This relay was sponsored by…

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Olympic torch in Hong Kong - May 2, 2008

This is expected and nothing really out of the ordinary: the Olympic torch relay in Hong Kong was heavily sponsored. Samsung flags and thundersticks (with Beijing logos too) were handed out to the people lining the streets.

Olympic torch in Hong Kong - May 2, 2008

Here was a whole delegation wearing these green or red t-shirts and red caps with Coca-Cola’s signature. The torch group was preceded by a Coca-Cola truck (along with an official car, if I remember correctly), that hinted to the crowd that what they came to see was approaching.

“Sai Kung bus crash”: the bad news in China

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Newsstand in North Point

What made the news in Hong Kong on May 1st wasn’t the Labour Day march, but rather this bus crash out in the New Territories burgh of Sai Kung. 17 people died and 45 more were injured.

This comes another transport accident, involving two trains colliding in Shandong province, with one of the trains on a high-speed route between Beijing and the port town of Qingdao, where sailing events for the Olympics are to be held.

Labour Day march in Hong Kong

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Labour Day 2008 march in Hong Kong

Just like three years ago when I bumped into the annual Establishment Day march (July 1st), I again bumped into another march, this time for Labour Day, May 1st. I was walking in Wan Chai, near the small basketball court (nor Southorn), when I saw the local police cordoning off the left-most lane of Hennessy Road, one of Hong Kong Island’s main artery (where the tram circulates). I first thought that they were doing some sort of repetition for today’s Olympic flame march, but it wasn’t the case, clearly as I saw the people with loudspeakers chanting familiar labour union slogans in Cantonese.

>> Listen to the march passing in Wan Chai (~25mins – 11Mb)

I would say that a good half of the marchers were migrant workers, usually what seemed to be domestic helpers as they are usually called. Can’t quote a number for this entry, but a majority of middle-class families employs domestic helpers in Hong Kong. They typically come from the Philippines, but based on the posters I’ve seen, also from Nepal, Thailand, and Indonesia. On this public holiday, they took the street on their day off (who aand chanted “ga yaan gong”, for “raise salary”.

It was a small, peaceful march. I am going to see the Olympic torch today in Wan Chai, the last leg of its passage in Hong Kong. That is, if I can get even get near the path!

Flickr set of the event

The Beijing Olympics in Hong Kong

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Hong Kong Tramway colored Olympics 2008

While my hometown is hockey, my temporary one is Olympics. While not overly in-your-face to the point of seeing only that, the Beijing Olympics are quite noticeable in Hong Kong. It is a lot more than it is in Canada (more so because of the volume of advertisement here, I think) and the ads are not necessarily associated with commercial partnerships, as demonstrated in the previous picture of a Hong Kong tramway. Hong Kong people strongly support the Olympics (see opinion poll), and the feeling about the Olympics here is a far cry from the sentiment felt in Western countries.

Moreover, equestrian competitions for the 2008 Olympics are to be held in Hong Kong, for hygiene reasons, and probably also because of the territory’s long horse racing tradition.

I was in Taiwan last week for a week, and any Olympics-related advertisement was nowhere to be seen (but I did not go look for it).

I am about to board my flight for Beijing, so I might be able to tell you in a week how it compares!

Looking for the Habs in Hong Kong (Part 2)

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The Keg, Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong

Yesterday morning, for Game 2 of the Montreal-Boston NHL playoffs series, I again went to Lan Kwai Fong to see whether I could find a bar that was open, and showed ice hockey live… The answer was a simple no. The bar most often cited as showing hockey, often taped in advance, but sometimes live, if the game’s in afternoon, was The Keg, located up the slope on the LKF block. Unfortunately, just like most of the other establishment at this hour (8AM), its doors were closed shut, and noone was to be seen.

I left a message under the door, and the lady managing The Keg called me back. She said that the bar, of Canadian ownership, only opened for business at 5:30PM, and closed at 4AM. If there are games in the afternoon in North America, it was possible that they can be shown live… This is how it goes here for hockey! So, either receive it on some special satellite channel (don’t know how) or watch it illegally on the web!

I am flying to Beijing tomorrow, and will be looking there again. A few names have been mentioned, but who knows…

Looking for the Habs in Hong Kong (Part 1)

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Canadiens in Central Hong Kong

I arrived in Hong Kong from Taipei yesterday night, and woke up early this morning to try to catch live, Game 1 of the Habs’ series against the Bruins.

So, I decided to make my way to Lan Kwai Fong, otherwise known as the expats’ party area, near the business district of Central. Streets were expectedly empty (it was 8AM, after all), and I walked around the block, to find only one bar open (and open is used broadly). The lady there told me that they had live sports from America in the morning (not exactly this, but we assume it’s that), but it was more probable in the weekend.

