Thursday, January 28, 2010

No favors for women, not even from me

A former colleague I like once brought up a suggestion in a meeting.
She said it would be nice to see the media use more quotes from sources who were younger, female and not Western.
That's true, I thought. In an ideal world.
Then she said we should go out of our way to find non old-white-guys to put into stories.
And shouldn't we rely on the "common touch", like friends, instead of quoting the same experts over and over?
Hmm again.

I greatly value the opinions of my non-expert girlfriends. And there is a vast place where you can find such diverse opinions -- it's called the blogosphere.
That's different than professional journalism, where we research and find qualified people to discuss a topic. Of course, we also sometimes do man-on-the-street (or should I say woman-on-the-street?) interviews. But I wouldn't run around seeking people of a certain gender.

When I was writing about banned Chinese books sold in Hong Kong, I found what I thought were the best people to talk to. By chance, all the publishers, authors and booksellers sticking their necks out were men. So my article was very male.
What was I going to do? I wouldn't interview the junior salesgirl at a bookstore just to get a female name in. Or quote a less prominent figure just because she was a woman.
A few year ago, at a debate I attended at the Oxford Union, a young lady said she supported a motion to have quotas to boost the number of female politicians in British government.
A venerable professor and democracy expert (I forget his name, but it will come to me) responded with something very smart.
He warned against anything that would corrupt a system in which people freely chose their leaders -- even if you had the best intentions.
How would something like that work, practically? What if a man and a woman ran against each other, and the public really liked the man more? Would you overrule the public to give it to a less popular candidate, just because of her gender?
I agreed with this old white guy.
If Americans prefer Obama, would some government PC bureau put Hillary in instead?
Sorry for the endless women-related posts, but I'm reading alot of this stuff for work right now. This morning, we ran one story on Norway, where the government imposed a law saying that 40 percent of all company board members must be women. I will leave you good readers to say whether you think it's a good idea or not.
Spain, the Netherlands and France may be following suit with similar legislation.
Meanwhile, there's another story about India, where there is no such legislation, but where the local operations of HSBC, JPMorganChase, RBS and UBS are run by women.
In PC America and Europe, there are no women leading major banks. But in India...?
One last detail. I got an email from a girlfriend in London who has a young child.
She gets up at 1:30 a.m. to get to work by 3 a.m. Her husband takes care of the child in the morning and drops the toddler off at daycare.
My friend gets off work about noon and picks up her daughter in the early afternoon. So she spends, say, 2-8 p.m. with her toddler at home.
Like me, she has a part-time helper one afternoon a week to do floors, bathrooms, etc. But she and her husband do most of the housework themselves. (As she's the one who's the good cook, most of that falls to her).
She's got the great job. She spends hours with her kid every day. But she only gets about 5 hours of sleep a night. Does this sound familiar to people?

Monday, January 25, 2010

More on working women

We've run the second in our series on women. This one is simply headlined "She works. They're happy."

The article is not quite as simple as that. Good thing, because it goes on for over 1,000 words.
Below are some of the stats it quotes, from the Pew Centre and other sources, about married American couples. The story is more subtle, but I'm not copying the whole thing here!

* In 1/3 of marriages, the wife is better educated than the husband.
* In 22% of marriages, the wife is the primary breadwinner.
* There are fewer divorces now than in the 1970s.
* The more educated and financially independent the woman, the less likely she is to divorce.

(Some sources say it's because career women feel less pressure to chose men on their earning ability, and so are more likely to marry people they simply like.)

* Compared to the 1960s, men do twice as much housework and three times as much child-reading
But that still leaves women doing about 2/3 of the housework.
Men in their 50s are more likely to be in poor health if their wives earn more money.
I've gotten a few emails on the subject of working women, from IHT colleagues. (Women, naturally.)

1. One pointed me to a survey by Accenture, which compiles the rather fancy-sounding Millennial Women Workplace Success Index. It questioned 1,000 American women aged 22-35 who work full-time.
"The vast majority (94%) of young professional women believe they will have rewarding careers balanced with fulfilling personal lives," it said.
How do most young working women define success? By "meaningful work" (66%) and "balancing professional and private lives" (59%).
More young women cited their family life as a priority (66%), as opposed to careers (29%)
Young working women said they wanted more medical benefits and flexible work. Continuing education was not as prized.

