Wing Lee Street, A Movie Location. Now You See It, Now You Don't.

The next battle in the war between heritage activists and the Hong Kong Government looks likely to be Wing Lee Street, in Hong Kong's Central District.

The Urban Renewal Authority has condemned nine out of its twelve tenement blocks for redevelopment.

It is now only two weeks to go until the street's fate is sealed at a scheduled Town Planning Board meeting.

What the government did not count on was the street gaining sudden notoriety, as it was used as the main location in Hong Kong director Alex Law's art house movie, 'Echoes of the Rainbow'.

The movie won the prestigious Crystal Bear Award in February at the Berlin International Film Festival, or 'Berlinale 2010 Festival'.

Since the award was announced, Hong Kong heritage activists, movie buffs and local people alike have been flocking to the street.

They come to soak up the atmosphere, take photos, whilst others are organizing a protest against the government's decision to demolish the street.

Most of the buildings on Wing Lee Street were built back in the 1950's.

Director Alex Law needed a location that had a Hong Kong-in-the-sixties feel to it.

This orange plastic chair has a seventies feel to it.

This printer is still running his business in the small street, which is off the beaten path, with no road access.

If the government's plan goes ahead, the crumbling street will be demolished later this year.

I can understand the heritage activists argument who say the issue is all about money. They point to Singapore as a shining, albeit sterile, example of how to go about successfully renovating old Chinese buildings. Closer to home, 'The Pawn' is often cited as an example too.

On the other hand some buildings are just a little bit too far gone. And I fear Wing Lee Street, in light of what happened recently in To Kwa Wan, may just be in that category.

But the real issue here is that a land premium the Hong Kong government receives from a developer who successfully bids for any given site at a land auction always far outstrips any potential expenditure the government would otherwise have to actually spend in order to renovate old 'tong lau' buildings. Selling slice after slice of Hong Kong's cultural heritage makes sense for the Governemnt as by doing so they don't have to pay for costly renovations.

Yes, it really is all about the money.

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

PETA Stage A Cage Protest In Hong Kong

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, (PETA), staged a 'cage' protest in Hong Kong today.

The stunt they chose to protest the fur trade was a bit 'same old, same old', but it still provided striking visuals.

PETA said they were protesting the lack of animal protection laws in China, where, according to their press realease, "raccoon dogs [are] beaten to death with steel pipes" and "rabbits' necks [are] broken while the animals [are] still conscious and able to feel pain." And they have released a video to prove it here.

The cage stunt was performed in Hong Kong's Wan Chai district, outside the 'Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre' where the '2010 Hong Kong Fur & Fashion Fair' is being held.

Don't the girls look sad!

It seems to me that animal rights group used to be a lot more militant with their protests. Not so long ago, there would have been red paint involved.

Why do protests in Hong Kong always have to be so tame?

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

'Destructive Fishing Prohibited', Hong Kong.

I spotted this sign yesterday in the 'quaint fishing village' of Tai O, at the western point of Lantau Island, Hong Kong. 

The very fact that this sign even exists is heartbreaking enough.

Overfishing is such a big problem in Hong Kong, that fish stocks in local waters around the city are very near to the point of collapse. The expensive fish that is served in restaurants in the city is usually caught and flown in from South East Asia, whilst the cheaper fish sold in local 'wet markets' is caught in Chinese coastal waters. (This fish is cheap and it contains dioxins, PCBs from Chinese air and water pollution, * see footnote).

The fact that there are very few fish in local waters here is in part due to the above captioned 'destructive fishing techniques'.

In detail...

This one is new to me. I never knew that fish in Hong Kong waters were being literally 'hoovered up' under our noses.

This is where the gloves come off. Illegal fishermen bomb the water with dynamite, declaring an all out war on fish. After detonation, the dead fish and their shell-shocked brethren float to the surface to be easily scooped out. This technique is extremely harmful to coral reefs, with many reefs in Hong Kong now toast because of dynamite fishing. Photo of dynamite fishing, here.

This is known as bottom-trawling. Large bottom-trawling boats in Hong Kong are required by law to have a commercial fishing licence. But like the 'suction device' above, I have never seen a small-scale ad-hoc 'dredging device', so I know very little about this technique.

