Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tai tai again

This photograph was taken at 2pm yesterday in Wellington Street. I suppose it makes a certain kind of sense, unlike the handbag declaring “I am not a plasac bag” which I saw someone proudly toting the other day.

The front of this t-shirt said (obviously) “WONDERFUL THING WITH PEACE”; sadly I wouldn’t have been able to get a picture of it without causing alarm to the lieges. The best way to keep out of the heat (34 degrees yesterday) and pollution (q.v.), to get back to my office from my meeting is through a labrynthine air-conditioned above-ground network of connections between posh shopping malls – to wit, I can go up the escalator to HMV and thence past Harvey Nichols into the Landmark; from there past Burberry to Alexandra House; and from there to Prince’s Building and out of the exit by Cartier. The above litany of luxury shops clearly attracts legions of tai tais and I pondered, as I often do when walking briskly through Central during working hours, that if I had nothing to do all day but wander around spending money and having lunch with my “friends” (ie other women who didn’t have to work), how terribly empty I would feel.

Solid air

Compare and contrast these two photographs from my office window, one taken last week and one taken yesterday. The poor quality camera phone photograph doesn't really illustrate the smog in all its horrific detail, but it had a nasty metallic look to it. The sun continued to shine but you could hardly tell.

The Environmental Protection Department's website said that pollution in Central yesterday was "High" at 63 (on Hong Kong's own mealy-mouthed Air Pollution Index which does not refer to international standards because that would show us as being completely off the scale) and consisted of "respirable suspended particulates". The pre-Olympic crackdown on heavy industrial factories around Beijing may well have resulted in a compensatory powering up of factories in Guangdong province, just over the border, but more likely it's just business as usual for Hong Kong: with a few weeks' respite and glorious blue skies, it became difficult to imagine the pollution (like pain, it's hard to remember the visceral detail of the experience when you're not suffering it).

Saturday, July 26, 2008

I've seen the future

Divers (1930) - George Hoyningen-Huene (1900-1968). The composition and the texture of this photograph are flawless. I have a vague memory of it having been the cover of one of Penguin's editions of The Great Gatsby. Sunshine, languor, beauty, and nothing lasts forever.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Eat drink man woman

I spend some of my time at work doing presentations for lawyers. The law firm arranges for me to come in to their office to do the presentation which lasts an hour and earns attendees the princely sum of one point towards an annual requirement for continuous legal education. The presentations usually take place over the lunch hour so sandwiches are served, almost always in trays from Pret a Manger. I've done probably about 50 of them in the last few years. It's a great way to get in front of clients (usually between 10 and 20 litigators attend, sometimes more) and I really enjoy doing them: I have fun, make people laugh, tell what I hope are interesting anecdotes, know my subject well - or at least better than my audience (except when I was in front of 50 Melbourne barristers, but that's another story), which is what really matters - and we get business out of it because they remember where to come if they need our services.

I never usually talk about work on my blog but I had to break my own rule for this: yesterday's attendees behaved so shockingly rudely that I stumbled in my presentation. When I started my introduction, the only thing the more junior attendees (who were all young Chinese women, as a statement of fact, and there was a gang of about 10 of them seated round the table, ie more than half the people in the room) were focused on was the food on the table: rustling their paper bags, unwrapping them, discarding the contents, picking up another paper bag, swapping with each other, getting the right spoon, asking someone else to pass a Coke can, and eating with heads down and utter concentration on the task at hand.

After about five minutes of this, the most senior person there stood up and said loudly and pointedly that as a matter of courtsey they should immediately stop rustling and fussing about with the food and listen to their guest speaker (me). I said I'd give them two minutes to sort themselves out, did so, and then continued, to hardly rapt, but at least slightly chastened, silence.

Fifty presentations, at least, and that was the first time anything so unnerving had ever happened to me.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Despot housewives

I nearly bought a pair of Salvatore Ferragamo shoes in the sale at Lane Crawford. One thing stopped me though (apart from the fact that they were still ridiculously over-priced): I have vowed, on principle, never to buy anything by Salvatore Ferragamo (whose assistants at the Mandarin Oriental, by the way, exemplify that terrible Hong Kong trait of following you so closely round the shop that if you look round suddenly, both of you get a fright).

Robert Mugabe's wife, spending millions in designer shops in Paris, told a journalist disdainfully that she had to wear Ferragamo shoes and, indeed, could wear nothing else because her feet are too narrow for normal shoes. This, while her despotic husband presides over the world's fastest shrinking economy, ruthlessly murders his opponents (and their wives), and turns his country upside down.

Grace, and that's her name, is the reason why I couldn't buy anything with that logo on it.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The soft bed of luxury

One of the above dresses costs US$2400. The other, a third of that. Can you guess which? And then the real challenge: can you guess why?
A clue: one of them is by Bottega Veneta which seem to have successfully established itself as a premium luxury brand (it was rated the world's top luxury brand in the 2008 Luxury Brand Status Index (LBSI) survey from the ludicrously named New York City-based Luxury Institute, which canvassed the idle rich to find out their opinions; apparently "wealthy women are highly discerning, almost to a fault"); partly by virtue, apparently, of superior craftsmanship, and partly, it seems to me, and this is one of the tricks of the luxury trade, by charging shedloads of money for their product. It works in Hong Kong - and if you look at their site, the roll-call of locations is quite illuminating.
Dresses by Bottega Veneta and Lanvin; shoes by Azzedine Alaia and Balenciaga, all from Browns.

Friday, July 04, 2008

I can see clearly now

The view from my office window of Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong, July 3, 2008. On my way in to work on the 260 bus, I saw islands in the distance I didn't know were there. The reason for this unusual clarity and excellent visibility? Depending who you ask, the factories in Guangzhou have been closed by flooding, so they aren't spewing out toxicity; and/or storms have cleared away the smog. Paddling on the water in the last few weeks, though, has been like navigating through a vast mobile junkheap of flip-flops, wrappers, branches, shoes, plastic bags, dead dogs (really) and empty bottles. So you can have either clear skies or clean water; never both.


Charing Cross, from the window of the Charing Cross hotel; early morning, late June 2008

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Whole country goes down pan

I always spend a bit of time when back in the UK browsing the supermarket/newsagent shelves for front page tabloid headlines, an effort which usually repays itself tenfold; if for no other reason than to get a wafer-thin impression of what people are thinking and talking about and how poorly and crassly it can possibly be expressed.

The winner this week? The beleaguered Labour government has introduced some tentative, watered down legislation to encourage employers to take on, er, more women and ethnic minorities in view of the fact that they, again er, tend not to. All subtleties of analysis, not to mention statistics, are cavalierly cast aside, though, by the Daily Express with this: