Monday, May 31, 2010

Waiter, there's a threatened species in my soup


Kudos to the South China Morning Post's Sunday magazine for doing a cover on the problem with shark's fin. And kudos to two journalists, including our blogging friend Alex Hofford, who spent years documenting something, instead of writing a quickie article off of secondary sources.
Sorry I can't reproduce the layout (I give no kudos to the SCMP paywall) but here's the text.
There are also lots of gorgeous pix on Paul Hilton's own website.

South China Morning Post, May 30, 2010. "The Big Kill: Shark Finning."

Millions of sharks die every year so that their fins can be used to make soup for traditional banquets. Hong Kong-based wildlife photographer Paul Hilton has documented the slaughter for the past five years, providing vivid evidence of how the death toll is affecting the global food chain
Last week, the United Nations opened an international conference on fish stocks with a dire warning about the world's shark populations in the face of China's growing appetite for shark-fin soup. At the meeting in New York, the UN ambassador for Palau, Stuart Beck, condemned the killing of 73 million sharks a year as ocean mismanagement and called for an international moratorium on finning.

[Note from Joyce. "Finning" is not normal fishing. It is using a hot metal blade to cut off just the fin, and then throwing the injured shark into the water, where it bleeds, suffers and eventually dies. The shark's meat -- which is eaten in many countries -- is wasted]

"The slaughter of sharks for their fins to make soup is as needless and cruel as the killing of elephants for their tusks to make ornaments," Beck said. "The island nations are sounding the alarm: only concerted outrage can save the world's sharks from being slaughtered for the delectation of soup lovers."

The UN conference, which takes place every four years, reviews the state of the world's major fisheries and the effectiveness of the 1995 United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement, which seeks to limit the capture of sharks for their fins.

Last year, Palau President Johnson Toribiong announced his nation was creating the world's first shark sanctuary, to protect great hammerheads, leopard sharks, oceanic whitetip sharks and more than 130 other species facing extinction in the Pacific.

Sharks are vulnerable to overfishing because of their low fertility rates and long lifespan but they have been plucked from the sea in ever-greater numbers since the 1980s, a trend fuelled by the demand for shark-fin soup, a symbol of wealth.

"Removing sharks from our oceans will threaten the delicate balance of marine ecosystems that over one billion people rely on as their main source of food," says Paul Hilton. "An estimated 100 million sharks are caught worldwide every year, with up to 73 million of these caught to serve the shark-finning industry. At least 50 per cent of the world's shark fin is traded through Hong Kong."

Paul Hilton's book Man and Shark, co-authored by Alex Hofford, will be published in July by Warrior Books.



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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Happy Memorial Day

Living here in Hong Kong, far from the U.S., I tend to forget that these holidays are even happening. It's only the Western holidays with commercial / entertainment potential -- Christmas, Valentine's Day, Halloween, etc -- that get any notice here.

Memorial Day should be a day for respecting veterans and those in the military.

I just read a column (which is probably not online yet) by Al Hunt about how America has learned to separate its anger over wars and government, and sympathy for its troops.

I didn't do much for Memorial Day. I didn't wear white or eat a hot dog. (In fact, I attended an art fair, which is really un-Memorial Day). But I did send an email to a friend who is serving in Afghanistan.

I'm going to leave my criticism of that -- and other -- wars aside today. I understand that it's not the troops who make the big decisions. My friend was (maybe still is) involved in a program to help train female marines to help Afghan women -- so there are some people out there doing good.

I worry about him out there, and hope he -- and all the other troops from the U.S., Canada, Britain, Australia and other nations -- go home safely at the end of their deployments.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hong Kong art fair opens this week

A Hong Kong Art Fair Bulks Up

Last year’s Hong Kong International Art Fair.
ART HK 09
Last year’s Hong Kong International Art Fair.
Globespotters

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Last year, visitors to the Hong Kong International Art Fair (hongkongartfair.com) were greeted by a scene of Martina Navratilova bouncing paint-covered tennis balls off canvases, while fashionable crowds mingled behind her at a Champagne bar. Who knows what surprises there will this time around at ART HK — the event’s other moniker — on May 27, when it opens to the public.

The fair, in its third year, has bulked up to include about 150 galleries from about 30 countries and states. Each will have a booth in the sprawling space at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center. Among those expected to participate are such notable names as White Cube from London, Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin from Paris and Lehmann Maupin from New York as well as ShanghART and Long March Space from China.

This being Hong Kong, the organization will be immaculate — if a little sterile — with each gallery in its own neat cubicle. It is part creative endeavor, part trade show. Despite its upscale tone, ART HK makes an effort to accommodate the young and uninitiated. Last year, there were a number of students and casual visitors who were not connected to the art scene.

While prices for top pieces can easily exceed $1 million, there are also works by lesser-known artists starting at just under $950 (about 7,500 Hong Kong dollars).

For those who need a hand parsing the extensive selection, both Para/Site, a nonprofit art space, and the local edition of Time Out magazine will be offering guided tours. The Asia Art Archive will be holding talks and seminars at no extra charge to those who have have tickets to the main event.

The show starts the evening of May 26, though that night is mostly for collectors and V.I.P.’s. ART HK is open to the public through May 30, from noon till early evening.

