Archive for November, 2006

Pressure is mounting in recent days, on the government to take action on the air quality. Merill Lynch was reported in the SCMP yesterday as advising its clients to “sell Hong Kong office landlords and buy Singapore office landlords” because of worsening air pollution.

Their view is that the government is powerless to reverse the thickening of the smog in Hong Kong. “It could be a long and choking wait that many could choose not to endure,” the report stated. As a result they have downgraded HongKong Land and other big office landlords.

Many reports have warned that the economy will eventually suffer if air quality doesn’t improve. But this is the most concrete example so far that this prediction is correct. I commend Merrill Lynch for hitting the wizards-behind-the-curtain where it hurts.

And in a one-two punch, Anthony Hedley from Air Quality Objectives Concern Group, said in a radio interview that the government’s decision to await results from further study before accepting the WHO’s latest air quality guidelines, was “completely unacceptable”. He pulled no punches, stating that the WHO guidelines had been based on the latest research gathered from throughout Asia, including Hong Kong. So what does the HK Government think it will find through “further study” that will change the findings from the WHO study? Hedley said that the further deterioration of air quality over the two year delay will be devastating. “Immediate action is necessary,” he said.

Who doesn’t think air quality is a problem? Who doesn’t bring up the level of pollution at least once a day?

My children are all the picture of health, athletic and never prone to sniffles or any sign of sickness. Until now.

My youngest son who is built like a tank — strong, robust, energetic; plays any sport well — has recently had problems breathing. It started on Halloween night. He couldn’t breathe normally. I thought it was because I had wrapped his mummy costume too tight. But it continued, making it hard to play sports. I took him to my doctor. Thankfully, she said there was no sign of asthma. However, she said she has seen a large number of kids with the same complaint. She called it respiratory illness.

Suddenly, I’m wondering what the hell I’m doing here. If my son, who has rarely been ill and is in excellent physical shape, can be affected by the pollution, then think of how it is harming children who are not as healthy.

I know people who don’t even let their children play outside on “bad” air days. I’ve never been that concerned. I always joked that my children were on the cutting edge of human evolution; an improved human race that will eventually be immune to bad air.

Now I’m no longer joking.


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I was really not intending to write so much on the SCMP, but lately it’s hard to avoid. On Friday there was a story on the Doha round restarting. At the bottom of the article, there was an explanation of the Doha round contained in a sidebar. What I found interesting was that the source of the information was cited as Wikipedia, not the WTO official website.

While I frequently link to Wikipedia from the blog to give readers some additional background, should they want it, I do it informally and with confidence that readers understand that it is for reference only and cannot be relied on to be air-tight. As a journalist, I would never use Wikipedia as an official source. I might use it to get some leads for research purposes, but I would never trust it exclusively. The risk of error, although tenuous, is the trade-off for the collaborative aspect of open content sources.

Even my former new media journalism professor, Andrew Lih, who is a well-known expert on Wikipedia and is currently writing a book on the project (and a Wikipedian himself, of course) does not believe journalists should refer to Wikipedia as a source. He encouraged using it as a starting point and a means of getting an overview of a topic, but not reliable enough to cite as a source for a published article.

Just for fun, let’s see what Wikipedia says about Wikipedia: “There has been controversy over Wikipedia’s reliability and accuracy, with the site receiving criticism for its susceptibility to vandalism, uneven quality and inconsistency, systemic bias, and preference for consensus or popularity over credentials. Information is sometimes unconfirmed and questionable, lacking proper sources that, in the eyes of most Wikipedians, is necessary for an article to be considered “high quality“. Hmmm….

The information on the Doha round was, I’m sure, perfectly accurate. The beauty of Wikipedia is that the material is often nicely summarised which makes it so tempting to lift the text rather than piece together a summary from the WTO official website or other source. However, I can’t help but think it lowers the credibility of the paper when sources which are not considered 100% accurate are officially cited, no matter how correct they might be in that one instance. A friend of mine at CNN recently told me that CNN does not use Wikipedia as an official research source. Ever.

To get a barometer on how fair, accurate and professionsl the content on Wikipedia is, editors of the SCMP might test it by checking the South China Morning Post entry. Would they want to see that information published in a quality paper?

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Two of my kids were rounded up to play on teams entered in the Hong Kong Inline Cup. The tournament attracts teams from all over the region, and for some reason, a couple of teams all the way from the UK. It’s a big, well-organised tournament that takes place in the great outdoor venue at King’s Park in Jordan.

Most of the teams were extremely competitive whereas my kids were playing for teams put together only a month ago. My youngest son, 8, played goal. As a consequence of playing teams with more experience he faced a frightening barrage of shots. Despite the pressure, he played amazingly well, stopping 97 shots. At the end of the tournament, despite his team coming in 3rd, he was awarded the top goalie award in recognition of his tremendous effort. They awarded him a goalie stick.

I was thrilled. He was thrilled. But I couldn’t help but think: whatever happened to giving kids trophies? I’m sure if you did a poll of middle-aged men (yes, and some women too) they would admit to still having their childhood trophies packed safely away somewhere. My oldest son has a few trophies proudly displayed on his shelf, and my littlest has often said he couldn’t wait to earn his first one.

Well on the weekend, he sure did earn it. But he has nothing to commemorate his achievement. I confess, I’m thinking of getting one made for him. OK maybe that’s lame, but I can’t let a few negligient organisers get in the way of a boy’s dream! Come on tournament organisers, let’s give the kids something to remember. Bring back the cup!

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The Hong Kong Tourism Board announced, with great fanfare yesterday, the arrival of the first “Honest and Quality Tour” into Hong Kong. Yes, that’s right, tourists now can choose an “honest and quality” tour as opposed to…. I guess all the crap tours that have been offered before.

