Hong Kong Shark Fin Sidewalk on The Guardian 'Conservation Stories of 2010' Slideshow

 A nice start to 2011...

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA SHARK FIN PHOTOGRAPHER

Merry Christmas, Rupdolph!

Deer antler slices for sale at Qing Ping wild animal product market, Guangzhou, China, 23 November 2010. Antlers from the velvet deer are a common ingredient in Chinese medicine.

Last year, some folk in the Langshan region of Hunan Province took the purported medicinal benefits of deer horn just a little bit too far...

ALEX HOFFORD : QING PING MARKET GUANGZHOU CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

Hong Kong Shark Fin Sidewalk

OK, I'm back.

A friend called me up today with a tip-off, saying "you gotta come here now and shoot this!"

So I did. The location is Fung Mat Road, a quiet area of Hong Kong in between the Whitty Street Tram Depot and the Western Wholesale Vegetable Market.

I tried to count the fins, but I got dizzy very quickly.

These two muppets were guarding them. Imagine what this scene would look like if the bodies were still attached to those shark fins. And now imagine that scene again, but this time underwater. And now imagine that scene one last time with those two guys swimming at the surface!

It is very difficult to photograph shark fins drying in the sun in places like South Africa and Costa Rica. The shark fins drying there are usually kept out of sight behing high breezeblock walls with barbed wire and security cameras. By Chinese organized crime syndicates. The same ones they have here. This is because global shark fin traders know they are doing bad stuff and do not want negative publicity. However in Asia's World City, shark fin drying is done in public - in flagrante, as my friend so well put it today.

How long will it be until this is illegal in Hong Kong? I mean this is really nuts. Totally unsustainable. Even I am shocked.

How long will the Hong Kong Government continue to hide behind C.I.T.E.S.?

Utterly. Speechless.

Watch an iPhone video of it too.

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA SHARK FIN PHOTOGRAPHER

The Axis Of Evil At The Closing Ceremony Of The Guangzhou Asian Games...

OK, so who did the seating plan?

My photo position for the closing ceremony tonight, whilst great for the fireworks, was directly in front of the North Korean delegation. Real, live, in the flesh, North Koreans. Can you imagine!?

I've long been fascinated with the place, but those delegates from the world's most secretive state didn't like it one bit when I took their photo.

Not entirely unexpectedly, I got the old hand in the lens treatment.

And one of them said, "...you know, it is Korean custom to ask before taking photo!", to which I replied, "well, you know it is also photojournalist custom to take natural unposed photos of people in real life situations!" He didn't get it.

So I took out the long lens instead.

"Why are you taking our picture?" 

"Because there is intense global interest in your country right now, as your leader seems hell bent on starting world war three", I replied as athletes from the renegade nuclear state filed by on the stage below us. The cadre replied, "You must come to our country to see that this is all lies and propaganda from your country!"

For those who don't already know, it should be noted that North Korea shelled the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong this week, killing two marines and two civilians. Seriously, war on the Korean Peninsula has not been this close since the end of the Korean war in the 1950's.

This man from the hermit kingdom videoed the entire closing ceremony without a tripod. Strange. But hey, what's that pin on his lapel?

It's North Korea's 'Great Leader', Kim Il-sung, (수령), of course.

And hang on. Who are those guys in beige suits sitting behind the North Koreans?

My, my, what a coincidence. It's none other than delegates from the Islamic Republic of Iran!

Don't believe me? Let's zoom in on that pass around his neck.

Funny that. Trading nukes in the stands in Guangzhou?

Down on the field of play, Iranian athletes from the "Islamic" Republic certainly seemed to be having a whale of a time with some Chinese volunteer girls in mini-skirts. Not a burka in sight!

But back to those shady guys from Pyongyang.

Watching me, watching you, watching me.

Me and this guy played a cat and mouse game. Every time I tried to take a snap of him, he would conceal his face with his camera.

As the athletes filed by....

... the delagation took off their jackets to conceal their juche-flavoured Kim Il-Sung pins.

But wait, it gets even better. What's that guy's pin in the row in front of the North Koreans?

Alas, I didn't get a clear picture of the man's face, but what exactly is that flag on his lapel pin?

Zooming in, we can see it's the Syrian flag!

So now we have the delagations from Iran, North Korea and Syria all sitting cosily together! A full blown 'Axis of Evil' corner of the Haixinsha Square Stadium in Guangzhou. Like I said, who organized the seating? Is China providing a convenient locale for some serious networking and arms trading? And if so, why? Or maybe these guys from pariah states all band together naturally as they feel left out - ostracized by the rest of the world, like reject kids in the corner of the school playground. Or maybe they already know each other well. Scary thought. But seriously, why place the media position right next to them? An oversight on the part of the organizers? Maybe, but so many questions in my head...

Then, as the ceremony wound up, things got really interesting. Down on the stage below, a handover was taking place between China and South Korea. The sacred flame torch of the Asian Games was being passed from the mayor of Guangzhou to the mayor of Incheon, South Korea, as the next Games will be held there in 2014. First the Olympic Council of Asia flag was lowered, then the national flag of South Korea was raised. And, right on cue, just as the South Korean national anthem started to play, the entire North Korean delegation got up from their seats en masse, and walked out in protest.

They headed straight for the toilet.

Then they hung around outside for a bit, before leaving altogether. The event had become South Korean, and like a jealous kid, they wanted no part of it.

Childish. To think that this petulant country has nuclear weapons is a sobering thought.

Other memorable moments, (un-related to North Korea) include... riot police...

...volunteers...

Love those small pastel-coloured plastic stools!

A stern-looking paramilitary policeman contrasting to the happy clappy volunteer colleagues.

