Buggle in a muddle?

Has Buggle lost his mind? Buggle Lau, the Hong Kong media’s most reliable quote-provider on property issues, works for a real-estate agency. He therefore usually cheerfully proclaims that every day is a good day to buy an apartment or three. This suits the newspapers, which depend on developers, developer-run conglomerates and mortgage-providing banks for much of their advertising, and whose tycoon proprietors are best buddies with the land-owning families.

So it comes as a shock to find Buggle blurting out something along the lines that you would be nuts to buy a home in Hong Kong at these prices…

The obvious explanation is that the poor guy has ingested hallucinogenic mushrooms and has no idea what he is saying. Another is that the property intermediaries are suffering from low transaction volumes and calculate that business might pick up if prices fell.

Former Chief Executive CY Leung’s policies, ostensibly to cool the housing market, just so happened to reduce turnover of second-hand properties while pushing buyers into bidding up prices of new-build apartments with easy financing from the developers. The prices making headlines today are high because (among the other distortions) there is an artificial premium attached to the primary market, and much of the secondary market is ‘missing’.

Even by Hong Kong standards, it is a perverse situation where the crappiest, most overpriced products (brand-new flats) seem the most affordable, or at least accessible

To state the obvious: as soon as a brand-new apartment is sold, it becomes second-hand and thus instantly loses some of its supposed value. Buggle and his colleagues would benefit from a more liquid second-hand market, and – happily – they can perform a socially useful service by warning suckers away from the developers’ lures.

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Farewell to Sammy’s

Like most people who for decades valued it as a landmark as much as a treasure of urban aesthetics, I lamented the disappearance of the famous Sammy’s Kitchen cow sign (OK, bull) a couple of years back. Now, the venerable Hong Kong-style-Western-style restaurant founded in 1969 looks set to go the same way, as a new landlord has doubled the rent.

The neon bovine signage will eventually appear at the new M+ Museum at West Kowloon Culture Hub Zone.

As a weekend visit confirmed, you could make a good case for preserving the whole interior as a historic monument. This is authentic 70s-80s Dingy-Formica ambience, where everything is a shade of yellowish-brown. The uninitiated might want the full secret sauce/borscht-with-everything experience, otherwise a peach melba will do – you probably wouldn’t come here for the food. You have until mid-September, apparently.

What will replace Sammy’s? The odd thing is, this stretch of Western still retains many of the traditional retailers – dried goods, houseware, groceries and cheap eating places.

But assuming gentrification is inevitable… Perhaps it will become a branch of Under Armour Ugly Clothes for people who think everyone else wants to see the contours of their buttocks. Or maybe one of those peculiar stores selling vast shiny PVC tubs of protein powder to inadequate pervert body-builders too dim to find protein in actual food. Or the artisanal organic bespoke hand-crafted cupcake emporiums might start creeping in from Kennedy Town in search of gritty integrity and lower rents. In some neighbourhoods, the landlord would subdivide the property into 20 cubicles all selling an identical range of iPhone covers.

But here, he might be banking on a shift into Sai Wan of the Korean tourist influx that has inexplicably inundated Central, pushing up demand for fake-genuine Olde Worlde Hong Kong stuff like egg tarts, milky bean-gloop drinks and… retro steak houses.

 

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And the government’s next fight with the public begins…

With the government’s lame legal case against Long Hair thrown out of court, and funding for a supposedly private action against two pro-democracy lawmakers mysteriously unavailable, Hong Kong’s cynics might detect a pattern: the Communist-psycho United Front team at the Liaison Office is suspending its assault on evil splittist hostile elements to help new Chief Executive Carrie Lam ease into office.

But then along comes news that Carrie will be appointing pro-Beijing loyalist Christine Choi as the Deputy Vice Sub-Assistant Under-Flunky at the Education Bureau. Choi is unabashedly pro-‘National Education’, also known as ‘Letting Communists Brainwash Our Little Kids’. One highly believable theory is that the Liaison Office wanted Choi to take the top Education Secretary role, and giving her the number-two position is the compromise.

Whatever it is, the pro-Beijing cause is making life harder for itself. Pro-dem politicians are a relatively safe and easy target, with a sizable portion of the public buying the pro-establishment media’s line that their antics cause rather than reflect dysfunctional government. National Education is much tougher to push – indeed, it ranks with Article 23 and political reform in toxicity.

