Thursday, July 28, 2011

More media jobs

Please note, as with all postings on my personal site, that these are not the formal announcements. I have nothing to do with IHT hiring. All I do is hand cv's to someone else.


Back to the jobs. 

1. One is for a web producer for the Views pages (meaning Op/Ed, as opposed to News.)
It's a full-time position based in Hong Kong. It will mostly be day shifts, though you can expect to work some weekends and nights. (At least right now, the latest shift is 4pm-midnight).
The ads don't specify -- probably because it's so obvious -- but it requires a high level of English.

* Five years daily news experience
* Familiarity with international media
* Experience with online media work -- editing text and images, plus design
* Basic news editing skills -- writing headlines, proofreading pages, etc.
* Proficiency in Final Cut 
Send applications to resume @iht.com.

2.  I also just got offered a non-I.H.T. freelance gig for an arts / classical music article. I turned it down, since I do very little outside work in general, and I'm going to start maternity leave soon anyway. If there are any Hong Kong / Macau-based arts writers out there, email me a joycelauarts@gmail.com, and I can pass on your contacts. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

My God, what a news week.

Most people outside the IHT know me as an arts writer, because that's the part of my work that's obvious to the public. But 60% of the time, I do newsroom work that's invisible to the reader.
For every bylined writer, there's a team  organizing coverage,  laying out print pages, updating web pages, sifting through photos, checking facts and editing stories. News is a messy, slippery business. Just as you think you have a fact or story down, it updates, you get a conflicting report, or someone calls in a mistake.
This week, I'm subbing in as the front page editor, a job I don't do often.
The downside is that the shifts are long, late and stressful -- and I'm usually one of the last people out of the office. This is a pain even when I'm not heavily pregnant. I'm struggling to make it through my days now.
The upside is that -- at least when I'm fully healthy -- it's an odd sort of (masochistic) fun.
The main part of the job is designing the front page. While page 1 decisions are made by many people -- as they are in any newspaper -- I put together the articles, layout and photos.
The weekend I got to do this job, everything horrible happened at once -- the Oslo killings, the China train crash, Amy Winehouse dying, the endless drip-drip-drip of the U.S. debt debate, and the continuing aftermath of the shameful British media scandal. 
Of course, not all news is hard-breaking news. There are also broader, longer features -- on Pakistani spies, or Chinese businesses on Wall Street.
Then there's the instinct to balance the misery with something uplifting and fun, like the tail end of the Tour de France. The above were all the stories I read at work recently.
My doctor told me to reduce work stress. Ha! This is the sort of weekend that would give any editor a heart attack -- and it's only Sunday night. One shift down, eight to go.
***
I wonder if, after several months of maternity leave, I will miss working?
It's clear in my mind that having a healthy, happy daughter and caring for her with all my love and energy is my priority over work. I'd rather be home with my new child than thinking about all the misery of the world. News is not a particularly happy subject, and nobody -- at least nobody with a heart -- ever gets numbed to the daily death tolls and horrible images. 
But I'm curious how I will feel stopping my daily connection to writing and editing after working almost continuously for more than a decade.
Will I be devouring my daily paper like a junkie? Or will motherhood turn my attentions away?
***
Someone asked why I sometimes don't mention major news events on this blog, particularly ones that would seem to interest me, like Ai Weiwei being released or the British scandal that has erupted in my industry.
I admit that the news coverage here at Joyceyland is patchy. I presume that most people would go to a proper, professional  source, like my employer, for their daily news. 
Ironically, the busier my week is, the less likely I'll blog about news.
Blogging is a release valve for me -- as I think it is for most personal bloggers. After reading about tragedy and conflict all day, it's nice to have another place that's largely cat photos, recipes, shoe shopping, and quips about daily life.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Why are the census people harassing me?

I got a notice saying that a 2011 Population Census rep tried to visit my home, but I wasn't there.
In fact, I might have been there, but the new building doorgirl doesn't seem like the sharpest pencil in the pencil case, if you know what I mean. Twice, I've been home but missed the DHL guy since she seems incapable of a) using the telecom thingie; b) telling the DHL man to wait a sec; c) signing for a package. 
I only find out immediately after the DHL man has left -- sometimes just by 5 or 10 minutes. 

But back to the Census.
Being a good citizen, I called right after getting their notice, as I was cabbing my way to work. 
I am counting down the days of My Last Two Weeks which, for reasons too complex to get into here, are going to be tough. I'll be there late; won't get my usual work-at-home-days; and will work the next two Sundays. My Saturdays these days are spent doing baby-stuff, like pre-natal check-ups.

But it is what it is, and I'll muddle through. But the last thing I need to be bothered by the Census people.


My conversation went something like this.

