Saturday, July 31, 2010

Technorati question

Years ago, I listed the old Joyceyland on Technorati, back when I was still figuring out the blogging thing.
I found it a moderately interesting tool. It let me see who was linking to me, and gave me an inkling of how I was doing.
When I moved to the new Joyceyland at Blogger, I tried to update my Technorati page, but I kept getting errors like: "We were unable to parse the feed URL you provided."
When I clicked on a link to validate my feed, I got more errors, like "Self reference doesn't match document location."
What gives? Is there some inherent coding problem with Joyceyland? I haven't done anything special -- as you can tell. All I did was use the standard Blogger platform.
As I've said before, I'm not particularly concerned with Joyceyland traffic numbers, since it's not a commercial or professional site. But it is nice to see readership growing, just as a sense of personal interest.
Also, when tech things don't work, I get like a dog with a bone. It drives me crazy and I want to figure it out.
Logically -- why would my old blog work, and my new blog not?
Also, on a whim, I tried to see how Google ads work. (No, I'm not putting ads here. Even if I did, I would make, like, 2 cents). Interestingly, Google ads also reject me for some sort of URL problem.
It has made me curious. Does anyone out there have a clue what might be going on?

Never mind this post

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

What did you read as a kid?

Gweipo and I often go back and forth about childhood -- and the things children should be (or not) allowed to consume, particularly books and media.
Gweipo actually is a mom, and I am not -- so she trumps me there. All I can do is go back to my own happy childhood. If I ever become a parent, I'll probably find out that my examples from the 1980s are totally out-of-date.

The discussion -- plus, quite a bit of talk over kids' lit at the Hong Kong Book Fair -- made me think of the books I loved as a child.

On one of my late-night Internet excursions (i.e. procrastination from work), I looked up "Black Beauty" and was surprised to find the whole text in several places. (I admit I am not so up-to-date on issues of online book copyright).

Last night, after Marc and I stopped by Metro Books in Elements.
I asked for "Black Beauty" in the kids' section and the salesgirl took a loooooong time to find it.
She came up with a very thin paperback with black and white illustrations on cheap paper. A light should have gone off in my head when the cover said "By Anna Sewell. Adapted by So-and-So."
"Adapted by" usually means "Horribly Rewritten by"
I bought it anyway, partially because the girl had taken such effort ("It's the only one," she said) and I was the only customer there.
Sure enough, it was a watered-down, simplified, cheesified version with all the good bits taken out. Or all the really sad, horrid bits, which is what gives a book drama.
It would be good for a young child, but not me. Is there any parent out there who wants a totally new paperback version of "Black Beauty"? Because I'll send it to you.

I shouldn't look down on "adapted for kids" illustrated paperbacks because I once had a set myself. I "read" Jack London's "Call of the Wild" in this form. Also "Moby Dick." (I liked animal books, in case you couldn't guess.)
But "Call of the Wild" is a proper, full-length adult novel. And "Moby Dick" is a 820-page whale of a book that very few 11-year-olds would make it through. Kids' versions make sense.
Whereas "Black Beauty" is brief, simple and kid-friendly even in its original -- how much more dumbed down could they make it?

While I was at Metro, I also looked for a fantasy series I loved as a kid. As soon as I finished one installment, I would beg my parents to take me to the Young Adult section of the Bloomfield Public Library in Connecticut to get the next. (As we were in Bloomfield, I must have been under 12).
I looked a while, since EVERYTHING in the young adult section is fantasy/sci-fi these days, and I had forgotten the name of the series and author.
That pre-teen / teen fascination with pale, mysterious creatures and gothic / historic backgrounds certainly long predates "Harry Potter" and "Twilight."

I found it: It was "The Dark Is Rising" series written by Susan Cooper in the 1970s.
I sort of dreaded looking inside and realizing that it was no good. (You know how, sometimes, something you liked as a kid turns out awful and sickly-sweet to your adult self?)

Thank god, it wasn't awful. I just read the first few pages, and they are cleanly, elegantly written, with good descriptions. "... the green-brown bulk of hillsides rearing up at the grey skies."
There is a stamp on the cover telling me that this book won a Newberry Medal.

The one I have in my hands, "The Grey King," has a Welsh folklore theme. Thinking back, I wonder if my adult love of things British has anything to do with the fact that I loved U.K. authors and TV comedies as a child.
I was thinking of bringing "The Grey King" on holiday. (Before every vacation, I start gathering piles of reading materials, like a squirrel gathering acorns before winter). But kids' books aren't good, because they offer few words for alot of weight -- and I am a fast reader. "The Grey King" probably won't get me through the first half of our flight. But I am looking forward to it, and may read it tonight in bed.

Apparently, someone made a movie out of "The Dark is Rising". They turned the main character, a sensitive young English boy, into a modern-day American teen who has a crush on a girl. Right. There's no way I'm going to watch it.

Once, out of curiosity, I tried reading a "Twilight" novel online, and I couldn't get past the first few pages. It was so cheesy and so obviously written to pander to a tween girl audience (and to be made into a TV/movie series.) Well, if that was the goal, it has succeeded brilliantly.

19th century illustration of "Moby Dick" from Wikipedia.
Original 1970s "The Dark Is Rising" cover from Screenhead.
"Black Beauty" cover from Kats Meow.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Boo. The weather is crap.

Leading Welly back to his stall after a ride. Photo by Marc.

I haven't gone riding for a long time, due to scheduling and other issues. So I was pretty excited to go this afternoon. I had one ride booked with Welly (the pony-like horse shown above) and another with Winford (a beautiful tall ex-racehorse).
As in riding -- as in life -- each has its pros and cons. Welly is easier but less exciting. Winford is more challenging, but more fun.
I started riding in England on gentle, small cob-type horses. It was only on returning to Hong Kong that I rode a thoroughbred ex-racehorse. I'm not a good equestrienne, but even I can tell the difference -- a car analogy might be that of going from a school bus to a Ferrari.

I packed my bag and cut up apples for the horses.
At about 2pm, when I was putting my gear on, Marc walks in and says "You're going outside in THIS weather?"
People do ride in the rain. Horses -- which obviously lived outdoors until we humans got involved -- are fine in the rain. In England, people rode out in the most horrendous wet, cold, windy, dark weather. (Gross generalization of the day: Hong Kongers and the French are weather wimps. The Brits and Canadians are not.)
I called the school and they said I should still go.
But at 2:45 -- just as I was about to leave for the train station -- they called back and said there was a government amber rain warning.Would I still take my chances?
Sigh. No. Round-trip commuting time is about 2.5 hours, and I'm not going to waste it if I can't ride in the end.
So I unpacked my stuff and debated what I'm going to do with all these chopped up apples -- make applesauce?
Now, as I sit here listening to the booming thunder, I'm glad I didn't go.

