Friday, December 16, 2005

Such a heel

This entry is written to the accompaniment of chanting, clanging of cymbals and banging of drums by a small, but clearly determined, band of protestors outside the Far East Finance Centre.

Consider this proof, if any were needed, of how shallow I am: the great global debates of the day are happening right outside my office and I am thinking about shoes. (Chlőe shoes, if you're wondering.)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Rough trade

Yesterday, although not for very long, and not in any particularly significant way, I was twice almost at the nexus of the global conflict over trade. From my office window I can see the Convention Centre where the WTO talks are going on, as well as the barriers and closed roads around its circumference. I’m on the 24th floor but I could hear shouting and looking down to the street I could see a ring of Korean farmers staging a sitdown protest outside the Far East Finance Centre.

In the street, on my way home, I was approached by two Icelandic MPs and their secretary, delegates at the conference, who asked me where they could find somewhere nice to eat (specifically not Chinese food). I took them up the escalator and left them in SoHo outside an Italian restaurant. They didn’t speak much English so although I tried, I couldn’t get them to share their views of the purpose or likely outcome of the current talks.

The police are using pepper spray and the papers are full of rather weird shots of what looks like guano being sprayed on protestors’ heads. It sounds callous but we laughed heartily at pictures of Korean farmers jumping in the filthy harbour. After a few mouthfuls of that water, the global imbalance in trade will be the least of their worries.

Of course, there are serious issues here too and you get the feeling that people’s fears are not being addressed by the self-congratulatory elite holed up inside the Conference Centre or being directed to an Italian restaurant in one of Asia’s richest cities while farmers starve or throw themselves in the harbour.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

A view with rooms

From the window of the room where I'm writing this, I can't actually see any sky: the view fills with windows into other people's rooms. In Mid-Levels (which is Mid-Way between Victoria harbour and the mountainous Peak) everyone lives in a multi-storey flat.

My friend Peter says I'm an über-urbanite: and having grown up in the countryside with a hay field at my back, I embrace city living to the utmost. You don't get fresh air anywhere in Hong Kong, even in the countryside, so it doesn't really matter where you live, but I'm happy being somewhere where I can buy a pint of milk at 2am.

I met a construction engineer at a drinks party the other night and he said that he welcomes the HK attitude of out with the old, in with the new when it comes to knocking down old buildings to build prestige developments: not just because of his profession, but because it's the way HK has always been and it's part of what makes it a dynamic place to live.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Champagne for my real friends, real pain for my sham friends


I'm after the juice again,
You know, the old elixir,
We used to slug it down,
uncaring where came after.

I'm seeking out that buzz,
bringing, beaded/brimming,
the briny mental fuzz,
or my cheap grin.

Cut glass, our voices up
the cry, the seeker
gone to get his cup,
to dive the deeper

wash of good creation.
Aged and splendid song,
barrelling along the notion
of never being wrong,

I know where you are stored,
past the wary and the slow,
bust out our bursting hoard -
24.99, let's go.

John Pache

Monday, November 28, 2005

Mask hysteria

We’re not yet at the fever pitch of rumour, counter-rumour and speculation that engulfed the whole of Hong Kong during SARS in 2003 (as a newcomer to the city I was utterly bemused by the fact that I suddenly seemed to be in the middle of a hospital drama on a gigantic scale), but, ratcheted up of course by hysterical coverage in the press with a lot of unseemly mentions of how slow mainland China is at releasing information, with the barely hidden implication that it's those mainlanders who will cause the pandemic, it’s only a matter of time before we find ourselves back in the numbers game for counting up the bird flu deaths and calculating the infection-to-mortality rate (yes, this was quite a popular SARS pursuit).

After SARS, clear-headed commentators pointed out that the real economic damage was caused by the spread of fear, not the spread of SARS. But every morning at the bus stop there are more people wearing masks. I think the bird flu threat encapsulates all of HK’s favourite fears rolled into one:

  • an illness spread by contact with other people
  • toxic food (just when you thought it was safe to buy live chickens...)
  • a falling economy which will affect property prices, and finally, of course,
  • mainlanders

Thursday, November 24, 2005

“Help promised for obsessive people”

Today’s BBC Ticker Special. My first question is: do I qualify?

I think someone was having a laugh, because in the blink of an eye they changed it to the much more anodyne “GPs get obsessive disorder advice”.

Thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season

I admit that I am looking forward to Christmas with almost childlike enthusiasm (unlike New Year which never fails to be a damp squib). This is partly because of the new traditions my sister, also a great lover of Christmas, has invented: buck’s fizz in the morning, and stockings for everyone, and home made almond croissants in front of Marg’s open fire. Since coming to Hong Kong, and being at any given time at least 14 hours away from my family, my appreciation of the time spent with them is magnified one hundred fold.

Because it’s Scotland it’s always cold, but we wrap up warmly and go down to the sea before lunch. The beach at Gullane is about 15 miles away and we listen to carols from King’s College in the car. The wind is often so harsh you’re bent double trying to walk along the beach and the flying sand hits your face like a resurfacing peel gone wrong, but the air is sharp and you can see for miles.

I love the thought that the Peas will have happy memories of the traditions we are perpetuating, and perhaps apply them themselves one day.
Unfortunately Christmas was a disaster for us last year, but we are going to try to overlay some nice memories this time. I know that for many people it is the worst possible time of year and to some extent it’s always a triumph of hope over experience for me too. Better to have hope in the first place, though.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Who's that next to the President of China?

At the time of the handover of Hong Kong to the PRC in 1997 Prince Charles reportedly described the Chinese leadership as "awful old waxworks". Looking at this photo of Bush in China next to Hu Jintao what immediately springs to mind is: who's a waxwork now?

