Friday, June 29, 2012

Those dancing Jews: A feel-good video

By popular demand (OK, just my husband's popular demand) here is the charming, low-tech marriage proposal video that has gone viral.
About 60 friends and family surprise a fiancee with a singing, dancing, lip-syncing homespun performance of Bruno Mars' catchy "Marry Me." 
While we didn't have flash-mod YouTube videos when I was growing up, this reminds me of that sort of high-spirited you often find in American small towns. (Love the suburban street backdrop).
P.S. The original lyric is "dancing juice," though the dancing Jews are hilarious.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

First Chinese Mom in Space

Here she is telling the other astronauts to put their toys away, and reminding them to wash their hands.
A giant leap for working womankind?
I feel pretty proud when I see this photo, though it makes me a little abashed when I complain that I have to care for the baby at night and finish an article the next morning.

Monday, June 18, 2012

HK $1.3 billion donation to West Kowloon

The real Uli Sigg hangs out with an Ai Weiwei rendition of Uli Sigg. Photo by Bild: PD. From the Neue Zurcher Beitung, a German-language Swiss newspaper. 

Hong Kong Gains Collection of Contemporary Chinese Art

(Though I like the I.H.T. print headline  more "Hong Kong Museum Gets Kick-Start from Collector")

The New York Times - Online June 12, 2012 / International Herald Tribune - Print June 13, 2012

HONG KONG — This city’s ambitious young art scene acquired another multimillion-dollar feather in its cap on Tuesday.
Uli Sigg, the world’s leading collector of contemporary Chinese art, announced at a news conference that he was donating 1,463 works from the early 1990s to the present day to M+, a museum that is expected to open in 2017. Sotheby’s estimated the gift’s worth at 1.3 billion Hong Kong dollars, or about $165 million.
M+ will be part of the West Kowloon Cultural District , a government project that is expected to cost 21.6 billion dollars. The proposed arts district has been in the planning stages for almost 15 years, though construction has not yet begun.
Mr. Sigg’s donation encompasses works by 310 artists, though the one artist that Hong Kong reporters asked about on Tuesday was Ai Weiwei, who will be represented by 26 works. Mr. Ai, a dissident who was detained for several months in Beijing last year, is considered controversial in mainland China.
While Mr. Sigg declined to comment on Mr. Ai’s case, he said he had chosen Hong Kong for its freedoms and its proximity to mainland audiences.
“I’d had a number of exchanges with mainland institutions,” said Mr. Sigg, who was the Swiss ambassador to China in the 1990s. “My first impulse was to think of the mainland. But the conditions are not such that art could be shown without limitations.”
Mr. Sigg said he wanted to give his collection to a fledging Hong Kong project instead of an established Western museum.
“It’s very important that a Chinese public have access to these works,” he said. “The Chinese public ought to see its own contemporary art, which it doesn’t know yet.”
M+ on Tuesday also announced a purchase from the Sigg collection: 47 Chinese works from the 1970s and ’80s for 177 million dollars.
In a statement, the authority that controls the West Kowloon project said. “Part gift/part purchase is an increasingly common international model for museums to obtain collections.”
The Sigg collection marked M+’s first donation and its first purchase, representing about 17 percent of its acquisitions budget of 1 billion dollars.
It was only earlier Tuesday that the authority set up a collection trust and solidified its policies on acquisitions and donations.
Aside from filling M+’s bare cupboard, the Sigg collection gives it the cachet it needs to engage in the exchanges and loans that link the world’s arts institutions.
Lars Nittve, M+’s executive director, said he was already in discussions with overseas museums, which might show some of the artworks before the 2017 Hong Kong opening.
“This is historical for art history, and historical for museum history,” said Mr. Nittve, who is tasked with building the museum’s collection. “M+ now has a collection of Chinese art that nobody will be able to get their hands on.”
Mr. Sigg, who first moved to China as a businessman in 1979, began visiting artists’ studios after work and built up his collection with his wife.
“It is an emotional moment,” he said. “It is both a privilege and a burden to have such a collection.”
Speaking after the news conference, he added, “I will miss it very much.”