I told myself this was a blessing in disguise, since I have two more lengthy articles to write before I begin my holiday, and neither are done.
I had given myself a deadline of... tomorrow. Ha! (My thinking was that I had to be in the office on Friday and didn't want to work through the weekend).
I will most definitely have to write through the weekend, but I should get going. Instead of wasting my time blogging, right? I'm going to stop right now....

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Cantonese protest

Move to Limit Cantonese on Chinese TV Is Decried

By Edward Wong. The New York Times. (This is an edited version. For the full text, click above headline)

More than 1,000 people gathered in Guangzhou on Sunday to demonstrate against a local politician’s proposal to force a major local television network to stop broadcasting in Cantonese and switch to Mandarin. The protest, which was raucous and impassioned, ended peacefully after the police broke up the crowd, but mention of the protest was wiped from many Internet forums on Monday, and only one national newspaper carried a detailed report, indicating that the pro-Cantonese groundswell had become a politically delicate matter....

Notices began popping up online telling people to gather at a subway station to oppose a proposal that had been presented by a local politician, Ji Kekuang. Mr. Ji, a member of the local committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, had suggested that the programs on Guangzhou Television’s news and satellite channels should start using Mandarin instead of Cantonese. Mr. Ji said that that would help accommodate tourists and athletes visiting for the Asian Games in November.

The protesters on Sunday gave passionate speeches to cheering crowds about the worth of Cantonese and sang Cantonese songs, according to one news report. Young people wore “I Love Guangzhou” T-shirts with the slogan written in characters common to Cantonese script but absent from Mandarin script. (Most characters overlap between the languages, but there are notable exceptions.)

The English-language edition of Global Times, which is aimed at foreigners living in China, carried the one detailed report. It quoted Su Zhijia, a deputy party secretary of Guangzhou, rebutting rumors that the government planned to completely reject the use of Cantonese.

“The city government has never had such a plan to abandon or weaken Cantonese,” Mr. Su said.

Most of the protesters appeared to be in their 20s and 30s. The owner of a restaurant by the demonstration site said in a telephone interview that the protesters yelled out, “Support Cantonese!” and “Protest!”

Lines of police officers formed human barricades to try and keep the crowd from swelling, witnesses said.

***
Do I believe fears that Cantonese is "going extinct?" Absolutely not.
Various sources on Wikipedia estimate anything from 26 million to 70 million Cantonese speakers across the world. It is in the neighborhood of Italian, Korean, Malay, Polish and Tagalag (the Filipino language) -- all small-to-medium-sized languages that are certainly still vibrant.
OK, so 50 million is not 1.3 billion -- Cantonese has never been a dominant language. But it's not exactly Ter Sami, a language that only has 2 native speakers left. (Before there were 10, but maybe 8 died).
Uncared-for languages do go extinct -- the way that uncared-for animals can -- but Cantonese isn't going to be one of them soon.
***
I support these protesters. It's nice to see that there can be a spirited protest in China that ended neither in angry rioting, clashes, a violeny police crackdown, nor arrests. (Pity about the blocked coverage, though).
Why can't their TV station be in the language they want?
In the West -- so long as you have the funding -- you can open media in whatever language you want. I can move to England and open a Hakka radio station with Somali commercials and nobody would stop me. I could start a Latvian newsletter. OK, I would starve -- but that's not the point.

My guess is that there was some political move in this. Take the quote from the Asian Games.
Are they "cleaning up" Cantonese the way they "cleaned up" poor migrants from Beijing before the Olympics, or "cleaned up" PJ-wearing people in Shanghai before the Expo?
Is Cantonese seen as being interior, old-fashioned and shameful?
(Note: The Asian Games comment was silly, because everyone in Guangzhou can speak Mandarin, and it should be no problem for tourists or athletes.)
***
You know what I hate?
When Hong Kong expats say they want to learn Cantonese -- and they really put money and effort into it -- and some Chinese person discourages them and says, "Forget it. Learn Mandarin instead. It's easier and more practical for business."
Of course, those two statements are true. Mandarin -- with its four tones and pinyin -- is easier. And it is more useful for business. I have nothing against Mandarin.
I just have something against people who can't understand learning for the simple love of it -- for curiosity, pleasure, or enrichment.
The foreigners who want to learn Cantonese are fully aware it isn't going to help them do business with China. They want to learn it because they love Hong Kong or, I don't know, what to know what they're REALLY saying in kung fu flicks.
***
Even though my brother and I were born in Canada and raised in the U.S., my parents made sure we spoke Cantonese.
This was for no practical, work-related reason. I was so "you kids can't speak to your grandmothers." There was an emotional pull. They did not want us to go back to Hong Kong and feel like strangers among our own people.
Languages are more than just words, vocabulary and grammar. They are a part of a people, families, history and culture, which is why they should be preserved.
***
This post is for Cecilie, who was actually there at the protest and who blogged about it. As well as Daisann and CantoDreaming, my two American friends braving our impossible dialect out of a sheer love of our culture.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Creepy or not?

I was at a Chinese hotel and couldn’t get my in-room Internet connection to work. (And, at a not-cheap 120 RMB a day.) So I called the business center.
“Oh, I see you have a proxy server message,” the unseen IT help guy said on the phone, reading out-loud an error I had on my screen. “And I see you are on a Mac.”

Is that creepy?

At work, our IT guys can see exactly what’s on our screens and control our mouse / keyboard remotely. When they fix our computers from a distance, it looks like there’s a ghost controlling the PC.

I accept that, because I am logged into an internal company computer system. It’s their right to see what I’m doing while I sit at my desk, on company time, using the company computer. If they catch me watching porn -- that's my own fault. I know they can monitor me. (And no, I don't watch porn at work)

But it’s weird in a hotel, where you presume a certain amount of privacy in your room.

Can hotels peek into your personal computer every time you plug into their Internet access?

I'm OK with this guy seeing remotely that I was on a Mac with a proxy server error. But could he see my Internet searching history? A document I had open?

If a Chinese hotel catches me looking at banned information while on the Mainland, could they, theoretically, call the authorities on me? (I would not be stupid enough to do that and, in any case, I've never heard of this actually happening -- I'm just asking in theory).

I heard about a Hong Konger who called his Mainland wife on her work phone in Shanghai to tell her that he would be flying in with a friend (the publisher of a journal in Taiwan or Hong Kong). The three set up a time and place for lunch in Shanghai. The next day, the Mainland lady got a warning from her boss not to go to "the lunch." This leads me to believe that three things happened
* The boss was eavesdropping on this employee
* The boss reported it to an authority
* The authority ordered the boss to stop the employee's meeting

I realize that is a totally different -- and more dramatic -- case. I don't do any political work in China. All I'm saying is that phone tapping seems to happen.

And, if that's the case, does Internet tapping happen? Would it affect a normal person like me in a hotel?

***

Everytime I go over the border, I do my little one-woman Great Firewall test. In Guangzhou:

Joyceyland brings up a “server error.”

But Marc’s blog, on Wordpress, is fine.

