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August 9, 2019 -

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The unrest in Hong Kong over the last two months has been all encompassing, dominating discussions at work and out with friends, while news coverages oscillates between showing the very best of Hong Kong (two million people marching through the city) and the very worst (violence). In some moments it seems like maybe things are looking up; other times one feels nothing but despair. One of my colleagues came into my office the other day and closed the door behind her, then began to cry. Several times close friends here have asked me if I will leave Hong Kong, and it breaks my heart.

I haven’t written much on here about the unrest because so many people are doing that already. I’m also not quite sure what to say — I live in Hong Kong, but it’s more than that: it’s home. I love it here; I love nearly everything about it. So this isn’t just some juicy news story, it’s impacting my life in many different and personal ways. Having said that, I’m among the luckiest ones because it’s relatively easy for me to pack up and head out — something very few of the seven million Hongkongers can do.

So I’m skippin’ town for a while.

Earlier this year I discovered a travel secret (well, a secret to me): Cathay Pacific award availability opens up quite remarkably during the week before departure. I had spent hours trying to figure out a way to get to North America by experimenting with airline awards programs and cities, but no combination worked well enough for me to take it. That changed last weekend, when several business class seats on Cathay opened up to New York City. It didn’t take long for me to snap one up.

I’m already looking forward to the 16 hour flight, because I’ll be able to turn off my electronic devices and read a magazine or book. In fact, if you’ve got some suggestions for some excellent fiction, please let me know in the comments. I’m always looking for something new. I’m not sure if I’m more excited about the flight, or the fact I’ll be in New York City! The truth is I think both are going to be great. I’m already slotting Sadelle’s and Katz’s into the itinerary.

I don’t have the foggiest idea of what to expect when I return to Hong Kong at the end of the month. I hope against all reason that some reasonable, middle ground is found that preserves what makes Hong Kong so special and gives hope to the next generation. Unfortunately that isn’t looking likely.

I’ll be following closely as events unfold.

July 29, 2019 -

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Protests have rocked Hong Kong, where I live, since early June when one million people took to the streets in a peaceful march against a piece of legislation that, if passed, would have permitted the extradition of fugitives in Hong Kong to Mainland China.

I wasn’t born in Hong Kong, but I have lived here for over a decade. I bought my first home here. I have a Hong Kong Permanent Residence card, giving me nearly all the same rights as any other born-and-bred Hongkonger. I work here. I’ve built a professional and social network here. I’ve put down roots here. What I’m trying to say is Hong Kong is home and I care deeply about it, so watching the protests has been an emotional rollercoaster from inspirational to heartbreaking to fury, then back again.

That rollercoaster hit a new low last Sunday night, July 21. Following a protest in Sheung Wan, the neighbourhood I live in, protesters took the MTR metro service back to their home communities. Many protesters live in the rural areas of Hong Kong, including a village known as Yuen Long. The protesters, clad in black – part of the protester uniform here – arrived at the Yuen Long MTR station and were met by around 100 vicious men in white shirts who proceeded to violently pummel the mostly unarmed protesters. The attacks, the most violent so far, reached a depressing new low. I watched one particular video were a young man begged on his knees not to be hurt; he was shaking with fear, unarmed, and could very well have been a teenager. It was painful to watch. I don’t know when he eventually stepped out of the train car because the video ended shortly after a “white shirt” entered the train and punched him hard, in the face, knocking him right off his feet.

I’ve gotten softer as I get older, and I just couldn’t stomach watching more horrific videos. I know and work with people just like those who got off the train that night facing a bloody, terrifying scene, bracing themselves for violence.

I did come to a very late to this realization though: the best content about the Hong Kong protests — both on-the-ground reporting during the clashes as well as political and economic impacts — is undoubtedly on Twitter, yet few people get to see it. Yes, some Tweets and videos get embedded into news stories from time to time, but that doesn’t nearly do the amount of “reporting” justice. The whole protest ecosystem is represented on Twitter, including protesters using both Chinese and English, the Hong Kong Police Force, journalists, professors, politicians, and other prominent members of society. Not having a Twitter account, or not knowing how to use it, shouldn’t be a barrier to information. Twitter can seem like a noisy, crowded space most of the time, but the reality is few people use it in Hong Kong and its global audience is a tiny fraction of the size of Facebook’s or Instagram’s.

