Sunday, 31 March 2013

Tracing One's Identity

Baby Chihiro Otsuka with her Chinese passport in the documentary Trace
There was one more documentary I wanted to see during the 37th Hong Kong International Film Festival today and it offered an interesting perspective on China and Japan.

Called Trace, it was originally just going to be a private family video about a baby girl born of a mainland Chinese mother and Japanese father and her tedious journey from Beijing back to her mother's home town of Qianlang to register for a hukou or residency permit and a passport.

For the parents, it was an interesting discussion about nationality and identity as China and Japan have always had uneasy relations throughout modern history.

However, after they started off on their two-week trip, tensions between the two countries flared up again over which country had control over the Diaoyu Islands as the Chinese call it, or what the Japanese call the Senkaku Islands. But this time things seemed to have escalated, as there were reports of Japanese people being attacked on the streets, Japanese restaurants boycotted, Japanese cars destroyed and such.

And so the documentary really became a question of how Huang Ji's relatives would accept her husband, and also what kind of situation will their daughter Chichiro live in?

Entirely filmed with a hand-held camera, it is shaky at times, but not enough to make one nauseous. However, it was a good way to film the documentary without people knowing the real reason behind it. Both Huang and her husband Otsuka Ryuji take turns filming, but it's mostly Huang with the camera, showing what a loving father Otsuka is -- constantly bathing their daughter and changing her diapers.

We meet her relatives, from grandparents to aunts, uncles and cousins. They live out in rural areas and their lives are relatively simple. We also see the tedious bureaucracy that is China -- how you must photocopy all documents, take pictures and fill out endless forms.

Otsuka keeps the film light as he makes funny observations about China -- he isn't mean, but pokes fun -- and Huang is easy going which shows how the couple are well suited to each other.

And of course the baby is very cute -- there's lots of shots of her and overall she seems to have a very good temperament.

But two-thirds into the film, the Diaoyu Island tensions erupt and they film lots of signs and slogans denouncing the Japanese, instructing people not to buy Japanese products and that China should take back the Diaoyu Islands. Her relatives even warn her to be careful of their safety.

Otsuka seems unfazed by all the anger and even makes fun of one sign that directs people to not to buy Japanese pornography. "But then what will they masterbate to?" he deadpans while carrying Chichiro.

After the 72-minute movie, we were lucky to have Otsuka at the screening to answer some questions. We wondered how he felt about the anti-Japanese sentiment in China and if he worried about his safety.

Director Otsuka Ryuji (left) answering audience questions
He explained that he has lived in China since 2006 and he has seen this kind of tension happen many times throughout his years there and has gotten used to it. As he speaks fluent Putonghua, he feels this disarms mainland Chinese who he says are impressed by his language skills, to the point where he finds this patronizing.

But then he also noticed that when he and Huang were a couple before they got married, her friends would treat him and them nicely, but when they weren't there, they would hear comments later wondering why Huang was with a Japanese man.

As for his daughter's nationality, for now she is registered as a Chinese citizen, but by Japanese law, a child born of two different nationalities has until the age of 22 to decide. She is automatically recognized as Japanese because one of her parents is Japanese, but they have not done any official paper work.

He said they as parents are leaving it up to Chihiro to decide for herself, because who knows what the situation will be like in two decades' time between China and Japan? They are obviously giving her a huge decision to make, but it is one they believe she should decide on her own.

A funny question was one about the baby carrier they were using. It's like a light cradle that can be strapped around the neck and shoulder so the baby is lying flat in front of the user. And throughout the film they got many comments and questions asking where they got it from.

And Otsuka was so tired of the questions, that at one point in the film he says, "I got it on Taobao" to end the interrogations. But he admitted tonight that actually his mother had sent it to them from Japan.

One final question was how his parents felt about Huang. He said she had visited them once in Japan, and when they heard she was from the countryside, they had preconceptions of people from rural areas. And then he reassured them, saying she had graduated from the Beijing Film Academy, and then they asked if she was on the same calibre as Zhang Ziyi, because they had seen many of Zhang Yimou's films and thought Huang would be like the peasant girl characters he used to portray.

However, when they finally met, Otsuka explains Huang is very warm and the nervous anticipation of his parents was eased.

Otsuka also apologized on behalf of his wife who could not come to the film festival because her travel permit had expired and they were so focused on getting their daughter's papers sorted that Huang forgot to get hers renewed.

We hope Huang and Otsuka continue this interesting theme they've latched onto -- the identity of their child and how she will see the world. Perhaps Trace Part II?

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Linsanity Redux

Jeremy Lin in Linsanity, a documentary about his rise to the NBA
I just watched another documentary, Linsanity, as part of the 37th Hong Kong International Film Festival.

When the program came out there was no description for it yet, but people filled the two screenings to watch the 88-minute film about the rising Asian-American basketball star, Jeremy Lin.

In the end it's a tad long -- perhaps 15 minutes could have been cut -- replays of cool dunks on the court or others that were redundant, but on the whole, the documentary directed by Evan Jackson Leong is a good effort that captures a comprehensive portrait of the athlete through his highs and lows.

Leong first heard about Lin when he was in Harvard and thought it would be a good story to follow an Asian-American blazing trails in basketball. No one knew what would happen -- being picked up by the Golden State Warriors, then let go, then picked up by the Houston Rockets and then two weeks later cut by them too.

He next went to the New York Knicks and at first wondered why he was the bench warmer. But then Anthony Carmelo got injured and Lin thought he would be cut again, but gave it his last shot.

Then Linsanity happened.

The documentary also gives a good idea about Lin's childhood, how his father was obsessed about basketball and made sure his sons learned how to play too. After that Lin and his two brothers played everyday after school and through the family's support, Lin kept moving up the ranks.

