Saturday, August 27, 2011

A baby is born

Baby Chloe was born a week ago, last Friday night, Aug. 19.


She came two weeks early and a bit on the small side at 2.6 kilos, or 5 lbs 11 oz -- though this was not entirely unexpected.
Thanks to a patient and supportive Dr. Mak, we managed to have a natural birth, and I am glad for it.
(In some circles in the West, "natural birth" refers to one without drugs or medical intervention. What I mean is that I did not have a C-section.)
Hong Kong's Cesarean rates are way higher than recommended, partly because many private doctors and hospitals push for what is most efficient and profitable for them, instead of what is best for mom and baby. My first doctor -- a big-name specialist in Central -- tried scare tactics on me and my husband, and pushed us to "book" a date back when I was barely a month along. (More on him later). So we switched to someone lesser-known, but ultimately more humane in his treatment.


The team at Baptist Hospital in Kowloon were amazing. I was consulted on every decision, which made me feel respected, and not just one nameless patient in a surgical baby-making factory. The anesthesiologist gave me what I can only describe as an" epidural light" during the last few hours. It was  enough to make me comfortable, which allowed me to see the experience as a positive one. There wasn't the screeching and agony you see in the Hollywood version of birth. But I could still feel and move my body the entire time.
I felt her being born. Brave Marc -- who overcame a phobia of medical procedures to go through this together with me -- held my hand, and was next to me the whole time. We saw her emerge into this world together. A few minutes after she was born, she was placed right onto my chest and into my arms. Because I wasn't drugged out of my mind, I could still operate more or less like a normal person, and I was out of bed and caring for her the next morning.


After delivering on Friday night, we came home as a new family on Monday morning, as our flat filled up with gifts of flowers and food from friends and relatives.


I think all new parents go through some bumps in the beginning. Ours was that Chloe had to return to the hospital for a couple of days to be treated for jaundice, which is common, especially among small or early babies. (White Dusk Red's baby had it, too, as did my brother's). It was not serious, but heart-breaking to see her crying and crying in that sterile plastic box in the hospital ward, just as we were getting used to her being home. When I reached my hand through the incubator portal and put it on her head, she settled immediately -- I think they know human touch and affection even at that young age.


To make sure she had the best, I went through the rather weird experience of rushing out to buy a pump, expressing milk for her at home, and then cabbing it to the hospital in an ice pack. We all know that a mother's milk is more nutritious than even the most expensive formula on the market. No scientist has been able to re-create the natural anti-bodies that a mother passes to her baby this way. I think of that as the first good thing I did for my daughter.


She is safe and sound at home now.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mindlessly cute cat video to take my mind off of labor

The Chinese have a belief that, at least in Cantonese, is pronounced something like "toi gauw."
It means that the baby in the womb learns (that would be the "gauw" part) what the mother is thinking and feeling.
This is why I've been told to look only at happy things (like cute baby photos) and to avoid unpleasant images or media. Working in news, this was obviously impossible. But I have tried to maintain a generally relaxed and happy attitude these last few months.
Some of the traditional Chinese suggestions are a bit much -- like not looking at any distorted images (I was told that Picassos are bad for pregnant women!) or reading any disturbing materials. (So much for my Stephen King habit. Or, actually, all my reading habits.)
I generally don't believe in superstitions, but there is something wise about trying to avoid anxiety-inducing thoughts while preparing for labor, which I'm seeing as one of the biggest physical challenges I've ever faced.
Sources from all over the world encourage expectant mothers to relax through exercise, deep breathing or calming music -- all of which are used in natural birth.


I've never liked relaxation music or tapes, and I actually get annoyed at some New Age-y type stuff. Sometimes a colleague plays ocean sounds at work, but I find it more distracting  than soothing.
So I made my own iTunes playlist for the hospital, but had to resist adding songs with names like "Antichrist Television Blues."


