Trouble ahead for Hong Kong

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It was always likely that the activism seen in Hong Kong in the 2014 Umbrella Movement would reappear in some form.

This last week has seen the unlikely named “fishball revolution” erupt on the streets of Mongkok.

It sounds like a joke, but when you look at the footage coming out of Hong Kong you realise it is anything but.

Bloodied protesters, an injured policeman on the ground being attacked, warning shots fired in the air, 50 people arrested, almost 100 injured. Images that were seen around the world.

There is an anger and alienation that pits the pro-Beijing government against a population, especially the young, who want western-style freedoms; more than that they want a more egalitarian society in Hong Kong and a say in its governance.

The fishball protests exploded on the streets of Mong Kok, the shopping heart of the Kowloon peninsula, at the start of Chinese New Year.

The police had planned to close down the district’s unlicensed food stalls, which sell fishballs on skewers and other traditional Chinese snacks. Bad and unnecessary timing. These vendors have been on the Mongko streets forever.

The news leaked out, and protesters organised on social media ahead of the raids, and the standoff that resulted spilled over into violence as darkness closed in.

Why fight over fishballs? Street food is part of the culture of Hong Kong. The street stalls are very much part of Hong Kong’s culture, but they’ve been disappearing as part of the process of redevelopment and urban renewal.

Fishball stalls represent the Hong Kong working class like no other institutions can.

Although the protests targeted local law enforcement, it appears to many Hong Kongers that the actions of the police are becoming synonymous with those of mainland authorities. These protests reflect not just the tension between residents and local authorities, but issues Hong Kongers have with the mainland itself.

On social media the rioting was held up by some as a righteous political protest. But most Hong Kong residents were appalled. Their city is renowned for the peacefulness of its many protests.

Not since the 1960s, during the madness of Mao’s Cultural Revolution in mainland China, have the territory’s streets seen such bloodshed.

 

There is a deep mistrust of CY Leung and his government. Anxieties have been fuelled by the apparent abduction in recent months of five Hong Kong booksellers by Chinese agents—three while visiting mainland China, one from a resort in Thailand and another from Hong Kong itself. Many suspect that the men were “disappeared” because of plans to publish a tell-tale book about China’s president, Xi Jinping.

The months ahead in Hong Kong will not be calm. Elections will be held this year for the Legislative Council; and there will be a (rigged) election in 2017 for the chief executive.

The Chinese government could help Hong Kong by releasing the booksellers and by heeding calls for political reform. The “one country, two systems” formula depends on preserving Hong Kong’s freewheeling way of life.

But China rules by intimidation not by conciliation.

The bottom line is that Hong Kongers feel they are being subsumed by China in various ways. Politically, domestic freedoms and autonomy under Hong Kong Basic Law appear to be eroding. This is exemplified by the abduction last year of five Hong Kong booksellers.

Most tellingly, the underlying grievances that helped fuel the Occupy Central protests of 2014 have not diminished. The incidents this week demonstrate that grassroots tensions have reached the point where small-scale incidents are increasingly likely to spark larger protests.

Hong Kong and its Chinese overlords need to be wary and look at history – the American Revolution began with a riotous tea party.

Flydubai’s 2015 profit fall

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Flydubai reported a 60 per cent drop in net profit in 2015, as the strong US dollar and a challenging trade environment weighed on earnings.

Flydubai has a 31 December year end unlike Emirates which reports the year to 31 March.

The low-cost carrier yesterday reported Dh100.7 million of profit in 2015, compared to Dh250m a year earlier. It generated Dh4.9 billion in revenues, reflecting an increase of 11 per cent over 2014. During the year flydubai carried 9.04 million passengers, an increase of 25 per cent over 2014.

It is a wafer thin profit margin. But (and not every report has noted this) EBITDAR reduced slightly compared to the previous year, but remained healthy at 20.5% of revenue. EBITDAR is an accounting proxy for cash flows.

