with London.

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(Forgive me if any of this repeats old stuff.)

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In the summer of 1972, I’d just completed my first year at college (university to you Brits) and was working an awful summer job – pushing a hot dog cart at the Bronx Botanical Gardens. A school buddy asked if I wanted to join him on a trip to London and my parents gave the okay for me to spend my Bar Mitzvah money on the trip.

We stayed in England for about 3 weeks, starting off in bed and breakfast places that cost only a pound and a half per night – though the beds were so uncomfortable that we ended up sleeping on the floor. Our days were divided between doing all of the standard sight seeing stuff and hitting every record store we possibly could. (I remember buying Roxy Music’s first album and spending weeks staring at the cover wondering what it could possibly sound like.)

Nights were for music - at one point I figured out that we saw more than 70 bands in those three weeks. David Bowie doing Ziggy Stardust at the Rainbow. Yes’s world premiere of Close to the Edge with opening acts that included Mahavishnu Orchestra. Renaissance playing for free in a pub before their first album came out. The Chelmsford Folk Festival, which included The Strawbs, Al Stewart, and Sandy Denny. (Sandy offered us a ride back to London but my idiot friend was too scared to get in her car with her two large dogs.)

We also went to Torquay for a weekend for reasons I can no longer recall – long before Fawlty Towers – where the only thing to do at night was go to a Mungo Jerry concert.

We just about ran out of money long before the end of the trip. We stayed in some park where they’d set up tents with double decker beds, 50 pence per night, one concrete building with lockers and showers, and basically existed on a diet of lentils.

My second trip didn’t happen until 12 years later. My first wife and I were tipped off about the hotel where all the bands stayed. So we’d go see Echo & the Bunnymen in concert and then the next morning we’d be having breakfast with them. This trip was also – believe it or not – the first time I ate Indian food.

In 1990 I started working for Barclays Bank in New York. This is when I first learned about the concept of business travel. I managed to get myself into a position where I spent large chunks of 1992 and early 1993 in London in a service flat in the central City (according to the guest register, the previous occupant of that room was J.G. Ballard). I got to see a lot of great live music (Julian Cope was a standout) and fell in love with a bi-polar poet whom I met at a party one night – my American accent came in handy in a variety of situations.

I knew I wanted to live in London and my boss at Barclays tried to make it happen for me. There were no suitable openings and then she found something in Manchester. I’d never been there but figured with Manchester’s fame as a music center, I’d be okay. The deal fell through at the last minute and I ended up leaving Barclays for the job that would eventually bring me to Hong Kong.

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For the past 20 years and across several jobs, I’ve traveled to London often enough to know my way around and feel extremely comfortable there. Of course these are business trips and I’m staying in nice hotels in central locations (this trip I was staying just off Trafalgar Square) and my expenses are all covered so it’s not quite the same experience as actually living there. This last trip I had lunch with my friend Kevin Westenberg, an American who has lived in London for 30 years, and I got to hear about how crazy expensive London can be when you live there.

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At any rate, I found myself with a decent amount of free time during this trip to London. I walked at least 5 miles each day, usually on a circuit that included Covent Garden, Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus, Chinatown and Soho.  I got up to Camden Market, got to the music stores on Denmark Street, spent time in Forbidden Planet and Foyles and browsed in some of the few remaining record shops.

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And as I walked around, I found myself constantly comparing London to Hong Kong.

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Of course there’s the big stuff. The beautiful architecture, monuments and parks everywhere. On the one hand, one might say it’s merely reminders of Britain’s history of empire and imperialism, the spoils of war and conquest. I think it’s more than that. There was an aspiration to greatness, individually and collectively. And to let everyone share in that aspiration, at least by surrounding people with beauty, even if their own lives were drab.

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Hong Kong has none of that. There are no world class museums here. There are very few buildings left to reflect the 150 year history. Skyline? Yeah, it’s a bunch of drab office buildings gussied up with neon and lasers that is only impressive because of the water in the foreground and the mountains in the rear.

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(Tacky, right? But a step up from the fake Buddhist monks scamming for change all over Hong Kong.)

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The cultural diversity of London is staggering when compared to Hong Kong. You see this walking down the streets, you see it in shops, you see it in the selection of restaurants everywhere you go.

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And then there’s the commercial aspects of daily life. Everything from banks advertising their credit cards based on competitive interest rates and telephone companies advertising no additional charges for data when roaming globally (HK’s Three is one of those companies; meanwhile for HK Three customers, one could buy a special “deal” for roaming data for HK$198 per day). This is what happens when you have true competition and a level playing field – something Hong Kong does not offer on almost any level.

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(Outdoor seating at a pub in central London. This is actually illegal in most of Hong Kong.)

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The buses are hybrid buses – the seats are set a decent distance apart (seats in Hong Kong buses mostly offer less leg room than economy class flights) and the windows are not covered with ads. The trains may be old but at least they do not have video screens blasting advertisements at a captive audience.

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(Here’s a minor pet peeve – as a photographer who follows dozens of photography blogs, I always see the companies whose equipment I use offering rebates and cash-back offers. These offers are never valid in Hong Kong.)

