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They seek her here, they seek her there, they seek her everywhere, but where is the new-look, caring, sharing, new leaf turned over Carrie Lam?

The apology was nice. The promise to listen more was encouraging, and what have we seen since? Not much. The lady has disappeared into the Fuhrer bunker, meeting only groups of her presumably disgruntled supporters, police unions, and other implausible sources of information on what the people are singing.

I do not approve of people vandalising public buildings, but what was she expecting? Those who turn a deaf ear to polite requests should expect rude requests. Having made it impossible for young radicals to enter Legco as elected members the government should not be surprised that some of them are instead entering as burglars. This is what happens when you sabotage the electoral process.

I realise there is a matter of face involved here. The government does not wish to admit defeat. But we have to be realistic about these things. The extradition bill was a resounding mistake and resounding mistakes have consequences.

No doubt those concerned are now genuinely sorry, but sorrow, as Baloo points out in the Jungle Book, stays not punishment.

It is no good saying that you now want to put this divisive stuff behind us and get on with economic and livelihood issues. This put you in the position of the guest who kicks the dog, gropes your daughter, insults your wife and stubs a cigarette out on your sideboard, and then as you prepare to throw him out asks “what’s for dinner?”

In one respect the government has been lucky. Unlike the Umbrella movement, the protestors have generally only asked for things which are in the government’s gift. The problem with the CE election method was in Beijing. Current discontents concern matters which are clearly for our government to decide if it wishes to do so.

Under the circumstances it is a good idea, having identified a feasible concession, to make it in a generous way which allows everyone concerned to tick it off their lists. Instead we get grudging inch-by-inch concessions which annoy the government’s poodles without satisfying its critics.

Let us take the bill itself. The official line is now that this has been suspended. It will not be unsuspended and the government accepts that it will die when the Legco session ends next year.

Protestors, meanwhile, want the bill withdrawn. Unnecessary, say the officials. Well yes, but if the bill is unofficially dead why not have it officially dead rather than have the corpse lying around stinking the place up?

Then there is the matter of whether June 12 should be described as a riot. This is another issue where words are more of a problem than substance. Actually from a legal point of view it does not matter whether the Chief Executive or the Police Commissioner describe the event as a riot.

In the old days, back in the UK, this was different. When a public disorder took place a Justice of the Peace would turn up. In those days being a JP was a real – though part-time – job, not a cheap ornament bestowed on the government’s supporters.

The attending magistrate would then read out a picturesque paragraph specified in the Riot Act: “Our sovereign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George, for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies. God save the King.”

After an hour had passed the disorder then legally became a riot, and anyone still present could be charged and convicted whatever he or she was actually doing. The maximum penalty was three years in jail, or two with hard labour.

But this was not the system in the colonies. Hong Kong’s law in the matter is much simpler. Any assembly without police approval is an unlawful assembly. If violence occurs it is a riot and all those present are rioters whether they are personally violent or not. And the maximum penalty is ten years.

This is a bad law and the general reluctance to use it over the years is quite understandable. The suggestion that only those who have been violent will be prosecuted for rioting suggests a way out of the impasse. This would be to say that nobody would be charged with rioting; those who have been violent will be charged with the appropriate variation on assault and those who have not been violent will not be charged at all.

At this point we come to an interesting obstacle in the shape of former prosecutor Grenville Cross, who has informed everyone who would listen that any concession along these lines would be a gross infringement of the rule of law, which requires that prosecutions should be decided purely on the basis of whether a crime has been committed and whether there is a reasonable prospect of conviction.

But wait a minute! Is this not the Grenville Cross who explained at great length, many moons ago, why it was perfectly consistent with the rule of law for his boss the then Secretary for Justice to decide not to prosecute Sally Aw Sian, even though a crime had apparently been committed, and two of her underlings were eventually convicted of it?

Those of us who thought this was a little odd were told that we were being naïve and simplistic. Prosecutors had to consider not only whether a crime had been committed and a conviction was likely, but also whether a prosecution would be in the public interest.

It was perfectly proper, Mr Cross then thought, for a prosecutor to exercise his or her discretion on this point.

But according to Messrs Robertson and Nichols, whose book on media law has the useful quality of covering what you can do as well as what you can’t, when an official has a discretion whether to prosecute it is perfectly acceptable to express an opinion on how that discretion should be exercised.

