Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Asia Art Archive job posting

I wrote about this non-profit group for the I.H.T. / N.Y.T. here. They're a nice bunch of people doing some interesting work.
The Asia Art Archive is seeking a full-time Research Assistant for the Archive’s special project ‘Materials of the Future: Documenting Contemporary Chinese Art from 1980-1990.’
Responsibilities include:
collating primary and secondary source material acquired during the project
organising, cataloguing, and annotating research materials
The ideal candidate will possess the following attributes:
A recognised degree with a specialisation in art history/theory/criticism/practice
Familiarity with the contemporary art scene in China
Work experience in the art field (research experience an advantage)
Fluency (written and spoken) in Chinese and English
Strong organisational skills and a dynamic, self-motivated, and responsible working style
Interested candidates should send curriculum vitae with full career and academic details, two reference letters, availability, and salary requirements to Janet Chan (janet@aaa.org.hk) by 31 August Hong Kong time 6pm. Only shortlisted applicants will be contacted and should anticipate a start date in late September 2012.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Hong Kong Education Protest: My NYT article

Photo by Vincent Yu/The Associated Press

Thousands protest China's plan for Hong Kong schools 

July 29, 2012

HONG KONG — Thousands of people took to the streets Sunday to protest the introduction of Chinese national education in Hong Kong schools, a day after the city’s education minister warned that such demonstrations would not stop or delay the process.
Victoria Park, the traditional starting point for the city’s frequent mass protests, was a sea of umbrellas as parents shielded their children from the subtropical sun. There have been at least two demonstrations since June: Hong Kong’s annual vigil for the victims of the 1989 crackdown, and a protest on the 15th anniversary of the former British colony’s handover to Chinese rule. The latter coincided with the swearing-in of Hong Kong’s new Beijing-backed leader, Leung Chun-ying, on July 1.
The crowd Sunday, including many young families, blocked off large parts of the Causeway Bay commercial area as it inched toward the new government headquarters in the city center. Many felt that the changes were rushed through without public consultation.
While organizers told Hong Kong’s public broadcaster, RTHK, that 90,000 took part in the protest, the police put the figure at 32,000.
The new curriculum would be similar to the so-called patriotic education taught in mainland China. The materials, including a handbook called “The China Model,” describe the Communist Party as “progressive, selfless and united” and criticize multiparty systems, even though Hong Kong itself has multiple political parties.
Critics liken the curriculum to brainwashing and say that it glosses over major events like the Cultural Revolution and the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. It will be introduced into some primary schools in September and be mandatory for all public schools by 2016.
Talks between the education minister, Eddie Ng, and the National Education Parents’ Concern Group fell apart Saturday. Mr. Ng later denied that the curriculum was brainwashing.
One demonstrator, Elaine Yau, who was there with her 7-year-old daughter, said Sunday that people want a say in what is taught in the schools. “We feel like we have no choice,” she said.
One point of contention is that many of the city’s governing elite send their children to the West or to expensive international schools, which will be exempt from the national education. The subject will be mandatory for the public schools used by most of the working and middle classes.
“Not everyone can afford to send their children overseas or to international school,” Ms. Yau added.
Holding up a banner for the teachers union was Claudia Yip, a law student at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “Young children really listen to and believe what their teachers say to them,” she said. “Their early role models affect them greatly. Some people say we must have national education, but what kind do we need?”
Before the protest, Jiang Yudui of the China Civic Education Promotion Association of Hong Kong added fuel to the fire when he told the Hong Kong public that the curriculum should “wash their brains.”
“A brain needs washing if there is a problem, just as clothes need washing if they’re dirty and a kidney needs washing if it’s sick,” he said, according to the local media.
In response, protesters waved flags showing a cartoon brain with a line crossed through it. “No thought control! Preserve one country, two systems!” they chanted, referring to the agreement that gives Hong Kong political rights that are not allowed on the mainland.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Photos: Hong Kongers education protest

All photographs by Joyce Lau / International Herald Tribune
Victoria Park. Click on any image to bring up the slideshow.

Tens of thousands of Hong Kongers took to the streets to protest the introduction of patriotic Chinese national education in the local school system.Here are some pictures I took on the way.