I don't know how the survey was conducted and what questions were asked, but salary and title didn't come up as much. I wish a parallel survey was done on young professional men, because I think the answers would be very different.
I'm taking this survey with a grain of salt.
That said, it's good to see that young working women are so, well, blindlingly optimistic.
Random note: Why do all these surveys seem to come from the U.S.? Is anyone doing research like this in Hong Kong?
Another email tells me that the first woman was appointed executive editor of Le Monde, since the French newspaper was founded in 1944.
Sylvie Kauffmann, 55, has held a number of jobs at Le Monde: deputy executive editor, and correspondent from New York, Washington and Southeast Asia.
Before Le Monde, she covered the fall of the Berlin Wall.

It's interesting news, but it's not making me fall out of my chair.
My industry is not close to being 50-50 yet, but there are plenty of powerful women in media, like my boss, IHT executive editor Alison Smale. Still, it's rare enough that women feel the need to email other women about it.
Men don't think like this, do they?
Nobody says, "Well, I'm a man. And that total stranger who got a job, at a totally different company, in a far-away nation -- he's a man. We're both men! Better blog about this."
Someday -- maybe in a generation of two -- young women won't even notice when another woman gets a job.
I hope that someday, the fact that a female is appointed to a high position isn't considered newsworthy.
I just realized, looking down my list of links, that almost none of the blogs I refer to are by actual full-time working moms. (Is it because they don't have time to blog?)
The only one I can think of off the top of my head is Lipstick. Interesting to see what she things about this.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Dilemma of the Working Mother

I meant to post this last night, but I got too busy.
The IHT is running the first segment of a very long, in-depth look at the state of women in the world today.
This morning's article -- which runs 3 pages -- is about the dilemma of the working mom.
It's not online yet, but here's the top, by Katrin Bennhold out of Neuotting, Germany:

"Manuela Maier was branded a bad mother. A Rabenmutter, or raven mother, after the black bird that pushes chicks out of the nest. She was ostracized by other mothers, berated by neighbors and family, and screamed at in a local store.
"Her crime? Signing up her 9-year-old son when the local primary school first offered lunch and afternoon classes last autumn -- and returning to work."

I rarely use Joyceyland to promote the IHT. But if you're interested in this topic, I recommend that you pick a copy off the newsstand today.
Gweipo, by the way, writes quite a bit on this topic, though she is not a working mom herself.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

China hacks activists, Google pulls out

Google said in a statement released Tuesday that it had detected a "highly sophisticated and targeted attack" from China. Google was among about 20 major corporations hit, and they are working with the U.S. authorities to investigate it.

While cyber-attacks are common these days, here's the surprising twist. According to David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, they suspect that "a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists."

The statement continues: "... the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties."

Google added: "This information goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech."

And with that, Google concluded that it would "review the feasibility of our business operations in China," adding that "we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on"

My hat is off to Google. It is a profit-seeking corporation at its nature, and it's throwing away access to a huge market. Not many companies, foreign or domestic, are willing to stand up to China's censors.

Meanwhile -- what was the Chinese government thinking? What tiny gain could they have from hacking into activists' accounts? Even if they were successful, what would that do? Prevent one article from being published? Stop one small protest somewhere? Do they really think a few activists are going to topple the CCP and ruin the country?

Some of my friends on the mainland feel that China is even more paranoid now than in past years, whether it's in the field of websites, book publishing, newspaper, TV, etc.

With Google potentially on its way out -- and with YouTube, Twitter, Blogger, etc. all blocked -- China is closing itself off to the rest of the world. Yes, it might have alot of fancy new buildings and factories. But in terms of media and information, it is stepping backwards, not forwards.

Now, Google have not officially pulled out of the country yet. They said they would discuss with the Chinese government if they could operate an unfiltered search engine.

But everyone is already calling the death of Google in China, since everyone knows there is a 0.001% chance that China will let a search engine operate the way it does in the rest of the world.

Google also added a nice shout-out to "employees in China who have worked incredibly hard to make the success it is today." Sounds like a good-bye to me.
There is more detail, as well as information on what Google is doing, and advice for people who fear their accounts have been hacked into. It's here.
This made me think personally. I'm not a human rights activist, but I write about rights issues, and am an organizer of the Hong Kong Human Rights Press Awards. I also have a Gmail account. Thank god I mostly use that as a 2nd account when posting on blogs, etc, because I don't want spam in my primary account.
Even if I wasn't hacked into, the thought that I fit the description freaks me out.
Here's a photo of Chinese laying flowers outside the Google Beijing office.