During the film Lin is reflective and analyzes what was going on at the various points of his career, and recounts conversations or events with clarity. Viewers also get to see his self-deprecating side, dead-pan humour that makes him endearing.

Christianity also plays a prominent part in the documentary -- and it's understandable since it's what made Lin who he is. He so strongly believes in his faith, that God has the perfect plan for him, that the audience sees how his focus on his religion has made him believe this is what has propelled him to where he is today.

In the end he realizes his perception of what "God's perfect plan" for him was not to have a smooth ride, but to learn from his mistakes, to train hard and then grab the opportunity when it comes and play his best every time.

Another interesting aspect of the film was addressing the racism issue. Some Asian-American sports reporters and bloggers raved about Lin, but were skeptical about how far he would go because he wasn't black or white.

It was shocking to hear that while Lin was playing at the college level, students from Ivy league schools, who should be educated and progressive, shouted racial taunts at him, telling him to go back to China or that he was a chink, or that maybe he should open his eyes wider to see the ball.

While there was Yao Ming, who literally transplanted himself from China to the United States to play in the NBA, Lin was born and raised in Palo Alto, California, so as a very young man, he had to shut out these racial slurs and just focus on the game.

However, as he rose up the ranks, he was not allowed to play or when he played badly, he was sent down to the D Leagues, which is where it's basically every man for himself and they have to constantly prove why they should be back in the big leagues.

So when Lin finally makes his breakthrough with the Knicks, one can clearly see how much this means to him after all his hard work and perseverance.

And for Leong this was his lucky break too -- what if Lin hadn't become Linsanity?

The fimmaker admits Lin helped write the ending for him and now that the documentary is hitting the film festivals -- earlier at Sundance and at SXSW and now Hong Kong, we hope Linsanity will not only help Chinese fans gain an even greater appreciation of Lin, but also inspire more stories about young Asians making waves.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Short Shifting Chinese, Short Sighted

One of the few blue sky days Hong Kong had a few weekends ago...
We aren't surprised by the latest "Tourism Satisfaction Index" that finds mainlanders are the only group not satisfied with Hong Kong as a holiday destination.

The annual index is compiled by the Polytechnic University's school of hotel and tourism management.

For mainland Chinese, accommodation was the most worrying aspect, and rated Hong Kong a new low of 66 points out of 100, while the rest of the world pushed up the city's annual score to a record high of 75.

Following accommodation, other mainland tourist concerns in order were immigration, then restaurants, shopping and attractions. Transportation scored the highest.

Meanwhile, Americans were most happy with Hong Kong, though Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese and Macanese tourists were the least happy with the city in terms of tourism.

And why are mainlanders worried about accommodation? Because they have heard some horror stories of low-budget tour groups staying in lesser-quality hotels -- or in a more recent case -- in a bus -- because the travel agency claimed they could not get any hotel rooms, when in fact it never tried to secure any, and tried to cheat the travelers of their money.

There is an uneasy relationship between Hong Kong and China, with the former depending on the latter for tourism dollars, because well, we need the money. And then there are all the cultural differences we have mentioned before, not only language, but also etiquette and morals.

However, Hong Kong people's superiority complex doesn't mean they should cheat all mainland tourists -- this is short-term thinking on the part of tour agencies and the government should be cracking down on these nefarious organizations.

The city cannot afford to have a bad reputation, even among mainlanders. We should be taking the high road and showing them how an international city like Hong Kong is run, and why it is on par with places like New York, London and Paris.

For example, according to the index, mainlanders most like the transportation network in Hong Kong. While they are paying many times more than what they do back home, they see the cleanliness, efficiency and convenience of using public transport, particularly the MTR, that they don't mind the cost.

So why cheat them and lock them in a jewellery store and force them to drop thousands of yuan, or not even give them hotel rooms?

Which is why some educated young mainlanders prefer to speak in English to ensure they get decent if not better service.

If one of the Hong Kong government's main aims is to foster more integration with the mainland, creating a better impression of the city would be a good start. Otherwise the city is going to lose its aspirational status and become just like any other Chinese city...

We don't want that now, do we?

Thursday, 28 March 2013

China Wages War on Apple

The Apple store in Shanghai's IFC Mall against the Pudong skyline
The Chinese government through its state media is out to get Apple.

First it was CCTV to criticize the multinational tech company and now it's People's Daily turn with the headline, "Let's strike away Apple's unparallelled arrogance".

The editorial asked if the US-based company doubted whether "a developing ancient oriental country deserves the same customer service as Western counterparts".

The allegations came after a CCTV report claimed Apple offered shorter guarantees to Chinese iPhone users than those in other countries.

However the campaign's effectiveness came into question when it was suggested CCTV encouraged celebrities to join in the chorus through Sina Weibo to attack Apple.

Taiwanese actor Peter Ho was one who also gave his two cents' worth, claiming he was "hurt" by Apple's actions in China... but then he forgot to delete the last sentence which read "Post around 8.20pm".

He later claimed he didn't send the message, hinting perhaps his Weibo account was hijacked, but Weibo readers knew better and instead channeled their fury towards CCTV.

Meanwhile Apple has denied imposing double standards on Chinese customers using iPhones, and claimed its practices were "completely legal", but this did not please the mainland authorities, hence further attacks from People's Daily.

The editorial blamed the "greediness of capital" and said Apple had "gone crazy" in its pursuit of profits.

"If offending Chinese customers reduces cost for Apple at zero risk, why not?" the article asked sarcastically.

However, the attack campaign has done little to shift Apple fans' allegiances.

Miao Wei, head of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said on Monday that even though Chinese phone makers have produced an excessive number of phones people were "lining up all night long" to buy the latest iPhone.

He admitted there was still room for innovation to be competitive with Apple... but for China to catch up, that will take a while...

As for the campaign of attacks, Chinese people online were less than pleased.

