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Showing posts from December, 2008

Kowloon Complex - Part 1 九龍的心結-上卷

Kowloon is to Hong Kong as Brooklyn is to Manhattan.
The analogy is uncanny. Brooklyn is a reluctant sidekick to the much more glamorous Manhattan Island on the other side of the East River. Although Brooklyn is just one subway stop away from lower Manhattan, that two-minute train ride is what separates the men from the boys. Snooty Manhattanites, convinced that there is nothing in Brooklyn that you can’t find back on the island, would never voluntarily cross the river unless some extraordinary reason warrants the inconvenience, such as to visit a friend who has thoughtlessly moved to the “boroughs.” Brooklyn neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Brooklyn Heights are often touted by real estate agents using self-defeating sales pitches like “the city view on this side of the East River is so much better. Look how gorgeous Manhattan is!”


The sister rivalry between Brooklyn and Manhattan is a staple for New York-centric TV series like Friends, Will & Grace and Sex and the City. The s…

A Little Bay No More 灣仔的成長

I visit my brother Kelvin and his family in Wanchai every once in a while. They live on the east end of Kennedy Road, an area that real estate brokers call “Midlevels East.” Their apartment complex has an exit on Queen’s Road East adjacent to the 63-story Hopewell Centre, once the tallest building in Hong Kong until the Bank of China Building snatched the title in 1989.

I follow each fraternal visit with a leisurely walk down Queen’s Road East. The street is lined with a stretch of mom-and-pop stores selling picture frames and traditional rosewood furniture, and a couple of hole-in-the-wall juice vendors each with a half dozen electric blenders going at it at the same time. As I guzzle my cantaloupe juice out on the sidewalk, I can’t help but marvel at the little known fact that Queen’s Road once marked the shoreline of Hong Kong Island… _______________________ Read the rest of this essay in HONG KONG State of Mind, available at major bookstores in Hong Kong and at Blacksmith Books.

Christmas in Hong Kong - Part 2 香港過聖誕-下卷

Nowadays, Christmas is more commonly referred to as the “holiday season” to make non-Christians feel less excluded from the festivities, part of the political correctness movement that began in America in the 1990s and forever altered the way Americans conduct themselves and interact with each other. The name change is a harmless adjustment that has done little to dampen the holiday spirit. After all, it will not stop little children from taking pictures with Santa Claus at the mall or party-goers from quaffing champagne.

The absence of snow in Hong Kong, on the other hand, does put a damper on things. To make up for it, Hong Kongers have developed their own peculiar way of celebrating the occasion... _______________________ Read the rest of this essay in HONG KONG State of Mind, available at major bookstores in Hong Kong and at Blacksmith Books.

My Pet Peeves 無名火起

We all have our pet peeves. They are the minor annoyances that make your skin crawl and your blood boil but you don’t know why. The Cantonese expression mo ming for hey (無名火起), which literally means an “inexplicable fury,” is a close cultural equivalent.

Pet peeves are by definition personal. What bothers you often doesn’t get to the people around you, which makes it all the more frustrating. You are twice victimized when friends and family accuse you of being petty, uptight and unreasonable. The inexplicable fury can quickly turn into an uncontrollable wrath. 
Do you cringe when someone doesn’t use a coaster, starts every sentence with the word “actually,” presses his finger on your laptop screen, checks his Blackberry while talking to you or pushes the elevator’s “close door” button in quick succession when he sees you coming? How about a slow driver in a single-lane road, a chewing gum smacker on the train, a line cutter at the check-out counter or an open-mouth sneezer on a crowd…

Hong Kong State of Mind - Part 2 香港情懷-下卷

It’s that day of the month and once again I took the subway to Wanchai for a quiet, solitary evening. After I finished my haircut and dinner, I walked through the wet markets near Johnston Road to the nearby bus stop to catch a ride home. It was 10 pm and there were still people everywhere. Some were closing up for the night while others were devouring a late supper. A young couple flagged down a taxi, rushing to get home to catch the last bit of the nightly soap opera on television.

The No. 15 bus arrived in a few minutes. I took my usual seat in the last row of the double-decker’s upper level, braving the air-conditioning at full blast. The bus was all but empty and I had the entire row to myself. As the roaring behemoth meandered up the hilly Stubbs Road, I took off my shoes, stretched my legs across three seats and drank in the spectacular city by night. The postcard-perfect view of Hong Kong always puts me in a reflective mood.
Hong Kong is a peculiar place. Seven million penny…

The Case for a New Holiday 不俗的新節日

If we have days dedicated to observing the shadow of a rodent (Groundhog Day) and dumping sticky rice into the river to keep fish from nipping away the body of a beloved poet (Tuen Ng Festival 端午節), then surely we can afford to have another one dedicated to hurling objects at unpopular politicians or their effigies.
On 14 December 2008, while he was still frolicking in his presidential la-la-land, George W. Bush thought he would give Iraq a surprise valedictory visit and draw the world’s attention to the progress his military top brass had made in Iraq. Then “BAM!” and “BAM!” again, flew the shoes across the press room. The startled Bush ducked and ducked again, while his entourage froze as if the show were too good to interrupt.

