Tourist crowds ‘figment of imagination’ data prove

GnusIf I lived in Africa, I would get annoyed having to push and squeeze through the thousands of wildebeest cluttering up the place and getting in everyone’s way. But I am up the hill from Hong Kong’s Central, and the herds are mainly of Korean tourists.

The younger ones stick together in pairs – typically two females. The one with page-boy-style ginger hair and shocking cherry red lipstick carries the guide book; the other looks more normal and wields the selfie stick. Sometimes, like when they mistake the Mid-Levels Escalator for a relaxing ride at Disneyland, residents have to give them a firm but polite shove to get them to move aside.

KoreanRefugeesThe older ones move in packs of one or two dozen, mixed male and female. They wear baseball caps, and their wizened faces have a slight but unmistakable look of alarm. For some reason their handlers require them to assemble outside Marks & Spencers. Their generation endured terrible hardship and trauma back in the 1950s, so I personally try to keep physical force to a minimum when they get in the way – a gentle elbow at the most.

The daily presence of these hordes in my neighbourhood is something of a mystery. The SCMP-CrowdedOutKorean culture of fanatical and unquestioning obedience must play a part: the guide book instructs them ‘go to the overrated egg-tart shop’, so go they must. In truth, we don’t care why they come here. We just wish they wouldn’t. Nothing personal – there’s just not enough space.

At least, that’s what we thought. However, today’s South China Morning Post uses what it calls a ‘formula devised by statistician Nate Silver’ to calculate whether Hong Kong is really overcrowded with tourists. Essentially, it’s the annual number of visitors divided by average length of stay as a percentage of the population. There are two key findings:

  1. The smaller a place is, the more crowded it gets.
  2. The Koreans, Mainlanders and others who crowd Hong Kong’s sidewalks are not there at all, but merely figments of our imagination.

Lawmaker Michael Tien ‘hails’ the data as proof that Hong Kong can easily cram more tourists in. The SCMP mentions in passing that the research results do not reflect the possible clustering of tourists by districts or season, but the general impression is that this is a minor and barely relevant point. The extra visitors would not, presumably, all hang out in particular crowded spots – like the cash registers in the G2000 clothing stores of which Tien is chairman – but be scattered around the city so sparsely that you would not even realize they are there, like the thousands of Koreans who it seems are not, after all, pouring into the neighbourhood every day.

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Today’s Key Subliminal Message is…

Greedy, evil America caused the current market mayhem unleashed from China.

Repeat until you are convinced. Scattered with subtlety here and there in the South China Morning Post, the notion hits some important pro-Beijing buttons, notably Chinese victimhood and Communist Party infallibility.

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It seems to partly be a reaction to the anti-Chinese ravings of US presidential hopeful Donald Trump – apparently someone up there on the other side of the Great Firewall doesn’t get the joke and takes the clown-act literally. But mainly this is a patriotic distraction from the glorious motherland’s ongoing ‘challenges’: panicky leaders sense the SCMP-TheresMoreeconomic game is up, while Tianjin port explodes and everyone pretends to rejoice that Vanuatu is turning up for next week’s Grand Anti-Turnip-Head Parade.

Can we trace today’s global gyrations in stocks, commodities and morale to Alan Greenspan’s policy as Fed Chairman all those years ago? Yes. It’s not disputed. Nor is it very interesting, or especially relevant. In fact, it’s a rehash of the fuss several years back, in which wastrel/consumer/debtor USA and mercantilist/saver/exporter/lender PRC blamed each other for the imbalances that, by definition, each could not have had without the other.

We can go further back. Why not blame the goldsmiths of medieval Italy? They held neighbours’ bullion for safekeeping, and noticed that people were using the receipts as cash. So the scoundrels started to issue more of these IOUs for interest – even though no-one had strictly speaking put any extra gold in the strong room. It was second only to the invention of sex. Or we could get right down to the root of the problem and blame those bastard Sumerians for thinking up wacko ideas like buying and selling grain that still hadn’t been grown.

Obviously, the US/Western culture of maxing out on credit cards and dumping it all on the next generation is reprehensible and not democratic civilization’s finest achievement. Obviously, Australia, Brazil and other resources producers will have to get new jobs now China isn’t gorging itself on all the coal and iron on the planet. But equally obviously, China’s unfolding economic mess is the making of the Communist Party.