There is a slight, but amusing satire in which Bush asks Condoleezza Rice "Who's the President of China?" and she says "Hu". And he says, "The President of China?", and she says "Hu's the President of China". And he says "No, I'm asking you, who's..." and she says "Yes, Hu", and he says "OK. So who's the Vice-president?" and she says "No, it's Wen", and he says "When's the Vice-president what?" ... and so on.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

She blinded me with science

Once a week, on a Sunday, I have a date to "see" my sister and her three year old twin boys (AKA the Peas) using the webcam. I feel the need to dress up for the occasion and always put lipstick on, and sometimes a wig or a hat to make them laugh. It is odd knowing that I am looking in to Claire’s living room in East Lothian - Scotland - UK - The World. When I physically step inside that room I am usually jetlagged, tired, disorientated, but happy to be back with my family so there is another disconnect to be looking in to her house when I am feeling none of those things. At 9pm on Sunday night in Hong Kong it’s lunchtime on a Sunday in the UK and the sun always seems to be shining like a memory of childhood. This week my dad (Chris) and his wife were there and were, rather touchingly, excited beyond measure at the strangeness of technology. Chris must be the slowest typist ever. There’s no sound, so all I could see was "… is writing a message" and the top of Chris’s head (still blond, but slightly balding) as he pored over the keyboard laboriously writing. Occasionally Claire walked past with a little boy either on her hip or looking up at her plaintively, completely ignoring the computer in the corner even though their aunt was looking out of it. After at least 10 minutes of typing Chris’s message finally came up and it was a pocket sized sentence. I realised that this was the first time I’d ever seen my father in front of a computer.

It is a strange sensation viewing the lives they are living as though watching a documentary (“Little Sister is Watching You”). Sometimes someone moves the curtain and the sun stripes across the room. People are holding cups of tea in coloured mugs. Chris (my dad) is wearing a bright red shirt and waistcoat with a kerchief neatly tucked in the pocket. His wife is wearing a long black skirt and has a faintly Romanian air about her. Faces cross the eye of the webcam, smile, wave, reassuringly continue doing what they are doing as if it’s commonplace having me here watching. The TV may be on because I can almost see its flicker in the corner. I hold my camera up to show the lights of Hong Kong night (and my neighbours’ lives) outside my window.

After I stop watching the sun will still be shining and they will finish their cups of tea.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Around the world in a day

Yesterday I circumnavigated Hong Kong Island by sea: the club were paddling in the Round the Island Race in an all-male crew and I was in the support boat, a junk belonging to The Economist. I was meant to be paddling, but there weren’t enough women to enter a separate crew; and I admit I was relieved because the race involves sea changes where you have to wait in the water for the boat to come by and then haul yourself over the gunwale while the person in the seat you’re headed for racks their paddle and bails out the other side. This is manageable in flat water, but in swells, in a race situation, and at speed, it is a thoroughly nerve-wracking prospect.

The race is organized by the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, takes place once a year and is for anything that is not engine-powered - usually yachts, although there are windsurfers too. It’s connected to the Harbour Day celebrations which are intended to promote the idea that, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the harbour is for everyone - tralala, and the day that it’s not too toxic to swim in and they stop reclaiming it to build shopping centres and prestige apartments maybe I’ll believe that.

This year, for the first time, outrigger canoes were permitted to take part. Our team took nearly 5 hours, and the yachts, which started later in stages according to class, came racing round Cape D’Aguilar at the south-east tip of the island and towards us in the blink of an eye. I looked back and there was the fleet (about 180 sailing boats of all sizes) bearing down on us in the late-morning sunshine: some with white sails and some with grey. It was an incredible sight. Then the wind dropped and all the yachts were becalmed not far from Aberdeen Harbour while our team moved past them again - a very strange sight, as their sails fell, and the current against them slowed their speed, and they looked across at the tiny six-man canoe slipping from their clutches.

The top outrigger team came from Hawaii and they completed the clockwise circuit of the island in just under four hours, beating all but a few of the yachts. The last stretch, into Victoria Harbour, was spectacular, with sails everywhere and the usual intense atmosphere of a somewhat polluted Sunday in the harbour: the Star Ferry crossing back and forth in wide loops to avoid the harbour reclamation project which inexorably impinges into the waterway; the Macau, Discovery Bay and Lamma ferries powering past us churning steaming water in their wake; tug boats pulling unimaginably heavy loads of what looked like sand and rocks; container ships towering with rusty ice cream blocks; the oily sheen of the water; the tall buildings rising into the smog; and what sounded like karaoke booming out from the Exhibition and Conference Centre.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Picture this

Hong Kong Chinese-language newspapers, such as the Apple Daily and The Sun, have a tendency to reproduce the most shocking pictures on the front page to attract readers. Blatantly displayed on the newsstands are graphic aftermath pictures of car crashes and other disasters, often with a specially blown up portion showing the severed hand, pool of blood or chopping knife in question (the weapon of choice in Asia: victims are generally “chopped”, not stabbed). The Apple Daily had a series on how people committed suicide - an undeniably fascinating topic for Hong Kong, which has an unusually high suicide rate (the top two methods being (1) charcoal burning in a sealed off room and (2) jumping from a very tall building), but not an appropriate subject for a full-colour illustrated guide.

Today’s South China Morning Post has a picture on the front cover of three dead bodies lying in the street in Amman after the bombings on Wednesday. I strongly object to the news values which suggest that it’s acceptable to have pictures of bodies on the front page, but at least the Apple Daily and The Sun are even-handed: they’ll show anyone’s dead body. There’s no way the South China would have shown pictures of dead westerners - which is corroborated by the absence of any such pictures following recent bomb attacks which have killed westerners, in Bali and elsewhere.

Lest it seem as though I have some sort of vendetta against the South China -- well, okay --

Marshall McLuhan said “people don't read newspapers, they slip into them like a warm bath”. One thing I miss from the UK is reading a really good quality newspaper every day. Of course Marshall meant this as a criticism: we’re unthinkingly reading the paper to have our prejudices confirmed. Unfortunately the poor old South China confirms all my prejudices, and not in a good way.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

I've seen the past and it's the future

We watched Primer on DVD the other night and the story has stuck in my mind. The film was nominated for an award at Cannes and is a very clever, downbeat, ingenious exploration of the concept of time travel and the butterfly effect: in its execution, almost like a forward-motion take on Memento. The really impressive element was that nothing was spelt out for the viewer and nothing was explained: you have to use your own intelligence to get to grips with what is happening.

The film centres on two would-be start-up millionaires experimenting in a garage, having clearly given up full time work in pursuit of their vision, who almost accidentally discover a way to project themselves back in time. What follows is a series of scenes, connected and, at first, seemingly unconnected, which play out the effect of their own attempts to harness the machine for their own purposes: from the banal, by futures trading on the stock market, to the dangerous, by interfering with the course of past events.

The film is shot in a determinedly low-key style with such naturalistic performances that it makes an implausible scenario seem quite believable and the outcome, or series of outcomes, entirely credible.

When the film, which seems much shorter than it actually was, came to an end, John and I sat there in silence for a while trying to puzzle things out. We can’t stop talking about it, thinking about it, and contemplating watching it again. Strangely I’ve been having trouble remembering the name of the film. I have been projecting myself back in time to watch myself watching the title coming up on the screen...

