Asian Correspondent » Elmer W. Cagape Asian Correspondent Wed, 20 May 2015 11:20:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 HK music, video retailers unfazed by local iTunes Store launch Fri, 29 Jun 2012 08:04:12 +0000 The moment I learned that Apple is launching its iTunes Store in Hong Kong, I immediately thought of nearby shops that sell compact discs and DVDs and how this development impact their business. As people have become more used to buying products online, it is not surprising to hear such announcement of setting up an online store selling music and movies.

Besides, it’s a convenient route for those who own smartphone devices to buy music directly from their phones as opposed to going to a retailer, buy a CD, rip it on a desktop/laptop and transfer files into their mp3 players.

Yet, despite their disadvantageous position, traditional stores like HMV don’t feel threatened too much — at least that’s what they say.

“We’ve already moved on from just selling CDs and depending on music sales,” says Emily Butt, the managing director for HMV in Hong Kong and Singapore. The last time I’ve been to an HMV store was when its Central’s Central Building shop was still in business. But even at that time, HMV has been selling digital media music, movies and games on top of its wide variety of CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs. I can recall HMV closing its Queensway outlet in late 2008, but I am not sure if falling sales, steep rentals or lack of foot traffic contributed to that decision.

The establishment of iTunes Store may not be the biggest challenge of HMV and other music retailers in Hong Kong and elsewhere. These shops continue to face threats of music and movie piracy, the result of which has taken a heavy toll in revenues within the business. No wonder legislation ruled that those who participate in peer-to-peer file-sharing are subject to a variety of punishments. But strangely, others think that the presence of file-sharing websites help boost music sales. Tell that to retailers who have to deal with finding the right location, decorate shops, hire people and promote products before making sales.

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Marriage not an option for many of Hong Kong’s young adults Thu, 28 Jun 2012 13:48:18 +0000 Kramer: They’re prisons! Man-made prisons. You’re doing time! You get up in the morning, she’s there. You go to sleep at night, she’s there. It’s like you gotta ask permission to use the bathroom. (pleading voice) “Is it all right if I use the bathroom now?”
Jerry: Really?
Kramer: Yeah, and you can forget about watching TV while you’re eating.
Jerry: I can?
Kramer: Oh, yeah! You know why? Because it’s dinner time. And you know what you do at dinner?
Jerry: What?
Kramer: You talk about your day! “How was your day today? Did you have a good day today or a bad day today? Well, what kind of day was it? I don’t know, how ’bout you, how was your day?”

– lines from Seinfeld episode “The Engagement” between Jerry and Kramer about marriage and family.

Hong Kong’s young adults are less interested in raising a family, according to the Family Planning Association’s Youth Sexuality Study. The study showed that almost half of the city’s young adults interviewed – 1,223 of them between 18 to 27 – seem to agree with Kramer’s way of thinking. The study, which is conducted once every five years, indicated that more male (45 per cent) than female (39 per cent) respondents were either unsure or made a firm decision not to have children.

In the Philippines, we often think of family planning as proper spacing between child births or having fewer children, but many young adults in Hong Kong, it seems, prefer not to have children. This survey result is likely to fuel fears of a rapidly aging population.

The Federation of Hong Kong Industries projects that there will only be 993 childbirths per 1,000 women in 2023 compared to 1,722 in 1983 and 1,342 in 1993. As more workers become too old to stay in the working population and not enough replacements to take over their place, Hong Kong’s future is in trouble. For example, the government needs to allocate bigger budgets for retirees such as healthcare, welfare pensions, and other services. On the other hand, fewer workers mean less productivity and subsequently fewer taxpayers who will contribute to government revenues.

Among those who wish to have kids, the ideal number is between one and two children, which will barely replace the city’s aging population, according to Professor Paul Yip, chairman of the association’s research subcommitee.

However, young people’s reluctance to have children is understandable. Society doesn’t offer a family-friendly environment. Many young couples who wish to buy (or rent) homes may be put off by very expensive flats in the private housing market. Applying for public housing takes ages to materialize, if it ever does. Working hours can be very brutal — in a conference call I had yesterday with an agency partner, one of them lamented about staying at work until 2 in the morning. Such signs point to low interest in building a family. Heck, how can an overworked office worker with not enough time to socialize expect to find a suitable partner?

So don’t be surprised if couples still continue to buy strollers, not for babies but for puppies or cats whom they treat as family members. Fewer kids could mean fewer enrollments in pre-school or waning demand for nannies. Will less interest in marriage may impact banquet restaurants or wedding photographers? Time will tell.

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Yau Shing and disappearing discount shops in Hong Kong Tue, 26 Jun 2012 13:07:21 +0000 Yau Shing is a neighborhood convenience store located at a shopping mall nearby which sells a variety of household products from light bulbs to lunch boxes and from and small electrical appliances to adhesive tapes.

It seems that we won’t last a week without paying a visit at this shop. Although it sells similar goods to that of the ubiquitous Japan Homes chain, we easily chose Yau Shing because it offers cheaper prices for many items. However, a few weeks ago, the shop posted notes in large Chinese characters which I suppose said “We are closing in a few days”. Shops closing is not not uncommon in many of Hong Kong businesses, where stores pack up, stage a ‘removal sale’ and move elsewhere.

But Yau Shing bid us goodbye without letting us know where it is heading to; it offered no relocation maps or contact numbers. At my last visit before the shop closed down for good, I could see shopkeers appear as though it’s another day at work as they move boxes and remove decorations. And then the shop locked its doors for good as mall workers stepped in to cover it with wooden planks as they embark on a major overhaul.

A few weeks later, a new Watson’s outlet emerged from what used to be Yau Shing convenience shop. While I don’t think Yau Shing is a stand alone family business, the trend of family-owned shops giving way to large chains of jewelry, beauty and other retail shops is just alarming. Not that we don’t need a Watson’s shop in the neighborhood, but losing Yau Shing and other similar type of shops only means we lose cheaper alternatives.

Mall rents are rising, just like everything else. And maybe putting up a discount shop in a mall instead of a public market wasn’t Yau Shing’s best business decision. With large capital and access to loans for even bigger investment likely available only to bigger players, smaller ones are forced to step aside as mall management continues to seek bigger leasing offers.