Discrimination & Hong Kong's job problem

Image from Techyshell

I always talk to cabbies. It's a habit I get from my mom. (You can't leave her alone in a restaurant for 15 minutes alone without her chatting up the cleaning lady or bus boy). So I listen to many tales of working class life. 
Many of the men (and occasionally women) driving cab are vastly overqualified for their jobs. Many were professionals, or were working overseas, or had their own companies -- but various personal or financial disasters overtook them, and they were left plying the streets for a living.
Today's guy had exceptionally good English. It wasn't native-level, but it wasn't Chinglish either. He could hold a reasonable, comfortable conversation with me and Marc and seemed to relish the chance to practice his English.
He said he had gone to school in Australia and got his master's in business and management.
He returned to Hong Kong to work in the garment industry. When those jobs all moved to China, he moved, too. Then came a similar situation (I've heard this from others also). The mainland companies were happy to get the Hong Kong expertise. But once they'd gleaned those skills and contacts, they sacked all the Hong Kong managers, since they could hire mainlanders for less.
So this guy found himself in an awkward position: He wasn't wanted on the mainland, but his industry had left Hong Kong. He had a hard time switching industries since Hong Kong HR departments were so strict about having relevant experience in one particular field, even though his management skills were broad. (A lack of linear thinking or flexibility in applying the rules are two complaints I hear from foreign managers working with local staff or companies.)
Most of all, he said he faced discrimination. He had the English and the overseas experience, but he didn't have a "Western face." Plus, he was middle-aged, and there's no sense of political correctness here -- no basic concept that age discrimination is wrong. Everyone wanted young pretty women regardless of whether they can do the job. And I have to admit it's true. It seems like every restaurant, shop, customer call line, etc., are filled with young women who don't have half the English skills of this guy.
When I asked him why he didn't just tutor English, he told me that over-anxious Hong Kong parents didn't trust middle-aged men.  
The fact that he imparted all of this in a 10-15 minute ride meant that he was concise, like-able, well-spoken and to-the-point -- a skill I desperately wish some of the young people I work with had.
 I remember one (rather obnoxious) rich friend of an aunt calling me asking me to tutor her daughter. 
I said I was busy, but happy to help a young person who was really, genuinely serious about becoming a professional writer. Otherwise, they would have to seek a general English tutor, since it wasn't my job.
"Oh, yes. She's very serious about writing."
The kid wasn't, actually. She cared so little she sulked when I asked her to write me a one-paragraph sample, and I quit on the spot. (There's nobody less honest than an overly ambitious Hong Kong tiger mom.) 
I was just going to be another "prestige" tutor. And they sought me out not because of my professional writing experience, but they thought they could strong-arm me into charging less because of "guanxi."
Anyway -- the point is that I recommended a friend who really was a professional teacher, who was from overseas and had excellent credentials.
But they said no -- no men, particularly no Western men. What they wanted was a "pretty, nice lady," like a modern-day Chinese Mary Poppins. 
The race thing is strange -- sometimes people only want Westerners, sometimes they only want Chinese, but the idea that you can pick and choose people based on the color of their skin (or their gender, or age, or attractiveness) is considered OK.
Years ago, my own brother -- whose English is as native as mine -- was told to his face by Hong Kongers that they didn't want a Chinese face or "chinky accent." It's racism against our own people.
Chinese culture is supposed to revere the old. But, aside from kissing up to grandma on Chinese New Year, do we really?
 "Old" is practically an insult in everyday Cantonese, even among people who are old themselves."Don't go to that park," I've been told. "It's full of old people."
"He's useless," someone said about her middle-aged colleague. "He's old."
A friend's husband broke his foot and had to use a wheelchair.
When he appeared on a panel he was scheduled to attend in China, he was un-invited at the last minute. Why? Because they didn't want unattractive disabled people to be in the photo of the event.
And this was with a major Chinese government-linked body.
I met a talented, multi-lingual, hard-working, lovely, young lady from the mainland who just got her master's from Hong Kong. When I asked her about her job prospects back home, she grimaced and said, "I better go on a diet, because nobody will hire a fat girl in China. I'm already down to one or two meals a day."
This wasn't girl-talk. She was dead serious.
By no means was she fat. Nor was she in any industry where it would matter. (Meaning, she's not a fashion model or athlete or something). It made me sad that -- after years of studying and hard work -- she felt that the only thing that would secure her a job was if she was slender and pretty enough to please her male boss. Sometimes I feel like this area is still stuck in the Mad Men-era in terms of equality -- without the fab outfits.

