Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Hong Kong's Growing Poor Population

Over 1 million people in Hong Kong live on or below the poverty line
Following yesterday's news that someone paid a mind-boggling HK$1.16 billion for two flats on The Peak, today's story is another whopping figure -- the number of poor in Hong Kong could be over 1 million next year, even after taking into account cash handouts from the government.

The Hong Kong Poverty Situation Report for 2016 was released a few days ago and showed that 1.35 million of the city's 7.35 million residents were living below the official poverty line. When taking into account cash handouts, the number drops to 996,000.

Law claims the government is doing its best for the poor
To determine who is poor, the authorities only look at income and not assets. The poverty line is decided at half the median monthly household income according to household size.

Last year the poverty line was set at HK$4,000 per month for a single person, HK$9,000 for a two-person household, and HK$15,000 for three people.

"If income rises quickly and the [increase in] inflation is slower than that of income, then the poverty gap becomes bigger," said Secretary for Labour and Welfare Dr Law Chi-kwong on two radio programs.

Also last year the Low-income Working Family Allowance Scheme was launched -- cash handouts for people living below or near the poverty line. They could get from HK$300 to HK$1,000 a month for adults, and HK$400 or HK$800 for children.

However, only 30,000 people benefited from the scheme.

Many of the poor are elderly with not enough savings
Last year the poverty figures were the highest since the city began measuring in 2009, with 7,000 more impoverished people than in 2015.

Law disagreed with criticism that the government made matters worse for the poor because there were more living near or below the poverty line despite the handouts.

"It's not that the government has not done more [to help], but that what it has done is not enough to close the gap," he said.

For someone who used to be with the Democratic Party and then quit in order to serve Carrie Lam's administration, this response is troubling. The government does not seem to realize that it's crucial to lift people out of poverty otherwise their numbers keep growing as we are seeing now.

The way to do that is to raise the minimum wage as Labour Party lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung has suggested, as well as a non-means tested universal retirement scheme to help the elderly, as many of them are financially challenged due to inflation.

Some supplement their savings with collecting cardboard
Hong Kong is a very wealthy city, though the gap between the rich and the poor is widening so much that it's staggering how great the chasm is. And yet the government doesn't do enough to help the poor. Small amounts of handouts here and there are barely enough to feed people let alone help pay their rent.

There are a few who may own flats that are worth a lot, but if they sell, where are they going to move to? Or their place is so run down they can't afford to have it fixed up, so they are stuck in a dilemma too.

Decades ago, as long as one worked hard, they would be eventually pay their dues and be able to establish themselves. Nowadays working hard isn't enough to get ahead because of inflation and salaries remain stagnant.

Is the Hong Kong government really that blind to the situation? Piecemeal handouts are barely a band-aid solution to the issue. There needs to be a systematic way of accounting for every poor person in Hong Kong, figuring out their needs and finding an effective way to tackle them, be it low-income housing, social welfare, finding jobs or retraining.

The sooner this is done, the better, otherwise there are going to be many more people on or below the poverty line next year.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Invest in Car Park Spaces

The uber wealthy can afford outrageously expensive prices for real estate
It was just reported today that someone bought two flats on The Peak for HK$1.16 billion (US$149 million). That calculates to HK$131,000 per square foot for Mount Nicholson, a luxury development project.

Prices for private housing rose again in September for the 18th consecutive month, making home ownership even further away for home buyers looking to get into the market.

Which is why some people maybe turning to buying up car park spaces in order to get into the real estate market. The value of these rectangular spaces in the garage are rising faster in value than flats in Hong Kong.

The rest of us might be speculating on car park spaces
A study conducted by brokerage houses in three private housing estates -- Provident Garden in North Point, Mei Foo Sun Chuen in Lai Chi Kok and Island Harbourview in Tak Kok Tsui -- found the parking spots in these places jumped on average of a whopping 167 percent compared to 52 percent for residential units in the last six years.

In the same period, second-hand homes rose an average 84 percent across the city, according to data from the Rating and Valuation Department.

"It is even normal to find parking spaces transacted at above HK$2 million, and HK$1 million is becoming the entry point for parking spaces in Hong Kong," said Alun Jin, a property analyst at Mizuho Securities.

Even Sha Tin parking spots are sizzling hot -- one was sold last week at HK$2.5 million, and another at Tseung Kwan O Plaza for HK$2.08 million.

Jin attributes the high prices to real estate developments constructing fewer parking spaces. Between 2006 to 2016, the number of registered private cars rose 48 percent to 189,281. But the number of car park spaces only increased by 9 percent or 54,520 units according to Mizuho Securities.

But is it worth plonking down HK$2 million for a car park space -- up to HK$4 million in Kennedy Town -- and then renting it out only for a few thousand a month? How long would it take to finally make your money back?

However, hold onto it long enough and you could possible double or triple your money back in a shorter time span than if you bought a flat in the same period....

Sounds like another real estate bubble forming already...

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Review: Loving Vincent

The film incorporates some of Vincent van Gogh's most famous works
Just saw a fantastic movie tonight -- Loving Vincent, that is almost near the end of its two-week run in theatres in Hong Kong.

