Monday, September 29, 2008

 

Empire of Slaves

There are stories that it is better to simply link too.

Fai Mao

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

 

SeeBS

So Katie Couric edited an interview to change what the respondent said.

Pushing a political agenda over getting the news out.

Making up people's mind for them especially those outside the US who do not have other sources of news.

Fat Katie should be fired but won't because SeeBS is in the tank and doesn't care. Instead they'll lose the 30 or 50 viewers they have left


Fai Mao

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Friday, September 26, 2008

 

Middle Aged Malaise

I've been having a hard time posting of late. I guess that happens with blog writers as it seems that I find what appear to be abandoned blogs quite frequently when looking through the Blog Spot pages. So I guess I am not alone. But, it bothers me. Perhaps I'm over estimating my literary and commentarial merit but I think I have something to say and at some level think that I should say it. I get comments, and people do sometimes read what I say. I have just fallen out of the habit of posting and feel somewhat dishonest about simply posting a link to a bit of news with a wise crack that I hope sounds pithy and not jaded, bitter or mean. I think that part of this is because I am not a good writer. Longer post often take more than one day. So, by the time I get a post worth posting about poisonous milk in the PRC or my thoughts on the recent elections in Hong Kong or problems on Wall Street the issue is old news. It also means that I have to plan post out and write, edit and rewrite over a couple of days. I do have other things to do and a good post requires thought and time.

Perhaps this is simply my version of that middle-aged malaise that causes some men to buy a sports car or chase younger women. Seeing as I don't drive and have a really pretty wife maybe I'm just rebelling against aging by getting depressed or grumpy. Perhaps it is just as Bob Dylan said that "I used to care but things have changed." Whatever it is, I don't like it. I don't like feeling burned out and I don't like feeling that it doesn't matter. Maybe my expectations are too high. Maybe I should accept the fact that I am insignificant cog in the international school education machine and turn like all the other cogs in that machine.

Maybe I shouldn't. I hope I won't

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger who sometimes struggles to post

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Monday, September 22, 2008

 

This is why Blogs are better than Newspapers

The truth will always out if you are willing to look for it

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Monday, September 15, 2008

 

Bravo, Bravo, Bravo!

Hemlock has put a post up today that is a soapbox issue of mine.

The illustrations and explanations are very well done and it is simply a must read.

The way that flats have their size blown up by the developers here is probably my least favorite thing about Hong Kong

I think that one of the primary responsibilities of a government is to provide honest weights and measures and the HK government just look like such a bunch of crooks when it come to the size of flats in this city.

If you need any convincing to tell you that this practice is is unethical you must either work for a developer here, be a real estate agent here or be one of the government mandarins who work in the tax office

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The blogger who lives in a flat that is just over 800 square feet

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

 

A response

Blogs are interesting things. I have wondered why I write one on occasions over the years. There seems to me to be a certain amount of arrogance required in thinking that other people will be interested in what you have to say; or possibly a certain amount of stupidity. At least whenever I use the "Next Blog" button provided by Blog Spot I often see the most banal, shallow and trite blogs. Sometimes that is OK, a shallow blog can be funny and interesting in small doses just as Bugs Bunny is funnier in an 11 Minute cartoon than a 90 minute movie; but it should be evident to lots of people looking than many people writing blogs are not writers but parrots who simply spout prepackaged political, cultural or religious ideas often in immature, insulting or derogatory ways.

Now to be fair, I have also run across some very good blogs using that button as well and it is a good way to spend an otherwise dull lunch hour with something besides my sandwich and coffee. The question "Do I have anything unique or meaningful to add to the discussion of the human condition with this blog is one I've asked myself over the years? Since I write, in large part for a group of friends and family back in the US as a sort of open letter or circular letter this is a question I can often ignore because I am really writing for a group of people who know who I am for whom the inside joke, the hyperbole and verbal jesting that goes on between family and friends is part of the conversation. Other readers are, for me, a bonus. That is why I normally just post comments to this blog and make any replies in the comments section.

However, someone named Paul left a quite detailed reply to my post about creating a free trade zone between Hong Kong and Shenzhen and it deserves a longer, more detailed reply. Because I am responding to a comment this post is very different one than normal because it is primarily to people who do not know my name. Indeed, it deserved it last week but I've been fighting a cold and been otherwise occupied. I need to get back into the habit of posting three times a week.

