Winter holiday is here, and I’m in Japan! 4

Winter holiday is here, and I'm in Japan!
TOKYO, JAPAN — This year’s winter escapade is not to a warm, sunny location like Malaysia, but to the more wintry Japan — a joint effort by my son and me. He had some comp time available, and wanted to visit me in Jishou, but as I had planned to travel outside China during the Spring Festival, we settled on two weeks in Japan. Fun fact: this year, the Chinese New Year falls on my birthday. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which day that is. I gave my exams on Dec. 30, and spent the rest of the week reading them and calculating grades for my 150 students. I discovered two disturbing things: at least two of my sophomores had cheated on their exam and hardly any of the sophs had improved their listening comprehension marks over the last three terms. The cheaters flunked their exams, and the term. They will need to take a new test next term. I also get to read their classmates the riot act, as I suspect those two were just the unlucky ones who got caught. The sophomores’ failure to improve their skills much since they were freshmen is a bigger ...

I’m back, with a BBC story about Hong Kong’s beloved ding-ding 1

I'm back, with a BBC story about Hong Kong's beloved ding-ding
JISHOU, HUNAN — I’m back in China, having spent a month flitting from one part of the Midwest to another — at least when weather conditions allowed my planes to get off the ground. More about those adventures later. First, here’s a story of the BBC about Hong Kong’s trams, also known as the ding-ding. Unlike most American cities, Hong Kong never gave up its streetcars. While they are slow and not especially comfortable, they are cheap and are still an integral part of the city’s public transport system. When a transport engineer proposed to eliminate the ding-ding in favor of more modern systems, tens of thousands of Hong Kongers wrote to the government pleading for the Tram’s survival. Imagine that happening in the USA. Well, maybe it did happen, but it was well before my time. As they wear out, the trams are being replaced by hand-crafted, modernized versions built with aluminum (or aluminium, if you prefer) frames, which replaced the original wooden frames. The clunky old DC motors are replaced with lighter, more efficient AC motors. And LED sign boards announce each destination. Most importantly, the fare is still the same, and the renovated cars look much like ...

Three Chinese cities in top 10 most costly places for expats

Three Chinese cities in top 10 most costly places for expats
JISHOU, HUNAN — Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing are among the ten most expensive places to live for expats, according to Mercer, a global business consulting firm. Hong Kong is #1, with Shanghai in seventh place and Beijing in tenth. Other Asian cities in the top ten are Singapore and Tokyo, in fourth and fifth places respectively. Jishou is not included on the list, but it would be near the bottom, as rents are quite cheap here compared to the larger cities in China. Citing the Mercer study, the BBC reports that a two-bedroom unfurnished apartment in Hong Kong rents for US$6,800, compared with $5,100 for a comparable apartment in New York. A cup of coffee in HK will set you back about US$8, but a hamburger meal is about $5. Some of the cities are expensive, because of their fearsome cost of living generally. Many Chinese, for example, have trouble affording housing in the nation’s largest cities. Other cities, such Luanda, Angola (#2) are in countries with weak currencies, which hurts expat pocketbooks. Mercer says it evaluates expats’ cost of living in some 200-odd cities by taking into account housing, education for children, transport and everything needed to live ...

‘Disappeared’ Hong Kong bookseller returns after 8 months, says his TV confession was scripted

'Disappeared' Hong Kong bookseller returns after 8 months, says his TV confession was scripted
JISHOU, HUNAN — Eight months after he disappeared from Hong Kong, bookseller Lam Wing-kee has returned home, with stories of his apprehension by mainland authorities and detention in a small room in Ningbo, Zhejiang province. Lam said his confession on mainland TV in February of selling banned materials was carefully scripted, and that his captors made him repeat the script several times until they were satisfied with the results. Lam and four other men associated with a Hong Kong bookstore selling books critical of the Chinese Communist Party disappeared from Thailand, Hong Kong and the mainland at different times last year. Lam returned two days ago. One associate, Swedish national Gui Minhai, remains in custody on the mainland. At a press conference at Legco — the Legislative Council for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) — Lam related how he was picked up in October on his way to Shenzhen, which lies just across the river from Hong Kong on the mainland. Though Britain returned its former colony to China in 1997, the SAR is supposedly autonomous; people passing between HK and the mainland must pass a border control point. As reported in the South China Morning Post today, ...

