Giant Mosquito in Hong Kong

As I've said on this blog before, I'm no entomologist, but...

...this is undoubtedly a HUGE mosquito. I found it buzzing around my lounge.

The good news, especially if you have kids around, is that they don't bite!

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

Hong Kong Protest Against 60 Years Of Communism In China

Instead of just posting stills from yesterday's National Day protest in the usual way, I thought I'd have a play with some slideshow software.

Ideally, I had hoped to have this up yesterday, but there was quite a bit of faffing around to do with audio files and html code embedding.

That's why this first slideshow attempt is a bit rough and ready, but do I aim to perfect this in the coming months, so watch this space.

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

Grasshopper Gives Birth In Hong Kong

Here is a photograph of grasshopper that I met this morning.

I think she was a female.

I'm no entomologist, but to my untrained eye it looks like she was giving birth.

This photograph was taken with a very short depth of field.

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

Doggy Acupuncture In Hong Kong

I thought I'd seen it all.

Meet Oscar the poodle. Not content with Doggy Dial-A-Dinners, the latest wacko trend on the lunatic fringe of Hong Kong's pet-pampering community is, ...wait for it... pet acupuncture!

And apparently it works. According to Samuel Wong, a veterinary surgeon at the Cosmo Pet Service Centre, Oscar slipped a disc a few years ago and then couldn't walk. His owner had to wheel him about in a kind of pet pushchair. But after a year of weekly acupuncture sessions at the 'Animal Hospital Boarding House' in North Point, this lucky canine can now walk. Albeit with a bit of limp.

After seeing a total of twelve needles go in, I thought that was it, time to pack up and go down the pub. But no. Electrodes were then attached to the needles. And a current was switched on. Then the fluffy white poodle began to twitch. According to vet Wong, this effectively unblocks the qi from the doggy's meridians, allowing increased blood circulation. Those of you who are familiar with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) will understand this technique, which is adapted from TCM for humans. I won't get into all that now, as there is plenty of information on TCM out there written by far more qualified, and less skeptical, people than me.

The sight of that poor quivering mutt, looking more like a pin cushion than a dog, will be permanently etched in my mind as one of the more warped sights I have ever witnessed in this town. And that's saying something. I should have shot this on video. Next time I will, so watch this space.

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

Invisible Graffiti - A Valiant Attempt by Greenpeace To Raise Awareness Of 'World Carfree Day' Tomorrow

Nice try.

Except no one was really looking at it. It's World Carfree Day tomorrow, and, like the bike ride eight days ago, Greenpeace were out in force to promote it. Except they weren't, as they delivered their message late last night or very early this morning when everyone was asleep.

Not wanting to belittle Greenpeace Hong Kong's efforts or their message in any way, I witnessed no one looking at their 'reverse graffiti' messages today. The 'clean green street art' pavement messages done by their spray-cleaning activists last night were being thoroughly ignored by the passing desk meat this morning. Not that it really matters too much, I guess, as most people walking around Causeway Bay probably got there by MTR or bus anyway. And people in Hong Kong walk very fast and are usually very preoccupied with livlihood issues like paying the mortgage, getting the kids through school, skin whitening and horse-racing. Just take a look, next time, at the frowns on the faces that pass you by in the crowd here. Then you will understand why no-one was paying the slightest bit of attention to the anti-car and climate change awareness messages delivered by Greenpeace in various shades of grey in Causeway Bay today.

And while we're on the subject of vehicular emmissions, check out this air pollution shot I took in Central this morning. Four people in one frame with their hands to their mouths, no less. That's a record for me. Whether that means the pollution is getting worse and more people are covering their faces, or I'm just getting better at shooting this subject matter, as the issue drags out over the years, I don't know. Maybe a bit of both.

***STOP PRESS***

It seems the government were emabrassed by GP's action. Here's a picture from the morning set that I didn't post on the 21st, the reason for that being that I don't think it's a particularly great shot:-

And here's a link to Apple Daily's report on what the government did in it's response. And for those of you too lazy to click on a link, here's a screen grab from that report.

Disproportionately, the Government covered that small section of Lower Albert Road in concrete. Duh! It would have been cheaper and more discreet to 'clean' the non-dirty graffiti with a high pressured water gun, and pretend nothing had happened, just like the the way their civil service brethren at the Inland Revenue did earlier that day. What kind of intolerant message are the government sending out about their policies on the environment with their petty-minded reactionary response? Lip service to fixing the climate problem, that's what.

(Thanks, Todd)

Citibank Citicrook?

Despite the Hong Kong Government having arrived at a settlement with the majority of Lehman Brothers 'minibond' holders a few weeks ago for them to regain up to 60-70% of their failed investments, some 'minibonders' are still holding out for a full 100% refund. They should feel lucky to get away with only a 30-40% hit. Time to take it on the nose and move on guys, don't you think? Just get over it...

The more I see this well-heeled lot protesting on the street in Central day after day, the more their tiresome protest smacks to me of plain old-fashioned greed.

And here, for no particular reason, is a photo of the Happy Valley skyline I took last week from the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

What Recession? Rolls-Royce Unveils A New Luxury Car In Hong Kong

Roll-Royce unveiled to the Asia Pacific region their latest creation in Hong Kong today.

This was hot on the heels of a worldwide launch which took place in Germany on Tuesday. Meet the 'Ghost'.

