Sunday, 31 October 2010
He even takes up the issue with California Senator Barbara Boxer. She says, "See these pants? I got them from the dry cleaners."
Later on the street Larry sees a person wearing his baseball shirt... and then another...
I almost had a Larry David moment the other day. Last week I took my clothes to the wash and got them back the same day. but I didn't realize until a few days later that one of my red tops was missing. What happened to it? Did someone else have it?
In a moment of panic -- just before going to bed -- I wondered if it would be gone forever and if I was prepared for the possibility of it having a new owner or lost somewhere in laundry equivalent of the black hole.
I was too busy this week to go ask the laundry people about it until today when I dropped off another load.
When I told them about my missing top, they went over to a hanging rack and asked if the red top they were pointing to was the one. Yes! What a relief!
It turns out when they took it out of the dryer it was still damp so they hung it to dry and forgot to put it back in the load.
"We usually depend on the customer to tell us if they're missing something," they said.
While I appreciate their honesty, I guess it's hard to keep track of everyone's clothes all the time.
I'm just glad to have my top back.
Saturday, 30 October 2010
|Sai Kung pier|
We took the MTR to Choi Hung station and then got out of exit C2 where there was a massive line for the 1A green minibus, and another line for either the 92 or 96R bus.
Just as we walked out of the station, the 92 bus arrived so we decided to take it; but now we realize why everyone was lining up for the minibus. The double-decker had to make frequent stops along the way, whereas the minibus -- several of them -- whipped past us.
Along the way we saw the hills covered in trees and three-storey tiled houses dotted along the way. Eventually we made it into Sai Kung town centre where there's a Wellcome superstore (a giant supermarket), as well as McDonald's, and Dymocks, a bookstore. There was even an upscale grocery store called Marketplace so it seemed promising.
|Fresh seafood ready to be eaten by hungry diners|
And for some strange reason this place has lots of shops catering to dogs. There's a cookie shop for dogs, pet stores, vets, dog grooming... and there are lots of dogs in that area too. There are some western restaurants and cafes as well as pubs and bars.
The neighbourhood temple is all newly renovated and looked quite nice. We took a look inside and even made some incense offerings, hoping the gods would be good to us. And for a bit of luck we shook jars filled with bamboo sticks until one of them came out. I have to get someone to translate it for me.
|A newly-renovated temple|
However, the logistics of getting to and from Sai Kung seemed too much for either one of us to handle. We did take the green minibus back to Choi Hung (with a split-second scare of almost hitting a barricade) in less than 20 minutes, the ride back to Central was tiring for both of us. There didn't seem to be much in terms of activities and places to entice us to stay, and wasn't very convenient in terms of having all the things we're used to having in town.
My friend's first impression of Sai Kung was that it was like being in Guangzhou, but without the heavy pollution.
While it's probably good for families and those looking for a practically hermit-like lifestyle, it wasn't for us. Maybe it was a sign from the gods.
Friday, 29 October 2010
|Bob Blumer and his Toastermobile|
The network held a bash at the Four Seasons which was really well executed.
In the ballroom there was a giant screen at the back, showcasing clips from TLC's shows to give visitors a taste of what the network's lineup is.
|Blumer's Toastermobile recreated in Hong Kong|
Blumer definitely has an eye for the ladies and the more skin they revealed, the more flirty he got. Taking pictures with each person gave him the chance to wrap his arms around a lot of admiring female fans. He seemed disappointed having to pose with guys.
And his mini Toastermobile was serving up some intriguing dishes which suited Blumer's Surreal Gourmet style.
|What looks like bacon and eggs... for dessert!|
|Jell-O shots presented like orange wedges|
It turns out this recipe is in his cookbook called Jell-O Slicers. It's quite simple -- just cut oranges in half and scoop everything out. And then make Jell-O and add your favourite vodka to spike the Jell-O and pour it into the orange cups. Then refrigerate for a few hours until they're firm. Then slice into wedges.
His note in the recipe in capital letters says: Remember, you are serving solid booze.
And to complement these Jell-O shots, there were small plastic bottles with straws in them that had a label that said "Hangover Helper" on them stating they were made with "real strawberries". The chef also explained it was basically strawberry yogurt. Many people tried it just for fun.
Thursday, 28 October 2010
|Crab claw in steamed egg white was a winner|
It's started by the chef who used to cook for the executives of Hang Seng bank and then he left to start his own restaurant in Hong Kong and now has one in Macau that recently earned a Michelin star.