We all know the dilemmas they face in Beijing: the easy post-Maoist gains are over, and now they have to solve debt, bubbles, vested interests and potential social unrest, or lose any mandate to rule. It has come to this not because of weakness and indecisiveness – the curses of Western democracy – but because of the wonderful Beijing Consensus. It has happened because they are so accustomed to total, unquestioned control, and so wrapped up in their own Key Subliminal Messages and propaganda, that they couldn’t believe anything could go wrong. No-one else forced them into this. And saying it’s someone else’s fault won’t help.

Oh dear – somebody at the SCMP didn’t get the memo…

Tw-GeoChen

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Concrete box ‘possibly not worth HK$23mn’ shock horror

The news media sometimes deliver grievous and heartbreaking stories that shake us. It might be an elderly and infirm woman beaten senseless by thugs, or the plight of a starving orphaned infant refugee. Or, in the case of Hong Kong’s Standard, the man who has to cut the asking price of his property to sell it. A Tai Koo Shing apartment, the paper painfully reports, went for 24% less than a similar unit the week before.

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Stan-ButVictLest we get overly depressed, the story ends on a cheery note. A senior manager at Sun Hung Kai Properties assures everyone that silly little stock-market swings (like the trifling one you probably missed yesterday) mean nothing. He adds that ‘more people’ have had the tremendous foresight to move their money out of stocks and, in the blink of an eye, put it into real estate, because home prices are bound to carry on zooming up and up, forever.

Could this be the same Sung Hung Kai Properties that is offering special discounts and waivers on repayments – of the sort that suggest desperation to shift inventory – on a new development at Tung Chung?

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Yes it could!

According to a little bite-size morsel tucked away in the South China Morning Post, Chief SCMP-GovtMustActExecutive CY Leung ‘hits back at critics of his call for proactive government involvement in the market’. Since no-one has a clue what his ‘proactive’ measures would be, it seems a pointless debate. But some commentators suspect he wants some sort of 1970s Korean-style industrial policy of picking winners, and even some of his own officials have distanced themselves from his remarks.

He now justifies the ‘proactive’ whatever-it-is as a response to market failure, such as moves to ‘curb property speculation’. The problem here is that these measures – extra stamp duties – have themselves failed.

If he had been serious about minimizing the real-estate bubble, he would have barred non-residents from buying Hong Kong residential property and introduced punitive taxes on empty homes. (We know this would work because of the deafening squeals from those who insist it wouldn’t.) But of course this would have cut developers’ profit margins, or ‘damaged our reputation as a free market’, as opponents like to phrase it. Now, his administration is reduced to sitting helplessly, wondering what Xi Jinping or Janet Yellen might do next, and waiting – fearing property prices rising further, fearing property prices staying where they are as the least affordable in the world, and fearing property prices falling.

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An optimistic start to the week

Hong Kong’s biggest post-1997 buzzword has been ‘integration’. Other than the fact that it is with the Mainland, no-one agrees exactly what it entails. Most accept that it is primarily to do with the economy – trade and investment. Some also see a social dimension involving personal and household mobility. To encourage correct thinking, the government started to use the term ‘boundary’ for the border. Only cynics with a sense of irony apply the label to political matters, like the creeping influence of Chinese officials in the city’s administration.

The basic message has been that, whatever it is, this ‘integration’ is obviously a good thing, allowing Hong Kong to ride China’s rise to global superstardom. Officially, it would not take place at the expense of the city’s international connections. Until recently, only a few throwbacks to the 1980s like former Chief Secretary Anson Chan have asked whether the city would be better off remaining relatively insulated from Mainland influence (as envisaged in much of the Basic Law). In the last few years, of course, such sentiments have taken root among younger radical ‘nativist’ or ‘localist’ groups.