A four door luxury saloon which does nought to sixty in 4.7 seconds.

The price tag? "...less than HKD5million."

The 'Ghost' is aimed at the next generation of young up-and-coming tycoons in Asia who want a more contemporary look and feel compared to their Dad's old school 'roller'.

What financial meltdown? I don't think it ever really ever kicked in for the super rich...

Hong Kong Shek O Beach... After Typhoon Koppu, (It's A Bull Market)

Sam, a long time Shek O resident, assured me today that the amount of plastics dumped overnight on Shek O beach by Typhoon Koppu is, "nothing compared to previous years."

Well, it looks pretty bad to me.

I found this plastic bull all washed up. I'm amazed he was still standing. A bit like the financial markets.

And this Ultraman superhero figure too. Missing one leg.

So I made a little installation. This photograph isn't photojournalism, by the way!

Because beach toys are so cheap, most people in Hong Kong choose to leave them on the beach at the end of a day, instead of taking them home. Then the plastic toys and other crap end up getting washed out to sea. But Typhoon Koppu dumped a lot of them as trash back on land last night, where it belongs. Where we humans can collect it and dispose of it properly.

This baby turtle looks like its trying to reach the ocean like a baby leatherback. Oh, the irony!

Luckily, my tax dollars were hard at work today. The beach got cleaned up by government contractors. Not that this makes it OK. It doesn't. But to many in Hong Kong, it does. So they do it again, and again. Every weekend.

Filthy homo sapiens keeps chucking the bright placky stuff right back into the sea, because he just doesn't care.

Hong Kong Climate Change Cycle Ride / Journalist Protest / ICC Lift Plunge Horror

Much as I support the message of today's cycle ride to publicize the upcoming World Carfree Day and to raise awareness among Hong Kong people about climate change, was it really necessary to have a PA system and a huge red inflatable arch over the start line... powered by a gasoline generator?

Wouldn't it have been great if today's event had had a zero carbon footprint? I do despair sometimes, because if the organizers can't even get it right, then what hope is there really for the climate in general and for Hong Kong in particular? 

On a lighter note, check out these boots.

I know cyclists have a reputation the world over for being a bit batty, but it was upwards of 30C today. This girl was even wearing wooly socks under her huge black leather combat boots. Let's take a closer look.

I know it's a fashion statement, but I bet her feet really stank when she took off her 28 hole boots later.

The mind really boggles as to why one would ever want to put oneself through such sweaty discomfort.

So here are all the cyclists lined up on the starting line. The cycle ride was from Central to Causeway Bay and back.

And this is what they had to breathe. Poisonous rocks in the air, a climate emergency.

I took this photograph of the pollution on Hong Kong side from just in front of the International Commerce Centre (ICC) in West Kowloon. The ICC happens to be the city's highest building. And the reason I was there is because I was covering the tradgedy of five workers who died when a maintenance platform inside a lift shaft in the building gave way - sending them crashing 27 floors down to their death.

I had heard about the lift plunge horror whilst I was at a protest by Hong Kong journalists against the beating up and detention of three Hong Kong TV cameramen in Xinjiang Province by Chinese mainland paramilitary police earlier this month. I had to rush away from this scene.

Veteran journalist Ching Cheong was at the protest.

It was a busy day...

Hong Kong Corporate Schmooze

Tonight took the form of a fashion show followed by some pink champagne and corporate schmooze.

Yadda. Yadda. Yadda.

'Arabic' art - MADE IN CHINA

On Wednesday I received a call from the The National, a newspaper based in Abu Dhabi, for a last minute assignment in Panyu, China.

They wanted me to photograph an "artist" who runs a business copying photos of original paintings. Those paintings are usually Arabian-themed, and are sent to him by his Dubai client/business partner.

Ma Zhengcheng, the "artist" in question, has a growing concern churning out these art copies. He has three "studios". One in Dongguan, two in Panyu, all near Guangzhou in China. But excuse the inverted commas. To me this just ain't art.

Don't get me wrong. Mr Ma's a nice guy. We got on well. So much so that I dragged and dropped a few of my photos to his desktop before I left. And I helped him paint a camel. He didn't ask me for the pictures, I just wanted to help him. He said he'll probably use them for marketing, for his web site when he gets one. 

The belly dancer in the painting behind Mr Ma is considered risqué in the United Arab Emirates. This is despite the fact that only her face and forearms are uncovered. No wonder The National didn't publish it.

Each "studio" is actually more like a small factory. Several rooms to a floor, with one, maybe two, "artists" to a room. The workers are mostly in their twenties, and a few teenagers too. But I'm sure this work beats the production line.

The kids knock out pretty good, but by no means perfect, copies of whatever they are given by Mr Ma to work on that day. 

French impressionism. I'm stuck for the original artist's name though. Any ideas, answers on a postcard, or post a comment below.

The kids know that they have to knock them out fast too. This Tutankhamun took about an hour. King Tut would have been proud. Howard Carter would have been astounded. Quick turnaround is the name of the game.

For some reason, triptychs seemed to be very popular. I saw many "artists" painting them. I'm thinking that maybe they are destined for office receptions, boardrooms, dental surgeries - those kinds of places. What I saw was art that doesn't challenge. Art that doesn't make you think. Doesn't hurt your brain. We've all seen it. On the wall, to brighten it up a bit, but not to be admired. It's usually just there. Possibly to the right of an air con unit, or maybe opposite a ceiling-mounted digital projector. Dust-covered after a few years, but mundane from the start. There's a huge market out there for this kind stuff. I know that now.