Two examples of the many signs with a big cross over a cartoon brain, as Hong Kongers protest what they see as the brainwashing of their children. The guy above said his kids were grown -- "so it doesn't affect me directly" -- but he still worried about Hong Kong in general. Plus, his daughter is a teacher.

It goes to show how much faith Hong Kongers have in the peaceful nature of this city that they are willing to bring their babies and children to marches. Even the police's unfortunate use of pepper spray during the last demonstration here did not deter people.
This city has the cleanest, most orderly, mass demonstrations I've ever seen. They don't even litter.

The woman's bag says "No thought control."

The beginning of the walk in Causeway Bay. Kids had sweat pouring down their poor faces. I helped one little girl, who was just with her father, wipe up a bit.

Later on, the marchers would expand even into the car and tram lanes.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The ultimate Olympic fashion guide

I'm the Joan Collins of the Opening Ceremony! An armchair fashion critic of the 2012 Olympics.
I'm celebrating the first night of several weeks off. Baby's asleep, hubbie's asleep. I'm sitting on the sofa, drinking white wine, eating a veggie dinner and blogging about fashion.
Here's a rundown of the best and worst Olympic outfits.

Australia. I neither love it or hate it. Many countries are going with the blazer-and-white-trousers combo, and this is just another. Nothing wrong with looking like flight attendants, but it's not so original. It's a nice, bright, sunny Aussie photo, though.

Belgium. They invested in a real catwalk. Enough said. They look fabulous. OK, the guy is channeling The Remains of the Day. (It's the vest). But I would buy that woman's dress.

Belize. The designer said he was inspired by The Great Gatsby , which isn't very Belizean. But these are adorable and very cheerful. Don't ask me why, but they make me think of the time Pete Campbell did the Charleston on Mad Men.

Speaking of which, let's stop for a token Mad Men break.


Canada. Oh, Canada. I guess I should be patriotic. And I already complained about our uniforms in a previous post. But the best I can say about this photo is that  the girl on the left has a really good lipstick color.
The guys are vaguely menacing in a muggers-wearing-pyjamas sort of way. Not sure if it's right for a parade.
(Addendum: Thankfully, Canada sent its athletes out in very decent, simple red and white sweatshirt-type jackets and khaki trousers.)

France wins. Only France can be this chic, particularly  the woman. The outfit is slouchy, cool and modern, without being sloppy. It's dignified without being stiff. The quirky red shoes poking out are just the right touch. 
The only thing I find odd is that Adidas designed them, when France has the world's top designers. That said, Adidas did a great job. And the French government were hip enough to let them break the rules.

 Germany. Other commenters liked Germany's for being colorful and sporty. I don't love it. Maybe I'm relying on stereotype, but it seems somehow too jolly to be Germanic.

Italy also tried for the black-and-white street-smart look. And they stuck to their own talent -- Armani no less. I still prefer France, but Italy comes in a close second.

Jamaica wins extra points for having its uniforms designed by Cedella Marley, daughter of the reggae great Bob Marley. I love them. Those bold blocks of color are perfect for a tropical island nation, and they look beautiful against ebony skin.  A confident, perfectly styled photo.

Netherlands. It's the same dark blazer-white trouser look that many others have, but campy. Campy in a good way. Maybe it's the geek glasses / V-neck / orange pants on the guy on the left, but it makes me giggle.
That blonde bombshell is rocking the orange trench. If I were a blonde bombshell, I'd wear an orange trench.
In a previous post, I complained about China using orange tones. But the Dutch got it right -- it's an Hermes orange.

Russia. I don't dislike it, but it just doesn't seem very Russian. It looks slightly safari-ish, like it should be South Africa's outfit.

Serbia. I don't think these are the parade outfits, just the ones for hanging around. But they're pretty cool.

South Korea has the best uniforms in Asia. Partly by Fila, partly by a local brand called Beanpole, they're just adorable. Look at those darling pork-pie hats. Only svelte Koreans (or maybe Japanese) can pull this look off so well.

