Wednesday, June 30, 2010

China visa question

Does anyone know what's up with China visas for French nationals?
Apparently, French passport holders cannot enter Shenzhen on those at-the-border quickie visas from Hong Kong anymore.
According to CTS, French citizens have to provide proof of return (pre-paid plane ticket), Chinese residency address (hotel), proof of employment or schooling, etc. to enter the Mainland from Hong Kong.
If it's someone applying from, say, France, the plane ticket and hotel might make some sense. But from Hong Kong to Guangzhou?
CTS held firm even though it's for a day trip which, of course, requires no plane or hotel. In fact, most people just buy a train ticket on the spot, since trains are so frequent. (By coincidence, I'm going to Guangzhou soon, and that's what I'm doing).
As for Shenzhen, I don't even know how to buy a train ticket in advance -- everyone just takes the MTR (the subway).
CTS then pressured us to buy the ticket and travel insurance (apparently, another China visa requirement) from them. So I also wonder if this is just sales pressure.
CTS produced a letter explaining this, written in French.
I've had no problems recently as a Canadian.
So is it just the French? Does it matter if the French national is also a Hong Kong permanent resident? Is there some recent political blow-out I don't know about?
If it's like this, it might not even be worth a day trip.
As a random question to my Hong Kong blogger friends -- how often do you go to the Mainland?
**
Another random aside. You have to love French people because they write earnest blog posts called "My Favourite Potatoes."

Monday, June 28, 2010

Wu Guanzhong, Chinese Artist, Dies at 90

International Herald Tribune, June 28, 2010

HONG KONG — Wu Guanzhong, a master of modern Chinese painting, died Friday in Beijing. He was 90.

The South China Morning Post in Hong Kong said in an obituary that Mr. Wu was “one of the most important figures of 20th-century Chinese art.” In his last years, he gave generously to public museums.

He donated dozens of paintings to the Hong Kong Museum of Art, adding to a collection of previous gifts. In a last gesture Friday, he added five more ink works, the state news agency Xinhua reported. The museum, which is now holding a solo show for Mr. Wu, called his works “a major contribution to the integration of Chinese and Western art.”

In 2008, Mr. Wu gave 113 works to the Singapore Art Museum in a donation valued at 73.7 million Singapore dollars, about $53 million.

Wu Guanzhong was born in 1919 in Jiangsu Province. He studied at the École Nationale Supérieur des Beaux-arts in Paris on scholarship. While some of his contemporaries chose to stay in the West, Mr. Wu returned to China to teach at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing and other institutions. He was sent to a labor camp during the upheaval of the Cultural Revolution, and did not hold his first solo show until he was 59.

Mr. Wu’s landscapes, which combine Western oil painting and Chinese ink techniques, are prized by collectors.

In 2007, his “Ancient City of Jiaohe” sold for 37 million renminbi, or about $5 million at the time, in Beijing. It was painted during a trip Mr. Wu took to the Xinjiang region of China. In December, his “The Great Falls of Tanzania” sold for 30.8 million renminbi, also in Beijing.

Mr. Wu had an impact on the way the Western art world viewed Chinese painting. In 1992, he was the first living Chinese artist to have a solo exhibition at the British Museum in London.

In 1991, France made him an officer of l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. In 2002, he was the first Chinese artist to be awarded the Médaille des Arts et Lettres by the Académie des Beaux-Arts de l’Institut de France.

Mr. Wu was active to the end. The South China Morning Post reported that he created four last works this year. They will be displayed in Hong Kong this month.

Friday, June 25, 2010

How The Mighty Have Fallen (Random)

* So Old Europe is falling to New Asia in the World Cup. France and Italy are out. Japan and South Korea are in.
Poor old North Korea is still playing a game tonight -- and you've got to give it to the underdogs for trying. As a French friend said, "My country played worse than a nation with not enough food."

* Jack Abramoff is working for a small pizzeria. He was the former U.S. lobbyist who took US $20 million in bribes and kickbacks during the Bush administration. Now -- out of jail and living in a Baltimore half-house -- he makes "between $7.50 and $10 an hour," and mostly hides in the back of the small one-story restaurant that was kind enough to hire him.
As someone who used to work for $1 under minimum wage scooping ice cream, pouring coffee and waiting tables at the A.C. Petersen Farms Family Restaurant, I find this fact gratifying.

* I just read a review of a book by a New York literary agent who crawled out of crack addiction. The review itself was by a New York Times reporter who, himself, had crawled out of crack addiction. New York literary agents and cultural critics are the kind of people I would like to impress. Exactly how many of them are on crack?

(Though, judging by the fact that many Hong Kong expat executives take coke the way I take coffee, maybe I shouldn't be surprised).

What do these three items have in common? Absolutely nothing, except maybe a warning against hubris.

