Saturday, 29 October 2011

Shafted by Foo Lum Restaurant

Eating at the recently renovated Foo Lum Palace Restaurant in Mei Foo yesterday, we discovered that it wasn't just its old familiar name it had lost. (It used to be known as Foo Lum Fisherman's Wharf Restaurant.)

No, it had lost its staircase from the first to the second floor. So, having walked up to the first floor, our group of seven were shunted in farcical fashion back down the stairs to wait in the "lift lobby". And a lengthy wait this turned out to be, as said lift lobby turned out to house the same old single Otis lift that carried hardly anyone apart from old people during the restaurant's lengthy previous incarnation.

After lunch, our renewed enquiries about a staircase receiving a negative response – raising serious questions about fire safety standards in my mind – we stood about for what seemed an eternity waiting for the lift. But not half as long, as it turned out, as we spent standing in the lift itself after it eventually arrived, since it ground to a halt during its descent.

Now, I've never been stuck in a lift before and it’s an experience I wouldn't recommend. After a couple of minutes waiting for the thing to get going again, we pressed the alarm button, but all this did was to cause what appeared to be a school bell to ring in the mid distance. No one responded, and looking around the lift compartment there appeared to be no intercom.

One of our group was unable to obtain a signal on his mobile phone and another had just obtained one in order to call the restaurant and tell them their lift was a liability when the thing started again and we got back to ground four or five minutes after setting off.

One of the fluent Cantonese speakers headed straight for the desk to inform staff of what had happened. Their response? A demonstration of the kind of attitude that makes Hong Kong the place it is.

"Only five people should travel in the lift," the woman responded, Madam Mao like, as if by rote.

"Then why," my colleague asked, "does the sign in the lift say that it is fit to carry eight people with a combined weight of 630 kilograms?"

Avoid this place, because if the flames don't get you first, the lift probably will.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Frogs, Lice, Locusts and Plaque

When God sent the ten plagues upon the recalcitrant Egyptians for refusing to release their guest workers from slavery, I'd always learnt that it started with blood (by the way, did you know that Al Gore runs a green speculation outfit with a fellow called David Blood?) and ended with the death of the firstborn.

But not according to that bastion of the bishopric in Hong Kong, St. John's Cathedral. Plastered all over the walls of their recently air-conditioned head edifice has appeared a poster promoting a Sunday School musical called Let My People Go!, which refers inter alia to Moses, Burning Bush (the bit of scrub in Jerusalem, not the erstwhile POTUS, methinks) and "Plaques".

Performances, presumably sponsored by Colgate or Darkie Toothpaste, will be given at this Saturday's Michaelmas Fair for anyone who's in the vicinity.

Next up the Christmas Carol Concert and a rendition by the tots of "While Shepherds Flossed Their Whatsits by Night"? Need to catch them young, you know.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Hong Kong's Answer to Tiger Woods?

The odds on Leung Chun Ying becoming Hong Kong's next Chief Execrable shorten by the day, as his main rival, Henry Tang Ying Yen, starts to resemble Tiger Woods. Without any redeeming talent.

Henry has personally pledged to me that there are only 5 more women to come out of the woodwork

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Something to Bore the Pants off You

And I mean really bore you. This, I'm afraid, is one of those self-referential posts marked by a complete absence of significance and utterly devoid of any point whatsoever.

Yes, I've just wasted a few seconds of your time (if you're still reading this far) to tell you that because of altered job circumstances, I'm not currently able to write as much of my normal garbage as before.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that I'm off to Israel for a fortnight at the end of the month and will, D.V., be providing the ultimate guide to Jerusalem and Kinnaret - that's the Sea of Galilee to the uninitiated - complete with photos, so long as I can get all the necessary connections working, which is no gimme, given the state of my technical know-how.

Until then, it'll be a mix of the usual stuff, but with perhaps rather fewer ingredients in the stew than usual.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Hapless France Through to Final as Welsh Captain Off for "Spear" Tackle

Mate, that wasn't a spear tackle.

This is how to do it (2'00"):

If you want to see what Tana Umaga and Kevin Mealamu did more clearly, check this out (1'25"-1'50").

Neither player was sent off. Neither player was suspended for what they did. Many New Zealanders still deny anything untoward happened.

Liebreich Throws Everything but the Kitchen Sink at the Sinfonietta

The Hong Kong Sinfonietta's concert at the City Hall last night was very much a game of two halves, as France in the sylph-like shape of pianist Alexandre Tharaud took on Germany in the lanky guise of conductor Alexander Liebreich.

There was no disguising who saw himself as Alexander the Great, as it was with almost palpable relief on the Bavarian's behalf that the enormous Steinway piano was wheeled off at half-time, leaving him with free rein (or should that be "reign" - his name after all is code for Lover of Dominion) to run through the full gamut of his repertoire.

