Saturday, February 27, 2010

Watching Marc in the Hong Kong Marathon

If I can get up at odd hours to watch total strangers play hockey*, then I can definitely get up to watch Marc the Metrosexual run in his first marathon.
He's doing the half-marathon, which is about 22 km, which is really, really long for a non-runner like me.
They start in Tsim Sha Tsui, run past our home in Olympic, and over to Mei Foo, where they turn around, cross Western Kowloon again, then go through the Western Harbour Tunnel (which is pretty funny, because there is usually no way of crossing the "sea" by foot in Hong Kong). They emerge in Western, then traverse the main neighborhoods of Hong Kong Island -- Central, Admiralty, Wanchai and Causeway Bay, to end up in Victoria Park.
If I were to run it, it would take me a week.
Marc is going for a little over two hours. I told him not to stress too much about the time.
First of all, he's doing it for recreation -- to experience what it's like to be part of an official race for the first time.
Secondly, he's still recovering a bit from surgery late last year. And his work schedule is even worse than mine. If he has time to train twice a week, he's lucky.
I told him I was proud of him just for going.
I think he's quite excited. He spent much time tonight getting his shoes, T-shirt, sign, bag, power bars and time-measuring-chip thingie together. He's gone to bed now, as he'll be up at about 4 a.m.
I've set up my own little schedule.
I will try to be at TST at about 6 a.m. to see them take off. God willing, I'll be able to get a taxi to Olympic to catch him running under the bridge near our home. (Wouldn't it be ironic if, due to traffic, it's faster for Marc to run that distance than for me to cab it?)
I will then take the train to Central, grab a coffee, and wait for him after the tunnel.
Then, I will see how close to the finish line I get at Causeway Bay.
He will be joined by a friend, another French chef. And in true foodie fashion -- after showering, etc -- everyone will go to Zuma for brunch.

* The U.S.-Canada men's gold medal match is at 4:30 a.m. Monday, Hong Kong time.

Journalism Opportunity

This media opportunity is pretty specific. But who knows who it might benefit?

My friend Joshua Samuel Brown just finished an arts journalism fellowship at this same center, and he even might have read about it on Joyceyland.

The Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California is offering a fellowship at the NEA Arts Journalism Institute, with a focus on theater and musical theater. It takes place from May 17-27.

It covers most expenses, like round-trip travel to L.A., hotel, meals, reading materials and Internet access. Also, watching alot of musical theater. Sounds like lighter fare than that Reuters thing I did in England.

Applications are due March 11. Details at

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Horses, running and other distractions

The photos of me riding are far too unflattering to put on Joyceyland. Stupid jodphurs. (I never knew how vain I was before I started blogging). So here I am feeding my favorite horse, Kuzak, and struggling with all the tack. The camera angle makes me look like I'm 12.

A funny thing happened on our way to early-middle-aged-ness.

Marc and I, like most people, did some sports in our youth.
Then -- as we spent our late teens and 20s drinking, smoking, staying out all night and trying to be cool -- we didn't. There were no more school teams to be a part of, and healthy living was put on hold.

But then our 30s hit. We settled down. We also came to the realization that our bodies are not invincible.
Because of his build, Marc will never have to worry about being fat. But he was getting back aches, leg cramps -- all signs of someone who works all day, stressing.
I, on the other hand -- well, I'll probably never be obese, but I do get soft. Plus, there's the asthma, the insomnia, and the perpetually sore neck.
So, I start doing yoga. Marc starts running -- something he hasn't done regularly since high school. I also discover -- by odd fluke while at Oxford -- that I love riding horses.
(I don't love Shredding, but I'm back on that, too)
Anyway, now we're getting all outdoorsy and sporty again.
Marc has just blogged on the fact that he'll be running in the Hong Kong Marathon.
It's amazing how bad I can be at something I love so much. My great enthusiasm for horses is, unfortunately, not matched by any actual ability to ride one.
I said this to an American friend. And she, in that very direct American way, said I should never say I suck or am bad at anything. (I've had this from an American boss, too. Actually, that time I was kidding, but the joke didn't work.)

"But I do suck at riding horses," I told my friend, laughing. "I'm out of shape. I'm unbalanced and uncoordinated. I'm a bit of a wimp. And I'm fine with it. It's not like I plan on becoming a competitive show jumper."
She told me I must believe in myself and not be hard on myself.
"But I'm not hard on myself," I tried to explain. "I'm perfectly happy sucking at this."
Now, here is a funny cultural difference.
America is all about the individual and positive reinforcement. It's a "You go, Girl!" kind of country. It invented cheerleaders, smiley stickers, self-empowerment workshops, grade inflation (so even mediocre students get high marks) and size deflation (so, if you're a chubby size 10, your clothes say you're a slim size 6.)
To say you're bad at something -- even an inconsequential part-time hobby -- is a sign of weakness and low self-esteem.