Spain. Poor Spain. The BBC just interrupted its pre-Olympic coverage to report that one out of four Spaniards is now unemployed.
The country is in dire straits. But that's no reason to steal mannequins from a second-hand clothing shop and pose them in a parking lot. Really, Spain couldn't afford three models?
Everyone else in the world has already mocked the Spanish uniforms, which are Russian-designed. I feel sorry for them, so I thought I'd do something constructive and offer some positive suggestions.
Come on, Spain. You're the nation that gave us Zara. 
All the clothes below are from that Madrid brand, with studded leather, bolero / bullfighting cropped jackets and colorful flared skirts.
(Addendum: In the parade, Spain's outfits didn't look nearly as bad as they did on the above mannequins).

What the Spanish team should wear, courtesy Zara

Patriotic education, from a Hong Kong mom's viewpoint

"There's no question teachers would help brainwash the students," says Hong Kong Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, according to The South China Morning Post. 
To be fair to Ms. Lam, I think what she meant in context was "There's no question of teachers brainwashing the students." But still...
Beijing is trying to start "Chinese patriotic education" in our schools, despite the fact that most polled teachers say they don't want to teach it. Catholic schools have already said no for the first year.
They say that 50 hours of instruction will be mandatory by 2016. 
But I believe that parents and teachers should have a say in how kids are taught.
What will Beijing do if parents and teachers outright refuse? Monitor every classroom? 
The point of education is to teach, not to force.
I am interested about this professionally, as a broad political issue, since a few months ago I took over editing the I.H.T.'s education coverage. But I'm also concerned as a parent.
2015/2016 will be the year my child starts kindergarten. 
I imagine my little girl in a classroom. I want her to learn about China -- the language, the culture, the history, the politics -- but not like this. I want her to learn about the good and the bad, and to learn to make up her own mind on things.
When I grew up in the States, we of course had tons of U.S. history. Of course it wasn't perfect (I wish we'd spent more time on Asia) but it was generally critical and balanced. We we taught the horrors of slavery, and the problems of discrimination that exist even today. We learned about other countries' political systems. We even had a socialist segment -- I remember trying to get through Marx's "The Communist Manifesto" my senior year.
I want my child to have an interesting, educational and fun time at school, the way I did. Then I try to imagine  50 hours of brainwashing. Those poor kids.
I have the good fortune of meeting young journalism interns and students, both at the work work, and through volunteer work. Increasingly, many are from China, which is interesting for both of us.
I often ask them about their schooling. One complaint, aside from exam stress, is "patriotic education" -- and this was before it became controversial in Hong Kong.
They've described it variously as boring, confusing and irrelevant to their goals, whether it's studying overseas or getting a good job.
If even mainland students dislike it, why are we bringing it here?

A year ago (the article came out when I was actually in the hospital in labor!) I interviewed Julia Lovell, a University of London academic and Chinese translator. The article was mostly about her book on the Opium Wars. But, when we spoke, she told me about her extensive research on patriotic education in China. I only had room to add one sentence to my article.
  "What struck Ms. Lovell was the ambivalence, even self-criticism, of some of the young Chinese undergoing patriotic education"
I'd like the government to clarify: Will this apply to the English Schools Foundation? Private or international schools? Or just local schools for local kids?
I'm not sending my child if this is the curriculum. 
As we all know, Hong Kong parents are education-obsessed. Many were eager to send their kids overseas even before this. I can't imagine that this will encourage  people to keep their children here.
Marc and I have European and Canadian passports, so we have options. I'd love for our daughter to be raised in Hong Kong, but not if the schools change for the worse. I think many of our family feel the same. When I talk to other parents, they are already considering the more open-minded systems in Australia or England.

Ironically, this has little to do with real patriotism, or whether Hong Kong likes or dislikes China. 
This 15-year-old local kid, quoted in a Reuters story, said it best: 

"I consider myself both a Chinese and Hong Kong citizen. I love my country and I see no problem with patriotism," said Jasper Wong, 15, the co-founder of a student-led group against the curriculum reform. "But patriotism shouldn't be cultivated through a school subject and I don't think we should introduce a subject that aims to brainwash students."