So there would be no objection to some senior person expressing the view that it would not be in the public interest for the colonial antique to be used to prosecute protestors, and for the Secretary for Justice to agree. If that is what is wished for…

Then there is the matter of the inquiry into police conduct on June . First this elicited a flat no. Existing system perfectly satisfactory. Then the Independent Police Complaints people said they would set up a little task force to look at assaults and other misunderstandings involving the media.

Last week it emerged that the police complaints people were going to do a look at the whole thing. Carrie, while maintaining that this was entirely the complaints people’s idea, promptly endorsed it and set a deadline.

So we have another half-hearted concession which will satisfy nobody. The resulting inquiry will not have the powers of a proper commission, it will be undertaken by people who do not command instant trust, and it will be done in a tearing hurry.

This is an important omission because there is an important topic which calls for a proper inquiry.

During the protests in Hong Kong over the Tienanmen Massacre huge numbers of people turned out. If anyone carried an umbrella it was to keep the sun off. Protests against proposed national security legislation in 2003 were also huge and peaceful.

In 2005 the World Trade Organisation met in Hong Kong and a visiting group of Korean rice farmers introduced a rather different protest culture. Hong Kong people watched the ensuing tussles and admired the general restraint shown by the forces of order. Pepper spray in those days came in a little aerosol like the ones some ladies carry for self-defence.

There was some tear gas use on the last evening but it seemed that was more or less what the Korean farmers wanted.

After that things started to go downhill. Quite small protests attracted generous use of pepper spray. Protestors started taking an interest in goggles and face masks. On the first night of Occupy there was a barrage of tear gas. Umbrellas became a practical necessity because pepper now came in a sort of giant water pistol with which policemen could pick off people yards way.

The level of violence has steadily increased. It seems nowadays that two groups of young men turn up on these occasions, both dressed and equipped for their role in the proceedings, ready to rumble and united only in their contempt and indifference for the poor pacifists shuttling between the two sides trying to calm them down.

An ominous recent development is the appearance of chemical weapons on the protest side. This is worrying because the police chemical weapons have been tested and used elsewhere. They are known to be non-lethal, at least if the user follows the instructions on the can.

Something some oft-peppered protestor cooks up in his kitchen from household chemicals offers no such comfortable assurance, and may be much more dangerous.

It is, I fear, going to be very difficult to undo this long-term escalation in levels of violence. As Clausewitz put it, it is difficult to reinstate limits which depended largely on people not realising what was possible.

In the meantime our leaders could usefully try to be more soothing, instead of seeking every opportunity to make partisan points. It is, for example, manifest nonsense to say that Legco must now be paralysed because its spiffy new chamber is unusable.

When the British House of Commons was bombed during the Blitz, members simply moved to a nearby chapel. Our universities, now subsiding for the summer, all have nice big meeting rooms with microphones and translation booths. In the 80s Legco used to meet in a rather unimpressive and very low tech hall which looked rather like a small suburban cinema.

Those who wish to work can work. Those who wish to blame the government’s critics for unrepaired hospitals, unraised wages or unfinanced projects need to remember what we are supposed to be doing: heel rifts, resolve conflicts, all that stuff. Or has that line been abandoned already?










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Here’s an interesting quiz, though it gets a mite depressing later. I briefly summarise five recent cases from the criminal courts:

  1. A man tried to strangle a nurse. She was a tough cookie and fought him off.
  2. Another man, aged 31, molested a boy for four years, starting when the victim was aged ten. Most of the offences were filmed.
  3. A domestic helper tried to poison her employer by peeing in her drinking water.
  4. A 15-year-old girl was caught carrying a small suitcase full of cocaine across the border.
  5. A woman had a row with her 83-year-old father and inflicted multiple injuries on his head with a meat cleaver.

Now, using your skill and observation, as we used to say on the flagrantly gambling “spot the ball” competitions in English evening newspapers, which defendant do you think was sentenced to 17 and a half years in prison?

Was it the Wicked Uncle Ernie, who fiddled about for years with an unsuspecting infant? Was it one of the three people who tried, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, to kill people who had annoyed them? No. That’s trivial stuff.  The decade and a half of porridge was served on the kid, one Hui Ching-yi.