My cousin told me that if you wanted a table in the two-storey restaurant you had to book well in advance as even a two-week period wasn't early enough. So in order to secure a table for sure I booked over a month ahead.
Also there were some dishes we had to order in advance so we reserved the crab claws for each person and salt-baked chicken. And then when we arrived at the restaurant we also chose the soup of the day (pork with figs and melon), tofu, stir-fried bitter melon with bitter cucumber, and fried rice with beef.
The crab claws were quite impressive. They were really meaty and were either served in a shallow bowl of steamed egg white, or with winter melon. The former was much better than the latter in terms of taste -- the winter melon was a small block and didn't do much to complement the taste of the crab meat, whereas the one with egg white had a wonderful smooth texture that went well with crab.
|Stir-fried bitter melon with bitter cucumber and Chinese ham|
The soup was also delicious and well executed -- not a drop of oil in sight despite the use of fatty pork. The broth was probably put through a cheese cloth to ensure its clarity and the taste was a good combination that wasn't too sweet but savoury too.
We were intrigued by the vegetable dish -- having two types of bitter melons together. The wait staff explained the two eaten together would have different textures, the cucumber was harder, while the melon was softer. However when it was served with thin long slices of Chinese ham, the slices of the melons and cucumbers were so large they had to be eaten separately instead of together. I had thought they would be sliced finer so that you had to eat them in one bite.
|Salt-baked chicken complete with gizzard and liver|
Finally the fried rice was pretty good, nicely flavoured with small chunks of beef. We were all pretty full by then and could only manage a small bowl each.
However, the desserts were disappointing. By the time we ordered dessert they had run out of walnut soup and so we ordered what was called puff pastry with sago but was actually filled with lotus paste and not sago. The pastry part was not interesting at all difficult to eat. The black sesame jelly was fine, but nothing interesting.
The hype of this restaurant raised my expectations so much that I was kind of disappointed to see the uneven results or perhaps we didn't know what to order.
Nevertheless it was good to try something in the neighbourhood and maybe next time ask for better recommendations on dishes.
For five, the bill came to just over HK$1,800.
G/F, Jervois Street
Wednesday, 27 October 2010
We beat Norway which was number one at 91kg per capita last year according to a survey by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Tuesday, 26 October 2010
|The queue behind us|
Monday, 25 October 2010
|Sarah Brightman singing with the stars|
However despite the advertising, tickets weren't available for sale for a few weeks which was a bit frustrating. Eventually he and his friend got tickets and were set to come, but his friend dropped out at the last minute and Marc asked me to come. After hemming and hawing, I finally agreed, and why it took me so long to make up my mind I will never understand why.
We met up at 4pm in Sheung Wan and managed to get on the 4:30pm ferry which he was pleased about, as he had gotten tickets for 5pm. He kept updating his Facebook status about the impending concert.
When we got on the shuttle bus to the Venetian, we studied our coupon books and saw two-for-one steak at the Blue Frog restaurant which we made a beeline for (and taking pictures along the way).
We had just enough time to head to the loo one more time before getting to our seats inside the Cotai Arena, a pretty big stadium-like space.
The stage wasn't very large and it didn't have a catwalk like her previous shows as Marc pointed out. Nevertheless it seemed like there was enough space for a pretty decent-sized orchestra and a large screen above them.
After 7pm, the orchestra members filed in and then the lights lowered. The conductor dressed in a tuxedo came out and led the orchestra in an opening number. According to Marc, all her concerts start like this.
Then she appeared, walking on stage in a dark-coloured evening gown, followed by two white ones. And her voice? It's amazing. It's very clear and strong, lyrical and warm. She can sing classical to pop. The program included such songs as Nessun Dorma, He doesn't see me, Scarborough Fair, Stranger in Paradise, and Ave Maria.
All the songs were accompanied by videos projected above her, many of them not having much to do with what she was singing which was a bit strange.
And to the delight of fans she of course sang Phantom of the Opera in a ravishing red dress with a guest tenor.
Her "last" song was Time to say goodbye, though she came back after a quick costume change into a black dress.
After someone did a wolf whistle, Marc shouted, "You're looking hot, Sarah!" And she does, for someone having recently turned 50 in August -- August 14 to be exact.
Earlier in the show he also shouted, "We love you Sarah!" and she replied, "Thank you".