Friday, November 04, 2005

Moles to soles

Using brand new technology just arrived in Hong Kong from Australia, where they’ve had to take such things seriously, I have just had my little collection of suspect moles scanned and analysed by a computer program which analyses the shape, colour and formation of each mole and rates it according to how likely it is to be a melanoma. Before this, a very matter of fact doctor examined my entire body in what seemed like a blink of an eye, and then recommended that the five moles I’d been worried about should be scanned.

During the scanning process a handheld scanner is pressed against the skin like a little eye - cushioned by a satisfyingly viscous blob of gel from a tube - and the mole appears on screen magnified to thousands of times its normal size. This was a thoroughly unnerving experience as (and I’ll spare you too much visceral detail) the things I’d thought were weird, wrong or just plain scary about my moles suddenly appear blown up to crisis size.

Back to the doctor, though, and he succinctly dismissed my concerns by showing me the computer assessment of each mole which concluded that each one of them was in the “normal” range. Nothing to worry about then, and so giddy was I on emerging into Des Voeux Road that I went into On Pedder and nearly bought myself a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes with sexy red soles (hence the crass title of this entry). Clearly great relief turns me shallow.

(Due to popular demand, here are the Mole Man's details: Dr Leung, Room 610, Tak Shing House, 20 Des Voeux Road, Central. Tel. 2523 5995.)

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Brave New World

I met someone claiming to be the Deputy MD of New World First Bus at a party a few weeks ago. Although slightly unnerved by his claim to admire George W. Bush (and without missing the chance to argue with him about it by pointing out that he might not feel that way if Dubya ran the company he worked for, a point which he was forced to concede), I took the opportunity, as you would, to complain bitterly about the bus service outside my own door. (I think this is the definition of "think globally act locally", or maybe just a portent of becoming the sort of person who writes indignantly to the South China Morning Post.)

His surprisingly dynamic response was that he would have the problem (too many passengers, not enough buses) fixed by Monday. I'm still waiting in vain, literally and figuratively, but this was a good response, which I try to emulate when someone challenges me about the service my company provides; but he'd better follow up on his promises or I will be writing to the South China.

I don't know what can be extrapolated about the psyche of Hong Kongers from their behaviour on buses. Suffice it to say that a good Hong Kong commuter is no more deterred by a sign on the front of the bus saying "BUS FULL", a fact thoroughly supported by the legions of customers already on the bus whose cheeks are pressed against all the windows and doors as if someone has just exerted a centrifugal force by spinning the bus like a top, than he or she is deterred by the sight of an orderly, but extraordinarily long line of people waiting outside an egg tart shop which has been given notice to quit by its landlord. Perhaps it's a variant of the urge to buy expensive branded goods on the basis that if so many people want it, it must be good.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Miers to go before I sleep

The combination of the shape of Harriet Miers's jaw, her heavy eyeliner, her hair and her slightly tentative demeanour made me think: this is what Princess Diana would have looked like had she lived.

The power of nightmares

I saw my first scary film at the age of about 9. We were staying at the house of friends in Edinburgh - quirky university lecturers who lived in a huge multi-story house in the west end where all the embassies are. Just one floor of their house was bigger than our entire cottage. They had a mynah bird in its own huge caged domain and served venison for dinner. They had a separate playroom for their only child, an over-clever boy who’d be programming his computer in the days before anyone really knew what computers were.

After dinner the kids were sent to the playroom where we watched TV - a 60s English oddity called “Psychomania” (1971) which seemed to wrap urban legends and strangely contemporary themes of bikers, mods and 60s cool into the tale of a zombie biker crew who, following their messianic leader and his magic talisman, killed themselves in bizarre ways in order to return to from the dead to terrorise the lieges. According to IMDB it's a black comedy, and there were funny parts which we could cling to - a policeman inspecting a bike at the bottom of a tower block looks up to the owner standing at the roof top and says “Is this yours? Come down and move it please” to which he responds with a cheery “OK!” and a flying leap. But my first "horror" film had such an impact on me that even after we hastily turned over to the golf before the film had even ended to try to overlay the frightening imagery with something cheerful and anodyne (and I’ve never looked at golf in the same way since), I was gripped by a terror that made me feel sick to my bones. I didn’t sleep that night and had terrible dreams of silver-clad men coming in to my room to bear me away to their zombie lair.

The taste for horror films is a peculiar part of my make-up given my formative experiences of them. I devoured tales of UFOs, ghosts and the unexplained until the point when I realised that human credulity had more to do with the persistence of these tales than anything else. I’ve still got a soft spot for a good horror film; unfortunately there aren’t many of those around. The most recent thing I saw which was genuinely scary was a Thai film called “Shutter” - a young photographer starts seeing mysterious shadows on his photographs and discovers that someone is haunting him. Like all good stories the impact was in the idea and the imagery rather than the reality.

There are two reasons I was thinking about this today: one, because eight schoolchildren were crushed to death on Tuesday in Guangna township in Sichuan province because one of them shouted that he’d seen a ghost; and two, I did a test last night on the BBC website which registered levels of “Disgust”. One picture was so revolting that the image stayed with me until I went to sleep and contributed to uneasy dreams not unlike the dreams I had after seeing “Psychomania” (except, and this is a relief, without the silver space-suits).

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Just shut up and paddle

I’ve just spent the weekend racing in Guam with my team, the Hong Kong Outrigger Association (HKOA - although for some reason the vacuous commentator consistently referred to us throughout the tournament, over the PA system, as “HKOC”). We flew in to Guam extremely early on Saturday morning and went straight to our hotel, the Marriott, overlooking the beach where we were going to be racing. We just had time to change and rush down to the beach which was a long, narrow strip of sand overlooking a bay of clear blue water with huge waves breaking on a reef a few hundred metres from the shore.

The US formally purchased Guam (“Where America’s Day Begins”) from Spain for $20 million in 1899. It’s an “unincorporated organised territory” (according to the US federal government) and a “non-self-governing territory” (according to the UN) - I think this means it’s voluntarily part of the US, not pressganged into being a colony, but falls short of being a proper US State. It’s the place where, amongst other things, Ferdinand Magellan anchored in 1521 on his ill-fated circumnavigation of the globe. During WWII, it was occupied by the Japanese and retaken by American forces in August 1944 - a mere 18,000 soldiers died in the process. It was home to the Japanese soldier, Sergeant Shoichi Yokoi, the poor devil who was discovered hiding in a cave 28 years after the war was over.