They sang a nice song though. When I get back to Hong Kong I'll post a Youtbe link here.

Oh. And one last thing before I go back. As I predicted two weeks ago, China totally cleaned up in the medals.

Yawn...

ALEX HOFFORD : GUANGZHOU ASIAN GAMES CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

Guangzhou Asian Games 2010, It's A Wrap...

I'm really tired. Not sure if its the bad air or exhaustion, but I have a hacking dry cough. Home time tomorrow...

First we had the etiquette angels, or smile robots as I like to call them.

More about these ladies here.

At the women's water polo medal ceremony, this girl's arms were actually trembling. I really thought she was going to drop that tray of gold medals. Now that would have made a great shot!

China vs Kazakhstan.

Uzbekistan vs India.

China (red) play Malaysia (black) in the women's beach volleyball. A cynical bid to drive more traffic to this website!

The Hong Kong women's team played during in the day. Better light.

China's Teng Haibin on the pommel horse exercise. He won the gold medal in the final of the men's individual all-around artistic gymnastics.

China's Lu Bo on the parallel bars.

Rythmic Gymnastics; (rope, ribbon, ball, hoop).

Kazakhstan's Anna Alyabeva took the gold. At every medal ceremony I attended, biting medals seemed to be the thing to do. Is that to prove they are not made out of chocolate or something? Yuk.

Karate.

The guy on the left is from Hong Kong. He was pummeled by the Indonesian guy on the right.

The inevitable athletics, fastest man race.

The triple jump, where this girl from Kazakhstan won.

Despair.

Another Kazakh. Visibly upset from coming in fourth, ie not even a bronze medal.

Elation. Korea's Lee Yeon Kyung celebrates after winning gold in the Women's 100m Hurdles Final.

And yes, chess was indeed one of the 'Asian Games' on offer too. Here are the officials having a pre-competition meeting.

The man on the left is from Turkmenistan. His Philippine opponent is giving him a big headache.

Chess was invented in Arabia in about the 6th century AD. Consequently, many Middle Eastern and Muslim nations were present at the knockout competition at the Guangzhou Chess Institute.

A Jordanian woman plays a Bangladeshi woman. 

Chinese chess, or xiangxi was also official game at the Guangzhou Asian Games.

Here's Taiwan's twelve year old xiangxi prodigy Peng Jou-an deep in concentration. Fascinating stuff.

And of course no China mega-event would be complete without a crop-haired goon holding a national flag.

It's time to go home...

ALEX HOFFORD : GUANGZHOU ASIAN GAMES 2010 CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

China Takes Gold. As Usual.

What makes this such a bore-fest is that it's a foregone conclusion that China will win the entire thing.

At the end of the first day, China is already at the top of the medals table with the most gold.

Here's Wu Jingbiao winning the 'Men's 56kg' category weightlifting competition.

ALEX HOFFORD : GUANGZHOU CHINA ASIAN GAMES PHOTOGRAPHER

Opening Ceremony of the Guangzhou Asian Games 2010

I've been stuck on a media boat for ten hours now.

Security is tight, so no one is allowed on or off the boat. And there is nothing to eat apart from a few bread rolls and tangerines.

There was a boat parade and some fireworks. Rather splendid if you like that kind of thing.

But I think the right word for it is 'schmaltzy'.

China never tires of putting on these kind of mega-events to get the patriotic hordes going.

Tomorrow it's time to get stuck into some serious sport...

ALEX HOFFORD : GUANGZHOU CHINA ASIAN GAMES PHOTOGRAPHER

Happy Halloween!

31 October 2010, Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong, China.

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

It's Official: Hong Kong Is Now 'The Most Wasteful Place On Earth'

Hong Kong now leads the world in per capita production of trash.

A dubious honour indeed, and that's according to an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report released earlier this week.* 

To celebrate the fact, I visited the Tseung Kwan O landfill. I gained access by finding a hole in the fence that runs alongside the adjacent Clear Water Bay Country Park.

Apparently, last year each Hong Kong resident produced, on average, 921 kilos of trash. That makes up a grand total of 6.45 million tonnes of trash for Hong Kong as a whole.

The OECD report said that this makes Hong Kong the most wasteful city in the world.

Compared to other industrialized nations, the city has very limited recycling options, and Hong Kong's last incinerator was shut down in 1997.

During my visit I saw a constant stream of trucks arriving one after the other to dump what looked like contrsuction waste, which I think is illegal. I would have loved to have got a bit closer, but since I didn't have permission from the EPD to be there, I had to stay at a distance - close to my bolt hole back into the Country Park!

Not wanting to go all the way round, I think the hole must be used by landfill workers as a short cut to the scenic Tai O Mun Road in Clearwater Bay.

* Unfortunately I couldn't actually link to the OECD report, as it seems the OECD website is down, at least for now.

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

Tseung Kwan O: Urban Planning By Psychopaths?

Earlier this week I did a feature on the state of the Hong Kong property market.

These photos were taken in the Tseung Kwan O (TKO) district of Kowloon.

Apparently, Hong Kong property prices have jumped 48% since January 2009.

This is being largely driven by mainland investors, who are making it impossible for first-time buyers in Hong Kong get on the property ladder.

The last two photos are actually of public housing, so not strictly part of the story, but I liked the pink and blue hues.

Incredibly, all of this has sprouted in the last 15 years, and they haven't even finshed it yet. 

Over the years I have heard Hong Kong housing variously described as; "rabbit hutches for humans", "concrete shoeboxes in the sky", "human filing cabinets", "mode of production storage units", and of course, in its wider context, "psychopathic urban planning".

Hemlock blogged about the place here.

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

All images and text © Alex Hofford / Image Solutions Ltd. 2011 | Web design in Hong Kong by Ugli © 2011