But back to Tutankhamun. Next time you are on holiday and want to buy a souvenir of that place, just make sure it's not MADE IN CHINA. Unless, of course, you are in China.

Read the full story in the weekend section of The National here.

Great Hong Kong Tourism Scourge Receding

The Hong Kong Tourim Board released some encouraging data recently.

Their numbers indicate the global financial meltdown has dealt a blow to this town's economy in the form of a 12.2% drop in visitors to this ex-British colonial outpost. 

It seems folk the world over, including our mainland compatriots, are cutting back on luxuries and non-essentials. Like trips to Hong Kong.

It's not difficult to extrapolate that a 12.2% drop in tourist numbers equates to 12.2% more elbow room on our crowded streets.

I'm with Hemlock on this one, (Tue 12 Jun 2007) (Mon 20 Mar 2006) (Sun 07 May 2006). Fingers crossed those visitor numbers keep nose-diving.

E-waste 'recycling' in Guiyu, China - 05 / Article: The Lianjiang – A Story Of A Chinese River

Today's post is the last set of images from a weekly series of photographs from the e-waste capital of the world, Guiyu, in China's Guangdong Province. Read the full story here.

Kids in close proximity to e-waste. This migrant worker family from Sichuan Province had no clue as to the health hazards of working in the e-waste business.

When my translator told them of the risks, the man sitting on the small red plastic stool, Chen Jiaxin, 29, a father of three, replied: "We never knew that our kids could get cancer or other diseases by touching e-waste. We always thought it was no problem if they just washed their hands afterwards!"

Here's a less than ideal situation for a young mother and baby to be in.

Unloading a truck half full of e-waste.

Migrant workers sorting through piles of e-waste by the side of the road.

A warehouse with a yard full of bags of e-waste.

A pile of hard drives.

Signs on the main street in Guiyu relating to e-waste purchasing.

A man squatting next to a pile of hard drives.

__________________

Finally, here's a story I wrote for the Hong Kong JMSC about the Lianjiang River that runs right through the middle of Guiyu...

The Lianjiang – A Story Of A Chinese River

According to China's Ministry of Environmental Protection, the Lianjiang River, which flows through the country’s eastern Guangdong Province, is rated a 'Category 5 River’ - the worst out of a total of 5 possible categories. This means the water from it is neither fit for human consumption, nor for agricultural use.

Major sources of pollution along the river include domestic household waste and industrial pollution from textile factories. But by far the biggest source of pollution along the Lianjiang River is from the processing of electronic waste, or ‘e-waste’. This takes place at the town of Guiyu on the Lianjiang’s upper reaches. Toxic solutions that contains high levels of dangerous chemicals derived from e-waste processing in Guiyu, seep directly into the Lianjiang River. From Guiyu, the toxic chemicals continue their journey into the sea at the port of Haimen Bay. Local fishermen there complain of dwindling catches and are losing their jobs, whilst fishing boats stay moored in the bay for weeks on end.

However, the spring water flowing from the source of the Lianjiang River is clean. Coming straight out of Dananshan mountain, the water collected at the San Keng Shang reservoir, in Pu Ning County, appears clean and clear. But just one pace from the clay hole in the side of the mountain, the spring water encounters its first piece of downstream man-made pollution, a discarded piece of polystyrene foam. This common packaging material cannot biodegrade. The problem is that polystyrene foam breaks down continuously into ever smaller and smaller pieces. It eventually enters the food chain at the molecular level, with unknown side effects for animals and humans. The spring water of the Lianjiang River at San Keng Shang has been dammed for the benefit of the local townsfolk. Fishing is illegal at the reservoir, but they persist nonetheless.

The worst source of pollution along the Lianjiang River is undoubtedly to be found at Guiyu. Situated on the upper reaches of the river, the town is at the centre of the world's 'e-waste' processing industry. Illegal container loads of discarded electronic goods from the United States, Japan and Europe, find their way to China via the port of Hong Kong. Most of it usually ends up in Guiyu for 'recycling' at informal e-waste processing factories, of which there are around 3,000 in the town. Computers, printers, keyboards, CRT monitors, mobile phones, and other obsolete high tech junk can be seen in large piles strewn across Guiyu.

Migrant workers from other Chinese provinces provide the labor. Some work with sodium cyanide baths used to dissolve lead and precious metals, such as gold, silver and cadmium from computer integrated circuit boards. This is by far the most poisonous and dangerous e-waste processing job of all, as most workers get sick from doing this job within a month. The waste solution can contain lead, dioxins or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and is usually discarded by pouring it into the soil. It then leeches into the water table and the Lianjiang River itself, leaving it severely poisoned.

Metal that is encased in plastic in electronic devices such as printers is freed by uncontrolled open burning. Wires are burnt to free the copper inside. The acrid black smoke released from the fires is carcinogenic and can contain dangerous neurotoxins, dioxins and furans. After the metals have been collected, the black burnt-out refuse from the fires is easily disposed of into the Lianjiang River.