"She always says that," Marc observed with a knowing smile.
While she strives to sound like her CD it's too bad she doesn't try to veer from the script too much, which is probably highly produced. It's also a pity she doesn't speak too much to her audience. Perhaps it's because it's really strange hearing her speaking voice which is very clipped compared to her singing voice.
Nevertheless she is an excellent performer who hit all her notes perfectly and with a lot of energy.
So it was shocking to hear a couple in front of us in the standby line for the ferry back to Hong Kong say they were disappointed with the concert.
The young Hong Kong Chinese woman said that she had seen Brightman's concert last year in Hong Kong and expected the same kind of special effects and dancers.
Marc was horrified to hear a "fan" would say this and defended Brightman, trying to explain that most of the time her concerts are like the ones we just saw and it's only when she releases an album and does a world tour does she put on a big production number.
They complained that the had spent a lot of money on tickets and so they expected more, including the 3D hologram effect they saw last year. However, Marc the superfan explained that this concert was probably a last minute add-on to her tour dates in Japan and it was interesting to have her with an orchestra and perform many of her old numbers instead of new material.
"In the end you're paying to see Sarah, not the visual effects," he said.
But the young couple could not be convinced.
Ah, discerning Hong Kong aficionados can't be reasoned into realizing they are all caught up in the special effects and recognizing a true talent when they see it.
In any event she thrilled me with her crystal-clear voice and her ability to cover many singing genres in one concert. She also makes the music accessible to many more people who would otherwise feel intimidated if it was completely classical.
Complete with good looks it sounds like a winning combination.
Sunday, 24 October 2010
These people live on HK$100 ($12.89) a day. In Beijing this would not be too difficult as things from transportation to utilities and food can be cheap. But in Hong Kong, that's a real challenge.
An expat could easily spend that on two drinks in Lan Kwai Fong.
But here that money needs to feed, shelter and clothe an entire family.
While some may think the tycoons of Hong Kong are the heroes of the city, it's really these working poor.
They are doing the impossible by surviving on so little.
Saturday, 23 October 2010
|The Dale Chihuly-like chandeliers|
Thanks to one of the mall staff standing near the map, he gave us pretty good directions otherwise we'd be circling around completely lost. I still haven't managed to find my way around this place easily which can be frustrating at times.
Anyway we arrived and the place looked grand with very high ceilings and Dale Chihuly-like glass chandeliers -- they were not nearly as intricate and artistic as his.
|Our view of construction filling in Victoria Harbour...|
I expected rain despite Typhoon Megi missing us, but there was not a drop in sight, though the sky was quite hazy.
The dim sum menu here is a bit on the expensive side, but quite good and you're paying for relatively good service. We had steamed shrimp dumplings, barbecue pork in a round puff pastry, steamed rice rolls, vegetarian steamed dumplings, fried-rice covered with a layer of scrambled egg and then cut into squares, a plate of choy sum with oyster sauce, and stir-fried thick rice noodles with crab roe sauce topped with giant prawns and vegetables.
|Floral-shaped osmanthus jelly for dessert|
It was quite exquisite for a Chinese dessert, as Chinese cuisine doesn't do desserts justice.
Going to the washroom at Cuisine Cuisine is an event in itself.
You have to walk down the long hallway until you reach the end which looks like a gray wall. Off to the left is the men's, the women's straight ahead. An automatic door slides open and you walk in and then open yet another door to finally enter the washroom.
While the toilet flushes automatically, the sinks don't automatically turn on and off -- it's manual. Seems like the budget for sinks and soap dispensers was cut back. Either everything should be automatic, or manual otherwise people's expectations are not met. Nevertheless, there is an attendant there, handing small towels folded into squares to each person for old-school service.
Regardless, emerging from the bathroom, it can be a memory challenge of getting back to your seat...
3101 Podium Level 3
Friday, 22 October 2010
The blast originated from the bushes by a street lamp in the parking lot outside the Bank of China and Merchant's Bank, where there is a newsstand and a bus stop where I used to catch the bus.
According to news reports, police troops, armed police, special police and firefighters were on the scene within an hour of the explosion, but then it took them two hours to secure the area which is strange. One would think at a crime scene like that police would want it secure within minutes of arriving. They then spent several hours there collecting evidence and photographing the area.