I came across an excellent list of 100 people on Twitter to follow for coverage of the Hong Kong protests by the Taiwan Gazette. They did a fantastic job compiling it, so I’ve taken those names and created a list within Twitter so anyone on the social network can easily add it to their account. It also allows anyone, even those who have never used Twitter and don’t have an account, to follow along.

Links & Resources:

Twitter has crashed on me a couple of times, so if you spot a name missing from the list please give me a shout. I’m also wide open for suggestions, so if there’s somebody you think deserves a mention I’d be happy to add them.

July 22, 2019 -

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I use the word “finally” because Cathay Pacific has done an excellent job with signature lounges in several cities worldwide, with Bangkok, London and Vancouver coming to mind as some of the best. Yet one of the company’s biggest markets — probably the biggest market — has notoriously been left underserved.

I had a good friend of mine, who covers the aviation industry in Hong Kong, explain to me a while ago that cities in Mainland China have strict control over the operational and catering contracts for companies operating inside airports, which naturally restricted what Cathay could do. He told me a couple of years ago, informally, that those contracts would expire around 2020 and Cathay had plans to overhaul their lounges then — and it looks like the first shoe has dropped.

Cathay has unveiled a gorgeous lounge inside Pudong Airport in Shanghai, one that takes its design cues from its other premium lounges in Hong Kong and elsewhere. Cathay might even be on a roll — the perception within Hong Kong is the airline has slipped over the years, but the worldwide survey conducted by Skytraxx had Cathay moving up two spots to fourth best airline in the world globally in 2019. Its lounges are commensurate with that standing, and maybe even better.

The new lounge at Pudong has what you would expect: large, spacious seating, hot and cold food options, some baked goods, and plenty of room to get some work done with Wifi and power outlets. Of course, I’m not really doing the place justice — here’s Cathay’s marketing speak for one section of the lounge in particular:

A particular highlight of the lounge is the Terrace, an L-shaped, open-ceiling verandah that allows guests to take in panoramic views of the apron and runway while seated at one of the dining tables or bespoke Solo Chairs, which come with a built-in reading lamp and individual side table.

The design of the Terrace is similarly reflected in the open-ceiling food hall, where passengers wanting a pre-flight refreshment can enjoy the convenience of self-serve international hot and cold dishes, freshly baked treats, cheeses and cold cuts that can be picked up from the Servery counter. A variety of wines and spirits are also available at the self-service bar, giving guests the ability to mix their favourite pre-flight cocktails.

I eagerly await my first experience with the “bespoke Solo Chairs”.

The lounge officially opened on July 18, and is operational from 5:45am to 9pm daily. You can find it near gate D69 in terminal two. I hope to pop in there within the next few weeks and see how it measures up against The Pier, the reigning champ (IMHO).

Additional Reading:

Images from Cathay Pacific

July 12, 2019 -

Reading Time: 2 minutes

We had a brainstorming meeting with some of the millennial Management Trainees at work today, and we went around the table talking about which apps have left an impression with them, either though design, functionality, or anything else.

One trainee mentioned Planto, off-handedly mentioning it integrates local bank accounts, securities accounts, and even Octopus, the cash card used widely here since 1997, into a single dashboard. I had never heard of it, but made sure to download it as soon as I got back to my office.

Planto is supported by the University of Hong Kong’s Entrepreneurship Center iDendron, which helps to nurture and grow the startup ecosystem in Hong Kong. The founders say the goal is to demystify finance and provide simple, actionable financial advice for people who might be intimidated when the issue of investing comes up.  

I’ve signed up and integrated my accounts — despite serious security concerns. I’m known to throw caution to the wind sometimes, and this is one of those times! I want to take the app for a proper spin, because it’s rare for Hong Kong to get new fintech apps like this. Hong Kong is a very small domestic market, so most of the exciting companies in this space are in the UK, US, or Mainland China.

I am not recommending this app, only pointing it out. We need to ask serious questions before providing a third-party company with universal access to all of one’s bank and securities accounts; so do as I say, not as I do. That said, if you end up giving this app a shot let me know what you think.