Back when I was living in Quarry Bay, a Filipina convenience store owner at our basement lamented that the entire floor area will soon be renovated and rents will soon soar; she has since left that block and moved into a cheaper but less conspicuous stall nearby. As bigger developers take over old buildings and convert them into boutique residential units or office suites, smaller businesses are reduced to bystanders and castaways as they move out of stalls they used to maintain for decades.

Somehow the noise of industrial drill is not only a sign of development, but could also be a manifestation of a growing wealth disparity in Hong Kong. Behind these demolished aging structures are dwellers who may not be sure where to go, even when offered with huge settlements. Old shops are gone, and replacement shops are not necessarily replacing what’s gone. And just like Yau Shing, which discount seekers like us often visit, its loss meant more difficulty in stretching household budgets.

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Soaring home rentals continue in Hong Kong Sun, 24 Jun 2012 20:21:29 +0000 Over a span of two weeks, all I heard from friends was that most of them were slapped with raises in homes they rent. Whether it’s apartment units at LOHAS Park or Metro City in Tseung Kwan O, Caribbean Coast in Tung Chung or a village house in Sai Kung, they all sounded off with the same tone of disappointment.

As a result, some of them are poised to move elsewhere while others are forced to bite the bullet. True enough, we also had the same experience as our landlord confirmed a 9 per cent hike after consulting a neighborhood agency for updates in the property market.

It seems that we are not the only ones who share the same sentiment. A research made by Midland Realty confirmed that home rents have hit a new high in the previous month. Average rents within 100 private residential estates rose by HK$21.15 or about 5.3 per cent since December and outstripped previous high of HK$20.94 in August of last year and HK$20.85 recorded in 1997 at a time the city experienced extraordinary property boom.

The study found out that 72 per cent of all flats leased in the first five months of 2012 were valued at HK$10,000 or above. This is up from 69 per cent recorded in 2011. Midland Realty’s chief analyst Buggle Lau said that despite the raises in rental rates, the market is still considered “healthy” as incomes have risen by 20 to 30 per cent since 1997 and the family income devoted to paying rents was down from 50 per cent in 1997 to 35 per cent recently.

Although property prices have been driven upwards partly due to rising demands from mainland buyers, their younger compatriots who study in the city are also part of the equation. This is according to Ricacorp Property’s David Chan who cited mainland students target flats along the MTR lines between Hung Hom and Tai Po. Obviously, to maintain prices in the market, construction of subsidized units need to be stepped up by the government, as promised by the incoming administration.

But if there are plans to supply the city with subsidized housing, developers are quick to react in defense of the market share they currently exploit. Stewart Leung of Real Estate Developers Association called on the new government leadership not to pursue its plans to flood the property market with subsidized housing while saying “Singapore model of government intervention is unsuitable for Hong Kong”. It is implied that the group is fine with government plans, as long as the group’s interests — ability to build properties for its target market — is not in any way disrupted in a property market where developers have wielded great influence.

“I am most afraid the market will be flooded,” Leung said when asked about the possibility of availability of too many private flats in the next two or three years after a series of land sales by the government recently. Indeed, when home buyers/renters rejoice over a plethora of flats at falling prices, they change places with developers, who, after years of making a killing in the market, could no longer command record-level prices they used to enjoy for a while.

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Samsonite luggage ‘Tokyo Chic’ recall Wed, 20 Jun 2012 23:53:42 +0000 One of the more recent campaigns of Samsonite, a well-known luggage maker, is about “Stepping Out”. The ad was shot extensively in India, Nepal and the United States and features users of various backgrounds, apparently stepping out of their limits, and bringing out the “inner nomad” in them.

This ad campaign evokes a feeling beyond Samsonite as a luggage and conveys brand message rather than a product promotion (just like previous ads that feature hockey players using Cosmolite luggage which illustrate product quality). But for a moment, the company has to address basic safety issues not commonly observed for such types of consumer products.

Hong Kong’s Consumer Council detected high levels of carcigonens on handles of its “Tokyo Chic” suitcases. So far, 250,000 items were recalled so replacements can be made. The jury is still out on whether the consumer watchdog is accurate on its findings since independent tests showed no health hazards posed by “Tokyo Chic” products. Nevertheless, the recall was carried out to allay consumer concerns.

However, the move still shook the value of its stock, plunging as much as 16 per cent right after the Consumer Council released its findings. The Consumer Council has been releasing findings on food safety such as the discovery of presence of pesticides in vegetables at supermarkets previously labeled as pesticide-free and safe for consumption. But this is the first time I noticed the company in question disproving Consumer Council’s claims.

I bet travelers are more concerned of how much they can fit into their luggage than the actual composition of these materials.

The Tokyo Chic suitcases are sold mainly in Asia under Samsonite’s American Tourister label.

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Asylum seekers less at home in HK than elsewhere Wed, 20 Jun 2012 11:58:57 +0000 At a rate of just 10 per cent of asylum seekers recognizing as refugees, Hong Kong is less accommodating than its Western counterparts when it comes to accepting foreigners coming to the city to escape persecution from their homeland.

Without releasing exact figures, the ratio was released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the city where there are 638 refugee applicants as of last month.

But according to Cosmo Beatson of Vision First, an organization which helps asylum seekers and refugees in the city the number could be much lower as his group pushes the Hong Kong government to be a signatory of UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. By doing so, refugees would be able to avail of the same benefits accorded to residents while waiting for resettlement.

Asylum seekers and refugees in Hong Kong are granted HK$300 monthly allowance as well as basic accommodation and food provided by the government. Considering that people need to pay for so-called “cage” accommodation, one can imagine what might these asylum seeker accommodations would look like.

To add to their woes, asylum seekers can only rely on charity groups for a bulk of their needs since the government forbids them from taking up work. It’s good to know that Hong Kong is home to among the most generous people on Earth, but high cost of living in the city might just force these asylum seekers into getting involved in crime such as smuggling, drug dealing and peddling of counterfeit items.

While Hong Kong’s immigration transfer counters and transport system gets tremendous appreciation from outsiders, it’s considered a laggard in screening refugee applications whose acceptance rates are way below economies such as Britain (35%) and Australia (38.3%). Not that Hong Kong is a crowded place for recognized refugees; successful applicants must settle elsewhere since Hong Kong isn’t obliged to grant them resident status.