China’s economy is now approaching some sort of disruptive transformation or upheaval – in the absence of reliable data, no-one knows what. (See comments from Willy Lam and others here on the leadership’s dilemma; and slides 2-6 here for a big-picture summary.) But whatever happens, Hong Kong’s Integration-is-Wonderful economy can only suffer. We are already seeing this in the luxury-retail/Mainland tourism sector…

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All right-minded Hongkongers rejoice in reading about the closures of stores selling overpriced garbage (in which landlords feel pain, and Bloomberg amusingly describes Burberry as a ‘trenchcoat maker’). Some observers, peeved at the city’s ingratitude, feel or hope that everyone will be hurt…

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William Pesek puts this in the context of Hong Kong’s dismal governance…

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Even he, like so many others, makes the mistake of believing Hong Kong ‘has become Bl-HKCantreliant on … the tens of millions of shoppers’ from the Mainland. It looks like that. But what we are really seeing is – surely – a tourism industry reliant on Hong Kong, not vice-versa. It’s just massive, distorting, unsustainable arbitrage. The city was a happier, more comfortable and certainly no less prosperous place 10 years ago before the unmanageable deluge of Mainland shopper-tourists struck.

The government is off on its hallucinatory fantasy in which we must cram yet more tourists in, and simultaneously pick winners in tech and creative sectors (so long as they don’t, like Uber, compete with established anti-innovative Beijing-favoured tycoon interests). Hence the deal with New World to expand Avenue of Stars. There’s almost a parallel here: China’s leaders can’t think beyond more debt-fueled investment in infrastructure; Hong Kong’s can’t think beyond cramming more tourists in.

There is no reason for Hong Kong people to pay any attention. ‘Integration’ is very much incomplete, of debatable value and meeting popular resistance. The impact of China’s economic slowdown (and factors like a stronger US Dollar) could or should include: fewer crowds, lower rents, lower living costs, more space for smaller companies, and more opportunities for innovators and entrepreneurs. To our bureaucrats and tycoons, these are Bad Things. To the rest of us, China’s dreaded downturn might offer an alternative – not a moment too soon – to an increasingly gloomy ‘Mainland’ future.

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The economic price of CCP security

Like Hong Kong’s pre-1990s British administrators, but with extra added paranoia, China’s Communist Party took care to co-opt business and other interests as a support base in its new colony. To Beijing, it seems, loyalty bought from supposed ‘elites’ is essential to control over the foreign-infested city. The alternative – winning local hearts and minds through enlightened governance – is too alien and perhaps anarchic for a one-party state to contemplate.

One result is that Beijing sees the population beyond its United Front network as hostile. This means the central government appoints senior Hong Kong officials only from the narrow and shallow pool of people it deems trustworthy. This inevitably reduces the amount of talent available; the resulting poor governance increases public hostility, which drives Beijing to rely on an even more-select group of inept loyalists – and so on in a saga of plummeting quality, the next ghastly chapter of which will be Whoever They Choose After CY Leung.

Such favouritism is also affecting the economy. We all know that the property tycoons are a caste apart, with a Beijing-granted right to skim off a fat percentage of the wealth Hong Kong people create. The luxury projects they build serve as stores of wealth for corrupt money-laundering Mainland officials. The tycoons further prosper from the influx of tourists that just so happens to wear away Hong Kong’s unique identity. Other interests, from import-export to toys to banking, get perks, protection or just flattery in return for obeisance to the Communist Party.

No doubt following the examples of the Phoenicians, Romans and Mongols, the British in 1950s-60s Hong Kong groomed dependable supporters among Shanghai industrialists. Cantonese businessmen were a bit suspect, having perhaps collaborated with the Japanese or possibly having links with the Communists. The colonial government granted these Shanghainese precious textiles quotas for selling garments to Western countries. The lucky recipients got rich without getting their hands dirty by selling the quotas on to actual manufacturers. Their descendants walk among us today – look at any flaky or slimy pro-establishment politician called Tien or Tang.

Which brings us to taxi licences and Uber. In his column yesterday, Jake van der Kamp HKTaxi50swrote that the Hong Kong government will never let Uber displace taxis because the holders of taxi licences form the biggest bloc in the Transport functional constituency, which in turn is part of the ‘safe patriot vote’ in the Legislative Council. In other words, the holders of taxi licences, currently valued at HK$7 million apiece, having been co-opted by the Communist Party, are immune from competition and the 21st Century.

In New York City, where taxi medallion holders have not been co-opted by the Chinese Communist Party, the value of their investment peaked a couple of years ago at just over US$1 million. They have since lost 20-25% of their value, according to this, and it’s happening in other cities. (Unlike Hong Kong, US cities at least auction additional medallions occasionally.)

