‘Might have to walk’ disaster looms

Hong Kong officials are worried that the city’s Central district is insufficiently crowded. Its tourism board has launched a campaign to cram yet more selfie-stick-waving transient-zombies onto the area’s narrow sidewalks on walking routes around what it calls ‘Old Town’ (because the equally inappropriate ‘Colonial Heritage’ sounds kind of icky). And planners want to redevelop the old Murray Road Multi-Storey Car Park into another gleaming high-rise office tower.

At this point, the bureaucrats’ mission to deplete the business core of any remaining space, light or oxygen runs into a contradiction. In order to pack more humans into offices into the district, they must ease off on jamming cars into parking garages.

Instant mouth-frothing ensues from millions of innocent people who will not have an easily accessible place in the middle of the world’s most expensive real estate to leave their Mercedes and Alphards…

How can we help these poor people? Some initial ideas…

  • Ban all public buses and trams from a five-mile radius of Central, freeing up road space suitable for accommodating parked private cars
  • Remove train services from MTR lines, and construct ramps connecting roads to the underground tunnels, which can be used for accommodating the precious parked private cars
  • Require pedestrians to move around the area above ground level, via rope-bridges connecting the office-tower rooftops, thus freeing up sidewalks for the very important private car owners to park their important cars on
  • Deploy newly imported female Cambodian migrant workers to push inconvenienced car owners around the district on special air-conditioned carts with plush upholstering and complimentary iced tea

I declare the long-weekend-with-extra-Buddha’s-birthday-bonus open, confident that the city’s collective geniuses can find other innovative ways to solve the plight of our cruelly treated car owners.

 

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Then they came for the sandwich-throwers…

It looks as if, with only two months left in office, CY Leung’s obsession to prove his loyalty to the Communist Party through vindictiveness is bordering on farce. Here is a list of government opposition figures who have been arrested, charged, prosecuted, sued or barred from public office – mostly on shamelessly obscure or contrived grounds. It is like the time CY mentioned ‘Belt and Road’ 50 times in the same speech, except with cops knocking on doors. Another eight (including some duplicates) this morning.

This looks like the work of CY and his psychopath buddies in Beijing’s local Liaison Office – rather than Beijing itself – because, even by the standards of witch-hunts, it is overreaching and a last-minute rush.

The classic United Front tactic is to isolate and crush fringe opponents who might have only limited sympathy among the wider community. That would mean focusing the persecution on young-radical types whose behaviour has shocked liberal gentlefolk. But this crackdown extends to pursuing even harmless and dated idealists and uppity moderates like Benny Tai and Tanya Chan, who could be any of us.

Alternatively, there could be a gruesome Leninist logic to the clampdown, and Beijing has approved if not decreed it.

Either way, this sweeping and overtly political campaign is pushing the police and prosecution system further away from their traditional public-service neutrality. And it will put the courts and judiciary under pressure to become more of an arm of government; if they diligently protect citizens from abuse of state power in some of these cases, they expose themselves as foreign-infested threats to national security.

The crackdown also makes it harder for Carrie Lam’s incoming administration to distance itself from CY’s phobic antagonism towards the local opposition. This opposition, lest we forget, wins 60% support in polls among the population as a whole, and significantly more among the younger and better-educated demographics. However out-of-touch Carrie might appear, she must know that CY’s belligerence towards the majority of this pluralistic society is a burden on governance.

Maybe there is an opportunity – or even a demented United Front plan – to create some sort of bad cop-to-good cop transition on July 1. This particular ongoing round-up of dissidents looks as absurd as it does sinister. But the bigger, tragic context is an erosion of Hong Kong’s institutions, simply as a force of one-party-state nature.

The city’s press-freedom ranking has just fallen to 73rd. Our land and property markets have become an escape valve for the Mainland elites’ dirty cash. The stock exchange is listing Mainland corporate scams. There’s lead in the water pipes, and even the MTR doesn’t seem to be able to run a decent rail system anymore. It’s nothing personal, and it’s not deliberate – the Communists are turning Hong Kong into a banana republic because that’s all they know how to do.

 

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Regina to city: I’m not finished with you yet

Hong Kong is filled with joy today as the city learns that veteran bureaucrat-turned-politician Regina Ip has decided to change her mind, and get in all our faces yet again. For a while last month, after her hopes of becoming next Chief Executive were so cruelly dashed, she was in a huff, swearing never to set foot in winner Carrie Lam’s Executive Council. We feared that she might step down from public life and gradually disappear from our lives.

Now the foot-stomping tantrum is over, and Regina is jumping up and down like an excited schoolgirl insisting that she might indeed accept an invitation from Carrie to join the ever-so important body.

This isn’t the first time she has taunted us this way. In mid-2003, after her tragic failure to introduce ‘Article 23’ national security legislation, she departed for the United States – leaving a broomhead-size void in our hearts. And then a few years later she returned, founding a political party, getting elected as a lawmaker, taking a seat in the aforementioned highly prestigious Council, writing English-language booklets for kids, going on TV cookery shows, and even starting up an Institute to promote China’s visionary ‘Belt and Road’ hub-zone initiative-concept.

Looking (hopefully many) decades into the future, I can envisage a sad day when Hong Kong is mourning her final departure, and she is laid to rest in the Giants of Public Service Memorial Garden – and hours later, a pair of immaculately manicured and fragrant hands reach out of the soil, and a muffled voice beneath expresses a decision to reconsider and continue to serve the community. We can only hope.

Meanwhile, we rejoice that Regina will be part of Carrie’s young, fresh, new-look line-up.

A letter in the South China Morning Post makes me wonder: is there a word for a statement whose own illogicality proves its point?

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Some mid-week reading

Eater examines US President Donald Trump’s preference for steak that is well-done and accompanied by ketchup – in particular what this says about his personality.

People of any breeding or refinement refuse to have ketchup in the house, and know instinctively that well-done steak is a mark of a (Anglophone) peasant – many professional chefs will refuse to prepare it. However, this writer goes to great lengths to avoid being judgmental, even allowing that some individuals’ sense of taste might be so abnormal that dry and overcooked meat genuinely seems better.

Her conclusion is that Trump’s gauche dining habits reveal deep-rooted distrust, fear and all-round benightedness. The ketchup indicates a person ‘who is always going to fix his problems by making them worse’. This is echoed over at Esquire, which investigates Trump’s use of scotch tape to hold his neckties together and finds that he ‘elects to correct one sin by performing another’.

There is an argument that, to Trump’s fans, the tastelessness (like his Louis XIV boudoir and bim-femmes) is the point – an insult to the class identities and social markers they resent and despise.

This is an English-speaking thing. In France, every leftist and aristocrat and Marine Le Pen voter eats their viande de cheval rare, and dresses with the same effortless elegance. In Hong Kong, cutting-edge gastronomes use Coca-Cola as a marinade for chicken and it is acceptable to clip your fingernails whether on a bus or in the back of a chauffeur-driven Mercedes.

On weightier matters, the Plus ca Change Award of the Week goes to Formosa Calling: An Eyewitness Account of the February 28th, 1947 Incident by Allan Shackleton….

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Paul Chan asks Hongkongers to leave, stop cluttering up city

The Sunday Twitter featured a HK$340 bottle of soda from CitySuper. (I believe the beverage is made from hibiscus. You can buy big bags of the flowers from dried goods stores, and make the same refreshing-if-rather-diuretic cranberry-like drink for pennies.) As with the HK$588 mango, you have to wonder who is buying these items, and why.

As if on cue, South China Morning Post columnist Peter Guy tells of a financier moving his family from Hong Kong to Taipei for a better quality of life, and mentions international schools charging HK$2 million debentures while delivering mediocre education.