Me: I've received a notice saying that I've missed a Census representative.
Census: You'll have to make another appointment. When are you free after 1 pm?
Me: I start work at 1, so that's no good. How about noon or late morning?
Census: Our workers only begin at 1 pm. How about weekends?
Me: I work weekends. Plus, I'm eight months pregnant, and very busy finishing up work. I'm happy to do this in two weeks time, when I will be free.
Census: It has to be done before August 2. We sent out advance notices saying so.
Me: I never got such a notice.
Census: We sent a notice.
Me: I swear there was no notice.
Census:  Can we come to your home at night?
Me: No. I get home anytime between 10 pm and midnight.
Census: Can we come after that?
Me: Please don't come to my home late at night. Can't you just send a paper questionnaire?
Census: No, because your household has been chosen for a long-format questionnaire.
Me: Can that be changed to a short-format in extenuating circumstances?
Census: I'll have to ask my manager. 
Click. 


After work, I get another call. It's not a manager. It's some young sounding girl covering exactly the same ground as that morning...

Me: If we really can't set a time and date, can't you just leave a questionnaire in my mailbox?
Census: We could, but you've been chosen for the long-format questionnaire.
Me: The guy already said that this morning. Can I do it online or electronically?
Census: Only if you registered in advance when we sent out early notices.
Me: I never got that notice, as I said this morning.
ad nauseum...

Census: Let me check with the manager. Can I call you back tonight?
Me: No. It's already 10 p.m. and I'm exhausted. Please call back during normal work hours.
***
Is participating in the census a legal requirement of permanent residents? It is compulsory? What if you're out of town, ill, or otherwise unable?
Or is it just something that they hope most people will do?
Does anyone know? Because, if it's the latter, I'm going to ignore them.
It's not that I'm being irresponsible. I've done all that one could reasonably expect. I called them right away, spoke to them twice, and offered
* Doing it by phone
* Doing it online
* Doing it on paper
* Rescheduling for mornings
* Rescheduling two weeks from now
And my requests have been rejected.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Real Estate Fistfight in a Dark Side Mall

We've all heard about Chinese tourists behaving badly in shopping malls. But we can't just blame the Mainlanders. The ridiculously aggressive real estate touts who have taken over my West Kowloon neighborhood are 100% Hong Kong's fault.
Last weekend, Marc the Metrosexual was buying cheese, wine and a surprisingly good lentil and pork stew at the new Monsieur Chatte shop in Elements -- which is filled with high-fashion brands, an organic supermarket, pricey restaurants, ice-skating rink, and other accoutrement of Hnouveau-riche living.
Not far from Monsieur Chatte, a security guard, 49, was trying to remove one of the hundreds -- yes, literally hundreds -- of property agents who have been harassing residents and shoppers since early July. The agent, 30, allegedly slapped the guard on the head, sparking a fist fight. It ended in hospitalization and arrest for both parties.
According to The Standard: "
The fracas topped two weeks of strains caused by hundreds of agents from several property firms descending on Elements, the mall atop Kowloon MTR station."

(Note: The article's a bit old -- it's been about three weeks now)
The Standard continues:
"The spokesman said there has been several complaints from shops, shoppers and residents against the touting...."
"A concierge disclosed that about 60 security guards have been deployed daily since Sun Hung Kai opened a sales office for Imperial Cullinan at the International Commerce Center late last month."
"Unconfirmed reports are that the agent involved in yesterday's brawl works for Hong Kong Property, though the agency declined to comment."
"Besides that firm, Ricacorp Properties, Centaline Property and Midland Realty have sent agents to Elements."
Marc and I noticed the increased security earlier this month, when we were at Nahm, a pan-Southeast-Asian restaurant. We ate our Vietnamese pho while watching clusters of uniformed guards striding up and down the mall, armed with cameras. It was really bizarre.

We've found ourselves surrounded by agents who push and shove and won't leave us alone when we won't talk to them or take their pamphlets. They even bother parents with little kids.

Earlier this week, I was almost accosted while getting out of a taxi near the W.  Hotel.
The Elements / W. security people were waving the agents back saying, "Leave her alone! Can't you see she's pregnant! Have you no shame?!"  The burly Nepalese guards are more efficient at this than their local counterparts.

I now make a concerted effort not to make eye contact with anyone when I get groceries or meet a friend for dinner in my neighborhood, lest I attract the attention of the agents.

***
The Standard articles quotes a spokeswoman for the Estate Agents Authority as saying that there are guidelines against unscrupulous sales tactics, which include intercepting vehicles or distracting drivers.

They should tell that to the dozens of guys we saw standing forlornly at dusk on a highway round-about near our home in Olympic.  As soon as our taxi passed by, two of those men starting sprinting desperately alongside the vehicle. If I saw this same scene in New York -- two men running like mad on a dark street -- I'd presume it was a robbery. Not in Hong Kong. They just wanted the chance to harass drivers before the red light changed.
The faster one, a rather nice looking young man in a white dress shirt, managed to hurl himself onto the windshield of a black mini-van, where he tried to stick pamphlets under the windshield wiper.
***
The article quotes the wonderfully named Winky Leung, who said she wasn't so bothered by the agents because "they did not chase me."

