31 August 2010

Could we mourn too much?

Last Sunday, I felt a bit bad to see the mono-tone crowd when I went to Admiralty to run some errands. I was dressed in a bright yellow sundress and felt totally wrong there. I missed the demonstration because I slept till afternoon that day after a night’s out at LKF.

It’s not that I didn’t feel the grief of the Manila hostage victims. I cried for the whole working week because I empathized with people who lost their families out of pure bad luck. I felt angry and frustrated at the incompetent Filipino police as well.

However, I also see the meaning of lowering our flag at half-mast for three days. It means after our deep mourning for three days, we should gather ourselves together, move on and not get our lives wasted. Instead of joining the crowd, I went to my mom’s home, had dinner and some good laughs with her.

It’s not that I’m selfish and care for no one else. It’s that my sorrow for the victims can never be the same as that of the victims’ families. The broader sense of the word “family”, i.e. Hong Kong people, can never compete with the narrower version, i.e. parents and their children, husbands and wives.

When I saw Bow Tie who still went to a series of mourning ceremonies after last Friday and his still watery eyes, I can’t help wondering: do I pay my tax money for officials to mourn endlessly like Hamlet? Hell, no. I pay them to sit in the office, make that powerful phone call like Saito in Inception, and get things done. Shedding tears is comparatively easy.

And don’t blame people who move on after a couple of days, or who ignore any more facebook mourning group invitations. People still need to eat, sleep and mate. Just because grief is invisible doesn’t mean we don’t have it at heart.

30 August 2010

The Lessons of Manila

Robert Mapplethorpe, Self-Portrait

Thanks to Manila and its police force, we have come to the realisation that we are merely the play-things of luck and fate. Aside from the tragedy itself and the uselessness of the Manila police force, we are suddenly drawn back to investigate the tension between stability and chaos. The incident forcefully throws us on the presence, inviting us to question what it means to exist. It also enforces a moment of deeper contemplation and urges us to readjust our priorities in life. If lessons are offered through this incident, it might be the fact that it reminds us that we should never let the thought of death slip away too easily, even if happiness is what travel tends to suggest.

In this critical time, the survived victims and the affected families may seek help from psychologists. If they think psychologists have a power to console, it is perhaps because psychologists supposedly have clear-eyed investigation into the depth of different versions of human nature. However, besides psychology, there exists a discipline in the academia that can perhaps offer as much help as psychology, namely, philosophy. How might a philosopher console the victims of this incident? What can philosophy offer to fan their dim light of hopes?

Hence I wish to draw your attention to the Roman Stoic philosopher, Seneca. At one level, what Seneca has to offer might run counter to what a psychologist might commonly suggest, but at another level, it might actually prove more consoling. Rather than feeding the suffered with primordial optimism, what he offers is often of the darkest sort: "You say: ‘I did not think it would happen.’ Do you think there is anything that will not happen, when you know that it is possible to happen, when you see that it has already happened...?’ If what happened in Manila makes us sad, it is because we are most easily hurt by what is most unexpected. But Seneca tried to calm us by reminding us that disasters will always be part of our lives, however wise we are and however advanced our technology is. Therefore, we must bear in mind the wisdom of "we might possibly die in the next second" at all times. To refuse to acknowledge the inherent complexity of human affairs is to engage ourselves into a religion of comfortableness. Our actions are rarely determined by our free will. On the contrary, it largely depends on luck and chance. Our destiny is never in our hands. How easy the long-standing philosophical debate between free will and determinism is decided by the death of eight hostages.

If the incident makes us incredibly sad, it is perhaps because the human race never has quite the capacity to understand the value of pessimism, the inability to live our sadness fully. We often harbour in our hearts a religion of optimism that assures us the fact that history is always progressive, that humans must necessarily grow wiser as time moves on, that we must always invest our hopes in the future. We have been plugged into an ancestral memory of what is comfortable. Unfortunately, this incident suggests the otherwise. It illustrates the depressing fact that the reality is always disappointing. Happiness is never guaranteed, even during a trip in Manila.

The value of a pessimistic habit of mind lies not in making us cynical, but in a paradox that griefs actually cheer us up. It invites us to the thought that somehow we are not alone in sadness that everyone perhaps suffers from the same pessimistic equivalents like ours. Moreover, it alleviates our pain by reminding us there are things in this world that are profoundly sadder than this incident- the suffering of the Africans from poverty and hunger, the Rwanda Massacre, the women who are stoned to death in the Middle East. Pessimism forces us to dwell upon things that are even darker and gloomier, which in essence induces us to reflect on this relatively minor incident that things perhaps could have gone even worse.

But what deeply underlies pessimism is more arresting. It is because pain allows us to grow wiser. It helps enforce moments of contemplation, pushing us to acquire a better sense of reality and placing pain in a more proper context, just like only when we stump a nail on the ground, we may have the awareness of pain, thus becoming wise to the fact that human bodies are fragile. What is valuable about pessimism is that it puts us through a mental gymnastics which could not have been arisen without suffering. It strengthens our minds by producing a proper amount of cerebral activity, as opposed to the predominant trend of zero consumption of brain energy nowadays. It wards us off illusions and urges us to entertain vital thoughts that promote our intellectual adequacy and emotional sensitivity.

Therefore, we come together to acquire the capacity to be happily sad. There comes the time when we must put our darkness on the table and confront it, that we should embrace sadness and suffering to push ourselves towards a more correct direction of life. The lessons? The incident in Manila was undoubtedly a tragedy, but we should allow its dimension to be a part of life, as something to remind us of what life constitutes. It offers insights for our lives as to how to be properly and productively unhappy. Only through pain and suffering, we may learn to be the masters of life. May the victims rest in peace. But I hereby wish things would go badly for all of us from now on.