The 'toxic substance' referred to in the sign is usually cyanide. Fish are stunned by a snorkelling or scuba-diving fisherman bearing poison. Once dazed by cyanide, the fish can easily be removed by hand. Cyanide fishing is still a common practice in the Philippines and Indonesia, with fish caught in this way exported by air to the seafood restaurants of Hong Kong. Do I detect a whiff of hypocrisy here?

Another no-brain fishing technique. 'Fishermen' in boats use a car battery and jump leads to electrocute marine life. Afer connecting a set of jump leads to a car battery onboard, they throw the leads over the side of the boat and into the water, and zap, hey presto, dead fish.

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I think it's great the Hong Kong government puts up signs against these kinds of 'fishing' activities, but who knows how well the law is being enforced. It's still shocking to me, and I do wonder how many HK$200,000 fines and/or six month jail sentences have been handed out over the years, in contrast to how many tons of fish have been caught illegally.

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*Footnote: 08 Jan 2010, South China Morning Post: "Pregnant women have been advised to eat less locally caught fish to cut the risk of exposure to cancer-linked chemicals that might also distort fetal sex formation. The advice came as a Baptist University research team reported on the biological impact of chemical pollutants in the air and water that pass into human bodies, mostly through food.... The initial findings indicate the presence of dioxin and oestrogen in food samples. While the concentration levels were not measured, a high level of activity indicated a higher risk of exposure to the pollutants. Among the 20 most common types of fish in the markets, big eye and orange-spotted grouper had the highest estimated levels of dioxin-like activities."

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

Gong Hei Fat Choi!

Compliments of the season!

The office is now closed until Wednesday 17th February 2010.

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

Corporate Entertainment: Thai Dancers & Shadow Puppets...

I did a corporate job in Macau today.

I can't say who the client was, but I can say that they had some great dinner entertainment to wrap up their conference.

Dancing girls and shadow puppets.

All the way from Thailand.

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

Plastics Pollution on South Soko Island, Hong Kong

Yesterday I went to the remote Sokos Islands of Hong Kong to check out the plastics pollution there.

I had heard it was really bad. The islands are uninhabited and there is no ferry service. Two minutes is all it took for me to collect these 20 cigarette lighters to create this colourful shot. I needed a simple background, so I found a clean bit of beach to stand them up in a row like soldiers, but the rest of the beach was literally 'trashed'.

It took me less time to line up these plastic bottles. Most of them are made from PET plastic, which can be easily recycled. But not if they are washed up on a random beach somehwere. Many still have their tops screwed on which is how they managed to float to here, yet ironically most drink bottle tops cannot be recycled.

Sifting through the plastics garbage, certain categories present themsleves. One quirky category is plastic toys.

I love the toy panda. We are in South China after all.

Medical waste. An altogether more sinister category of marine debris collectables. Does anyone know where this stuff comes from? Ships? Hospitals? Unscrupulous medical waste disposal companies? If anyone knows, please tell me. I would love to investigate further.

Here's an overview of the whole beach. It looked pretty filthy to me, but apparently this South Sokos Island beach is much cleaner than the previous time Nico Zurcher visited it. 

Nico is a marine water management researcher from Hong Kong University who brought me there. He's been studying this beach over time for his MSc. The main problem is that the South Sokos Island beach is not 'gazetted' by the Hong Kong Government. Most gazetted beaches in Hong Kong get lifeguards, water quality monitoring (e coli etc), shark nets, showers, changing rooms - and regular cleaning. Back in the 1960's this beach would have been pristine. It would not have needed cleaning. Discarded plastics in all their different shapes and sizes really are a huge problem.

No story on marine plastics pollution would be complete without the obligatory and ever-present nurdles.

I've talked about them before on this blog, and I'm not going to get started on them now, so for the full story on these poisonous little horrors, ('pre-production plastic pellets', as they are officially known), check out my 'Hong Kong Nurdles' post from last year.

But as kind of an aside, I am instead re-posting this photo of a worker operating a plastics extrusion machine in China. Of all the places nurdles end up, this is the only real intended destination for nurdles - not remote beaches.

I found some ants who had made their home in a pile of polystyrene foam.

I also found one dead finless porpoise. We contemplated slicing it open to check for nurdles, but then thought better of it as the stench was terrible.

It's impossible to say what killed this finless porpoise. One shouldn't speculate too much, but maybe it got hit by a passing Macau ferry. Or maybe it ate one too many nurdles. Or perhaps the pesticides flowing down the Pearl River from the Guangdong industrial farms killed it. Or the e-waste dioxins and PCBs that flow into the sea from the Lianjiang River which runs through Guiyu.

