Friday, April 30, 2010

The Joyceyland Weather Report

More accurate than Hong Kong Observatory!
For those Hong Kongers trapped inside -- possibly busy obsessively pushing the "close" button on the lift -- I'd like to tell you that it's glorious outside again.
So turn off the air cons for a bit (it's not THAT warm outside) and head to the outdoors if you can.
Yesterday's thunderstorm has blown away all that greyness. We have (relatively) blue skies, mild temperatures and sunshine.
(I say relatively because no storm can blow away the underlying pollution. But that's another post.)
***
Once a year, I give thanks to those strike-prone French workers.
Because there's nobody to deliver the papers on Labour Day, the International Herald Tribune has historically never published on May 1.
And that means I actually have two consecutive days off, today and tomorrow.
So I've booked two hours of riding up at the Lowu Saddle Club.
***
Tomorrow, Saturday, I may stop by the Labour Day Parade.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association will be taking part, leaving from Victoria Park at 2:30pm and walking to the Central Government Offices.
The HKJA's main slogan will be "Press Freedom. Decent Wages."
I would tell you more about what that means. But I'm going to drag myself away from my computer for once and go visit the horses.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Please vote in our dinky little elections

Addendum: Another voting related post is here.
***
I got my official voter's form for the Hong Kong Legislature elections on May 16.
The two-page flyer with the West Kowloon candidates is, in a word, sad.
It's got cheap photo-booth headshots. And some of the information boxes are actually filled in by hand -- as if some candidates had not yet discovered computers, or even typewriters,
It reminds me a student election, where kids draw their campaign posters, and moms hold fundraising bake-sales.
Seriously. Hong Kong is one of the world's top financial and technical centers. Can't we do better than this?
***
Of the eight candidates, only one has an official party affiliation: Wong Yuk-man of the League of Social Democrats.
The other seven include a student, a social worker, an educator, a few businessmen, a property consultant and a "media personality."
Is there so little faith in mainstream political parties that almost no candidate wants to be associated with them?
****
Let me say, straight off, that I'm not being a professional journalist here.
I haven't researched any of these people or fact-checked the information. I'm just going by what's on the little flyer and stuff I've heard.
Frankly, this is how most voters decide things.
As a normal resident, I haven't seen a single candidate shaking hands, handing things out, kissing babies, talking to the public --- nothing.
(OK, grabbing a strange baby and kissing it is a little weird in Hong Kong society. But you get what I mean).

1. Lam Yi-Lai, 52, property consultant.
She gets one point for actually having a website: www.lamyilai.com.
She gets minus ten points for being a property consultant.
Hong Kong is a city where property agents call you at 1 a.m. screaming that you have to decide on a US $1 million flat right now because it can sell at any minute, even though it's obviously been vacant for months.
Plus, only half of our screwed up Legislature is elected in a normal way. The other half goes to "business community leaders" who are not chosen by wide election.
Most nations work to keep special interests and lobbyists out of government. Our government actually builds them in. The last thing we need is another real estate lobbyist. Score: Negative nine.

2. Kenneth Cheung Kam-hung, 35, social worker.
Plus one point for being a social worker, which is kinda sweet.
Minus one point for having no website in this day and age. Score: Zero

2. Wong Weng-chi, 23, student.
Plus one point for being so ambitious so young.
Plus one point for actually writing something in English.
Plus five points for knowing the main issues, and having good politics.
He writes "Vote for 2012 Universal Suffrage! Abolish Functional Constituencies!"
The first part refers to the fact that we are not allowed to vote for our leader (the Hong Kong chief executive).
The second part, the functional constituencies, refer to business leaders who become lawmakers, even if they haven't been voted in by the general public.
But minus two points for no email or website. C'mon. You're supposed to be a young, hip student. Score: Five points

3. Pamela Pak Wan-kam, 66.
Minus five points for a really stupid slogan: "H.K. Needs Civilized Democracy, Not Violence."
This is one of those Big Brother (or perhaps Overly Worried Mummy) type things that drive me crazy. Whenever the authorities disagree with anything, they make paranoid noises about preventing "chaos" or "violence." Hong Kong is, by far, the least violent city I've ever lived in. And I've never seen such public order at mass demonstrations.
But she gets one point for having a website: www.pamelapeck.org
And another point for having worked as a radio show "agony aunt"
And one more for sheer weirdness factor: She is the partner of legislator Paul Tse Wai-chun, who dresses up like Superman. Score: Two points

5. Kwok Shiu-ming, 66, director.
Little info. No website. And director of what?
Score: Zero

6. Shea Kai-chuen, 48, merchant.
Minus one point for being pro-Beijing.
Not sure what the "Kowloon West New Dynamic" is, which he's involved in, but it sounds suspicious.
Minus one point because he says his job is to lobby for SMEs. Like I said, there is already way too much business lobbying in LegCo. Score: Minus Two.

