Sunday, October 31, 2010
The government warns people with heart or respiratory illnesses to avoid prolonged stays in heavy traffic areas when the index exceeds 100 at roadside monitoring stations.
So I have respiratory problems but I have to work today, with an after-work appointment in Central. What am I supposed to do? Walk around in a bubble?
Is there a silver lining to this? At least pollution levels and warnings are openly reported in Hong Kong, as opposed to China, where people keep trying to tell themselves that it's just "fog."
Though, really, that doesn't make me feel any better.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
Christie Johnston, my friend and colleague, took great photos but, alas, they are not online -- only in the print edition.
Scene in/ Seen in... Hong Kong
By JOYCE HOR-CHUNG LAU
Published: October 29, 2010HONG KONG — The stiletto crowd has invaded another flip-flop neighborhood.
On a recent evening, leggy blondes minced their way to an opening at the Cat Street Gallery, which looked like an immaculate glowing cube on an otherwise dark, quiet corner. Inside the floor-to-ceiling windows, waiters were bustling about with hors d’oeuvres and wine. Outside, locals were trudging home, pulling along schoolchildren and bags of groceries.
Mandy d’Abo, an Australian, opened her first Hong Kong art space in 2006 on Cat Street, a glorified alley where tourist trinkets are sold. In 2008, the gallery expanded to its current location on the western edge of Hollywood Road; its original spot was renamed the Annex and is used for private viewings. This month, Ms. d’Abo opened the Space — a 4,000-square-foot, or 370-square-meter, former meatpacking plant that will house art exhibits, film screenings, fashion shows and private parties.
Ms. d’Abo’s expanding enterprise is part of the gentrification of areas west of Central, Hong Kong’s financial district. The change started more than a decade ago when restaurants, bars and galleries moved into SoHo, or “South of Hollywood Road,” pushing out old-fashioned butchers, grocers and soy-sauce makers.
SoHo got crowded and expensive, so some galleries moved to an adjoining area called NoHo, for “North of Hollywood,” or BoHo, for “Below Hollywood.” (Yes, Hong Kong is situated upside-down.)
When Dominique Perregaux, a Swiss citizen, first opened Art Statements in 2003 on Shing Hing Street — which is not really a street but rickety steps in the Sheung Wan neighborhood — he would advertise his gallery as being in Central, so art buyers wouldn’t be intimidated. He has done well since then, and is opening a branch in Tokyo on Nov. 17. And since he opened in Hong Kong, Amelia Johnson Contemporary, Galerie Ora-Ora and a few French restaurants have settled in on Shing Hing too.
The more adventurous, or perhaps just the more rent-sensitive, are increasingly moving to the old working-class districts of Sheung Wan, Western and Sai Ying Pun. There’s no cute nickname yet for this area west of SoHo. WoHo, perhaps?
Along the steep, uneven sidewalks of Aberdeen Street is the Blindspot Gallery. It opened in May with three exhibitions showcasing Chinese and Hong Kong photographers, and will show Japanese work in November.
“There aren’t that many galleries in this area that specialize in photography,” said Lesley Kwok, Blindspot’s manager. “The photo market here is not very mature, but the public response has been good so far.”
Also on Aberdeen is No Borders Contemporary Art, which opened about a year ago. On a recent evening, Jonathan Jay Lee, a 25-year-old Hong Kong artist, was sitting on the floor unwrapping new giclée prints of his rainbow-hued illustrations. A graduate of Parsons School of Design in New York, he has worked for Marvel Comics, and his art has a playful, cartoonish feel.
“A lot of galleries in Hong Kong are all the same, and this is a little different,” said Zoe Dulay, No Borders’ manager.
“This small space is good for a starting-out gallery,” she added. “But it’s a little more isolated up on this hill.”
There was also a street-art vibe at ufoArtgallery, an offshoot of uforepublic, a design firm based in Frankfurt. The space opened in April on Graham Street, next to an outdoor market selling fruits, vegetables and flopping, live fish.
“In Europe, it’s very usual to show this sort of lowbrow art or street art,” said the gallery’s director, Heike Jane Zimmerman. Work by a local street artist named Dom is now on view. “When we first opened the gallery, some people here didn’t understand that this is art, but it’s better now. There’s a little scene here that makes me happy.”
Another expatriate, Nicola Borg-Pisani of France, is behind one of the newer galleries in town, ilivetomorrow, which opened last month. Crowds holding Champagne flutes lingered around the imported cheeses set up one evening on the sidewalk, chattering in English, French, Cantonese and Mandarin.
“I wanted a very light, very flexible space that can be adapted for each exhibition,” said Mr. Borg-Pisani, as he gestured around the two-story, 1,200-square-foot former print shop. It was the only renovated spot on Tung Street, which was lined with the “tong lau,” or traditional low-rises, with their signature metal-framed windows. The debut show at ilivetomorrow featured Fengfeng & Biaobiao, a husband-and-wife team from Guangzhou in southern China. The works had a surreal, gothic feel: decorated skulls, dress shirts with bloody red splotches and stools made to look like private body parts. The best pieces were delicate, almost intimate, articles of white clothing that were actually crafted of porcelain.
Much of the new investment in this area has been from expatriates, or at least aimed at foreign tastes. In a place that was once distinctly Chinese, you can now view art from all over the world and go to the Press Room for a French charcuterie platter.