I walked passed The Keg, which several expats mentioned to me as a place to go for ice hockey on TV, but was unfortunately closed, as seen on the picture.

Finally, I settled for a web broadcasting of the game. I struggled a little with PCCW’s hotspots, and went to Central Government Office down the street, where I used a free wifi hotspot provided by the local GovWifi program.

Laptop w/ streaming hockey game in HK

I shall look again on Sunday morning, for Game 2…

Jaywalking on Hennessy Road

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Jaywalking on Hennessy (1 of 2)

Consider that Hennessy Road is the main artery crossing through Hong Kong Island, is something like five lanes wide, on top of two tramway lanes, and you will agree with me that jaywalking it is not for the weakhearted!

This morning, on my way to visa office, I noticed several people traversing Hennessy outside of designated crossings. One must know that at several places, Hennessy is fenced, effectively preventing pedestrians from jaywalking to the other side. For someone who comes to Hong Kong every three years, and who is not fully awake (HK follows the British habit of driving on the wrong side…), jaywalking can be pretty risky business, and I was very surprised to notice these people, a business man in suit, highschoolers, going about as if it was nothing…

Jaywalking on Hennessy (2 of 2)

Arrival in Hong Kong

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Unboard flight CO99

Just arrived in Hong Kong, and using the wifi network here. Unlike in Newark, where I had to pay $8 for my Internet, the service at Hong Kong International Airport is free!

Got out a lot earlier than I thought, so I took out my laptop to blog, check e-mails for 15 minutes (must not get sucked in). The flight was 15-hour long from Newark. With the 4-hour wait in New Jersey, and the flight from Montreal, this was a total of 22 hours spent travelling.

Very exciting to be back in Hong Kong. The most striking thing? Masses of people who look like me, and who speak in Cantonese (sometimes in Mandarin, or presumably Tagalog, as I encountered what seemed to be Filipina maids-to-be (or were they just travellers like me?…).

I traded in my old Octopus, got 30 dollars back, but had to pay 150HKD to get a new one.

SCMP - 2008-03-30

Got today’s SCMP and I suppose that I am ready to take the A11 to meet my grandparents, who rented a flat out in the 300-something Hennessy, in Wan Chai.

What $200 Will Buy on Shanghai Street

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Brothel on Shanghai Street, by christopher dewolf

Read my update (2009-11-03): What will $200 in fact still get you on Shanghai Street?

Brothels in Hong Kong are pretty obvious, even to the untrained eye. In 2002, on my first trip to Hong Kong, I was told by relatives to well differentiate between karaoke bars and music boxes (the latter being the one that you go to with family and young children). In 2005, when I decided to walk on my own in the streets of Hong Kong, I finally realized that they might just be part of the background, almost as if it were just any other “service”.

My friends Chris and Laine are apparently having a great time in Hong Kong, eating well, wandering in a lot of places. Yesterday, Chris posted a pair of articles on Urbanphoto, including a piece on the brothel area on Shanghai Street, around Yau Ma Tei and Jordan:

Shanghai Street is one of those long, straight Kowloon roads that seem to change character every few blocks. In the south, near Jordan Road, are grocery stores and restaurants, along with a handful of shops catering to Nepalese, Indian and Pakistani immigrants. In the north, past Argyle Street, home furnishing stores predominate. The red light district falls somewhere in between.

For the most part, brothels in Yau Ma Tei and Mongkok are coyly disguised as “karaoke bars,” their real vocation indicated by the pretty, busty girls on their signs, often accompanied by a price. On Shanghai Street, though, the sex trade is as blatant as it gets in Hong Kong, with hookers waiting on the sidewalk and brothels that do away with all pretense of offering karaoke and instead unabashedly advertise their real wares. Here, racism and sexism come together in cardboard signs posted at the entrances to old walkup apartment buildings: “China Girl 250; Hong Kong Girl 250; Malay Girl 200; Russian Girl 550; Free Preview.”

It’s a bit of a shock to see these signs displayed so openly, especially since most aspects of prostitution, including the operation of a brothel, are illegal in Hong Kong. It is hard not to read into them a mirror of the more unsavoury side of Hong Kong society, one that is often shameless in its contempt for the 300,000 Filipina and Indonesian domestic helpers that live and work in the territory.

Yesterday, on the bus, my girlfriend overhead a couple ranting about the gall their helper had in asking for time off to visit her sick mother in the Philippines. “What, does she think that she’ll get better if she goes to visit?” one of them said, before complaining about her eating habits. “Some of those damn Filipinas eat so much.” With attitudes like that, is it any surprise that such a low value is placed on women, and in particular Southeast Asian women, on Shanghai Street?

But the red light district on lasts for only a few blocks; it’s easy to walk past and, if you want, easy to forget.

This article was originally posted by Christopher DeWolf on the collaborative blog Urbanphoto, which he runs.