A new beginning

Marc the Metrosexual has left the hotel where he had worked for 14 years. He blogs about it here, and there are a few photos of his staff and his good-bye party here.
I'm not going to discuss details because, well, I'm not dumb enough to write about private company-related stuff on a blog.
Suffice it to say that he's broken out of his comfort zone, which is hard to do, and starting something new. What that new thing is, we don't know.
He's also taking a break. He started working as a chef as a teenager in France -- then moved from job to job in the U.S., Middle East and Asia -- and has basically never stopped.
A few years back, I took six months off to do a fellowship in England. He's never had that kind of chance till now.
Maybe, for the first time since we've met, we'll be able to take a summer vacation together that is longer than 2 weeks!
***
I can't say that the transition was entirely without stress. A very kind friend did help to advise us through it.
That said, I also don't understand other people panicking on our behalf.
I had lunch with a lady who exclaimed, "Wow! You're so calm!"
Why not? My husband takes a break and I'm supposed to stop having lunch? We're not moving into a cardboard box anytime soon.
I just left a post on Gweipo's blog about work and women -- and I asked why it was always the woman who got to choose whether to work / not work / stay at home / take a break, etc, and never the men.
***
One unexpected effect is that we're spending alot more time at home together.
Before, we rarely saw each other, because we were both working long, late and often irregular shifts.
But, two months ago, my company started letting me work at home. So I only go to the office three days a week now. And now he's home, too. (Marc and I didn't plan it this way. It was a coincidence).
Marc and I made a vow that my work days are work days -- as tempting as it is for the two of us to head to the pool together, go out for lunch, or sit in the living room chatting. OK, this morning, we made chocolate chip pecan cookies. But most of the time, I close the door of my office and work, emerging for lunch and dinner.
I had blogged earlier on writing from home for a living, and how hard it is to stay focused if you have no bosses or office environment to keep you in check.
***
About 50 of Marc's staff threw a giant party for him at one of those 2nd-floor, Chinese restaurants in Tsim Sha Tsui, outside the hotel.
It was a real Hong Kong guy affair -- with drinking, smoking, cursing, mahjong, gambling, cheering the football on TV, etc. (Unfortunately for Marc, the whole restaurant was cheering for South Africa against France).
It was good. These things are always better than those awkward work ceremonies, where your boss makes a nervous speech about you and gives you a silver-plated plaque, and then everyone claps politely.
For once, I didn't complain about the shark's fin soup (though I didn't eat it either, feigning a shark's fin allergy). Sometimes, cultural considerations trump my need to lecture people about animal rights.
After all, Marc's guys -- the cooks, butchers and bakers -- pitched in their own hard-earned cash for a lavish meal, with endless courses and all-you-could-drink wine. They made him a huge card with all their photos and messages, and bought him gifts. They are all working-class Hong Kongers, and it was a big effort.
I won't write more, because this is Marc's deal, not mine. There are, of course, mixed feelings. But one thing is for sure -- Marc's guys really do love him at work.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Is your marriage real?

I even made sure to give Marc the Metrosexual his smoke and drink, and me my coffee and newspaper. (Via www.madmenyourself.com)

For those readers in relationships, can you answer these questions?

1. When did you first meet?
2. What's the date of your wedding?
3. What's the color of your spouse's toothbrush?
4. What's the color of your bathroom tile?
5. What did you do last year for New Year?
6. Is that baby really your husband's?
7. What's your spouse's favorite music?
8. What's your spouse's favorite food?
9. Who pays the bills?
10. Who's the boss in your house?

How many did you get right?
According to a hilarious story in The New York Times, these are questions asked of suspicious immigrant spouses trying to get a U.S. green card.
Some questions caused surprises even among legit couples, like "Are you on birth control?" or "Who cooks?" (Which inevitably leads one spouse to say to the other, "So, when was the last time you made dinner?")
Others seem to take advantage of your typically clueless male who's been trained to say, "Yes, that looks nice, dear."
One Mr. Kahyaoglu complained. “I don’t remember what color her dress was at the civil ceremony. It was, like, different colors.”
His wife prompted him, gently: “Black and white, flowery.”

The article continues

The unit’s lore is worthy of its own reality TV series: The gay man who claimed he had suddenly found his female soul mate (denied); the recovering alcoholic who had lost his memory (approved); the man who volunteered that he had erectile dysfunction in an attempt to explain why his mate did not know the location of his nine tattoos (unsuccessful); the elderly citizen who lost an arm in a subway accident, but found happiness with a young Caribbean wife (successful).

The comments are as amusing as the article.
Readers took particular offense at the toothbrush thing, because it was so silly.
In fact, the whole thing is silly. If remembering dress colors and anniversaries were some sort of requirement, there would be no more husbands left in America.
Another question was about a couple's joint bank account -- apparently a sign of a "real" marriage. That sounds outdated to many people, including me.
Many working women have their own accounts and credit cards.
That way, we can shop either the Lane Crawford designer rack -- or the Giordiano discount bin -- without ever having to check in with hubby.
Would that get me deported?
What about you guys? Do you know the details of your spouse's life?
P.S. Despite what you see in movies like "Green Card," only 0.5% of U.S. immigrant marriages are denied for fraud. So very few couples -- only the real suspicious cases -- go through all this. But it still makes a funny article.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Glass recycling FAIL

Don't know what to do with your glass bottles? Maybe you can create artwork like Kohei Nawa does. "PixCell-Model-Leopard" (2008). Image from http://contemporaryjapaneseart.blogspot.com

I was happy to read on Sor Lo that there is finally glass recycling in Hong Kong.