We all watched the clip on television and YouTube over and over again. It didn’t seem to get old. This was no laughing matter of course. The shoe hurler, 28-year-old Iraqi journalist Muntader al-Zaidi, risked serious jail time to make a point: get the hell ou…

An Epiphany In the Most Unlikely Place 出乎意料的啟發

One of the greatest inventions of our time is the video Podcast. It allows news junkies like myself to catch up on world events anytime and anywhere. Among my favorite Podcast programs are CBS’s 60 Minutes, NBC’s Meet the Press and CBC’s World at Six. All the information at my fingertips, and it doesn’t cost a thing.
Last week at the gym, I worked out to the latest edition of World at Six, a half-hour daily news program produced by Canada’s national public broadcaster. I was gripped by a news story about the “Highway of Heroes,” the stretch of Highway 401 between Trenton and Toronto dedicated to Canadian military personnel killed in Afghanistan. The CBC reporter interviewed the mother of a fallen soldier, who tearfully thanked the public for their support.

The news story got me all choked up in the middle of my ab exercises. I tried to imagine the paralyzing pain the mother must feel. Friends and family would offer condolences, but it was the mother herself who must face the finality …

Book Review: Ghosts of Memory by Vincent Mak 書評:麥華嵩«回憶幽靈»

It’s not easy to find novels that are set in Hong Kong. Among the handful of English language novels that feature the city, most use it as a mere exotic detour and read like another The World of Susie Wong. What’s surprising, however, is that there is an equal dearth of Chinese language novels that use Hong Kong as their backdrop. Only Love in a Fallen City «傾城之戀» and Lust, Caution «色,戒» by Shanghai-born writer Eileen Chang (張愛玲) come to mind. But both of them were written over three decades ago and set in the 1940s when the former British colony was under Japanese occupation. With so few fiction titles getting published in Hong Kong these days, the city’s quirky culture remains largely untapped by the local literati.

That’s why Ghosts of Memory «回憶幽靈» by Vincent Mak (麥華嵩) is a welcome addition to the genre. Ghosts is Vincent’s fourth publication and his first full-length novel. The book comprises eight chapters of crisscrossing story lines set in eight familiar locales, including a …

A Matter of Taste 觀點與角度

Warning: Generalizations ahead.
Chinese people are aesthetically challenged. So there I said it. There are exceptions of course. I.M. Pei gave the world the Louvre pyramid and recently the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar. David Tang created the fashion label Shanghai Tang and in the process popularized the concept of Chinese chic. Zhang Yimou (張藝謀), ever the worshipper of beauty, wowed us with the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony. For every Pei, Tang and Zhang, there are thousands of other talented Chinese artists, architects and designers. But those outliers aside, the average Chinese person gets a failing grade in the subject of taste.

To commemorate Hong Kong's handover in 1997, the Chinese government bestowed upon its long-lost child the Golden Bauhinia sculpture, a massive gold-plated flower that sits on a granite pedestal shaped like the Great Wall. The road to hell is often paved with good intentions... _______________________ Read the rest of this essay in HONG KONG State …

The Vindication of Eric Shinseki 艾力新關的平反

It was a hot summer day in 2003. General Eric Shinseki, then U.S. Army Chief of Staff, was summoned to Washington D.C. to answer questions about the rapidly deteriorating situation in Iraq. Among other pointed questions, Shinseki was asked to estimate the number of troops necessary to end the war there, to which the general guilelessly replied “something in the order of several hundred thousand.” What the general didn’t know was that his honest reply would ultimately cost him his career.
Two days after the Senate hearing, then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy called Shinseki’s estimate “far off the mark” and “outlandish” because “it [was] hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself.”
Rumsfeld had a track record of crushing dissenters, and it was no secret in the Pentagon that he and Shinseki didn’t get along. To let everyone know who was in charge, Rumsfeld named Shinseki’s su…

Island Escapade 小島偷閒

I grabbed my carry-on luggage and headed out of the office at lunch time. An in-flight movie and two rounds of drinks later, I found myself at the island airport greeted by a smiley hotel chauffeur reminiscent of Tattoo from Fantasy Island — minus the white suit.
I had booked myself a private villa on a remote Thai island overlooking the South Pacific horizon. The spacious one-bedroom suite, complete with its own infinity edge pool, a teakwood patio deck and a verdant landscaped lawn, was to be the perfect setting for a weekend getaway.
At least that’s what I thought when I planned the trip several weeks ahead of departure...
_______________________ Read the rest of this essay in HONG KONG State of Mind, available at major bookstores in Hong Kong and at Blacksmith Books.