That Annual Event In Hong Kong...

Taking the utmost care not to use any sensitive keywords beginning with either the letter 'T', or a number between 63 and 65, here are some photos of that annual ritual in Hong Kong which shall go un-named.

Twenty one years already. How time flies...

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

Greenpeace Stage A 'Climate Change' Stencil Action In Hong Kong...

5am this morning, and I was quietly creeping along Lower Albert Road with activists from the Hong Kong office of Greenpeace China.

Taking care not to make any noise, or use the flash on my camera, I photographed a team of activists stencilling white poster paint slogans on the pavement outside the Central Government Offices. It took ages for the police to arrive.

Hong Kong's finest did eventually turn up.

Confucianism hard at work.

Greenpeace were pleasant an non-confrontational throughout.

You're nicked, son!

Some senior rozzer will be in the firing line today, that's for sure.

Questions will be asked as to why it took well over twenty minutes for the police to arrive and stop the activists. Embarrassingly for the police, Greenpeace succeeded in their aim of making a entire loop of Hong Kong Government buildings with end-to-end slogans.

By 9am, the slogans were still there for the commuter crowd to enjoy.

It took several hours for the hapless bureaucrats to get their Kärchers ready .

There was much faffing with tangled extension leads and leaky hose pipes at the main gates to CGO on Lower Albert Road.

There were some comical scenes on Queen's Road too.

Security guards and AOs, all in a flap.

The stencil loop was supposed to symbolise a rope tightening around Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang. Here's Ice House Street.

And here's Lower Albert Road.

But does anyone really care?

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

Hong Kong's Worsening Gini-coefficient...

Talking of poverty, I saw this tonight...

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

On Being Poor, Hong Kong's Minimum Wage Debate...

I'm glad I don't do what this woman does for a living.

In Hong Kong, a debate is gradually heating up as to what level the city's minimum wage level should rightly be set at. The looming political smack down will be between the unionists in the red corner, and in the blue corner, the catering industry bosses.

Even though restaurant workers make up the largest segment of low income earners in Hong Kong, other non-catering industry workers, such as cleaners and security guards, will also be affected by the Government's plans for a minimum wage.

The unionists are hunkering down for a mere HK33.00 (US$4.25) an hour, whilst the catering industry lobby and pro-business groups are trying to get the minimum wage set as low as humanly possible, at a laughably low HK$24.00 (US$3.09) per hour.

Even if the unionists get what they are asking for (highly unlikely), I really cannot imagine living off HK$5,280.00 (US$680.10) per month[*]. Can you?  I really can't. It's just not possible for me. And if the bosses get their way, well... that doesn't even bear thinking about.

It must be an absolute living hell to be poor in Hong Kong. In a city as expensive as this, one can only exist on that wage, not live. Quality of life does not even enter into the debate. Wherever you look in Hong Kong, luxury and lifestyle advertising is everywhere. TV ads exhort luxury property with glittering chandeliers, Caucasian girls in ball gowns and sports cars. Magazines and newspapers drip with ads for 'timepieces' and 'chronographs' that supposedly last several generations. Billboards feature gargantuan crouching women in high heels with glum expressions touting handbags. And because the rich co-exist in such close proximity to the poor here, being poor in this town must be even worse than being poor in a poor place where everyone around you is poor, if that makes any sense at all. Even the middle classes in Hong Kong are kept artificially poor by being suckered into over-spending on over-priced branded leather goods. That's assuming they can even afford to do so after decades of forking out half their monthly salary for a tiny concrete shoebox in the sky. Sometimes I think it's a conspiracy, and that's why I loathe branded goods so much. Yesterday I kicked myself yesterday for not bringing a camera to the beach where I spotted a young woman with an LV monogram tattooed on her ankle - such is the iron-fisted grip of luxury brand corporatism over the docile and impressionable folk of Hong Kong.

But back to the minimum wage. Hemlock the Big Lychee has an interesting take on the debate here. One commenter on his blog argues that the catering industry bosses should not be taking aim at the little people, but at the landlords who are gouging restaurant business owners with exorbitantly high rents:-

If wages increase it will be us poor sods, the customers, who end up paying. Many non-chain restaurants have very tight margins and will have to lay off staff + raise food prices, which won’t help anyone. The real villains of the piece, as always, are the parasitical landlords.

Makes sense to me.

[*] I arrived at my rough estimate monthly salary figure of HK$5,280.00 (US$680.10) by the following calculation which is based on the best case scenario proposed by the unionists for the low income earners they represent: HK$33.00 (US$4.25) per hour x 8 hours x 5 days x 4 weeks = HK$5,280.00 (US$680.10). This figure does not take into account any overtime earned, or holidays and days off taken.

