Wednesday, March 31, 2010

More on Hong Kong pollution

My colleague Bettina is like a dog with a bone -- and that's a good thing.
She has another IHT page 1 story out tomorrow on Hong Kong pollution and its impact on business.
Here's the version on the NYT website.
Her earlier story on the issue is here.

Hong Kong International Film Festival

My article on the Hong Kong Film Festival came out in today's International Herald Tribune, in the Asia and Europe editions.
Pick up a copy if you want to support my fledging industry, or if you actually want to see the thing laid out with photos. (They did an O.K. job with it, given it's a black and white page).
Below is the rather barebones version on The New York Times website, sans images.
I might add some pix and links tonight after I get home from work.

The New York Times


By Joyce Hor-Chung Lau

HONG KONG — Suzie Wong is back. Nancy Kwan, who played a hooker with a heart of gold in 1960 and created, for better or for worse, Hong Kong cinema’s most enduring female character, was in town recently to promote a documentary about her life.

Its screening marked the 50th anniversary of “The World of Suzie Wong,” the film that brought Hong Kong’s gritty streets, and Ms. Kwan, to the world’s attention.

“Things were very different when I started,” said Ms. Kwan, 69, looking elegant in a pinstriped suit. “There were no leading Asian women in Hollywood. Most Asian films were made with Caucasian actors by Western directors and shot in a studio in California.”

Her recent appearance in her hometown, which was part of a series of film-related events here, has coincided with a watershed year for Hong Kong women in cinema.

Of the four films chosen to open and close the Hong Kong International Film Festival, three are by local women. The fourth is by a man who goes by the name of “Scud.”

Three out of four is a high proportion for any city, particularly one famous for its macho cinema, where the men are gangsters and kung fu masters and the women are merely pretty.

One of the festival’s opening night selections, “Crossing Hennessy,” brought attention to a little-known filmmaker named Ivy Ho when it showed recently in Cannes. Like “Suzie Wong,” it is set in the old red light district of Wan Chai and features an orphaned, mainland Chinese woman (Tang Wei). She is rebelliously in love with a Chinese convict and resists efforts by her extended family to set her up on blind dates with a hapless, middle-aged momma’s boy (Jacky Cheung).

Ms. Ho described her plot as “the most stale storyline in the whole world.”

“Matching-making,” she jokes. “It’s been around as long as there have been Chinese families.”

What saves “Crossing Hennessy” from being just another boy-meets-girl tale is that it has all the noise, energy and color of the schlocky comedies so loved by local audiences.

Its details are wonderful: Spoiled ladies in the nail salon, yappy little dogs, rickety trams, wet markets, and workaholic shopkeepers who eat bowls of rice while crouched over their cashiers. The action is set on neon streets or in Chinese-styled diners, where the lonely sit all night, nursing a cheap paperback and a cup of tea.

Ms. Ho, a fiftysomething mother of three, is an unlikely new director.

For decades, she was a part-time screenwriter who also did various day jobs, from advertising to translating annual reports. She was convinced that she would not be able to make a living as a filmmaker.

She directed her first film only a few years ago and, to her surprise, it showed at Berlin and a dozen other festivals.

Her directorial debut was "Claustrophobia" (2008), much of which is shot in the crammed interior of a sedan shared by car-pooling office workers who feel an undercurrent of sexual tension.

“As women writers and filmmakers, we’re always assigned to cover love,” Ms. Ho said, “supposedly because we’re no good at action or hundreds of other things.”

The other opening film was by Clara Law, who works closely with the screenwriter Eddie Fong, who is also her husband. Like many Hong Kongers, the couple moved overseas before Hong Kong’s hand-over from British to Chinese rule in 1997. (They are now based in Australia.) Their latest production, “Like A Dream” touches on themes they have explored in the past, like multiculturalism and emigration.

Max (Daniel Wu) is a computer geek in New York, who is haunted by a mysterious, tragic woman in Shanghai who visits him every night in his dreams.

Convinced that she must have a real-life counterpart, Max flies to China, where his parents had emigrated from long ago. A frantic search turns up his dream girl or, at least, her doppelgänger. The loud, coarse factory worker he finds, and his awkward relationship with her, is far from the ideal he had imagined.

“Like A Dream” begins with quirky sweetness. One almost expects a romantic comedy of the art house sort. But Max’s quest drives him to the brink of madness, and the film becomes darker and more disturbing.

Neither Ms. Ho nor Ms. Law chose to dwell on the fact that they were among few women in their field.

“There are historic imbalances,” Ms. Law said. “But if you are constantly reminding yourself that you are a woman, and that it is hard, then of course you can find discrimination. But I don’t think that way. I have no intention of making myself into a victim.”