Facebook simply stalls. (I was trying to answer Elisabeth Briel’s query on art scenes in China. The answer: You might want to check out Shanghai’s Suzhou Creek.)

Some of Wikipedia works but other parts don’t. No news here: You can get general information on Tiananmen Square, as in the Beijing landmark, but a “server error” crops up when you click on the link to Tiananmen Square “incident.”

Here’s a funny one. A search on “day trip to Hangzhou” turned this up:

“I signed up for a day trip to Hangzhou, which is about 2.5 hours away from Shanghai. I might not have done it if I knew it was 5 hours of….”

Click! Dead link. I don’t know how that sentence might have ended, but I was probably something like “5 hours of hell.”

YouTube doesn’t work. Being in China reminded me of how often, and casually, I now use free videos for both work and pleasure.

The worst thing is some totally innocent posts don't come up, because they happen to have YouTube videos imbedded in them -- like a L.A. Times opera review of a company in Berlin.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

E-Books at the Hong Kong Book Fair



Photo by Mike Clarke/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images, via The New York Times
July 21, 2010

Hong Kong Book Fair Adds a New Element: Electronic Publishing

HONG KONG — The Hong Kong Book Fair, which draws as many as 900,000 visitors annually, opened Wednesday with a new element: a section on electronic publishing.

The weeklong event, the largest of its kind in the Chinese-speaking market, is still largely about selling print books, which are carted away in canvas sacks and rolling suitcases. But companies dealing in e-books and related media are trying to change that.

There were booths from more than 20 companies in the new “digital reading interactive zone.”

Hanvon, a Chinese company, was showing black-and-white devices similar to Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader. Retailing for 2,550 to 2,900 Hong Kong dollars, or about $330 to $370, each comes with some free titles in English or Chinese, according to Serene Chung, a representative who was showing crowds the electronic version of the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms,” a classic Chinese novel.

Jecomtech, a Hong Kong company, was showing a U.S.-made product called Onyx Boox that can operate in English, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish and a dozen other languages. Retailing for 2,980 Hong Kong dollars, it came with 1,000 titles.

“Some books, like beautiful design books, are still nicer in print,” said Martin Ke, a Jecomtech sales manager. “But I think e-books are going to grow. They’re convenient, they’re portable, and, some say, they are more environmentally friendly.”

Many companies were obviously preparing for the introduction in Hong Kong this Friday of Apple’s iPad tablet computer, which is seen as a rival to the simpler e-readers.

Kiwa Media, a New Zealand company, was showing QBook, an iPad application that converts children’s print books into multilingual, interactive digital versions.

Rhonda Kite, the company's CEO, clicked a screen with colorful cartoon characters to gain access to a pull-down menu offering English, Mandarin, Spanish, Italian and other languages. The text is automatically translated.

Readers can point at a written word and have the machine pronounce it. They can also use their fingers to color in the books’ illustrations.

“It’s very exciting,” said Ms. Kite, who added that it was her first time at the Hong Kong Book Fair. “Almost a million people will walk through these doors, and the entire population of my country is only four million.”

Mimio was one of the few electronically minded companies to have been at the book fair in past years.

This year, the U.S. company was showing products that could turn any flat surface into an interactive, digital whiteboard, thanks to a hookup between a projector and a wall-mounted instrument with Wi-Fi and ultrasound sensors. Mimio’s products are aimed at the education sector, long a major part of the book fair.

Leo Liu, senior Asia-Pacific regional manager for Newell Rubbermaid, the parent company of Mimio, connected the product to the wall of a cubicle and played with a Venn diagram about animals. (He could pull a picture of a tiger into the carnivore section and a deer into the herbivore section.)

“We have tailor-made content for various markets, like international schools in Hong Kong and Macao, plus mainland China, Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines,” Mr. Liu said. “In the next five years, Asia-Pacific governments will be spending an estimated $15 billion to convert traditional classrooms and blackboards into interactive ones.”

“This region is very technologically sensitive,” he said. “There is going to be a huge jump in demand in Asia.”

Andrea Deng contributed research.



Monday, July 19, 2010

Braving crowds at the Hong Kong Book Fair

From The New York Times' InTransit blog.

Visitors at the 2007 Hong Kong Book Fair.

File photo: Vincent Yu/Associated Press, 2007

The Hong Kong Book Fair is so popular that it drew more people last year (900,000) than recent legislative by-elections (579,000).

The Fair, to be held this year from July 21 to 27, has always been something of a publishing pilgrimage. More than one out of every 10 Hong Kong residents heads to the Convention and Exhibition Center (1 Expo Drive; www.hkcec.com), joined by tens of thousands of visitors from mainland China and other Asian nations. It’s a real family affair, filled with grandmas, kids and — if you are in the middle of the crowd — what feels like the entire rest of the city.

Hong Kong, a city that loves its numbers, boasts that the 2010 Book Fair will have 200 cultural events, and 500 exhibitors from 20 countries and regions. Despite its size, the Fair has traditionally not gotten much international critical attention, which mostly goes to the smaller and more elite Hong Kong International Literary Festival. This is partly because the majority of the works at the Book Fair are in Chinese, and partly because much space is devoted to comics, children’s literature, celebrity biographies, stationery, dieting books and other fare that is considered less-than-serious.

But having just marked its 20th anniversary, the fair is spiffing itself up.

This year, Sir David Tang (of luxury brand Shanghai Tang fame) will be moderating open forums with British authors. They include the actor and comedian Stephen Fry, the war historian Andrew Roberts and Frederick Forsyth, known for his spy thrillers.

There will be other appearances by James Fenton, the English poet and critic, and Han Han, said to be China’s most popular blogger and a best-selling author.

And if you want a taste of what the Book Fair is most loved for, you can stop by “Storytelling by Celebrities.”

Check www.hkbookfair.com for a complete schedule, because it varies — opening as early as 9 a.m. and closing at midnight, depending on the day. Tickets range from 10 to 25 Hong Kong dollars (about $1.30 to $3.20). You can watch videos of Sir David Tang interviewing some of the British writers expected at the festival, including the comedian Stephen Fry and Frederick Forsyth, author of “The Day of the Jackal.”

***

I wanted to add this reader's comment. I don't know if I particularly agree, but I was impressed by the venom of it.

Andrei
New York
July 18th, 2010
11:40 pm
the picture that illustrates this article shows perfectly the state of what many hong kong books are about: a young and naive school girl (or individual) looks at harlequin type sentimental romantic drivel (or some other mass produced rubbish), churned out by hack writers who could care less and do it for money. these are not books but rather a crude joke, an insult to literature and an affront to one's own soul.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Trip to Guangzhou

If you want to read about a trip we took to Guangzhou, go to Marc's blog here. He went up just for the day, but I stayed overnight as I had some stuff to do.

Marc's blog has photos of the Hong Kong-Guangzhou train, the Panxi garden restaurant and one of those stupid signs outside Chinese parks outlining all of the many banned activities.
"No shot birdies" is a funny one. (I don't want to think about what would happen if you let the citizens of China loose with firearms and wildlife). A sad one is the banning of electric wheelchairs.