This new tour is HKTB response to the crisis involving mainland tourists being held hostage by tour guides who insisted they spend a certain amount of money in pre-arranged store visits before allowing them to continue the tour.

I realise that the HKTB must have been under tremendous pressure to come up with something to restore confidence in Hong Kong tours, but surely some of those high-salaried managers could have come up with a slogan that doesn’t beg to be ridiculed. Can you read the media coverage: “Hong Kong offers first honest tour!” “For the first time ever, Hong Kong Tourist Board offers quality tour!”

Doesn’t anyone in that office have a PR or advertising background?

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Donald Trump is not the only one gaining notoriety for firing people. Mark Clifford, the editor-in-chief at the SCMP axed two senior editors on Friday, according to the Apple Daily and Ming Pao.

Mark stirred up some controversy in journalism circles and the blogosphere seven months ago when he unceremoniously sacked two of his top editors at The Standard as his last assignment as editor-in-chief there.

Well it appears that he is using the same strategy again, but this time for different reasons. While it was the subject of debate as to why he fired the editors at The Standard before announcing his departure for bigger, greener pastures at the Post, the sacking of two senior Post editors on Friday is being viewed as retribution for insolent behaviour. Apparently, the editors were involved in a satirical prank which was linked to the resignation/firing of Niall Fraser, who was editor of The Sunday Post.

I won’t comment any further as I have no first-hand knowledge as to what actually happened and am simply repeating what I read in eastsouthwestnorth and in a blog discussion on what went down.

If we are to believe the memo published in Mister Bijou’s blog, Clifford felt the prank undermined the credibility and professionalism of the paper. Was he right?

Update (Nov 15) : see the latest news on Asia Sentinel. (they also ran a thumbnail of the actual page).

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Margaret Chan has had an unlikely career. Much like Forrest Gump, she seems to have an uncanny knack for being at the right place at the right time. And this week, her gumption has landed her the top job at the World Health Organisation.

For most people, screwing up big time at work would be a career- ender. Not for Margaret. Accused of being partly responsible for the spread of SARS due to her complacency and mismangement of the crisis, she managed a quick evacuation to Geneva for a timely job offer at WHO, leaving her underlings to take the heat.

When WHO was looking for someone to take the Director-General role, Margaret was put in the running. Despite being pitted against a few more qualified candidates, Margaret managed to outwit, outplay and outlast her rivals. During the campaign, much SARS mud was dug up and slung in a bid to discredit her. But in the end, Margaret prevailed.

Insiders say that the vote ultimately favoured Margaret because the electors wanted to see an Asian in the top job (narrowing the selection down to Margaret and Dr Omi from Japan) and it was high time a woman had the honour. Margaret had the whole package. This seems a rather simple explanation for how the voting went down.

Margaret was China’s candidate. And China campaigned hard on her/their behalf. Despite the fact that Margaret’s failure over SARS stemmed from her inability to get answers from Guangdong (“either by phone or by fax!” she said in the post-SARS inquiry), her Chinese nationality was seen as being a key to getting better cooperation from China on possible health epidemics.

China recently hosted an unprecedented China-Africa conference where they agreed to double the amount of aid to the continent. Is it only coincidence then that Margaret mentions, in her first speech as DG, that, she would serve all countries equally but it was AFRICA that needed the most help? No mention of Afghanistan or Bangladesh.

When asked about the Africa connection, Margaret didn’t confirm or deny it. Instead she reiterated the importance of improving the health conditions in Africa, which of course is undeniably at a crisis level — all politics aside.

Margaret never planned to be a doctor, much less one with such a high profile. According to her, she only went to medical school to spend more time with her husband who was studying to be a doctor. ”As a traditional Asian woman, I followed my husband,” she is quoted as saying in a New York Times article.

She never planned to be a civil servant either, but took up a job with the Health Authority because of a lack of opportunities in her chosen field of paediatrics. She quickly rose up through the ranks mainly due, in her words, to the departure of many senior people before Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.

Yes, it may seem that Margaret has managed to be in the right place at the right time and now, despite only every wanting to be a schoolteacher, she has found herself heading the world’s most powerful health agency. But this result is as much a credit to her ambition and skill as a political animal than it is to luck. Unlike the fluky Mr. Gump, Margaret has taken full advantage from every opportunity that presented itself. Life may be like a box of chocolates, but so far she has managed to pick all the right ones.

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Did Krispy Kreme make a tactical error when they opened a store in Soho? Perhaps the willpower of the yoga-pilates crowd is too strong as many seem able to resist the melt-in-the mouth famous donuts, judging by my observations at the Elgin Street store. There are few customers in the mornings and rarely does the shop have more than one or two people inside. I could be wrong, but when I see the staff standing on the corner trying to drum up business I can’t help but think that they are having a rough start.

Although Soho-ites love their coffee, they continue to bypass KK’s Illy coffee (best in the neighbourhood in my opinion) to get their lattes at Starbucks or Mix. Maybe the donut shop franchise is not cool enough for this crowd. KK was handing out free coffees to escalator commuters this morning in an attempt to win over a few customers.

And of course, there’s the donuts. The Soho crowd is reluctant to sabotage their PURE-honed physiques for a 200+ calorie treat, no matter how delicious. Instead, they are picking up their snacks at the many health-food restaurants cropping up along the escalator.

I’m surprised KK even decided to open their second outlet in this $60-a-salad neighbourhood. Despite the quality of the coffee, and even the donuts (if you’re a donut lover), KK still has a “fast-food franchise” look to it that does not jive well with the locals.

KK would do better in a shopping mall, or in a place like GREAT where customers indulge themselves with Godiva chocolates and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. I’m wondering how long they will last in their high-rent corner location. But for now, I’m enjoying getting my coffee from somewhere other than Starbucks.

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