Friday, 31 October 2008

Every Party's Got One

Introducing Kay Hagan, North Carolina Democratic candidate for the US Senate:

"I taught Sunday School." Comic gold.

If Obama has any sense, he'll ditch Biden and make this girl VP.

W's Gonna Be a Hard Act to Follow

A photographic tribute

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Parent Education Academy

Someone once described Hong Kong people as quick to give advice but slow to give help. Certainly, the plethora of talk shows on the Chinese radio stations and the number of words released into the air (Wong Yuk Man and Chip Tsao seem never draw breath), not to mention the aunties that get on Joyce's nerves (every company's got one), would suggest that the desire to share one's wisdom is almost a cultural construct.

It's a pity, then, that the need to share one's sapience is generally in inverse proportion to its possession. In Hong Kong, the pearls are rarely cast before swine: they are invariably cast by the swine.

The edge Hong Kong has over other places is its ability not just to think outside the box but to throw away the box altogether at times. Stuff that in a normal place you'd dismiss as a joke, here you instinctively understand to be meant in all earnestness. And there are a lot of earnest people around.

Thus, when my 12-year-old brought back from her otherwise usually reasonably sane school a brochure from the "Parent Education Academy" with a cartoon of two happy children on the front, I didn't give it a second glance.

"How much?" I asked my daughter.

"300 dollars," she replied.

"Want to do it?" I continued, ever the interested parent.

"It's not for me, Dad, it's for you and mum," she shot back.

Though I couldn't see it behind the copy of Four Four Two I was reading, I sensed a grin from her tone.

She was right. We were being invited to four 90-minute sessions that would lead to the award of a "Certificate of Attendance in Parent Education". The rubric hinted at the kind of talk one was likely to be subjected to from Stanley and Sherman, the "lecturers", as they styled themselves with commendable candidness:

"The relationship between parents and children is very important."

One of the keys to this relationship, according to the SS, was to establish "empathic understandings of children".

In "The Last Resort", Don Henley sings of activities undertaken by human beings with little other purpose than that they "give them things to do". The sad thing is that people like Stanley and Sherman wouldn't recognize themselves as belonging to that category.

This is for them:

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Poll Time

Now that fumie is getting in on the act and playing youtube videos, there's nowhere left for me to turn except polls.

Well, I suppose I could get ads or stick up all the nice things people have written about the blog, but I'm not that desperate. Yet.

However, I am deeply interested in the psychological profile of the thousands of people who visit this site. What causes a man from Ouagadougou to seek pearls of wisdom from an old ruin in Hong Kong? What drives a Francophone from Réunion to my site? Why don't I get any visitors from Moldova?

To answer these – and hopefully many other questions – I'm going to be running a series of polls. The only thing I ask of you is that you answer honestly. I don't want any Bradley Effect here. If you don't like someone because they're a Norwegian, come straight out with it. You won't be alone, you know. If you only supported Hillary because she was a woman, I won't hold it against you. Bill didn't.

So relax as together we enter the Derren (what sort of a name is that, anyway?) Brown world of psychological illusion and perceptual manipulation.

Woozy Cow

Flicking through the contributors' biographies before returning Hong Kong's latest collection of poetry and prose Fifty-Fifty: New Hong Kong Writing, I chuckled when I saw the moniker "Woo See-kow". Someone with a sense of humour, I thought.

Reading the first sentence of the author's notes, I was instantly struck with a distinct sense of déjà vu:

"Woo See-kow spent his childhood to teenage years growing up in Shamshuipo."

A quick google search later, and thanks to Elmer, the identity of Woo See-kow with the Kowloon Kid is confirmed.

"A sample of his poetry, please", I hear you ask.

Well, there are four poems to choose from, each inspired by a different part of Hong Kong (though not, sadly, Hoi Tan Street, on whose pavement SSPB was born and raised). I think my favourite is "April in Sai Kung". Here's a snatch:

A Paris night off the back
of Sai Kung's main street

Silver moon over San Francisco Bay
at the crest of springtime

Cherry blossoms at sunset
in a Kyoto park

Vancouver by the waterfront

All those sentimental places
came to me
at the same time

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Fevered Impatience

The soon to be departed lanky crime-busting Australian has on more than one occasion written in baffled terms about Hong Kongers' addiction to doing things at the last minute in a tremendous frenzy.