I heard from a friend, whose elderly father really does use a wheelchair, that people at the Shanghai World Expo had taken all the wheelchairs the government had kindly provided for free. Why? Because the "disabled" get to cut queues at pavilions. Of course, this is disgraceful, dishonest, and terrible for people who actually do need wheelchairs. (Not to mention decent people waiting in line).
So maybe there is some sort of similar wheelchair scam in Guangzhou that they need to crack down on? Maybe they want to ban all electric vehicles because they go too fast for parks?
God help you if you legitimately have a spinal cord injury or something.

(Although that's probably true for any severely disabled person on the Mainland who isn't rich. I saw at least two disabled people -- one man who looked like a migrant laborer, and a woman picking up garbage -- who were wheeling themselves around on wooden planks with wheels).

I'll write more on Guangzhou later. But I had to go straight from the train station to work!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The weather is glorious


I wasn't going to post that headline, because I thought it was self-evident.
I have never, in a decade here, seen such an uninterrupted span -- two weeks? three weeks? -- of glorious sunshine, bright blue skies, fluffy white clouds, and not a whiff of pollution.
What happened? Did Clean the Air finally win? Did all the Guangdong factories go bankrupt? Did we appease the Weather Gods?
Look at the above photo from Marc's blog, which was shot with no filters and no digital manipulation. The sky in Hong Kong is as wonderful as the sky in the Canadian advertisement below.
(Note: It was taken from the pier in Tai Kok Tsui, near where we live. On the left are the new West Kowloon towers, like the International Commerce Centre. In the background is the Hong Kong Island skyline.)
As an asthmatic, I can't tell you what a relief it is to breathe, and not have to worry about whether I have a spare inhaler at home.
It's obviously wonderful, right? Right?

I just got a message from a friend that said "what f*cking awful weather we're having."
Why is everyone so damn miserable here? I'm not talking about the poor Chinese granny picking trash for a living, who probably really is hot, since it's hard pushing garbage-mountains uphill. I mean well-off professional friends who taxi from air conditioned office to air conditioned bar, where they order HK $80 post-work cocktails from English-speaking staff and complain about how hard life is.

Hong Kongers are never happy with anything, particularly with the weather -- it's too hot, it's too cold, too dry, too humid.
I was chatting with my regular "call cabbie" about this, who was complaining about his (far richer than him, mostly businesswomen) clients. They hated the rain last month, even though it blew away the pollution. When the rain stopped, they hated the sun. They live on a tropical island with a rainy season -- what do they want?

A Hong Kong woman told me that she had given herself bronchitis by blasting her bedroom air conditioning too much at night, and was on antibiotics. Now, she complained, she had to go to bed wearing a scarf. For this, she blamed the weather.
Did it occur to her to, maybe, turn off the air con and open the window a crack? Turn on a fan? Set the AC to "low"? I'm not even talking about energy conservation (though this is a pretty overt case of wastage), I'm just talking about personal comfort.

So maybe I do have to spell out the obvious on this Hong Kong blog: The weather is glorious. Trust me. I watch beautiful views all afternoon and evening from my office window, as the light dims over the harbor. Before work, I throw open the windows and have coffee in my sun-filled living room. This afternoon, my day off, Marc and I went to our complex's swimming pool. I did the Dead Man's Float and just stared up at the iridescent blue skies.
I estimate there are more than 2,000 households in our complex so, conservatively, 6,000 people -- and there were only two old men in the pool on this glorious afternoon.
I don't know what else to say -- maybe just to enjoy it before the typhoon hits this weekend.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The fabulous Quebec hotel we're not staying at

This is the magnificent Chateau Frontenac, a wonderful example of late-19th-century architecture perched on a cliff overlooking Quebec City.
Except for one space that is described as being "Small room, no view, great for single traveler" (CAD 260) there is nothing under CAD 300, or HK $2,250, a night at the Chateau Frontenac.
Maybe we'll have a lunch there or something. I would like to experience it (I never would have set foot inside a place like this as a student), but I don't need to actually sleep there.

I only have one memory of Quebec City, which is about three hours from Montreal, where I went to school.

My friend Maud, a Dutch exchange student, and I did a little trip in the early-to-mid 90s. We stayed at a hostel, and were bummed to find out that it had a 10 p.m. curfew. All of us rowdy college students were trapped inside, incapable of hanging out on the cobblestones drinking beer.
The only entertainment was an old chess board, so we played rounds with other students trapped with us, and I lost every single game. Are Europeans just really good at chess? Or am I just crap? I wasn't even drunk.
A bunch of boys got a little aggressive hitting on us, and we ended up pushing a wardrobe against the door of our room to keep them out while we slept. (That was probably an over-reaction, but this was one SERIOUSLY budget hostel).
The next day, free from our constraints, we went hiking. Maud was, like, 7 feet tall and fit. I was not. She also had that devil-may-care attitude towards nature that many Europeans have, as opposed to someone who grew up with worrying Asian parents.
That's how we got into an argument as we stood atop some steep rocky cliff that she wanted to hurl herself down, and I wanted to -- oh, I don't know, call a cab or something.
We ended up in a tiny village with the most incredibly accented old-fashioned Quebecois French. We barely managed to order lunch (and we both spoke some French those days). When we tried to buy a pen to write post-cards, the elderly lady only understood when we asked for a "plume." (An old term that refers to feathered ink pens).

Do you ever wonder where minor characters in your life have gone? I keep in touch with a small number of very close old friends, but not with everyone.
Where is Maud now? I think her full name is Maud Middelveld, and she was an incredibly fun, and funny, girl.
I bet, where-ever she is, she's rooting for the Dutch at the World Cup!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Disco Bay and the price of being green

Marc the Metrosexual and I visited my brother and his wife in Discovery Bay.
I was really nice -- sitting outside by the sea with clean air, no car exhaust, no traffic noise. There was green space, as well as people walking their dogs and riding bikes. Marc has posted some lovely photos here.
(For non-Hong Kongers, Discovery Bay is a car-free community on one of the city's outlying islands).
Why, oh why, can't we have this? we whined.
The answer is, of course we could. If we were willing to sell our flat in the city and put up with the commute, and the inconvenience of taxis, we could, too.

The experience made me think of the larger issue of pollution in this world.
Forget Disco Bay and Hong Kong specifically.
Everyone in the developed world says they want to do eco-this and green-that. But very few people are willing to make the sacrifices in their daily lives. (And, while I'm all for recycling, just separating your plastic bottles is not going to save the Earth if you're living in a climate-controlled big house and drive an SUV)
I can coo all I want about life with no street-side pollution or traffic noise. But, when I get off work at 11pm, or it's raining, or I'm exhausted, or just lazy -- I'm the first to hop in a cab instead of schlepping to the MTR.

