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August 2008

A physical link

scan0002I was rather amused by this story in the SCMP yesterday.  As you can probably see, the headline is "Tunnel provides vital link to major business areas."  It's in a slim supplement about the 'New Face of Wan Chai'.  This includes Three Pacific Place - which rather cleverly isn't actually in Pacific Place itself.  So the developer built an underground walkway to connect it up.

It was the first development to provide a physical link between the two districts when the Three Pacific Place Link, an underground tunnel connecting the building with Pacific Place and Admiralty MTR, opened last year.

scan0005

Ah, an underground tunnel.  So much more practical than an overground tunnel. 

There's even a picture of the tunnel, showing how busy it is.  The picture caption hammers home the point:

"Three Pacific Place Link has provided a physical link between Wan Chai and Admiralty since its opening last year".

And there I was thinking that you could walk from Wan Chai to Pacific Place along the, er, road.  Or take one of those tram things that go along Queensway and Queens Road East. 

Which presumably is what people actually do, based upon the number of pedestrians shown in the photograph of this marvellous underground physical link.   


Pricewatch

Head & Shoulders 400ml

Mannings $42.90 "reduced from $47"
Watsons $42.90 "reduced from $46"
Park'n'Shop $36.90 "reduced from $42.90"
Local pharmacy $35  

I can't be bothered to check the price in Wellcome, but I bet it's more than $35.

A few observations:

  1. Do Mannings & Watson ever sell at the full price they show on the price ticket? 
  2. It's amazing that the two "competing" pharmacy chains can sell at exactly the same price.
  3. What is the buying power of AS Watson (who own Watsons & Park'n'Shop), and Hutchison Jardines/Dairy Farm (who own Mannings & Wellcome)?
  4. Remind me again - who is the richest man in Hong Kong?

The Olympics on TV

Elmer over at Living in Hong Kong has 7 Observations from Hong Kong TV Olympic Coverage, and I have to say that I agree with most of what he says.

(1) I have to admit that I haven't been paying very close attention, but I think he's right that the local Chinese channels of TVB and ATV show identical events (at least some of the time).  What's the point of that?

(2) The commentators have been a disgrace.  TVB Pearl has Andrew Sams with a few sidekicks (who are presumably meant to be the experts), but they both talk rubbish most of the time.  The two Chinese channels follow the usual Hong Kong practice of having a studio full of presenters in mistaken impression that more means better.

(3) Worse, they employ actors, actresses, comedians, singers and former Miss Hong Kong contestants as part of their large teams of presenters, who again talk rubbish most of the time. 

(4) Every country has a bias in favour of events where their own competitors might do well, and the Hong Kong coverage is no different in that respect.

(3) Scheduling seems to cause the terrestrial channels great difficulty.  I didn't watch the third set of the men's singles tennis final, but apparently TVB Pearl kept cutting away for the news.  Earlier in the same coverage they kept explaining that The Pearl Report would be shown later, though I'm not sure whether it ever was.  The previous day they were supposed to have a film at 8 pm but they had Olympic coverage instead and kept apologizing, as if anyone cared!  It's the Olympics - just cancel all the regular shows and have brief news bulletins when they can be fitted in! 

I'll leave Elmer's #6 & #7 because they are pretty much the same as 2 & 3, but I have a few more of my own.

  1. Watching the HD channel on Jade makes it very obvious that Now are cutting some corners with their so-called HD service for the English Premier League. 
  2. Why don't ATV have a HD channel?  Their normal HD channel has been given over to a screen that tells you what's on the other digital channels.  That's even worse than their normal pathetic 2 hours a night of HD programming.
  3. Of course, the information about what's on the other channels is all in Chinese.  Would it really have been so hard to have English as well?
  4. i-Cable have an online service providing live coverage and highlights.  Which would be great except that the website is entirely in Chinese!
  5. Oh, and I can't get it to work at all in IE or Firefox.
  6. I miss the on-demand service that Now TV had for Euro 2008.  I'm sure something similar must be possible with digital tv. 

All in all, it's definitely been a case of quantity rather than quality.


