Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Consider the lilies

I am going to a beach wedding in Phuket this weekend, which poses the challenge of what to wear - not too dressy, clearly, but judging by the extremely glamorous women who attended the hen party, I have to make an effort (and I don't look good in crumpled linen anyway). I've just moved to a new flat and so I am suffering from my periodical loathing of the idea of possessions (so many of them! and to what end?); however, unbidden, this Rick Owens Lilies dress appeared to me as if in a dream. The idea of wearing this to the wedding, teamed with what is now tiresomely dubbed "statement" jewellery (I'm making a statement. This is jewellery), is a vision entirely unrelated to reality. First, I'm not buying it. Second, even if I did, and it fitted me, and more importantly suited me, I couldn't get it to Hong Kong, nor to Phuket, on time.

From Net-a-porter.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Hard boiled wonderland and the end of the world

The South China reported on Friday that fake eggs, reputedly from Hubei province, have been discovered in Macau (I prefer the term artificial ova myself). Mrs Wong bought them at market; after being cooked the yolk was just like rubber (not just a problem with her technique then?). Locals buying them from street vendors in Xiamen found the yolks bounced when cooked.

Mrs Wong of Macau, meanwhile, with admirable fortitude, ate six eggs that "tasted strange". Since she gritted her teeth and ate the evidence, it might never be possible to determine what the ersatz eggs were made of.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Factory fates

The Chinese government's concerns about social unrest must be reaching fever pitch following the news that 20 million jobs have been lost in Guangdong province alone, where a third of the mainland's exports are produced. A senior Guangdong police official warned that the public security outlook was "grim" as jobless workers could turn to crime. Projections are that the number of rural jobless - people formerly working in the factories in Guangdong, just across the border from Hong Kong, and now returning home - could double. The numbers are mind-boggling.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Ring of roses

I love the simple pleasure of buying flowers at a flower stall where you can pick your favourites and they meld them together perfectly and wrap them in brown paper. These were made by Tennie, at my favourite flower stall in Stanley market. We were all so pleased with this combination that Tennie's fellow florist took a picture of it too. (Not roses, despite appearances and this post's title: to be maddeningly imprecise, some kind of chrysanthemum (the deep red one), and another flower I can't name (the white one) which always seems to last forever, accompanied by tendrils of something with tiny little white buds.)

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Out on the water today, we raced three OC6s with novice steerers, from Stanley Main Beach across the bay past the American Club, into Tai Tam and out again, around the buoys near the quarry at Hobie cat Beach, and back to the pier at the Sea School. I sat at seat 5 coaching the novice steerer in the boat (which mainly consisted of shouting back to him "don't paddle, just steer"; "pick a point and aim for it, don't deviate" and "keep the boat straight", it being a classic error of all new steerers to try to paddle too much rather than steer - in a race situation, the crew just want the boat to head in a consistent direction.) My crew were given a minute's head start as we were all women except for the steerer; but after 50 minutes of hard paddling we held off the other crews to finish first, despite the fact that A's steering was erratic: we zigged, and then we zagged...

The water in Stanley Bay was fairly clear, in that looking down, you could see the sand on the sea floor; but there was a strange reddish scum covering much of the sea's surface, which lapped against the boat, leaving a sticky residue as we passed. On arriving back at the pier, tomato-faced with effort (in my case at least), we floated for a while, idly watching a little sampan chugging out diesel fumes and spewing adulterated water into the sea. When they lowered a large test tube shaped object into the water it became apparent that they were taking a water sample. It was all I could do not to remark to them that 1) I could tell them what the water quality was - it was shite; and 2) they might find if they switched their diesel engine off, they would be contributing less overtly to the poor quality water they were purporting to measure.

(Picture from the Around Hong Kong Island Race, November 2008; ©Lydia Ronnenkamp)

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Hair of the dog

When we were kids we always had gerbils. There's something a bit challenging about gerbils: they're cannibals, eating their young if they are surplus to requirements (too many mouths to feed); they are, when newborn, pink and hairless and squirming; and their little cage always seemed to reek (cleaning out the cage, ridding it of its sodden kapok and sawdust, was a chore to be dreaded but endured if you wanted a pet). They also bite down with alacrity on the webs between your fingers, given half a chance, and don't let go. But they can be cute and snuffly, and have the advantage of being fairly accessible pets.