So I ask you, dear blog readers:
Are you willing to not have a car?
Are you willing to not be able to hop in a cab when you are late / tired / the weather sucks?
Are you willing to deal with the hassle of using public transport when you're carrying a huge suitcase to the airport, or have something else large to move?

And non-DB related:
Are you willing to cut down on air travel?
Are you willing to stop drinking bottled water, and just boil your own from the tap?
Are you willing to stop buying so many imported goods, and using locally made ones instead?

I struggled with these questions myself.
The car I can do without -- but only in a convenient city like Hong Kong.
I can cut down on cabs (am trying to now, actually), but not entirely.
I don't fly often, but I do treasure the vacations I take. Plus, I think travel is good for the soul, cultural understanding, and many other things.
I drink tap water. And a pet peeve is restaurants that force you to buy bottled water that's been flown in from France or something.
I could pretend to be a locavore, but I just bought a bunch of foreign designer goods at the Lane Crawford end-of-the-season sale. I don't shop much, but I like to buy quality.
And our fridge is filled with imported cheeses, hams, yogurts and organic produce that you can't get at a local wet market. I mean, we're foodies. We're not buying that suspicious plastic-wrapped ham from China.

It's like when my friend Hong Blog wrote about the seeming futility of using a recycled shopping bag, when you're loading up on Lavazza coffee beans flown in from Italy.

So I don't want to be wasteful -- but I also like my conveniences, travel and high-quality goods. Where does that leave us?

Friday, July 9, 2010

In case you missed dragon boating the first time around...

They are being held again on:

Friday July 23 from 1-6pm

Saturday and Sunday July 24-25 from 9am-6pm

More than 190 teams will be racing across Victoria Harbour, from East Tsim Sha Tsui (near the Hotel Nikko) to Sheung Wan (Wing On)

(That is my summary of an incredibly long government press release on the event!)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Global Events, but Where Is Hong Kong's Local Art Scene?

From today's IHT...

A video installation by Kingsley Ng. Image courtesy Hong Kong Museum of Art

HONG KONG — Much has been made of Hong Kong’s push to become what the government likes to call an “art hub.” Its auction revenue is now third only to London and New York. Its annual art fair, which began only in 2008, is marked by million-dollar sales.

The city has proved its skill in organizing large, expensive events for international buyers, who laud the territory’s efficiency and tax-free status. Hong Kong excels at trading other peoples’ art. The question is, can it make its own?

A look through offerings at major sales, fairs and galleries turns up very few local names. While dealers and auction houses have profited, Hong Kong artists have had almost no share in the Chinese contemporary art boom that took place in the last five years.

The high-end events — where millionaires jet in to snap up prized paintings — are a shiny new facade. The local art scene pales in comparison.

Critics blame many factors: a stodgy state-run museum system, high real estate prices that discourage young artists from setting up studios, and a society that values traditional industries like banking.

Unlike the big names from London, New York, Tokyo or Beijing, no artists from Hong Kong have reached near-celebrity status. There is little in terms of vibrant local arts communities, like those that have cropped up in the Brooklyn borough of New York, the 798 Art District outside Beijing, or in other cities’ outlying areas.

The Hong Kong Contemporary Art Biennial Awards exhibition, which runs through Aug. 1 at the Hong Kong Museum of Art, is the largest showcase for local works. A government-run project that began in 1975, it is mandated to show only Hong Kong artists, meaning it does not get the critical attention that a more wide-ranging one would.

The most striking piece at the show is Hung Keung’s “Dao Gives Birth to One,” a Taoist-inspired work with screens showing a mesmerizing black-and-white pattern of Chinese characters and radicals constantly moving and melding. It was a refreshing addition for a biennial known for being stuffy and bureaucratic. In fact, “Dao” could not have qualified before last year, since a strict size restriction (3 meters, or about 10 feet, by 3 meters by 3 meters) was in force until then.

One issue younger artists have to grapple with is the fact that Hong Kong has some of the most expensive real estate in the world, with home prices rising almost 30 percent last year alone. Homes can cost more than $1,000 per square foot, and even spaces in the outlying New Territories go for several hundred U.S. dollars per square foot.

The largest cluster of young talent is in Fo Tan, a former industrial area in the New Territories where artists have been migrating since 2001. It is now home to about 180 artists and 50 studios.

But it is different from places like the 798 district in Beijing because it is essentially closed to the public. There are few small museums, galleries or even cool cafes or bookstores. It only draws crowds during the two weeks in January designated the Fotanian Open Studio period.

Another community is the Cattle Depot Artists Village, a state-funded project. Its century-old red-brick buildings, with traditional, slanted roofs would be charming if they weren’t located next to a garbage processing center in the run-down neighborhood of To Kwa Wan.

In 2001, Hong Kong gave a collection of art groups permission to use the Cattle Depot space, which the government also subsidizes. The groups had previously been shuttled between various other neighborhoods like North Point and Cheung Sha Wan. But, again, there are few open studios or exhibition spaces here, as it is mostly used for administrative offices.

Two spaces in the Cattle Depot — The Artist Commune and 1a space — sometimes have interesting shows, but few people see them.

“We had more than 60 people for an opening a few weekends ago,” said Hilda Chan of Videotage, which has Hong Kong’s only archive of local video art. “But because we’re so remotely located, we don’t get many walk-in visitors. The setup is pretty discouraging.”

Most days, the Cattle Depot is all but deserted except for a few staff members and security guards. Since it is run by a government bureau, surly guards sit by the entrance, grilling visitorsabout whether they have an appointment and shooing people away from taking photos.

The entire scene is a world away from the fairs and auctions that visitors see.

So what makes Hong Kong art different?

In some ways, it can be more old-fashioned than other contemporary Chinese art. The biennale had a large room with intricate calligraphy done on paper, fans and gold leaf — perhaps a reflection of the fact that Hong Kong still uses traditional complex written characters, which China does not. It also featured classical works, like long scrolls and misty mountainscapes, even from younger artists.

Hong Kong art is also less overtly political, eschewing much of the Communist imagery of contemporary Chinese art. There are very few Mao Zedong caricatures, or the rows of exaggerated smiling Chinese faces seen in the mainland Chinese art style called Cynical Realism.

Henry Au-yeung, who owns the only gallery in Hong Kong dedicated exclusively to local artists, explained the contrast.

“If you look at the last 50 years, Hong Kong has been relatively stable, while mainland China has had all sorts of political upheavals,like the Cultural Revolution,” said Mr. Au-yeung, who founded Grotto Fine Art in 2001. “The result has been dramatic, sensationalistic art, using icons like Mao Zedong or Tiananmen Square. It has a strong iconography and a strong narrative that appeals to a Western audience: the oppressed rising up to express themselves. Hong Kong art is less obvious.”

He felt that Hong Kong art is “underrepresented,” he added, and auctions have had very little impact on local artists, though he lauded the Air Fair. “It’s rare for a Hong Kong fresh grad to be able to show in the same venue as major Western artists like Damien Hirst and Julian Opie,” he said, adding that his gallery did well at the Fair, as well. Usually, 90 percent of Grotto’s sales go to local Hong Kong collectors.