The revenue per passenger figure of AEd542 is worth noting as well; basically usd150 per passenger. This figure is higher than reality since revenue includes some cargo revenues – though an LCC FlyDubai does maintain a cargo operation.

With full year revenue up just 11% while passenger numbers increased by 25% there is clear pressure in yields.

Revenue passenger kilometres, a measure calculated by multiplying the number of revenue-paying passengers by the distance travelled, was “under pressure”, the airline said. This was owing to a stronger dollar, a challenging trading environment and the suspension of flights on some routes.

“The overall trading environment has remained challenging, but we have maintained our growth story and ended the year positively,” said Ghaith Al Ghaith, the flydubai chief executive.

During the first half of 2015, flydubai reported a loss of Dh147.4m on the back of lower Russian demand and the suspension of flights to Iraq, Yemen and parts of Ukraine. Yet it turned around its performance in the second half of the year with a Dh248 million profit helped by lower fuel prices and efforts to manage costs.

As the price of crude oil slumped from US$114 per barrel almost two years ago to about $30 per barrel, flydubai, like other carriers, has benefited from the fuel discount.

Fuel costs fell to 30.3 per cent of its operating costs, with 59 per cent of fuel costs unhedged.

The carrier will start to receive 16 new aircraft from May phased over the following two years.

It also plans to retire seven aircraft to maintain a young fleet. Currently the discount carrier flies to 89 destinations in 43 countries.

“Our network is maturing and so we continue to monitor capacity and review the opportunities for existing routes as well as for new routes,” said Mr Ghaith.

There was no mention of the average load factor.

in support of its growing fleet flydubai staff numbers rose to a total of 3,393 including 658 pilots, 1,435 cabin crew and 273 engineers representing 114 nationalities.

This was Flydubai’s fourth profitable year in succession. The airline has connected Dubai to cities that had not previous access to the middle east’s premier business and travel hub.

The original mandate expected Flydubai to serve many second and third tier cities in India; but the airline’s access to India has been greatly restricted by the bilateral agreement between India and the UAE.

Instead FlyDubai has pioneered routes to smaller GCC cities, into Africa and into the Russia and FSU states. It remains a small, versatile and creative operation.

 

A Burj too far?

Time Out asked what shall we call the new tower?

Well Burj Dubai is still available after the 2010 renaming of what became the Burj Khalifa.

Failing that – the Burj Unnecessary might do!

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Yesterday a new tower that will become the centrepiece of Emaar’s Dubai Creek Harbour project was approved by Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

The tower’s height and name has not yet been revealed, but the developer said it would “comparable in greatness and in height” to the Burj Khalifa and the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Of course!

The building has been designed by Santiago Calatrava Valls, a Spanish/Swiss architect, who has worked on the World Trade Centre Transportation Hub in New York, the Spire Tower in Chicago and the Olympic Sports Complex in Athens.

The tower will be “directly linked to the central island district of Dubai Creek Harbour with a vibrant 4.5km creek boardwalk offering an array of retail, dining, leisure and entertainment choices”, Emaar said in a statement released on Saturday.

Does that sounds a bit too much like the pr work for the new canal being built through decimated Safa Park?

It looks pretty – but in other news 50% of Dubai developments due to complete in 2015 failed to do so and have been delayed. The DWC airfield is way behind schedule. Maybe it is time to get some things finished before building the next destination/vanity tower?

Confessions of a bridge criminal

If you have been following the laughable detention, in Pattaya, of thirty-two not-so-sprightly bridge playing foreigners than this disarmingly honest article gives you all the details – written by one of the Pattaya 32.

It would be comical if it was not so trying for the good people involved.

The fact that it all happened in Pattaya – a city more noted for sex, drugs and corruption than it is for cerebral pursuits like bridge, makes it even more preposterous.

Background

Right now I am in Sattahip, a small town 40km south of Pattaya, 175km south of Bangkok. I stay with a friend who is an expert in shrimp production and shrimp hatchery management.

On Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings I take a mini-bus up the highway to Pattaya. This costs 40 baht one-way (US$1 = 37b, EUR1 = 40b). I then have lunch, generally an excellent pork noodle soup (damn, another 40b out the window!) or chicken-rice soup, equally good.

I then head to the Pattaya/Jomtien Bridge Club, arriving about 12:30 for coffee and await the 13:00 duplicate.

On Wednesday, 3rd Feb 2016, my partner was Norwegian Trond Rogne. He is a retired Professor (Civ Eng), a world authority on the corrosion of oil pipelines and winner of the 1988 IBPA Hand of the Year. He lives in Jomtien (next beach district south) with his Thai wife and children.

http://www.jannersten.org:1500/~server/IBPA/archive/Handbook/IBPA%20Handbook.pdf#page=48&zoom=auto,321,720

The club’s standard is “mixed”… Erik Sælensminde (BB 2007) is a frequent player, as is a 92yo English communist, whose love of the Dialectic is equaled only by his affection for six-card majors and Worser Minor.

At the Club

All was normal in our 8 table 3/4 Howell until 15:30, when a large collection of police, military and press came clomping up the stairs. They milled about looking silly while players paid not much attention to them – it was, after all, the middle of a round. The game proceeded without interruption until the normal 16:30 end, with the exception of a few people trying to explain to the authorities, in between hands, that there was no gambling taking place. I told some military officers that they should come and learn bridge but they didn’t seem too interested. I showed the large press contingent this link:

http://thailandbridgeleague.com/

Upon recognising a familiar face there, they twigged that this was going to be one mighty big SNAFU.

http://www.pattayamail.com/news/foreign-bridge-players-busted-in-south-pattaya-55600

http://pattayaone.net/pattaya-news/221251/british-led-card-room-raided-officials-south-pattaya/

We sat around the club while the police and military examined such wickedness as BridgeMates and puzzled over bidding boxes. Of course, once they found the scores on the computer, we were done for! There were [match]points and points means scoring and scoring means gambling. No, I don’t quite follow that, either.

They impounded the secret register of cash wins (actually a log of electricity meter readings; club helper Dave likes to argue the toss with the owner), the boards, computer and other equipment. At 18:00 we were told to go downstairs and hop in the buses; it was off to the police station on the corner of Beach Rd and Soi (side-road) 9. We were going to be fined 1,000b each for gambling.

At the Police Station

We were put into a large room with air conditioning, a big table and plenty of chairs. We sat around chatting; the boards were on a side-table but my offer to play low-stake rubber bridge was rejected. Some people have no sense of adventure.

Soon we found out that the charge was not gambling, but playing on unregistered premises. The club was set up in 1994 by Honorary British Consul Barry Kenyon (a player on that day and detained with us at the police station) and had some certificate or other, but it did not meet with the authorities’ approval. It did three months earlier during a routine inspection; go figure, as the Americans say.

And then there was the matter of the playing cards – some were not stamped! No, I’m not from Monty Python. See section 8 here:

http://www.thailawforum.com/laws/Playing%20cards.pdf

Later, the gambling charge was reinstated. We had fooled them for only a short time with the absence of cash, but that was easily explained: With typical Western craftiness, we were obviously settling up later by bank transfer. These evildoers must be stopped!

The price had gone up for attempting to fool the loyal and honest Thai officials – now 5,000 baht, payable toot sweet or stay there indefinitely.

The deal was:

– each person is charged with gambling, bail set at 5,000b

– each person signs document agreeing that they had been gambling

– we are released that night after bail payment

– we attend court the next morning to answer the charges

Well, that didn’t sound like a good deal to me. I have quite an aversion to signing false declarations. However, Trond Rogne had called his lawyer, who was there to advise us. Her view was that this “confession” was no big deal, we could retract and contest the matter in court. Getting home was to be preferred, so that’s what we did.

All except one person, a German lady who said that no way would she declare that she had been gambling when she had not and to hell with it, she would take whatever was coming, good or bad, and no paying bail for her.

Well, full marks for adhering to one’s principles, and I may well have done the same in a Western jurisdiction, but the fact that one could retract and contest in court swayed the matter for me.