Apparently there was lots of debris, but curiously an onlooker said the police swept it away. Hopefully they took pictures and samples before they cleaned up the mess.
Unless they didn't want people to know about it...
But if the police later claim it was a terrorist attack, there is sure to be further security measures in the already paranoid capital...
So Typhoon Megi isn't coming to Hong Kong at all.
Despite everyone's best predictions, it veered further north east of Hong Kong, bypassing us completely and instead heading towards Fujian.
We'll still get some rain, but not as bad as feared.
I had heard some people were getting married tomorrow and were terrified of their wedding plans having to be canceled because of a natural disaster.
But it looks like everything's back on and business as usual.
Thursday, 21 October 2010
After work this evening I saw some shops and hotels board up their windows, while people were rushing home. A few drops started to fall from the sky, but not enough to merit opening the umbrella.
Supermarkets like City Super and Park N Shop were busy and the latter didn't have enough vegetables and dairy products available. People were stocking up (like myself) on food to hunker down for the next few days.
Perhaps we will see the Typhoon signal 8 late Friday or Saturday morning.
We shall see.
Wednesday, 20 October 2010
Already the winds have started picking up and an eeriness in the air.
Tomorrow we're going to start having some rain and then who knows what will come next.
Tuesday, 19 October 2010
Currently the Hong Kong Observatory is showing Megi set to hit Hong Kong towards the end of the week, and is projected to be almost a direct hit. This is quite unusual as the observatory is known to make vague predictions as a possibility of raising a typhoon 8 signal apparently decreases productivity in the city.
However, in the office we were trying to get as much work done as possible in case the super typhoon does hit us, but my efforts to chase up people were in vain.
Nevertheless, we are all on the typhoon watch and wonder if we'll get typhoon 8 on Friday...
|Ai Weiwei and his sunflower seeds|
Apparently when people play with these things, which are fired with a matte finish, kick up a lot of dust that could be harmful to breathe in.
The whole point of the piece was to allow people to wade in the seeds, play with them, walk on them, or even lie on them in a large expansive area in the Turbine Hall. They were encouraged to touch them and feel them in their hands and enjoy the art with their senses (except taste!).
Sunflower seeds are so simple, a popular snack in China that people eat and carelessly drop the shells on the ground. But in the Tate Modern they are prized art pieces.
Each of the seeds were individually made and painted by people in Jingdezhen, a city well known for its fine ceramics, and it took two years to finish making all 100 million ceramic seeds, which, when spread on the floor four inches thick looks like a giant mass of gray.
For now the installation is cordoned off by rope which is a pity; how can one experience Ai's work from a distance?
It really is a clever idea that should allow visitors to try (at their own risk). Why not give them masks to wear while wandering on the seeds?
Otherwise it's wasted art.
Monday, 18 October 2010
The escalator ride up seemed endless, and thinking we could get to the observation deck, we were denied! Apparently our tickets were only the basic return fare for the tram and not anything else extra -- why couldn't anyone point that out to us earlier!
|Towering strawberry shortcakes|
However it was no shortcake. It was towering.
Three smallish shortcakes were sliced in half and had giant scoops of vanilla ice cream like a massive sandwich topped with fake whipped cream.
It was a daunting challenge for one person to eat. I ordered the key lime pie, which was quite dense and hard to finish too.
But it wasn't about the desserts, it was about catching up and telling them about the benefits of being in Hong Kong, one of which is having access to banned books and a relatively free media.
Afterwards we tried to find out way out and almost found ourselves trapped inside the Peak Tower. What a horror! The signage to get out was nowhere to be found; probably a ruse to keep tourists spending their money in there.
Eventually we managed to escape from the place and get a decent view of the city down below.
In the end they were pleased to go up to the Peak -- to see Hong Kong and have a taste of freedom in a technically Chinese city.
Sunday, 17 October 2010
That's because their habits of socializing can be very alienating.
I recently went to a party in a small bar on the 9th floor of a building. The place was covered in smoke even though it was against the law to smoke indoors. The guests didn't seem to care and smoked up massive gray clouds in the tiny space.
On top of that they were singing karaoke completely out of tune, the range of which depended on how much they had to drink. Did I mention it was really loud too?
As a friend there observed, karaoke is a total party killer especially when some people in the room don't know each other and need a quieter atmosphere in order to network. Karaoke should be done with friends in a private room, not in a bar.