Meanwhile, a property website has crunched its data to weigh up the pros and cons of buying versus renting a home in different Hong Kong districts. There are a lot of variables, but it essentially reflects rental yields or value for money by neighbourhood. By ‘value for money’, we mean ‘bad value for money’.

For example: the price I am getting after selling my old apartment in Soho is equivalent to 32 years’ rent at the nearby place I am currently in. Non-permanent residents, who have to pay additional tax, would in theory be nuts to buy at these prices. Yet they seem to be doing so. The guy behind the calculations sees three sort-of explanations. In increasing order of desperation: the buyers see significant upside; they are hedging against a declining Yuan; or they will be rewarded in terms of social status.

As well as over-priced groceries, rip-off private schools and nonsensical housing, the gullible rich (or panicky Mainland money-launderers) can fritter their money away on Hong Kong’s non-perishable luxury goods, milk powder, high-end/low-quality restaurants, private hospital services, and no doubt more.

Presumably, the price tags on luxury mangos, the school fees, the housing prices and the private hospital bills will spiral upwards and upwards for ever and ever. Even when a box of strawberries, a term at the local Harrow School franchise, a 400-sq-ft apartment, or a colonoscopy at Matilda costs 10 times, 50 times, 100 times, 500 times the exact same thing in Singapore, Taipei or wherever – the suckers with their Mainland hot money will continue to pour into this city, because they know of no other way. It is written in stone that this is a sustainable model. The Communist-elite perpetual cross-border money-laundering loophole-arbitrage economy is the future.

Which just leaves the problem of where do the Hongkongers go? Financial Secretary Paul Chan comes up with the answer – you vacate your hometown, abandon it to the unceasing flood of purchasers forever bidding up the prices of fruit, pseudo-British education, micro-apartments, and non-counterfeit kids’ vaccines, and self-deport to the Mainland where you can bask in the affordable hot springs of Enju.

 

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Bay Watch, cont’d

While the rest of Hong Kong dozes through a humdrum week, soon-to-be-ex-Chief Executive CY Leung is still traipsing around the Pearl River Delta to hype up the ‘Greater Bay Area’ project, senior officials dutifully in tow.

It’s as if he wants to punish his transport, Mainland and other ministers for not sharing his infatuation with the Chinese Communist Party, and for stubbornly insisting on being Hongkongers all the time. Or maybe he feels every study trip and briefing and inspection tour genuinely helps to subsume and dissolve Hong Kong into the Mainland, and he must make the most of this last couple of months in office.

Another explanation is that Beijing is actually serious with this latest in a long line of visionary concepts. National economic planners are indeed going to assign the various cities in the region specific roles, with Hong Kong moving its port out and focusing more on high-end financial and other activities, to ‘avoid destructive competition’. We yawned at the announcement of yet another zone-hub, and when we woke up we found we were part of the latest Five-Year Plan.

CY’s parade through the ‘Greater Bay’ includes dropping in – and feeling right at home – at a factory making robots. Also a visit to a hitherto unheard-of city that is now officially the zone-hub’s Gateway to the Southwest, where they are putting 600,000 people into 115,000 square metres. (In plain English, that’s two square feet for every human, according to my approximate and possibly faulty mental calculation. Maybe it’s a typo and they mean cubic metres.)

Inevitably, he and his Mainland buddies find a way to drag the HK$80 zillion Express High-Speed Rail White-Elephant into the Greater Big Bay Zone extravaganza. After the thing is built, we will be able to take a train to Urumqi, and thence to Europe – no more fiddling around with airports and flying.

I declare the weekend open with a theory: maybe it’s the other way round – maybe it’s the Big Greater Bay Concept Theme Hub that’s being dragged into the High-Speed Express Rail to Shenzhen Vision Project?

 

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Today has been cancelled…

…owing to extreme shock. Someone has openly acknowledged that golf is boring

The great awakening begins. The truth about the world’s most mind-numbing pastime is at last dawning.

