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August 2006


One thing I don't quite understand is why any sane adult would write in great detail (on a blog) about their personal life (unless they make it available to only a very limited audience of family and friends).  Ah yes, you say, but you can be anonymous.  Except that by publishing a blog you are drawing attention to yourself, and there are usually clues that will help your friends and acquaintances to identify you. 

For example, Conrad (from the Gweilo Diaries) couldn't resist dropping hints about his his life history and his work for a large legal firm (jetting around Asia, sorting out other people's mistakes -or at least that was the way he saw it).  He obviously hoped to remain anonymous, but in fact his real identity was common knowledge amongst Hong Kong bloggers (and it surely couldn't have been that difficult for his colleagues and friends to work out who he was).

I suppose the same must be true of Spike, who has been recounting his life in far more detail than can really be considered wise, though the big difference is that whereas Conrad came across as extremely arrogant, Spike appears to be a nice guy.  Nevertheless, he must have a few enemies (or at least a boss or girlfriend somewhere who might not be impressed). 

Now, finally, he has decided that enough is enough.  He explains his thinking here, but he has decided to carry with the blog in a different form.  Whether he will stick to his resolution and remain discrete about his personal life is another matter.  Here's hoping...

Confused? Me too...

As you may have noticed, the letters page of the SCMP is a source of almost endless amusement to me.  Today we have a typically puzzling letter:

Confused by Patten

I never met Chris Patten, so he has no reason to try to confuse me, as he attempts to do in David Evans' interview in Post Magazine (24 Hours, July 23).

Patten confides that he normally wakes up around 7am.

But then he comes up with a statement that makes me wonder what happened to that logical world I thought I was in a moment before: "So quite often," he says, "like this morning, even though I didn't get up until seven, I woke up around six." Really? Well, if you have any idea what he means by that, I'm all ears.

A friend told me, "Well, he woke up at 6, and stayed in bed until 7." I have no idea how my friend knows that.

Then, he said he "glances" at the Financial Times and the International Herald-Tribune. My friend tells me Patten meant he reads both quickly.

Patten also says he doesn't get too much time to relax, but later says he reads a lot and is taking "the whole of August off to stay at our house in France".

Oh, well. What do I know? The answer may lie in all those egg tarts.


I have read this letter several times, and I still have no idea what he's on about.  It's an attempt at humour, right?

The SIMs

There has been a lot of fuss in Europe about the cost of mobile phone roaming. Some poor unfortunates have taken their phones to Spain on holiday and come back to find that their mobile phone bills cost more than the holiday.  The catch being that whilst there are no charges for incoming calls when you are in the UK, they cost an arm and leg when you go overseas. 

Now the European Commission has threatened to cap the cost of roaming.  This has been met with predictable complaints from the phone companies about "interfering with the free market".  However they have also decided that perhaps they should reduce their charges. 

I suppose we have a similar situation with Hong Kong and China, but here the problem really has been solved by the market.  Rather than paying roaming charges, you can subscribe to a "Call Forward Roaming" service that will divert your calls to a China mobile number.  Of course they charge for this service, but much less than the mobile phone companies.

The only problem with this arrangement is that you either need to have two phones, or you have to do the "Lo Wu shuffle" and take out your Hong Kong SIM card and replace it with the China SIM card (and then do the reverse on the way home).  I can't imagine why Nokia or Motorola haven't come up with a phone that can use 2 SIM cards, but I suppose it will happen one day.  That or at least a phone which allows you to take out the SIM card without taking the phone apart...

As an aside, in my latest in a long line of weird conversations with Hong Kong companies, I called one company advertising "Call Forward Roaming" and asked them about the HK$8/month plan that I had found on their website.

"Sorry sir, that offer is not available any more." 

At this point I would expect them to tell me their latest offer, but I had to ask.  I was expecting bad news.  Not so - they now charge HK$20 per year.  So why didn't he tell me that straight away rather than apologizing?  Still at least I did manage to get the information - the first time I called they told me to try another (wrong) number, and the second time they promised to call me back but never did so.  It really is a struggle sometimes.   

