Archive for the ‘HK issues’ Category

I was watching an old Seinfeld episode last week and it made me think of what is wrong with the new economy. It was the famous ‘airport episode’ which revolves around Jerry and Elaine trying to get on a flight but the only seats available are one in first class and the other in economy. While Elaine gets shoe-horned into her middle seat hell, is harassed by the trolley-pushiing battle axe, and is forced  to climb over a big obnoxious guy to get to the toilet, Jerry is drinking champagne, enjoying his extra leg-room, and putting on his courtesy slippers.

While watching it, my daughter, (a seasoned economy class traveler who dreams of flying first class), looked at me and said “is that what first class looks like?” And I thought: well, no actually it doesn’t look like that. First class these days is much, much better. You not only get champange, you have a chef. You don’t just have a bigger seat, you have a fully, turned-down bed. And skip the slippers, in first class you have full pyjamas. And of course that’s just the beginning. Many other nice touches — too many to mention here.

But the interesting thing here, is that while first class has improved by elegant leaps and bounds, economy class looks pretty much the same as it did in the episode, filmed over ten years ago. Except of course, for the 5×7 TV screens jammed in the seat backs, which, in my case, are either busted, or impossible to view because the guy in front of me is reclined so far into my lap I could give him a facial.

This small realisation brings me to a recent report in The South China Morning Post that the Employers’ Federation of Hong Kong has recommended that pay rises should generally be capped at 2.5 per cent next year in view of dimmer economic prospects. Well once I got over the fact there even is an “Employers’ Federation”, I began thinking about the fact that, when the economy went south, employees all took their salary cuts. And now when the economy has been rebounding with vigour, employees are still being asked to tighten their belts.

Well, for those of us in the back of the plane, that means that someone is profiting from the economic recovery but it is not those of us who get paid salaries. And while the Employers get together and decide to keep salaries low so that profits can remain high, expenses like rent are increasing at a rate of 20%, 30% or even 50% over the last two years. And while, yes, a bonus can help offset the rising cost of living, it does little for a person’s confidence in his or her ability to maintain their way of life in the coming year. And it doesn’t help that salaries for those in the top executive levels are reaching new heights.

I’m no economist but the math on this is not working for me. Who do I need to talk to around here to get an upgrade?


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One of the happiest moments in my life in HK was the day I finally cut the cord, or cable I should say, with Wharf. After years of the crappiest service every known in a civilized city, I finally made the switch to NOW TV last year and called cable to come collect their box and the fifty feet of cable snaking up and down the walls of my flat. It was liberating.

So it was not a happy day for me to open the paper and read that it is Cable — the company that excels at packaging major sporting events in ways to bleed fans dry — that has procurred the rights to air the 2008 Olympics.

Wow. Isn’t it great that HK is part of China ! – and even hosting an Olympic event!  but we still have to pay to watch it?! I mean, isn’t there any perks to this one country two system deal?

But then on the other hand –  it’ll be the first time I’ve been able to watch the Olympics in Hong Kong in years, so the good news is – it will actually be on TV.

I agree with the basis for the protests by TVB and ATV which claim this arrangement goes against  the Olympic spirit. But then again, did they even bid for the rights? They certainly couldn’t have cared less during the last Olympics.

I hope something comes from their protests. In the meantime, I’m reacquainting myself with the cable telephone hotline…maybe I can finally figure out how to get through to a real person before the Olympics start.

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How much did HKTB pay Karen Mok anyway!!The Hong Kong Tourism Board has sent out an exciting press release recently entitled “Cross-Sector Support for 2007 HK Shopping Festival on 10th Anniversary of HKSAR“. I mean, wow! they sure know how to sell themselves, don’t they?

Well believe it or not… I managed to read through the many paragraphs describing exciting offers with the MTR, special dining offers …. themed activites… Karen Mok.. blah blah blah…. a special shopping guide…. more shopping… until I hit upon this curious little piece of information:

Joining the HKTB to conjure up a citywide festive ambience will be Ocean Park Hong Kong, which will arrange its two panda mascots – Le Le and Ying Ying – to perform at shopping centres in major tourism districts on specific dates.

