Thursday, June 30, 2011

Scantily Clad Kylie and Happy Handover Day (I Guess)

Personally, I'm not a huge fan. But she's still better looking than that ol' Bauhinia flag.

Happy Handover Day! Or, to use that snazzy term our government came up with, Happy Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Establishment Day. Just rolls off the tongue.
Time Out Hong Kong's three July 1 picks are the Kylie Minogue concert; the annual massive pro-democracy and civil rights march; and a handover party at Volar. That sums up Hong Kong, doesn't it? Politics sandwiched between pop music and glitz.
For a second, I mis-read the Time Out listings and thought that the People's Liberation Army had started a stand-up improv comedy troupe. "Boy," I thought, "They're really going out of their way to do the friendly PR thing in Hong Kong -- though I doubt they'd be very funny."
Then I reread it. There's a group called People's Liberation Improv -- no relation to the Chinese military -- also doing an event tomorrow night.
I need more sleep.
(In case anyone wondered why there's been a drop-off in blogging, I've been exhausted recently).
As for me? Well, I'm a miserable old woman nowadays, and will be in the office tomorrow. So I will be going to none of these. Maybe I'll have myself a July 1 brunch before work?
I don't mind, really. HK SAR Establishment Day is not exactly a holiday near and dear to my heart, like Christmas or Chinese New Year. And the "I Guess" in the headline is, in part, because of Hong Kongers' ambivalence toward the handover.
Those mixed feelings are fading now, I think, as people have had 14 years to get used to the idea. And while many mainlanders have happily integrated into our society, and vice versa -- and while there are many more business and social ties -- there is still unease on the ground over everything from politics to language to immigration.
Anna Tam at the Journey to Hong Kong blog has a nice post on the role of Canto-pop at the mass July 1 civil rights march. I've noticed the same thing at June 4 memorials.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

What books should I buy?

These are available both as Kindle and physical books. 
At least that's what says. Sometimes, I go to buy  and then get an error saying the Kindle version is not available for Asian buyers. Anyway, let me know which ones sound good to you.

The Internet is a Playground: Irreverent Correspondences of an Evil Online Genius

The Internet is a Playground: Irreverent Correspondences of an Evil Online Genius (humor)
Write More Good: An Absolutely Phony Guide (humor)  
Daphnis and Chloe (Oxford World's Classics) (classic)
The Human Stain: A Novel American Trilogy (3) (contemporary fiction). By Philip Roth
Life of PiLife of Pi (contemporary fiction). By Yann Martel
Fludd (contemporary fiction). Because I loved Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall: A Novel so much.
Black Dogs: A Novel (contemporary fiction) by Ian McEwan

Not on Kindle 

I'm pretty embarrassed at how badly read I am in Chinese literature, even in English translation. Except for some Su Tong and Eileen Chang, who are both modern / contemporary, I haven't read much. I vaguely know the stories of the Monkey King and Mulan, mostly thanks to bedtime stories of my mother.

I'd like to read something like Dream of the Red Chamber, though excerpts I've tried haven't quite piqued my attention -- too flowery, too many names. But I feel I should try.

There seem to be a million versions out there. Any advice on where I should start?

Random Question
When you place a book mention via Amazon Associates, you get three choices: "Link," "Image" and "Link and Image."
Originally, I tried making all of these "Link and Image." But it seemed to only allow one book per post. So I just used "Link" for most of them, and then it worked.
Anyone else have this problem?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

World's tallest bar (for now)

At Hong Kong Hotel, the World’s Highest Bar

The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, which opened in March, says that its Ozone bar is the highest bar in the world. 
Photo courtesy Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong

This came out on June 21, 2011, on The New York Times' InTransit travel blog. 

Hong Kong has taken the lead in the two-city race to build the world’s highest bar.
Ozone, at the Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong (118/F, International Commerce Centre, 1 Austin Road West, Kowloon; 852-2263-2263), which opened in March, tops the list at 118 floors, beating out Shanghai Grand Hyatt’s Cloud 9 (87 floors) and the Shanghai Park Hyatt’s 100 Century Avenue (92 floors).
There is an issue with all three, though: they are located in smoggy cities, and so far up that they are often within or above the cloud cover, often making views spotty. During a recent visit, Ozone’s open-air deck was thick with fog, and the view out its windows — which might be spectacular on a rare clear day — was obscured by a milky-opaque mist. Ironically, lower- and mid-level floors at both the Ritz and the adjacent W Hotel offer great views of the harbor and skyline.
Ozone does have stunning interiors, though, and an impressive drinks list, with prices to match. You could easily make a dinner out of its bar snack selection. There is raw seafood like oysters, sushi and sashimi, as well as small-plate items like lamb kebabs, tandoori chicken, cucumber-pomelo salad, duck spring rolls and vegetarian gyoza, or pan-fried Japanese dumplings.
Ozone has the potential to be pretentious, but it is surprisingly comfortable. It isn’t too loud, too dark, too crowded or too snooty. You can show up in a decent T-shirt and jeans without getting a raised eyebrow from the staff.
A generous dinner and drinks for three — including a bottle of wine and a few cocktails — comes to about 1,800 Hong Kong dollars, or about $230. There are no reservations, but it’s not hard to snag a table if you arrive early.

Non-NYT personal response -- Would I go back? Probably not just with Marc or local friends. But if I had overseas guests to impress, and it was a clear night, I would.