The Brits, on the other hand, say stuff like that all the time, in their typical dry, dark, self-depricating humor. Listen to a bunch of Brits talk, and you'd think that, any minute now, the entire country is going to tip into becoming an obese, illiterate, chaotic mess.

I rode regularly at a lovely English riding school / horse farm for several months. On my last lesson, I hesitantly asked how I did.
"Well," my teacher said, wryly. There was a pause. "You really did try, didn't you?"
I just laughed. They were very nice to me. When there were no other students, they took me out on rides in the countryside.
But they were not going to lie just to make me feel better. They were quite upfront in the fact that I suck.
I went up to the Lowu Saddle Club yesterday, on my day off.
I love it so much, I don't even mind the commute.
I watch the city slip away on the train, as I go further and further up toward the border. I look at the villages, the mountains, and the encroaching industrialization of the New Territories.
Setting aside the riding, I just enjoy getting the horse out of his stall, untacking him afterwards, feeding him an apple.
I've started doing two hours at a time instead of one hour (which seemed like a waste, because I spend almost 3 hours commuting round-trip).
I finished at 4, but didn't leave till almost 5. I got a coffee and sat outside, in one of the few sunny, mild afternoons we've had recently. I watched the kids do their pony rides.
I might mention that all the kids are better than I am.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Winter Olympics -- Fashion Disaster

Clarification: When I make fun of the "Australian aboriginal costumes" below, I do not mean to say that the skaters themselves are Australian, only that the inspiration of the costumes was from Australia's aboriginal people. Those were Russians who thought it a good idea to put on brown face and mimic a Native people's costume and dance. Real Australians, one presumes, have better sense.
After work, Marc and I get a glass of wine (and, usually, my dinner), snuggle on the couch and watch the nightly wrap-up of the Winter Olympics.
Gweipo thinks I've entered a phase of temporary insanity. Maybe I have. This is like my fourth Olympics post.
And you can bet that my alarm is set at 8 a.m. for the Canada vs. German game tomorrow. I mean, they really better win.
Marc the Metrosexual likes all sports. And there is a thrill in seeing those kooky, obscure Winter Olympic ones, with their spectacular spins and crashes, set among Canada's gorgeous snowy mountains.

The Canadians are not doing very well. But we did win in ice dancing -- the first North Americans to take gold in the sport. As a little girl, I loved watching figure skating -- those doll-like figures in their pretty costumes doing leaps and spins.

But as an adult, I raise my eyebrow, at some of the tasteless costumes. (As has my blogger friend Lipstick)., in their usual cheeky way, have paired U.S. (just to be clear, men's) figure skater Johnny Weir with a photo of the Rose Queen beauty queen. (Top photo, credit: Getty)

Meanwhile, has come up with a slideshow of the Worse Figure Skating Costumes.

This would include the phenomenally terrible Australian aboriginal costumes, which somehow managed to be ugly as heck; culturally insensitive; and include what looks like brown face. Brown face! (Photo credit: Reuters)

That is why I am doubly happy that the Canadian pair took the ice dancing gold. They were the only ones with simple, elegant costumes. (Bottom photo by Chang W. Lee for The New York Times)

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir looked like two kids off to a small town church service on a summer morning, her in a simple, flowing white dress (that, ahem, did not show off her underwear), him in a well-cut shirt and trousers. I give a gold medal for the light make-up showing off Tessa's rosy-cheeked, alabaster beauty, and another gold for her sophisticated low chignon.

Plus, the fact that she can balance on one knee on a guy's back while ice skating at high speeds. That, too.

P.S. I am also rooting for figure skater Joannie Rochette, partly because she's a lovely Montreal girl, and partly because she's competing even though her mom just died.

P.P.S. I always say I support women, but then I forget about them in sports. Frankly, the men's hockey team have been a bit disappointing. But the Canadian women? So far they won 18-0 against Slovakia, 10-1 against Switzerland and 13-1 against Sweden.

Monday, February 22, 2010

O Canada. Pulling the goalie?!

Oh, Canada. At the end of the game, I put my head in my hands and laughed. Dear lord.
In the last 10 minutes, I was standing in the living room, still in my PJs, too excited to sit on the couch.
Oh, the pathos. Or bathos. Whatever it's called -- I know this feeling. If comes from growing up in New England as a Boston Red Sox fan.