"It is People's Daily who's being arrogant," said one. "They've lost by criticizing Apple with Cultural Revolution-style language."

"Talking about arrogance," said another, "how about these state-owned Chinese behemoths?"

Others speculated possible reasons for the attacks with one saying, "Apple only advertised with local TV stations, but not CCTV, that's why."

Another said, "Maybe Apple hasn't been paying their protection fees?"

And speaking of iPhones, according to the Beijing Times yesterday, the authorities in the Chinese capital are cracking down on vendors who they claim are illegally selling paper models of the iPhone 5 to people preparing for next week's Qing Ming grave-sweeping festival.

Typically on this day (this year April 4), families bring offerings of fruit, flowers to the graves of loved ones and burn "hell money" as well as other favourite items made of paper from clothes to cars to send to heaven.

Again it just show how paranoid officials are about Apple and resent its popularity in China.

It is Apple's fault its products are considered so cool?

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

A Little Help from HK's Superman

Teenager Nick D'Aloisio reportedly sold his app for $30 million to Yahoo
The 17 year old who reportedly sold his app to Yahoo for $30 million got some of his seed money from Hong Kong's richest man, Li Ka-shing.

Nick D'Aloisio created Summly, which uses an alogorithm to automatically summarize long news stories into shorter versions that can be easily read on smartphones, or those who just want quick synopses of what's going on.

"If you have a good idea, or you think there's a gap in the market, just go out and launch it because there are investors across the world right now looking for companies to invest in," he said Monday.

D'Aloisio says he was first inspired when he had a frustrating experience trawling through Google searches and separate websites when he was studying for a test.

So he created Trimit, an earlier version of Summly, where it takes an article and reduces it down to about 400 characters. This idea caught the attention of Horizons Ventures, Li's venture capitalist company, and it invested $250,000.

"They took a gamble on a 15-year-old," said D'Aloisio, who added the money was used to hire employees and lease office space.

Soon afterwards other celebrity backers added more money to the venture, including Yoko Ono, Hollywood actor Ashton Kutcher, British broadcaster Stephen Fry and News Corp media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

D'Aloisio got seed money from Li Ka-shing's company
"It's been super-exciting, (the investors) found out about it in 2012 once the original investment from Li Ka-shing had gone public," he said. "They all believed in the idea, but they all offered different experiences to help us out."

When D'Aloisio was 12 years old he taught himself to code after Apple's App Store was launched. He then created several apps, including Facemood, a service that analyzed the moods of Facebook users, and music discovery service called SongStumblr.

This teenager hitting the jackpot is what many are trying to do in this post dot-com boom... it's getting harder and harder to make the deals, but as D'Aloisio shows, if you have a good product or service, someone out there is willing to invest in it.

And it also demonstrates Li's (or shall we saw his subordinates') foresight in D'Aloisio's service, since Li's companies have shares in Facebook, Spotify, picture and video sharing site doubleTwist and Apple's Siri.

Anyone else have any brilliant ideas?

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Whitening the Pits

Smell good and have white arm pits with this deodorant
Whitening skin cream has been all the rage in the last few years, with Asian women obsessed with having fairer complexions, but these products actually leave their skin looking unnaturally pale.

These creams are extremely horrible for the skin because they contain acid in them to literally bleach the skin. The result is a thinner skin layer, making it more prone to melanoma and more fragile.

Nevertheless, they are big sellers here in Hong Kong, and if you try to avoid them like I do, the saleswomen give you strange looks.

In the meantime cosmetic brands have looked for a better way to whiten the skin but in a more natural-looking way and also do not necessarily market them as whiteners but brighteners that claim to make the skin more translucent.

However the other day I was shocked to see a television commercial from Rexona pushing a whitening deodorant.

In the ad, a pair of attractive women have a flat tire and are outside wearing sleeveless dresses and waving their arms for help. But one of them realizes her armpits are darker than her friends and is embarrassed.

But not to worry -- a few sprays of Rexona Whitening Roll or Whitening Apa (spray), you'll not only smell great, but also have white armpits.

Check it out the Indonesian version of the commercial:


It's this creation of insecurity that helps sell products like these and with Hong Kong having a good population of women who are obsessed with how they look, this is the perfect market to pitch armpit whitening deodorant.

But then again this Australian brand has a whole range of deodorants for women with such names as "Confidence", "Delicious" and "Sexy"...

Monday, 25 March 2013

HK's Domestic Helpers Denied Residency

Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal made its ruling on domestic helpers today
Today the Court of Final Appeal ruled domestic helpers were not allowed to seek permanent residency in Hong Kong.

In a 49-page document, the court said, "The FDH (foreign domestic helper) is obliged to return to the country of  origin at the end of the contract, and is told from the outset that admission is not for the purposes of settlement and that dependents cannot be brought to reside in Hong Kong."

This decision overturns a two-year legal challenge brought by Filipina maid Evangeline Banao Vallejos, a mother of five who has lived in Hong Kong since 1986. She had won a High Court ruling in 2011, granting her the right to request permanent residency status. Most foreigners can apply for the status after seven consecutive years of stay, but this right is denied to the over 300,000 domestic helpers in the city.

With this ruling, some 1,000 applications from domestic helpers to seek permanent residency will most probably be rejected and the Hong Kong government may hope that's the end of the matter.

But perhaps the fight isn't really about residency in Hong Kong, but more about domestic helpers getting recognition for their contribution in keeping the city's economy booming and their desire for more respect.

"With the court's ruling today, it gave its judicial seal to unfair treatment and the social exclusion of foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong," said Eman Villanueva, spokesman for labour rights group Asian Migrants' Coordinating Body.

He was outside the court with others chanting, "No to discrimination" and "We are not slaves".

Many of them live in deplorable conditions, work extremely long hours and overtime for only HK$3,920 ($505) a month. In some horrible cases, there have been domestic workers who were physically and mentally abused by their employers.