The Hong Kong taxi licence holder is the beneficiary of a rigged system. He has bought a bit of paper that allows him to rent a taxi out to drivers. The government keeps these pieces of paper artificially scarce, so he makes a ton of money gouging the drivers and seeing his speculative investment rise in value – while sitting back and not lifting a finger. Our landlords are in a similar position (though their investments are at least homes that someone can live in). You could call them parasites. Economists call it rent-seeking. The Communist Party calls them patriots who love the motherland.

So here’s the deal in Hong Kong today: an economic activity must be protected from change, innovators must be denied opportunities, and consumers must be denied better service/value, just so a totalitarian one-party regime can relax and think it has some friends. It’s not just taxi licences, of course. Look at the list of functional constituencies and think of all the vested interests that might beg Beijing for protection.

The Standard’s Simon Lee concocts a solution to the taxi/Uber dilemma – essentially compensating the speculators who were happy when licences rose in value but are now angry that their monopoly/free-lunch might be over…

Stan-JustKeep

By this reckoning, we should compensate Chow Sang Sang when declining tourist numbers force them to close gold shops. We should set up a special fund to benefit Li Ka-shing if a competition law cuts into his conglomerate’s retail profits. (If we were examining the dynamics of the relationships here, if anyone should compensate the taxi licence holders, it should be the Chinese Communist Party.)

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government is obediently protecting the co-opted taxi licence guys at all costs, arresting Uber staff and angering citizens who want a choice. Maybe this is how it’s going to be. If you’re an outsider like Ricky Wong who wants to start a TV station, you can’t; but if you’re a property tycoon and gambling scion, who knows? Maybe when son-of-CY takes office, if you’re a patriot who loves the motherland and you want to store tons of sodium cyanide next to Taikoo Shing, you’ll be able to do that too. What price do Hong Kong innovators and consumers – the economy – have to pay to keep the CCP feeling secure?

I declare the weekend open with another delightful look (through a grimy car windscreen) at Dr Vienna Lau, the dentist promoting herself and her ‘vision, willpower and ample compassion’ at considerable expense as something-but-we’re-not-sure-what-yet, this time on a minibus. Presumably, it’s something to do with November’s District Council elections. To our horror, she’s doing dogs…

ViennaDog

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Even authentic concrete-wasteland heritage isn’t safe

There is organic, gradual change. And then there is systematic rapid destruction. An example of the latter is the incessant tearing-down of authentic Hong Kong. Traditional Stan-Tramsresidential neighbourhoods are being flattened and replaced with hotels and malls aimed at tourists. Old trees in streets are chopped down overnight. Some sort of ‘consultancy’ is suggesting scrapping trams in Central to free up space for (presumably) far more important Alphards and tour buses.

Now even our traditional grotty concrete wastes are under threat. Property cartel pillar New World and accommodating friends in government propose to ‘revitalize’ the Tsimshatsui waterfront. This once barren and soulless but inoffensive strip became Avenue of Stars, a tacky movie-themed pseudo-attraction. The cheap-looking statues (allegedly) of Bruce Lee and Anita Mui inexplicably draw swarms of Mainland tourists.

By ‘revitalizing’, the government means shutting the area off for years and putting more fake and ugly clutter in, so New World’s adjacent hotel can make more rent from yet more luxury retail outlets. (For an example of how charming it all is, consider that a proposed lame observation deck will be located at a romantic beauty spot called the Hung Hom bypass flyover.) An activist on the radio this morning described the plan as turning the waterfront and related public space from ‘50% for tourists’ to ‘100% for tourists’.

Not that many people will notice – it’s hardly the Louvre – but the HK Museum of Art is also being closed for several years for some sort of ‘revitalization’. So if the waterfront plan goes ahead, most of the southern tip of TST will be boarded off for the rest of the decade.

Interestingly, it is not just irrelevant uppity pain-in-the-ass taxpaying citizens who oppose SCMP-TSTWaterthe New World/Leisure and Cultural [sic] Services Dept vision for a utopia of non-stop tourists, concrete and luxury shops. The South China Morning Post reports that other businesses nearby, including the much-cherished Woodlands Restaurant in Wing On Plaza, hate the idea.

The LCSD predictably goes into ‘government knows best, public shut up’ mode and says it wants to ‘enhance cultural ambience’ and that current facilities must be replaced as they are aging (good job they’re not in charge of the pyramids or Notre Dame). Tellingly, they insist that the proposal ‘is not a property or commercial project’ and ‘complies with principles of openness and fairness’, which – without wishing to sound cynical or anything – suggests that this is a classic example of government-tycoon collusion. Specifically, it seems to be about turning Hong Kong public space into Mainland tourist space so one property giant can make more money.

