Shelf space over comfort at supermarkets
Any would-be cashier in a supermarket and other retail outlet needs to speak English to get the job. But it's not a stringent test because if they can say, "Do you need a bag?" they will get the job.
This is not the only sign of poor management practices.
It was around 40 years ago that the supermarket concept was introduced to Hong Kong, albeit at a fairly slow pace. In the last few years, with the opening of purpose-built outlets such as Li Ka-shing's Taste chain, it is almost pleasurable to stroll along the well-spaced aisles and to choose from a wide variety of merchandise.
Regrettably things seem to be a changing. Remodelling has been under way in Taste and ParknShop. "Remodelling" or "extensive renovation" means cutting the aisles' width and adding as much as one-third more shelf space, in a not-so-subtle effort to increase sales by stuffing in more goods. As a result, the shopping experience suffers.
Marks & Spencer is even less subtle, as all it has done is to add a few extra rows of clothes racks - no renovations here.
Oliver's Super Sandwiches seems to have shot itself in the foot by moving things around, resulting in inconvenient cashier locations, few customers and, most importantly, unhappy staff.
I guess there must be a new generation of management in the Hong Kong supermarket and general retail business, all trying to show their bosses and shareholders how to improve the bottom line. Maybe ex-bankers are trying a new trade?
But what about the customers? There should have been something in the Basic Law disallowing any detrimental changes, for 50 years, to our supermarket set-up.
Comments from the Li Ka-shing management team and Oliver's would be welcome. Wellcome can join in, too.
Brian Hughes, Sheung Wan
Foreign expertise may fix schools
The debate on international vs local education seems to be a flawed one. And the belligerence of this newspaper's columnists blaming foreign chambers and expatriates for apparently unreasonable demands misses the point.
For a long-time resident like myself, with family links here, it is obvious that the local education system has reached the level of breakdown; and this in spite of the fact local schools are subsidised to a much larger extent than ones ran by the English Schools Foundation. There are just a few elite local schools and those do not represent the whole system.
After an agonising time at school, the majority of local children are leaving with such poor skills that their prospects are little more than working at convenience stores. As for their command of foreign languages, many don't distinguish red from blue.
Not surprisingly, parents are desperately looking for a way out, which will not come easy if you aren't a foreign-educated civil servant or wealthy and well-connected.
But as the shortage of good schools becomes severe, not even wealth or connections will help, and sending the children overseas is becoming a common trend.
The reality is that education has never been a priority for any of the post-handover administrations. No political party has a programme for what needs to be done. There is no interest among think tanks, no debate in academe.
And parents have not mobilised with the vigour they showed against national education because high-quality education is an aspiration that is more difficult to articulate.
Restoring or establishing a good education system takes time and we cannot afford to lose time. The paradox is that we will need to look abroad to fix it, bringing foreign expertise to provide vision, administrative skills and, yes, teachers.
Juan Morales, Causeway Bay
Hearing aids for students too costly
Disability should not hinder pupils from studying, but is it a must for the Hong Kong government to provide financial assistance to those with severe hearing impairment?
First, if the government has to subsidise them, it will become a huge expenditure. People may say that the government neglects the rights and interests of the disabled minority, but should they also consider the government's resources? People should not underestimate the price of those hearing aids - the cost is not proportionate to their size.
We are not saying that the disabled do not deserve helping hands, but from the perspective of the government, this may not be an ideal plan.
Moreover, there are specialised schools for the disabled. They provide not only education, but also sophisticated equipment to facilitate learning. The truth is, if the disabled study in a normal school, without extra care, they may find it difficult to keep up.
Students with disabilities have a right to proper education, but this will require extra spending by the government.
Overall, I disagree with the proposal to provide funds for the maintenance of external ear devices. Subsidies for students with severe hearing impairment is just a knock at an open door.
Yeung Chin-yung, Tai Wai
Ma Wan sorely lacking library, post office
Ma Wan, including the Park Island development, has more than 12,000 residents, but two essential public services are not yet available to us.
One is a post office. The government has a huge office in the New Ma Wan Village, so it should be very easy to provide such a facility in that building.
And why are residents of Ma Wan and Park Island, in particular, denied the small luxury of a mobile library service?
Bob Beadman, Ma Wan
Beijing model contest was a big misfire
What on earth was that "China-USA Super Model Contest" in Beijing all about? Your photo ("Fashion shoot", December 5) showed the usual pouting teenage cuties in shorts and tops sporting automatic weapons.
Did those guns reflect the popularity of violent American culture in the mainland? Aren't there enough crimes committed in China without employing firearms as fashion accessories?
What nonsense will fashion promoters display next for naive girls who love aping Western styles by getting their oriental eyes widened, dying their locks and becoming anorexic?
Vandana Marino, Discovery Bay
Workers on street harmed by pollution
Due to worsening air quality, it is true that there are an increasing number of patients with asthma and chronic respiratory diseases.
The patients are usually vulnerable children and the elderly. Yet I believe the people who work along the road - such as newspaper stand vendors, cardboard collectors and street cleaners - suffer the most.
To make a living, they have no choice but to work on the street. They are usually the elderly or low-income people.
Residents who live on the lower floors of buildings, close to the roads, also have to endure the noise but also polluted air.
The ban on idling engines has been enforced for a time, yet so far, not a single selfish driver has been prosecuted. The policy is like a tiger without teeth. In fact, some drivers are so inconsiderate that they ignore pedestrians while enjoying the air-conditioning.
The government should step up monitoring and prosecution. And more education and awareness is needed.
Leung Kit Yan, Diamond Hill
Hospital's plan fails to include free beds
Following the audit review on land grants for private hospital development, Health Secretary Dr Ko Wing-man has told the Legislative Council that a team will be formed to conduct a one-year review of laws on private hospitals.
The Town Planning Board is considering a proposal by the Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital (HKSH) in Happy Valley to redevelop part of its site by building two additional high-rise blocks and increasing the number of beds from 458 to 800.
The planning intention for the area, however, is for building height control to restrict the proliferation of tall buildings.
Land grants to private hospitals are given provided that not less than 20 per cent of beds are free or low-cost. But it seems that the lease to HKSH is unrestricted and does not contain such a provision.
Further, the redevelopment plans propose one-bedroom luxury wards. This would not be in the public interest considering the shortage of beds in public hospitals.
The notes to the draft outline zoning plan (OZP) specify that the total number of beds should not exceed 800, and not more than 15 per cent of the gross floor area shall be used for clinical purposes. But the notes do not state the number of free or low-cost beds.
In the event that the OZP is approved, I would like to hear from Dr Ko what steps will be taken to ensure that HKSH provides 160 free or low-cost beds, that affordable medical care is provided to the public and that the public is made aware of this.
David Forshaw, Happy Valley