Friday, December 31, 2010

A happy, healthy (generous) New Year!

Celebrities and athletes often do charity work -- which is great, but it's often to boost their public image. So I was touched by this story about a 21-year-old rookie who spent his Christmas at a kids' hospital, sans press or cameramen. (The columnist found out about it because he got an email from one of the kid's dads). It's good to see someone doing good without expecting a big public thank-you.
Our family found Americans and Canadians to be generous when we were living there. Supermarket food collection boxes, Salvation Army Santas and Unicef donations were all part of the North American Christmas.
I presume that many of my work colleagues give to charity, but they don't really talk about it.
Hong Blog joked with me right before the holidays "Hey! I just bought a cow. And a few pigs" He was referring to, a charity that lets you choose, specifically, what animal you are going to donate to a poor family. Not only is it cute, it also gives the transparency that people now expect in the Internet age. People want to see, in black and white, where their cash is going.
Aniblog writes about this expectation in her post "Next-generation philanthropy: What's in it for me?"
I'm late with my Christmas giving this year -- but I'm sure charities appreciate the money for New Year's, too. Anytime, actually. And it doesn't matter when or how much you spend -- even a token is appreciated.
Like Gweipo, I was debating where to give. I read a horrific story about Zimbabwe, which is the only country in the world to actually have gone
backwards in terms of infant mortality rates and life expectancy in the last 40 years.
The story focused on one hospital serving people so poor that many pay with the only crop they have -- peanuts. The whole hospital had only two doctors. To see one cost US $1 or a quarter-bucket of peanuts. This place had piles of peanuts. Their poor patients were eating peanut butter three times a day.
The only reason they could keep going -- however miserably -- was because of support from U.S. and British charities.
Here's a dilemma: Do you give to the truly needy who are very far away? Or do you do something closer to home, to help out the city you live in?
In the end, I decided to give to SOCO and Wikipedia.
SOCO is a local Hong Kong organization that helps Hong Kongers who have fallen through the cracks of this otherwise affluent city: cage people, the elderly, etc.
Long ago, I went with one of their social workers on an evening shift in Sham Shui Po. I was impressed because this wasn't a glammed-up media outing -- I basically called at the last minute. And it was really grassroots. The worker banged on doors, got into cage homes, and gave practical advice.
From what I can tell SOCO spend little money on marketing and admin. They hold practical programs, like teaching English to poor children.

As for Wikipedia -- OK, I know it doesn't feed any hungry children. But I use it all the time. We all use it all the time. And it's almost entirely volunteer-written.
Honestly, if I had to pay money to use it, I probably would -- it's that useful, despite its flaws.
Any I admire any media for trying to create something democratically written and free to the public without relying on ads or corporate sponsorship.
For various reasons, mostly medical, money was a bit tight in the Joyceyland-Marc the Metrosexual household this year. But I have to remind myself that it was only tight relative to the standards of our comfortable life.
Addendum: Marc's charity of choice this year was Room to Read.
On a happier note, I wish Joyceyland readers a healthy, good 2011!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

I wish all Joyceyland readers a wonderful holiday. May you all have happiness and good health in the New Year. I leave you with this indie version of a Yuletide classic from Pomplamoose. xx

Speaking of such things, why can't I live in a really cool city where I might just stumble across Rufus Wainwright's German boyfriend singing Silent Night at the Knitting Factory? Why? (Note: The song gets better when the proper singers join in the second verse. Rufus has a lovely voice.)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Picassos in Hong Kong

The New York Times

Photo by Joyce Hor-Chung Lau/International Herald Tribune
Picasso's "Bust de Femme" displayed by Seoul Auction in Hong Kong in November.
December 8, 2010

HONG KONG — When the Centre Pompidou lent a Picasso-painted stage curtain to Hong Kong in 2004, it was considered so rare that 2 million people went to see it at its spot in the shopping mall. Yes, a shopping mall.

That same year, the Opera Gallery in Paris opened a Hong Kong branch. When it held its first show of European masters in 2007, which featured Picasso on the front of the 200-page catalog, it was big news. It was only then that the city got its first blue-chip gallery.

Picasso sightings are usually few and far between in Hong Kong. There are none in the city’s museums.

But this autumn, about 50 Picassos popped up in town, which is more than anyone can remember. As of late November, they were split among four exhibitions: two at new galleries opened by Europeans and two at auction houses.

Ben Brown Fine Arts, a London gallery that opened a Hong Kong branch about a year ago, has 13 Picasso paintings on display (through January).

Edouard Malingue, a French art dealer, opened a gallery in Hong Kong in September with an exhibition that included 40 works by Picasso, 23 of which were illustrations that made up a sketchbook The works will be on view from Dec. 14 through 19 in Taipei in an exhibition hosted by the gallery.

Three small still lifes dated 1909, 1938 and 1953 greeted visitors at the entrance of Mr. Malingue’s Rem Koolhaas-designed gallery. If someone needed a Picasso primer — early, middle and late — this would be it.