A government that really put Hong Kong first would curb the whole parasitical Mainland (and non-Mainland) tourist/shopper influx, through selective sales taxes, visa restrictions, electric razor wire – whatever it took. This would free up space for breathing, and for a greater diversity of economic activities and opportunities. But that would hurt the big landlords and property players like New World, who were long ago co-opted by the Communist regime in Beijing and whose interests must apparently come before anyone else’s. It would also end or slow down the eradication of Hong Kong’s unique physical and visual features in favour of plasticky and anonymous Shanghai Pudong/Dubai Airport/Shenzhen cookie-cutter crappiness. And that, too, is looking more and more as if it is a real policy.

In the interests of fairness, a plug for another Indian restaurant on the same floor as Woodlands: Sangeetha…

Sangeetha

Other food-related news: man who threw egg complains about not having egg.

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EIU tops List of Global Worst Lists

If, as part of the (classic) liberal Anglophone intelligentsia, you want to be really edgy, indeed outré, you sneer at the Economist and don’t read it. Otherwise, everyone who is anyone is (as the hotel ad puts it) a fan. It is the chattering classes’ brain candy of choice. The only criticism might be that over the years it has gone from an insider-ish insignia by
EIU-Summarywhich a certain oh-so select group recognized one another, to a wonkish status symbol, to today’s huge pile of glossy next to the two-for-one snacks on the counter in my local 7-Eleven. But it hasn’t gained this popularity by becoming massively more tabloidy or dumbed down or full of child-oriented graphics – compare with Time, for example.

The newspaper lends its brand name to a money-spinning publishing/conference outfit called the Economist Intelligence Unit. Like many consulting and analysis groups, the EIU grabs occasional free publicity by producing a Big List of Places Ranked According to an Impressive Formula. Thus the news today is full of the Global Livability Index.

Who can resist? CBC excitedly reports that Canada has no fewer than three of the top six cities. ABC rejoices that Australia has two. China News gushes that social stability helped Chinese cities’ rankings.

Or didn’t. Hong Kong’s pro-government media leap on the EIU’s claim that last year’s Occupy protests hit the city’s livability. The SCMP quotes the survey as saying the city could face continued high risk of protests. Gasp!

To its credit, the Standard mentions some doubts: a student activist asks, in effect, whether declining rule of law and unaffordable housing aren’t more relevant to livability than kids with umbrellas in the street (kids driven in part by declining rule of law and unaffordable housing). And some of us thought Occupy actually improved livability, reducing traffic and turning a stretch of Admiralty freeway into a carnival – but what do we know?

Even more puzzling, Singapore – with all those trees, best airport in the solar system, the death penalty for chewing gum and no nasty kids with umbrellas – still ranks lower than Hong Kong. What did the Lion City do to upset the EIU?

To put it in perspective, it might be an idea to look at what the EIU thinks its scores represent. Anything from 80 to 100 (Hong Kong is 88.8) means ‘there are few, if any, challenges to living standards’. A score from 70-80 means that ‘day-to-day living is fine, in general, but some aspects of life may entail problems’, which workers shoveling smoldering sodium cyanide in search of dead firemen in Tianjin (76.0) would probably go along with, while being thankful they’re not living in crappy Shenzhen (72.8). To put it another, relentlessly positive, way: in Hong Kong, ‘no aspects of life may entail problems’. Who’d have thought it? I feel better already.

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An authentic journey into the Efficiency Unit

Nearly a month ago, I noted the unlamented departures of a couple of plasticky Soho restaurants – the Italian one with the name no-one could pronounce, and one we can barely remember but it had some sort of slobby sports-bar concept. Their landlord-fodder replacements have now opened.

Castello

One is an Italian place called ‘Prego’ which I think has moved from another location nearby as part of the ‘musical chairs’ circulation of dining places around the neighbourhood. Named for a genre of pornography, apparently, it promises an authentic journey into provincial dining with home-style cooking straight from Mamma’s kitchen!