We were recycling glass in States when I was a girl in the 80s. When I was a student / struggling freelancer in Canada in the 90s, I got spare change from the corner store for bottles.
In fact, in Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" (1966), convicts and runaways pick up glass bottles on the side of the road to sell. Hong Kong may be high-tech, but in terms of recycling, we're 50 years behind vagrants in small-town Kansas.
OK, I'm being snarky. HK reportedly had glass recycling long ago, too. But if anyone can explain to me why it's so hard here, please let me know.
According to Wikipedia
Glass makes up a large component of household and industrial waste due to its weight and density... Every metric ton of waste glass recycled into new items saves 315 additional kilograms of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere."
Here's a good, simple article on why glass recycling is good.
According to the Environmental Protection Department, at the rate at which we throw things away, Hong Kong's landfills will be full by the mid-2010s.
After that, Hong Kong turns into a garbage mountain.
***
Sor Lo points out that there are no conveniently located glass depots, with only one on Hong Kong Island (in Chai Wan).
There aren't any near my home either. None in West Kowloon or Mongkok. The closest is Tsim Sha Tsui, but the website doesn't list the address.
A phone call reveals that it's at a bar on Minden Avenue. I find that odd, but I'm assured that the staff are aware of their project and very helpful.
I collect a bag of about 8 glass bottles and bring it down.
When I get there, the one bar staff looks perplexed. I want to what? Glass? I want to leave my garbage with them?
She grudgingly shows me to a recycling bin out back, which is located behind some -- oh, I don't know -- pipes or bins or something.
So I'm standing there in the rain, in a deserted side street outside a bar, in a Philip Lim cashmere sweater, pencil skirt and pumps. There is no way I am getting my outfit dirty to crawl over some crap. So I leave the bag on the curb.
Never again! If Hong Kong wants people to recycle, they have to make it easier than this.
***
The "Green Revolution" has created all sorts of well-meaning but inane practices.
For example, not sending income tax payment receipts through the mail (or email, either) to save one piece of paper, despite the importance of having some kind of proof that you've just handed six-figures to the government. When you consider the amount of junk mail sent out every day, you wonder why it's my tax receipt we're skimping on.
Or, turning off escalators in crowded MTR stations, and then putting a rope up so you can't even walk up them, plus a sign about "energy savings." (Note to MTR: People walking up stairs don't use electricity.)
One suggestion on the glass recycling page is to remake bottles into decorative objects -- a great idea if you happen to be an installation artist.
Do they have any idea how much glass a household uses? If we had to create artwork every time we finished a beer, mayonnaise jar or soy sauce container, every flat in the city would be filled with glass sculptures.
***
I don't mean a single word of this criticism for the Hong Chi Association, which is associated with the glass recycling program. I have huge respect for this group, which aids disabled Hong Kongers, particularly children with mental problems. They even run an orphanage. The glass project is a good one because it creates job opportunities for people who might not have them otherwise. (If you are ever looking for a good group to donate to, consider them).
My criticism is for a system that has basically no other glass recycling other than one small project by an NGO.
The Environmental Protection Department happily put their stamp on this project. But it's their job to make sure there's widespread recycling, not a group for the disabled.
This department keeps releasing alarming figures about landfills -- why don't they do something about it?
The EPD released a 2007 report saying that it wasn't cost efficient for companies to pay for glass recycling. But profit shouldn't be the only issue here. If the stuff is clogging up our landfills, maybe the government should spend some of its huge budgetary surplus on the problem, instead of relying on the private sector.
In 2008, the EPD announced a plan to take glass bottles from major hotels.
I guess that helps, but our glass recycling level is still something like 2%.
According to a government statement, Hong Kongers threw out 130,000 tons of glass in 2007.
I think many Hong Kongers would recycle glass if only they were given a chance.
Or, maybe they can build a sculpture out of it and sell it at the art fair for a million dollars!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Writing from home, for a living

In Bridget Jones (the original novel, not the movie or god-awful sequel) the main character has dreamy fantasies about what it would be like to write from home.
She would sit on her rooftop terrace and plant herbs. She would wear a long, floaty white dress. Her elegant writing desk would be clear except for a notebook and a glass of white wine. She would be "discovered" and have editors banging down her door.
Her attempt at self-employment turns into a hilarious, drunken mess in which she misses planes and deadlines, and humiliates herself.

When I was 22, I tried freelance writing full-time from home. I had no choice, actually, My 6-month intern's contract at Canadian Business magazine expired, and there were few good, full-time media jobs in Toronto in the late 90s.
I didn't do very well. I wrote a column, sporadically, in NOW Magazine, and got a few articles in glossies like Toronto Life and Chatelaine, but that didn't pay the bills. I supplemented my income with office work, data entry and tutoring.

There was another Chinese-Canadian woman freelancing full-time, who was older and wiser. (She had a Mandarin name, but I forget it). Every morning, she got up with her alarm, got dressed, did her hair, took her purse and left home. She walked down the street to get her newspapers (she canceled all home subscriptions). When she returned -- invigorated by the crisp Canadian air -- she was "at work" until 5 or 6 p.m. She sat in her home office. She had a schedule.

I sniffed at her for being such a suit. I was the opposite. I lolled around bed. I wrote in a nightgown on the sofa. I felt very bohemian and creative. I was also broke.

Sometimes I was productive and stayed up late to meet deadlines. Other times -- when I had no story ideas, when editors weren't biting -- whole days were taken up with feeding cats, watering plants, gardening, cooking, emailing, calling friends, paying bills and housework. I'd ride to Kinkos, or the photo darkroom I used, or run to the magazine store -- but those were excuses. I can browse magazines for hours. That Chinese woman was more successful than I.
***
Why am I writing about this now? More than a month ago, the company gave me something I've been asking for: Time to write.

Previously, I worked five days a week as an editor in the office. (Occasionally, six days). All the writing I did was on my "free time", for which I was paid freelance. The problem was that I was exhausted. Every time I did a longer feature, I'd work a 7-day week. It was hard squeezing reporting and interviews between my shifts. While the extra money was nice, it didn't compensate for being a nervous wreck.

Now, I edit three days a week. Two days a week, I am free to do research, reporting and writing. I can decide whether I need to physically be in the office. So long as I am reachable by phone and email, and I'm producing, they're cool. I don't get paid freelance anymore -- but fair enough, since I'm using paid days to write.

It doesn't even matter if I work during my designated two days, or my two days "off." That flexibility helps alot, because interviews and events don't always correspond with the IHT schedule.

But I have to be self-disciplined. If I am not careful, I could slide into the habits of my old 22-year-old self, and slump around all day with Hugo the Cat.

