China Mobile Bill: More Than Communication

I wonder how difficult is it to ask a company to innovate and change its somewhat wasteful ways of delivering service to consumers? 

While many businesses (including government agencies who should serve as models) have openly embraced the use of the Web to transact business with customers like online banking, paperless bills and other innovations that have helped preserve precious trees, there are those who just don’t get it.

Or at least staff well-versed enough with the eco-friendly plans of the company and got buried in a maze of daily tasks.

We have been asking our mobile phone line provider not to send us paper bills since they also send us SMS reminders that reach us much quicker than any form of surface mail. But for some reason, this simple request made at their shop (just after paying the bill) apparently isn’t working. So I thought of different reasons why paperless bill could hardly replace paper bills.

  • They have prepaid their Hongkong Post and wish to send “personal” mails to avail of what they paid for
  • They can attach advertisements and other promotions in that postal message
  • Paper bills serve as invitation to come to their shops for opportunity to up sell new products and services
  • They have staff who would otherwise lose their jobs or expensive machines rendered useless if they switch from traditional to paperless bills

I may be wrong but hey. that’s just what I think every time I check the mailbox and find bill reminders whose information I already know a few days ago.

So if I were to make a play of the slogan “more than communication”, it might be .. “also helping destroy the environment” or “..also helping preserve jobs and businesses”.

Stop Food Waste – Support Foodlink

Hong Kong is a gastronomic paradise.

Or so they say. It is home to thousands of restaurants, from relatively-unknown to the Michelin-certified, Hong Kong map can easily double as table menu. Armed with eye popping choices of food, views and occasional chance to rub shoulders with the local who’s who, restaurants are poised to win our hearts to try their signature dish. To a hungry stomach, no expensive menu is not affordable.

But not long after we paid the bills, our plates are washed and as the chef punched in his time card on his way out, piles of food waste lay at the front yard waiting to for dump trucks to pick them up and throw them out somewhere.

About 3,200 tons of food is wasted in Hong Kong every day. Unconsumed food or leftovers from from restaurants, hotels and other commercial and industrial sector continues to grow. With Hong Kong’s limited space allocated for landfills — three of them will encounter overcapacity before 2020 — reducing waste is an urgent matter.

Especially if waste aren’t necessarily waste; they can be reused for good purpose instead of clogging our dumpsters.

Food is an especially wonderful resource to be wasted. People in Hong Kong may have felt the sting of inflation and that includes rising cost of food. Yet, big supermarkets can afford to throw away unsold food items which could address hundred’s of family’s meals every single day.

Enter the food charities, such as Foodlink Foundation, which help distribute food from Hong Kong’s hotels to fellow charity groups who care for less fortunate members of the society.

Although the intention is noble, anyone who feeds the hungry is doing an honorable job, there are also risks they face. If the ones they feed fall ill due to food poisoning, they could face lawsuit. Unlike their counterparts in USA and Australia, these charities have no legal protection regarding the matter.

Hong Kong’s lifestyle of lavish banquets and bottomless buffet culture may be appealing to many of us, but the fact is that huge amount of food is wasted every single day is simply an unsustainable cycle. One day we may come to realize there’s nothing left on the table for us to eat.

Let’s not wait for this doomsday scenario to happen. Stop food waste, order what you can consume. And to hotels and restaurants, be more responsible. Stop food waste. Support Foodlink.

Price Tag Tricks Consumers Need to Be Aware Of

‘Multiplication and Division’ Price Tags

I need a proof the old price stood before this discounted offer came out.
When shop owners stage their “massive discount” offer, they must think that buyers are compelled to buy because a) this is a once-in-a-lifetime offer of 95% off, a HK$10,000 to HK$500 deal, b) the offer is so irresistible that even if it’s not immediately useful, it may prove its worth later. But who knows this price is just artificially inflated and reduced to the price very close to its original?

I need a proof the old price stood before this discounted offer came out.

Commonly seen: At various types of shops that announce they have a huge, eye-popping sale.

‘Misplaced Products’ Price Tags
These are large price tags that are irresistible from a distance and therefore becomes a magnet for buyers. I noticed this at an H&M shop in Tseung Kwan O, while window shopping with my wife. From afar, the price of a blouse looks attractive. But when we approached it, a fine print below the huge label indicates that the price isn’t for the blouse, but for the shorts found nowhere near the label.

There is a reason why text above price tag is so tiny.
There is a reason why text above price tag is so tiny.[/caption]

Commonly seen: Clothing shops? But I could be wrong.