The Hong Kong government may be cautious at application, with fraudulent claims mixing up with legitimate ones. I heard stories about Filipina domestic helpers getting pregnant or breaching conditions of stay and filing application as asylum seekers with some random reasons in order to buy time and avoid deportation.

Given Hong Kong’s entry system that offers visa-free access by visitors from many countries, it has a reason to hesitate extending refugee extension so as to prevent abuse. But that also leaves a big question mark to the fate asylum seekers who left families back home to evade death threats and violence, hoping Hong Kong can offer hope of a better future.

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Celestial Heights toilet layout: more of a discomfort room Sun, 17 Jun 2012 05:30:48 +0000 Let’s say as a building contractor, you are told to provide eight urinals at a private housing estate. No problem. Your cocky response quickly changes its tune as you realize you need to put all these porcelain fittings in a room that measures just 2.5 square meters (26.9 square feet).

Yes, the plan can still be implemented. But once it’s ready to serve the public, some users could be put off and prefer to wait for one to finish his turn (risking his bladder functions) than squeeze himself into that cramped facility.

The basic premise of Choice of Urinal Protocol dictates that for every male making a choice of which urinal to use, the next in line will instinctively pick the one farthest from anyone else. But the case of urinal layout for Celestial Heights, a private housing estate in To Kwa Wan, seems to defy this convention. For one, the U-shaped layout was a result of the limited area of the washroom. Also, users of adjacent urinals could easily rub shoulders and such experience could prove “psychologically uncomfortable”, as Dr Michael Siu, an ergonomics expert at Polytechnic University school of design and vice-chairman of Hong Kong Toilet Association would put it.

Photo credit: SCMP

Only 16.5 cm of space separates each urinal on the sides, and even shorter (10 cm) distance separates between urinals constructed perpendicular to each other. These measurements are way short of the recommended 30cm distance between urinals set by Restroom Association Singapore in 2002. So perhaps architects, building managers and planners may want to consider borrowing the guidelines from Restroom Singapore before laying out their washroom ideas into blueprint.

The facility doesn’t have enough space between users, let alone space for the so-called “modesty boards“, a divider that could have been installed if space permits.

Vincent Ho of Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors echoed Mr Siu’s sentiment. “Having a sufficient number of urinals does not really mean they have fulfilled the legal requirements, since these urinals cannot deliver their intended function,” he said. There are laws that specify a minimum number of toilet facilities such as bowls, urinals or water basins based on projected number of users. Developers and contractors may follow these guidelines but sometimes lack sensitivity on how their works are being used by the public.

Still, this problem pales in comparison to the chronic lack of toilet facilities for women which, until recently, is a perennial issue among women forming long lines before toilet bowls in shopping malls and public toilets.

In a crowded city like Hong Kong’s this is certainly not the first news item that highlights the lack of space between urinals. But shall we continue to use this excuse?

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How Nepalis fit into “Asia’s World City” puzzle Sat, 16 Jun 2012 15:19:13 +0000 In a city that has often promoted itself as multicultural, “multi” does not necessarily mean “all,” as Hong Kong’s Nepalese community is finding out.

Two experts on ethnic minorities have expressed opinions on the city’s inconsistent handling of its favorite tag-line. Maria Tam of Chinese University thinks the situation is ironic, considering that Hong Kong often prides itself on being an international city. Fermi Wong of Hong Kong Unison thinks Hong Kong’s policy of multiculturalism is selective and caters only to the rich, who are accommodated regardless of racial background.

Nepalis arrived in Hong Kong in 1948 as part of a Gurkha contingent serving the British Army. Until the handover in 1997, they stayed mostly in barracks and isolated from the society. Official records show that the Nepalese population stood at 13,000 but Tam said it could be closer to 40,000. Unable to earn British citizenship despite their services and unwilling to return to Nepal for economic reasons, the Nepalese community chose to stay in Hong Kong, where they face a number of challenges. A significant ratio of this group are recent arrivals and are struggling to cope with lingusitic and cultural differences.

Although many Nepalis are permanent residents, they find it more difficult to enter a job market dominated by requirements they could hardly provide. A vicious cycle starts in school in which children often attend non-Chinese schools as parents struggle to support studies with Chinese tutors to augment their language skills. Public schools lack a system that teaches Chinese as a second language. So no matter how long they stay in Hong Kong, language skills often don’t go beyond basic Cantonese and the lack of proficiency in Chinese reading and writing deprive them of more opportunities. Wong said the language barrier kept university dreams of many Nepalis at bay, thus depriving them of landing better paying jobs that will pull them out of poverty. Once they get married and have children, the cycle is bound to repeat, unless changes in the system are made.

An anti-discrimination law in the city was only passed in 2009 and is experiencing birth pains. Along with other South Asian minorities, Nepalis may find it more difficult to utilize public services or make business transactions such as opening bank accounts or finding a landlord willing to rent a flat. Lack of language skills could also mean difficulty in accessing services such as public hospitals or communicating with civil servants.

With a new leadership taking over next month, it remains to be seen how this administration looks after the welfare of ethnic minorities.

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4 price tag tricks consumers need to be aware of Tue, 12 Jun 2012 02:39:54 +0000 ‘Multiplication and Division’ Price Tags

When shop owners stage their “massive discount” offer, they must think that buyers are compelled to buy because a) this is a once-in-a-lifetime offer of 95% off, a HK$10,000 to HK$500 deal, b) the offer is so irresistable that even if it’s not immediately useful, it may prove its worth later. But who knows this price is just artificially inflated and reduced to the price very close to its original?

I need a proof the old price stood before this discounted offer came out.

Commonly seen: At various types of shops that announce they have a huge, eye-popping sale.

‘Misplaced Products’ Price Tags

These are large price tags that are irresistible from a distance and therefore becomes a magnet for buyers. I noticed this at an H&M shop in Tseung Kwan O, while window shopping with my wife. From afar, the price of a blouse looks attractive. But when we approached it, a fine print below the huge label indicates that the price isn’t for the blouse, but for the shorts found nowhere near the label.

There's a reason why text above price tag is so tiny.

Commonly seen: Clothing shops? But I could be wrong.

‘On Sale, Oh Just Kidding’ Price Tags

Look, ma. 0% discount!
Photo credit: Jozelle Gabriel.