It was a fitting sight for a city that feels like it’s going through Western Modern Masters 101. In the past decade, Hong Kong has become the auction capital of Asia. In terms of revenue, it is third only to New York and London. But its foundation was built on Asian works, as well as luxury goods like jewelry and fine wine. European masters are just beginning to make a splash.

Misung Shim, the managing director of the Hong Kong branch of Seoul Auction, a Korean company, described the Chinese market for Picassos as being in the “promoting and educating stage.”

“Interest is just starting to grow,” Ms. Shim said. “Usually, global auction houses sell Western masters like this in New York or London, not in Hong Kong. So Asian collectors had to go to Europe for the sales. Now, there is a little bit more of a chance to buy in Asia.”

In October, Seoul Auction sold Picasso’s 1965 “Modèle dans l’Atelier” in Hong Kong for 18.17 million Hong Kong dollars, or $2.36 million. At the same event Chagall’s “Bestiaire et Musique” (1969) went for more than 32 million Hong Kong dollars, the most ever paid for a Western work at auction in Asia.

Seoul Auction was back in town on Nov. 29 with another auction, mostly of Asian contemporary art, which is their stock in trade.

They did have another Picasso — “Buste de Femme,” which was valued at 85 million Hong Kong dollars — but it was part of a smaller private sale that also included works by Renoir and Chagall.

“It’s a more private way of selling,” Ms. Shim said.

After the exhibition, a Seoul Auction spokesman said that collectors “showed great interest” in the Picasso, but would not say whether a sale had been made (information on private sales is rarely made available to the public). Although it was the height of the autumn auction season in Hong Kong, none of the Picassos shown went under the hammer, and it was unclear how many had actually sold.

“You really can’t compare it to what was happening in Tokyo in the 1980s, not yet,” Ms. Shim said of the rise of Impressionist sales pushed by Japanese buyers when that country was going through rapid economic growth.

Sotheby’s too held its first exhibition of Impressionist and 20th-century art for sale in Hong Kong late last month. The 21 pieces — seven Picassos, along with works by Monet, Renoir, Degas, Sisley, Dalí, Chagall and Léger — were also shown at a preview in Beijing in October.

At one point during the exhibition Alexander Platon, Sotheby’s senior director of Impressionist and Modern Art, was engaged in a hushed conversation with two clients, while a colleague translated from English to Cantonese. They discussed a particular work’s provenance, past auction sale prices and other details.

Sotheby’s also declined to comment on the results of the sales.

Mr. Malingue was more forthcoming. Of his 40 Picassos — which ranged from $600,000 for works on paper to $10 million for a watercolor study used for the “Two Nudes” (1906) now at the Museum of Modern Art in New York — he had sold two by late November.

Mr. Malingue, whose father is the veteran French dealer Daniel Malingue, seemed moreinterested in introducing Picasso to Hong Kong than pushing for sales right away.

He was particularly taken with the 23 sketches, which were displayed individually, but would be bound back together into one volume after the show.

“This is probably not what a first-time Picasso buyer would buy,” he said, noting that he would sell it only as a single work, with an asking price of $7.5 million.

“Picasso produced more than 200 sketchbooks, and most of them have been broken up,” he said. “Keeping the work as a whole gives the viewer the chance to see Picasso at work, and how he changed detail after detail, working on the same drawing over the course of several days.”

This series was created when Picasso was 89, and he had meticulously dated each sketch. “He wanted to keep time from escaping him,” Mr. Malingue said. “He was very concerned with the creative process.”

Edouard Malingue and Ben Brown were both showing a good number of Picasso’s later works, which tend to be rawer and rougher.

“There were long discarded as works by a lunatic because they sometimes look sketchy, like they were drawn by a child,” Mr. Malingue said. “Now they are being re-assessed.”

Shirley Yablonsky, director of the Opera Gallery in Hong Kong, said that the market was very different when the gallery opened here six years ago.

“When we came here, the market was still very young and there wasn’t much awareness of the true value of masterpieces — not just as the blue chips, but as rare jewels left behind by talents long gone from this world,” she said.

“This was our initial challenge, to make museum quality art accessible, so Asian buyers didn’t have to fly to Paris to source works from a dealer they might not really know,” she said. “In 2004, it was a virgin market.”

Friday, December 17, 2010

How to dress like a top businesswoman: Keep it dull

The Power 50

The blazers are Alexander McQueen, the pearls are Tiffany, the watch is Michael Kors, the scarf is Missoni.
The Financial Times had a glossy supplement last weekend listing the world's 50 top businesswomen. You can read all about them here.
I could say all sorts of intelligent things about these women, but I'll leave that to the FT. Joyceyland will instead look at the rather mindless question: What did they wear?