That's how low standards for civilized behavior have dropped. Nowadays, all we expect is to not be physically chased down.
***
Even if you set aside the problems of ethics, and etiquette, this doesn't make sense from a hard-nosed money-making point-of-view.
Almost nobody is buying flats from these agents.
Up at Civic Square -- a nice terrace area with al fresco dining -- there were dozens of agents lounging around in the dark, chatting on their mobiles, playing computer games, or looking like they wanted to take a nap.
What customer could they possibly attract?
If you were going to spend a minimum of HK $10 million -- or well over US $1 million -- would you leave that transaction to some sweaty, desperate man who has hurled himself onto your windshield? After a 5-second sales pitch, would you reach out the driver's side window and hand him a HK $2 million deposit? Would you trust setting up a mortgage with a guy who tried to chase you down in a mall, not unlike vendors in poor street markets trying to sell you a $10 T-shirt?
For most of us, our homes are our single largest investment. Wouldn't you make an appointment in the office of a reputable real estate agency?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Bright side of suddenly giant feet: shopping

I knew that legs swelled during pregnancy, but I had no idea until I reached 7 months and -- bam! -- my feet turned into water balloons.
I've tried everything -- exercising, stretching, swimming, professional massage, putting my legs up, icing my feet, drinking tons of water, cutting down on wheat and salt.
I know they are much worse after editing days in the office, where I am basically stuck  in a cubicle for 8 hours. Aside from brief 15-minute strolls during my non-existent lunch breaks, there's not much I can do till I finish work in early August.
For a while, I was down to one scruffed pair of brown leather flats. I couldn't stuff my feet into anything else I owned.
Usually, I'm a US size 5 /6, or European 35/36. Now I'm a US size 7, or European 37, at the minimum. I bought a pair of Lanvins, one size bigger than usual, and still had to exchange the 37 for a 38. How did I manage to grow 2-3 shoe sizes in less than a month?
And is there any truth to the old wives tale that, sometimes, your feet get bigger and then never shrink back? Because there will be many expensive, wasted shoes in my closet if that is true


I've been trying to find the silver lining to my strange, myriad pregnancy symptoms -- I mean, on top of the giant silver lining that, after all these years, I get a baby to love out of all of this.
When I get kicked hard under the ribs I try to think, "Well, that's a sign that Baby is healthy and well" as opposed to "Damn. Ow. What am I growing in there? A hockey player?"
As for my Braxton Hicks contractions, which I've had for almost a month now, I try to think of a maternity nurse's rather positive explanation that "Your uterus is practicing for the big day." Practicing! Like it has a school recital coming up.
As for my feet, I tried to look on the bright side: One small consolation is that I felt justified going shoe shopping. Though, alas, they had to all be flats, when I'm a wedge / heel girl at heart. But at this point, I'd fall over wearing anything over an inch or two high.
Here's what I got:






Clockwise from right: Lanvin rose-colored espadrilles with ankle ribbon ties that I've been coveting since this post in March, via the recent Net-A-Porter sale; two pairs of cheap Zara flats; and Havaianas  flip-flops with a single embedded crystal and comfy rubber bottoms, from Sabina Swims.
Before this month, I hated ballerina flats. I also had a rule that I would not appear in public in flip-flops, unless I was at the beach or the pool. I'm still only wearing the flip-flops when I go swimming. But if the heat and 90% humidity continue -- and if I feet get any bigger --  I might have to cave in.


Speaking of shopping, swimming and caving in -- I did finally splurge on a maternity swimsuit. I'd love to think that I can still go out in a little black bikini without attracting public scorn, but I have to face the fact that I am, indeed, 8 months pregnant. It's not pretty.
So I got this Sabina Swims tankini, which has clever ruched sides and long  ties that can be loosened or tightened. Someday, when my waist goes back in, instead of out, I might still be able to wear it.

I'll spare your poor eyes the sight of an 8-month-pregnant me in a tankini. Instead, here it is on a publicity photo with a slender, young thing who has probably been told to just stick her tummy way out for the photo shoot. (I'm always amused when pregnancy fashion shoots feature suspiciously non-pregnant-looking models)




Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Chinese Opera Gets a Modern Edge -- IHT article

