Monday, January 30, 2006

Required reading...

... for anyone who still thinks the war in Iraq is, or ever was, a good plan:

The isle is full of noises

Yesterday we walked from Robinson Road to Repulse Bay, a journey that entails crossing Hong Kong Island from north to south. It was the first day of Chinese New Year and everywhere Hong Kongers and their families, in accordance with tradition, walked or drove to see each other. On the hiking trail we were following, inappropriately dressed women tripped down the path in heels and we passed one immaculate couple with artfully knotted sweaters who looked as though they were just on the way from the Country Club to their yacht.

Despite the sky high property prices, an unexpectedly large swathe of Hong Kong island is undeveloped - probably undevelopable, consisting as it does of precipitous hillsides swarming with dense greenery. We passed Parkview, a complex of three towers at the top of a steep incline, a place with its own supermarket, home to thousands of wealthy expats and the site of a notorious murder a couple of years ago. It's quite remote, yet gated and exclusive. It's a trite observation, but looking down at its sterile, graceless outline, you could almost see why that place would drive a woman to drug her husband, bludgeon him to death and, with spectacular ineptitude, attempt to hide his body in a carpet in the basement.

I realised how little of Hong Kong I've actually visited in the last few years: a GPS readout would show me circumscribing a very narrow path between the Lippo Centre for work, and SoHo for the gym and the restaurants, and IFC for shopping, with multiple trips to Zara and Lane Crawford, to my eternal, shallow shame.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

City of noises

I'm in Kuala Lumpur, where the Petronas Towers (above) loom out of the sky wherever you are like the spacecraft in Alien. I first saw the towers on The World's Strongest Man - incongruous though it may seem - about six years ago, long before I ever dreamed I'd be living in Asia. Then, as now, the towers seemed impossibly strange: and close up, incredibly tall.

The traffic in KL is notoriously bad and you're really only able to arrange two or three meetings a day because it takes so long to get anywhere - according to today's taxi driver, cars are too cheap. Malaysia manufactures the Proton which has been struggling for a while with the same problems Ford have been trying to tackle by making sweeping redundancies across the US - too many cars, too few buyers. All the world's keenest consumers seem to be in KL right now - in their cars, and driving somewhere (and if this doesn't seem too solipsistic, usually in the same direction as I need to go to get to my meeting on time).

KL, despite its traffic problems, is a very interesting city. Malaysia's slogan is that it's "Truly Asia" and that has been my experience - at the risk of making Hong Kong and Singapore seem like ersatz Asian cities, until I came here I don't think I understood Asia at all. Not that I'm much closer to understanding now, but I'm less colossally ignorant than I used to be. So far a majority Muslim population in a largely secular state with a large Chinese minority have managed to co-exist with a minimum of trouble.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Pear of the Dog

A cocktail in honour of the Year of the Dog (Chinese New Year begins on January 29, 2006)

One measure of Skyy vanilla vodka
Two measures of pear juice “with bits”

Serving suggestion:
Pour into cocktail glasses and drink in huge quantities

Kung Hei Fat Choi!/Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Military intelligence

It's hard not to be incensed by the deaths of 18 villagers, including four children, from Damadola Burkanday in north-west Pakistan, as a result of a bungled attempt by the CIA to kill a senior Al Qaeda figure. Pakistan is a sovereign state and an ally in the disastrous "War on Terror". This is the equivalent of a foreign government attacking North Uist because it's rumoured Tony Blair holidays there. Are Americans comfortable with their elected government dropping bombs on children in breach of international law? Even if the bombs had found their intended target those deaths could never be justified.

Friday, January 13, 2006

The opium of the people

I have been in Singapore for three days this week, visiting our office and when I could, eating at my favourite sushi bar where the prawn tempura maki are out of this world. (This is posted at the lounge in the world's most efficient airport, as I wait for my flight back to HK.)

We ate at a halal Turkish restaurant last night with the entire team (nearly 30 people now) - a completely indifferent meal, laden with bread, which suited the Singaporeans no better than it suited me (we'd all prefer rice). But we had to eat there because one member of the team is a strict Muslim and she insisted that we eat somewhere where the food was not only halal but certifiably so (which was rather difficult to find) and with absolutely no alcohol being offered or consumed on the premises, to the great disappointment of everyone except M, who said she would not be comfortable with eating anywhere else.

I think it's important that we respect M's religious beliefs, but this should be seen according to J.S. Mill's utilitarian precept that each person should be guaranteed the greatest possible liberty that does not interfere with the liberty of others. Next time I think we will tell her that we can't let the choice of venue be dictated by one person.

This seems clear cut, but I am more conflicted about Muslim women wearing headscarves (which is a much more common sight in Singapore due to the different cultural mix here). At worst it seems to me to be a potent symbol of oppression, yet it doesn't affect me directly, so according to Mill's precept it's not interfering with my liberty. But it is creating a division between women and men and I can't help thinking that is extraordinary that women have to make such a public statement of their obedience to their religion - and by extension, to the men who run it.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Hawk Roosting

I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed.
Inaction, no falsifying dream
Between my hooked head and hooked feet:
Or in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat.

The convenience of the high trees!
The air's buoyancy and the sun's ray
Are of advantage to me;
And the earth's face upward for my inspection.

My feet are locked upon the rough bark.
It took the whole of Creation
To produce my foot, my each feather:
Now I hold Creation in my foot

Or fly up, and revolve it all slowly -
I kill where I please because it is all mine.
There is no sophistry in my body:
My manners are tearing off heads -

The allotment of death.
For the one path of my flight is direct
Through the bones of the living.
No arguments assert my right:

The sun is behind me.
Nothing has changed since I began.
My eye has permitted no change.
I am going to keep things like this.

Ted Hughes

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Rock stars. Is there anything they don't know?

Bob Geldof has been asked by the Tory party to advise them on debt relief. He's agreed - as they used to say in the NME, natch. Homer Simpson's quote (above, the title of this post) says it all. Call me cynical, but this is the latest and most despicable twist in Geldof's ego-driven tale.