As for my blogging, maybe  I don't want to leave off with people arguing over David Sedaris and Chinese food.
So here's a mindlessly cute, happy video of Hugo the Cat with his favorite kitchen utensil, the wooden salad spoon. Why he loves this spoon so much, I have no idea.
The doula who taught the pre-natal class Marc and I attended asked us to try to imagine things like walking on a beach. I have to say that I'm not very good at stuff like that. I'm the kind of person who used to get so bored during the meditation part of yoga class that I'd fall asleep.
But I like thinking about animals. So maybe, when I'm stressed or in pain (hopefully not too much) I will think about Hugo the Cat and my lovely horses, whom I hope to visit again in a few months.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

David Sedaris on gross Chinese food -- for my grumpy anonymous Asians

 Mmmm, chicken's feet, euphemistically called "phoenix claws", at least in Hong Kong Cantonese. We suck the little bits of gristle and skin off the bones of the toes just to gross out tourists. Makes me want to book for yum cha this weekend. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

A typically grumpy anonymous Asian poster -- there's no way to tell, but I'm going to bet my next plate of chicken's feet dim sum that it's an angry overseas Chinese guy -- read my mind by commenting on my last post about David Sedaris.
Anon asked: "Are you aware that Asian-Americans have BIG BIG issues with David Sedaris?" in reference to a Sedaris essay on traveling to Beijing and Chengdu.
No, I was not.
But, last month, I did read Sedaris's hilarious take on Chinese food in the Guardian that kicked up a ruckus among some Asians who are apparently so insecure and miserably humorless that they would take offense when one American guy writes a piece of satire about Chinese food.  
***
The column criticizing Sedaris's column appeared on the Web site of the San Francisco Chronicle, which reports that Sedaris made one of its contributors, Jeff Yang, feel "sad."
Yang writes:
Here's a question: How should you respond when one of your literary idols decides to take a huge metaphorical dump on the culture and civilization from whence your ancestors emerged?
It's something I've been grappling with over the past few weeks..
One humor piece about chicken feet and we have to drag in millennia of Chinese culture?
Plus --  weeks? Someone has been mulling over this for weeks?
Yang's piece goes on for four pages and, I have to admit, I wasn't tempted to read it all. But you can if you click on the above link.
***
Back to my original grumpy commenter: I can't imagine that all Asian-Americans would balk at the column, since Sedaris is effusive in his praise of Japan's fine culture, food and manners. 
I could write all the usual justifications: you can't take humor literally; the self-mocking Sedaris is generally more bitingly critical of clueless Americans than anything else; many Beijingers really do spit in public and eat weird foods. But what's the point in arguing? 
Maybe Anonymous and Jeff Yang should stick to some of the (cough, cough, "advertorial") food articles in the Chinese press in which "critics" (cough, cough, under duress, while getting "hong bau" gifts from the local restaurant group, or Culture Ministry) wax poetic about the wonders of the Motherland's cuisine and our thousands of years of cultural superiority.
I love Chinese food, but I don't think an entire race should rise up in indignation because of it.
I say the commenter read my mind because I was actually going to tack the food column onto my last post, but thought it'd get too long. I figure I'd wait a few days and post it separately. 
So here is the top of "Chicken toenails, anyone?" Click on this link for the full text.
"I have to go to China." I told people this in the way I might say, "I need to insulate my crawl space" or, "I've got to get these moles looked at." That's the way it felt, though. Like a chore. What initially put me off was the food. I'll eat it if the alternative means starving, but I've never looked forward to it, not even when it seemed exotic to me.
I was in my early 20s when a Chinese restaurant opened in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was in a new building, designed to look vaguely templish, and my mother couldn't get enough of it. "What do you say we go oriental!"
I think she liked that the food was beyond her range. Anyone could imitate the twice-baked potatoes at the Peddler, or turn out a veal parmesan like the Villa Capri's, but there was no way a non-Chinese person could make moo shu pork, regardless of his or her training. "And the egg rolls," she'd say. "Can you imagine!"
The restaurant didn't have a liquor licence, but they allowed you to brown bag. Thus we'd arrive with our jug of hearty burgundy. I always got my mother to order for me, but when the kung pao chicken was brought to the table, I never perked up the way I did at the steak house or the Villa Capri. And it wasn't just Raleigh's Chinese food. I was equally uninterested in Chicago and, later, New York, cities with actual China Towns.
Everyone swore that the food in Beijing and Chengdu would be different from what I'd had in the US. "It's more real," they said, meaning, it turned out, that I could dislike it more authentically.
I think it hurt that, before landing in China, Hugh and I spent a week in Tokyo, where the food was, as always, sublime, everything so delicate and carefully presented. With meals I drank tea, which leads me to another great thing about Japan – its bathrooms. When I was younger they wouldn't have mattered so much. Then I hit 50 and found that I had to pee all the time. In Tokyo, every subway station has a free public men's room. The floors and counters are aggressively clean and beside each urinal is a hook for hanging your umbrella.
This was what I had grown accustomed to when we flew from Narita to Beijing International, where the first thing one notices is what sounds like a milk steamer, the sort a cafe uses when making lattes and cappuccinos. "That's odd," you think. "There's a coffee bar on the elevator to the parking deck?" What you're hearing, that incessant guttural hiss, is the sound of one person, and then another, dredging up phlegm, seemingly from the depths of his or her soul. At first you look over, wondering, "Where are you going to put that?" A better question, you soon realize, is, "Where aren't you going to put it?"

