Saturday, 30 May 2009

Martin Lee Survives Assassination Attempt!

The last time I died and went to heaven I was having visions of Emily.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Primed for Illusion

"When we experience a film we consciously prime ourselves for illusion. Putting aside will and intellect, we make way for it in our imagination." (Ingmar Bergman)

Especially for all those pedants for think films have to be accurate; also for those who think imagination is best engaged by gadgets and the bombardment of the senses.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Sai Kung Goes Kinky

The MTR is busy doing what it likes doing best – giving hideous names to the tower blocks it builds to perch atop its railway stations.

First there was Ile Prestige, part of the bizarrely named LOHAS Park project, which is rising like a behemoth in the wasteland of reclaimed land between the Tseung Kwan O Industrial Estate and the Tseung Kwan O Landfill, which doubles (PDF-file) as the Clear Water Bay Country Park. No wonder the alternative name for the area is Junk Bay. And no wonder the Government is in such a hurry to bury that name, as it prepares to herd 58,000 people into Li Ka Shing's fabrications.

Now there's Lake Silver, which, like its counterpart in Junk Bay, is being plonked at the end of the line, in this case the MTR's best kept secret, the Ma On Shan line. This project was doomed to failure almost from the start, stillborn, you might say, when the Government decided to build a 6-lane bypass round Ma On Shan so that buses and minibuses could make the journey as quickly as the trains. Cars and taxis, with no need to stop and pick up phantom passengers at Shek Mun and Tai Shui Hang, can of course get to the tacky eateries at Sai Sha well ahead of the choo-choos.

According to the blurb, Lake Silver, AKA Palace by the Sea, commands spectacular views of Sai Kung. Those hoping for a sighting of the seafood restaurants or even of Spike's place will be disappointed, though, as the only bit of Sai Kung you can see from the top of Wu Kai Sha Station is the westernmost bit of Sai Kung West Country Park.

But who will care about that when they've upped sticks and moved to a block of flats where "classical European architecture" (a few arches and pink paint) "elegantly entwines with the beauty of nature"? Indeed, who will give a monkey's about anything when they've got access to a clubhouse which offers more than 80 different activities aimed at "fulfilling every resident's whim and fancy"?

So, if Fumie's not posting at the moment, you know what he's doing. Jamming that hotline to chat up Isabella and make sure he's at the front of the queue for a private tour of the "show suite".

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Boyle Wobbles into Final

It was moving

Monday, 25 May 2009

In the Dog House

Spare a thought for one poor sod who was "quarantined" in the Metro Park Hotel for a week after the first case of pig flu in Hong Kong had been traced to a guest there.

The man, allegedly a denizen of Discovery Bay – enough of a stigma, one would have thought – had apparently been using the facility to forge links with a foreign professional and was caught with his trousers down when the hotel was sealed off.

At least he had seven days to come up with a good excuse for the wife.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Old Fossil Discovered

"You got stiffie, Private?"

"How you think my medals stay up?!"

Friday, 22 May 2009

Raising the Roof

Undecided what to do on Monday 15 June? Torn between enjoying a Chinese at home and an evening listening to extravagantly gifted amateur choirs at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre?

It's a no-brainer, really, isn't it?

The Hong Kong Welsh Male Voice Choir will join with two of the flagship choirs of the Katterwall empire, the Kassia Women's Choir and the Kassia Children's Choir, as well as the Hong Kong Melody Makers, in a performance of pieces that run the gamut from sea shanty to Muppets medley, with a capella versions of "Back in the USSR" and "The Pink Panther" thrown in for good measure.

Soho Collective, an ensemble of professional singers, will also be performing, keen no doubt to pick up a few tips on Welsh pronunciation from the men of Harlech ahead of the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens, where they've sung the national anthems for the past two years.

Tickets, from $120 ($100 for kids and pensioners), are available from Urbtix.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

More Bangers for Your Buck at Okapi

It's more than a year now since Okapi opened in Sai Kung, and over the weekend we went back there to check things out. Its claim to being the newest restaurant on the block (Man Nin Street) has been usurped by Fernando (no relation to the over-rated Macanese place on Coloane), which head waiter Michael told me served some of the best pizza in Hong Kong. Pizza apart, the menu, sparse but relatively inexpensive, looked worth trying out on another occasion.

Back to Okapi, and the place was packed. The Chinese influence on the enterprise is noticeable through the multitude of menus that are handed to you after you've taken your seat. Best value for lunch hour appeared to be the brunch menu, with most courses coming in at less than 50 dollars. I went for poached eggs and parma ham ($48 including coffee), while my wife opted for the full English ($88 including orange juice and coffee), although she was mindful enough of her cholesterol to share her bacon, sausages and grilled tomatoes with her more health conscious husband. Real cheapskates can sit and enjoy the weekend papers with the omelette option, which only knocks you back 40 bucks.

The management seems to have sorted out the staff problems which plagued our first visit. After attending master-classes with Tom Peters and Edward de Bono and performing a SWOT analysis, they came up with the solution of hiring people who had worked in the restaurant business before.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Chip off the Old Frock

Any chance one might, you know, abdicate?
Over my dead body.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

In the Event of Something Happening

I saw a segment on the news over the weekend, in which the man who had translated the taped reflections of Zhao Ziyang was interviewed. It wasn't made clear where the interview was made, but one assumes that it wasn't in China, where Zhao (who died in 2005) had been successively Premier and then General Secretary of the Communist Party until he was sacked and placed under house arrest for his sympathy with the popular movement for change twenty years ago.

The book that resulted from the translation of the smuggled tapes, Prisoner of the State, is published today. In the television interview, the translator Bao Pu (the son of Bao Tong, Zhao's former policy secretary and the source of the tapes) referred to the Tiananmen "event". What manner of thing is China, I thought, what sort of thralldom does it cast on its own people when even its avowed opponents toe the party line?

That reaction would obviously be mitigated for those with the knowledge by the understanding that Bao Junior wants to protect his family, who still live in Beijing, while he, according to the blurb on, is "a publisher and editor of New Century Press in Hong Kong".

Notwithstanding this, the feeling remains that, as Bo Yang used to say, "Chinese people are the same everywhere", that there's something ingrained in the psyche that makes it very difficult to look at a deer without calling it a horse, that, unconsciously or not, many Chinese people observe Deng Xiao Ping's dictum that it doesn't matter whether the cat is black or white so long as it catches the mice.

A whiff of the same fatalism surrounded Sunday's Pearl Report, which featured a Beijing woman intent on getting the central Government to investigate last May's Sichuan earthquake and to find out why so many buildings collapsed like a pack of cards while others in the same vicinity remained intact. The fact that so many of these buildings were schools where up to 10,000 people died has not been enough to persuade the Government to find out whether building standards were met or not.

In a case like this, it's too trite merely to trot out the old adage that those who don't observe the lessons of history are bound to repeat them. We must remember that the first duty of the rulers is to "Do no harm". If they fail this basic test, they've forfeited their right to rule. Their time is up. But does the will to replace them truly exist?

Monday, 18 May 2009

For Enquiries about English, Email to the SCMP

Talk about flogging a dead horse! The South China Morning Post have sent out yet another email trying to squeeze cash out of punters who have apparently done their SWOT analyses and made the business decision that paying six grand to attend a workshop with Tom Peters would be a waste of time.

In the meantime, someone's obviously told the Post that they need to tone down their prognostications of impending disaster, so they are no longer setting this event (or "master-class", as it's now being called) in the context of "the most significant economic turmoil since World War II" (March) or the "economic crisis" (April), but have adopted a nonchalant, Noel Cowardesque pose, referring by way of an aside to "the economic climate the way it is" between puffs from their silver plated cigarette holder.

Some bright spark in the marketing firmament must also have told the SCMP to target the niche audience consisting of that half of the population which aren't men, resulting in this extraordinary claim about Tom:

"He was also one of the first to see the enormous opportunities in creating products and services to cater for the hugely underserved women's market and the strong need for women in senior management."

But, Michael McComb, for it is he, leaves the best till last, managing to make two schoolboy howlers in the same sentence:

"For enquiries, please contact our Customer Service Hotline at (852) 2680 8822 or email to"

Who on earth would want to receive enquiries from the hotline operators? Information, perhaps, but enquiries?

And "please ... email to"?

Next time, Mr. McComb, don't email to me. Phone to me instead.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Getting Closer to Greeneries

If you go down to the woods today, you're sure of a big surprise. Well, not today, but on 8 June. Along with the preceding day, Sunday 7 June, Monday the 8th of June has been designated "The Community Chest Green Day (sic)" by the powers that be.

It's a delightfully Hong Kongish scenario. Li Ka Shing-owned Metro Broadcast Corporation has, if I may slip for a moment into the local vernacular, joined hands with the MTR, The Community Chest of Hong Kong and its paymasters the Hong Kong Jockey Club to educate (sliding back quickly into the vernacular) Hong Kong people to "Think Green Ride Green" (PDF file).

Since you can never really improve on the Hong Kong public relations professionals' machinery when it comes to taglines and the like, here's the blurb in full:

"Join The Community Chest Green Day and travel around freely on various MTR lines to get closer to the greeneries in Hong Kong. You will be surprised how green and invigorating our neighborhood is!"

As happens so often when a reasonably intelligent being actually bothers to stop, read and consider an outpouring from a Quango or quasi-Quango in Hong Kong (or indeed the super-Quango, the Government itself), your head starts to spin under the force of questions that assail you from all sides.

How can you be travelling around freely when the small print tells you that you have to pay HK$60 for two tickets? Would it not be a greater contribution to the cause of environmental preservation if the MTR stopped assailing the ears of people who merely want to get from A to B while listening to their own choice of entertainment, or none at all? What sort of job are the Community Chest, Jockey Club, MTRC, Government proofreaders and editors doing?

And with everyone with nothing better to do on the first day of the working week taking the chance to "enjoy unlimited rides" on the MTR network (sorry, Airport Express excluded) to get that bit closer to the greeneries, wouldn't it be a good idea if regular commuters took the bus or a taxi?

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Britain's Got Talent Target of Chemical Weapon Attack

Ever wondered what the Blue Danube would sound like in E flatulent minor? Wonder no longer.

For fumie.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Physical and Moral Courage

Lion Feuchtwanger reflects on two different types of courage and the relative weighting between the two types in The Devil in France: My Encounter with Him in the Summer of 1940, his memoir of internment in two camps in southern France in the chaotic days leading up to and following the capitulation to Germany.

"In evaluating courage, physical courage in particular, my views are somewhat at variance with the average. I am a heretic in this matter just as the philosopher Plato was and as Saint-Exupery, the aviator, is. Plato places courage in the lowest order among the virtues. The aviator, famous for his personal bravery and presumably competent to speak therefore, notes as a fact that courage, physical courage at least, is made up of strivings, impulses, emotions that are of very doubtful moral worth, and specifically of unthinking fury, oftentimes, of vanity, of a commonplace love of sport ...

Physical courage is a fairly common trait in human beings. The other war and this one even more so have shown that there is a far greater quantum of physical courage in the world than has usually been supposed. In both these wars men have been required on countless occasions to perform feats of daring where the chances of succeeding have been far slighter than the probabilities that the men who essayed them would lose their lives. Everywhere and always thousands of volunteers have been ready to carry out such enterprises.

In a great little book that he had the moral courage to publish during the First World War, Sigmund Freud traces physical heroism back to the fact that every man of intelligence knows that he must some day die, but that no man, in his innermost soul, ever believes in his own death. The experimental fact that all men must die has never worked its way deeply enough into our subconscious being to keep that being from revolting with all its might against the conception of a world existing without it.

Though physical courage is a common phenomenon in our day and age, moral courage is a thing that is correspondingly rare. People who have manifested the greatest physical courage, in actual fact, not seldom fail when it comes to showing a little moral courage. I know as a matter of personal observation that men who have held their ground in this war in the face of the greatest dangers, distinguished flyers, are men who, at a cocktail party, would never have the courage to express a conviction of theirs which was against the general trend of opinion among the guests present."

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

The Essential Character of an Experience as a Picture not a Photograph

In his memoir The Devil in France: My Encounter with Him in the Summer of 1940, Lion Feuchtwanger reflects on how the loss of his diary and the vagaries of memory – the tendency to forget important things and remember trivial ones – had the advantage for him as a writer of holding him to "that uncompromising sincerity which is the prerequisite of all literary composition", obliging him to "stick to only those matters which touched [him] spiritually". Not "being cramped by the minutiae of reality ... the loss of my notes will oblige me to give a picture, not a bald photographic record".

He continues:

"Is it presumptuous of me to confess that I am glad of this? Is it presumptuous of me to believe, as a matter of principle, that a photographic, factual account of an experience contributes very little to an understanding of its essential character? It is nevertheless my considered opinion that an experience often changes in physiognomy according to the capacity a person has for experiencing. Yes, I am unalterably convinced that the translation of an experience into words depends more upon the temperament of the man who has lived through it than upon its actual content.

Fewer people are capable of experiencing things than is commonly supposed. The average person is too much under the influence of the evaluations that are commonly made by the people about him. He feels called upon to consider certain things significant or important, other things trifling or unimportant, because 'competent judges' have applied those measures to similar cases. The emotions, quite as much as the conduct of the majority of people, are prescribed now by convention, now by fashion. The plain man can catalogue his experiences only with reference to a few familiar norms, norms that are hammered deeper and deeper into his brain by radio, film, and press, so that his own particular capacity for hearing, seeing, feeling, and evaluating becomes more and more restricted. The plain man's powers of experiencing are slight, the range of his sensations narrow. Occurrences in which he may be directly involved leave him untouched, make no impression upon him, fail to enrich him in any way. Whatever quantity of a liquid one may try to pour into a small pitcher, the pitcher can hold only so much.