7. Ringo Chiang, 54, education.
Seriously. What is up with people with no websites?
Score: Zero.

8. Raymond "Mad Dog" Wong Yuk-man, 58, former lawmaker.
Plus five points because he seems like the only professional political and serious candidate. Even if his nickname is Mad Dog.
In case you're confused by the many political parties, he belongs to the League of Social Democrats, which is the same one that includes "Long Hair" Leung.
I know, I know. Many people are turned off by their behavior -- the wrangling with the police, the media pranks in Legco, the scruffy clothing. In fact, some of my elderly aunts are so offended that they have shut their ears to LSD politics entirely.
That's too bad.
Because the LSD is pro-democracy, pro-free speech, and do much for poorer, blue-collar workers.
So plus five more points for having their hearts in the right place. Score: Ten points
***
It's easy to be cynical about our elections. These "special elections" are so small and dinky. And our system is basically rigged anyway.
But still, I'm going to kick myself out of bed on May 16, to line up before my Sunday morning news editing shift. (As if Sunday morning shifts weren't bad enough).
Why?
Because I don't want to see some smarmy pro-Beijing businessman beating Mad Dog.
But mostly because I think voting is important.
It's a right that is not allowed to our 1.3 billion neighbors to the North.
We're special in Hong Kong, that we get to vote at all, so we should value what we have.
If we ever want universal suffrage in the future, we have to show participation now.
Voting is like anything else. If you don't use it today, maybe someone will take it away tomorrow.
***
Note: Readers from America, Canada, Australia, Britain, Japan, India, Taiwan, etc. Read the above post, and count your blessings.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

It is absolutely glorious outside

It's 22 Celsius, or 70 Fahrenheit. It's a rare sunny, clear day in Hong Kong, with blue skies and a light breeze.
So turn off your air cons, Hong Kong. Open your windows. Go to a park.
Stand outside for a second and try to appreciate that, sometimes, it actually is nice. Don't worry. You won't wither away and die outside of a climate-controlled interior.
While you're at it, take a minute to think about how ridiculous it is to wear winter clothing outside (where it's 22 degrees) while blasting power-sucking, polluting, air conditioners inside (where it's 18 degrees).
Take off your thick leather jackets, your scarves and wool hats with a pompom on top.
Yes, I spotted a ski hat in Central today.
***
Considering that most of Hong Kong had no air con even a few generations ago --- that many people of my parents' generation grew up without flushing toilets -- I have no idea how we have turned into such a city of wimps.
I did a little experiment in the last few days.
I asked every local I came across -- doormen, cabbies, secretaries, shopgirls -- what they thought of the weather.
Every single person complained:
21 degrees was too cold. 23 degrees was too hot.
It was too windy. Or too stuffy.
It was too dry. Or too humid.
All the answers were different. The only thing that united them was that Hong Kongers have convinced themselves that the weather is always bad, and that we need artificial climate control 24-7.

I can see our view disappearing before my very eyes.

Right now, I am watching a pretty sunset through my West-facing window.
It's not often that I see that glowing globe descending behind fluffy white clouds. My entire bedroom in basking in golden light.
It won't be for long. Because right outside our flat -- between us and our soon-t0-disappear harbor view -- is new construction. (You can see the crane there).
I lamented this to the mainland Chinese amah who was helping out when we did our renovation more than a year ago.
We were taking a break together.
I looked out at a similarly gorgeous sunset and sighed sadly at the construction site.
She sighed with me.
"Thank god they're building that there," she said, totally misunderstanding my meaning. "You'll be so happy when you don't have to bother with that hot sun shining in your eyes."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Great Barrier Reef by Helicopter

The only style reason to wear a fanny pack: waist definition.
(OK, they were actually copter safety packs).

