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Showing posts from 2011

NEWS FLASH: Website Launched! 快訊: 網頁發放!

Dear Readers,

My personal website, designed by award-winning, UK-based creative technologist Edan Kwan, is now up and running.

Check it out and I hope you find it informative!!

The Hundredth Post 第一百篇

This month marks the third birthday of my blog As I See It, a social commentary on the trials and tribulations of living in Hong Kong. The occasion coincides with the 100th article I have written under the banner. Having reached a personal milestone, I decided to take the opportunity to reflect on my still-young writing career and wallow in, dare we say, self-congratulatory indulgence.

It all started in November 2008 on the heels of the last U.S. presidential election. I was getting ready to create a personal website as a platform to consolidate my interests and pursuits. To do that I needed content. That’s how my blog – or my “online op-ed column” as I prefer to call it – came into being. 
Before I knew it, I was banging it out in front of my iMac every night, going on and off the tangent and in and out of my stream of consciousness about the odd things I experienced in the city, the endless parade of pink elephants I saw everyday that no one seemed to bat an eyelid at. Though singi…

Unfaithfully Yours 愛偷吃的男人

What do Bill Clinton, Tiger Woods and Arnold Schwarzenegger have in common? They are all American icons who use their celebrity status to make our world a better place. Yawn. They all have promising young daughters who are destined to follow in daddy’s footsteps and achieve great things. Yawn again. 
As if the column title hadn’t already given away the answer, all three of them are powerful men who, at the pinnacle of their careers, put everything they had on the line and cheated on their wives.

For every Bill, Tiger and Arnold, there are hundreds other famous men who got caught with their hands in the cookie jar. At times it seems that the more successful a man gets, the more willing he is to throw away everything for a fleeting moment of carnal pleasure. 
According to a 1950s study on American men by the Kinsey Institute, there is a one in two chance of indiscretion occurring during marriage. In the Information Age where you can download free porn, order Viagra and hook up with an …

Still Work to Be Done 同志仍須努力

This past October 10th marked the centennial anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution (辛亥革命). Exactly a hundred years ago, rebels led a successful uprising against the Qing Court and toppled millennia of imperial rule in China. It was arguably the most pivotal moment in all of Chinese history. 
Pivotal as it was, the 100th anniversary went by in Hong Kong just like any other day. I asked some of my gweilo friends about it and none of them had heard of Xinhai. Even among the local Chinese, the word was little more than a vapid factoid they once memorized for history class but bears no relevance to their lives. Worse, the anniversary was upstaged by Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who had died just a few days earlier. When it comes to vying for attention, our Founding Fathers, for all the sacrifices they made and all the blood spilled, were no match against a gadget wizard in a black turtleneck.

To set things right, we start with a quick refresher on modern Chinese history. We go back to the turn o…

The Moose, The Gap and the Apple 麋 、溝、蘋

Determined to reclaim Hong Kong from European powers, the Americans are sounding their battle cry and marching into the city to pomp and circumstance. I am not talking about the type of invasion unleashed on Qing China by the Imperial West; I am referring to the almost contemporaneous arrivals of heavyweight American retailers in our city beginning this fall. 
Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap and the Apple Store are all set to squeeze into the city’s already crowded retail space, promising to shake up our cityscape and transform our shopping routine. The good news is that we no longer need to travel to Tokyo or New York to get our hands on anything with a moose logo. 
The bad news is, any Joe Blow – make that Joe Ho – in Hong Kong will soon be able to walk into these new stores and walk out with the same pair of jeans you had once begged a co-worker to bring back from the States. Globalism can be such sweet sorrow.

Not since the coming of European apparel giants Zara in 2004 and H&M i…

I Was There When the Sky Fell 當日我在場

The No.2 train slowed to a halt. Inside the subway car, the overhead florescent lights went out for a moment and flickered back to life. The middle-aged Caucasian man standing next to me heaved an impatient sigh, bemoaning the frequent interruptions of an antiquated transport system. Suddenly the train doors parted and the crackling PA system issued a dispassionate instruction: An emergency has been reported in Lower Manhattan, all passengers must exit now.

I climbed two flights of stairs and came out of the 14th Street station. It was one of those beautiful September mornings in New York. Cloudless blue skies and a few falling leaves. I looked to the south and there it was, the reason why my train had stopped: plumes of heavy smoke were billowing out of the World Trade Center.
I walked into a nearby Citibank branch to find out what had happened. “Some fool flew their plane right into the building, sweetheart,” the heavyset African American woman paraphrased what she had heard from …

Pirates and Hidden Treasures 海盜和寶藏

Six miles off the southwestern coast of Hong Kong Island is a piece of rock smaller than New York’s Central Park. Shaped like a dumbbell, Cheung Chau – or literally Long Island in Cantonese – was once a strategic hideout for ferocious pirates who ruled the Canton coasts. 
At the turn of the 19th Century, these pirates of the South China Sea, our very Jack Sparrow and Captain Hook, terrorized seafarers and threatened the Qing court. The most prominent of them all, Cheung Po Tsai (張保仔), famously bisexual and captain of a vast and formidable fleet, was a staple among local legends. With all the eye makeup and flailing hand gestures, Johnny Depp might have had a certain Chinese pirate in mind when he crafted his character.

