A Cathay Pacific Airbus Incident In Hong Kong, Engine Failure...

Today's post is a lesson on how NOT to go about news-gathering.

Today I went to the airport to cover a reported Cathay Pacific 'incident'. An Airbus A330 en route from Surabaya, Indonesia, had made an emergency landing at Hong Kong International Airport, because of a single engine failure. Details were sketchy, but, like a plonker, I went along with a colleague from another wire agency to where many other media had gathered - the 'Sky Deck' on the roof of Terminal Two. The obvious choice. Although the aircraft emergency chutes were still out, which made for a good news photo, the problem with this location was that the cockpit of the plane was obscured by the Regal Airport Hotel.

Now, in the back of my mind, I knew that where I was standing not the best location to shoot from, because I had already covered the arrival of the Airbus A380 in Hong Kong a few years back. And I had covered it from a glass wall at the end of a corridor on a guest room floor in the airport hotel. Even though how to get to the exact same spot was a bit hazy in my mind, I should have trusted my instincts and gone straight to the airport hotel first.

This is because by the time I had schlepped it to the airport hotel, the chutes had already been removed. Yet like a zombie I had just followed the herd. Kicking myself, I realised that if I had just followed my gut instinct, I would probably have been the only photographer to get a clean shot of the whole plane, with its emergency chutes still present. (The photos on this post are displayed in chronological order.)

Today's lesson: always listen to your gut instinct, never follow the herd.

[For the record, the Cathay Pacific Airbus Flight CX780 from Surabaya in Indonesia suffered a single engine failure on it's final approach to the airport. It landed with no fatalities, although all four tyres on the left side of the plane, and two on the right side, deflated. Eight passengers were injured. And according to a high-ranking Cathay Pacific official, the flight crew have been detained by the police. It seems that this is the first major incident/accident for Cathay Pacific since 1972. Not good for the local airline's impeccable safety record...]

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

Crazy Shanghai!

This week I'm in wonderful crazy futuristic Shanghai.

I'm shooting an assignment that has absolutely nothing to do with these LED-lit flyovers.

At the airport, they were busy polishing 'Hai Bao', the Shanghai World Expo 2010 mascot.

The hotly-anticipated World Expo 2010 mega event opens in 22 days time, and is expected to be the largest one ever in Expo history.

The mascot wasn't even dirty.

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG SHANGHAI CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

Ching Ming, A Grave Sweeping Festival In Hong Kong.

Today is Ching Ming, the annual grave sweeping festival in Hong Kong.

It's the day when people in the city visit the tombs of their deceased relatives to worship their ancestors.

They offer food, burn incense and paper offerings, and perform any maintenance necessary on the tombs.

In death, as in life, Hong Kong people are stacked up vertically, one on top of the other.

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

Air Pollution Mask Girl

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

A Second Day Of 'Severe' Air Pollution In Hong Kong...

I just don't buy all this stuff about dust storms from the Gobi desert.

The government are desperately trying to hide behind it as a reason for us all to sit back and relax about it. OK, it's a contributing factor, but down at the roadside it's as filthy as ever.

Try standing in it for any length of time to photograph the long-suffering Hong Kong lunch-time crowd, and you will know what I mean.

The 'severe' air pollution is the talk of the town right now. A day late, Greenpeace were out in force, quick (kind of) to seize a photo op.

Interestingly, their angle is that the dust storms from the Gobi Desert are caused by climate change. It's certainly a valid premise, given the current droughts in the Yangtze River basin. Their reasoning goes something like this. What is climate change caused by? CO2, of course. And what is the major source of CO2 and air pollution in China? Power stations. It's all linked up, you see. You cannot seperate droughts, floods and air pollution from climate change. Unless the governments of China and Hong Kong want to get bitten in the arse by these problems a few years down the line, Greenpeace believes the state really should be dealing with these problems now. And in a coordinated way too, not as single issues to be dealt with separately. The more one looks at it, droughts, floods, air pollution all seem to be the price we are paying for the country's rampant economic progress.

Apart from Greenpeace, another NGO out in force today were Hong Kong's own plucky 'Clean Air Network' (CAN). Large crowds at lunch time gathered outside 'Ben & Jerry's' ice cream parlour in Central to buy HK$10 ice cream cones. 100% of the proceeds were donated to CAN. One silver lining of the 'severe' air pollution is that, down to pure luck of timing, many more folk than were originally anticipated by CAN came down to 'Ben & Jerry's' to sign their petition and help raise funds. Though the event was organised well in advance, it was a stroke of luck that it fell on the second highest day of air pollution in Hong Kong's history. Talk about lucking out, and getting the crowds in. Well done CAN, and a big thanks to 'Ben & Jerry's' for their 'Free Cone Day'!

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

Toxic Haze Descends On Hong Kong, Prompting All-Time High 'Severe' Record Air Pollution Levels

This man should probably not be doing this.

According to the Hong Kong Government's Environmental Protection Department website, when the the air pollution is severe, people should "reduce physical exertion as far as possible".

Apparently this record-breaking and apocalyptic air pollution we are trying to survive has something to do with a big sand storm blowing down from the Gobi desert.

First it was Beiijing, and reports are now saying that the Korean peninsula and Taiwan are also getting coated in a fine layer of dust. Are we next?

Who knows, but I can certainly say that after being in the city all day, my eyes feel sore, and my throat feels dry.

