Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Increased Parking Fines get Honks of Protest

There needs to be increased enforcement of parking penalties and higher fines
Talk about backtracking.

Hong Kong has a lot of traffic jams during rush hour, and it's mostly due to private cars and vans waiting for their masters and mistresses to whisk them off to their next appointment. These vehicles are usually idling and clogging up roads where traffic should be moving.

And so the government submitted a proposal to raise fixed penalties for illegal parking and related offenses from HK$320 and HK$450 to HK$480 and HK$680 respectively.

But in a bizarre turn of events, lawmakers of all political stripes as well as those from the transport sector were so opposed to this that the government has backed down and lowered the fines to HK$400 and HK$560 instead.

Opposition claims there aren't enough parking spots
Under the revised proposal, making U-turn causing an obstruction and an unauthorized stopping at a bus stop, public light bus stand or taxi stand will be slapped with a fixed penalty of HK$400, while offenses like loading or unloading goods or picking up passengers in a restricted zone will face a fixed penalty of HK$560.

The proposal will be voted on at the end of June and are expected to take effect June 1 next year.

The revision came after feedback from the transport subcommittee and individuals claimed that an increase of 50 percent for illegal parking was "hefty" and that a phased approach should be considered.

In addition, lawmakers from across the political spectrum said there was an acute shortage of parking spaces for commercial vehicles, arguing the city should tackle this problem before penalizing those in the transport sector.

But isn't that the point of raising penalties to prevent illegal parking and other infractions? It's not about making the fines affordable. And besides, in the case of private car owners, if they can buy a car, they can surely afford a several hundred dollar fine.

Vehicles, like this one, clog up streets waiting for owners
As the government also notes, even when there are vacant parking spaces, motorists still choose to park their vehicles illegally "for their own convenience, or to save parking fees".

The number of penalty tickets issued last year was 1.6 million, almost double 820,000 in 2011. The number of licensed vehicles in Hong Kong is 710,000 as of February.

Meanwhile Liberal Party lawmaker Frankie Yick Chi-ming, who represents the transport sector, says he opposes the proposed rises in illegal parking fines, saying the government should be stepping up enforcement at black spots by towing away illegally parked cars.

"The government is barking up the wrong tree. Increasing fines can't deter illegal parking when the shortage of parking spaces is not resolved. Only strict enforcement such as towing away illegally parked cars can be a deterrent."

We agree with the government -- it's about selfishness and thinking they can get away with parking illegally in the hopes they won't get caught.

There definitely needs to be more enforcement and higher fines, but halving the proposed rise in fines is such a cop-out. Why bend to such pressure?

Don't we want more efficient traffic in the city?

Monday, 22 May 2017

A Teacher's Life Lesson for All

Ada Tsang is the first Hong Kong woman to conquer Mount Everest
A Hong Kong school teacher is literally showing her students that they can achieve their dreams, no matter how big they are.

Ada Tsang Yin-hung, 40, has become the first Hong Kong woman to reach the summit at Mount Everest after three attempts.

She along with fellow Hongkonger Elton Ng, a physiotherapist and Zhang Jianguo, an amateur mountaineer from Jiangsu province made it up to the world's highest peak yesterday with the help of two sherpa guides.

The former teacher shows students they too can reach goals
Earlier on her blog Tsang wrote: "For students, every dream seems so far away and words of encouragement are not enough to conquer the frustration of failed attempts. Many would easily give up their dreams... a dream is not defined by the way you think of it, but by the actual efforts you put in.

"I could share my experiences with them only by recollecting events from my past... But what are my own future goals in life? How will I best teach these students how to pursue their goals?"

The secondary teacher quit her job to give her pupils a "life lesson" by scaling the top of the 8,848-metre tall mountain.

On her first attempt in 2014, Tsang was forced to abandon her trek after an avalanche killed 16 Nepali sherpa guides, which resulted in the suspension of all expeditions that season.

Then the following year, she was caught up in a deadly avalanche triggered by a 7.9-magnitude earthquake that killed 17 climbers and left Tsang with a fractured skull and multiple injuries.

The head injury Tsang sustained in 2015 after an earthquake
"She had lost two litres of blood from her injuries in that last attempt," says Catharine Leung, a former pupil. "A lot of people asked her if she wanted to give up, but the thought never once crossed her mind. She said: 'As long as my body can handle it, I will try to do it'."

Many of her former students were ecstatic over the news of Tsang reaching the summit, as her seven years of hard work had finally paid off.