“I see no difference between men and women filmmakers,” she added. “Maybe it’s different in other parts of Asia, or other parts of the world, where women have fewer rights. But here in Hong Kong? It’s market driven. All people care about is whether you can do the work.”

One of the younger directors is Heiward Mak, a busy 25-year-old with three films in the festival.

“Ex,” one of the closing selections, was still in hurried post-production a few weeks before its premiere. She also directed “We Might as Well Be Strangers,” which was part of a short-film selection, and co-wrote another feature called “Love in a Puff.”

She first attracted notice with “High Noon,” a movie about a gang of Hong Kong teenaged boys that showed at the Asian American Film Festival in San Francisco in 2008.

In “Ex,” Ms. Mak examines the directionless, promiscuous lives of those known as the “post-80s generation,” meaning people in their 20s.

A young woman dumps her lover and moves in with her ex-boyfriend and his current girlfriend, resulting in a few steamy sex scenes. (The main character is played by Gillian Chung, a pop star emerging from her own real-life sex scandal.)

“I’ve never thought of my work as ‘women’s film.”’ Ms. Mak said “I don’t think of my films as feminist statements.”

There have been concerns that the heyday of Hong Kong cinema is over, and that the city’s smaller productions will be overtaken by sanitized blockbusters from China.

Under these pressures, the festival seems to be making a special effort to promote local interests.

The organizers, speaking in the local Cantonese dialect, held several big media events detailing the growth of the festival this year: Submissions more than doubled, from 365 to 804. Entries came from more than 70 countries and regions. Almost 300 films will be shown.

There have been endless side events, like a Bruce Lee retrospective. The Hong Kong Film and Television Market drew thousands of executives, like a pack of hounds following the scent of new money. The Asian Film Awards’ best costume award was presented by Donatella Versace.

Home-grown talent is in the spotlight. There are more films by women and Hong Kongers than ever before, including the world premiere of 11 locally made features.

“Hong Kong film has its own character, its own sprit,” Ms. Mak said. “We want to make movies about ordinary people, Hong Kong people, and our desires.”

The 34th Hong Kong International Film Festival runs until April 6. Information and ticketing at www.hkiff.org.hk.

Monday, March 29, 2010

On Hong Kong English, and blogging

One of the more popular posts on the old Joyceyland was "Why Hong Kong English Levels Are Declining."
I hadn't meant to write it as some sort of definitive explanation. I had just meant to relay an anecdote from my brother.
I still get odd messages about it, including one today from someone who tried to comment on that old Joyceyland but couldn't, since I'd disabled comments to block spam.
So to be fair to this guy, I've posted the comment here:

" You think Hong Kong was bad, you can't wait to see Mainland China. They hire Caucasian(Whites) first before they have considered any CBC, ABC, etc... because we have Chinese looking face. I'm a Chinese Canadian. I feel it is difficult. I tried Hong Kong without success. China has many Universities so I was able to find Universities in China to teach. I have taught in China for almost nine years now. I don't know why people in Hong Kong or Mainland China will think Caucasians are the best. I can tell a lot of foreign teachers who are Caucasians are not qualified to teach. No matter if they have the TEFL, TOEFL, etc... I don't have any except a Bachelor Degree. Students in Mainland China have trouble speaking out but most Caucasians think about teaching the culture instead of making the students talk more..."

It's impossible to tell whether someone is who he says he is in the blogosphere, but there you go.
***
I had an email back-and-forth with the above commenter and he confirmed what I already knew -- that the new Joyceyland is still blocked in China.

Why is the old Joyceyland (on the Windows Live MSN thingie) unblocked and the new one blocked? I'm sure I wrote about free press and censorship issues then, too. Is it Blogger?

Another question -- Why does the new Joyceyland get almost no hits from search engines?

The old Joyceyland still gets some traffic from random searches on Google, Yahoo, etc., but my new site doesn't. (O.K., maybe 10% of my traffic is from Google, but no other search engines). Is it because the old Joyceyland has that many more old archived posts?

When I switched, it took longer than expected for the number of hits on the old Joyceyland to go down, and the number on the new Joyceyland to go up.