Guam itself is a rather weird, almost wholly Americanised place. If you woke up there without knowing your location you really would think you were in any anonymous town in the American mid-west - with the same wide roads lined with the same chain stores and chain food outlets. It was jarring to see US flags everywhere and a large picture of George W. Bush in the airport. It sounds fatuous given current events, but it’s easy to forget just how patriotic Americans are - I can’t imagine any public place in the UK displaying a cheesy snap of a grinning Tony Blair.

The beach where the races took place was actually very nice and the water was clear and blue - a vast improvement on paddling in Hong Kong in murky water you dread falling into. Paddling is exciting; reports of it are not. Here they are anyway.

A day at the races: Saturday
The sun shone and it was already very hot by the time the first races started - 1,500 metres, with four turns around a buoy. The turns are exhilarating and exhausting, with everyone yelling and the paddlers at seats one and two (the latter being me on this occasion) leaning out of the boat to draw on the left while the water, with the texture of just-setting concrete, seems to resist every effort our bodies are making.

We had an alien paddler at seat four in both the 1,500 metres and the 500 because our steerswoman had hurt her back and couldn’t do turns, so the other team (the A Crew, who are all more experienced paddlers) got one of our team and we had to ask the other Hong Kong club to lend us someone for each of the races on Saturday. Paddling with six women in a crew has taught me a lot about teamwork - it sounds trite, but we work really well together and had all been training together at least three times a week at least for the weeks leading up to the race, so it really felt like there was something missing when she went in to the other boat.

A day at the races: Sunday
I was at seat 3 for the 16K race - an hour and a half of hard paddling, for which we went out beyond the reef into the big wide ocean. Seat 3 calls the changes, which means that every 15 strokes, in what must seem a rather quaint exchange, I call “Hut!"; everyone responds "Ho!" and we all swap sides from paddling on the left to the right, or vice versa (we paddle on alternate sides down the boat). The B Crew triumphed by beating the B and C crews of our main Hong Kong rivals as well as the A Crew from our own team - a victory that was, probably perversely, very sweet. The picture above is of the victorious team (well, we came fourth, but it felt damn good as we are all new to outrigging this year) in our eye-wateringly bright kit in front of the canoe.

I can't believe how much this has changed me: starting with dragon boating, and now moving on to outrigging, two sports I'd never even heard of before coming to Hong Kong. I am now so far gone that I am convinced that a paddle is a beautiful thing - I am even going to buy one of my own. Clearly I am now nothing more than a Paddle Zombie, standing lifeless and unmoving, waiting only for the cry “Paddles Up!”

Monday, October 17, 2005

I've seen the future and it hurts

In the cab to Beijing airport the driver was playing some Chinese pop music which was actually really good: Coldplay-ish, I suppose, and shades of U2 and Nirvana (I'm not painting a very attractive picture here, I realise). When we asked what it was, he took the CD out and tried to give it to us. I still have no idea what it was and we refused to take the CD, although he may just have copied it somewhere anyway as it had the generic no-brand label of a CD from a pack of blanks.

I think the music might have sounded better than it really was partly because we are so used to awful Cantopop that it was refreshing to hear a sweet, mellow voice singing in Chinese something that didn't sound trite. It could have been a lament for choked lungs or a meditation on a doomed love affair, or it could have been a song about eating some truly excellent siew long bao (Shanghainese dumplings).

Strongly reminded of it by the city we'd just visited, we talked about the film Blade Runner and about how visions of the future showing the world as a polluted city where only the poor breathe the air is so much more believable than the sanitised, graceful ballet of space stations in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The plane was delayed for an hour and as I was due back in Hong Kong for a very important conference call at 9, I started feeling increasingly anxious. We touched down at 8pm and I left my colleague to carry the brown paper-wrapped painting I'd bought and ran at full speed through the airport - clattering in my high heels and yanking along my little black suitcase on wheels to great amusement from passers-by - through immigration, and on to the airport express train.

It's a sign of the extraordinary efficiency of Hong Kong's airport and transport system that I was sitting at my desk in Central at two minutes past 9, dialling the conference call number with my heart still pounding from the effort.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Unreal city

I am in Beijing, which yesterday was shrouded in bitter-tasting clouds of pollution settling unbelievably low across the city. From the window of the China World Tower, it was difficult to discern the shape of buildings only metres away. Today, however, is clear and beautiful and you can even see the mountains in the distance beyond the Forbidden City.

Beijing is difficult to imagine even when you're at the heart of it which (I think) I am, at least in the business sense. All the law firms we are visiting have their offices in the same place: China World Tower 1 or 2, and beneath the towers there's a labyrinthine, extraordinarily large shopping centre packed with luxury stores, cafes and sushi bars, supermarkets, and a small but perfectly formed ice rink around which we watched a tiny girl, wearing a pink lurex outfit with the universal tasteful (sic) flesh coloured patches, swish her way.

Going in to Armani and Prada and Marc Jacobs, it's hard to imagine who is actually buying anything. Prices are higher than Hong Kong, but apparently shopgirls are saving for months to buy. It sticks in my mind that there are nineteen (19) Chanel stores in mainland China; so even relatively obscure places like Dalian (in the north east) are part of the luxury brand phenomenon. It seems to fit with the Chinese notion of face value.

Looking out the window today, and actually able to see the scope of the city without the "mist", you realise just how vast it is. Unlike Shanghai it's not really a walkable city: you'll walk a block and the same building will still be alongside. Giant roads packed with slow moving cars slash across the vista in every direction.

Günther Grass lived in Berlin before the wall came down because he described it (somewhat pretentiously, I always thought) as the city "closest to the realities of the age". Without hyperbole, with its pollution and rapidly emerging consumerism, I think Beijing better fits that description now.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Full Moon and Little Frieda

A cool small evening shrunk to a dog bark and the clank of a bucket -
And you listening.
A spider's web, tense for the dew's touch.
A pail lifted, still and brimming - mirror
To tempt a first star to a tremor.

Cows are going home in the lane there, looping the hedges with their warm
wreaths of breath -
A dark river of blood, many boulders,
Balancing unspilled milk.
'Moon!' you cry suddenly, 'Moon! Moon!'
The moon has stepped back like an artist gazing amazed at a work
That points at him amazed.

