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August 2009

Progress

I see that HSBC are going to stop sending paper statements (unless you are either old or willing to pay).  I subscribed to this service a year or so ago, and I have probably only downloaded a handful of statements since then. 

Why?  Because it's a complete nightmare to use, that's why.  I have no idea why they couldn't simply put the statements on the Internet Banking service for customers to view or download, but instead they came up with a bizarre system where they send you an email with a link, you click on it, enter a password, click on another link, and (if all goes well) you can view your statement.  Did I mention that you have to set up a different password to the one for Internet Banking?  Well, you do.

In an all-Microsoft world, where you use Outlook and Internet Explorer, it's possible that this all works seamlessly.  Possible, but unlikely, I feel.  However, if you are reckless enough to use other email clients and other browsers, then it certainly doesn't work very well.  Windows pop up, curious messages appear, and no statement is available to download.

I was rather looking forward to the squeals from anguish from Mrs Wong in Tuen Mun and Mr Chan in Fanling when they discovered hoops through they which they would have to jump in order to get the statement that used to arrive in the post.  But someone in HSBC has come to their senses, and in future they will indeed put downloadable statements on to their existing Internet Banking site.

Better late than never (oh, and HSBC are still sending me paper statements for my bank account).


More sandwiches

Gerald Ratner famously compared one of his company's gold earrings to a Marks & Spencer prawn sandwich, saying that it was cheaper "but the sandwich will probably last longer".  When the newspapers reported his attempt at humour, it became a big story and he ended up losing his job and it virtually bankrupted the company.

Well, the Marks & Spencer prawn sandwich has finally come to Hong Kong - along with salads and wraps and a few desserts.  So far they're only in 4 selected stores, but presumably they'll roll it out to a few more if it's successful.  Prices are a bit lower than Pret a Manger (who have a similar range, but make all their sandwiches in each outlet rather than in a central food factory).

I have one free piece of advice for M&S.  The "handwritten" labels look very lovely, but please get some large signs to go on the shelves so we can see clearly what is on offer.


HD - finally

Well, better late than never, I suppose.

Cable TV have finally launched a (very limited) High Definition service, and football seems to be the main reason behind it.  Although they lost the English Premier League rights to Now TV, they now have the Champions League to add to the Europa League (previously the UEFA Cup) and are making the best of this by setting up an HD channel.  Of course they also have the rights to the next World Cup, and that will now be available in HD, but presumably without the on-demand service that Now had for the European Championships last summer.

The only other channel on offer seems to be ASN, a US sports channel that is also available (in HD) on Now TV.  No word on whether Discovery HD or National Geographic HD might be available at some stage.

Presumably Cable TV have hopes of winning back the EPL rights - the new deal will be be effective from the start of next season, and bidding must be due to start soon - and having HD could help. 

Interestingly, the EPL have apparently decided that it was a mistake to sell the Chinese rights exclusively to a pay-tv channel, and are re-thinking their approach for the next contract - but they probably feel that it isn't doing much harm in Hong Kong, so expect Now and Cable to be the main bidders, with the possibility that ESPN-Star Sports might join in as well.  Though I suppose they could insist that a highlights show would be available for terrestrial TV (as was the case many years ago, when TVB Pearl showed highlights from the previous week's games early on Saturday evening). 

In the UK, ESPN has just started its new channel (set up after Setanta collapsed) showing EPL games and other football.  Rather than really competing with Sky, they are co-operating with them as much as they are allowed - Sky actually produce the coverage for them, as well as offering the new channel alongside their own package.  This is the type of 'competition' with which we are very familiar in Hong Kong.

Of course Disney (owners of ESPN) and News International (owners of Star TV and part owners of Sky) already operate ESPN-Star Sports as a joint venture in Asia.   


Ashes to Ashes

Andrew StraussWhen England won the Ashes 4 years ago it seemed like an amazing achievement after so many years of disappointment (OK then, humiliation), but doing it for the second time doesn't seem quite so exciting.

Maybe it's because it has seemed like a contest between the teams ranked 4th and 5th in the world (which is how they stand after this series).  Of course, it's always good to beat Australia at any sport, but don't they normally put up a better fight than this?clip_image002

Or is it because things could have turned out very differently.