I've been in my new blogging home now for five months, and I am slowly moving my archives over.
***
Just checking my who-refers-to-me tool thingie, I discovered a site called It's Hong Kong.
***
There are all sorts of things one is supposed to do to "groom" a blog -- checking traffic and Google rankings, back-linking to people who link to you, "pinging", peppering the blogosphere with comments on high-traffic sites, etc.
I can't say I'm very vigilant about it.
I do comment on other blogs, but only because I feel like it -- not because I think it will drive traffic.
Unlike more ambitious bloggers like Spike or Privilege or my wonderful friend Daisann at Little Adventures in Hong Kong, I have no professional aspirations for this blog.
While I'm sometimes curious about where my readers come from -- and while it's perfectly natural to want to feel popular -- I'm usually not bothered by the number of people visiting Joyceyland.
However, I am happy that my new interface has allowed lovely new commenters here.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A small reason to love Hong Kong: farriers

I spent quite some time at the Lowu Saddle Club a few weeks back.
When I started riding in Hong Kong, it was a cut-and-dry one hour. I had my lesson, I paid, I left.
Now, I now spend the afternoon when I can -- which makes more sense, given the commute. Sometimes I get in two hours of riding, plus another hour just hanging around.
There is a sort of meditative quality as I go about my chores. After all week in the office, I even like the leather smell of the tack room. (Though, as romantic as I am about riding, I can't say that anyone loves the smell of a stable).
It's good -- for a reasonably un-athletic cubicle drone like myself -- to do something with my hands and break a sweat. (And, for a real horsey person, what I do is very little work. I am just a dillatante).

Because I don't go all the time -- because I am busy and distracted and forget -- I have to run the details through my mind each time.
I get the saddle, nullah, bridle, reins and bit and carry it over.
I tack up the horse, lead him out, spray him with fly spray and adjust the stirrups and girth.
After riding, I put him back in his stall, remove all his equipment (usually to his relief, particularly in the summer), wash the bit and put everything away again.
I return with an apple, which he eats out of my hand.
I put on his head harness and lead him to the washing bay.
I spray him with cool water -- which must feel nice -- and remove pebbles or dirt that get caught in his feet. I wipe his face with a damp sponge and scrape excess water off his coat.
Then it's back to the stall and off with the halter again.
I enjoy this set routine. It's impossible to do it while also fretting about work or life.
I also like to think -- delusionally, I'm sure -- that it's somehow toning my arms.

I was waiting a long time for the washing bay. What was going on? Then I noticed a rhythmic tinkering sound.
I walked over and saw, for the first time, a farrier.
He was a local Cantonese-speaking, working-class Chinese guy. But he had everything I imagined an old-fashioned English blacksmith would have -- an anvil, hammer, leather apron, and row of metal horseshoes out in the sun.
He was shoe-ing a horse, holding the hoof against his body, while hammering and sawing carefully. (I guess you don't want to screw up while positioned next to the back leg of a 1,200-pound ex-racehorse).
I asked if he minded my taking photos, and he didn't, so long as I didn't use a flash to spook the horse. He was enthusiastic in explaining to me what he did.
There's a certain workingman's pride I love here -- among people who fix leather shoes by hand, or tailor clothes to fit, or carve wooden Chinese name "chops."
The horse guys are great. They love telling me why you can never get water in a horse's ear, or what to do when a horse has a runny nose. These may not be the highest paid or most glamorous jobs, but I am touched that they care so much.
(Side note: If I still worked at HK Magazine, I think the farrier would be a great idea for the "Streettalk" column)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Recent writing: Best airports, Hong Kong festivals

Dear Old Dad has been asking why I haven't been posting my IHT/NYT writing on Joyceyland. Well, sadly, there has been very little such writing to post. I could get into the boring internal reasons why, but I won't.

I've only done two things recently, both shorts for the travel blog (which merges our old IHT blog, Globespotters, with a NYT one called InTransit).

For some reason, I didn't get credited for the top one -- maybe because I initially wrote it for the IHT's back-page travel briefs? Whatever. It's what I call "press release journalism", but it's interesting nonetheless. I've always believed that Asia has better airports than everyone else.

World’s Best Airports in Asia, Says Survey

The departure board in Singapore’s Changi Airport.
Roslan Rahman/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The departure board in Singapore’s Changi Airport.

Asia dominated the Skytrax World Airport Awards, which are based on more than nine million customer surveys.

According to results released Wednesday in Brussels, the world’s best airport in 2010 was Changi in Singapore, followed by Incheon in Seoul and Hong Kong International Airport. The rest of Skytrax’s top-10 list included Kuala Lumpur, Beijing, Auckland and Bangkok from the Asia-Pacific region, and Munich, Zurich and Amsterdam from Europe, according to the SkyTrax Web site.

North American airports did not fare as well, and there were only two in the top 25: Vancouver (No. 11) and San Francisco (No. 20). Narita in Tokyo came in at No. 17 and London Heathrow at No. 21.

***

Here's one I did a bit earlier, but then forgot about.

March 7, 2010

In Spring, Hong Kong Festivals Bloom

A scene from “Like a Dream,” one of the films showing at the  opening gala of this year’s Hong Kong International Film Festival.
Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A scene from “Like a Dream,” one of the films showing at the opening gala of this year’s Hong Kong International Film Festival.