A comment that got edited out (probably for space, as these posts have to be super-short,)is that their food was well prepared, but not exactly exotic by Hong Kong standards.  If you live here and eat at local restaurants, you'd find typical Asian fare like spring rolls, etc., overpriced. But that's not the Ritz's fault. It would be the same at any five-star hotel, which is exactly what you're paying for.
I've heard some people here grumbling about the service. We were actually well served and treated. And, no -- it wasn't a press thingie. We went as normal diners and paid our own bill.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Google AdSense FAIL

Question on Google AdSense: Are ads specific to the site, or specific to the viewer? I presume it's the latter, based on browsing history. (It's a little Big Brother scary that Google knows whether you've been naughty or nice online).

Whether I'm reading about a Canadian hockey team or gay guys in Thailand, the ads will be for frozen yogurt in Kowloon. I know that has to be just for me, since it's irrelevant to 99% of that site's other readers. I get funny results sometimes, since I browse so much for research and articles. After researching my McWedding story, I got fast food and junk food ads for weeks.  Recently, I've seen  legal ads pop up. Why would Google presume I want to hire a lawyer in Sydney? Because I've been reading lots of China Law Blog? It's a good thing the NHL season is over, since I'm sick of getting ads for artificial ice skating surfaces.
My Google AdSense experiment is going nowhere. Yesterday, the ads mysteriously disappeared. If I cared, I could have contacted customer service, but I don't really care. They magically reappeared today.

For the last two days, I've gotten stuck right under US $10 -- US $9.44 to be exact. That's for about three weeks of blogging. I'll just finish my two months as promised -- so I can say I got one AdSense cheque -- then probably cancel the whole thing.

I've done a little bit of work to increase traffic -- and that does help a bit, like pinging, Facebooking, posting more often, etc.  I mean, it helps my traffic. It doesn't help my earnings.

Increasing traffic from, say, 80 to 100 to 150 to 200 visitors a day seems to have no impact on AdSense  -- the amounts are so tiny, it wouldn't matter anyway. I'm currently making US 50 cents a day. Let's say I get a 100% increase. Well, that'd be a buck a day. I'd be better off scouring Hong Kong sidewalks for dropped change.

To see any palpable effect -- to actually profit from this -- I'd probably have to jump from 100 visitors to 10,000. And that would require full-time professional blogging -- probably with an investment in a proper Web designer, web hosting, etc. Plus, I'd have to do focused, service- / money-orientated blogging. And my experiment wasn't about that -- it was whether one could make money doing the fun, free, personal, part-time blogging that most of us enjoy.

A blogging friend said she found more success using the Amazon Associates program. This is more targeted. You use an image of an Amazon book (which I often do anyway). If your readers click on it and buy the book, you get a cut. Given how much I read, it wouldn't be a stretch for me to write a book review a week. And I wouldn't feel like I was skewing coverage for cash -- I'd criticize a book if I didn't like it, or leave it out entirely. And reading is genuinely a big part of my life.

So maybe I'll try that.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day!

For some reason, I don't have many pictures of just me and Dad. There are lots of pictures of me and Mom, or Mom and Dad, or group family shots. Why? Is it because, when we're on vacation, Mom never takes the camera? I will have to rectify this in the future. I had to go back a few years to find this snapshot, which (I think) is from about the time I came back from England in 2008.

I admit that I almost forgot Father's Day, which makes me feel pretty bad, since I'm close to my own Dad.
Marc and I did make dinner for my brother, who became a father late last year, and a dedicated and loving one at that.
He's the kind of guy who will let his wife rest at a cafe while he takes the baby and the diaper bag to the changing room at the mall.
As regular Joyceyland readers have probably guessed, we're a pretty happy family in general. But I've never seen my brother as happy as he is with his daughter.

Usually, I send flowers or a gift for Mother's Day. I'll justify not sending Dad something because he lives in Australia, where Father's Day is in September. (Weak excuse, I know). 
But I will give him a call, and promise him a nice dinner out when he comes to town.
Dad was the one who taught me to swim, to ride a bike, and to do math. (OK, my math isn't so hot these days, but that's not his fault). He was the one to drove me to school, violin lessons, art lessons, friend's houses and study dates. Most importantly, he taught me to cook.

I found a Father's Day post in the most unexpected place: The Sartorialist fashion blog. He writes: 
"I think stay-at-home dads get a bad rap in the media.
"We're often portrayed as forgetful, distracted, emotionally stunted parental blobs who never get it right.
"And yet somehow - I loved my time as a stay-at-home dad, it literally changed my life, and I met a lot of other dads during that time that proved to me that the media portrayal is just not justified."
The photos are great. (It is The Sartorialist). But he's asked that they not be re-used, so click on the above link to see them.
There's much talk about stay-at-home-moms. What about stay-at-home-dads? When a couple is expecting a child, everyone always asks the woman when / if she will stop working, even if both parents are professionals. Will she take extended leave? How will she balance career and family? Will she feel guilty going back to work and leaving the kid with an amah?
In what is supposed to be an equal society, why does nobody ever ask the man that? Is anyone curious whether he would like to stay home? I know several men who would love it. 
Maybe society doesn't allow men to have that choice that women do. Both stay-and-home moms and working moms gets a certain respect. But a jobless guy who stays at home may be considered lazy, or not up to the task of child-care, particularly in Hong Kong.
What if the wife has a great job, and the dad is a real homebody? 

Of course, the burden of pregnancy / delivery / early babycare falls on the woman for physical reasons. 