Then tonight I had dinner with relatives on the Kowloon side in a local restaurant. This eatery tried to be upscale by installing TV screens everywhere, giant flat screen ones on the walls, and smaller ones in the booths.
It's not the only restaurant to do this in Hong Kong -- many of them do the same, thinking this is what patrons want.
The end result is that people around the table are staring at a TV screen eating their dinners instead of enjoying their food and each other's company. A couple sitting next to us sat facing the screen not each other, the young woman blindly putting food into her mouth, while her husband chatted on his cellphone.
How rude is that? And how does that make for stimulating dinner conversation, let alone developing their relationship further?
This need to be connected all the time with TV screens, cellphones, Blackberries, video games and the like will reach a breaking point soon.
Or this society is going to be even more disconnected than ever.
Saturday, 16 October 2010
|Gary Graffman when he performed last year in Beijing|
It was only HK$200 ($25.78) for the most expensive ticket and my seat was in the second row.
The concert was part of a series called "The Joy of Music Festival 2010" presented by The Chopin Society of Hong Kong. Its biggest patron is Lady Muriel Kadoorie, an amateur pianist and music lover. She has helped subsidize most of the concerts and masterclasses which is fantastic for classical music fans in the city.
Some of the performers have offered their experience and expertise in masterclasses for aspiring musicians which, according to Dr Andrew Fereris, chairman of the Chopin Society, has become popular not only here, but also the mainland, where students and their teachers come here to attend these classes to learn more musical tips and techniques.
I got a ticket for tonight's concert because of Gary Graffman, who is best known for playing the piano with his left hand. I saw him last year in Beijing and really enjoyed listening to him.
This time the concert featured the London Chamber Orchestra Chamber Group, along with Graffman and another pianist, Peter Frankl.
The LCO string quartet is a group of young musicians who play very well together and with others.
The first piece was Franz Schubert's String Quartet, No. 10 in E flat, D 87 and it was pretty straight forward until the third movement that things really got moving in terms of energy. It's interesting to note that Schubert was only 31 when he died of syphilis and typhus, but in that short life span he left behind some one thousand pieces, including his first quartet at 13 years of age.
Afterwards Graffman came into the mix; the concert wasn't very formal so most of the string musicians wore black or dark shirts and pants, while Graffman wore a black shirt, but also a black almost casual jacket on top, like the ones senior Chinese leaders wear.
With him, the group minus the viola player performed Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Suite for piano and strings, Op. 23. Korngold was commissioned by Paul Wittgenstein, a famous Viennese pianist who had to have his right arm amputated from World War I. This piece of music had five movements, and things got really exciting towards the end in the last two movements. Graffman periodically looked over to the quartet to make sure they were all in time and did his own thing at the piano, even turning his own pages with the lick of his finger.
And like before, it sounded like Graffman had two hands playing the keys instead of one, thanks to lots of pedaling and excellent finger work. The audience clapped appreciatively and made the four come out on stage three times for bows.
During the intermission, Graffman came out, with a satchel slung across his shoulder, and talked to Michael Kadoorie and his wife Betty in the seating area. Graffman looked like he was on his way out; people wanted to take pictures with the man who is Lang Lang's teacher, but were not allowed. Sometimes members have their privileges.
|Pianist Peter Frankl|
And what made me enjoy this music so much was not only because it was upbeat and written for Schumann's wife Clara, but just the fact that Frankl looked completely at ease and enjoyed himself in the performance, which really, is what music is all about. He constantly looked over to the string quartet with a smile to make sure they were all playing together as well as concentrating on his own parts.
In the last movement the four string players seem to repeat the theme over and over like a round, almost something that Bach would have written, and accompanied by the piano. In the end this group came out four times on stage to receive the warm applause and shouts from the appreciative audience.
What a pity there was no encore.
While most of the applause was for Frankl and Graffman, the LCO Chamber Group were probably just as thrilled to be playing with such greats, getting their own masterclass on stage.
Friday, 15 October 2010
Thursday, 14 October 2010
|Horse racing + Oktoberfest = Big Party|
When I got to the Happy Valley race stands after 7:30pm last night, the public stand area was packed with people, many carrying plastic pitchers of beer and big plastic cups.
|Oktoberfest fare: sausages, sauerkraut and potatoes|
|A giant pretzel, anyone?|
Nevertheless, the lively atmosphere outside was too interesting not to check out. There were several beer tents serving all kinds of beers, a beer drinking contest, a chance to see how long you could hold up four ceramic mugs full of beer -- the minimum was 90 seconds. Another was sliding a ceramic beer mug onto some circles to win a prize, and another test to see if you could find four matching beer labels.
|One guy trying to keep his beers up|
All this was happening while horse races were going on.