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I think the things that get to me most are the lack of choice and diversity combined with the second rate status of ordinary citizens.

Yes, mass transportation is pretty darned good here – it’s cheap and runs on a predictable schedule and the consumers of the transportation system are for the most part treated as captive targets of loud advertising that isn’t even clever.

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Taxes are low. That’s thanks to the revenue the government collects from real estate transactions and also, perhaps more importantly, because Hong Kong doesn’t have to support an army, navy or air force. We get that from China – it’s an army that has already proven once that they will fire upon their own citizens when so ordered to, and the odds are increasing that one day it will be used against Hong Kong citizens for daring to request that they might have a say in how their home is managed and getting fed up with receiving nothing but meaningless sound bites in return.

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Oh, new flats measuring all of 200 square feet are going on sale in Tai Po this weekend and expected to sell out. And Monday I’ll go back to the office and have to make my way down the streets in between hordes of mainland shoppers dragging suitcases behind them. And that’s after waiting 20 minutes for the bus standing in the blazing sun or the pouring rain because a simple thing like a decent bus shelter is a joke here.

I live in a town of 250,000 and there is only one supermarket out of dozens here that sells simple things like dijon mustard or Italian salami or bacon not made in China or a crusty baguette. (Said supermarket is a mile from any bus stop and offers all of 8 parking spots.) The only place in this town that has a half-way decent hamburger charges US$20 for it and the pizza is mostly embarrassing. Thai, Japanese and Korean food around here has been localized to an extent that renders it almost unrecognizable. I’m exasperated not by the fact that the only interesting new restaurants open in Sheung Wan or Kennedy Town but by the fact that there seems to be practically no demand for them almost anywhere else.

Look, I get it. If there was a utopia, everyone would move there and then it might not be so utopian after that. I always say that every place has its issues and compromises and if you’re fortunate enough to be able to choose where you live, then you choose the compromises you’re more able to deal with. And for many years, Hong Kong was the place for me.

But right now I feel that today is the best that Hong Kong is ever going to be. And by that I mean that I feel that the quality of life in Hong Kong is devolving to the point where each day is going to be worse than the day before. Each day will bring its share of corruption, greed, humiliation and assaults upon the daily existence of every day people.

There are days that I give serious thought to living almost anywhere else except here. Well, I never consider a return to the U.S.  But the list of places that I think I would enjoy living in more than Hong Kong seems to grow almost daily.

It’s a funny thing. The grass is always greener. I’ve got this friend, he’s American, he used to live in Tokyo and travel throughout Asia. Now he lives and travels all over Europe. And half the time he blogs about wanting to get back to Asia and posts Facebook comments about being jealous whenever I mention anything on bars (and women) in Wanchai or Lan Kwai Fong. I’d trade places with him in a heartbeat.

Or maybe I’m just in a bad mood today? I won’t say it’s impossible. I am a moody bastard, you all know that.

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One Country, Two Systems? Not So Much

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From the SCMP:

A Taiwanese scholar and a prominent student activist who planned to join the July 1 rally in Hong Kong were barred from entering the city on Sunday, sparking accusations that their exclusions were politically motivated.

Ya think?

A spokesman of the Immigration Department said they would not comment on individual cases.

But he added: “In handling each immigration case the [department] will, having regard to the general immigration requirements and circumstances pertaining to each individual case, decide whether the entry will be allowed in accordance with the Hong Kong Law and prevailing immigration policies.”

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“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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Here’s How Bad Paranoia Is Getting in Hong Kong

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This is probably deserving of a longer post, with plenty of links, but I’m constrained by time today.

Anyway, here’s the thing. Occupy Central (a proposed nonviolent protest) is getting closer and Beijing loyalists calling themselves the Silent Majority are now trying to spread fear that this will lead to mass riots and the complete destruction of Hong Kong. (BTW, the Occupy Central website must be one of the shittiest web sites in history, complete with a link for “English” that still brings up Chinese language menus and text, as well as other links that just don’t work at all.)

A website called PopVote that was going to allow people to vote on the topic of universal suffrage in Hong Kong was the victim of a massive Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack that more than likely originated in mainland China.

The China government issued a white paper about Hong Kong that basically said “hey guess what mutha fucka, Hong Kong is part of China” and people started freaking out.

It was revealed this week that major Hong Kong banks have pulled all advertising from the pages of Apple Daily, the one major Hong Kong daily newspaper that is seen as being pro-Democracy. Apparently these banks have been told that their ability to continue to do business in China might be jeopardized by their continuing to run ads in this newspaper.

And Apple Daily recently broke the news that China and Britain are working on a US$30 billion trade deal that apparently would require Britain to express support for how China has been running Hong Kong since the handover (or the return, if you prefer).

Newspapers all reported how ten people (TEN people) staged a protest asking Britain to take back Hong Kong from China.

For 17 years, Hong Kong has had a government led by three inept buffoons whose priorities have clearly been set by the mainland government that appointed them rather than the 7 million people who live here, so things have been varying degrees of bad. But it seems that all of these events and news stories coming one after another are making people more and more paranoid.