And having a stay-at-home-dad is not a practical financial option for most,  given that governments and companies don't allow for paternal leave, and most men still earn more than most women. But why not at least ask the question?

Anyway, happy day to the daddy bloggers: Ulaca and SorLo in Hong Kong, and Wang Jianshuo in Shanghai. And to those who just welcomed new babies, Joel Chung in Hong Kong and White Dusk Red in Singapore.

Dad -- I owe you a steak dinner when you come to town.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Filipina amah dies to save Hong Kong boy

According to ABS-CBN, a Philippine news station:

MANILA: An overseas Filipino worker died in Hong Kong after saving the life of her 6-year-old ward, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) said.
Juanita Agustin Limbago and the boy under her care were knocked down by a tour bus in Hong Kong on June 10, according to an OWWA report.
"Without regard for her own safety, Juanita turned her back to the bus and used her arm to protect the boy.  Both were pinned down but the boy got out of the unfortunate incident with only slight wounds," the agency said in a press statement.
She was working in Hong Kong for less than three months before she she was killed.
Her family will receive P220,000 in death and burial benefits from OWWA, according to the agency.

Note: P220,000 is about US $5,000 or HKD 40,000.
Has anyone seen anything in the local press about this?

So the guy in charge was Chinese...

Jim Chu. Photo credit: Mary McNeil  , via Wikipedia

Reading about the Vancouver hockey riots, I found out that the city's chief of police is actually a Chinese guy, born in Shanghai. Jim Chu, the first non-white-Canadian to hold that post, said that  "criminals, anarchists and thugs" hiding among hockey fans were responsible, according to The Canadian Press and The Globe and Mail.

He also said that "the worst was over" in about three hours and that there were more than 100 arrests. 

I have no idea whether he did a good job, though he did seem to handle it well, given how unexpected it was. As the kid of immigrants myself, it piques my curiosity when I see a Chinese person in a position of authority overseas.

Vancouver, in its very Canadian way, is sorry. Volunteers helped clean up the streets. And the local press even found out who those people were making out in the middle of the chaos. Turns out the guy was a simple-minded Australian. Here's what his abashed mom had to say:

“I just thought, yep, that would be Scott because he’s a bit of a dreamer and he wouldn’t have even known there was a riot going on around him, quite possibly,” Ms. Jones said with a laugh from her home outside Perth in western Australia.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Oh, dear Lord. They rioted in Vancouver.

Top photo: Rich Lam/Getty Images, via The Montreal Gazette
Bottom photo: Chris Walts, via CNBC

These shots look like they are movie stills. I wish they were, because that would mean that some Vancouverites didn't really riot and try to burn down their beautiful city after their hockey team lost. If this isn't the definition of sore loser, I don't know what is. I don't know what's up with those people making out. Too much Molson beer? Maybe some couples find the destruction of their city to be sexy?

It perplexes me. Why do Canadians have hockey riots? Why? This happened not too long ago in Montreal, too. It's strange because Canada has to be one of the most moderate, laid-back, peaceful places I've ever been. The stereotype, if anything, is that Canadians are overly friendly and passive.
Why over hockey? I lived in Quebec Province through the whole separatist conflict and referendum. Now that was a seriously politically fraught time -- but I never saw any violence or anything that came close to a hockey riot. 
Of course, not all hockey fans are like this and it is a minority of people. But it can't be a very small minority -- it's not like one fire was set. There was looting, fighting, lots of injuries, but thankfully, no deaths.

As in all news, a troublesome few make the rest of the city look bad. I went to YouTube to watch the video of the game highlights, and the top videos were all of the rioting, and not of the actual sporting event or ceremony.
By the way, if you haven't figured it out, the Boston Bruins won. And I have to give it to them -- they deserved it. They played better. Their goalie Tim Thomas -- who seems like a decent man, who kept himself well above all of the violence and infighting of this season -- was great.
In the stadium, those polite Vancouver fans reportedly cheered and applauded the opposite team, especially Thomas. Even though they were disappointed, they know good play when they see it. It's too bad that the behavior was so much worse outside the rink.
Now there are reports that citizens are out cleaning up the garbage left from the riots. That's very Canadian. 
But needless to say, this all makes me feel even worse about being a fan of the sport.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Do I watch the Stanley Cup finals?

The Canucks are led by identical Swedish twins called the Sedins. It's a funny sport.

As I've blogged before, my brother and I grew up watching ice hockey. And, during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, my interest was re-sparked and I've started watching it more recently -- though just via YouTube clips and blog posts.

I enjoyed the Olympics, especially that overtime, gold-winning goal by Sidney "The Kid" Crosby, who was probably the top player in the world at that time.

Tomorrow (actually, later today in Canada) is the final of the Stanley Cup, the sport's biggest prize. But I don't think I'll bother watching. It's been a disturbing year.

Sid the Kid in happier times. Look at that pure joy.

In January, Crosby, then 22, got hit hard during an NHL game, was sent back into a second game, was hit hard again and suffered what is presumed to be two consecutive concussions. He hasn't played since.
Several months ago, I saw a sad interview with him, where he said that he had trouble with some aspects of daily life -- bright lights hurt him, driving a car could be hard, and sometimes he lost track of conversations. A subsequent interview showed a more clear-headed Crosby, though he still seemed unable to exercise.
Hopefully, he will play again -- these Canadian kids train almost from the age they can walk. But even if he can't, one wonders what the future will hold for a young, bright man if he's suffered from brain injury.