It's a gorgeous film to watch -- though my dad says he found it difficult to watch because the entire film is painted on canvas -- animated second by second in 65,000 frames. It's understandable that it can be hard on the eyes, as dabs of paint are constantly moving as a person or image makes a movement, as it is painted in the style of Vincent van Gogh.

His self portrait compares with actor Robert Gulaczyk
One hundred and twenty-five artists were recruited to paint this first-ever film animated by paintings. Live actors did the scenes, and painters recreated them in van Gogh's painting style, incorporating 94 of his famous works in the film.

Not only that but the story line is fascinating too. There are different theories as to how van Gogh died -- did he kill himself or was he shot by someone else? This is what is explored in the film through the son of the postmaster who goes on a journey to discover the truth.

Van Gogh and his brother Theo exchanged letters frequently, which is why the postmaster, Roulin, is very familiar with the Dutch artist. The film starts a year after van Gogh's death where the postmaster has one last letter from van Gogh to his brother and instructs his son Armand to deliver it.

Postmaster Roulin (right) with his son Armand
However, Theo died soon after his brother passed away, and the postmaster's son doesn't know who to deliver the letter to. Each person he meets, such as Pere Tanguy who sold van Gogh painting supplies, Dr Gachet, his daughter Marguerite, and even a boatman, tell him a different story about van Gogh, his personality, his artistic talent, his being bullied by others, his financial troubles.

They also gives a different account of how or why van Gogh died, leaving Armand -- and us the viewers -- with a more rounded picture of the artist, whose parents felt he didn't live up to their expectations of their son, and so he was determined to make something of himself on his own terms.

At the age of 28 he picked up painting with no prior experience and within eight years he painted some 800 paintings -- more prolific that many artists in the same time span. However he only sold one painting in his lifetime, a tragedy that his brilliance and contribution to the impressionists was only discovered after his death.

Actor Chris O'Dowd, the original work, and the film's painting
Personally I found the film mesmerizing -- it was just amazing to see each frame had been painted in oil in the style of van Gogh. It definitely could not have been computer generated -- van Gogh would probably be horrified!

My friend YTSL remarked that the characters in the film were painted to look like the actual actors, who were chosen because they looked similar to the people in the original paintings.

Meanwhile, the backstory scenes of van Gogh's life are painted more realistically in black and white to differentiate between the past and present.

125 artists were recruited to paint each of the scenes
Loving Vincent is a labour of love and it shows. Co-director Dorota Kobiela also wrote the script; she was inspired after reading van Gogh's letters to Theo and studied his paintings, and wanted to incorporate them together.

It's a gorgeously rich film that deserves recognition for all the work put into it, in particular the passion and literally every brush stroke.

Loving Vincent
Directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman
95 minutes

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Sesame Zen and Tinariwen Vibes

Tinariwen got the crowd excited on the second night of Clockenflap
The thing about living in Hong Kong is that you can be doing one thing, and then something completely different the next.

This morning I interviewed a Japanese Buddhist chef who is introducing people around the world to shojin-ryori cuisine, or temple food. Toshio Tanahashi is one of the few people in Japan who cooks this kind of cuisine, where only vegetables are used. Not only that, but he also makes everything by hand; while he uses knives and the stove, he does not use machines to pulverize or grind the food, nor does he use ingredients like onion, garlic, shallots and leeks.

Toasted sesame seeds in a grooved ceramic bowl with a pestle
He starts off each morning with a meditation by grinding sesame seeds and he let us try it.

We each got a large V-shaped ceramic bowl that had many fine grooves in it, along with the toasted sesame seeds and a wooden pestle with a point at the end.

Then he instructed us to either sit on our knees or cross legged and place the bowl right in front of us. Tanahashi instructed us to put one hand on top of the wooden pestle and the other hand holding it and making circles by turning the wrist, not using the shoulder.

We sat there quietly and you could hear the swish of the seeds going around the bowl and soon after we started smelling the gorgeous rich aroma of the roasted sesame seeds already filling the air. I decided to try to be as efficient as possible and not grind them too hard and keep the same tempo.

Tanahashi demonstrates how he meditates
At one point I closed my eyes and just listened to the sound of people grinding the seeds in their bowls and found it calming and nice to do something repetitive without having to think too much.

After several minutes he said we could stop and we were each given a spoon and try the grounded sesame paste. Mine tasted nutty. Then he told us to try other people's ground sesame seeds. Each of them tasted different! Some ground them so hard that they were about to become like a paste, while others like me were still at the roughly ground stage.

He explained that machine made sesame paste tastes exactly the same, while the ones done by hand each taste different.

This calm, chilled experience was contrasted with watching Mali group Tinariwen on the main stage at Clockenflap at 6pm.

I checked back on my blog and found out I had seen them five years earlier -- I had thought it was two -- and they were amazing. One of my friends dragged us out to watch them perform at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre and I'm so glad she did.

The ultra chilled Tinariwen from Mali heating up the stage
So when I saw that they were performing at Clockenflap this year I was really excited, and the crowd tonight was too. The musicians, who are Tuareg rebels, were very laid back in their performance, but still full of energy.

There was one older man dancing on stage practically all night until one of the songs he grabbed a bright red electric guitar and started strumming away.

So cool.

And only in Hong Kong.