Claire Hsu, the founder of the Hong Kong-based Asia Art Archive, had another assessment. “It is a known fact that Hong Kong art has not faired well commercially, especially in comparison to art from mainland China, although this is changing,” she said. “Arguably, it is this freedom from market pressure that has seen the emergence of a group of artists in Hong Kong whose works are conceptually very strong. You won’t find any grinning faces staring back at you.”

Some change is under way. Hanart, which was opened by Johnson Chang in 1983 and is the city’s most established gallery, carries art from mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. In late May it opened another space — Hanart Square — in the industrial Kwai Chung area, with a show of about a dozen Hong Kong artists.

In the catalog, Mr. Chang calls Hong Kong “a city where real estate prices dominate all social discourse” — an apt comment considering that he just opened a space near a cargo shipping terminal.

The government also has two projects planned in the next few years. One is the enormous West Kowloon Cultural District, which is estimated to cost more than $2 billion, and whose plans have been debated and delayed for years.

In an oddity for cultural planning, it is expected to include retail shops, restaurants and residential blocks. One concern is that it will be taken over by business interests and the city’s aggressive real estate developers, and become something like an art-themed shopping mall/housing complex.

There are more modest plans for the currently empty Central Police Station, a lovely complex of colonial-era buildings on Hollywood Road. According to a government press release, it will become “a self-sustaining, nonprofit site that will be home to designers, art studios and exhibition spaces.”

“Something is better than nothing,” said Mr. Au-yeung. “But I don’t know if the government really understands how to develop culture, so I don’t have very many expectations.”

Meanwhile, he is preparing to take a collection of local art on the road to various fairs over the next year: Art Basel Miami Beach, The Armory Show in New York and then Art Basel. “We’re getting ready to go into the big, wide world,” he said, “where nobody knows us.”

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

I was wrong...

The situation affecting Chinese visas for French nationals doesn't seem to be because of the Dalai Lama. It seems to be because of a change in the way France processes travel visas for Chinese nationals. The change came only a month ago. Before that, the French could get "instant" visas at the Shenzhen-Hong Kong border. Now they cannot.
At least, that is according to the manageress at China Travel Service.
When the manageress overheard us asking the poor desk minion about the France situation, the manageress came striding over to tell us -- a bit defensively -- that France started it, French treated Chinese travelers badly, and China was just getting them back.
She lectured us for quite some time, and quite loudly, too. Hey, it's not our fault there's diplomatic unhappiness. We're just dumb tourists trying to get a visa.
This seems to be the Chinese visa policy: you poke me in the eye, I'll poke you back.

I was also wrong about the need for proof of employment and salary. It does say that on the French-language letter CTS gave us last time, but apparently it's not important.

They made us buy our train tickets and travel insurance in advance. (Great. Marc will be covered for the whole six hours he's there).

Round-trip train ticket HK 380
Travel insurance HK 106
Visa HK 310

We have to wait till Friday to see if the visa is accepted. If not, we lose the money from the train ticket and insurance. They will refund the visa money, but charge us HK 50 for the pleasure of being turned down by the Chinese government. In total, that would be HK 536 down the drain.

Plus, the bossy manageress crossed out the sentence in the letter that said "double entry," and wrote in "single entry," since we couldn't provide proof of travel / residency for the second trip.
Then she hand-wrote in "1 day" in the corner.
"Did that mean one night?" I asked
"No," she said. "One day, same-day return."
So we're paying HK 310 for a single-entry visa that is not even good for 24 hours. Given the train schedules, it's basically good for 12 hours. (The first train arrives in Guangzhou a little after 9am, and the last train arrives in Hong Kong at about 9:30 pm).
What if Marc misses his train home, or there's a delay?

I have no idea what the visa requirements are for Mainland Chinese to France.
Usually, these requirements are to prevent the citizens of poorer, developing countries from becoming illegal immigrants or asylum-seekers. (I'm not saying this is right or ethical, I'm just saying how it is)
The requirements for plane tickets and hotels might make sense if you are a French national applying from Paris. After all, who goes half-way around the world with no plane ticket or hotel?

But the Hong Kong-Chinese border is a slightly difference case.
What about a Hong Kong permanent resident applying from Hong Kong, where day trips into Shenzhen and Guangzhou are common?
The closest parallel I can think of in Europe is the Schengen area.
If you are Chinese, but have been a legal and permanent resident of Italy for more than a decade -- do you need to go through the whole visa charade to travel to France?
According to this French government website, the answer is no. But, again, I'm not sure.

The irony is that Marc isn't even that excited by travel to China. He's seen the big things -- the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, The Bund in Shanghai -- and now he's done.
He's only going up to keep me company, since I've done quite a bit of schlepping back and forth recently, and it's boring to go alone. He's never been to Guangzhou, so I thought it was good for him to take a look.
***
What would you suggest for a day trip to Guangzhou for someone who has never been?
I'm thinking Shamian Island and dim sum at the White Swan. The new Guangdong Museum is nice, plus near where I have to be.
After that, I don't know. Marc isn't big into malls -- and even if he were, we live in Hong Kong. He also isn't into theme parks or amusement parks. And if you want theme parks, you go to Shenzhen.
The area around the Garden Hotel is sort of interesting, but it's still kinda grubby by Marc standards.
The Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall? That ancient family hall I once visited? (The Chen family? I need to look it up). That park with the famous Five Ram statue? Temple of the Six Banyan Trees? I've never been there myself, so maybe that would be nice.
I wonder what Marc will think. He has much higher travel standards than I do. I can only imagine his reaction when we enter the hellhole that is Guangzhou East Train Station, where you have to walk five blocks (following no English signs) to the taxi stand.
***
Random funny trivia. If you look up "Guangzhou travel" and get to their government-run English-language tourism website, they have a list of all of the city's five-star hotels.
And they are the White Swan, the Garden, the Phoenix, the Dong Fang, the Yihe, the Tianlun... you get the idea.
The city is packed with every major international chain, from the Westin to the Ritz. For some reason, they aren't listed anywhere.
Is this protectionism or what?