There are no fish in the lifeless Lianjiang River. The children can often be seen playing with toxic e-waste alongside their migrant worker parents. All food and drinking water has to be imported into Guiyu from outside. This results in much higher living costs for migrant workers, many of whom will later be faced with high medical bills.

According to Dr Lin Banghong, a doctor at the hospital in Guiyu who refused to be photographed, the incidence of cancer among e-waste workers in the town is high. Dr Lin said, “Although we can't conclusively be sure of the link between the pollution and the incidence of cancer here in Guiyu, we do strongly believe that the pollution is a factor affecting people’s health here.”

Dr Lin is also concerned that workers in the e-waste industry in Guiyu are falling ill from diseases hitherto unknown in China. This is because much of the imported e-waste is smuggled into China and therefore not subject to China’s stringent quarantine regulations. Keyboards, for example, are notorious for harboring a large variety of different germs.

Education about the toxic side effects of e-waste handling is virtually unknown among the town’s residents. Mr. Chen Jiaxin, 29, a local from Guiyu, runs a small e-waste family business. He has three children. When told about the possible side effects of the e-waste on his children, Mr. Chen said, "We never knew that our kids could get cancer or other diseases by touching e-waste. We always thought it was no problem if they just washed their hands afterwards!"

Further downstream, the industrial run-off from textile factories on the Lianjiang River is another significant source of pollution. The middle reaches of the river are home to many polluting factories producing ladies underwear. To conceal from sight their toxic effluent many factories bury their outflow pipes deep into the river. 

The wanton disposal of household waste in the Lianjiang River is a problem too. Many residents in the area are unaware that the throwing of household garbage into the river can pose a serious problem for the environment. At Zhan Long, the Lianjiang River runs through a lock situated between its upper and lower reaches. Chen Jinping, 37, a migrant worker from Chongqing Municipality, spends twelve hours a day at the sluice gate fishing out errant plastic bags and other debris from the water inflow at the entrance to the lock’s hydroelectric turbine. She earns Euro 112 (CNY 1,000) a month, working the twelve-hour shifts with her husband. They rarely eat together. She and husband and two small children live in a tiny room inside directly above the turbine, and she says that she worries for her children’s health. According to Ms Chen, “The local people here are selfish. They throw their trash into the river when no one is looking. This river is like a sewer, and it’s even worse on sunny days.”

Near the lock is a plastics recycling facility. Migrant workers from Sichuan Province sift through large bales of crushed plastic bottles from the United States; Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Tropicana and Dasani mineral water, all the big soft drink names are there. The plastic bottles are shredded into small pieces at the plant, ready to be melted down and recycled according to plastic type, of which there are many. A baseball lies abandoned in the plastic chippings, thousands of miles away from it’s original owner. A cow sits forlornly among plastic chippings and discarded glass wool, by to it’s source of water, a filthy tributary of the Lianjiang River. 

Eventually the most polluted river in Guangdong Province  flows into the sea at Haimen Bay. By now the river is black, bubbling and viscous, clogged up with garbage and algae. Fishermen here complain about the lack of fish in the bay, and about how they need to go further and further out to sea to catch fish. It’s unclear whether the lack of fish around Haimen Bay is as result of the pollution or over-fishing. But it is evident that fishing has become uneconomical in Haimen Bay, with hundreds of boats lined up in the mouth of bay going nowhere. Due to the excess in fishing capacity, catches are now too low to warrant the high cost of fuel required to go fishing.

Zheng Qingzhou, a fisherman in Haimen Bay started to notice the water quality of the Lianjiang River deteriorate about ten years ago. Mr. Zheng said, “Young people here no longer want to work in the fishing industry. And some young fishermen here are finding it very hard to get a wife, since girls these days aren’t interested in men doing jobs with such low prospects.”

No one knows for sure how many people have fallen ill or died as a consequence of the severe pollution of the Lianjiang River. And no one knows for sure what the long-term effects will be on natural environment - the surrounding farmlands and the Pacific Ocean itself.

ALEX HOFFORD
7th May 2009

Clean Autos & Clean Air In Hong Kong?

Does this man...

...hold the key to clean air here...?

Quite possibly, yes.

The man in question is Wang Chuan Fu, Chairman of BYD Company Limited (1211.hk), a mainland firm listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Today I went to a financial results press conference held by the company. This is highly out of character as I usually avoid these dull affairs like the plague.

In case you've never heard of BYD, I'll try to explain in just a few lines why they are one of my favourite companies, and why I decided to buck the boredom factor to attend their presser this morning.

BYD, which stands for Build Your Dream, are primarily a maker of Lithium-ion batteries, but in recent years have branched out into the production of electric cars. Electric cars. That means cars that run cheaply, don't emit dirty smoke, and don't contribute to global warming. As I posted a few weeks ago, the main source of air pollution in Hong Kong does not come from factories across the border in China. No. It comes from roadside fumes. According to the Hong Kong Clean Air Network website, industrial emissions do make up a significant portion of the filth we breathe, but contrary to what most people believe, the largest slice of the air pollution pie chart in Hong Kong does indeed comes from the roadside; cars, trucks and buses that run on dirty old diesel and gasoline. And what is strikingly obvious to me, but not to others, it seems, is that air pollution does not come from electric cars.