They were all too accessible, unfortunately, for a rotten, fat, yappy little Cairn terrier called Kirsty, with wiry grey pelt and mean button eyes, which belonged to some daft family friends: one terrible day I came into the bedroom where they were kept to discover the wire top of the gerbil cage askew and a smug Kirsty knocking back the last gerbil before licking her chops in a revoltingly satisfied fashion.

No matter how much any adult might subsequently explain that Kirsty was just following her instinct as a ratcatching kinda dog, I conceived there and then a powerful loathing for all yapping little terriers and their ilk which has endured to this day. I was more than pleased - I was triumphant when Kirsty subsequently got alopecia and her coat fell off.

Flight from reality

It's all too easy to affect a strong dislike for various designers and nano-celebrities, usually on the basis that a) there may be comic value to be gleaned; and b) they are undeserving aristocratic nonentities (qv "London's Coolest Teenagers" in VOGUE). Matthew Williamson (who's now "creative director" of Pucci, so he got what he deserved with their noxious prints), for instance, always struck me as someone who had, by judicious use of celebrity pals, parlayed his minimal talent into a successful career as a fashion designer in this endless merry-go-round of mutual appreciation and endorsement which the vacuous just gobble up.

Now I have confirmation that I was right to conceive a towering dislike of the man: in an inflight magazine I picked up recently, he was asked what he would be doing in 10 years' time and answered "I'll be flying in my private jet to all my favourite places and hoping they are still unspoiled".

Clearly this is sheer arrogance and stupidity of the worst kind.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Crouching tiger, hidden salmon

Roksanda Ilincic's clothes are always beautiful and simple with something nicely modern about them. This dress wouldn't suit me at all (the colour, described as rose, washes out anyone with pale colouring; a more accurate description would be salmon pink, which inexplicably is not favoured by designers) and what's more it's unjustifiably expensive and dry clean only, words to strike fear into any lazy/thrifty woman's heart; but the simplicity of this dress, and the way it's put together, and the precise way the fabric falls, and the addition of the baroque belt, are an admirable combination.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Hope and despair

Today's taxi driver, Ken, vehemently disagreed with yesterday's (Eric) about 70% of passengers being rude. Ken's verdict was that Eric must be unhappy inside, and projecting that onto his passengers; why, Ken greets his with a happy smile and wave and "then they will be gentle even if they are sad". This conversation also revealed the interesting fact that often people will tell Ken their secrets because he doesn't know his passengers' names.

Ken, the optimist, who learned his English from watching TV, had more reason than Eric to be cynical about human nature. Once he was attacked and robbed by an illegal immigrant while walking with his family in Shek O; and once, incredibly, a passenger he described as "a lunatic" poured sulphuric acid over his head. It was cold that day and he was wearing a hat and thick cream because of his eczema, so miraculously he was unscarred.

I learn so much from taxi drivers (including, again today, guidance on Cantonese pronunciation) that it's a source of some regret that there's such a massive price differential between the bus and a cab fare and no real advantage in terms of speed. I also get travel sick in cabs, especially on the winding and precipitous route back to Stanley, but today it was almost worth it.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The ride

Eric the cab driver drove me home this evening. He was in his twenties, had been driving for about a year, and was eager to practise his English as well as teach me how to use tones properly to give my address in Stanley (Chek Chu). Tones are the hardest part of learning Cantonese; westerners are usually too high-pitched, apparently, and you'll sometimes find yourself parroting a phrase you've learned, thinking it's correct, only to be met with blank incomprehension because the tones are all over the place.

The journey from Central to Stanley takes about 20 minutes in the evening, so he had time to tell me, rather sadly, that he felt that 70% of his passengers - even one bolshy four year old, in the example he gave - didn't respect him or treat him like a human being. In his view mainlanders were the worst. I suggested that he might want to fit an ejector seat for recalcitrant passengers, failing which a bucket of water might do the trick; but he pointed out not only that this would mean losing 70% of passengers prior to payment, but also that in Hong Kong, taxi drivers are legally obliged to accept all passengers, no matter how rude.