Seeing the Great Barrier Reef by helicopter was, by far, the most expensive part of our trip.
It was so pricey, it gave me pause before I signed the credit card slip.
But it was well worth it. The Great Barrier Reef was the whole reason we went to Cairns, and Marc had been talking about it for years. Plus, God knows when we'd be back in this part of the world.
Viewing it from above is the only way to get a feel for the sheer immensity and beauty of the Great Barrier Reef, whose area is comparable to that of the United Kingdom.
The last time I visited, as a kid with my brother and parents, I saw it through the goggles of my snorkel equipment. That's great, too, but you only see the part that's right in front of your eyes.
***
We got into a small copter, and I mean small. It was a four-seater, and I was almost shoulder-to-shoulder with the pilot. It was so light that the organizers asked our weights -- twice -- and then put us on a scale to be doubly sure. I found it amusing because neither Marc nor I are very heavy.
(Side note: I wonder if copter-riding is like tourist horse-riding, which sometimes has a weight limit of 220-250 lbs per person).
We had to put on headsets with big earphones, since the blades were so noisy. If we had to talk to the pilot (like "Whoa. That dip me made dizzy") we had to use microphones in our headsets.
***
I'm not great with iMovie, so the below video is imperfect. The type at the end is hard to read, and I'm not sure why it does that dramatic black-and-white fade-out thing.
In choosing the soundtrack, I realized I have almost no Australian music in my iTunes. I went with "Little Water Song," a Nick Cave song sung by Kate Miller-Heidke. It's sad sounding, but at least its Aussie and aquatic-themed.



It's hard to tell, from my inferior home video, how amazing this was.
The landscape is so vast that there is almost no horizon. (The only other time I've felt this was when I visited Saskatchewan, one of Canada's prairie provinces, when I was in college).
When we left the Cairns, the water was so clear that the clouds were reflected as if in a giant mirror. We were a tiny speck. All around us -- above, below, left, right -- was glowing blue.
It was a speedy little copter, going at about 220 kilometers an hour (130-140 mph?) but it didn't feel fast, maybe because of the expanse of sky and sea, and the lack of landmarks.
The first time the pilot tilted the copter to spin down to give us a "closer look", my stomach jumped into my throat. At 1:55, you can get a feel of that.
***
The actual approach to the Great Barrier Reef is an "Avatar" moment.
All you see at first is the edge of this enormous, glowing green disk floating just below the water's surface. Then you break through the clouds, and you are right on top of it.
While coral looks like colorful rocks, they are actually animals. The reef system is a giant, interconnected, living, breathing being.
The reefs grow in clusters, sort of like underwater islands. From above, they are every possible shade of green -- from dark forest to pale mint. The edges have a sci-fi irridescent glow. Sometimes, you can see the creatures that live among the corals.
The pilot pointed out brown turtles.
The large blue sting-rays, moving in a group just under the water's surface, were clearer.
I sure wouldn't want to bump into them while swimming.
***
I had blogged previously on the Chinese coal-carrying boat that crashed into the Great Barrier Reef. Not surprisingly, this was all over the local Queensland news.
Since my last post on the subject, they have arrested two Chinese men over the accident. Experts say that the 2-mile "scar" left by the ship will take 20 years for the reef to repair. (We humans cannot make the corals grow back. They have to do that naturally).
Talking to a few locals, nobody thought that it was entirely by accident. That's not to say the Chinese deliberately harmed the reef, but that they couldn't have been 12 kilometers off course without some ulterior motive.
The more suspicious wondered if the ship veered near the coast to drop off smuggled goods or drugs. These container ships are so huge that a bag of drugs could easily be hidden, even from sniffer dogs. A less malicious theory is that they were just being lazy and took a"short cut."
Some people said that each of these ships should have an independent, international oversight officer on board, to prevent incidents like this.
I'd blogged previously that hundreds of other ships make it safely through this corridor every year. I was wrong. Make that thousands or tens of thousands, according to Queensland locals.
***
The crash was far away enough that we didn't see any of the damage ourselves.
But, after seeing the Great Barrier Reef with our own eyes, it made it only that more heartbreaking.

Note: We traveled with the GBR Helicopters Group and with Quicksilver.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Traveling in Far Northern Queensland

The marina in Cairns, Queensland, Australia.