This was one that broke my heart.
In March, a Montreal Canadiens rookie, Max Pacioretty, 22, was thrown against a stanchion at the arena by the Boston Bruins captain, the Zdeno Chara -- who is not only one of the more experienced players, but also the biggest at 6'9", or 2.06 m. This was probably the worst injury since it was a concussion and broken neck. (Fractured C4 vertebrae)
It touched me because Montreal is my team, and also because I watched a friend try to recover from spinal cord injury and paralysis a few years ago.
Pacioretty was (relatively) lucky that the injury did not sever the spinal cord. If it had gone an inch deeper, he could have been left in the same situation as my friend, who is still disabled today.
Chara was not suspended for any games, in a move that was later criticized. Various elements added fuel to the fire: The head of NHL Discipline had a son who plays on the Bruins. Even though he said he withdrew himself from this particular decision, a whiff of favoritism was left in the air (fairly or not).
Another Bruin tossed a branch into the bonfire by accusing Pacioretty of exaggerating the injury. Then Air Canada fanned by flames by threatening to withdraw sponsorship if the game didn't clean up violence.
I still don't know if this was a really unfortunate accident, or a deliberate attempt to injure.
That controversy was barely over when the Bruins found themselves in the Stanley Cup finals against the Vancouver Canucks.

On June 6, a Canuck defenseman, Aaron Rome, threw his shoulder into the head / neck of a Bruin, Nathan Horton, who hit the ice, fell unconscious and suffered from a severe concussion. Rome was thrown out for the rest of the playoffs.

On June 13, a Bruins defenseman, Johnny Boychuk, hit a Canucks forward, Mason Raymond, who suffered a vertebrae compression fracture and will be out for 3-4 months. (Whether this counts as a broken neck, I don't know.)
Boychuk was not suspended, and questions of favoritism came up again, even though the aforementioned NHL disciplinarian had stepped down from his job.
There are experts who watch the replays in slow motion and have long discussions on whether a hit was a few seconds too late, or whether a hit fell within various NHL rules. I am not one of these guys, so I'm not passing judgment on whether these hits were technically legal or not. Hockey is fast and violent, and there are many things that are allowed (like checking against the boards) or generally tolerated (like fights). You could have a whole blog on where that line is, but I'm not going into it here.

I have an old friend who loves cycling, much more than I love hockey. A few years ago, he said he started getting sick of it -- every article was about which cyclist used drugs and steroid-related politics. Sometimes, when I read hockey news online, it feels like all the coverage is about violence, horrible injury and NHL infighting, and I feel that same aversion.

I probably won't be up at 8 am to watch the finals, though I will check the score out of curiosity. I'm backing the Canucks, because it would be nice to see the Stanley Cup back in Canada for the first time since the early 90s, and because I think the Bruins have been particularly violent.

I believe a similar debate has been going on in American football.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

West Kowloon: Worth the almost US $3 billion price tag?

Ym Yik/European Pressphoto Agency

The Hong Kong skyline as seen from West Kowloon, site of the city’s planned cultural center.

A Bid for Culture in a City of Commerce

HONG KONG — This is a fast city, where skyscrapers go up in a blink and neighborhoods are transformed overnight.

It is also a rich city. The budget set aside for new cultural development would be the envy of any arts administrator: 21.6 billion Hong Kong dollars, or about $2.8 billion, to build 15 performance venues, a museum, an exhibition center and a giant park on some of the world’s most valuable undeveloped waterfront property.

And yet the 40-hectare, or almost 100-acre, site reclaimed from the South China Sea in the 1990s for this purpose is still empty, except for a walkway and an orange sign advertising a “West Kowloon Cultural District” that does not exist.

The years have seen international attention come and go. The heads of the Pompidou Center in Paris and the Guggenheim Museum in New York once visited with charm offensives, hoping to build branches here, but interest petered out. Endless plans were rejected, like one by the architect Norman Foster to build the world’s largest canopy.

Hong Kongers rolled their eyes at the delays, red tape, bloated budget and executive shuffling. But finally this year, the government seems to have jump-started the moribund project.

During the Hong Kong International Art Fair last month, more than 100 visiting art-world luminaries were taken on a cruise to see that promised plot of land, guided by Lars Nittve, a founding director of the Tate Modern in London and now the new head of West Kowloon’s proposed contemporary art museum.

Two days later, it was announced that Michael Lynch, the former head of the Sydney Opera House and the Southbank Center in London, would be West Kowloon’s new chief executive.

He replaces Graham Sheffield, formerly of the Barbican in London, who was appointed the project’s head with great fanfare last year but quit after only four months.

Most important, the government decided in March on a concrete plan — another one by Mr. Foster, minus the canopy — and a deadline. Construction should begin in 2013, with the park opening by 2015 and the first phase of the art facilities later that year. Performance venues are not expected until 2017.

West Kowloon Cultural District Authority

A computer rendering of the proposed West Kowloon Cultural District, as envisioned by the architect Norman Foster.

The idea for a grand artistic overhaul emerged around the time this former British colony was restored to Chinese control in 1997. Amid criticism that the city was a “cultural desert,” the new Hong Kong government countered with a plan for a money-making, prestige-building “cultural hub,” a catchphrase that has lasted through the project’s twists and turns.

Hong Kong has no facilities that come close to the iconic theater districts, opera houses or museums of New York, London, Paris or Tokyo.