Canada was down 4-2, and it looked dire. Then they scored one to make it 4-3 late on. Could they make it 4-4 to force it into overtime?
They suddenly became very aggressive (about 35 minutes too late, I might add). They had alot of good shots, but none worked.
Then they pulled a gamble. They decided to pull their goalie, Brodeur, off the ice, to give the Canadians a one-man advantage in front of the U.S. net. (For those non-hockey fans, that means they added an extra offensive player in lieu of the goalie).
So what happens? The Americans score an "empty net" goal -- since, you know, there was no goalie there.
It ends 5-3.
It's not the end of the Earth, or even the end of Canadian Olympic hockey. It just means that Canada will have to play another game to fight their way into the final round, while America will get placed there automatically. And I think it smarts, because Canada is the host, but the Americans have been teasing with all this talk of their "renting the podium."

I'm sure most Canadians will be drinking away their sorrows tonight. Those big Northern types can really put it away. But me? It's only 11 a.m. here in Hong Kong, and I still have to go to work this afternoon.
There's something I miss about watching hockey, which is the roly-poly, rough-and-tumble aspect of the game. Those boys in their big, padded uniforms -- when they fight, they look like belligerent cartoon characters.
At one point, an American was sitting on a Canadian, who was lying flat on his face. Then there was a three-man head-on collision, which could be seen as an act of aggression, only it was all Canadian.
Toward the end of the game, the whole of Sidney Crosby was actually in the American goal, lying down, curled up in the net. Too bad the puck wasn't in there with him. (OK, I shouldn't be hard on him. He did sneak in that third goal.)
Let's wait and see if Canada gets into the final. I mean, they must? Right?
Then, it's another four-year wait before I watch another hockey game.
Side note: Live blogging does produce many posts about a narrow topic, doesn't it?

O Canada. 2/3 of a hockey game.

Image from
That would be an exasperated O Canada, like "Oh. Canada."
Come on, Canada. The second period has just ended and it's 3-2 U.S.
Is it me, or are hockey games higher scoring now? I seem to remember (way long ago, in the distant past of my childhood) sitting in a freezing stadium waiting for a mere goal or two.

Like all sports, hockey is a game of chance as much as it is of skill.
The Canadians have outshot the Americans 31 to 19 so far (and something like 17 to 6 in the first period). But you don't get points for shots on goal, only on shots that go in.

I have to give it to the U.S. goaltender.
The commentators (who are what on this channel? Canadian and British? I'm bad with accents) say that the Canadian goalie, Brodeur, is overplaying, since he's under so much pressure. I don't know enough about goalie-ing to make that assertion, but he doesn't look as sharp and tight as he could.

Both sides are playing well offensively. And, frankly, the puck has been in the right half of the ice for the Canadians, it just hasn't been going in.
But only one side is playing well defensively -- the U.S. I don't know what's wrong with the Canadian defense, but I hope it picks up.

Ooh. Third period starting. I've got to go. God, it's been years since I've watched a hockey game.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

O Canada, how do I love thee?

Let me count the ways.
Do I love thee enough to go to a Wanchai sports bar at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow to watch the men's hockey game against the U.S.?
Do I love three enough to have wildly, wantonly subscribed to Cable TV -- just for two months -- so I can watch the Vancouver Olympic Games? Even though it took, like, six phone calls?
Do I love thee enough to still be sitting here at 8:30 at night, waiting for the Cable guy to bring some piece of necessary hardware, as my French husband rolls his eyes at my extravagance?
Do I love thee enough to have protested (in that gentle way of mine) when an American colleague said it served Canadians right for not winning many medals after "talking smack" about dominating the podium?
(There is a whole New York Times article dedicated to our alleged smack-talking. This would be a follow-up to the 1,200-word essay on the Canadian national character, which is, reportedly, inherently against winning).

Anyway, apparently, I do -- despite my very Canadian insistence that I am not a flag-waving patriot.
And I'm not even a big sports fan.
Addendum: Now that I actually have Cable, I remember how much I dislike watching curling.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

IHT job posting -- better written

Here's the IHT's job posting I mentioned below, this time in the IHT's (better-written) own words.
This is a truncated version. For the whole thing, go here
Reading this, it should be apparent why we are only considering experienced newspaper editors and not simply being -- in the words of Anonymous below -- sanctimonious.
POSITION OVERVIEW The newsrooms of the International Herald Tribune in Paris and Hong Kong seek editors with at least three years of experience at a major metropolitan newspaper or wire service. You will work with a team of editors from The New York Times - International Herald Tribune family to offer a well-edited, must-read daily newspaper and 24-hour Web report.