David Sedaris on Republicans and unwanted babies

I find Facebook pretty useless. It's a fun distraction at best -- good for procrastinating when I have a story due (just sent in my last draft yesterday), looking at people's photos and getting birthday wishes. (That was also yesterday. I consider finishing my article a birthday gift to myself. It was like finally wrestling the work albatross from around my neck).
One thing FB is good for is alerting me to when there are new David Sedaris essays, thanks to one FB friend and colleague.
Here's the top from Sedaris's essay in Vanity Fair, "I'm Not Running For President," where he takes on Republicans, and God-fearin', pro-life, anti-gay, anti-immigrant types -- as well as all those candidates who make a fuss of not running for office, when clearly they are looking for free publicity to someday run for office.
"Yesterday morning I announced that, having given it a good think and a whole lot of prayer, I will not be running for president of the United States in 2012. I thought I’d made myself pretty clear, but judging from the flood of calls and e-mails my staff and I have received over the past 24 hours, I can see that I’ve got a bit more explaining to do.
"When I said that God didn’t want me to run, I didn’t mean that He thought me to be in any way inexperienced or “not quite ready to lead.” Far from it. “You’re a lot better qualified than the rest of the pack,” He told me. “Especially what’s-her-name who’s claiming that her candidacy was my idea. I never told her to run for president any more than I told her to marry that fruitcake of a husband. And I’ll tell you something else,” He said. “If the primary were held today, I’d vote for you in a heartbeat.”
"God prefers my ideas on shrinking the government to those of the other Republicans and added that if He could, He would put it in writing that Social Security is a Satanic Ponzi scheme.
"I said, “I wish you would.”
 And more:
"You have babies born addicted to crack and meth, kids who will never be able to think straight, no matter how much money we throw at them. At the same time we have streets blighted with potholes. I’m not suggesting that we train these children to fill the potholes, but that we fill the potholes with these children, just stuff them right down there and cover them with asphalt. Then we take the money we’ve saved and put it toward the deficit.
 O.K. -- so he's no modern Jonathan Swift, but he amuses me.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Review: Ye Shanghai, Kowloon / Shanghai

Ye Shanghai, Marco Polo Hong Kong Hotel, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon
Price: HK $2,000 (US $250) for four people, but we had a bottle of wine, several whiskeys and way too much food, since we were entertaining guests. If I went with my parents and had tea and normal servings, I'd probably be half that.
Would we go back? Yes, for special occasions.


The Ye Shanghai in Kowloon has a special place in my heart because it was where Marc the Metrosexual and I went on our first date. God, in late 2002. I can't believe we've been together for almost nine years.
***

In terms of interiors, Shanghai's branch beats Hong Kong's. Not sure about the service, though.

My parents and I tried the Ye Shanghai in Xintiandi last year, when we went to Shanghai for the Expo. This is the most physically impressive of their branches, since it's in a renovated two-story historic building -- all big spaces and wood and high ceilings -- as opposed to a HK hotel or shopping mall. My parents were impressed with the quality of the basics, like the texture of the noodles, the thinness of the dumpling skins, the flavor of the broth, and the lightness of the stir-fried greens.


 Simple sesame and green onion breads, from the Shanghai branch.


Soup noodles, dumplings and stir-fries from the Shanghai branch. Sorry -- we already ate some of it by the time I whipped out my camera.