Ted Hughes

Thursday, October 06, 2005

October revolution

It's Golden Week in mainland China at the moment, and everyone downs tools and, typically, travels thousands of miles to their home towns. All the factories in the Pearl River Delta are shut and as a result the skies in Hong Kong were a Turner painting today. Looking out of my office window, the sun was shining and all the buildings, even across the harbour, were sharply defined and perfectly visible. It was like seeing them for the first time.

Of course, HongKongers' proclivity for blaming the mainland for all our ills is somewhat hypocritical, given that most of the factories belching out the pollution which drifts down the Pearl River Delta and attaches itself to Hong Kong are owned by Hong Kong residents looking to source their production somewhere cheaper and less well-regulated than Hong Kong.

When I go out paddling on the water at night I try not to think about the correlation between the clearly visible swathes of pollution obscuring the hillsides of South Island and the air I am breathing.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Reality check

It occurred to me last night - and weirdly my sister had exactly the same thought because her email about it was waiting for me at work this morning - that for the price of the Roland Mouret dress I tried on four times and almost bought (like the one below but black), I could sponsor two children at Sok Sabay for a year.

Looking at it from that perspective, I can't help feeling a bit ashamed about coveting that dress.

I have been sent a picture of the child we are sponsoring. She is six years old and beautiful. Who needs dresses?

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Sok Sabay

Sok Sabay is an orphanage in Pnomh Penh, Cambodia, which takes in children who have been rescued from dire situations (Cambodia is the poorest country in Asia and many children live in unimaginable squalor and deprivation) and gives them the chance to have a normal, happy childhood.

My friend Michelle and her husband Peter are sponsoring a 9 year old girl and the communication they've had about her, from the French woman who runs the orphanage, is heart-rending but also full of hope because thier donations are actually making a difference.

Before coming to the orphanage their little girl had never been given a present by anyone.

At the risk of sounding mawkish, this is something so life-enhancing for the children of the orphanage that every one of us living in privilege should be thinking about doing this.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The devil came and took me

As a counterbalance to two cocktail recipes, here's a slightly scary drink test to gauge whether you are drinking too much:

Hong Kong is a drinking kind of town and if you eat out a lot, it is nearly impossible to avoid regularly drinking half a bottle of wine - which definitely accounts for my rotten score. More than that, I'm not saying.

The devil came and took me
From bar, to street, to bookie
Squeeze, Up the Junction

Pomme de Claire

A cocktail invented in honour of my sister on her recent visit to Hong Kong:

Ingredients (makes one)
One measure Absolut Vanilla
Two measures apple juice

Mix ingredients together, strain through ice, serve. For a real kick, swap the proportions.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Typhoon No. 9

In honour of the Typhoon No. 3 (Tropical Storm Damrey) which hit Hong Kong this weekend: a cocktail invented in our first year in Hong Kong when the Typhoon No. 9 signal was hoisted and we sat in our flat on the 18th floor looking out agog to see what would happen (not much, as it happens, but we did get very, very drunk).

Ingredients (adjust to taste)
One measure Chambord
One measure Vodka
Three measures Grapefruit juice

In absence of cocktail shaker: place in plastic bowl with copious quantities of ice. Whisk with fork. Pour into cocktail glasses, failing which any glass will do. Repeat.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

About suffering they were never wrong

It emerged yesterday that the London bombers had a practice run (“dummy run” on the BBC ticker at the bottom of my screen seems like the wrong phrase, too soft and unthreatening) sometime in June before that final, awful journey on July 7.

What were they thinking? Were they scared? Smug? Alienated? They took the route they were planning to take with the real bombs and looked into the faces of the people around them, packed on to the train, knowing what they were going to visit upon them, assessing the impact, the damage, visualising the whirlwind of chaos and destruction they intended to create, and felt nothing. No compassion, no empathy, nothing. Just sheer nihilistic loathing and perverted determination.

Not long after the attacks it was suggested that the bombers were gulled into doing it on the expectation that they would come out alive. How much easier it would have been for us to cope with if they had been.

Imagine what it must have been like to be setting out on a journey which you, unlike all your future victims, knew you would never come back from: travelling with a despicable secret sitting in your throat.

Musée des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

W.H. Auden

Friday, September 16, 2005

Manchester - so much to answer for

What do we get for our trouble and pain?
Just a rented room in Whalley Range.
The Smiths, Miserable Lie

One of the Algerians arrested pending deportation yesterday in Manchester was living in what could only be described as a rented room in Whalley Range and this struck me as one of those extraordinary things I could never have anticipated when I first heard the song.

Miserable Lie was one of those songs I appreciated, but would never play to anyone who professed to dislike the Smiths because I was afraid it would confirm every prejudice - from the title downwards. It seems completely wrong that someone living in a line from a Smiths song could (allegedly) be a nihilistic religious maniac bent on death.

I know this is a very, very minor observation, but I remember being 12 and wondering what it would be like to be an adult and really wanting it to happen because it had to be better than now. I've always really liked the sense of not knowing what the future will hold and thinking of it as being rich with potential. Unfortunately, as this story shows, the future can have things up its sleeve that you wouldn't want to imagine.

Monday, September 12, 2005


Today is the official opening of what the international press are describing as "Disney's first outpost in Communist China". This seems a somewhat hyperbolic, albeit not inaccurate, way of describing it, because Disney in many ways is a perfect fit in Hong Kong and I'm sure they'll have no trouble at all selling their gewgaws to legions of tourists. Of more concern is whether they can actually get them there in the first place. But since people have been coming ticketless from Guangzhou just to stand and look at the front gates, perhaps it won't be a problem.

Poeple in Hong Kong generally look down on mainlanders, and the word has become a cipher for "evil-doer" - as in "Two mainlanders were seen running away from the scene" - with no further description needed. The paradox is that increasingly the success of the Hong Kong retail economy depends on them.

Comically enough, Lui Tailok, sociology professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said that "People under 35 are more familiar with Japanese animations and manga than Disney. For us Winnie the Pooh is an alien."

Quite apart from the environmental, economic and sociological implications, and purely from an aesthetic (AKA snobbish?) point of view, no matter how long I live in Hong Kong, and no matter how jaded I become, nothing could persuade me to visit that place.

