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Showing posts from 2013

Kong vs. Hong Kong 移民對居民

The Court of Final Appeal, the city’s highest court, handed down an unpopular judgment two weeks ago. Five justices unanimously ruled that the government’s seven-year residency requirement for welfare application is unconstitutional. In Hong Kong, “welfare” is formally known as Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA), which averages around HK$3,000 (less than US$400) per month per applicant. The meager assistance is meant to be a bare minimum to give the unemployed or the unemployable a subsistence living.

Reactions to the court’s landmark decision poured in almost immediately. Social advocacy groups hailed the ruling as a victory in welfare rights for not only the immigrant community but all of Hong Kong. The rest of the city was not as thrilled. Many Hong Kongers see the lowering of the residency threshold as a threat to their existence, their tax dollars now robbed by newcomers. Netizens on Facebook and Golden Forum (高登), an online chat room and a windsock of public opinio…

The Art of Profanity 粗口藝術

We react to life’s little vicissitudes – nicking the car door, dropping the phone on a concrete pavement or losing hours of work to a computer crash – with a curse word or two. If some brute walks by and knocks the coffee right out of our hand, the appropriate response is: What the fuck? 

Swearing is one of those things that we do everyday and nearly everywhere. But like breaking wind and picking our nose, profanity is only bad when someone else does it. Most of us are too squeamish or sanctimonious to own up to it. Rarely in the human experience has something so universally shared been so vehemently condemned and denied.

Profanity exists in every culture. Curse words are the first vocabulary we learn in a foreign language and the only one we remember years later. The linguistic phenomenon can be traced as far back as Ancient Egypt and Babylon. Literary giants like William Shakespeare, James Joyce and George Bernard Shaw were known to use obscenity inventively in their works, as did …

To Eat or Not to Eat 吃還是不吃

That is the question.
Exotic animals and their body parts have always been an integral part of Chinese cuisine. They run the gamut from the pangolin (穿山甲) and the Himalayan palm civet (果子狸) to bear’s paw and swallow’s spit. In terms of universal appeal and indispensability, few things come close to the venerable shark’s fin soup.
The tradition of making soups using dorsal and pectoral fins from tiger sharks can be traced all the way back to the Ming imperial kitchen some 400 years ago. At any given Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong, whether it is a wedding banquet or a corporate function, a feast is not a feast without the obligatory soup served on a twelve-course menu between the steamed grouper and the crispy chicken. Omitting the soup, on the other hand, will not only disappoint and offend guests, but also stir up rumors of financial ruin shrouding the host for years to come. Contrary to common belief in the West, shark’s fin soup is much more than a luxury. It is as much a part of…

As You LIKE It 人人讚好

Social media are the greatest invention of the 21st Century, not least because they provide ready fillers for life’s many dull moments. The virtual world is the perfect antidote to our real life drudgery. Bring on the mile-long taxi line, the interminable Monday morning meeting and even the deadly silent treatment from an upset spouse. All we need to do is whip out our phones, drop our heads and, with a flick of the thumb, wade through stream after mind-numbing stream of news feeds and tweets. In the parallel universe of restaurant check-ins, vacation selfies and baby videos, we are the celebrities and we are the groupies. No one wants to admit it, but many of us have started to reorganize our lives based on how the status update would look on our carefully manicured timeline.

It is therefore all the more important to observe proper online decorum and protect our virtual image. The idea that anything goes in Cyberspace, or that a random post is as consequence-free as tossing a bottl…

...Or Eating In - Part 2 還是屋企煮-下卷

In many parts of the world, dinner parties are a time honored tradition. Self-respecting men and women open up their homes to regale friends with home-cooked food and stimulating conversation. The cultural significance of these gatherings is evidenced by the prominent role they play in literature and films. In Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf devotes an entire book to describing a house party. In the 1967 classic Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, the taboo subject of interracial marriage is dealt with at one of Hollywood’s most memorable suppers.