There is probably a whole generation of young Chinese, Hong Kong and Mainland, who think that skies like this are a figment of the imagination of Windows desktop-art designers.
They are not. They exist. I took this -- with my crappy point-and-shoot and no Photoshop tweaking -- as soon as we got to the hotel. It's a sky that some people take for granted every day. And it smells like the sea should: clean, fresh, and slightly salty.
In Hong Kong, sea breezes now smell like sulphur.
***
Our trip to Australia was so fabulous that it inspired an unprecedented burst of blogging from Marc the Metrosexual.
There are 10 new posts -- ten! -- at Marc's World.
He has been more diligent than I have in uploading vacation photos, so go there if you want to see them.
His posts are in French, but they are mostly pictures anyway. Click on the thumbnails to enlarge.
They include
* the city of Cairns
* our trip to the Great Barrier Reef by both helicopter and boat
* the picturesque SkyRail to the hillside town (uh, tourist trap) of Kuranda
* the all-important cuddling of a koala. (I don't mind a good tourist trap when it involves cute animals.)
* BirdWorld, which was way better than we expected
* Various other local animals and creepy-crawlies
* The kind of outdoor activities that Hong Kongers usually hate -- in the vast Daintree National Park, pretty Mossman's Gorge and starkly beautiful Cape Tribulation, which was named by a miserable Englishman by the name of James Cook who crashed into the reefs near there.

Friday, April 16, 2010

More travel writing

InTransit, the NYT travel blog, now incorporates material from the old International Herald Tribune Globespotters blog, plus the daily travel briefs that usually appear on the IHT back page. All this material has certainly filled out InTransit and made it into a more comprehensive blog, even though it's not exactly great literature.

The IHT travel briefs seem to be popular, at least according to reader surveys. But, for some reason, they were never put on the website. So I'm glad they've finally found an online home.

As a consequence, I'm getting credited for more writing now. OK, most falls into that dreaded "PR journalism" camp. But, for three-sentence travel briefs, what are you going to do?

Some are so mind-numbingly dull and service-y (like "Indonesia Airline Expands Routes") that I'm not going to reprint them here. Here are a few of the better ones.

Chefs Lead New Rome Walking Tours

Gelato, or Italian ice cream, in Rome.
Chris Warde-Jones/Bloomberg News

Context, a company that organizes walking tours led by experts and scholars, said in a statement that it has expanded its program to Rome with walks designed and led by chefs and food writers.

Savoring Rome stops by traditional bakeries, cafes and gelateries, particularly in the maze of side streets around the Pantheon, said the statement last week. Wines of Italy, A Comparative Tasting is led by a sommelier.


Six Senses Offers ‘Voluntourism’ in the Maldives

Water splashes on a beach in the Maldives.
Reinhard Krause/Reuters

Two Six Senses resorts in the Maldives, the Soneva Gili and Soneva Fushi, will encourage travelers to engage in what is being called ‘‘voluntourism,’’ the company said Tuesday in an e-mailed statement.

From June 1 to Oct. 12, guests who stay for five nights, and who spend five hours a day working on community projects, will be given an additional five nights for free, adding up to an 11-day stay.

Guests can teach children, plant trees, help in marine conservation or do other work, the statement said.

***

InterContinental Plans Hotels Across China

InterContinental, the largest foreign hotel operator in China, said in a statement that it would open a 320-room property near Sanlitun, an entertainment area in the Chaoyang district of Beijing.

The Sanlitun property, scheduled to open in 2014, would be the third InterContinental in the Chinese capital.

There are currently 14 InterContinentals in Greater China — meaning Hong Kong, Macao and the mainland — with 17 more on the way, the statement said. Seven of these will open this year, including the InterContinental Shanghai Expo.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Yes, my nail polish is green















Joycey is on vacation, so this is a fill-in post. I'll respond to comments when I get home.

***
In case you were checking out my lovely fingers in my yogurt photo -- that's right.
Thank god I work in a "creative" industry. (Or, since it's print news media, more like an industry where everyone's really dowdy and badly dressed, and nobody notices fashion anyway except for Suzy Menkes.)
The week before my vacation, I went in direct rebellion of Privilege's advice and wore dark jade green nail polish to work in the IHT office.
Reaction: The girls in the office liked it. A few boys in the office looked at it quizzically and asked,"Are your nails green?" and then said nothing.
Marc the Metrosexual didn't love it, since he prefers classic and tasteful (very French).
But he is very tactful: He said it was good that I went to the spa and did something nice for myself.
***
I was inspired by the new Chanel green nail varnish as written about in British Vogue.
Chanel's is actually a pale green.
What was available at my usual spa -- Sense of Touch on Arbuthnot Road -- was the darker, deeper O.P.I. version.
Unlike red polish, it lasted. I've been working and typing with it for a week, and I don't have a chip or a scratch.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Hong Kong censorship: Yogurt container















Joycey is on vacation, so this is a fill-in post. I'll respond to comments when I get home.