Chinese, Hong Kong officials named in latest ‘Panama Papers’ releases

Chinese, Hong Kong officials  named in latest 'Panama Papers' releases
JISHOU, HUNAN — The investigative team behind the massive “Panama Papers” data dump have uncovered more associates of present or former Chinese government officials with offshore shell accounts. Also named are a present minister in the Hong Kong government and a Hong Kong university. Previously, eight people with ties to former or present Politburo members — including the brother-in-law of President Xi Jinping — were revealed to have extensive offshore business assets. Named in the latest report is Li Pak-tam, son-in-law of Jia Qinglin, a former Politburo member who retired in 2013. Li is the owner of a firm listed in the British Virgin Islands, Fung Shing Development Ltd., the South China Morning Post reported. Jia’s grand-daughter, Jasmine Li, had previously been named as an officer of another offshore shell company The Post had previously reported that Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University had established an offshore company with millions of dollars in assets, but the university had never mentioned the shell company’s existence in its financial reports. The deal happened while the present HK innovations minister, Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung, was vice president of the university. Shares in this offshore company were then transferred to another company controlled by a delegate to ...

Hong Kong publisher says mainland police entered HK to question him

Hong Kong publisher says mainland police entered HK to question him
JISHOU, HUNAN — As the saying goes, the plot thickens, as more details slowly come out about the five Hong Kong booksellers who disappeared, only to reappear on the mainland. One of their friends says mainland police questioned him — in Hong Kong — about the five men’s activities. Thing is, by treaty, mainland police are not supposed to have jurisdiction in HK, a Special Autonomous Region (SAR) of greater China. Hong Kong residents have suspected that the five men, who published and sold sensational books about corrupt Chinese Communist Party officials, were apprehended in Thailand, mainland China and Hong Kong by mainland security bureau agents late last year. They later resurfaced in Guangdong Province on the mainland, under mysterious circumstances. Hong Kong police say no mainland agents entered the SAR, but a friend of the five booksellers told the South China Morning Post (SCMP) that he was questioned at length on three occasions by three officers from the Guangdong State Security Department about the five men. Lau Tat-man, 65, also told the Post that security agents in Dongguan, Guangdong, detained his wife while she visiting there, and questioned her for four hours about the publishing business. The Post stated ...

Controversial Hong Kong indie film, #TenYears, wins Asian film award

Controversial Hong Kong indie film, <em>#TenYears</em>, wins Asian film award
An independent film depicting a dystopian Hong Kong in the year 2025 won top honors at the Hong Kong Film Awards this weekend. The film, Ten Years, reflects the fears Hong Kongers have about the effects of reunification with mainland China. In five vignettes, the film suggests oppression familiar to readers of George Orwell’s 1984 will be normal, and that the freedoms present-day Hong Kong enjoys will slowly be eroded away. Needless to say, the film is banned on the mainland. According to the BBC, censors have blocked reports referring to the film’s award. Limited screenings are planned for the USA, and other countries. Produced on a HK$500,000 budget, the film has made HK$6 million so far, despite HK theaters limiting or canceling screenings, fearing government interference. No such interference occurred, however. Hong Kong citizens have been increasingly worried that the mainland government will exert more control over the special autonomous region (SAR), despite formal agreement in 1997 of the “one country, two systems” policy. That agreement, reached as Britain returned its former colony to China, assured that the mainland government would not interfere with the politics and laws already established in Hong Kong. But mainland authorities have so far ...

Hong Kong bookseller’s email says he feared mainland police abducted friend

Hong Kong bookseller's email says he feared mainland police abducted friend
JISHOU, HUNAN, CHINA — Hong Kong bookseller Lee Po said his colleague Gui Minhai was probably abducted by mainland police agents, according to an email obtained by the South China Morning Post. Both men have since denied any abduction occurred, but the email to Gui’s daughter raises concerns about the involvement of mainland authorities in the sudden disappearances of Lee, Gui and three of their colleagues from Thailand and Hong Kong, and their later re-appearance on the mainland. The five booksellers published books that were highly critical of the Chinese Community Party and its officials, including President Xi Jinping. Under Hong Kong law, they were free to publish, but Hong Kongers suspect mainland authorities — contrary to treaty agreements — scooped up the five men surreptitiously. Gui was vacationing in Pattaya, Thailand, at the time of his disappearance in October. In his Nov. 10 email to Gui’s daughter, published by the Morning Post today, he says he feared Gui had been arrested by Chinese police. I write to you concerning the whereabouts of Michael. I wonder if you have known that he has been missing for more than 20 days, we fear that he was taken by special agents from ...