In fairness to the judge concerned, Mr Justice Lee Wan-tang – who seems to be following in the footsteps of Lord Goddard, if not of George Jeffreys – the law’s delays had taken their usual toll by the time of the trial, so the girl was 17 when sentenced.

That is of course still too young to drive, vote, marry without your parents’ consent or buy a beer. But it is not too young to feel the effects of Hong Kong’s barbaric and ineffective approach to the proverbial war on drugs, on which more detail here: https://timhamlett.com/2018/06/28/on-drugs-cases-and-throwing-away-the-key/

Whatever the merits of passing inordinately long sentences on adults, there can surely be no justification for treating a child like this.

Most of us did things which were stupid, or illegal, or both, when we were 15. I understand the point that judges are not allowed to consider probation for a drugs offence. Something custodial may be unavoidable.

This hardly justifies sending a young person to prison for longer than she has been on this earth. I note also that she had pleaded guilty and cooperated with police inquiries. So the 17.5 years came after a discount.

As is often the case in matters of this kind the girl had an appalling family background.

Here: https://www.timeout.com/hong-kong/blog/hong-kongs-top-10-infamous-criminals-051316 you will find a list of Hong Kong’s “most infamous criminals”. Most of them are serial killers. The two who were not are former Chief Superintendant Peter Godber (four years for corruption) and Carson Yeung (six years for money laundering).

There is something missing in Hong Kong’s sentencing practices, and it seems to be a sense of proportion. One can, I suppose, hope that the young lady can appeal. I suspect, though, that Mr Lee was following some deplorable guideline from the Court of Appeal.

Well it is nice to have an independent judiciary. One could wish they were a little less independent of common humanity. Don’t tell me you’re just doing your jobs. Nobody forced you to become a judge. Inflicting punishments like this on erring teenagers is just legalised child abuse.


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She doesn’t get it

She doesn’t get it, does she? The problem of our embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam, epitomised in the quote lovingly plucked from her tearless apology by the Standard’s sub editors, is that she thinks this is just a little skid on the road to paradise, easily corrected by a twitch of the wheel and a lifting of the brake foot.

Here we go: “I want another chance to deliver the many initiatives that will help Hong Kong’s economy and improve the livelihood of Hong Kong people.”

This divides policy decisions into two crisp categories: economy and livelihood stuff, which she thinks she’s good at, and the political/legal stuff, which we shall carefully avoid in future.

This is a false division. The extradition bill is an economic issue. If businesspeople think that they cannot live and work in Hong Kong without the risk of a few months in gaol fighting extradition, followed by an appearance on Confessiontube and a few years in a mainland prison, then they will live and work in Singapore, and take their money and their business down there.

People have a variety of views about the merits of living in Singapore, but we can all agree that it’s an improvement on a mainland prison.

Similarly, extradition is a livelihood issue for anyone who thinks he might be on a shitlist north of the boundary. The standard of living in mainland gaols is low, and opportunities for gainful employment non-existent. You cannot even sell your own organs when you die. They are already spoken for.

And even if the safety precautions work, and your legal ordeal in Hong Kong ends with extradition being refused, you will generally spend the intervening period in custody. This is not a prospect to be taken lightly. Let me quote from an (alas) anonymous English barrister on the perils of a remand in custody:

Everything you have built over the course of a lifetime – your relationships, your family, your employment, your home – is suddenly without notice snatched away and placed on a high shelf beyond your reach…

And every day that passes is another day that your life is continuing without you in it. Your partner going about her business. Your job still needing to be done. Your children hitting their developmental milestones. Rent accumulating and bills piling up, and the consequences of their neglect – dismissal, eviction, repossession, disconnection – awaiting you upon your release or, more painfully, exacted upon your loved ones as you watch their suffering helplessly through the prison bars.”

A leader who was lining that up for some of us has no claim to confidence in her ability to improve livelihoods, and it seems to have taken her a long time to spot the economy angle.

Indeed a lot of people in the government camp seem to be having difficulty getting their heads round what has happened in the last couple of weeks. How many people have parroted that line about “the Complaints against Police Office and Independent Police Complaints Council have always been effective in handling complaints”?