My love affair with BYD is simple really. I hate sucking in a white sky everyday, so I love BYD. And it seems a lot of other people love BYD too. They all live in China, where BYD electric cars are selling like hot cakes. At today's presser Mr Wang announced that BYD's net profit for the first half of 2009 leapt by an eye-popping 98% on the back of "increased brand recognition" and the huge demand for their cool electric cars. Cars that are powered by their funky little Lithium-ion batteries. First half sales volume leapt to 180,000 units, up 150% compared to 2008. And US billionaire Warren Buffett thinks they're a cool company too. MidAmerican Energy Holdings, a unit of his investment firm Berkshire Hathaway Inc bought a 10% stake in BYD back in September 2008. (I still kick myself daily for not having bought just a handful of BYD shares, when that was announced). And at today's press conference Mr Wang announced that Mr Buffett wants to increase his stake in BYD, a fact which sent the stock price soaring to close up 8%. (Alas, it must really, really, be too late to buy now. Sell on the news, and all that).

The BYD factory is just across the border in Shenzhen. I have an idea. Wouldn't it be great if the Hong Kong Government could support a great Chinese company that are doing the world a big favour by introducing to this city a 'cash for clunkers' scheme similar to Mr Obama's? If the Government of Hong Kong fast-tracked the retirement of all the city's dirty smoky vehicles, wouldn't that be a fine thing? Imagine the peace and quiet on Hennessey Road if every vehicle that passed you was electric? Imagine how clean the buildings along King's Road, Fortress Hill would be after they get their first good scrub up in decades, on the day that residents awake to news that fossil fuels, and the fith and grime they cause, have been banished from the city's streets forever?

And as the buses thundered past me in Admiralty tonight, deafening me with the roar of their engines and enveloping me in a hot cloud of dust and carbon monoxide fumes, the only question on my mind was: how long will we have to wait for that Utopian vision to become reality, Mr Wang?

Somebody Cuddling A Giant Animal in Hong Kong: An Ad Campaign For Watches

A girl cuddles a giant rabbit. Buy a watch. Another girl cuddles a giant alsatian. Buy a watch.

It's certainly eye-catching. Welcome to the wierd, wonderful, and sometimes hallucinatory, world of Hong Kong advertising.

This billboard, spotted in Causeway Bay a few weeks ago, was carrying a campaign by 'Solvil & Titus', makers of fine 'timepieces' and 'chronographs' to the bourgeoisie. That's watches to you and me. As I looked up at that ad from street level, the only thing running through my mind was: "How quickly can I warn that girl that at any given moment that rabbit could easily turn nasty, spin around, and bite her head off?" Since most people in this city have never seen a rabbit in real life, let alone stroked one, the chances of them ever having been on the recieving end of a sharp pair of rabbit incisors is even more remote. Which is why on that level I am sure that this ad works. Rabbits are well established in the Hong Kong pantheon of the cute and cuddly. And in Hong Kong big is usually better. So it must stand to reason that a big rabbit must be more adorable than a small, or at least a normal-sized, rabbit.

Apparently, according to the Solvil & Titus website, the gist of the ad is the somewhat tenuous link between time and love. The girl in the angelic white on the left is supposed to be waiting her whole life for that 'perfect' someone, whilst the girl on the right in the fiery red dress is 'seizing a moment for passion'. Confucian celibacy versus western sluttiness perhaps? An ad campaign to specifically target frigid office girls with ticking hormone time bombs, wavering in their wait for Mr Right? I don't know. What I do know is the kids at the agency must have been smoking something pretty strong when they thought this one up. Incredibly, they even went as far as commissioning the global market research company Synovate to conduct a region-wide survey on the matter. Gimmick.

And let's not even get into the subject of big dogs.

Buy a watch.

Hong Kong Volvo Stretch Limo / A Very Unhealthy Butter And Peanut Butter Sandwich

One of the reasons I started this blog was to to share with a wider audience some of the quirkier things that delight me on a daily basis during my 'vie quotidienne à Hong Kong'.

Like this Volvo Stretch Limo. I mean, where in the world, apart from here (or Sweden perhaps), would you ever be likely to come across one of these daft-looking motors? The only question that enters my head when I see this crazy clunker is: why?

And this. Maxim's Group, not content with being complicit in the wholesale wiping out of an entire species, are working hard on wiping out another species. Us. The human race. This 'sam mun jie' has got to be the most heart-stopping, cardiac-inducing, gastronomic death trap known to... the Hong Kong commuter. My eyes nearly popped out of my head when I first spotted it for sale at a little Maxim's Bakery shop in Fortress Hill MTR station this afternoon. Heart-bypass anyone? It seems Maxim's wants to kill us all...

Hong Kong International Airport - Terminal Two At Magic Hour

Today I did a site check at the back of Terminal Two for an upcoming photoshoot for a luxury car client.

The airport was one of a handful of possible locations the client had in mind which are supposed to exude a 'contemporary feel'.

The brief they gave me is something to do with "dynamism and cosmopolitan senses of the city".

I hope these pictures are dynamic and cosmopolitan enough to help them to make sense of this city.

Both shots were taken during the evening 'magic hour'. At 7:06pm to be precise.

No Photoshop, no re-touch, just a good old-fashioned tripod, f/11 and a tungsten white balance to make the blues pop.

Another Killer View Of Hong Kong

I love the way the Cheung Kong Center, IFC2 and the Bank Of China are in perfect vertical alignment in the middle of the frame.