FUNCTIONAL RESPONSIBILITIES -- Smooth copy and edit it to house style, ensuring accuracy and fairness -- Write inviting headlines, captions and summaries for print and digital editions -- Make solid news judgments about international developments -- Write accurate metadata and ancillary items as necessary -- Proofread and correct publishable work

JOB REQUIREMENTS -- Significant deadline editing experience is essential -- Layout, assigning and slot experience is a plus -- Ability to work on all types of coverage, from news to business to culture, to adapt across multiple platforms, and the flexibility to accommodate the 24-hour news clock are highly desirable.

Interested? Send a resume to with “Copy editor, Temporary” in the subject field. Please note, only those who pass to active candidacy will be contacted.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Brrrrr.. my paws are cold

I've always teased my relatives and other assorted Hong Kongers for being wimps about the cold.

Anything under about 15C (or 60F) and the Hong Kong Observatory issues a "cold weather" warning. My doormen yell at me for going outside in just jeans and a suit jacket. Chemists stock up on moisturizers, since the humidity level tends to dip below, oh, 70% or so in the winters. (As a side note, obsessive moisturizer use is also why Asian women have such nice skin).

People run around in those big, puffy jackets that Canadians wear on ski trips, while I -- like any other Western-bred person -- am wearing a cardigan.

Well, this time, I have to give it up. It really is cold, with lows in the single-digits Celcius (so, below 50F). That's not bad by Canadian standards, but most Hong Kong buildings don't have centralized heating. And it's a dark, damp cold -- an English cold.

Chinese New Year Day was 98% humidity, with a thick fog / pollution cloud that enveloped my family's village.

We are one of the few people I know who do have indoor heating -- we installed joint cold air / warm air air conditioners in the bedroom and living room. They don't heat as much as, say, centralized heating in a Western house, but they do a better job than those little space heaters that everyone has. (I gave ours away to two colleagues).

Now, I'm being teased by my American colleagues, who think our heating is extravagant and non-eco-friendly. But, hey. I'm warm.

Marc is happy to blast the things till it's 70F. I try to use the heating sparingly and turn it off when it gets warm in the bedroom at night. This morning, when I woke up, it was 15.4C (a little under 60F).

Hugo the Cat has hardly left the bed in the last four or five days. When we are in the living room, he hugs our assorted heat-generating wifi/DVD/cable TV boxes as a paw warmer.

When the NOW TV guy came recently to fix our broken cable box, I declined to tell him that the hardware default might have been because there's usually a 12-lb cat sitting on it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Journalism opportunities, some sexier than others

I'm back at work today.
I've had it pretty easy recently -- a weeklong stay-cation, followed by a scant four-day-workweek, followed by Chinese New Year.
But I am now firmly back on the work wagon, at least until April.
My office -- the International Herald Tribune newsroom in Hong Kong -- is looking to hire copy editors. (Or "subs," as the Brits say. But if you're speaking that vernacular, you're going to have to change your editing style here).
I hear there are both temporary (a few months) and permanent contracts. All are full-time, meaning you start at 1 p.m. or 2 p.m., and finish at 9 p.m. or 10 p.m, sometimes a bit later.
It's five days a week, but you might not get two-day weekends. For example, I usually have Tuesdays and Saturdays off, but work Sundays.

We are looking for people who are already professional newspaper editors, preferably with experience with world news or financial news. These are not entry level positions. You will get a couple days of training, and then are thrown into live copy.
Our office produces the Asia edition of the IHT (which, in turn, is the global edition of The New York Times.) That means we lay out and edit almost everything in the paper that appears in the version you pick up on an Asian newsstand. So applicants should feel comfortable working with material from all over the world.
Second language is not really that important.
Experience with page design or other newspaper production is a plus.
My work email is
Addendum: The above post has the official job ad.

Speaking of journalism opportunities, freelancers or aspiring freelancers should subscribe to the free service at, where editors sometimes post travel-related writing jobs.
I often wonder if some of the assignments there are just a lark, like this one.

"Do people actually ever join the Mile High Club, or is it just an urban legend? I'm looking for any humourous take, or first-hand experience on what happened/who joins/who got caught? Please let me know if you have, or could write, a 1200 word article on this subject!! Guy Hawthorne,"

For those who don't know, the Mile High Club refers to people who have had sex in an airplane while it is flying. I guess it's a more exciting work opportunity than IHT copy editing.
Is this job true or not? The deadline of Feb. 7 was the same as the day the assignment was posted. Does the editor expect people to pitch him in one day? It doesn't leave much time to get into trouble in an in-flight bathroom, much less write 1200 words about it.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Chinese New Year!