I wondered if the horses were bothered by all the commotion going on near the grandstands or they were too focused on what they were doing. Some of the races were quite spectacular, where some horses were trailing behind and then in the last stretch managed to overtake the leader to win. It's a tricky gamble because you have to be able to time it right, but also know that your horse is going to beat the others. But they definitely made for dramatic wins.
In my time in Hong Kong I don't think I've ever seen so many people at the racetrack before, but also so many foreigners. They were most definitely there for the beer, the horse racing second. Many of them didn't seem to care or notice the races were going on.
|The crowd erupts in cheers as the horses pass the finish line|
Nevertheless it was a good evening and enough beer for me for a while.
Wednesday, 13 October 2010
The open letter starts by citing article 35 of the Chinese Constitution (the 1982 edition) that says all citizens have freedoms of speech, of publication, of assembly, of association and of demonstration. But it points out that for 28 years these constitutional rights have existed only in words but never really in practice.
"What right does the Central Propaganda Department have to place itself even above the Communist Party Central Committee, and above the State Council?" the letter asked. Wen heads the State Council.
It called for new laws for news and publication and that the media should gain its "relative independence" from direct control by the party of state bodies. The proposals include the media should have protection and support to report on mass demonstrations and official corruption, that the people should have the right to know all the wrong doings of officials, and no more deleting of material online unless it really is sensitive instead of blanketing anything and everything. It notes the mainland's censorship system lags behind Britain's by 315 years and France by 129 years. Who knows how they came up with these numbers.
Nevertheless, the 23 signatories include Hu Jiwei, former editor-in-chief of People's Daily, Li Rui, former deputy head of the CCP Organization Department and former secretary of Mao Zedong, Yu You, former deputy editor-in-chief of the China Daily, and other former heads of military, cultural and political advisory departments. Most of these people are in their 90s, which makes it their last gasp in voicing their opinions to the government.
While they can't be politically criticized, how much sway do these people have? Would anyone really listen to them?
Many other former officials have written similar letters trying to create attention before, but nothing is really done.
Sadly it's another cry in the wilderness that at first sounds shocking, but then quickly disappears with the wind.
Tuesday, 12 October 2010
|The new look of Hong Kong trams|
Just the other day I stepped into a different tram -- one that has been revamped and will be the future look of Hong Kong's trams.
The outside pretty much looks the same, save for the LED panels on the front and side displaying the destination, but the inside is a different story.
Gone are the long bench seats where people try to squish their bums on and instead there are individual plastic molded seats. As a result less people can sit, but more people will have to stand.
However, thankfully the old turnstiles at the back are replaced now. Your clothes or bags won't get caught in these rickety things anymore as there are small swinging doors instead with infrared sensors to allow passengers in.
Most of the wood on the tram will be replaced by aluminum which is more durable and easier to repair.
French company Veolia Transport owns Hong Kong Tramways and is footing the HK$75 million ($9.66 million) bill to renovate the 161 trams, granted if the government allows for a HK$0.50 fare increase.
If the changes do go ahead, as a regular tram user, I'll miss the old-style trams with the old wood and bench seating, but it's understandable trying to upgrade the trams as they get older.
What would be even better would be if they could oil the wheels more so that we don't get those awful screeching noises when they turn the bend especially around where I live...
Monday, 11 October 2010
|Somehow the torch was lit in overcast weather...|
Does this sound familiar?
Perhaps the International Olympic Committee does not have a copyright on how the torch is lit in Athens so the Chinese have literally run away with it and made it their own.
All the women are dressed in white, their long tresses done up to look like Greek goddesses... the torch is lit and then a Chinese man holds up the torch to the admiring crowd before the flame is put in a special holder that also looks familiar from over two years ago...
This latest lighting is for the upcoming Asian Games in Guangzhou and as before there will be a giant torch relay. You can never have enough coverage of a torch relay in China.
Hopefully after these games are over on November 27 that will finally be the end of Olympics-like pomp and circumstance.
Why not create something more with Chinese characteristics? Now that would be innovative.