Hong Kong offices would be much cooler if everyone dressed like this.

The point of this post?  Tip your cabbie. That extra HK $5 coin that Hong Kongers so greedily pocket (less than US $1) means alot to him.

Image from Truth About Cars 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

English journalism teaching job

A local university has a position open for a part-time teacher who would work on contract for the 2012-2013 school year. 
They are looking for someone with journalism experience who can teach English-language news writing.
You would correct and mark weekly papers for about 50 local undergraduates working in a second language.
You would then note down the most common mistakes, and use them to hold a two-hour monthly writing workshop. You would also be available to students seeking advice.
It's probably too much work for a full-time staff editor or reporter (unless you have a much smaller workload than I do!) And while there is a monthly salary, it doesn't exactly pay millions.
But it sounds good for a freelancer looking to supplement their income with a regular gig, or for someone who wants to transition eventually from daily news work to academia.
The job is not yet publicly posted -- I heard about it via word of mouth. My employer and I have nothing to do with it. I'm just the messenger.
If you want details, send me an email.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Part 3 of Baby Sleep Tips. Newborn

It's nice to feel wanted as a blogger. A friend with a newborn just asked, "Hey? Where's Part 3?"
First, I'd like to temper expectations. Some parents  think their offspring are superchildren who will learn to sleep through the night -- instantly, exceptionally, magically -- and dole out the tough love from the get-go.
My helper tells me of one family where the kindly Filipina maid banged on "ma'am's" door, holding an infant screaming in hunger, while the breast-feeding mom refused milk to the child, in some misplaced belief that the baby must be "disciplined". (Or maybe the mom was just tired and didn't bother. In which case, you should just give in and use formula).
There are three things  you child needs an endless supply of now: Love, milk, sleep. 
The first three months, often referred to as "the fourth trimester", give you child as much affection, milk and sleep as he wants.
He barely knows he's out of the womb, where he had 24-hour comfort and food.
Your goal is to gently nudge him towards good sleep habits, but it's too early to force anything. Not only is it  cruel, it's useless. Newborns are just too little to understand good and bad, or the cause and effect of discipline.
There are two simple lessons you can teach your newborn
Newborn lesson #1: Day and night
Newborn lesson #2: Sleep in your own bed

Here are words of wisdom from the historic pediatrician Dr. Spock: 
"Let him learn very early on that daytime is fun time and nighttime is kind of low-key and boring. By two to four months, most babies have learned to be more awake during the day and to sleep for longer periods at night.”
 “Play with your baby a lot during the daytime. Wake him up to feed him if the usual amount of time has elapsed since the last feeding. If you’re going to play with him, do it when it’s light outside. Nighttime is a different story. When you feed him after dark, so it efficiently and with less fanfare. Don’t wake him to feed him when it’s dark out unless there’s a medical reason to do so.
Here's what we've done since the beginning.
1.     Set a time for day and night. I chose 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. This was arbitrary. Most baby books recommend 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., but we find that too early. (It means that after a full nine hours of sleep, she's raring to go at 4 a.m.!) The details don’t matter so long as you are consistent.
2.     Usually, Baby Chloe is up by 7 a.m. But if she sleeps late -- say, after a rough night -- I make sure our day starts at 9 a.m. at the latest. I open the curtains, let the sun in, turn on the lights, bustle around the house.
3.   Lovely Fiona from Annerley taught me this easy pattern for daytime: Eat. Play. Sleep. / Eat. Play. Sleep. (Ah, to be a baby). "Play" between eating and sleeping, so your baby does not need milk every time to fall asleep. Some people say newborns can't  "play." But  they can be changed, bathed, put on a playmat for "tummy time" or rolled out to a park. Even at about a month old, when the "social smile" appeared, our baby loved being cuddled, tickled, smiled at and sung to.  
4.   At first, I made a mistake and tried to keep her more awake during the day so she'd sleep at night. This made for a very over-tired, grumpy baby. Then I learned to allow more naps -- after all, they're newborns! My only rule was that no daytime nap could go longer than about 1.5 hours.
5.     At 9 p.m., the house goes dark. Marc and I had to discipline ourselves – no music, no TV. No matter what happened during the day -- no matter if she seems wide-eyed and energetic -- this is quiet, wind-down time. There's no active play. There's no going out. (Hong Kongers take their kids out at crazy late hours). There are no friends or family over  -- we were very strict that visitors only come during the day. Crazy Gina Ford even says "no eye contact", but I think that's a bit extreme.
6.     The house stays dark and quiet from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. (Thank God, this doesn't last forever). Back when Chloe still needed night feeds, I would quietly check her diaper, bring her to our "breastfeeding chair," feed her, and immediately rock her back to sleep. I would not turn on the lights or engage her in any way.

