Thursday, 18 November 2010

Hong Kong begins to shit itself

In this morning's newspaper (South China Morning Post) is a report about a woman in Hong Kong who has contracted bird flu - the city's first case in seven years.

Hong Kong's complete and utter obsession with hygiene is due to the bird flu epidemic which was responsible for about 300 deaths in Southeast Asia from when it made its reappearance in 2003. Authorities in Hong Kong have raised the city's bird flu alert level to "serious" as they cannot tell yet whether this is a local case or one which travelled into the country as the woman travelled through mainland China from 25 October to 1 November.

Luckily, "so far there has been no sign of human-to-human transmission", says Dr York Chow Yat-ngok, the Secretary for Food and Health. There is, however, a two-week incubation period - the exact reason they cannot correctly identify where this woman caught the virus. Her family and people who have been near her recently have been tested and no strain of flu was found.

Chinese authorities in the cities the woman travelled to say that they have no sign of bird flu within their jurisdictions, although Hong Kong has told them to keep their eyes open. Communications have also been sent to the Agriculture and Quarantine Departments (I know... there's a Quarantine Department - who knew?) in preparation for whatever may come.

It is not good news for Hong Kong. But the city is on alert.

I expect to see even more of these:

People wearing facemasks are prevalent in Hong Kong - due to the hangover of the last outbreak of bird flu. It is also why there are signs up everywhere informing the public that escalator handles, lift buttons and even carpets are regularly disinfected (sometimes hourly).

Health is a massive public concern here. This city is so cramped that you have no option but to be breathed on by other people sometimes.

I expect government to overreact. Which might not be the worst idea when it comes to health, I suppose.

Friday, 12 November 2010

The terrible tragedy of the toilet

For the first time in my life I had to use an Eastern toilet. Myself and Mike went for a run down Bowen Road, a scenic, flat trail that runs from Central out to Wan Chai. Mike runs a lot faster than me, so I was trundling along on my own when my stomach suddenly did a backflip, and I was forced to walk half bent-over, squeezing my please-god-keep-it-inside muscles until they nearly spasmed.

Finally I arrived at the public loo with my bowels virtually overflowing (as if someone was repeatedly smashing me in the stomach with a cricket bat) ready to relieve the pressure cooker I must have swallowed. And what greeted me was this:

Well let me tell you, I have used many bogs in my life ranging from ones in snooty hotels to long-drops, and I have never in my life endured such an unpleasant toilet experience.

For starters, you can't sit down. You have to put your feet on the sides - where those lines are - and hover over it. I wasn't sure at the idea angle and tried half standing up - maintaining terror that I was standing too straight and the resulting excrement would land in my shorts, or squatting right down trying to quash the fear of falling backwards. I have never encountered a toilet where I had to aim. On a sitting-down bog, one merely lets it drop out in full knowledge it will land in the bowl... a privilege not extended to users of Eastern toilets.

Secondly, we also enjoy the luxury of having our personal waste sit in a little pool of water, hiding the smell, and because of the shape of the toilets we are used to, we don't need to look at it. This is not the case with this crapper as it sits in the porcelain bowl right below from whence it came - which is the user's rear end. It's really not my favourite part of how my body works and I would prefer to ignore it.

The next terrible thing about it is that, for some unknown Asian reason, the toilet paper is outside the stall. Now I have never budgeted toilet paper. I have no idea how much I use so I grabbed as much as I thought I needed, then doubled it and went in with that.

I wasn't even close. After half-wiping, I hoped to blinding hell that no one else was in the bathroom and squat-hopped my way over to the toilet paper dispenser to get more. This is a lot easier said than done. Think leap-frog with your pants around your ankles.

Once again, there is no simple way to just pop the used bogroll into the can. The first time I tried throwing it in I missed and it landed on the floor. Needless to say, I left it there. I wasn't wasting any of my precious bogroll supply picking it up. (I eventually felt guilty and, resisting all temptations to just run away, kicked it in post-flush.)

Bear in mind you also aren't wiping at an angle you're used to, and you've been hovering over the toilet for a few minutes now. Your leg muscles are killing you but you cannot move until you've finished.

It was the grandest form of torture under which I have ever gone.

Next time I go running I'm taking a bucket.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Hong Kong news 9 November

At last, I have the South China Morning Post AND the internet at the same time, so stand by for today's news, brought to you by my favourite Beijing-biased publication.

Tencent and Qihoo are China's two top online companies: (Naspers-owned) Tencent is the country's top free messaging service (called QQ - they tried to punt it in SA a few years ago), and Qihoo its top anti-virus company. Combined they have 400 million-500 million users and are currently spatting, with each company accusing the other of privacy theft. Qihoo kicked proceedings off initially accusing QQ of scanning software and files without users’ permission or knowledge. Tencent hit back with accusations that it was Qihoo's new tool called Bodyguard which scanned users' passwords, accounts and more when they logged onto QQ. On Wednesday last week Tecent upped the ante by declaring that it would shut down QQ on all computers which used Qihoo software but on Friday backtracked somewhat and said this would only apply to computers with the Koukou Bodyguard product. Qihoo are playing it diplomatically with their VP saying that he hoped the internet would return to normal as soon as possible. Tencent have taken the other tack, declaring "we will never compromise on this and will fight to the end". It is estimated that 100 million Chinese internet users use both Tencent and Qihoo products. I back Tencent here, even though it has been said that government will involve itself.

Today's front page headline: Chinese fans take loss to Japan sitting down. Remember how I have mentioned that China and Japan aren't the best of friends lately? Well I wasn't joking. They are currently undergoing territory disputes, there are protests in each country against the other and some Japanese politicians have insulted their Chinese counterparts. Well, the Asia Games commenced yesterday, and in in the first round of football fixtures, Japan trollied China 3-0. That's far more important that any politics and Japan should be given the disputed territories as a prize.

