A driving license or a cycling license?

It was only during a recent cycling outing with friends that I learned that the point reduction penalty for drivers also applies to cyclists with a driving license. In Hong Kong, if a driver commits a serious traffic offence, such as speeding or ignoring the red traffic light, it would lead to a deduction of points. An accumulation of 15 points would result in suspension of the license. According to my cycling friends, if a cyclist commits such offences, points will be deducted from his driving license, if he has one.

The rationale, I was told, is that cyclists are road users and they should abide by traffic regulations. While this may sound fair, I do have a couple of fundamental reasons for contesting the linkage of a cyclist’s traffic offence to the driving license he may possess. First, a driving license is exactly what the name suggests – it’s a license for driving, not cycling. One gets it after passing a driving test. The whole process has nothing to do with cycling so why should cycling have anything to do with it? Second, why should a cyclist in possession of a driving license receive additional penalty for committing the same offence as another cyclist without the license? Third, if a cyclist is a road user because he is cycling on the road, is a pedestrian not also a road user when he crosses the road? Is there a difference between a cyclist ignoring a red light and a pedestrian doing the same? If not, shouldn’t a pedestrian in possession of a driving license receive the additional penalty because he, too, is a road user?

The whole thing doesn’t seem to make sense to me. I wonder what the court would say if a cyclist being so penalised were to take legal action one day.


Even the flowers are fake

Spot the differences in the photos.

Difficult, isn’t it? Don’t they both show Hallstatt, the beautiful Austrian town which has been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site?

Of course, the picture below shows the outcome of an ambitious housing project by Minmetals Land Ltd., a subsidiary of China’s mining company Minmetals Corporation – a full scale replica of the town in Huizhou, Guangdong, which is about 100 miles north of Hong Kong. According to Crystal He, the person in charge of the project, this 20,000-square metre upmarket residential area not only targets the well-to-do in China but also the foreigners living in Hong Kong, helping the latter cure their homesickness. There is no doubt that those foreigners will fall for it, especially because, according to He, there will be a shop selling “Austrian-style” (not Austrian, mind you!) crystal and other souvenirs. I’m sure they will feel more at home than in their own countries.

Authenticity issue apart, there is also the integrity issue. The fact is that China has copied the town of another country, having been clandestinely conducting the research and surveying the town for years. Even if it does not amount to infringement of intellectual property, as Moniker Wenger, owner of a guest house in Hallstatt claimed. "They should have asked the owners of the hotel and the other buildings if we agree with the idea to rebuild Hallstatt in China, and they did not," said Wenger. The copycat version has angered the residents of Hallstatt, who think that this sort of copying without permission is like “a painter stealing the works of others”. The local media had requested that the government try to intervene on their behalf, and the residents were furious about the tolerant attitude of the government. When a Hallstatt delegation attended the opening of the replica town on 2 June, Mayor Alexander Scheutz, who signed a cultural exchange agreement Saturday with the new Hallstatt, diplomatically said that "we are very proud".

The truth is that not even the residents of Huizhou were proud of the project, as some were skeptical that the replica would ever match the beauty of the original. "Chinese architecture is very characteristic and stylish," said Zhong Ping, a Huizhou resident. "Just work on your own style. Why do you have to copy others? Even the flowers are fake, I can tell they are fake at first glance."


Shout Cry Laugh

Shout Cry Laugh.

This is not the title of the sequel to the book Eat Pray Love I have been reading. Rather, it is Jo Wilfried Tsonga’s reaction to his heartbreaking five-set loss to Novak Djokovic, the world no.1 tennis player, in this year’s French Open. He somehow failed to convert four match points and let Djokovic off the hook. Talking about his emotions in the final set, he said:

"Well, it was a bit of everything. I was tired; I was frustrated; I was disappointed. You get all kinds of feelings going through your mind. You want to break your racquet. You want to shout. You want to cry. You want to laugh and say, 'Oh, come on, that's a joke.' How could I lose this match?"

The following extract is from the book Eat Pray Love:

"It is strange and true that sometimes intense emotion can cause us to respond to cataclysmic news in exactly the opposite manner logic might dictate. This is the absolute value of human emotion - joyful events can sometimes register on the Richter scale as pure trauma; dreadful grief makes us sometimes burst out laughing."

It seems to be a fitting description of Tsonga's situation.


Thanking Us?

Around June 4 every year, what we consistently hear from the human right activists in China - those who have been threatened, imprisoned, tortured or maimed because of their insistence on justice and making the truth known - is how they are deeply moved by and grateful for the tenacity of the Hong Kong people in the matter.

I fully understand why. While, in China, the activities to commemorate, and seek accountability, for the massacre have been heavily suppressed in the last twenty-three years and those engaging in them have been ruthlessly persecuted, the sea of candle light at the Victoria Park year after year must be hugely comforting and empowering to these gallant fighters.

But I also find those compliments very humbling. What are the prices we have had to pay, compared with the sacrifices that those in China have had to make, such as their liberty, their limbs or their loved ones? Spending an evening to pay our respect and homage, and maybe shed some sweat and tears, is all we have to do. It is also the least we can do. In that sense, do we dare to take credit for our little bloodless and painless act?


Cry Wolves

Every year, on a certain summer day, there is a sea of candle light that storms the Victoria Park.
This sea of candle light also storms the hearts of all who are there.
If we stick together, no amount of huffing and puffing by the big, bad wolf can blow the light out.
If we join the light together, it will form a long, sparkling line.
One day, the line will link up with the isolated, feeble specks of light in dark empire somewhere in the north, where many big, bad wolves roam.
The line will become longer and stronger.
The light will scare the big, bad wolves away.
And the flames will singe their furs stained with blood.
And we will hear their cries of agony as they run for their lives.
Loud, piercing cries, like those we heard on a certain summer day, some twenty years ago.


European Quality Fruit

A grammar question: Does “European quality fruit” mean “quality fruit from Europe” or “fruit of European quality”?

When I saw the three words in the labels of some apples I recently purchased, I went for the latter interpretation, thinking that the fruits were from China and it was another of the nation’s dodgy ploy of misleading consumers into thinking that what they purchase were European produces rather than inferior or potentially dangerous Chinese ones.

A round of Internet research proved me wrong. Truval is indeed a Belgian company, meaning that those apples are, after all, “quality fruit from Europe”. But I don’t regret smelling a rat that, as it turned out, wasn’t there. China has an ignominious track record of faking everything, and it has got better and better at turning it into an art. It is very likely that they have gone past the days of using logos with the names of famous brands intentionally misspelt. Calling their fruit “European quality fruit” would have represented a huge progress.