International

Politics

Hong Kong Trump supporters urge US to be harsh on China as Biden takes office

Since immigrating to the United States from Hong Kong more than 20 years ago, Matthew, a 44-year-old actuary living in Virginia, has voted four times in the presidential election. Twice for Barack Obama and then for Hillary Clinton. In 2020, it was Donald Trump.  Pro-democracy Hongkongers, like Matthew, have seen government crackdowns on the city's autonomy and freedoms during the anti-extradition protests and after the passage of a draconian national security law. Feeling desperate, some projected their hope onto former President Mr. Trump, who they thought gave China a hard time.  But as that hope is extinguished when Joe Biden came to office as the 46th US President on Wednesday, Hong Kong Americans who sided with Mr. Trump wait and see how the country’s relationship with China may develop in a new era.   "I hope the new cabinet would understand the so-called 'cooperation with the CCP' and a 'win-win' will only make the CCP win twice and do no good to the US in the long term,” Matthew said in a text interview on the day of the inauguration. He did not want his surname to be shown for fear of being targeted by authorities.   Though Matthew recognised the Democrats' effort in pushing forward the Human Rights and Democracy Act last year -- a bill that requires the US to assess Hong Kong's autonomy and allows punishing officials violating human rights -- he found the tariffs imposed by Mr. Trump more effective in weakening China and doubted if Democrat Mr. Biden would endorse them.  Mr. Biden’s aide said in August that the president "would re-evaluate the tariffs upon taking office" but had not committed to lifting them, the Washington Post reported, after Mr. Biden blamed the taxes for harming America’s economy.  When asked if he would make China pay for …

Society

 How Overseas Chinese students react to the coronavirus outbreak?

Two weeks before starting university in February, Nathan Ng was walking to church on an overcast Sunday morning. On his way, he saw a middle-aged Caucasian woman, with her young daughter, staring at him. Both then pointed and muttered foul language directed at him and two other Chinese people on the same street.  He chose to ignore them and continued walking to church.  Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak in China, there has been an increasing number of reports of discrimination against Chinese people around the world. In one case, Jonathan Mok, a 23-year-old Singaporean of Chinese descent studying in London, suffered facial injuries in a "racially aggravated assault."  "I was scared whenever I stepped out of my house. I wasn't sure how people would react and behave towards me because of everything that has happened in China and the rest of the world," says Mr Ng.  Nathan Ng, a Chinese student at the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, has gone through issues of anxiety during the coronavirus pandemic.  According to the Australian Government's Department of Health, the nation has over 2,300 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and eight reported deaths, as of March 25.   During the same journey to church, while Mr Ng was crossing the road, he saw an elderly man in his early 60s coughing. He initially thought the cough was exaggerated due to his presence. However, as he looks back at the incident today, he thinks it was just a regular cough and regrets the anger he felt at the time.  Following the incident, however, he nearly began to tear up.   "I don't think much about what happened now, but it definitely had an effect on me at the time," said Mr Ng.  Since heading back to university in early March, things have improved …

Business

Working holiday scams

Working holidays are a popular way for young people from Hong Kong to spend time living abroad, but some are scammed because they weren't well prepared. Living in a concrete jungle like Hong Kong that's notorious for its expensive real estate, many young people may want to explore other countries by going on a working holiday. These vacations typically involve short term employment in lower paying jobs, such as working on a farm.  A working holiday allows participants to stay in a country for a longer period, ranging from a year to three years, depending on local regulations. Temporary jobs such as strawberry farming or helping out in a winery are popular.  According to the statistics from the Hong Kong government's Labour Department, 44,731 working holiday visas were granted between 2014 and  2018, and Australia has been the most popular among the 14 countries participating in the working holiday scheme. But there have been complaints of holiday makers being scammed because they are unfamiliar with the labour laws.  Garcia Fung, a 35 years-old backpacker, warned of the working holiday traps. "For instance, you may be underpaid by your employers, employers asking employees to transfer money before arrival, or some might even find that don’t have a job because it does not exist," he said. Mr. Fung went to Germany for a working holiday when he was 29.  He had a limited choice of jobs because he did not speak German. He started his first job after staying in Germany for six months. During his stay, he had a job as a box packer. Mr. Fung was paid €2 for each box. However, he realised something was unusual after packing a couple of boxes when he was instructed to pack bags of white powder. When he asked  what the powder was, …