Cultural infrastructure planning really began only in the 1970s, with concert halls built in the 1980s. The last major performance venue to go up was the Hong Kong Cultural Center, which opened in 1989 to criticism that it overlooked one of the world’s great skylines but lacked windows.

“This will put us on the same stage as New York and London,” Henry Tang, Hong Kong’s chief secretary and the chair of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, said in an interview. The fact that Mr. Tang is also the region’s second-ranking government official reflects the prominence of the project.

One criticism is that part of the government funding will support newly built shopping, dining and entertainment facilities, with the expectation that their management will go to one of the city’s rich developers. The arts area will also be connected to a controversial new rail line, as well as the International Commerce Center skyscraper and a luxury shopping mall, both of which opened in the past few years.

This unusual bundling of state arts funding and commercial enterprise plays into Hong Kong’s image as a shopping haven, not a center for high culture.

While most overseas museums have small gift shops or cafes, it is hard to imagine a Guggenheim or Tate being officially linked to a mall.

The justification is that revenues from the restaurants and shops will feed back into the project as arts funding. Unlike overseas cultural facilities that receive long-term government support and grants, West Kowloon will get one lump sum and then be left to its own devices.

“Most art projects in the world basically lose money and require subvention,” said Mr. Tang, who formerly was Hong Kong’s finance secretary. “We have a financing model in which the retail, dining and entertainment income will be under the management of the authority and help fund the arts side.”

The plans have sent nearby property prices soaring, while local artists complain of being priced out of studio spaces in neighborhoods like West Kowloon. There is also unease over what is seen as a cozy relationship between the government — which technically owns all of Hong Kong’s land — and tycoons and property developers.

Alice Poon, a columnist and author of “Land and the Ruling Class in Hong Kong,” has written about West Kowloon from the viewpoint of its being a property deal.

“In the case of West Kowloon,” she said, “the government is seeing arts facilities as a way of enhancing land values in this area — or, at least, that is the perception many people have.”

Then there’s the eye-popping price tag.

“In the context of building an arts and culture hub, it is a large amount of money. Other places in the world don’t talk about those kinds of sums,” Mr. Tang said. “But compared to other infrastructure projects in Hong Kong, it is not expensive. The high-speed rail costs more than double.”

The new train line — which, at 66.9 billion Hong Kong dollars, is projected to be the world’s most expensive per kilometer — drew wide protests over its price and the fact that a local village would be demolished to build it.

The line is part of a grand plan to create a direct link from the Chinese mainland to Hong Kong’s new arts-shopping-dining-luxury-hotel extravaganza.

The government envisions an attraction for the greater Pearl River Delta region, which includes Shenzhen and Guangzhou, two Chinese cities with populations pushing 10 million each. The idea is that Chinese tourists will come out of the terminal and see a glittering cultural center with the water behind it.

“There will be a 270-degree view of the harbor. No other site is more spectacular than this one,” Mr. Tang said.

There is general agreement that Hong Kong’s existing arts facilities are inadequate.

“There are not enough venues, not nearly enough,” said Tisa Ho, executive director of the Hong Kong Arts Festival, which sold out 160 of its 180 performances in advance this year. “There are acts we would love to bring to Hong Kong but cannot.”

“There is no major performing arts group in this city with its own dedicated venue,” said Yip Wing-sie, the Hong Kong Sinfonietta’s music director, who also sits on one of the West Kowloon district’s boards.

Still, some worry whether the city has the artistic bent to fill all the new buildings with meaningful content.

“There has been much concern over whether we’re just building hardware instead of software, and in that regard, we’ve done relatively bad P.R. work in telling people what this museum should be,” said Mr. Nittve, the new executive director of West Kowloon’s 40,000-square-meter, or 430,000-square-foot, M+ museum, which will display international contemporary visual culture.

Mr. Nittve, who started work in January, will have four or five years to hire and train 400 staff members and build a collection of artwork.

“I’ve never built a collection entirely from scratch,” he said. “It’s really fun. Very few museums have this much money, but when you’re building something new, your needs are endless.”

Mr. Nittve said he was at liberty to collect what he wanted from auctions, galleries, other museums and even new commissions. And he noted some of Hong Kong’s advantages.

“We have the freedom of speech here. We can show things that can’t be shown in mainland China or Singapore,” he said. “We’re connected to the international scene. And in terms of customs and taxes, this is a much easier place for moving artworks in and out.”

The overriding feeling is one of anticipation.

“The train is going to be starting to move,” Mr. Nittve said. “This project has been so long in the coming — 12, 13 years — and now it’s starting to happen.”

“We needed these venues yesterday,” said Ms. Ho, the arts festival director. “That said, I’d rather we get it right than get it fast.”

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Seeking Asian bloggers for paid work

Unofficially ("off the record," as they say in my industry), a little birdie tells me that a U.S. media organization is seeking paid professional bloggers across Asia, with work starting in the autumn.

I presume this company is looking for people who are currently working in the field or, at the very least, a very bright J-school grad. You'd be asked to cover the usual gamut of topics -- basic news, business, features, etc. You'd have to write in an engaging way -- they're not looking for a personal blog, but they don't want dry, re-hashed government statements either.

They're looking to cover China (possibly written out of Hong Kong), Vietnam, Korea, Indonesia and other Asian countries.

All the blogging would be in English.

You may also be called upon to do supplemental work, like doing a short video, or holding a Q&A with someone from their main newsroom if there's breaking news.

This has nothing to do with my own work or with the IHT / NYT, so I don't have too many details, except that it would be a freelance / stringer-type contract, and the pay shouldn't be too shabby. (Better than my little Google AdSense experiment, anyway). I'm just posting this to help out a friend.