First, parents have that instinctive revulsion about strangers molesting their children – and that includes messing with their minds. Second, the new classes will at best join art, sport and Liberal Studies as a time-wasting distraction from the real, exam-based subjects that enable your precious offspring to become a lawyer, doctor or accountant. Third, the brainwashing will only be for ordinary-middling non-elite folk, as officials and the rich send their kids to safe private/overseas schools.

One way to slip patriotic propaganda into classrooms is to package it less obtrusively, hence measures to label it ‘Civic Education’ or wrap it up in Chinese History and other syllabuses. But then you wouldn’t appoint Christine Choi, who comes with Communist Brainwashing flashing lights and alarm bells attached. This is a gift to the opposition, with far more scope to stir up broad popular anger than, say, the High-Speed Rail Mainland Immigration Zone.

That’s a funny thing about National Education, going back to Donald Tsang’s half-hearted attempts at implementing it. Beijing’s oh-so-subtle officials want it to be high-profile, which creates alarm and resistance, while our local bureaucrats passively undermine it by obediently implementing it accordingly – that is, ineptly.

 

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American soft power true threat to CCP

An anguished letter-writer to the South China Morning Post starts the week by needlessly complicating hostile foreign forces’ latest wanton attempt to undermine the Chinese Communist Party’s core leader and genius, Xi Jinping.

The juxtaposition of a picture of Winnie-the-Pooh – and Tigger, too – alongside a photo of similarly tubby, plodding Xi with the lean and sprightly Barack Obama famously overloaded China’s Internet-censorship systems. The letter-writer corrects a previous correspondent who attributed the character of the bear of little brain to Walt Disney, pointing out that it was AA Milne.

Milne’s creation has always had its detractors – such as Dorothy Parker, who ‘fwowed up’. But many of us who grew up with the soppy tales of Pooh, Eeyore and Piglet at least enjoyed the illustrations by EH Shepard. These pictures realistically portrayed Pooh as a teddy bear.

The Disneyfied Pooh is predictably a dumbed-down caricature and travesty of the original. But it is this version – not the (now unfamiliar) EH Shepard one – that looks startlingly similar to China’s visionary General Secretary and Chairman. Only the Disney Pooh works as a subversive parody of the originator of the Chinese Dream of a great rejuvenation of the nation.

 

 

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‘I never realized I was clueless’ – Carrie shock

A few months ago, Hongkongers were bemused by the obliviousness of the woman Beijing was choosing as their city’s next Chief Executive. Carrie Lam didn’t know how to use an MTR turnstile, and couldn’t work out how to buy toilet paper. She publicly laughed at her own ineptness, so it seemed slightly endearing (if you could see the funny side of it).

Off-camera, when consulting ‘various sectors’ ahead of the quasi-election and working on her pretend-campaign, there was less scope for flippancy. On at least a couple of occasions I heard of, she was visibly shocked to hear gruesome details of issues like subdivided housing. “They don’t tell us about this in government.”

Now she admits that she had no idea before then that young people in Hong Kong were so disgruntled.

So in all her years in top bureaucratic and ministerial positions, she did not notice that the mass of her fellow citizens, especially the young and educated, were growing angrier and more alienated. For two decades, she did not perceive that the Hong Kong government’s only real policy was to serve parasite cartels by distorting supply and demand to ramp up land values, property prices and rents. And in late 2014, as the whole world watched the Umbrella Movement occupy three separate parts of the city, she was distracted – perhaps away in the South Pole or something.

It is tempting – even comforting – to think she is exaggerating her ignorance, acting dumb in order to save face as her new administration gropes desperately for Communist Party-compliant, tycoon-friendly policies to give the young hope for the future. But (as with her earlier on- and off-the-record reactions to reality) she sounds candid about the fact that she has no knowledge of anything unless it appears in a memo or briefing paper. And unaware that the rest of us might find it unusual, let alone scary.

On the subject of the ‘unusual-to-scary’ part of the political-events spectrum, I declare the weekend open with (for anyone who’s missed it) with the latest swamp-management antics in DC, guaranteed to put helpless and hopeless Carrie into hug-able perspective.

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Some quick Thursday links

On Twitter this morning, someone quoting Lily Tomlin: “No matter how cynical you get, you just can’t keep up.”

I think it’s Apple Daily that has started referring to the Mainland-jurisdiction ‘Port Area’ zone at West Kowloon high-speed rail station as the ‘International Settlement’.