Just in case our eyes are oriented that the sight of a yellow-labeled product signifies a sale item, let’s try to re-calibratethem. That’s because sometimes we just focus on what a product costs more than how much was cut. In such cases, we could fall prey on a strange tactic: they are no different at all. See the proof below, from a neighborhood 7-Eleven outlet.

Commonly seen: At convenience shops where people go because they need to buy, and don’t care to compare price elsewhere.

‘Outright Deceptive’ Price Tags

This is probably the most difficult type of price tag deception to deal with. This type of price labeling happens on products that need to pass through the weighing scale such as meat and vegetables. While I see no problem with meat products labeled with price per pound and equivalent price label after being weighed, one experience buying a Taiwan cauliflower at Park N Shop reveals that the price that appears on the package isn’t the actual cost of the commodity. And it didn’t indicate (at least in English terms) the price is per pound. Passing through the cashier, we realized the real value. Hong Kong has its product labeling law, but it’s more about guidelines on printing nutritional values than guidelines on price tagging.

We know a bit of arithmetic, but still...

Commonly seen: Supermarkets

Certainly there are various ways shops employ to make their goods look desirable and influence impulse buying: lighting systems, skinny mirrors, product placement and attractive mannequins. But I think pricing products influences greater than all the others. Becoming a smart buyer is easier said than done, but with the examples shared above, we become more discriminating customers.

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HK: Penalty for improper mannequin disposal? Sun, 10 Jun 2012 19:17:56 +0000 I think that a mannequin in a department store is a perfect instrument to give buyers the impression they could look good wearing that blouse, or those jeans or sunglasses. No wonder their presence as visual merchandising tools continues to influence impulse buying.

But once discarded, these shop accessories not only lose their usefulness, they can also become liabilities. One such unfortunate incident involved a car swerving along a stretch of Yau Ma Tei’s Nathan Road one midnight last week as the driver tried to avoid running over a “long-haired female head” that lay on the road. The driver may have avoided hitting the “head” which turned out to be an abandoned mannequin, but he couldn’t prevent his car from hitting a taxi nearby.

After dealing with the taxi driver, the car driver sped off, but that was shortly before the head he was trying to avoid turned out to be a female mannequin left on top of a garbage receptacle. No kidding, that incident could have cost lives. Shall we fine shops for incidents like that car-taxi collision?

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Doctors, not just patients, also need time to relax Sun, 10 Jun 2012 14:14:28 +0000 Whenever I get sick and I’m prompted to pay a visit to a neighborhood clinic, my personal observations are likely to be similar to those of my previous visit.

A small reception area is occasionally populated by an elderly couple and a young mother with her sick baby.

The presence of a television set and gossip magazines serve as the only means of entertainment unless, of course, you understand the seemingly infinite number of things to do with a smartphone and tinker with it. And why not, with both TV and magazines featuring Chinese-language content, a fully-charged mobile phone is a worthy companion while waiting for your turn.

As the elderly husband is called inside to an even smaller room and his wife attentively follows him, I imagine how much ventilation in the reception room is needed to drive away viruses circulating on a daily basis. No wonder these young ladies dispensing medicine and taking payments wear face masks all day long. I have long dismissed the idea of wearing one because I hardly think it’s effective and also vecause the inconvenience it brings. By the time I read all available news on the BBC app, my name is called and I enter the room with a doctor in his mid-50s starting off with short pleasantries and asking me how I am.

Over the years he must have heard a variation of descriptions that ultimately lead to the diagnosis fever, coughing or colds. He must have prepared a template of responses and his next actions such as putting the stethescope my chest or training his pen light into my throat are standard responses to investigate an ailment.

But just as when we think we’re the only ones in need of medication, doctors may also need some sort of assistance as a study showed that many doctors in Hong Kong’s public health facilities suffer from extreme exhaustion to the point that some of them even harbor suicidal thoughts.

Maslach Burnout Inventory-Human Services Survey, an internationally-acclaimed study to measure stress levels, was conducted by the Hong Kong Public Doctors’ Association in 2009. Results indicate that about a third of respondents suffer high burnout as manifested by emotional exhaustion and other symptoms.

It’s not surprising to see these findings, not from my experience but from through observations, such as occurences of medical blunders in certain hospitals as well as well-publicized appeals from health professionals to address the chronic lack of hospital staff. Dr Derrick Au, head of human resources of the Hospital Authority, acknowledged a shortfall of about 500 doctors in public hospitals.

Younger doctors, possibly unable to adjust the rigid workload compared to their seasoned counterparts older than them, are more likely to express job dissatisfaction. About 10 per cent of them have even suicidal thoughts; though nobody among respondents attempted it.

It is definitely a lose-lose situation considering that doctors working excessive hours or fulfilling multiple tasks not only adversely affect their overall wellbeing, the patients they attend to could also become at risk to wrong diagnosis and other forms of medical malpractice.

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HK: Asia’s richest man La Ka-shing voted ‘number 1 dad’ Wed, 06 Jun 2012 22:39:25 +0000 Just in time for Father’s Day celebrations is a sober taste of what young people may have in mind these days.

A survey commissioned by Sun Hung Kai Real Estate Agency found that Li Ka-shing, Asia’s richest man and world’s 9th wealthiest, has been proclaimed as number one dad by a third of the 500 respondents, aged eight to 17, conducted last month.

Only 13 per cent chose their fathers as the best while 10 per cent voted for Hong Kong pop singer Jacky Cheung. Among the more popular choices are Robert Downey Jr, lead character of the movie Iron Man, football star David Beckham, Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee. Politicians aren’t as appealing to the young kids as newly-elected Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and US President Barack Obama are further down the list.

Lecturer Mark Li of Hong Kong Baptist University, which organized the poll, theorized that Li Ka-shing may be the top choice to many kids because “probably because parents often use him as a role model to encourage kids to work hard.”

I’ve heard about fathers teaching their young children the basics of investment and saving for the future. These parents may have used Li Ka-shing, of the Cheung Kong empire, as the most prominent example of how hard work can overcome challenges, even at early age.

Li Ka-shing began his career in Hong Kong as a salesman at 15 after his father died and prompted him to quit school. He soon rose from the ranks, and acquired businesses and properties that brought him billions.

Although results appear heartbreaking to fathers, Mark Li said it shouldn’t be treated as a serious research. “Parents are always rated in higher positions in serious studies,” he said.

