Archive | September, 2012

Welcome to Shenzhen – where the pollution comes from

20 Sep

Shenzhen skylineI had the honour of a few days in Shenzhen this week. For those of you who don’t know, Shenzhen is Hong Kong’s younger brother across the border in mainland China, about an hour’s MTR ride away. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly, he’s brash, dirty, full of money he doesn’t know what to do with but on the plus side has a very clean and efficient metro system. That last one was just about the city.

Shenzhen is the product of former Communist Party supreme leader Deng Xiaoping’s vision to liberalise a country brought to its knees by his boss for so many years, Mao Zedong. Deng’s idea was to set up Special Economic Zones which would act as a kind of canary down the mine and see if the Communist state could pull off the immense balancing act of maintaining its totalitarian rule while allowing capitalism to thrive. In just 30 years the small village on the Pearl River Delta grew to a city of 14 million. Yeah, you could probably say it worked.

Except, arriving in Shenzhen from Hong Kong, it definitely hasn’t. It’s provides a horrifying insight into the kind of cities dotted all over the People’s Republic – all mouth and no trousers. So bereft of any cultural history it makes Hong Kong look like Kyoto. Actually, it make Vegas look like Kyoto.

What it does have, however, is shitloads of fake stuff. From knock off iPhones to Gucci handbags, it can be a shopper’s paradise, which is ironic considering most mainland Chinese come to Hong Kong to shop for their label goods because of the lower tax there. That’s legit stuff though, this is most definitely tat with a capital T. Just don’t expect much of it to last.

Don’t go to Shenzhen either for a gourmet experience of the ‘real China’. The restaurants I ventured in – and I went to some pretty swank ones – were universally dreadful. All of them smelled very strongly of fetid antisceptic wash and stale smoke, food arrived barely warm and just not right. Maybe I am too programmed into Hong Kong’s niceties. Or perhaps I was immediately put off the place by getting embroiled in the middle of a massive anti-Japan protest as soon as I stepped of the metro.

I’ll give the Chinese something, though, they know how to run a police force. This lot made Judge Dredd look like that bender from Allo Allo. All kitted out in the latest riot gear – I would have taken a few pictures but was quite frankly terrified. So, in recap, if you want to find out why you can’t see from one side of Victoria harbour in Hong Kong to the other if the wind’s blowing the wrong way, take a trip to Shenzhen. If not, well…

It’s erection time in Hong Kong – get your poll face on

8 Sep

If you’ve tutted yourself to sleep over the past few days bemoaning the woeful state of British politics, and then woken up again screaming at the thought of failed bell-ringer Jeremy Hunt in charge of the life or death of the NHS, spare a thought for Hong Kong.

It’s erection, sorry, election time here and the streets are filled with sinister looking people smiling, waving, handing out leaflets and leaning out of curb-crawling cars bawling into loudspeakers. They could be politicians but they look more like members of a particularly unforgiving cult.

Now, Hong Kongers are particularly passionate about their democractic voting rights – well you would be after having basically been denied them under colonial rule and with the one-party shadow of the motherland China casting an imposing darkness over all. People turn out here in embarrassingly large numbers, putting established democracies like good old Blighty to their eternal shame, although the problem is the elections aren’t really democractic.

The boss of HK, CEO CY Leung, for example, wasn’t directly elected by the people but chosen by a mainly pro-Beijing bunch of businessmen selected for the job. Then there are this week’s elections for legislative councillors. The LegCo, as the ‘parliament’ is known, has been expanded from 60 to 70 seats but only half are directly elected, the rest being divided into functional constituencies representing various professional sectors. Not everyone gets to vote for the latter, with professional bodies granted block votes which kind of distort any sort of democratic accountability said seats would have. Also, the voting system is quite frankly baffling and no amount of even more confusing TV ads mouthed in cheery voices – which have been running almost non-stop in the past fortnight – will change that.

Anti-Beijing sentiment has been rising in Hong Kong, and if enough pro-democracy legislators are elected on Sunday then universal suffrage could be introduced as slated in 2017 – if not then pro-China parties could block such a decision. If there’s one thing the folks here don’t like, it’s being told what to do, even if it’s for the greater good of a unified Han empire.

That anti-Beijing sentiment has bubbled up most recently in the form of protests at the planned introduction of national education classes in schools. It has been on the cards for years, but that shit is only now getting real, with the fear that, if introduced, these “patriotism classes” will indoctrinate young’uns in the ways of the Dark Side, sorry, teach them to love communist China and all it stands for. Several people are already on hunger strike…it’s all getting rather tense. Although schools ultimately have the final say on what they teach, no-one knows how rigorously these ‘suggested’ guidelines will actually be implemented. One school has even forbidden parents from seeing the curriculum, which doesn’t inspire much confidence.

These people aren’t paranoid, well they might be a little, but as the old saying goes: “Just cos you’re paranoid don’t mean China’s not watching you.” The insidious pro-Beijing bias is seen no-where more blatantly than in this TV news piece, on Hong Kong TV mind you, which rather obtusely tries to lay the blame of the national education protesters on foreign interference. Crazy.