Politics

Overseas Hong Kong students defend their identity in times of protests

On her way out of the classroom, Sara, a sophomore from Hong Kong majoring in journalism at Emerson College in Boston, was asked by one of her American classmates if she was from China.  "No!" Sara flatly refuted, "I'd be offended if people said I was from China."  Given the recent tension in Hong Kong, Sara did not want to disclose her full name. Sara first became aware of her cultural identity as a Hongkonger when she was involved in the Umbrella Movement, a three-month occupation of a downtown area in Hong Kong back in 2014,  to call for universal suffrage.  Describing herself as a Hongkonger would makes Sara proud. It gives her a sense of belonging to her home city.  On her Facebook page,  most of her posts are about protests in Hong Kong.  "I'd say I'm from Hong Kong and they [her classmates] can ask me about what's going on [there]," Sara said.  She believes this is her way of contributing to her beloved city when she tells people on campus in Boston about what protesters in Hong Kong are facing. It’s her way of expressing her cultural identity. Frances Hui Wing-ting, another student from Hong Kong at Emerson College, wrote an article "I am from Hong Kong, not China" for the university newspaper.  It went viral.   "'I am from Hong Kong' has a special meaning. It means we value democracy and human rights,"  Frances explained.  In the article, Frances said it upset her to see the name of her home city listed as "Hong Kong, China" in the university's exchange programme document. She accused the university of not sufficiently "cognizant" and "knowledgeable" about Hong Kong. "It's very offensive to ignore one's identity," Ms. Hui said. She has been organising marches and assemblies in support of the anti-extradition bill …

Society

Sevens' Week: Hong Kong Sevens takes off

Sevens' major sponsor Cathay Pacific started showcasing an array of rugby footballs in prints of Hong Kong signature items, such as crispy eggettes and neon street signs during a promotional event at Hysan Place in Causeway Bay last Friday. With less than a week left, the Sevens has been hyping up for the annual Hong Kong Rugby Sevens. Cathay Pacific is holding an exhibition of their featured collection for this year's event, the "Collectaballs". The "Collectaballs" are a series of ten rugby footballs decorated in prints of items that represent Hong Kong. Prints include Hong Kong's common household tile game Mahjong, blue and white prints on porcelain cups used in Hong Kong traditional restaurants, dragon dance costumes seen in Chinese New Year, sweet "pineapple" buns, Cheung Chau's "Ping On" buns, prints on nylon-canvas carrier bags, words in Chinese Kickass font created by Hong Kong designer kit Man and Cathay Pacific Airways' iconic sign can all been seen in ten rugby footballs shown at the shopping mall's entrance. Try out their interactive private preview of the games beside the iconic rugby footballs exhibit. The promotion will be last till April 7th at Hysan Place. Stay tuned to our coverage on other related events coming on the Sevens.

Health & Environment

Smart Barcelona

Stroll down La Rambler in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona any day and see tourists and vendors fighting for space on the walkway alongside stalls offering souvenirs. Nearly 30 million visitors each year pack down the narrow streets of the Gothic Quarter in the old part of the city, according to Euromonitor. A tour guide, Aranxia Gonzales explained that the demand for accommodation is pushing locals out of the property market. " When you buy a property in Spain, you own it for life," she said, " and that means older folks who have lived here for a long time now have to put up with tourists as neighbours." By 2017, there were 16,000 holiday rentals, as reported by Barcelona City Council. According to a 2018 study by University of Paris Sud, when Airbnb started in Barcelona, rent rocketed by 28% between 2013 and 2016. In addition, there were more than 7000 illegal hostels. The number of private flats rented out to tourists reportedly went up nine times in a year. The city government has since hired a team of inspectors to look for illegal hostels. Owners may be fined up to €60,000. Paola Santoro, an Italian expat who has been living in Barcelona for eight years, explained that the influx of tourists has bumped up the rent in even further. "The demand for accommodation by tourists meant many apartments are being converted into apartments for tourists only," Paola said. "The average salary of a person in Barcelona is approximately € 1000-1500. The average monthly rent for a flat in Barcelona is also € 1000. A person with an average salary cannot afford to rent a flat, so many people are forced to share a flat with other people to reduce expenses." Barcelona, Paola thought, has become a city for …

Society

Last day before Tiananmen closes for maintenance

The red flag with yellow stars slowly descends as the sun goes down at the Tiananmen square, marking not only the end of a day in Beijing but also the last day before the 700-year-old castle wall closes for maintenance. The Tiananmen District Management Committee announced on Tuesday that the heritage would be closed from 15 June to April next year. It is the first time Tiananmen close for repairment after its major renovation in the 1970s. The maintenance would mainly improve on waterproofing the Tiananmen tower, repairing and replacing tubings and equipments which have reached its life time, and conserving the heritage. The flag raising and lowering ceremony take place everyday at sunrise and sunset. Tourists, mostly Chinese, starts to gather on the plaza shortly after six, 90 minutes before the flag lowering ceremony. Mandy Yip, a tourist from Hong Kong said she chose to come today because the tower is closing the day after. "We didn't plan to come today, but we heard from the news that it is closing, so we came to visit before it is draped," she said. Li Feng, a Tianjin tourist who came to Beijing with his girlfriend also said they came knowing today is the last day of the building. "I do not have any special feelings about the building, but I still came knowing I could not visit it in a year." On the square, there are many cameramen who win breads by taking photos of tourists in front of the Tiananmen. "The maintenance is a catastrophe to me. It would no longer be attractive for photo-taking. I may go jobless," Wang Chao, one of the photographers said. Yet not all businesses think alike, Chen Yi-lin, who runs a vending truck said she is not worried at all. "I have never …