Dr. Spock says it takes two to four months a child to learn night and day. Chloe basically knew by about a month. At night, she woke to eat, then fell back asleep. She slept through (I think, from midnight to 7 a.m.) for the first time at 12 weeks. Of course, she didn't keep this up consistently -- that's a bit too much to ask.

Lesson #2 is to keep your baby in her own bed
Some parents choose to co-sleep for a long time, which is their own decision, and something I respect. (Those parents can just skip this next part)
My advice is for parents who don't mean to co-sleep, but default into it because -- Well. It's 2 am. The kid's screaming. You're exhausted. The grown-ups have to work tomorrow. Sleeping together seems to do the trick. He'll grow out of it later. Ah hell... Tiny tyrant, you win...
Babies are creatures of habit. If you start co-sleeping the first few months, it may be harder to get them to stop suddenly when they are 5, 6, 7, 8, etc. months.
If you want your child to sleep separately, try to get him to settle in his own bassinet  as much as possible, as early as possible. They are not (as one rather misguided "baby expert" said) "physically not equipped" to sleep alone. Your baby slept alone just fine in the hospital maternity ward.
For now, forget all the rules of how you're not supposed to get your baby to sleep.
The first few months, we swaddled, rocked, cuddled, sang and walked up and down the hallway.  If she needed a pacifier or fell asleep at her nighttime breastfeed, so be it. Once she drifted off, I'd leave her on my lap or in my arms for a good 15 minutes until she was really deeply asleep. Then I would gently settle her in her bassinet, usually with my comforting arms still around her for another minute.
You'll read all sorts of things about letting a baby "self-settle" and not comforting them too much  -- but I'd ignore that the first few months. 
If you can get him to sleep in a bassinet those first few months, you've already done well. The sleep training can come later.
There are, of course, exceptions.
Some books will tell you that you must never, ever have the baby in your bed, or else you will spoil them.
I found this not to be true.Chloe sleeps in her own bed most of the time -- let's say 90%. But, when she reacted badly to a vaccination, or got the flu, or started teething, I brought her to bed with me, and everyone was happier for it.
And, you know what? Once whatever problem passed, she went back to her own bed, and her good habits. Have patience. A couple nights doesn't ruin them if you otherwise have a good routine going.
Part 1 of this series -- with all my caveats about not being any sort of expert -- is here.
Part 2 -- with advice on to-be parents before the birth, plus a run-down of SIDS risks -- is here.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Who’s the Next M.I.T.? What do HK students want?

The New York Times


June 4, 2012 

Who's the Next M.I.T.?