Of course, this is just one side of the coin: for every railroading, there is a filibuster waiting in the wings for when you have no intention whatsoever of answering a simple, direct question.

A nice example of the great Hong Kong disease, LMI (Last Minutitis), was forwarded to me by one of the few "foreigners" (as they're so quaintly called) who's managed to serenely remain in the Government quietly accumulating his pension for more than 30 years.

A member of his staff received an emailed request at 3.47pm on 24 October from someone at the MTRC asking for information on three different matters to be sent back to her "on or before 24 Oct 2008".

He duly told his subordinate to write back to apologise for the fact that their reply could not be sent as requested owing to the fact that they lacked resources to anticipate requests before they were made.

I must remember to ask if he got a response.

Monday, 27 October 2008

End of the Roadshow?

It was reported on Friday that the founder (indeed, Founder) and driving force behind Roadshow, the offshoot of KMB that broadcasts what might euphemistically be called entertainment on 14-inch television screens on thousands of buses and minibuses, is no more.

Winnie Ng has moved on, although not it seems in order to join the choir invisible. Indeed, it might appear at first sight that Ms Ng has received a promotion:

"The Board of Directors of Roadshow Holdings Limited is pleased to announce that Ms. Winnie Ng has been appointed as Deputy Chairman, Non-executive Director and member of the Audit Committee of the Company with effect from 13 October 2008", gushes the company website.

Until, that is, one realises that this is the same Winnie Ng who on the same day also stepped down as Executive Director of KMB, a position she had held since 2001.

In a classic move worthy of The Prince himself, the fall of the brains behind Roadshow is signalled by a subtle change in title, as she morphs from Vice Chairman to Deputy Chairman.

It's an ill wind that blows no good, though. Ms Ng will now have more time to spend tête à tête with Morgan Stanley as part of the Better Hong Kong Kong Foundation and promoting understanding of "One Country, Two Systems" with the Bauhinia Foundation.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Lunch Provided with Compliments

I was concerned when I first heard that the HKMA were offfering seminars led by "overseas experts". It was hard to think of any financial tips from Wall Street types or City slickers that wouldn't be greeted by local howls of derision; by pyjama grannies waving their useless mini-bonds in fat corporate faces or by minibus drivers who had left their idling red-topped death-chariots double parked on Queen's Road while they marched to the Central Government Offices wearing torn up bed sheets emblazoned with black Chinese characters on their heads.

It was a relief, then, when I learned that it was not pecuniary prescription from the professionals that was on offer from the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, but "corporate coaching" from the Hong Kong Management Association.

Glancing at the fee for the two-day seminar next month, I was encouraged to see that despite the commercial carnage all around them, the HKMA were still bullish enough to be charging HK$8,650 per person. Two sweeteners were offered to prospective punters: first, the "coach", a Certified Behavioural Consultant, no less, was called George Quek (no charlatan he); second, lunch was "provided with compliments".

I could only imagine the kind of comments a Hongkie could expect to receive as she sped towards the oyster tray: "Ooh, I love your hair – does Pierre do it?", "Oh my God, your colour analysis and image consultant has done a totally incredible job with your wardrobe!"

Still, any course that offers both "toll-free support" (doesn't Mr Quek know that local calls are free in Hong Kong?) and a trainer certified in "KnowBrainer" ("an innovation and process programme from USA") is entitled to feel with some justification that it can charge prices that are out of this world. After all, it appears to come from another planet.

How extraordinary, then, that just this morning I should receive an email promoting an "Ontological Coaching" course, run by an Australian fellow who boasts of 20 years working in the Victorian Government education system (not a great selling point, I'd have thought).

Apply now and you can "learn how to utilize basic linguistic acts to shift restrictive ways of being" (that's the ontological stuff out of the way, then), as well as discovering "the power of the body as a hidden area of learning, and how to respectfully generate body learning in coaching conversations".

And that's not all. Not only do you get a hundred dollars change out of ten grand, you also get your "lunch provided with compliments".