  • The project has cost almost HK$14bn (US$1.8bn) (how much of this is government subsidy?)
  • The development takes up 125 hectares, and they have left room for the site to double in size (saints preserve us!)
  • The HK government claim it will create 18,000 jobs in the short term (will they be looking for people with Mickey Mouse degrees? - sorry, cheap shot), and about HK$148bn (US$18bn) in economic benefits over 40 years. (How on earth are they quantifying that? Does that not just consist of benefits to Disney?)
  • Disneyland HK is expecting 5.6 million visitors in its first year, two-thirds from China and south-east Asia
  • But the ticket price, HK$350 (US$45), is nearly two weeks' wages for the average mainland Chinese family - and in mainland China the GDP per capita is still only US$1K per year compared to US$30K in the US

Friday, September 09, 2005

I am absurd now

In all the furore surrounding the award of the Mercury Prize, Maximo Park, who were shortlisted, have been somewhat overlooked. This is a shame, because “Going Missing” is a perfect pop song:

Rumour has it that the judges chose Antony and the Johnsons because to choose Bloc Party or Hard-Fi would have been “too predictable”. Predictable for a British music prize to be awarded to, er, British artists singing about what happens around them in their, er, British lives? “I am a Bird Now”, while beautiful in a slightly unsettling way, is full of American-inspired torch songs in an American setting, and it is surely a category error to suggest it as the most appropriate winner. If the judges wanted to be unpredictable they should have gone for the folk contingent (Seth Lakeman), and that way they could have annoyed almost everyone in equal measure.

But what do I know. I have lived in Hong Kong for nearly three years now, and I’m sure my music taste is slowly being skewed as a result. Not so much that I think that Cantopop, J-pop or “The Ongoing Frenzy of the Korean Wave” (pace Pearl TV’s ridiculously breathy voiceovers) is where it’s at, though. Yet.

The global village idiot

Satire keeps on writing itself. Having appointed himself to head up the investigation into the catastrophe, thus ensuring that clearly it will never be held to have been his fault, or the fault of anyone he knows, in any way, Bush has now declared a Hurricane Katrina prayer day.

You've lost your home. Your pets and your relatives are floating face down in toxic sludge. You spent 5 days without water in Beyond Superdome. You don't know where you are going to live till the end of the year. But now help has arrived! Bush is going to pray for you.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Hell and high water

One of the problems for Bush, and perhaps the reason for the look of incredulity that keeps coming over his face, is that he simply can't imagine being too poor to own a car, to stay in a hotel, to flee the city. The reality of everyday lives of people who live on a few dollars a day is no more conceivable to him than the fact that hundreds of thousands just couldn't leave New Orleans because they didn't have the means.

Out of touch, out of compassion, and should be out of office.

Friday, September 02, 2005

US places curbs on Chinese bras

Another very special BBC Ticker headline.

Dropping the Baton

Bush has appeared completely dumbfounded by the scale of the damage caused by the hurricane in New Orleans - that characteristic blank, struggling-for-comprehension look came over his face when he was asked a not-all-that biting question by a TV journalist about the sluggishness of the response time to the disaster.

It's hard to take in the sheer epic scale of the catastrophe. The script for this movie would have been derided as too outlandish. And the complicity of the Bush administration in, amongst many other contributory factors, complacently sitting back while wetlands were overdeveloped and in denying scientific evidence of warming seas which contribute directly to the force of hurricanes, is nothing short of scandalous.

Bush is out of his depth - again. The image that comes to mind seems apposite.,7371,1561417,00.html

Thursday, September 01, 2005

All the fools in creationism

An elegant demolition of the risible notion that creationism should be taught in schools as the "other side" to evolution theory:,13026,1559743,00.html
(The headline for this is purloined from Adam Smith's maxim that "A lottery is a tax on all the fools in creation".)

She means it, ma'am

The BBC Ticker on my desktop is often a source of amusement as they try to reduce the day's news to a coherent soundbite. I am often intrigued by the news values which dictate that "Families to have 'voice in court'" today is more newsworthy than any number of other stories under "UK news". There is an even more classic one today, however: "Queen 'shocked' by US hurricane".

I can't help thinking that this is truly shameful. I'm sure the poor people of New Orleans will be immensely comforted, as they walk amongst the dead bodies, to know that The Queen of England is shocked by their plight.

(On that note: I see the US Open website described Andy Murray yesterday as "Old England's last hope".)

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Beauty is truth

Roland Mouret is truly a designer of genius. If only I were no fatter than a stick and could wear his clothes!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Still, I'd leap in front of a flying bullet for you

At Ho Chi Minh City airport I was stopped at the boarding gate for the flight back to Hong Kong and asked to open my bag. After a thorough search nothing was found, but I was asked to put the bag through the x-ray machine again and then the officer searched one more time. Still nothing. I was getting a bit irate by this time, so a woman officer was called over (to handle me with more tact perhaps?) and she said that something which looked like a bullet was hidden in my bag.

My little perfume dispenser (currently containing Allure, as it happens) was a present from my brother-in-law and is a silver bullet-shaped object which has gone undetected in my makeup bag through countless airport security checks – in London Heathrow, Edinburgh, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Bali, Tokyo – even Singapore which has pretty efficient security.

Afterwards I realised that the Vietnamese are more attuned for people carrying bullets than most, as there is still a lot of ordinance lying around from the war which after all ended only 30 years ago: guidebooks tell you that in rural areas you shouldn’t stray from the path because of UXOs. Presumably you can pick up discarded bullets in a field behind someone’s house and they often catch people trying to smuggle bits of guns, helmets, military insignia, grenades, anti-personnel mines and other crackpot souvenirs.

I sprayed some perfume for them to demonstrate how harmless my “bullet” was – which was quite rude of me in retrospect; the place probably reeked for hours afterwards.

Monday, August 22, 2005

After Saigon

I spent a few days in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) with my sister. What an incredible place it is: still relatively unspoiled and uncommercialised, as McDonalds and Starbucks are banned, but buildings are springing up everywhere as investment pours in (Vietnam was one of the world's fastest growing economies last year) and everywhere you look tall, extraordinarily narrow houses and shops are being constructed.

Little boys pull at your sleeve, selling flowers or postcards or chewing gum, some followed by shadowy Mr Big figures who obviously scoop up their takings. We knew to avoid giving them money, but we gave two little boys some Chupa Chups lollies and they sat by the roadside enjoying them and waving happily to us. After that, like the do-gooders we are, we bought some notepads and pens to hand out, but then no one followed us and we only managed to give away one, along with a Mars bar and some little sweets from the hotel, to a little boy of about 11 in a dirty blue sweatshirt, shorts and bare feet, who seemed non-plussed by our gift. Later I found out that their "minders" will sell anything the little kids are given, so perhaps he was wondering how to hide his haul from the Fagin character who was with him when we met him, but whom I was hoping we managed to lose in the street.