Here's a close-up.

E-waste 'recycling' in Guiyu, China - 04

Here comes this week's set of nasty e-waste photos from Guiyu, China - a small town with a dirty secret. As usual, the full story behind the images can be found here.

A truck full of plastic CRT (cathode ray tube) monitor cases. These are called 'shells' in the e-waste business. Since the world is now scrutinizing goings-on in Guiyu more closely, it has become a mystery where the the 'yolks', ie the cathode ray tubes themselves, are broken down. This is one sub-industry within the e-waste 'recycling' business that has become highly opaque and impenetrable due to it's very dirty processes, according to my sources at Basel Action Network.

Hanging clothes to dry next to piles of PC power supplies.

Old phones on top of a truck.

Anyone know what this means? I would love to know. It's industry stuff...

Breaking down e-waste bits and bobs.

More breaking down of e-waste bits and bobs.

No idea what this assorted jumble is.

Integrated circuit boards on the back of a tricycle.

Close shot of integrated circuit boards on the back of a tricycle.

Tune in next Tuesday for the final set of pix from Guiyu, the e-waste capital of China, if not the world.

In Hong Kong, Urban & Nature Fight It Out

In Hong Kong, it sometimes seems like the urban environment is constantly slugging it out with nature, as both compete for the same small patch of land.

Urban usually wins.

This, in Quarry Bay today.

Waiting For No Clouds In Hong Kong

A second aborted attempt, this morning, to conduct an aerial shoot of the Hong Kong skyline. With a clear blue sky.

When I looked out of my window at 7am, it all looked so promising. Just a few wispy clouds around. They would have performed their decorative function well, had my pilot been out of bed. But no. Shortly before 8am, large cumulonimbus clouds began to roll in from 'out of the blue'.

Jinxed again.

Job postponed.

Again.

Hong Kong Nurdles

I thought I'd get down on my hands and knees today, to shoot with a macro lens, the plastics on beaches in Hong Kong that are practically invisible to the naked eye.

Nurdles.

Camouflaged against the sand, a clear-coloured nurdle looks like a little like a sand granule or a tiny bit of grit. If you don't already know about them you probably wouldn't even know they were there. The nurdle at the top left of the above image is about 3mm in diameter, and looks a little like a nurdle in another picture I took nearly three years ago.

The proper name for a nurdle is a 'Pre-Production Plastic Pellet', or PPPP. Most beach-goers are completely oblivious to nurdles. Sometimes they are called 'mermaid's tears'.

A PPPP is what plastic looks like in its raw form after leaving the factory that made it from crude oil. These factories are usually located near oil refineries in countries like Saudi Arabia. Bags of the stuff are shipped on pallettes to factories that make plastic products around the world - including China, of course.

Unfortunately a whole lot of the infernal things escape during transportation. Sometimes trucks spill nurdles, sometimes trains and sometimes ships. The nurdles that actually arrive at their intended destination, that didn't get lost along the way, are poured into molding machines that heat and extrude them into anything and everything made from plastic in our daily lives.

But there are now so many 'lost' nurdles in the world's oceans that scientists are increasingly worried as nurdles absorb persistent organic pollutants (POPs), some of which can be cancer-causing. When toxic nurdles are eaten by marine animals, the 'bioaccumulated' toxins gradually work their way up the food chain ending up on our plate, via the seafood that we, the human race, consume in such vast quantities.

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography, part of the University of California, are doing a study into the PPPP problem right now on their boat the 'New Horizon'.

Here is an extract from their SEAPLAX blog, which explains the awful problem in great detail.

There are two issues we are dealing with here. One, the plastic leaches chemicals used in manufacturing that can be toxic to organisms at certain concentrations. And, the issue that worries me most, plastics are like magnets to pollutants already present in seawater and these adhere to their surfaces at magnified concentrations. The ocean is the ultimate sink for many industrial and agricultural pollutants. It is a known fact that pesticides, fuel residue, flame retardants, etc… are in the oceans. These are a few of what we refer to as a suite of chemicals called persistent organic pollutants, or POPs. Many POPs are known to be harmful to marine organisms. Animals will bioconcentrate (take up directly) these pollutants from water or sediments, or bioaccumulate them (through ingestion from other contaminated organisms). Rachel Carson told the story of how DDT, a pesticide, brought the brown pelicans down to crippling numbers. POPs are persistent and not very soluble and thus can concentrate in the water, sediments and the food chain… and now plastic.

These pollutants are hydrophobic, meaning they do not like water and thus stick to other particles in the water. Plastic has become a new material for them to leach onto. Now, don’t let this fool you into sounding like a good thing because it removes the pollutants from the water. Some organisms ingest plastic, mistaking it for food. Once this plastic is introduced into their system the POPs have the ability to leach off and grab onto the tissue of the organism. As the animal eats more and more plastic it has the ability to accumulate more pollutants. Plastics have been documented to attract magnified amounts of POPs from the water. Now, lets say ten krill eat a plastic pellet and accumulate a certain amount of a pollutant. Then, two fish eat five of the krill each and now each have five times as much pollutant as the krill. Then a tuna comes along and eats the two fish and has ten times as much pollutant as the krill. Then the tuna is caught in a net, sold at the grocery store, and sold to you at the store to put on your dinner plate. After dinner, you have now accumulated the magnified concentration of pollutant. This is termed biomagnification. Now the issue involves more than just the ocean, but us. What are the adverse effects of some of these pollutants you may wonder? At certain levels some are carcinogens, may harm the reproductive system, disrupt the endocrine system, and some can lead to death.