"To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities- I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished: I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not- that one endures." - Friedrich Nietzsche


24 August 2010

We are all very sad today

Everyone in the Libertines Pub are deeply saddened by the tragedy happened yesterday in Manila.

All of us are grieving. Some of us may be disturbed. Others may be angry.

While we vent our emotions, I hope we can bear two things in mind:

  1. This is not the fault of Filipino people. We don't need any racist comment here. I am not even sure the travel warning issued by the Hong Kong government as an apparent revenge was well founded in any sense.
  2. We can have a lot to say about the rescue operation. We can blame the Filipino Police for their lack of adequate training, tactics, and probably equipment. However, nobody has the right to blame those police officers at gunpoint for inaction. Considering their lack of a well thought out tactic, their seemingly inadequate equipment, and possibly also their lack of hostage rescue training, their lives are at risk. Their lives weigh categorically the same as the lives of the hostages inside the tour bus.

I don't have more to say here.

23 August 2010

WARNING: All hell breaks loose tonight

Tonight is the night. The great Hungry Ghost Festival! Let's see what superstition is and decide for yourself if you still need these tips.

20 August 2010

To give or not to give, that's the question.

One of my most stressful moments in a working day is my morning trip to the office. I take the bus from the Western district to Central (I have a secret belief that if I don’t know how to drive and don’t have a car, I will meet someone who’s more than willing to give me a ride. Wink*) and I especially dread sitting on the lower deck. The lower deck is more crowded. People are allowed to stand with their begging/hateful/impatient/blank stare at their sitting counterparts. I am in constant agony of checking which person on board deserves my seat.

My neurosis all began with one commute where a standing woman kept hitting my back with her heavy bag. At that time I was lost in the morning rain outside, wondering why a guy texted me for a drink but then disappeared. I ignored her for a while until I really felt the pain. Only when I looked back at her did I discover she was pregnant! I jumped up to give her my seat, apologised but it was too late. All passengers were staring at me with their despising look. I felt innocent and guilty at the same time.

Since then I decided to be as chivalrous as I can on public transport but I am still plagued by indecision and fear of offending someone. To realise the ideal of equality and anti-discrimination can be as confusing as a guy who promised to call.

Once I gave up my seat to a crippled man but he rejected my offer. His dignified gesture told people to treat him as an equal. But how can I measure someone’s ego to see if he/she needs a seat? If I don’t give, I’m a jerk. If I do, I may be a fool.

I always have problems with the elders. If it’s an old lady who’s fragile, pale, skinny, shaking and walking with a stick, of course I won’t hesitate. But how about a silver-haired woman who’s bigger and looks strong and not very wrinkled? Her hair may look older than she is and her red-hot lipstick colour may hint that she’s not ready to be a senior citizen yet. I dare not take the risk.

I’m also not sure about adults with children. If it’s a local or Western woman carrying a child with heavy belongings, of course I will stand up for her. But how about a foreign domestic helper or a banker in a nice suit carrying children? I observed that people tend to do nothing for both.

Not to mention suspected pregnant women. Is she pregnant, fat or just embracing the trend of baggy baby-doll dress? Judging from the overwhelming slimming ads across the streets, it’s not hard to imagine how offended a woman will feel if she’s mistaken as carrying a bump.

By the way, how do I know the timing is right? Should I give my seat immediately if a needy someone walks by, or should I wait until all seats are occupied? I feel silly to scan my surroundings all the time. So readers, any advice on etiquette is welcome. Pretending to be asleep or reading the Libertines Pub on mobile is the last thing I want to do.

19 August 2010

Gweilometer: Western Chain Restaurants

Since CNNgo has shown me that any random gweilo with a Lonely Planet guidebook is qualified to give expert advice about how to live like a local, I decided to try my hand at restaurant reviews. Alas, it turns out my innate aversion to hypocrisy makes me unqualified to write about shit that's way over my head (or maybe it's just my fear of being called out by Henry and William). So I'll aim my gweilometer at something I'm actually marginally qualified to write about: Western chain restaurants.

Deli France: During my first week in the Village, my gweilometer wasn't properly calibrated: I was desperate for familiar food and a menu I could understand without visual aids. At Deli France I found neither. Deli France is to European food in HK as Panda Express is to Chinese food in the US. If you see a gweilo in a Deli France, and I never have, it's safe to say that it's his first (and last) visit. I won't belabor the point here. Gweilometer reading: -43.4.

Cafe O: Once a gweilo makes the Deli France mistake, Cafe Ok-lah is likely to be the next destination his gweilometer directs him to (though I think mine might have been deceived by the ESPN-look-a-like-logo). And if it’s been a while since the gweilo has had some of his native cuisine, he’s likely to be satisfied, if not impressed. The pizza here is more California than Italy (whole wheat crust!? Isn’t that like Chinese food with brown rice!?) The sandwiches are a little dry, the soups are bland, and the bagels are hardly worth of the name, but in general, Ok-lah is ok-lah. Cafe O was the first Western restaurant I visited in the Village that seemed designed to give me neither diarrhea nor diabetes. Gweilometer reading: 64.5.

Duke’s Deli: Let’s not waste too much space here. Duke’s is a mediocre NY Deli (by Denver standards: it wouldn’t survive a week in NYC). They’ve got way better sandwiches than Cafe O, an all-you-can-cram-into-a-container salad/random unhealthy shit bar, and trendy potato chips and bottled water. What more can a gweilo ask for? Gweilometer reading: 76.25.