Vacation Planning: Montreal and Quebec City



Breakfast on the rooftop of Hotel Place D'Armes in Montreal. Image from www.montrealkiosk.com

I've been vacation planning, which is a fun diversion from working.
But I can't believe the prices out there.
Maybe it's because Asia is still cheaper than the West. We get used to being able to jet off to Bangkok for HK $3,000, including airfare and hotel.
Talk all you want about the financial crisis in the West and "Rising Asia" -- just take a look at hotel prices in New York, London or Paris, and you'll still see a huge jump in prices.
We were originally going to fly to Montreal via Vancouver or Toronto.
But, as we suddenly found ourselves with more time off, we've decided to reroute through Paris, instead.
This caused a scramble for tickets, as it's July and we're booking for early August.
Hong Kong-Paris was surprisingly easy and affordable, even though we're doing things last minute.
But Paris-Montreal is just about fully booked, and all the cheapest tickets are gone. That leg is going to cost more than US $1000 per person, regardless of whether we're flying Air France or Air Canada.
We're spending two nights in Paris, four nights in Montreal, two nights in Quebec City and then a week in Normandy. It will be a very francophone holiday. So we'll be gone about 2.5 weeks, which is, frankly, all we can afford traveling at the level we wish to travel at. (We ain't backpackers).
I checked out some bed and breakfasts (gites) for a more rustic and affordable stay, but Marc wasn't really into staying at "grandma's house."
So I've booked us into boutique hotels in historic buildings, which are quainter than big-name Sheraton / Marriott-type hotels, but posher than the ol' lit et petit dejeuner. We will be at the Hotel Place D'Armes in the lovely, cobblestoned neighborhood of Old Montreal, and then at Hotel 71 in Quebec City.
Rooms are more than CAD $200 a night, and the Canadian dollar is just about on par with the USD these days. (When I was a kid, it was like 70 cents to the USD).
That means that boutique hotels in Montreal -- a city with MUCH cheaper real estate in Hong Kong -- are about the same price as a four-star here.

Hotel 71 in Quebec. Image from www.channels.nl.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Tibetan environmentalist sentenced

BEIJING, July 3 (Reuters) - A Chinese court on Saturday sentenced a Tibetan environmentalist who organized villagers to pick up litter and plant trees to five years in jail for inciting to split the nation, his lawyer said.

The environmentalist, Rinchen Samdrup, is the third brother in his family to be jailed. Mr. Samdrup ran an environmental group in Tibet that organized about 1,700 local villagers to reforest the area and report poaching, and also ran a small magazine. His group worked with international conservation groups and was praised by Chinese media.

Exile Tibetan groups say Mr. Samdrup ran afoul of powerful local interests after accusing a local police officer of poaching.

Mr. Samdrup was accused of posting a favorable article about the Dalai Lama on his website, his lawyer, Xia Jun, said. He pleaded not guilty But the Chamdo prefecture court convicted him of incitement to split the country, the lawyer said, and deprived him of his political rights for three years. He has 10 days to appeal.

***

Speaking of the old Nobel Peace Prize winner, he came up in conversation at our party last night. Our guests were pondering the reason for tightening Chinese visa restrictions on French nationals -- was it because France invited the Dalai Lama? (Didn't that happen almost two years ago, during the Olympics, or was there a later trip?)

The one mainland person present said, "Well, that was stupid." (The invitation, not the visa restrictions). Then there was a brief pause before everyone moved onto the next topic. It was a lighthearted affair, and nobody wanted to delve into an argument.

The crowd were all well-traveled professionals. At a party where there were people from all over the world -- where everyone was chatting about just flying in from Singapore, or vacationing in Spain -- it seemed very silly. Marc and his chef friends aren't even political. Why make it harder for them to pop over the border for tourism?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Colors of Summer -- In a Buffet


We've having about a dozen people over for dinner tonight.
The last time we did this, we cooked a traditional winter-time meal. (Was it Canadian Thanksgiving?)
That meant two straight days of having the oven on -- for meat pies, turkey, ham, potatoes, yams and puddings.
It also meant two straight days of work -- lugging groceries home and endless prep. (We have neither car nor amah). We were still cooking through most of the meal.
This time, we're doing what Marc calls a "buffet froid." We bought the freshest, most colorful summer produce and did a home salad bar.


On one hand, it's weather appropriate. It's been blazingly sunny and very hot all week, and nobody wants to eat much.
Also, it was super-easy. We did one grocery trip yesterday, and I picked up a few things today. This was necessary because I got home from work at half-past midnight last night, and have to be back in tomorrow morning.
Ah, so simple. It was basically assembly work. The only time I turned on the stove was to stew the berries for trifle.
Now it's a good 2 hours before guests arrive, and we're totally done! I might even get a quick swim in before 6pm.
***
If you're looking for a light summer dinner, or a stress-free way to entertain, here are some ideas.

* Small clay pots with various dips. Hummus (chickpea), babaganous (eggplant), guacamole (avocado), sour cream and onion, etc. You can buy these from any high-end grocery like CitySuper, GREAT, 360, etc.
* Stuff to dip it in. Tortillas, chips, mini pitas and "crudite", which is just a fancy French way of saying "vegetables cut into strips." I love using bell peppers because of their colors. You can also use celery, carrot, cucumber or anything else you find in the wet market.
* Cold cuts. Any combination of ham, mini sausages, smoked salmon, etc.
* Salads. We have four today: potato, carrot, tomato/mozzarella, and green.
* Cheese platter.
* Small bowls of nuts and dried fruits.
* Dessert. We decided on small chocolate cupcakes and a mixed berry trifle, but anything can do, even a fruit salad.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Hong Kong martial-arts master gets his due

By JOYCE HOR-CHUNG LAU International Herald Tribune

HONG KONG — Respect is paid when Sammo Hung lumbers down the streets of Tsim Sha Tsui, the neighborhood where he first learned martial arts as a boy.

Women ask for his autograph at a cafe where he has his black coffee. Laborers stripped to the waist in the summer heat crowd against the edge of their truck and wave. Tourists snap photos as he strolls along the Avenue of the Stars — a sort of Hollywood Walk of Fame here — where his hand prints are between Jackie Chan’s and Brigitte Lin’s.

Not particularly well known among mainstream American audiences, Mr. Hung, 58, is known as the “Big Brother” of the Hong Kong kung fu film. The famously hefty actor did not go the Hollywood route that Mr. Chan has pursued but has stayed mainly in Asia, where he has directed, produced, choreographed or acted in about 200 movies. He is best known as a fight choreographer, working behind the scenes with stars like Mr. Chan and John Woo, and playing an integral role in the development of the kung fu genre.

That earned him a lifetime achievement award last week at the New York Asian Film Festival, which runs through Thursday. It is showing four of his works: “Eastern Condors” (1987), a darkly humorous Vietnam War-era film that is said to have been an influence on Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds”; “Kung Fu Chefs” (2009), a comedy; and the two “Ip Man” movies (2008 and 2010), based on the life of Ip Man, a grand master of the Wing Chun style of martial arts who taught Bruce Lee, and for which Mr. Hung did the fight choreography. A sold-out screening of “Ip Man 2” opened the festival.

The entertainment business runs in Mr. Hung’s family. His grandmother, Chin Tsi-Ang, was one of the first sword-wielding martial-arts actresses, and his grandfather was a director.

Born Hung Kam-bo in 1952, he was trained in the old Peking Opera School tradition, in which parents sent young children to live on campus and to apprentice under a master who taught them martial arts, acrobatics, singing and dancing.

“I was never good at school and was always fighting in the streets,” Mr. Hung said. “So they sent me to learn to fight.”