Hong Kong’s cultural calendar is dry as a desert most of the year. Then comes spring, and with it, a festival of festivals. Along with the Hong Kong Arts Festival, which continues through March 28, there are a handful of major events dedicated to film, literature and other media, all happening in the next month or so.

The lineup has been announced for the Hong Kong International Film Festival (www.hkiff.org.hk), one of the most prominent film festivals in Asia. Starting March 21, 243 films from 54 nations and city-states will be shown, including 24 world premieres. Screening take place in about a dozen venues across the city.

Interestingly, both films chosen to be featured during the gala opening, on the evening of March 21, are directed by women filmmakers from Hong Kong: Ivy Ho’s “Crossing Hennessy,” a comedy set in the old red light district of Wanchai, and Clara Law’s “Like a Dream,” a romantic drama that takes place in China and New York. Another highlight for enthusiasts of classic cinema is the chance to see Fritz Lang’s celebrated 1927 film “Metropolis” — restored, on the big screen and accompanied by a full orchestra.

The Hong Kong International Literary Festival (www.festival.org.hk), which runs from March 11 to 19, is not as established as its cinematic counterpart, but it’s an interesting event to watch as English-language publishing picks up in this part of the world.

Speakers include Su Tong, the author of “Raise the Red Lantern” and recent winner of the Asian Man Booker Prize; Alex Kuo, who won the American Book Award for “Lipstick and Other Stories” in 2002; and André Brink, the venerated South African writer.

Part of the appeal of the Literary Festival is that many of the events are held in private clubs or colonial buildings that the average tourist doesn’t see, like the Yacht Club or the Foreign Correspondents Club. There are also soirees at hip new places, like the Upper House, a luxe hotel in Admiralty, or little Soho bars, like Joyce Is Not Here.

Finally, there is Le French May, a wide-ranging festival for Francophiles that, despite its name, actually runs from April to June. Keep an eye on frenchmay.com for further details.

Scary Evil Editor

I just noticed that after my anti-bad-writing rant, not a single person applied via Joyceyland for the IHT internship job. Whereas, previously, we got quite a few copy editor applications through this site.
Did I scare people away? Are applicants worried that I will lose my mind if they fail to use a possessive pronoun before a gerund? Am I the Scary Evil Editor now? Bwaaa hahaha!

Maybe this story will make you feel better.
When I applied for a fellowship a few years ago, I had to submit two applications -- one for funding in Hong Kong, and another to convince the people in the U.K. that my thesis idea was sound.
I read and re-read my thesis proposal. I gave it to friends to read. It was perfect.
Then, just as I was about the hit the "send" button on the email, I noticed that I had mis-spelled Reuters as "Rueters" in the subject line.
Argh! How much worse can you get? It's their company name, for God's sake.
(This is one of the pitfalls of email -- its speed and convenience lulls you into a sense of security. Whereas, I think people are naturally more careful with printed out documents.
There's also one hard lesson you learn as an editor. You catch the stray comma in paragraph 23. But the mistakes always come in the last-minute headlines -- which, of course, as the most obvious).
I desperately hit the "cancel" button, but it was too late. The message had sent.
I looked up the number for the Reuters Institute at Oxford, made a phone call, and told the office manager that I had made a horrible typo and to please delete that version.
She was very nice. She said that nobody in power looked at the emails anyway, since she printed out the applications for them. She wouldn't tell. Phew.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Hong Kong's record-high pollution

Photo credit: Mike Clarke/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images, via www.nytimes.com/global

This story has been the talk of the newsroom all day, and has been the main article on our website for quite a bit now. I sit across from Bettina, the person who wrote it, and we share the same view (well, "view") of the harbour -- in which we often can't see Hung Hom from North Point, even though they are only a 5-minute ferry ride away.
***
By Bettina Wassener for the International Herald Tribune

HONG KONG — Air pollution in Hong Kong, one of the perpetual banes of living and working in the Asian financial hub, skyrocketed to record levels on Monday, triggering an official government warning to avoid outdoor activities and physical exertion.

Pollution levels have been elevated in the city for days, casting a gray pall over the harbor and obscuring views of Hong Kong’s famed skyline.

By Monday afternoon, Hong Kong’s official air pollution index soared even further, to well above 400 points at several measurement stations across the city, according to the Environmental Protection Department’s Web site.

These were the worst levels since records began in 1998, a spokesperson for the department said by phone. The previous record was 202, hit in July 2008.

At 600 to 700 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter, pollution levels are between 12 and 14 times what is recommended by the World Health Organization, said the Clean Air Network, which campaigns to inform the public on Hong Kong’s pollution issues.

The high levels were partly caused by a sandstorm in northern China, which has been moving south, the Hong Kong environment department said in a statement.

But the Clean Air Network said home-grown roadside pollution was also key to explaining the record levels.