Spaghetti House: The food here makes a gweilo guilty. I know the game they play here: infuse every dish with tons of cream and cheese sauce, inundate the customer’s taste buds with fat, and they can’t resist (I’m American, we invented this game). Besides cheese covered pasta, one of the joys of the Spaghetti House is watching Mainland tourists eat Italian food as if it were Chinese food (I know, the Chinese invented Italian food, except without the cheese, cream sauce or tomato sauce). The only thing more fun is watching English people eat burritos, which is the only reason I go to Taco Loco. Communal dishes, slurped noodles and clumsy fork usage are the only things that separate the Spaghetti House from an Italian chain in the States. Eating at the Spaghetti House is like looking at photos of pseudomodels: I know the needle on my gweilometer shouldn’t be pointing up like that, but it’s instinctual and I can’t help myself. Gweilometer reading: 82.6.

17 August 2010

Lunch with a libertine

"We're going do some wake boarding this Sunday, wanna join?" Joey asked when she took her last bite of the crab sandwich. I was a bit surprised when I found that she lately joined the wake boarding flock. There has never been a faint trace of this long-legs-big-eyes doing any outdoor sport at all. After all, her almost pale long pair of legs are what I am most fond of.

"No, as I told you many times before, I avoid all things hip. I just feel sickeningly joyful to reply with a bland 'no' anytime someone asks me to do something hip like wake boarding," I heartlessly answered, as I couldn't really recall how many times I'd explained that to her. For the record, I'd also rejected her repeated invitations to lame karaoke, smoky BBQs, 'prison in the sea' junk trips and silly meet-up events with random strangers.

That's when Joey started her rant against me. "What's wrong with you? Do you hate everything? You're always saying how you don't like mainstream stuff, but you have an iPhone for god's sake! The latest album you bought was Gorillaz, and you're a huge fan of the Fratellis. Now, how can you say you're an alternative guy when you are so obviously mainstream?"

"Just the other day you told me how you think classics like Goethe and Shakespeare are a million times better than anything that was written today. But c'mon are you still wearing tights? Just because a few old guys put together a list of classics, you take that as the absolute truth without even reading most of them, while you don't give anything that's modern a chance. Even though you say you hate authority and want to think for yourself, it's clear to me that you DO bow to certain authorities and only selectively hate things for no apparent reason."

"But I thought it's a fact that Goethe and Shakespeare ARE better than modern day writers like Stephen Fry?"

"Well, that's just what the critics say" Joey said, "and critics are just people like you and me. Why don't you read the classics for yourself and compare them with some of the best books of today, like books by JRR Tolkien or Stieg Larsson, and see which ones put you to sleep the fastest!"

"No, classics are classics for some good reasons. Critics are only there to tell you what the reasons are." The two chicks sitting next to us were listening, but I went on, "take the German folklore Faustus as an example, as I've just watched another adaptation of the drama earlier, it's a classic because it says something universal about humanity. The deal with 'the devil' in exchange of things otherwise humanly limiting will likely to have reference to human beings forever. It stands the test of time, it is still the situation we could face even nowadays! And that's why the theme is a classic and people still make things based on that. Goethe was a genius because he took up this theme that says so much about humanity, complicated the story, and made it into a play and for a large part an epic poem."

"Whatever! Goethe was a 'genius' only because he existed before the rest of us and got first dibs on that idea! But there are many people who exist today who have just as genius ideas. Your head is just too buried in the past to see the great things people are doing today!"

OK, so she might have a point. I needed to modernize my argument, so I tried something different.

"Another reason that makes something a classic is the creation of new possibilities. Zombies are never the same after, probably 28 Days Later? The idea of fast running zombies broke through a whole new range of possibilities for the whole movie genre. Plots can be managed so differently now and that breakthrough kept the genre running for sometime. The single idea of changing the movement speed of zombies opened an entirely new world. We certainly need some innovation in vampire movies better than making them sparkle, just saying as I'm a big vampire fan! And I'm quite sure Human Centipede is not going to become a classic but a mere cult, as it doesn't open up a new set of possibilities but inducing disgust only."

"You are sooo biased. You think zombies is a classic theme because they innovated into 'running zombies'? But isn't the definition of classic something that lasts forever and doesn't change at all? If anything vampires are the way more classic theme, involving yearning to escape, a lust for forbidden love, and a passion for romance. These themes will never fade away!"

I started to get tired of arguing with Joey as she was much nicer to look at than to argue with. "You're a bigot, just admit it," she said playfully as she kicked me with her long leg. "Anyway, we still have about an hour...wanta have fun?" I looked around and checked if the chicks were still listening to our chatter.

It was a tempting offer, but I had something much more fun in mind. "Sorry, but as I told you before, we guys aren't all just interested in sex. Don't you see I've got my NDS with me? I'm just about to finish a game too, so why don't we just catch up next time?" Joey tossed her hair and muttered, "God, you're boring!" before bouncing her way back to the office.

16 August 2010

Where Should We Have Our Dinner?

As Open Rice has become more popular, many of us seem quite hard to resist the temptation to label themselves as professional food critics. Unfortunately, the truth is often hard-won treasure. On closer examination, we may realise that their sole criterion for what constitutes a good restaurant is based on what two more popular and important food critics in the media favour. From a distance, one of them makes no resemblance of what a traditional female would look like, as if suffering from the common symptoms of feminism, and likes to derive pleasure from scolding people. The other, on the other hand, conspires to offer some sort of intellectual charisma, favours traditional dishes rather than the fusion ones, and tends to exhibit knowledge of the culture of where the dishes originally come from. Though his signature handbag seems to minister the quality of vegetarianism, many who read his works and watch his shows can testify that his true self suggests the exact opposite.

Hence the identity of food critics suffers a lack of a sense of authority. Rather than ranking a wide range of restaurants according to a subjective hierarchy of taste, many of these self-labelled food critics sacrifice their free will and surrender to tyranny. Which in result forcefully downgrading the quality of those inherently good restaurants. Our eating according to their ideals also suggests that we neglect our own preferences of what good food is and willingly to be deluded by the fact that what we are eating must be of culinary delight. How easily our unaided minds might be seduced to surrender to the objective judgement of what are good and bad.