But, typically for China, the service was a bit bumpy, even though this is a Hong Kong-managed chain.
I barely got the first part of my order out -- two set lunches -- when the waiter said "No. You can't order that."
"Why?"
A manager was called over and it took some time to explain that we wanted two set lunches, plus a la carte dishes, plus wine and dessert.
They were worried we were trying to cheat by taking up three seats and sharing only two lunches. Maybe they get customers who try to scam every yuan they can? 
But we were treated to fine food, reasonable prices (at least by Hong Kong standards) and suddenly greatly improved service. Maybe seeing we were a bit miffed, they gave us a free fruit platter and took Mom's arm as she went down the stairs. So they redeemed themselves. We even returned for lunch one more day.
***
The Ye Shanghai in Kowloon. This is a handout pic. Since we were with guests, I felt it was impolite to start shooting like some, well, some blogger.


Back to Ye Shanghai Kowloon. It's not as charming as the Shanghai branch, but they've done a good job of creating elegant interiors, with  big windows overlooking Hullett House and T.S.T.
I don't know if I would call it the best Shanghai restaurant in town -- many Hong Kongers would prefer more local places -- but it's one of the most consistent and visitor-friendly. Tourists always say they want to go local -- but when you get right down to it, they want immaculate interiors, English-speaking friendly staff, wine  lists, and cake for dessert. Ye Shanghai fulfills these requirements, without compromising on the food. The patrons on a fully booked Saturday night were almost entirely Chinese -- always a sign of authenticity.
Last weekend, Marc had some out-of-town guests  whom I'd never met.  I had no idea what they liked, so I got a range of crowd pleasers. 
The Peking duck, which should be ordered in advance, was excellent. A tip: It's supposed to be just the skin -- it's a delicate dish that requires some carving skill -- and you're supposed to assemble the pancake, duck, vegetables and sauce yourself. (I was reading TripAdvisor reviews where people were complaining that they weren't getting huge chunks of meat and the staff weren't helping them).  The Ye Shanghai version has paper-thin skin slices  -- no extra fat, no meat, nothing. The rest of the meat comes in a second course, which is a stir-fry.  
A whole fish, deep-fried and topped with sweet and sour sauce, is always popular. Same with tender braised baby beef ribs in a thick dark sauce. 
The waitress raised an eyebrow when I ordered, off the menu, egg whites with dried scallops -- she said it wasn't too popular with foreign guests. I didn't listen, but she was right. It was O.K., but not the best  -- it could have used more flavor, maybe a raw egg yolk and vinegar -- but I think that for most visitors, a  plate of steamed egg white doesn't look so appetizing.  Same with the tofu noodles with baby bok-choy. I liked it, but it didn't seem to be a huge hit. (Note: It's a good choice if you're on a low-carb diet).
For dessert, I skipped my  favorite -- steamed tofu, or dofu fa, in a wooden bucket -- and went for the pastries with red bean paste. I found them a bit oily -- they seemed more deep-fried than pan-fried -- but everyone ate them.
We had a good meal in the end, and our guests seemed happy.
A positive sign is that I left with a list of dishes I wanted to order, but didn't. When I return to this restaurant, I'll also try the stuffed baked river crab, minced chicken with sesame pockets, smoked duck (though I've heard mixed reviews on this dish), spring onion pancakes and xiao long bau pork-broth dumplings.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Law journal seeks freelance writers

I got this tip via a colleague, who says that a leading law magazine is looking for someone in this region -- I think preferably in Hong Kong or, as she says, "within a time zone or two."

***
A leading law magazine is looking for freelance journalists.

Key responsibilities:
* Interviewing key personnel in the legal industry
* Reporting on important and emerging areas of law and business in Asia

Requirements
* University graduate
* Three years writing experience
* Excellent communication and presentation skills
* Good interviewing and reporting skills
* Native English speaker

***
As usual, my media friends, you can contact me via the email on the right, and I will pass your cv on. And, as usual, I have nothing to do with this hiring process, and nothing to gain from it.

Someone emailed me to ask if I was trying to profit from these "job ads". And the answer is no. They're not ads -- they're just things I hear through the grapevine. I post them because I remember how hard it was to try to make it as a freelancer -- and I think the industry is tougher now than it was when I started way back when.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Does parenthood change the way you see news?

I will miss work. I'll still read the paper every day, as I have since at least high school, and I will certainly miss my colleagues. But it's definitely time for me to stop.