The western stretch of Hollywood Road has also become home to branches of international galleries. The Hong Kong space of the Sundaram Tagore Gallery, based in New York and Beverly Hills, is known for its busy openings. Tang Contemporary, a Thai gallery that first expanded to Beijing, is also here, and has become a high-profile participant in events like the Hong Kong International Art Fair.
It would be an overstatement to say that WoHo has become a bustling gallery district: The new enterprises tend to be small, scattered and somewhat difficult to find. It would also be wrong to say that art is new here. Hollywood Road has long been Hong Kong’s historic center for traditional Chinese crafts, like carved jade, painted scrolls, antique chinaware or blackwood furniture. But now new creations have been added to the old.
Above Second, which opened about half a year ago, is the farthest afield of the new galleries. It is a 15- or 20-minute walk outside SoHo — past the Western end of Hollywood Road, into a neighborhood with traditional paper lantern-makers, and up a dark slope. No fashionable gallery-goer is going to make that trek on foot, particularly in heels; everyone takes a cab. (There is a practical reason why this was a flip-flop neighborhood).
A local Cantonese-speaking crowd was hanging out there recently in the cozy back room, where stacks of paintings leaned against the wall and snacks came from a new gourmet grocery around the corner.
May Wong, the young Hong Kong woman who runs Above Second, described the October show as “raw street art” by a local art and design team called Graphic Airlines.
“My art is made of materials I find in the street,” the artist, Kathy Kuk, said.
She shook her head when asked if her studio was nearby. “No way,” she said. “It’s way too expensive here.”
Friday, October 29, 2010
Yuto Miyazawa at the Hong Kong Fringe Club earlier this month.
By JOYCE HOR-CHUNG LAU
Published: October 20, 201HONG KONG — Yuto Miyazawa, a 10-year-old Japanese guitar prodigy, was going strong late into his second set at the Hong Kong Fringe Club, launching into guitar riffs like a virtuoso and bantering with the crowd in shaky English.
When a fan shouted a request for “Crazy Train,” Yuto stopped for a moment, looking much like the skinny Japanese schoolboy he is. The fan, thinking Yuto didn’t understand, held up a camera phone with a video of the old Ozzy Osbourne favorite.
It wasn’t necessary. Yuto, whom the Guinness Book of World Records lists as the youngest professional guitarist, has an encyclopedic knowledge of heavy metal and can rattle off the names of its legendary performers, even those who died years before he was born.
“No,” he politely told the fan. “This is my song.” And then he launched into “Let’s Go,” a rock-pop anthem he wrote.
Yuto teased the crowd by announcing his last song, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird,” and ended it with a flashy solo. With the audience pounding and protesting for more, he gave his heckling fan “Crazy Train,” then continued the encore with “The Star Spangled Banner,” a la Jimi Hendrix.
The clock had ticked past midnight by the time he got to “Paranoid,” another Ozzy song from the Black Sabbath days.
Then Yuto’s manager, Steve Bernstein, edged toward the stage. It was past the kid’s bedtime.
If Yuto feels any pressure being a child performer, he doesn’t show it. The show at the Fringe, which holds about 100 people standing, earlier this month was no big deal. Last year, he played at Lollapalooza in Chicago after coming to international notice for a televised performance of “Crazy Train” on the Ellen DeGeneres show.
Speaking through an interpreter during a recent interview, Yuto said that his most memorable performance was when he joined Mr. Osbourne this summer onstage in Connecticut for Ozzfest.
“Ozzy lifted me up and I felt just like Randy Rhoads,” he said, referring to the late American heavy metal guitarist who played both with Mr. Osbourne and the band Quiet Riot. (Yuto’s collection of about 10 guitars includes the Rhoads edition polka-dot Gibson Flying V, which he played in Hong Kong.)
There is no doubting Yuto’s technical skill. And, unlike some young performers pushed into the spotlight, there is nothing mechanical or forced about him. He improvises with glee and slides into riffs with ease. He is in charge on stage, fiddling with his equipment and engaging with band members for a good, tight set.
Yuto also sings but, for now, his vocals are no match for his instrumental skills. His voice is still that of a child, and he sometimes sounds like a choir boy who accidentally stumbled into a metal concert. But nobody comes to his shows just to hear him sing.
Yuto leads a relatively normal life in Tokyo. His father, Tsuneo Miyazawa, works at a bank. His mother is a housewife who cares for him and a younger brother. Some prodigies are surrounded by staff and private tutors, but not Yuto. He goes to school and generally only tours during the holidays.
“It’s like he’s 30 when he plays, and 10 when he’s not,” Mr. Bernstein, his manager, said.
His father often accompanies Yuto on his travels but remains in the background and could be mistaken for a particularly clean-cut roadie.
“We are proud of him,” Mr. Miyazawa said, almost shyly, of his son.
On a recent day Yuto’s schedule included two interviews in the morning, an afternoon rehearsal and two evening shows at the Fringe Club, one at 5:30 and the second beginning at 10:30 p.m.
Asked if the back-to-back shows were draining, he said: “Maybe I get tired at 11:30,” earning a “Yeah, right” look from Mr. Miyazawa.
Yuto was a toddler — 1 year and 10 months old, according his father — when he first touched a guitar.
He was hooked. He would pick up a vegetable grater, cradle it and try strumming it. His grandfather made him a toy guitar from cardboard and rubber bands. His parents bought him a ukulele. Just before his fourth birthday, he started guitar lessons.
Yuto became known in Japan when he was 5 and his parents sent a video to a local television show.