If we are easily tempted to like restaurants, it is perhaps because they are able to offer what home-made meals precisely lack- customer service, the grand displays of the dishes, the kinds of interior of decorations which inspire the feeling of awe, and perhaps a live band. Restaurants, therefore, harbour a sense of perfection, fooling us into thinking that utopia might be just within our grasp.

However, that's precisely the danger of going to restaurants because they are likely to enforce moments of distractions. Instead of salivating to respond to what the chefs offer, our moods of happiness are wedded to the table settings, the exquisite interior decorations, and what music the live bands offer. How easily the efforts of the chefs who collapse their delicate and complex feelings into a set dinner can be undermined by what anchors to their creativity in the first place.

This then brings to us the significance of dinning at home and our habit of dinning. If there is something intrinsically more valuable in dinning at home rather than dinning out, it is because what we eat often provides a far more accurate account of who we really are. Our love for, say, steak not merely hints at our willingness of vegetable self-sacrifice and unhealthy diets, it might also accede to the symbolic meaning of, perhaps, our inability to empathize or our distaste for natural environment, depending on what our analytical inclinations may be. If we consider food in a psychological light, we may then unearth the inevitable link between food and personality.

But what does that mean? What does it have to do with dinning at home? It's because only through our subjective evaluation of what good food is, we might know ourselves better. The process of eating is also a process of soul-searching. It provokes our philosophical sentiments as a means of self-understanding. If dinning at home has something to do with the analysis of the self, it is because home-made meals are endowed with self-love. We only cook meals based on our own criterion of what is good. The merits of home-made meals lie in a sense of belonging, not only to ourselves, but also to the reality, because it always runs contrary to utopianism (which restaurants are often assumed to suggest) and offers us a sense of imperfection. It drifts us away from delusion and urges us to focus on what is real.

What's more is that we like to dine with our loved ones. If restaurants tend to distract us like the internet, then it merely means we are unlikely to address what really matters in life, things that we often talk about in an intimate friendship such as "What is your dream?" or "What might love mean to you?". Dinning at home mitigates the probability of being distracted and recovers a sense of intimacy. It strengthens the bonding of all kinds of loving relationship.

Many kids now favour fast food. And equally, adults tend to celebrate their reunion in restaurants. Not only the value of supper has been largely neglected, what proper environment we should dine in has also been largely devalued. Only after we revive the value of home-made meals, dinners will never be the same again.


13 August 2010

Breaking News: Bankers are Greedy!!!

Walking in Central today, I made a startling discovery: apparently, banks have been ripping Hongkies off! If you can believe this, banks are gambling with people's money, expecting their customers to assume the risk while keeping the profits for themselves!

It's hard to find a bank in Central that isn't being protested these days. I must say, I totally don't get it. Are these protesters really surprised? Banks are a mechanism for transferring wealth from poor/middle class people to rich people (yes, they have other less anti-social functions, but those are secondary to their core purpose). This has been true for thousands of years (and it's the reason the three Abrahamic religions all have or had taboos against charging interest). This function isn't exactly hidden: it's fairly obvious who makes gets paid interest and who pays interest. Yet somehow these poor shmucks in Central think they have some sort of specific greivance against specific banks. And they think they have a duty to inform Villagers about the nefarious doings of (mostly foreign) banks.

Privatizing profits and socializing losses is what makes banks so profitable: CEOs make huge bonuses by trimming expenses (and increasing hidden risk), then when the shit hits the fan, they stick someone else with the bill. That's just a damn good business model. These protesters might as well be protesting the humidity. It sucks. But it's the way things are.

12 August 2010

Would you love me without makeup?

As girls, we're taught from an early age how we should look. Of course, this includes smooth unblemished skin, long eyelashes, big round eyes, luscious lips, etc. However, as luck would have it, the only real way for most people to look this way is through makeup, and nowadays, surgery.

In Hong Kong, I heard that most, if not all public schools ban girls from wearing makeup (among other things). At first, I was shocked since in Canada, high school was the time when most girls started experimenting with makeup and defining their 'look'. I still remember the first Covergirl lipstick I bought in high school. Although it was a horrible shade of Barbie pink, I wore it over my chapped lips with pride (even though it totally clashed with my turquoise braces :D).

Apparently, the ban on makeup, specific hairstyles and various other things in school were to prevent girls from becoming too superficial. But even though girls in Hong Kong got a late start, I must say they've caught up pretty fast. Today, Hong Kong is literally a playground for those who want to change the way they look. Here's just a short list of what's now commonplace:

Single eyelids - Stick tiny pieces of tape to your eye, or better yet, cut them open!
Small eyes - Wear circle lens contacts, don't worry, you'll only go blind...
Sparse eyelashes - Put on 3 layers of fake eyelashes, or wow your friends with the latest trend: fly-leg eyelash extensions!
Thin/short/bad hair - Attach dead people's hair to your head, or put on a Halloween-ish wig
Bad skin - Clog your pores with BB Cream, or simply burn your skin off
Weak fingernails - Become a stylish witch with gel nail extensions
Small bust - Grow those boobs with Bust-up Gum, or better yet, F-Cup Cookies!
Too fat - Take heart-racing diet pills or join one of HK's many slimming salons
Stupid-looking - Put on a pair of fake glasses, the lens-less ones make you look the smartest

Since there's pretty much a 'solution' for every superficial flaw, the quest for perfection is never-ending for many. And the thing with all this is, once you start using stuff (makeup, etc.), it's usually quite hard to stop because it becomes a routine, a habit, a way that you're used to being seen. Because of this, it's usually quite hard for a woman to go back to wearing no makeup at all, at least not by choice.