Paul's questions are in red my answers in normal black

Question #1
But to open the border would mean a much larger infrastructure to handle the number of people crossing everyday.

No. It would simply mean removing the checkpoints at the four crossing points between Hong Kong and Shenzhen. The infrastructure is already there the train stations are next to each other the trains go there so it would just mean that more people could go back and forth easier. Just like taking the train from Manhattan to the suburbs up on Long Island.

Would it mean more people crossing the border everyday? I don't know but if they didn't have to clear customs each way I would imagine that the number could double and it would still be less congested.

Actually, a massive upgrade would be needed.

No, I do not think that is true as explained above. Thousands or tens-of-thousands of people cross the Hong Kong Shenzhen border everyday already. I think that the biggest issue might actually be (Please remember I suffer from Anglo-phobia) that in Hong Kong we use right hand drive vehicles while in China they use the more civilized left-hand vehicles. Thus, going from one city to the next without the border check could be an issue because drivers leaving Hong Kong would find themselves on the wrong side of the road or vice-versa. This might require some innovative freeway interchanges but given the poor level of driving quality both in Hong Kong and the PRC it is also entirely possible that nobody would notice.

Do you think
Hong Kong has the right to encourage people to live in Shenzhen?

The classic red herring. The real issue is that right now people here, for the most part have no choice but to live in Hong Kong. If you live in the UK and decide you do not like London you can pack up and move to Leeds. In Hong Kong if you decide that you don't like Hong Kong you can pack up and either, immigrate to another country or put up with Hong Kong. Thus I am proposing giving them the freedom to do so if they wished. But, I think many of the poor and middle class people in Hong Kong would. They need no encouraging from me.

The people on that side of the border make those decisions, and would it be in their interest?

I think that Shenzhen would love to have something like this happen. The issue is that it would probably cause the Hong Kong property market to collapse and while that would benefit Hong Kong in the long term by lower the cost of living and doing business here in the short term it would cause considerable economic disruption.

They already decide who can come here via the individual travel scheme. Side trips to Macau are being rationed now as well.

Shenzhen is an SAR just like Hong Kong. The rules are different there than the rest of China. While this is an issue it may not be a major one.

I heard a story recently about school children crossing the border everyday to come to school in the SAR. A time consuming process, and only a certain number of buses are allowed in the closed area at a time. They live in Shenzhen. Why do they come to school in Hong Kong? Who's taxes are paying for that?

I have combine two of your objections into one answer. This is an question that shows you really live here but probably do not have a child in school. There are two answers. 1st the buss issue would simply disappear; they could come if they want. The second issue is a little more complex. Schools in Hong Kong are assigned by a district. Children apply to a school near where they live but schools have the right to take a percentage of students from out side their district. In any case potential students need to provide proof of residency to apply. So, if a child lived in Shenzhen, and was not a resident of Hong Kong they could not apply to schools here with the exception of some of the international schools that are not tax supported because they didn't live here. Would people try to work the system by obtaining a false address? Sure they would but they do that anyway.

The government often talks about the user pays principle. Why is there an airport tax, but no departure tax at the land crossings?

Good question. One way to deal with right now is through toll roads and such. But, isn't the cost of a visa to enter China sort of like this? But what does this have to do with a free trade zone between Hong Kong and Shenzhen?

Hong Kong is Hong Kong
Shenzhen is Shenzhen

It would remain so under a free trade arrangement. Look at the city of Texarkana in the US. It basically straddles the border of three different states Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana. You don't have to cross a border check point to reach any section of the city. Suburban communities often have a different culture and ethos than the larger cities they surround.

Who knows where we will be in the 39 years to go before 2047?

We will certainly be more fully integrated into the PRC. We can either embrace that change and try to manage it or be swallowed up by it.

If I lived in Shenzen, could I access your blog on the Internet? Would I still be able to check out news on the BBC web site?

In many places in Shenzhen yes you can just as the cell phone networks over lap. While this is an issue I think it is one that will become less important over time. As the Internet goes wireless this is going to be truer than it is today. The PRC cannot simply keep everything critical of their government out. The Internet is to vast and people are too creative. China will have to open up or it will have to become like North Korea. If it chooses the second option it won't matter where we are.