Sorry, What? Are they seriously suggesting that they will be bringing the pandas to the mall? to perform? I’ve been to Ocean Park several times and I’ve only seen them sit and sleep and, if i’m lucky: chew.how's this for performing?

So I can only think that the press release is misleading and what they mean is, a couple of guys in panda suits will be dancing around. I mean, what else can it mean? They will put the pandas in little cages in the middle of the mall?

Anyway you look at it, it’s pretty sad. Sorry James Tien, you’ll have to do better than that.

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We all knew it was in the cards. Two years ago, when the HKJC announced their plans to spend $800 million to host the Olympic equestrian events on the neighbouring site to the Sha Tin racecourse, we all predicted the day that the HKJC would find a way to keep the land. Last week, they showed their hand, announcing the need to lease the 44,000 square meters to use as stables for the Sha Tin Racecourse for at least another 7-10 years.

According to a friend who is well connected in JC circles, the club have had their eye on that piece of land for some time. The Olympics provided the ideal opportunity to take it over and even make it look like the JC was doing Hong Kong a great service.  Bring an Olympic event to Hong Kong! How Wonderful! (Applause).

Simonworld did an excellent job dissecting this deal back in 2005, which I highly recommend reading. You can find it here.

Never mind that Hong Kong’s finest athletes, who may only have this one opportunity to qualify and compete in an Olympic event, were kicked out of the only training facility equipped to train at an elite level.

Never mind that they were removed so that Hong Kong can host one of the least attended and least covered events in the Olympic program.

Never mind that Hong Kong people can’t even buy tickets to attend this event.

And how are they to be rewarded? Apparently a redevelopment of the Sports Institute (minus the 44,000 square meters) is being proposed. I haven’t yet seen the plan so cannot comment on it.

However, I found it interesting that the only sport in which Hong Kong has won an Olympic gold medal, has been left with no permanent training facilities. Again.

While the Jockey Club gets 44,000 square meters of space to house their horses, Hong Kong windsurfers are left high and dry.

According to the government, the various sporting associations supported the request from the Jockey Club. Yeah, I’d like to have been a fly on the wall in that meeting. Agree and get this….disagree and get nothing.

Yes, the Jockey Club have done what they do best, appear to be giving when in fact they are taking. They have been using this balance of give and take for years to pressure the government and the public to accept their agendas. They have perfected the art of “passive agressive” policy.

Why doesn’t the Hong Kong government have, as is the case in many other countries, a sports lottery to raise money for sports facilities and athlete training? Perhaps, it may erode the revenues of the Mark 6 lottery. Which of course is run by the JC.

Government officials claim it is because they don’t want to encourage the public to gamble. HELLO! Gamble! in Hong Kong?! And besides, the JC give so much to sport, don’t they?

The JC take on a lot of charity and social responsibility, which in any other country would be the responsibility of the government. In return, they are given many favours. In many areas, like the care of the elderly and financial support to children with disadvantages, they are doing a superb job.

But in the case of the future of Hong Kong sports, maybe it’s time to consider whether they are giving as much as they are getting.

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Today’s South China Morning Post ran a prominent article on the health concerns of running in this Sunday’s annual Standard Chartered Marathon

A prominent health expert has warned athletes that they “run at their peril” and cited the case of the 53-year-old runner that died last year as a case in point.

However, I have a suggestion: why don’t the organisers change the race date to coincide with the Chinese New Year holiday? If you were in HK last Sunday, you probably were awestruck, as I was, with the crystal clear skies that revealed islands previously cloaked by smog. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the holiday closings of factories across the border result in the cleanest air days of the year.

Perhaps the marathon could become part of Hong Kong’s Chinese New Year tradition?

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The Hong Kong Tennis Assiociation and the Hong Kong Amateur Athletics Association both appeared before the sports bureaucrats yesterday to plead their cases to remain in the elite sports category and retain the funding that comes with it.