To the extent that an almost-global 30 minute outage on Facebook yesterday was thought to be the work of another China-originated DDoS attack. It wasn’t.

Here’s Facebook’s explanation of the outage:

Late last night, we ran into an issue while updating the configuration of one of our software systems. Not long after we made the change, some people started to have trouble accessing Facebook. We quickly spotted and fixed the problem, and in less than 30 minutes Facebook was back to 100% for everyone. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does we make sure we learn from the experience so we can make Facebook that much more reliable. Nothing is more important to us than making sure Facebook is there when people need it, and we apologize to anyone who may have had trouble connecting last night.

From a political point of view (and an economic one, and perhaps a quality of life one) things are rapidly going downhill. But the world doesn’t revolve around Hong Kong and not everything is China’s fault.

Anyway, bring on Occupy Central. I don’t think it will change a thing. But it will be interesting.

 

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KFC in Hong Kong

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No – not Kentucky Fried Chicken. Korean Fried Chicken.

Fried chicken in Korea has been huge for years and its popularity has been spreading around the world. The Hong Kong food scene is one of trends, and this is one of the current “hot” items so there are an increasing number of places serving it. I’m always lagging a bit behind the trends, but last night we finally jumped on the KFC train by going to Chicken Hof and Soju, supposedly ground zero for the KFC trend in Hong Kong.

This small place in TST doesn’t take reservations and reportedly most nights people will line up for hours for one of the few tables here. On a rainy Sunday night at 9:30, we were seated immediately.  (The place stays open till around 4 AM every night.)

There’s one big table inside that seats at least a dozen, and people are seated randomly around the table. Then there’s 5 or 10 booths along the sides. The place is dark, the TVs are blasting K-Pop videos, and the staff are just wearing their street clothes so it can be a bit confusing at first to figure out who actually works there.  The menu is in English, Chinese and Korean, with plenty of pictures.

The menu offers four different variations on KFC. The menu (at least the English menu) does not tell you that can order a plate that’s a combo of different styles, something we discovered after seeing other orders coming to our table, but it was too late for us to ask for a combo.  So we only got the “original” sweet and spicy style.

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(Apologies for the crappy iPhone photo.)

You get a plate of pickled white radish and a plate of lettuce with Korean-style Russian dressing and glasses of water as soon as you sit down.  For HK$160, we got a veritable mountain of fried chicken. We didn’t know that the portions were going to be so huge so we’d ordered a second dish – barbecued pork belly for $190, which was also a freaking huge portion.  (I thought this was really good, too.)

The chicken was great. I might have preferred the dry variation to really taste their breading. The sauce on ours seemed reminiscent of American style barbecue sauces – in that it was very sticky – but the flavor was unique, both sweet and spicy at the same time.  I found it more than spicy enough though my wife didn’t find it spicy at all – obviously your mileage will vary. Despite the sauce, the breading was still crunchy and the chicken was perfectly cooked – fully cooked but still nice and juicy on the inside, which is the whole point of fried chicken.

I had three or four pieces of chicken, my wife had the same amount, and we only had half of what was on the plate!  So no wonder this is doing so well, because in Hong Kong people tend to value quantity over quality – but I’d say in the case of this place the quality was there too. We ended up taking away half the chicken and more than half of the pork – it won’t be going to waste.

This area of Kimberley Road and Austin Road has a concentration of Korean restaurants, and there are at least half a dozen different ones around there doing KFC – some as the main item on the menu, others where it’s just one of dozens of choices.  I thought Chicken Hof was terrific and would gladly return but we’re going to explore a few more of these places in the coming weeks to decide on a favorite.

So, the inevitable question for my readers in HK – what’s your favorite KFC place in HK? Which one should we try next?

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Bye Bye Netvigator

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Netvigator is the name of the Internet service provided by Hong Kong’s largest phone company, PCCW. They have a virtual monopoly on delivering fixed line services in Hong Kong’s New Territories. Since they don’t face any substantial competition, they have no reason to upgrade their lousy service.

So while people on most of HK Island and in most of Kowloon can receive 1 Gigabit per second Internet service for around HK$200, up where I live we are offered an 8 Megabit per second Internet service for HK$298.  And Internet speed tests show I am lucky to get 5 Mbps download and well under 1 Mbps upload speeds.

Meanwhile, I have the 4G USB modem from SmarTone. I pay HK$220 per month for the 4G Internet service. Mobile Internet speeds can be affected by many factors, from weather to a double decker bus passing in between my house and the cell tower. But on average, I get better than double the speed from this than from Netvigator.

Actually for the past couple of months I’ve bridged my two Internet connections but I’ve only ever received a moderate boost from this.

So when I got the call from PCCW telling me that my contract had expired and asking if I want to renew it, it wasn’t a hard decision to make. The only real decision was how derisive to be on the phone to them. Since I’m in the office at work and screaming might attract unwanted attention, and since the girl had a cute voice, I just said “No thanks.”

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