Tuesday, 17 February 2009

The height of subtlety, or irony?

Wish I'd had my camera...

Parked right outside the Police Recreation Club on Saturday was a lovely looking Bentley (or Rolls Royce, sorry, I'm not so good with my luxury cars), bearing the glorious number plate 'SCARFACE'! Subtle, or ironic?!

Not really enjoying the weather at the moment, thank goodness we haven't got any visitors over for half-term / mid-term break - Hong Kong really isn't at her finest in this mist. It seems to me like it hasn't rained for so long it's forgotten how to.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Powering Up

Lamma's Power Station - Three Chimneys

When I started this blog I didn't envisage that so many of the posts would be environmentally focussed, but that's the sector I'm currently working in, so I suppose it's inevitable that my mind should be pointing in that direction.

Anyway, had a very interesting chat with the environmental officer of China Light and Power at a networking function last night. The conversation (as so many seem to) had already swung round to pollution before we found out what she did and she was then very nervous when I asked; she usually gets abuse from people who blame CLP and HK Electric for the terrible pollution here. Unfortunately, as this lady pointed out, it's not as clear-cut as that. The trouble is that a simplistic view of the situation shows that, now industry has almost entirely fled across the border into the Mainland, the power companies are the only major emitters left. So the choking smog must be their fault, right?

Wrong. That ignores the fact that while industry has indeed relocated into China proper, it didn't go far. So now factories that were previously regulated by Hong Kong emission standards are just across the border in Shenzhen and the Pearl River Delta. And of course the wind blowing into Hong Kong from the PRD doesn't respect (semi-)international borders, so along come all the nasties too.

One question I had to ask, even though the power station on Lamma is run by HK Electric rather than CLP, concerns one of the first stories I heard on arrival in Hong Kong. Just after choosing an easy to remember phone number consisting almost entirely of fours I found out about the superstition that (because it sounds like death) the number four is considered very unlucky here. An example related to me involved the Lamma power station, which supposedly started life with five chimneys. Soon it was decided that this was well over capacity, so one of the smokestacks was demolished. However, so unlucky were the remaining four chimneys considered that another was knocked down to leave the three standing today. CLP didn't know anything about this, so I have done some digging today.

It turns out, much as I would have loved to believe the story, that there is no evidence to back it up. Long-time residents can probably help me out here, but I think the Lamma power station was built with, and has only ever had, three chimneys.

Funnily enough, though, I did find a similar story that is true. HK Electric, who run the Lamma power station and supply energy to Lamma, Hong Kong Island, and Ap Lei Chau, used to run a power station on Ap Lei Chau. When it was brought online in 1968, this power station also had three smokestacks. The local community, however, were up in arms because of the similarities between the chimneys and the incense sticks used in ancestor worship and at funerals. In response, HK Electric did indeed build an additional, unused, chimney!

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

HK Electric and the Environment


Toward the end of last year the government announced a rebate of up to HK $300 per month on all electricity bills, supposedly to help the poor. A nice gesture, I thought, although coincidentally our first bill following the announcement was exactly the same as we were expecting without the rebate. Somehow we managed to use $300 more electricity.

Anyway, I haven't really thought much more about it until today. Our bill for last month was zero. Thanks to the cold weather we'd only managed to spend $292 on electricity, rebated down to nothing. Great, one might think, except that today I went in to switch off the dehumidifier because the washing was almost dry and then thought "well, we might as well make the most of the rebate – the bill's bound to be less than $300 again this month otherwise."

Thankfully, my conscience got the better of me and I did turn it off, but how many less environmentally responsible people took far less time than me to reach the conclusion that they have been given a licence to waste electricity?

Not sure that's had the desired effect at all. Surely if the aim was to help the poor a means tested system would be far preferable?

Edit: while writing this post I came across this blog saying a similar thing much better than I have.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Some Videos

Some not very good video of a Lion Dance just outside our flat.

And, from Christmas Eve, the hilarious Big Band (Hong Kong Youth Marines Band, I seem to remember) at HKIA. A brilliant way to start the holiday.

(Yes, that is the fabulous Barbie Girl by Danish pop legends Aqua)

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Blue Sky Thinking

Back from a fantastic week in Malaysia. Not always relaxing, but just the break from Hong Kong we needed. I loved KL. Such a diverse and culturally varied city; a real assault on the senses. From the sounds and smells of Little India (we decided there was no real need to see another Chinatown – incidentally, why is it Little India, but Chinatown), to the quiet magnificence of the Petronas Towers.

However, what I couldn't get over for the first couple of days was just how clear the air was. We could see! KL is roughly the same size as Hong Kong (certainly in population – both around seven million), and has a very familiar feel. Some stunning monoliths, some beautiful natural surroundings, some surprisingly run-down areas. But for all this, it was amazing what a difference a blue sky made. Much in the same way that getting back from Hong Kong Island to Lamma in the evening can feel like a weight lifting off my shoulders, I could feel my mood improving the more I looked up.

I'm certainly not alone in knowing of plenty of people who are actively considering moving away from HK to get away from the pollution here, and a familiar story is of expats who have really noticed their health deteriorate since moving here. Just yesterday I chatted with a colleague who has recently arrived after spending seven years in Singapore. After trying HK Island for a month or so, they felt they had to move to Discovery Bay to try to find some cleaner air. Another is having to move from Kowloon to Sai Kung to try to alleviate his daughter's asthma.

So what to do about it? Well, that's the thorny issue, isn't it? This site shows some of the strategies already in place, and (certainly compared with other major cities) it's actually fairly comprehensive and encouraging, but I feel that it is not executed with sufficient vigour or enthusiasm. There are also numerous non-governmental bodies doing their best to raise awareness (although anyone that has glanced across the harbour and not been able to see the other side should already have a fairly good idea of the scale of the problem) and implement solutions. The problem, however, is that tackling pollution sources in Hong Kong is only part of the battle. What to do about the smog billowing down the Pearl Delta from Guangdong and Shenzhen is quite another matter. However, the light at the end of the tunnel is that this pollution is often 'made in Hong Kong,' in the sense that the majority of heavy polluters in the mainland are HK owned. What is needed is for the government to be bold and introduce legislation that compels HK owned, but mainland located, polluters to meet rigorous emission standards. And, as is slowly starting to happen, planning legislation must be equally bold in preventing new developments from further preventing free air flow and thereby causing pollutant build-up.

Especially with the current economic situation, Hong Kong cannot just sit back and let the exodus gather pace, this is a key opportunity to do something about it.