Tickets can be booked at hkticketing.com. Admission is 150 to 200 Hong Kong dollars, or $20 to $26 at 7.6 Hong Kong dollars to $1 U.S.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Economist, China-style

A colleague just came back from the mainland. She handed me a copy of The Economist she bought there and said, "Hey, look at this coverage of the Qinghai earthquake."
I looked on the page and saw nothing -- there were two other unrelated articles, once of which oddly started mid-paragraph. I was tired, so I thought I was just zoning out.
Then she pointed to the torn bits of paper in the crease.
Ha! The censors just ripped the page out by hand. We don't get stuff like this in Hong Kong, so it's pretty amusing to us. (Well, "amusing" in a sad kind of way.)

What's the logic here?
The very small number of people who read The Economist in Mainland China are probably foreigners or overseas Chinese anyway. One article from a respected British magazine is not going to change their minds about China in general.
Plus, can't the censors invest in a decent pair of scissors?

In case you're wondering what the big deal is, here's the top.

From whence cometh my help
Apr 29th 2010 | BEIJING
From The Economist print edition

Co-operation between monks and the government has been curtailed
FOR Tibet’s rebellious monastic community, the earthquake that killed more than 2,000 people in a remote county on the Tibetan plateau on April 14th became a rare opportunity to forge some trust with the government of China. In an unspoken truce, the authorities allowed monks from far and wide to to join the relief efforts. Chinese troops watched impassively as columns of red-robed Buddhists bearing the flags of their monasteries deployed near the epicentre. But mutual suspicions have been quick to resurface.

The devastation struck Yushu, a county in Qinghai province, which Tibetans view as part of their historic territory. The government has seen the recovery efforts here as a chance to show its care for an ethnic minority suffused with misgivings about Chinese rule. The prime minister, Wen Jiabao, delayed an overseas trip and the president, Hu Jintao, cut short a trip of his own to fly to the disaster area and be photographed with grieving Tibetans. Just as it did after a far more destructive earthquake in Sichuan province in 2008, the government declared a national day of mourning, which was observed on April 21st.

***
It's a long article, and I'm not going to reprint the whole thing here. The full text is available at this link.
Maybe the censors were upset by the use of "whence" and "cometh," the kind of 19th-century English favored by old British bloggers like Ulaca.
***
I would ask my mainland readers to comment on whether they've seen pages torn out of foreign newspapers or magazines. But, then again, I think very few mainland visitors make it to Joyceyland anyway. Five visitors, exactly, since I loved over to Blogger last year.

(Addendum. Seven visitors, actually, at last count, out over 12,700+. Though those two additional visitors were me. I managed to peek in briefly from my hotel room in Shenzhen).

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Should I drop my middle name?

I'm in Shanghai, in that Blogspot-less nation called China. Here's a post I wrote in advance.
***
When I first started working, I debated what I should use as my byline.

1. Joyce Lau.
2. Joyce Hor-Chung Lau, the rendering of my English/Chinese names, written in the way understood by most Westerners. (Hor-Chung, my given name in Chinese, acts as my middle name in English).
3. Joyce Lau Hor-Chung is how it would be spelled in Hong Kong. People here would understand that Lau is the family name.

Number 3 was definitely out, since it was incomprehensible to most English speakers, my main audience. Everyone would mistake Hor-Chung as my family name.

My mom advised that I use #2. The thinking was that both Joyce and Lau are reasonably common, and I wouldn't want to be mistaken for some other Joyce Lau. So I went with that.

It's more than 15 years since I started using my byline in the Montreal Mirror. (I was 19. Sigh. 19.) Now I'm rethinking if I should drop the "Hor-Chung."

It's long, hyphenated and complicated. It's mispronounced by everyone. When I was in England, every time someone had to introduce me for a talk or whatever, they'd feel obliged to use my "real" name for politically correct reasons, and destroy it. I would then awkwardly add that "Joyce is fine."

Even Chinese get it wrong. Like that nice guy on Hong Kong radio, since he didn't have the Chinese spelling in front of him. Romanizations don't give a clue of what the Chinese characters or tones might be. And Cantonese is basically gibberish to Mandarin speakers.

(In case Chinese readers were curious, 可 頌 = Hor-Chung in Cantonese = Kesong in Mandarin).

I thought about the names of well-known people in journalism and media. Larry King. Dave Barry. Anna Wintour. Bob Woodward.

In fiction, top-selling authors include Stephen King. John Grisham. Jackie Collins. Dan Brown.

Their names are the opposite of unique. They are extremely common, and easy to say and remember.

When the author of the phenomenally successful Harry Potter series was starting out, her publisher advised her to shorten and simplify to J.K. Rowling.

(She was born Joanne Rowling, and became Joanne Murray when she married. The "K" stands for Kathleen. Could you imagine if she tried to market herself as Joanne Kathleen Murray-Rowling?)

There are some people who feel emotionally tied to their ethnicities or "real" names. Not me. Nobody has ever called me "Hor-Chung." Not even my Chinese family. Unless I'm in trouble, in which it's the full "Lau Hor-Chung" and that's from my mother.

What do Joyceland readers think? Is it silly to change bylines mid-career? Which byline should I use?

P.S. I am not adding to this debate any discussion of my married name. I have enough names as is.
I never planned on changing my name to my husband's -- each to their own, but it's not for me. (We're not the most romantic couple. Marc the Metrosexual and I don't even wear rings).

P.P.S. The best name ever is that of German Defense Minister Karl Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg.

P.P.S. And, in that vein, here is the famous, and hilarious, Monty Python "Johann Gambolputty" sketch.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hong Kong's Conceptual Circus

I totally forgot to post this IHT article about Simon Birch's really cool show in Quarry Bay. (No wonder my clippings are a mess!)

