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October 2007

September 2007

But not as we know it

In the Barrels, Shooting & Fish department, we have this latest "sponsored feature" in the Sunday Post, demonstrating that it's not necessary to write adverts in English:

Suzuki

In a breakthrough innovation for the concept of Suzuki cars successful integration into innovative thinking, pioneering global strategy of the model range, the orientation of successful launch since 2005 Grand Vitara, Swift and SX4 to be more clearly revealed.  All car enthusiasts welcomed by the lead Suzuki promoted to the three major brands, significant sales growth plus received numerous awards.

Or to put it another way - we sold more vehicles than those losers at Mazda and Nissan, but we couldn't be bothered to hire a copywriter who knew English.


Oasis

I have to admit that I'm still intrigued by Oasis.  Here's an interesting quote (in The Australian):

Stephen Miller, chief executive of Oasis, said: "Where are traditional carriers most vulnerable? They are vulnerable at the front (of the aircraft)."

I think that's correct (and I've been arguing that for a long time).  This summer, Cathay and Virgin were offering discounted business class fares in July and August, and that must partially be a response to Oasis.

I have flown Oasis, and I have to say that their Business Class cabin is very good indeed (certainly for the price I paid), with masses of legroom and excellent service.  The food is OK for the prices they charge, but not as good as Cathy or Virgin.

Less positively, the in-flight entertainment is quite poor (though you could buy a portable DVD player and a stack of DVDs with the money you save compared to flying Business Class with Virgin, Cathay or BA), and the lounge they use at Gatwick gets very crowded and has very little food available.  The CNAC lounge in Hong Kong is better - basic, but with hot food and certainly not crowded.

Those are small drawbacks, and for the price it really does provide an attractive alternative to the traditional carriers. 

They must be doing well, because they are now adding an extra flight to London 3 days a week. It's an afternoon departure, arriving at Gatwick in the early evening.  They say that the timing is in response to popular demand, but I have my doubts about that - it seems more likely that was the only slot they could get (or that if fits better with their flight schedule).  Long haul daytime flights are not something I have ever enjoyed.

Another sign that Oasis are on the up is that they are making their special offers less attractive.  The 'buy one, get one free' offer in Business Class now only applies if you buy a more expensive ticket (HK$13,800 one way), and they have got to be, er, kidding with the 'kids go free' offer, which requires the purchase of a return ticket at HK$29,000 (in business class) or HK$5,180 (economy).  On top of that you need to pay taxes and surcharges on both the paid and free tickets.  Not terribly attractive, I feel.    

Meanwhile, Virgin's phantom 2nd daily flight to London seems to have completely disappeared from their website, though I suppose it might happen one day,  presumably if they ever start flying to Melbourne as well as Sydney.


Mutually assured destruction

Jose Mourinho's sudden departure from Chelsea last week "by mutual consent" seemed rather shocking when the news first broke, but of course it wasn't really a surprise at all (apart from the timing).

Last season there was a lot of speculation that he would be on his way, after apparently falling out with Roman Abramovich (the owner of the club), but then they apparently kissed and made up and all was well again.  Or not, as it turned out.

Abramovich was clearly not satisfied with Chelsea's record under Mourinho.  Yes, that would be an average of 2.33 points per game, two Premier League titles in three years, and an unbeaten home record in the Premier League over the same period.  Not good enough - Abramovich wanted to win the Champions League, and he wanted entertaining football.  Oh, and he wanted to interfere:   

...despite Mourinho's success in claiming a second successive Premiership, the manager had lost control of transfers. In the 2006 summer window, Mourinho asked the board to buy Samuel Eto'o; they spent a UK record £30m on Shevchenko. Chelsea sold William Gallas to Arsenal against Mourinho's wishes, and forced the £7m Khalid Boulahrouz upon him, while Arnesen compounded the error of allowing Chelsea's most effective defender to leave the club by pulling the plug on the £5m purchase of Micah Richards. Inside a season Richards was a full England international, while Boulahrouz was stinking out the reserves until Chelsea paid Sevilla to take him off their hands.

That's from an article in The Observer ('Tears, hugs and two icy handshakes') that attempts to explain what happened.  Of course, there are usually two sides to each story, and Mourinho has clearly been fairly stubborn himself, but he has also been very successful so he's probably earned that privilege.

I am always intrigued when a manager is described as leaving "by mutual consent".  What is it supposed to mean?  In the wider context it's probably true that Mourinho and Abramovich couldn't work together, but with regard to what happened this week it seems to be (as so often) a euphemism for 'being sacked'.

On Wednesday afternoon the board asked Mourinho to resign, citing his handling of Shevchenko, his attitude to authority and, crucially, his relationship with Terry as reasons why he should go. Mourinho refused to walk, and fought only to maximise his pay-off as Chelsea apparently threatened to call club employees to testify against him at any employment tribunal.

A £10.5m pay-off was agreed and the following morning Mourinho made a final trip to the training centre at Cobham to pick up his possessions and say goodbye to his squad. There was a message in each farewell. For most there was a Latin embrace and warm words of thanks. For Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard the emotions were so strong that both men were reduced to tears, Lampard retreating to the shower room in an attempt to hide his. For Shevchenko and Terry there was nothing but a handshake that, in the words of one observer, could have 'frozen a mug of tea'. No one was in any doubt about who he considered the true captains of his team.

And now Chelsea have Avram Grant as their manager.  Weird...


Not free and not good

I see that the New York Times is the latest newspaper to abandon the 'pay wall' and make all their content freely available (links).  How long can the SCMP hold out against this worldwide trend?

