Busy in Hong Kong

No more news this week. To busy working...

(Other than buying my collegues new car - Not sure Caz is on board but she does have three dogs...)

You can see the car here

The Olympics in China - Its all coming true

Broadly speaking I am in favor of the Olympics in China. If nothing else I think its a great example of be careful for what you wish for, it may come true.

The authorities in Beijing have already proven this point with the Olympic torch, beating up Hong Kong journalists to name but two examples. China can, and will change through the lessons learnt - Or they won't after everyone has gone home, depending on who you believe.

As I predicted to a friend when Beijing won the chance to host the event, the outcome would sit between what China wants the west to believe and what the west wants to see. It would be naive to believe that China was going to change everything just because the western media would turn their lens onto the country. I also argued that it would be naive for China's authorities to expect everyone not to comment on what they have or have done.

Thats the beauty of the Olympics.

And so a new story about the pollution. Any PR firm would love to have this sort of guy. No matter how bad the situation this figure sticks to the same line. He reminds me of Chemical Ali, who when the Americans were invading Iraq (and you could hear the tanks blasting) would be telling journalists that they would be defeated and Saddam was in charge. He carried on saying this even after Saddam was captured.

This breathtaking madness can only be matched by a Chinese official (or a UK labour party member supporting Gordon Brown to stay as prime minister) - So read this response to the pollution problem:

Du Shaozhong, deputy director of the Beijing city Environmental Protection Bureau, said at the weekend: “Good air quality does not necessarily mean blue sky. You might not be able to see things in a bathroom, but you would not conclude that it’s due to pollution.” He added: “We should judge whether there is pollution by scientific statistics, not by what our eyes can see.”

... Not by what our eyes see!?? I love that. No matter how much you love China that has got to be the most ridiculous statement ever. How about your lungs that hurt when you breathe in?

Even better the scientific data seems to suggest that the situation really is as bad as people think:

"But the pollution readings make for grim statistics. A week ago, it looked as if the slew of drastic measures taken by the capital to try to clear the air before the Olympics open on August 8 might be having some effect. With half the cars taken off the streets, construction ordered to halt and many factories closed for miles around, the air pollution index for particulate matter – a major airborne pollutant – was at a reasonable 67.

But, even with so many vehicles off the streets, the index soared on Thursday to 113, peaked at 118 on Saturday and was still at 113 on Sunday. No number is yet available for today, but the air looks as thick as ever with many tall buildings hidden by haze"

Of course China and its government may yet be able to pull of some blue sky (if nature allows) but nature seems to have a sense of humor (or is it hatred) as I recall in 1998 when Hong Kong was handed back to China it rained solidly for 3 days.

No doubt the scientist above would say they were tears of joy...

Full article here

Our new arrival

Announcing a new member into our family, currently we are fostering her (so she is looking for a permanent home... But we'll see if Caz can give her away! I for one hope not...

Shanghai - Thoughts & Photos

Well as promised some more "Alistair Cook" writings on China in the same way he wrote about America in those golden years.

My photos from Shanghai can be seen here.

As for my thoughts on China's second city - What I'm going to say is, "They have the hardware, but they haven't got the software."

The quote is one from a friend and colleague talking about Apple's Iphone vs other mobile phones. His argument was that Motorola for example has the hardware, the physical phone in your hand by numbers, but its Apple that has taken a step forward linking the hardware to the software. But the key fact is the software is the key element going forward, and that will win the day in the mobile space.

As I started to write about Shanghai I got to thinking about how this comparison applies to the city. Now, while the Apple/Hong Kong comparison may not entirely make sense, vs a Windows China I'll endeavor to explain. China has the hardware - No doubt. People, money, buildings and a desire to be a leader are all there. Shanghai is a city that is on the way up and one that may one day rival the likes of London, Hong Kong and NYC.

While Shanghai might have the hardware, it doesn't have the software, and by this I mean the brains, the touch the feeling to make a city feel like a city that works. Now, thats all good for ex-pats like me, but why this rating?