I want to cry from delirious laughter. In case anyone doubts that China is shaking up the world: the notoriously capitalist USA is about to jump into some quantative easing - basically printing more money - and good ol' commie China has kakked all over it for doing so.

Myanmar is to Thailand what Zimbabwe is to South Africa: countries so incredibly shockingly run that citizens of them have no option but to flee. At least 10 000 Burmese (Myanmarese?) crossed the border into Thailand yesterday after post-pretend-election violence in the country. Beijing reckons it's a step forward for the country. I think that's complete crap.

Taiwan has called off the search for victims who are still missing due to the destruction caused by Hurricane Megi last month.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron is stopping in China en route to the G20 summit in Seoul next week. It is expected he will bring with him a large delegation with the intent of promoting trade with China. The SCMP makes mention of China hoping that Cameron does not bring up social issues such as the continued imprisonment of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiabo. Cameron has been fairly outspoken about foreign policy since he took the reins of the country though.

The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (Democrats for short) - the administrative region's biggest political party - wants to reform HK's parliamentary structure after elections in 2012. Although much of HK's politics are dictated by China, there is a 60-seat decision making body called Legco (Legislative Council of Hong Kong), 30 seats of which are chosen by permanent HK residents, and 30 of which are voted for by about 200 000 people in functional constituencies like business, special interest groups etc. It is these in the functional constituencies who are going to block the Democrats reforms. The politicians on each side will go head-to-head in the next few weeks.

The minimum wage in Hong Kong is expected to be set at HK$28 (R25) today due, to some extent, to the politicisation of the wage changes at Cafe de Coral. Cafe de Coral is HK's largest food outlet and recently took strife for giving workers 2.5%-3.5% salary increases at the expense of their paid lunch breaks which turned into a net loss. Cafe de Coral says this new wage could cost the company an extra HK$120 million (R108 million) in salaries and wages per month. KFC pays the least in the industry with HK$21 (R19) but has a far more hard-line approach to complaining employees: it ignores them, says the Catering and Hotels Employees' General Union.

Hong Kong's next football fixture in the Asia Games kicks off tonight against Group E favourites Uzbekistan. That's the team ranked 127 vs the team ranked 75 respectively. In the first round, Hong Kong drew 1-1 with the UAE.

South Africa drilled Pakistan in the last match of the ODI series between the two countries. I report this because it's fucking great, even though it is not relevant to HK at all.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Hong Kong news 8 November

We've finally got internet in our house, so as I excitedly sat down to concisely issue you some Southeast Asian news, I realised that I'd forgotten to buy the bloody South China Morning Post (SCMP).

So, to tittle your taste for current affairs, see content from today's The Standard and The China Daily.

Forbes has announced that Hu Jintao (President of China) as the world's most powerful person. Shame, poor Barack Obama just can't win at the moment, can he?

Wen Jiabao (pretty much China's second most important person) is to visit Macau soon. Macau is similar to Hong Kong in the way that it was a (Portuguese, instead of British like HK) colony which is now Chinese again, but also it's own country with its own economy. The Standard seems to think that this is a warning to Hong Kong to do better (it doesn't flesh it out, really) but I doubt it. Wen is going to a conference called the Ministerial Conference of the Forum for Economic and Trade Cooperation between China and Portuguese-Speaking Countries which, to me, sounds like it has bugger all to do with HK. Interestingly, both Angola and Mozambique will be represented there - indications that China's African investments remain in motion.

China has had to back down from proposals of making all public transport in Guangzhou free in the lead up to the Asia Games later this month. Instead, the government will give all home owners in the city 150 yuan (R154) for commuting purposes. Cool hey?

This seems to be a problem in many countries around the world. China is running out of hospital beds as its population gets older and older. In countries like South Africa, most old people just die because our public health system is such a shambles. In Hong Kong, the healthcare is so good that old people get even older and the amount of money that public health costs is becoming a burden to the state (which is complete shit as there is bucketloads of money here). In China, it is getting to the point where news hospitals will have to be built, it seems.

There's big kak and heads will roll after an Asian (of the Southeast Asia variety, not Middle Eastern) man wearing a mask transiting through Hong Kong Airport managed to illegally board a flight to Vancouver where he intended to seek asylum. Big problem was that nobody knows how he managed to screw the system, and now everyone is convinced that the new route to international terrorism is going to be through Hong Kong. Worse kak will be for the perpetrator who wanted asylum from China and will probably be deposited back there.

Liverpool beat Chelsea last night so I am boycotting all sports sections of all newspapers and websites until I have recovered.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Hong Kong news 3 November

We still have no internet at home, so I am, once again, down at the coffee shop with a cursory Coke Light so I can abuse ther wireless connection. I am this close to downloading a few seasons of 30 Rock as I spend so much time here I feel I deserve it.

To the news. Today's ripped publications shall include the tabloidy The Standard and the (Chinese) government-controlled China Daily.

Look at what a good South African I am. I even chose a picture with a white folk and a coloured folk with the famous black folk.

SPORT (I do sport first when SA is involved)
Makhaya Ntini has retired from international cricket. I remember this oke when he made his debut against Sri Lanka in what I think was 19978. Aravinda de Silva have him a pretty rude awakening by thrashing him all around Newlands. It wasn't till a few years later that Ntini settled properly into the South African team, and, with Shaun Pollock, provided one of the best new-ball combos South Africa has had since re-admission. Ntini was probably the fittest cricketer that has ever lived, and use dto run back to his bowling mark, even during spells of 15 or more overs. A team man, an inspirational man. Goodbye, Makhaya. South Africa says thank you. Well, I do.