Actually, whilst we're on this subject (and I know I'm sounding like a broken record here), how can the SCMP website still be quite so appalling?

Surely it must be the only newspaper website anywhere in the world that doesn't have a page showing all today's stories (or all recent stories) in each section (e.g. Hong Kong news, China news, International, Business, etc.). 

Instead, if you select 'Hong Kong' there is a lead item with a picture, and 5 stories with short summaries, plus about 20 more with headlines only.  You have to click on 'next' to get a few more stories in the sub-categories of  'City' or 'Politics & Policy'.  Oh, and the text is tiny.

Then there's lots of white space at the bottom of the page.    

I don't know about you, but my PC has a mouse, complete with a little wheel thingy (and my keyboard has arrow keys).  I've found that these can be quite useful, because (unlike newspapers, where pages have a fixed size), web pages can be as long as you like.  If you scroll down you can see more.  It works really well (see The Guardian, The Times, etc., etc.).


Pork Pies

It's that time of year again.

Every Chinese restaurant has piles of Moon Cakes everywhere you look.  Worse still, fridges across Hong Kong seem to be full of the wretched things, with hardly any space available for actual food or drink.

I've never quite seen the attraction of these lard and sugar-filled delights.  And who'd have guessed that they might be unhealthy?


Going, going, gone.

Vince from HKMacs has reminded me that my list of Hong Kong blogs needed updating, and his prize is to get reinstated (probably for the 17th time).

I notice that a few of my contemporaries are flagging.  Some have sprung back into life recently, and so they live to fight another day, but others have not (Phil being the most notable). 


Quick, slow...

I notice that the KCR is advertising their "direct" service from Tsim Sha Tsui East to Lok Ma Chau.  The irony here is that when the "Southern Link" is completed in a couple of years, it will be necessary to change at Hung Hom so it won't be direct at all.

Mind you, maybe by then people will actually want to go to Lok Ma Chau.

It reminds me that a few years ago, the MTR extended the Kwun Tong line to North Point and constructed new platforms that provided a same-level interchange for passengers arriving on the Kwun Tong line and travelling west on the Island Line (and vice versa).  Which is a splendid thing, of course.

They then ran an advertising campaign extolling the virtues of this new interchange, and the few minutes it would save on each journey.

Which is all very well, except that less than a year later the Kwun Tong line was diverted to Tseung Kwan O and passengers for Quarry Bay or North Point had to change trains at Yau Tong.  Not so fast any more!!


Puzzling

I used to think that Hong Kong supermarkets were easy enough to categorise.

  • CitySuper and Great have lots of stuff I want, but can't afford
  • Park'n'Shop certainly isn't Tesco or Sainsburys, but it is (just about) OK
  • Wellcome generally isn't.
  • CRC?  Who goes there?

And, of course, the basics are available everywhere.

Or so I thought

I found a product called 'Rice Crunchies' (they're rice crackers from Thailand) in Park'n'Shop, but now they have disappeared from their shelves and are only to be found in CRC, of all places. 

Even basic items are not immune.  Currently, Gala Apples don't seem to be available anywhere apart from Wellcome (and possibly CitySuper).  What's that all about, then?

CitySuper itself even managed to be out of stock of one of their 'own brand' basic products (oats) for several weeks, which is quite impressively incompetent - especially since they have a label on the shelf saying that they are a 'best seller'.  Not if they're out of stock, they're not.


Help!

Google seem to have 'improved' iGoogle, and suddenly the Google News thingy has been 'localised', and I have no idea how to switch it from Chinese back to English:

If I go to http://www.google.com.hk/ig?hl=en Google News is Chinese, but everything else is in English.

Confusing...


More competition - higher prices

The most popular subject in Talkback (the SCMP's curious letter column that isn't) seems to be problems with Pay TV, and specifically the sports channels.

This is an interesting example of greater competition not having the normal effect of reducing prices.  Quite the contrary in fact - the cost of subscribing to all the sports channels in Hong Kong is much higher now than it was a few years.

There was a time when all you needed was a subscription to Cable TV (and for your building to have Star Sports).  Now you would need Cable TV, PCCW's Now Broadband TV and TVB Pay Vision (Star Sports has, of course, become a pay channel on Now TV).  On top of that, there are now several extra channels dedicated to specific sports (Golf, Cricket, Basketball), and of course they cost more.  If you add all that up it is certainly not cheap - though it's hard to imagine that anyone would have all the extra channels.

Greater competition drives up the price that the channels pay for rights to various sports, and that gets passed on to viewers.  It's happened in the UK, where Sky Sports used to have exclusive rights to the Premier League, but now Setanta have some games, so you need to pay an extra £10.00 for their package on top of £34.00 for all the Sky sports channels.

However, two things make Hong Kong different from the UK

  1. In HK, almost all the sports channels are exclusive to just one platform.  In the UK you can choose satellite or cable and still get all the channels - although cable TV are in competition with Sky, they still carry all the Sky sport and film channels, and a Sky dish will pick up Setanta Sports.
  2. In HK, you have little choice but to sign an 18 month (or longer) contract.  In the UK, most people are on monthly contracts.  If you have an 18 month contract for Now's golf channel you are stuck with it even if they lose the rights to the events you want to watch.

When you consider that there is no guarantee than any given channel (or combination of channels) will continue to hold the rights to any event indefinitely, it's easy to see how you can end up paying for one channel and then have to pay extra because another channel has acquired the rights. 

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