Monday, 19 February 2018

Cries for Sympathy Leave Bad Taste

This year there weren't fireworks to mark the start of the Year of the Dog
The Year of the Dog wasn't as boisterous this time with the cancellation of the fireworks on the second day of the new year.

It was the seventh day after 19 people died and 66 injured in a horrific bus crash in Tai Po and in Chinese tradition it is believed on that day the souls of the dead visit their loved ones for one last time.

Many restaurants like this one capitalize on the fireworks
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor made the right decision out of respect for the victims and their families, but that decision wasn't easy to make -- as expected local businesses were financially hit by the fireworks cancellation.

"On the surface, it seems like it would not be a big deal to cancel [the fireworks], but there is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes that travel agencies have to take care of... there are bound to be losses," tourism sector legislator Yiu Si-wing said on a radio show on Saturday.

Yiu added restaurants with a view of Victoria Harbour, where the fireworks are usually held, would be affected the most. "According to my understanding, one-third of the customers had backed out of their reservations," he said.

During the same radio program, Travel Industry Council chairman Jason Wong Chun-tat suggested the government should give priority to the affected industries if the government was going to organise any activities in the future.

Jason Wong hopes travel and restaurants get help in the future
Yes fireworks are a big deal in the city -- hundreds of thousands of people turn up on both sides of Victoria Harbour to get a good spot to watch them. Some make reservations at restaurants with a view, prepared to pay a bomb for their vantage point.

However with the cancellation of the pyrotechnic show, restaurants probably lost out the most, having ordered a lot of fresh (and expensive) ingredients beforehand and with many customers cancelling -- perhaps a bit to easily -- they took a big hit.

But these businesses were capitalizing on an event they didn't have to pay for in the first place. They would still have business (probably not at prices as jacked up) anyway because of the view.

Yiu says there are losses in the restaurant industry
More importantly, can we have some respect for the dead? For these legislators to hint there should be sympathy for the tourism and restaurant sectors is too much. Lives were lost -- can you put a price on that?

This also demonstrates how tough things are in the restaurant and tourism sectors to make a buck -- with rents sky high, customers are really paying the rent than enjoying good food and service at a decent price.

Many establishments are just trying to keep their heads above water these days as 2018 is going to be another challenging financial year.

The legislators were also probably hoping they could get the sympathy of Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po ahead of the upcoming budget speech at the end of the month. But he seems pretty tight lipped -- about everything.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Review: The Post

Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee and Meryl Streep as Kay Graham in The Post
Many years ago I read Washington Post publisher Kay Graham's autobiography, Personal History. I didn't know much about her, but as one of the few women in power in the journalism business, it seemed like a must read.

She was hardly an aggressive powerhouse, instead pleased that her father, Eugene Meyer, had chosen her husband, Philip Graham to take over the Washington Post. However her world fell apart when Philip Graham committed suicide in 1963.

She details her career as The Post publisher
Kay Graham took over and did the smart thing -- hiring people smarter than her. She worked with Ben Bradlee and their major break was publishing the Pentagon Papers that was the inspiration for The Post, starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks.

At first The New York Times was ahead of the game, revealing the American government knew the war in Vietnam was a massive loss of lives, but that it would rather do that than admit going to war there was a mistake.

Then US President Richard Nixon got an injunction to stop The Times from publishing further, which gave The Post the chance to do further coverage.

During the film we see Graham as the only woman in the room full of bankers to discuss a public offering, and at first deferring to Frederick Beebe, the company's lawyer who later became chairman of the board. A character called Arthur Parsons who is a member of the board is fictional, but represents the opinion of many that a woman should not be running a paper.

Graham begins to realize, while the women's movement is happening, that she is the boss, and it is Bradlee's wife Tony, who points out how courageous Graham is to decide to publish the Pentagon Papers.

Publishing the Pentagon Papers was her hardest decision
There is a subtle scene of vindication when she walks out of the Supreme Court and there are women lining the steps as she walks down, admiring her. It's also nice to see one of the top Post journalists was Meg Greenfield, who wrote editorials, but was part of the Pentagon Papers team.

