Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from November, 2008

Christmas in Hong Kong - Part 1 香港過聖誕-上卷

My seven-and-a-half foot tall Oregon Douglas fir arrived on my doorstep.

I only just picked it out from the florist’s yesterday, but with typical Hong Kong efficiency, the perfectly wrapped tree, complete with a tree stand and accessories, was delivered to my apartment in less than 24 hours. Unwrapping the tree was every bit as exciting as opening presents on Christmas Day. As soon as the bunched-up branches were released, they let out an aroma of fresh pine that permeated the entire living room, instantly triggering wonderful olfactory memories of past Christmases.

I had a real tree for Christmas in all my years in New York and have had one ever since I returned to Hong Kong. In Manhattan, tree vendors pop up on every street corner as soon as Thanksgiving is over. Most of them are Canadians who drive their pick-up trucks from up north in hope of making a holiday buck over the December weeks... _______________________ Read the rest of this essay in HONG KONG State of Mind, available a…

Seeing an Old Friend 老友相聚

I had lunch with an old friend today.
Vincent and I go way back. We went to the same school eons ago. My friend was something of a legend for being at the top of the class year after year. A Renaissance Man in the truest sense, Vincent’s interests range from philosophy and quantum physics to classical music and literature. Because of his many esoteric pursuits, the precocious teenager was neither the most approached nor the most approachable at school. He was relegated to a very small circle of friends, and I was one of them. His reclusive dispositions were a personal choice to him but highbrow snobbery to others. To me, however, Vincent was simply ahead of his time.

Happily married to a lovely wife with a baby boy, Vincent now teaches full-time at a leading university in Hong Kong and pursues his writing career part-time. Every time Vincent publishes a new book, he invites me for lunch and gives me an autographed copy fresh off the press. I was thrilled to receive an honorary mention…

Stop the Madness! 我受夠了!

If you haven’t noticed it, then either you are hard of hearing or you are one of them. I am referring to those in Hong Kong who say “may I help’choo?”

Earlier tonight I called a restaurant in Central to make a dinner reservation. The operator answered in English, “thank you for calling XXX Restaurant, how may I help’choo?” I almost dropped my phone, not because it was my first time hearing the mispronunciation, but because I was fed up with the fact that such a glaring mistake can go uncorrected for so long.
Over the centuries, many have attempted to butcher the English language but no attempt is as offensive or nearly as successful as this one. Uptight Englishmen are known to cringe whenever they hear Singaporeans speak Singlish, injecting their local flavors into the language of Chaucer and Shakespeare. Bizarre as the hybrid language may sound, Singlish is by and large just an accent, and so long as everyone still respects the basic rules of grammar and phonics, accents are simply …

Flip-flops Culture 人字拖文化

A good friend of mine once observed, there are only three kinds of men who wear flip-flops in Hong Kong: street bums, foreigners and homosexuals.
I suspect the marginalization of this simple, versatile and very comfortable footwear has much to do with language. In Cantonese, as it is the case for Thai, Vietnamese and several other Asian languages I have surveyed, there is no specific word for flip-flops. All open-toe footwear held with a thong between the big toe and the second toe is generically referred to as “slippers” (拖鞋), a word that strongly suggests its rightful place in the privacy of one’s own home. Likewise, the Cantonese word for “vest” (背心) can mean anything from the sleeveless member of a three-piece suit to a tank-top or a cardigan, a term that often causes confusion at clothing stores in the city.

I love flip-flops and I wear them everywhere I go. Over the years, my trust flip-flops have taken me to the backstreets of Harlem, Mount Fuji in Japan, and recently the Grea…

Thanksgiving in Hong Kong 感恩節在香港

I invited a few friends over to my apartment for Thanksgiving dinner yesterday. The secular holiday is all about the food: pumpkin soup, home-roasted turkey, sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts. The dinner conversation, fueled by no shortage of wine and cheese, carried the party well into the night.


Thanksgiving has always been a somewhat ambiguous holiday tradition. Most believe that it began when early European settlers in New England offered thanks to native Americans who gave them corn and potatoes to get through winter. Others argue that it was more of a harvest celebration. The Americans celebrate it on the fourth Thursday of November, whereas the Canadians have it a month earlier. Outside North America, however, the day is a complete non-event.

In the U.S. and Canada, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the holiday season. As soon as the Turkey Day is over, retailers change their window displays from the more subtle fall motifs of orange and brown to Santa Clause and elves. H…

On China: from Securities Regulation to National Identity 談中國:由證券規條說到國民身份

Earlier this week I attended a two-day lawyers’ conference at a hotel in Admiralty. The annual event brought together in-house counsel and private practitioners across Asia to discuss the latest regulatory issues and capital markets developments. Most non-lawyers would rather get a rectal exam than go to one of these things.

