Feeding the 3000

Last week I attended a conference at the Asia World Expo in Hong Kong, a large convention center near the airport. Given it’s rather remote location, there are no eating places nearby (except at the terminal). And surprisingly, within the complex itself I only spotted a Subway and a Starbucks.

So how do you feed 3000+ conference attendees? You line them up and give them box lunches. Like this: (email readers, go here to see the vide0)

One of the lines I found myself in was serving a box lunch with pork chops a potatoes. When that was announced, the people in line behind me exclaimed, “What, no rice? That will never do!” and then hightailed it to another line.

Once we got our box lunches we were directed to return to our seats in the large meeting room and eat there.

It was amazingly efficient!

Handover Day

On this day in 1997, Hong Kong reverted to Chinese sovereingty after being a British colony for 99 years. The negotiations for the handover and begun back in the 1980’s when Margaret Thatcher and Deng Xiao-ping were in power in their respective nations. Those negotiations culminated in a lavish handover ceremony in Hong Kong on July 1, 1997.

Jiang Zemin shakes hands with Charles, Prince of Wales at the handover ceremony for Hong Kong at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, at midnight of 30 June 1997.

(Source: SCMP)

To commemorate the occasion, I’m reposting a blog I wrote a couple of years back about the confusing relationship between Hong Kong and Mainland China. It is titled Hong Kong, China. Really? 

Way back in 1997 I was the director of a Chinese language program at a major university in Changchun. As the semester was coming to an end, one of the students (they were all Americans) let me know that he needed to go to Hong Kong at the end of June.

This was back in the days before multiple entry visas, so every time we planned to leave the country, we had to obtain exit and re-entry visas before we left. (As you can imagine, this made emergency departures for medical or personal reasons quite challenging!)

The tricky thing in this student’s case was that he was going to Hong Kong the last week of June, and would be returning to Changchun mid-July. During his time in Hong Kong, the city was due to be “handed over” to China after 99 years of British colonial rule.

The fact that Hong Kong was reverting to Chinese sovereignty was a matter of great pride in China, and we had been bombarded with slogans and propaganda about  Hong Kong’s “return to the Motherland” for months and months.  Let’s just say the Communist Party was milking this one for all it was worth!

As for the student, clearly, he was leaving China in June, but would he be ‘returning’ to China in July. If Hong Kong was to become a part of China on July 1, wouldn’t he then already be in China? And if he was, by virtue of the July 1 handover in China, would he need a visa to return to Changchun?

It was a great question, and one that I had no idea how to answer, so off we went to the foreign student office to see what they would have to say about the matter. Since they were the ones who handled visa paperwork, surely they would know.

I handed the passport to Mr. Y. and explained that Mr. G. was going to Hong Kong, so would need an exit visa. “But when he returns in July,” I said, “Hong Kong will be a part of China….so will he need a re-entry visa?”

My question stumped Mr. Y, so he decided to call the local Public Security Bureau, which was in charge of actually issuing visas. The conversation went something like this:

Mr. Y: I have an American in my office who will go to Hong Kong at the end of June, but return to China mid-July. Will he need a re-entry visa?

Mr. Policeman (he was on the other end of the phone, but Mr. G and I could hear him clearly): Of course. Why wouldn’t he need a visa?

Mr. Y: Because by that time Hong Kong will have returned to the Motherland.

We could “hear” silence on the other end of the line as the absurdity of the situation began to dawn on Mr. Policeman. Then he began laughing hysterically, and soon we were all laughing hysterically!

After a few minutes, we regained our composure and waited for Mr. Policeman’s response.

Mr. Policeman: That’s true, but he will still need a visa to return.

And so it is — Hong Kong is a part of China, but it isn’t. Flying from Beijing to Hong Kong is considered an international flight, and thus requires a passport — even for Chinese. And a foreigner wanting to travel from Hong Kong to China must get a visa. But remember, it’s a part of China.

Are you confused? Never fear; this short video explains it all! (email readers: go here.)

And now you know why “Is Hong Kong a part of China?” is a tricky question.

Related Posts:

Friday Photo: Descending into Hong Kong

East and West and Hong Kong

I (Heart) Hong Kong

Chungking Mansions: A Global Village

Friday Photo: Descending Into Hong Kong

Another thing I miss about living in Beijing is the opportunity to travel, not just around China, but all over Asia. Of course, the fabulous city of Hong Kong was a frequent destination, usually to attend meetings, but sometimes just to get “out.” A few months before moving back to Minnesota, I got to fly down to Hong Kong on China Southern Airlines brand-spanking-new A380, the double-decker airplane. This was the glorious view as we were landing.