The number of self-consciously upwardly mobile pre-middle-aged corporate females plodding around Central with a club slung over their shoulder has been visibly declining over the last few years. One such couple I know, for whom golf was up there with having an Alphard and getting their little princess into the right kindergarten, have given up the tedious procession around holes and bunkers in favour of – boxing!

It’s better exercise, they report. And, when they discuss the hobby in company, the people listening don’t doze off like they used to.

The MarketWatch article lists various challenges facing the walking-while-hitting-ball concept. Among them is the amazing discovery that the courses take up large amounts of space, which could be used as parkland, or to grow food or provide housing. The late great George Carlin is vindicated.

 

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Bay Watch

If Hong Kong can’t become ‘Asia’s Israel’, we all read eagerly in Sunday’s South China Morning Post, our future may rest on a leading role in a/the Greater Bay Area plan.

For those of us who missed it: on occasions in the past, Hong Kong Chief Executives CH Tung and CY Leung believed the city ’s destiny was to become the Israel of Asia. (Geographical pedants might say ‘the other Israel of Asia’.) By Israel, they did not mean Jewish, or democratic, or surrounded by enemies and mayhem, and especially not democratic. They meant innovation and tech.

Somewhere along the way, it dawned on our visionary leaders that Israel’s strengths in innovation/tech are connected with a huge defence budget and large influx of Russian scientists. While in Hong Kong, innovation is only possible if it does not disrupt old industries like the taxi trade, and if it can pay rents so high that even luxury-goods outlets struggle to afford them.

But we have our fallback position: the Greater Bay Area.

This is the latest in a long line of concepts bursting with exciting opportunities for us.

‘Belt and Road’ is the biggest and wonderfulest, being so expansive and complex that no-one has managed to explain what it is. (A worthy think-tank tries to do it in 6,000 words. I would summarize it as ‘Getting Third-World dictatorships to pay you to economically colonize them, while simultaneously utilizing your otherwise ruinous vast industrial overcapacity – the hard way, including trains to Spain’.)

Every belt must have a loop, and Hong Kong comes to the rescue with the one at the Lok Ma Chau toxic-swamp not-a-real-estate project, in partnership with our highly trustworthy friends over the border in Shenzhen. This is apparently about innovation/tech, so it may be abandoned with the rest of the let’s-be-Israel vision.

Other exciting opportunities-packed concepts you may have forgotten about include Qianhai – Shenzhen’s lame attempt to replicate Hong Kong without lifting capital controls, censorship, ‘rule by law’, etc. And there’s the equally hyped-up-and-vanished Shanghai Free Trade Zone (ditto).

And now, south of Beijing, Xi Jinping has decreed that the Xiongan Un-special Backwater Region is to become the Xiongan New Inno-Tech Green Buzz Area, and the local property prices suddenly zoom just like that.

And for Hong Kong – the Can’t Miss!! Greater Bay Zone Hub Area. It seems to be the Pan-Pearl River Delta Cooperation Themed Concept Region resurrected and fine-tuned and turbo-charged, perhaps with a post-Umbrella-era emphasis on ‘integration’. Outgoing Chief Executive CY Leung can’t wait until he leaves office and is already on a three-day study tour, dragging along half his long-suffering ministers and other wretches to inspect a high-speed rail, mega-bridge, exhibition hall, tech company, a free-trade zone we forgot to mention earlier (sorry, Nansha) and all the other fascinating features you would expect of a grandiose hub-zone vision.

The SCMP quotes Guangdong Governor Ma Xingrui as hoping the area will become as competitive as other ‘bay’ concepts ‘such as Los Angeles, New York and Tokyo’. Not sure if Los Angeles really is a ‘bay’ – though it has a few curved beaches. Maybe he was thinking of Walvis, or Baffin, or Hong Kong’s very own Discovery Bay, which we should all note grew into a world-class vibrant throbbing competitive dogs-and-babies hub organically, with no top-down government intervention. Maybe Stalinist planning is not all bad.