In the summertime

One thing that makes all this worthwhile is when I write about something* and end up learning more about it in the process.  I hadn't realized that Hong Kong did used to have Summer Time, but Dave kindly pointed this out to me on the Observatory's website:

Summer Time in Hong Kong was first introduced in 1941.  Hong Kong Summer Time = Hong Kong Standard Time + 1 hour.

You will notice that during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Summer Time applied for the whole year, and then events in the Middle East and the resulting rise in oil prices prompted them to introduce it for the winter of 1972/73.  Apart from that it was in force from Spring until Autumn. 

Which is about as exact as it gets, because the start and end dates seem to have been somewhat random (starting any time from mid-March to mid-May, and ending from late October to early December).  Then they appear to have given up on it in 1977 and 1978 only to bring it back in 1979 for one final fling.

It's bad enough having to remember to put your clocks forwards and backwards each year, but the least you would expect is that there would be some logic and consistency to it.  Obviously I wasn't here when this mad experiment was taking place, but maybe one or two of my older readers (Fumier, perhaps) would have some amusing anecdotes about arriving at the Dim Sum restaurant way too early or being late for work on Monday morning.

* Preferably something trivial and unimportant.

Sun Gai Gweilo

Well, well. 

Unless this is an elaborate hoax, Simon Patkin has a brother living in the New Territories who (1) has a blog, and (2) is (in his own words) a "40's wannabe treehugger" with a keen interest in environmental issues.  Needless to say, he doesn't agree with his brother on the merits of Lights Out.

I like to learn things from blogs, and I now know that there is a farmers market in Tai Po most Sundays.

Via Dave

Hatred, sarcasm and moral relativity

Amusing to see that Simon Patkin seems to be rather upset with me and Mr Fumier.  Having previously accused me (wrongly) of ad hominem attacks on his character, can you guess what he does?  Yes, that's right:

Hong Kong's less reputable bloggers...anonymous their lives in the gutter...a stream of hatred, sarcasm and moral relativity.

Splendid stuff.  OK, so I have been known to employ sarcasm, but hatred?  I think not. 

After Simon posted a comment here I tried to send him an email, but his over-zealous email filter bounced it, and I have tried commenting on his blog - but that is apparently not allowed.  Odd that someone who is so keen to tell us what he thinks should be so reluctant to let anyone else join in the discussion.

It's a strange world.


Today is expected to be the hottest day ever in the UK (beating the record set 3 years ago).  Not only is it likely to be several degrees hotter than last week's hot weather here, but air conditioning is far less common.  I spent one summer working in an office in the centre of London that had no aircon and several smokers, and it was not a pleasant experience.  Makes me glad to be working in an office with aircon (and no smoking allowed) even if I can't see out of the windows.

Of course, the problem here in Hong Kong is that people use aircon too much, and set the temperature too low.  The government recommends 25.5 degrees, but there seems to be quite a lot of resistance to this. 

There was a piece about this in the SCMP on Sunday, highlighting several buildings where the temperature is significantly lower than that.  One justification offered was that if the temperature is set higher there is a problem with ventilation.  Ironically, this may be the result of manufacturers trying to cut down energy consumption (by switching off the fan when the desired temperature is reached), but the solution is simple enough - set the fan speed to high!!

Still on the subject of weather (well, hey, it makes a change from Simon Patkin), why is the Hong Kong Observatory still issuing warnings of thunderstorms after the storm has arrived and then leaving them in force long after the storm has moved away?

Sunday was a case in point.  There were a few isolated thunderstorms near the border at around 4 pm, so up went the Thunderstorm Warning.  For reasons known only to the Observatory, they announced that this warning would be in force until 6.30 pm.  Guess what?  There were no thunderstorms in Hong Kong from 4.15 (when the signal was raised) until 6.30 pm.  I believe that they did then lower the signal at 6 pm, but why wait so long to do this?