IMG_0210

For those of you familiar with the city, you can see Central, Tsim Sha Tsui, and the old Kai Tak Airport. And if you ever find yourself flying into Hong Kong, be sure to get a window seat!

Related Posts: 

East and West and Hong Kong

Hong Kong, China. Really?

I (Heart) Hong Kong

Bound for Hong Kong

Chungking Mansions  – a Global Village

Is the Curse of Kenny G About to be Lifted?

In my early days of blogging, back in 2005, I wrote a post titled The Curse of Kenny G, in which I went on a bit of a rant about the popularity of Kenny G in China.

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Here’s what I said:

A great mystery here in the Middle Kingdom is the Chinese love affair with Kenny G, the bushy-haired soprano sax player, who anchors the “smooth jazz” genre of music. Kenny G music blaring out of stores, or wafting through hotel lobbies is as ubiquitous here as chopsticks and dumplings (OK, so I exaggerate, but only slightly). Once upon a time, I hate to admit, I liked Kenny G. music. But that was before I moved to China, where his music is impossible to escape from. For those of you who’ve never heard Kenny G (oh, how I envy you), it’s romantic, it’s soft, its’ sweet….and music that is sweet is irresistable here.

Ok, so what’s set off this little anti-Kenny G tirade this evening? This afternoon, a friend and I went off to visit the newly-restored section of Beijing’s old city wall, which runs east from Chongwenmen. It has been turned into a lovely park, and the old watch tower has been restored and now houses a museum. This particular section of the city wall was built during the Ming Dynasty, in the early 1400′s. The place just oozes history, and we went on top of the wall to soak it all up. Unfortunately, someone had decided that it’s necessary to pipe music all along the wall and through the park, and even more unfortunately, this afternoon that music was Kenny G music!! Augh! Is there no Ming Dynasty music available? Not a spot in the park was out of range of the music. I tell you, it’s a curse!! The curse of Kenny G!

I wonder how it gets broken!

Today, 9 years later, I think that curse is about to be broken. It seems that Kenny G was in Hong Kong yesterday and turned up at one of the protest sites to express his support. As you can imagine, it did not sit well with the Powers That Be in Beijing. Here’s how The Guardian reported it:

Most governments aren’t too bothered by what jazz saxophonist Kenny G does between concerts, but when he turned up at pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, Chinese authorities were furious.

On Wednesday he tweeted a picture of himself making a victory sign in front of a poster reading: “Democracy of Hong Kong” and wrote: “In Hong Kong at the sight [sic] of the demonstration. I wish everyone a peaceful and positive conclusion to this situation.”

Within hours, the foreign ministry in Beijing had issued a frosty condemnation.

“Kenny G’s musical works are widely popular in China, but China’s position on the illegal Occupy Central activities in Hong Kong is very clear,” ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing.

“We hope that foreign governments and individuals speak and act cautiously and not support the Occupy Central and other illegal activities in any form,” she added.

Dan Levin, writing in The New York Times, highlights the popularity of Kenny G in China:

In one of the more inexplicable mysteries of Chinese culture, his 1989 saxophone ballad “Going Home” has for decades oozed from speakers across Chinese public spaces at closing time, triggering rapid exits by the masses. The song has no lyrics, yet somehow, when it is played in a mall, Chinese shoppers know what to do. They go home.[…] But an opposing theory that surfaced last week on Twitter said that Beijing might send Kenny G to Hong Kong to play “Going Home,” and that the protesters, who have occupied sections of Hong Kong’s business districts for weeks, would finally disperse.

You can read a fuller exploration of the popularity of this song in Dan’s May 2014 article China Says Goodbye in the Key of G: Kenny G. Be sure to watch the video clip as well.

I’m guessing that Kenny G’s music will henceforth be a lot less ubiquitous.

In other words, it’s entirely possible the curse is about to be lifted.

 

{Photo by Ryan Wise, via Flickr (creative commons license)}

East and West and Hong Kong

Like many others, my journey to being a Sinophile began in Hong Kong. In the summer of 1979 I spent 3 months in the city on an internship, teaching English and working in the office of the Chinese Church Research Center. When not working, I explored the city, taking random bus lines to the far-flung parts of town. In the course of the summer, I fell in love with the city. I remember seeing a t-shirt in a tourist shop that I thought captured the essence of Hong Kong. It said “There’s east and west; and then there’s Hong Kong.”

eastwesthongkong2

During the years I lived in China, I returned often to Hong Kong — for meetings, conferences, and to visit friends. I have the fun things I like to see and do when I’m in town: a trip across the harbor on the Star Ferry; ride Bus #6 from Central to Stanley Market (it’s better than a roller coaster); eat fried rice or fried noodles in one of the seemingly millions of mom & pop noodle shops; stroll the waterfront in Tsim Sha Tsui.