“My dad used to be better than me at guitar,” Yuto said. “But now he’s given up.”
Mr. Bernstein said Yuto’s schedule was open for the moment, although a December or January return to Hong Kong is possible, as is a U.S. tour in February.
“Later, we would also like to hit Korea, Taiwan and mainland China,” he added.
But Yuto wanted to go to England. “There is where Ozzy is from,” he said. “Also Ritchie Blackmore, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton.”
For the time being, Yuto’s fame is based on his novelty: The cute Asian boy who excels at a dark, morbid genre. His videos on YouTube get hundreds of thousands of hits.
But he wants to be more than merely the kid who can cover Ozzy Osbourne, and has started writing his own material.
Yuto ended his Fringe Club show a confident, noisy rocker. Then, as soon as the music stopped, he was back to being a kid. He stood patiently on the small stage and posed for photos. He shook hands with his fans, bowing slightly at the waist.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
I will blog more about it later when I have more time and have my photos uploaded.
I love the old buildings, tree-lined streets and wide sidewalks. Service, as always in China, was a bit rough around the edges. But the food was great -- and cheap.
That's probably why I put on a few pounds there. No much, but a bit. More disturbing than the scale, I feel all bloated and oily. Seven days of hotel buffet breakfasts and Chinese restaurants every lunch and dinner -- yeah, that can add up.
So I'm going on my Three Day Diet, which I think I've blogged about in the past. It's just a little "pick me up." When I feel my habits sliding, it's good to have a routine to pull them back. Some people do it once a month.
I like this diet because it's not extreme and doesn't leave out any major food groups. It's sane enough that you can do it for longer, too. (I get a little peckish around lunch, but that's OK)
It doesn't require much effort in terms of seeking out special foods, keeping a detailed food diary, or remember complex rules.
Also (cleverly) it has a little treat (a small ice cream paired with fruit) at the end of the day if I've been a good girl. I think it's important that your diets aren't MISERABLE. If I'm too strict, I end up getting cravings, particularly for sugar. So this sates it.
If you stick strictly to it for 3-4 days, it's a pretty fast way to lose a few extra pounds. Here it is
1 slice of toast (no butter)
1 topping (either 1 egg, 1 slice cheese or 1 spoonful peanut butter)
1 piece of fruit
1 coffee (no sugar)
1/2 a tuna or egg sandwich
1 coffee (no sugar)
small piece lean meat or fish
2 big cups vegetables -- cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, carrots etc
1 small scoop ice cream
1 piece of fruit
P.S. Why am I telling you this? For the same reason that smokers announce to their whole offices that they are going to quit. I guess people perform well with an audience or some peer pressure (even if it is virtual). Also, I'm increasingly using this blog as my own personal notebook. When I write things here, I'm more likely to remember and follow them.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
The main reason is because my work cards don't have my mobile or personal email. When I meet someone I want to keep in touch with, I scrawl this information on the back. It's a pain, and unprofessional.
(I keep my personal details off my IHT card for a reason: I'm bombarded by unwanted attention from PR people, salespeople and whoever it is who writes spam).
My work cards are a bit serious and old-school. My first card had a little yellow International Herald Tribune strip. Now it is just stark black and white. With my own card, I can do anything I like. I can make it hot pink. I can put a drawing of a flower or a cartoon of Hugo the Cat.
I started by following these basic instructions on how to make a business card using MS Word.
Boy, whatever I came up with was really dull.
I went online for inspiration and found this great site called Creative Bits.
All images below are from that site. While they all win points for originality, I think many are too out there for the very corporate world that is Hong Kong.
This is a scratch-off card, like a lottery ticket. It seems like too much work. You do run into many dumb people. What if some folk don't get it and never find your contacts?
This would be cute for a small shop in a small town -- like a mini ad. But I'm against weirdly shaped cards because they don't fit into other people's Rolodexes / card holders.
This embossed card is cute and artsy, but too hard to read. What if you met an important older client in a dim place?
Hmmm. A subtle gold gilt edge. I like that. It's a little quirky, but in a quiet, classy way. I'll put it on my list.
I think there's a certain kind of humor that works only in some (very casual) societies like America, and would totally flop overseas. I don't get the in-joke on the above card, but I sure wouldn't want to hand it to, say, a Japanese lady business partner.
One of my colleagues knows someone who works for a company called Big Ass something-or-other. Again, that might not travel well in foreign markets.
Same goes for dogtags. Not everyone likes America's wars, or will get the in-joke.
This is a little different. But if it falls under normal-business-card-sizing, I might consider it.
I have no comment on the above divorce lawyer's card. I just put it here because it's hilarious.
Do you think arguing couples actually fight over the two sides?
My own idea is this: A simple background in a bright color.
Joyce Hor-Chung Lau
writer & editor
writer & editor
I'd like to do it in my own handwriting, of which I am strangely proud. Don't know why. I've always liked my penmenship. And it looks like there are fewer people using nice hand scripts on cards, even the creative ones.
This isn't really but Lisa from the Privilege blog covers some similar graphical issues with a post on invitations.
Note: I'm traveling on the other side of the Great Firewall. There posts were written in advance, because I wouldn't want you guys to go without your Joyceyland fix!
Friday, October 22, 2010
When I was a little girl, the Miss America Pageant was a big deal. Mom, Dad, even my brother, and I would watch it on the blocky old TV in our living room.
Twenty years later, I'm hooked on a reality TV show called America's Next Top Model. I know it's trash, but I love it.