The good news is that "Hope & Glory" runs to the end of the month. It's free and very much worth going to -- one of the better exhibits I've been to in Hong Kong.

The print edition ran with some pretty cool photos, but the online version did not. I'll post some here on Joyceyland after I get back from China.

In the meanwhile, you can check out the images at Simon's own blog, Monkey Modified. There are also a few shots on Alex Hofford's photo blog.
May 10, 2010. International Herald Tribune.

HONG KONG — The opening last month of “Hope & Glory,” a large multimedia exhibition, was certainly interactive.

Among the 2,000 guests were children skating on “Zorch,” a mirrored skateboard ramp. That was planned.

What wasn’t expected were people climbing up to touch the human-sized figurines — some furry, some made of balloons — in “Twilight Shadows of the Bright Face.” Or leaving beer cans, glasses and bottles scattered on art pieces in the show, which cost about 15 million Hong Kong dollars, or about $2 million, to put on. “Maybe Hong Kong people just don’t see art like this very often,” said Simon Birch, the artist. “They just thought it was a big party with some huge decorations.”

At 20,000 square feet, or about 2,000 square meters, “Hope & Glory — A Conceptual Circus” is one of the biggest multimedia shows to open in a city whose art scene is dominated by small galleries and government-run museums.

It incorporates Mr. Birch’s contemporary art creations with works from about 20 architects, photographers, designers, filmmakers and other artists. The curator is Valerie C. Doran.

The show is also the first large-scale undertaking by Mr. Birch, a well-known artist in Hong Kong, since he recovered from an aggressive cancer in 2008. It can be seen at the ArtisTree exhibition space through May 30 and is free.

Most of the exhibition space for “Hope & Glory” is cavernous and dark, leaving its viewers to almost stumble around its 20 segments. But walking through the exhibit also feels like revisiting the small-town fairs you went to as a child — it’s somehow entertaining, nostalgic and spooky at the same time.

In the center is a piece called “Heavy Is The Head That Wears The Crown,” which is a “symbol of empires and their declines,” Mr. Birch said. Giant letters spell out “Tigranes,” the name of a king from the ancient kingdom of Armenia, which once stretched from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean.

The letters appear to be half sunken into the floor, in a curly font favored by circuses of old. They look lost and abandoned, lit up with dinky light bulbs.

Armenia “was once the biggest empire outside of the Roman Empire,” said Mr. Birch, who is of Armenian descent. “And two thousand years later, it doesn’t even reach the coast.”

Around such signs of faded glory are also glints of hope.

Hanging from the ceiling is a 13-foot, or 4-meter, silver sphere. “It’s made of 1,000 trophies engraved with the names of every piece of art I’ve ever produced, and the name of everyone I’ve ever loved — basically, everything that has value in my life,” he said. “The irony is that it’s a big, cheap ball of crappy Chinese steel. The message is about love. The physical object, or value, is nothing.”

There are also shadowy monuments like “Galactus,” a star, and “Cyclops,” a sniper tower. The carnival theme is repeated in videos of circus freaks floating in space or a trapeze artist in slow motion. Inside a tentlike space is a 3-D film of a fairy-tale white horse.

Mr. Birch, 40, who funded “Hope & Glory” partly with his own money — and with the help of a corporate sponsor, friends, a collector and a last-minute government grant — did not come through the usual art-school ranks.

When he moved from his native England to Hong Kong in 1997, he worked as a construction worker and, on weekends, as a D.J. “I got paid danger money for hanging off the Tsing Ma Bridge by a rope with a drill in my hand,” he said. “I’ve been painting my whole life, but I thought it was a hobby.”

He had his first solo show at the Hong Kong Arts Centre in 1999, followed by another at the Hong Kong Fringe Club.

“I’d always done figurative work with palette knives and big brush strokes,” he said.

His dramatic portraits, often of sharp-featured Asian women in moody blues and silvers, became popular at hotels, bars and private clubs, earning him a following among collectors.

He became a full-time artist around 2004, when he began working with the 10 Chancery Lane Gallery, which has represented him since.

He moved into doing more installations and collaborative works, like “The Amazing Adventures of the Monkey King” (2005), in which he ripped up part of Lane Crawford, a high-end department store. His large-scale work, “Azanti High Lighting” (2007), was held at a 10,000-square-foot space at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in Singapore.

He wanted to recreate it in Hong Kong, but couldn’t find the room at the time, he said.

Then, in 2008, Mr. Birch was diagnosed with NK/T-cell lymphoma, a rare and aggressive type of cancer, and told he had six months to live. He slowed down production. He underwent chemo and radiation therapy and was put on a highly restricted diet, “mostly just fruits and vegetables.” Managing his cancer, he said, “was like a full-time job.”

There’s a reference to his illness in the installation called “Crawling Through the Wreckage.” The artist said it had the feel of “a retro video game.” Two films play continuously inside: one a parody of “American Idol,” the other of friends mourning at a funeral.

“If you’re an artist, you have to explore the uncomfortable,” Mr. Birch said.

Today, Mr. Birch is back working at full steam in paint-plastered jeans. Later this year he will be part of a group exhibition in London organized by James Lavelle at Haunch of Venison, as well as a show at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo.

And, he is already busy planning “Hope & Glory, Part II.”

“It’s going to be a zillion times more insane,” he said.