At 9 he was sent to be trained in the Tsim Sha Tsui neighborhood of Kowloon, where he met a younger student named Chan Kong-sang, who became Jackie Chan. Under the school’s management they became child stars in a performing troupe.

“We woke early in the morning and worked until 11 at night,” Mr. Hung said. “There was a small, square wooden stool, and we had to do a handstand on it for an hour. Of course they beat the children. I lived there for seven years.”

Decades later, in 1988, Mr. Hung played his former master in “Painted Faces,” a drama that depicts the boys’ spartan life. “Our real suffering,” he said, “was much worse than what we put in the movie.”

Mr. Hung said he did not learn kung fu specifically until after he left school. He also spent years studying a variety of fighting styles from China and other Asian nations.

He established himself as an action director, choreographing the elaborate combat scenes for which Hong Kong films are known and sometimes fighting himself. He plays the portly Shaolin monk, for example, whom Bruce Lee battles in the opening of “Enter the Dragon”(1973).

Through the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s Mr. Hung was involved in scores of movies, which the Hong Kong studio system was churning out quickly and cheaply. He specialized in the B-films so beloved by audiences here.

Hong Kong cinema began developing its own look and moving away from stylized Mandarin-language costume dramas. Filmmakers started using bawdy humor, urban settings, tight hand-to-hand combat shots and the rough Cantonese of the streets.

“Kung fu films have to move with the rest of the world,” Mr. Hung said. “You couldn’t keep on doing sword fights in historic films. People wanted superheroes. They wanted something fast and new.”

From 1998 to 2000 he starred in “Martial Law,” a CBS prime-time TV drama, in which he played a kung fu-fighting Chinese cop.

Like everyone in the Hong Kong movie business Mr. Hung is doing more work in China, as it opens up and as its entertainment industry grows. That said, he noted that “the local Hong Kong flavor is getting lost in some films.”

“I wish there were more kung fu films,” he said. “They are a part of our culture. But there are no young new stars out there. Who’s making a new generation of kung fu films now? If all young actors want is to star in romances, what do they need to learn kung fu for? The sex scenes?”

Mr. Hung’s three sons — Timmy, Jimmy and Sammy — have acted in various projects with him, but he said he was not going to push them. “I want them to see the world for themselves,” he said.

Nor did he see the film festival award as the culmination of his career. Once the festival ends, he plans to return home to Hong Kong, he said, and start shooting again.

“I’m not quite ready for a lifetime achievement award,” he said. “It makes it sound like I’m going to retire soon, and I feel like I’ve just started.”

The New York Asian Film Festival continues through Thursday with screenings at various locations. Information: subwaycinema.com.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The financial price of addiction?

A few posts back, I wrote a throwaway line about coke use among expat executives in Hong Kong. I didn't expect that detail to cause any surprise or even draw any comments, but it did.
After all, I'm sure the same thing happens in the Towers of Power in London and New York.

Today, I read this at work. The NYT/IHT reports:
"Alcohol-induced behavior has produced many unintended consequences, but pushing up the global price of oil and losing $10 million must rank among the most novel.

"Britain’s financial regulator disclosed on Tuesday that Steven Noel Perkins, a former oil futures broker, single- handedly engineered a jump in the price of oil a year ago and cost his firm millions of dollars with a string of unauthorized trades after a weekend of heavy drinking."
That made me think of a long features about the financial crisis, that profiled a top executive who used drugs. (I think it was in The New Yorker, but can't find it online).

There have been endless studies on why it happened -- sub-prime mortgages, deregulation, predatory lending. But what about the idea that maybe the guys in charge are all off their heads?

I went back and looked at some articles from 2007, right before the fall, when everyone was still talking about a Wall Street "boom."

From The New York Times:
"The image of a drug-fueled Wall Street is often seen as a stereotype from the 1980s, when cocaine and heroin were common as after-hours entertainment and even sweeteners for business deals. But in the latest issue of Investment Dealer’s Digest, Tom Granahan reports that abuse of cocaine, prescription drugs and alcohol remains widespread on the Street...."

"...Harris Stratyner, a psychologist at Caron's New York Recovery Center, said some executives he treats are experimenting with cocaine, opiate-based drugs, Ecstasy and marijuana, as well as abusing alcohol.Cass and Stratyner said their clients sometimes conceal their habits by taking prescription drugs they get for back surgery or sports-related injuries. The Internet has also expanded the black market for drugs."

"Alden Cass, a clinical psychologist who counsels Wall Streeters with drug addictions, said drug abuse and high anxiety are undercurrents to the current boom..."

"... Cass said opiate abuse among his clients is rising and they openly talk about being hooked on prescription drugs like OxyContin, known as hillbilly heroin."

"... Wall Street professionals in their 20s use Ritalin and Adderall, prescription drugs used to treat attention-deficit disorder and hyperactivity, to enhance their performance as they grind out 100-hour weeks, Cass said."

"One hiring manager at a major New York bank said new staff must take a urine test, which is typical for the industry. But he said new hires can choose when to schedule the test during a 45-day period before their start date.

"Our drug test is not so much a test of whether you actually take drugs as it is an intelligence test to see if you can figure out how long it takes to get traces of the drug out of your system," said the manager.

Wow. It sounds like professional cycling.

These Wall Street guys have a huge influence on Main Street. If they don't handle things well (which is, ostensibly, why they get paid the big bucks) then everyone from a factory worker on the other side of the world, to a blue-collar family with a mortgage might suffer.

I wonder why there haven't been more studies on the effects of substance abuse on financial systems.
When people think of "the war on drugs", they think about teens, or disadvantaged urban neighborhoods, or poor junkies on the street. What about a war on drugs among the rich who run the economy?

Happy Hong Kong / Canada Day!

You know, I totally forgot.
Yesterday, I got home from a day trip to Guangzhou, which was hot and tiring. (I caught the slow train back, with went through Dongguan AND Shenzhen).
I got out from the Hung Hom train station and hopped in a cab.
"What's up with all this traffic outside Hong Kong Coliseum?" I asked my driver.
He looked at me as if I were an idiot. (He may be right).
"7-1," he said.
Oh yeah. So that's why there were PLA (People's Liberation Army) trucks, and nervous looking official-type guys in tuxes.
"It feels like a long time since the handover," my cabbie shrugged.
"Yeah," I said.
Then he listed all the holidays that meant more to him: Chinese New Year, Mid-Autumn Festival, Christmas, my cat's birthday... you get the idea.
***
Today, I came to work and my colleague said, "Happy Canada Day!"
"Oh yeah," I said. I forgot that one, too.
I made some excuse about how, in Quebec, we don't really celebrate it. But it was a lame excuse, and we both knew it.
I have one colleague, a nice guy who's Canadian. Now I'm thinking I should have brought in cookies or something. (Though, unlike the U.S. Fourth of July, Canada doesn't have any special foods related to it).
So what's wrong with me? And I just not very patriotic? Or am I suffering from overwork and what one colleague likes to call a "brain cramp."