Can I post my comments on web sites without them being censored?

See the answer above. Having spent some time in the PRC getting my PhD (I know my spelling still looks like I am in form 5) I can honestly say that that I don't feel that the censorship there is as bad as it is often presented in the Western press.

Could I wear my range of t-shirts that have all sorts of vaguely political slogans on them?

Have you seen what they wear in China? My guess is as long as it is English you could probably do it now.

Can I openly ask my neighbors about what happened in Beijing in 1989, and why their kids have no idea about it?

I have done this with a table full of academics in Wuhan. What you cannot do is have such questions appear in the local newspaper.

Will the customs officers confiscate my bibles and all the magazines I bring in with me?

There won't be any customs offers at the Shenzhen check point to take them. One of the reasons the peopleand government of Shenzhen would like this is it makes them more free.

Can I ask why the mainland Olympic medalists are forced as a group to go to Hong Kong to perform in an embarrassing dog and pony show?

I doubt you could print it in a paper but you could probably ask. You might be surprised at how many people there agreed with you and how many didn't understand the question. But what does this have to do with the question at hand?

Can I trust my building management and security guards?

Can you trust them here? The home owners association in the building I live in looks to be run by triads, I don't think it would be worse there.

Hong Kong has many faults, but I wouldn't want to live in Shenzhen.

Less, crowded, less expensive, clean, well planned streets, better grocery stores lovely parks, bigger apartments are answers that come to mind. Besides, nobody is saying you'd have to. An arrangement like this would simply give you the ability to move there if you wanted to.



Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger who might live in Shenzhen if the border was removed

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

 

Palin offers conservatives a moment of truth

You may not agree with this guy but man can he write!

I do not normally write about US politics. I don't live there anymore but this election just got a little more interesting

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger who'd have never dated a girl with the nickname Baraccuda

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

 

Monopoly isn't just a board game

The post before last was one that I seem to have made before and is in effect, a laundry list of my political aspirations for the government of Hong Kong. There was one item though that was new and as I've thought about it over the last week or so I've decided that it might just be the best idea that I've ever had. So after some thought I am going to take some time on this rainy afternoon to flesh out that idea a little more fully.

The major issue that I have with Hong Kong is that the city is really run by a group of monopolies in the construction, banking and shipping industries. These monopolies use their power and influence to maintain outrageously high real estate values, incredible bank fees, and huge profit margins in their businesses at the expense of everybody else. Let me be frank, they have a right to make all the money they can. I am not begrudging them the fact that they are filthy-rich. I don't want what is theirs. But, the wealthy do, I believe have a duty and responsibility to those less well off, those whom they employ and to the greater society at large. Hong Kong businesses fail almost all of these areas. They expect employees to work too many hours for too little pay and don't care how how much their inhumane practices cost the greater society.

While not much of a defense big business can say it isn't just them. The small business here are just as abusive as the large. The work harder, longer, be more loyal to the company, don't grumble about your low pay and be grateful you've got a job culture has infected all levels of the society and it is very often true that the boss works as many hours as the employees. It still doesn't make it right; especially since often time the reason they must do this is because they have to pay confiscatory rents and fees. I realize that I am making a moral argument from what could be called a Western perspective that ignores Chinese culture; I don't care. (That doesn't mean I'm ready to adopt a 32 hour work week like France either!) Employers here do not value their employee's as humans. I think it was Voltaire who said, in reference to military service, that: "You cannot ask a man die for a few pence a day, to inspire loyalty you must electrify his soul." It appears to me that the same is true of a career. Companies cannot succeed by constantly hiring the lowest paid workers, working them to death and then training new workers. They will eventually run out of people who can or are willing to work in such conditions. Those that do work for you cannot be depended upon to produce a quality product. What that means is that the prosperity experienced in Hong Kong is, I believe essentially unsustainable, especially given the very low birth rate here because as soon as anyone can leave here they will. I can't say that I blame them.

But minimum wage and working condition laws will only go so far in redressing this problem. If, and I seriously doubt this would ever happen, Li Kai-Shing and the other tycoons suddenly all get religion and decide that they need to treat their employees as at least animals rather than machines or slaves and Wellcome and Park&Shop stop colluding and the construction companies start selling flats by the actual size and all of the other private issues that oppress the poor in Hong Kong went away the central issue, the biggest monopoly of them all would still exist. That monopoly is that the government owns every square millimeter of the land and sea in Hong Kong. Because of this Hong Kong will never be a free society.