Dinner parties are also a source of endless intrigue. They provide the perfect setting for a “whodunit” murder mystery, as they do in Agatha Christie’s Thirteen at Dinner, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope and more recently in Gosford Park. The tradition has even made it to the list of most frequently asked questions at job interviews... _______________________ Read the rest of this essay in No City for Slow Men, available at major bookstores in Hong Kong and…

All the Rage 憤怒鳥

I was standing in line at Citibank to deposit a check. It was lunch time in Central and the branch was bursting at the seams. The customer in front of me, a middle-aged gentleman in a tailored suit, asked to take out five thousand Euros in cash. Behind the counter was a teller who couldn’t have been more than six months out of university. Her name was proudly embossed on her lapel pin: Trainee.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Cheung,” said Trainee to the gentleman, before explaining that she didn’t have enough Euros and that a day’s notice was normally required for withdrawals over a certain amount. Bank policy. She asked him to either collect the cash the next day or try the main branch.

What followed, however, was an unstoppable tirade from the not-so-gentle-man over a situation he called an “outrage” and a “waste of everyone’s time,” all delivered with the usual hysterics: clenched jaw, flapping arms and a face as red as a ripe tomato. This Bruce Banner had... _______________________ Read the res…

Calling it Quits - Part 2 劈炮唔撈-下卷

My older siblings are professionals in their 40s and early 50s. They have hunkered down at the same companies for decades and seen their stress levels rise in lockstep with their seniority. With their children heading off to college, they have one thought on their minds constantly: retirement. The earlier the better. It is a topic of conversation that dominates every family dinner and gets all of us scribbling numbers on the back of a napkin. On that napkin is a game plan, an exit strategy and a light at the end of the tunnel. It is our midlife euphoria.

The idea of being emancipated from our cubicle and lying on a sandy beach all day is enough to make any overworked middle-aged parent crack a smile. On the other hand, the notion that we must work another 15 to 20 years before reaping what we sow seems unpalatable, if not downright depressing. We want to taste the fruits of life while we still can, when our knees are strong enough to ski and our bodies are not too droopy for swimwea…

Someone Else’s Party 別人的派對

Late March in Hong Kong brings clammy air, frequent drizzles and the gradual return of the subtropical heat. It is also marked by a spike in beer consumption and hotel room rates, caused not by the arrival of spring but a spectacle known as the Hong Kong Sevens. The three day rugby tournament is much more than just an international sporting event. To expatriates living in Hong Kong, it is a celebration bigger than Christmas and New Year. It is a cross between the Super Bowl, Halloween and Oktoberfest. It is Mardi Gras without the parade and Spring Break with bam bam sticks. The annual carnival fills the Hong Kong Stadium with cheers, beer breath and spontaneous eruptions of song and dance.

Rugby sevens, as the name would suggest, involves fewer players than regular rugby. Each game consists merely of two seven-minute halves. Think of it as beach volleyball or five-a-side soccer. To prove that size doesn’t matter, rugby sevens is set to make its Olympic debut at the 2016 Summer Games …

Counting Sheep 數綿羊

It is said that the best things in life are free. Children’s smiles, glorious sunsets and the soothing sounds of ocean waves. Of all the simple pleasures in life, sleeping is the most beneficial to our bodies and minds. It is also the most underrated. When alpha cities like Hong Kong, Tokyo and New York fall over each other vying for the dubious title of "The City that Doesn’t Sleep," it is the citizens who pay the price. Our mounting workload, overdeveloped social life and that black hole called the Internet all contribute to our sleep deficit. Every now and then when we get to stay in bed for a couple of extra hours on a lazy Sunday morning, we are reminded what a real treat those forty winks are.

An average person in Hong Kong sleeps 6.6 hours a day. That means for every one of us who gets the recommended eight hours of z’s, there is a poor soul scraping by with just five. While some blame it on the Asian work culture, others point to runaway property prices that are sen…

Down but Not Out 憂而不傷

My big sister Ada is one of the bubbliest people I know. She has a contagious laugh and takes a genuine interest in people. A consummate hostess, she loves entertaining and throws elaborate dinner parties, the kind that are lifted straight out of a Martha Stewart magazine. On paper, the forty-something mother of two has it all: a loving family, a well paying job and a comfortable life. It is therefore all the more shocking when she told me recently that she is suffering from depression.

It all began shortly after she got a promotion at work. At first it was the usual urban angst: headaches, low energy and erratic eating habits – signs that she had reached a higher rung on the corporate ladder. Then her mood swings began. At home, she would sit idly in a corner and cry without provocation. Things she used to enjoy, like... _______________________ Read the rest of this essay in No City for Slow Men, available at major bookstores in Hong Kong and at Blacksmith Books.