I have to give it to this Power 50: They made me create the most boring Polyvore collage ever.
For the most part -- and despite what fashion magazines might tell us about harem pants / bustiers / over-the-knee boots being the next "must have" -- powerful women dress mostly like feminized versions of powerful men.
Of the 50 women, most had modest medium-short hair (22), followed by very short hair (18). Long hair, meaning locks flowing past the shoulders, were clearly in the minority (12). All the cuts were conservative and the colors natural-looking.
By far, the most popular piece of clothing was the simple dark blazer or suit jacket (21) in black, grey or navy. A few women (6) had jackets in other colors, like purple, lavender, red or cream, but they were in the minority.
The most popular inside shirt was plain, white, crisp and collared (6).
The single-most popular accessory was a single strand of pearls (8), followed by patterned shawls or scarves (6). There was nothing as loud as a double strand of pearls.
Privilege would approve that no one -- not a one -- had color on her fingernails.
Make-up was natural to the point of being almost invisible except for lipstick, which tended to be red. (There were alot of Asians on this list, so red doesn't look so garish).
A few showed a tiny bit of fashion adventurousness -- the head of Burberry wore a white trench coat done up like a dress, but she would, wouldn't she? The Indian women were more likely to wear colorful clothes that reflected their traditional dress.
The one standout was Yoshiko Shinohara. When I first saw her, standing on a busy street with a boyish, jaunty haircut and a loose, light lemon/lime-colored trouser suit, I thought -- well, she's a bit daring. Then I read that she's 76! She founded her company before I was born.
In the style stakes, she wins. I hope I look like that at 76.

If you are a young woman / aspiring executive with a limited clothing budget, here's your shopping list
* Dark suit with matching jacket, skirt and one pair of trousers
* The best tailored white collared shirt you can find
* A strand of pearls. (Nobody will notice high-quality fakes)

I also want to point out that I personally never dress like this, and you don't have to either. I'm not an executive. I have the good fortune of working in a creative (read: badly dressed) industry. Today, I went to work in black jeans, riding boots, a rainbow-striped Marc Jacobs jacket, brown LV tote and short, red nails. So I guess I never get to be CEO!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

New England XMas nostalgia and thumbprint cookies

Photo from the Food and Fun Cafe

I had dinner with my folks last night at the grill restaurant at the Harbour Grand, the Hung Hom hotel where Marc works.
The crusty country bread, simple grilled meats and perfect baked potato made us nostalgic for Connecticut -- probably our favorite home in all the many places we lived. And that made us think of a particularly lovely thing: The New England Christmas.
"Remember watching the snow falling through the French windows in the living room?" Mom asked.
"Remember that fat woodchuck that used to come down from the woods behind the house and hang out on our wooden deck?"
"Remember our tree, which we decorated so beautifully?"

I do remember, Mom and Dad. I will never forget. You could see the multi-colored lights through the French windows all the way down to the street. Our home was on a hill and it just glowed.
OK, it flashed in rainbow-hued neon glory -- what did you expect? We were Hong Kong immigrants.
We had presents wrapped under the tree -- but were allowed to open only one after Midnight Mass. We would leave a letter, cookies and a glass of milk for Santa that were "magically" eaten overnight. (OK, we knew that Dad ate them).
The next morning was a flurry of ripping up wrapping, taking photos and wearing ribbons on our heads.
We did this next to a roaring blaze in a fireplace and, yes, even a bearskin rug.
By the end of our 12 great years in New England, we had totally gone local at Christmastime.
Last night, I dreamt of Christmas cookies. It's funny. I've had a hard time recently, with deaths in the family, work stress and my own medical troubles -- and here comes this very innocent, happy dream.
My whole family are cooks. My brother and I learned to do Western food by reading "Better Homes & Gardens" magazine (a sort of Martha Stewert pre-cursor) and, later, Molly O'Neill food columns in "The New York Times."
My old holiday favorite were thumbprint cookies, which are easy enough for even a child to do.
You make a simple dough and mold it into small balls. Then you press them onto a waxed / oiled baking sheet using your thumb to indent the middle.
When they're out of the oven and cool, you fill the hole with a bright-red jam, like raspberry or strawberry. If you're ambitious, you can use a variety of fillings: grape jelly (violet), orange marmalade (orange), apricot jam (golden-yellow), mint jelly (green).
As a child, I thought that a dish of these small, round, richly colored snacks looked like a collection of jewels -- edible rubies and emeralds.
For once, I have both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off. I will use the former to prepare a family dinner for the latter. It will be for five: Mom, Dad, Will (my brother), Iris (his wife) and me. Their baby can't eat anything yet. And Marc won't be home in time for dinner.

My family are not into flashy luxury foods like oysters, caviar, smoked salmon, foie gras, etc, thank god, so we won't have any of them.
I love a good Canadian ham cooked with pineapple, so that's on.
There's been a call for turkey, but it's an awfully large bird for us. I may downgrade to just a leg / breast. Or, do a smaller poultry. (A duck, maybe? My family love spring chickens).
I could order side dishes from GREAT, but I find outside dishes oily.
Instead, we will have plain potatoes,brussels sprouts, peas and baby carrots. Not loaded with fat and glazes. Everything will be boiled. The only thing I'll do is put a bit of brown sugar and butter on the carrots (an old tip from Mom).
What else? Should I start with a split-pea soup seasoned with smoked ham? Should I do a homemade apple sauce for the ham?

Last night, we were debating Christmas dessert. Dad wants Christmas pudding, but I will buy that outside. To make it at home takes, literally, months.
Mom wants carrot cake. I don't think carrot cake is very Christmas-y, but it is a nice color and can be dressed up with raisins, dried fruit and nuts to make it more like a fruitcake.
I was thinking of an English trifle with stewed mixed berries, homemade custard, fresh whipped cream and cream sherry, but that's alot of work.

I may also try to make my "cheating Hong Kong bouche de Noel / yulelog" for my work colleagues. More on that later.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What journalists do

Monday, December 13, 2010

Shanghai's Art Scene

Another piece of art I love. “Over Land,” by the Indian artist Nilima Sheikh. It's 14 scrolls hung from the high ceiling of a chapel. This pic does it no justice.
Here is my IHT/NYT story on the Shanghai art scene. It's a pity that the photos used in the print edition aren't posted online, and that the URLs aren't imbedded. I may put them in tonight after work.
There's another art article I wrote recently, too, on Picassos in Hong Kong that I will upload soon. It's been crazy busy and I've fallen behind on my blog!

December 10, 2010

The elegant older couple with the European accents and fine black coats were stuck in the back of the taxi, trying in vain to make the cabdriver understand that they wanted to go to the Peninsula, a hotel so new in Shanghai that it had not made it onto their tourist map.

They were visiting No. 50 Moganshan Road, or M50, yet another post-industrial area outside a Chinese city that has turned into an art district.

Every other autumn, at around the time of the Shanghai Biennale, visitors flock to this city for a glimpse of the booming Chinese contemporary art scene, forging out to ever more remote areas to gape at the giant, strange installations that are so in vogue.

A young Chinese woman also waiting for a taxi rolled her eyes. “It’s not the art I’m impressed with here,” she said. “It’s the people who come to see the art.”

The scene began with the state-run biennale in 1996, now practically ancient history by Shanghai standards, and grew with an explosion of private museums, galleries, studios and now an art fair. Both the MOCA Shanghai and the Zendai MOMA opened in 2005, followed by the city’s main art fair, ShContemporary, in 2007.

This year, two more private museums opened in Shanghai. In April, the Minsheng Art Museum held its first official show, a retrospective of 30 years of modern and contemporary Chinese art. A month later the Rockbund Art Museum opened its doors. It is housed in a 19th-century building along Suzhou Creek, in a stretch of quaint historic structures just off the northern end of the Bund district.

In October, the ShanghART gallery opened what it called a “warehouse-style museum” in a 3,000-square-meter, or 32,000-square-foot, space in Taopu, northwest of Shanghai. It is not technically a museum — everything is for sale — but its size and scope give it the feel of one.

ShanghART was founded by Lorenz Helbling, a Swiss national who moved to Shanghai in 1995 and opened his first gallery here at around the time of the inaugural biennale in 1996. His first space was at the Shanghai Centre, a complex run by the Portman Ritz-Carlton that, at the time, was one of the few places with any sign of expatriate life.

“In 1996, when we opened, anything more than a painting in a hotel gift shop was considered exotic,” Mr. Helbling said. “There was only one art museum, and only one art show every few months.”

“It was a totally different world. It was a totally different city. The ring road had just opened and Pudong didn’t exist,” he continued, referring to a major expressway and the financial district. “It was only in the ’90s that Shanghai really started building highways and skyscrapers.”

ShanghART closed its downtown branch and moved on to rougher, larger spaces in Moganshan and Taopu, areas that were barely part of the city a decade ago.

The Taopu opening party was one of many shows timed to coincide with the biennale, which is a nucleus for many satellite events, both official and unofficial.

One of the more interesting is West Heavens, a rare Chinese-Indian joint effort between two Asian superpowers that have had little collaboration in the field of contemporary art.

The series of exhibitions and seminars, which runs until Dec. 20, was the brainchild of Johnson Chang, a curator and professor who has been a force in contemporary Chinese art since the 1980s.

“I hope it will make the Chinese public see India with a fresh eye,” said Mr. Chang, who has run Hong Kong’s influential Hanart TZ Gallery since the early ’80s. “The intention of the project, I hope, is to reshape Chinese imagination about India.”

One of the exhibits was held in the quickly gentrifying waterfront Rockbund area. Paradoxically — given that the collaboration is between India, a former British colony, and Shanghai, a city once dominated by foreign concessions — the two venues here were distinctly European. Both were once part of the British consul’s residence, a space that Mr. Chang called the “heart of colonial ideological machinery.”