With startling originality, the other is… Italian. At first glance, it seems to be called Costello, as in Abbott and… Which would possibly be amusing as a theme. But closer inspection shows the name to be ‘Castello’, which the signage suggests might be Italian for ‘castle’. The signage hanging overhead claims the establishment to be ‘paleo friendly’ and to have gluten-free options. Both these fads imply an absence of wheat, which in turn implies an absence of pasta and bread – basics of Italian cuisine. Presumably they will be serving olive-flavoured rice cakes.

As with all Soho restaurants paying idiotic rents to the local landlords, it will be economically impossible for these outlets to offer anything vaguely like value for money. The preference for investors to launch Italian places is probably connected to the fact that Italian means wine, which means big mark-ups, and it means pasta, which also means big mark-ups. This could make the gluten-free/paleo Italian idea a bit of a challenge. A teetotal gluten-free/paleo Italian joint would go bankrupt in days.

I also mentioned the obstruction created by another vacant space…

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I reported it to the Hong Kong government’s Efficiency Unit, using their TellMe@1823 app. I attached the above photo and pointed out that the narrowness of the sidewalk forced pedestrians to walk in the street, which is obviously dangerous. Five weeks after submitting this report, I get the following reply…

…The staff of Buildings Department’s term consultant has been assigned to carry out inspection. The inspection revealed that timber hoarding was erected on the pavement outside the aforesaid address.

[quote from Buildings Dept] “…As the timber hoarding was temporary work and there was no imminent danger and serious obstruction to the public, no action will be taken by this Department. We will keep monitoring the situation and should circumstances so require in future, appropriate action will be taken.”…

I made this complaint because the app seemed a novelty. I had zero expectation that the civil servants in the Efficiency Unit and beyond would get anything done. But I am still, in my naivety, a bit surprised by the complete absence of initiative, or plain awareness. Someone went to inspect the timber hoarding erected on the pavement and found that it was a timber hoarding erected on the pavement. He then determined that it was not dangerous or a serious obstruction – even though it clearly forces people into the traffic.

My hunch is that the key phrase in the Efficiency Unit’s response is ‘Buildings Department’. The deputy assistant sub-cretin sent to do the inspection does buildings only; he saw that the hoarding was not about to fall on anyone and kill them, and concluded all was well. If you had asked him whether the hoarding could cause someone walking from, say, Prego to Castello to be hit by a vehicle in the road, he would say that he doesn’t do pavements or roads or traffic – that’s the job of the Blah Blah Department. And can I have my pension now, please? And the Efficiency Unit’s deputy assistant sub-autist passes the message on without questioning anything. (What would an Inefficiency Unit do?) You’d be out the door in minutes if you handled customers like this at a hotel or an airline. Or a Soho restaurant.

And these people wonder why everyone thinks they’re a waste of space.

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Not one, but two skewering opportunities

Although Hong Kong is not alone in giving Uber a rocky ride, it’s not doing much for the city’s tech-friendly, up-to-speed, ‘freest economy’, start-up-hub-zone-incubator reputation to be EJ-uberputting the company’s office staff in cuffs and, reportedly, demanding HK$200,000 bail. Nor is it helping the HK Police’s local image as clumsy and heavy-handed when faced with anything vaguely young, hip and trendy, and selective in enforcement (compare with inaction against daily taxi-driver infringements and private cars’ illegal parking).

There is a genuine regulatory issue to do with licensing and insurance. There is also a large civil service with the administrative skills and powers to overcome such problems. The fact that the government is treating Uber as some sort of threat suggests that facilitating economic activities to serve consumers’ interests is not its priority here. What is?

Officials are supposedly fearful of taxi drivers, who in theory have the ability to bring Hong Kong to a halt and possibly trigger unrest. It has happened before, a long time ago. Even if the idea of ‘taxi riots’ is far-fetched these days, you can understand our valiant leaders being nervous about some sort of Cabbies-go-Umbrella road blocks.

The taxi industry is also an influential part of the Transport functional constituency, which like most trade-based functional constituencies is part of a legislative voting bloc that can be controlled by Beijing. Traditionally, the Transport constituency has thrown its weight around; when Miriam Lau was its representative, it fought against things like cleaner vehicle engines and tougher penalties for running red lights. It is a policy of the national as well as local government to place such a group’s interests above those of the wider Hong Kong populace (in case you hadn’t noticed).