The day starts extremely early as 5 am, even on a Sunday, with honking horns and the ferry across the Saigon river - just outside our hotel window - endlessly shuttling streams of people on scooters back and forth.

People are friendly but tourists are routinely ripped off - we are fair game. You pay in US$ or the Vietnamese currency, the dong (current exchange rate 30,000 to the £) - if you pay in US$ the price seems to be vastly more than the equivalent in dong (think of a number, double it). There is little or no order on the roads and everyone piles along at top speed, families of four perched on one scooter, children and all, the women with incongruously elegant elbow length satin gloves, swathed in scarves and hats like the mujahideen. There are new colours and sounds and smells everywhere. Women sell food from huge glass containers perched precariously on the back of their bicycles like a mobile cakeshop. It is exhilarating.

We visited the War Remnants Museum - which used to be called, bluntly, the museum of American War Crimes - where the reality of war is clear. Hard to say much about this without sounding trite. It was hot and I sat on the steps next to an old US helicopter - a Huey - unable to look at any more photos of torture and mutilation. I couldn't help thinking of George Santayana's aphorism: "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it".

Friday, August 12, 2005

The first day of the Edinburgh Festival

Long ago and far away in Edinburgh, I was travelling on the number 27 bus with a schoolfriend who was fond of discarding her shoes and walking about barefoot (I think she thought this was the hallmark of a free spirit; to a cynic it's the hallmark of someone who wants to catch hepatitis). It was Festival time and everywhere Edinburgh folk were going about their business deliberately ignoring the cultural delights on offer. We got on at Tollcross and went upstairs. An old dear who sat at the back of the bus stared po-faced at K's feet and after a few moments' reflection remarked sternly to her friend:
"Aye. They all come out the woodwork for the Festival".
I always found it funny that every year Edinburgh would fill with people from London "discovering" the city for the first time - my bar, my shops, and my quaint city. The people who lived there, including me, were largely unmoved by the spectacle, or like the denizens of Leith in Trainspotting, saw it as an opportunity to give a fat tourist a kicking and steal his jacket.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Think locally, act globally

Watching anodyne CNN in my Singapore hotel room this morning, it occurred to me that while the truism is that the prevalence of global news via cable, satellite and the internet has made the world a smaller place and events happening on the other side of it now feel closer to home and therefore (by implication) increase global connectivity to the extent that we start to care, if you watch the news - any news - in the US, this clearly is not the case and the US news channels have thoroughly turned the concept of "think globally, act locally" on its head.

I was there in September 2002 when the rest of the world was focused on the Arab-Israeli conflict and the continuing fallout of the "War on Terror". Headline news on every US channel? Whether Ricki Lake's new short hairstyle meant she was secretly a lesbian.

CNN, irksomely enough, have a strapline for all news coming from London regarding the apprehension, charging or trial of the terrorist suspects: "LONDON ON ALERT". So every time I switch it on, I think something must be happening again. This is lazy journalism, no?

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Giant teapot destroyed by Molotov cocktails

The giant teapot and other items (including a supersize umbrella) worshipped by the Sky Kingdom cult in Malaysia have been destroyed by a mob after followers of the teapot were arrested in a police raid.
In a masterpiece of understatement, local development committee deputy chairman Ramli Noh said "Activities at the commune have raised many questions".
Thank God they stopped them building their massive concrete boat.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

"Stop country going down pan"

Classic scare-mongering from The Sun:,,2-2005350600,00.html
Amongst many risible remarks, a highlight:
"But as the public calls for extra cells to cage the crooks, what does the Government do? Axe the prison ship HMP Weare."
Yep - bring back the prison ship: that'll sort 'em out.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

China defending the indefensible

Despite having comprehensively trashed the whole idea of blogging yesterday, or more specifically my own trite efforts at it, I am compelled to create another entry today about China's despicable decision to back the Mugabe regime (in its own wider geopolitical, that is to say economic, interests of course). Hu Jintao welcomed Mugabe this week and he's been feted as an old friend. How they must be laughing in the slums of Harare:,3604,1537346,00.html
Surely this is the wrong way for China to consolidate its position as a world power. I doubt Donald Tsang will be making any statements about this, though.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Blogging makes nothing happen

For poetry makes nothing happen
It survives in the valley of its own making
A way of happening, a mouth.
W.H. Auden, from In Memory of W.B. Yeats

As I lay awake last night at 3am thinking about the futility of blogging (as you do), the lines from this poem sprang to mind. I don't think he's saying it as literally as I was thinking it: in fact poetry has its own validity even if it makes nothing happen, and by having its own validity it makes something happen even if it's just to raise the question of its own validity. Blogging, on the other hand, despite, or rather clearly because of, my efforts in this blog, is a competely futile activity.

The other line that came to mind is, of course, a misappropriation of the John Cage line at the top of this page: "I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is blogging".

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Back of the net!

Alan Partridge: "I'm a national broadcaster trapped in the body of regional discjockey, and there are no operations that can cure that, at least not on the National Health."
The scripts from the first series painstakingly transcribed here:

The logic of the suicide bomber

An article from, of all things, The American Conservative, who interview Associate Professor Robert Pape of the University of Chicago. His book on suicide terrorism, Dying to Win, is based on his research in compiling the first complete database of every suicide-terrorist attack around the world from 1980 to early 2004. He says that "The central fact is that overwhelmingly suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland". Amongst other things, he points out in his book that suicidde terrorism actually originated in Sri Lanka, with the Tamil Tigers, rather than being a Muslim phenomenon.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Slamming the wasps from the pure apple of truth

The script for the very first episode of The Day Today:

Those are the headlines. Happy now?
Very puzzled by the odd behaviour of the Brazilian who ended up being shot in the head five times on a London tube train in banal Stockwell station. But also wondering about the plainclothes police who killed him. Some questions:
  • why was Jean Charles wearing a puffa jacket in summer?
  • if they were so sure he was a bomber, why didn't they kill him as soon as he got on the bus?
  • why didn't he stop when they challenged him?
  • why do you need to shoot to kill when you've got someone immobilised on the ground?