HONG KONG — The Sunbeam Theatre, the last dedicated Cantonese opera house on Hong Kong Island, stands on a crammed neon-lighted corner, decorated with Christmas lights and posters of its elaborately made-up stars.
Its 400 annual shows are often sold out, mostly to middle-aged women who know the ancient art form’s stories by heart. Singers in hand-embroidered silk costumes play the characters of Chinese legend: emperors and warlords, wily bandits and maidens in distress. Gongs and cymbals clang, sword fights break out, and the odd acrobat somersaults across the stage.
Despite its popularity, the Sunbeam, which opened in 1972, faces a problem that plagues many independent arts groups in this expensive city: ballooning rent. When its lease was set to expire in 2009, there was talk that the landlord would either triple the rent or turn the building into a shopping mall. The government offered some financing and the lease was renewed, but only until 2012.
“It’s tough, but we survive because we hold a large number of shows to manage costs,” said Wong Kwun-shui, who manages the theater. He added that state funding helped but might not be enough to keep the Sunbeam afloat.
When asked what would happen after next year, he said, “Heaven only knows.”
Chinese opera’s influence on pop culture has remained strong, and its mythologies crop up in kung fu films, comic books and television series. But traditional theaters have all but disappeared, except for the Sunbeam and a few others in far-flung locales.
There has, however, has been a greater effort to promote Cantonese opera since 2009, when the 300-year-old art form, sung in the dialect of Hong Kong and southern China, was recognized by Unesco as a piece of “intangible cultural heritage.” And while smaller private enterprises are still struggling, the recent push to promote opera has benefited larger state-run projects.
Plans for the West Kowloon Cultural District, budgeted at 21.6 billion Hong Kong dollars, or about $2.7 billion, include a new Chinese opera center with two mid-sized performance halls as well as a smaller tea-house-type space. When it opens in 2016 or 2017, it will be one of the district’s first performing arts centers.
The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, which has had a traditional Chinese singing program since 1999, announced in May that it would offer what it said will be the world’s first Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Cantonese opera, starting in the 2013-2014 academic year.
The Hong Kong Heritage Museum will open an exhibition later this month on Lam Kar-sing, 78, a veteran performer and the founder of two opera troupes.
And a Chinese Opera Festival, which runs through July 24, is featuring troupes from around China performing in their local dialects.
For the festival’s sold-out opening in early June, the government commissioned Fredric Mao, a Hong Kong theater pioneer, to rewrite, direct and produce a new production of “The Last Emperor of Southern Tang,” a classic tragedy.
Mr. Mao is a figure from outside the opera establishment. Born in Shanghai and raised in Hong Kong, he spent 17 years in the United States, where he studied theater and acted on Broadway. After he returned to Hong Kong, he encouraged the translation of classical Western works like Shakespeare and Chekhov into Cantonese, as well as the commission of new local plays.
“This is the first time that I’ve done a full Chinese opera myself, since I’ve mostly done modern and contemporary works,” Mr. Mao said. “But, from very early on in life, my parents took me to see Peking, Cantonese and Shanghai opera. It was my first love and has always had an influence on my work.”
He preserved the traditional singing style, costuming, make-up and orchestration, with Chinese instruments. But the backdrop was modern and minimalist, and the time was cut from the original four hours to a more digestible two and a half.
“The original was very long, very heavy on the singing and very repetitive — the way operagoers were used to seeing it in the 1960s,” he said. “If we don’t allow Cantonese opera to evolve, it will not reach a new generation. Younger audiences won’t go if it’s too long or if they don’t understand the language.”
Hong Kong opera is distinct from styles from the rest of China.
“There are some masters who think Hong Kong’s is the most authentic, because the Cultural Revolution disrupted traditions on the mainland,” Mr. Mao said. “At that time, they couldn’t perform traditional operas, only politically correct ones. There was a break in the passing on of oral traditions, and in the training, which was mostly by apprenticeship. But in Hong Kong, these traditions were never stopped.”
“We need to preserve both Chinese opera in general, and Cantonese opera specifically,” said Dr. Herbert Huey, an associate director and registrar for the Academy for Performing Arts.
The school is in the process of hiring and training teachers, and drawing up a curriculum for a form that was historically not taught in a formal, academic setting.
“Before, an opera star would take on pupils as apprentices, and they would learn mostly by observing and following,” Dr. Huey said. “It was very personalized, with no structured training. A young singer could follow a master for 15, 20 years.”
Eliza Wu, the academy’s director of administration, said traditional training usually began when a child was 5 to 7 years old. Because of this and other reasons, Ms. Wu predicts that its first class will have fewer than a dozen students.
“You can’t just be a singer,” she said. “You have to learn floor exercises, somersaults and use of stage weapons. You have to learn to gracefully twirl fans and 10-foot silk sleeves.”
“The repertoire and myths can be the same, but each Chinese region has its own dialect and personality,” Ms. Wu added. “Sichuan opera is more expressive; Peking opera has more acrobatics and weapons use; Kunqu opera focuses more on choreography and dance-like moves; while Cantonese opera emphasizes the singing.”
Back at the Sunbeam, Elro Chen, a 46-year-old housewife, was watching a troupe from Guangdong Province. Ms. Chen, who lives on Hong Kong’s rural outskirts, said she commuted into the city about once a month for shows, and that she often brought along her 16-year-old daughter.
“You have to train young people up to see this kind of opera,” she said.
Alice Woodhouse contributed reporting.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tsui Hark's 3D martial arts flick -- IHT story