I advise early booking.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

1967 John McCain Interview from Vietnam Prison Camp

Triple Tongued Delight

Sponsored by HSBC Premier (accounts for people with a million Hong Kong dollars stuck in a savings account – how people used to sniff at that!) and Penderyn Welsh Whisky (if the Irish spell it "whiskey", shouldn't the Cambrians come up with an alternative spelling – hwysku?), the London Welsh Festival of Male Choirs was, according to well-known music critic Peakey's Daughter, "an incredibly good evening of entertainment". Praise comes no higher than that.

For the second time since its inception in 1969, the concert featured the talents of Hong Kong's finest, some of who were a bit miffed to find that the organisers had stuck a picture of the flag of the People's Republic of China on the programme cover, rather than the good old bauhinia. Perhaps the patron of the event, The Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, knows something he's not letting onto. Could it, I wonder, have anything to do with his father's comments about the "slitty-eyed" foreigners he once encountered on a trip to the Orient?

Totty-watchers were well served by the presence of soprano Gwawr Edwards and pianist Annabel Thwaite, who to my mind outperformed her fellow blonde in the aesthetic if not the sartorial stakes – the crooner from Aberystwyth causing not a few septuagenarian pulses to race when she reappeared for the second half in a strapless red number. (I need hardly mention that motty-watchers were supplied with a veritable feast of muscle and machismo.)

Undoubted stars of the show were the Cory Band, who have gone from strength to strength since dropping one of the silliest names of all time – in a previous incarnation they were forced to introduce themselves as the Buy As You View Band. They accompanied the massed choirs in a number of pieces, elevating the choral performance perceptibly in the process, and they stole the show with their only solo piece, "Where Eagles Sing", a stirring tribute to the American Bald Eagle by Lancastrian composer Paul Lovatt-Cooper.

To hear the euphonium (I believe it was one of these "bastard" baby tubas) being played at breakneck speed by the technique of triple tonguing was a magical experience. To get an idea of the kind of sound produced, check out euphist Lyndon Baglin playing "Rule Brittania" with the Cory Band nearly 20 years ago.

As on the day itself, the final word must go to Haydn James, who celebrates 30 years as musical director of the London Welsh next year, for his various gifts, not the least of which is an instinct for putting on programmes guaranteed to put bums on seats. A highly prized asset indeed in these days of credit crunches and financial black holes.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Enough to Make Anyone Cry

Tosh? Garbage? Words cannot express just how rank the film Boys Don't Cry is. Roger Ebert gives it four stars; I give it zero.

That it is allegedly based on a true story makes it even worse, because the truth can't have been anything like this: two good-looking Hollywood starlets going down on each other in a Nebraskan field and on the front seat of a car. (Why they didn't do it on the back seat is one of the more compelling questions raised in the course of this simplistic, sentimentalised, self-righteous nonsense.)

Ostensibly a film about a 20-year-old woman with a "sexual identity crisis", Boys Don't Cry manages simultaneously to make every single character in the movie a stereotype and, more seriously, to put back the cause of transsexuals and those with gender identity issues.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Gray Pride

Browsing one of Britain's best-selling men's magazines on my flight to London, I was fascinated by an ad for the army. Recruitment's certainly come a long way from the days when the slogan was "Travel the world, meet lots of interesting people, and kill them".

The modern military has been given a distinctively Blairite spin: nothing is black and white; everything is shades of grey.

Against a light grey sky, you can just about make out a darker grey aeroplane making a parachute drop over what looks like the bridge at Arnhem. In the foreground, three soldiers (presumably those who completed the jump successfully) are training their weapons on an invisible enemy, in what must be said is a commendably accurate symbolic representation of the War On Terror.

An equally honest semiotic statement is made by the fact that only two of the fellows lying prone on the grey grass have been issued with telescopic sights. The other, it must be assumed, is meant to simultaneously symbolise both spending cuts and the harsh realities of "friendly fire".