I set some rules
* I set my alarm, have coffee and breakfast, read the paper, do the dishes, and then begin by a very reasonable 10 or 11 am. (I often communicate with Paris, so I usually work late).
* No working on the couch in our open living / dining / kitchen area, with the big flat-screen TV. No working in bed. I sit in the hard-back wooden chair in my office.
* In terms of Internet access, I pretend I am the Chinese government. There's no Facebook. No Twitter. No Youtube. (I can watch Monty Python re-runs forever). No Blogger. I log into Joyceyland, and I'm doomed. It's like a big, black hole that sucks up time. I can't say I will be 100% good about this, but I will try.
* While it's nice to be able to do more socializing, I will only have lunch or dinner with people booked in advance -- so no spontaneous high teas.

So far, I'm loving it. I don't waste time and money commuting. Our flat is quiet, sunny and pleasant. I see Marc the Metrosexual more. If I ever, God willing, have kids, this would be a more friendly arrangement than going to the office every day.
***
Where do you blog from? Most people linked here write an impressive amount -- several times a week. How do you keep disciplined? Do you think about making blogging a job? Or is it purely for fun?

Spike at Hongkietown was talking about blogging for profit, until he got his most recent job.

Gweipo doesn't seem profit-minded, but she is very consistent in writing every day. In this post, she talks about the distractions of working from home.

Lisa at Privilege has spoken of making her blog into a commercial venture, since she's left the tech industry. She even held a reader survey on the matter. That said, her site, which seems to have a broad following, isn't filled with ads.

Daisann is a full-time freelance writer. While her personal site, www.daisann.com, is non-profit, it does have a little donation widget. More importantly, it links to her two professional sites, Real Travel Hong Kong (a tourism venture) and a blog she writes for National Geographic Traveler magazine.

Another friend, Alexandra Seno (who doesn't seem to have a dedicated site with all her excellent work), is very strict with herself. She gets up early and has set writing hours, never mind if a friend wants to have lunch. She allows herself dinners after her writing "shift", or if she happens to be downtown for an interview. She's very successful (writes for us at the IHT, the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, etc).

This issue came up partly because I was approached by a blogger I didn't know before, Aileen at
Raising Rockstar. She had alot of good questions: How to make your blog popular? Do you do it for money or pleasure?

Monday, June 14, 2010

How women bosses dress

My bossFashion Trends & Styles - Polyvore

Trousers from Michael Kors, blouse from Miss. Selfridge, jacket from Dries van Noten, kitten heels from Christian Louboutin, amber necklace from Saks Fifth Avenue, shades from Cutler and Gross.


I was going through stacks of papers, throwing stuff out, when I came across some notes I jotted down during a meeting.
It must have been a fabulously boring meeting, because I detailed, exactly, what a woman boss at our company was wearing over the course of two days.
I always liked this particular boss's style. She always looks put-together, but it's effortless and sometimes quirky.
One day, in a casual talk with colleagues, she had tortoiseshell sunglasses propped up on top of her hair.
She had two great black jackets. One was short and slightly Asian-styled, which she wore during the day with a casual cream blouse and silver bracelet. The other was long and velvet, worn with a chunky amber necklace, for evening.
She paired them with the same black trousers and low black pumps -- a clever way to get several outfits out of a few pieces.
While I'm sure she wasn't thinking in these terms, she followed Privilege's style rules:
1. She wore pearl studs, but NOT with a pearl necklace. It would have been too matchy-matchy.
2. She wore no nail color.

* Please note that I work in a creative industry. Maybe investment banker bosses don't dress like this.
** I was really straining to see the fabric of her trousers, but I couldn't. And it's not like I was going to ask her. There is a remote possibility that they were a very fine denim.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Labor unrest in China, and a peek at a factory dorm

It seems like the strike at the Honda factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong, southern China, is winding down.

One thing I found odd, looking through the wire photos Friday night, was how happy many of these strikers seemed. Many were young women, some dressed colorfully. Some were posing, smiling, or taking pictures with mobile phones. Aren't strikes usually unhappy conflicts? Can anyone shed light?

My Friend Who Should Really Have His Own Blog sent a mass email on the matter, discussing how the Chinese media covered these issues.

He cites an commentary by South China Morning Post, which reports that, after disturbances, Foxconn gave workers a 30% raise, and Honda offered a 24% raise. Here are excerpts and some paraphrasing, below. (Can I say, again, how annoyed I am by the SCMP's paywall?)
In these two cases Xinhua was actually "acting like a real news agency," reporting quickly and openly...
... However, "last September, several thousand coal miners went on strike in Hunan in protest against massive lay-offs by the Xiang Mei Group, the province's largest state-owned miner. Xinhua never reported it, and neither did any state media...."
"...So why is it so different with Foxconn and Honda? Why has Beijing allowed such high tolerance and exposure?"
Is the state media more willing to publicize events in which foreign companies are the bad-guys? Do local companies with government ties have more clout to block negative publicity? Does nationalism play a role?

But this isn't really an issue of the West, is it? Foxcomm is Taiwanese and the Honda factory is 65% Japanese, 35% Chinese.
***
These factory workers make a base salary of US $200 a month. (I've read everything from US $130-US $300).

In addition to their salaries, factory workers get room and board.

I actually got to see the inside of a Guangdong factory dorm on a reporting trip years ago. (This was a Hong Kong-run plant, by a boss who considered herself enlightened. Otherwise, a journalist wouldn't have been invited inside).

It was humane, but basic. Each room had four bunk beds and a sort of IKEA desk / closet thing, with a small balcony to hang laundry. On each floor were large shared bathrooms and showers. Outside, was a massive cafeteria where they were given three meals a day. The bike rack was giant. After work, workers were free to socialize, though there might have been a curfew.