 
Photograph by Joyce Hor-Chung Lau for the IHT 

Bringing a Wealth of Cinematic Knowledge to the Screen in 3-D

HONG KONG — Tsui Hark may be a 61-year-old industry veteran with more than 60 films under his belt, but he still has the heart of a young fan.
Crammed onto his neat office shelves are Godzilla figurines, comic books, action figures, Asian deity statues and books on everything from Stanley Kubrick to Chinese travel.
It was a busy morning at Film Workshop, the production company he shares with his wife and longtime collaborator, Nansun Shi, at the Innocentre, a sleekly modern building dedicated to promoting Hong Kong’s creative industries.
A staff member handed him a sample poster for “Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame,” a costume drama that was nominated for a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival last year. Another assistant set down a bowl of candy, which Mr. Tsui ate absentmindedly while he worked.
He had just flown in from the Shanghai International Film Festival, where he was the jury chairman for a festival of “mobile phone films” or super-shorts that run under 8 minutes and can be viewed on a cellphone.
He has also been jetting between Hong Kong and Beijing to finish post-production work on “The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate,” a 3-D action film that was promoted during the Cannes Film Festival in May, and is due for worldwide release at the end of the year. He will be working again with the action star Jet Li, who first gained wide attention through Mr. Tsui’s six-part “Once Upon A Time in China” (1991-1997) epic.
He is at the 10th New York Asian Film Festival, which gave him a lifetime achievement award on Monday.
“No other director combines his technical mastery, his passionate desire to do something new every time he rolls film, and his intellectual curiosity,” said Goran Topalovic, a co-founder of the festival, who added that one of his organization’s first events was a Tsui retrospective in 2001.
The festival highlighted some of his older films, like the original “New Dragon Gate Inn” (1992).
Some news reports have hyped the new “Dragon Gate” (2011) as the world’s first 3-D martial arts film. (That is, unless you count “Kung Fu Panda 2,” and most devotees of the genre do not.) But Mr. Tsui, who is known for drawing heavily on cinematic history, was hesitant to call it a real first.
“There were 3-D films around when I was a kid,” he said. “Remember those red and blue glasses? Of course, it’s very different now. The old one made you feel kind of dizzy. But I’m very careful saying that anything is entirely new.”
Most new generation 3-D films have relied heavily on animation or computer effects, but Mr. Tsui wanted to preserve the live action and outdoor shoots of traditional martial arts epics when they began shooting in Beijing late last year. The delicate new digital cameras struggled to keep up with him. “The sand storms of Northern China blew dust into the rigs and cameras. Also, the low temperatures froze up the batteries and the lubricants inside the machines.” Mr. Tsui said. “At one point, we had to wrap the cameras in layers of cloth.”
Particular attention was paid to the fight scenes. “If the action is too fast, it can look flattened on the screen,” Mr. Tsui explained. “With 3-D, it’s even more important that the action is seen moving through a particular depth and space.”
Mr. Tsui said that he did not want the technology to overwhelm or dictate the choreography.
“People say, ‘Hey — 3-D! Let’s make the guy punch toward the screen! And it’s such a cliché, kind of like the Chinese warrior girl spinning her long hair in slow-motion,” Mr. Tsui added. “Of course, we’ll still have some of that, but we will also be playing with new moves, taking advantage of how someone moves through a particular 3-D space. We don’t want it to be predictable.”
Mr. Tsui would not reveal the storyline, except to say that it will star Mr. Li as a rebel swordsman and Zhou Xun as his lover, Jade.
“It’s full of twists and turns, but I don’t want to give them away,” he said. “After all, the story is more important than the action or the effects.”
Mr. Tsui was born into a large family in China’s Guangdong Province, and lived in Vietnam as a child before moving to Hong Kong as a teenager.
“Hong Kong was opening up to foreign influences then, and I read and watched everything,” he said. “I loved comic books. My first contact was through Japanese manga and then American superheroes, like Superman, Spiderman and Batman.”
At the same time, Mr. Tsui’s mother instilled in him an interest in Chinese history, myth and folklore by taking him to traditional Peking opera performances, even when they lived in Vietnam.
“I was surprised when I came to Hong Kong, because people didn’t seem interested in their own history, maybe because it was a British colony,” he said. “It’s like people didn’t want to face their own backgrounds and roots. Copying Western culture was considered the ultimate good.”
When Mr. Tsui emerged as a leading name in the Hong Kong New Wave in the late 1970s and 1980s, he was one of the few to do historic martial arts films, like “Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain” (1983), which was also screened at the New York festival this month.
“People would ask me, ‘Isn’t the New Wave supposed to about films with modern subjects?’ But I felt that Chinese culture, art and history were amazing, and filled with wonderful stories,” he said. “Maybe some people thought I was old-fashioned, but I did it because nobody else was doing it.”
Still, Mr. Tsui directed and co-wrote an iconic work of the New Wave, which was defined by vernacular Hong Kong Cantonese slang, gritty urban backdrops and an unblinking look at modern society.
“Dangerous Encounter of the First Kind” (1980) was censored by the then-British government for its graphic depictions of youth violence. It is about a criminally insane schoolgirl and three hapless Hong Kong schoolboys who become tangled in a web of terrorism, bombings, animal abuse and a final encounter with gun-wielding Western bad guys.
“It was banned because the students did such terrible things, like bombings,” Mr. Tsui said.
More than 30 years later, the full, uncut version was screened publicly in Hong Kong for the first time on June 4, during the Noir film festival.
Censorship is a hot topic in Hong Kong, as local moviemakers increasingly work on productions on the Chinese mainland.
“There are restrictions everywhere,” Mr. Tsui said. “I was banned in Hong Kong all those years ago. Every society has its taboos. But China has more limits than most and some topics that you can’t talk about.
“The government is very sensitive about history,” he added. “Five experts look over your script, and then you have to explain your interpretation. Of course, there are things you can’t film. But this is your choice: Do you want to go where the market is? If Bertolucci could go to China to make ‘The Last Emperor,’ why can’t we?”
In November, he will begin filming “The Taking of Tiger Mountain.” He has begun to write the screenplay for another “Detective Dee” movie.
He brushed away concerns that Hong Kong’s distinct cinematic style would be lost as it integrated more with China.
“Hong Kong cinema is already a global phenomenon,” he said. “The China market is opening up. In the near future, it will be open to the world, so it’s only natural that we go there, too.”