This was my third year at this particular conference. While a majority of the attendees were expat lawyers based in Hong Kong, there was no shortage of legal professionals flying in from Singapore, Shanghai, Seoul and Mumbai. The fact that the event takes place in Hong Kong year after year is evidence that our city is still the leading financial hub in the region.
One of the interesting topics discussed at the conference is “Doing Business in China.” During the segment, panel speakers swapped war stories from recent transactions in the Mainland, notably those that took place during the IPO boom spurred by a relaxation of securities regulation. In the Wild Wild We…

The Dark History of Sedan Chairs 轎子的野史

The annual Sedan Chair Race to raise money for charities and to promote Matilda Hospital (明德醫院) was held last week. Every November, teams representing their corporate sponsors, clad in over-the-top costumes and carrying equally over-the-top sedan chairs, loop around the three-quarter mile route along Mt. Kellett Road on the Peak.

I used to live on the intersection where Mt. Kellett Road meets Homestead Road. As early as September each year, from my living room window I would see young men and women training for the event, a scene that became synonymous with the arrival of autumn. I watched the race last year with great interest and took a copious amount of pictures, though I was miffed that few local Chinese turned up for the event. This year I was all gung-ho about entering the race with people from work, only to find out that we missed the registration deadline by two weeks.
In the end, I slept in that morning and wound up not watching the event altogether. To make up for missing t…

An Aw-some Day 哦和她的一個早上

Back in my college days I went through an Amy Tan phase. I read everything the Chinese American writer had written, which was only three novels at the time but I enjoyed them all the same. So when a student approached me last week to help her with an assignment on The Kitchen God’s Wife, Tan’s most popular novel after The Joy Luck Club, I gladly took her on.

When I first met Lisa, she was everything I expected from an 11th grader. She hated literature and hated talking about it even more... _______________________ Read the rest of this essay in HONG KONG State of Mind, available at major bookstores in Hong Kong and at Blacksmith Books.

Krall Enthralls 克瑞兒迷住我

Earlier tonight I went to a Diana Krall concert at the Hong Kong Exhibition Centre. The venue was a terrible choice and didn’t do justice to the Canadian talent. The concert hall, converted half-heartedly from a convention center, featured rows of cheap electric blue plastic chairs strung together on a flat concrete floor, which means half of my view was blocked by the balding head in front of me. 
To make things worse, less than a quarter of the space was used for the concert itself, making the troupe look like some garage band playing in an empty warehouse. No wonder international stars often snub Hong Kong and head straight to Tokyo and Singapore where they are treated with more respect. But enough griping about Hong Kong.

A true Canadian, Krall possesses an unassuming and understated stage persona. More remarkably, she seems truly happy with her life, which is more than what we can say about most celebrities these days. The chanteuse is happily married to fellow singer Elvis Coste…

The Piano Man 鋼琴手

I went to a Billy Joel concert at the Asia World Arena with a few friends last night. Shawn, a good friend of mine, got a bunch of free tickets from his firm and I was first to jump on the opportunity to watch one of my favorite singers/songwriters make his debut in Hong Kong. Over a career that spans four decades, Billy Joel has put out enough hits to make a Broadway jukebox musical Moving Out out of them.

It was my first time watching the piano man live in concert. Billy in person was light-hearted and unpretentious. His humor was self-deprecating without being cynical. He introduced himself to the audience as “Billy Joel’s dad” – an allusion to his baldness and the few extra pounds – and poked fun at his very public failed marriages. Song after song, he regaled the audience with classic hits like Just the Way You Are, Honesty and, my personal favorite, Always a Woman to Me, which pushed the evening to its climax. The thrice divorcée crooned:
She can lead you to love      She can take…

A Flightless Vacation 不用飛的假期

Desperate to use up my remaining vacation days for the year, these past several weeks I have been taking a day off here and there. I would check the 10-day weather forecast, pick a sunny day and tell my secretary I wouldn’t come in to the office on so-and-so-day. And when the day finally arrives, I would head to the beach for a hassle-free "staycation." There would be no flight delays, no hefty hotel bills and no need to flash that Cheshire Cat smile in front of the camera. All there is to it is a simple, stress-free day all to myself.
Blue skies don’t come by very often in Hong Kong. You can count the number of clear days in a month with one hand. But today was one of those days. I threw a beach towel into my convertible and drove to Repulse Bay. Driving top down on a balmy November morning instantly put me in a good mood, making the 20-minute ride a treat in itself. The beach was almost empty, save for the clusters of Mainland Chinese tourists taking pictures on the far s…

Hong Kong State of Mind - Part 1 香港情懷-上卷

Once a month I spend a quiet evening in Wanchai. I will get a haircut, visit the big Chinese bookstore near Southorn Playground (修頓球場) and grab dinner from a neighborhood noodle house before heading home on a double-decker. The solitude is self-imposed and the private reverie cherished.