You could tell that the workers made an effort to keep things neat and clean, and even put up decorations and momentoes, like family photos. I found this touching. I was only allowed into the women's dorms and couldn't take photos. I was told that the men's were messier and not as nice, and that male workers were more prone to fighting, smoking, etc. I don't think the factory treated the men worse -- I just think most guys are worse at "keeping house."

In the West or Hong Kong, US $200 a month is a crazy low amount. In Hong Kong, Filipina amahs, which are among the lowliest paid, get almost US $500 a month, plus room, board, health coverage and an annual plane-ticket home. But the cost of living in Mainland China is very different.

** On a random note, I was discussing this with my Chinese massuese. She heard that, at Foxconn, workers were never allowed to talk -- not small talk, not mindless chatter to wile away the hours of boring work. It was basic human nature to talk, she said. She said it was the silence that drove them insane. (I might add that she, herself, was incredibly talkative and would drone endlessly about her kids, her husband, etc, through our sessions!)
I don't know if that is it -- if the company is to blame, or if it was a strange coincidence. But the whole thing is very sad.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Some women are annoyed at the World Cup...

.. as evidenced by various cartoons and humorous columns portraying WAGs (might as well use football language in this post) huffing and puffing because their boys are hogging the TV, drinking too much beer, staying out too late, ignoring them, etc.
I'm lucky because Marc the Metrosexual doesn't do that to me. And even if he did, I wouldn't mind. I must be the only wife on earth who wants her husband to hang out with the boys more.
I've also gotten a couple annoying invites for "Grrrls night" or somesuch, encouraging women to dump their boys this month and go for "champers and manicures."

It's slightly different for me. I'm annoyed at the World Cup because it means I have to stay late tonight as the page 1 editor.
It was kind of fun designing the front page. I chose a bright red, happy photo of cheering South Africans.
The problem is that the first game started at about 10 p.m. Hong Kong time.
Our usual last deadline for Asia is 11:45 p.m. We've asked for an extension till midnight by which time, God willing, the game will be over.
We do all this just to put a dinky little paragraph with a dinky little score in. It's sad, sometimes, how hard print media tries -- and is still slower than online media at things like sports scores.

I am here with only one other person -- the one other person who is totally sports stupid. We are the two people who would rather be at an opera than at a football match.
I mean, he's worse than me. He's never even played or watched soccer.
We're staring stupidly at the TV going like, "How long does this last?", "Boy, they have to run alot", "Someone fell down" and "Those yellow-shirted people scored."
Of course, we're not actually WRITING the football articles. That would be a disaster. That's a job for guys like Rob Hughes or George Vecsey. Plus, there are sports editors in Paris who make decisions based on actual knowledge of this odd game where men kick around a ball.
We're just the grunts who make sure the paper is actually produced.
That said, we still have to chose photos and layouts, and edit stuff. Why us? On World Cup opening night?
Must be some fluke of scheduling.
90% of the time, this job is done by the kind of guy who loves football.

Oh... Now I get it. All the people who actually care about football are somewhere watching it for fun -- like a bar. Leave the non-football-people in the office.

Anyway, I expect to send the last page a little after midnight, which means I'll be home by 1 a.m.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Comfort Food -- The Lau family fried rice

Cooking something, but not, alas, fried rice. I can't believe I have a zillion photos in my computer -- of everything I have ever cooked or eaten -- and none of my fried rice. I hope these will suffice instead. Someday, I will learn to take great food pix, like Jason Bon Vivant.
***
Marc the Metrosexual and I have been having a hard time recently. Not between the two of us -- thank God, we never fight. It's just that we've had various problems these last few months, which I can't discuss here.
Last night, we sat at our kitchen table and used two soup spoons to share a big bowl of steaming, homemade fried rice. It was very comforting.
***
My brother Will and I learned to cook watching my parents, who doggedly made Chinese food at home all the 18+ years we spent in North America.
Fried rice is a basic for cost-conscious immigrants: It's quick and easy -- if you're a deft hand at the wok, like my dad, the actual frying time can be under 5 minutes.
It's a great way to use leftovers.
It's flexible, so you can use any combination of meat or vegetable you have on hand.
Your whole meal is in one dish.
One fond memory is of scraping off and eating the little half-burnt bits of rice that stuck to the bottom of the wok. (This was in the 80s, before widespread use of Teflon. We had one of those old-fashioned metal woks).
Our family love this -- it tastes like the crispy edges of that Korean hot stone bowl dish.
***
Speaking of leftovers, the best way to do this in Hong Kong is to buy a rice box from somewhere like Cafe de Coral either the day before, or maybe at lunchtime, before your fried-rice dinner.
I know that's not very glamorous, but they actually have excellent "char siu" BBQ pork, chicken and duck -- it's fresher, more consistent and better quality than those counters at supermarkets like TASTE or some streetside stalls. For HK $25 (about US $3), you have your rice, meat, veg and -- if you ask -- two little containers of grated ginger in oil and salt. Voila! The basic ingredients for fried rice, aside from the egg and the soy.