The third figure is clearly intended as a representation of minorities in the forces, as he is seen in full profile (the others have their helmets pulled down over their eyes – so maybe they're meant to symbolise friendly fire after all?), he's smiling, and, most significantly, his face isn't smeared with soot. Originally, no doubt, his place was to have been taken by a black man to show that the British Army is an equal opportunities employer, but top brass felt they didn't want to send miscegenated messages.

The text is similarly grey – and very snappy. The staccato rhythm ("Infantry. Forward as one. Army. Be the best") not only mimics submachine gun fire, it also pays homage to perhaps the greatest of all élite forces, Jimmy's secret army – formed to save Britain from a threat even greater than that of non-existent weapons of mass destruction: namby-pamby probation officers and ... the BBC's Play for Today.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

A Kick in the Alberts

This evening I'll be in the Royal Albert Hall, droning on interminably with a bunch of middle-aged men with tenuous Welsh connections from Ljubljana, Yarra Valley, Boston and Auckland.

As I drive my hire car back along the Heathrow perimeter road tomorrow afternoon, I'll pass the sign saying DANGER LOW FLYING PLANES. As always on such occasions, I'll think of Michael Flanders's wise words:

"There's not a lot you can do about that. Take your hat off?"

Concert review on Tuesday, if you're really unlucky.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Number One from Number Two

One of the highlights of the Olympics was watching the "old man", Ma Lin, beat the baby-faced Wang Hao in the table tennis final.

World number one and World Champion he might be, but Wang is in danger of turning into the perennial Olympic bridesmaid – the ping pong version of the All Blacks rugby team – having also collected silver at Athens.

Like most Chinese people, Wang enjoys a bit of a sing-song, but he's also got a bit of the British in him, as he likes to relieve himself in car parks. What he hadn't reckoned on, though, was the propensity for Sino security guards to pop up in car parks at the most inconvenient times – like when you're taking a slash.

As a result of his rash outburst (which he followed up by assaulting the poor fellow), Wang has been confined to barracks and ordered to perform a self-criticism.

Team manager Huang (nicknamed "Like an Elephant" by the paddlers) has said that his players will undergo "thought education" to prevent "little matters turning into big matters".

Put another way, to stop number ones turning into number twos.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Keeping it in the Family

I think only a minke whale would begrudge Iceland, teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, their World Cup qualifier win over the romantically named Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

The only goal of a game that saw Iceland go level on points with Scotland was scored by Veigar Pall Gunnarsson. Shortly afterwards, Brynjar Gunnarsson was replaced by Aron Gunnarsson. When asked why Mrs Gunnarsson wasn't playing, Iceland manager Olafur Johannesson said she had a groin strain.

Iceland goalie Gunnleifur Gunnleifsson had a relatively quiet evening after letting in six goals in his previous three matches.

"The lad done well," Johannesson said. "He realised he had to turn over a new lief after recent performances."

Eidur Gudjohnsen, Iceland's most famous export after Fish Fingers, whose blond features mean he's unlikely to be the subject of racial abuse from Spanish fans, made his 55th appearance for the national team a successful one, if not quite as memorable as his first - when he played in the same team as his dad.

You Know Things Are Bad When ...

... they get the Don to head a credit crisis team.

It's nearly as old as the hills, but so am I, and I thought you might enjoy this quick presentation explaining how we got ourselves into this credit crunch. In layman's terms ...

The technical details mught have eluded me, but I think I got the gist – Don's going to be needing all the bananas he was thrown yesterday if he's to bring succour to those Norwegian pensioners.

Talking of Norwegian pensioners, our very own Liv Ullman can be excused a little gloating that she exchanged the fjords, the mountains, and the Norwegian Blue parrots of home for the rust buckets and knocking shops along the South Lantau Road.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Café Causette, Mandarin Hotel

It's that poor.

And the coffee's better at McCafé. Not to mention, three or four times cheaper.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Balancing Precariously on the Knife-edge of East and West

A title caught my eye the other day on the New Books counter at the university library: Fifty-Fifty: New Hong Kong Writing, edited by someone with the ultra-harmonious name Xu Xi (aren't two-character Chinese names so cool? I finally settled on one after going through a couple of three-character efforts in my early years out east).

