Yearly Archives: 2009


HK Time Out Magazine: Pet Abandonment, Column #18

Between 2009 and 2013, I contributed a short, light-hearted fortnightly political column to Time Out Hong Kong.

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Pet Abandonment
For two years I lived in the heart of the pet district on the cusp of affluent Ho Man Tin. Here I saw how, for many locals and expats alike, pets have unfortunately become semi-disposable fashion accessories and status symbols (big dog = big flat = big money!) Whether it’s the latest trend in exotic reptiles or dressed up designer puppies in pimped up prams, the pet market is booming in a city hardly suited to domestic animals.

It’s left to the government to destroy around 10,000 dogs and 4,000 stray and unwanted cats annually- all are put down within 3 days whilst stretched animal charities receive no state support. HK Dog Rescue particularly suffered during the recession, and what with the Pokfulam kennels landowner evicting the charity in February, it appears 200 more dogs may be destroyed unless homes are found or the government steps in (Read more or donate at hongkongdogrescue.com).

Meanwhile, the dumping of alien reptiles increased this year. The dinosaur-esque, 3-metre carnivorous alligator gar is one “eel-like fish” (complete with ‘double alligator jaws’) I’d prefer not to encounter on a dark night. Diminutive versions of this aquatic embodiment of Beelzebub can be purchased for $38 in Mongkok, but they grow quickly and are often dumped in public ponds where they play Pac-man with other unsuspecting pond dwellers. Piranha infestations, metre-long ball pythons and countless exotic lizards have also been discovered roaming free, presumably wondering which district of Nicaragua tropical Yuen Long is in.

In addition to a change in attitudes, a tightening of pet import, sales and ownership laws is overdue. Animal abandonment results in big fines, prison bouts and community service in the US and UK. Similar carelessness here gets you a comparatively dreamy fortnight in jail or a bargainous HK$2000 fine – less than the smoking penalty. It is time that greedy pet traders and ill-informed owners took responsibility, and anyone found liberating former pets should end up in a cage themselves!


HK Time Out Magazine: Taxing Times, Column #17

Between 2009 and 2013, I contributed a short, light-hearted fortnightly political column to Time Out Hong Kong.

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Taxing Times
Einstein claimed that the hardest thing to understand in the world is tax, yet even our most air-headed pseudo-model would grasp HK’s straightforward tax system. We’ve no sales, estate or currency tax, capital gains or VAT, and individuals pay 2%, 8% and 12% income tax progressively. Only the filthiest of the filthy rich (just 1.7%) pay the highest band of 17%. HK’s rates are relatively super low – it may just feel a lot because our demands arrive in one annual beating, such is the simplicity of our tax law. In fact, the entire ordinance stretches to just 200 pages and has barely changed in 60 years.

Pleasingly, the richest 8% (100,000 Peak-dwelling posh types – CEOs, lawyers, magazine editors etc…) contribute 57% of the total tax yield. Meanwhile, 60% of HK workers pay sod all – just as well since we’ve Asia’s widest poverty gap and no minimum wage. However, the tax burden distribution is shifting very slowly towards the less well-off with tax on the rich falling and talk of introducing a VAT – effectively an indiscriminate, indirect tax on the poor. Already public spending is around 10% lower than many similar countries at just 20% of GDP.

Furthermore, our low 17.5% corporate tax rate also makes us the world’s third most favoured tax haven. After the financial crisis made this tag a swearword, Hu Jintao ensured the SARs were excluded from a list of ‘uncooperative havens’ (hell, we’re not proper countries anyway right?). Any old corporate world-beater is still welcome to stash cash here to avoid tax – and they won’t be liable locally at all unless doing business within our borders.

Reform is overdue domestically to protect the vulnerable and we are under pressure to commit to international tax standards. Unfortunately, our prosperity and economy are based on some of the uglier elements of capitalism – lawmakers admit the tax system is ‘inherently inequitable’ and thus the rate of change is likely to be taxingly low.


HK Time Out Magazine: Electric Avenue, Column #16

Between 2009 and 2013, I contributed a short, light-hearted fortnightly political column to Time Out Hong Kong.