Friday, July 22, 2005

Two steps to heaven

Lo - these beautiful Pedro Garcia shoes would last me about five minutes between the kicked-over glass of red wine and Hong Kong's rainy season:

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Classic Go Fug Yourself

On Kelly Osbourne:
And my favourite, ever, on Britney Spears:

Batman Begins

Even the giggling couple beside us in a near-empty, over-air-conditioned Hong Kong cinema were silenced by the sheer epic scale and grand design of the Batman prequel, Batman Begins.

Chritsian Bale, again demonstrating that he never puts a foot wrong, is an exemplary Batman. He has a reassuring dollop of human frailty – the fear of bats that has haunted him since childhood along with the searing memory of his parents’ murder and the doubt and uncertainty about whether his father was right not to resist their attacker with force - and he effortlessly becomes the indolent billionaire Bruce Wayne, buying a hotel with a contemptuous curl of the lip so he can “swim” in the ornamental pool with his pretty bimbos, belying the integrity and power of his alter ego, but never much more than a graceful step away.

Street scenes in the rapidly-decaying Gotham City were reminiscent of the city alleyways in Blade Runner , and would also seem strangely familiar to anyone who has visited Shanghai with its mixture of old and new and cramped alleyways packed with scooters, people and neon; and there was a very futuristic feel about this film. The epithet “dark” has been applied to the point of cliché, but it’s certainly true that the film literally has a quality of darkness about it, underground as well as overground.

Christian Bale occupied the film completely, and the screen when he was on it, but was ably supported by a cast of what seemed to be mainly British and Irish support actors: Michael Caine, playing Wayne’s butler with aplomb, but very much in line with expectations (you almost expected him to say “You’re Batman, and not a lot of people know that!”), Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy, using his piercing blue eyes to startlingly evil effect as the deranged Dr Crane; Tom Wilkinson, strange accent and all, playing the mobster Carmine Falcone; Gary Oldman as nerdy “good” cop Jim Gordon; Linus Roache as Bruce’s gentle, noble father. The only really crass inclusion was Katie Holmes as a ridiculously young assistant DA – a completely wrong piece of casting which was presumably intended to bring in the numbers. It surely wasn't needed; and the other actors more than compensate for her insipid performance.

What does the enemy want? - A balanced view

By Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian today:
"So Iraq is central. But it is not the whole story. For, as Taylor [Peter Taylor, the veteran documentary film-maker who spent decades studying Northern Irish terrorism] explains, al-Qaida is not like Eta or the IRA - organisations with a clear, single goal. It is not simply a troops-out movement, demanding nothing more than a withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq and justice for the Palestinians. It is not the armed wing of the Stop the War Coalition.
Its aims are rather different. Central to its ideology is the reintroduction of the caliphate, an Islamic state governed by sharia law that would stretch across all formerly Muslim lands, taking in Spain, Morocco, north Africa, Albania, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, as well as Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines. Plenty on the left tend to skim over this stuff, dismissing it as weird, obscurantist nonsense - and imagining it as somehow secondary to al-Qaida's anti-imperialist mission.
That's a big mistake. For it is this animating idea which helps to explain al-Qaida actions that otherwise make no sense.",3604,1531997,00.html

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Life or something like it

Life, just off the escalator on Staunton Street, is SoHo's first organic vegetarian cafe. As soon as you walk through the door the smell that assails you is that worthy wholemeal smell so reminiscent, for me, of my childhood: the smell of wholefood stores and the Salisbury Centre in Edinburgh, home-cooked food, grains and pulses. Yet somehow the interior design has managed to avoid the wholefood clichés: there's a clean, pared down feel and the overall atmosphere is one of peaceful contemplation.

The food, on the other hand, does not manage to avoid the trap of being rather too worthy for its own good. After a delicious, if rather disturbingly named juice entitled "Reanimator" (a mix of ginger and citrus fruits intended to combat colds) I opted for the risotto of the day. This was made with very chunky, nutty wholegrain rice, piled in the middle of the plate and surrounded by a small moat of sauce made from squash, and adorned with two large, unsubtle hunks of steamed bak choi. After a few mouthfuls I not only felt full, I started to resent what was left on my plate not only because it wasn't particularly tasty, but also because it was hard going. The squash sauce had no seasoning and the rice didn't have enough differentiation of flavour to be interesting.

There is an interesting range of organic wine (to my knowledge this is one of the very few places in Hong Kong where there is an entirely organic wine list) and we shared a bottle of Australian merlot which despite beginning with promisingly plummy overtones, began to taste unaccountably bitter after the first glass. The service was friendly, though not particularly on the ball.

Noble intentions could be matched by a bit more subtlety in execution.

Life Cafe, 10 Shelley Street, SoHo, tel. 2810 9777

Thursday, July 14, 2005

What does the enemy want?

Two interesting articles with opposing views on whether or not the invasion of Iraq was the root cause of last week's bombings in London:
Seumas Milne argues that to ignore the link to the Iraq invasion is to insult the dead: "We can't of course be sure of the exact balance of motivations that drove four young suicide bombers to strike last Thursday, but we can be certain that the bloodbath unleashed by Bush and Blair in Iraq - where a 7/7 takes place every day - was at the very least one of them. What they did was not "home grown", but driven by a worldwide anger at US-led domination and occupation of Muslim countries".,16141,1528127,00.html
Nick Cohen says that "it's a parochial line of reasoning to suppose that all bad, or all good, comes from the West - and a racist one to boot. The unavoidable consequence is that you must refuse to support democrats, liberals, feminists and socialists in the Arab world and Iran who are the victims of Islamism in its Sunni and Shia guises because you are too compromised to condemn their persecutors".,5673,1525260,00.html

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The White Stone of Lewis

Do not attempt
to lift the white stone.
It is smooth quartzite
and weighs a lifetime.

You would prove your back
could take the strain:
brave, ambitious
you can handle any challenge.

But other strengths are more sustaining:
able to change and take changes
lift old habits from heavy soil
get to grips with the smooth surface
of self deception.

Let others do the heaving and shoving
who shoulder burdens they cannot manage
and set their sights on defeating others
in pointless shows of strength.

You carry the stone with you:
crystal with hope
light with humour
smooth with complete integrity.

Tessa Ransford

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

No pollution in Hong Kong today

This is the view from my office window ( a very poor PDA photo, sorry).

Due to the pollution pouring down the Pearl River Delta from the (frequently Hong Kong-owned) factories of Guangzhou and Shenzhen, you rarely get a view as good as this. I stand and look at all the buildings as if seeing them clearly for the first time in a while, which of course is apposite.

Eye know