Tuesday, 23 January 2018

The Justice Minister with Illegal Structures

New Justice Minster Teresa Cheng watches as her boss Carrie Lam walks by
On January 6, Hong Kong got a new Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah, but since she was sworn in she has been embroiled in a huge scandal involving illegal structures in her properties. Yes more than one.

She used to work in the private sector and has bought a house in Tuen Mun, and other properties in Sha Tin and Repulse Bay.

When she bought them, she knew there were illegal structures on them -- the Repulse Bay one purchased as early as last September. She must have had an inkling then she would get the job as the government's top legal eagle.

Cheng's home is on the left, her husband's on the right
Surely she should have known this would be a huge potential problem for Chief Executive Carrie Cheng Lam Yuet-ngor's administration?

Did she not follow the fiasco Henry Tang Ying-yen went through in 2012?

It has been reported that in general some luxury homes in Hong Kong have illegal structures because land is so expensive the owners want to make the most out of it by carving out as much livable space as possible.

And because it takes so long to get a permit or approval from the authorities, and if they are found out, the punishments pretty much add up to a slap on the wrist that owners are willing to take the risk to go ahead with the renovations.

If that wasn't enough, Cheng bought the Repulse Bay flat for HK$62 million -- claiming she was a first-time home buyer (the other two were bought through her companies) -- so that she only had to pay a stamp duty of HK$2.635 million instead of HK$9.3 million.

Cheng's third-floor flat in Repulse Bay she bought for HK$62M
One can imagine Hong Kong people are fuming to hear how much Cheng owns, let alone having homes with illegal structures on them when she's the chief justice secretary.

And now there are grumblings in the pro-Beijing camp that it's getting harder and harder for them to support Chief Executive Lam's decision to choose Cheng to replace Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung

Maybe Cheng didn't really want to do the job, knowing this would happen. But did she know this scandal would be dragging Lam's administration's credibility down too?

Cheng hasn't said much except to apologize many times for the "inconvenience and concern caused in the community".

Sounds like she too is overwhelmed by the barrage of coverage. But if she was politically smart enough, she would have sold or attempted to sell her properties before starting her new job.

But perhaps the super wealthy don't seem to think rules apply to them, or they think they won't get caught...

Monday, 22 January 2018

"Ice Boy" Reveals Plight of "Left-Behind" Children

"Ice Boy" Wang Fuman (centre) visits Beijing for the first time
Over a week ago there was an uproar in Chinese cyberspace with the story of "Ice Boy".

Wang Fuman, an eight-year-old boy from Ludian county, in a poor area of Yunnan province became famous overnight when he was photographed with his hair, eyelashes and eyebrows covered in frost and he wasn't wearing enough clothes to keep warm. It took him over an hour to walk 4.5km to get to school everyday.

The picture went viral with many in China feeling sorry for the boy, who is a "left-behind child", because his parents have to leave home to work elsewhere, while Wang and his older sister are raised by their grandparents.

This picture of "Ice Boy" went viral
An outpouring of sympathy led to donations of over 300,000 yuan (US$46,900), but apparently not all the money went to the child -- apparently the local government only gave the family 8,000 yuan, saying it was not good for the boy to become "rich" overnight, which led to questions of where the rest of the money went.

State broadcaster CCTV reported 100,000 yuan went to Wang's school, Zhuangshanbao. So where did the over 202,000 yuan go?

Maybe it went towards his "free" trip to Beijing this past weekend for three days with his father and older sister. But the propaganda website China Peace, run by the Party's Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission claims to have shelled out for the trip.

It was the first time Wang had ever been on a plane, left his hometown and gone elsewhere. He also marveled that people in the Chinese capital had indoor heating, which probably led to him wondering why he didn't have that at home.

"It's very cold at home, but very warm in Beijing. At home, we have to burn charcoal at night for warmth. In Beijing, the rooms are so warm -- I only need to wear one layer of clothing. This is the first time I've come across heating, it really is a miracle," he said. "I want to see how children in Beijing go to school, and whether they need to walk a long way everyday."

