Archive | July, 2012

Beijing and Hong Kong – a week of storms

30 Jul

typhoonYou might have seen there’s been a spot of rain in China over the past week or so. I don’t think it would be exaggerating to say it was absolutely twatting it down. The most interesting thing about Bejing’s deadly floods and Hong Kong’s rather camp typhoon, however, is the damage each did and how the authorities handled the aftermath.

I’m not going to launch into another China-slagging post here because the facts pretty much speak for themselves. The ‘worst floods in six decades’ hit Beijing. Apartment ceilings caved in, inadequate sewers and drainage systems collapsed, 70+ people died. How can 70 people die in 6.7 inches of rain? Well, that’s what millions of angry social media users wanted to know, and let their anger at local government be known via the usual weibo channels. Until the posts began, sadly and predictably, to be deleted. Almost a year to the day after the deadly high speed train crash which sparked a weibo backlash over government incompetence, the authorities’ response is still to censor first, think later.

In what seemed like an unusually speedy response to public opinion, Beijing’s major and deputy resigned. However, read between the lines, and Communist Party politics, and the deadly floods were more likely being used to justify a decision which had already taken place in a closed door Party meeting. many moons previously. No-body’s sure exactly why they went so quickly, they just know that it wasn’t an honourable mea culpa.

Cut to Hong Kong a few days later. I looked out of my window at 3pm and saw sideways rain. At about 5pm office workers were told to go home as typhoon Vicente was coming to play, and a no. 8 signal hoisted. Later that night, as the wind grew, a no. 10 signal was raised, forewarning 100mph winds, a near direct hit and the worst storm since ’99. So what happened? Death and destruction? Organisational chaos and government turmoil? Nope. A bit of flooding. About 100 injuries from flying debris. Delayed trains. All was back to normal by about midday the next day.

Oh yeah, and we were all allowed to tweet and weibo about it. Not that there were many complaints – a few people got stranded on MTRs, but nothing too extreme.

Now I know it’s not really fair to compare the two extreme weather conditions, or the two cities. And I know that it’s perhaps unfair to judge Beijing’s local government based on this incident, given they endured a spectacular drenching for a city normally more used to sandstorms and smog. But I’m gonna anyway. Beijing’s big play at the 2008 Olympics was “I’m here, I’m queer”…no, hang on.  It was more: “I’m a modern, global capital. I have the money, the infrastructure and the balls to shake things up around here. Gaze on me with envy London, New York, Berlin. I’m the shit. Yeah.”

Except it was bluffing. As with China as a whole, it grew at such a pace of knots that a lot of the important stuff was forgotten: human rights, environmental protection, the rule of law … proper drainage. We can sit back all smug in the West, and especially in London, as it hosts this year’s Olympics. We’ve had our industrial revolution. Hong Kong too has come through its steep learning curve and thanks to international finance, British know-how and Chinese industry is now one of the best places to live in the world.

The Chinese govt will surely throw billions at Beijing in response to what happened last week, but whether on purpose or not, vital stuff will still get missed off that list.

Sacré bleu! China’s hacks need to go back to school

24 Jul

tour de franceHere’s another snapshot into the insanity of Chinese online censorship and terrible journalism, courtesy of Illuminant, a PR agency based in the People’s Republic.

As the firm points out in this post, a news story broke all over social media in the country that a whopping 1,832 riders never finished this year’s Tour De France cycle-fest.

No, you haven’t been so drip-fed news by western media of British hero Bradley Wiggins’ epic victory as to have missed this massive story – it is in fact complete and utter bollocks.

What happened, according to Illuminant, is that state-run news wire Xinhua accidentally typed that 156 out of 1,988 riders finished the race. In reality, only 198 took part – the extra ‘8’ being nothing more than a simple typo.

All this would have been forgivable but then the People’s Daily – the Communist Party’s mouthpiece and one of the giant’s of the Chinese newspaper industry – jumped on this stat and put out its own story based on the apparent shockingly low number of finishers.

This in turn was duly cut-and-pasted without any fact-checking by the four biggest web portals in China – Sina, QQ, Sohu and Net Ease – which between them are read by more than the total online population of most nations.

So what do you think happened as a result?

An edict from the Party clamping down on poor standards in journalism? New regulations designed to make journalists more accountable and to force them to source any news first hand?

Well, probably none of the above actually because they have already happened. Last year.

Nothing is likely to be done as a result, however, for one very good reason.

Although the aim of the new regulations, which could even end in prison sentences and a career-ending sacking for erring hacks, was ostensibly to improve standards in journalism, it wasn’t really.

It was actually brought in to control the spread of ‘harmful rumours’ online. These rumours, of course, being harmful to no-one but the Party. A cock-up reporting the Tour de France is not exactly going to cause the collapse of communism in China and so will no doubt be left alone.