My nose has felt blocked for days, and the skin on my face feels tight. The air tastes sickly sweet, even acrid.

And the boys at the Hong Kong Observatory are still telling us that "locally, visibility will be rather low". Too right.

I'm not sure about sand storms, but I'm pretty sure this muck is coming from roadside traffic in Hong Kong and the factories across the border boundary in China. 

If I was one of these Western tourists, I'd be rather upset at coming all the way here from wherever and not even being able to see the skyline.

The ships in the harbour were sounding their (sm/f)og horns as the visibility was so awful.

Oh for some clean air, please?! Someone mentioned to me today that China is opening three coal-fired power plants a week at the moment.

I'm not sure if this is true or not, but I really wish the filthy, dirty, tiny, little, yellow rocks in the air, otherwise known as 'respirable suspended particulates', would just go away.

See the above chart, and note how the Government's Air Pollution Index (API) hit 500 in many parts of town today. And it just stuck there, as 500 is the maximum reading that the out-dated equipment which the government uses can handle. Could it have continued upwards to hit 550, 600, 800, even 1000 later on today? Who knows? All we know is that today's air pollution was, quite literally, off the scale...

For a far more appropriate air pollution index that counts, in financial terms, the human cost of the damage air pollution does to our health, try the Hedley Environmental Index.

And for a far more authoritative view on today's unprecedented environmental event than this blog, visit the Clean Air Network website.

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

A Hot Foggy Day In Hong Kong, Black & White

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

A Hot Foggy Day In Hong Kong

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

The Chinese Communist Party In Hong Kong

Walking along Cat Street bazaar, just off Hollywood Road Central, I came across these Chinese Cultural Revolution figurines. 

They reminded me that Christine Loh, from Hong Kong's Civic Exchange, has just published a new book about the history of the Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong. Entitled 'Underground Front, The Chinese Communist Party In Hong Kong', the book is an attempt to prise the lid off Hong Kong's most potent, yet secretive political force.

Hemlock has reviewed the book, here.

Well worth a look, I reckon.

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

Yet More Endangered Species On Sale In Hong Kong, This Time The 'Large Croaker' Fish...

This is getting tiresome. Yesterday I found swim bladders from the 'large croaker' family of fish on sale in Hong Kong's Sheung Wan district.

This guy is looking at a large croaker swim bladder that has been labeled 'King Of Swim Bladders' in Chinese. According to Yvonne Sadovy, a marine biologist at the University of Hong Kong, "most of the large croakers that we know about are over-fished". And the 'Chinese Bahaba' (bahaba taipingensis), otherwise known as a 'Giant Yellow Croaker' is teetering on the verge of extinction. This fish's native habitat is in estuarine waters along the coast of southern China, so over-fishing and loss of habitat are the major challenges it faces in its daily struggle to survive. Click here to find out more about how last month one of these huge fish, a 135 kilogram, fifty year old 'Chinese Bahaba', was caught in China's Zhejiang Province, and sold for over US$500,000.00. That's right, half a million dollars. Half a million U.S. dollars, not Hong Kong dollars.

So it's not just the sharks who are in trouble. Unfortunately for the 'Chinese Bahaba', the fish is listed as critically endangered on the United Nations (UN), International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Red List. Professor Sadovy and her team at the University of Hong Kong help put it there in 2006.

Amazingly, a croaker swim bladder is worth, quite literally, more than its weight in gold. Old ladies in Hong Kong have been known to hoard them in safes. Sometimes know as fish maw, they have historically been used as speculative investment vehicles in uncertain times, even being used during the last century as a form of currency in times of civil strife and war.  The reason being that, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners, a croaker swim bladder contains proteins and collagen that are supposed to be highly effective in combating heart disease and glandular problems.

According to this study by Professor Sadovy's research team at the University of Hong Kong, all species within the large croaker family of fish are heavily over-fished, with no sustainable fisheries management plans in place.

Some of the smaller swim bladders for sale in the many and various shops around Hong Kong are mostly farmed through mariculture, as wild stocks have been almost completely depleted.

What's more, Hong Kong does not currently have any legislation to protect threatened marine fish species. This is despite the fact that in mainland China, in theory at least, the 'Chinese Bahaba' is protected as a 'Grade II State Protected Species'.

But whenever one is caught there, it always makes a big splash in the media. These photos are of undated newspaper clippings proudly displayed in the window of the shop in Hong Kong which is at ground zero of the 'large croaker' problem, Kam Fat Sea Products Retail Ltd. This Google Street View image shows where the shop is located, at the corner of Wing Lok Street and Cleverly Street, Sheung Wan.

The odd thing is that despite the Chinese Bahaba's alleged Chinese state protection, whenever one of these magnificent beasts is caught and sold on the mainland, there never seem to be any arrests...

Footnote: It's really difficult to drum up support in Hong Kong for the sharks, but slowly good things are starting to happen. And even though the bluefin tuna campaign is still pretty much in its infancy in Hong Kong, awareness of the problem is increasing too. But unfortunately, the plight of the large croaker family is very much at the bottom of the priority list when it comes to local marine conservation awareness issues. And it looks likely to remain there for quite some time.

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

All images and text © Alex Hofford / Image Solutions Ltd. 2011 | Web design in Hong Kong by Ugli © 2011