July 11, 2019 -

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I do all of my writing, whether on iPad or the Mac, in Ulysses. It’s a fantastic, simple but powerful Markdown app that looks great and includes a built-in file system. It also has a very diligent development team that updates the app on a regular basis and ensures it embraces all of the new features of each successive release of iOS.

One of those features is called Split View. Up to now, it’s been impossible to open two windows of the same app side-by-side on the iPad. For instance, if you want to keep Safari open to check Gmail on the left while reading news in another window of Safari on the right, you’re out of luck. (Nobody should be doing this anyway, as the Gmail app is a much better experience!) Users can open two different apps on an iPad screen at the same time — and three if you have the larger, 12.9 inch iPad Pro — but two windows of the same app? Nada.

That’s why Ulysses’ announcement in May that it decided to implement the feature itself was a nice touch, and a shining example of app developers listening to their customers. The functionality works great, and I’ve already used it multiple times.

Everything was going along smoothly until Apple unveiled iOS 13 at the Worldwide Developers Conference in June: the iPhone maker baked the feature right into the operating system. Good news for users, maybe not so good for Ulysses which appears to have wasted a lot of resources building its own, custom version.

What would you do in this case? Keep the hard work of your staff or drop it and embrace Apple’s solution? This is from Ulysses’ official blog:

After a bit of debate, weighing our options and evaluating user expectation, we decided to… switch Ulysses to the native Split View. It‘s a tough call because we believe our implementation is a bit more polished. However, the native Split View will soon be available across all apps, and we want to fit right in. So we decided to rather support the system standard (and benefit from future updates) than to maintain our version till it inevitably breaks.

This does mean, however, that we are going to remove our own implementation, as soon as our iPadOS release ships. This also means that Split View in Ulysses will only be supported on iPadOS or newer — in order to implement the system Split View, we need to cut out our own version completely.

It must have been tough making this decision, knowing the team worked hard on something innovative, useful, and in-demand. It was even a differentiator from other similar writing apps, and something worth bragging about! But Ulysses did the right thing. Ultimately it’s about the customers, and as people got used to Apple’s implementation it would’ve seemed strange to manage Split View in a different way just for Ulysses.

Ulysses made a clear decision to put the needs of its customers and greater app ecosystem above its own interests, and for that it should be commended. It doesn’t happen often enough.

July 9, 2019 -

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I worked in China’s state-run media machine way back in the mid 2000s, so I’ve seen how the authoritarian propaganda sausage is made — and it’s not exactly sophisticated (or appetizing, if we extend the metaphor). Chinese leaders have a monopoly on information in China so it’s relatively easy to get messages out to a domestic audience, but winning over people outside China — many of whom have been taught to be skeptical about media messages generally — has consistently proven to be a mountain too high to climb.

I’m no flag-waving fan of the Chinese government, but I’ve argued before that it’s not all bad. There are some legitimately good stories to tell about the country’s development, and on some hot-button issues China’s side rarely gets told. This is an institutional failure: the party controls the media, so the media must work to make the party happy for staff to keep their jobs and continue getting paid. That makes party officials the primary audience, and nothing makes Communist masters swell with pride like schmaltzy nationalism on TV. Rinse, repeat, and here we are today with Chinese propaganda stuck in the Soviet era.

Up until 2016, the US had traditionally been quite mindful and sensitive when dealing with China; both sides recognized the importance of the relationship and understood that conflict – hot or cold – could be catastrophic. The election of Donald J. Trump as US President blew that approach out of the water, and China’s media apparatus has proven to be ineffectual in operating in this new, social media-driven, acerbic international PR environment.

The South China Morning Post has an excellent piece looking at China’s media troubles and asks this question: is China’s propaganda machine losing the public relations battle with the US? The answer, in my view, is yes.

“…while US President Donald Trump has tweeted about China more than 100 times since the start of the trade ar last July, the Chinese government has been far quieter.

Analysts say this communication asymmetry has allowed the US to dominate the trade war narrative, as Beijing relies on its carefully managed state media coverage for its side of the story, which struggles to engage international audiences.

The hurdles for the bureaucratic Chinese propaganda machine centre on its lack of understanding of the Western public, restrictions for coverage to toe the official line, and existing preconceptions about China.”