Sunday, 10 October 2010
I arrived a bit early for check in and strangely there was no sign above the check-in counters with my flight number, but for a Hong Kong flight later in the day.
So I went over to the ticketing desk to ask and she tells me to go to counter number 2.
I get there and the sign says "ticket management". Sounds ominous.
The line takes forever and I soon find out why -- a flight has been canceled and people need to fill out forms for reimbursements. Off to the side, an Australian man argues with a Singaporean staff demanding he be put on the plane to Sydney. The staff person tries to keep cool and calm down the man, but he gets more and more irate, instructing the staff to talk to his superiors and put him on the flight because he is not staying an extra night.
Apparently something is sorted out because the Australian winks to his two fellow travelers and they go to get some coffee.
Finally over half an hour later I make it to the front of the line and the poor guy handling all these frustrated customers tells me that the desk for my flight has opened and can I go there instead please?
So I kick up a fuss of my own, explaining that I was told to come here and that I have waited over half an hour so just check me in, please.
He again tries to persuade me to move, but I'm not budging after having stood in line for so long.
He relents and checks me in with a boarding pass printed from paper used for receipts in a grocery store. Now that's really no frills.
And like last time, I don't check in my luggage and then head to the security check where we actually have to weigh our bags.
I put my suitcase on the scale and it's just over 8kg.
"I'm sorry ma'am, but it's overweight," a young uniformed man tells me.
I open my bag and take out a big book my friend had given me to read on the plane. Then I put it back on the scale.
"Oh it's fine now," he says, seeing as it's under 8kg. "Is it you just bought the book?"
Then I head to the duty-free section and get some cosmetics, which I have to say were cheaper than in Hong Kong shockingly enough. With that purchase I was able to get a free prize at another counter sponsored by the airport authority. It was actually a lottery to win something, but I also got a S$5 coupon to use in any of the shops in the vicinity.
For some strange reason this budget terminal had no Singaporean snack shops, so in the end I opted to get a copy of the New Yorker which was originally over S$11 ($8.42) and i got it for S$7 ($5.35) instead. Definitely the deal of the week.
The gate was a small standing-room area and the plane hadn't even arrived yet. When we were supposed to depart, the plane arrived and they quickly emptied out the passengers and cleaned it up a bit. What was also interesting was that all the flight attendants were male. Have you ever seen that before?
So I'll give Tiger Airways an average mark overall. The ground staff really aren't very professional or seem to know what they are doing, which can make passengers nervous. But then again it does take you from A to B relatively inexpensively so you can't complain too much.
|The Dim Sum Dollies hope you Love Your Ride|
Singapore's subway system called MRT and on the whole is quite efficient. Residents usually have a transit pass much like an Octopus card in Hong Kong which can also be used on buses. Visitors can get a ticket from the vending machine by using coins or bills. You just press the destination on the screen and it gives you the amount, which is usually over S$2 ($1.53).
However the ticket is a generic plastic card that is used to get through the turnstiles but that's not all. After getting to your destination, you can go back to the vending machine and press "return deposit", slip the card back in the slot and get S$1 ($0.77) deposit back.
While it's a pleasant surprise to get money back, it can be a drag waiting in line just to get a coin. Why they can't just follow Hong Kong and the machine just collects the card at the end of the ride is beyond me. However, now that I think about it, the staff don't have to physically take the cards from the turnstiles back to the machine.
Still... it's the time spent!
Also on the subway, I wish I had taken a picture, but there was a sign at the entrance of one station with a graphic of a durian with a line crossed through it with "no durian" written on there too. Durian is not my fruit of choice, which is why I appreciate the sign for reminding passengers not to bring the smelly fruit on board!
Here in Hong Kong we always stand on the right of the escalator to let people pass on the left. But in Singapore it's the exact opposite -- commuters stand on the left which is strange considering the steering wheel in cars are on the right like Hong Kong.
And finally the MRT has a campaign called "Love Your Ride" or "有愛心, 多開心". It features three bubbly Chinese women called the Dim Sum Dollies in various sizes dressed in colourful dresses who sing four public service announcement ditties.
One is "Love Your Ride", another is "Please queue", "Please give up your seat" and "Please move in". Check out the music video at the bottom of this link which literally spells out what people should and should not do on the trains and buses.
Only in Singapore.
Saturday, 9 October 2010
It summoned the Norwegian ambassador in Beijing and called Liu a "criminal" and that the award violated Nobel principles and could damage relations between Norway and China.