These long-neglected 19th-century buildings, which are owned by the local government, were recently leased to the Peninsula, which opened a hotel nearby this year. The hotel then lent the spaces to West Heavens, and it is expected that more cultural events will follow next year.

The 14 scrolls that make up “Over Land,” by the Indian artist Nilima Sheikh, were placed perfectly as the only work in the former consul’s spired Anglican chapel. The artist had painted and stenciled images onto long, flowing paper-and-silk strips that hung from the high ceiling. Softly lighted in the otherwise dim and empty church, it had the feel of a sacred work. To see the intricate renderings of dragons, flowers and poems, inspired by a portion of the Silk Road, viewers must stand directly below the work and look up toward the heavens.

The venue next door has a very different vibe. Visitors stomp their way up a five-story former dormitory for missionaries, a building so dark, dusty and rickety that some people clutch the splintery railing, lest they tumble down the stairs. The opening was held during a nighttime rainstorm, and the whole thing felt like a Halloween haunted house.

“Railway from Lhasa to Kathmandu” by Qiu Zhijie touches on many of West Heavens’ recurrent themes: faith, colonialism and the crossing of national boundaries. Mr. Qiu, who usually works with electronic media like photo or video, commissioned traditional artisans who make thangka, a type of Tibetan embroidered painting that is often used for religious purposes, particularly by Buddhist monks. These modern thangkas, hanging in that eerie old dorm, tell the tale of Nain Singh Rawat, an Indian spy hired by a British captain to travel to Lhasa disguised as a lama, in order to map the area. The installation was accompanied by an ankle shackle bolted to the floor.

The airy new Rockbund Art Museum is around the corner from some of the West Heavens venues. It also had an opening timed with the biennale, for “By Day by Night: or Some (Special) Things a Museum Can Do,” which is on until January. This is more of a mini-festival than an art show, and includes workshops, seminars and performances.

The art show portion was organized by Hou Hanru, who was the curator behind the 2000 Shanghai Biennale. .

“The creation of a museum like this is part of the urbanization process,” he said. “We’re not opening a museum just to show fancy, blue-chip artists.”

Friday, December 10, 2010

Thank you, China, for giving me something to talk about

Most years, Human Rights Day slips under the radar. Even I admit that it's not the sexiest topic to discuss.
But this year, China, in all its folly, has given me much fodder to discuss on my RTHK interview this morning. Because it's having a temper tantrum like the world has never seen before over the Nobel Peace Prize, which will be awarded to the writer Liu Xiaobo later today.
Well, "awarded." For the first time since about World War II, neither the winner nor any representative / family member will be there to receive it.
Before, there was talk of postponing the ceremony. I'm glad the Nobel committee didn't do that. If they postpone it till Liu gets out of jail, it may be years. If China wants to embarrass itself by leaving that podium blank -- with nobody to pick up one of the world's top honors on behalf of the nation -- well, let China embarrass itself. What an incredible loss of face.

There are conflicting reports early this morning saying that the BBC and CNN may be blocked, particularly any Nobel coverage. I don't see how China could benefit from this: Those stations are basically only seen by foreign businesspeople, tourists and expats, so the impact on the average person is low. By censoring major global media, they are only making themselves look worse. But, now that the Foreign Ministry has taken to publicly calling the entire Nobel committee "clowns," I think they are past the point of reason.
A note of levity in an otherwise depressing story, by my colleague Ed Wong. A group in China (suddenly? what? two days ago?) announced that it has its own peace prize. Would this be like the Shenzhen copy of the peace prize -- the kind that kinda looks like the real thing, but the zipper doesn't work?

The winner, someone I'd never heard of, did not show up to get the prize. So they picked a random (but very cute) little girl to pick it up instead, for the sake of the news cameras. There's no mention that the little girl is in any way related -- she's just like the cutie they had lip-sync at the Olympics, I guess.

They opened the floor to questions and, of course, foreign journalists asked about Liu Xiaobo.
Tan Changliu, chairman of the committee, made every attempt to steer the conversation away from that subject. In a page seemingly taken from the Harry Potter books, he tried to avoid referring to Mr. Liu by name, instead calling him the man “with the three-character name.”
Oh. The Chinese person with the three-character-name. Like almost all Chinese people. (Except for those with two-character names). In his wisdom, Mr. Tan added this quote:
“Did the Nobel Peace Prize influence Confucius, or did Confucius influence the Nobel Peace Prize?”
It's just like those CCTV "documentaries" where some "expert" holds up an ancient Chinese vase and talks about how the Chinese race are superior to Westerners, and Confucius was better than Jesus.