A child with leukemia

I rarely post calls for help like this. But this comes from my good friend Didi Kirsten Tatlow (you might have known her as the Beijing correspondent for the SCMP or as a columnist with the IHT).
She's desperately looking for a bone marrow match for her young nephew. The boy is the son of my former boss, Indira Lakshmanan (who was The Boston Globe correspondent here in Hong Kong in the early-to-mid 2000s.)
They have less than three months.

Here's Didi's note

"We have difficult news -- our nephew, my brother's only child, has relapsed with the rare APL leukemia that struck him 2.5 years ago. He is just 4 years old now and faces transplant in the summer. He is on chemotherapy again to try to get him into remission. Currently, there is no match available, and we have less than 12 weeks to find one.

We are very, very urgently seeking South Asian-European mixed race donors, either adults for a bone marrow match or the cord blood from children. Cord blood can also be used nowadays to transplant for leukemia patients. This is a complicated topic and we are trying to clarify how to organise it, please see more below.

We have set up a website with a lot of information:
www.matchdevan.com Please note that it is blocked in China, but if you have a VPN you can read it.

The website tells you what to do -- for those outside the US/UK, click on 'other countries,' click the alphabetic letter where your country is and ring the donor bank named. All a donor has to do is go for a brief test -- cheek swab or simple blood draw -- and the data is cross-checked globally.

This is really urgent. So far no data banks have matches due to Devan's unusual ethnic background. Devan is 1/4 Indian, 1/4 Polish, 1/4 Irish/English, 1/8 German and 1/8 Swedish.

The other option, apart from adult donations of bone marrow, is for the parents of mixed race children WHO ARE EXPECTING A CHILD WITHIN THE NEXT TWO MONTHS OR SO IN THE U.S. OR THE U.K. AND ARE WILLING TO DONATE, to tell us.

Pass on this email and the information on to anyone who you think may be able to help, particularly people in the Euro-Indian community.

From, Didi, Clifford and our extended family, Devan's father Dermot, his mother Indira and of course little Dev himself.


***
You can contact Didi at didi@matchdevan.com. Contacts in Hong Kong are
Liam Fitzpatrick liam@matchdevan.com and Dede Huang dede@matchdevan.com.
***
Side note. I can't believe China's censors have blocked even this -- a website to help a child with cancer.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Whom did I vote for?


...I let Hugo the Cat pick.

New HK blog, and a home for all our wine bottles?

Let's welcome SorLo (silly guy?) whose blog is here. There's no "about" info, but he's obviously a dad in Hong Kong. Judging from his seeming preference for Things White People Like (recycling, classical music, books, the Wall Street Journal) he may very well be a gweilo. If I'm wrong, SorLo can let me know.

It was through a SorLo post that I learned about a new glass recycling program here. It looks like it's just getting off the ground. There are not any depots yet near where I live or work or, frankly, near where most Joyceyland readers probably live and work. (There's only one on Hong Kong Island, and it's at a housing estate in Chai Wan).

I called to ask about the exact location and opening hours of an alleged drop-off spot on Minden Avenue in TST, but the girl who answered the phone couldn't tell me. Sigh. NGOs. So well meaning, but...

... but, there may be hope. Maybe it will expand later.

There is much alcohol consumption Chez Joyceyland. That's what happens when you put a journalist and a chef together. Since Marc the Metrosexual is who he is, there is no wine from a box either. We go through four or five wine bottles and several beer bottles a week, and I hate that we just throw all that glass out.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Voting in Hong Kong

Last night, I realized I somehow lost my polling card. I swear it was in that big paper pile I left on my desk before my China trip, but I was wrong. Maybe Hugo the Cat ate it. I did see him sitting suspiciously on the candidate sheet, which he has turned into a personal beach blanket for lounging on.
Darn it. It was already going to be a stretch for me to vote before heading into the office on a Sunday morning.
I told this to my one of my regular discount taxi guys.
"But you still have to vote!" he said.
"Really?" I asked. I've been exhausted recently. "I lost my card thing. I have to go to work. Can't I wait till 2012?"
"You don't need your card, just your HKID. And the polls close at 10 p.m."
"There are several West Kowloon stations, and without the card I don't know which one."
"So call their hotline as soon as you get to work."
This particular cabbie was an adamant voter. In late middle age now, he's voted in every election he's been legally capable of. He said it was his right as a Hong Konger -- just like going to a government hospital. Even if he didn't always like the candidates in his area, he was going.
He wasn't a particularly educated man and worked a brutal 12-hour shift on Sundays. He held onto his polling card and managed to make time. What was wrong with me?
He was right. I called the election hotline (It's 2891-1001, for anyone else in my predicament). They were fast and efficient -- they picked up the phone on the first ring, double-checked my ID, and gave me the polling address and opening hours. Gotta give it to Hong Kong.

