I spent Easter holidays cycling in Kaiping, Guangdong – a city of 0.7 million which was scarcely known by anyone at work. China is a hierarchical place and cities are categorized as tier 1, 2 or 3 depending on their significance. Kaiping is less a tier and more an illegal extra floor.
When I told my co-workers about my plans they feared for my life. Hong Kong is such a safe place it has warped people’s concept of danger. So far this year HK has had two murders, 12 suicides, and one Darwin Award entrant short-listed for falling 400m off Lion’s Rock while taking a self portrait. No one is attacked in HK; harm is largely self(ie) afflicted.
The biggest danger I faced in Kaiping was my tendency to drift onto the wrong side of the road while cycling the quiet country roads.
Kaiping’s correctly famous for its Diaolous. These quirky fortified houses look ancient but are less than 100 years old. There are around 1000 scattered around the county. Four clusters are in particularly good nick all less than 20 km from Kaiping – they have collectively been designated as UNESCO sites. Kaiping and nearby villages were used as a location for two well known Hong Kong movies: the beautifully shot Grandmaster about Ip Man, Bruce Lee’s Kung Fu teacher, and A Better Tomorrow once Hong Kong’s biggest grossing film. It also has familial connections to many western countries as the county was a major source of migrants fleeing the bandits, recession and opium addiction that marked the end of the Qing dynasty at the turn of last century. Their remitted wealth was used to build the Diaolou a fascinating series of follies, which are so numerous they became the vernacular. Its other claim to fame is it’s the sanitary wares capital of the world.
There aren’t many foreign looking tourists and people spontaneously came and practised their English on me. Typical dialogue: Where are you from? Hong Kong. Where are you really from? London before Hong Kong. Where are you really, really from? I was born in India, then moved to England. I had the feeling this still left their yin and yang out of kilter.
I stayed in the imaginatively named Kaiping Hotel. It was brilliant – the bathroom was bigger than our Hong Kong flats bedroom. It of course had exemplary sanitary-ware. I had an entire western restaurant to myself and was serenaded by a sultry jazz singer who crooned Nora Jones at me.
China’s got many interesting smaller cities like Kaiping, where the old hasn’t yet been pulled down and replaced. Well worth a visit.
Unlike most of its reviewers I watched the second instalment of the Sword and Calligraphy epic last week and loved it. It’s shorn of the original director Ang Lee and star Hong Konger Chow Yun-fat, but gorgeous Michelle Yeoh is in. If you like fighting scenes that wouldn’t look out of place in the Royal Ballet or Cirque du Soleil and a cast of chivalrous warrior-clerics you’ll enjoy it too. My favourite scene was a fight on a frozen lake. The thought of being trapped under ice scares me silly but as these guys keep on with their pirouetting flying side kicks in the moon-light as the ice collapses under them.
The film debuted not in the cinemas but on Netflix (and also a few IMAX screens). Netflix entered the Hong Kong market just a few weeks ago and is having difficulties getting subscribers. None of my co-workers see the point of subscribing. Most of the shows Netflix subscribers from USA and UK expect can’t be shown as the Asian rights have been bought-up some other companies. So the schedules are still a little thin. There is also a longer term cultural challenge for Netflix. Colleagues are just so used to downloading free films that the concept of paying for content genuinely confuses them.
The day after the Sword of Destiny’s Netflix debut was announced US’s largest cinema chain Regal announced they would not screen it. The next day the other big cinema chains followed suit. The economics are fascinating. Monthly subscription to Netflix is about the same price as a single adult movie ticket. The cinemas have declared war on Netflix. So far Netflix has free-ridden on the movie companies buying content for cheap, since the costs of production have already recouped from cinematic or TV subscription audiences. Whether its business model can withstand the costs of the originating high-cost material will be interesting. As Sun-tzu points out in Art of War – successful military campaigns require limiting the cost of competition and conflict. Perhaps originating new movies is too pricey a tool!
The Hong Kong Consumer Council published its first report on sustainable consumption a couple of weeks ago. The highlight are results from the first survey of Hong Kong consumers knowledge, attitudes and behaviours to sustainability. Also a chapter on firm’s listing on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange pitiful corporate social responsibility reports. The stock exchange is toughening up the rules so should see an improvement. The metabolic rate of policy making in Hong Kong is much slower than in the UK and we managed to get the two members of the cabinet to speak at the report’s launch. Organising an event in HK is very different to UK – with as much attention given to the group photos as the contents of the talk.
Organising conferences about sustainable consumption is much easier than making it happen. TRAFFIC arranged a three-day workshop to help activists in SE Asian countries stop illegal or unsustainable trade in rare wildlife – ivory, tiger parts but also less photogenic plants and animals like agarwood and the truly ugly humphead wrasse. Hong Kongers make a lot of money out of trading in illegal substances – a sad legacy of Britain’s imperial past!
Mainland China’s pushing the idea of “Ecological Civilisation”. Hard to tell whether it’s a coherent alternative to current neo-liberal capitalism with some market based environmental policy or just a soundbite. But certainly true that they’re quickly replacing old polluting factories with less polluting ones, poor air quality in Chinese cities is a high priority and there’s a substantial market in green finance opening up.