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".)