Bryan O'Driscoll has been declared fit to play in the Ireland-South Africa test this weekend. So if John Smit and the South African team turns their back under instruction from the referee, he'll be able to score just like Ronan O'Gara (no I am totally not over it).

China's go-to position regarding other people's affairs is usually to let governments run ther own countries and to stay out, so it is no surprise that Beijing has rejected Washington's offer to host trilateral talks with China, the USA and Japan over the Diayou islands - which both China and Japan claim are theirs. How the USA thinks it should have influence in this is beyond me. I agree with Beijing that this is a dispute between Japan and China. And it would be hard for the US to be objective when one of the squabblers is one of its mates. That being said, I can't see this being reported in the NY Times, so it is possible that China just made this story up to paint the US a funny colour.

China doesn't expect the Democrats trouncing to have any effect on Sino-US ties, even though Beijing reckons US domestic policy will change a lot. It will be interesting to see how the rise of China affects US contentment, with more Tea Party nationalists and right-wing Republicans in key government positions. Full of drama. YAY!

David Cameron, prime minister of the United Kingdom is popping over to visit China next week and he's bringing along Chancellor George Osborne AND Vince Cable. So Nick Clegg is being left to run the country on his own? Bloody brave.

Here's some nice drama. An ex-cop has been accused of killing his lover (who was dating some other German chap) in a taxi after her body was found in the sea. This is notable because the (ex) pair met up in Sheung Wan before the copper strangled her and put her body in the boot. Sheung Wan is where we were living last week. Bar gruesome taxi murders, it's a really lovely area and we'll take you there when you come and visit.

There's nothoing else very interesting in the papers today. I miss the South China Morning Post (which I forgot to buy this morning). Expect better tomorrow.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The Language Barrier of Cantonese

Admittedly, I struggle with accents that aren't South African. Give me an Indian speaking Afrikaans while trying to be respectful of the Zulu person he's talking to and I'm fine. However, my ears are stuck that way. Try as I might, I can barely understand the people in Hong Kong unless they speak decent English (my weakness, not theirs).

Whoever may have told you that Hong Kong was perfectly English speaking is communicating via the seat of their pants. While the signs around the city may be in Cantonese and English, the population does not speak both lanuages equally. In fact, dear Britain, this was a pretty weak attempt at colonialism all round, if you ask me.

There is no easier way to find this out than to go and try and buy something.

In the last week, while shopping, I have had to act out dustbin bags (make circle with arm and use other arm to point inside), lemon juice (squeeze pretend fruit in the air and then make sour face), moisturising cream (rub arm repeatedly), toothpaste (this one is easy - just pretend to brush teeth and it's the first thing you get taken to after the toothbrushes, floss and whitening products) and toilet paper (the easiest one of the lot).

I have also been given Coke when I asked for Diet Coke, been told Red Bull is called "cocaine", been given after-sun cream when trying to buy tanning cream (not for me, I swear), had my name spelled Williamsa and exchanged many shrug-shoulders-and-grin looks... which is cute and funny at the beginning, but gets tiring later on. Ordering something by telephone is a nightmare as the constant presence of fast-food oddities testifies. If we get exactly what we order we run to church to give thanks.

The peak of this was using the realtor expertise of a man called Mr Wong who didn't speak a word of English. Now, bear in mind you can't even write things down here because the scripting isn't A-B-C-D. At Mr Wong's shop, to ask for a flat with 2 bedrooms in a building with a lift within a certain price I had to pretend to sleep while holding up two fingers, then use my hands to make an oblong, act like I was in a lift and then use my fingers to spell out the rent price. He looked at me like I was insane (not altogether untrue) and phoned someone who could speak English and told her in Cantonese what I had been trying to do. "Mr Wong doesn't know what you mean" she spat down in the phone in that typically polite Hong Kong fashion. And I used to be good at charades... I also had to draw a clock to tell him what time I would come back to his office and point to the date on his calendar.

Trying to buy tickets for the Hong Kong Sixes was much the same issue but I, once again, had the added joy of trying to organise over the phone - an exercise in total futility as I couldn't even wave my arms to try and explain myself. There was also a problem on their website which I tried to point out but, as things stand, it's still very much there.

There's only so much frantic arm waving and sign-language I can do in a day. It was exactly the same when I lived in Italy. My brain goes to sleep at night utterly exhausted. Of course it's not Hong Kong people's fault. And they do speak more English than I'd imagine we will find in China or other countries around the place, so the challenges shall continue.

But it's time to pull that Cantonese for Dummies out of the bag, methinks.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Hong Kong news 1 November

I have no internet at home and am relying on that provided by the coffee shop down the street. The speed of the internet here is about as fast as a blood clot and I don't have the paper on me, so we are going to be relying on the China Daily (a government controlled Chinese newspaper) and The Standard which is the Hong Kong equivalent of The Metro (in London).

The lead story in today's China Daily is the beginning of the census which is intended to work out how many people live in each house in China (which previous censuses? censi? have not done). How'sthe scale of things in China though? 6.5 million census takers are to process 400 million households and this whole speel will cost 700 million yuan (729 million ronts). The last census done in 2000 showed that the country contained 1.29 billion people.

Wen Jiabao proclaimed the New York Expo in Shanghai (I dunno - go figure) was a great event and blah blah which it obviously was, as I am told by Mike who attended it in June (while the rest of us were football befok). What we do know is that anything that the pro-democracy Jiabao says goes through loads of editing and the censorship department so I take what he is quoted on with a pinch of salt. Always.

The Prime Minister of Japan really knows how to piss China off. The two countries are already at loggerheads over disputed territories and now the PM has gone to visit Taiwan. Taiwan is an interesting place (nutshell version) as it was formed by a bunch of angry folks who left China after the commies won the civil war in 1949. Weirdly enough, Taiwan calls itself the Republic of China (the people who ran China before having their arses handed to them by thecommunists) and still sees itself as China's legitimate government. Imperialism (this knack of just renaming things) means we think they are two different countries with different names, but there has never been an official split between China and Taiwan. Oh, my point is that there is a bit of argy bargy between Taiwan and China, so the Japanese PM visiting there is bad PR.

