Saturday, July 28, 2007

Costing a packet

Hard on the heels of recent shock news about the price of pork, prices for instant noodles, the most popular convenience food in mainland China, are increasing nationwide due to dramatic increases in the cost of raw materials and "product improvement" (does this involve making them longer? more crinkly? less soggy? less toxic?).

Sources from an organisation I confess I had never heard of before this news emerged, the World Instant Noodle Association China Branch (clearly the most powerful branch of all), said that prices will rise at an average rate of about 20% with the highest hike being around 40%. The China Economic Review said that "Prices of high-end instant noodles have already climbed and further price rises will mainly come in locally made medium- and low-end noodles."

Considering there are 1.3 billion people in China it has always struck me as astonishing that there aren't more instances of social unrest. The GDP keeps rising at an alarming rate (over 10% this quarter) and the cost of raw materials is inevitably increasing. When the cost of a bowl of noodles rises by 40%, and the average wage is still only US$1,000 a year, you can see a crisis coming.

(There are low-end noodles? This must be the equivalent of the introduction of first class post. The service stays the same, but now you have to introduce a poorer version and call it second class.)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A different world

I had a thought-provoking conversation yesterday with a Singaporean criminal prosecutor. He was about the same age as me (late thirties), and very senior: judges and lawyers often seem extraordinarily young in Singapore. According to one of his colleagues, meritocratic principles apply whereby someone who is fresh out of law school and in their mid-twenties is not deemed to be any less capable of presiding over a court than someone in their fifties. This is an interesting reversal of the equation of age with wisdom.

In Singapore the death penalty applies for murder and drug smuggling as well as other crimes, so I asked him how he felt about the fact that the outcome of a successful prosecution would be the death of the accused. He said that his first time was the hardest, but that he had dealt with some horrendous crimes and had no doubt that where someone was convicted of such a crime, they deserved to die.

As part of a presentation he was giving, he had a collection of photos of forensic evidence from the murder of a child and it was all I could do to stop him showing them all to me: "I've seen enough", I said politely. It was something he had become so familiar with he didn't even realise how terrible the photographs were. He did his job well in that case: the accused in that case was convicted and was hanged.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Through the window

My grandfather, Donald (Don) Hall, was a commercial artist who designed mannequins for shop windows. These were proper mannequins, with cheekbones, and stylised hair, and pointing, elegant hands, designed to sport Dior; and thinking about this the other day as I walked along Des Voeux Road I realised that I had no idea what the mannequins looked like in any of the shops I pass every day. That's not just because I'm fixated on the clothes, but because they are not mannequins but dummies: designed to fade in to the background, and be as unnoticeable as possible. Many of them have no heads and no hands, or if they have heads, their faces are featureless. Look at them the next time you pass a clothes shop and you'll see what I mean. The dummies used to be aspirational for the women looking longingly at the clothes, part of the dream of what I could be if only I wore that dress; but now a dummy with a lifelike face would be unnerving, the lipstick garish, the eyes disturbing and the image all wrong.

Grandad was still desperate to create with his hands long after he stopped working, and insisted on creating, out of clay, an awful, mawkish effigy of my grandmother which he glued to her gravestone with epoxy resin - someone should have persuaded him otherwise, although I feel sad saying this, because to him it was real.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Not with a banger, but a whimper

Swine disease in southern China has killed millions of pigs in the last year and that's led to an increase in the price of pork in mainland China of 30% in May alone. The recent high pork prices have prompted forecasts of higher inflation this year due to the importance of pork to the Chinese diet. So much so that presumably to avert pork riots, Wen Jiabao said the government would "go all out" to keep pork on dinner tables.
This bombshell came at an appropriate time in my linear little world (sample interior monologue, in no particular order: "clothes ... shoes ... politics ... music ... sausages"). After the previous post, I was thinking about how much I love sausages, proper sausages like the ones pictured above. Serving suggestion: stashed in a bap, with a smear of tomato ketchup, and eaten with a mug of hot, milky Scottish Blend tea held securely in the other hand: pure culinary heaven.
Of course sausage travesties abound: at hotel buffets in Malaysia and other Muslim countries, you often encounter the peculiar, disappointing chicken sausage, which has a texture like cushion stuffing (appalling though this is, it is as nothing compared to the horrors of turkey bacon); and I've never had a proper sausage on a plane yet. Nothing will dim my enthusiasm, though. Pork riots? It seems fair enough to me.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

In at the shallow end

At a time when blank-hearted nihilists and confused young men bent on death are thinking about the best way to kill as many people as possible - and inept as the attacks so far have been, they have the sense of being a series - the news in Hong Kong is all about the 10th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong, and the traffic restrictions and enhanced security as a result of the Chairman (Hu Jintao) being in town ("number one! China number one!", my taxi driver said excitedly yesterday, concurrently and ill-advisedly removing his hands from the wheel to gesticulate), and the complete non-event that is the second official crowning of Donald Tsang as our Chief Executive complete with over-long footage of interminable official ceremonies.
Even though I am on the other side of the world, my anxiety levels are quite high, and I was shocked by the pictures of the burning Jeep Cherokee which ploughed into the side of Glasgow airport. It feels a bit too close to home. The anxiety is hard to explain, but it must have something to do with my fears for the people I love, even though rationally they are not in imminent danger, at least no more so than anyone else is. I chide myself for this involuntary response too, because this is not downtown Baghdad, and it's nothing like the danger the Iraqi people face every day.

Beyond my own selfish response to it, though, I have the strong feeling right now that it is quite impossible for me to comment in a meaningful fashion, still less control what is happening in any way. So here's something meaning less to look at: from the top: Ring by Marie Helen de Taillac; dress by Donna Karan; shoes by Marc Jacobs. All from Browns Fashion. It was either that, or a picture of a sausage: you have to take your shallow comfort where you can find it.