‘On Sale, Oh Just Kidding’ Price Tags

Look, ma. 0% discount!
Photo credit: Jozelle Gabriel.[/caption]Look, ma. 0% discount!
Photo credit: Jozelle Gabriel.

Just in case our eyes are oriented that the sight of a yellow-labeled product signifies a sale item, let’s try to re-calibratethem. That’s because sometimes we just focus on what a product costs more than how much was cut. In such cases, we could fall prey on a strange tactic: they are no different at all. See the proof below, from a neighborhood 7-Eleven outlet.

Commonly seen: At convenience shops where people go because they need to buy, and don’t care to compare price elsewhere.

Look, ma. 0% discount!
Photo credit: Jozelle Gabriel.
‘Outright Deceptive’ Price Tags

This is probably the most difficult type of price tag deception to deal with. This type of price labeling happens on products that need to pass through the weighing scale such as meat and vegetables. While I see no problem with meat products labeled with price per pound and equivalent price label after being weighed, one experience buying a Taiwan cauliflower at Park N Shop reveals that the price that appears on the package isn’t the actual cost of the commodity. And it didn’t indicate (at least in English terms) the price is per pound. Passing through the cashier, we realized the real value. Hong Kong has its product labeling law, but it’s more about guidelines on printing nutritional values than guidelines on price tagging.

Commonly seen: Supermarkets

Certainly there are various ways shops employ to make their goods look desirable and influence impulse buying: lighting systems, skinny mirrors, product placement and attractive mannequins. But I think pricing products influences greater than all the others. Becoming a smart buyer is easier said than done, but with the examples shared above, we become more discriminating customers.

We know a bit of arithmetic, but still…

A Golden Era for Hong Kong’s Property Owners

I mentioned a while ago about soaring home rentals making living in Hong Kong more challenging than before. This phenomenon appears to apply everywhere that the idea of moving out to a more reasonable accommodation seems no longer practical.

But while home renters find it a challengs coping up with rising property rates, property owners are basking in an era that promises plenty of opportunities.

For instance, it was an opportunity too irresistible to pass up for Lam Shek-yam, the owner of Leighton Bakery in Causeway Bay’s Matheson Street. With heavy heart, the owner was forced to give up selling his popular egg tarts and sausage buns to accommodate a tantalizing HK$140 million (US$18.04 million) offer for his shop location. He has been doing good business with satisfied customers for the past 28 years. For fans who will miss this spot, a sister outlet further still serves local favorites.

But who would take a pass at such ridiculous offer, especially when they realize Mr Lam bought that prime location for just HK$13 million (US$1.67 million) in 1996? Curiously, the location isn’t far away from that ‘crazy’ offer I thought about several years ago. But now I realize it’s the rule rather than exception because the area is considered one of the world’s most expensive places to rent retail spaces.

As property owners like Leighton Bakery’s Lam Shek-yam is cashing in to Hong Kong’s property boom, those who are renting their premises are in a tough position to deal with negotiating rents. There’s little doubt owners are demanding increases, as the market dictates, it’s just a matter how considerate or outrageous these raises may actually be.

The high rental rates has made Causeway Bay’s relocation turnover rate quite high, a boon for the moving business. Indonesian restaurant 1968, Time Square’s UA Cinema and Japanese restaurant Wallmann Market within the neighborhood were all ousted because of the same reason.

If big name businesses are not immune to soaring rental rates, let alone smaller players. And if these soaring rental rates are slapped at small businesses like local cha chan tengs (tea restaurants) or noodle shops which can’t significantly raise their menu prices, they are forced to move out (towards less conspicuous places) and make way to those who can afford the rate. The bottom line is that if someone is willing to take the price, no matter how high it may be, the owner is poised to keep it that way.

I can only imagine the Causeway Bay of the future as home to luxury boutiques, jewelry stores, luxury restaurants and outlets of big chain businesses. Devoid of small tea shops, bakeries and noodle shops, the area can then truly embellish its title as a pure shopping destination. But that’s not what we want.

7 HK developments to look forward to in the next 8 years

For a city whose face is always changing as we speak — construction is going on above and below the ground — Hongkongers may not be surprised with the transformation going on. But still, it is worth noting that new projects still attract attention. Let alone the city’s execution of bold plans that could change the way we live.

I remember when Tseung Kwan O line was launched in 2002, people flocked into Tseung Kwan O residential areas after feeling great relief and convenience being connected by rail. By then, I become aware of the impact a major project brings to people.

So in case you are not aware, these are the upcoming projects Hong Kong is busy working on.