There's a limit to how much serious news and writing I can take before I have what my colleagues call a "brain cramp."
To relieve that, I have the Canadiens ice hockey games and "ANTM."
I watch both on YouTube because
a) I'm too lazy to figure out when they're on in Hong Kong and... OK, I don't really know how to operate our TV
b) If I watched 30 minutes of ANTM in a row, my brain would explode from the stupidity. YouTube lets me watch it in sane 10-minute intervals. I skip over the "reality" part, where underfed wannabe models, who are forced to live in a house together with no outside contact for months, fight over a granola bar.
I don't need that in my life. I just like the photo shoots and judging.
This year, Tyra has brought the show up a notch. Gone are the contestants there just because they made good reality TV -- the struggling "plus-sized" girls, the oddly short ones, the sobbing moms, the people with bizarre diseases and disabilities. Nothing against those people, of course. Some were good. I'm just saying that the show was too forcibly dramatic.
This season, all the models look like models. They are uniformly taller, thinner and younger. They must be 6' on average.
Tyra's upped the ante with bigger partners and prizes: The cover of Vogue Italia and a contract with IMG Models. (The $100,000 CoverGirl contract was always there).
Even the guest judges are high fashion: Andre Leon Talley from Vogue, Diane von Furstenberg (the DvF wrap dress has saved my wardrobe on many an occasion!) Patrick Demarchelier, Zac Posen and Marghertia Missoni.
It's always fun to guess who will be eliminated. My favorite, Anamaria, went first.
She got kicked off because the judging panel "suddenly realized" that she might be anorexic.
I don't condone anorexia. If she is at risk of harming herself, they should get her therapy, as they have done for past contestants. (If she really had an eating disorder, which is based on insecurity about looks, getting publicly humiliated is probably the worst thing for it).
It rang untrue. The panel had worked with her for weeks, including in a bikini. If she was unacceptably skinny, they would have noticed.
I think she was a scapegoat so the show could give a little feel-good, PC service announcement on healthy bodies after she was gone.
It was random. I mean, check out the video below of the contestant with the world's smallest waist:
I think Ann is just better at PR. Poor Anamaria spoke honestly about how models have to count calories. (Duh.) Ann says she can eat whatever she wants. Whether this is true or not, it was definitely the more clever thing to say.
Ann can really pose -- see the angel picture above. It's so beautiful, artsy and natural. Many of the other girls looked like stiff mannequins in this shoot.
Ann does photograph wonderfully and seems to be the frontrunner.
Amazing what a difference good hair, make-up and lighting can make. She, too, is gone.
Then there's Kayla, the lesbian. She's still in the running. (I figure I would be an equal opportunity blogger and give lesbian Joyceyland readers some eye candy, too).
Note: I'm traveling on the other side of the Great Firewall. There posts were written in advance, because I wouldn't want you guys to go without your Joyceyland fix!
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
It is predicted to hit Hong Kong in several days.
And for two days running, the Hong Kong Observatory has been reporting, as its top item, that the air is "dry" in Hong Kong.
Dry? OK. My bread doesn't instantly mold when I leave it on the kitchen counter anymore. The mystery mushrooms sprouting at the base of my houseplants seem to be gone. But dry? What's their definition of dry?
According to them, anything below 70% humidity. (In the rest of the world, that's called "wet.")
I've written in the past about Hong Kongers' paranoia / wimpiness when it comes the weather.
It's like the HKO's "cold weather warnings" on a sub-tropical island that never comes close to freezing.
According to Hong Kongers, it's always either too hot or too cold, too humid or too dry -- which is why everyone stays indoors, in blasting air con, 365 days a year.
Typhoons aside, this is the most comfortable time of the year here. I keep telling people -- cabbies, our office building management -- that they can turn down the air con now.
Speaking of typhoons, why do they always hit just around the time I have to go to China? (The last one coincided with my Shanxi Province trip). I just hope there isn't turbulence like last time.
My main concern going to the Motherland is not weather but pollution.
I had my first serious asthma problem in years when I was in Shanxi. It was instant. I was fine the day before in Hong Kong. That first night in Pingyao -- where I could smell coal burning even inside my hotel room -- I coughed like crazy. The first two days were miserable. The third day was finally sunny, and I could take some photos, but we all know that the odd clear day is not necessarily a sign that the pollution problem has gone away.
Thank god I always carry my medicine with me, even though 90% of the time I don't need it.
Once asthma is triggered, it takes a long time to fade away. So I'm back on my inhalers as a preventative measure, and my cough is slowly getting better. Touch wood.
I really hope Shanghai has cleaned up its air. The last thing I need is a relapse now.
I've written a few posts in advance before my trip to the other side of the Firewall, but will be absent from Joyceyland for a while.
I'll post it here on Joyceyland next week. I'll be on the other side of the Great Firewall until then.
Saturday, October 16, 2010
Xinhua, China's state news agency, had "quoted" Prof. Kolstad as saying that Liu Xiaobo's Nobel Peace Prize was "a big mistake," according to the CMP at the University of Hong Kong.
Kolstad says he never said anything of the sort. (The above link is in English. Here is the Chinese version).
Then again, an Anonymous reader below says that Kolstad did make such comments, in a story here. (My Norwegian isn't quite up to snuff, but Google Translate seems to tell me so).
I'm glad Anonymous wrote in. (Note to readers: This post has been rewritten from a previous version).