And as an aside, I spent some three months in 2011 getting my wife out of a Lebanese jail; she was there after false accusations were made by a malicious psychopath that she was an arms dealer and an Israeli spy. I spent quite some time observing conditions in jail; the police are courteous and polite until they are not, and when they are not one will very much wish to be somewhere else. One cannot be certain if and when the mood will change and it’s better out than in.

Anyway, some people had the 5,000b on them, some did not. Calls were made, the ATM visited, and those who were short were fixed up.

In the meantime, assorted friends and relatives visited and did runs to the nearby 7-11 for supplies. The police provided free cartons of bottled water. And, most importantly, club manager Jeremy Watson, a retired British chartered accountant and long-time Thailand resident, had been on the phone to the Thailand Bridge League officials who were more than a little perturbed about the matter. We had a secret weapon in the form of Khunying Chodchoy (Esther) Sophonpanich, whose photo the journalists had recognised on the TBL web site. Khunying Sophonpanich is President of the Asia-Pacific Bridge Federation.

http://www.zoominfo.com/p/Khunying-Sophonpanich/95130729

Now if I understand correctly, Khunying is an high-end honorific that can only be bestowed by the King. Esther had quite a bit to say to the police by telephone that night and agreed to attend the police station and court the next morning. This is something like finding out that Baroness Rothschild is heading to the local police station to sort out some minor matter – she will get a hearing, and then some, particularly in a monarchy.

“Issues”

It was now getting on to midnight and there had been some “issues”.

– Trond’s children (aged 6 and 9) were waiting to be picked up from school (his wife visiting her mother in the north) and requests to the police for assistance were ignored. Eventually he was able to get a friend to pick up and care for the children overnight; the poor children had no idea why they had been abandoned.

– An elderly Dutch lady with some health problems was visited by a most irate member of the local Dutch Club; he wanted her home asap. After quite some arguing she was released at midnight.

– Two players needed their medication. This was denied and, while I have not researched the matter, may well be a human rights violation.

– Jeremy Watson was charged with card tax evasion (the unstamped cards) and running the club on unregistered premises; his bail set at 50,000b. A whip-around quickly raised that. I asked to be shown the relevant legislation; furthermore, I wanted to see the documentation for Jeremy’s bail, it having strangely come down 140,000b to 80,000b to 50,000b. I gather these were amongst the funniest things I have ever said.

Even Trond’s lawyer was in stitches.

It was a matter of sitting about waiting, with the occasional signing of documents (Father’s name! Mother’s name!), having passports confiscated and being fingerprinted. The slowest part was waiting to be called up one by one… a minor Thai official spent an age staring at a list of names, wondering how to pronounce such strange jumbles of letters (Ole Skjeveland?).

At 03:00, 4th Feb, we were free to leave, all except the courageous German non-signer and card tax evader Jeremy Watson, who had more paperwork to attend to. Trond’s lawyer was still there, so things looked to be under control for them both. We were under orders to attend the police station at 10:30 and be ready to attend court later in the day.

Getting back to Sattahip was too much of a chore; I got a 500b hotel room for the night and had delightful dreams of Khunying Sophonpanich tasering assorted bare buttocks.

The morning

We congregated at Soi 9 in the morning; it was as I expected, just more waiting.I found out that Jeremy had been released at 05:15; no sign of Ms Courageous Non-signer.

Esther Sophonpanich (on whose team I played in Canberra in 1982) appeared and was as charming and courteous as always. She headed upstairs to kick the sh… I mean, quietly discuss the matter with the the Chief of Police and was there for over an hour.

Trond’s lawyer was there, as was legal representation of the owner of the bridge club building.

While waiting, I found the local reports online; I was optimistic that word would spread to Western outlets. It most certainly has.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/05/how-trumped-up-charges-led-thai-police-to-raid-expat-bridge-club

Esther came down to tell us that the gambling charges had been dropped; we would get our passports returned shortly and the 5,000b bail money would be refunded.