It wouldn't be China without a cheap pot-shot at the end. Their argument on why their prize is better? “Norway is only a small country with scarce land area and population.”
Well, between the announcement earlier that China was pressuring other nations not to go, plus the potential CNN/BBC thing, plus the hilarity of the newfangled "alternative peace prize" -- Beijing has practically written my morning program for me.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Listen to me on RTHK

I'll be on Phil Whelan's show tomorrow morning, about 10am or a little after, talking about international Human Rights Day.
I'm afraid I don't know the online link -- I just know it's RTHK's (Radio Television Hong Kong's) "Morning Brew."
(The last few times I did radio work, for BBC World, they failed to send me an audio file that I could post here. But if I get one after tomorrow, I'll get it onto Joyceyland later).

I've just finished up my interview notes and am going to bed early.
I've got a rotten cold and, I'm hoping to God, my voice holds out till tomorrow morning.

In other news, I may be on a French documentary about the chef Alain Ducasse that is airing around Christmas-time. If, on the extremely rare chance that you are watching TV5 in Hong Kong, you might see me.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Shanghai kids get an "A" on global report card

The New York Times has an article about international test for 15-year-olds, which China participated in for the first time.
China used kids from Shanghai which, arguably, does not represent the whole country.
The article notes that top students from around China can end up congregating in big cities. It made the comparison that it would be like using Massachusetts (a rich state, home of Harvard and regular #1 U.S. tester) to represent all of America.
Of course, the results would be very different if the average included kids from Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia.
But still, China (or Shanghai) did extremely well. Here are the results

1. Shanghai
2. Finland
3. Hong Kong
4. Singapore
5. Japan
6. Korea (South, I presume they mean)

1. Shanghai
2. Korea
3. Finland
4. Hong Kong
5. Singapore
6. Canada

1. Shanghai
2. Singapore
3. Hong Kong
4. Korea
5. Taiwan
6. Finland

For complete results, click on the above link. There's a chart there. Or, for a larger version, there's one in the Wednesday International Herald Tribune.

Asian states clearly did far better than anyone else. The only non-Asian states are Finland (I had no idea Finnish students were so good) and, taking a token 6th place in reading, Canada.
That said, America and Britain (which did not rank on top) have the best universities in the world. They are also the most innovative and the greatest producers of entrepreneurs and brand names, movies and literature. There is, so far, no Asian Apple Computers, and no Asian New York Times or CNN.
So why is that gap there?
Of course, test scores are not everything.
In my (limited experience), Asian grads are more disciplined than their Western counterparts. But kids who either grew up or were educated in the West are generally more confident, imaginative and social -- skills that wouldn't show up on a test.
Mostly, I am talking about recent journalism school grads, since that is my field.

I've worked with Chinese kids with impeccable cvs (multiple degrees, top grades, fluently multi-lingual) who struggle with coming up with original story ideas, or doing original reporting without cutting and pasting from Google.
They are often shy, though this might be because of a language/culture barrier, since I've mostly worked for English-language media with mostly Western staff.
One girl -- an adult, actually, with a master's from a top Asian school -- fumbled a reporting assignment and then told me that she "was not used to speaking to strangers." That killed me. I'm sure she'll buck up once she hits the real world -- she is intelligent, responsible and hard-working, and that will save her -- but 25 is rather late to start "talking to strangers" at meetings, interviews and press conferences.

Compare her to another girl I met who was younger and less educated (still an undergrad -- maybe 19 or 20). She was also ethnic Chinese, but had gone to an American school. She was very confident -- strode right up to me at a function, introduced herself and took my business card. She was bubbly and interesting. She did volunteer work. She asked questions and expressed opinions.

If you're going to hire someone -- cub reporter, PR rep, salesperson -- those soft skills count more than test scores.

I'm not trying to rain on Shanghai's parade. I'm proud of those Chinese kids for doing well -- and there are clearly advantages to an education system that drives home rote learning over extra-curriculars. But I wonder whether there is still something missing from the Asian system.

Shameless self-promotion: IHT apps

Actually, it's not really self-promotion for me. It's for my company.
The I.H.T. now has a free iPad / iPhone app, which is better laid out (in my opinion) that simply viewing the N.Y.T. website on these devices. You can access them from those links.
Also, soon (hopefully soon) we will be launching an iPhone app with information and tips for business travelers. I helped write a small part of this (to be exact, the Shanghai and Pearl River Delta hotel / restaurant listings).

Personally, I don't have an iPad. And while I think it's cool, the frenzy over them (like most frenzies) was a little odd for me.
The week of the iPad launch, I had lunch with a (much richer) girlfriend who seemed shocked -- genuinely shocked -- that I didn't have one yet. I had to get one, she said. I would be out of the loop without it. I would simply not have access to information!
Actually, there is no information on the iPad that isn't online everywhere else -- it's just more conveniently packaged. I think it's a great tool for someone who travels alot. But as I basically just go from work computer to home computer (and have an iPhone for amusing myself on the commute between) I didn't feel the need to run out and get one.
But I have checked out the I.H.T. apps on our work iPads. If anyone uses our apps, let me know what you honestly think.