And Mike Kilburn, environmental program manager at Civic Exchange, a public policy research institution, said in a statement: “Even though the dust storms have created record levels of particulate emissions, we must not lose sight of the fact that roadside pollution remains the single biggest threat to public health in Hong Kong.”

Air pollution index levels of 100 or above are classified as “very high” and come with advice that people who are sensitive to pollution should reduce outdoor activities. Anything above 200 is “severe,” and can lead to coughing, phlegm and sore throats, the authorities warned.

High air pollution levels are often cited by international companies as a major drawback of doing business in the city, and the extreme levels on Monday, though highly unusual, hinder the city’s efforts to bolster its image as a nice place to live.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The secret to happiness: Cancellations

I had written a long, whiny post about work, and how I don't have time to go to Hong Kong's myriad cultural festivals (which, as Gweipo pointed out, are all stupidly scheduled for the same month).
I also whinged about how I never have time to write about said cultural activities, which is what I think I should be doing at work, instead of updating Pakistani death tolls or comparing photos of blood-throwing Bangkok protesters. (Yeah. Ew. They collected their own blood into plastic jugs and then threw them at Government House. Lovely).
But... I deleted it. The above is all your need to know. Sometimes it's best to edit out lengthy, negative, self-centered diatribes.
Maybe it's good to "edit" one's life, too.

Busy-ness comes in "clusters", as a colleague of mine pointed out.
On top of editing, I'm working on a story that requires hours of haggling, emailing, phoning, etc, to set up interviews and meetings. (Part of my diatribe was about PR inefficiency in HK, but you don't need to hear about that either). Plus, the Human Rights Press Awards are happening Apr 17, and also require time. And my social calendar has been fuller than usual.

My brain is spinning. There's my boss's good-bye party, which I skipped because I was working. There's my brother's birthday, which I am neglecting. The cat needs feeding, the dishes need doing. I never Shred any more. The doorman keeps reminding me that the power will be out so I better eat all my frozen food RIGHT NOW. There's a million things blocking up the synapses in my brain.

So -- screw it. I went riding today.
I could have worked on my article. In fact, as I was commuting up to the stables, I got a call from one of the aforementioned PR who said they had a slot that afternoon. I could have canceled my ride, turned around, gotten dressed, and made it the interview. But I said "No. Sorry. This is too last minute. You will have to reschedule."
For some reason I have a hard time saying those words. I'm a pushover.
I also canceled one of my two human rights things. I'm already spending Friday night at a judging panel. I don't want to attend a lengthy Saturday morning meeting either. Maybe that's irresponsible but...
Poor Marc the Metrosexual hasn't really seen me much for weeks, except for an hour or two between when I get home from work and he goes to bed. I've been neglecting him as much as I've been neglecting this blog. So, instead of the meeting, I've booked a sort of "kiss and make up" lunch for the two of us at Joia, which is the Kowloon branch of Gaia, and one of the few places in this part of The Dark Side that serves brunch on a terrace.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Writing well -- not just for journalists

I just read a proposal by someone I really like.
He is a young, local Hong Kong professional -- but not a journalist or writer.
The document, which will be shared among several people, was written in barely comprehensible English.
If he had poor English to begin with -- due to a lack of education, exposure or practice -- I would be forgiving. I admire those who can write in second language, because I cannot do so myself.
But that wasn't this case; his English is great.
I'm talking about SMS speak, unfinished sentences, etc.

Why are run-on sentences a no-no? Because they reflect run-on thoughts.
The document was too long, illogical and rambling. Some people, particularly young locals, think that longer = more effort = better. That is not true. It is much harder to write something short, concise and logical.
It got worse the further down I read. By the end, all capital letters had disappeared. He didn't even capitalize his name or include his family name.

The number of spelling mistakes was atrocious. Now, we all make typos, and we all have our writing quirks. I sometimes use incomplete sentences in my blog writing. Like this. For emphasis. Like Privilege does. Which gets her nasty anonymous comments she doesn't deserve. Though I don't think she'd do it for work. Nor would I.

But this guy obviously just wrote without thinking, and didn't bother with the 10 seconds needed to run the MS Word spellchecker.

I know what he would say if I criticized him: He's not a writer, so writing skills don't matter.

Proper writing:
* is easier to read
* conveys your point more strongly
* shows respect to the person you are addressing
* shows you have put time and effort into your task
* shows you are the kind of person who can work well and accurately

If HR ever got their hands on this, they might ask: "If he can't dedicate his attentions to writing two pages, is he disciplined enough to do anything else?"
He's a smart, hard-working, great guy. It just wouldn't come through in this document.
***
I see bad writing all the time.
Press releases at least have O.K. grammar and spelling, since they come from companies. But they are otherwise terrible -- very long, very flowery, sometimes confusing and missing essential information.