A man of imagination has an advantage over other people, in that an actual experience is almost always less intense than his expectations of it. An actual misfortune is almost always less painful to him than his fear of it, just as, of course, his actual experience of joys is almost always less stirring than his hopes and anticipations of them."

Monday, 11 May 2009

Mr Malouda, Take a Xiao Long Bao

This fellow Chelsea signed from Lyon a couple of years back was a complete flop until he walked into the Chinese restaurant on the Kings Road and tried the famous Shanghainese delicacy.

Now, Florent Malouda not only looks like a xiao long bao, he feels like one too. He's given up shampoo and conditioner and dips his hair in a bowl of vinegar and ginger every night.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Stavros Flatly

Just watch it.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Did I Do Vaginal Juices Last Week?

As Troika points out, you can get all the sex ed you want from the internet.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Hamming it Up

Trust the Hong Kong Government to be treating swine flu like a pig in a poke.

Today I received an email entitled "Public education on swine flu made easy" from the Health Department's Centre for Health Protection, plugging their porcine "range of health education materials", including "multiple guidelines catering different settings".

The composer builds swiftly to his climax:

"Please feel free to share and pass on these materials within and beyond your settings in order that the largest number of people will receive the information and fight the pandemic together!!!"

(The three exclamation marks are his: one for each "setting", perhaps?)

Is there any chance of our overpaid civil "servants" doing something sensible, like reading the WHO website or taking lessons from the Association of Schools of Public Health in Washington, DC? I'm happy to spoon-feed them Lesson One:

"Is the 2009 H1N1 flu a pandemic?

No. The World Health Organization categorizes the swine flu as a Phase 5 on its scale of 1-6. In addition to expanded transmission of the virus, Phase 5 means a pandemic is imminent. Phase 6 indicates a pandemic is under way."

Platini Pickles Henning

One of the unavoidable truths of life is that you reap what you sow. European football's hapless governing body, UEFA, have discovered that – again – this week, though that of course is no guarantee that they will learn anything from their discovery. In their case, they seem content – happy even, like a recalcitrant and ignorant child – to keep on sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind.

And wind is what this body does best, releasing large amounts at regular intervals as they sound off in a manner presumably designed to drown out those voices who would wish to remind them that their role is to be the servant of the game of football in Europe and not its master.

UEFA's latest blunder was to appoint for the Champions League semi-final between Barcelona and Chelsea a referee who fouled up at his first major tournament (last year's European Championships) – a performance so poor that UEFA themselves chose to stand him down from any further matches at that tournament.

Tom Henning Øvrebø will be needing to draw on every bit of his experience as a psychologist to deal with the flak coming his way after his latest performance at Stamford Bridge, which Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink – a model of dignity, as many of those around him lost their head – labelled "the worst I have ever seen" Having watched the game myself, it' hard to argue with that assessment.

Although a lot of the talk will be about Didier Drogba' "It's a fucking disgrace" rant – delivered from point-blank range into the television camera and directly to millions of Sky viewers in the UK – the real issue here is why a bloke from a Mickey Mouse league who's not a very good referee, and who's proved that to the satisfaction of UEFA, should be allowed to referee such an important match?

For the record, he denied Chelsea at least one clear penalty (a handball by Gerald Piqué – even Piqué said he was surprised a penalty wasn't awarded), and another decision to award a direct free kick six inches outside the penalty area was for an offence that took place inside the penalty area and so should have been a penalty.

Although his hopeless refereeing prevented Chelsea from taking their place in the final (where Manchester United await), he showed he was not biased – at least, not overtly so – by sending off a Barcelona player for acting as a "virtual" springboard for a dive from Nicolas Anelka. I say "not overtly biased" advisedly, because UEFA President Michel Platini (who lost the tag "great" when he swapped a player's role for that of an administrator) has been telling anyone who'll listen that another European Cup Final between two English clubs would be bad for football.

Well, Platini's got his way, but at what cost? In every way that really matters, Platini's words have been far more damaging for the game than Drogba's outburst.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Sex and the Single Girl

Nothing represents the problems of Hong Kong's beleaguered schools system better than the parlous state of sex education. Lessons in this important subject are stillborn almost as soon as they are conceived, with sex education forming part of the curriculum but the number of lessons being devoted to the subject being left to individual schools. The result, rather inevitably in a society so squeamish about sex, is that it is not uncommon for zero lessons to be dedicated to it.