Cafe de Coral is Hong Kong's largest food outlet chain and has finally decided to raise its workers' wages, but at the expense of a paid lunch break, which, according to The Standard is equivalent to a pay cut. This is the most capitalistic society in which I have ever found myself so I can't say I'm surprised. The people who feel the strongest about it have started a facebook group and an online petition about it which I expect to achieve absolutely fuckall.

Hong Kong is set to increase its investments in nuclear power with the intent to have 50% of its energy requirements taken care of by nuclear by 2020 (currently it is 24%) so the greenies had a protest about it yesterday. 50 protestors lay around Mong Kok and they gathered 900 signatures on a petition. In a city of 7 million people, most of whom don't give a flying wank about environmental issues, I would imagine that their achievements will compare neatly with the attempts of the people mentioned in the previous news item.

The Bledisloe Cup match between the rugby teams from Australia and New Zealand wasn't well supported by the Hong Kong public and the HK rugby board has given a whole load of ridiculous reasons for why only 26 000 people attended the game (stadium capacity was 40 000). None of them seem to be able to comprehend that tickets prices starting at HK$880 (R800) is bloody barmy. I love rugby and would have gone, but I refuse to pay that much. Hong Kong's next scheduled international fixture...? In 2013.

Hosting the 2023 Asia Games here in Hong Kong is still a hot topic in the news, with the drawback being the HK$40 billion it will cost in preparation. That's R36 billion. Nearly enough for a brand new arms deal.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Hong Kong news 27 October

Today, as budgets are limited (we spent the extra money on booze) we rely solely on the South China Morning Post (SCMP), that mouthpiece regurgitating every fleck of spittle emanating from Hu Jintao's imperious mouth.

I am doing the sport first today, as there actually is some news, and South Africa features. Now I know stuff all about horse racing, but the newspaper seems to be very happy that a South African jockey, Anton Marcus, is going to be riding in the Cathay Pacific International Jockey's Championship at Happy Valley Racecourse in December. He will be the first South African flag bearing participant in this race, although a chap called Douglas Whyte from South Africa has oft competed here under the Hong Kong flag. It seems from a small editorial on sport page 2 that South Africans have been very successful here, all representing differing nations though. The paper goes on to say that our nation has made a huge contrbution to Hong Kong racing. This is all pretty cool, because Hong Kong is the most horse-racing befok place I have ever been. So it is BIG NEWS!

The Wallabies and the All Blacks are set to lock horns in Hong Kong on Saturday in a Bledisloe Cup match being touted as a mere preparation match before the World Cup next year. There is absolutely no new angle on this whatsoever.

Paul the Octopus went to calamari heaven. Boohoo. I'm so fucking sad.

Feel for Indonesians. Last week reports surfaced of torture being carried out on random citizens who don't give two shits about politics. Yesterday 113 people were killed by the combination of a 7.5 magnitude earthquake, a tsunami and a volcanic eruption. Interestingly, a friend of mine travelling back from Australia was on a plane which had to make an emergency landing in Jakarta. All African passport holders were forced to remain on the plane while it was being fixed (while the others sauntered nto the airport) for fear of them gaining illegal entry into Indonesia (because of the hordes of South Africans making their way there?!). Give me South Africa any day. At least you can fight off criminals. Good luck beating a volcano with a cricket bat.

There's this blind lawyer who pissed the Chinese government off and him and his whole family have been placed under house arrest. The USA has now decided that this doesn't sit well with them and have instructed their ambassador to go and check out the conditions in which he lives. I expect the Chinese embassy in Washington DC to send a delegation to Gitmo forthwith.

Anti-Japan protests continue in China with the city of Chongqing joining the fray. Basically, China and Japan both reckon they own the same set of islands. A few weeks ago a Japanese vessel arrested the captain of a Chinese vessel within the boundaries of the islands and it caused big diplomatic kak and sparked off protests in both countries. The ones in China seem not to be dying down though with Chengdu, Mianyan, Deyang, Sichuan, Langzhou, Hainan and five others, all having loads of folks marching down the street smashing up Japan-made cars and singing about how much they hate Japan.

China has unleashed a new high-speed railway which will cover the 200km between Shanghai and Hangzhou in about 45 minutes. Although the train has been measured doing 420kph (a world train speed record, from what the SCMP understands), it will operate at around 350kph.

That big-ass French public strike and protest against raising the age of retirement from 60 to 62 seems like it will become law as it was passed - 171 votes to 150 - by the Senate. It will go to the National Assembly next where it is expected to pass there easily. Expect lots of angry French people. No, I mean angrier than normal.

We feature again: South Africa is set to build what will hopefully become the world's biggest solar power plant at a cost of R200 billion. For that amount of money we could build a big enough fucking hotel to house all 50 million of us. As things stand, California is building the biggest one first which should power 750 000 homes, but it is expected that ours will eventually be 5 times the size of theirs. The newspaper alleges that 83% of South African houses have electricity. Really?

Hillary Clinton has added a stop in China to her 2-week Asia visit scheduled sometime soon. I think Hu Jintao might have a family emergency right at that time.

You may have read recently that Singapore wants to buy the Australian stock exchange or some such shit. Well it's freaked Hong Kong out and now they're planning in trading for an extra hour every day - with the start of the trading day being moved half an hour earlier and another half hour removed from the 2-hour lunch break. The real consternation seems to be whether lunch will go from midday to 1.30pm, or 12.30pm to 2pm. The lives of rich people are just never easy, are they?