In the center is Cafe de Coral "char siu" or BBQ pork. Some people complain that Chinese food is fatty -- but look at size of the the average traditional Chinese person. (And I don't mean the young generation growing up on McDonalds).
The pork is a little fatty (if it's too lean, it tastes terrible), but notice the proportion of vegetable to meat in a typical family meal. That "char siu,", plus the small amount of minced pork patty (upper left) is for four people to share for dinner. So maybe 3 oz. of meat per person.
On the side (not photographed) would be steamed rice and a clear soup.
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FRIED RICE RECIPE

Ingredients

* Cooking oil (not olive oil)
* A good handful of aromatics. You can use any combination of chopped red onion, white onion, scallion, garlic, chili, ginger, capsicum, bell pepper and / or mushrooms. In England, my Chinese friend and I used leeks! (Side note: My parents are traditionalists and would probably not use red onion, chili, capsicum, mushroom or leeks.)
* Day-old rice
* Cooked meat, cut into bit-sized chunks
* And / or steamed vegetable, cut into bit-sized chunks (I like broccoli florets)
* One egg, beaten, for a 2-person serving (so 2 eggs for 4 people, etc)
* Soy sauce, preferably light soy.
* Extra scallion or other green aromatic for garnish

Directions.
1. Sautee the aromatics with oil, on medium-high heat, in a non-stick wok
2. Use a spatula to spread it out, so there's some oil covering all of the bottom of the pan.
3. Add the rice, using your hands to loosen up the chunks. Flip it so it doesn't burn on the bottom.
4. Add your meat and vegetables.
5. Push the rice to one side of the wok. In the clearing, add a drop of oil and pour in the beaten egg. Scramble it a bit with a fork or chopsticks. Then use the spatula to combine it with the rest of the rice. If it's sticking, add a bit more oil.
6. Drizzle on soy sauce and flip / mix one last time. Sprinkle on something green -- I use chives, green onion or scallion.

***
Hint: If you're using leftover rice that has gotten hard (because it wasn't covered properly, your fridge was too cold, or it's more than a day old) you can add a couple tablespoons of water or broth after you've put the rice in the wok. Let the liquid cook off for a few seconds before adding the other ingredients.
Health note: At American Chinese restaurants, especially cheap take-outs, the fried rice is extremely oily and salty. It's like every grain is individually deep-fried and dark brown.
Traditional Cantonese fried rice is much lighter. Your goal is to simply heat up and mix the ingredients (which are mostly pre-cooked). Err on the side of caution, and then add drops of oil as you go, if you need it.
Combinations: The great thing is that you can use any combination, or make vegetarian or vegan versions. (Tofu can be used to mimic the texture of the egg).
A high-class Cantonese option is with crab meat, egg white, white pepper and a little green onion.
My dad likes making fried rice with small shrimp, or even salmon that he flakes and fries first to a crisp.
Last night, I used Cafe de Coral roast duck, with ginger and garlic.
If you're really in a rush (or watching your wallet), a common poor-man's version is with chopped up slices of ham and frozen peas and carrots.
One popular Cantonese style is "yeung chow", which has "char siu" BBQ pork, shrimp, eggs and scallion.
Measuring: I have great memories of cooking Chinese food with my friend Wang Yau at Oxford, and showing how the Brits how to cook. He explained to them that the Chinese don't measure amounts -- which is true. After a while, you just get an instinct for how much of an ingredient you need.
My mom used to laugh at "Chinese" recipes in American magazines that called for one teaspoon of this, one teaspoon of that. We use ALOT more aromatics -- a small handful of garlic, whole stalks of scallion, a big chunk of ginger, etc.
***

"Laap cheung" or Chinese sausage preserved with alcohol, as sold in a typical Hong Kong wet market. I include this photo because two bloggers, Privilege and Ulaca, discuss it below.
I need to ask my parents, but I think our family don't usually use laap cheung in fried rice.
We put the sausages into the rice cooker when we're steaming regular rice, and eat it that way.
The feeling is that laap cheung is fatty enough, so we don't want to pair it with something that has more oil in it.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Review: Hong Kong International Art Fair

Image courtesy of White Cube.
This one got the big bucks: U.S. $2.5 million for Damien Hirst's “The Inescapable Truth”. (I asked someone if he actually killed the bird to make the art, and people were like, "don't ask.")

Stars Shine East to West in Hong Kong

The International Herald Tribune, June 1, 2009

HONG KONG — The photographer Andreas Gursky’s “Hong Kong Börse II,” a snapshot of a stock market in action, was a wry addition to the annual art fair here, where eye-popping amounts of cash were being spent.

It was part of the celebrity roll call — Warhol, Freud, Hirst, Quinn — at the booth of Ben Brown, a London gallery that opened a Hong Kong branch late last year.

Nearby was the London-based White Cube, which had the first Damien Hirst formaldehyde work to be shown in China. It sold at the fair for a cool £1.75 million, or $2.5 million, to an unidentified Asian buyer.

Crowds gathered around Mr. Hirst’s “The Inescapable Truth” — a white dove suspended prettily in sky-blue liquid over a human skull — and marvelled at how, reportedly, Elton John had one just like it.

The big sales were not just limited to Western artists and galleries, though. Pace Beijing gallery sold Zhang Xiaogang’s “Green Wall — Husband and Wife” (2010) for $1 million.

Given the growth in the Asian market, it was expected that the Hong Kong International Art Fair would get bigger and flashier as it entered its third year. (It had 155 participating galleries from around the world, and drew more than 46,000 visitors, compared with more than 27,000 last year.)

As a pleasant surprise, it also became more fun.

The best elements at the fair, which ended Sunday, happened on the sidelines — away from the wheeling and dealing — in talks, tours and performances that elevated the event from being a mere trade show to something more inclusive and interesting.

In one room, 400-plus people packed a noisy debate organized by Intelligence Squared Asia between the artist Antony Gormley and other cultural figures — laughing, applauding and jostling to ask questions.

(Mr. Gormley’s argument that “you don’t need great skill to be a great artist” won by an audience vote of 248 to 157, with 6 abstentions.)

Another crowd-pleaser from the fair came from the Hong Kong-based Sovereign Art Foundation, which sponsors prizes in Asia and Europe.

On the opening night, it had the filmmaker Baz Luhrmann spray-painting a mural covered with Bollywood-inspired graffiti.