I must confess that I became a little less sanguine about the wisdom of my choice of reading material when I got back home and read the back-cover blurb. It was by Nury Vittachi:

Hong Kong is a dazzling, intriguing, provocative, dynamic place – and exactly the same thing can be said for this book, which captures the essence of a city balancing precariously on the knife-edge of east and west.

It gets worse:

Bringing together more than forty talented writers and poets, FIFTY-FIFTY is a collection of daring creative responses to the question posed by Xu Xi (isn't there a panda called Xu Xi?): What are Hong Kong's odds as it counts down 50 years of the S.A.R.?

... and worse:

Enter these pages with an open mind. Above all, do not be literal. Perhaps by the time you close this volume, FIFTY-FIFTY may tilt towards more favorable odds for our collective voice, one that speaks for the heart and mind of this extraordinary place to which we all belong.

One of the contributors is St Christine of Loh. Her poem is called "In Another Ten Years: Some Wanton Thoughts for 2017". Here's the first verse:

In another ten years
Life will be cramped
Every way we turn
We see large walls
Some tycoons
Made fortunes
Pouring concrete here
In another ten years
We will
Be ready
Be brave
To tear them down
A new city
Will be born
In another ten years

And people ask my why I read fumier?

Monday, 13 October 2008

Vicky Christina Barcelona

Woody Allen claims he's more appreciated in Europe. That's a pretty sweeping claim, and like all sweeping claims it has the virtue of being impossible to disprove.

One thing that is certain is that his latest film, Vicky Christina Barcelona, will be appreciated by the Spanish Tourism Board, with Barcelona and my beloved Asturias the major beneficiaries.

As well as writing and directing the film, Allen takes no less than five starring roles. Unlike Alec Guinness, however, who'd gladly take on half a dozen different roles in an Ealing comedy, Allen plays the same part he's played for more than 40 years – himself.

In his latest vehicle he appears by proxy as the narrator (who even sounds like him), as the nerd ("Doug", who marries the hapless heroine Vicky), as Vicky (in her d-diffidence, understated sensitivity and intelligence), as Christina (in her ditziness), and, of course, as the red-blooded Spanish hunk who's unaccountably made a fortune by selling canvases to which he's haphazardly added some paint by a flick of the wrist or a turn of the roller.

It's all rather predictable stuff, as the blonde, ditzy one sets up house with the hunk, only to joined by the hunk's ex, played by Penelope Cruz (who else?), who has attempted suicide after taking the bus from Madrid to Barcelona. She soon gets over this by teaching Christina all she knows about photography, which involves that well known European technique of sticking her tongue down Christina's throat.

How did it develop? We'll never know. Someone switched on the light in the dark room.

So what do we learn from the film? Essentially, that Woody Allen has the money to put his fantasies onto celluloid. Also, that he is well past his sell-by date.

Friday, 10 October 2008


Wit, an HBO television film that never appeared in the cinema, is an Emma Thompson vehicle helmed by Graduate director Mike Nichols, who also did the screenplay with Thompson. The screenplay in turn is based on a play by Margaret Edson.

It's a simple story about the sufferings of a woman who discovers she has ovarian cancer. This woman, who teaches English literature at a university, specialising in John Donne, is in her late forties, single, childless and friendless. That she should be all these things isn't very surprising given a personality that is as unprepossessing as any I can remember being portrayed in a movie.

With her peculiar mix of superiority and insecurity, she lacks the very quality which gives the film its title (the word occurs in one of the many Donne sonnets that are read aloud in the course of the film), so that it's very difficult to have any sympathy for her in her desperate plight.

The key scene comes early, when Thompson meets the doctor, a fellow academic at the university, who diagnoses her with the killer disease. He's cold and heartless (of course – in a film of stereotypes, the only warm person is, predictably enough, the big black nurse) and wants to use her as a guinea pig for his ongoing chemotherapy research.

His protégé, an imbecilic medic who took one of Thompson's courses on Donne in an ultimately futile attempt to become a more rounded biochemist – if only he'd taken Dante, for, as C S Lewis reminds us, "Metaphysical" poetry chiefly functions to gratify and simultaneously transform the taste for invention, obscurity, rhetoric and sensationalism – looks like a cross between Lord Percy Percy in Blackadder and the twittish detective in Monk, with no more sensitivity than a rabbit.