The Chinese propaganda department twist and turn so many stories, and block so much information, that most people, like myself, have no faith in them. They've forever blocked news of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, even the peaceful Hong Kong memorials of it. The list of banned subjects is as long as my arm. So when we read yet another article saying that they're done something awful, we believe it.
Maybe I was too quick to jump the gun to say that quotes were made up. Maybe they really searched Norway for the guy who would back up their claims about how horrible it is that they won the Nobel Peace Prize.
I'll let you good readers decide.
Regardless, the domestic coverage of Liu Xiaobo, a moderate pro-democracy campaigner and writer (and now Nobel Laureate) is really skewed. Lots of international coverage has been blocked. There was little news at all till China came back spitting with venom about how the Nobel was just a horrible conspiracy against Beijing.
It seems important to Beijing that they seem to have Western friends who will jump out of nowhere and sound exactly like the Chinese Foreign Ministry. (When you have to resort to tactics like this, you're basically waving the white flag that your argument is not good. My colleague summed up China's recent PR debacle as: "Beijing Angry. Hulk Smash.")
The full text in English is here. I left a comment on the China Daily site saying that the professor denied the story. It's being "moderated". Let's see if it goes through.
The mentality is so weird. On one hand, China criticizes the foreign news media -- endlessly. On the other hand, it desperately craves a thumbs up from the West, particularly from the news media. I remember reading how a Chinese source "translated" a New York Times article. They totally changed it so that it read like Chinese propaganda.
Why would it do that? If you're going to do all the hard work of writing something, why not just take credit for it? It was because it was important that the message (seemingly) came from The New York Times. Someone just wanted the Western stamp of approval, never mind the accuracy.
Who do you believe -- Xinhua or the Norwegian dude? Why would a professor suddenly come out against the Nobel Prizes and then immediately deny it?
In other Chinese media news via CMP, a Peking University professor and new media expert Hu Yong (胡泳) Tweets: "Many people in our country don't realize that their premier can also be harmonized [or censored]. Censorship of Wen Jiabao's remarks on political reform at the very least makes one thing clear: facing the Great Firewall we are all equal."
He is referring to the fact that the Chinese prime minister has had bits and pieces of his speeches censored by the Chinese media, particularly when he speaks of political reform.
This story from The Telegraph in England reports that Wen's comments have been blocked by his own country "at least four times in recent months."
The CMP reports in later posts that some of Wen's remarks finally filtered through some select media.
I'm glad I'm on this side of the Great Firewall. It be must an exhausting cat and mouse game to have to chase down what may or may not be the real news.
Note to Joyceyland readers: I'm sorry if you're sick of reading Liu posts. I'm getting a little sick of writing them, frankly. I vow to stop, then China does yet another silly thing that warrants airing.
Obviously it doesn't understand the PR concept that the more you fuss over a negative news item, the worse and more prolonged the coverage will be.
I've heard two separate cabbies say this recently while stuck in bad traffic. "It's so suck, you wouldn't recognize your mother."
Suck (short high tone) is the very appropriate local slang term for traffic congestion. It really does suck.
I hadn't heard the mother line before, though.
It's always happy when a Kowloon cabbie happens to find a Kowloon customer like me on Hong Kong Island. I'm glad because I only have to pay half the tunnel fee, and my guy might even know where my building is located. (Island cabbies act like Kowloon is Afghanistan). He's happy because he doesn't have to pay the tunnel fee to go "home", and can make a few bucks while getting back where he has to be.
It was the worst possible time and place to get a cab -- Central, rush-hour, raining -- when I spotted a guy with the Kowloon sign. I jumped in he said, "Wow! You are my char siu!"
"What? I am your char siu?" I asked.
Char siu is a popular BBQ pork here.
What he meant, he said, was that I was his lucky charm, his piece of good luck, his char siu.
When I got in yet another taxi, the cabbie spoke into one his many mobiles and said, "Hey, I just picked up a basket."
I guess basket must mean customer. Crazy Hong Kong cabbies.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
A few days ago, I joked that China would be so bitter about the Nobel Peace Prize (which is an honor, remember?) that it would crack down on everything, including Norwegian salmon.
I was joking, of course, since it seemed like too absurd a thing to really happen -- that a superpower nation would use the popular hotel buffet dish to voice its anger about a peace prize.
But truth is stranger than fiction. At the last minute, like a petulant child, Beijing canceled talks with Norway's fisheries minister who was flying to China to -- you got it -- "commemorate 21 years of exports of Norwegian salmon."
The (probably flabbergasted) minister, Lisbeth Berg-Hansen, had to come out and state the obvious: that the independently run prize had nothing to do with the Norwegian government.
(Also, nothing to do with fish).
‘‘There is therefore no basis for measures against Norway if someone doesn’t like the prize winner,’’ she said.
China is allegedly mad over this because it makes them look bad. But every additional move it takes -- keeping Liu in jail, harassing his wife, blocking media reports, crashing into celebratory restaurant dinners and arresting diners -- makes it worse.
Questions abound: Why is China so darned angry about everything? Will Chinese hotels be told to stop serving Norwegian smoked salmon? Will nationalistic Chinese hold a freedom-fries-esque boycott of those lovely, chilled pink slices of fish? Will they target the oyster bar next?
Most importantly -- Will I ever be able find a good smoked salmon-cream cheese sandwich on a Montreal-styled bagel in Hong Kong?
Monday, October 11, 2010
Wang Xiangwei is a long-time journalist who was once with China Daily and is now with the South China Morning Post, which is based in Hong Kong.