The emails sent by local PR people -- again, mostly Asians -- are awful. I'm not talking about the level of English. I realize it may be a second language, and I'm not going to get upset over imperfect grammar or vocabulary. I'm talking about writing etiquette.

I am a casual person. I may be friendly on the phone, but faux familiarity offends me.
If you don't know me, and you are proposing something work-related, you CANNOT send me this:
"Hi sweetie. u wanna intervue this the ceo of ABC co.? he'd make grt article. thx, bob."

Yes, really. A girl working at a major PR firm in town sent the above email. (Only, obviously, not signed Bob.)

Another, from a major Asian museum, went like this:
"hi. can u give me ur contact? thx, bob."

The first thing I thought? Spam. Delete.
A full name, contacts, complete sentences, etc, signal to me that you are authentic, and that you genuinely want my contacts for a professional purpose.

Broadly speaking, Western PR agents (or Westerners in general) write reasonably well even in casual email correspondence.

It's funny. Hong Kongers sometimes ask me the most inane, tiny English questions. (Do you say "on the street" or "in the street"? When do you say "may" or "would"? Do you use a possessive pronoun before a gerund?)

When I tell them it doesn't matter, they look perplexed that there aren't black-and-white rules.
Then, they turn around and submit something that looks like it was SMS'd in the back of a dark cab.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Journalism opportunity

The International Herald Tribune's Asia newsroom in Hong Kong is looking to hire an intern.

It would be more or less full-time (I think the last guy worked about 35-hour weeks) and a short-term contract.

Like most internships, it gives an aspiring young journalist the chance to spend a few months in a newsroom and to start a career. It is paid, but minimally, as all internships are.

You don't need the level of experience required for the editing job I'd posted earlier.

However, applicants should have a journalism background -- either a degree in the subject, or some professional experience. You will also need excellent English. Hong Kong working papers are a big plus.

Sorry to state the obvious, but it helps if you are already an IHT / NYT reader. We expect applicants to have some idea about world events.

An example of what we're looking for: our last intern just finished his master's in journalism from HKU. The intern before that had already worked with other international media, and got picked up by one of our competitors when he finished here.

You can send cvs to jlau@iht.com.

I think we may also be looking for a researcher.

* Note: I have absolutely nothing to do with the hiring process. I'm just trying to lend a hand to fellow journos.
All I do is print your cvs and throw them into the big, black hole that is the company bureaucracy.
For those who applied to that last job after seeing the post on Joyceyland -- I'm sorry I cannot answer your individual follow-up emails or questions on where your applications are.

* Another note: For those applying for an editorship: If someone gets back to you, you may be asked to take a written editing test and / or come in for a weeklong editing trial. Yes, I know. It's like the longest job interview in the world.

Monday, March 8, 2010

One reason I love Hong Kong

From The New York Times:

"NEW YORK: Heading downtown on the subway the other day, Nerissa Campbell bounded to the edge of an A train platform and assumed the standard straphanger’s stance: neck craned, back hunched, eyes peering down a dark tunnel. Where on earth was that train?

"The answer was hanging just a few feet above her head. A digital L.E.D. display, newly installed on the station ceiling, was counting down the minutes until the next express train would arrive — a basic bit of travelers’ guidance that has, until now, remained a rarity in New York.

"Electronic arrival-time clocks, a convenience long enjoyed by users of mass transit in London, Paris and Washington, are starting to trickle into New York City’s labyrinthine transportation network, part of a recent push to bring 21st-century technology to the system..."

Wow. I know my American colleagues bemoan the fact that, when they fly from Hong Kong back home, that it feels like entering a Third World country, due to the poor U.S. infrastructure and airports. There's nobody to help you with your luggage, and you have to rent a cart. If you don't happen to have American coins for said cart, tough luck. Foreign visitors to America -- I hope your luggage has wheels.

Even worse -- they are upholding London and Paris as examples of fine transport technology? Whoever the writer is should visit Hong Kong or Tokyo. Even the cross-Taiwan speed trains are impressive.

Brits can go on for hours, possibly days, about train delays. The excuses that the authorities come up are a national joke. The most famous must be the one about the leaves falling on the tracks -- an event that, one presumes, happens every autumn.

I personally blame the train system for the loss of my favorite grey cashmere throw -- a gift from a lovely HK Magazine intern named Neelam years ago -- while changing lines, in the middle of the night, in some freezing cold hick town with no access to the indoor station area, because the London-Oxford train was down.

The Brits, in their typical dour, nit-picky way, have calculated that commuters on one of the worse London Tube lines waste the equivalent of almost four days a year because of delays.