Celebrity characters chosen by youngsters may be symbolic of what these children are looking for in a father. The strength and skills of Iron Man, Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee, or the charisma of Jacky Cheung.

Among the 10 criteria considered from a good father, 20 per cent of respondents chose a father that should “love me”, 19 per cent chose fathers who act as if they were “an ATM machine” and 12 per cent required that fathers “should be funny”. A father being “always available” and “handsome” were least important, so David Beckham was probably picked because of his football skills and not necessarily because of his looks.

To all fathers out there, hopefully, these responses, though not so serious, may help you find inspiration on carrying out your roles as models to your children.

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HK tops competitiveness ranking despite pollution, cost of living Wed, 06 Jun 2012 14:25:28 +0000 Hong Kong has been named the world’s most competitive territory, according to IMD’s World Competitiveness Rankings. However, the high ranking Hong Kong has enjoyed for years has been at risk due to factors such as pollution and rising living costs, which continue to trouble Hong Kong people.

But as the ranking suggests, there are pretty good reasons to live in Hong Kong. Among 59 territories (we use this term because Hong Kong is technically a territory, not a country), Hong Kong is ranked first in terms of personal tax rates and broadband speeds. Low tax rates and fast broadband access in one place, is not a bad idea although I wonder why Korea, a leader in broadband speed, did not rank first among the 59 territories listed in the IMD’s World Competitiveness Rankings.

Last year, Hong Kong was also in the first place, but shared the position with the United States; this year, Hong Kong is out in front all alone as the USA fell to second spot.

Although Hong Kong finished this year’s ranking with flying colors, the city is faring quite badly in some of the areas measured. In the area of risk of relocation, Hong Kong is ranked second from bottom. This means the likelihood of companies moving elsewhere to cut costs is higher than almost all other places measured.

Rising rental costs and relatively higher wages than regional neighbors may have dampened the city’s attractiveness as a place to do business – a fact manifested by the city’s lofty position in the stock market and financial services sector. If you add up the oft-discussed topic of air pollution, the growing gap between rich and poor, and other social problems, it may just be a matter of time before Hong Kong relinquishes its badge as world’s most competitive.

The only other Asian country to make the top 10 is Singapore, which was ranked 4th.

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Free rides at Hong Kong Tramways and Star Ferry May 29th Tue, 29 May 2012 13:27:57 +0000 Tourists and locals in Hong Kong were treated to free rides at the iconic trams and cross-harbor Star Ferry rides, courtesy of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce. This is in line with the organization’s 150 plus years anniversary of the group that promote, represent and safeguard the interests of business community in Hong Kong.

Instead of celebrating exclusively with close associates, officials chose to include Hong Kong people and visitors in its festivities by sponsoring all of today’s tram rides as well as Central-Tsim Sha Tsui and Wan Chai-Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry routes.

Although these two transport links represent the cheapest mode of travel in Hong Kong — an single journey tram ride costs only HK$2.30 (US$0.29) — such giveaway is meaningful to residents and tourists who seldom gets treated to free rides. The fact that this offer doesn’t set conditions such as limits to rides per person or available only on selected routes, this is somehow a big deal.

I happened to be on my way to a meeting in Sheung Wan so I took the generous offer and left the motorman with a sincere word of thanks, and a snapshot for posterity’s sake.

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HK supermarkets discard 29 tons of edible food daily Tue, 29 May 2012 07:17:32 +0000 News about Hong Kong’s apparent disregard for conservation and irresponsible management of resources is again in the spotlight as the city’s four biggest supermarket chains collectively throw away 29 tons of edible food every single day. The figure was released by Friends of the Earth, a local charitable group that advocates sustainable future.

The four offending businesses – ParkNShop, Wellcome, CR Vanguard and Jusco – hold more than half of entire Hong Kong retail market. In perspective, the discarded food could have been enough to feed 48,000 three-member families, and would have been big relief to low-income groups struggling to cope up with soaring food prices.

Michelle Au, deputy environmental manager of FoE, said these supermarket chains have the capability to donate and recycle food waste. But they don’t seem to be keen on doing this. Almost half of food dumped are vegetables, some of them still fresh with packaging intact, Au said. Other items include fresh fruit and loaves of bread that are still five days before expiration date.

Instead of putting them to waste, which by the way speeds up the rate of landfills running out of space, these companies could have set up a stronger link with agencies like food banks and other non-profit organizations to minimize food waste.

A FoE (HK) spokesperson said, “When the Chief Executive-elect CY Leung declared to terminate food waste, it is ironic that supermarkets are terminating the edible food instead.” Celia Fung, the group’s environmental affairs officer, said that to prevent scavengers from taking food home, water or bleach was poured over discarded food.

So much for that so-called social responsibility write-ups that portray these companies as responsible before the eyes of the public.

Apparently, Wellcome’s recycling efforts fall short of satisfactory levels as its data only disclose activities no later than 2007. This development shows CR Vanguard’s objective to be a good social enterprise citizen hasn’t been proven yet. This incident is another dent at ParkNShop’s reputation which was earlier mentioned as source of vegetables tainted with pesticides even if it claims to employ stringent quality control measures. Jusco’s logo includes intertwined letters S and C which represents close relationship between Store / Service and Corporate / Community / Customer, respectively but how it is translated into action isn’t very obvious with this issue of throwing away of edible food.

As among the most visible retail firms in the city, these four companies need to lead by example and it’s about time to fulfill promises. Hong Kong produces about 3,200 tonnes of food waste every day. Out of this figure, 840 tons come from restaurants and retail stores.

Companies don’t have to be named and shamed before they act. Hopefully, with this release by FoE, ParkNShop, Wellcome, CR Vanguard and Jusco act more responsibly and be model of sustainability especially when it comes to disposing edible food.

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Delayed HK bus schedules mean tardy passengers Mon, 28 May 2012 10:17:45 +0000 One good reason to take Hong Kong’s double decker buses instead of the subway is that passengers are more likely to find seats on a bus than in the MTR — although, of course, this depends on the route and time of the day. Also, for long trips, it’s not a bad idea to take a nap in the comforts of an air conditioned coach or witness the day pass by through scenic views.

