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March 2005
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May 2005

The only way is up

I have previously mentioned the way that SHKP, Swire and other developers have started to be much more, er, proactive in dealing with their retail tenants.  Rents are going up and  in some cases retailers are being forced to move (the most famous example being Swire’s decision not to offer M&S a new lease for their Pacific Place store).

Now comes the news that HMV is closing its only NT store, the one in New Town Plaza (the huge and rather unwelcoming mall in lovely Shatin).  This is because the landlords (SHKP) decided that the space should be occupied by more clothing outlets (and you really never can have enough of them) and proposed that HMV move to a higher floor.  They seem not to have been keen on this idea.

As HMV move out, CitySuper are moving in (to another location in the same mall).  I have previously written about the phenomenon of expat supermarkets in Hong Kong, most recently when the ParknShop in Kowloon Tong turned into ‘Taste’ – but I had thought that we poor folk in the New Territories would have to settle for that.   

Seems not...  CitySuper’s owners obviously believe that there is a market for their highly priced delicacies in the New Territories.  I believe their primary target are the Japanese, but I’m sure gweilos and locals are also welcome, and I suppose that the Sha Tin/Tai Po area has enough upmarket residential developments to justify that decision.   

Hot and Cold

A glass of hot water?

When I came to Hong Kong one of the things I found a little odd was that people drank hot water.  I had been used to drinking cold water, or hot tea or coffee, but not hot water.  When I first tried it I wasn't convinced that it was a good idea at all.

In fact, doctors usually recommend that you avoid cold drinks when you are suffering from URTI (the common cold), and the body presumably responds better to something that is warm.  Given that we know that tea and coffee are not really good for the body and we are supposed to drink five litres of water per day, having warm water makes perfect sense.  Yet, you will almost always be offered iced water rather than warm or hot, and a request for warm water is often treated as if it were rather eccentric (which, to be fair, is what I thought before I was indocrinated in Hong Kong ways). 

Now, about those little metal lids on cups.. 

Meet the lardasses

TVB has recently finished showing the first series of Channel Four's "You are What you eat". The concept behind the show is that "leading nutritionist" Gillian McKeith advises an individual or family on adopting a healthier diet and lifestyle. It's all good knockabout stuff - fat people meet a stern Barbara Woodhouse type who bullies them into giving up their chip butties and eating spinach and mung beans instead, and they lose weight.

The shows I have seen all seem to follow the same pattern. "Dr" McKeith (she's not a real doctor and her PhD was acquired through a correspondence course) visits her victims, rifles through their kitchen cupboards and berates them for eating deep-fried Mars bars, burgers and chips, and washing it down with litres of fizzy drinks. They are horrified to discover what they are eating (having presumably not noticed what was in their shopping baskets) and are then presented with a table laden with the healthy food that they are to eat for the next eight weeks. Some looks OK, some doesn't. After a few weeks they have a confrontation with "Dr" McKeith because they don't like the food (or in one case because "avocados are too dear"). She puts them right, and they carry on with the diet.

After eight weeks they have lost two stone (it's always two stone). They're healthier and happier and have loads more energy.

In truth, how could they go wrong? Replacing junk food and fizzy drinks with fresh fruit and vegetables is bound to bring about an improvement, especially for someone who is seriously overweight. Adopting a healthier diet for a couple of months (especially with the incentive of being on the telly) is not that much of a challenge.

Continue reading "Meet the lardasses" »

All just a big misunderstanding

Mark Thatcher was once described as "a sort of Harrovian Arthur Daley with a famous mum", and until recently he was famous mainly for getting lost for six days in in the Sahara desert.  He is one of those mysterious people who appears not to be very bright, and has many failed business ventures to demonstrate this (he is supposed to have dabbled in the Hong Kong business world many years ago), but in spite of this he has managed to become very rich (I suppose that marrying a Texan heiress helped).