However the diplomat had to point out this had nothing to do with the Norwegian government, that the Nobel Committee is an independent body that can choose whoever they want to award the prestigious prize. Norway 1, China 0.
Meanwhile Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said: "Liu Xiaobo is a criminal who violated Chinese law. It's a complete violation of the principles of the prize and an insult to the peace prize itself for the Nobel Committee to award the prize to such a person."
While the committee is appointed by the Norwegian parliament, criticizing the committee is not a good idea. Norway 2, China 0.
International figures are now calling for the release of Liu so that he can receive the award in person in December.
"We call on the Chinese government to release Mr Liu as soon as possible," US President Barack Obama, last year's Nobel Peace Prize winner, said in a statement. "Over the last 30 years, China has made dramatic progress in economic reform and improving the lives of its people, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty. But this award reminds us that political reform has not kept pace, and that the basic human rights of every man, woman and child must be respected."
China has angrily backed itself into a corner now.
What can it do now? It can quietly release Liu on humanitarian grounds since he is physically not well, but that could lead to a life under house arrest for the rest of his days, which in itself is illegal. It can try to make a deal with him to make him leave China for good, but he may believe this will weaken his ability to continue his fight in helping China. Or he will continue to languish in jail to fulfill the remaining years of his sentence, which is just under 10 years.
With the announcement, more people around the world will get to know who Liu is. They will see the greater truth of how the government has treated its people and that everyone deserves freedom of speech, freedom of the press, rule of law. One wonders if this will make Premier Wen Jiabao look better or worse for giving the appearance of backtracking on his recent statements on political reform.
In the meantime let's celebrate what I had thought was a slim chance for Liu to be recognized by the Nobel Committee with so many other deserving candidates. His wife has been given the chance to visit him and hopefully she will relay this fantastic piece of news to him.
Liu has put the spotlight on China, shining on the dark evil injustices that happen everyday in the country. Now it's up to the government to clean it up or it will further lose respect as a major player on the world stage.
Friday, 8 October 2010
Over the past decades, China has achieved economic advances to which history can hardly show any equal. The country now has the world's second largest economy; hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. Scope for political participation has also broadened.
China's new status must entail increased responsibility. China is in breach of several international agreements to which it is a signatory, as well as of its own provisions concerning political rights. Article 35 of China's constitution lays down that "Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration". In practice, these freedoms have proved to be distinctly curtailed for China's citizens.
For over two decades, Liu Xiaobo has been a strong spokesman for the application of fundamental human rights also in China. He took part in the Tiananmen protests in 1989; he was a leading author behind Charter 08, the manifesto of such rights in China which was published on the 60th anniversary of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 10th of December 2008. The following year, Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison and two years' deprivation of political rights for "inciting subversion of state power". Liu has consistently maintained that the sentence violates both China's own constitution and fundamental human rights.
The campaign to establish universal human rights also in China is being waged by many Chinese, both in China itself and abroad. Through the severe punishment meted out to him, Liu has become the foremost symbol of this wide-ranging struggle for human rights in China.
Thursday, 7 October 2010
|A creepy pumpkin rising out of the patch|
And because it's October, the zoo has a Halloween theme which was pretty creative. In the areas we didn't see animals, there were people dressed up as zombies, or the Chinese version of them, or people trying to scare us. What was funny was that you could hear the screams from people at the front of the tram so you knew what was coming. Only one of them was smart enough to start getting screams from the middle and then go back to the front to scare visitors.
At one point a guy with a fuzzy head and no eyes and holding what looked like a weapon, clanged it against the bars of the tram. A funny group of Singaporeans behind us invited the guy to have a seat, which of course he ignored. While these zombie-like people tried to scare us, we laughed instead. It was kitsch but fun.
There was also a "Chinese ghost wedding", where we saw a bride in red silk pyjamas with a white face and blood on her lips, a puppet theatre thing with the puppets looking like ghosts, and other characters trying to scare us.
The ride lasted over 30 mins and was lots of fun. Now I know my S$40 went to hiring all these extras to scare us and the "blood-stained" decorations along the route.
|Getting the foot spa treatment courtesy of nibbling fish|
While most of the animals were tired and weren't very active in the evening, it was still pretty cool to see them close up in somewhat natural surroundings. Each area had a corporate sponsor -- and of course the tiger section was sponsored by -- Tiger Balm.
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