A poll by HSBC has identified climate change as the greatest care of Hong Kongers. Odd considering this is the least green city I have ever been to. It's not as though anyone cares enough to even pretend (like they do in Cape Town) to recycle or conserve energy. I'd imagine that HSBC interviewed wealthy people (green policy's largest target market) and not those who have to worry about money or housing or where their next beer is coming from.

23 samples of the plastic wrapping around a Halloween headband have been tested for safety by the HK SAR government. Conclusions thereof indicate that children could suffocate on it. Yes. It took this for them to realise that children can choke on plastic. I swear this is an actual news story.

Check this other cracking headline: "Diet, exercise and regular checkups are the key to staying healthy".

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Hong Kong news 26 October

Excuse the lateness of today's news but I'm sick. Or tired. Or both. Either way, I'm feeling tremendously sorry for myself and would appreciate some sympathy. Thank you for participating.

Today's news from the South China Morning Post (SCMP) and the China Daily which is a business oriented newspaper (which I meant to buy yesterday but wound up with the USA Today instead).

Just like the poor and ugly people were hauled out of South African cities during the World Cup, so is China getting rid of all street food (to reduce smoke in the air) and cancelling all home renovations for the duration of the Asia Games next month in Guangzhou. And Chinese pets breathe a sigh of relief. And no one seems to wonder why the authorities don't just turn a few factories off.

China is also currently reviewing its green policies, focussing primarily on emissions generated by cars - with a possible increase in tax on the heavy polluting vehicles heading into law. Once again - turn a few fucking factories off!

China won an argument against the USA with the cancellation of a joint military exercise between the USA and South Korea, right near Chinese waters being cancelled. The SCMP seems to think that it means that relations between the two nations are thawing. I am sure that FOX News thinks otherwise.

Taiwanese authorities are in the shitter after the declined/forgot to close one of the island's highways when Hurricane Megi smashed it over the weekend. A bus with 19 tourists in it is still missing, although body parts believed to be from these visitors have been found.

A Chinese state-run newspaper has used the last batch if Wikileaks documents to have a fat go at the USA's claim to be the world's human rights protector. While these allegations may contain an element of truth, it's fat fucking hypocrisy for China to whinge about the rights of people.

(Sorry we're very China heavy today). Since the UN slapped Iran with trade sanctions, China has capitalised, with US$50 billion expected to pass between the two countries by 2016.

The greenies won't be happy. Paticularly the three or four that live in this city. Hong Kong is now officially the most wasteful place in the world. Last year the city produced 6.45 million tonnes of waste - more than double what it did 20 years ago. It translates to 912kg of crap thrown away per person in this city per year which is double that of Japan (410kg) and South Korea (380kg). Edward Yau Tang-wah, the Hong Kong SAR secretary for the environment, put it down to the increase in economic activity, population (erm, it's a per capita stat you twit) and tourism (if there were more Japanese and Korean tourists, the level would go down?).

A new phone is being launched and is set to take the uber-wealthy of Hong Kong by storm. Forget the iPhone, Android and erm... other phones. This luxury brand, Vertu, will take care of all your golden snobbish needs. Aside from the exclusivity, technology and aesthetically pleasing design, the phone will come with a concierge service, offering one-to-one assistance akin to how how larneys are treated in swanky hotels and the front of the aeroplane. Oh, it's only going to set you back HK$50 000 (R45 000).

Speaking of money: this is the first time I have seen it in the news, but it seems like many shops in Hong Kong are refusing to take small coins. The breakdown in cash here is pretty similar to SA - as is its value (about 10% cheaper than ZAR) - except there is no HK$200 note, but there is a HK$500 note. A 50c piece here (worth about 45 South African cents) and anything below is allegedly being refused by shops. And so comes the extinction of the piggy bank. The DAB (breathe: Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (a political party)) estimates that there are HK$100 million worth of coins lying unused in people's houses. That could buy a whole load of Verty phones!

In more reasons why it's now called "climate change" because the scientists ballsed up the whole "global warming" prediction, Hong Kong is expected to have a cooler than normal winter. This means we may or may not wear a jersey on one or two occasions between now and April.

No real sport news, other than the fact that captain Anil Kumble is excited about the Hong Kong Sixes next month (which yours truly will be attending).

Monday, 25 October 2010

Hong Kong news 25 October

Typhoon Megi did NOT strike Hong Kong over the weekend. It turned. So I am still a hurricane short of ever having experienced a natural disaster.

News today comes from our regular Beijing mouthpiece, the South China Morning Post (SCMP), and the China Daily. Oh, no, the retarded woman at the shop gave me the USA Today instead. And I was too retarded to fucking check. So I have one and a half newspapers here today.

While Hurricane Megi may have missed Hong Kong, it did give parts of Taiwan a bedonnering to the tune of 25 deaths, 13 of which are due to landslides caused by the storm. Rockslides also buried parts of a highway on which a bus with 21 people in it has still not been recovered. How's this quote though? "Taiwan's transport ministry said yesterday that relatives of the missing people, including those from the mainland, would receive NT5.1million (HK$1.27million) if their family members were not found." That's about 1 million rand. If that was the policy in SA I'd bury a few cousins every time it rained.

Today's main headline in the SCMP is "Mainland whims fire up HK real estate". Now, you know how governments like to blame other people for their balls ups? Well, in Hong Kong they have embraced capitalism to a larger degree than even the USA. This means that society is awesome if you're rich, but can be quite tricky if you're poor. Also, when space is at a premium (the population density here is insane) then it becomes an expensive tradable product. Which means there is a shortage of it too (supply, demand?) and it means HK has a serious housing shortage, and that poor people can't afford to live anywhere except government-subsidised housing. Of which there is not enough. This article politely makes it China's fault. Not the Hong Kong governments. Pish posh.