***

We in Hong Kong have freedom of speech in most realms -- newspapers, TV, blogs.
But not when it comes to health food.
I've totally lost track of the Hong Kong health-food-labeling debate which has been going since my HK Magazine days, many years ago. That's how exciting it is.
All I know is that I was buying yogurt at the Olympic ThreeSixty (which has a really disappointing dairy section for an "elite" supermarket, I must say) and saw that the yogurt containers had sections blacked out so shoppers couldn't read them.
Seriously -- what is this? A newspaper in a repressive country? Or my favorite blueberry-on-the-bottom snack?
I asked the cashier, and she had no idea. She called her manager, who claimed she had no idea. It was busy and everyone was overworked -- as always -- and I was being the nosy, fussy overseas Chinese again, so I stopped asking.
But your intrepid investigative blogger went home and -- aha! -- washed off the cheap black marker they used.
You know what classified secret information they were hiding? The fact that Muller's toffee-flavored yogurt is both low in fat and high in calcium.
Phew. Thank god they kept that dangerous information from the public.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

How to get published in a literary journal













I'm on vacation. But being a good blogger, I've prepared some fill-in posts. Just don't expect me to respond to comments for a while.

****
For readers who want to be published in a literary journal, let me say, straight off, that I am not one to ask.
I've never been published in a literary journal.
I have tried and, so far, I have failed. Here's what I'm learning on the way.

Literary journals are nothing like the news media
The news media is prolific, fast and casual.
If I'm pitching to an editor I work with regularly, I can get a yea or nea in a couple days. Publication takes place within a week of submission.
And we're not too picky about etiquette. If your pitch is well-written and professional, a 3-4 paragraph email is enough.

Literary journals are pretty darned picky
* Most only take two short story submissions at a time.
* Most take about three months to get back to you. One Canadian journal takes a year. A year!
* A few will allow "simultaneous submissions", but some don't. So your submission can be stuck in a filing cabinet for months while you're blocked from sending it anywhere else. And you still might get rejected.
* A neurotic crazy person wrote the submission guidelines. Some only want emails. Others only want print. Some only work during certain months -- so not in July, but yes in August. Then there are instructions about preferred fonts, margin widths, self-addressed return envelopes, international stamps, etc.

Speaking of crazy...
Here is an excerpt from the submission guidelines for book proposals to McSweeny's. Coming from the practical, cut-throat world of journalism, this sounds like pure insanity
... Oh, we don't know. Send whatever you want. We'll probably take forever to respond, and personal replies are often impossible. And we can only publish a few each year, and our decisions are idiosyncratic and sometimes inexplicable. We feel bad about all this, and we're continually tinkering with our system, but to some extent it's just inevitable.
If you expect to make a living from literary journals, you'll starve.
Top literary journals don't seem to publish their rates. (If anyone knows what places like Granta or the Paris Review pay, please let me know.)
I found a long list of Canadian literary journals. Payments for short stories top out at about CND $200, or HK $1,600.
Considering that fiction takes SO much more time than journalism, that's nothing. To survive, you'd have to be publishing 10 times a month.
Some literary journals are so poor that they only pay in copies of... you got it, their impoverished literary journal.
Here's a comparison with newspaper freelance rates. At the IHT, you get paid US $50 (HK $400) for a little InTransit post, or about US $500 (HK $4,000) for a normal print feature.
Everyone in my industry complains about low rates. But, boy. We're millionaires compared to literary short-story writers. (At least those without book contracts).

Some tips
* Almost no journal will take pre-published work, so you better have fresh meat to feed them. This is true of journalism, too.
* NO PLAGARISM. Drives editors crazy. ANGRY. HULK SMASH. Ahem.
* Read the publications you're pitching to, so you can get a sense of their style and what they accept. Yes, you have to actually read lots of stuff. When people tell me they don't have time, I ask them what the hell they're doing in this industry if they don't love the written word. (I say it nicer than that). In my vain attempt to enter the literary world, I subscribe to Muse, the Asia Literary Review, The New Yorker and have just sent cheques off to Granta and the Paris Review. At this rate, I'll never make up in payments what I've spent in subscriptions.
* I may mock the submission guidelines, but I still heed them. You can find them online.