Or it could simply have just died of old age.

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

More Photos From The Great Hong Kong Train Protest-cum-Siege Of Legco...

By popular request, here's a final set of photos from the Great Hong Kong Train Protest-cum-Siege Of Legco.

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

The Great Hong Kong Train Protest, Disappointment...

It was always a done deal.

Tonight lawmakers in Hong Kong finally approved funding for the controversial Express Rail Link to Guangzhou in a 31-21 vote during a meeting of the city's Legislative Council Finance Committee.

After a marathon two days of filibustering the bill eventually got through, sparking a wave of popular revolt which manifested itself in scuffles with riot police. The mood was darker than yesterday, although the singing, dancing and drumming continued.

Protesters staged sit-ins at various intersections in Central district, after the results of the vote were announced at 6.30pm.

This effectively locked down the whole area and ensured that all exits to the Legislative Council Building were blocked. This is the scene in Jackson Road, next to the Hong Kong Club Building.

The object of their ire, Transport Secretary Eva Cheng, was prevented from leaving.

The police started to remove the protesters one by one, but soon gave up as the number of protesters swelled.

Once the dust settles, it will be interesting to assess the political fall-out from these last few days of anti-Government protests.

The New Territories village of Tsoi Yuen lies directly in the path of the Express Rail Link, and will have to be destroyed to make way for the fast train. It will be fascinating to see how this popular grass roots movement mobilizes to protect the villagers of Tsoi Yuen from forced eviction in October.

Probably the best thing they could do is to stay positive, like this little anti-rail link protester...

Twitter: #stopxrl

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

Hong Kong Anti-Rail Link Protest Goes Off The Rails...

This wasn't supposed to happen.

In a slight departure from the plot, the anti-rail link protestors decided, en masse, to climb the hill up to Hong Kong Government House in order to 'wake up' Chief Executive Donald Tsang. Usually 'public processions' of ten or more people need prior permission from the police. This was never going to happen tonight.

The mood felt somewhat like how I imagine how Paris would have felt like before the riots of May 1968. With a touch of the Hong Kong July 1st 2003 anti-Article 23 mass protests. The crowd was young, happy and idealistic. The so-called 'post-1980's generation' kids played their drums and guitars, whilst others sang and danced. They blocked the road in front of Government House for around two hours. Suprisingly, the protest passed off peacefully. I belive the last time Government House saw such large protests was during the 1967 Communist riots, but I could be wrong.

The Mexican wave was performed a few times, and there was lots of laughing and goofing around. It felt beatnik.

The police were certainly caught off guard, with the approaches to Government House left completely unprotected.

Celebrity protestor Christina Chan was chased by the police. As usual.

Back in Chater Garden next to LegCo, a 'tent city' has sprung up, with around 100 protesters camping there overnight. They vow to remain whilst the Express Rail Link funding bill passes through LegCo.

The anti-rail link protestors were getting up to all sorts of antics.

I have never seen Statue Square so full of people just venting off. Despite the cold weather, you can really feel the political temperature in Hong Kong hotting up.

Meanwhile supporters of the train were having their heads shaved in protest, er, support.

The pro-Beijing pro-train lot are mobilizing themselves against the anti-train, pro-universal suffrage kids through Facebook. It's a showdown.

I think Beijing is going to be really mad tomorrow. They will be asking themelves, has the Hong Kong Government really lost control this time?

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

Hong Kong's Anti-High Speed Rail Link Protest...

Right now, I'm covering the anti-high speed rail link protest outside Hong Kong's Legislative Council Building.

Lawmakers are inside the building trying, for the third time, to push through a funding bill for the controversial HK$67 billion infrastructure project which many believe to be a huge white elephant.

The issue is galvanizing Hong Kong youth on a wide range of social issues, from green issues to universal suffrage.

The mood seems different to me from previous protests that I have covered in Hong Kong. There is a tangible sense of anger and frustration at the Hong Kong Government and the big business tycoons who many believe are colluding with them to line their pockets with the proceeds of this large, and I mean HUGE, infrastructure project.

I think it's great that people people both for and against the rail link are mobilizing through Facebook and Twitter.

The age and the digital divides are in plain evidence to see here today. (Twitter hash tag: #stopxrl)

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

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