Malaysia trip SIDEBAR 2: the Hong Kong-mainland ferry

Malaysia trip SIDEBAR 2: the Hong Kong-mainland ferry
This is another sidebar, and I’m breaking the chronology of my tale by skipping momentarily the Singapore and Kota Kinabalu portions of my trip. Please be patient. I’ll get to them soon enough. GUANGZHOU — I’ve been to Hong Kong several times now. Usually, I take the high speed rail to Shenzhen, then the metro to border control, walk across the bridge to HK border control, then use the MTR to get around. While this is inexpensive, the worst part is having to queue up for two passport checks, which usually takes an hour all told. This time, I wanted to try something different — the ferry. When I booked by hotel in Hong Kong, I chose the Butterfly on Waterfront, which is very close to the Macau-HK Ferry Terminal. I had been considering visiting Macau before returning to the mainland, but decided to stay an extra day in Hong Kong instead. [Butterfly on Waterfront is described as a “boutique hotel,” which is a fancy way of saying “your room is small, but trendy!” Room rates are between $80-120 a night, which is cheap by HK standards, and for that price I got a very comfortable room with a desk, ...

UK accuses China of treaty infringement over missing booksellers; China replies, ‘MYOB’

UK accuses China of treaty infringement  over missing booksellers; China replies, 'MYOB'
KOTA KINABALU, SABAH, MALAYSIA — British and Chinese officials have engaged in a war of words over the detention of five Hong Kong booksellers, with UK’s foreign minister accusing China of interfering in Hong Kong affairs and Chinese officials replying that the UK should mind its own business. When Britain handed over its former colony, Hong Kong, to China in 1997, all three governments agreed to the “one country, two systems” policy, in which the Beijing government agreed to leave Hong Kong free to deal with its own citizens, as well as honor Hong Kong’s longstanding guarantees of free speech and a free press. But, when five Hong Kong men who publish and sell books critical of Communist Party officials abruptly disappeared over the last few months, Hong Kongers quickly suspected mainland authorities were behind it. One of them, Lee Bo, holds dual citizenship in the UK and China. British, Swedish and American officials have tried to persuade Chinese officials to explain what’s going on, but China, per its usual habit, has not obliged those requests. Yesterday, The Guardian reported UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond stated to Parliament that it was apparent that mainland officials had clearly interfered with Hong ...

HK indie dystopian film outperforms Star Wars VII on opening night, disappears

HK indie dystopian film outperforms <em>Star Wars VII</em> on opening night, disappears
KOTA KINABALU, SABAH, MALAYSIA — An independent film set in a dystopian Hong Kong of 2025 opened last month, and outsold the latest Star Wars episode. Then, it quickly disappeared from theatres, probably because it’s very critical of the mainland government. Ten Years (十年 shi nian) consists of five shorts, all set ten years in the future, when Cantonese has been outlawed and an oppressive government rules with 1984-like efficiency. One short depicts the self-immolation of a protester, which has been a common form of protest on the mainland by Tibetan and other dissidents. There’s no evidence the Beijing government has banned the film in Hong Kong. But its disappearance may be a form of “self-censorship” by theatre operators unwilling to deal with government censors. Links for further information: CNN Jan. 20 Radio Free Asia Feb. 10 Wikipedia entry Filmmakers’ interview with HK magazine TimeOut

USA, UK, Sweden also wonder what happened to 5 Hong Kong booksellers

USA, UK, Sweden also wonder what happened to 5 Hong Kong booksellers
US State Department officials have joined British and Swedish counterparts in questioning mainland Chinese authorities about the sudden disappearances of five Hong Kong booksellers during the last several months. The five men are part of a publishing house and bookshop specializing in gossipy exposés about officials of the Chinese Communist Party, including current president Xi Jinping. According to the “one country, two systems” rule established after the return of Hong Kong to the mainland in 1997, the Beijing government is supposed to honor the autonomy of the former British colony and guarantee Hong Kongers’ rights of free speech and free press. However, Gui Minhai, who holds Swedish citizenship, turned up on China’s national TV last month, saying he had turned himself over to mainland authorities voluntarily for a decade-old fatal drunk driving accident. Gui had been vacationing in Thailand when he mysteriously disappeared last October. Lee Bo, who holds dual Chinese and British citizenship, turned up on the mainland after disappearing from Hong Kong on Dec. 30. His wife met with him at a mainland resort, saying he was part of an investigation. The other three men are also believed to be detained somewhere on the mainland. [UPDATE Feb. 5, ...
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