Umm, Sarah Palin, the one yank who manages to find the worst of the USA and pack it all into one person, has her own TV show now called Sarah Palin's Alaska. I am dying to watch it. Can you imagine if we had something like "Dan Roodt's Free State journeys" or “Floyd Shivambu’s Sandhurst” on our own TVs. I would never miss it. Ever.

I've thrown yesterday's paper away already, but on Saturday a bus fell of a bridge and landed on two taxis. It fell fucken far and somehow no one died, including the two taxi drivers who were napping in their stationary cabs. It makes me like HK taxis more.

A parallel with London: HK's public health service is excellent but it means old people don't die which makes it a bit of a strain on the public purse - god forbid the politicians had to cut back on expenses or something, yussus - so there is an initiative to revamp the health system. It's been in the news every day since I have been here with the emphasis being on rich people to go for private medical cover. The intricacies are not yet know though (or are still being finalised).

A three-dimensional porn movie is currently being shot in Hong Kong. Government hopes that this will boost tourism. Ja, because Thailand is really bout to give up the sex-tourism rep.

Hong Kong's news does get strangely similar to Britain's at times. In this instance, a chain of shopping malls (called Link) is not catering enough for disabled people. 18% of establishments do not conform to prerequisites.

HK Rugby is pissy because not enough people have bought tickets for the NZ-Australia Bledisloe Cup match for the weekend - selling only 25 000 of the 40 000-odd ticketsd available. This is because these giant cretins are charging HK$880 (R800) for a seat.

Friday, 22 October 2010

The Island (which is called Lantau)

(Click on picture thumbnails to see a larger version)

From what I understand, Lantau is the largest of the islands in Hong Kong, (bar Kowloon which is on the island of Asia - somewhat larger. At least three times as big.) and provides the one thing you cannot get on Hong Kong Island: space.

On Saturday we tootled off to the pier to catch a ferry to Lantau (all of R30 to get there) which is about a half an hour journey. As we were both suffering immense hangovers, it became a 30-minute exercise in not hurling as we bounced from wave to wave caused by the multitude of boats traversing around Hong Kong harbour.

We were glad for the presence of these, even though we didn't have to use them: We landed and found a map to take us to a certain beach we'd read about in the guide book. After doing a small and accidental loop we realised we were on the wrong road and realigned our compasses to get us on the right one (what we really did was look at the signs which pointed us perfectly in the right direction).

And so our 5-kilometre walk began. Up a goddam hill. After a quick whinge session I began following Mike (who has been blessed with gazelle like abilities - gravity doesn't actually have much of an impact on him so hills are just like normal ground) on this road, which slunk through the island forest.

Lantau is beautiful. It is large and pretty devoid of buildings, with trees gracing the interior of the island and beaches denoting the exterior. We walked for about 7 kilometres (turns out someone read the book wrong) with regular stops so I could smoke in hangover peace while Mike bounced around like someone had just replaced his batteries.

Here are our attitudes to walking 7km in the most humid place in the world:


Nature was to avenge me though. While I am terrified of creepy crawlies and rats and stuff like that, Mike (possibly more sensibly) is scared of big things that can break you when they stand on you, like cattle. And as we rounded yet another bend in the road, a bull shaped like a battering ram appeared right in front of us. We were both a bit startled so we forgot to take a picture, but it was a short and squat - almost in proportion with a buffalo, only smaller. Mike leapt across the road like someone had stuffed his backpack with Superman's cape which had accidentally turned on. To be fair I wasn't far behind and, dodging the fastest buses known to man (seriously, I am sure Hong Kong buses are driven by Nikki Lauda), we retreated behind a gate on the other side as this pit-bull like bovine walked on by.

What seemed like 20km later (was actually like 1.5km) we finally came upon what we sought: the beach - a stunning barrier separating the forest from the (surprisingly) clean seawater. We finally got to kick off our shoes and walk barefoot across the fine sand which scattered beneath our feet as we strolled down, passing Die Stoep, a South Africa-themed restaurant. Now, what makes a restaurant South African, you may ask. Well, Castle Lager, bobotie and a steak dish with chakalaka were about it. Considering I usually drink Hansa and have never once had a steak with chakalaka, it was surprising that I still felt all proud about being there, but I suppose one does when away from home. I liked and ate bobotie though - so shukria (spelling?) to Muslims in South Africa for creating it, and dankie and xiexie for those South Africans and Hong Kongers for exporting it to these wonderful parts.

One thing about this beach which I have never seen before is cattle residing upon it. I swear, it was like walking through the Transkei - but on a Chinese beach. Yes. Real cows! On a beach! (um, outside a steak restaurant. So we're banking on them selling fresh meat).

Drinking on the beaches in Hong Kong is illegal, but much like in Cape Town, I decided to ignore this ridiculous law created solely for braggarts and sat and (responsibly) slurped on a bottle of red wine while Mike ran up and down the beach.

It then got dark and, rather than risking being hit by a psychotic Hong Kong bus in the shadows, we decided to actually board one. Now, picking the correct bus in Hong Kong is not as simple as it looks, as we have no idea where the bloody things go. And the one we boarded went nowhere near where we wanted to go. In fact it went in the exact opposite direction. This was Mike panic-strickenly finding out where the hell we were going.

Which, luckily, was a route that ended at a tube station (the public transport here is amazing. I am planning a whole post on it) and we were home in about 15 minutes (after an approximate two-hour delay because we wanted to watch a movie).

Some great pics we took in Lantau:

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Hong Kong news 21 October

Image from The Washington Post.

There is only item of news that realy concerns Hongkongers today, and that's the big ass typhoon/hurricane/storm on its way here. Yep, the self-same one that just gutted the Philippines and killed 19 people: Hurricane Megi.