My problem with this is that when a thunderstorm Warning is in force, most (in fact, probably all) outdoor swimming pools are closed - even though there is no legal obligation to do this.  And apparently indoor swimming pools can be bad for you  according to yesterday's Times, which is somewhat unfortunate given that swimming is often recommended as a good form of exercise if you have asthma.  So it's official, then - Thunderstorm Warnings are bad for your health.            

Listing badly

He's not giving up just yet:

I am writing in response to Alastair Robins of Lights Out Hong Kong. Specifically his request (Talkback, July 15) to explain the principle that man must reshape his environment to survive.

Survival, in this context, does not mean living a hand-to-mouth subsistence level that so many environmentalists advocate. Rather it means thriving in an environment where modern technology has added 50 years to average human life expectancy, and in the case of Hong Kong, an environment that attracts over 20 million visitors a year.
The principle of man reshaping his environment to survive means clearing land to build homes, infrastructure and places to work; extracting minerals from the ground for use in bridges, appliances and operating theatres; and taking raw materials, and turning them into food, pharmaceutical products and furniture.

This is what has extended our lives significantly, and what every producer should actively defend. (More details can be found in the book Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, by Leonard Peikoff.)

This principle that man must reshape his environment to survive stands in direct contrast to the typical environmentalist's insistence of preservation and privation at all costs. I believe this includes Mr Robins' plan to plunge Hong Kong into darkness. As such, I call upon him to end the Lights Out campaign.

Simon Patkin, Causeway Bay

Good grief...

Saying "in this context" is like trying to justify using the word "literally" when you mean exactly the opposite.  Why use "survive" when there are other perfectly good words such as "thrive", or phrases such as "have a good life" that would be more appropriate?  Oh, I see...

Gotta love the examples.  Who could argue that we need to extract minerals to use in operating theatres.  Er, well, yes, if you say so.  Totally irrelevant to the argument of course, but never mind.  Oh, and of course these operating theatres full of minerals would be operated in the private sector rather than by the nasty old government.  What's not to like about that?

Still no word on whether Simon believes that it is necessary to fill in the harbour as part of man's relentless struggle to "reshape his environment to survive".  Maybe it would provide more badly-needed pharmaceutical products, bridges, appliances and furniture.  I hope I have understood the argument correctly.

The lights are on, but...

Simon Patkin is not giving up his one-man campaign against Lights Out (from the SCMP):

It is very disappointing that Wellcome, ParknShop, Mannings and Ikea have agreed to support the Lights Out campaign. (Retail chains turn on to lights-off campaign, July 10). I believe this to be representative of a so-called "pragmatic approach" to green groups in general.

Instead of appeasing green groups and fulfilling their desire to plunge Hong Kong into darkness for three minutes, businesses should take a principled approach. They should defend the idea that man must reshape his environment to survive.

They should also identify this Lights Out campaign as part of what can be seen as a larger, systematic attack on modern society by environmentalists.  For example, green groups have previously targeted plastic bag manufacturers, shark fin restaurants, property developers and electricity suppliers.

It's time for businesses to realise that any support for green groups is corporate suicide. They should not only actively band together to oppose Lights Out, but should also stop funding green groups entirely; especially those green groups that threaten their business. Where possible, these businesses should also refuse to deal with any organisation that helps the Lights Out campaigners.

Hong Kong needs progress, not regression to thrive and prosper. Lights Out is one giant leap backwards.

Simon Patkin, Causeway Bay

I can see that pragmatism would not appeal to Simon, but large corporations do not commit suicide by listening to their customers and adapting the way they do business.  Quite the contrary, in fact.

On Saturday, Alastair Robins from Lights Out challenged Simon on one of his favourite phrases

I must ask him to clarify what exactly he means when he states that supporters of the Lights Out Hong Kong 888 campaign should instead, "defend the idea that man must reshape his environment in order to survive".

Does he perhaps mean reshaping the land by dynamite fishing or slope clearance? Or perhaps he is a firm supporter of filling in the harbour so that no one may drown?

I rather fear that he does, Alastair.