This is beyond a joke. The CAPO gets about 130 complaints a month. This is what happened to them in the last period I can find detailed figures for: “In 2006 to 2008, 325 police officers were disciplined on substantiation of the complaints against them. Of these, 292 were given advice, 12 given warnings, 12 cautioned, two reprimanded, six severely reprimanded and one dismissed subsequent to criminal conviction.”

In other words, of about 3,000 complaints, more than 2,500 produced no result at all. They were “unsubstantiated,” or classified as “not pursuable”, which is the committee’s tactful way of saying that all the witnesses present were policemen who saw nothing.

Nearly 300 of the remaining complaints resulted in a police person being given “advice”. Ouch! The only person dismissed had been convicted of a criminal offence. There is no reason to suppose that the recent performance of the system has been any different.

No doubt complaints about recent events will be handled in the same “effective” way.

Another massively inappropriate response was produced by Ronnie Tong, who suggested that anyone who turned up at a protest wearing a hard hat could be charged with intention to riot. Actually a shortage of pretexts for putting people in prison is not the government’s most pressing problem at the moment, but even if it was, Mr Tong’s suggestion has the drawbacks of being illogical (do we suppose that the driver who puts on a safety belt intends to ram a bus?) and illegal. What, no presumption of innocence?

Actually the only person among the government troops who appears to realise the seriousness of what has happened is Alice Mak, who sits in Legco for the NT West constituency, where she ran on behalf the Federation of Trade Unions. Reportedly Ms Mak’s opinion of Ms Lam, as expressed in a closed-door meeting for the government’s poodles, went on for five minutes, was highly critical and included some of the Cantonese words which when translated into English contain four letters.

This is unnecessary. The traditional resort on these occasions is to reach for your Browning – the poet, not the pistol – who produced this gem for a “Lost Leader”:

Life’s night begins: let him never come back to us!
There would be doubt, hesitation, and pain,
Forced praise on our part—the glimmer of twilight,
Never glad confident morning again!

What Ms Mak realises, and Ms Lam apparently doesn’t, is that the last couple of weeks have not been a minor hiccup in the smooth flow of public administration. They have been a political earthquake. Tsunami to follow in coming elections.

Hong Kong people traditionally divided into three roughly equal groups. There were those who welcomed the handover, and liked, or for a variety of reasons pretended to like, the idea of ever-closer unification with China.

There were those, on the other hand, who thought that the preservation of the rights and freedoms to which Hongkongers were accustomed was far from certain, and could only be ensured by allowing residents of the city a greater say in their own government.

And there was a middle group, who took things from day to day, had other things to worry about, and hoped that if they did not bother politics then politics would not bother them. This group has, effectively, been kicked off the fence. Few of them are landing on Ms Lam’s side of it.

So it’s the end of the line for the happy-clappy “The more we are together the happier we shall be”, “Xi is our Dada and Carrie is our Mama”, “You don’t love Hong Kong if you don’t love China”, and all the associated rubbish which has been played ad nauseam since the Handover. Nobody is singing that stuff any more.

The government needs a new selling point, something fresh that will appeal to the disillusioned and disenchanted. May I suggest “a high degree of autonomy” and “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong”?




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Carrie Lam is notoriously impervious to advice. So this letter is just a sort of thought experiment.

Dear Ms Lam,

Sorry to read that you had shed tears on television last week. I did a lot of television interviewing in my time and the interviewees all emerged from the experience dry-eyed. Weeping on the tube isn’t a good look for someone who was once described as an “iron lady with a will of steel.”

Still, looking on the bright side, it was perhaps a better look than the equivalent performance in English, in which you came across like one of the robot receptionists they are reportedly deploying in Japanese capsule hotels these days.

This is not a complaint. Interesting piece in the Guardian the other day about the fact that people feel emotions less strongly when using second languages. I suggest you aim for a happy medium next time.

I am afraid there is a certain cynicism in media circles about your lachrymose melt-down. The naïve viewer watching television may erroneously suppose that he or she and you are more or less face-to-face, having a friendly chat. But of course we, and you, know better.

The interview is preceded by a negotiation phase about times and places. The interviewing organisation will give an idea of the topics to be covered.