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Electric Avenue
What with our splendid public transport system and the high costs of parking, fuel, maintenance, licensing, insurance, registration and tolls, you’d think opting to drive would be the reserve of planet-loathing egomaniacs. And you’d not be wrong, as only 5.3% of Hong Kongers own a vehicle in this, a city built around the automobile.

The outdated Capital Works Reserve Fund ensures there is always cash set aside for never-ending road building projects, yet environmental ruin awaits unless we stand up to the private car owning elite. Praise was heaped upon the city when it finally embraced the electric car this month but unfortunately, this flawed scheme will not lead us to any transport revolution.

Firstly, electric cars will still receive their charge from our dirty coal power stations for decades to come, so they are not CO2 free, especially when manufacturing carbon costs are added. Also, the impractical 5-7 hours recharge time will put a strain on the grid and the driver’s patience. Betterplace.com has a solution whereby drivers do not own batteries but instead exchange dead ones at filling stations. Stations maintain battery banks connected to renewable sources and will have vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology installed to recycle unused power.

The other part of the solution is to quit pandering to the car-wielding minority in the first place, as the restrictions, costs and extravagance of private ownership only make it a more desirable status symbol. Even our filthiest, oldest double-deckers are ultimately greener than having would-be passengers driving electric vehicles. Therefore, we need an annual quota on licences, road pricing, an end to highway construction and funds redirected to cycle lanes, projects to clear the air for pedestrians and subsidies on certain bus routes. Along with a re-think on battery logistics for the few who actually need to drive, this will, collectively, put us in the right lane for a greener city.


HK Time Out Magazine: Stopping the Traffic, Column #15

Between 2009 and 2013, I contributed a short, light-hearted fortnightly political column to Time Out Hong Kong.

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Stopping the traffic
Since the 1922 seamen strike, Hong Kongers have long expressed their grievances and achieved results through protest. Our lack of a voice at the ballot box means over 3,800 public rallies and protest meetings are held annually in the territory. This can make it difficult to catch the attention of the guilty parties being targeted, let alone the fickle mass media.

With such competition, it pays to be imaginative or risk slipping under the radar ignored as yet another ‘McProtest’. The creative approach took on global proportions last month as locals joined the 360.org day of grassroots action ahead of December’s climate change meeting in Copenhagen. At 3:50pm on October 24th, hundreds of concerned flashmobbers descended on Central. Worried that Saturday shoppers already resembled a crazed flashmob, organisers secretly ensured that that activists halted traffic by suddenly flooding a crossing, before heading to Bauhinia Square to video-link with fellow campaigners around the world.

Despite being a ‘world city’, our politics and media have always been pretty Hong Kong-centric – after all, the Basic Law assigns diplomatic relations to Beijing. However, we still have autonomy in commercial, domestic and economic decisions and it is likely we will be one of the first places to be affected by global warming. With Donald too busy making money out of the crisis for his relatives, we must engage on an international level ourselves. 350.org draws on leading scientists, the governments of 89 countries, and a huge variety of NGOs – all of whom agree that atmospheric CO2 must be safely capped at 350 parts per million.

Shortly after 360 Day, Asian government representatives emerged from a Shanghai climate conference having failed to announce a single concrete initiative. As the ‘last chance’ meeting in Denmark approaches, it’s time to join local NGOs such as Clear the Air, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth to help effect change before change affects us.


HK Time Out Magazine: Petty Politics, Column #14

Between 2009 and 2013, I contributed a short, light-hearted fortnightly political column to Time Out Hong Kong.

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Petty politics
The pro-Beijing DAB may dominate LEGCO seats but their recent behaviour suggests they might be a couple of roast ducks short of a buffet. This summer, they called a press conference to reveal local up-skirt exposure black spots. This highly comprehensive list, which pinpointed public places whereby Peeping Toms can spy on women, happened to double splendidly as a list of public places for Peeping Toms to spy on women. Perhaps we should also expect a handy list of dodgy websites we definitely shouldn’t visit?

Weeks later, they presented an urgent warning for HongKongers to avoid squirting their McDonald’s ketchup onto the paper tray cover for fear of ink poisoning. Doctors agreed that there are more pressing dangers associated with fast ‘food’, but the irony was obviously lost on the DAB who felt it warranted another press conference. Health worries over lethal paper-ketchup proximity in McDonald’s is the equivalent of suggesting a diet coke to go with that Double Big Mac meal. Incidentally, this was preceded by a survey of ‘hygiene blackspots’, cementing their reputation as the official OCD political party.