I was trapped on the Tube one summer day -- no air con, no air at all, no water, no cellphone signal, no space to move, no news. When I got out, a little shaken and very sweaty, the first thing I saw was a tabloid saying something like "TUBE IS HELLHOLE DEATH TRAP" Usually, I look down on that sort of journalism. (The IHT/NYT would say, "Some residents expressed grievances about the Tube, according to report"). This time I was like, "Damn straight, tabloid headline. Stupid hellhole Tube."

A few summers ago, Marc, my brother Will and I took Mom and Dad to Europe, where they had not been for decades. We all felt a little embarrassed, maybe defensive, when they kept complaining about how "old" everything was. Well, Hong Kongers are not big fans of historical anything -- and that is one of the charms of France and Italy. That said, it's hard to justify ancient transport systems and airports when one is stuck having to use them.

You know it's bad when The Times is reporting that little subway signs are news.

(Side note: The IHT Asia newsroom deals all the time with the Foreign Desk; but sometimes, we read the Metro news from The Times, i.e. The Corporate Mothership, and it feels like it's a million miles away.)

Back to Hong Kong. I'm so glad I live in a city where the spotlessly clean, cool, modern MTR announces an apology if you have to wait more than a few minutes.

It's not a perfect city. We're too greedy, too careless with the wrecking ball, and more than a little polluted. We don't have a true democracy and live under a giant looming Communist nation. But at least the trains run on time.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Women, and gossip, at the IHT

Caught your attention with the gossip thing, didn't I?
My main goal is to tell you that, tomorrow, we're running our biggest section yet on women's issues, leading with a story on troops in Africa -- not the most traditionally female role.
I like stories from the non-Western world in which women are not portrayed as, well, miserable victims in headscarves.
There are still many people who seem genuinely surprised when they hear about Chinese tycoons and Korean politicians who are women. Living here, though, it doesn't seem that surprising to me. Sure, there are more men in power than women, but it's not that rare for there to be a female official or executive.
The story I mention above is about Indian and African women who work as UN troops in Liberia, which was the first African country to elect a woman as leader.
We also have an interview with the Liberian president. Here's someone who survived jail, civil war, and being threatened with being buried alive, and then went on to repair her country. (The first half of that sentence sounds like a Gong Li film, doesn't it?)
***
We also look at women in science. And women at Harvard, which is still trying to save its reputation after former president Lawrence Summers said "Math class is tough."
No, sorry. That would be the 1992 talking Barbie who said that. Summers implied that women might be inherently worse at the maths and sciences, and that discrimination wasn't the main cause.
That made him unpopular.
He lost his job and was -- some would say, aptly -- replaced by a woman.
***
The part I like most was our illustrated timeline of the 100 years since International Women's Day was founded, with its cute photos of suffragettes, Rosie the Riveter, etc.
(Or, maybe because I read thousands of words a day at work, I'm just happy for things that are short and picture-driven).
Random trivia: Did you know that, in 1913, one Emily Davison was so distraught over the fact that women couldn't vote that she threw herself under King George V's horse at the Epsom Derby and died?
I'm glad women don't have to do that anymore. I'm much happier on the back of a horse.
Anyway, if you're interested, pick up a copy tomorrow. Help support women, not to mention poor print journalists.
***
OK, so I really do have some IHT gossip. But I'm going to let media blogger, Gawker, tell it.
As an un-anonymous blogger, I don't know how much I can discuss my job. I do love my job, and certainly still want a job to be able to discuss.
Anyway, here it is, in Gawker's words:
I'm not opining one way of the other. Only to say that it's a bit weird to have overseas colleagues protesting about the office where I work.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Picture of my mom

For a random reason related to a comment I left on the Privilege blog, I have posted a picture of me and my mom here.
It's funny that my favorite photo of us is from a crappy digital snapshot that someone else posted on Facebook. It's a bit out-of-focus, but I'm laughing and we look happy.
Years ago, as some sort of gift (birthday? Christmas?) I bought my parents a professional family portrait in Australia. It was so-so. A bit stiff looking, and not so flattering, in my opinion. As for my wedding pix, neither mom nor I were thrilled with our rather formal hair, make-up and outfits. Plus, we were all stressed out that day.
Maybe it's time to do the portrait thing again, with a Hong Kong photographer skilled at doing candids.
I've been thinking about Privilege's mom's wall of family photos. We don't have one, but maybe we should.
P.S. Because the comment was about skincare, let me add that I am wearing no make-up except for lip gloss. And my mom is probably wearing nothing more than a light foundation, powder and lipstick.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Marc succeeds at marathon; I fail as photographer