(Text by Chelsea Rochman on Day 15 of Seaplex's oceanic fact-finding mission)

Scary stuff. Seeing the amount of plastics washing up on the beach in Hong Kong really does break my heart. Anyone fancy a biomagnified fish supper tonight?

A carelessly discarded cigarette lighter...

... and a carelessly discarded beach ball. Beach toys are so cheap in Hong Kong that people don't bother to bring them home. They just leave them on the beach for nature to deal with, as who wants brightly coloured sandy plastic stuff in their 500sq ft flat anyway?

A dirty beach is not complete without the ubiquitous piece of polystyrene foam. I think the light bobbly stuff should be banned. Spot the plastic 'watermelon' beach ball.

And there are a vast number of tootbrushes at large in the marine environment.

For more examples of toothbrushes found on beaches and at sea click here and here.

Spot the inflatable plastic lilos in the above photo. It took me over an hour with a friend to disentangle a destroyed big yellow inflatable dinghy from between the rocks the other day. It's plastic hull was pierced and had filled with sand and had become fully embedded in to the beach. It was nearly impossible to shift, and was sinking further into the sand with every tide. We had to use a dive knife to cut it apart, scooping the sand out from the different air chambers with our hands, before we finally freed the thing. Why it was there in the first place, I do not know.

The only organisation in Hong Kong that is trying to address the local and global problem of marine plastics pollution is Project Kaisei. It still seems no one else cares.

______________________________________________________________________

And now for something completely different.

I have a corporate client that has requested aerial shots of Hong Kong from a helicopter. The weather website said it would be perfect yesterday. So at 8.00am I got up to the the helipad on the roof of the Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon, and was greeted by the above scene. Clouds! Too many of them! I don't mind a few small fluffy ones, but these were the big wet white and grey variety. Only Central district was lit up. Where was the blue sky promised me by the Hong Kong Observatory?

I had got out of bed ridiculously early for no reason. A waste of time, a job postponed. But not to worry, the deadline is early October so I still have time.

E-waste 'recycling' in Guiyu, China - 03

It's Tuesday, so it must be time for this week's toxic images from Guiyu, the e-waste capital of China. The story behind the photos can be found here.

A woman and a baby in front of a big pile of keyboards.

Migrant workers breaking apart PC power supplies.

Migrant workers breaking apart PC power supplies.

A big pile of PC power supplies.

 A keyboard in a sack of redundant electronic stuff.

Young girl in close proximity to a yard full of toxic integrated circuit boards.

More migrant workers breaking apart random bits of large electronic machines.

A migrant worker breaking apart random bits of large electronic machines.

A migrant worker breaking apart random bits of large electronic machines.

* * * For more information on how to help fight the problem of e-waste, please visit the Basel Action Network website * * *

A Price Myth Debunked: Why Shark Fin Soup In Hong Kong Is Not Expensive Anymore, Or Sharkfinomics

The comments section of yesterday's post on the shark fin protest by Ran Elfassy of Shark Rescue is on fire and well worth checking out.

Yesterday, a visitor to the blog by the name of John Gulliver left a post about talking about the oft percieved exclusivity of Shark Fin Soup due to its high price.

PHOTO CREDIT: PAUL HILTON PHOTOGRAPHY

Well here's the shocker. Contrary to popular misconception, shark fin is not expensive anymore, and the reasons for this I have set out in my response to John Gulliver further down this page.

For obvious reasons, a cheaper bowl of shark fin soup is catastrophic for the remaining global shark population. It doesn't take a noble prize economist to work out that as shark fin becomes cheaper, more shark fin will be consumed by more people. This in turn will speed up the vicious cycle hastening their extinction. Is this the beginning of the end?

Before going into the economics of the market price for shark fin, I want to share my research on various shark fin promotions around town that I have seen this year.

Here, in descending order of price, are the various shark fin promotions I found:-

1) A current promotion at the Marco Polo Hotel in Hong Kong, where you get a buffet with all kinds of stuff coated in shark fin for HK$328 (US$42.30) per adult, which is less than half the "upwards of US$100 a bowl" price one often sees quoted around quite a bit. Fancy shark fin jelly anyone?

(Strangely enough, this is the same hotel that recently promised it would no longer sell the highly endangered blue fin tuna. Not sure why the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing at the Marco Polo, but hey.)

2) Going down the scale, here's an unlimited shark fin buffet you could find a few months ago at The Metropark Hotel for HK$238 (US$30.70) per adult. This is less than two thirds the usual clichéd US$100 a bowl price:-

PHOTO CREDIT: PAUL HILTON PHOTOGRAPHY

At the bottom end, check out this review from the main Hong Kong restaurant review website Open Rice for a cheap shark fin promotion combo meal including shark fin soup for HK$59 (US$7.61) which you could find in May this year at MX, part of of Maxim's Group. That's less than 8% of the price of that urban myth US$100 a bowl of shark fin soup! Now will people believe me?