Because of my love for Hong Kong (and my love for China), I am watching with great interest and unease the situation unfolding in Hong Kong this week. It’s hard to explain what is going on in three sentences, but let me try. As part of the “One Country, Two Systems” formula agreed upon by China and Britain, the Chinese government promised direct elections in 2017. Recently they announced that the candidates would be chosen by Beijing. This did not sit well with Hong Kong citizens.

Of course, it is much more complicated than that, and there are issues of economics and national identity at play as well. Fortunately there is excellent reporting coming out of Hong Kong that delves into these complexities. If you’re interested in some good reading on what is going on and what it might (or might not) mean for the future, I recommend the following articles to get you started:

Fate of Hong Kong Rests in Xi Jinping’s Hands (September 29, 2014, Toronto Globe and Mail)

What happens in Hong Kong over the coming days will tell us a lot about where China is heading in the era of Xi Jinping. A negotiated solution that appeases some or all of the protesters would suggest China finally has the kind of leader that the Communist Party’s undemocratic “meritocracy” was supposed to produce. The sidelining of Mr. Xi’s enemies – and his own genuine personal popularity among ordinary Chinese – gives him the power to surprise everyone in how he handles the Occupy Central movement.

A crackdown, particularly one that involves use of the People’s Liberation Army, would tell us China is in for another dark decade of stifling repression.

The Day that China Came to Hong Kong (September 29, 2014, China File)

Beijing has no good choices. The resignation of Chief Executive C.Y. Leung, one of the protestors’ many demands, is no longer unthinkable; the Special Administrative Region’s first Chief Executive, shipping tycoon Tung Chee-hwa, stepped down in 2004 after massive protests. But Leung’s resignation would not solve the governance problem that entombs Hong Kong, that of a wealthy, well-educated city without an accountable government. If Beijing acts true to form, and in line with what we have seen to date from Xi Jinping, sustained protests could see Beijing order the Hong Kong government to end the protests, whatever that takes. On Sunday night, the government was forced to put out a statement denying that PLA troops, who are stationed in the city, were moving tanks in for action.

Hong Kong is different now.

Hong Kong People (September 29, 2014, The New York Times)

This past Sunday — when the phalanxes of riot police moved aggressively to clear the streets of peaceful protesters — Hong Kong became just another Chinese city. It was the moment when the “one country, two systems” formula Hong Kong was promised on its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 was finally laid bare as unworkable.” […] But even as the protests continue to swell, Beijing seems to hold all the cards. Yet even if it succeeds in tamping down the anger in Hong Kong — which is unlikely — its gains can be fleeting at best.The moment that Hong Kong citizens have been dreading for 17 years has finally arrived. 

The slogan I saw on that t-shirt 35 years ago seems even more true today.

Related Posts:

Make it Look Like a Parade

Three Decades in China; Four Trends

I Heart Hong Kong

Bound for Hong Kong

 

 

 

 

Make it look like a parade

Years ago I had a poster hanging in my room that said: “When you’re being run out of town, get in front and make it look like a parade.”

I thought of that this morning when I read an article in the People’s Daily (Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece) that referenced the hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets of Hong Kong on July 1. It was a demonstration to demand more political autonomy from Beijing, but you’d never know that from this statement by China’s Vice-President (they have one?):

“On Tuesday, the Hong Kong government and residents held more than 200 activities to mark the return of the special administrative region to China 17 years ago, including flag-raisings and visits to the garrison of the Chinese army. Organizers estimated that 450,000 attended these activities.”

There you have it! It wasn’t a demonstration; it was a PARADE!

Here’s an amazing time-lapse video of the “parade:”

(if you receive this post by email and cannot view the video, go here)

Here’s how The New York Times reported on the demonstration:

The appeal of democratic ideas drew thousands of protesters into the streets of Hong Kong on Tuesday in a defiant but largely peaceful march advocating free and open elections for the territory’s chief executive.

A nearly solid river of protesters, most of them young, poured out of Victoria Park through the afternoon and into the evening, heading for the skyscraper-lined canyons of downtown Hong Kong, Asia’s top financial center.

The article provides an excellent overview of the historical background and issues involved, as well as a short video about one of the 17-year old organizers.

More photos of the demonstration can be found here. (Huffington Post)

Hong Kong, China. Really?

Way back in 1997 I was the director of a Chinese language program at a major university in Changchun. As the semester was coming to an end, one of the students (they were all Americans) let me know that he needed to go to Hong Kong at the end of June.