What I'm up to
I haven't made a huge effort in getting fiction published, so I shouldn't complain.
I've written three short stories I think are worthy.
So far, they have been submitted -- and rejected -- by two Hong Kong-based journals / magazines.
They weren't rejected so much as ignored. I never heard back from those publications. (For me, this is odd. If someone sends me a pitch, I'll at least try to let them know if we're not using it. Are HK publications too busy to even send a rejection email?)
Two stories are in "submission limbo" at a third journal, based in Britain.
I've also sent the stories -- plus the top of a half-written novel -- to a local literary agent who promises that, someday, we might have coffee.

I realize the key is to just produce more work. If I had a dozen polished good stories, I could do a whole rotation of submissions.
I fantasize about going on vacation somewhere by myself -- just me and my laptop, somewhere quiet, hopefully with horses -- to see what I can do.
I have a spare week off in September, so maybe then.
***
If you want to read someone who is A) much more knowledgeable about the literary publishing industry; B) far funnier and more irreverent than Joycey; C) refreshingly potty-mouth and; D) has actually gotten off her butt to write a book, go to The Intern Spills.

Ask me anything!

In my nocturnal Internet trawlings, I've found yet another toy to waste my time: Formspring, which allows you to have quick pithy Q&As with anyone online.
So, Joyceyland readers: Do you have any questions for me? Seriously, ask me anything at all at
www.formspring.me/joycelau
P.S. I know how silly it is for me to be starting this the night before holiday. But since when were nocturnal Internet trawlings rational?
P.P.S. I've already put some sample Q&As up there. It was fun. It was like talking to myself.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The deadly price of coal











The Shanxi rescue operation. The Associated Press, via www.foxnews.com


Mercifully, at least 115 miners were saved after their tunnel flooded during the horrible accident in Shanxi Province.
It's amazing they survived. You have to give it to Chinese rescuers, who seem organized and dedicated, whether it's the Sichuan quake or a mine disaster.
The terrifying, underground deluge was not a fluke or natural disaster. It was man-made -- linked to officials who broke safety rules, ignored warnings, and were in a rush to make money, without little regard to human life.
In this case, there has been a relatively happy ending. (Well, relatively. So far, the death toll is 12 and 26 remain trapped).
Most mine disasters don't get as much coverage. Last year, 2,631 Chinese miners died in accidents, making China's mines the most dangerous in the world.
***
A while back, ChinaSmack did a story on a Shanxi coal mine boss's daughter who allegedly moved to America and shows off her wealth by displaying her lakeside home, LV bag and fanned out displays of U.S. dollars. (Yeah, because Americans do that all the time). Like everything on ChinaSmack, it might very well be fake -- since it looks like the photos are from Vancouver, Canada -- but here it is. What's interesting are the angry comments from poor Shanxi residents and workers.
***
Meanwhile, there was a mine explosion in West Virginia that killed 25.
Mining used to be a widespread, and very dangerous, job in parts of America and Britain.
In the 1940s, there were sometimes 1,000 U.S. mine deaths a year.
Disasters like this don't happen often today (the last one of this size in the States was in 1984) but they still occur.
***
Photo of the Shen Neng 1 in the Great Barrier Reef, from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, via http://abcnews.go.com
***
Then we have the giant coal-carrying Chinese ship that veered madly off course (by 12 kilometers) into protected waters off the Australian coast.
It hit the Great Barrier Reef -- a World Heritage site and one of the world's ecological wonders.
It is leaking an oil slick that was described as a "ribbon" that officials say is relatively small.
I am no expert on these things. But at 100 meters wide and 3 kilometers long (about 100 yards wide and 2 miles long), it doesn't seem small to me.
While Australian rescuers seem to have stabilized the Chinese ship, it is stuck, damaged and -- in a worse case scenario -- could break apart in the ocean.
Some have blamed the Australian government for not monitoring the area.
That said, it's a forbidden zone, and hundreds of cargo ships use that path with no problem. It's just this Chinese ship that managed to ram itself into Earth's largest reef structure.
***
As a side note, Marc and I are leaving on Saturday for a much-needed holiday to -- that's right, The Great Barrier Reef! Thanks alot, Chinese ship. Thanks for steering with all the care of a Beijing cabbie.
I'm pretty bummed because Marc was so excited about seeing the area, and we planned this months in advance.
Australia is much more expensive than the Southeast Asia destinations we usually visit, so it's costing us quite a bit in terms hotel, airfare and tours. It's too late to change our bookings now.
I just hope that we can still see the reefs and swim in clear water.
Worse comes to worse, maybe I can find a horse to ride somewhere.
***
Note: The gorgeous photo below is (c) 2004 Richard Ling of www.rling.com, via Wikipedia.
***