According to CNN, it is already raining cats and dogs (insert appropriate food joke here) in Taiwan and 170 000 people h ave been evacuated from Guangdong Province in China. Hainan Island (in China as well) has also prepared for the storm's land fall and it seemed, while it was destroying Filipino land, that it was heading directly towards Hainan. It now looks like it's going further north and much closer to Hong Kong, and is due to arrive on Saturday at 2pm. Inconveniently cocking with my lunch plans.

This is not the first time Hong Kong has faced such troubles. According to the South China Morning Post, 31 years ago Typhoon Hope bedonnered this city and killed 12 people and injured nearly 300. Guangdong has fresher memories: in 2008, Typhoon Haguit smacked it to the tune of 22 deaths and 12 billion yuang (ZAR 12.5 billion/HK$ 14 billion) in damage.

Yesterday the Observatory raised the number 1 standby signal. This indicated that there is shit on the way, from what I can tell. At 6am today, number 3 standby signal went up, which means said shit is closer. If it reaches number 8, people do not go to work - they batten down the hatches and wait the weather out. So this fucker would arrive on a Saturday, wouldn't it?

Workers in Hong Kong have cleared all drains and pipes to ease the risk of flooding. In Hainan, 50 000 fishing vessels have returned to shore and are sitting in the harbour, and the railway has been suspended. A Taiwanese vessel has already disappeared with its crew presumed dead. The state disaster relief commission in China has prepared teams to enter Hainan, Guangdog, Guangxi and Fuijan and waves of around 7m are expected to bash into the coastline.

I have no medical aid at the moment so I am hoping that our building here in Honk Kong stands up fine and well. I also hate getting wet, so I may, conceivably, get injured AND irritable.

Wish us luck. And look out for me on the news.


Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Hong Kong news 20 October

Once again I don't have The Standard so I am getting my news fix from the South China Morning post again. So we're YAY GO BEIJING today.

Notoriously yo-yo relations between China and Japan are at a low once again after a Japanese foreign minister called China's reaction to having one of its boat crews in disputed waters arrested, "hysterical". Ma Zhaoxu, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said "it is in the fundamental interests of both countries to improve ... Sino-Japanese relations, but Japanese leaders' remarks obviously run counter to that." To sum up just how some Japanese feel about China, former Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe compared China's assertiveness over disputed territories to Hitler and how he flitted around Europe pinching that parts which he reckoned belonged to Germany. There have also recently been nationalist protests in both countries, where they broke a whole lot of stuff made in the other country. It's like pre-school politics. This article does blame Japan for everything though as it is in the one-eyed SCMP.

Hopes of political reform in China have been dashed for the time being as the Communist Party plenum (what I assume is a conference) just finished without mention of reform. Oh, except for this statement in a communique saying it wold make "active but steady efforts to promote political restructuring" with no detail whatsoever. Wen Jiabao, China's Prime Minster who has long been a proponent of reform must be disappointed. Well, that's kinda what happens when you're in the government of a Communist Party, eh? Zwelenzima Vavi, take note. You can't always influence things from the inside.

Hainan and Guangdong province on the Chinese mainland are undergoing mass evacuations as Hurricane Megi, fresh from killing 13 people in the Philippines, is en route there. Hong Kong could feel some of the effects of the giant storm, but the worst seems like it will bypass. There's a great pic in the paper of all the fishing boats parked in the harbour on Hainan island, but it's not on the SCMP site for me to pinch.

A second executive from Octopus Holdings has quit following the privacy scandal I mentioned yesterday. The executive, Lincoln Leong Kwok-kuen, is pretending that he was going to stand down anyway, but we know he is talking out of his arse because in August he told everyone that he was so amped to stay on.

The quality of air in Hong Kong is pretty awful due to all the industry in the city and the southern mainland. Yet loads of people think it is the plethora of taxis in Hong Kong that are major contributors, due to them never switching their cars off while waiting because of the constant need for an air conditioner here. Well some chap, Eric Wong, has designed some gadget which involves putting a battery beneath the driver's seat to counteract this, and the greenies are all happy about it.

(I know this is not news) British Airways are advertsing a return business class ticket from Hong Kong to London from HK$36 720 which is about R33 000. I was pretty sure this is more expensive than a Johannesburg-London business class ticket, odd, considering I thought LHR-HKG would be a far more competitive route. So I checked. And I was right, but only by about R2000.

The Employers Federation, allegedly the voice of employers on Hong Kong, has advised businesses to "share the good times with workers" and give them a 2.5%-3.5% pay rise, the highest recommendation in 13 years. Fat chance. They have to give the board a 300% pay increase first in many cases. Pfffft.

"Cleanup ordered at dilapidated gatehouse" is a real headline today. I swear to god. I am still getting used to some of the banality of news in countries where there is no crime.

Chelsea Football Club have confirmed that they will enter the Asia Cup again next season as part of their pre-season fixture set. Other teams invited will be Aston Villa (the cunts who held us over the weekend. Sorry, if you're sensitve I meant c***s), Blackburn Rovers and the winners of the Hong Kong league.

Nothing else really happened in Hong Kong sport. Not much does. There is a football report but it doesn't say where the clubs are from.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Hygiene supreme

Think of your most anally retentive friend. You know, the ones who wash their hands 20 times a day, who disinfect everything, who don't want their kids touching anything outside the house, and very few things in it due to risk of germs. Well that is the attitude to hygiene in Hong Kong, and I am sure it has got a lot to do with the SARS outbreak that hammered this city not that long ago.