Before this, we had been treated to a rare sight, that of Tharaud, looking five years older than his photo on the programme cover, using a page-turner to help him negotiate Bach's Keyboard Concerto in F minor. Clearly not the most popular piece in the repertoire, this ten-minute piece nonetheless proved a delightful way to open the programme.

If Tharaud had to hold back a little in the Bach, there was no such restraint in Mozart's Piano Concerto in E flat ("Jeunehomme"), where he ran through the full range of facial expressions from agonised through tortured to tormented. Meanwhile, like Dr. Hyde waiting for darkness to fall, Liebreich was merely biding his time, going through the motions with his stick, his eyes on the score but his mind on the performance yet to come.

At 55 minutes, Schubert's 9th Symphony ("The Great") is tailor-made for both the conductor who wishes to demonstrate all the moves he's learned on the rostrum and the Professor of Kinesics planning a field trip for her first year students.

After a horn opening that was so solid one instintively knew that the Sinfonietta must have hired a guest player (they had - his name is Zachary Glavan), the progressive participation of the full orchestra, and there must have been nearly 50 of them, as they built up to the first of many crescendos, was marked by a glittering array of pre-prepared moves, as well as the odd unplanned one, notably, the Flick-manically-through-the-score-to-find-the-right-page. (There are a lot of repeats in the Great.)

Everyone will have their favourite, but for the record here are the major manoeuvres executed by Liebreich. First, in the vocal category, we had the Sniff, the Sharp Intake of Breath and the Singalong (or "Da-Da-Da-Da"). Then, in the hand gestures category, there were the Lunge and Point, the Errol Flynn Swordplay Flourish, the Start the Car, the Flip the Fried Egg and the Push the Dwarf Down. Bringing a gasp from the audience was the first of his entries in the full-body category, the Jack-in-the-box, which was alternated with the Stand-back-against-the-rail-and-admire-the-work and finally, for rugby fans, the Quade Cooper Behind the Back Flick Pass.

On a night of mostly pleasant surprises, a special mention should be given to the Sinfonietta's new principal flautist, Harry Winstanley, whose playing was assured and enthusiasm refreshing to see.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Pakistan Foils CIA Plot

From the same people who brought you The USA Deliberately Bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade and Princess Diana Was Taken Out by the Royal Family, comes a new blockbuster that threatens to go viral.

Foreign Elements Are Releasing Dengue Fever in Lahore may not have quite the same ring to it, but be warned, world: the USA and the UK are hell bent on reducing the population of the Punjab by at least one hundred people.

The long-term effects on international relations are scary. Just think of all those Indian takeaways that may have to revoke their "We deliver in 20 minutes or your money back" policies.

Apparently, a sequel is already in the pipeline. Provisionally titled Why Sort Out Our Own Mess When We Can Blame Foreigners Instead?, industry insiders say that this is unlikely to appear until the Islamic Republic of Pakistan resembles an open society.

Or until Elvis shows up, whichever comes sooner.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011


If you like your films preachy, your characters without character and your comedy unintentional, the latest episode in the Planet of the Apes series is for you.

The major achievement of Rise of the Planet of the Apes is to make the chimps, bonobos (whatever they might be) and gorillas look more apish while at the same time making them behave more like human beings. Thus, the best of the many laugh out loud moments comes when the leading chimp, Caesar, suddenly starts speaking. Not that you're not expecting it – the film manages to make the unpredictable predictable – but it's priceless nonetheless. And, no, his first words are not "Veni, vidi, vici".

The movie is well balanced inasmuch as the CGI-enhanced cardboard cut-out ape characters (my favourite is the orang utan, who looks like a horoscope ram) are matched by the clichéd human characters. There's the evil lab head – refreshingly played by a black man (English, of course – I blame Alan Rickman for hamming it up in Die Hard all those years ago), the handsome scientist with a conscience and a dad who's going down the tubes with Alzheimer's, and the beautiful chimp expert who looks disturbingly like soft-porn star Laura Gemser

The leads are supported by all the other usual suspects of the Fuck With Science At Your Own Peril genre, the fat bearded geeky dude who's not going to make it past the first reel, the redneck at the chimp pound who torments the residents and gets taken out like Osama bin Laden, and the asshole pilot neighbour who's gonna get infected and spread plague round the globe – a twist on the gay-air-steward-giving-the-world-AIDS meme.

Faced with a ridiculous story, the moneymen did what moviemakers have done for a hundred years and decided to set the story in San Francisco. Scriptwriters, effects guys, make-up artists and set designers are let loose on the trolley buses, the Golden Gate Bridge and the giant redwood trees (these apes aren't pining for the fjords – they're fording for the pines), as the might of the California Highway Patrol proves about as effective in driving back the simians as Barack Obama wrestling with an economics problem.