"There were pupils who had dreams of becoming lawyers but they were failing in English," Leung says. "She was telling her students to chase after their dreams, but she didn't want to just talk the talk -- she wanted to walk the talk."

If that's not inspiring enough to prove to Hong Kong students that really, nothing is impossible, I don't know what is.

There is no excuse now for anyone not to at least try to reach their goals. Tsang is a huge inspiration to all of us -- dream big and with determination and hard work, you can do it.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Can Lam Tackle HK's Land Shortage?

David Akers-Jones says Carrie Lam must tackle land shortages firmly
Former chief secretary David Akers-Jones has some advice for incoming chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor -- get tough on tackling Hong Kong's problems, in particular land shortages, describing it as a "shame and disgrace".

Now 90, Akers-Jones was a supporter of Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee during the CE race, but says Lam is "a determined person who has a gentle side to her nature".

While he would not comment on if the civil service produced better leaders than businessmen turned politicians, like Leung Chun-ying who (who he supported), Akers-Jones admits Hong Kong's colonial past was partly to blame for a lack of "clear assumption of responsibility".

He said the colonial civil service took a "positive non-intervention" approach, and left the task of finding solutions to social problems with the private sector.

There are a number of brownfield sites in the New Territories
No wonder the government today has such a laissez-faire approach to what are now very serious social issues, particularly low-income housing, education, and skyrocketing rents.

However, he noted Leung had a more interventionist approach when it came to increased welfare spending.

"I feel Carrie Lam would have to deal with... social problems with a strong hand," he suggested.

Akers-Jones said land supply needed urgent solutions, as it was a "shame" that much of Hong Kong's 1,192 hectares of brownfield sites are now owned by major developers.

"Management of land is a disgrace of the government. When I went to Yuen Long in 1962, it was surrounded by paddy fields... now look at it," he said, referring to where there are a lot of brownfield sites.

"We must reach an amicable agreement between ourselves and the owners of the brownfields, [as] we reached an amicable agreement in the 1960s in the building of new town."

Is Lam CY 2.0 or not? We shall find out in the coming months
That was then, this is now. The issues are more complex, and also residents are more outspoken and concerned about their living environment and of course property values. The stakes are much higher, but the housing problem definitely needs to be tackled.

Other issues Akers-Jones is concerned about including poverty and the ageing population, which he describes as "extremely difficult problems" to be solved.

But he is optimistic Lam will find creative solutions if she and her administration look at problems honestly and listen to the people.

However, from seeing how she performed as chief secretary under Leung, Lam will have to radically change the way she does things to convince us she is really honest about wanting to make Hong Kong better.

Many of us have yet to be convinced she won't be another CY 2.0...

Saturday, 20 May 2017

A Very Chunky Monkey

Uncle Fat needs to lose weight, as he weighs three times the average monkey
Meet Uncle Fat.

He's a chunky monkey who was found on the side of the road in Thailand and is morbidly obese.

A video shows him walking on the road and practically dragging his stomach, and when he sits up, well, it's not a pretty sight.

His stomach is so large that it practically drags on the ground
Nicknamed "Uncle Fat" by locals, the monkey had been feasting on junk food and soft drinks that tourists gave him and others on the roadside. Most of the monkeys are macques who usually weigh 9kg, but Uncle Fat is triple that number, tipping the scales at around 26kg.

He was caught by wildlife officials when pictures of him circulated on social media.

"It was not easy to catch him," says Kacha Phukem, the wildlife official who orchestrated Fat Uncle's capture late last month. "He was the leader of the pack and when I tried to go in, I had to fight off a flock of them with sticks."

As the leader who was not only protected, Uncle Fat was also well fed.

"He had minions and other monkeys bringing food for him, but he would also redistribute it to younger monkeys," says Supakarn Kaewchot, a veterinarian in charge of the monkey's diet. "He's now in a critical condition where there is a high-risk of heart disease and diabetes."

Vet Supakarn prepares his meals of fruits and vegetables
Currently he's on a very strict diet that limits him to 400g of lean protein, fruits and vegetables twice a day. Supakam hopes that in a few months he'll be trim enough to be released back into the wild.

"I understand that people feel sorry for the monkeys and want to feed them when they see them," says Supakam. "But please don't feed them food that people like to eat like snacks and soda. It is very bad for their health and the problem is entirely man-made."

Poor Uncle Fat. But we hope he'll get better soon.