1. West Island Line
If you are familiar with western frontier of Hong Kong island, it’s hard to imagine that the current Island line can only go as far as Sheung Wan, leaving Sai Ying Pun, Kennedy Town and Pok Fu Lam residents to contend with tram and bus routes. Now currently under construction are extensions of Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong University (not to be confused with the University station located in Shatin) and Kennedy Town.

Expected Year of Completion: 2014

What this brings: The completion of this project could mean fewer bus routes serving the enormous West Hong Kong population as residents are giving up on traffic congestion in favor of the subway. But this could also mean more crowded stations. For example, if I were from Sai Ying Pun going to Kowloon, I’d normally take the KMB 101 route. But with a faster alternative, I’ll go in favor of the subway train even if it meant I am giving up my nap in a comfortable seat in the bus.

2. Kwun Tong Line Extension
In late 2010, then Chief Executive Donald Tsang approved the construction of the Kwun Tong Line Extension. This means the existing green line which currently spans from Tiu Keng Leng to Yau Ma Tei will have two more stops: Whampoa and Ho Man Tin stations. According to MTR’s official site about the project, it takes about five minutes from Yau Ma Tei to Whampoa. For someone traveling from Central to Whampoa, via the Tsuen Wan and Kwun Tong line interchange would only take about 17 minutes which is unimaginable at the moment.

Expected Year of Completion: 2015

What this brings: After losing one transport link when Star Ferry ceased operations from Central to Hung Hom, Whampoa becomes more accessible especially to those whose who despise unpredictable bus schedules.

3. Express Rail Link (XRL)
The Express Rail Link West Kowloon Terminus is subject of controversy but also featured as futuristic and surreal looking. Speaking of superlatives, its vast expanse is considered the largest underground high-speed railway in the world at 4,628,481 square feet, which hosts to trains that operate up to 200 km / hour and serves 10,000 passengers per hour per direction. It also costs a staggering HK$62.4 billion in 2009 prices. Traveling from Hong Kong to Guangzhou currently takes a little less than two hours. But the launch of high-speed trains at XRL, it will be cut down to a mere 48 minutes.

Photo credit:

Expected Year of Completion: 2015

What this brings: This express railway network hopes to save 42 million hours of travel time, translated to HK$87 billion in 50 years of operation while enhancing Hong Kong’s stand on environmental protection as railway travel produces less emission than aircraft. Its construction benefited some 9,000 workers while additional 2,000 jobs in clerical and professional staff. This could also spur economic activities in tourism, catering and retail industries which could generate thousands of jobs.

4. South Island Line
It’s not only the folks at Kennedy Town and west of Hong Kong who were left out with the existing railway structure of the MTR. Southern District has also been unable to take advantage of railway efficiency. No wonder the only way to get to Ocean Park, in Aberdeen is through CityBus’ route 629. But that issue has long been resolved as construction of the South Island Line is now underway. Ocean Park, Wong Chuk Hang, Lei Tung and South Horizons will be named stations in this subway line along with Admiralty, which also serves as interchange station to Shatin to Central Link.

Expected Year of Completion: 2015

What this brings: Travel time is greatly reduced. Once this line is open, travel time from Admiralty to Ocean Park will just be 4 minutes, while travelers from Admiralty to South Horizons will only spend 11 minutes travel time. (Enough of that dreaded Aberdeen Tunnel.) By completing this line and the long-awaited Shatin to Central Link, Hong Kong’s definition of travel efficiency will reach a higher level. Imagine the hassles of traveling from South Horizons going to Shatin at the moment. The new line should significantly cut travel time.

5. Hong Kong Zhuhai Macau Bridge
Due for completion in 2016, the Hong Kong Zhuhai Macau Bridge is a 29.6 km dual 3-lane carriageway which connects Hong Kong, Macau and Zhuhai, three major cities of the Pearl River Delta. The project was conceived to mitigate increase in traffic of people and goods between Hong Kong and neighboring areas.

Expected Year of Completion: 2016

What this brings: More efficiency in movement of goods, labor and capital across the whole Pearl River Delta region. Travel time between Hong Kong and Zhuhai or Macau in this 29-kilometer bridge (one of the longest in the world) would be cut from 4.5 hours to 40 minutes. But among the perceived drawbacks of the project is that some tourism areas currently experienced by patrons of Ngong Ping 360 cable car could suffer as Hong Kong’s section of the bridge will be developed.

6. Wan Chai Bypass
Hong Kong is infamous for narrow roads and thus becomes a main reason for traffic congestion and inability to construct supplemental facilities such as bike lanes and accessibility areas. With the dual 3-lane 4-kilometer Wan Chai Bypass, traffic will be alleviated in the Gloucester Road – Harcourt Road – Connaught Road corridor, giving an option for motorists to take this alternative route between Central and Causeway Bay, which further connects to Island Eastern Corridor.