"Alea iacta est," pronounces Caesar, as he scoots up General Sherman. "The cast must die."

Monday, 10 October 2011

Jiang Zemin Resurfaces

The party told me I was sufficiently alive to put in an appearance

Saturday, 8 October 2011

iPad Was Jobs's Big Disappointment

Well, at least, according to Adolf Hitler, it was:

Friday, 7 October 2011

Tang Set to Become Flavour of Many Months

Reflecting in a quiet moment on Henry Tang Ying Yen's remarkable Little Britainesque performance with dutiful little wife Lisa in the driveway of his official residence on the Peak the other day, what struck me as most odd about the whole charade was, as it often is, an absence. What Henry didn't say.

With his alleged paramour and former assistant, the very photogenic Shirley Yuen – a woman so talented that she was catapulted into Hong Kong’s premier business confederation with no business experience – staunchly maintaining her innocence of any involvement with her ex boss, the natural thing for our 'enry would have been to do likewise. It was clear that, at 41 years of age and with a glittering career ahead of her, Shirley was in no mood to spill the beans.

So, why didn't Henry just deny everything? The answer, I saw, must have had something to do with the fact that Shirl wasn't the only young lady to have been smitten by what Henry has to offer in terms of one of Hong Kong's best red wine collections, not to mention his career advancement potential as one of the territory's best connected and wealthiest, if not most cerebrally blessed, movers and shakers. His father was, after all, best mates with ex PRC president Jiang Zemin in Shanghai in the good old days.

The Chinese press are talking about not just one but two Deepthroats in this affair, one called "Fat" and the other, as you may already have guessed, "Thin", who passed their intelligence onto financial services legislative councillor turned convicted criminal turned financial services legislative councillor once more – this is Hong Kong, after all – Chim Pui Chung. True to character, having announced to the press that Tang had had extramarital affairs, Chim, to whom we shall give the codename "Scumbag", duly urged everyone to leave Tang alone and forget about the whole business.

Fat chance of that, of course, especially when, even before this scandal erupted, the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce (HKGCC) was issuing press releases to an incredulous media to try and persuade them that the appointment of Miss Yuen as Chamber CEO was "based on her ability and experience". Although, to be fair to the Chamber, they didn't specify what kind of ability and experience they were referring to, again proving that it's the absences that are important.

Meanwhile, over at the Hong Kong Standard, Shirl has clearly made friends among some members of the local press corps at any rate. A gushing feature by the chief editor of the Standard's sister paper, the Chinese-language Sing Tao Daily, Siu Sai Wo (codename "Eyeless"), refers to her numerous international liaisons and her "performance in the top echelons of the government", which was "much appreciated by those she served".

Without a hint of irony, Siu (which means "Having a laugh" in Chinese, if I'm not mistaken) writes that Shirley's "female touch may come in handy". Reading this stuff, I was reminded of an interview the junior female version of the HKGCC, the quaintly named Jaycettes, ran with Lily Chiang Lai Lei in 2007 during her short reign as the first Chairwoman of the HKGCC.

Summing up her philosophy, Lily, who is currently serving time for fraud in the maximum security Tai Lam Centre for Women, said that "the softer touch of women creates insight and happiness".

I'm not so sure about the insight bit, but it's not beyond the realms of possibility that Henry's "top echelon" was purring with happiness after a session with Shirley.

My female touch is most appreciated among the top echelons

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Palin Says She Won't Run for President

I sought the Lord and He said I had no f*cking chance

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris

A few years ago, having donned oxygen masks and fitted the car with snow tyres in preparation for scaling the MegaBox car park, we went to see Woody Allen’s promo for the Spanish tourist board Vicky Christina Barcelona. A few days ago, we sat through his latest effort, a promo for the French tourist board by the name of Midnight in Paris.

In the latest flick, Owen Wilson plays Woody Allen creditably enough. The problem, though, is not only that other actors have already taken a shot at playing Woody Allen but that Woody Allen too has taken many shots at playing himself, achieving very little in the process beyond proving the law of diminishing returns.

Has he really produced anything worth watching since his masterpieces Annie Hall and Crimes and Misdemeanours, I wondered as I sat through his latest pap?

For the record, the film is about a deep, likeable bloke engaged to a shallow, bitchy type with asshole parents who goes to Paris, meets arty types like Dali and Buñuel – et, naturellement, Toulouse-Lautrec – and realises that the anal one is not for him but the tasty French bird who sells art and always smiles at him is.

If projectionist fantasy from a 75 year-old American who likes to "do" Europe every couple of years is your thing, then you might enjoy this tosh. If, on the other hand, you're looking for a really good film by a foreign director set in France, try The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie – of which more anon.

Monday, 3 October 2011