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Pregnancy as art

I  remarked a few posts down about women, particularly American women, blogging photos of their naked pregnant bellies and going into huge detail about their private problems. I was surprised at the number of online, home-made photos  of pregnant bellies being painted with smiley faces, flowers, and God knows what else.
If it read like I was smirking, I take it back. Firstly, because people can blog what they want to. Plus, all these women are braver than I am. (Sorry -- none of you are seeing my 7.5-month pregnant bare belly. And given the stretch marks, I don't think you want to)
Also because I found some images that are really bizarrely beautiful. The three below are from a post about "Pregnancy as Art" on The NYT's Motherlode blog.

Top image: Robyn Thompson via The NYT. Middle image: From David Beckham's Facebook page, of his pregnant wife Victoria. 



This is the image that started it all -- the (then infamous) cover of a pregnant, naked Demi Moore, before everyone else was doing it. I remember buying this issue when it came out in 1991  -- I think I was in 11th grade in high school, and a bit freaked out by it. Of course, at 16 years old, I would have been.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Google sent me... snail mail.

 Image from What Culture.

Yes, snail mail, and not even a cheque. Just a postcard with a code. Here's my little AdSense adventure so far: 
May 28 -- I start using Google AdSense
May 31 -- I get my first monthly statement. I've "made" US $2.75, or HK $21.
June 28 -- After an exact month of blogging, I've "made" just under US $10, or less than HK $80.
July 1 -- I break the US $10 barrier. Woo hoo! That means Google has finally deigned me worthy of submitting  tax and payment information.  (If you make less than US $10, you can't even do the paperwork). Happily, the tax stuff seems to only apply to Americans, so I'm exempt.
It also means Google will finally send me the PIN I need to get paid -- though, in the most un-Googly-way, they will send it by the world's slowest snail mail, which allegedly takes 3-6 weeks. No normal letter takes 3-6 weeks, unless it has to be transported by a wagon pulled by actual snails.
July 8 -- I get my postcard and PIN in the mail after only a little more than a week. The snails in Hong Kong must be extra efficient compared to overseas snails.
Now that I read the fine print, I realize that I might have to wait until I earn US $100 to cross a threshold to get paid. Was this the case for anyone else? Did I read the fine print wrong?
At this rate, they won't cut me a cheque until at least May 2012. 
By then -- touch wood, that everything goes OK -- my yet-unborn child will be eight months old. 
Conclusion: The gestation period for a Google AdSense cheque is longer than that for a human being.


Several kind bloggers -- including Fili, whose intelligent comment got stuck in my spam queue and accidentally deleted, I'm sorry to say -- have written to say that I'm doing this all wrong, and that there are better ways of increasing revenue.
They're right. I'm doing it all wrong. But I've said from the beginning that my goal was not to make money, but to try a new aspect of blogging as an experiment. I'm not interested in spending lots of time boosting my AdSense -- I just wanted to see how it worked first-hand, and maybe give my readers something to discuss and debate. Also, making fun of Google amuses me.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Marc the Trainer & Pregnancy Weirdness