By contrast, when rumours emerged online that there may have been a coup in central Beijing all hell broke loose – arrests, web sites shut down and comments suspended on some of the biggest social media sites.

The lesson from all this is pretty clear: China’s a great place to be a terrible hack, just stick to covering meaningless sporting events on the other side of the globe.

Random pics #3 – Malaysia

20 Jul

Random pics from Penang and Langkawi.

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll wonder why.






































































































For the record: not very joyful at all. Actually a bit disappointing…













There’s been animosity towards Japan ever since WWII, most notably expressed via confectionery…













So much choice for souvenirs in Penang. These are playing cards. In the end I bought them all.


China sending out mixed skirt signals

17 Jul

stripperWhat do you get if you cross summer-time in Hong Kong with a group of morally retarded politicians? Answer: a list of the most dangerous places in the SAR for women to walk around in short skirts.

Yup, the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, or rather its drearily titled Women’s Affairs Committee, has released its latest list on Peeping Tom black spots.

The list, which incidentally would also serve as an indispensable guide for dirty old men in the region, details quite specifically the escalators, glass walkways and staircases where scantily clad locals are most at risk.

Rather hilariously, the now iconic Apple Store staircase designed by Steve Jobs himself comes in for a bashing by the DAB – is nothing sacred?

I’ve never heard of this kind of moral crusade by a political party in the West and can only imagine the DAB espouses the kind of retarded conservative values that would rather women wore ankle length coats at all times to avoid these kind of problems in the first place.

After a bit of digging, I found that it’s been releasing these lists for at least three years – every time with the same old spiel – camera wielding perverts are on the rise and represent a real and present danger to the honour of our young ladies.

It’s often said that China is a nation of contradictions, well, looking in the Shanghai Daily this week this became immediately clear.

It reported news that the gloriously named Guilin Merryland Resort in southern China is currently offering half price entry to women wearing skirts shorter than 38cm.

Apparently, local TV footage has shown long lines of female visitors queuing up for the discount, waiting to be seen to by a member of staff holding a ruler.

The park is also said to run a “water-splashing festival” during which visitors are encouraged to throw water over each other, including of course the skimpy-skirted women.

China. You’re sending out mixed signals here – do you want girls to wear short skirts in summer or not?

Maybe this is what they meant by ‘one country, two systems’.

Weibo fisticuffs as govt cheerleader is decked by a girl

12 Jul
man cowering on the ground

Source: cnwest

Pssst. Have you heard the one about the assistant university professor and the Sichuan TV reporter? No? Oh good.

This beautiful tale of censorship, government sycophants and hilarious emasculation comes to you courtesy of a massive weibo (microblogging) row between diminutive reporter Zhou Yan and academic lightweight Wu Danhong.

It all started when Zhou took offence at Wu’s suggestion that her fellow Sichuans were making a lot of fuss about nothing after they mobilised mass protests on the streets of Shifang.

The crowds were protesting – successfully in the end – against the building of a new molybdenum copper plant in the area on environmental and public health grounds. Wu got on his high horse and claimed that a bit of molybdenum never hurt anyone.

So they agreed to settle their differences in Beijing’s Chaoyang Park last Friday.

What ensued, as these images and transcript on Beijing Cream reveal, was a fair bit of shouting, some swearing and an unfathomably pathetic display of capitulation by Wu.

Now I know university professors are not the most athletic bunch of human beings in the world, but quite how Wu managed to end up on the ground at the feet of the sub-five foot Zhou is anyone’s guess.

Mine is that he was trying to use the event, and any ensuing notoriety it managed to attract online, to score a moral victory for the Party and undermine his liberal opponents by making them appear like a crazed mob.

Lending credence to this theory is his attempt in the days since  to exaggerate his injuries from the ‘fight’ and even bizarrely to accuse well-known artist/dissident Ai Weiwei of joining in (Ai was apparently passing by chance at the time).

Wu is often referred to as a member of the “50 cent party”, a pejorative term for online commentators and talking heads who are apparently paid five mao (50 cents) by the authorities per every pro-government post.

They’re cheerleaders for the Communist Party, effectively, and help to sway and manipulate online opinion in usually a very obvious way.

Basically, he’s a right nob and had it coming. It’s just a shame that Zhou – who predictably got banged up soon after – didn’t bring a baseball bat with her.

China’s beef? It’s the pork stoopid

6 Jul

pigThere’s something about living abroad that tends to accentuate one’s sense of national pride. You’ll see them all crowding the ex-pat bars in Wan Chai and LKF, these rudderless travellers, suspended in time thousands of miles from their homes, shouting on their sporting teams till they’re red, white and blue in the face.