I do not care if we have universal suffrage, a zero percent tax rate free, beer, cigars and cocaine for everyone over the age of twelve. You are not free if you have no right to property because without property you live here only at the government's whim. More to the point, because the government owns all the land and controls the population's use of it to maintain the extravagant and excessive pay scale of the THBT, Permanent Secretaries, Executive Secretaries, Adjunct Secretaries, Under Secretaries, Associate Secretaries, Assistant Secretaries, Special Secretaries, Temporary Secretaries, Assistant Secretaries to the Assistant Under Secretaries and the rest of the loafers , weasels and French cuff wearing Catamites pretending to be civil servants enjoy there will always be a rather large underclass in Hong Kong because it will always be expensive to live here because it cost a lot to support the over paid, under worked government.

In a perfect world the Mandarins of all flavors, genders, aftershaves and hair-dyes would voluntarily lower their pay and benefits out of shame and embarrassment over the cost to the poor that their lifestyles perpetuate. Indeed, they are worse than the worst of the tycoons. At least Li Ki Shing employees people. At least Park&Shop does sell groceries, the government here produces next to nothing except hot air, helps almost no one and yet takes up a huge percentage of the GDP. But, the Mandarins have no shame and the world isn't perfect. Therefore, the best that we could possibly hope for is to provide them some competition.

It is simply pathetic to see candidate after candidate for legco offering the same worthless, and ultimately unsustainable solutions to the social problems here. Subsidies, and welfare payments simply will not solve the issue of livability in Hong Kong. Giving the poor free money only starts an inflationary cycle in which everybody loses. Stupid. But then what do you expect from HKU graduates?

That is why, for the good of Hong Kong and its continued survival as "Asia's World City" I am advocating that Hong Kong and Shenzhen negotiate a "Free Trade agreement that includes open borders. The flat that cost 3.5 million in Hong Kong cost about 800K in Shenzhen. How many people in Hong Kong would be better off with a mortgage of 800K than 3.5mil? The reason the poor and middle classes can't live in Shenzhen now is that it is so troublesome to cross the border. If we were to remove the border check points then Shenzhen would effectively become a suburb of Hong Kong where the middle and working classes could pursue life, liberty and the latest variety of dim sum.

If the middle classes and working classes could live in Shenzhen they'd not need government subsidies for housing. This would free up government funds to help the truly needy. This would also cause the price of real estate in Hong Kong to plummet but that is where the government, which has squirreled away trillions in property taxes over the years could offer a ONE TIME bail out because after all it was the government that caused the problem.

But then, low and behold it suddenly it becomes more affordable to live and do business here in Hong Kong Kong. Suddenly factories can operate here because rents are lower. Suddenly taxes are collected on industry again. Suddenly 53% of the population don't live in government housing and a large number of Mandarins can be laid off because the Housing Authority can shrink.

The cartels that run Hong Kong have a presence in Shenzhen but they don't run the place. That means that banking services would be cheaper and better through competition.

That means that Wellcome and Park&Shop would have to compete with Carrefour and Wal-Mart and the price of food would come down because the property cartels that own the big supermarkets here could no longer keep the competition out by charging them excessive rent.

It means that land currently used as a no-mans-land to keep people from walking from there to here or here to there would be available for development as residential, commercial or recreational venues.

It would mean that Hong Kong would have to adopt a tax system and a municipal pay scale that could be supported by the population and that is more in line with other cities world wide.

It would mean that the Hong Kong government would have to really look at ways of improving services and controlling cost rather than build "Iconic buildings" on the old site of the old police barracks.

It would also mean that the government of Shenzhen would have to become more open, honest and accountable. That it would have to live up to the same level of freedom and rule of law that Hong Kong does. Since those ideas are things that are already in the Chinese constitution it should be possible and probably not too difficult.

Would a free trade agreement between Hong Kong and Shenzhen solve all of the social problems problems in Hong Kong? No, of course not, but is is a better place to start than anything being suggested by any political party in Hong Kong.

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger who should have Donald Tsang's (THBT) job or at least be in legco

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