Firecrackers are, I think, not allowed anymore for safety reasons, but the police turn a blind eye (ha, no pun intended) in the villages during New Year.
Someone thought it'd be funny to drape me -- in obligatory bright red shirt -- in one strand that we later let off on my uncle's rooftop. I've attached the video below, but couldn't figure out how to turn it so it's not sideways. But you get the idea -- lots of noise and smoke to scare away the demons. Marc, my brother Will, my sister-in-law Iris and many others were there too.
Last year, dad did the honors. My aunt says, when dad and his brothers were kids, they spent all their laisee money on firecrackers.
The second photo is of two traditional CNY foods: turnip with preserved sausage; and a sweet New Year's pudding.
The turnip cake requires much shredded and fretting over excess moisture, like a Chinese latke. But it's more complex than a latke, because the turnip has to be shredded, mixed with other ingredients, pressed into a mold, steamed, cooled, sliced, then pan-fried.
There was also a Hakka dish of fatty pork, taro and tofu. And a duck.
Even though I grew up in the West -- and am not as observant of Chinese holidays as my relatives -- CNY means more to me than Jan. 1.
Western New Year's Eve is just a party, really. People might make a few resolutions as they wake up hung over the morning after, but that's about all the commitment and meaning there is.

CNY requires advance clean-up, literally and figuratively. It's important to start the year well, and tradition pushes you to do the things that you might otherwise procrastinate.
* If you're having an argument or conflict with someone, you resolve it.
* You pay off any debts (I made sure to pay my taxes) and make sure everyone pays off debts to you, too.
* In the old days, some people threw out all their furniture, though that is considered extreme now. But we go through our packed closets and bookshelves, and give away things we don't want. I rifled through my filing cabinet and threw away papers and old bills.
* You buy new clothes or furnishings. Marc and I replaced our old IKEA bedsheets, which had ink stains (from when I write in bed) and holes (from Hugo playing on them). We also bought new houseplants and did some minor flat improvements.
* You do spring cleaning, so to speak. The Kitchen God (the deity in charge of things domestic) comes to your home to check it out, and you don't want to anger him with a dirty floor, etc.
I'm not as traditional as my mom and aunt, who spend New Year's Eve scrubbing floors, putting up calligraphy written on red banners, arranging flowers, etc. But Marc and I clean.
My brother is truly having a new start this year, as he and his wife just moved into their flat.
Mom now applies the floor-scrubbing rule to all major holidays.
On Christmas Eve she'll say, "I've got to finish cleaning the house before Santa Claus comes to give his blessing."
Another friend, a gweipo whose husband is Chinese, says her family-in-law refer to Santa and the elves as the "Christmas dieties".
In our childhood house, after Santa consumed his "offering" (cookies and milk), he would sometimes leave a Christmas laisee.
So happy new year! Gong hei fat choi (good fortune) and good health for the Year of the Tiger.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

My friend will be in the Vancouver Olympics!

Not as an athlete, but as one of the entertainers during the Opening Ceremonies. She's a trapeze artist, and I'm so proud of her.
When we were in school, I was the deadbeat. (No, really. You wouldn't guess it now, but really). She was the good student. Double honors poli sci and econ -- I'm not sure, about that -- followed by acceptance to law school.
...And then she ran away to join the circus!
I always wanted to meet someone who would do something like that. Before I knew her, I always thought it was a figurative phase.
She went to the Circus School in Montreal, and has since traveled the world performing for Cirque du Soleil, on cruise ships, in films and in cabarets (which is how I saw her perform in Germany once).
What she does is amazing. I can barely control myself when I feel like having some peanut M&Ms at work. I couldn't imagine the physical discipline she needs to keep going, in a sport that emphasizes youth and lightness, like gymnastics or ice skating might.
But it's she absolutely gorgeous? What I would do to have that body.
You can see her website at, which is where the above photo is taken from.
In case any of Sylvie's friends are reading this and trying to figure out her age, by using my age, just let me say that a) she is much younger than I am and b) we were supersmart and graduated from school really early, at the age of, like, 12. Really.
Because of her, I want to catch the Opening Ceremonies at 6 p.m. Friday Vancouver time which is.... Drat. It's 2 a.m. Saturday Hong Kong time.
Hmmm. Maybe there's a Canadian association or something watching the playback somewhere.