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Hong Kong and Canada's Olympic uniforms, and why Kent & Curwen is cooler than Ralph Lauren

I didn't have much to say about the Hong Kong Olympic uniforms when I saw them online. Obviously, nobody here cares that it's not very P.C. (by China standards) to flaunt our British colonial heritage. I don't mind. Good or bad, it was 150 years of our history.  As for the official unveiling at the Jockey Club... let's just say it's very Hong Kong to celebrate the Olympics at the venue of the only sport local people care about -- betting on the horses.

I liked them much more when I saw them in person at the Kent & Curwen shop in IFC.  They're well-tailored and tasteful. The fabric on the blazer (which is actually a deep cream, not white, as rendered by this unfortunate flash photography)   is lovely -- a knit cotton that is both thick and light, with just the right amount of stretch. Several people were asking if they could buy it. I would, too, if it didn't have that logo on it. But the shopgirl said, "No, we're not allowed to sell it. They have to be special for the athletes."
Speaking of the logo, it is of the Hong Kong flower, the bauhinia, and the Olympic rings. No whopping K&C corporate imprint to be seen.
And this is why this British brand is cooler than Ralph Lauren, because it passed up the chance to make a bunch of money, or get a bunch of free marketing, for the sake of keeping it special for the athletes, even if we are a very small team.
Sure, they're a bit private-school-ish. But Hong Kong is a bit private-school-ish. Something more casual wouldn't fit our city's particular personality. Plus, these are the sorts of uniforms that look good in parades.
Canada's uniforms are the opposite. They are so non-snobby, so down to earth and egalitarian, that they are downright shabby. The Bay (or, as well say in Quebec, La Baie) is a Canadian company that wants to dress Olympians to resemble "what Canadians really look like."
This is a sweet, idealistic, democratic idea -- except that average Canadians, God bless them, dress mostly in sweats and jean jackets while drinking beer, watching hockey all winter and BBQing all summer.  
As the author Yann Martel once said, "I love Canada. It is a great country much too cold for good sense, inhabited by compassionate, intelligent people with bad hairdos."
It's a nation that still has mullets, with 80s fashion to match. Which is how we come up with this.

I presume that the patchy jean jacket -- I had a similar one in 7th grade that I decorated myself with colored pens -- will hopefully be for hanging around the Athletes Village. I'm holding out hope that there will be something different for the Opening Ceremony.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Olympic fashion: Omelets, nationalism & my own designs

So everyone's in a huff because the U.S. Olympics uniforms are made in China. There's a senator calling to burn them, and God knows what else.
That said, the Chinese Olympics uniforms are designed by the American corporate giant Nike. So I guess those two superpowers are even. 
Honestly, I don't care. It's a globalized world. Plus, I'm a Canadian-Hong Konger, and we're just not nationalistic that way. (The Hong Kong uniforms are by that most English of brands Kent & Curwen, and nobody seems bothered by that).
What I do care about is how things look.  
The U.S. uniforms are gorgeous. Dignified, very American (despite their manufacture), classically stylish and beautifully tailored. Their sharpness hints at those very American institutions -- the navy, prep schools, business, privilege -- without being obvious or overbearing. The chic berets are great. Of course, it's by Ralph Lauren, so we  expect nothing less. 
(The only things I'm unsure about are the corporate pony logos, but they're pretty tiny. I'd also wax indignant that normal folk can buy the Olympic outfits off the website, except I'm too busy coveting this summery white shirt-dress with a grosgrain belt).
America actually spent money on a professional studio photo shoot.

So what happened to China?
They were already lambasted in 2008 for their "scrambled egg with tomato" / Ronald McDonald outfits.

This always perplexed me because everything else about the Beijing Olympic opening ceremony was well designed, including the pretty cheongsam for the hostesses.

So I'm disappointed that they returned to eggs-and-tomato for 2012. I doubt very many people will be rushing online to buy their own personal copies of these outfits.