The above review translated into English: The latest dinner menu item on offer is a 'shark fin in chicken broth' combo for HK$59, which includes a bowl of rice, a side dish and a cup of tea. The main dish is shark fin soup with half a chicken and real shark fin. What you get really does look like what you see on the promotional leaflet. The soup itself is the main attraction, as it's made of air-dried ham according to the promotional leaflet, but it tastes far worse than what you would get in a proper (ie non fast food) restaurant. The pork tasted bland, but the chicken meat was tender. A good thing was that there wasn't too much MSG. To sum up, a fast food restaurant should always serve cheap food, but serving high-end food such as shark fin with a cheap price tag is actually quite off-putting.

And finally, here's that same cheap shark fin promo at MX, this time in a gushing advertorial in the local Hong Kong daily Wen Wei Po.

A brief translation of the part of the advertorial that refers to the price is as follows:- Cheap price for a superb shark fin soup made with the best ingredients including chicken, air-dried ham. Simmered for hours etc etc...

Now that I have debunked that common myth of the high price of shark fin soup, here's my (slightly re-edited) response to John Gulliver:-

Hi John,
I would just like to set the record straight on some shark fin issues for you.
    1) Shark fin is much cheaper than it once was since the economy turned bad and the bottom fell out of the market. The price of shark fin is heavily tied to the price of oil, as the price of fishing boat fuel is a key overhead for tuna fishing boat operators who are the main culprits in the senseless shark slaughter. Related to this is that some big traders who had been stock-piling shark fin when the price of oil was at an all time high then released masses of the stuff onto the market when the oil price dropped, at the end of last year. This caused a sharp drop in the price of shark fin. The ensuing glut of shark fin in the market then caused it's price to slide further. Add to that all the bankers and high end clients stopped ordering shark fin at their company functions because of the bad economy, so the price, which had already been low, then went into freefall. I know this from talking to different vendors, most of whom are actually nice people, though some can be a bit thick-skinned and in denial. The price of shark fin is recovering somewhat, but it's still a lot cheaper than it was in 2007, early 2008. The consequence of all of this is that now shark fin is more accessible than ever to the man on the street. Even local fast food chain 'Maxim's' have been known to run cheap shark fin promotions. I don't have the figures on hand right now, but I can certainly get them for next time.
    2) Being well off does not equate being well educated anywhere, least of all in the 'new' China.
    3) I agree with you that targeting various groups with education on marine ecology is a good thing, but there is also room for protest at grass roots level too. You might call it a multi-pronged approach. That is what Hong Kong Shark Foundation (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=52859971024) is all about. Also please bear in mind that most people in Hong Kong couldn't give a monkey's about environmental degradation in their own back yard, much less so about the global marine environment. But that's changing slowly - too slowly in fact. So causing noise, any noise, is good right now, especially if it's picked up in the local press, which it was here: ( http://hk.apple.nextmedia.com/template/apple/art_main.php?iss_id=2009081... )
    4) Chinese do not eat shark fin soup because of any alleged health benefits. There are none, they know that, and that's not what it's all about for them. It's purely a 'face' dish to prove that they are rich.
    5) No one attacked anyone yesterday. The day's action passed off peacefully. Anyway Ran would have been unable to do anything anyway even if someone had tried to assault him, as his hands were completely constricted at his sides by his wonderful silver shark costume that has no sleeves, (sharks have no arms you see!) He was a very non-threatening shark, you understand! The beauty of yesterday's protest was to get a modest amount of publicity on the issue to make more people sit up and take notice. It was not targeting the vendors per se.

I hope this makes sense to you.

All the best,
Alex

And finally, here's one last zen-like bonus image from yesterday's Shark Rescue protest for all you Ran Elfassy fans out there!

Rare Anti-Shark Finning Protest In Hong Kong

Today I witnessed a rare protest in Hong Kong against the cruel practice of shark finning.

In fact... I believe it to be a first in this city. And that honour goes to Ran Elfassy of 'Shark Rescue'!

Shark Rescue are demanding the Hong Kong Government take the lead in calling for an end to shark finning, which is completely unsustainable. They are also protesting to highlight a recent International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) report that said that 32% of open ocean sharks are now threatened with extinction. 

The issue has been rumbling along in Hong Kong for quite a while now. First there was Disney. Then the Universities took shark fin soup off their banquet menus. Now the Hong Kong Shark Foundation has come along, but they are still getting their act together. Expect a splash later in the year.

But today was the first time I have ever seen or heard of a protest being staged at 'ground zero' of the problem, Des Voeux Road, Sheung Wan, that is to say on what the Hong Kong Tourism Board like to call 'Dried Seafood Street'. More like 'Oceanic Apocalypse Street'. I've heard a lot of pub talk about parading a bloodied papier maché shark through the streets of Sheung Wan, or some such stunt, but no one ever follows through with it.

The traders were not exactly happy with Elfassy's presence, although he did look rather fetching in his silvertip suit.

"Who the hell are you? And why are you in my shop?"

A one man protest pauses for thought by a Whale Shark fin.

It's great to see someone in Hong Kong finally doing something tangible about this issue. Elfassy got a few bad looks, but also some encouragement.

So much talk, and not enough action. Congratulations to Ran Elfassy at Shark Rescue.

PHOTO CREDITS: SHARK RESCUE

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All images and text © Alex Hofford / Image Solutions Ltd. 2011 | Web design in Hong Kong by Ugli © 2011