I live in Hong Kong and get a steady, daily diet of China news, and yet I’m not sure I could explain China’s argument against US accusations of intellectual property theft, for instance. The US media – and the President himself on Twitter – has done an admirable job of hammering away on China, repeating US complaints incessantly and winning broad support, while Chinese media have been slow to respond. It can take days to work out an official response, which frequently comes across as clumsy and ineffective. (Frequent attempts to come up with catchy phrases or insults is truly cringe-worthy.)

China’s amateur, unsophisticated messaging and dithering over the “correct” way to report the news is quite literally harmful to the country’s national interests.

China’s achievements over the past 30 years – the rapid growth of the economy, establishment of a huge middle class, re-invigorated military, national prestige – shouldn’t be discounted. But in a way, that was the easy part: China was mired in poverty and traumatized by the Cultural Revolution when Deng Xiaoping decided it was time to let the cats catch mice. Unleashing capitalistic instincts and leveraging a massive population to build a globally-competitive manufacturing sector was a logical next step and made a lot of sense — but now what?

China has long resisted western forms of communication, culture, and governance, but the reality is state media must learn how to communicate effectively and win support from stakeholders outside of China. If it doesn’t, it risks threatening the very culture and form of government it aims to protect.

The country is no longer an underdog; it’s operating in countries around the world, strengthening its military and becoming more assertive in protecting what it considers national interests. It has made clear its ambition: not only be a power alongside the United States, but to exceed it. It can’t pull that off without a slick, nimble, sophisticated media machine capable of making a case, winning arguments, and persuading people around the world. China’s amateur, unsophisticated messaging and dithering over the “correct” way to report the news is quite literally harmful to the country’s national interests.

Donald Trump is despised among huge swathes of the world, even picking fights with long-time allies. There is potential for China to capitalize on the mistrust of the US president, make a compelling case for itself, and ramp up cooperation with countries feeling insecure with the messages coming out of Washington. China’s failure to make any headway is a sign of how far it still has to go.

July 7, 2019 -

Reading Time: < 1 minute

AdWeek has a great little story out about a Canadian ad agency, Target Marketing, which was once a Gold Lion winner at Cannes alongside global superstars Saatchi & Saatchi, TBWA, and Lowe Hunt in 2006.

The agency has published another video poking fun at the small-town life in Mount Pearl, Newfoundland (pop: 25,000). From AdWeek:

The fact is, the town isn’t known for much of anything … which is actually spun as a plus in the playful, self-aware tune. “Welcome to Mount Pearl” showcases bars, parks, hikes, Pete’s Pizza and even a pony.

Various influential members of the community make cameos. Current mayor Dave Aker who fist bumps a baby, former mayor Steve Kent tosses his trash at the city’s automated garbage truck and Tony the Zamboni driver, slides by on the ice with a thumbs up.

To anyone familiar with small-town life in Canada (like me!) this video will bring back plenty of memories. Kudos to the town itself, which would have had to sign off on the idea.

Let me know what you think.

June 29, 2019 -

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I actually lived in China at a time when a person could search Google (gasp!) and find pictures of Tank Man (double gasp!). Yeah, it’s gotten a lot worse since 2004…

When I travel in the Mainland these days I use Google’s spectacular Google Fi service (née Project Fi), which provides unfettered internet access as if I was in Chicago. Prior to that, I was able to roam in the Mainland using data plans from China Mobile Hong Kong, Three, or Smartone without much trouble. Authorities do allow the uncensored web if your phone plan is registered elsewhere.

That’s great if you have a generous data plan, of course, but not everybody does. I’m going to be holed up at the Dalian International Convention Centre for part of the week, with my MacBook Pro likely fully dependent on the facility’s Wifi network. It will likely be the same when I’m back at the hotel, which means a VPN is no longer optional – it’s mandatory. China blocks access to VPN websites, making it imperative that VPNs are installed in advance while still outside of the Mainland. Which is what I did last night.

I usually try and arm myself with one VPN when I head up to the motherland, but I now have three. I get ProtonVPN through my subscription with the uber secure ProtonMail service, but service is intermittent when I’ve tried to connect from behind the Great Firewall. So to play safe, I’ve signed up and paid for a month of VPN service from two of the more highly rated companies online.

I’m reluctant to name them, even though they aren’t secrets and China’s eagle-eyed internet censors probably have a book on them already. Still, no need to draw any additional attention.