But one of the biggest turn-offs of riding the bus is that on many of the routes, as it was found out, they were unable to follow their schedule. The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), a Hong Kong political party, selected 34 of 207 routes of the Kowloon Motor Bus, the city’s largest franchise operator, and checked their on-time performance between April 16th and 26th. The party found that 11 of these routes were unable to follow their travel schedules as displayed on bus stops and terminals, and all 34 routes encountered problems of lost trips due to a variety of reasons.

Route 3C, which runs from Hong Kong China Ferry Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui to Tsz Wan Shan, had as much as 80 per cent of trips running outside schedule. Instead of expecting 10 minute intervals, passengers often had to wait up to 20 minutes or more before getting on board. Even when they were on time, passengers didn’t necessarily get on during peak hours because of overcrowding; a further headache for passengers wary of getting late to work.

Hong Kong traffic. Pic: AP.

Such low levels of timetable accuracy is indeed a black spot for a bus company which has been serving Hong Kong for decades. The Transport Department has been urged to monitor schedule inaccuracies so it becomes possible to disclose such information to the riding public. I see a two-fold benefit in this. First, this data helps passengers decide whether to take a bus or find an alternative given the service performance of a specific route. This can be similar to Cebu Pacific’s On Time Performance data that appears on its homepage (62.2% in April is just awful).

Second, the data serves as an easy reference for bus companies in addressing issues such as load factor, frequency or routing of trips. Without another competing bus company to fight for the route, there is little motivation to perform jobs better. So unless bus companies, which have complained of operating losses in recent years, notice significant decrease in passenger traffic, maybe we’ll just have to bear with the fact that taking buses has associated risk.

We may add that proposal to a list I’ve compiled a few years back.

No wonder, MTR, the city’s subway system, can boast of ‘more time for life‘ – tardy buses can hardly make that assurance.

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Jackie Chan, the soon-to-be former action star Sat, 26 May 2012 03:42:45 +0000 If you’re a big Jackie Chan fan, you’ll probably be disappointed to know that he has landed his last punches and kicks before the camera as an action star.

Jackie Chan

Actor Jackie Chan poses for portraits at the American Pavilion during the 65th international film festival, in Cannes, southern France, Saturday, May 19, 2012. Pic: AP

Although he’ll still probably appear on film in the future, his hallmark action stunts will, from now on, be conspicuously missing from the script. He is promoting his latest film, Chinese Zodiac, arguably his last action movie.

The 58-year old Chan has more than one hundred films under his belt as an actor, producer and director and with that mileage behind him, it’s not surprising that he decided to retire from such back-breaking roles. Chan is known to do his own acting, usually doesn’t need a stunt double and admits the toll it has taken on his body.

“It hurts, it really hurts,” he said, flinching. “The shoulder, the ankle, it really hurts. You don’t know because I still look healthy.”

In Chinese Zodiac, Chan plays a fortune hunter trying to track down missing astrological antiques and spent seven years working on the movie – writing, producing, directing and coordinating fight scenes.

He looks at older Hollywood stars for inspiration and hopes to emulate the careers they follow.

“When I look at Hollywood, at Robert De Niro, he can do anything – comedy, drama,” Chan says. “Clint Eastwood – 60 to 70 years old, he can still move. I said yes, that’s my goal. Because an action star’s life is so short. An actor’s life is very long. I want to show audiences I can act.”

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The scary habit of painkiller dependence Fri, 25 May 2012 12:44:44 +0000 I guess nobody wants to feel pain so it is understandable that we’d like to take whatever pain reliever is available out there. And even if some of us are aware of the potential risks in consistently taking these pills, the urge to take away the pain often, if not always, gets the highest priority.

As if we need more authoritative warnings, a Hong Kong government study has pointed out an overly high dependence of locals on painkillers. Researchers are quick to warn that many users may not be aware of the potential risks in taking such drugs. In collaboration with Chinese University and the University of Hong Kong, this government study is the first of its kind, and a badly-needed one, and researchers interviewed 2,500 people during the past two years.

The result showed 66 percent of respondents used painkillers at least once in the past two years, while 2.7 percent admitted to being overly reliant on such drugs. Overuse of pain relievers — more than eight pills a day — could cause liver problems. How many people are aware of such risk?

But based on personal experience, some agencies in the government, particularly in the medical field, are part of the reason this habit is so hard to break. When my mother was admitted at a neighborhood hospital, at first we were amazed at how affordable it was to seek medication at a Hong Kong public hospital. We paid a few hundred dollars for a three-day admission, including X-rays, food and medicine. But at the same time, I also thought the amount of medicine they give out seemed excessive. I was handed 17 weeks’ worth of painkiller pills as we proceeded to discharge our patient. So I thought people became more dependent because painkillers are handed over to them freely by experts they ought to trust.

Although it is a must for people to be educated on the risks of excessive consumption of painkillers, or any other drug, it should also be coupled with a review in how medical professionals dispense them to patients.

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A piece of advice for Wan Chai revellers Tue, 22 May 2012 16:43:24 +0000 Sure, Wan Chai is a well-known watering hole locals and expatriates look forward to going to towards the end of a stressful week. But disregarding common sense and letting your guard down is a recipe for an even more stressful, if not embarrassing, weekend.

Police have been warning party-goers in Wan Chai (and presumably other) nightspots about drinks laced with drugs after a 44-year old Chinese woman was nabbed after she allegedly took the ATM card of a 22-year old male victim and withdrawn close to his HK$30,000 daily limit. While the victim was with the woman when the withdrawal was made, he was apparently unaware he is being robbed, police said. Suspect has been charged with theft and will appear in Eastern Court late June.

The arrest was made in March and is part of a long-running police investigation on men losing hold of their cards and properties after taking the so-called date-rape drugs spiked on drinks. I thought drunk men only fall prey to unscrupulous taxi drivers who overcharge them on their way home, but there is an even bigger crime committed long before they hail the cab. In some cases, victims die on their hotel rooms after apparently being drugged and robbed of valuables.

This may not be the first case of robbery on dazed victims. Others may be too embarrassed to report their losses to the police and who could only vow to be more careful in their next escapades in bars. Because of this sticky situation, reported cases are lower than actual numbers.

The police offers words of wisdom for revellers.

1. Never leave drinks unattended.
2. Do not accept drinks from strangers.
3. Be wary of drinks that are already served out of a sealed bottle.
4. It is better to be with friends than be on your own.
5. Accepting invitations from new acquaintances to visit hotel rooms and residences should be considered a high-risk activity.