If you're interested, send your cv to my email, which you can find on the right, and I will pass it on. Obviously, the project hasn't been officially announced yet, which is why I'm not saying which organization it is. But I know they've begun scouting for writers.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Hong Kong Art Fair and and Ai Weiwei

The Time Out booth at ART HK. All photos by Joyce Hor-Chung Lau

This story came out on June 3, 2011 in the IHT and NYT websites.

HONG KONG — The Hong Kong International Art Fair ended this week with a record 63,500 visitors and top sales driven in part by wealthy Chinese buyers.

But there were no signs that the local Hong Kong government or event organizers had buckled under pressure to remove contentious materials that might have been off-putting to Beijing.

"Marble Arm" at the Galerie Urs Meile booth.

The art fair included a single work by the dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who was detained on April 3 trying to board a flight from Beijing to Hong Kong and is being held in a secret location. “Marble Arm,” a life-sized arm and hand, its middle finger stretched upward in a vulgar gesture, served as a small symbol of dissent at the booth of Galerie Urs Meile , which has branches in Switzerland and Beijing. Laid casually on a black coffee table where buyers and sellers hashed out high-priced deals, the work, like most at the fair, sold.

ART HK, as the fair is commonly known, the first major art event to be held on Chinese soil since Mr. Ai’s disappearance, was abuzz with talk of his case. The former British colony, which was handed back to Chinese rule in 1997, maintains a higher degree of freedom than the mainland, though those boundaries are sometimes tested.

Magnus Renfrew, the fair’s director, was quoted in both the local and international media as supporting the artist. “Ai Weiwei’s works have been greatly admired,” he said in a statement.

The London-based Lisson Gallery , a regular and prominent attendee at the fair, which represents Mr. Ai, released a statement saying that it went “on the record as deploring the detention of Ai Weiwei by the Chinese authorities,” and cited Hong Kong’s “democratic process, greater freedom of press and an independent judiciary.” The statement added: “Hong Kong is a gateway to the entire Asian region, not just China.”

A stack of flyers at the Lisson booth.

The gallery also handed out Ai Weiwei flyers, buttons and T-shirts. Some young visitors pulled the shirts on and wore them around the event.

Greg Hilty, Lisson’s curatorial director, said the gallery had been thinking of bringing Mr. Ai’s works to Hong Kong, but that the timing had made that too difficult. “It was simply impossible to arrange logistically because we can’t speak to him — it’s a pity,” he said.

In London, the gallery is holding a show of Mr. Ai’s works at its two locations, including an outdoor sculpture garden, through July 16.

The Chinese authorities and state-run media have reacted defensively to international criticism of Mr. Ai’s detention, releasing statements implying that the West does not understand China.

“I think the Chinese authorities have been taken aback by the response,” Mr. Hilty said. “I’m sure we don’t entirely understand China. But at least there has been a traffic of ideas with the West. The biggest pity is if China cracks down and that stops happening. That would make cultural exchange that much harder.”

ART HK, which took place in central Hong Kong in the Convention and Exhibition Centre, also included satellite shows held on the eastern side of town. It was there, in art spaces hidden among the meatpackers and junk shops in the Chai Wan district, that real and heated discussion took place over freedom of expression.

A lightbox right outside the "Love the Future" exhibit.

Kacey Wong , an artist and curator, had pulled together “Love the Future,” a group exhibition that opened last week in response to Mr. Ai’s disappearance into police detention. About 30 local artists participated, some showing up at midnight to drag newly created pieces into the converted warehouse space.

Wong with his Mud Grass Horse, which he crafted in a few days partly out of an IKEA carpet. I didn't have space in the article (which, my editors kept reminding me, was already way past the 1,000-word mark) to explain the whole Mud Grass Horse thing, but you can read about it here.

Another part of the show: Live, swimming river crabs in neon-lit boxes. Another thing that would have just taken too many grafs to explain to anyone not particularly interested in the ins and outs of the Chinese blogosphere. You can read about the significance here.

The only piece they could get by Mr. Ai was a single porcelain sunflower seed, taken from a recent installation at the Tate Modern in London. There were also stacks of “Ai Weiwei’s Blog,” a new English-language book of his online writing, released in April by the U.S. publisher M.I.T. Press.

“We’re holding this show because, in Hong Kong, we can still enjoy different opinions,” Mr. Wong said. “We don’t want Hong Kong to go down the path China has in terms of human rights.”

Portraits by the Hong Kong photographer Bobby Sham show faces imprinted with the "Wei" character.

Mr. Wong said that organizing such an event in Hong Kong was more politically charged than doing so in New York or London, where there are currently major exhibits of Mr. Ai’s works, at Central Park and outside Somerset House respectively.

Mr. Wong’s show was co-organized by Art Citizens, a group of local artists, writers and performers that formed after Mr. Ai was taken by the Chinese authorities. Over the past month, Art Citizens has organized street protests and illuminated images of Mr. Ai onto buildings. Similar projections elicited warnings from the People’s Liberation Army.

“We Hong Kongers like to think that we’re separate, but we have to sometimes remind ourselves that we’re technically living in China and flying the Communist flag,” Mr. Wong said. “We think we live in this bubble, but maybe the skin on that bubble is growing thin. On the mainland, Ai Weiwei is already a taboo subject.”