Cool Hong Kong photo book

When I saw this photo, I knew it was from Elizabeth before even seeing her name, thanks to the use of blue.

The lovely Elizabeth Briel, Hong Kong artist and blogger, did two things I should do, but don't:
1. She sent me something through snail mail, with a handwritten note, on proper stationary. I wish I did this more. I love paper products -- Moleskin notebooks, beautiful writing sheets and envelopes -- but I don't use them. This sounds ridiculously old-fashioned, but did you know I'm proud of my cursive?

2. She actually wrote a book. O.K., in this case, she contributed to a photo book, so it's not really writing. But she's working on another book, a proper one of her own, and planning a 2010 book tour. More info here: Gambling with Hemispheres « Travel-Artist
I have a million book ideas. And if I have the ability to write for The New York Times, I have the ability to write a book. Literary history is filled with people who wrote books despite dying of consumption, being thrown in the gulag, or being a welfare mom. What's holding me back?
The book Elizabeth contributed to is Lost and Found Hong Kong. (All images from this post are from

It's different and better than the ubiquitous picture coffee table books featuring the Hong Kong skyline. Those somehow seem too idealized, too glossy for such a gritty city.

The images in Lost and Found are so vivid, you can practically smell them.
Dried fish in a market, an outdoor butcher's stall, rice cooking in a clay pot.
Sweaty packed demonstrations, crowded trains.
Flowers, the gray sky, rain on asphalt, the sea.

The photographers play with Hong Kong's strange geometry, the neat squares formed by bamboo scaffolding. Then there's the endless sea of typography, from MTR signs and graffiti, to ads on trams and neon lights.

Lost and Found has an artsy feel. The colors are exaggerated, artificially bright and bold, and in high contrast. A million years ago, when I did photography, we would achieve this by shooting with slide film, then processing it as normal print film. I presume this is now done with PhotoShop.

The book says all its contributors are amateurs. I guess Elizabeth is a professional artist, but an amateur photographer. Albert Wen works with Things Asian, the book's publisher. Hank Leung is a lawyer, Blair Dunton is an English teacher and Li Sui Pong is a student.

This great shot is from Albert.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Happy foodie post #2: Marc's award

On Friday, Marc was named as a Commandeur de la Commanderie des Cordons Bleus de France.
To translate, this means he is now a member of an elite gastronomic club. (This is not to be mixed up with the Cordon Bleu cooking school.)
You can see photos of the ceremony here.
Marc has cooked for many heads of state at hotels in the U.S., Middle East and Hong Kong.
This might surprise some people in the West, as he is now the executive chef at the Holiday Inn here.
If you grew up in the States in the 80s, as I did, you might equate the 'ol Holiday Inn with family roadtrips. It was the kind of places that might have had the remote glued to the sofa armrest.
The brand is posher here. I would call it solidly four-star, with marble lobbies and executive suites. Until about a year ago, the Holiday Inn was home to Avenue, the modern French restaurant where Marc had been executive chef, and which served up foie gras, duck confit and fine wines. (It's since been replaced by Osteria, an Italian place).
Because the Holiday Inn here is owned by the Harilelas -- one of those super-rich, dynastic Indian families in Hong Kong -- it sees more lavish functions than one would expect. Like this one. Like any good event here, it included those Chinese bagpipe players.
President Arroyo also stayed there just there a few weeks ago with her giant entourage.
Anyway, I'll stop before I reprint Marc's whole cv. Congrats to him. I'm very proud of him. Now, if only I can get him to cook me French food for dinner after work...

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Happy foodie post #1: Soup recipe

Step-by-step photos

Well, that's quite enough of politics for now. The good thing about food is that, most of the time, people can agree on something that's delicious.

I found a new favorite ingredient: cannellini beans in a can. They are conveniently pre-cooked, and can be used to thicken a soup easily. They create the texture of a cream soup, without the use of any actual cream or butter.
I tried this new recipe tonight, as Daisann and one of my IHT colleagues came over for dinner.
The end result is a velvety pale green.

