I have to give credit where it’s due: The South China Morning Post put the issue of the impending death of the market on Peel Street in Soho, where it belongs: as the headline story on the front page of Sunday’s paper. They even backed it up with a companion piece on the failure of the ‘updated’ wet market in Stanley and how the re-development there has been a complete failure. Well done.

I am so disheartened that the market in Soho will soon fall victim to redevelopment. Visit the market anytime during the day and you will find a vibrant, busy neighbourhood full of colour and life. It not only provides a much needed place to buy fresh produce, meat, poultry and fish, as well as gourmet ingredients and fresh cult flowers, it also provides tourists with an “authentic” Hong Kong experience. Tourists love the market – it is one of the few original features in our city which is becoming crowded with mass-franchised shopping and “re-created” historical sites.

In my opinion, the market is part of Hong Kong heritage and it’s survival deserves to be preserved with the same passion as was given to the Star Ferry clocktower.

But let’s not make the same mistake twice. Don’t wait until the market is being swept away to show the government how much you care. Let’s speak up now while there is still hope.

My one criticism (today) of the SCMP is that they didn’t include an “action list” of how the public can make their voices heard. I would like to have seen a list of names, emails or phone numbers of those we can contact.

I hope the media will continue to champion the cause of saving the market. I, for one, am planning to figure out how I can make a difference.


coco.JPGThe Peak Lookout deserves a big thank you from all the dog owners who, thanks to the management there, can enjoy a civilised lunch or breakfast in the company of their canine. But some dog owners are taking advantage of the restaurant’s largesse by forcing diners to tolerate the behavior of their poorly-trained dogs.

We hiked up The Peak on Sunday and enjoyed a leisurely lunch on The Lookout’s back patio. I was thrilled we could bring our dog in with us to the “dog section”. However, I soon wished we had tied her up outside so we could sit further away from the cacophony of dog barking and whining that we had to listen from the other dogs, throughout the meal. It was anarchy.

If the dog barking wasn’t bad enough, one dog had urinated under one of the tables. My advice to the restaurant would be to advise owners that if their dogs didn’t behave, they would be asked to remove the dog.

But I guess once you do that, you open the floodgate to other restrictions. “Sorry ma’am, your baby is too noisy — can you please leave it outside?”

But really, having a restaurant that allows dogs is a great thing in a city that is, for the most part, completely dog un-friendly. But even in The Peak piazza area, dogs were barking, and running around out of control. If this keeps up, it won’t be long before dogs won’t be allowed in there either.

As my husband often says “all good things in Hong Kong eventually come to an end” and I’m afraid that if this continues, it will spoil it for those of us with well-behaved dogs.

I’m not talking Lassies here, but dogs in public should at least be under control and not be nuisance to others.

This morning I was saddened to read about a car crash resulting in the death of the young driver as well as his passengers – his wife and 3 month old son. According to the article, the car was speeding along Tuen Mun Highway, when it “lost control” and crashed.

I have come to the conclusion, after reading many such stories over the years, that “losing control of the vehicle” must be the cause of the majority of Hong Kong’s fatal car accidents. But I would replace “lost control” with “fallen asleep”.

Falling asleep at the wheel is a common occurence in Hong Kong judging by my experiences in taxi cabs and even, most recently in a minibus (traveling at 70km/h no less). Of course, proving my theory is impossible — few witness would ever be able to confirm it and the driver, if he survived, is hardly going to admit it. But how else can you explain a double decker bus mounting the curb and smashing into a store front as happened last year? Or the wreckages you sometimes witness of vehicles smashed into barricades placed on straight, non-treacherous roads?

In the case of this young family, we will never know why the driver lost control of his car. But I do think more should be done to prevent professional drivers from causing similiar tragedies.

There should be some type of regulation controlling the length of taxi and bus drivers’  shifts, for example.

If you don’t believe me, then next time you are in a cab late in the afternoon or really early in the morning (the “drowsy driver” time – end of shifts) keep an eye on your driver in the rear-view mirror.

Even dropping off for a few seconds can result in tragedy.

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.

legend vs legend

360704351_a5bca4fda1_m.jpgTwo legends were in Hong Kong this week: rock and roll legend Eric Clapton and grammy award winning artist, John Legend. Both shows were amazing but in different ways.

Both performances took place in the Asia World Expo, which is really a poor set up for a concert. At Clapton’s concert, we were seated in the ‘bowl’ which was basically ground level seating. Luckily for us, we had great seats, butI can’t imagine how the people in the 50 or so rows behind us saw anything. And for the staggering ticket prices they charged, I was amazed they got away with it.

The whole venue was packed, yet there was very little energy from the crowd. We were all content to enjoy the show from the comfort of our seats. It wasn’t until the very end when Eric played “Layla” that we finally got off our asses.

I can’t say I blame the audience much. As amazing as Clapton was, he did little to communicate with the audience and encourage them to participate. He is the master – he was there to perform, and we were there to listen. This was a stark contrast to new comer John Legend.

john legend stock photoThe venue for Legend was about one third full, but since they curtained off the other two thirds, it felt surprisingly intimate. When John finally hit the stage the crowd was on their feet immediately. He spoke to the audience throughout his performance — he was extremely charming — and said he was very excited to have his first show in Hong Kong. He encouraged everyone to dance and sing along. And that we did. About three songs in, a group rushed the front and the security guards realised that any attempt at resistance was futile. The concert turned into a party which Legend enthusiastically plugged into, especially when he grabbed a girl from the crowd and danced with her onstage.

Like Clapton, Legend is an exceptional musician, so this show also did not disappoint on any level. His solo performance on the piano of “Ordinary People” was one of the best concert moments I have ever experienced. My only complaint was I thought the sound for Legend was not as clear and perfect as at Clapton’s.

Clapton, for his part, did not rest on his laurels, but instead pulled out all the stops and left no doubt as to why he is still one of the best guitar players in the world. He was accompanied by a band that was so good, it would have outshone him if he was a performer of less calibre and confidence. Instead, they matched him on every level creating a performance that rocked from start to finish.

Clapton left the stage after his encore with a wave. Legend, on the other hand, announced he would be at the Four Seasons after the show before he waved and bowed humbly on his way out.

Of course, we went to the Four Seasons, where we found Legend holding court in the back of the bar. I went to his table and told him how much I enjoyed his show. He asked what my name was, and despite his obvious exhaustion (he was drinking hot water, by the way, mixed with packets of Throat Ease), he was a real gentleman and stood briefly to shake my hand. I asked if he wouldn’t mind signing my ticket stub. “Of course,” he said. I pulled it out of my bag along with a pen. He looked at it briefly, then turned his sexy brown eyes up to look me deep in the eyes. He then said something I didn’t expect. “This is a ticket for Eric Clapton.”

I was, of course, mortified and frantically searched my bag for the ticket. He and his friends laughed and he good-naturedly offered to sign the Clapton ticket. “I love Clapton,” he said.

Instead I went and grabbed my husband’s ticket stub and got the autograph. Exactly where it belongs.

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.

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.