I’ll let you know how it works. (Or I won’t… if there’s no update to this post, you’ll know how it went!)

June 27, 2019 -

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I remember the day Julian Castro decided to run for the Democratic nomination for president. The anchor on CBS threw to a reporter at Castro’s announcement in Florida and peppered him with a number of questions. I don’t remember them all exactly, but some included whether Castro’s heritage would help win the Latino vote, whether he would be able to win Florida in a general election, his choice of music at the announcement event, and whether he’s been too close to President Obama to win more left-leaning Democrats.

The interview was a long one by TV standards — upwards of five minutes. And at no point did the anchor or reporter provide a single policy position held by Castro. I heard all about his electability odds with smaller and smaller splinters of voters, yet I couldn’t tell you one thing he’d like to do as President.

I am no fan of Donald Trump, but the current state of the US media isn’t exactly healthy either. Trump’s antagonism of the press has pushed them into a de facto opposition role, one that it generally seems to have embraced. In doing so, I would submit it’s alienated a lot of Americans that just want the facts.

Which is why I was pleased to see Apple launch a new section of its growing Apple News app focused on the Democratic candidates and their positions. From 9to5Mac:

“The 2020 Democratic field is complex, and we want to offer Apple News readers a trusted place to learn more about candidates they’re familiar with and those they may be hearing about for the first time,” said Lauren Kern, editor-in-chief of Apple News. “The candidate guide in Apple News is a robust and reliable resource, connecting readers to valuable at-a-glance information and to great journalism from our partners.”

The section is very thoughtfully put together as a “Candidate’s Guide” that includes their priority issues, source of campaign funding, key endorsements, recent news, and much more.

There is so much negativity out there about journalism as a profession and news media as an industry, so it’s important to share good news and give praise when it’s deserved. Hopefully other media outlets follow Apple’s lead, but I won’t be placing any bets.

June 23, 2019 -

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I had the privilege of talking to communications students this morning at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. People who know me will be aware that I don’t have a university degree, but rather a diploma from the British Columbia Institute of Technology. The story of how that happened can be saved for another day — but suffice to say, I managed to skip the university lecture ritual in my early 20s, making it quite ironic that I found myself speaking to students who were in their master’s degree program.

I’ve given many, many presentations over the years but this was the first time I had to stand and speak for three whole hours. There’s a coffee break in there too, but it’s negligible. I worked on the presentation last night until quite late, finally wrapping up with 85 slides plus some live poll questions.

The lecture itself was called Digital @ Work & Play, and introduced the students to digital communications within a corporate setting, as well as how to build a personal brand and some key, “secret” tools to help make that happen.

I received a number of questions afterward, focused almost entirely on the software tools used to help create content, grow audiences, and measure the success or impact of any given campaign. I’ve realized over the past few years that while everyone knows all about Facebook, WeChat, and Twitter, few are aware of some of the cutting-edge tools that make content creation easier than ever before. The gap isn’t so much in capability but in the knowledge of what’s out there. I’m reluctant to share too many details because it would blow my cover!

I enjoyed the session even more than I thought I would, but the reaction to one slide surprised me. It’s a slide that clearly struck a nerve because a few people mentioned it to me afterward. It was this:

I’m not even really sure why I included this slide, but in retrospect I’m really glad I did. I have been thinking this way for a long time, as people who know me personally would attest.

I do think of myself as the CEO of my own life, and like I told the students, you should look back at the work of the CEO at year’s end and decide if the CEO deserves a contract extension or needs to be replaced. Based on the goals set at the start of the year, one’s age, and one’s personal circumstance is the CEO doing a good job? Is the CEO managing risk properly? Putting in contingency plans? Growing the business? Getting results? Or has the CEO missed some opportunities? Made some bad decisions that hurt the business?

It can be an eye-opening and often uncomfortable experience asking these questions of oneself if they’re considered honestly. In a way, this one slide could be more important than the other 84 combined, because it applies to everyone.

Overall I really enjoyed the session — the students were curious and it was great engaging them in discussions and helping answer their questions.  I was a bit nervous preparing for such a long talk, but it went better than I thought it could. I’ve already been asked back to do it again for new students next semester, and I’m looking forward to it — particularly because I can recycle my deck! ????

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