I'm pretty sure there was a time when being fake was frowned upon, but men (and women, I suppose) these days don't seem to care. Of course, if it's THIS you're dealing with, I guess fake ain't so bad...but what do you think, ladies and gents, is natural beauty a thing of the past...?! Or is it enough nowadays to be an ulzzang!?

Read all the fun stuff at Miss Fong in Hong Kong.

11 August 2010

Mourning for the mudslide victims

On the 7th of August, a mudslide in Zhouqu resulted from the pouring rain the night before made a town vanish. Any building that's not taller than 2 storeys are completely covered in mud. According to the official source at the time of writing, there are at least 702 people killed and 1042 missing. But according to an interview of a survivor by one of the media, a village populated with 8000-odd people is completely covered in the mudslide.

This reminds us of the 512 Sichuan earthquake in 2008 that killed around 70,000. You may see many news reports about the flooding this year in the Mainland. And you see many praises on how the army and government have been trying their best to rescue the people from the aftermath. However, have you ever seen any official come out and tell you the truth on why this happened? And why this could not be prevented? Our government here has donated billions of taxpayers' money for the rebuilding of the city in Sichuan. Do you, the taxpayer, really know where did all the money go? I am not trying to jump on the bandwagon of criticism. I just want to know where have the consciences of the people sitting in the big, big county office gone? How many lives of her people will it take for the rise of this big country?

If this is not preventable in this country, I am glad that it's a mudslide that would have killed the victims almost instantly through suffocation. I am sorry for those who were trapped in coal mines for days due to lack of safety measures, and those trapped in rubbles of sub-standard buildings after earthquakes. Rest in peace.

10 August 2010

Know this Hi-Tech Village through CNNGo.com

This Village can be somewhat confusing for expats. Our own Wesley confessed that he still has loads to learn about the locals through our Pub talks after almost a year here. One obstacle to our expats knowing this Village better, I think, is the fact that we have very limited, if not useless, English media. South China Morning Post almost always has hard news only. They report a lot of local politics, which can be very specific and difficult to understand even for some locals. Hard issues like the political reform in this Village could mean very little to these expats; most of them might not even be here long enough to witness the CE election in 2017. The Standard, the only free English tabloid in this Village, has very little and superficial coverage on local happenings. Echoing the BigLychee.com, the Standard is an English pro-establishment mouthpiece, with the fictitious shoeshiner Mary Ma feeding the paper with ridiculously ass-kissing editorials. With about 10 feeds daily at the local news section, RTHK English news is simply hopeless in another way.

Out of nowhere came the CNNGo.com site, an interactive online service operated by the great news network CNN. Their Asia edition is in beta, or pilot, or whatever that implies they have the right to suck. Obviously, the site targets confused gweilos like Wesley; possibly seeing how abortive our local English media are, they said they're "the ultimate insider guide to Asia's greatest cities". So we expect some in depth and insider coverage on what the expats really care, which would fill the gap between the hard news of SCMP and the non-news of the Standard. Below I read the eight informative articles from CNNGo that even locals like me cannot afford to miss.

1. Five unforgettable shopping malls

Ok, they talked about the five most eccentric shopping malls in Hong Kong. To start with, Megabox was not the newest shopping mall in Hong Kong at the time, Chris, as rightly pointed out by the commenter there. Megabox opened on 1 June 2007; another major shopping mall above Kowloon station called Elements opened on 1 October 2007. Ok, at the time of posting (29 April 2010) these facts might be a bit old for Chris to remember, but what about iSQUARE that opened on 16 December 2009? I don't know if Chris or the editor of the site should be blamed, but amateurs like me could always get these facts through Google within 0.20 second.

Reading further, I do not know how eccentric these malls are really. For instance, there're dozens of malls around the Village look almost the same as Argyle Centre, selling basically the same stuff all over. Going through the article, it takes no Sherlock Holmes to tell that the article could be a product of Chris' causal stroll in Mongkok in a random afternoon plus a half-hearted online research on the "newest" local mall. Still don't get it? You can plot the addresses of the 4 malls other than Megabox on Google Maps and you will get the picture of how close they're to each other.

2. 'Porkchop' pageant: Who is the ugliest Miss Hong Kong?

I don't know what to make of this article. Who should really care about the Miss Hong Kong pageant? Is Zoe aware of the fact that nobody cares now? Yes, it's very cool for a woman editor of this prestige news network to mock other women as "porkchop", we respect that right. But before saying that "none of these things would matter if the girls looked better", Zoe, please put up a more recent portrait of yourself here. We can then judge if your journalism matters.

3. 12 year-old beats 'scholar pseudo-model' at the last HKCEE in history

Yes, it's about a 12-year-old beating a 'scholar pseudo-model' at the last HKCEE in history. 12-year-old vs. pseudo models. The 12-year-old got 24 points, the best among those models could get was 12 points. That's it. What is the article about? That. What do you expect?

4. The Hong Kong Hot List: 20 people to watch

In November 2009, they said these people are defining Hong Kong. Nine months after, how has Hong Kong been defined by these 20 people? Since when Macau became part of this Village when they talked about what Stanley Ho's son had been doing with their City of Dreams resort? What has Gillian Chung been doing in these nine months? Anybody has a clue? What was Tanya Chan the Civic Party actress doing when the deal was made between the Democratic Party and the government on the electoral reform? Yes, these 20 people are defining this Village, in CNNGo's dream.