There are not many ways to get attention in Hong Kong. It is an already loud city with people who keep to themselves most of the time, but cough in public and feel the room look at you out of the corners of their eyes. Sneeze, and expect to feel the daggers of one thousand death stares. I haven't yet had the gall to do both lest someone throw something at me, but I am sure I will one day get drunk enough to substantiate the goodness and social discovery intents of the idea. Everyone who is sick walks around wearing face masks (which must really screw with smoking) and there are notices up announcing every public facility which is disinfected. @StephChev, a Hong Kong based tweeter announced that she did not see the reason for a disinfected carpet, and attached this picture:
These signs are everywhere. On escalator handles, lift buttons, ticket machines, carpets - you name it. There are machines offering free hand sanitiser all over the place and signs up in the MTR (metro/tube/whatever you call it) trains and stations calling for good health practices to be observed - meaning wash your hands and cover your face.

Civil servants cleaning the streets and cleaning dustbins understandably all wear gloves and facemasks, but so do many waiters and waitresses, shop assistants, random people walking around and the guy who drives the Victoria Peak Tram - evidently terrified of the germs left behind by whoever drove the train before him.

So when you come and visit here, bring a hanky or a tissue or something to sneeze into, lest you get held under a sanitizer dispenser by a softly baying crowd who believe the germs in your snot may have wafted across the room.

Hong Kong news 19 October

Welcome to today's edition of news relevant to Hongkongers. Usually, I read the South China Morning Post (a pro-Beijing publication, and HK's biggest selling English newspaper, also referred to as the SCMP) and The Standard (because it's free). Today, however, we're only using The SCMP as my lovely boyfriend went shopping for breakfast and bought it for me. I can’t be arsed to go downstairs, myself, and retrieve a The Standard. So we're all China fans today, I'm afraid. Let's get cracking:

Xi Jinping is set to become China's next numero uno. Image from the South China Morning Post.

Current vice-president, Xi Jinping (I read that as Zee Gin-ping - and you've got to love anyone whose name sounds like gin, right?), looks set to replace Hu Jintao as the new President of China when Jintao's term expires at the end of 2012 after Jinping was yesterday promoted to the vice-chairmanship of the ruling party's Central Military Commission. I trust that Google is working like a dog in the Pentagon at the moment. It is expected that Jinping will face a harder reign than Jintao as he will have to grapple with boosting domestic (buying) demand, green policies and the growth of the liberal movement seeking political reform. It will be interesting to see what Premier Wen Jiabao does, as his term also expires in 2012, meaning he has two years in which to force through some of his own democratic policies.

For the hippies: China has committed to reducing its energy use per dollar of output by 17% by 2015 with a long term goal of cutting by 31% by 2020. Now, if you bunny-huggers could convince the US to get off its arse and do the same then you could all go and sing Kumbaya in the forest together.

If any of you have been to London, you'll know what an Oyster Card is. Well here in Hong Kong we have Octopus Cards which one puts money on and then swipes the card for most public transport and small purchases in shops. Well, the company that runs these gadgets is in shit for selling people's information on to other companies and for asking for too much information about its customers to verify their identity. It seems Facebook and Google aren't the only demons out to get you. Soon companies will know what restaurant you search for, and whether you actually went there or not. The HK SAR (special administrative region) government has declined to prosecute Octopus Holdings for these transgressions, which is unsurprising in this very pro-business environment.

The Hong Kong Arts Festival has been awarded an extra HK$14 million worth of budget this year. This brings its total budget up to HK97million. Yes, nearly 100 million South African commercial ronts is being spent on an arts festival. If we didn't have to spend so much money on fixing stuff after Cosatu/ANCYL members broke/burnt/smashed it we could probably also do the same.

Three Hong Kong police officers set off for Manila yesterday for more intense forensic investigations into the hostage tragedy last month which claimed the lives of 8 Hongkongers. In case you missed it, the corrupt President of the Philippines cares far more about protecting his buddies than actually finding out what went wrong when an ex-cop killed a busload of people so it's up to outsiders to go and find out. Weirdly enough, this coincides with the Arms Deal investigation in South Africa being put on hold indefinitely. So it's nice to know that people in high places can really just do whatever the fuck they want - universally.

Someone driving drunk last night very intelligently didn't arouse any suspicion when he did a U-turn at a police road block last night. By chance, three police officers set off after him and after a 20-kilometre high speed chase, they apprehended him when he drove into a cul-de-sac. I think that if you manage to drive 20km with one eye closed, lining up the end of the windscreen wiper with the middle line so as to stay in your lane and without driving into anyone or anything, then they should just let you go for having skilz.

Tusks recovered, packaged in bags bearing a Hong Kong government seal (meaning that they just came through Hong Kong port), in Macau were found to be hippopotamus tusks and not elephants. The three bags were found in a container suspected of containing illegal ivory valued at about HK$10 million. As an African it's so lovely to know that our hippos are being killed instead of our elephants. Whew!

The next British and Irish Lions tour to Australia in 2013 will feature a match against an international Barbarians XV at Hong Kong Stadium. So Schalk Burger might be able to rip another Lions player's eye out without having to wait 12 years for the Lions to return to SA.

Shoaib Malik, ex-Pakistan captain, will lead his team at the Hong Kong Sixes next month. Interestingly, the squad includes one Shabbir Ahmed, who I am pretty sure was suspended for having a dodgy bowling action once upon a time. Imran Nazir is also in the squad - a man who has given the South African team all sorts of problems before; a magical talent who just couldn't make it work.

Tie Yana, Hong Kong's only entrant in table tennis for the Asia Games next month, has beaten Singapore's two top players in warm ups and elevated her world ranking from 22 to 13.

The Oceania Football Confederation has announced that it will cooperate with a FIFA investigation of allegations that its president planned to sell his vote in the current bidding war for the 2018 World Cup. Being from the country that hosted the last one, we all know how corrupt, full of shit and secretive FIFA is, so I cannot imagine that anything will ever come of this investigation. I recommend you read Ivo Vegter's FIFA related columns on The Daily Maverick. Like this, for example.