Some of the results of this avoidance are mildly amusing – in a "I'd laugh if it wasn't so sad" kind of way – such as the 12-year-old boy who posted a picture of his penis on an adult forum with the tagline "I will have sex with women aged 10 to 45 in exchange for money", but a poster campaign encouraging women to protect themselves against cervical cancer highlights the dangers of the underlying ignorance and avoidance.

A couple of years ago, pre-Edisongate, the "other Twin", Charlene Choi, was appointed Hong Kong's first celebrity ambassador for cervical cancer prevention, to encourage women to protect themselves against the disease. Using someone young women can identify with might be considered a breakthrough in the battle against cervical cancer. But using someone who personifies cute virginity to spearhead a campaign in which the Pap smear is generally considered to be the most effective preventive measure is another matter.

It would appear that the messages being sent out to Hong Kong girls are mixed, to say the least. When my wife had her annual check-up recently, she took the opportunity to ask her gynecologist about the effect of the Charlene Choi posters prominently displayed on the campus of the university where she works that encourage female students to undergo Pap smears.

The doctor said that she told women who rang to ask whether they needed a smear test that they only needed it if they had sex – a conventional viewpoint, if one not without controversy, in view of other risk factors for contracting cervical cancer, such as family history and smoking.

"What," my wife asked, "if they book an appointment with your receptionist? Would the receptionist ask whether they'd had sex?"

Given the reluctance to talk about sex, many Hong Kong women are under the illusion that any female (regardless of sexual history) is at equal risk from cervical cancer and should therefore undergo regular Pap smears. Thus, there is every chance that the use of the fair maiden Charlene Choi to promote cervical cancer prevention is having the opposite effect of what the government intended, but is rather sowing confusion and concern among the products of Hong Kong's school system, with its inadequate, and antiquated, approach to sex education.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Yell Canto

I've been offered tickets for a concert that's coming up at the Hong Kong Coliseum. It's perhaps unfair to judge a book by its cover – and the songstress, one Kay Tse, has the kind of blandly pretty face that holds appeal for Englishmen of a certain age and provenance – but the title of the show doesn't portend great things.

I suppose we should be applauding Ms Tse for being honest enough to call her efforts "Yelling", but the fact that one of the organisers of the concert goes by the name of Ban Music Ltd puts the kibosh on this gig for me.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Boom Boom Boom Boom!

If you're one of those people who think the war poets are over-rated, you're in good company. Shortly after the Great War – a conflict he fought in himself – C S Lewis referred to those "who copy the faults but not the merits of Rupert Brooke, and who are so intolerably clumsy and ugly in form".

Now, Private S.O. Baldrick may not be a name typically associated with versifying, but every dog has his day and in the very last episode of the classic Blackadder series, "Goodbyee", set in the trenches of 1917, he finally gets to show why he should have kept his lamp well hidden under that bushel.

Blackadder: "I'd rather French kiss a skunk."

Baldrick [leering]: "So would I, sir!"

Monday, 4 May 2009

Dead Man Jumping

Hard hats off to Hong Kong's Occupational Safety & Health Council, who provide an illuminating case study in the latest issue of their magazine Green Cross, which was waiting for me on my return from a weekend cracking open the bubbly to celebrate the Buddha's birthday.

The heading given to the piece, "A lorry crane operator fell from the top of a forklift truck while preparing to lift a forklift truck on to the lorry crane", may be somewhat prosaic but at least it has the virtue of putting the reader in a mood of appropriate sombreness for the report which is to follow.

Having fixed the location, almost inevitably, as a car dump in the New Territories, rather bucolically restyled as "an open yard in a rural area ... used as a second-hand car sale centre", the report builds quietly to its climax:

"While the co-worker was hooking chain slings onto the two points of the [forklift truck's] mast top, he sensed the deceased person also jumping from the platform [of the lorry] to the top of the forklift truck.”

Forklift trucks not being the type of vehicle it's advisable to leap onto from a height, the deceased was then sensed to continue on his journey to the ground with the minimum of delay, marking his arrival with "a loud 'boom' sound".

Reading on to ascertain what can be done to prevent such a tragedy from recurring, one of the "Recommended Preventive Measures" makes particularly interesting reading:

"Suitable fall protection equipment shall be provided for workers involved in the lifting work."

The sort, presumably, which makes a deceased go "boing" and bounce straight back to the sanctuary of the forklift truck top.