We were free to go home at about midday. The German non-signer had been held at a different venue and was released.

EDIT: In fact it took some hours after our release for Jeremy and a lawyer to locate the German lady; she was released in the company of her husband at about 16:00.

 

In Closing

You may have wondered, why the military presence in all this?

Thailand is under military rule (albeit with plenty of freedom for everyone) and one of the mandates is to stop corrupt activities. One such is gambling, another is police bribery. The military came along to police both.

And how did all this come about?

The Guardian report on the previous page is on the right track; this nonsense was started by the disaffected Thai ex-wife of a man who works for the owner of the club building. She is a nutter; last week she came by to accuse me of being an Australian policeman sent to spy on her. She made a complaint of gambling to the Office of the Prime Minister, whose staff have perhaps been a little over-enthusiastic.

Returning to the matter of the unstamped cards: http://www.thailawforum.com/laws/Playing%20cards.pdf 

Jeremy Watson is still facing charges of too many cards, unstamped cards, card tax evasion and failing to wash behind his ears. Ok, I made the last one up, but you get the idea. Fines and/or jail seem to be mandatory. We’ll see!

We have a Thai lawyer examining the wording of the Thai legislation.

What is meant by “person” and “possess” in Section 8?

Is bridge, recognized in Thailand as a sport, exempt from the “120 cards” provision?

How does the fact that the club has been given gifts of packs of cards from overseas visitors affect matters?

Well, if I thought such questions were of interest to anyone I would be sure to keep you informed.

But I doubt that they are.

A bridge too far

Pattaya is Thailand’s cess-pool of vice. Parts are a grim town of prostitution and drugs. It can also be quite fun as well and there is some great golf nearby! But that may be a story for another day

Until now playing Bridge was never seen as one of those vices.

Just a hint to the Pattaya police – if they want to clean up a combined washroom and poker club might be the answer.

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But yesterday afternoon a  group of elderly bridge players were surprised by a visit from the police on Wednesday.

Thirty-two foreigners, including British, Swedish, Norwegian and Australian citizens, were arrested during the anti-gambling raid.

They said they were not playing for money, but were held for possessing too many unregistered playing cards.

Thailand’s military rulers have vowed to crack down on corruption and crime.

The players were released on bail on Thursday, after 12 hours in custody.

In addition to 12 Britons, those arrested included three Norwegians, three Swedes, two Australians, a German, a Dane, a Canadian and a New Zealander, AFP news agency reported.

An 84-year-old Dutch woman was also among those held.

There is a video of teh raid on youtube – unfortunately in Thai only.

Pattaya Police round up Bridge playing vice gang!

The Army, Pattaya Police and District Officials, conducted a raid on a 2nd floor rented room abive a soi 2 restaurant South Pattaya after a tip-off from an informant of a regular gathering of foreign nationals above the Alto’s Restaurant & Bar in Soi 2 off the Thappraya Road in South Pattaya. The Jomtien & Pattaya Bridge Club have met there 3 times a week since 1994.

Over 50 officers stormed the premises and found 8 tables and 32 foreign nationals, consisting of 26 men and 6 women playing cards.

As usual the police arrived with an army of media journalists and camera crews so that they could show there fine detective work and that they were clamping down on a serious vice issue.

No money was changing hands, however the officers scoured the law books and found an offense was being committed and therefore the alleged organizer of the event, Mr. Jeremy Watson aged 74 from UK was detained for further questioning.

The offense relates to Section 8 of the Playing Cards Act of 1935 which states that an individual is not allowed to possess more than 120 playing cards at any one time. At the Bridge event, considerably more than 120 playing cards were found by officers. Basically one deck per table so over 400 cards.

Computers, Decks of Cards and a book with results of the Bridge games were seized by officers as evidence.

The raid will concern other Bridge club organizers in Pattaya who assumed their gatherings were not breaking any of Thailand’s Anti-Gambling Laws.