However on the flip side there are some who live relatively happily with their employers, literally bringing children up and for the most part considered part of the family. 

Domestic workers will feel today's ruling is racist, though the Hong Kong government will deny this. But the law is the law...

Meanwhile it was a relief to hear the Court of Final Appeal say there was no need to refer the Right of Abode question to Beijing for a final say. This would have further eroded Hong Kong's rule of law when the city prides itself on its judicial independence.

And so now it will be up to Hong Kong courts to decide if children born here of mainland parents, none of whom reside in the city, are given right of abode.

The legal challenge continues.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Of Bees and Man

Learned a lot about honeybees in the documentary More Than Honey
The 37th Hong Kong International Film Festival is on and some people on Facebook are giving status updates of how many films they've seen so far (it started March 17). One guy I know has clocked in 15 so far and I bumped into him as I was on my way to the theatre watch my first film. He said he was coming back to watch his fourth film of the day...

I only picked two films to watch, partly because some films were screened really late or during office hours which didn't help much. And then the tickets I ordered in advance were lost in the mail. I had to fill out a police report online, fax my Hong Kong ID card and my credit card to Cityline before they believed me...

Nevertheless, I just saw More Than Honey, a documentary about honeybees.

Bees are not my favourite insect and I haven't been stung by one... yet... but they are the most industrious creatures on the planet.

However in the last few years, billions of bees have died off and no one knows why. This is a frightening sign, as Albert Einstein once said, "If bees ever die out, mankind will only have four years left to live". That's because more than one-third of our food production depends on bees helping pollinate our crops.

Swiss filmmaker Marcus Imhoof sets off to try to find out why there are fewer bees around the world and he does it exquisitely, with the latest camera technology to capture bees up close on film. And he also keeps his documentary fluid, seamlessly combining fascinating facts about bees with the knowledge of beekeepers and scientists to create a bigger picture of what is happening in this microcosm.

Imhoof visits a beekeeper up in the Swiss alps, the grandson of a famous beekeeper. He tells us all about his childhood, learning how the flowers have sex thanks to the bees, and later about the native bees in the area, how they are acclimatized to the high altitudes.

We also meet some scientists who have discovered bees don't just take orders -- they also figure out different ways to do things and have a special way of communicating with each other about a better area to gather nectar for the colony.

And we find out about breeding techniques to create several queen bees that will sold and shipped off to places around the world that need new leaders for their colonies.

Then we go to the United States where we meet another grandson of a beekeeper, but his business has expanded exponentially. He is a roving beekeeper, who literally transports his hundreds of thousands of bees on flatbed trucks from California to Washington State and then North Dakota and then back west to help pollinate fields. However, it can be difficult transporting the bees 48 hours because as one truck driver says, they have to hold their pee stuck in their boxes and it can get stressful for them...

And the next day when they take out the boxes they find an entire colony dead. "I'm getting real comfortable with death on an epic scale," he says with a disappointed tone. We find out later the vast majority of bees now cannot survive without human intervention, such as feeding them sugar water and antibiotics.

But meanwhile out in Australia, there's research being made of bees that are placed on a deserted island to see if they can survive, and this may be a good or bad thing, but we don't know the outcome yet.

Imhoof also makes a trip to China, where there hardly seems to be any bees around, so what's the next best way to pollinate crops? With migrant labour.

The pollen dust is carefully collected and placed in envelopes and then sold to farmers who then get migrant workers to climb up on trees and dab the flowers with pollen in the hopes they will bear fruit.

Even Imhoof admits the Chinese weren't sure if they should allow him to film what they're doing. Statistically of course men cannot do the same amount of work as bees, but 1.3 billion people have to eat, right?

Throughout the documentary we get up close with the bees, see their fuzzy bodies and large eyes, making them less threatening. We learn how they sense things in three dimensions and are hyper sensitive about everything that's going on in the colony. Their lifespan is short, but they all work together for the good of the colony.

However, some colonies are completely wiped out and it's a combination of disease, parasites, the environment and poor breeding. But overall, Imhoof warns, it is us, man, that has made it harder for the bees to procreate and sustain themselves.

Hopefully with More Than Honey, more people will have a greater appreciation for bees and their importance in our survival. We need them to exist and thrive, otherwise mankind will be in deep trouble.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Picture of the Day: Nouveau Riche Painting

An arresting image that makes you look twice -- painted in China perhaps?
Last night I had a peek at the newly refurbished VIP rooms at the Grand Hyatt Steak House.

Its previous incarnation was JJ's and when I was much younger I came here (not often!) to listen to the live band or twirl around the dance floor.

In any event the place is now busy serving up steaks, fat fries, sundaes and salads along with big cabernet sauvignons.

And in the upstairs rooms that used to house the band and lounge area have now been transformed into VIP rooms for special wine dinners and events.

The decor is still the same as JJ's, with the dark wood panelling and now the addition of tables and leather-backed chairs.

But this picture caught my eye -- a Vermeer-like painting with the modern Hong Kong skyline in the background.

It seems to typify the nouveau riche here -- they have all the trappings of wealth from apartments to luxury brand clothing, and now want the artwork to match...

Friday, 22 March 2013

Bright Lights, Big City

NASA's picture of Hong Kong at night from space. Pretty illuminating...
With Earth Hour approaching tomorrow night, we are not surprised but disappointed to find Hong Kong has the worst light pollution on the planet.

More specifically it's Tsim Sha Tsui, that has levels 1,200 times brighter than a normal dark sky.

The findings were released earlier this week by survey leader Dr Jason Pun Chun-shing of the Department of Physics at the University of Hong Kong.

He said according to his research, he could not find anywhere else on earth as badly affected.

While Tsim Sha Tsui is bad, even Sai Kung has unacceptably high levels of brightness too that could damage health and wildlife.