Attending the “Love the Future” show was Jennifer Ng, one of Mr. Ai’s assistants, who was supposed to accompany him on the Beijing-Hong Kong flight, when guards took him away. She was allowed to leave the mainland herself, since she is a Hong Konger.

“There has been almost daily commentary about this in the Hong Kong media,” she said.

“There has been some overseas attention, too,” she added. “But we have not yet been contacted by the mainland press, where there have only been a few articles, and only in the state-controlled media.”

According to Ms. Ng, four other people have been detained in the Ai case, including three colleagues and one friend. “It’s important that there is public awareness about the situation, including the other people who are missing,” she said.

Up one flight of stairs was another show, “Red: China and Artistic Freedom” by 10 Chancery Lane , a central Hong Kong gallery that also funded the space for “Love the Future.”

Wang Keping's "Silence," left. Map Office's Ai Weiwei photos, right.

“Red,” a group exhibition of 17 artists, was a more polished affair with more prominent names. It covered the history of contemporary protest art in China, starting with Wang Keping’s “Silence” sculpture from the seminal Xing Xing exhibition of 1979, which led to demonstrations over freedom of expression, three years after the end of the Cultural Revolution.

The opening party for “Red” featured a performance by Xiao Lu, the artist who famously fired a handgun at the National Art Gallery in Beijing in 1989, a few months before a violent crackdown on student protests there.

Mr. Ai was represented in a series of four large photographs called “To Fight With Crossed Arms” (2007), which Mr. Ai created with Map Office , a French-Moroccan husband-and-wife team based in Hong Kong.

The Map Office artists Laurent Gutierrez and Valérie Portefaix have been close friends with Mr. Ai for a decade. They were the ones waiting for him to arrive in Hong Kong, when he was detained.

“We’re also showing a video of him playing with our daughter, who was 7 at the time,” Ms. Portefaix said. “We’ve been at his house many times with our children. He is like family to us.”

The “Red” exhibition included a talk by Valerie C. Doran, a curator based in Hong Kong.

“The show is about freedom of expression, not necessarily a confrontation with the authorities,” she said, adding that she did not find Mr. Ai’s works particularly radical in an international context.

“You could paint mountainscapes, and if the government decided that mountains were ‘sensitive,’ then suddenly, you’re seen as being political,” she said.

She said that she was not surprised at his detention, and that the government had been harassing Mr. Ai since he created works related to two controversial events in 2008: the deaths of schoolchildren in the Sichuan earthquake and the melamine-tainted milk scandal.

“It was never a case of if they would take him, or even why,” she said. “It was just a matter of when. Many of us thought this was inevitable.”

Nothing to do with Ai Weiwei directly, but an amusing part of that 10 Chancery Lane exhibit in Chai Wan. Detail from a 2011 work by Jian Jun Xi, a Chinese artist, which depicted an Andy Warhol-like character lying on top of a Chinese flag.


Correction: June 2, 2011

An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that an Art Citizens illuminated projection drew a warning from the People's Liberation Army. It was other projections that elicited the warning.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Deviled eggs recipe

'Tis the season for eating salad for dinner every night. No, I'm not on a diet. I'm just hot. Both Marc the Metrosexual and I have been going through our annual Hong Kong summer drop in appetite, Hullett House Cheese Festival nonwithstanding.

For some reason, one night after work, I decided to pretend that I was invited to a 1980s cocktail party and made deviled eggs for dinner. (BTW, I didn't go to cocktail parties in the 1980s. I'm not that old).
salt and pepper
mustard, preferably Dijon

1. Carefully put eggs in a pot of cold water. Turn the heat up to high.
2. When the water gets warm, stir in lots of salt -- not to flavor the eggs, but to make them easier to peel later.
3. When the water reaches a gentle boil, set the timer for 10 minutes. Continue cooking, but at slightly lower heat.
4. While the eggs are cooking, make your green salad with lettuce, tomatoes, etc.
5. When the timer goes off, remove the pot from the heat and rinse the eggs in lots of cold water until they are room temperature.
6. Gently tap each egg on a hard surface and then roll -- this is the easiest way to remove the shells.
7. Slice the eggs in half lengthwise.
8. Using a small spoon, remove the yolks and mash together with mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper.
9. Spoon the yolks back into the egg-white shells. Sprinkle with paprika.

I like to eat this with a crisp salad, buttered rye toast and a glass of chilled white wine.

Note: Paprika is a deep red spice that is made of a variety of dried peppers. It is much less spicy than chili powder. Instead of being hot, it has a nice roasted, flavorful taste.
This is why I'm not going to make it as a foodie blogger -- I am pretty indifferent to photos unless I have to take them for work. Otherwise, I come up with blurry shots like this one.

Next up: A more sophisticated (and hopefully better photographed) recipe for frisee aux lardons, a French salad.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Kid sells kidney to buy iPad

From Bloomberg: "A 17-year-old Chinese boy sold one of his kidneys for 22,000 yuan (US $3,400) so he could buy an iPad 2, according to a video of a Shenzhen Satellite T.V. report posted on today."

Well, I guess he has two of them. Or had. I hope he never suffers from kidney failure later in life.

In other kidney related news, that is the organ affected by the unusually deadly E. coli bacteria that has been found in European produce during the most recent food safety scare.

If this Chinese kid happens to eat a German cucumber, he's basically doomed.

What hospital will perform surgery to allow a minor (or anyone) to just trade organs for cash?

And what happens when the next, newest version comes out? Will it be his spleen?