I had one of those evenings yesterday. I began the night at the hair salon, where a young apprentice named Durex gave me a wash followed by a pampering scalp massage befitting a world-class spa. I can never quite wrap my mind around why people here give themselves such bizarre names as “Concrete,” “Jackal” and “Lazy,” even though Lazy is a perfectly hardworking young lady who takes my orders at Starbucks. With names like that, how can they ever expect to be taken seriously in life?
While my hairdresser snipped merrily away, I picked up the latest issue of GQ (British Edition) – one of my guilty pleasures – and started reading an article on Macau. I buried my head in the glossy pages while the young st…

Music that Makes You Weep 教人哭泣的音樂

People who know me know I love opera. I enjoy listening to it, watching it, singing it, writing about it and defending it. To the skeptics who question opera as a relevant art form, who write it off as pretentious and elitist, who balk at the idea of blasting an opera recording on the car stereo instead of Coldplay or Beyoncé, I urge them to spend a quiet evening at home and listen to a few arias by Montserrat Caballé, one of the most enduring and admired bel canto sopranos in the 20th Century. The Spanish native has earned a place in my heart as my favorite soprano of all time.

A good place to start is her Decca recording of “Signore, mi ascolta!” from Puccini’s Turandot and her EMI recording of “Era Piu Calmo?” – better known as the Willow Song – from Verdi’s Otello. Caballé’s voice is a gift from God. Her superb breathing technique and abdominal control allow her to melt hearts with her signature pianissimo and glissando, and to sustain some of the longest notes ever held in record…

Heaney Anyone? 希尼你懂嗎?

I teach high school English in my spare time. One of my students recently asked me for help with Shakespeare’s Othello and poetry by Seamus Heaney.

Othello has always been one of my favorite Shakespearean tragedies and it doesn’t hurt that I know Verdi’s Otello, an opera based on the play, backward and forward. Teaching Shakespeare is both fun and immensely rewarding. Just pop Placido Domingo’s 1978 legendary recording of the opera into the CD player and I am ready to rumble.
Heaney, on the other hand, is a different matter. All I know about the Irish poet is that he translated Beowulf from Old English and won a Nobel Prize in literature in the 1990s. A few days ago I flipped through a dusty copy of his Death of a Naturalist on my bookshelf but not much registered. Determined to find out why he was coined the “most important Irish poet since Yeats,” I decided to stay home tonight to read up on good ol’ Seamus, starting with his famous poems on potato digging and blackberry picking.









New Year in November 十一月的新年

If the U.S. Election Day was like New Year’s Eve, then today definitely felt like New Year’s Day: just a non-descript, anticlimactic day, as revelers descended from Cloud Nine. All that excitement and euphoria brought on by Barack Obama’s historic presidential win began to subside. Sidewalks were strewn with confetti and banners waiting to be cleaned up.

I showed up in the office at 9:30, back to the daily grind of conference calls and emails. At lunch time, I trudged my way to the gym for a quick work-out, ran into an acquaintance on the way back and chatted with him for a few minutes about everything and nothing. It seems that life has a mysterious way of restoring itself to normalcy, swiftly and rather rudely.


A New Page for the World 世界的新一頁

America elected a new president, and the world turned a page.

Around 11 o’clock this morning Hong Kong time, CNN declared Barack Obama the 44th President of the United States. On the news networks’ website, I read the words I had waited for for two years: Obama, first African American President. Right there on my computer screen, I saw proof that whatever made America the greatest nation in the world was still there.
During lunch time, I rushed to the trading floor and pulled up a chair in front of the flat screen TV to watch the president-elect deliver his 15-minute victory speech. His words got me all choked up in front of my colleagues. After that I went to the bakery downstairs and bought everyone in the department cupcakes to celebrate the occasion.

The rest of the day was less eventful, but it still felt like Christmas Day. My steps were light but my heart was even lighter. There were moments in the day when I forgot why I was in such a good mood. Then it would all come rushing …

Dear Diary... 親愛的日記...

I finally got around to start my own blog, ten years after the birth of blogosphere. You know what they say, better late than never. And what better time is there to start a new project than on the eve of the historic U.S. presidential election? November 4 is a new start for America, for the world, and for me.

Earlier today I met up with a friend of mine, a web designer I hired to create a website for me. By having my own personal site, I hope to create a platform to consolidate my various interests and turn everything I do – singing, writing, teaching, photography, interior design – into something more than the sum of its parts. During our brainstorming session, my friend suggested I that start writing a blog to give the web site a bit more content. Alrighty then, I said to my friend, and a few hours later I found myself sitting in front of my iMac blogging for the first time.
Creating your own web site is exciting; it’s a bit like buying your first home. But it’s also a colossal un…