Some cabbies are apolitical. This one was not. As he explained by-elections, parties and universal suffrage, he got louder and louder, until he reached a fever pitch that was a little hard to take before my first coffee.
But I'm glad he's spirited.
Coming in, I saw the big yellow sign at the North Point polling station.
***
Then I actually got into the office, and start working on the news.
I know Hong Kong elections are dinky. There are many things I wish were different here -- more representation, less pollution. But at least we have a good combination of basic freedoms, a chance to vote, and a peaceful, efficient, well-run city.
Look at the rest of Asia.
One of the first things I did was chat with our Bangkok correspondents, one of whom -- a personal friend -- was almost shot a few days ago. (The guy he was interviewing took the bullet and fell right in front of him).
Whenever we complain about Hong Kong (which is a fine thing to do), think also of places like Thailand or the Philippines, which can't seem to get the democratic process right without violence.
Or at China, which can't get the democratic process off the ground at all -- never mind how many shiny new buildings they have.
Relatively speaking, in this part of the world, we're very lucky.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Rejection letters

My favorite part of the Miguel Syjuco interview was about his wallpapering his room with literary journal rejection letters, since he heard that F. Scott Fitzgerald did the same.
An unknown Filipino writer, Syjuco couldn't get any foreign publications to print his stories. Now, after winning the Man Asian Literary Prize, he's on a worldwide book tour of his debut novel.
So ppsssttthhh literary journals.
***
A colleague -- a smart, eloquent, fluently trilingual editor -- also has rejection letter stories.
One was from Reader's Digest, which not only rejected her, but also called her work "trite." As an editor myself, I would probably hold my tongue if I felt something was trite and stick to the standard "not right for us at this moment" line. Also, it's really something being called trite by Reader's Digest,
Another was from the feminist magazine Ms., which rejected my colleague with this sign-off: "Yours in Sisterhood." The hypocrisy caused my friend to utter the kind of four-letter word not usually used in Joyceyland.
***
You've probably guessed that I've just gotten a rejection -- for a submission I sent to Granta, a British journal, in early March.
It was just an email from an intern, so not exactly worthy of becoming part of literary wallpaper. It would be one thing if it were, say, a hand-written letter from John Freeman. But it's not so romantic if you have to print out the rejection from Hotmail.
At least they got back to me within their three-month waiting period, freeing the two pieces up for more submissions (or, more likely, more rejections).
At least the rejection was well written and extremely polite, in that very English way. It thanked me for my submission, apologized for the delay, wished me the best for the future.
I'm sure it's a form letter. But it's still better than publications in this part of the world, which don't even bother to reject me (or, I presume, other writers). If they aren't interested, they'll just ignore you.
***
So what will I do with these two stories?
If I can figure out how to make one into a PDF, I can send it to The New Yorker. Though I wonder if I should wait for a real stand-out story to do that.
I can try one of the stories at the Paris Review. (Their rule is that they will only accept one at a time).
The second story can act as a second-try at the Asia Literary Review, which has a new editor -- hopefully one who will answer my emails.
***
I know the key is not in the submission, but in the writing.
I need to build up my arsenal of stories, so I don't keep sending the same ones over and over.
I also need enough to "self-edit" -- an important skill.
Writing is like baking muffins. If you need 10, you make 12, because two might fall, or crumble, or not rise. And for the perfect one, you have to experiment with batch after batch.
If only I had more time.
I just got back from China tonight and will be back in the office tomorrow. Next week, I'll be in Shanghai.
So maybe I'll try the next round of literary submissions after I get back.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Two small things I like about Shenzhen

* The air conditioning is not blasting and wasteful. It's pretty moderate everywhere -- and I went to many places today.
* I was sitting in the back of a cab, watching one of those annoying mini TVs.
An ad starring Yau Ming, the NBA star, comes on. He angrily pushes away a bowl of soup. Then lots of people are pushing away bowls of soup.
Then I realize it's an ad for a group called Wild Aid to encourage people not to eat shark's fin. In Shenzhen, the heartless nouveau riche capital of China, of all places. Who would have figured?
***
* On the other hand, there are the horrible touts, the leering old guys, the occasional spitter (less than before, though) and skies that are a uniform leaden gray, despite the efforts made in air con conservation.
More on my trip when I get back.

Blocked? Or maybe Chinese readers just don't like me

So, all this time, I thought my Blogger site was blocked. More tech-savvy bloggers told me so. My friends told me so.
I was using that "fact" to justify the fact that only five -- five! -- mainland visitors have registered on my little counter thingie since I moved to Blogger last year. Five out of more than 10,000!

But I'm sitting in Shenzhen, writing on this blog -- no problem.
So what's the deal?
Are Shenzhen's media controls different than other parts of China?
Do big foreign hotels get special treatment?
This morning, I went down to the business center and they had stacks of the South China Morning Post and CNN playing on a flat-screen TV.
The NYT/ IHT website works just fine.
But YouTube does not. And Google searches revert from .cn to .hk. (Not that I care about that. Just saying).

So, am I blocked? Or is it just that nobody in China wants to read Joyceyland?

P.S. In case you're wondering about the timing of the below post, it was one of those I wrote in advance, knowing I'd be out of town.
P.P.S. And in case you're wondering about my trip, it's going really well. I'm am pleasantly surprised by many things in Shenzhen, given that many of my old impressions of the place were from years ago.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Foodie addition to my blogroll

Let me welcome Jason Bon Vivant.
He has one of those blogs that is really focused -- the ones that are more like online magazines than personal journals.
It's a collection of restaurant reviews. And like all good professional reviewers, he says he goes anonymously and pays for his own meals. So there are no biased PR freebies here.
(On occasion when he doesn't pay, he notes it).
***
His reviews are search-able by city and area, or by cuisine. They are mostly from Hong Kong, with a few from places like Singapore or Taiwan.
They're written simply, including bullet points with his likes and dislikes in each place.
***
He describes himself as a "preppy boy" who enjoys eating, cooking, traveling and shopping.
He says he's an engineer-turned student-turned banker-turned legal professional, whatever that means. He seems like a returnee Hong Kong Chinese.
(He also says he's looking for love, but I don't know if means that literally or not. Those the above could read like a particularly tasteful dating ad).