Is Hong Kong too cheap to buy a few wheelchair ramps?

I never thought much about disabled issues until this happened to Brown, my friend who was paralyzed by spinal injury. (See post below on his recent good news).
But now it's glaring to me how many Hong Kong places -- even big, expensive, modern skyscrapers -- don't have the most basic facilities. For example, ramps up steps.
I once pitched a story on disabled travel, but it was rejected. Too unglamorous a topic, I guess.
During an interview with a posh Hong Kong designer, I pointed out a lovely terrace in the space we were sitting in. Why didn't he put a ramp in? How could someone in a wheelchair go there? (I didn't mention I had a disabled friend.)
He rolled his eyes. All those stupid restrictions the government puts on designers. (Though, judging from the lack of accessibility here, I can't imagine there are many restrictions at all).
He made up some excuse about the angle of the ramp, the space needed, his "creative vision" etc. This was a several-thousand-square-foot facility, and a multimillion-dollar design job.
Places like Cafe Deco on the Peak, for example, have a simple wooden ramp they pull out when it's needed. Cheap, easy.
BTW, that's where we did the fundraiser, where both Brown and the restaurant earned a pretty penny.
For Brown's fundraiser, I checked out which Hong Kong hotels had disabled-friendly rooms. (If you want a funny image of me, think of me kneeling on a floor measuring toilet-bowl height). It's shocking how few they are, even in very expensive hotels.
Even though Brown doesn't live here any more, I got into the habit of asking restaurants whether they are wheelchair friendly.
It's amazing how ignorant staff are. Most were helpful, but hopeless. Like "Well, we have some strong men here. Maybe we can carry him."
I don't blame the underlings, though. I blame the greedy restaurant, bar and hotel owners who can't be bothered.
It's much better in other places I've visited, like the U.K or Australia.
It's obviously not good in other parts of Asia, but I am a bit forgiving toward poor nations.
Hong Kong? We have no excuse. We are one of the richest, most developed cities on earth. Property developers are awash in cash. We should be ashamed of ourselves.
Update on Brown, who is now in the U.K.
It seems like the money we got from his fundraiser last year was going to run out in two months, in April. So it's particularly fortuitous that the suit as been settled now.

He also writes:
"I can now walk up to 1 km, very slowly with crutches; pick things up off the floor; take a flight on my own and even go for short rides on the back of a motorbike taxi (though I have to sit sidesaddle like ladies and ladyboys!). While these may not sound like major achievements, after four years of therapy, for me, they are nothing short of miraculous."

Re: the ladyboys. In case you couldn't guess, Brown is based in Bangkok.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Amazing news about Andrew Brown

Do you remember that fundraiser organized for my friend Andrew Brown last year?
The Hong Kong-based CNN correspondent became paralyzed after shoddy post-operative care at a British hospital left him with spinal cord injury. This was back in early 2006. Now, after about a long legal wrangle -- not to mention an incredible amount of physical pain, and loss of years of work and income -- he won HK $55 million in a court case in the U.K.

Brown had a spinal tumor removed in Bath. But his surgeon left for a trip without taking care of the delicate time immediately after such an operation (and, I believe, shut off his phone).
A blood clot formed at the operation site and damaged Brown's spinal chord.
Brown was left paralyzed from the neck down, incapable of breathing or eating without machines. He was put on a respirator and sedated.
I remember his family asking Hong Kong friends to hold off on sending a care package; I think that was their indirect way of saying they were holding their breath on whether he would survive.
He was in intensive care for about two months.
Slowly, he weaned himself off the respirator.
Like a baby, he had to relearn every task we do every day.
I visited twice, after Brown was transferred to an NHS spinal facility.
The first time, he was still working on sitting up straight. He was in this gigantic electric wheelchair, which he controlled with a remote-control-type stick with one hand. He had a brace holding his torso and could not stay upright for long periods of time.
It was desperately hot, as his NHS unit had no air con. He'd joke that, if he were just a little bit more sick, he could be in intensive care, which was cooler.
(The operation didn't at all harm his sharp mind, or sense of humor).
The second time, he was relatively better. He was in a manual chair and could wheel himself around. He could go to the pub, or sit out by the field next to the hospital. He took the train to London for lunch with a bunch of us.
When his NHS benefits ran out, he transferred to Bangkok, where he still does regular physio today.
He is now living relatively independently -- outside of hospital -- but with help. He still uses a wheelchair most of the time, as he can only walk some with the use of crutches.
He is still in pain. As he explained once, pain caused by a nervous system disruption is different and harder to treat than a straight-forward physical injury, like a sprain or a break. He has not been back to work yet.
I'm feeling very happy today, even excited. I've run around telling everyone at work, even though nobody here knows Brown.
I was complaining earlier about the dreary start of my year.
Well, this was the best Chinese New Year's present I could have imagined.
The Standard's article is here. God knows where the SCMP one is.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Alvin Leung at Bo Innovation