Its certainly not like Shanghai doesn't have a lot to offer. It certainly does. But the SCMP (not that they really say much of sense) constantly warns that Shanghai is to take Hong Kong's crown. Shanghai has the numbers, Beijing's ear, a lack of people that protest and of course a populous that speak Mandarin (forgetting that the international language of business is English...) So I went to Shanghai expecting a lot - And again I did see a lot and enjoyed myself immensely. But its not Hong Kong, not by a long way. Sorry, SMCP but HK doesn't have to much to fear in this decade.

Lets start with the positives. The buildings, though many under construction shows the wonder of the city. From the historical Bun to the future age TV tower, the city has everything to one day rival NYC, London and no doubt the skyline of Hong Kong. The Grand Hyatt has one of the most impressive lobby bars I have ever seen, beating even the Peninsula in Hong Kong.

But, like a fake Chinese watch, Shanghai lacks something. Sure it looks good and you can see where it has copied HK's shoreline buildings and light show, but just like that fake it doesn't quite seem as good as the original.

And then there are the taxis - Shanghai has taxis but not enough. Not by a long way. It seems a symptom of a city (London cabbies are rich but moan about politics to much, NYC taxis shout at you if they don't get a tip ect) In Shanghai (and I'm assuming that you find one) the driver may well not know the street where you want to go, let alone actually be able to find the place that you have directed them to.

Then there are the people and taxis. Manners are not something that people in Shanghai understand. There are no queues, only survival of the fittest. You can be standing by the taxi as someone gets out and someone will barge past you and get in. A colleague waited 45 minutes for a taxi and found out to her cost how you need to act in this city.

Or lets take a walking tour, only you can't. Trying to get round Shanghai by foot means not only getting lost (as no map seems to help) but most importantly not getting killed trying to cross a street, when the lights are red for cars, this seeming makes no difference at all.

But lets look at the town planing: The maglev train - A feat of engineering, taking you from the airport to the city in record time... Except for the fact that, er it doesn't. This new age train takes you from the airport to Shanghai but they forgot to run the train into the city. So its a taxi (and yes, you guessed it, they don't know where you want to go any better than the ones at the airport) to the city center or even close to where you need to be. Its a huge white elephant of epic porportions. That hardware vs software argument comes to mind.

So about that comparison - Hong Kong is by far the better city. People have manners (no spitting/pushing in) all signs are in English and Chinese and taxi drivers that know where they are going. Shanghai is Windows, lots of buildings people but no logic connecting them together that makes the city work in the slick way Hong Kong does.

So where does this short introduction leave you - Shanghai is a great city, no argument. But its one that while the buildings are there, it lacks logic and manners that a city needs to be world class, and I can't see that changing anytime soon. Is this a wider symptom of China? A lack of manners, selfish, no connection between the people and architecture of a city? NYC or London has many of those elements so perhaps this is just what a city becomes on the path to greatness. Only time will tell...

See my photos here

Less updates, more about Hong Kong

I started this blog to be about my new adventure in Hong Kong. A way to keep up with friends and family, as I knew that coming to Asia would be an adventure. So far it hasn't proven me wrong.

We've come here, adopted 2 dogs and published a book about those dogs. I have found a new job while traveled to the Great Wall in China and taken in the tuna market in Tokyo weeks before it closed to the public.

As I look back on a year in Hong Kong there is much to be proud of. Yes, I am tired at times, but I feel that I am really living life at full speed.

And look at these photos taken on July 1 - Is it any wonder that I love this city?

As I look forward to what else I am doing it shows there is a lot more to see and do. We have volume 2 of the book to be published, a photo exhibition for world animals day, a huge project for Cathay nearing completion, a trip to the Sichuan earthquake zone where I am volunteering as a photographer and of course trips planed to Bangkok, Bali, The Maldives, Japan, Vietnam, KL and Cambodia.

I have also made some decisions about this blog. I started this in the spirit of Alistair Cook's letter from America which came on the radio once a week, every week. And so that is what I am going to do. One major post a week with thought and prose put behind it.

I hope you enjoy the new format and keep reading.