5. Snake, liver sausages, and crocodile: Winter solstice Chinese banquet

No, Zoe, locals here almost never have snakes in a Winter Solstice dinner. Neither a crocodile tail. Snake soup is a popular dish in Hong Kong during winter, but in a Winter Solstice dinner, we usually have dried seafood like shake fin, fish maw, conpoy and abalone, if you're rich, and lots of meat. The common dessert after the dinner would be tangyuan, you could have easily talked about the meaning behind that dessert but you chose not to. I know why. The piece was an advertorial for Lei Garden. (The meaning behind having tangyuan during the Winter Solstice dinner is the symbolism of togetherness/gathering of the whole family.)

6. How two gwailos learned to speak perfect Cantonese

Title of the article should have been: Lives of two gwailos in Hong Kong. Having talked about the HKCEE a minute ago, Chris, you would have got an F in composition for not writing in accordance with the provided subject.

7. Behind the scenes of Hong Kong's most loved egg tart bakery

The English version of the article is far better. But the Chinese they wrote made my eyes bleed. I have no idea why they feel that they need a Chinese section with Mickey Mouse translations of their English articles. When the BBC decided that they need a Chinese site, they do it professionally. More than half of the contributors of the Libertines Pub can write better Chinese than that, CNNGo. Ping us, we are pretty cheap to hire.

8. Where to join in the maddening crowds on July 1

"Maddening"! What do you mean, Zoe? You go say that in the face of the Civil Human Rights Front and you will learn a lesson about the choice of word. And why there're groups taking it to the street on that day with different, sometimes contradictory, objectives? Are they just maddening mobs? A little summary of what happened may actually help those confused gweilos to understand the day better. Ah, I almost forget. CNNGo is more about advertorials. This time for the Wanch.

So this is how one of the tentacles of CNN fares in this Village. Don't worry, the site is in beta, so you earn the right to suck. But if any of you seriously want to know more about Hong Kong the Hi-Tech Village, forget about the useless CNNGo.com, follow the Libertines Pub instead. We're the true insiders, and as the Hong Kong Blog Review said, 'no intermediary is needed".

09 August 2010

Why Architecture Matters

From a distance, one might hardly deny the beauty of the skyline of Hong Kong. But from up above, the landscape of Hong Kong, surprisingly, evokes a sense of architectural pessimism. Rather than presenting to us the aesthetic equivalent of the skyline of Hong Kong Island, an overwhelming number of skyscrapers invites us to the possibility of reconciling two values that seem to be inherently incompatible on one single landscape, depending on how one views it.

If our appreciation of architecture has been hampered, it is perhaps because it runs counter to the ideals of a financial city. To care about a field that achieves so little, yet consumes so many resources, is to risk harbouring in us an idea that artistic merits don't always necessarily align with economic reward. After all, a beautiful work of architecture, whatever its moral messages are, doesn't always make us better. How six million of Jews could have been spared of their lives if beauty could command Hitler to emulate its spirits of what an utopia might be like.

If architecture has failed to change us, it is because there is hardly an objective criterion for beauty. The beauty of a work of architecture is largely based on persuasion, instead of forcing us to adopt the values it suggests, it only offers suggestions, rather than laws, which we are not obliged to follow. But in the age that only makes room for certainty, that only gives birth to people whose thinking is critically dependent on traditions, customs, and taboos, it seems architecture lacks the authoritative status to order how we should live.

It is, perhaps, why the property developers, whose minds only bear the notion of profit, in Hong Kong are carpeting the landscape with utilitarian style of buildings, office buildings and apartment buildings alike, whose every window is of the same size, whose every floor offers no improvisation, and whose the exterior displays a lack of the use of a variety of construction materials. Though we rarely wish to be blown away by novelty, their obsession of order provokes in us not a feeling of admiration, but rather, a feeling of condemnation, as a proper response to their tedium. How much I feel sorry for the people of Hong Kong who always work in the compressed environment of corporate waters, and after a long day of work, come home to see this. How easily our wish to escape from the monotonous everyday rituals may be wiped out by their insensitive aesthetic logic.

If the power of architecture only lies in persuasion, it doesn't necessarily mean it lacks the power to change us. What is valuable about a work of architecture is precisely that it only offers suggestions, rather than exciting our admiration with indisputable evidence, it merely suggests a way of living that might differ from our own, about how we might live and what we might become. To learn to appreciate persuasion is to understand the art of entertaining doubt. Our reluctance to be sceptical largely stems from an exaggerated sense of what we can achieve and that the world must be composed of black and white, nothing more. We are most hurt by what is most unexpected because we have obsessively clung to the idea of absolute certainty. Our frame of mind is either endowed with undue optimism or undue pessimism which makes no allowance for the idea of probability, rendering inherently complex human behaviours so simple.

The most precious value of architecture therefore lies not in its functionality, but in allowing us to speculate what may on the surface seem so certain and promising. It equips us with a rather pleasant form of cynicism, the sort that wrests us out of delusion instead of destroying all our hopes in human nature. It won't pull us away from taking sides, yet leaves us to remain fresh open to new evidence.

The sentiment that what has been happening in Hong Kong provokes in us is the outcome of our inability to admire the merits of doubt. The fear of Shanghai and Peking might one day take over Hong Kong, the illusion of "One Country Two System", the betrayal of the Democratic Party, and the incapability of the League of the Social Democrats, all these disappointments stem from the naive romanticism we have invested in our political future that one day we might be as capable as the British.

If we are to escape such naivety, we may have to arrive at a more charitable assessment of architecture. It is not necessarily an indication of self-indulgence and our social status. Many great religions understand the significance of architecture and use it to subordinate people to attend to certain beliefs that depart from the norm in light of persuasion. If architecture aligns with our personal ideals of what a good life should be, it might help plant the seeds for creative originals rather than obedient drones.


06 August 2010

Would you like some garbage to go with that?