Last, several thousand speculators are sitting on taxi licences, which are tradable and fetch HK$7 million or something – quite a lot for a bit of paper. As with a mortgage for a property, you can get a loan to buy one and then rent it out to drivers, thus achieving the Hong Kong dream of doing no productive work while raking in quick quick easy sure fast money and watching your asset rise up up up in value for all eternity. Faced with a choice between protecting the interests of such (if rather low-bred) investors and looking after the well-being of the public, officials will instinctively favour the former. (Same as with landlords: both have invested in something on the assumption that the government will keep it artificially scarce).

But, after all the blather about innovation and tech, the administration is exposing itself to a good skewering here.

On a similar note, Demonstration of the Week Award must go to the small but brilliant group who occupied part of Fanling golf course, calling for the land to be used for homes.

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The HK Golf Club knows that it, too, is exposed to a massive skewering on this. Earlier this year, it produced glossy brochures on its Fanling estate’s historical importance, plus waffle about its ‘nature trails’, and a backgrounder with stomach-churning puke about how it helps the disabled and indigenous villagers…

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Could ‘Occupy Golf Club’ become as popular as the anti-shopper gatherings in Sheung Shui have been? It would be a nice day out. Great picnic spot! (The Standard also reports that a weaker Yuan is attracting more Mainlanders to buy property here. That’s what a strong Yuan did, too. Most strange.)

To put housing issues in perspective, there’s Tianjin, where even Xinhua admits 112 are dead and 95 missing from the explosion. The visuals – still shocking after four days – and stories about cyanide make you wonder… How long it will be before a big area (a mile across?) of urban residential/commercial space can be made fit for human habitation again? Six months? One year? Several years? Assuming you can convince people to live and work there.

The weekend in pictures…

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A  Trying to drown out nearby didgeridoo player (not shown), really loud street preacher screaming at passengers going up escalator (all too slowly) in Central.

B  ‘Every child an obese child – Discovery Bay’s aim’.

C  Northern Dumpling Yuan in Western: steamed dumplings, eggplant, fried dumplings and what the menu called ‘spicy donkey’ but, grrrr, was actually beef – have informed Consumer Council.

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Design corner

Like most of the city’s businesses eager to expand market share among Mainland consumers, Hong Kong’s Christian churches tend to avoid upsetting the Chinese Communist Party. Unlike the Evangelical Biblical-literalists, some of whom see no contradiction in opportunistic attachment to the pro-Beijing camp, the Catholics and mainstream Protestants do occasionally speak out. And so it is that Cardinal John Tong – WenzhouChurches1though moderate compared with his staunchly pro-democracy predecessor Joseph ‘Zen’ Chan – complains about the Chinese government. Not about the arrests of human rights lawyers, not about growing Liaison Office interference in local institutions, but about the removal of crosses from churches in Zhejiang.

The campaign to dismantle crucifixes is part of the whole Xi Jinping freak-out-about-everything approach to maintaining social harmony/saving our CCP ass. As with forcing Xinjiang Muslims to eat during daytime in Ramadan, or evicting monks from monasteries in Tibet, you have to wonder whether this policy is a tad unsubtle and possibly counterproductive. But what do we know about running the glorious motherland?

If it was being done for reasons of aesthetics, I could sympathize with the Chinese officials’ clampdown on the visual appearance of Christian churches. At best, the architectural style of Wenzhou’s houses of worship can be described as Mormon-Disney, with Stalinesque-Byzantine influences.

Well, OK – seriously ugly…

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Here in Hong Kong, design is exciting, fun and even subversive.

Yesterday, I noted a ‘Discover the Basic Law’ Multi-media Interactive Art Exhibition being assembled in Central Market. The show is organized by the government’s propaganda unit and features work by students from something called the HK Design Institute. Chief Secretary Carrie Lam opened it at its last location. Despite a rather fetching dual-purpose one-country-one-system spittoon/chamber pot, I feared the worst…

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Today, it is all in place. I am delighted to report that the students – all veterans of the Umbrella movement, I suspect – have wittily undermined this dismal concept by doing drugs and producing hilariously idiotic pieces that clearly poke fun at the Basic Law. The funniest part of course is that this sabotaging of the project has gone totally over the heads of the clueless bureaucrats at the Information Services Dept…

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I declare the weekend open with a warning that, if you feel like acquiring one of these works as a souvenir, the exhibition is tightly guarded…

BLart2

…which is a pity, because I would seriously, definitely like this…

BLart3

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