He and his sister in their bare home
He might also be shocked to find kids in the big city get driven by car or take the bus, not many actually walk to school -- let alone 4.5km -- to get to class.

And apparently to make life better for Wang, his father has been given a job in his hometown so he doesn't have to be away from his children. Is he really going to earn enough money to support the family? And what about the other parents of "left-behind" children? Is the government going to offer them jobs too?

These stop-gap measures hardly solve the problem of "left-behind" children. It wouldn't be a surprise to find after six months to a year that Wang's father needs to leave again to support his family.

The government really doesn't seem to care or understand the plight of these people and that the economy is dependent on migrants like Wang's father to work in big cities. However, the sacrifices they make are a big impact on the family's emotional well-being.

"When I saw the photo, there was pain in my heart," says Wang's 28-year-old father. "I couldn't stay home and look after my children -- I had no choice. If I didn't leave and find work somewhere else, my two kids would've have had nothing to eat."

How is Xi Jinping going to solve this problem? With "left-behind" children, their education level is lower which leads to less opportunities later in life, stuck doing menial work and unable to further improve their situation.

If China values these 60 million children, then it will do something, but so far not much has been done for them. If Xi wants to eradicate poverty by 2020, these children need to be on the priority list.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Another Year, Another 10K

At the starting line -- which is a five-minute walk ahead!
Hard to believe but another Standard Chartered Marathon has come and gone.

I was lucky to be picked in a lottery to run the 10K and I remember being on our Silk Road trip in September when I received the email. I excitedly managed to pay the HK$350 online with my credit card (via VPN) and just remembered the race would be in late January.

And then suddenly it was mid-January. Where did the time go?

Looking over Victoria Harbour there's a big fog at 6.30am
I went to bed around 10.30pm and thought I had slept somewhat soundly when I looked at my phone. Midnight.

Then I woke up again at 3am and the when my alarm sounded at 4.30am.

I made breakfast and was out the door by 5.30am to get to the first checkpoint by 6am for the 6.45am start. It was pretty dark, but whenever I am on the way to the race I am surprised to see so many people up so early in the morning -- who are not running.

This year the weather was warm and a bit humid. By the time I got closer to the checkpoint there wasn't much need to wear the plastic rain poncho to keep warm. And there were tons and tons of people. Some were late for the first heat at 6.15am!

As I hadn't trained much this past week as I was away in Guangzhou, I found this year's run to be quite a slog, wondering when I would pass the next kilometre, which isn't a good sign. I tried to keep a steady pace and at the same time dodge lots of people who were either walking or running slower.

There's several thousand people in each heat for the 10K
By the 6km mark, a mild cramp had set in and I walked for a bit before continuing on and having an energy jelly helped me get my energy back, but then again past the 8km mark I walked a bit more. Somehow I managed to convince myself to finish the race for good and kept going, even at the sharp turn towards the end that has a very steep hill. I just kept pushing on, remembering that I'd trained for the incline last week.

At the end I tried to run faster, but wondered if my legs would keep going or not. But I made it! 1:09:51.

Not my best time, but not my worst either. I was very happy to finish it.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Picture of the Day: Vanity Bath

Do you really want to watch yourself taking a shower with the mirror in there?
These last few days I was in Guangzhou again and stayed at a decent three-star hotel in Yuexiu district, which was relatively near Ershadao, or Ersha Island where we needed to work.

Anyway at the last minute we tacked on an extra stay a day earlier in the hotel, but when we checked-in, they said we could stay in a suite the first night but then move to a smaller room the remaining days of our stay.

That was annoying, but admittedly it was a last-minute change to our reservation.

What a nice room! The suite had a living room, bedroom, large bathroom with a bathtub, and even a walk-in closet with a vanity table! And it's a three-star hotel.

However, it was quite amusing to see a mirror above the bathtub. So do the Chinese think people like to look at themselves in the mirror while they are showering? And isn't it hard to keep a mirror clean when it's in the shower?

But you never know -- the Chinese were probably the first to pioneer clear glass walls between the bathroom and bedroom, and now mirrors in the shower... What will they think of next?