 

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The Democratic Party makes a suggestion

Hong Kong Democratic Party leader Wu Chi-wai makes a suggestion only a Democratic Party member could make – ‘amnesty’ for both protestors and police convicted of Occupy-related offences.

Not many people are likely to appreciate the idea that these two groups are equally deserving of mercy. Those of us who do not worship the Chinese Communist Party will fail to see much equivalence between kids sitting in the street asking for democracy and police abusing their powers by assaulting people. Beijing’s local followers, meanwhile, will object to giving CIA-funded radical vandals the same treatment as noble patriotic forces of law and order.

Of course, that is in some ways the whole point of the suggestion – new Chief Executive Carrie Lam can make a fresh start by getting everyone to admit that they got too carried away, and we all need to sit down together and learn to be friends again.

The idea is typical Democratic Party, however. It is earnest and well-intentioned, attempting to be constructive while true to the party’s ideals. It is fanciful, and probably impractical or questionable from a legal point of view. It is also inappropriate, if not pretentious, given that the Occupy protests and subsequent politicized prosecutions are a mess rather than some sort of social cataclysm. You get the feeling that the Democratic Party wanted to announce something to get some attention, and this was the best they could think of.

Unfortunately, Carrie is not ushering in a new regime. While she would probably like to spread harmony, she is not in a position to rise above divisions and bring opposition forces and the pro-Beijing camp together as equals. Her duty is to serve Beijing and counter the opposition, if less stupidly than the incumbent. There will be no Truth and Reconciliation Commission until the Communist Party loses its monopoly of power.

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HK yawns as minor party splits

What an action-packed week it has been… The fake-trendy Pepsi TV ad, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer on Hitler, and United Airlines’ passenger-deplaning methods provoked such vast global eruptions of mass-mouth-frothing that only a US strike on North Korea offers a prospect of relief.

In sleepy Hong Kong, the construction fatalities, schoolkids’ suicides and MTR breakdowns continued as usual. Few noticed or cared when textiles scion/amateur politician Michael Tien quit failed Chief Executive hopeful Regina Ip’s New Peoples Party. (Notable exception: South China Morning Post cartoonist Harry.)

The little tiff is of no consequence, but it illustrates the quandary faced by the more moderate, secular parts of Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing establishment. These are the political and other public groups and figures who work within the system while trying to attract the votes and support of the middle-class, educated, younger and social-activist constituencies who generally identify with the pro-democrat opposition. Without examining any murkier personal motives, theirs is a ‘realist’ position – that the best way to defend Hong Kong’s interests is by cooperating with rather than fighting the Communist regime that is ultimately in charge.

The problem is that as Hong Kong becomes more rebellious, Beijing expects and requires its local loyalists to kowtow and obey more overtly – thus losing the moderates the credibility they seek among the city’s pluralistic and freedom-loving population.

In her frantic attempt to prove herself worthy of the CE job, Regina horribly overdid the shoe-shining, and her sidekick Michael has now distanced himself accordingly.

Through its choice of local allies (tycoons and other parasitical interests) and its open contempt for local values and freedoms (illicit abductions, absurd persecution of dissenters), the Communist Party alienates a large portion of Hong Kong’s population. At the same time, it expects poor wretches like Michael Tien and Regina Ip to win the support of the middle class and professionals. And along comes next Chief Executive Carrie Lam, hoping to achieve some sort of rapprochement, particularly with Hong Kong’s younger, more educated community.

I declare the long weekend open by unveiling the Hong Kong Post Office’s contribution – stamps celebrating 20 years’ presence in Hong Kong of the PLA’s ‘Mighty and Civilized Forces’…

*Note vanishing point of parade of troops in hyper-perspective stretching into infinity – and such tasteful colours…

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