He was recently given a four-year suspended sentence for his part in helping to bankroll an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea. He pleaded guilty to the charges, paid a large fine and was allowed to leave South Africa. He is now living with his Mum in the UK, but had hoped to join his wife and family in the US.

Unfortunately he has been refused a visa for the United States, even though he promised them that he was only interested in overthrowing the governments of small African countries.  He seems to regard the criminal record as a mere technicality:

"It was always a calculated risk when I plea bargained in South Africa. As a result of this decision, I shall make the family home in Europe, not the UK, and my family will be joining me as soon as arrangements are made."

Right. He paid a £265,000 fine and was sentenced to four years in prison (albeit suspended), and the US government takes the view that he is a criminal. I wonder what ever gave them that idea?

Cha Xiu Bao

I notice that Cha Xiu Bao was mentioned on the food pages of this week's Sunday Morning Post magazine.  Yes, that's the new-improved-but-somehow-exactly-the-same-as-before Sunday magazine. 

I'd have to agree with Susan Jung that it's a good blog, and it's worth a look if you are interested in food (in Hong Kong and elsewhere).

Nothing exceptional

There was a letter in yesterday's paper entitled "Insensitive Immigration", from a lady whose husband had died suddenly.  As he was the employer of their domestic helper she contacted the Immigration Department to ask them what she should do:

I was told that the helper was to report to immigration...She returned with a notice to say that her contract had been terminated on March 21, the day my husband died, and that she has to return to the Philippines on Monday April 4.  The notice also stated "I am not satisfied that there are exceptional circumstances which should justify to extend your stay in Hong Kong."

All that the letter writer wanted was for the helper to continue working for her for a few weeks before she left Hong Kong (permanently, I suppose).  Not an unreasonable request, you might think, but the bureaucrats seem to have interpreted the contract literally and insisted it had been terminated on the death of the employer, and that the helper must therefore leave within two weeks.

Putting comon sense to one side for a moment, the illogical thing about this is that if you want to employ an Overseas Domestic Helper, the mountain of paperwork refers mainly to the household rather than the individual.  Does the household need a helper, is the household income sufficient, do you have a broom cupboard where you can keep the DH when not in use, that type of thing.  They require one member of the household to be the employer, but in reality the helper is employed to work for the family.  Hence it should be a trivial administrative matter to transfer the employment contract from one member of the family to another.

Yet it isn't, as I discovered when I became the employer of our helper (rather than my wife, who had signed the original contract).  There was no particular reason for making this change apart from my wife's aversion to filling in forms (our helper was keen that we do it ourselves, rather than using the agency). 

If you renew a DH contract it's relatively simple and can be done at several Immigration offices, but if you change the employer (even from wife to husband) you have to fill in all manner of stupid forms and apply to Immigration Tower in Wan Chai.  This makes no sense, but that's bureaucracy for you!

Having to deal with this type of nonsense is frustrating at the best of times, but after the death of your spouse it must be many times worse.  The irony is that if this lady had simply ignored the problem for a few weeks it seems unlikely that the Immigration Department would have taken any action.  So by doing the right thing and contacting them she has been exposed to the full idiocy of their procedures.   

We apologize for any inconvenience caused

"others who don't blog often like Fumier, Ordinary Gweilo.." [a comment from HKMacs on Simon World]

Well, maybe.

I seem to have contracted the dreaded lurgy that the aforesaid Fumier and Dr Shaky have also been suffering from.  The first day I felt a bit under the weather, but the second, third and fourth days I felt fairly terrible (symptoms here) and on the fifth day I was back to feeling a bit rough.  Since then I seem to have been recovering quite slowly, but now, finally, I feel almost human again. 

Anyway, aren't March and April supposed to be quite pleasant in Hong Kong?  I'm fed up with this wet and windy stuff...

I'd like to say that normal service will be resumed shortly, but the truth is that I am still rather busy at work and for all my good intentions I am not sure that there will be much improvement till later this month.  Feel free to add messages of encouragement, but I doubt that they'll make any difference.