Infamy, infamy

I think the SCMP only employ Lau Nai-keung to annoy people (or maybe he pays them to publish the nonsense he writes).  Today he gives us the theory that the Western media are just jealous of China (Fakes offend Chinese as much as anyone - subscription required):

After the grand opening of the Beijing Olympics, some aspects of the show were later pounced on by the media. For one, some of the "live" fireworks seen marching through the city towards the "Bird Nest" stadium were computer generated. Then, the nine-year-old girl with the seemingly perfect combination of an angelic face and voice actually lip-synched her routine because the real singer was not pretty enough.

[...] this was like finding treasure for some China-bashers in the western media, and they made a big fuss about it. Let me tell you something: if the Chinese authorities had really wanted to fake things, like any other government, they would have made it a state secret, and nobody would have been allowed to even talk about it.

What nonsense!  How can you fake a firework display in Beijing and keep it secret?  It's not possible.  I don't think anyone would have cared too much if they had announced at the time what they done, but they did try to keep it secret, they failed, and of course that aroused media interest - as it would done if a UK or US broadcaster had done something similar (and fakery is a very hot topic in the British media right now).

The real fuss, it turns out, is not about the show. Critics just used these facts to insinuate that China is faking it and cheating in the competitions. A case in point are the female gymnasts. Unlike their American counterparts, the Chinese girls are so tiny that westerners suspect they must be underage. An American reporter pointedly asked one of the athletes whether she was, in fact, 16. Many western media reports dwelled on this point, citing incidents in the opening ceremony as substantiation of their claims.

It all boils down to one thing: some people are bad losers. If indeed they have so-called "evidence", as they claim, I suggest they file a formal complaint with the International Olympics Committee, which is obligated to do something. Defamation will not help anybody get a gold medal.

Watching the Chinese athletes grabbing one gold after another, I fully understand the feelings of some westerners. Many find it difficult to accept that the Chinese are coming up so fast. It will take time for them to adjust their superiority complex and acknowledge Chinese as equals. It is a western problem, not a Chinese one. The Chinese are basking in the glory and pride; they do not care what these people think.

I'm sure the Chinese people don't care, but if some of the Chinese gymnasts were too young to compete then that's breaking the rules, and again it is bizarre to think that any country would get away with this.  A complaint has been made to the IOC (Olympic probe into gymnasts' ages) and they are investigating - but I think we would all expect the documentation to support what the authorities have been saying all along. 

Any country that wins as many medals as China has done is bound to come under scrutiny.  It comes with the territory.


Another brilliant idea

You might think that now we have the Hong Kong government run by Hong Kong people they would at least be able to anticipate how people will react to their brilliant ideas.

They were apparently surprised when the concession on the DH levy prompted people to try to get more benefit than the government intended, and now it seems that they didn't realize what would happen when they waived charges for all government-run leisure facilities (for three months).

I expressed my concerns about the effect on swimming pools, but there are also the sports facilities such as squash courts that can be booked by the hour.  If you don't have to pay, why not book a court on the off-chance, and who cares if you can't actually use it?  Which turns out to be exactly what lots of people have being doing (No-shows at venues frustrate regular players - subscription required):

The bookings were full a month ago, but five of the 12 squash courts at the Hong Kong Park Sports Centre were empty late on a recent afternoon. 

The receptionist said no-shows had become more prevalent since the Leisure and Cultural Services Department allowed the public to book its sports facilities free from last month.  Declining to give his name, he said courts were frequently empty around midday as it had become a common practice for office-goers to make reservations for their lunch hours, play for a short time, then return to work.

The department said the overall rate of use at sports facilities was 80 per cent in July and that 63 per cent of them were taken up by people who booked in advance. That means that 37 per cent of people did not show up at the venues, which were taken up by walk-in users.

"In the past, once the reservation had been made, people showed up," said Wong Chi-lok, who plays squash at the complex every Thursday. "These days, it's harder to secure a court, and yet there are more empty courts."

But the department said it only started to compile the no-show figures after the scheme was introduced, so no comparison can be drawn.

Another regular squash player at the complex, Wong Kok-man, described himself as a "victim" of the abolition of fees.