Mr. Luhrmann, known for extravagant movies like “Moulin Rouge” and “Australia,” was the one being directed this time. Vincent Fantauzzo, a fashionable young Australian painter — he was named artist of the year by GQ magazine — stood by, giving directions like “Drip is good. More drip.”

The project came out of a trip that the two took to India, where they worked with local children. “It’s spontaneous,” Mr. Luhrmann said of this kind of art. “It’s quick. It’s credible and genuine.”

The two also collaborated on “The Cellar 1977.” The installation was in a long, dark space roped off by black curtains, with small black-and-white childhood photos lit up with tea candles. Eerie music played as viewers made their way to the front, where there was a Caravaggio-like painting of a man dying in another’s arms, only the rescuer was a police officer and the setting was modern. It had the cinematic drama expected from Mr. Luhrmann. He explained that it was inspired by his own childhood in rural Herons Creek, Australia, where his family ran a gas station.

There was plenty at the fair to encourage the uninitiated. Over five days, dozens of artists stood by their works, answering questions. Free bilingual guided tours were organized by Para/Site, a nonprofit art group, and Time Out Hong Kong magazine. The Asia Art Archive held talks and seminars.

There were shows to watch and darkened booths to duck into. A robot banged a snare drum at Ark Galerie from Jakarta. Installation, performance, video and digital works were as represented as traditional media like painting, illustration and sculpture.

In a bid to attract novice collectors, there were some works selling for $1,000 to $2,000.

“In the West, there’s a sense of art fair fatigue; you tend to see the same works by the same artists,” Magnus Renfrew, the fair’s director, said about Hong Kong’s inclusion of lesser-known names. “It is very important to us that there is art available to the majority of people who want to buy.”

“This gives smaller galleries a chance that they might not have in Europe or the United States,” added Richard Chang, a well-known collector who has collaborated with the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Tate in London.

The Art Futures section was for galleries under five years old.

“There were many interesting young galleries,” said Hans-Ulrich Obrist of Serpentine Gallery, after viewing that section.

Mr. Obrist, who was ranked No. 1 in Art Review’s 2009 listing of the 100 most influential people in the art world, said he saw changes to Hong Kong’s art scene, compared with his first trip here in 1996.

“At that time, the art scene was very small, and now it has critical mass,” he said, adding that China was not the only focus. “Japan has long has an important art scene, as do Korea and Indonesia. India is interesting, and I saw a few new Indian galleries at this fair. Thailand and Vietnam are emerging.”

Photography, in particular, stood out at the fair this year. It dominated the exhibit of recent acquisitions by Deutsche Bank, the fair’s sponsor and the owner of what it says is the largest corporate art collection in the world.

There was a wonderful array at Michael Hoppen Gallery, which had journalistic black-and-white photos of Beijing and Inner Mongolia from the 1950s and 1960s by Marc Riboud, one of the first professional European photographers to go to China. On the other side of the stylistic spectrum was a vividly colorful Ellen von Unwerth portrait of two beauties looking as if they were in a fashion ad.

Numerous galleries made their Hong Kong debut, like ShugoArts of Tokyo. It had sharp, black-and-white self-portraits of Yasumasa Morimura. He had dressed himself up as various celebrities, from Salvador Dali (in an uncanny likeness) to Marilyn Monroe (not so uncanny).

Another newcomer was Galerie Paris-Beijing, which specializes in photography. Going in the opposite direction of most galleries, it started first in Beijing, then moved to Paris.

“A long time ago, photography wasn’t considered ‘art”’ said Romain Degoul, the gallery’s director. “Now, the photo market is hot.”

Galerie Paris-Beijing had beautiful work by Yang Yongliang, a Shanghai native who was originally trained in traditional Chinese painting.

From a distance, they look like black and white ink landscapes, on long scrolls. Up close, it emerges that they are collages of hundreds of digital images of construction cranes, skyscrapers and streets signs — all elements of the new Chinese cityscape.

Two installations had pride of place at the entrance to the fair.

Near Mr. Hirst’s preserved avian specimen was its foil: tall bamboo cages of chirping, fluttering birds, by Rirkrit Tiravanija, a Thai-Argentinean artist based in New York. Viewing the two works in close proximity — the dead dove and the live songbirds — was like seeing the past and future of conceptual art.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Deporting artists, confiscating art. What is this -- China?