Joyce's broccoli soup
Serves 6
1. Heat
1/2 C bacon cubes, stirring on very low heat. This will make the fat come out, and keep you from having to use extra oil. (You can use a bit of olive oil instead of bacon, but it won't taste as nice).
2. Add
4 cloves of garlic, crushed, and 1/2 a small onion, chopped.
3. When they are soft, add
4 cups chicken broth and 2 cups water.
Turn heat up to high.
4. Chop
2 heads of broccoli, including the florets and the stems. (Peel the stems first). This will yield 6-7 cups. Add to the broth.
5. Add one can (about 1 1/2 cups)
cannellini beans.
6. Boil on high for 15-20 minutes.
Do not add salt. Usually, I automatically add salt to savory dishes. But the bacon and broth are salty enough.
For the easy version, you can stop here for a hearty vegetable and bean soup.

For a finer version....
7. Cover the soup and let it sit. I did the prep work in the afternoon, so it was quick when my guests arrived.
8. When it's handle-able, pour into a blender. You might have to do 2 or 3 batches. This is how the beans create a creamy texture.
9. If you want, work in
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar as you blend. This will make the soup even richer and more flavorful.
10. If you are Marc the Metrosexual, you will work the soup through a sieve and then whisk it by hand, but that's too much work for me.
11. Reheat it right before serving. Garnish with croutons, shredded chesse and /or herbs.

It came out well for a first-time new recipe. My only regret is that I didn't make it quite hot enough before serving. It should be piping hot when you sit down to eat.

Legislative Motion on Liu Xiaobo

Sorry to be blogging over and over about this. The Liu Xiaobo case just keeps coming up here in Hong Kong.
Another protest -- this time a candlelight vigil -- will be held for Liu, the Chinese writer who was sentenced to 11 years in jail for writing about democracy.
It is planned for Tuesday, Jan. 12, 7 p.m.-9 p.m. outside the Hong Kong Legislative Council, on the Prince's Building side.
The next day, Hong Kong Legislator Lee Wah-ming is expected to introduce a short motion called "Releasing Liu Xiaobo". (For those outside this part of the world, "Council" refers to the Legislature in Hong Kong. "Central Government" refers to the powers in Beijing.)
It states:

"That this Council seriously regrets that the Central Government has imposed a heavy sentence on LIU Xiaobo for inciting to subvert state power, and demands that the Central Government should immediately release LIU Xiaobo and other dissidents; this Council appeals to the Central Government to recognize that Charter 08 advocated by LIU Xiaobo and others is a manifestation of the common values recognized by civilized societies and to positively affirm the concepts and principles of Charter 08, and the SAR Government should also expeditiously implement dual universal suffrage in Hong Kong according to those concepts and principles."

It looks like the vigil will have some of the entertainment-y aspects of the Tiananmen Square crackdown vigil held every year in Hong Kong on June 4, which sometimes feels (to me) like a sort of democracy-themed pop concert.
The event on Tuesday will have the inevitable speech-making, plus "art performances," sing-a-longs and poetry reading. (Liu is also a poet).
The organizers will also be out at Jardine's Bazaar in Causeway Bay on Sunday, Jan. 10, from 1pm-6pm to collect signatures for a petition. So if you're out shopping, stop by.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Journalism opportunities