Historic Hong Kong Building Hosts Photo Festival

From The New York Times' travel blog, InTransit.

December 5, 2010,
A photograph of Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong, circa 1880, part of this year’s Hong Kong Photo Festival.
A photograph of Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong, circa 1880, part of this year’s Hong Kong Photo Festival.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

The imposing 19th-century Central Police Station is one of the few historic buildings of note left near SoHo, a Hong Kong quarter stuffed with bars, restaurants, galleries and boutiques. For years, it has been mostly left unused, despite various plans to turn it into a cultural center.

In late November, the colonial-era building (Hollywood Road; finally reopened its doors as one of the venues of the first Hong Kong Photo Festival, run by a group of 18 local photographers and curated by French and Hong Kong historians. The festival includes more than 40 programs, including exhibitions, workshops and symposia around the city, running from now until the end of the year.

The show at the old police headquarters includes about 100 historic photos sourced largely from foreign institutions, including the Peabody in the United States and the Biblothèque Nationale in France. The highlight is a 1858 landscape by the Swiss photographer, Pierre Rossier, which is considered to be Hong Kong’s earliest known photograph.

Two of the other major shows focus on modern and contemporary photography from Greater China (that being Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macao). Both run till the end of December.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

I love this piece of art

This is Yang Zhenzhong's "Red Venus Sitting in a Corner" (2010). Photo by me.

I saw her at ShanghART in Shanghai's M50 art district on Moganshan Road, while reporting a story. She didn't make my article for the many reasons that 90% of what I see doesn't make it into stories -- the exhibition closed before our publication time, the piece didn't fit the assigned theme, I only had 1,000 words, the photo editor didn't like the shot, etc. (Journalism is very practical, and it's rarely about what the reporter personally likes. That's what blogs are for!)

I love that this work has a political side, but not a blatant one. After all, she's not called "Crumpled Communist Star" or something.
Oh, my lovely, imperfect, slumped Venus. I would have bought her, but she would require a large space -- maybe a loft that is industrial or modern in style. I don't think I could give Venus a good home. She's well over a meter tall. And I bet she's expensive. Beauties often are.
There was another work I saw in Shanghai that I loved. I know it's love when, two months after a viewing, I'm still pining over it. It was at the Rockbund Art Museum. In desperation (knowing that I could probably afford nothing that is museum-quality), I inquired about the artist, but I didn't get a response. I found his dealer in Shanghai and visited their gallery, but the poor salesgirl (like all the poor salesgirls in China) didn't know anything. I got the manager on the phone, but he was busy.
It was a portrait of a sad dragon, half-Chinese, half-Western, painted in moody blues. The best part was the foreground, which was made with layers of paper, the tops of which were lightly singed. I don't know if other people caught this detail or not. I imagined that the sad dragon let off a reluctant puff of smoke and toasted his little paper landscape.
Meanwhile, I've been looking at art in Hong Kong. Ho-hum. There's one work I'm considering. It's nice enough. It's a style I usually prefer. I'm fond of the gallerist. It's not extremely expensive -- but reasonably pricey, given that it's a smallish illustration by a practical unknown. I almost asked the gallery to reserve it but... Well, I'll go check it out in person (I've only seen a digital image sent as an exhibition preview). But I suspect this is a passing crush and not real love.
And you only ever buy art for love.
Years ago, when I worked at HK Magazine -- back when I was scraping by on a crap salary, living in a Sheung Wan flat I was too embarrassed to show to my friends -- I bought art. In retrospect, I'm proud of myself for doing it. I had to struggle to set aside money every month and spent alot of time looking for bargains.
The first two works I bought were a brightly colored painting by the Filipino artist Joel Ferraris, and a somber black Chinese-styled scroll by the art professor Frank Vigernon.Thank god the gallerist John Batten took pity on me and let me buy them on installment. I've bought some pieces since, but these two are still my favorite.
Now that I have more money, I actually buy less. I'm less dedicated. Maybe, now that I am older and more professional -- and distracted by mortgages and other grown-up things -- I'm a bit less passionate? I hope not.
A few months ago, I was doing some research that required me to read lots and lots of auction catalogues. (I swear, 90% of my research never makes it into a piece of journalism!) I noticed that some of the sales held by Asian auction houses had works by young Asians that were pretty reasonably priced -- at least, relative to fine art terms.
I was too late this season to do any buying. I'm very considered when purchasing art. I'm not rich, and I need time to think before putting cash down. I'm not interested in going to flashy gala auctions and waving a paddle around.
I'll pay more attention during the 2011 spring sales. Maybe I'll find something else to love.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

"Thinner" -- the American "Li Gang"?