Both associations had failed to attain the the points criteria necessary to remain in the program and face being kicked out in April. This news comes only two years before we host the East Asian Games, and one year before the Olympics. Without the funding that the elite status provides, neither of these association can hope to make a strong showing. This will come as a huge disappointment to all the young athletes and their families who have sacrificed their time to train and compete with the hope to be fully prepared for the most important events of their careers.

Sport programs in Hong Kong are under constant pressure to justify themselves. This contrasts sharply with what is needed to successfully grow and support an internationally competitive athletic program. The tennis association has seen some very promising young talent come through the program, but this talent soon leaves Hong Kong for countries that have better-funded and committed programs to develop their talent.

Sports programs cannot be judged in two-year cycles. Developing promising athletes and comprehensive training programs takes years. The British government implemented their elite athletic program and its funding to prepare for the 2012 Olympics, six years prior to the event. This full commitment of funding and support will see a young athlete straight through to the games. That is why their athletes stay in the UK and not go looking for greener pastures to fulfill their potential.

A wise woman once told me, “You can’t grow an elephant by measuring it.” If the government wants to see Hong Kong athletes give their best performances in the EAG and the 2008 Olympics, now is the time to put away the measuring sticks and give these athletes the funds and support they need to prepare.

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Wong Kam Po wins gold Many things can affect an athlete’s ability to excel, but with Hong Kong athletes, the main deterent slowing them down is the policies of the Hong Kong government.

I have not written about what is going on in the Asian Games in Doha, not because I don’t have anything to say, but because I have so much to say I don’t know where to begin.

But the government’s announcement that several sports will be cut from the elite program (and thus be cut off from the only source of significant funding opportunities) if they did not come home with some metal, captures in a sound-bite, so much of what is going wrong with sports and government policy.

Developing elite athletes is a long-term plan. Like, say, invading Iraq, it cannot be done in half measures or it will not produce the desired results. It takes a big vision, goals to be set (as opposed to threats) a clear plan that is formulated from the ground up (i.e. from youth on up) by people who are involved in the sport (not bureaucrats), with funds invested steadily and prudently. Add in an unwavering commitment to see the plan through (and backed by the top levels of government) and you will have successful athletes that will win the pride and admiration of all Hong Kong people.

In my experience talking to government officials about sport policy, I found a great deal of self-deprecation when it came to Hong Kong’s athletic potential. “We are not much of a sporting culture” I heard. There is a lot of pessimism regarding the chances of Hong Kong athletes to win medals. So it is with little wonder that the athletes receive patchy funding and are constantly under pressure to justify their programs. I found it disheartening that while athletes were devoting hours of their lives to training and their families were making enormous sacrifices, that the people who were overseeing their futures had little belief in their ability to realise their dreams.

E ven Timothy Fok, head of the International Olympic Committee and Amateur Sport in Hong Kong told me that Hong Kong (Chinese) athletes don’t really have “the build” for sport, compared to athletes from western countries. What! don’t have the build!? How he accounts for the number of gold medals won by Chinese athletes, I don’t know. (steroids aside).

Another story, this one on a much smaller scale, also embodies what is wrong with sport policy in Hong Kong. Some friends of mine, through their hard-work and commitment, have started a children’s baseball team. It has taken a couple of years and finally it is all coming together – they have a team, uniforms, even sponsorship. A success story, right? Proof that sports are alive and well in Hong Kong? But wait.

They have been practicising on a vacant piece of land in Western that is zoned for redevelopment in 2008. They do this because finding a LCSD field to play baseball is impossible. Recently the Central and Western District Council met to find a way to stop this “illegal” activity and have blocked all access to the field. Your government in action!

That’s right, even on this small scale the government is attempting to snuff the life out of sport.

And yet, despite this sad state of affairs, our athletes still devote their lives to training and still dream of winnning medals. If they believe they can do it, they deserve nothing less than our full support.

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