I mention rabbits, because the film is big on rabbits. Young Emma learns to love words (though where she learns to love deadly verse about death is never explained) through reading Beatrix Potter's The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies to her father, who lowers his copy of the Manchester Guardian long enough to throw an appreciative "Jolly good!" in his daughter's general direction.

Then, towards the end of the film, when Em is as bald as a coot and as pale as, well, death, who pops by but her mentor, an old woman who appears to be wearing two overcoats? She's flown into town for her five-year-old grandson's birthday party. She lies down next to her former student and offers to recite some Donne.

Realising that we've all had enough of that in the preceding 90 minutes, she reaches instead into her Barnes & Noble bag and pulls a rabbit out of the hat. Or, at any rate, another book about bunnies – a present for her grandson, so she can't even leave it with the English Literature Patient. What she does do, though, is to read enough of this aloud to demonstrate to her star student just what soporific means and send her on her final journey.

Two simple lessons may be drawn from Wit. One, if you want some friends, then don't get everyone's back up by being a sarcastic prig. Two, if you don't want to be used as a human guinea pig, then don't sign the consent form when it's pushed across the desk.

Thursday, 9 October 2008


I just received an email from a Mr Douglas Lau, a dealer in high-end accommodation.

Sadly, the particular apartment he was trying to flog me this time, in "The Tregunter Tower" up by the Ladies Recreation Club, is rather out of my price range.

Out of everyone's, I would suspect, apart from Fumier, K S Li and one or two others.

With a rental of HK$110,000k, Doug's going to have his work cut out, I fancy.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Heavens Almaty!

The glorious nation of Kazakhstan is coming to Wembley for playing football against Three Lions and learning culture of fish and chips and Mr Bean.

Well, not exactly. The Kazahks are desperate to throw off the earthy, somewhat backward image that was foisted on them by Sacha Baron Cohen. Cohen, whose other credits include Ali G, is currently running amok on the runways of Milan and Paris in his incarnation as gay Austrian model Bruno – becoming in the process the fifth most famous Austrian after Adolf Hitler, Kurt Waldheim, Christopher Plummer and Wiener Schnitzel.

The only trouble is that each time they open their mouth, the good burghers of the central Asian republic are sounding more and more like the Kazakh characters portrayed by actors (were they all actors? I now wonder) in Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.

Take this from Kazakhtan's David Beckham, Ruslan Baltiyev – a name that could have come straight out of the movie:

"I don't think English people know anything about Kazakhstan. We don't only have Borat. We have different sorts of people living here and it is a peaceful country which is hospitable and friendly to foreigners. I'm sure that, when England visit next year, they will see with their own eyes."

Sounding more and more like Borat Sagdiyev, Baltiyev continues:

"We have different cities, big and small."

The German coach of the Kazakh national team isn't to be outdone in the sounding-as-if-you're-an-absolute-pillock stakes:

"Almaty is a nice city and Astana is the new capital of the country. It's been built up like New York with very big houses and nice streets."

And with a name like Bernd Storck, I think you can safely say that he's angling for a part in Bruno: the Movie.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Al Dente?

We went along to this hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant on Staunton Street yesterday evening after taking in a concert at St John's Cathedral.

It turned out to be a very Fawlty Towerish experience, with the role of Manuel shared around among the waiters and waitresses. Faced with a choice between sitting upstairs at a table for two with a third place setting added and taking a table as close to the street as you can get without being on it, we opted for the latter, which I think was the right move. The major drawback was that periodically vast billows of smoke would swirl past us, as smokers from all the nearby eateries took it in turns to empty out on to the street and send smoke signals inviting friends in Lan Kwai Fong to join them.

The iced water ordered when we sat down came ten minutes later - and was lukewarm - and my daughter's diet coke also took an eternity (but she liked the slice of lime). Hats off to Eddy, the maître d', who scooted over to their sister restaurant on Graham Street to fetch a bottle of rosé, Sicilian as it turned out and very drinkable. Emboldened by his initiative, Eddy proceeded to ask me if he could try the wine himself, as he'd never tasted this one. Unaccustomed to sharing drinks with the waiters, I was nonetheless helpless to resist such an unexpected request and duly joined him in a toast to my good health - and his good luck.