 I've always been lucky when it comes to girlie stuff. I've been spared bad PMS, birth-control pill side effects, and now pregnancy emotional weirdness. Maybe I'm just a woman on an even hormonal keel. (Maybe it's why I write like a man!)
I've had the usual physical pregnancy symptoms--  nausea, fatigue, weight gain. But I've had no crazy mood swings, binge-eating or cravings. In fact, once I got over my first trimester medical problems, I've been pretty  happy.
But pounding the pavement  through Hong Kong's hot, humid summer -- with what feels like a bowling ball strapped to the stomach 24-hours a day -- can get to even the most upbeat person.(All my colleagues have been complaining of the weather, too, and they're not pregnant).
My symptoms have been, if anything, just plain random. Every morning I wake to discover a new oddity. Orange juice will mysteriously taste like tomato juice. My left calf will hurt, but not my right. My elbows won't bend properly. Small cuts -- like a cat scratch, or a blister on my foot -- will take more than a month to heal. My nails and hair are growing like mad. Oh, look -- stretch marks.
***
This week, I had a nice lunch with Gweipo, then ran a few errands. On the 20-minute commute home from IFC, my ankles swelled up like water balloons. It was immediate. At 11 a.m. I could fit into my shoes. At 3 p.m. I couldn't. All I could do was hobble to  bed, prop my legs up, and cover my ankles with Zip-loc bags filled with ice cubes. (Neither Mannings or Watsons had ice packs, so I made my own). The skin developed strange-looking folds, and was hot and painful to the touch. When you're pregnant, you try to wean yourself off over-the-counter medicines like painkillers and anti-inflammatories, so there's not much you can do but lie back and think of Advil. 
When Marc the Metrosexual came home during his split-shift afternoon break, that's how he found me -- soggy ice packs on my feet and a duvet pulled miserably over my head in the most un-Joyce-like fashion.
He said, "Come on. It's beautiful outside. Go do some exercise. It may help the swelling." 
"No," I said, my voice muffled through the duvet. "My feet have morphed into flippers and they hurt."
He failed to motivate me  but -- you've got to give it to the man -- he tried again the next day.  He even took a half-shift off work, packed a bag with beach towels, and dragged me down to the pool.
***
It was not easy, because it involved my appearing in public in a bathing suit despite not feeling very good about myself. Never mind P.C. talk about pregnant women being proud of their bodies. I'm a product of a society that says that I should be ashamed of being huge. A lifetime of fashion magazines and nagging Hong Kong salesgirls will do that.
I debated buying a special maternity swimsuit, but decided against it -- it doesn't seem worth the cost, since I have less than two months to go. 
Please note that I do not look like a pregnant Nicole Richie in a bikini. My excuse is that she's 5 months pregnant here, and I'm 7.5 months. Or maybe it's because I've never been a celebrity model for the "size-zero look."
I guess I should be proud that I can still fit into my pre-pregnancy Sabrina Swims black bikini, though not in a particularly flattering way. (Bikinis work because they don't cover the tummy -- my one-piece is a lost cause).
Now, how weird is that? I've gotten fatter in the ankles than I have in the butt.
I tried to remember that my brave sister-in-law did go to the  beach in a bikini while in late pregnancy. But, for modesty's sake, I threw on a T-shirt and shorts.
***
A month ago, I could still swim. Now it's harder. I think it's my balance -- my belly pitches me forward  and I can't propel myself properly. So I walk through the water. The feeling of coolness and weighlessness is relieving. The water adds resistance, so I'm giving my muscles a mild workout.
With Marc by my side, I walked around the edge of the pool five or six times.
Then he spotted me while I made a pathetic attempt at a "lap" of breast stroke and side stroke. (I say "lap" because I use the kidney-shaped kids' pool, as opposed to the grown-up one. Olympic-sized laps these are not).
We rested on the sun chairs. Then I did another five walking rounds and a lap of a slow backstroke, which seems to be the easiest option while pregnant.
***
It's like I have a little cartoon devil and angel on each shoulder. One reminds me how tired and heavy I am; how much harder it is to exercise while pregnant; and how a nap in the air conditioning would be much nicer.
The other tells me that once I get over the unpleasantness of hauling myself outside, I feel better. The hour at the pool brought  the swelling down. The more I skip workouts, the heavier I will be, and the harder it will be to get in shape later -- sending me into a spiral of obesity, sloth and inertia.
***
I think it's sometimes hard for men to figure what to do with their expectant partners.
They want to be helpful, but they can't possibly imagine what pregnancy is like. Hell, I couldn't have imagined what it was like a year ago.
Men know they should encourage better eating and exercise habits, but more sensitive women may take suggestions as criticism or insults.
I'm glad Marc hauled my ever-expanding butt down to the pool -- because, this week, without him, I never would have mustered the will-power to go.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Apparently, I write like a man

I'm going to try --  for my non-baby-loving readers like Foamie and my own sanity --  to alternate pregnancy posts with non-pregnancy ones. Expectant moms still have interests and thoughts beyond prenatal scans and icing swollen ankles, right? Right?
***
V.S. Naipaul, a Nobel-prize winner author, said recently, "I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me." He then implies that he is better than all female writers, including Jane Austen.
His comment drew the expected outrage, which I mostly ignored. When famous people make comments like this, it's mostly for attention, so it's best not to give them any.
What piqued my attention was the fact that Mr. Naipaul thinks he can tell the gender of an author simply by reading the text.  Can you?
What about best-seller J.K. Rowling, whose publisher chose a gender-neutral name for her in the beginning, to keep from alienating the preteen boys who usually buy fantasy novels about wizards? If you didn't know she was a woman, could you guess from the Harry Potter books?
 The New Yorker's book blog points to an online tool that supposedly can guess an author's gender by analyzing a block of text, courtesy of the tech geeks at the Stevens Institute of Technology in the U.S. 
I analyzed a dozen Joyceyland posts. They were all written before I had any idea I would be doing this experiment -- to ensure that I wasn't making a subconscious effort to write in a more feminine or masculine way.
The subject matters were: book recommendations; the new Ozone bar at the Ritz; Google AdSense; Father's Day; the Vancouver riots; the Stanley Cup hockey finals; the West Kowloon Cultural District; a job announcement for paid bloggers; Ai Weiwei; and the Hong Kong Art Fair.
According to this tool, 11 of my 12 posts / articles were written by a man. (They were judged as having a 60%-85% chance of having a male author). Only one, the West Kowloon article, was tagged as gender-neutral. None were tagged as being written by a woman. 
Maybe it was a particularly masculine-sounding list due to dumb coincidence -- the time period coincided with Father's Day, ice hockey and violence. Maybe it was because four of the stories were from the IHT/NYT, so the style was flattened into the concise, less personal writing I do for work.
To compare, I hand-picked some older posts on softer, girlier subjects: the British royal wedding, cute Hugo the Cat photos, Hong Kong McWeddings and a brunch at the W, which will forever be known around these parts as The Hotel That Can't Scramble Eggs. Nope -- they were still either "male" or "neutral."
 **
According to an article in the New Scientist,  the Stevens team searched through text from the Reuters news wire and the Enron email database. They identified 157 "psycho-lingustic" factors that could hint at the writer's gender, including differences in punctuation, style, vocabulary and expressions of mood or sentiment.  
Women used more question marks and  more "emotionally intensive adverbs and affective adjectives such as 'really,' 'charming' or 'lovely.' " 
According to Stevens' own documents, women are also more polite.
So, basically, we write like feeble-brained sweeties. Maybe I should blog like, "My, we had the most charming brunch. The eggs were really very lovely."
Men emphasize themes like independence and power. They use more first person (more "I") and directive sentences. 
So  like  "I am a powerful, independent man. Hey, you! Get me some brunch!"
***
The Guardian newspaper created what it calls the "Naipaul test" and asks readers to try to identify the gender based on excerpts from well-known authors. I did terribly on this test, especially given that I had actually read four of the books on the list. But clearly, I am of an inferior gender to Naipaul. 