Monday, May 10, 2010

Stop the drilling!

For three hours on Sunday morning, I sat at my desk and listened to drilling on the floor above.
The Sunday job is hard. I'm the first one in, in the mornings. I had to concentrate on a U.S. politics column and developments in the Philippine elections -- and there was drilling, drilling, drilling.
If I were just answering phones, it would be OK. If I were hanging out in my living room, I'd plug in my iPod. But I needed to focus.
The drilling is inevitable. The building doesn't allow construction Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, when 95% of people are working.
Sunday morning construction only bothers that unfortunate 5% -- meaning me.
***
I think the construction "sifu" try to sneak stuff during the day, too.
On Monday afternoon, a colleague asked "When do I get to work somewhere without banging?"
He was referring to light, rhythmic banging.
On the other side, there is an occasional really deep, loud boom -- like an enormous object dropping on the floor. For some reason, it makes my boss come out of his office to look out the window.
***
Why is this damn city always under construction?
A legislator with ties to the real estate industry (one of those guys who's not actually elected by popular vote) once said that Hong Kong had to keep constructing and reconstructing to keep the poor construction worker employed.
Right. Not because the government is in the pocket of tycoons. Not because of greed.
Because tycoons are so sympathetic to underpaid guys in hard hats climbing bamboo scaffolding.
***
Why, in a city so advanced in so many ways, do we not have manholes?
You know, those round things in the street that construction workers can go down, to access broken water pipes or underground cabling?
Every time anything has to be fixed, we have to dig up the entire road and repave it.
I was entertaining a boss visiting from overseas. We took a cab ride, and the WHOLE ROUTE was lined with dusty, dirty, noisy (probably useless) construction projects.
She is from lovely Paris, which actually controls such things.
I felt embarrassed for Hong Kong.
***
It would be hypocritical for me to say I'm entirely against renovations, because Marc the Metrosexual and I did one ourselves when we bought our flat.
Some of it was necessary. The toilets were so dirty -- neglected and uncleaned for so long -- that there was no point trying to reuse them. We also replaced power-guzzling old utilities, like ancient dusty air cons, with green models.
Some of it was for personal taste. We like the natural feeling of wood floors instead of that shiny white tile. We like a big open kitchen, since we both enjoy cooking and entertaining.
I'm sure some of our poor neighbors had to listen to our drilling, too.
***
That said, we're not renovating again for years and years -- until there is some physical need.
We're not going to decide next year that tiles are in, and wood is out, or that we desperately need the latest fridge model.
We had friends over for dinner last week. A Hong Kong woman said, "Wow. Your place still looks so newly renovated!"
"That's because it is newly renovated. We did it less than two years ago."
"No. That's old!"
Old by Hong Kong standards, I guess.
***
The office next to ours must have been renovated at least three times in the five years I've been there.
***
I know Hong Kongers have money, but do we have to be so wasteful? Do we have to throw out entire bathrooms and kitchens all the time?
It's better than the old days, I guess, when superstitious people would discard perfectly good furniture to celebrate Chinese New Year.
***
This city is obsessed with money and development, to the expense of all else -- environment, history, and quality of life. (Not to mention a little peace and quiet.)
Do we really need that many more high-rises? Do we really need to keep tearing everything down, just to rebuild it, shinier and newer, every few years?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

'Ilustrado' by Miguel Syjuco

Photo by Christie Johnston for the International Herald Tribune, via www.nytimes.com.

An Expatriate Filipino Writes of a Parallel Life

HONG KONG — The story begins with the death of Crispin Salvador, an expatriate Filipino author living in New York, whose body is found floating in the Hudson River. He had been scathingly critical of his home country before his mysterious demise.

It is part of a novel, a satire of the chaos and violence of Philippine politics called “Ilustrado,” the first book by Miguel Syjuco, an expatriate Filipino author living in Montreal. And — if the book was not clear enough in its theme that art reflects life — the fictional narrator and Salvador’s protégé is also named Miguel Syjuco.

The real-life Mr. Syjuco, a dapper 33-year-old, has been promoting “Ilustrado,” which won the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize, on a tour through the United States and Britain, where it will be released in coming months.

Sipping tea amid the wood paneling of the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents Club — in a camel blazer with matching red pocket square and red cuff links — he looked the part of a gentleman from a good Philippine family. Mr. Syjuco, who once held entry-level jobs at The New Yorker and other magazines before deciding to devote himself full time to writing, is clearly from the educated upper classes that he skewers in his book.

“My family, my friends, my colleagues — we are the elites,” he said. “We are a wealthy, beautiful country, and we’ve screwed it up so badly. The majority of wealth is controlled by a minority. And we don’t know when enough is enough. The elite don’t want one mansion; they want three.”

Like his fictional counterpart in the book, Mr. Syjuco came from a political family but declined to enter the business himself.

His real-life father, Augusto Syjuco Jr., known as Boboy, stepped down from a cabinet post in the government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to run for Congress in national elections on Monday. So far, nearly three dozen people have been killed in attacks linked to those elections. While Mr. Syjuco is disparaging of the violence, he says he is not overly worried about his father.

“He knows what he’s doing,” Mr. Syjuco said. “He’s with Gloria Arroyo — in her party. He is entrenched in his district, and he has his bodyguards. So he is more protected than candidates from grass-roots parties.”