And why is it so bright? Because there are no laws controlling external lighting, unlike other international cities such as London, Frankfurt, Sydney and even Shanghai.

"Lighting is supposed to provide safety and security for people's daily life," said Pun. "Lights are for human use and not for the sky. But what we see is that many lights are pointing to the sky."

Indeed if you look around the city, many bright lights, such as those illuminating giant billboards, shopping centres and skyscrapers are quite unnecessary. Can we also throw in the tacky light and laser show at 8pm every night?

Interestingly the worst offender in Tsim Sha Tsui is the Space Museum, which was 1,200 times the International Astronomical Union standard. Wonder what the Hong Kong government has to say for itself...

Meanwhile Hong Kong Entomological Society chairman Yiu Vor said he feared the brightness would affect the breeding of fireflies, including the bent-winged firefly, which rely on light signals to mate.

"They might not be able to notice the signals in a bright environment or they simply release the signal less frequently," he said. "This would affect their continuing survival." He added that insects that rely on moonlight for navigation could also be affected.

Besides the blinding brightness affecting the health of all creatures including us, what about all the energy wastage?

Shouldn't the government take the lead in encouraging Hong Kong residents and businesses to save energy?

Oh wait. The authorities haven't quite figured out recycling and cutting waste disposal either.

Guess we'll be wearing eye shades for a while then...

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Pictures of the Day: Food Street

Lots of people on a Monday
An old river town that's a tourist site mostly for locals
On my last day in Shanghai, my friend took me to an old town on the far western edge of Puxi or the old part of the city.

The area was formerly farmland and only in the last several years have buildings sprung up, including gated communities for the super rich.

Not much business for giant White Rabbit candy...
Inside are houses -- free-standing homes that look like they belong in upscale neighbourhoods in North America.

But I digress.

After a short 20-minute drive, we arrived at what should be a quaint spot, traditional Chinese-looking buildings with the upturned roofs and a small river running through -- but it's heaving with people on a Monday thanks to a student field trip.

We brave the crowds, walking slowly down the path and are accosted by what we see, as well as sounds and smells at each stall. Hygiene is not necessarily a top priority here and so braised pork knuckle are stacked on a plate where dust can easily catch on them, or small birds are roasted on a stick and placed in a circle like a teepee.

We wonder what's actually in these "beggar chickens"...
And the pungent distinctive smell of chau tofu was in the air at one point -- and we saw the wok they were deep-fried in and the oil seemed... rather black...

There were some curious foods too -- like one wrapped in a bundle and it turns out it's supposed to be beggar's chicken, but one wonders if there is a decent-sized chicken in there after the layers of mud and lotus leaf. Maybe it's just a quail!

And yes -- we can't forget sweet snacks like massive White Rabbit candy. I've never seen any as big as those, but we didn't see anyone buy them. Maybe they're just for show?

For an early lunch, my friend took me to a steamed dumpling shop, where we ordered a few things to try. We grabbed a table upstairs -- a narrow steep staircase -- and sat by the window on very narrow benches.

Piping hot xiaolongbao that were tasty, the skin a bit thick
The end result? Everything here arrived scalding hot so we didn't have to worry about food preparation. The xiaolongbao were delicious, though the skins were a bit thicker than ones I'd had the day before in a posh-looking place, but the filling didn't have much flavour.

We also had some minced pork and vegetable wontons that were also very good, again very tasty. And we also had big dumplings Wuxi style, about one and a half times the size as a xiaolong bao and filled with a meat filling similar to pork knuckle braised in ginger and vinegar, though more on the sweet side. It's typical Shanghainese as they like heavier, richer flavours. I'd had about three of them and was pretty much full.

Wuxi-style dumplings that were quite filling and sweet
I'm glad I had a chance to sample some street food in Shanghai and despite the fear of eating pork thanks to the floating pig carcasses, managed to eat some xiaolongbao!

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Blogging up a Storm

One of the most popular Weibo is Lee Kai-fu, founding president of Google China
It is frustrating for people living on the mainland not to be able to get on websites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

That's mainly because the Chinese government has no control over them (and their content) thus blocking them, and so the authorities encourage local programmers to come up with a Chinese version.

And so there are sites like Ren Ren (Facebook), Youku (YouTube) and very popular now is Weibo (微博), which is a hybrid of Twitter and Facebook.

As of mid 2012, there were 368 million registered users, or about 30 percent of the internet users in China. Weibo is described as a mini blog where people can post pictures, videos, music and of course blogs that 140 characters, but in Chinese this allows for many more things to say than in English.

To catch the mainland market, many companies, from restaurants to fashion brands, and even celebrities like basketball star Kobe Bryant and politicians like London Mayor Boris Johnson use it too.

If having tens of thousands of followers enhances their profile, or in the case of luxury brands entices people to buy, it's hard to say. But it must be interesting to know there are people in the Middle Kingdom reading what you write in cyberspace.

A friend of mine in Shanghai showed me her Weibo account, where like Twitter she can browse the hundreds of posts she receives everyday from the people or organizations she follows. Some of the posters are critical of the Chinese government and it's interesting to see if their particular post is deleted or even worse, their entire account shut down. She has heard of some Weibo users who have been "summoned to have tea", a euphemism for the authorities lecturing them for what they deem are politically incorrect posts.

And then there are people in the other extreme, like The Global Times' editor in chief Hu Xijin who is so pro government that some of his followers mock him for what they think is blind patriotism.

What is good about Weibo is that for the most part, the posts are pretty much left alone, ranging from the inane ones documenting someone's life to outright complaints about the government. As a result Weibo is a strong indicator of what people are thinking -- if you had a chance to read all 100 million posts a day.

Many Weibo users are so happy to have it available because if they didn't have this outlet, they wouldn't know what to do to express their frustrations or find more information about the outside world without having to climb over the Great Firewall.