Expected Year of Completion: 2017

What this brings: The creation of the Wan Chai Bypass not only eases traffic within Central, Admiralty and Wan Chai areas. It also creates additional space for recreational facilities in the reclaimed area. Travel time is considerably reduced between Central and Eastern District of Hong Kong island. However, this could encourage presence of
more vehicles and increase roadside emissions unless the government has measures in place.

7. Shatin to Central Link
This line serves to ease passenger traffic from Hong Kong’s northern districts to the business district but also helps connect existing lines to a major transport hub. The route is divided into two segments. The Tai Wai to Hung Hom segment will connect Ma On Shan Line and West Rail Line at each end, forming the East West Corridor. The remaining Hung Hom to Admiralty segment will become the extension of East Rail Line. As Hung Hom serves as Hong Kong’s main terminal for intercity trains, the Link will boost accessibility for people traveling to and from mainland cities.

The new Hung Hom Station concourse after improvement works.
Photo credit:

Expected Year of Completion: 2020

What this brings: This eases the traffic congestion at Kowloon Tong, a hub that links both East Rail and Kwun Tong Line as the Link’s East West Corridor utilizes Diamond Hill section of the Kwun Tong Line. So if I wish to go home in Tseung Kwan O from Shatin, I’ll be making an interchange at Diamond Hill and don’t have to pass by Kowloon Tong, a preferred hub for people taking the Tsuen Wan and West Rail Lines. The establishment of this line also aims to reduce roadside emissions so let’s hope that objective will bear fruit.

As we await the completion of these projects, it is best to plan ahead and think how they affect our lives in the future.

Rise in MTR Escalator Accidents Prove Safety Measures Not Working

South China Morning Post reports that escalator accidents at subway stations have increased in frequency during the first half of 2012 compared to the same period last year. Such is the unfortunate outcome despite the MTR’s efforts to encourage safety of the riding public.

Various signs — from body parts to the standard signs — have been in place at the base, top and midsections of escalators. On top of this, the ever-present voice-over “please hold the handrail” in three languages keeps an otherwise quiet MTR station noisy that regular riders find them annoying. They may be intended for newcomers, but I bet majority of passengers are frequent riders of the train.
If those warning signs and reminders aren’t enough, human “ambassadors”, designated staff whose job is to gently remind careless users to take extra care — holding the handrails is the first step.
But still, records show 474 accidents that took place this year represent 21.5 per cent increase compared to last year.

21.5 per cent increase in escalator accidents to 474 incidents in the first half of the year compared to the same period last year – launched a four-week safety campaign yesterday. Red-shirted safety “ambassadors” at 50 stations will remind commuters to take care.

Maybe there is just too many passengers outmaneuvering each other during rush hour — or folks too fixated with smartphone games or Korean drama that MTR escalator safety is just relegated as second priority — that . I tried, in vain, to search for statistics behind the numbers but failed so far.

Maybe people are too sensitive holding public handrails dating back to the trauma caused by SARS, bird flu and randomly sneezing/coughing passenger that cleaning the handrails multiple times in a day won’t be enough to prevent spread of germs. The last time I checked, Crocs continued to sell that specific sandals positively identified in one of MTR’s safety signs as possible causes of accidents among children.

Or is it about how MTR’s escalators are designed and constructed that is prone to accidents regardless of places, demographics or amount of safety precautions are in place?

So far MTR is embarking on another round of campaign, this time employing human “MTR ambassadors” to help remind users to be more careful when riding the escalator. I hope this works.

If not, shall we take Plan Y, where escalator belts are fastened into each user before riding the escalator. Or Plan Z, which is phasing out all escalators and replace them with elevators and staircases.

What Hong Kong Black Travel Warning?

The Philippines may still be in the black (severe threat) for travelers in Hong Kong, that may just exist in the Security Bureau’s website. That’s because everyone is open to defy the so-called advice. A prominent placement in The Standard’s ads section is the “More Fun in the Philippines” campaign of the Department of Tourism along with package tours to Bohol, Palawan, Boracay and other wonderful attractions.

Hong Kong defines “black” travel warning as severe threat that comes after the unfortunate outcome of the hostage-taking incident on August 23, 2010 that killed several Hong Kong tourists.

Serious hostage-taking incident happened in Manila on 23 August 2010, residents should avoid all travel to the country; those who are already there should attend to personal safety and exercise caution.