Mr. Syjuco said he did not want to draw too close a comparison between his own life and the book, but the parallels — the fictional Miguel Syjuco, an orphan, disappoints his doting grandparents when he fails to live up to their political ambitions — are obvious.

“My dad wanted me to be a lawyer, a politician, the president of his country,” Mr. Syjuco said. “I have two sisters and three brothers, and not a politician among any of them. I was my dad’s great last hope.”

Mr. Syjuco was unheard of before “Ilustrado” won the Man Asian Literary Prize, which shares a sponsor with the Man Booker Prize and recognizes the best Asian novel written or translated into English. Outside of the Philippines, he could not even get short stories published in journals.

“I got rejected left and right,” he said. “I wallpapered my wall with rejection slips, the way F. Scott Fitzgerald was said to have done.”

In fact, when “Ilustrado” won the award, it was still an unedited draft with no publisher.

Understandably, Mr. Syjuco had almost no expectation of winning. “I just wanted to get on the long list so agents would pay attention to me,” he said.

“I remember sitting in front of my computer, waiting for midnight — since the long list would be announced at that moment — and hitting the refresh button over and over. I did the same thing when the short list was announced. When I flew out to Hong Kong for the awards dinner, I thought I’d just eat a lot of Chinese food and get drunk.”

Miguel Syjuco was born in the Philippines to a Chinese-Filipino father and a Spanish-Filipino mother, into a family whose wealth was anchored in a soft-drink bottling company.

His parents moved abroad during the Marcos era, and Mr. Syjuco spent much of his childhood in Vancouver, British Columbia. “The first thing I wrote was in grade five. I tried to write a sequel to ‘Lord of the Rings,’ ” he said.

He returned to the Philippines for high school and college and, as he says, “got onto the right path when I flunked out of economics in university.”

He and some friends put together Local Vibe, an entertainment Web site. But he could not free himself of family ties and expectations, so he decided to move back overseas.

He knocked around the United States, Canada and Australia, studying, writing and trying to stay financially afloat. He had entry-level jobs at The New Yorker, Esquire and The Paris Review, and earned a master’s degree in creative writing from Columbia University. He is finishing a Ph.D. at the University of Adelaide, in Australia.

“Ilustrado” starts off as a murder mystery. When Salvador dies, the draft of a politically biting masterpiece he had been working on disappears. The book then moves into what are, for the Philippines, complicated and interwoven issues of sex and poverty, migration and work, religion and governance.

Its short chapters come in a cacophony of fonts and voices. There are excerpts from the two main characters’ own writing, plus e-mail messages, newspaper articles, blog comments, flashbacks and dream sequences.

The style is postmodern (or, as some prefix-happy critics call it, post-postmodern) right down to the faux footnotes. The novel is short, sharp and funny, though some critics have called it overwritten. (“Yet it was the internecine intensities of the local literati that gossiped Salvador’s life into chimerical proportions.”)

“I don’t particularly like the postmodern tag,” Mr. Syjuco said. “It’s a novel of today, a contemporary novel. The way we consume information is fragmented.”

Mr. Syjuco explained that “Ilustrado,” which means “enlightened” in Spanish, refers to a period in the late 1800s when the Philippines was a Spanish colony and Filipinos traveled to Europe to be educated in the arts, sciences and politics.

“These young men, the ‘enlightened,’ returned home to aid in the 1896 revolution that ousted Spanish control,” Mr. Syjuco said. “There are 8.1 million Filipinos abroad now. They have the potential to be the new ‘ilustrado’ class. But of those 8.1 million, only 500,000 are registered to vote in the upcoming elections. Maybe they have turned their back on the democratic process.”

Mr. Syjuco, who has already sold a second book to a North American publisher, identifies himself as a Filipino author but says that overseas life gave him the distance needed to see his country’s problems.

“I don’t know if I could have written this if I had stayed in the Philippines,” he said.

He declined to predict what would happen in the coming elections.

“My book asks some tough questions, but it’s not the Great Philippine Novel,” he said. “I’m 33. I don’t have all the answers. If I did, I’d be running for president.”

***
The above photo is by Christie Johnston, whose awesome photo site is here.
She was once an official photographer for the New York City mayor's office. She freelances for the IHT / NYT, Financial Times, The Times of London, Newsweek, The Guardian, and others.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Hullett House

Reinventing a Historic Space in Hong Kong

1881 Heritage, in Hong Kong, bustles with shoppers, even at  night.
Hullett House
1881 Heritage, in Hong Kong, bustles with shoppers, even at night.
GlobespottersHong Kong

Given the speed with which Hong Kong’s colonial buildings have been torn down, it’s fortunate that the old British marine police headquarters survived at all. The 19th-century white-stucco structure had been neglected for more than a decade. Most visitors to the bustling Tsim Sha Tsui area probably did not notice its elegant curving staircase entrance, set back from the neon and noise of Salisbury Road. Late last year the complex, known as 1881 Heritage (1881heritage.com), began reopening in stages, first with a few luxury shops. The main building, Hullett House (hulletthouse.com) now has a number of restaurants, a bar and a boutique hotel that opened last month. Perhaps most impressively, the renovation has been done with care.

The site is not a museum, but it is true to its architectural and historical past. The Moreton Bay fig trees in the garden were first brought to the former colony by visiting seamen. Details in Hullett House, like floor boards and door frames, have been retained from the original structure. Stables Grill CQ is situated in a space where, indeed, horses were once kept. As a reminder of the darker elements of the city’s colonial past, jail cells make up part of the interior of the Mariner’s Rest bar. More pleasant is the veranda of The Parlour, where you can have a champagne brunch on the weekends.