Mister Bijou has a darkly humorous cartoon on his site. It's a stone memorial that says: "Tian An Men Square: On this site, in 1989, nothing happened."
If he were a blogger on the other side of the border, that wouldn't be there.
***
In other cartoon-related news, The New York Times reports that "Chinese censors forced a newspaper to excise a cartoon. In a series of cartoons celebrating International Children’s Day, The Southern Metropolis Daily depicted a child drawing a line of tanks, a man standing before them."
Copies of the cartoons can be seen at Roland Soong's excellent EastSouthWestNorth blog.
***
According to the South China Morning Post, the Food and Hygiene Department, of all people, broke up a Tiananmen Square rally at Times Square in Causeway Bay and confiscated the "Goddess of Democracy" statue.
(Side note: Food and Hygiene Department? I suspected something was up when my yogurt containers were being censored.)
The Goddess of Democracy, now returned, is similar to a statue used by the Beijing pro-democracy demonstrators in 1989, and looks broadly like the Statue of Liberty in New York.
***
More troubling was that Chen Weiming, the creator of the statue, was not allowed past Hong Kong Immigration at the airport. The New Zealand citizen and U.S. resident was flying in from Los Angeles.
Chen is a professional artist. He graduated from art school in Beijing, and his large-scale works have been shown in public spaces across China and the world. His sculpture of Barack Obama was displayed in U.S. Congress.
The fact that the deportation happened right after Hong Kong so gleefully pat itself on the back for making lots and lots of money at its Art Fair is pretty ironic. So much for all those press releases about Hong Kong as a hub for art and expression.
***
The Hong Kong authorities had all sorts of excuses why they got into a silly wrangle over a statue. It was too tall. It didn't have an "entertainment license." Presumably, it was unhygienic?
According to a RTHK broadcast, anything over 1.7 meters at the June 4 rally should be inspected by engineers. And it should "not be near crowds" which, of course, goes against the whole point.
(Another side note: Sometimes, RTHK still says "massacre" in its broadcasts. It hasn't gone entirely down the "incident" path yet.)
All these precautions would be for safety reasons, of course. Not like we live in a city with scaffolding made of bamboo and people throwing bottles of acid into crowds. God forbid a democracy statue fall over and bonk someone on the head. Clearly, if it were 1.6 meters, instead of 1.7 meters, it would be safer.
Hong Kong will never use violence on its people. But it will try to strangle us with bureaucratic red tape.
***
I wish I could go on June 4 to Victoria Park. I've gone many years, and always felt the evening candlelight vigil was an amazingly peaceful response to a violent crackdown. But I have to work. And my company has been great about letting me work from home recently, so I can't complain about my schedule.
***
Every June, I hear at least one person say, "Oh, those students were in the way. China had no choice. They were blocking up the square."
Sorry to state the obvious, but there is never a reason for a military to run over its own civilians with tanks. Never. Not when they are peaceful. Not when they are unarmed students.
They were not violent like the Bangkok's red-shirts. They did not have weapons. They were just kids.
Even if they had violated some minor law about assembly or traffic disruption, it's crazy to punish people with instant death.
Don't tell me the P.L.A. were incapable of clearing a square of unarmed kids in any other way. Hauling them off to jail would have been better than slaughter.
***
Time Out Hong Kong has done a story about how the massacre has been wiped out from school textbooks.
***
Why is Hong Kong so adamant about commemorating this every year? Because it's natural for a people to respect the dead and to commemorate the fallen, particularly if they fell for an issue that means something. Because the government seems so intent on making people forget, that the public have become frightened that the issue will go away.
China keeps talking about "soft power." But, from the point of view of the outside world -- even from Hong Kong -- it looks foolish on this issue. No number of new skyscrapers or new billionaires will change that.
The longer Beijing denies 6/4, the longer vigils will go on. The more Hong Kong does stupid stuff like blocking artists, seizing artworks and censoring textbooks, the more popular support there will be for these vigils.
If China just came clean in the beginning -- investigated it, apologized and punished the responsible -- nobody would be making news of it 21 years later.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Journalism Opportunities

Two opportunities posted by the Hong Kong Journalists Association:

The Journalism and Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong has summer courses on various practical skills like photography, documentary video production, video editing and Internet strategy.

***

The application deadline for the Alfred Friendly and Daniel Pearl Fellowships is Aug. 1. (Daniel Pearl was the Wall Street Journal correspondent killed in Pakistan in 2002).

Fellows will take part in a well-established program based in Washington D.C. It includes work experience with U.S. newspapers.

Candidates should be

* Full-time professional print journalists with at least three years of experience. (This is very specific and does not include broadcast journalists).

* The citizen of a developing nation or emerging market. (China counts. Not sure if Hong Kong does, but you can check).

* 25-35 years old

* Fluent in spoken and written English

Successful applicants will be given flights / travel costs, housing, a U.S. visa, and a monthly stipend to cover basic living costs.

More info at www.pressfellowships.org.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Hong Kong Art Fair, again!

Vincent Fantauzzo at the Hong Kong art fair. Image courtesy of the Sovereign Art Foundation.

My longer, more thought-out review of the Hong Kong art fair will be out tomorrow morning in the International Herald Tribune. (The one below was just a short preview, what I call "press release journalism.")
I was impressed by the sheer popularity of the event, and how much fun I had attending it.
Art fairs are usually pretty staid things, just for insiders.
The Hong Kong fair -- maybe because it's just three years old, and therefore not shackled by tradition -- had everyone there. EVERYONE. Parents, kids and teens on dates mingled with artists, curators and dealers.
It drew 46,000 people, which is a huge jump from just last year.
I had no idea there were 46,000 people in Hong Kong willing to pay HK $200 to attend an art fair. There may be hope for us yet...
Anyway, the designer at the Paris IHT did a good job with the photos and layout, which is usually not seen on the website. (With some of my articles, the photos are not used at all by the time they get to the joint NYT/IHT website).
So, if you're interested, pick up a copy.

P.S. I've been in this industry a long time, and I am still nervous/excited the night before an article comes out. Doesn't matter how much I publish. Isn't that silly?
I fret, horribly, that there will be a mistake in it. (Maybe I got something wrong. Maybe a mistake was typed in during sub-editing. Maybe there's a dorky headline. Maybe I should have double-checked the name of that German guy...) Even though, most of the time, there's nothing to worry about.

Historic Hong Kong at Tao Gallery

"The Pancake Maker" (1961). Image courtesy of Tao Gallery.

Tao, which started life as one of those tiny homeware stores on Hollywood Road, now has a gallery in Sheung Wan (12 Circular Pathway, Tel. 2805-1112)
They are hoping to open another art space soon. And their gorgeously designed website is finally up, at www.taogallery.com.
For now until July 3, they are holding an exhibition of photos from Hong Kong in the 1950s and 60s.
The images tell more than I could in words here. I particularly like the ones of children, because they make me imagine that, maybe, my parents were like that, too, when they were growing up here.
Here's a sample, though it would be obviously nicer to see the prints live.

"Swimming at the Pier" (1951) Image courtesy of Tao Gallery