So it makes me wonder if I too should set up a Weibo account and see what life is like on the other side?

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Watch What You Eat

My friend's pantry that's stocked with many prized edible possessions
Channel News Asia is reporting almost 15,000 dead pigs have been pulled out of the Huangpu River, and the increasing numbers makes one shiver at the thought of the river filled with bobbing porcine carcasses.

The news was shocking enough to prompt my mother to remind me not to eat any kind of pork during my trip to Shanghai, though I did eat a few xiaolongbao. Nevertheless, one can imagine pork sales in Shanghai have probably plummeted and will be flat for the next few months for fear of the dead pork reaching the food chain.

The ironic thing is that just before the pig story broke, my friend living in Shanghai asked me to buy her some Hong Kong-produced char siu sauce from Lee Kum Kee; the sauce manufacturer has factories in other parts of China, making it more cost effective. However, she does not trust what goes into the sauce so I dutifully complied.

But then she now can't make her own char siu because of the pig carcasses in the news.

These kinds of food scares make people like my friend borderline paranoid of what she and her young family eats everyday.

Her husband works for an American company and periodically flies back to the United States for meetings. And when he goes there, he brings back empty suitcases that he then fills up with all kinds of food.

Luckily for him places like Walmart are open 24 hours so he pops into this big box store late at night and gets all the shopping done -- thanks to my friend's meticulous list -- in about 45 minutes to an hour.

And what does he bring back? Salsa sauce (and the chips hand carried), Cheetos, chocolate salt caramels, Shake N Bake mix, pretzels, maple syrup, pancake mix, microwave popcorn, Ketchup, cans of corn nibblets, and cake mixes. Some are bought in the US just because of the price, others is because she is wary of food products made in China.

They even have a stash of cooking oil, probably spurred by the spate of stories on recycled oil. When he purchases all this food, he carefully calculates the weight of his suitcases so that he won't be penalized at the check-in counter.

When I saw their pantry filled with all these goods, they joked that it looked like they were prepared for a war. But in all seriousness, when they keep hearing about food quality in the news, it makes them wonder what will be the next thing they cannot eat in China.

On the one hand I can understand their fears, particularly with young children, but on the other one cannot worry too much about the food when they are taking as many precautions as possible and have the financial means to afford more expensive groceries if necessary.

She said that when they first arrived four years ago, they bought several kinds of say a particular vegetable or fruit and would try them all out to see if the more expensive one was better and this was not necessarily the case.

And gradually the family's diet has changed, becoming more plant-based than meat, and when I asked if they were eating organic vegetables, my friend replied this niche industry was not regulated and so claims that a product was organic was not proven. She reported some friends cut out eating seafood altogether, but her family eats it periodically, albeit sparingly.

When I was in Beijing, there were concerns, but perhaps because I was living in the capital, food supplies were possibly better regulated. I had no qualms eating in a state-run canteen because their ingredients were scrutinized by the government. At home, I mostly bought from grocery stores and wet markets, but perhaps then, only a few years ago, there weren't as many problems with food, unless it was unusually cheap noodles or buns.

Perhaps things are different when you have a family, or food scares are becoming more common now in China; it's hard to say. But one can't get too paranoid about what they're eating in China because then they'll just starve because they're too scared to eat anything...

Monday, 18 March 2013

Trendy Tianzifang

A courtyard area in Tianzifang with cafes as well as boutiques
Yesterday a friend took me to a cute neighbourhood in Shanghai called Tianzifang in the French Concession area. She calls it a better version of Nanluoguxiang, the hutong or alley in Beijing that has a number of trendy boutiques and cafes, but is now becoming very commercialized and some buildings are rebuilt to look old, thus losing its authentic flavour.

A sign at the entrance giving the rules of the neighbourhood
Instead Tianzifang is quickly emerging as a hotspot to check out for both locals and visitors alike. It's across from a giant branch of Tsui Wah cha chaan teng in a strip mall. There's just a small sign indicating you are entering Tianzifang and says no dogs are allowed.

Inside is a warren-like place, and everywhere you turn are small alleys filled with tiny boutiques that in turn lead to other ones. You can walk right through one into another that leads to yet another path. And so it's a great place to wander and see all kinds of things for sale from kitsch China souvenirs to gorgeous clothing.

The even more interesting thing about this place is that it is an actual residence -- people are living in the area, so it will be interesting hear about what they feel about so many people invading their living spaces, though it is bringing money into the neighbourhood. However I did hear the government wanted to clear the residents out so that the place could be further developed; but this would only cause the place to lose its local flavour.

Inside Song Exquisite on its opening day
We walked into one boutique and the owner, a woman in her late 50s immediately asked us if the atmosphere in the store was dark because of the lighting as she originally wanted a large light by the entrance. But we said that we didn't know what it was like before, and thought it was comfortable. She was so pleased and went about introducing the line of clothes to us that looked contemporary Chinese.

When I touched the fabric I was very impressed -- the cashmere jackets were extremely soft, and they also had beautiful Chinese embroidery on them, while the dresses were made of silk also with flowers and birds embroidered on them. She explained the cashmere came from Italy, while the embroidery was done in Suzhou. Some of the designs were very modern and I tried a few on. In the end I settled for a black bias-cut poncho with a floral design embroidered on the right shoulder. The owner was so excited that I was her first customer -- today was her opening day -- that she gave me a small discount.

Gorgeous embroidery on a silk dress
We also saw some cafes serving Western food like traditional English breakfasts and sandwiches, though another friend warned me later that eating here didn't seem very hygienic as it didn't have the infrastructure to support food and beverage outlets (ie proper dish cleaning facilities). It probably won't be long before some Chinese eateries or snack shops spring up too.