I've been getting fruit cups from the same little shop in Sheung Wan for 8 months now. Every time, I have to fight the woman who works there. She just can't fathom the idea that I don't want my fruit cup covered in an environmentally destructive, and completely useless, fruit-cup sized plastic bag. Apparently my refusal to take the bag is highly unusual.

At Aji Ichiban, not wanting massive amounts of unnecessary garbage creates massive amounts of confusion and frustration. I picked out some candy (each piece individually wrapped in plastic). I put that candy in the bags they supply. I brought the bag up to the counter. The clerk weighed it, told me the price and I paid. But before I left, she instinctively put that bag into another bag. When I protested this, she seemed really confused but eventually allowed me to exit the store with my candy only wrapped in one plastic bag. Apparently there is a grave danger of the first bag breaking or something. But it seems pretty sturdy. So what is going on here? What's the point of a bag-in-a-bag?

Before I moved to the Village, I was impressed to learn that your wise unelected officials had decided to put a 50 cent tax on each plastic bag. Now this is not exactly a carbon tax, but it is a pigovian tax, and pigovian taxes are something I'm highly in favor of. In fact, in a free-market fundamentalist place like this Village, it would make perfect sense for ALL taxes to be pigovian. Given how incredibly destructive these plastic bags are, I thought this bag tax was highly progressive.

Unfortunately, nobody gives a flying fuck about this tax, as it is too low and completely unenforced. With the exception of the big grocery store and convenience store chains, nobody seems to charge this fee for plastic bags. And even at the grocery stores, when I buy one item, like a piece of fruit, the inevitable question "need a bag?" is still asked. Why would I need to put my apple in a bag? I once tried to reason with the clerk, telling her that she shouldn't ask that question in that situation, because someone might say yes, and saying yes would be ridiculous and needlessly destructive. As you can imagine, this did not go over well: I just got a blank, confused and semi-angry stare.

Now don't get me wrong. Perhaps I shouldn't be casting the first stone here. After all, I use plastic bags too. But I do try to minimize how many I use. I use them multiple times, and I bring my own bag to the grocery store as much as I can. But getting one of these plastic bags for a single item that you can easily carry in your hand seems so mindlessly destructive. Can we all just try to be a little more mindful and sacrifice a little convenience (does your fruit cup or apple really need a disposable plastic handle?) for the environment? (BTW, the image above is of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, we have probably all contributed to it.)

05 August 2010

Would you respect my impatience?

Ever wonder why Hongkies are always in such a hurry? One of the reasons I discovered is that we have to queue for everything in our lives, e.g. food, buses, school places and even my H&M headpiece. So many people are competing for so few resources. So much time is spent on waiting. We can’t help rushing in order to compensate for the time lost.

As a typical impatient Hongkie, my life is filled with irritating moments every day. For example, when I finally get to the cashier after waiting for ages, the shop attendants always find ways to push me to the edge.

“Do you have a Buy-our-overpriced-items-then-get-one-cent-refund Card?”

“Do you want to redeem your Octopus Reward$ because we feel bad about selling your data?”

“Would you like a bar of this tasteless chocolate? It contains 1200g of sugar but only costs $12!”

“Why don’t you buy this mango shampoo too? It goes well with vanilla foot cream.”

When I keep rolling my eyes and uttering ‘no’, ‘nope’ and ‘no ah’, they show no signs of disappointment or any awareness of my grumpiness. It’s all programmed in their body. By the time they release the garlic bulb I’m buying, my pasta is already overcooked and I no longer want to eat. Just wonder if they are this fluent and persistent with expats.

Same thing happens when I go to the cinema. Though the official filming time is 7:30pm, the film actually starts at 7:45pm as they need to replay FANCL commercials for the thousandth time (lucky to those who don’t watch romantic chick flicks). I finally decided not to buy their products as I noticed the dry skin of the models on the big screen.

In case you don’t know, I’m a fast walker. I cram a lot of activities (manicure, workout, shopping, getting a haircut…) into my lunch break as an escape from my daily prison. Therefore, I always need to rush around noon. You know what irritates me most? It’s a group of three people walking adjacent to one another, blocking Central’s infamously narrow pedestrian way. Most of them are OLs like me, and they loathe office life as much as I do. They try to delay work by walking lazily, chatting about interesting topics like what models of LV bags they are going to buy in their next Europe trip or which salon works best on flattening their tummies without any hard work on their own. They are so in the moment that they couldn’t notice I am fuming behind their hair.

That’s why I grew addicted to online shopping. No queuing, no mechanical selling, no Octopus Reward$ and no one is in my way. I’m so tempted to buy pirated DVDs there except I want to pay Christopher Nolan for real.

04 August 2010

How can I annoy you today?

Not too long ago, I used to rant and rave to all my friends about Hong Kong's impeccable customer service. Back then, I was only visiting HK for short eating and shopping summer trips, but I remember being really impressed with how insanely fast Cafe de Coral assembled orders in front of my eyes and getting my brand new glasses made in 1-2 days and delivered straight to my hotel (now that's service)!

Having lived here a while now, I've come to realize that Hong Kong is no longer a benchmark for great customer service. In fact, it should really be called customer annoyance, thanks to all the crap and stress the shop attendants these days put you through. It almost makes me wish I had grown up in Hong Kong, just so that I could also take a stab at annoying the crap out of people, instead of being brainwashed into believing that 'the customer is always right' as we did in North America. Can you imagine how fun it'd be, especially as a teen?!

From the moment the customer walks through the door, you are free to bombard them with insincere and repeated welcome messages repeated over and over in your most annoying voice (hello becomes HELLAUUUWWW, and Ohayo gozaimasu can become OHGAZMMMSSSSS)!