  • Australia could easily have won the first test, and how might that have changed things?
  • England's margin of victory in the Oval test match was rather flattering, and it was really decided by Australia's batting collapse on Friday afternoon and their poor bowling in England's second innings. 
  • What might have happened if the England selectors hadn't taken the inspired (as it turned out) decision to replace Bopara with Trott.  And, yes there were some very dodgy umpiring decisions. 

Or is it just that I have missed out on the live TV coverage and all the media hype in England?

Gotta love the Google contextual advertising.  Ashes, you see. 


Up the prices

Up is a perfectly decent movie - very good in parts - and Pixar maintain their tradition of well-developed characters and interesting storylines, whereas others in the digital animation world settle for far less (yes, this means you, Dreamworks).

The bad news is that it is in 3D.  That means you have to pay more (higher ticket prices and  normal discounts do not apply), and you have to wear stupid plastic glasses.

So why the 3D?  Toy Story II was not a great movie because of the digital animation, it was great because it used that technique to tell a story with engaging characters.  No need for silly gimmicks, thank you very much.

Unfortunately, the film industry seem to think that 3D is the answer to their prayers - here's something you can't get on pirate copies (or on the DVD) of the movie.  If you want the 3D effect you need to go the cinema to get it.  And pay more for the privilege.

Except I don't want 3D.  If it were possible, I would have watched the normal (non-3D) version.  No need to pay higher prices, no need to wear silly glasses.  But I wasn't given that choice. 

Of course, I'd be quite happy to watch the film on DVD in boring old 2D, and I bet it will cost less than two cinemas tickets.  Which begs the question - is this really the answer to the film industry's problems?  I'm saying no. 


East meets West (Rail)

Today West Rail is extended, through the new Austin station and the existing East Tsim Sha Tsui station, to terminate at Hung Hom, where it finally links up with East Rail (the original KCR line from Kowloon to the border with mainland China). 

This means that East Rail trains have stopped running to East Tsim Sha Tsui station, and once again terminate at Hung Hom, as they did from 1974 to 2004 (though the destination shown on trains then was always the slightly ambiguous 'Kowloon').  

Prior to 1974, the terminus for the KCR (Kowloon Cantoon Railway) was near the Star Ferry in Tsim Sha Tsui, and the original clock tower can still be seen close to the Cultural Centre.  

I still don't understand why the station is called East Tsim Sha Tsui (rather than the official English name for the area - Tsim Sha Tsui East).  In Chinese the area and station have the same name (尖東 - the second character being 'East'), so this is clearly part of the ongoing campaign to confuse non-Chinese people. 

There's also the puzzling romanization (which prompts visitors to call the area/station something like "Chim Shar Chewy") and the the official English pronunciation, which is similar(ish) but not the same as the Cantonese.

Eventually, both East Rail and West Rail will be extended beyond Hung Hom (East Rail will go south to Admiralty, and West Rail will join up with Ma On Shan Rail).  Until then, passengers changing trains at Hung Hom will sometimes find the next train on the adjacent platform, and sometimes not.  Also, there are shorter trains and longer intervals on West Rail, so passengers who were previously persuaded to use East TST station may well switch back to the Tsuen Wan Line.

Today there are vast numbers of MTR staff around at East TST and Hung Hom stations holding sign boards and explaining to passengers about the changes.  Presumably these are the same people who have been holding boards at Tseung Kwan O line stations for the last few weeks, to inform passengers about the new service to the inelegantly named LOHAS Park station.

Which reminds me that recently the MTR has taken to announcing that trains will "stop service at xxxx", which sounds as if there is a problem.  What they actually mean is that this is the destination.        


Spurs nil

It's all about money, innit?

Tottenham didn't come to Hong Kong for any other reason.

The problem is that a friendly match against South China doesn't suddenly become important because it is for the "Panasonic Cup".  They probably won't be the slightest bit concerned that this fine piece of silverware is now in the hands of South China rather than on its way to North London.

Which is why Spurs started with the likes of Jonathan Obika, John Bostock, Danny Rose and Jake Livermore.  Not exactly the stars that people had paid their money to see.

Ironically, although Harry Redknapp did bring on Robbie Keane, Jermain Defoe and Aaron Lennon in the second half, it was South China who scored - first with a rather clever chip by Chan Siu Ki, and then with a highly dubious penalty. 

At least the second half was better than the dire first half, but it was clear for all to see that this was a game that Spurs simply wanted to get out of the way, and frankly they never looked like scoring.

Maybe they don't care, but Spurs will not have won over any neutrals with the way they approached this game.