I also found one of my favourite shops in Beijing called Woo here, which sells cashmere and silk scarves. But this time we were bowled over by the expensive prices and we didn't see anything in particular we liked. One shop girl modeled a silk scarf with Chinese buttons that could be transformed into some 20 different ways, thus making it look like you were wearing something new everyday. The price tag was over 2,000RMB, which seemed a bit extreme for what was a versatile piece of silk, but we weren't too keen on the different ways of wearing it.

Shanghai residents live in this burgeoning area
We were there for over an hour and only saw a fraction of the shops, but it was definitely a good taste of Tianzifang. The place is a bustling area that shows lots of potential -- as long as it's managed properly. We really hope the municipal government doesn't control this place too much. Apparently it's improved a lot already, cleaner and even has dedicated public washrooms. But we worry if the government really does kick residents out that the place will lose its lustre.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Banquet Blues

Top hotels in China have been suffering since President Xi Jinping declared that official banquets should be toned down. And today Premier Li Keqiang reiterated this stance.

"If the people are to have a good life, their government must be put on a tight budget," he said during his first press conference as premier. He made the pledge to cut spending on extravagance and use the money towards social welfare at a time of slow economic growth.

It seems officials had no qualms spending taxpayer money on lavish banquets, particularly for Spring Festival, and they were keen to outdo each other. Five-star hotels would charge about 5,000RMB per head, 3,000RMB on food, the rest on drinks, like maotai.

Heady stuff.

But now that banquet halls are quieter, the hotels have had to think of other ways to generate revenue, and so they are now pushing weddings and -- get this -- baby parties.

For a child's one year birthday, a large function room can be rented out, complete with tables of 10 and decorations like Mickey and Minnie Mouse, balloons and even entertainers like magicians and clowns.

Does a one year old remember its birthday? But in the land of the one-child policy, anything for the little emperor.

One wonders how long these restrictions will be in place as they can't continue forever... everyone has to make a living...

Which is why hotels are hoping this measure is a temporary one, but for how long is anyone's guess.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Picture of the Day: Generation Gap

Along the Bund I spied two seniors standing near a young couple. One of the elderly men was still wearing the old school blue Mao suit complete with cap and I couldn't resist taking a shot to demonstrate the huge generation gap between them.

Shanghai: An Amorous City

Getting newlyweds to bring on the romance with the Bund in the background
A few weeks ago a friend told me he'd been to Dalian on a business trip and he'd been told that it was the most romantic city in the world, or at least trying to market itself as a city for lovers.

However he had serious doubts how this Chinese city could even begin to rival Paris.

But I have to say Shanghai could be a potential candidate.

The photographer gets the wedding party to pose
I arrived at lunchtime and in the early afternoon headed out to the Huangpu River on the Pudong side so I could have a better view of the Bund.

The Cantonese theme song of the TV series "Shanghai Bund" was playing in the background to create a lively atmosphere, at least to get visitors to shell out for a fancy portrait dressed in qipao and sitting on a rickshaw.

But there were also two separate wedding parties taking pictures.

The photographers are old hands at this, instructing the bride and the groom to strike certain poses and getting their friends to react. It was definitely a change from formal portraits.

One photographer got the groom to dip the bride and kiss her, another had them do a kind of congo line, hands on the other person's shoulders and lean back.

Weddings have become a booming business in China and the top hotels are definitely benefiting.

A wedding banquet set up in the hotel ballroom
This afternoon in the Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, two-thirds of the grand ballroom was set up for a massive banquet, the bride and groom rehearsing the upcoming ceremony, while a large portrait of the couple was placed outside and guests were invited to sign the guest book.

The hotel is also famous as a place for proposals since its restaurants and bars start on the 52nd floor of an office building in IFC.

Apparently the hotel has four spots where men have proposed to their girlfriends, one is at Flair, its Asian-style bar and restaurant where there is an intimate corner in the back, and another is Aura Lounge & Jazz Bar, where there is a spot by the window that is considered the most romantic place.

Imagine a wedding proposal in a room like this...
And then I heard about one suitor who booked The Chairman's Suite (70,000RMB) where they had a private dinner for two, the floor strewn with rose petals. We heard she cried when he popped the question.

So to me it seems Shanghai's the place for lovers, albeit more wealthy. But hey, if that's their idea of what love is...

Friday, 15 March 2013

Where Do We Go From Here?

Li Keqiang looks like an excited school boy, Xi Jinping has a knowing look
Xi and Li are (finally) in the house.

Fifty-seven-year-old Li Keqiang was confirmed as Premier today, while Xi Jinping won all of the nearly 3,000 votes from deputies of the National People's Congress except for one.

Who was that one dissenter? Or was this China's pathetic way of making it look like it wasn't a complete landslide victory that we all knew was pretty much a done deal a year ago?

In any event, Xi's swift ascension to power beats predecessor Hu Jintao's two-year-battle to assume all the top positions, while Jiang Zemin had an even more frustrating four years after becoming party chief in 1989.

While the assumption of full control will be good for Xi, where to begin?

The pair face a number of daunting issues, including an overheated property market, the environment, and boost domestic spending. There's also the pressing issue of what to do with North Korea and how should relations between China and the United States continue from here.

Some foreigners may be optimistic that Li speaks fluent English in the hopes it may grease the cogs, but analysts believe Li's concern of saying the wrong thing will only result in him speaking Chinese in order to avoid a domestic audience chastising him for kowtowing to foreigners. Nevertheless we can see him making small talk in English which will definitely ease formalities and perhaps even make him a darling of the media if he plays his cards right.

We are also wondering if Xi's anti-corruption drive will stick. So far it has put fear in many officials who have had fire sales of apartments they have hoarded and shares of Chinese spirits have plunged due to poor sales. We wonder if there will be more mistresses on the market too.