Don’t be the next victim.

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Hong Kong still China’s most competitive city last year Tue, 22 May 2012 10:05:51 +0000 Amid all the talk of Hong Kong getting dislodged from its lofty perch as the most competitive city of China, such talk remains a hearsay as the SAR retained its top spot among 294 cities, according to Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Hong Kong remained number one for the seventh straight year in 2011 against cities on the mainland and Taiwan.

Taipei surged from fifth place in 2010 to second last year, while Beijing kept its third place rank. Shanghai dropped to fourth while Shenzhen slid one notch to fifth.

Top Ten Most Competitive Chinese Cities 2011

1 Hong Kong
2 Taipei
3 Beijing
4 Shanghai
5 Shenzhen
6 Guangzhou
7 Tianjin
8 Hangzhou
9 Qingdao
10 Changsha

But as with any topnotcher trying to keep its lead over the competition, Hong Kong gets an advice from Dr Ni Pengfei, a researchers at academy’s Institute of Finance and Trade Economics. Improving people’s livelihood and boosting productivity is key to retaining Hong Kong’s competitive edge. While China offers no awards for Hong Kong’s latest achievements, it can learn a thing or two on how Hong Kong runs its economy or how to deal with issues that are sometimes source of social upheavals.

“The government should show more concern for entrepreneurship, employment and welfare – such as subsidised housing – so the people can extend their potential without worries [about livelihood],” Dr Ni said.

In short, try to take away people’s worries, and they become active catalysts of a productive city. It is easy to identify common worries of Hong Kong people such as rising cost of living and pollution but addressing them is simply another story. If Hong Kong has these issues and yet is on top, one can imagine how other cities are dealing with deeper problems that are detrimental to creating and maintaining a competitive city.

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Contaminated vegetables could prompt organic trend Sat, 19 May 2012 03:14:35 +0000 Regular exercise, enough sleep and proper diet is the equivalent to a healthy lifestyle. But what happens when what we thought as green leafy vegetables are becoming a source of deadly diseases? In a study made by Greenpeace, almost every vegetable sample it took were positive for various types of pesticides.

Organic produce

Organic produce Pic:

From shops like ParkNShop, Wellcome and Jusco across Hong Kong, 11 of 12 vegetable samples contained residues of pesticides. Among those discovered is chlorpyrifos, a crystalline pesticide at levels seven times above the international standard set by the UN’s Codex Alimentarius Commission.

Just across ParkNShop’s neighborhood supermarket at Metro City Plaza, a Chinese cabbage yielded traces of fipronil, a pesticide banned even in the mainland, along with six other types of pesticides. Now, all these water cooler talk about how unsafe vegetables coming from mainland China to Hong Kong are indeed justified by Greenpeace. Now who would believe in store assurances that what is placed on the shelf are not only fresh but also safe, like ParkNShop’s own “Food Safety Centre” which takes pride in its thorough check of goods on display?

With these veggies appearing to be contaminated, people might flock towards the end shelves labeled “Organic”. As a friend recently shared with me, paying more for organic farm produce is really worth it. We may need to realign our monthly budgets before we can join the switch to organic food. Hopefully, there will be no producers masking their products as organic.

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Asia tax terms entice U.S. citizens Fri, 18 May 2012 15:11:52 +0000 The high-profile move by Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin to give up his US citizenship (he holds a Brazilian passport) while settling in Singapore casts a fresh discussion as to whether it’s worth giving up one’s American passport and settle to a place with charges less tax and maintain healthy bank accounts.

Facebook employees

In this Feb. 8, 2012 file photo, two workers chat each other at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, not shown, has renounced his U.S. citizenship, a move expected to save him hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes stemming from the company's impending initial public offering. The Brazil-born 30-year-old became a U.S. citizen in 1998 but has lived in Singapore since 2009. Saverin's move has caused controversy in the U.S. Pic: AP

One of the main selling points of Asia’s prosperous cities is that they offer attractive and simpler tax arrangements for both businesses and residents. When I say attractive, it is less of a burden with respect to business and personal income compared to many Western economies. And while the idea of tax is not something people are eager to pay, people and businesses would naturally rather welcome a cheaper tax charge than a heftier one.

Foreign investments have turned their attention towards Asia-Pacific for cheaper labor and generally low tax rates. For example, Singapore’s top individual income-tax rate is pegged at 20% and Hong Kong even lower at 17% not only for locals, but also for expatriates. On the other hand, there are countries, like the United States, that tax their citizens regardless of where they are. The maximum rate of 35% is significantly higher than Hong Kong and Singapore’s caps and may be among the reasons why an increasing number of Americans are renouncing their citizenships over the years.

According to data from US embassy in Singapore obtained by the Wall Street Journal, 100 Americans gave up their passports in 2011, up from 58 in 2009. Globally, US government records reveal that 1,780 Americans renounced their citizenship last year, compared with 742 in 2009. The number may be negligible from the entire US population, but its growth could be a sign of things to come. If not for the exit tax to those who renounce their citizenship, the number could be much higher.

The United States’ huge budget deficit may eventually translate to higher tax rates in the future, so it’s understandable the thought of switching passports has come to mind of some Americans.

For Mr Saverin, dropping the American passport could save him US$39 million — final figures depend on how well Facebook performs in its upcoming IPO — according to Wealth-X, a Singapore-based group which gathers information on “ultra high net worth individuals”. He could easily become a poster boy of citizenship renunciation in grounds of economic reasons, although Tom Goodman, his New York-based spokesman. But unlike other Americans who became ex-Americans, Mr Saverin doesn’t have to adopt a new passport as he is remains a Brazilian passport holder; his American citizenship was obtained while residing in the United States partly as a student at Harvard. Nonetheless, he is now a permanent resident of Singapore.

Moving to Asia isn’t just about avoiding high tax payments. Stronger economic growth in Asia-Pacific region offers better long-term prospects. That is why Mr Saverin “plans to plans to invest in Brazilian and global companies that have strong interests in entering the Asian markets,” according to Goodman.

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Why are some employers resisting staff paternity leave? Wed, 16 May 2012 20:35:37 +0000 A friend recently posted on his Facebook wall that he is losing patience over delays of medical exam results for his baby’s nanny. In Hong Kong, a newly-born baby is often left under the care of a nanny or grandparents who have lots of time in their hands while parents are out at work. In the case of my friend, whose extended family is not in Hong Kong, hiring a nanny is an obvious choice.