I don't usually post other people's articles in entirety, but the SCMP is behind a paywall.
South China Morning Post -- Wang Xiangwei
Oct 11, 2010
Saturday, October 9, 2010
It's too bad Liu is in jail just for writing something Beijing didn't like. It's too bad some of his own countrymen don't know to be proud of him. China should feel honored. Instead, they have reacted with insults, rage and shame. Why? One of their people were just given one of the top accolades in the world.
I went to a concert after work and talked to a few friends -- not journalists, not political types, just normal folks. People seem happy about it in Hong Kong.
I won't go on any more. It's late and I'm going to bed. Plus, there's tons of reaction already all over the Internet. I'll just leave you with the New York Times lede on it:
BEIJING — Liu Xiaobo, an impassioned literary critic, political essayist and democracy advocate repeatedly jailed by the Chinese government for his activism, has won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of “his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.”
Friday, October 8, 2010
Just about every year, I make fun of the Chinese government for actively lobbying to NOT win a Nobel Prize. They are at it again, as rumors swirl that the Peace Prize might go to Liu Xiaobo, a former literature professor and democracy advocate.
The prospect has clearly alarmed
Beijing, so much so that the Nobel Institute’s director said last week that a senior Chinese official had warned him such a decision would “pull the wrong strings in relations between Norwayand .” China
This sort of diplomacy shows how little
I don’t know what current ties are between
There is no plus to this action. The Chinese government looks like it’s sulky, bitter and lacking in confidence. (What do they have to worry about one guy winning a prize anyway?) Bullying
It might go to someone none of us have ever heard of. That often happens to the Literature Prize which, I swear, is part of a conspiracy to make me feel really badly read.
Andy’s article goes onto another tangent, to say that some activists also don’t want Liu to win. For me, this news is more intriguing because it is so unexpected. I don’t think they will sway the Nobel committee either, but it's interesting to hear what they have to say.
I think their complaint is that Liu is too pro-China and not radical enough.
We're sitting in the newsroom waiting for the announcement, which will be in about two hours.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
To this day, two decades after the fact, my mom reminds me of the time I vowed to marry Patrick Roy. She seemed awfully concerned by my ardour at the time. After all, I'd never expressed such interest in a boy before.
She didn't need to worry. I was still pre-pubescent in 1986, when the 20-year-old rookie led the Montreal Canadiens to the Stanley Cup. My crush was sports-related, not lust-related.
Plus, we didn't have Sidney Crosby-esque pretty boys back in the day.
I'm pretty sure old-school hockey players didn't appear in "Elle" like they do now.
Back when I was a kid, hockey players were mullet-headed, toothless thugs who spit and bled.
Roy was a skinny, unknown local boy.
He just had one particular amazing skill -- stopping hockey pucks travelling at 100 miles per hour. No matter how fast or complicated the play, he had an uncanny sense of where the puck was.
And he played like a man possessed. He would dive for shots that looked impossible. He was so flexible that he could go basically into a split.
He also seemed a bit mad. He conversed with his goal posts. He had tics that made him jerk his head around. In TV close-ups, you could see the strange faraway focus of his pale eyes. He had the Goalie Death Stare.
Below is a commercial they made of him later, using old footage of one of his early famous saves. (Though it's shown backwards and in slow-mo. It's pretty artsy for a hockey promo)
Last season, the Habs ("Les Habitants") did surprisingly well with a Slovak goalie, Jaroslav Halak. Then, in a deeply unpopular move, he was traded away. You can imagine the angst. He was great! He got us into the playoffs! Plus, he was cute!
Now, pressure is on another young goalie, Carey Price, above. So much so that Canadiens fans are, shamefully, booing and taunting him when he does badly. Price didn't help things by saying that he has the flu on opening day. Canadians are not tolerant of cold-weather-related excuses. "Put on a scarf," people say on hockey blogs. "Who gets the flu in October?"
When Marc visited Quebec, he noted how genuinely friendly and warm Montrealers are. This is true. It is a city of polite, cultured, peaceful, sane people -- until it comes to hockey. Then they lose their minds. Hooligans riot in the street -- and that's when the home team wins. Fans get so excited that they boo their own goalies.
I wish they wouldn't. Price is only 23. It's not fair to expect him to be The Second Coming of Saint Patrick.
Like many expats, I watch my sports from afar and it's not the same. Scores and standings are just abstract numbers. YouTube snippets don't really do it.
I miss the live game. My mom, dad, brother and I -- and, for a while, an early boyfriend who was a hockey player -- would take a bus down to Hartford to see the now-defunct Whalers. (I was born in Canada, but grew up in Connecticut).
My folks, Hong Kong immigrants, initially had no idea what this strange foreign sport was, except that it involved big white guys skating around at great speeds and occasionally beating each other to a pulp.
Soon, they got it. Mom even took to lamenting the violent ways of the Philadelphia Flyers.
We were hooked. Even if you don't get all the rules, it's thrilling to be in a packed hockey stadium. People sing, cheer and do the wave. The fights are exciting. And then the Bad Guys are sent to the Penalty Box of Shame.
We even lived next to a Whaler, Randy Ladouceur. As a teen, I babysat his kids.
I realize that 0.01% of Joyceyland readers give a damn about the beginning of hockey season. But it's my blog, and I'll write what I want to. And I'll try to hold off on commentary until (God willing) the Habs make it to the playoffs.