HONG KONG — There is one element that links the schools that top university rankings: They tend to be old.
Last week, two new rating systems — from Times Higher Education and QS World University Rankingslooked exclusively at schools less than 50 years old for the first time.
Fifty may be middle age in some circles, but is positively adolescent for a university. Times Higher Education claims that its list “provides a unique insight into who the future Harvard and Cambridge universities may be.”
The magazine released its “100 Under 50” list last Thursday. The top spot went to the Pohang University of Science and Technology, or Postech, in South Korea. While only No. 53 in the regular rankings, it had “made staggering progress with the backing of significant private investment” and strong political support,” the magazine said.
Also highly ranked were the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland; the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST); the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology; Université Pierre et Marie Curie in France; and the Irvine and Santa Cruz campuses of the University of California. Three British institutions — the University of York, Lancaster University and the University of East Anglia — rounded out the top 10. 
Hong Kong took top honors in the QS “Top 50 Under 50” list published Tuesday. The Chinese University of Hong Kong and HKUST were in first and second place, with City University of Hong Kong in ninth. Asian schools, particularly technological institutes, dominated. The two Korean schools that did well on the Times Higher Education list — KAIST and Postech — also make the QS top 10. Nanyang Technological University in Singapore came in fourth.
“Asian economies have continued to boom in recent years, meaning that while many Western nations have implemented austerity measures in the wake of the recession, countries such as Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore have actually increased university funding,” said Danny Byrne, editor of, the QS ranking’s Web site.
The United States, usually a world powerhouse, had a mediocre showing among new schools. It had only two in the QS top 50 and nine in the Times Higher Education top 100.
Britain had eight new schools on the QS list and 20 on the Times Higher Education list.
The BRIC developing nations — Brazil, Russia, India and China — barely featured. Only Brazil made an appearance with two schools on the Times Higher Education list and one on QS’s. “There are many issues to be overcome before they are operating at the level of leading young Asian universities,” Mr. Bryne said of BRIC institutions.
Russia, India and mainland China had no schools on either list. 
And another short article I did for the I.H.T.'s Monday education page:

What Hong Kong Students Look for Overseas

Overseas schools’ reputation is a top Hong Kong concern
According to a new British Council study, which was presented at an education conference in Houston on May 28, the attributes that most influence Hong Kong students who want to study overseas are the reputation of a school, national stereotypes, government policy and safety concerns.
A top concern was whether the foreign university would be well recognized, particularly in the workplace. “Students want a high quality, internationally recognized education from highly reputable institutions that are respected by potential employers,” said a British Council statement.
The report also said that Hong Kong students based judgments on stereotypes about particular places or cultures. They relied on “assigned characteristics based on hearsay and imagined reputation rather than factual or firsthand experience.”
They were greatly swayed by host countries’ immigration policies; their ability to stay and work overseas could greatly influence their choices, the survey said.
The study was part of Student Insight Hot Topics, a new research series that is part of a larger Education Intelligence project.
The Hong Kong study was based on seven focus groups. Students, guidance counselors and education agents were asked their opinions on Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Remember 6/4

I just got an email from a friend who's feeling down and asked if I wanted to have a drink. She was  in Beijing during the crackdown in 1989. 
Feeling pretty guilty, I said no. (I'm working late, plus I have to get home to relieve the nanny. Ah, the pushes and pulls of life. If only there were more hours in the day).
My friend was thinking of some old friends who ended up spending years in exile after the crackdown. She wrote, "All those people have died off and nothing's changed."
I don't know if nothing's changed. But I'm not going to argue with someone wrestling with her own demons.
I can't make it to Victoria Park tomorrow night for the annual vigil, which I generally attend if I'm not stuck in the office.One thing I've noticed over the years is the growing number of mainland Chinese standing quietly by the sidelines to watch. I guess, as our city's demographics change, so do the demographics of our demonstrations. Another observance is the number of families with young children. Those parents must really trust Hong Kong's safety and security, in our right to peaceful demonstration, to bring their kids.
Whatever your views on the matter -- whether you believe the official government death tolls or others -- take a moment to remember those who died. If you're here in Hong Kong, thank your lucky stars: that all the papers will run memorial photos on Tuesday; that websites, TV stations, art exhibits, book publishers, and even ordinary people can discuss it as they see fit. 
Our children will at least be educated in what happened. It's a strong society that can look at the darker chapters of its recent history in the eye.

X-rated Fumie is back

I must be really behind on Hong Kong blogging gossip, because Fumie / Foamie has been back since April and I didn't notice till I read it on Ordinary Gweilo.(Nor did Fumie tell me, naughty boy).
When I tried to visit his re-newed site at I got this message:
The blog that you are about to view may contain content only suitable for adults. In general, Google does not review nor do we endorse the content of this or any blog.
God knows what he's doing over there. Must be something about bad puns and inappropriate metaphors involving fruit that set off Google's sensors.