Are their meetings so boring, or our society so flawlessly perfect, that these obscure issues are a priority? If the party is concerned with women’s bodies, how about a crackdown on dodgy slimming schools and promotions? If they’re worried about public health, push to overhaul healthcare or suggest fast-food restaurants stop opening around schools or advertising to children (as several other countries have done).

How about fighting poverty, pollution or expensive, futile building projects? The DAB’s penchant for promoting pointless policies, wasting time and resources, highlights the disconnect between the ruling elite and regular citizens. It is our lack of real progress on the big issues this decade that justifies the desire for true democracy sooner rather than later!


HK Time Out Magazine: Green Shoots, Column #12

Between 2009 and 2013, I contributed a short, light-hearted fortnightly political column to Time Out Hong Kong.

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‘Green shoots’
Greenpeace won’t be happy with how I learned to stop worrying and love the skyscraper, but Hong Kong’s super high density set-up is actually a very economical model. Our compact living arrangements minimise the impact on the local environment, which is over 70% countryside, giving us one of the highest proportions of national park reserves in the world. It means almost everyone is well-connected to public transport, it quashes the need for car ownership, enables local economies and makes commuting to the supermarket an outlandish idea. One local blogger calculated that only 0.15% of the world’s land mass would be urbanised if everyone were to live, as he does, on an 18,000 person housing estate. Plus, efficient living needn’t denote a bleak and claustrophobic existence, as most land would be left to nature or for public use.

With 40% of East Asian urbanites residing in slums, the Hong Kong example could be the answer for people as well as the planet. Construction itself is of course a carbon-intensive business, so any new developments need to be sustainable and necessary. Some local developers, for instance, are starting to embrace low carbon concrete, water-cooled air-conditioning, energy-saving lighting and wind-flow friendly designs. Environmental activists should encourage rather than oppose affordable, residential high-rises in cities.

As the world’s urban population surpassed its rural head count this year, and with suburban lifestyles under threat from peak oil, cities are only set to grow further.

Experts will convene in Hong Kong next week ahead of December’s crucial UN negotiations in Copenhagen – our best, if not last, chance to stop climate change. They would do well to take note of how we are able to preserve the environment by staying away well from it!


HK Time Out Magazine: Mainland Meddling, Column #11

Between 2009 and 2013, I contributed a short, light-hearted fortnightly political column to Time Out Hong Kong.

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Mainland meddling.
Show up to any protest vaguely involving China and you’ll spot dark clothed men murmuring in Putonghua with earpieces and shaved heads – the mainland undercover police ‘goons’ stick out worse than Donald Tsang’s spottiest bowtie. They suspiciously eye you up as if you’d just killed their cat – though, I hardly blend in either, being a pale, ginger-haired beacon of gweilo tallness (somehow we both like to think we go undetected!)

Unfortunately, Beijing’s interference is not always as blatant but anyone keeping an eye on government reshuffles and weird immigration refusals will notice that the nosy motherland is taking more of an interest its prized SAR. At handover, China was never going to kill its cash cow and potential-showcase-for-troublesome-Taiwan, yet the past couple of years have seen unassuming Macau become a testing ground for a protracted erosion of the ‘two countries, one system’ promise. Amnesty International agrees, HK Human Rights Monitor suspects a more ‘secretive’ influence from the central government, whilst Freedom House recently downgraded our press freedom rating due to increasing self-censorship (hence I won’t mention the South China Morning Post or TVB by name).

October 1st marks the 60th anniversary of the Communist Party and few would deny that there has been progress over the decades. However, religious oppression, censorship, support of dodgy regimes and an aversion to human rights, freedom of speech and democracy continue (shortcomings the world is now happily overlooks in favour of trade deals). Therefore, anyone concerned about mainland meddling in HK or uneasy about where we might stand come the 2047 expiration of our autonomy, may wish to help sprinkle some rain on the patriotic parade.

From noon, October 1st, there is a 60hr hunger strike in Times Square and at 3pm, a march from Chater Road to the China Liaison Office in Western. At 8pm a candlelit vigil will be held back in Times Square. Details at alliance.org.hk