Back to the subject at hand. For all of China's blustering and blaming at climate talks -- it is still the world’s largest consumer of coal.
China burns more of the polluting stuff than all the world's major economies -- the United States, European Union and Japan -- combined.
It is that hunger for coal that causes so much trouble:
It has to either be dug out of dangerous mines, or shipped in from abroad.
In both cases, it causes air pollution while burned.
***
Let's not forget that some of Hong Kong's energy still comes from coal.
The
plant on Lamma -- you know, that "green", car-free island? That burns coal. Same with the one at Castle Peak.
Those are peanuts compared to the China Southern Power Grid, which reaches from Guangdong to Guizhou, and connects to the Hong Kong and Macau grids.
To give credit where it's due, the China Southern Power Grid seems to be making efforts at environmental awareness, at least within the boundaries of coal-burning.
The NYT also did a good story on China's efforts at "clean coal" technology. According to this article, it is making more progress than the U.S.
But the bottom line is: where there's coal, there's pollution. And certainly much of it drifts across the border to our city.
***
We city-dwellers are so used to the comforts of modern life that we forget where those comforts come from.
Just about everything we do -- the cars we drive, the planes we fly, the food we want flown in from all over the world, the ubiquitous air cons that keep us climate controlled 24 hours a day -- use energy.
I'm not one of those extreme environmentalists with unrealistic expectations on what people will do. Nobody is going to sit at home in the dark, eat vegan food and knit their own clothes.
That said, we've been trying to practice moderation in all things.
We've cut our air travel by about half, compared to several years ago. We recycle. We installed energy-efficient appliances at home. We try to keep air con use to a minimum.
We do take cabs, especially after late work shifts. But we don't own a car.
How much does it help? I don't know. But better to help a bit than not at all.
***
I know our culture is wasteful. What surprises me is how defensive it is.
When I ask, in passing, if someone recycles or takes public transit, they can often get a bit short. "What's the point?" they say.
When I told an American friend she shouldn't boast about eating an endangered species while traveling in China, I was scolded for being politically correct. "It doesn't matter," she said. "People have been eating these forever."
The reaction I get at Chinese weddings, when I don't eat the shark's fin, is stronger.
I've been in a non-stop battle with the office management at work to turn off the air con in the giant, freezing lobby -- especially on chilly, rainy days -- when it is totally empty all night long.
At most, someone working late might be in it for 30 seconds as they walk from the lift to the door.
It's funny that Hong Kong staff, who are usually so helpful, totally balk when their precious air con is threatened. "The machine is impossible to turn off," they say, like the air con is HAL from Space Odyssey. "People will complain that we are cheap if we don't keep it on all the time."
I don't think these people really believe in their arguments; I think they're just too lazy to break habits. Or take the minimal effort to, say, separate their garbage.

***
In the office, one of our local staff had a big, waterproof, insulated jacket, like the ones Canadian fishermen wear. Of course, the air con was blasting.
Meanwhile, it's so smoggy, we can't see Kowloon across the harbor. Everyone has a cough, a sore throat or itchy eyes.
When will people put two and two together?
For those confused by the science (and God knows, I'm not a scientist), here's a simple formula:
Your Energy Consumption = Power Plants = Air Pollution, Mine Accident and Coal Transport
***
Above photo (c) Ruben Frosali of www.reallyjapan.com

Monday, April 5, 2010

Hallelujah! My Easter song

If Ulaca can have a Easter song, so can I.
Here's the version of "Hallelujah" by the late Jeff Buckley (a cover of the Leonard Cohen song.)
I advise the impatient to sit through the first minute or so of gentle strumming. His voice is quite nice in this.


Here are some other versions.