The comparison to old Shanghai’s British-American-etc district is historically and constitutionally inapt and absurd in itself. The allusion to Hong Kong-as-helpless-victim in latter-day ‘foreign persecution’ at hands of professional self-pitying rewriter of history the Chinese Communist Party is monstrously, gratuitously offensive. This pushes so many buttons the Beijing Mouth-Frothing System will explode. In short: utterly brilliant.

Among many, many other objectionable intrusions in Hong Kong from north of the border is HNA, the Hainan Airlines-related conglomerate that bought land at Kai Tak for otherworldly sums, and is routinely described in international media as ‘acquisitive’, or (more daringly) ‘shadowy’. The mystery is sort of thickening and unravelling simultaneously, as the group tries to hide its ultimate ownership in various ways, now as a charitable foundation. Details here and here.

Obviously, it looks like a princelings/kleptocracy/crony money-laundering/capital-flight mega-scam. But which princelings/faction/etc? The charity (or dog-ate-my-homework) story suggests someone is getting desperate. (On a related note: will Shirley Yam reappear at the South China Morning Post, or is she ‘disqualified’, as lawmakers put it? Her infamous swiftly excised article is here, for anyone who hasn’t seen it.)

There is murk, there is Mainland murk, and then to prove Tomlin right there is Land of Smiles Mega-Murk – behold an alleged and hyper-lurid-putrid reason why Thailand’s new king has long hung out so much in Germany, including guest appearance by his intellectually disabled son. A dozen re-education camps under West Kowloon would seem normal next to this.

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The search for Nirvana ends…

…in one of Hong Kong’s larger Marks and Spencer Food Halls.

A humble monk walks in, clutching all his worldly possessions wrapped in simple cotton bags. He places them in a cart and slowly strolls down the aisle. He pays no interest to the muffins, or to the moist scones. He resists the midget gems, the Belgian marzipan chocolate balls and the jelly babies. He liberates his consciousness from all earthly desires as he passes the crunchy wasabi peanuts, the jars of pesto sauce and the Percy Pig biscuits. He has no use for the organic peppermint tea. He even ignores the glistening bottles of champagne…

Then he approaches the dairy section. He stops and turns to the shimmering light. And he gets seriously stuck into the cheese.

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Carrie’s ‘warm and fuzzy’ – the first 4 weeks

As Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam nears the end of her first month in office, her hoped-for lovey-dovey unity and harmony with everyone isn’t turning out too well.

Carrie’s hands are largely tied on the Oath-Gate purge-in-progress of opposition lawmakers. This could go all sorts of ways in the long run, with legal appeals, bankruptcies and by-elections, not to mention possible moves to disqualify more representatives.

Nearer-term, the culling of pan-dems looks likely to hinder as much as help the government in LegCo. Surviving pan-dems will hardly be receptive to her attempts to ‘reach out’ and build consensus. The legitimacy of the legislature and its elections (and related laws) in the eyes of many voters is weaker than ever. With fewer members present, there could also be more legislative procedural problems to do with quorums and so on.

Meanwhile, the new administration can’t help but rush to make itself unpopular among the rest of the citizenry.

They might appoint overtly pro-Communist ideologue Choi Yuk-lin as Assistant Deputy Sub-Flunky for Education. This is like setting off a very loud citywide alarm screeching ‘Brainwashing Your Kids Alert!!!’ Common sense says it won’t happen. Can Carrie really be so stupid or subservient to the Liaison Office to provoke and alienate every mild and decent parent in town? OK – so maybe it will happen. Pro-dems will rub their hands with glee.

Then there’s the co-location of Mainland border-control officials inside Hong Kong at the terminus of the high-speed train line to Shenzhen. (Should be a joke here: what happens when you cross a white elephant with a hot potato?)

In a normal situation, with halfway trustworthy and accountable government, this would be no big deal. If the rail link is to work as advertised and zip you seamlessly to Shenzhen and Guangzhou and up to Beijing overnight blah blah, it makes sense to do the immigration and customs stuff right at the start. Hence French cops at the London rail station, US officials at Canadian airports, etc.

But of course, this is not a normal situation. In addition to trying to brainwash your kids and overturn elections, the Chinese authorities have abducted people from within Hong Kong, not to mention snuffing out Liu Xiaobo and so much else. It is not a ‘lack of trust’, as officials awkwardly admit – it is a not-unreasonable vision of CCP thugs dragging innocents off to torture chambers and televised confessions. On top of that, Beijing presumably sees this as a partly symbolic thing (a more PR-minded regime would delegate the ID checks to Hong Kong Immigration).