***
Addendum: Here's another tool,  "inspired by an article and a test in The New York Times Magazine, the Gender Genie uses a simplified version of an algorithm developed by Moshe Koppel, Bar-Ilan University in Israel, and Shlomo Argamon, Illinois Institute of Technology, to predict the gender of an author."

I tried 4 blog posts and an excerpt from my still-unpublished fiction. It's all still male! 

http://bookblog.net/gender/genie.php

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Gweipo was right... I'm preggers.

Gweipo put together various hints -- like our recent search for a full-time amah -- and guessed that I have been expecting. Call it a Mother's Intuition.

You may have guessed from my sudden desire to make space in our flat by throwing out books and clothes. Or the fact that I haven't traveled anywhere for more than a half-year now; have stopped horse-riding; keep complaining of exhaustion; and suddenly have an opinion on issues like paternity leave. But the stuffed animal collection has always been there. I'm a little embarrassed to say that that is not actually baby-related...

People who see me in real life have known for some time, since I am becoming increasingly shaped like a beached aquatic creature. 

I was doing yoga at home and looked in the mirror. I saw the oddly soft-sleek skin of pregnancy, the bloated limbs, the rounded middle, and the fact that all the usual sharp edges of ankle, wrist and elbow had softened out. "I look like a seal," I thought to myself. 

Prenatal yoga has saved me: I'm in my third trimester and can still touch my toes. I consider this a major achievement. It is immensely useful for putting on my own shoes, picking a 12-lb Hugo the Cat off the floor, or retrieving dropped objects without toppling over.


The picture shows me at about 6 1/2 months, and still wearing some of my looser normal clothes. (For my fashion friends -- that's a Massimo Dutti dress and Marc Jacobs cardigan).

I'm now a bit over 7 months, though I feel much bigger than I look. I was initially growing slowly, but have suddenly ballooned in the last few weeks -- and have now fully moved into big-mama maternity wear. God willing, if all goes well, I will stop work in early August and deliver either in late August or Sept. 1. I look forward to the return of my waist.


I know expectant mothers are supposed to emit rainbows of happiness and start gushing about the miracle of life and the glowingly beautiful female form. I am thrilled, of course. But I'm also  realistic about the fact that packing on 25 pounds in the middle of a Hong Kong summer sucks. I try to look on the bright side -- at least my hair has gotten incredibly thick.


I'll try to keep from launching into full-on Mummy Blogger mode, since I presume many of you don't really want to hear about the minutae of pregnancy. That said, there are many funny, unexpected aspects of what I've been experiencing -- and I've been holding my tongue since about Christmas.


I've been reading pregnancy blogs, and I'm amazed at how open some women are, particularly Americans. They document every step, even in very early pregnancy, which is considered high-risk. They are happy to talk about everything from graphic medical problems to trivia I'd never thought of. (Who knew so many pregnant women were worried about the state of their navel piercings?) They also show half-naked photos of themselves to demonstrate all the weird stuff that happens to the body. Some even paint flowers and smiley faces on their growing bellies.


Maybe I'm more shy. Maybe it's an Asian thing. Maybe, despite being so logical on the outside, I was worried about jinxing myself by announcing it too early. I did have a tough first trimester with some scares. 

Maybe I didn't want to invite negative comments on something so close to my heart. My regular readers here are great. But I sometimes get awful anonymous comments. I generally don't mind -- but having unwanted comments about your expectant child is a different matter. I've always been more careful since I don't write anonymously. (That's why you will never see the full proper names of my family or colleagues, even if they are mentioned.)

Anyway, so now you know.  Marc the Metrosexual and I are a bit nervous, but very happy, as we wait for our new little person to arrive.