Joyceyland readers know how much I love those old Stephen King horror novels Here's another:
"Thinner" is a story of hubris. When I reread it recently, it reminded me of an American tale of “My father is Li Gang!”
"Thinner" stars an arrogant New York lawyer, whose corpulence is used to symbolize the excesses and greed of the 80s. He has a big house, big car and sexy wife. He hangs out at his Connecticut private country club, having cocktails with his cocaine-snorting doctor and telling off-color jokes.
He's out driving with his wife one night when she decides to get frisky. He's, uh, distracted and runs over a poor old woman in the street, killing her.
The woman is a gypsy, a member of a low-class group who have always been harassed by the town's police.
The lawyer gets off easily. The police officer doesn't bother testing his breath for alcohol, since he's clearly a hot-shot in this society. The judge waves the case off, since they are old drinking buddies. Forget about a guilty manslaughter charge, he barely gets a slap on the wrist. He doesn't even get a traffic ticket. And the gyspies get nothing, since they're poor, dirty and nobody likes them around anyway.
But as the lawyer is walking out of the courtroom an old gypsy man touches his cheek and whispers "Thinner." It's a curse.
The lawyer suddenly starts losing weight. At first, he's happy. After all, he's been on endless failed diets and exercise regimens, hasn't he?
As the weeks go on, he goes from fat, to chubby, to normal, to slender, to skinny, to skeletal. The gypsies figured that if the law did not find justice, they would seek their own.
The gypsies have been impoverished, homeless and disrespected by the authorities for so long -- this will be their revenge on the rich and powerful.
Of course, "Thinner" is fiction and a metaphor for the greedy and the corrupt.
"My father is Li Gang" is real life.
For my non-Chinese readers, Li Gang is an official in China. His drunken son ran over two girls on a university campus and then sped away with his car.
Security intercepted him. But instead of offering to help or expressing sorrow, the driver simply said "My father is Li Gang!", as if having a high-ranking dad allows you to run over people.
One girl died a day later of her injuries. And the Chinese media have been told (unsuccessfully) to shut up about it, since the government doesn't need more anger over high-powered officials and their spoiled kids. My colleague Michael Wines did a darkly humorous story on it here.
I wonder if anyone in China will put a gypsy curse on Li Qiming!
That wasn't the original point of my post.
The original title was supposed to be "Why 'Thinner' is really scary."
The main character, the sleazy lawyer, is grossly overweight. Everyone tells him -- his wife, his doctor. He even jokes about it himself, saying he looks like he's 7 months pregnant. He is described as being disgusting -- there's a depiction of him, stuffing Burger King Whoppers into his mouth while driving, that is particularly unattractive.
He's described as being a middle-aged guy who's 6'2" and 245 lbs. (That's 185 cm and 112 kg, for you metric folk).
Hold on, I thought. In modern-day America, that's not considered that fat anymore.
If I were to sit down and write a short story about a grossly overweight American man in 2010, I'd make him 300+.
In 1960, the average American man weighed 166 lbs.
In the 1980s, when "Thinner" was written, he'd gained a few pounds to 170 lbs.
By 2002, the average American man weighed 191 lbs. I'm sure it's more now.

So, by 1980s standards, 240 lbs was huge.
By today's standards -- 240 lbs for a tall, middle-aged man -- wouldn't turn heads on American streets.
What's scarier? The fictional horror story? Or the fact that an average guy now weighs 25 pounds more than an average guy did 40 years ago. (And, no. It's because they got bigger in general. Today's man is only about 1" taller).

Whinge, whinge, whinge....

This is my grumpy look. Taken with my Mac "Phone Booth" application.

It was another one of those weeks.
* First thing one morning: I was shaving my legs in the shower when I dropped the razor and cut open my toe, which bled everywhere. I can't cope with issues like this before my first coffee.
* I was eating a sandwich at my desk -- a really good HK $42 CitySuper sandwich with the expensive imported fillings -- and an entire layer of Emmental cheese and smoked ham slid off the buttered baguette and fell onto the carpet. I almost considered picking them up to eat, but I didn't.
* I lost my CitySuper card as well as something else, but I forget.
* I'm going senile. (See above).
* I've inexplicably gained 2 lbs in two days. (Maybe the lost cheese was a secret blessing)
* The office computer system decided to commit harakiri an hour before deadline.
* I had my least favorite work shift combo: Late Friday night, followed by early Sunday morning. Good-bye weekend!
* The only Hong Kong magazine I subscribe to, "Muse", just went under.
* I've been stood up at the last minute by two friends for social events.
* I found out that three other friends have had recent deaths in their families.
* Even my small talk has sucked.
Me (brightly): "Did you have a nice Thanksgiving back home?"
Friend: "I spent it at my uncle's funeral."
Me (embarrassed): "Oh, God. So sorry."

I know it's not horrible. Not war-famine horrible. But it's been icky.
The bright side? The weather's been beautiful. Maybe I'll go out tomorrow to see the sun.
I hope your week has gone better than mine!