The team arrives, or you arrive in the studio, and you are introduced to a wide range of people whose names you will instantly forget. Nothing to feel guilty about – they expect this. Then you will chat with the interviewer, who will give you a rather more specific idea of what questions to expect.

There is then a long pause, in which you can contemplate your answers. During this time the cameraman in fiddling with his camera, the lighting man is fiddling with his lights, and the sound man will interrupt your cogitations with a polite request for you to run the microphone wire down the inside front of your blouse so that he doesn’t have to put his hand in a place where it does not usually belong.

Various people will conduct tests to see if their machinery is working, and you will be asked to say a few words to check sound levels. May I recommend “manacles, barnacles, follicles, testing?” It cheers up the crew.

The point of all this is that being interviewed is at the best of times a long-winded experience, preceded by a lot of time to prepare for what is to come. It involves sitting in a highly artificial situation surrounded by strangers. An emotional reaction to a question looks fishy.

Having said which, some people still do it. According to legend the late great Australian prime minister Bob Hawke actually announced in advance that he was going to make a tearful apology on national television and got away with it. But he was popular. You, alas…

Leaving aside the tears, though, I would really like to have a word on the matter which got you going, which was the question whether you had “betrayed Hong Kong”, and your answer, which was that you had made “great sacrifices” for the city.

Logically, I fear, your answer does not really settle the matter. It is perfectly possible that both the betrayal and sacrifices are perpetrated by the same person. As Oscar Wilde put it:

“Yet each man kills the thing he loves
By each let this be heard.
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word.
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!”

This is a verse from the “Ballad of Reading Gaol”. You could usefully read the rest of it, available here. It might make your government less eager to find legal pretexts for jailing its critics.

Let us consider first the sacrifices. My problem with this argument is that your position is in many ways an enviable one, even from the position of fully paid up members of the middle classes like me.

You work in a large office. It has a private loo and a changing room. In the vicinity, but in smaller offices, is a fleet of underlings ready to undertake the parts of your job which are boring, repetitive or difficult. Your personal office space comfortably exceeds the acreage which your government considers adequate for the housing of a four-person family, or indeed for a larger one.

Your salary is not only larger than that of the president of the United States or the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. It is actually larger than both of them put together. You are income-wise a global star, second only to the Prime Minister of Singapore. And this does not take into account the fact that you can also collect a generous government pension, an amenity which your government adamantly refuses to supply for the rest of us.

When it is time to go home you go down to the ground floor (is there a personal lift, I wonder?) where your chariot awaits. The driver is on overtime, but that does not matter. You are not paying him. We are.

He whisks you to Government House, where a further fleet of cooks, cleaners, bottlewashers etc. waits to do your bidding. They are also on the taxpayer. Government House itself is a spacious palace. Frederick the Great thought 12 rooms was enough for his palace at Sans Souci. But that is not enough for you.

You have a tennis court in the garden, an unimaginable luxury even for people like Lufsig with two houses on the Peak. And if it is raining you can play tennis in your ballroom. It’s big enough.

Money and housing and servants are, I realise, not everything. Sacrifices may take other forms, like forgoing privacy, leisure, the long-awaited chance to pursue time-consuming hobbies, or to join family members in some hospitable English-speaking country with no extradition treaty with China.

Still, you are left rather in the position of the man who asked the court for a lenient sentence because, having murdered his parents, he was now an orphan. Your situation is the result of your choices.

This cannot be said of the Hongkongers who sleep in MacDonalds because they can’t afford air-conditioning, or the men who sleep under fly-overs because they can’t find a hospitable cage, or the old ladies I used to see collecting empty beer cans on Repulse Bay beach at 4 am because they had no other source of income.

Your ‘sacrifices’ have to be measured against those you imposed on other people … without, I fear, even thinking about it.

As for the matter of betrayal, how many people have to walk down Hennessy Road before you get the message?

The attraction of ‘one country, two systems’, and the reason why the handover in 1997 was not marked by a wave of emigration or suicide, was that it offered continuity. As Deng Xiaoping put it in 1984: “Hong Kong’s current social and economic systems will remain unchanged, its legal system will remain basically unchanged, its way of life and its status as a free port and an international trade and financial centre will remain unchanged…”

To put it less tactfully, the boundary between the Hong Kong SAR and the mainland is supposed to ensure that we are not subjected to mainland habits in the matters of politics, economics and law, which are respectively despotic, dirigiste and non-existent. And this happy state of affairs is supposed to persist for 50 years.