Oh, now that I've read another story on CNN Money, I feel kinda bad for the kid.
According to Thursday's Shanghai Daily, a 17-year-old student in Huaishan City, China, gave up his right kidney to get his hands on Apple's (AAPL) hottest-selling product.

"I wanted to buy an iPad 2 but could not afford it," the boy, surnamed Zheng, told the Chinese language Global Times. "A broker contacted me on the Internet and said he could help me sell one kidney for 20,000 yuan."

As luck would have it, the hospital in Chenzhou City that performed the procedure was not qualified to do organ transplants, and the patient, feeling worse for wear, regrets having made the bargain.
When he told his mother what he had done, she called the police. The case is being investigated.
He got caught somewhere between a suddenly-get-rich society, and a seriously corrupt medical system. We all make youthful mistakes -- bad girlfriend/boyfriend, overspending, etc -- but he will never get his kidney back.

China Daily reported that dealers organizing organ sales would face criminal charges, starting May 1. (Was it not a criminal charge before then?)
They also cited a case in which a kidney was going for 60,000 yuan. So, on top of everything else, this kid was also ripped off.
I hope he still has the contact of the agent, and the police go after him.
Poor kid. Hopefully he (or his mom) will have the common sense to get him a decent medical check-up to see how much damage has been done.

To AdSense or Not To AdSense? That is the question.

I've said before that I have little interest in making money from this personal blog -- and I still mean it. I have a full-time writing / editing job already. Plus, I'm pretty realistic (meaning pessimistic) about the prospect of making a real salary from casual, personal blogging at this point in time.

So, why have Google AdSense ads been popping up?

Well, I was curious.

Actually, I was curious a couple years ago, but I was rejected by Google -- God knows why. It's not like this is a sham spam site.

Recently, I was chatting with a friend about paid professional blogging -- how much one makes, whether it works. I went online to do more research. And I couldn't find any definitive answer to exactly how much one makes from putting ads on a personal blog.

So I decided to try it again, maybe for a month. (Why AdSense works for me now, but not before, I'll never know.)

It's only been a few days and I'm already finding the ads annoying. (If you, dear reader, also find them annoying, please leave a comment to let me know, and I may stop my experiment. Making this blog enjoyable is more important than measly ad revenue).

Some of the Google ads have been directly related to topics I've covered and might actually be of interest to readers, like a new book with Ai Weiwei's blog excerpts.

There have also been a few Hong Kong art galleries, which I'm happy about.

Others are just random, like one for Groupon, the coupon site, or some rather suspicious real estate deals.

Then there are ones that make my site look trashy, for "role play massage" and "China love match."

The one that bothers me most is for a book called Consumptionomics. It's a full-color box ad laid out right between blog posts and not tagged as an advertisement. The way it's placed, many readers may presume that I am personally recommending this book, which I am not. (Nothing against it, I just haven't read it). That blurry line makes me nervous.


Do you guys use online advertising?

I did a casual scroll through my blog roll and concluded that the grand majority of you (80%) don't use advertising, while a minority (20%) do. I excluded blogs produced by major media, university bodies, businesses, etc. I only looked at personal blogs written by one person.

Of 40-odd blogs, only 3 used Google AdSense so far as I could tell: Hongkie Town, Gweipo and Stinky Tofu. (And Gweipo and Stinky Tofu had only tiny ads near the bottom).

Others used small, tasteful targeted ads, but seemingly not from Google, like Privilege and Hong Kong Fashion Geek.


How much would I make? Is it worth it?

I've been at it 5 days and I've made US $2.50, or about HK $20.

If I stick with it a month, that adds up to about US $15, or HK $120.

(We'll see how much it really is after this 30-day experiment).

Given where I am today, it's not worth the annoyance and clutter on my site -- HK $120 is one taxi ride from home to work if I take the Western Tunnel. So an entire month's worth of blogging is equal to one lazy night when I don't take the MTR.

But, if I were 19 again (ah, 19), I'd probably stick with it.
At that time, I was just beginning to start freelancing part-time. US $15 would have been a little extra money for me to grab some pizza and go see a band.

(Though, to show you how vastly different professional paid print work still is to online-only work: A teenage kid writer working for a free local weekly in the mid-90s made US $50 per printed short article. Today, The New York Times InTransit travel blog also pays US $50 per short article -- 15 years later. And the NYT is way up on the payscale. Of course, if you write for the proper print edition of the NYT, you get paid much more.)

It's probably not really worth it to hobby bloggers who have other jobs, or who are otherwise financially supported.

It may be worth it if you're a student / freelancer / just starting out, and every bit counts. When I first came to Hong Kong, as an editorial assistant at the Boston Globe, HK $120 would have been the equivalent of a week's worth of "rice box" lunches, or a gas or water bill.

It may also be worth it if you're serious about capitalizing on your blog -- meaning that you spend significant time every day writing, cross-linking, building traffic, pinging and bothering your friends by constantly self-promoting on Twitter and Facebook. You could also pepper your site with little boxes for RSS feeds, Twitter, Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Squidoo, etc. Some bloggers find a way of doing so tastefully -- usually with custom design. Otherwise, your site looks like a Formula One racer's uniform.

I presume I'd make much more than HK $120 a month if I did that. But professional blogging is a whole other kettle of fish.

I still am not convinced you can make a living writing a one-person personal blog, and writing what you really want, instead of turning it into some sort of advertorial-type site.

Am I wrong? What are your experiences with online ads or trying to make money blogging?