If you're interested in another tongue-in-cheek NHL preview by a female fan, check out Puck Bunny.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
I was at the Hong Kong Arts Festival press conference today, where everyone was urging everyone else to book their tickets. Now.
Never mind that the festival doesn't start till February, or that few Hong Kongers know what their schedules are like next week, much less four months from now. You have to book NOW!
"Online booking starts at midnight," fretted one lady.
Another man, who had nothing to do with the festival, spoke nervously about one time in the 90s, before Internet booking, when he ran to the counter the first morning, and only managed to grab the last two tickets for some Chinese ballet.
While there is no need to panic, there is some wisdom to booking in advance. The top foreign acts, which are often in Hong Kong only a night or two, are quickly sold out.
Some types of shows -- like fully-staged Western operas -- are rare here. It's only during the Arts Festival that we get things like full, five-hour Wagner productions. For fans of that sort of thing, it's a big deal.
I get caught up in the frenzy, too. (In past years, I've experienced booking too late and missing out. One year, the festival accidentally sent my tickets to an old office address, and someone stole them!)
So, like the sheep I am, I logged on at half-past midnight tonight, and waited a whole hour before the website became freed up. Woohoo! 1:30am and I can book tickets for February!
I already worked out what I wanted, so I was done by 1:45 am. Still, there is no guarantee I'll get them -- the site has a warning saying that booking is not "immediate" and tickets are still "first come, first serve." But I bet I have a good chance.
I booked these tickets:
* Cecilia Bartoli singing rarely performed songs originally written for castrati, which the program describes as "some of the most difficult Baroque arias every written."
* The New York City Ballet performing a variety of works, including a rendition of Bernstein's "West Side Story," and a Balanchine interpretation of a Stravinsky symphony.
* The St-Thomas Boy's Choir singing Bach.
* A Hong Kong violinist named Ray Chen playing Tchaikovsky with the Sinfonietta. Plus, there will be the world premiere of a new composition.
* A local Cantonese play called "Recycling Times."
The last two I didn't have to book now. The local stuff doesn't sell out quickly, and sometimes doesn't sell out at all. But if you do advance booking, and pick five shows, you get a 10% discount.
The tickets were reasonable. The local shows were HK$200-$220 (US $25-$30). The New York City Ballet was HK $650 (US $80). The most expensive ticket I got was for Bartoli, which cost HK $1,080 (US $140). But she's very famous, the festival headliner -- and I wanted good seats.
That's not bad compared to the Guangzhou Opera House I wrote about recently, which is located in a less-expensive city than Hong Kong. There, their opening gala of "Turnadot" had tickets at RMB 2,880, or US $440. And even a domestic production of "Mulan" topped out at RMB 1,200, or US $185. By those standards, Bartoli in Hong Kong is a steal.
The total came to HK $5,500 (US $700) for nine tickets. Plus, I got HK $500 off.
I used that money as a donation to help new, local productions in Hong Kong. Without funding, the festival would not be able to commission new works here -- only import foreign ones.
Friday, October 1, 2010
Lit Ma for the International Herald Tribune
Roland Soong showing photos from
Eileen Chang at his home in Hong Kong.
Chinese Writer Cements a Legacy
By JOYCE HOR-CHUNG LAU
HONG KONG — Roland Soong’s only memory of Eileen Chang, one of modern China’s most celebrated novelists, was when she stayed at his family home in Hong Kong in the early 1960s. “I was 12,” Mr. Soong said. “Eileen Chang took over my room, which was located off the kitchen, and I had to sleep on the sofa in the living room, which was filled with mosquitoes. She didn’t pay attention to me or talk to anyone. She locked herself away to work.”
In 1962, the enigmatic writer left for the United States, and the Soongs never saw her again. She died as a recluse in California in 1995, at the age of 74. Today, the boy who was once barely a footnote in Chang’s life is the executor of her works and the greatest promoter of her legacy, which was almost lost in the turmoil of 20th-century China.
Mr. Soong, 61 and the blogger behind the popular site EastSouthWestNorth, still lives in the apartment he once shared with Chang, his parents, his sister, his grandmother and two servants. It was there that he discovered “boxes and boxes, dressers and dressers” of neglected documents sent to the family after Chang’s death. His father, Stephen Soong, was her literary agent.
“It was like searching through an avalanche,” he said. Among the papers he unearthed were several unpublished works that he is now making public.
“Small Reunions,” a Chinese-language novel written in 1976, was released last year and has sold nearly a million copies in China. “The Private Sayings of Eileen Chang,” a collection of notes and correspondence, was released at the Hong Kong Book Fair in July.
Two English-language novels from the 1960s, “The Fall of the Pagoda” and “The Book of Change,” were published by Hong Kong University Press this year. Chinese-language translations were released in Taiwan and Hong Kong last month. Chang is probably best known for “Love in a Fallen City,” and the short story that was transformed into Ang Lee’s sex-filled spy film “Lust, Caution” in 2007. But she was regarded as a literary giant long before.
Her New York Times obituary quoted Dominic Cheung of the University of Southern California as saying that, had it not been for politics, Chang would have almost certainly won a Nobel Prize in Literature.
Restricted in her homeland, she moved to the United States hoping to break through internationally, but she could not arouse the interest of publishers there.
“These manuscripts were meant to be her calling card,” Michael Duckworth, publisher of Hong Kong University Press, said of the two English-language novels released this year. “But she never made it in the New York publishing scene in the ’60s and ’70s.”