The year 2047 is not, as some of the People’s puppets repeatedly assert, the point at which we are supposed to be happily engulfed in the motherland’s caring bosom. It is the end of the period in which we were promised that important things would not change.

“Treason” is a strong word. But how else are we to characterise your importation of such habits as jailing dissidents, banning parties, deporting journalists, directing investment, and dispensing with the rule of law? If the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong SAR wants to dismantle our defences what chance do we stand?

Integration with the mainland may offer many advantages but it should not have escaped your notice that most of us do not want it. It is not your job to force it down our reluctant throats.

Bad enough to be raped, without having the person who is supposed to protect you advising “Lie back and enjoy it.”

The CPPCC needs you. Enjoy your retirement.





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History always seems to repeat itself if you wait long enough, and this now seems to have happened to the hair business.

The latest thing, pioneered by a Japanese company called QB House, is a high-tech quick version. You go in, pay (Octopus is not just accepted – it is insisted on) and unless you have to wait on the bench supplied you will be done and dusted in ten minutes.

The business model excludes all the usual frills. They do not do perms, they do not do colouring, hair transplants or even shampoos. They just cut. The ten minute duration is guaranteed.

There are some ingenious innovations, like a sort of tame vacuum cleaner to make sure your hair debris doesn’t accompany you out of the shop. There is the promise that the implements are disinfected between clients, which is nice though I wouldn’t have missed it if it wasn’t there. And just so you know nobody else has used your comb they encourage the customer to keep it at the end of the performance.

I felt a bit guilty the first time. I have been going to the same, more traditional, place for a long time. They do a good job. But they do like to wash it, which I am personally happy to do myself, they take at least twice as long and charge at least twice as much.

So I have had the quicky a couple of times now. I was sitting on the bench waiting for my turn when I suddenly realised why the whole scene seemed, despite the modern design and equipment, eerily familiar.

Back in the 50s – that’s the 1950s, children – hair care was organised on gender lines. Ladies made appointments and went to hairdressers, where they spent a lot of time with chemicals, curlers and those monstrous driers which look like they’re trying to eat your head.

Men, on the other hand, went to barbers, so called because before the invention of the safety razor shaving yourself was a tricky matter and there was a lively market for shaving men, which of course had to be done far more often than haircutting.

When you went to the barber you did not make an appointment, and there was no nonsense about choosing a “stylist” either. You sat on a bench and took your turn with whoever was vacant, although in most shops there was only one practitioner, so this was not a problem.

The barber only cut your hair. He – it was always a he – had nothing to do with its colour, shape or cleanliness. And in most cases I suspect it only took about ten minutes.

The loss of the shaving business was to some extent compensated by the sex segregation. As a sideline many barbers sold items which you might not wish to discuss in mixed company, like surgical trusses and – ahem – contraceptives. The more up-market ones lurked in smart hotels or men’s clothing shops, where they could charge premium prices and did not need to sell … other things.

Now it seems the quick, cutting only, places are going to be as common as rice shops. QB House is proposing to open 100 of them in Hong Kong, and local imitations have already appeared.

The question which then arises is whether segregation by gender will return. I suspect, and I say this with the deepest respect for all concerned, that a lot of ladies rather enjoy having a long hair session, starting with a detailed discussion of how their hair should be done.

Men, on the other hand, are more likely to be happy with a ten-minute shearing starting with a choice from the QB menu, which offers short, long or medium.

My wife watched my first visit from the safety of a nearby café, and while she appeared quite happy with the results as applied to me, did not seem tempted. In fact I have never seen a woman customer in one of these places, though many of the styling artistes are ladies.

QB House is, according to reports, anxious to increase its proportion of female customers. I take this to mean that the present number is quite low.

And I fear it will stay that way. There will no doubt be some Hong Kong ladies who will be happy to have a quick no-frills cut in ten minutes, and probably some more who will go for it in emergencies when they haven’t got time for the usual marathon. Likewise some of the more exotic hairstyles you see on men these days are clearly not the products of a mere ten minutes work.