There were also witty remarks here and there, but just barely enough humour to get through the film.

Nevertheless, we also liked the scenes of watching the reporters using rotary phones, using pencils and furiously typing on old school typewriters -- how did the news ever get out like that? They typed the stories out that were then sent to the sub editor who edited them with a pencil.

The story was then sent to be typeset with blocks of words put together into paragraphs. What painstaking work! Once that was put together the presses would run. The film also showed dozens of people putting the paper together, bundling it and distributing it.

Nowadays it's all done on the computer, cutting out many laborious steps as well as staff needed, though newspapers still need reporters to provide stories for the paper. Printing has become more automated and accurate with computers so that there is better printing quality.

Old school newsrooms -- an army of reporters and typewriters
But imagine being in the newsroom at the time when this story was breaking -- that feeling is still important today -- that reporters are to serve the governed, not the governors.

Bradlee's feisty character is how movies like to portray chief editors and for the most part we'd like to think they are -- they set the tone and energy of the paper and employees. The way the reporters were dressed at the time is also pretty accurate -- they were hardly fashion plates and still aren't (except for those covering fashion).

So The Post has a pretty good feel of how people looked and acted at the time, a contrast between high society and scrappy reporters who are determined to tell the truth.

And yes -- Graham really was interrupted during a party when she was asked to make the call whether to publish or not.

The film didn't tug at the heart strings as much as Spotlight, but The Post reiterates the importance of a free press, and that women should not be underestimated.

The Post
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks
116 minutes

Saturday, 17 February 2018

New Year, New Flavours

Grand Stanford Harbour View's sugarcane and sweet potato CNY pudding
It's only the second day of the Lunar New Year and I feel like I've eaten way too much already!

But the highlight is probably the 年糕 neen goh, or nian gao that's only made during this time of year. It signifies promotions or prosperity in the coming year, so it's a must-eat during the holidays.

The latest Peninsula flavour is pineapple
It's basically made of glutinous rice flour mixed with brown sugar, though these days Hong Kong hotels and restaurants have become creative in coming up with a variety of new flavours.

I tried the traditional one yesterday at the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong, where slices were lightly pan-fried in an egg wash that was perfect when it was warm, chewy and not sickly sweet.

The Peninsula Boutique has come up with a new flavour this year -- pineapple. It has a yellow colour of course, but even after it's panfried, it's quite bland. Someone suggested having little bits of pineapple in it for texture and added flavour. We agree.

However, at The Royal Garden, one of the latest ones they have come up with is red date with low sugar. There is the distinct red date taste -- and there's even some whole Xinjiang-sourced dates within the pudding. We quite liked this one.

Four Seasons Hong Kong has an intriguing creation this year -- aloe vera with lotus root and jasmine. Aloe doesn't have much taste which is why jasmine tea flavour is added, and for texture, bits of lotus root are mixed in. It's refreshing and somewhat healthful.

The Four Seasons has aloe vera, lotus root and jasmine flavour
One year I tried a dual-toned pudding that featured sugarcane flavour and purple sweet potato from Grand Stanford Harbour View. It's also not too sweet and a bit healthier with the root vegetable mixed in.

But there's only so many slices of New Year pudding you can eat!

Friday, 16 February 2018

Picture of the Day: First Day of the Year of the Dog

The clouds disappeared to reveal blue skies while riding the Star Ferry today
Today was the first blue sky Hongkongers have seen in... yonks.

It's been cold, miserable and overcast for weeks and then suddenly for the first day of the Lunar New Year there were blue skies and the hottest temperatures we've seen for the holiday in 11 years at 24 degrees Celsius.

Some districts like Happy Valley, Kowloon City and Sha Tin recorded up to 27 degrees.

The Hong Kong Observatory says a maritime airstream affected the coastal areas of Guangdong province, though cloudy skies are expected in the next few days again. Groan.

We'll take what we can get!