Mr. Duckworth added: “She was not just a brilliant Chinese writer, she also deserves credit as a thoughtful, provocative writer in English. It’s unique that a writer can be dominant in two languages.”
Blocked in China and a failure in the United States, Chang became increasingly isolated. When Chang died, all of her files were sent to Mr. Soong’s parents according to her wishes, even though she had not seen them for three decades. Stephen Soong died a year later and the documents languished in storage. Roland Soong had “no idea” that he would someday become a promoter of Chinese literature. He spent most of his adult life in New York, getting a doctorate in statistics and working for a research company. It was only when he returned to Hong Kong in 2003, after his mother suffered a stroke, that he was approached about making a film from one of Chang’s novellas.
He acknowledged that he had not read it. “So I dug out a copy of the old story in Chinese,” Mr. Soong said. “The first four pages are about some women playing mah-jongg. And I thought, ‘What kind of film is someone going to make out of this?”’ The result was “Lust, Caution,” a thriller set in wartime Shanghai that was so racy that it was given an NC-17 rating in the United States, which restricts the movie to viewers 18 and older.
“When the film came out, all the fuss was about the three sex scenes,” Mr. Soong said. “But there is no sex in the original. Eileen Chang just glided over those things, hoping that the reader could use his imagination. Ang Lee inserted them, but I can understand, and I think Eileen Chang could have, too. She once worked as a screenwriter.”
The film was reworked for the mainland — the sex scenes were cut. The ending was also changed slightly, to make it more ambiguous that the main character, a Chinese agent assigned to assassinate a Japanese sympathizer, may have betrayed her country.
Chang was not particularly political, but her works were often interpreted as such. “She might not have gone looking for politics, but politics had a way of finding her,” Mr. Soong said.
David Der-wei Wang, an Asia scholar at Harvard, wrote that Chang was “forced to the margins of literary respectability” after the Communists took power in 1949. Before then, she was the most popular writer in Shanghai. She made her debut at 18 when she published an essay, “What a Life! A Girl’s Life!” in an English-language newspaper, telling of how her father locked her in the house and denied her medical treatment.
Many of her works are thinly veiled autobiographies that draw on her family’s glamorous, turbulent life. Characters are based on her free-spirited mother and opium-addict father. Chang’s own life plays out repeatedly, particularly how she escaped her family to attend the University of Hong Kong and how she returned to wartime Shanghai, where she fell in love with a Chinese man suspected of collaborating with the Japanese.
“Strange Country” is about a 1947 trip Chang took to the countryside to visit her husband, who was considered a traitor and in hiding. “Of course it wasn’t published, because she couldn’t tell people where she was,” said Mr. Soong, who published the story in Taiwan and Hong Kong this spring.
“She was accused of being a traitor after World War II,” said Perry Lam, who edits Muse, a magazine here that in 2008 published a Chang short story for the first time. “By Communist standards, she wasn’t politically correct. She wasn’t a nationalist, and patriotism was not a major theme in her works.”
It did not help that her stories, with their opium dens, concubines and bound feet, were considered bourgeois. To make things worse, she did translation and other work for the U.S. Information Service. Her Hong Kong novels of the 1950s, “Naked Earth” and “The Rice Sprout Song,” were tarred as “anti-China and C.I.A.-funded,” Mr. Soong said.
Chang has long been popular in Hong Kong and Taiwan, where there have been films, ballets and other works created in her honor. But it was only in the 1990s that there was a revival of interest in her work in China, partly through unauthorized copies. “In 1980, nobody knew who she was,” Mr. Soong said. “By 2005, she had become one of the top five Chinese authors selling in the mainland.”
In 2003, he went to a major bookstore in Beijing and found what he called “the Eileen Chang special pirated section, with works by 30 different publishers, none of them authorized.” Mr. Soong plans to bring the definitive, complete set of Chang’s works to the Chinese market. But while many of her books have been allowed into mainland China, some are still available only from publishers in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
A vestige of the politics that hounded Chang still follows her works today.
“All these issues were left unresolved in her lifetime,” Mr. Soong said. “They were deferred. I could defer it, too, but then what would happen?”
My feature on Eileen Chang, the late Chinese novelist, is coming out tomorrow. It will lead the Weekend Arts section, which makes me happy. If you're interested, pick up the IHT on Saturday.
I don't know if writers ever get over this -- I'm always worried the day before a story comes out. You can never fact-check enough. There may always be some dumb mistake or typo that goes through. And, of course, the writer doesn’t determine layout, photo use or headlines.
Pingyao was a heck of a story to fact-check, despite the fact that my contact there was very nice. But she was alone and new on the job, and there was no catalogue, just a map. Trying to check a photographer’s or curator’s name among 2,200, when there was no list – well, that was tough.
Chang was easier to check. There’s tons of background information on her, both in books and online, plus no shortage of experts in her field. Plus, it's
In the article, I mentioned these two orange-clad workers here. How many really local working-class guys do you see taking in fine-art photography at galleries in Hong Kong or Shanghai?
It was raining indoors. Literally. My editors in Paris checked with me twice to see if this was right. It was. Not only was it raining indoors, but some people spit on the dirt floor indoors. Ew. I'm still not used to mainland people spitting outside, but spitting inside an art space was beyond the beyonds.
There were a few tired-looking guards trying their best to look tough and stand very still. I rather like this picture and think it's very artsy. (It's "soft focus," which is the lazy photographer's way of saying "out of focus.")