The hotel has gone for quality over quantity, with only 10 suites. Each has its own balcony and a design theme linked to a period of local history.

Hullett House is not exactly a budget destination — the fine dining restaurant, St. George, is priced right up there with top French restaurants in town — but 1881 Heritage does offer free 20-minute tours (daily, at 2 and 4 p.m.), which you can book online. You can also just wander in.

Even without paying for luxury shopping or dining, a visitor can get a taste of the way things once were.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Happy (Early) Mother's Day

"Where are all your vacation photos?" I was asked.
I sheepishly said I was busy. Sorry.
We now live in an age where it's assumed, even by the older members of your family, that holiday pics will be posted on Facebook ASAP.
Remember when families would actually gather around -- in person -- and watch slide shows? Anyone actually recall that? Maybe some of my geriatric followers, like Fumie?
***
Actually, most of the good photos are on Marc's laptop. I'll try to get to them this weekend.
As a taster, let me leave you this pic of me and my mom. My parents flew in to join us for the first few days of our trip.
***
I didn't realize till I started posting them here, but photos of me and my mom are the sweetest images. Happy (Early) Mother's Day!

Can you tell we're related?

And, in case Dear Old Dad feels left out, here's one of him, too.

Hmmm. We look like we're related, too.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

So what about the Pearl River Delta?

The Pearl River Delta, or P.R.D., is a ginormous cluster of cities and industrial zones in southern China.

It includes Hong Kong and Macau -- both former colonies that are run separately, with their own laws, currencies and borders.

It also includes three Mainland Chinese cities: Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Dongguan.

Guangzhou is a proper old city, with a history, temples and parks among its skyscrapers.

Shenzhen and Dongguan were basically conjured up by the government as soulless commercial / industrial centers.

Dongguang is a factory town on steroids. making cheap mass goods for Americans.
It's become a bit gentrified of late, with some new resort / golf clubs -- presumably for the factory bosses. But that doesn't change the fact that it's home to something like 5 million provincial Chinese migrant workers.

Many years ago, back when I was young and stupid, I picked up a stalker there at the Dongguang train station. (Don't worry, Mom. He's gone now).
***
I'm not really interested in the business angle here. I'm not an industrialist.
What I want to know is.... is there anything really good to eat?

I don't mean street food, which I can find myself. And I definitely don't mean "Cantonese Delicacies" which, when translated, means "Foods That Destroy The Earth That You Serve To Your Corrupt Chinese Business Client To Give Him Face."

So please, no shark's fin or endangered species. Or, god, dead puppies, civet cats, etc.

What I'm looking for are good restaurants. Places with charming decor, gracious service, tasty food, and decent wine and coffee. Places that aren't filled with people screaming at the top of their lungs.

They don't have to be Robuchon expensive. They don't have to be hip or pretentious. They don't have to be Western food. OK, they don't even need to have coffee, if it's Asian cuisine.

I just want somewhere I can take a hot date, or a visiting business partner. Somewhere with authentic food; seemless service; in a quiet serene place where we can hear ourselves think.

(And, no, Marc the Metrosexual. I'm not going on any hot dates!)
***
As you may have guessed, I've been doing research on Chinese cities.

It was easy looking up cool places in Shanghai. There's tons of English-language information. Plus, I got great tips from my lovely blog readers, and various friends / PR types who emailed me.

But what about Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Dongguan?

There don't seem to be many good, online English-language restaurant write-ups. At least outside of the major hotels.

Some of the "reviews" were laughable. "Pizza Hut actually has salad!" "Wow, these Starbucks chairs are comfy!" OK, these were on personal blogs, so that's fine. But where are the real reviewers?

The three Mainland cities of Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Dongguan house maybe 25 million people. 25 million! That's alot of people. And don't be fooled by the factories. There's alot of money, too.

All those people -- all that cash -- must add up to at least a few innovative restaurateurs and chefs.

Am I missing them because all the best reviews are in Chinese? Am I just being an idiot?

As you can probably tell, I rarely go to these cities. (Even though, ironically, I'm on the train to Shenzhen all the time, because of my horse riding).

Any tips would be kindly appreciated. Particularly Dongguan. If you wanted to a nice lunch in Dongguan, where would you go?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

When you travel for business....

... what do you look for?
I'm not talking about interesting cultural travel, where you seek out that noisy, local teashop that Lonely Planet hasn't yet discovered. Or family vacations that focus on whether there's a pool for the kids.
I'm talking about when your company sends you to some foreign land and you're busy and rushed as hell. What helps you? What are your pet peeves?
* Do you expect to be able to send a fax at 2 a.m.?
* Are you disappointed in the level of English at Asian hotels? Even in big chains?
* One colleague told me that it drove her crazy when there weren't enough electric plugs in the room. I'd never thought about that before. I guess in older hotels that have been recently renovated, there just aren't enough plugs to recharge your laptop, iPhone and digital camera all at once.
* For me, the key is free, high-speed Internet service in the room. But I really don't care if it's WiFi or not.
***
And while I am shamelessly picking your brains (in case you haven't noticed), does anyone have favorite hotels or restaurants in Shanghai or the mainland part of the Pearl River Delta (i.e. Guangzhou, Dongguan or Shenzhen) that they recommend?