Next, you're paid to follow each customer tightly around the store and provide a running commentary on everything s/he touches or glances at. ("Pink shirt-White shirt-Blue shirt-White shirt-White shirt-Striped shirt-White shirt-Blue shirt-Black shirt" etc.)

You are also welcome to ridicule the customers freely based on their physical appearances, such as:
  • "You might be a little OLD for this?"
  • "Have you always been THIS big?"
  • "That style is way too cool for you."
  • "You are probably gonna need the XXXXXXXXXXXXXL size."

Still can't make a sale? Simply make the customer feel like a cheapo compared to his/her peers. Easy la!

Seriously though, despite all this 'abuse', Hong Kong people just keep on buying. Perhaps someone should implement this model in North America and see how it goes. Maybe then our poor teens can finally take a break from faking smiles for customers, when we all know that inside, they really just wanna annoy them back out of the store...

Read all the fun stuff at Miss Fong in Hong Kong.

03 August 2010

May the bipolar disorder be with you, so you can smack a copper or two!

At times you and me really want to smack a copper, especially when you see some retarded police like them. But then assaulting a police officer is a serious criminal offense that could lead to an imprisonment for six months, in theory. Lately, we learned that Amina Bokhary, upon her third conviction of assaulting a police officer, was put on probation for one year and fined HK$8,000 for careless driving.

I googled "assaulting a police officer in HK" to check and see if the court has been that lenient for other similar convictions. I found that an activist who got convicted of assaulting a police officer during a demonstration had been sentenced to 15 weeks in prison and ordered to pay the victim HK$8,000 in compensation.

What made the difference between the two cases? The judge in Amina's case thought that what Amina needed is medical treatment instead of imprisonment as she had been found to have bipolar disorder. I couldn't help but went over the video clip of the incident again. I thought she's drunk for sure. Having seen hundreds of drunk persons in my life and have been drunk myself dozens of times, those things she did are the natural things to be done when you're drunk. Although she was obviously pissed drunk, mental illness is something I'm not too sure.

Wanted to smack a copper and get away with it so badly, I further looked into how could I become a bipolar. To my surprise, it wasn't all that difficult! I took this online questionnaire and found that I am somewhat a bipolar, too! Feeling good and get myself into trouble, checked. Shout at people and start arguments, checked. Feel more self-confident than usual, checked. Sleep less and feel not needing it anyway, checked (especially when I am trying to write a post late at night for starting an argument). Distracted by things around, checked. Much more interested in sex than usual, CHECKED! Do things considered unusual and foolish, checked (like getting involved in the Pub?!). Spending money and getting into troubles, checked! So now I got eight checks and they happen at the same period of time. I have bipolar disorder!

So I am ready to go out and smack some cops. I am bipolar, and I will make a getaway. I'll be put on a probation and sent to the USA for a three-month vacation rehab. I can smack a cop not only once, but thrice and still get away with it! Hurray!

But wait. Ronald Arculli and Kemal Bokhary are not my uncles. Just saying.

02 August 2010

Do We Still Have Friends?

One of the most obvious benefits of technology is perhaps that it draws us closer to each other. Though we discover ways to connect with our friends no matter how far apart we are, it seems deep friendship, as Aristotle suggests, does not come easily. We may have more friends than we used to, but paradoxically, our relationships with each other have grown increasingly shallow. How many of our text messages involve with the promotion of intimacy? How many of our tweets seek to cultivate our friendship?

Perhaps, it is true, many of our text messages and tweets force us to pay attention to the minutest details such as our breakfasts and dinners. Though our grand enquiries about what we eat for breakfast at one level allow us to acquire the necessary knowledge of what a proper breakfast should be like, at another level they hint at our lack of emotional intimacy that suggests the modern society is suffering from the epidemic of superficial talks.

Imagine the following conversation on MSN between me and my mother:

"Hey mom!"
"Hi Will"
"Just to tell you, B is becoming a MT"
"What is that?"
"Well, MT means management trainee."
"Oh see, good for him."
"Anyway, gtg. ttyl."
"I know gtg means got to go. What do you mean ttyl?"
"Oh, ttyl means talk to you later."
"Really?! I didn't even know that!"
"So got to go. Talk to you later!"

Thanks to iPhones and Blackberries for making us text and chat easily.

The original intention of inventing technology was perhaps to bring convenience to the general public. If the above conversation suggests the contrary, it is perhaps because technology conspires to give birth to confusing short phrases. Technology leads us to suspect the virtue of patience, rather than confining us to the tradition of writing accurately, it undermines the importance of spelling and generates a perhaps rather innovative style of writing. Though technology, which is the origin of the "culture" of haste, is essential to our economic reward, it has risked inspiring a paradox- that we write more by writing less. In this technological civilisation, a message that is supposed to take a much shorter time to deliver ends up taking twice as long now.

Moreover, technology also urges us to cast aside patience and favour a trust in distractions. It is no longer uncommon for us to chat with our friend while watching YouTube at the same time. The screens on our mobile phones only make allowance for cliché questions such as "How was your weekend?" or "How was your dinner" rather than what really matters in life, thus fooling us into thinking that we have already cultivated our friendship. What the world needs is technology absenteeism- that a lack of electronic devices and the internet might actually draw us intimately closer to each other.

Dropping our devices might be the best idea, but no one can survive without either mobile phones or the internet in the modern society. What seems to pull us together might actually prove detrimental to friendship. In our busy days filled with futile bustle, we need breaks that that allow us to articulate what lays buried in our hearts. We need to open up our minds and accept the diversity of human minds, that a Google search engine won't fulfil our desire for a true human interaction. Because we are not just CPU's that just process data.

If technology makes us less human, what should we do? Rather than texting messages and tweeting, we should call up our friends. We need to make our words count. After all, it does not take much time to greet our friends face to face.