All 32 card players were arrested and eventually released from Pattaya Police Station at 03.00am after almost 12 hours in custody and paying 5,000 Baht in bail each.

While police are still carrying out further investigations the foreign media have all picked up on the story with uniform incredulity.

Just worth noting that the Bridge Club of Thailand is sponsored by the Bangkok Bank and PTT

Emirates non-stop to Auckland

 

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Pictures: Emirates

Catching everyone by surprise last week Emirates announced that it will launch the first non-stop flights between Auckland and Dubai from March 2, in a move that will give it a brief crown as the longest flight in the world and effectively increase the capacity available for bookings on its trans-Tasman joint venture with Qantas.

Emirates will maintain its current trans-Tasman schedule of three A380 and one Boeing 777-300ER flights a day, despite adding five weekly non-stop services between Auckland and Dubai on a 777-200LR. The Auckland-Dubai sector will rank ahead of Qantas’ Dallas-Sydney flight as the longest in the world in distance and will have a flying time of 17 hours and 15 minutes.

The flight is just a little shorter than the planned 17 hours and 35 minutes non-stop from Dubai to Panama City launching on March 31.

Emirates’ decision to announce the new route just a month before the first flights is unusual, and industry sources said it was probably part of an effort to beat rival Qatar to the market.

Since Emirates already has a significant support and ground service organization in Auckland the logistics of the new flight are straightforward. Simpler than a new route.

Emirates said travellers booked on its existing services to Dubai and beyond via Australia would be able to switch to the new flight without additional fees, subject to seat availability. That will mean more trans-Tasman seats in the coming months.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission required Qantas and Emirates to maintain a minimum level of trans-Tasman capacity as part of their joint venture approved in 2013, which allows the airlines to co-ordinate pricing and scheduling.

Emirates has improved its load factor, or the percentage of seats filled, on trans-Tasman flights through its relationship with Qantas. In October 2012 Emirates filled about 69 per cent of trans-Tasman seats but that increased to 75 per cent by October 2015. However,  in October 2015 the Emirates load remained lower than Air New Zealand with 86 per cent, Qantas at 84 per cent, Virgin at 83 per cent and Jetstar at 81 per cent.

A Qantas spokesman said New Zealand has always been “central to the success” of its Emirates partnership, with the carriers combined contributing about 32,000 seats a week on trans-Tasman routes.

“We know that our customers like the range of routes and aircraft types available with Qantas and Emirates,” he said. “We expect that most Qantas and Emirates customers who fly to New Zealand will continue to travel via Australia, but this new route will supplement those existing services and provide an option that wasn’t available before.

Emirates said it would tie in the service in its code-sharing arrangement with Jetstar’s domestic New Zealand services, allowing customers from other parts of the country, including regional areas, to connect to Auckland. Jetstar launched in 2015 turboprop services from regional areas in a challenge to dominant carrier Air New Zealand. Qantas is examining a potential code-share on the non-stop Auckland-Dubai flights.

As for the competition Air New Zealand offers flights to London via Los Angeles and has partnerships with Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines for European flights via Asia.

 

Cold showers, pictures and a wedding

A week traveling Thailand – too many hotel rooms and cold showers and not enough decent internet access.

We flew into Bangkok on Saturday 23rd – and after an overnight at the airport we flew on NokAir on Sunday afternoon to a very cold and wet Chiang Mai.

The Sunday night street market in the old town has turned into an exploitational disaster. So many stalls – even in the middle of the road, ensures that even on a cold wet Sunday it feels way to crowded with too many stalls selling nothing that you would have any interest in buying.

So we gave up and went to Goodview by the river – it was cool but still busy. Music and food. And back to our hotel for a cold shower.

Breakfast. Open Air. 11C. Cold everything.

All day Monday was a photoshoot for Tai.

Loving Light Studio

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I would like to tell you more about the photoshoot – enough to say that I like James and I like how he goes about his work.

Monday night we met up with the lovely couple, Apple and Tim, and Apple’s slightly shocked mother! Back in Goodview. Even colder than the previous night.