"I'm a regular squash player and haven't had any problems with the government's online booking system before," he said. "Currently, because you can hold courts for free, people keep on making reservations online because there's no consequence.  "This frustrates regular players like myself. Now even I press the `confirm' button unthinkingly - in the mornings, when I can't sleep, and whenever I'm free. Because it doesn't matter if you've booked a court and don't show up."

Unable to secure facilities amid a rising tide of irresponsible bookers, both players had resorted to showing up at the stadium without a reservation to try their luck at taking over empty courts.  The practice of "picking up" empty courts has become so prevalent at Victoria Park's public sports facilities that a special booth has been set up for it.

Two of the four squash and table tennis courts at the park were empty at 3pm, despite being fully booked a month ago.

This would not come as any surprise to anyone who has observed what happens when anything is given away for free in Hong Kong.


All the important news - about injured athletes

Shattered DreamsI don't have any problem with the national hysteria that surrounds the Beijing Olympics, but isn't the South China Morning Post meant to be a serious newspaper?

So what's this headline all about, then?

As if this hysterical front page wasn't bad enough, the story continued inside, occupying the whole of pages two and three.

The resignation of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf did make it on to the front page, but was only given a small space at the bottom of the page.

Clearly not so important as a runner getting hurt before the 110 metres hurdles.


It's all over... oh no, it isn't

My favourite moment from the typically shabby TVB Pearl coverage of the Olympics came earlier tonight when Andrew Sams thought that Nadal had won the Olympic Gold Medal when he won the tie-break at the end of the 2nd set. 

Strangely, Nadal didn't look too excited, simply going back to his seat ready for the 3rd set, and the commentators then mumbled some nonsense about needing a lead of two clear sets.

I must say that I thought the scoreboard showing a possible 5 sets was a bit of a clue.  You might also think that the media would be provided with information about the format (which admittedly was different for the final), but perhaps Andrew Sams and his co-commentator were too busy thinking of inane things to say to read all that sort of stuff.


Mobile office

One of the more intriguing sights in Hong Kong is a taxi equipped with an array of mobile phones.  The driver then has a Bluetooth headset in each ear, or a collection of earpieces ready to plug in as required, so that he can answer any of his phones.

These are the people you call if you want a taxi and prefer to have a discount rather than paying a surcharge.  With the cost of both phones and mobile subscriptions so low, it is possible to set up this type of system quite cheaply, and there is no overhead of an office or staff to answer the phones.  If someone requests a taxi, the driver will use another mobile phone to find a driver who is available.

You might think that this type of free enterprise would be applauded, but technically it is illegal, and the people who do it are described as "gangs" by the SCMP.  Thousands of Hong Kong people are only too happy to use the service, and you might think that in the world's freest economy this type of free enterprise would be applauded, but if you live here for long you soon discover that isn't quite how things work...


Saving the environment, driving you crazy

HSBC are now promoting their electronic statement service to replace the paper version sent through the mail.  Good idea, poor execution.

Why does it have to be so difficult?  They send you an email, with a link to a webpage.  You then have to sign in using a different password to the one you have for Internet banking, and it opens a pop-up window to display a link to the statement (if your browser will let it - and in Firefox it appears as gibberish).  Only then you can download a pdf file to your computer.

This is all very puzzling.  Why can't I simply have my statement(s) available for download when I sign on to Internet banking? 

American Express have a similar service, and it is only slightly less frustrating.  They send you an email, but if you click on the link it doesn't work because you aren't signed on.  Then you sign on with your password, but there is no option to download the statement!  You have to select the option to display the statement and then click on the Acrobat logo, and then select the latest statement from the list.  Frustrating, but at least there's only one website and one userid and password.

Here's the thing I don't get.  Why not have all your transactions for a year available on Internet Banking?  Why do they delete old transactions from this service?  Why don't they provide a method to download this information to Excel or MS Money or Quicken (or anything similar).  Wouldn't that be the simplest solution?  Sending an email to get a link to a pdf file that is no more than an electronic copy of a paper statement seems a very complicated way of doing it.