Sometimes, I'll do writing on the side for fun, particular local articles that might not get much play in the NYT/IHT. (Obviously, I pitch everything to the Mothership first).
Anyway, this is something I did for Morning Calm, Korean Air's inflight magazine. It's too bad I can't upload the the photos and layout here, because they do a really nice job there.


Except for a few green streaks in his black hair, the man who calls himself Hong Kong’s “demon chef” doesn’t look too devilish.
His restaurant won’t be open for hours, but Alvin Leung is already sitting on Bo Innovation’s large, fashionable terrace – with a mobile phone, coffee and a stack of documents and orders that need signing.
He looks less like the chef who garnered two stars in the Michelin Guide’s first Hong Kong ranking last year, and more like a businessman.*
That, in part, is true. He’s been on tour around the world, demonstrating the experimental take on Chinese cuisine that made his name. He is also planning to open another restaurant in London, hopefully this year.
Leung’s path to success was as unlikely as his dishes, which include creations like “tomato crystal jelly.”
Unlike most chefs, who first attend culinary institutes and then work their way up in restaurant kitchens, Leung spent almost two decades as an engineer, with a degree in environmental science from a British university.
At about the age of 40, he began experimenting seriously in his home kitchen, drawing on some of his scientific expertise. He started hosting food critics and other professionals to try out his creations.
It was only five years ago, when he opened Bo, that he began to consider himself a professional cook.
Ever since he burst onto the Hong Kong restaurant scene, critics have credited him with transforming Chinese food.
Leung, too, pays respect to his roots: “I’m proud of my Chinese heritage. I’d like to think this is my small contribution to the history of Chinese cuisine.”
While Leung has been in Hong Kong most of his adult life, he was born in London and grew up in Toronto in an immigrant family.
“I think my parents were homesick. So we went to Chinese restaurants. They weren’t so good back then, but they interested me,” he said. “Immigrants are innovative my nature -- because they have to be. You’ve got to survive in a new country. You don’t have the right ingredients. You have to cater to the people you see as foreigners.”
“My forte is the fact that I come from immigrants. I have that ability to adapt,” he says. “When I do demonstrations in Moscow, Sydney, Germany, I adapt. I try to work in their local flavours and ingredients.
Critics have come up with several terms to describe the sort of cuisine that chefs like Leung create: “Fusion,” “nouvelle cuisine” or “molecular gastronomy,” for when a high-tech approach is used to radically change ingredients with chemicals or machines.
Leung is a fan of Ferran Adrià of the El Bulli restaurant in Spain, one of the pioneers of molecular gastronomy.
“The first time I experienced El Bulli, I had a lot of foams and powders. He inspired me to have the guts to do something like this. After that meal, I knew there was the possibility of an audience for this kind of experimentation.”
Leung described his xiao loong bau, which is a traditional Chinese dumpling with a soup filling that explodes in your mouth as you bite into it.
“The two biggest complaints that Chinese have of xiao loong bau is that there is not enough liquid inside and that the skin is not thin enough,” Leung said. “So I created a xiao long bau that is pure liquid, using a process called sphrerification. I literally create a capsule of liquid in a very thin layer, or a boundary. You want a dumpling with the thinnest possible skin? I’ll give you a dumpling with a virtual skin.”
“There are no secrets to cooking, there are only techniques,” Leung said. “If you want, you could say that I’ve broken down cooking into scientific forms. With that dumpling, I took an idea and stretched it to its extreme."
Leung's work is not just about what is on the plate, it's also about the ideas in his head, which is why he is writing a book. It will not be a cookbook in a traditional sense; after all, most of his recipes would be un-doable in a home kitchen.
"I want it to be about food, design, ideas and Hong Kong," he said. "I want to create something that I will be remembered by."