Last night, we had a discussion over whether to use a rather graphic image of an emaciated, naked African child at a hospital, to illustrate a story about famine. The worst thing is that it's basically a man-fueled famine. According to The NYT, an Islamist group is blocking starving people from fleeing Somalia, as well as forcing out Western aid organizations trying to bring in food.


The majority sentiment at work was that we should not pull our punches if we're going to report bad news -- famine happens; this is what it really looks like; and our job is to choose the most impactful presentation to force people to think outside their complacent daily lives.


A few of us balked briefly at the image, though nobody suggested pulling it outright. The division was not along lines of background, age or gender -- but along parental lines. The one person who said something is a parent. As for me, I'm an expectant mother. (But I didn't say much since I wasn't on page 1 duty and it wasn't my call to make).


Warning: The image below is probably not one you want to look at over your morning Corn Flakes.  I kept the file small on purpose. (Click to enlarge)



I wonder if there is something to Gweipo's comment below, that becoming a parent makes you look at tragedy in a different way. That's not to say that those who are not parents are  heartless or numb to the news -- all of us are rightfully upset when we see something terrible. But maybe going home to your own children every night makes you look at other people's children differently.


I had a strange experience last night. My right hand was on the mouse, clicking through images of other people's starving babies on my computer screen, while my left hand rested on my belly, where I could feel my own baby, healthy and moving and kicking. Half of my mind was on the technicalities of getting the paper out, and the other half was thinking about the fact that, within a few weeks, I would be feeding and loving my own child, who would have a far better life than the one I was looking at.


For all my love of work, it is definitely time to go. I need rest and more hours dedicated to sleeping, eating healthy food, stretching and gentle exercise. I need to do something about this edema. I have to prepare for a big physical challenge  -- hopefully, natural birth. Sorry to go all New Age-y on you, but it's a problem of both body and mind. There's no way anyone can look at the news all day and not be affected or stressed. I need to clear that away and focus on my new life as a mother. Starting tomorrow...


Do you think parenthood changes the way you look at the news?


It might be interesting hearing from the many moms and dads who make their living as reporters, editors and journalists. Or from mothers and fathers in general.

Canada's answer to war, and my good-bye to work

From the comedian Craig Ferguson, during Montreal's Just for Laughs festival.  “Canadians are the nicest, most peaceful people in the world – except when handed hockey sticks. Forget about giving Canadian soldiers weapons. Just give them hockey sticks. Then tell them that the Taliban have the puck.”

 And this would be the girls' team.


Can you tell I'm looking forward to the end of work? Tomorrow (Wednesday) is my last day in the newsroom. After that, I have one story to write from home, followed by five months of not having to update the death toll in the most recent Afghan war story, think about U.S. debt negotiations, or worry whether all the pages have been sent for the 8:30 pm deadline.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I.H.T. blogger position

The International Herald Tribune, the global edition of The New York Times, is looking for experienced journalists, one based in Asia and one in Europe, to write and manage a new blog planned for this autumn.
The bloggers would post daily on important regional and international stories; do some original reporting; offer analysis; cull information from digital sources; and lead or moderate discussions on the blog, Facebook and other social media.
Candidates should have
* Long experience in international news and issues
* Excellent writing skills
* An understanding of new media, social media and digital publishing
* The ability to work both independently, and with a group of fellow editors and reporters
It should be a five-day work-week, mostly day shifts, including some weekends. Some flexibility should be expected when major news breaks. 
As with many I.H.T. newsroom jobs, there could be a tryout period. 
***
Notes from Joyce: 
As always, I'm just passing this along out of the goodness of my heart. This is not the official job ad, and I am not in charge of hiring.The contact person is Marcus Mabry, mmabry@iht.com.
I don't think it helps -- you or me -- to go on about reading the ad on this personal blog, though you are welcome to cc: me on correspondence if you wish (joycelauarts@gmail.com).
At least from what I've seen over the years, an editing test, an interview, and one week of monitored, paid work is the norm before newsroom job offers are made, though I don't know if that's the drill in this case. 
It sounds like a full-time permanent writing position. The original ad, circulated internally, said it offered competitive rates -- which signals to me that it's more than the two-cents usually offered for paid blogging positions.
The ad also vaguely says that the jobs will be in Europe and Asia. FYI, our European and Asian newsrooms are based in Paris and Hong Kong.