But now take a look that the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions website. Incredibly, you will see that their proposed minimum monthly wage salary figure is HK$6,885.00 (US$886.83). This figure is arrived at by multiplying HK$33.00 (US$4.25) by the amount of hours a month that they figure the average low income worker in Hong Kong should be working: 209 hours. And 209 hours divided by four weeks works outs at 52 hours a week. Which in turn works out at around an 8 to 9 hour day, six days a week. In my calculations I had foolishly assumed two days off work a week, not one. No weekends off. Nope, I had forgotten, only civil servants are allowed to get Saturdays and Sundays off. What did I say earlier about quality of life not entering the debate? And with friends like the HKCFTU, who needs enemies?

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

West Kowloon Sky & Urban Greening.

For this or that reason, I was over at West Kowloon today. I was on assignment shooting something that others were keen to keep me away from. And since I can't disclose what that thing was, here's a shot of the West Kowloon sky instead.

And then for other reasons too long and boring to explain here, I ended up treading turf next to some solar panels on a the roof of a North Point government building.

Urban greening rocks my world, so it's great to have the chance get up close to it.

[On a different note, it seems that these days I seem to be doing lots of interesting work that I would just love to blog about, but for financial reasons, client confidentiality or the preservation of my own personal safety, I cannot. Most frustrating.]

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

Playing With Multimedia Tools

I've been playing with multimedia tools today, Vuvox in particular.

Simon Birch's exhibition, 'Hope & Glory', seemed like the perfect place to gather all the elements for a first test mashup of photos, videos and audio from the show.

After an initial play with this free software, I'm quite impressed, although I haven't quite figured out yet how to get the audio track from not halting whilst I play a movie in this multimedia slideshow. Or how to get the original audio to play from each clip. But it is truly awesome if you view the slideshow in full screen mode, click the play button to hear the audio track, and hover the mouse pointer around, up and down, back and forth!

Cutting edge Web 2.0 indeed...

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

Men Smoking In Chengdu, China...

I came across these four men enjoying a cigarette break in Chengdu.

So I took their picture. A fairly typical scene, I'd say...

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHENGDU CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

Luxury Property In Chengdu, China...

Today I'm at a luxury property development in Jintang, which is about an hour's ride from Chengdu, China.

It's like a bubble here, a gated compound where the nouveau-riche come to park their new found wealth.

These luxury cars are owned by Mr Yang, the owner of the 'Grand Hill International Community'.

The luxury cars are placed in front of the club house as a marketing ploy to lure potential luxury real estate buyers.

Unlike Beijing and Shanghai, 'second tier' city folk can still be wowed by the sight of a gleaming black Roll-Royce Ghost, or that all time favourite, the classic red Ferrari. These cars are here to sell the dream.

A proud real estate sales rep showed me around. Here's a luxury two garage villa. Two garage? For two cars? What happens if hundreds of millions more Chinese want two garages for their two cars?

Isn't China already the single biggest carbon emitting country on earth? But here are two reasons I would never invest in Chengdu property; 1) A huge bubble has formed in the residential property market in China, 2) the ever present risk of another earthquake hitting the Sichuan region like the one on 12 May 2008.

There's a golf course here too.

This 'up-scale mixed-use residential golf community' is a playground for the emerging tycoons of China. They can live and play in peace here, away from the great unwashed.

It was great to see poppies in bloom.

Meanwhile, back outside my hotel in the town, life carried on in much the same way it has done for thousands of years.

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHENGDU CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

A Factory For Chinese Wedding Photographers: Shek O Beach, Hong Kong.

At dusk, something about the fog and colourful balloons caught my eye.

Shek O beach is a favoured location for Chinese wedding photographers in Hong Kong.

I love the forced spontaneity that these bridal photographers work so hard to eke out of their clients. Teasing out a trait so grossly lacking in Chinese people must be tough.

It's usually quite a production, with an assistant and stylist at the minimum. Folks down from the city, trying their very best to not let the sand touch anything.

Photos on this post were taken with a crappy iPhone.

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

'Hope & Glory': A "Conceptual Circus" By Hong Kong Artist Simon Birch...

When the Hong Kong Government decides to throw money at Arts & Culture, this is what can happen...

You're looking at an installation that forms part of 'Hope & Glory', a multimedia "conceptual circus" by Hong Kong artist Simon Birch. The installation is called 'Crawling From The Wreckage', and it mimics a 3D architectural rendering come to life.

I think a couple more visits to the show would be in order, as it has up to twenty installations in total - including ten projections and short movies. I just didn't have the time today to watch them all, and to take the whole thing in. But of what I did see briefly, I particularly liked the horror flick 'Kho Virap' which you peer at through a letter box-slit, peep-show style in the dark. So I'm saving that up to watch in its entirety another time. And there is even supposed to be a sniper tower in there somewhere, but along with Dan F, we couldn't find it.

Well done to the Tourism Commission of the Hong Kong Government for fronting the cash (HK$2million) via its 'Mega Events Fund'. Finally the Hong Kong Government does something right, so credit where credit is due.

And of course well done to Simon Birch and his team for putting on such an awesome show.

The show is at Artistree, Cornwall House, Taikoo Place, Quarry Bay, Hong Kong, and runs from 8 April to 30 May 2010.

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

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