* He was downgraded to one star in the most recent Michelin ranking.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Climbing back on the wagon

So much for New Year's resolutions.
In January, I didn't just fall off the wagon.
I fell off the wagon, hit my head, rolled into a ditch, and lay face-down in the mud.
This would be in all aspects of my life: diet, exercise, work, housekeeping, social life and my fiction-writing ambitions.
I'm just wrapping up a week of "stay-cation", so that has helped alot, as I clamber back on.
From Christmas to mid-January, I had bronchitis. I took a record 3 days off work which, combined with my days off, was 5 days off.
But even after the initial infection was gone, the coughing conspired with my asthma to create a chronic condition. Hong Kong pollution acted as an accomplice.
One morning, I even coughed up blood. Like an old-fashioned consumptive, like Keats or something. (Just minus the genius writing and early death).
I worked badly.
I dragged to the end of my shift, then left as early as I responsibly could.
I was embarrassed by my endless wheezing and hacking. I'm sure my colleagues were wondering if I had swine flu.
For a while, I couldn't sleep at all. Then I was sleeping 12, 14 hours a night.
Any exertion wore me out. I walked down the hill from the FCC, then up the stairs to Exchange Square. (You know, the stairs next to Fanda?) I had to stop outside HSBC to take a puff of my inhaler and catch my breath.
This happened twice. It's no coincidence that both times were in traffic-filled Central.
Three weeks. Four weeks. Five weeks. I was getting sick and tired of being sick and tired.
I certainly didn't expend energy to buy healthy groceries, cook healthy food or pack healthy lunches. OK, I made a nice soup for a few friends on a day off, but that was it.
I ate lots of fast, comforting, warming starches, and relied on take-out and (ugh) vending machines at work.
I took far too many taxis, since I couldn't motivate myself to walk to the MTR and go up and down all those stairs.
As for my food diary? Ha! I probably would have been embarrassed to write down what I was eating anyway.
There were endless family events.
Don't get me wrong, I love my family. I love how close Hong Kong Cantonese clans are. I fully understand that, even when they act in ways that seem jarring to Western tastes, they mean the best.
But along with my husband, parents, brother and sister-in-law, I have a grandma, 15 direct aunts and uncles, 15 first cousins, and other hangers-on.
That's alot of people to pay attention to when you're not feeling well.
And, as my relatives never tired of pointing out, I don't have that Hong Kong -born skinny gene. So five big family meals can take their toll. Especially, as I can't even walk up a darn flight of stairs, I definitely cannot Shred!
Over a one-month period, there was
* a Christmas lunch
* a 26-person Boxing Day family reunion in my ancestral village in the New Territories
* a post-New Year's dinner so my family could host my brother's new wife's family
* a 300-person wedding, where -- as always -- I was berated for not wanting to eat environmentally horrific foods, like shark's fin.
* a lunch at Robuchon in Macau as a belated Christmas gift to my folks
* dim sum with grandma, who is recovering from a broken hip

The Chinese have a habit of spooning food you don't want onto your plate. It's supposed to be an act of respect and love, but it's hard to see a sea slug that way. Especially when you're allergic to seafood.
This time, they tried to trick the gullible "foreigner" (i.e. me) by saying that the "sea cucumber" was, indeed a vegetable. I am not so easily fooled.
But really. Is it worth adhering to some cultural norm, and risk my windpipe swelling up?
This may sound extreme, but one of my distant uncles attended a wedding in southern China, in which the family forbade the bride to take some essential medicines, because it would be "bad luck". When she inevitably fell ill, they refused to take her to the hospital, because "face" and "luck" to the communal familial whole was more important than her personal well-being.
(If you think some Chinese women have stopped being objects in Chinese weddings, think again).
Finally, my uncle intervened and had her sent to ER. I'm sure she enjoyed her wedding night.
I digress. Thank God my family are not like that. Their teasing and odd habits are gentle.
I've learned to make it into a joke, laugh at myself for being the "foreigner" and slide the sea slug somewhere else.
Also, Thank God, Dear Old Dad always sits next to me at these events. We have this trick. I slide all the shellfish / endangered species onto his plate, and he gives me his vegetables, chicken and steamed fish in exchange. :)
Back to my failed resolutions.
I can't imagine what my calorie-expenditure is, since, for a while, I was just cabbing it to work, sitting at a desk, cabbing it home, then sleeping.
I'm actually not much heavier on the scale, but I feel... I don't know, kind of dough-y.
So that's where I was about a week or so ago. Grumpy. Dumpy.
I'm better now, since Marc and I both took a week off.
We've decided that -- for financial and other reasons -- we're only traveling every other vacation. Sometimes, we will stay here and enjoy our home and each other.
I'll write more about my stay-cation later. But I went horse riding, which dropped off during my illness. I've been cooking at home, seeing friends, doing stuff around the house, indulging in shopping, and generally feeling more positive.
Sorry about the blogging lull. My Internet connection wasn't working for a few days. And I had recovering to do.