Can’t blame the government for exercising caution to its residents, but does that mean we will restrict people from making travel plans, at their own risk?

Paired with Syria, a country often mentioned in global headlines, the Philippines gets an unfair category. A red warning (significant threat) would have been more realistic. But what ratio of the population checks the Security Bureau’s website before making travel plans anyway?

Hong Kong’s 15th Handover Anniversary A Reason For Celebration?

Yesterday’s 15th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from Britain to China was highlighted with an elaborate fireworks display that dazzled spectators for 23 minutes. But one question that comes to mind is whether this occasion deserves to be called a celebration?

Fireworks are normally showcased to welcome the Chinese New Year but last night’s display was also part of a tradition that commemorates a transition from one era to another. But at a value of 8 million Hong Kong dollars (US$1.03m) it is an expensive element of celebration, a label many people who joined in rallies in sweltering conditions would likely disagree with.

Chinese President Hu Jintao, right, shakes hands with Hong Kong’s new Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying after Leung was sworn in, at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center in Hong Kong Sunday, July 1, 2012. Hong Kong’s new Beijing-backed leader was sworn in on Sunday amid a rising tide of public discontent over widening inequality and lack of full democracy in the semiautonomous southern Chinese financial center. Pic: AP

For many locals, the suspicious death of dissident and labor rights activist Li Wangyang prompted them to take to the streets and call for full investigation into his death. Li was a veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and spent 21 years in prison. On June 6, Li, who was blind and deaf, was found hanged from a Hunan hospital window. Authorities ruled his death as suicide, even though there are suspicions he didn’t take his own life. Participants in the rally interviewed by the South China Morning Post believed the rally “could make a difference” to how authorities handle Li’s death.

For others it’s a show of disappointment over the city’s new leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who was also sworn in yesterday. Leung, a millionaire property consultant, along with his appointed officials, took oath in front of China’s President Hu Jintao. And to some extent, maybe it’s a show of force against mainlanders who are accused of various things, from pushing property prices to stratospheric levels to taking away maternity slots.

The President’s visit and Chief Executive’s oath of office were the focal points of discontent towards Beijing, accused of meddling Hong Kong’s affairs. For instance, some Hong Kong lawmakers proposed a draft outlining the city’s path to universal suffrage. But so far, the mainland offered consistent rejection of such proposals. It’s therefore not a surprise to notice people don’t trust Mr Leung that much, since he was elected in March not by majority of local people, but by a special committee with close attachment to Beijing. And it is evident through surveys.

A result of a poll released by the University of Hong Kong indicating mistrust towards Beijing at 37%, the highest since the handover. Another survey showed Hongkongers who identify themselves as citizens of China fell to a 13-year low.

Other events held in the day were artistic performances, carnivals and parachute jumping performance, which is fit for certain festivities such as independence day. But many Hong Kong people would beg to disagree.

Hong Kong’s First Storm Signal 8 of 2012

It’s now the season of tropical typhoons but with a long weekend coming up, the city’s first taste of storm signal number 8 could have arrived at a better time.

Don’t be surprised that Hong Kong people would love a rendezvous with very strong winds. Not a fresh gale, which only warrants intermediate warnings, but stronger gusts of wind that fits a specific category and automatically puts the city at a standstill. Classes are suspended, office work and stock market take a break and people pause from the hectic daily routine.

But there’s no break time on a long weekend highlighted by the city’s handover anniversary. Even before Friday, outbound passengers have started to flock to Hong Kong airport to beat the crowd, and spend longer holiday time while teasing everyone with gorgeous vacation photos posted on Facebook.

Photo credit:

Long weekends are spent catching up on lost sleep, hanging out with friends, or in this case, staying awake to watch football games or tennis matches from the other side of the globe. While there are still lots of things that can be done even during foul weather, such weather disturbance presents rather unpleasant distraction to many people. People flying overnight may experience air turbulence. Overnight camping or beach parties may have to be called off. And perhaps government organizers are feeling a bit nervous as to how the weather will affect planned activities for the 15th anniversary of British handover of Hong Kong to China.

If there’s consolation to a typhoon visit, it’s that it wipes out the dirty air that lingered in the city and it keeps more cars in the garage, effectively reducing emissions.

Typhoons remind me of some unforgettable moments in the past and bonding moments with flatmates in the past (movie marathon, scrabble sessions and watching the Wimbledon finals rooting for Goran Ivanisevic and Justine Henin).

For those who are unaware or unsure of what to do during storm signal number 8, this guide may be helpful. If we can only tell Doksuri and siblings to pay us a visit in the middle of the week.