The application deadline for Chevening Scholarships in Hong Kong is Jan. 15. This was the funding -- from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office -- that allowed me to take a half-year off to do a journalism fellowship.
Sorry for the late notice. Getting your transcripts and recommendation letters together in two weeks is a rush, but do-able. If you're applying for the Reuters program that I did, you will also have to write a research proposal.
And you will have to take an IELTS English proficiency test, but I think they allow candidates to submit results after the deadline.
(Oddly, I didn't get a perfect score in -- of all subjects -- reading comprehension. Makes me wonder what I do at the IHT all day. The spoken test is a joke, though. It's like "My. Name. Is. Joyce. J-O-Y-C-E.")
Chevening Scholarships cover a wide range of disciplines -- from science and engineering, to medicine and business. There are two scholarships for journalists.
One is a three-month program at the University of Sheffield, which organizers describe as a "taught course." I presume this means it's more like a traditional J-school course with classes, etc., but I'm not sure.
The Reuters program at Oxford is different. Oxford itself has no J-school (probably too practical a field of study for the ol' ivory tower) and the program is for mid-career journalists. This is NOT where to go to learn the basics of writing, editing, producing, etc.
Instead, it lets working journalists take time off from the daily grind to engage in independent academic study. The program benefits from being small --there's about a dozen people per term -- and you get very close to your colleagues. I spent much time with people from Russia, Egypt, and other places I know almost nothing about.
I also had access to Oxford's many libraries and lectures. I paper I wrote on Hong Kong press freedom beat the crap out of my old undergrad papers on "Symbols of the Sacred Feminine in Elizabethan Drama", or whatever it was that I did when I was in college a million years ago.
Applications are now open for the Hong Kong Human Rights Press Awards, which I help organize. The form and details are here.
The parameters are pretty wide. Work can be
* In English or Chinese
* From any media company that has a presence in Hong Kong. (So all international media are eligible)
* About any topic in the Asia / Pacific region
Obviously, it has to have a human rights angle. But that doesn't necessarily mean dissidents, legal cases and political discrimination.
The universal declaration on human rights includes the rights to movement, travel, speech, marriage, property, voting, working under decent conditions, and living at a basic standard in terms of food, shelter and medicine.
There's no cash prize, but you get a plaque, get fed at an FCC luncheon and can put "award-winning" on your cv.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Decadent drink for winter colds

Heat 1.5 C whole milk until just foaming. Don't boil.
Stir in 4 heaping teaspoons hot chocolate mix
Add a shot of rum. (Or two. Perhaps two is better)
Pour in big ceramic mug.
Top with a dollop of unsweetened, fresh whipping cream, if desired.

Personal note: I feel that swirly towers of sugary whipped cream, chocolate sprinkles, etc, ruins the hearty, old-fashioned, almost therapeutic, qualities of this beverage
The above is merely an amateur, inferior, home-kitchen version of an absolutely heavenly drink served to me one day when I had a bad cold -- at a tiny, ancient restaurant in Oxford with stone walls and a fireplace.
I'm sure the ambiance, and the bitter cold outside, made that drink seem even more magical than it was.
My bronchitis is getting better. The fever, pain, and fatigue are gone. My voice is back. But I still have the coughing and wheezing, and can't seem to fall asleep. And, after being off almost a whole week, I definitely have to be in the office tomorrow (Sunday) morning.
This will hopefully help knock me out. Warm milk helps children sleep, and booze helps adults sleep. What a perfect combination!
To the diet obsessed, this one beverage must be 350-400 calories. That's more than an entire Lean Cuisine dinner with chicken, rice and green beans.
But it's worth it.
I've divided unhealthy food into two categories.
A. Wasted calories. Like when I'm starving at work, didn't pack lunch, and run to McDonalds and grab a Filet-O-Fish that I gobble at my desk and don't enjoy. Same goes for anything from the ramen / egg sandwich kiosk in my office building, or the evil, evil vending machines that are our last resort on late shifts. What's the point of consuming more calories if you don't even like them or taste them?
B. On the other hand, if I'm spending alot of effort on home cooking, or spending alot of money on fine restaurant food, I throw all the dieting out the window. Now is the time to enjoy -- the taste of a swirl of real cream in a hot soup, the crispness of cookies made with real butter and sugar, and not chemically-produced margarine and artificial sweetener.

Ever notice how many real foodies are actually quite thin? (My husband is a stick, as is the SCMP top restaurant reviewer).
My belief is that fine food doesn't make you fat, fast-food and junk-food make you fat.
For eons, people ate real milk, real sugar and real booze, and there was no obesity epidemic, because portions were smaller and attention was paid.
Today, people freak out over skim milk, chemical sweeteners and detox diets, and everyone is heavier. That's because, between dieting, we all run around like nutcases, picking up packaged foods from Starbucks and Burger King.
On that note, I'm going to finish this delicious drink and go to bed.

* Image by

Friday, January 1, 2010

Demonstration for Liu Xiaobo

The Hong Kong Journalists Association will be gathering at 2:45pm at Chater Road, near the Prince's Building in Central, today, to demonstrate for the release for Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波).
A procession will start at 3pm. I will unfortunately be at work, but I hope some of you guys can make it.
On Christmas Day, Liu was sentenced to 11 year in jail for writing articles about democracy.
This was part of a larger pro-democracy march. Lots of coverage put together by Roland Soong of the ESWN blog here.