But on the whole there is a difference here between male and female views of the matter. For many ladies, having your hair done is a social ritual as much as a practical necessity. It is an enjoyable experience so cutting it short (sorry) is not a benefit.

Men, on the other hand, just want quick gratification. It is tempting to draw an analogy to matters of sex here, with ladies preferring a longer session and men annoying them with a preference for instant relief, but I shall resist the temptation.

Suffice to say that the quick barber version was fine for me and I would happily recommend it for anyone. But probably you won’t see your wife in there.






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It is nice to see the pro-government press displaying such solicitude for Hong Kong’s reputation. Germany got a lot of stick last week when it emerged that two fugitives from what we officially still call Hong Kong justice had been allowed refugee status there.

This, according to the People’s poodles, was doing untold harm to Hong Kong’s reputation as a haven of the rule of law and other platitudes.

An important matter, no doubt. As Shakespeare said, “Good name in man or woman, dear my Lord, is the immediate jewel of their souls. Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing; ’twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands; but he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him, and makes me poor indeed.”

But the complaint is surely getting the flow of causation in the wrong direction. It is not that the disreputable pair have been accommodated and therefor Hong Kong’s reputation has been damaged. Why, after all, would the relevant German ministry wish to damage Hong Kong’s reputation?

A better explanation is that the two alleged rioters were afforded shelter because Hong Kong’s reputation had already been damaged… by other people. As a recent article in Foreign Policy put it (I must acknowledge a useful link from Hemlock here):

“Within the last three years, the Hong Kong government, which is appointed by Beijing, has taken many unprecedentedly repressive steps. It has disqualified elected lawmakers, banned young activists from running for office, prohibited a political party, jailed pro-democracy protest leaders (including a sitting lawmaker and two respected professors), expelled a senior foreign journalist, and looked the other way when Beijing kidnapped its adversaries in Hong Kong.”

This gloomy summary omits some developments which cannot be attributed directly to the government, but which reflect the atmosphere it has fostered, like the restrictions on freedom of speech in local universities, or the physical attacks on journalists from critical news outlets.

Where else in the world would a school principal, upon hearing that his pupils had organised a petition on a matter of public interest, call the police?

The upshot of all this is that Hong Kong’s reputation is not what it was. It is all very well for officials to say that on a day-to-day basis, at least on most days, we are as free as we ever were. Perhaps this is true.

But human beings, as Kahneman points out, do not judge by averages; they judge by stereotypes. The careful observer of news about Hong Kong gets the impression that it is at present somewhere between the Hungarian and Turkish phases of democratic decay, and moving in the Turkish direction.

We still get starring roles in some surveys of economic freedom, or competitiveness as it is known in business circles. But this is not the freedom which you and I would wish to enjoy. Surveys of this kind are aimed at international business and consider the freedoms which international business values: to exploit workers, fleece consumers and con investors.

We can all agree that the Hong Kong government’s efforts to preserve these economic freedoms have been exemplary. Similar solicitude would be welcome for the more traditional rights to free speech, a fair trial, fair elections, and free media.

If you believe that these have not been eroded in the past three years I have an Eiffel Tower I would like to sell you. Hong Kong’s reputation has suffered, and rightly so. Even the independent judiciary line has wilted since the Court of Appeal trod in several legal puddles in its effort to jail Joshua Wong.

Still to come there is the outcome of the Ted Hui phone-snatching case, an interesting example of using a legal sledge hammer to crush a nut. Mr Hui snatched the phone which a minor official was using to track legislators around their own building, withdrew to a gentlemen’s toilet and spent a few minutes exploring whether he was one of the models photographed. He then returned the phone.

Now consider. If you were a teacher and a pupil came up to you and claimed that one of the kids had taken her phone and kept it for 20 minutes before returning it intact, you would no doubt scold the miscreant, perhaps even send him to see the headmaster. But would you call the police? If the outcome of Mr Hui’s case is another Legco mini-purge do not expect observers elsewhere to regard this as a pristine example of the rule of law in operation.

Never mind. Aggrieved Beijing loyalists may derive some consolation from another offering from Shakespeare, who also said,  “Reputation is an idle and most false imposition; oft got without merit, and lost without deserving.”


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