Marc did better than expected. He finished the half-marathon in 1 hour, 47 minutes, when he was expecting to take more than 2 hours.
I'm astounded at his natural ability to run. He doesn't diet, doesn't train very hard (1-2 times a week), and drank and smoked till the day before (though less than usual). He's just naturally built like a gazelle.
Me, I'd have to diet, train and quit the booze for a long time -- and probably still not make a half-marathon. I'm just not built for it, physically or mentally.
A few days ago, he said he might not go. Anxiety about his recent health was holding him back.
But he did go, and he was so happy afterward -- esctatic, like a kid. It also gave him a boost of confidence. It sucks to feel ill and weak, and this made him feel strong and healthy.
***
The student volunteers were great. They were out there all day, cheering. They cracked me up at 6:30 this morning while standing on the Olympic Station overpass screaming into the darkness, "Run faster! Don't walk!" ("Mm-ho hang," is the best romanization I can do of that).
"Don't walk!" So funny.
Marc was impressed with the organization. When you're running, little things matter -- like someone to take your bag, lots of water, cold sponges, toilets, fresh fruit and energy bars. Plus the encouraging crowds along the way.
For HK $200-something, they provide good service, including a pack with glossy booklets, clear instructions, a digital doo-dad to tie to your shoe, souvenir plaque thing and T-shirt. Marc got the luckiest Chinese number in the marathon: 888.
I'm sure Hong Kongers were looking at him thinking, "Huh. 888. Wasted on a gweilo."
***
Marc told me that, as he emerged from the dimness of the Western Tunnel, he saw the sun rise around him. As he rounded that last turn, he heard a Hong Kong guy banging on a dragon boating drum. Marc gave him a thumbs up, and the guy smiled back. Crowds cheered him across the finish line. He was really on a high.
***
I wish I had caught more of it on film, but I screwed up as a sports photojournalist for the day.
I should know, from reporting, that you have to prepare your route first. By the time you're out in some neighborhood with no idea where to go, you've missed your story and it's too late -- and even the iPhone map can't help you.
I waited for Marc on the Olympic overpass, but didn't see him. He looked up, but he didn't see me. It was before dawn and very dark. Plus, tens of thousands participate every year.
Then I made a tactical error.
I thought I could catch them at Mei Foo. Surely, the MTR is faster than a runner, isn't it?
Mei Foo is my own personal Black Hole. I've only gone one other time, got hopelessly lost and stood up the person I was supposed to meet, which is unlike me.
Although it's only a few stops from Olympic, it's on a different MTR line, with a walk across a connecting train station. And trains are slow at that hour.
When I got to Mei Foo, I saw no other marathon-watchers. This should have tipped me off, but it didn't.
The MTR service lady had no idea. (She told me to to go to Jordan!) A cabbie told me to walk through a park. I stomped up many, many steps. Then I saw some runners on a highway -- in the distance and inaccessible to pedestrians.
I returned to the cabbie, who took me back to Olympic. I caught some runners looping back there, but no Marc.
I had no idea where in the pack he was -- but I was plotting for him to take 2 hr 15 min, not almost 1 hr 45 min.
I took the train to Central and stood on the overpass outside the Four Seasons. There were lots of interesting runners -- a few in drag, one man in pink bunny ears -- but no Marc.
I jumped in another taxi, and this cabbie advised me to stand on Lockhart Road.
Listening to him was tactical error #2: I should have gone straight to the finish line.
Because, once in Wanchai, I was stuck. I obviously can't walk as quickly to Causeway Bay as a marathoner can run. Plus, the crowds were insane.
I looked for Marc en route. Then my phone rang. He was already done! We exchanged obscenities. Sigh.
But when I finally found him in the "family meeting area" on the soccer pitch, he looked so happy.
Next year, I will do better at getting photos of him running.
***
I had woken up at 4:30 a.m. to see Marc off, and was out the door myself by 6.
As I usually work late, it's weird for me to be up in the mornings. By the time we got home, it felt like mid-afternoon, but was only 9:30 am. I got myself a little snack and a glass of wine, then realized how early it was.
We had brunch at Zuma with other French chefs who had run in the marathon, plus their assorted wives and girlfriends.
One, a lovely lady originally from Mexico, introduced me to her foodie blog, written from Macau. It's got great photos and is here: http://aromasysabores-heidileon.blogspot.com/
Zuma's all-you-can-drink sake deal did us in. I fell asleep (uh, passed out) at about 7 pm without dinner.
This is dangerous for me, since I don't sleep tons. So, of course, I was wide awake at 1 am.
I guess I could have done some work on an upcoming article, but I didn't. That's the problem with my bad hours -- I'm up, but too fuzzy headed to be efficient at anything.
Now it's 2am and I figure -- why go back to sleep? The final US-Canada hockey game starts soon.
After that, I can take a nap before my afternoon shift.
Sometimes, my sleep cycles are so doomed (due to my weird work hours and my own personal bad habits) that I give up trying to normalize them.