Cheung Po Tsai was only 21 years old when he took over the pirating business from his adoptive parents. During the short period between 1807 and 1810 – the year he capitulated to the Qing court and became an imperial navy colonel, Cheung pillaged and plundered towns an…

…Or Eating In - Part 1 還是屋企煮-上卷

New Yorkers often joke about keeping their sweaters in the oven because they never cook. Hong Kongers would have loved to do the same, if only we had the space for an oven. The lack of a proper kitchen and the ease of dining out have made home cooking a vanishing art in the city. At times it seems like no one around us – other than those penny pinching, foldable cart pushing see lai (師奶; middle-aged housewives) – bothers to prepare a home cooked meal any more.

Cooking is time consuming. Considering that most worker bees get home just before the 9:30 soap opera starts, banging and clanging in the kitchen is the last thing on their minds. From buying groceries to all that washing, chopping, frying and steaming, the whole production is guaranteed to take up the entire evening... _______________________ Read the rest of this essay in No City for Slow Men, available at major bookstores in Hong Kong and at Blacksmith Books.

Maid in Hong Kong - Part 2 女傭在港-下卷

When Loretta left the Philippines in the 1980s, she didn’t have any training in cooking or housekeeping. What she did have was an eight-year-old son she had to feed back in Quezon City.
Loretta got pregnant when she was 17 and soon thereafter her boyfriend disappeared. Left with no other choice, the single mother – a title she carried in her hometown for eight years like a scarlet letter – turned her child over to his grandmother and headed to Hong Kong in 1983.

In the past 30 years, she has served twelve local Chinese families across the city. The Chans, the Wongs and the Leungs – Loretta has seen it all. For a quarter of a century, she cleaned their apartments, ate in their kitchen and listened to the radio by herself in the maid’s quarter. Most of her employers treated her well enough, though none of them ever considered her one of their own. Not once have they invited her to eat with them, watch television with them, or simply have a chat with them. Loretta has heard that back in…

Maid in Hong Kong - Part 1 女傭在港-上卷

Few symbols of colonialism are more universally recognized than the live-in maid. From the British trading post in Bombay to the cotton plantation in Mississippi, images abound of the olive-skinned domestic worker buzzing around the house, cooking, cleaning, ironing and bringing ice cold lemonade to her masters who keep grumbling about the summer heat. It is ironic that, for a city that cowered under colonial rule for a century and a half, Hong Kong should have the highest number of maids per capita in Asia. In our city of contradictions, neither a modest income nor a shoebox apartment is an obstacle for local families to hire a domestic helper and to free themselves from chores and errands.

On any given Sunday or public holiday, migrant domestic workers carpet every inch of open space in Central and Causeway Bay. They turn parks and footbridges into camping sites with cardboard boxes as their walls and opened umbrellas as their roofs. They play cards, cut hair, sell handicraft and p…

Those Who Live in Glass Houses 住在玻璃屋的人

In a city where space is at a premium, where a luxury apartment on the Peak costs more than the GDP of a small nation, and where a serviced apartment in Wanchai can rent for three times the average household income, there is a surprisingly easy way to create space. With a few buckets of cement and a bamboo scaffolding, a contractor can turn your balcony into an extra bedroom or add a solarium on the other side of the back wall. If you live on the top floor, you can even build an entire glass house on the rooftop complete with its own kitchen and bathroom. When it comes to creating liveable space, your imagination – and audacity – are the only limit.

Unauthorized building alterations are everywhere in Hong Kong. They are also against the law. Like jaywalking and downloading movies online, the building of illegal structures is one of those offenses that many commit but no one expects to get caught. While a majority of the city’s illegal structures are safe, many of them pose fire and o…

Who's Afraid of Ai Weiwei 誰在害怕艾未未

The third anniversary of the Sichuan Earthquake had barely just passed, the Chinese government is already gearing up for the 22nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. In a few months there will be the centennial celebration of the Xinhai Revolution (辛亥革命), the anti-government campaign led by Sun Yat-sen in 1911 that eventually brought down Imperial China. 
With a calendar peppered with politically sensitive days, Beijing these days is finding it increasingly challenging to run an authoritarian regime. But it gets worse: the Arab Spring that swept across the Middle East is threatening to spread through Inner Mongolia all the way to the capital city. To nip the jasmine in the bud, the central government mobilized local authorities to lock up dissidents, disperse public gatherings and intercept Internet search engines. Flower markets in major cities are forbidden from selling jasmine altogether. Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times called the latest turn of events in China th…