Tuesday was an even colder morning; and wet. We were at Woraros market fixing Tai’s bridesmaid dress. Friendly folk there.

How cold was Chiang Mai:

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AirAsia back to DonMuang. Uneventful. Overnight at the Novotel Fenix on Silom Road. A dinner meeting at Siam with Bantarawan and Marko to run through their wedding plan for a few days later. Yes they did trust me to officiate. Brave. Their big day; their wedding day. Not something I could f*** up. So I had worked hard on the script for their wedding – keep religion out of it – but keep it meaningful. The plan – it should be emotional enough that their would be some tears.

Wednesday morning – the first of my BNH dental visits for root canal work. Take Tylenol and don’t think about me said Ajarn Charriyaporn (my dentist) as we finished up.

So that meant that for at least half of our drive to Dolphin Bay I really did not want to talk.

Dolphin Bay was pleasant enough – quiet – I had a long private walk early on Thursday morning – not a lot of sleep – toothache and some disturbing news about my mother – who had been found – unconscious – at home by Devon and Cornwall police.

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Thursday was another few hours driving the very slow Highway 4 to the south. And down to the Ban Saithong Beach Resort.

Just a few wedding guests there on the Thursday night with most turning up on Friday. this was good as for one night we had a superior room – before a significant downgrade the next day. Tim with Apple and Nina with Brendan and Indy did even better scoring the two Jacuzzi villas. The resort is very pleasant; and quite isolated. The beach not ideal for a beach wedding but just fine for a beachside wedding overlooking the ocean.

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Friday morning involved pictures around the pool and the hotel grounds before lunch at Bangberd beach and a drive around the beaches and fishing villages.

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That and the Bangberd beach jumping contest.

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Which brings us to wedding day and a Thai-German union with me as the Celebrant – and yes there were tears….so I reckon that was a success. The bride looked glorious; the bridesmaids mostly splendid and the groomsmen tall and well-fed!

Just one note here – trying to be the centre of attention is wholly inappropriate when it is your friend who is getting married – and we all know who I mean here!

There are lots of wedding pictures: This is a good place to start:

Bantarawan and Marko wedding pictures

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That is about up to date – the party ended at 3am – other than for some noisy guests who sat on the wall outside the rooms and chatted until later – I was very glad I was not in the 5am departures. A leisurely drive along the coast to Prachuap Khiri Khan and then the highway to Hua Hin – for (at last) a hot shower.

View above Dubai

There are some new videos on YouTube promoted by Emirates and Boeing under the project title ‘View from Above.’

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The Dubai video seeks to capture the diversity of the emirate, from the Burj Khalifa, Burj Al Arab, the Atlantis to the desert sand dunes and folk dances.

In all honesty it is another video (albeit well made) of rich man’s Dubai. This is not how 90% of the population live.

Dubai is among the many destinations covered in the project, such as Poland, New Zealand, Ireland, Sydney, and Sri Lanka, among others.

All the footage used in the video has been shot using unmanned recreational drones.

View above Dubai

Two Systems Failure

China’s promise of autonomy for Hong Kong is ringing hollow – from the Economist

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The lugubrious Leung Chun-ying, Hong Kong’s chief executive, was never the man to cheer you up. This was a handicap as he made his fourth annual policy address to the Legislative Council (Legco) this week. The mood in the chamber and the territory as a whole was sour. Business frets about the slowdown in China. Political life remains scarred by the failure of the pro-democracy “umbrella” movement of 2014. To protests, Mr Leung plodded through a speech on economic issues, with a special emphasis on China’s regional plans. He did not even try to allay rekindled fears that Hong Kong’s freedoms are in jeopardy.