In the meantime, two different waitresses had tried to serve us desserts we hadn't ordered before we'd been given the main courses we had. When these finally arrived (all pasta of one kind or another), they were all what my daughter fittingly described as "mushy", not al dente at all. For the record, the quesadillas ordered for starters were the top pick.

Unpretentious is how the place styles itself, and no one could argue with that. But there's only so far cheap(ish) and cheerful will take you. The worst thing I could say about Al Dente is that it had me - for a moment - longing for the obsequious staff who fawn over you at Nicholini's.

Monday, 6 October 2008

SCMP's Virtual Archive

If you're thinking of subscribing, as my company does, to the archive, you might want to think again. If you wish to read and print out articles from the New York Times, Associated Press or Reuters, then you won't be able to. The service doesn't include these prolific sources. And since these are often the only things worth reading, it may make you think twice about coughing up the cash.

But you can look up all the letters to the editor that have been published since 1993 by Peter Lok and Cynthia Sze, as well as columns by luminaries such as Lau Nai Keung, David Chu Yu Lin, Anthony Cheung Bing Leung and Kitty Poon. Who knows, some of them may even have been penned by Hong Kong's best known ghost writer.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Unconscious Collusion

The position paper (pdf file) submitted to Legco last year by the scourge of CLP Power, the Living Islands Movement (LIM), makes interesting reading – and at just four pages, they can't be accused of over-complicating the issues.

It's not clear who exactly wrote the document, but current committee members, according to the group's website, include chairman Bob Bunker – an investment analyst who comes with a ringing endorsement from no less a figure than David Webb – and secretary Eric Spain, who runs a company called Innovation Insight and is a member of the Hong Kong Institute of Value Management.

A couple of other investment bankers fill two of the other four places on the committee, so perhaps it was a little misleading of me to describe the group as "a motley collection of island dwellers, sailors, walkers and nature lovers".

The paper, whose title "LNG Receiving Terminal: An Unnecessary Scheme" has a visceral Al Gore appeal (the authors actually manage to squeeze in a reference to "the fight against climate change"), kicks off with "six key points". Keypoint two is especially robust:

"... We do not accept that continuing the outdated colonial system, with its unconscious collusion between bureaucrats and vested interests is the right way to ensure security of electricity supply in Hong Kong any longer."

Ignoring for a moment the fact that "collusion between bureaucrats and vested interests" is a perfect description of life in Hong Kong pre- and post-handover, indeed, the only way anything gets done in Hong Kong, I was fascinated by the concept of "unconscious collusion".

What are the authors driving at with their almost Freudian evocation of the unconscious collusion between patient and therapist? Is this their way of softening their invective against the government of the HKSAR? Or does it have anything to do with the fact that LIM's secretary worked for the Hong Kong Government, holding posts "in a number of departments".

Interestingly, included as an appendix to their submission is a letter to the SCMP dated 6 July 2007, entitled "A question of governance". The most important part of the letter comes not at the beginning but at the end, indeed, in its signature, which states that the writer is Chinese, "K.L. Pang". From Central, no less. Another banker, perhaps.

The key part of the text of the letter itself is the final paragraph, which is written in the same street-fighting style as LIM's keypoint two, quoted above:

"Capco [the Castle Peak Company - owned by ExxonMobil and CLP] says they cannot build the LNG plant in China 'because they cannot trust the Chinese' – a most strange statement after 10 years of 'one country, two systems'."

Indeed. Most strange. A source for your assertion would have been nice, K.L.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Green CLP Power Power

The latest edition of Green Country, the publication of "green NGO" Green Power, has just landed on my desk.

It seems it's not just St Christine of Loh that receives, allegedly, a goodly portion of her funding from green powerhouse China Light & Power Power. Green Power, which works "for a sustainable future for our city, our land, and our culture", is also funded by the coal-burning giant.

In the interest of fairness, it should be pointed out that the other sponsors listed on the back cover of the magazine include sustainability giants Cheung Kong and New World Services.