Actually, Rufus's version is really good -- what a strong voice.
Show me one local star, in the entire history of Canto-pop, who can do that live, without hiding behind machines and back-up singers.
***
This comment will date me: But I remember when Rufus was just a kid with a guitar, playing at the Cafe Sarajevo in Montreal.
***
Well, so long as I'm uploading all of YouTube today, here's a live version of "La Complainte de la Butte," the song Rufus did for the film "Moulin Rouge."
When I played this for Marc the Metrosexual long ago, back when we were dating, he remarked about Rufus's "Canadian French." Then again, Marc once told me he didn't like the sound of the Arcade Fire frontman's (Win Butler's) voice. So obviously, there's a difference in tastes.
God knows why Rufus is dressed like a lumberjack.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Easter Hugo

Susan and Mister Bijou are right. There's no point in letting some stranger get me down, especially on Good Friday.

Mister Bijou asks if I'm religious. I'm not, particularly.
Both Marc and I were brought up Catholic. But I can't say I particularly agree with the Church, particularly not given recent scandals there. Nor do I like the Vatican preaching that people can't divorce, take birth control, use condoms to prevent AIDS or a million other things.

That said, Christianity was a part of my upbringing. I enjoy its traditions -- visiting churches, listening to choirs and celebrating holidays like Christmas and Easter.

And I appreciate its basic tenants: charity, kindness, forgiveness and redemption.

I think those things are separate from the rules and regulations of organized religion. (There's nothing in the Bible detailing that there should be a Pope lording it over us.)

So, for this Easter Holiday, I present to you The Easter Hugo.
He's not quite the Easter Bunny. And I think he's going to resist attempts for us to put another holiday-related decoration on his head. Nor does he give out Easter chocolates. (Frankly, if he's given anything edible, he'll keep it for himself).

But he's a cutie that livens up the Joyceyland pages. So Happy Easter everyone. Or happy Passover. Or happy Ching Ming, though there's nothing much happy about something called Grave Sweeping Day.

I hope you have a nice long weekend with your families.

My morning hate mail

My colleague has a yellow stick-it note on his computer that advises "Don't Argue With The Crazy People."

It's useful in a newsroom because, to a certain extent, we are in a public sphere. And what we write about sometimes provokes interesting reactions in the very opinionated.

You ignore them -- and you certainly don't bother trying to reason with the truly out-there. You'll just end up spending alot of time of the phone, getting upset, and convincing no-one.

But it's also natural to have a gut negative reaction when someone comes after you with venom.

This was the first thing I read when I got up this morning, after a late shift last night.

"Marc looks like the typical loser white guy who can't hook up with white women - so he goes Asian.

What does that make you Joyce? A bottom feeder?

Joyce - you are a walking cliche - running round with your gweilo boyfriend as if you are all that. Just coz you hooked up with some ugly, hairy, simian featured white man, does not make you a queen.

You are just a low down sell out traitor. A complete and utter sell out."

I think it's vastly unfair that I was hit with this before my first coffee. And poor Marc the Metrosexual. He never did anything wrong except for falling in love with a Joycey. (Which, I might add, is perfectly understandable.)

Of course the writer is anonymous. People who hurl rocks from the sidelines often are -- too cowardly to put a name, even a web name, to their mad opinions.

If I had to guess, I'd say he is a nationalistic overseas Chinese.

"He" because most angry blog commenters seem to be young men.

"Nationalistic Chinese" because there are the only people who really care when Chinese women marry Western men -- plus the "traitor"-type language is straight out of the Cultural Revolution.

And "overseas" because the tone and cadence of the language -- the idioms in it -- sound reasonably fluent.

Some Chinese accuse Americans of racism, but they should look at themselves. Some Chinese are worse. There are racists in the U.S., but they are on the fringes of society. In China, it's perfectly fine to have all sorts of negative feelings toward people who are a different race than you.

The worst thing is that they don't even recognize themselves as racist. Judging people on the color of their skin -- if it's a Chinese vs. West sort of thing -- is acceptable in wider society.

I was going to respond directly to Nonny, but I don't want to get into a tit-for-tat with him. (I'm following the stick-it rule). He can comment on this post if he wishes.

Meanwhile, Joyceyland readers can debate amongst themselves. I'm going to try to enjoy the rest of my day off!

***

Note: By no means am I saying that all Chinese are racists. There are plenty of open-minded people in this part of the world. I'm just referring to Mr. Crazy Commenter and his nationalistic kin.