This was back in the days before multiple entry visas, so every time we planned to leave the country, we had to obtain exit and re-entry visas before we left. (As you can imagine, this made emergency departures for medical or personal reasons quite challenging!)

The tricky thing in this student’s case was that he was going to Hong Kong the last week of June, and would be returning to Changchun mid-July. During his time in Hong Kong, the city was due to be “handed over” to China after 99 years of British colonial rule.

The fact that Hong Kong was reverting to Chinese sovereignty was a matter of great pride in China, and we had been bombarded with slogans and propaganda about  Hong Kong’s “return to the Motherland” for months and months.  Let’s just say the Communist Party was milking this one for all it was worth!

As for the student, clearly, he was leaving China in June, but would he be ‘returning’ to China in July. If Hong Kong was to become a part of China on July 1, wouldn’t he then already be in China? And if he was, by virtue of the July 1 handover in China, would he need a visa to return to Changchun?

It was a great question, and one that I had no idea how to answer, so off we went to the foreign student office to see what they would have to say about the matter. Since they were the ones who handled visa paperwork, surely they would know.

I handed the passport to Mr. Y. and explained that Mr. G. was going to Hong Kong, so would need an exit visa. “But when he returns in July,” I said, “Hong Kong will be a part of China….so will he need a re-entry visa?”

My question stumped Mr. Y, so he decided to call the local Public Security Bureau, which was in charge of actually issuing visas. The conversation went something like this:

Mr. Y: I have an American in my office who will go to Hong Kong at the end of June, but return to China mid-July. Will he need a re-entry visa?

Mr. Policeman (he was on the other end of the phone, but Mr. G and I could hear him clearly): Of course. Why wouldn’t he need a visa?

Mr. Y: Because by that time Hong Kong will have returned to the Motherland.

We could “hear” silence on the other end of the line as the absurdity of the situation began to dawn on Mr. Policeman. Then he began laughing hysterically, and soon we were all laughing hysterically!

After a few minutes, we regained our composure and waited for Mr. Policeman’s response.

Mr. Policeman: That’s true, but he will still need a visa to return.

And so it is — Hong Kong is a part of China, but it isn’t. Flying from Beijing to Hong Kong is considered an international flight, and thus requires a passport — even for Chinese. And a foreigner wanting to travel from Hong Kong to China must get a visa. But remember, it’s a part of China.

Are you confused? Never fear; this short video explains it all!

(If you receive this post by email, and cannot view the video clip. please click here.)

And now you know why “Is Hong Kong a part of China?” is a tricky question. 

Good-bye Sweet Oreo?

Why China’s Falling Out of Love With the Oreo

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Now that’s a headline that we surely would never have seen back in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. In those days, Oreos were a prized possession for the foreigner working in China — something that you asked your mom to put in the big box that she shipped to you (surface) in September, in hopes that it might reach you before Christmas. 

Whether it did or not was immaterial; all that mattered was opening the box and finding the (mostly crushed) bag of Oreo cookies. Sometimes we ate them all in one sitting, and sometimes we rationed them.

And there was always the trip to Hong Kong during the Spring Festival holiday to look forward to. Oreos were readily available there and could be shipped back to China quickly and cheaply (or simply stuffed into your suitcase).

Sometimes we could even find imported Oreos at the venerable Friendship Store in Beijing.

In 1996 Nabisco began making and selling Oreos in China, and they quickly became popular. I remember serving one to a Chinese friend once who, after tasting it and examining it carefully, declared “I have an oven at home; I think I can make this.”

I assured her she couldn’t.

According to this article in the Wall Street Journal, the Chinese seem to be falling out of love with the Oreo

Oreo has been one of the country’s most popular cookie brands since it launched in China in 1996, with Mondelez holding the largest market share in China’s biscuit segment at 16%, according to market-research firm Euromonitor International. Cookie sales in China have more than tripled from 2003 to 50.4 billion yuan, or roughly $8.3 billion, last year.

 

But industry watchers say China is one tough cookie, and Mondelez is facing bigger obstacles to growth here. Consumers in the world’s most populous country are curious and willing to try out new things, but that means as more brands enter the market, there are more snacks to distract them from Oreos, said Ben Cavender, a senior analyst at consultancy China Market Research in Shanghai.

 

Mr. Cavender said most companies are finding that Chinese consumers bore easily, so it’s key for food makers to innovate and introduce new brands. ”You have to keep the market constantly hooked,” he said, noting that changing the packaging often isn’t enough.

Oreos losing their popularity in China? Please say it isn’t so!

Image source: Wall Street Journal