Living cheek to jowl with other displaced ex-pats in a place like Hong Kong also casts an illuminating light on our various different cultures. Basically the one lesson to take home from this is that no, we’re not all really the same when it all comes down to it. We may all have eyes and ears and arses, but actually that’s pretty much where the similarities end between Brits, Yanks, Saffers, Aussies, Frogs, Chinese etc etc.

As a proud (see above) Englishman, I am adept at saying sorry twenty different ways, a master of the sarcastic aside, acutely embarrassed by confrontation and outward displays of affection and wearily accustomed to my national sporting teams spectacularly failing at every major tournament. Having invented most sport played in the world, we feel it would be unseemly to also be unbelievably good at it and so deliberately underachieve wherever possible. (Obviously our cricketers are an aberration).

It is with great amusement then that I read of the aftermath of the Chinese versus United States women’s volleyball game. First, though, a bit of background: China for many thousands of years regarded itself as the centre of the world – actually it still does, even the characters for the country mean “centre land” – and is not very keen on coming second in anything. I mean anything: sport, the space race, the production of pirated DVDs and cigarettes, the rearing of toxic meat. Anything. It is one of life’s great joys to see China fail at something – which it rarely does in the end – and desperately grapple to save face with some truly terrible excuse-peddling.

Well, on losing this World Grand Prix volleyball match in three sets on home soil, the Chinese coach came up with possibly the best excuse I’ve ever heard for a sporting defeat – his players were not able to eat pork before the match.

Yup, apparently Coach Yu Juemin said his players were literally too weak to win the match, having been denied the Chinese meaty staple in the days preceding the game over fears they may test positive to a drug commonly used in China to produce leaner meat.

“We dared not eat pork when we went out to play matches as we were afraid of clenbuterol. We took pork only after we returned to Beilun,” said the coach.

Apparently beef, chicken, lamb and fish are just not good enough for those strapping volleyball titans – pork it must be or the match will end in humiliating defeat.

As we English all know, it’s not the winning that counts, or even the taking part, but the opportunity to simultaneously laugh at tut at those poor sports who don’t even have the manners to lose graciously. That’s one thing we are world beaters at.

Hong Kong turns 15, hacks revolt

3 Jul

Hong Kong colonial flagHong Kong. It’s easy to forget sometimes staring goggle-eyed at the splendorous neon-skyscrapered waterfront or ambling through the whore-infested byways of Wan Chai that this is part of China.

The special administrative region (SAR) turned 15 on Sunday. Well, its new life as an autonomous part of the People’s Republic turned 15 – and like all teenagers it’s getting increasingly riled with its parents.

As new CEO CY Leung was sworn in by Chinese president Hu Jintao hundreds of thousands took to the streets to protest the appointment of their new leader – done far away from the troubling spotlight of democratic elections – whom they view as an agent of Beijing, despite his claims to the contrary.

Several protestors even carried proudly aloft the old colonial Hong Kong flag – a symbol of “all we have lost”, they said – while another was bundled into a police van after rudely heckling Hu’s speech.

Back in pre-’97 times democratic rights were similarly limited, but personal freedoms, human rights and the rule of law were more securely anchored. Many feel, rightly or wrongly, that Beijing has gradually chipped away at these things which Hong Kongers had come to take for granted.

One thing they could also be more sure of back then was a free press unfettered by direct or indirect pressure from Beijing.

Looking at some of the anodyne stories in the South China Morning Post these days – most notably the reporting of Chinese dissident Li Wangyang – it’s not hard to see why most Hong Kong dwellers now think the press is actively engaged in self-censorship.

The SCMP faced angry protestor at its gates and a petition signed by staff after it downplayed news of the suspicious death of Li a few weeks ago.

In addition, almost 90 per cent of HK journos think press freedom has “deteriorated significantly” under the outgoing administration, with the government accused of tightening its grip on information by restricting the number of events accessible to reporters and increasing off-the-record briefings.

President Hu did nothing to quell any such fears in his speech at Leung’s swearing in ceremony, as the China Media Project blog picked up:

[We must] adhere to and implement a fully accurate ‘one country two systems’ policy, acting in strict accord with [Hong Kong’s] Basic Law, combining the priorities of upholding ‘one country’ while respecting differences in the ‘two systems,’ preserving the authority of the central Party and ensuring a high-level of autonomy in the Special Administrative Region, preserving overall national interests and ensuring various interests within Hong Kong society, supporting Hong Kong in actively developing international exchanges and opposing interference in Hong Kong affairs by outside forces . . .

These ‘outside forces’, according to the Hong Kong Uni-based project, are journalists, web-based loud mouths and any others who say things in public that powerful people don’t like the sound of.

Stuff like this, then, probably.

I’ll get my coat…