Photo Essay

Gaudí's Barcelona

Sagrada Família is kind of hard to miss in Barcelona, not only because of its height and size, but it is unusual to see a seemingly old building constantly surrounded by construction cranes. On the day of visit, tourists craned their necks to gawk at the spire, some with the ice-cream they just bought from one of the mant vendors dripping down their front as they gawked at the spires.  Other posed as the crucified Christ outside the main doors. Unlike most crucifixes, the Jesus figure on this one stares down at an angle, almost as if he is flying. Such unconventional and sometimes over decorated designs are iconic of the Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926). His work defines Catalan Modernism. Between 1984 to 2005, seven of his masterpieces were listed as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO, including Casa Batlló, Park Güell and the unfinished basilica, Sagrada Família. More than six million tourists visited Spain in April, according to the country’s government data, and Sagrada Família alone drew more than three million people. A survey by Statista indicates that other masterpieces by Gaudí, including Park Guell, La Pedrera and Casa Batlló also rank among the top destinations. In 1877, Gaudí designed his first building, Casa Vicens, under the commission of a merchant Manuel Vicens, on Passeig de Gràcia, Barcelona. Further down the boulevard stands Casa Batlló with its colourful mosaic and dragon-like balconies. The line for tickets to these building may be long, but many more people pose for selfies outside. Visiting everyone of these Gaudí site in the city will set you back more than 100 euros ($923). Gaudí conceived those richly sophisticated columns, vaults and other geometric structures abstracted from "the Great Book of Nature." He once said, "The line belongs to human beings, and the curve belongs …

Society

Catalonia's brewing independence

Spain has a new prime minister this week. Pedro Sanchez defeated his predecessor, Mariano Rajoy in a vote of no confidence. Rajoy is embroiled in a corruption scandal. Although Basque and Catalan nationalist parties voted in favour of Sanchez, it is unclear whether they will support his government. Sanchez, like Rajoy, will likely have to contend with Catalonia’s continuing fight to split from Spain. Walk past any major street in Barcelona and you will notice row upon row of flags fluttering from balconies. In Catalonia, the Senyera estelada, is a symbol of independence. Some of these yellow and red striped ensigns with a lone white star have been there for so long that the stripes have been bleached almost pink and white by the sun. But the newer polemic symbol of Catalonia’s quest to split from Spain are the yellow ribbons. These too are all over Barcelona: spray painted on pavements, tied to railings and lampposts, some of them, giant displays outside residential building stretching several storeys high. Yellow ribbons have become more common since last October when pro-independence parties claimed that most people in Catalonia chose independence from Spain in a referendum. Liz Castro is an American writer and publisher living in Barcelona. In May 2015, she was elected national secretary of the Catalan National Assembly, a grassroot movement for Catalan independence and Ms. Castro is currently chairwoman of the Assembly’s international committee. She has been writing about Catalonia’s fight for independence for years and is also an activist in the Catalan independence movement. Following last year’s referendum, Ms. Castro wrote The Street Will Always Be Ours. Ms. Castro said that Spain is actively suppressing the Catalan economy by not funding the infrastructure that the region needs. "Catalonia represents 16% of the population but Spain only allocates ten or …

Society

Virtual Healing

Researchers at the University of Barcelona have found virtual reality to be a useful tool in psychology   Virtual reality may be the buzzword in journalism and entertainment. But for a team of psychologists and computer scientists at the University of Barcelona, these are just new applications for tools that they have been researching on for some time. The Experimental Virtual Environments Lab (EVENT Lab) at the Department of Psychobiology of the University of Barcelona focuses on immersive and embodiment experiences. Researchers from the University of Barcelona, the University College London and the University of Derby help participants learn through compassion. They use avatars and computer science gaming technology to teach empathy. For example, a user can be embodied in a black avatar to experience racial discrimination, or an adult in the body of a child to empathise how it feels when parents are harsh. "We found that adults who experience the kind mother gain trust," Mel Slater, the director of EVENTS Lab explained, "but when they meet the harsh mother first followed by the kind one a week later, they tend not to trust her." To experience embodiment, the participant has to put on a black bodysuit. Sensor pompoms on the garment allow the computer to track the person's movement so that the programme can react accordingly. The signals are picked up by sensors mounted on the walls of the pitch black lab. A virtual reality headset then allows the user to immerse in the altered world. "Parents who go through the experience tend to become more empathetic toward their children afterwards," said Domna Banakou, a researcher at the lab. "Racial discrimination also tends to decrease after white people experience what it is like to be black," added Banakou. These virtual reality experiments have taken Mel Slater and his …