As anyone with media experience will tell you, press conference photos always look terrible. They are barely passable even when there are professional models, which these athletes are not. I don't know if it's the stage, the flash photography, the backdrop, the awkward poses, the plastered smiles, or what. Of course, you must have a press conference and, of course, people will take photos. But you organize a studio session in advance and send those photos out to the media. (See gorgeous U.S. photo above, which could be an ad in a fashion magazine).
Both the Chinese 2008 and 2012 uniforms look like they belong on stewards on a discount airline.
Here's what I don't like about them.
1. Color. There's nothing you can do about red and yellow, since those are the colors on the flag. But a deeper or slightly magenta red, matched with a soft burnished gold, would be much less tacky. (See the cheongsam above). Orange-tinted things don't look very nice on most people, particularly those of us with Asian skin tones. And the accent color should be a serious, dignified black, not white. It's hard to combine white and light, bright colors without looking like resort wear.
2. Design and Chinese-ness. The suit-and-tie combo is very Western. And on the Chinese team, it looks a bit like people trying to pull off a design that's not really them. There are so many great Chinese clothing designs to choose from -- the qipao, the cheongsam, the Mao jacket.
3. Tailoring. It doesn't help that the workmanship is shoddy. Compared to that perfect straight leg on the U.S. men's trousers, the baggy white trousers on the Chinese men -- with the saggy crotches and too-long hems pooling over the shoes -- look like they were done by that alterations lady at the Lowu Mall in Shenzhen. The tall lady's hem has come undone a bit -- either that or her slip is showing. (Does anyone even wear slips anymore?)
4. Accessories. You can't tell from this faraway shot but the shoes -- mismatching white sandals, yellow sneakers -- are awful. The girls should be in sleek red flats or heels, the guys in dignified black leather. Plus, that kind of scarf went out of fashion a long time ago. Briefly, when I started my first job at a business magazine as a clueless youngster, I tried to look older and more professional by tying a horrible blue polyester thing around my neck. Very early 90s. Never again. Almost nobody can pull that look off except for the actresses of Mad Men.
So what do I propose? Please excuse the sketchiness of these sketches. I did them while trying to sleep-train my baby. Plus, it's been a long time since my university art classes.
One is a cheongsam-related idea. The girl is in a figure-skimming dress, topped with a jaunty cropped jacket. Both pieces have delicate gold trim, with the stars of the Chinese flag on one side. The guy is in a similar Chinese-styled jacket over minimalist black. I imagine a muscle tee in a good thick cotton, plus well-tailored trousers.
The other is Mao-suit-inspired. I know that might seem a bit Old School -- but Mao is still on all the money, and Hu Jintao still wears Mao suits sometimes. (By the way, this is not a comment on Mao as a historic figure, but as a jacket shape). It has a hint of military sharpness and a Chinese quality, but the colors make it modern. I imagine the designers at Shanghai Tang could do alot with this. To make them different from other countries' outfits, they could be two-toned thick silk.

What I tried to do was something that was both distinctly Chinese and contemporary. I used black to make the outfits more flattering to the athletes' bodies, and a deeper / pinker red to make  them more flattering to their faces.
I toned down the yellow. I got rid of the white. I gave them nice shoes and took away extraneous accessories like scarves and gold buttons.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Segovia photos: Doors and windows

I'm just back from Segovia, Spain, a small, ancient city outside Madrid. 
I love old doors and door fixtures. 
"Behind closed doors" has a wonderfully intriguing ring. I imagine the inner lives that have played out on the other side, shut away from the public eye; the characters who passed under their arches; the events they witnessed. What were artisans thinking when they carved or forged intricate swirls, gargoyles and icons into frames, knobs and gas-lamps? 
(Click on any photo to pull up the slideshow, which has larger, clearer images.)

Segovia has a wide, car-free plaza where residents sit at outdoor cafes well into the night. Summer evenings are so long in Spain that, at 9 p.m., there was still enough sunlight to illuminate the reflection of these diners in a storefront's mirrored glass pane.

 I was there for an education conference held by the International Baccalaurate at IE University, which is set amid an ancient convent. It's not an enormous campus, but it had beautiful architecture.

Some of my meetings were held in the archeology room, above, where the designers left crumbling ruins inside the classroom. I was amused by the contrast with the blah modern wooden doors and fire extinguisher. I love that little bit of exposed brick.
A brick arch, below, at a Segovia restaurant specializing in roast suckling piglet.