Perhaps employers have seen the practical side of getting a domestic worker or asking a relative to take care of a baby while their employees are kept busy at work. That could be why they are unwilling to commit on providing a leeway for would-be fathers to take a few days off on a mandated paternity leave. But long before nannies take over the diaper roles and transform into nocturnal creatures, it’s the hands-on parents who are eager and willing to take the responsibility as they welcome the newest member of the family. Not only that, parents must be on hand to witness and cherish a precious moment a child is born, for this only lasts for a short time, and will be gone forever, unless captured in video by a doting father.

But of course, if fathers are not granted paternity leave, he’ll be unable to produce such video of his child’s first cries or his wife’s smile of relief — let alone witness them.

Employers often think more about profitability than parenthood, using arguments as minimum wage or low productivity as main reasons, while selling the idea to employees that hiring domestic helpers as a practical move.

Employers opened up such concerns during a meeting with the Labour Advisory Board, where employee representatives insist on getting the same paternity benefits accorded to civil servants.

A consultation paper released by the Civil Service Bureau last November recommended up to five days of paternity leave. But employer representatives so far have expressed lukewarm reception at best. Employer epresentative Ho Sai-chu of Chinese General Chamber of Commerce isn’t sure how companies in Hong Kong economy will fare if paternity leave becomes mandatory by law.

“If we’re going to make paternity leave statutory too, I am not sure whether companies and Hong Kong’s economy can handle it,” Ho said, while citing Hong Kong’s “culture” which includes cheap hiring of domestic workers and “many grandparents willing to help take care of the babies and mothers.”

Presenting the same doomsday scenario used during discussion of the minimum wage law, employer representative Stanley Lau said some companies might not be able to handle the impact of new labor policies. “They might cut staff or even close down. That would also have a great impact on employees,” he said.

However, a government study released recently indicated that such leave would only dent 0.02 to 0.04 per cent of employers’ total wage costs.

Since paternity leave is still under the discretion of employers, employees who wish to take a few days off are forced to take them off the yearly annual leave allocation.

In comparison with regional neighbors, Indonesia and Macau grants two days paternal leave while the Philippines is even more generous with seven days.

If Hong Kong is serious about tackling its aging population and increase birth rates, maybe granting paternal leaves may bring positive effects.

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Hong Kong International bids to become world’s greenest airport Wed, 16 May 2012 11:56:03 +0000 For a city notoriously known for its poor air quality, it’s quite a contrast for its airport managers to make a promise that its award-winning airport will become the greenest in the world. The bold pledge was made by the Airport Authority, the government’s statutory body tasked to oversee the operation of Hong Kong International Airport, along with its 40 business partners.

The announcement was made as the authority reached a milestone of about 10 per cent in carbon reduction. Such a pledge from a mammoth airport – one that operates 24 hours a day and served over 53 million passengers last year – should draw inspiration for other airports to adopt eco-friendly measures in their operations.

A three-year environmental plan was rolled out last year that aims to reduce carbon intensity by 2015 from its 2008 emission levels. Among those already accomplished were Aviation Security’s suspension of lifts after office hours, auto lights off policy at Cathay Pacific Catering and promotion of the paperless office at Sinopec.

The success of the plan has prompted the airport to raise targets even further. Additional plans include replacement of 100,000 lighting units with energy-efficient LEDs by end of 2014 and introduction of new electric passenger transfer cars by mid-2013 and eventually the whole fleet by 2017.

Although it costs more to implement these “green” measures – electric cars cost more than conventional ones – it is the long-term benefits that count.


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Clean energy brings higher electricity bills Fri, 11 May 2012 05:43:39 +0000 One of the biggest drawbacks of adopting a green lifestyle are the costs associated. For example, buying fuel-efficient cars, light bulbs or rechargable batteries costs higher than conventional ones.

Clean energy activists

Clean energy activists have been pushing alternative energies in Hong Kong for several years. However, clean energy will come at a cost for residents. Pic: AP

And another reality for people in Hong Kong — at least those living in Kowloon and the New Territories — is that clean energy also means higher electricity bills for domestic users. We are going to pay, get this, up to 40 percent higher in a few years than what we pay now. This is a rather shocking revelation coming from Michael Kadoorie, chairman of CLP Power, a major electricity provider in Hong Kong with overseas operations as well. His assessment comes after a presumption that clean energy initiatives by the government will force his company to double the use of natural gas in generating power.

Such a threatening statement is the last thing we’d like to hear. While it is true that the price of gas has soared during recent years, the delivery of the message sends a wrong message to other industries aiming to comply with the government’s drive to reduce emissions.

It is easy to make such bold message because CLP Power, along with Hongkong Electric, are the only operators in the sector; the public and the government have fewer options other than accepting what is on the table.

In a similar scenario, Hong Kong’s public bus operators, also seen as a duopoly of New World First Bus and KMB didn’t have to make such outrageous statements like raising fares if it were to modernize its fleet and do its part as environmentally-responsible company. Instead, KMB introduced its first electric buses. That’s a noble move for a company in the red amidst rise in fuel costs. And quite contrast to the seemingly stable income of CLP Power. For what it’s worth, CLP Power was named the third largest polluter in Asia but rebounded from the dubious rank and came up with its own success story.

CLP Power reduced its planned power rate increase from 7.4 per cent to 4.9 per cent earlier this year, amid criticism from the government. But this time, Mr Kadoorie’s statement could put Chief Executive-elect Leung Chun-ying and his energy policy in the spotlight.

But amid the bashing and blunt remarks against the CEO’s statements, there could be some solid facts to consider. Larry Chow of Hong Kong Energy Studies Centre at Baptist University said the natural gas source used in its plants was considerably cheaper because its deal was signed about 20 years ago. With the Yacheng fields off Hainan Island drying up, new sources are expected to be more expensive, and this will eventually be passed on to consumers.

Any new increase in utility rates brings a new burden to consumers already bothered by inflation. Greeting them with fresh round of hikes will only make things worse. But let’s accept the fact that political tensions, depleting sources and soarig demand for power drive costs higher than ever. The only way for ordinary consumers to do is conserve this finite resource.

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