So, near the top of Carrie’s to-do list: ask pro-dems ever so nicely to forget being kicked in the teeth for a minute and support ‘co-location’ when the necessary legislation comes along, and not freak out and spread panic everywhere, pretty-please. Just another 59 months of this ‘warm-and-fuzzy’ to go.

 

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Jack Ma’s organ acts up again

While it would be an exaggeration to say that the South China Morning Post never ceases to amaze, the paper can sometimes raise eyebrows. The Mysterious Case of the Vanishing Shirley Yam Column last week took readers aback – not least because ultra-sensitive apparent dirt on Xi Jinping’s inner circle made it into print in the first place, before being hastily airbrushed out of existence.

And yesterday we had a forthright denunciation of the Chinese Communist Party’s rewriting of Hong Kong (and other) history, featuring such quotable snippets as…

Beijing treats us like we have Stockholm syndrome, like because we don’t buy into the nation’s collective self-pity, we are somehow “stalling the process of decolonialisation”.

…and…

You can tell us foreign elements organised Occupy Central, or try to pretend five of our publishers were never arbitrarily spirited away to the mainland. But every time you erase another line of our past, you push us another mile away.

The column is a response to one in the SCMP by a Mainland zombie-academic (which was so insulting and coarse that its own appearance in the paper could almost be interpreted as anti-Beijing black propaganda).

The (pinyin-named) author’s argument is perhaps awkward. For example, he or she sees a straight equivalence between the CCP and colonial historical/fictional narratives, and (let’s say) probably overstates the role of Song- and Qing-era local resistance against foreign invaders in forming modern Hong Kong.

But the article also reflects much of the broader uncertainty and discussion about Hong Kong’s identity vis-à-vis the Mainland/China/the CCP. It particularly makes sense in the context of the city’s defiance and reaction against Mainlandization and the obnoxiousness and belligerence of the CCP.

In short, it is a ‘Localist’ op-ed piece – which, in the SCMP, is a bit of a surprise.

 

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Crystal Skye’s the limit

Interestingly, the South China Morning Post’s ‘disappearing Shirley Yam column’ story hasn’t attracted much attention outside Hong Kong, at least as yet. Maybe it’s because – unlike the Asia Society censorship affair – there’s no US angle.

But maybe it’s a reflection of the bizarreness of the article’s existence in the first place. In the darkness of the megalomaniac paranoid Chinese Communist dictatorship/shoe-shining tycoon milieu, those few hundred words imperiled Xi Jinping’s grip on power and/or Jack Ma’s not-totally-unrelated, almost-as-vast Alibaba empire. The pulling of the story is a reversion to ‘dog bites man’ normality. (Which leaves the question: why did the column appear at all?)

Can’t blame the Post’s business section for sticking to something safe today. At least from the publisher’s point of view. To financially prudent readers, operating a Boeing 777 in an 86-seat, all-first-class configuration might sound idiotically risky.

The (more-or-less) puff-piece concerns a company called Crystal Skye, part of Malaysia’s Genting group. The concept takes an outdated and wretchedly tedious method of travel, the cruise-ship, and wraps it in the modern soulless efficiency of a wide-bodied jet airliner. The enticing Unique Selling Proposition: a US$45,000 luxury week in Tahiti. Exclusive, exciting, etc, of course.

Obviously this product is not aimed at sensible wealthy folk who understand, like veteran fund manager Jack Bogle, that chucking money down the toilet is stupid. It is aimed at nouveau-riche Mainlanders. They started off buying inane designer-label garbage in Hong Kong, and then Paris, before going on to thinking the mind-numbing Maldives was a cool vacation spot. Maybe Crystal Skye has identified an amazing opportunity and a last chance – grab their money as they climb the giraffe-viewing tree, before they wise up.

Shouldn’t think so despicably, but I’d love to see (at a distance) the scene in the fancy ‘restaurant’ with its wah-so-high-class bone-china plates-upon-plates, when the plane hits the inevitable turbulence.

I declare the weekend open with – what is it? Art? Journalism? Archiving? Nostalgia? Eulogy? Re-cycling? Hong Kong Hermit stitches together, in chronological order, nearly two hours’ worth of six-second (too short to possibly be boring) Vine video clips from the Occupy/Umbrella movement.

 

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