Looked at in a certain light, such fears can seem overblown. Hong Kong still debates politics with no holds barred. Groups banned elsewhere in China freely proselytise. And any perceived encroachment on the territory’s freedoms provokes loud protests. Yet the alleged abduction since October of five Hong Kong residents by the Chinese authorities has cast a dark shadow. Three vanished in mainland China and one in Thailand. The disappearance on December 30th of the fifth man, Lee Bo, has caused particular alarm. He appears to have been snatched from Hong Kong itself and spirited across the border to the mainland, without his travel documents or any record of his leaving. His fate remains unknown. Like the other four, he was associated with a publisher and bookshop specialising in one of Hong Kong’s more esoteric niche businesses: scurrilous tales of intrigue, infighting, corruption and sex among China’s Communist leaders. A forthcoming title purports to uncover the love life of President Xi Jinping. Many have assumed that the Communist Party’s displeasure with the firm’s output explains the mysterious disappearances. China has not denied it.

The implications would be grim. Under the Joint Declaration of 1984 with Britain over Hong Kong’s future, China promised that “one country, two systems” would apply after China resumed sovereignty over the territory: ie, that Hong Kong would enjoy autonomy in all but its defence and foreign relations. Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, guarantees among other things freedom of speech and judicial independence. The suggestion that Hong Kong’s people, should they displease the sovereign master, might simply be kidnapped makes a nonsense of this.

A torrent of outrage has gushed from China’s usual critics in Hong Kong: Martin Lee, a veteran barrister, legislator and pro-democracy campaigner, called the apparent kidnapping “the most worrying thing” to have happened in Hong Kong since British rule ended in 1997. Even the Communist Party’s loyalists in Hong Kong are at a loss. The local government usually sees its role as justifying the central authorities’ ways to Hong Kong, rather than the other way round. Yet this week the justice secretary, Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung, called the fears the incident had evoked “totally understandable”. Legco’s president, Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, founding chairman of the biggest pro-Communist party, insisted that China should reassure Hong Kong about its autonomy. And many businessmen, even those who usually advocate placating the central government in the interests of political stability, think that extrajudicial rendition would cross a red line.

China also faces international scrutiny. Britain, hoping to position itself as China’s best friend in Europe, did little to show support for the pro-democracy protesters in 2014. But the missing Mr Lee holds a British passport, and Philip Hammond, Britain’s foreign secretary, has said that his abduction to the mainland would be an “egregious breach” of the Joint Declaration. Gui Minhai, who vanished in Thailand, is a Swedish citizen; the European Union has called the events “extremely worrying”. They were also widely watched in Taiwan. China hopes that island will also eventually accept Chinese sovereignty under the promise of “one country, two systems”, but Taiwan is likely on January 16th to elect an independence-leaning president.

Since the disappearances look disastrous for China’s image, many in Hong Kong believe that they cannot have been a deliberate policy by the central leadership. They speculate that lower-level officials overstepped the mark, or even that Communist Party factions hostile to Mr Xi are trying to embarrass him. China is left with a headache. It will have to cook up some plausible-sounding explanation for the mystery and coax, cajole or coerce the missing men into playing along. That, the theory goes, explains the prolonged silence.

For pessimists, however, the snatching of Mr Lee is just the most outrageous instance of the mainland’s increasing interference in Hong Kong. They see other examples, including the purchase of the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s main English-language newspaper, by Alibaba, China’s e-commerce goliath; and the decision by Mr Leung to appoint a pro-government ally to chair Hong Kong University’s governing council, rather than the university’s own nominee.

Pessimists also point out that China has wielded enormous influence in Hong Kong since long before 1997. Bizarrely, though, the Communist Party is even now an underground organisation there. The secrecy may encourage subterfuge, rumour-mongering and even lawlessness. Some officials may well sanction illegal snatch-squads, to show that Hong Kong’s autonomy does not extend to anti-party activity. That this also proves the emptiness of the “one country, two systems” promise would be a small price to pay. Presumably having nothing useful to say on the issue, Mr Leung ignored it in his speech. A legislator from the pro-democracy camp, Lee Cheuk-yan, was expelled from the chamber for interrupting him to demand information about the Lee Bo case. Later he accused the chief executive of trying “to turn Hong Kong into the mainland”. Nearly two decades after its reversion to China, few in Hong Kong want that.