Pope Francis has also marked a stark change in the Vatican, shunning the ermine robes and bright red shoes Pope Benedict used to wear. The new pope also insisted on taking the bus and paying for his hotel room to demonstrate frugality in the Catholic church.

However, we can see security insisting Pope Francis take the "Pope mobile" in the future, so he may have to pick his battles.

But it will be interesting to see how Xi and Li and the new pope clean up their respective houses and set a new tone for their administrations.

Even better would be to see a convergence of the two and come to some kind of agreement in Catholicism in China.

One wonders if that would require some divine intervention.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Fact of the Day: Hong Kong Loves Meat

Here's an interesting fact I came across today in the newspaper:

Hong Kongers are the biggest meat eaters in the world, according to the founders of Green Monday, a non-profit social enterprise that encourages a healthier and more environmentally friendly lifestyle.

Hong Kong has more meat eaters per capita consumption per year than anywhere in the world, reports the United States' Department of Agriculture's 2011 lifestock and poultry trade forecast.

Ruminants -- mammals such as cattle and sheep that rechew partly digested food returned from their stomachs -- produce huge quantities of methane gas when they feed.

In a daily digestive process, one cow can produce between 100 litres to 500 litres of methane gas -- comparable to the daily pollution created by a car.

"If everyone in Hong Kong would give up meat for only one day a week for one year, it would be like taking 86,000 cars off the road," says Green Monday's co-founder Francis Ngai who has been a vegetarian for four years.

This explains the non-stop openings of steakhouses in Hong Kong or restaurants putting more steaks on the menu.

But why do Hong Kong people need to eat so much meat?!

As it is Hong Kong has one of the worst carbon footprints in the world and on top of that more meat.

This city must be the most unsustainable one on the planet!
People checking out the farmer's market set up on Sundays at the Star Ferry

On the other hand on Sunday I happened to take the Star Ferry and was intrigued by the mini farmer's market set up by the ferry terminal. The tables set up in a square have all kinds of vegetables from kale and cabbage to potatoes, yam, tomatoes and cucumber. Did I really see rhubarb there? I will have to look again. Many of them were organic, and it was nice to see people keen to look at the produce and also specifically come down to buy it.

There are other farmer's markets around town and we hope people's awareness will prove demand for locally-grown food will increase. Chefs at top restaurants around town are starting to specifically source local vegetables and fruits, and it's only a matter of time before more locals do the same.

And hopefully -- and that's a big hope -- the government will finally realize Hong Kong really needs to grow its own food not just for food security, but for our health and future.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Porcine-Flavoured Water...

Chinese sarcasm knows no bounds when it comes to criticizing the government
People living in or around Shanghai must be thinking twice about drinking the water there.

The fact that over 6,000 pig carcasses  were found in a section of the Huangpu River near the metropolis speaks to the contradictions in China. While there are neck-breaking tall skyscrapers and subways down below, water quality is still a pressing issue in this big city.

There's still no explanation of how the pig carcasses got into the river which flows through the southwestern Songjiang district, but officials are quick to say the water quality in the area meet standards, according to hourly tests by the district's water affairs bureau.

Hourly seems excessive and probably no one's anxieties have been eased by the local government insisting the water is fine.

While the dead pigs were pulled out of the water, workers added no less than 20 parts per million of activated carbon and added extra chlorine.

Officials claim the water is safe, saying there was a lot of water in the affected area of the river, and a high percentage of the carcasses were intact hinting they weren't eaten by fish or insects.

We're not talking a few pigs... it's a few thousand. Surely dead pigs are going to affect water quality...

Yang Jing, a medical staff member at a hospital in Songjiang said she was "numb" to the authorities' efforts to ensure water and food safety.

"I don't think officials regard these problems seriously... nothing is safe here, she said.

The fact that the authorities still have not found why the pigs have died and also who dumped them in the river in the first place is shocking.

While Shanghai's animal disease control department has found porcine circovirus, a common pig disease that is not known to be infectious to humans, a veterinarian at Yangzhou University in Jiangsu believes it was an epidemic.

Officials are obviously anxious to downplay the crisis to avoid having their heads on the chopping block, but this is a matter of public health.

We would like to see another dare, similar to last month's where a businessman challenged the local environmental protection chief to swim in the garbage-filled Rui'an city in Zhejiang province.

How about challenging Songjiang officials to drink the tap water? Or do they have their own limitless supply of bottled water?

Sooner or later incoming President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang will be investigating what is going on.

Surely it would be better for local authorities to look like they're doing something instead of trying to sweep the mess under the carpet, or in this case down the river?

In the meantime what can residents do? They've been inspired by Ang Lee's Life of Pi and changed it to Life of Pig, a boy stuck on a boat in an ocean filled with pig carcasses...

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Children Can Affect Your Fate

If only Ling Jihua's son didn't drive his Ferrari one cold night in Beijing...
Usually it's the next generation that has to figure out their career path because of what their parents did or didn't give them in terms of resources, education and/or connections.

But in the case of senior Chinese officials jockeying for a top spot, it's the other way around.

It turns out outgoing President Hu Jintao's close aide did get a spot in the committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. Ling Jihua who is head of United Front Work Department is now vice-chairman of the CPPCC -- but just barely.

What's interesting to note is that 90 of the 2,191 delegates voted against him -- the highest number of opposition votes recorded yesterday. The second highest was 27.

Reporters say Ling showed no emotion when the result was announced.

Some may remember Ling as the father of the young man who crashed his Ferrari on a Beijing road in the early morning hours last March with two young women. All three died.

Which is why analysts believe the accident is still hurting Ling's reputation, because he apparently ordered a unit of the Central Guard Bureau -- which usually protects the General Secretary [Hu] -- to go the scene and cover up the accident.

When senior officials found out about what Ling did, a faction led by former President Jiang Zemin, accused Ling of using the military for his own use. Others questioned Hu's responsibility as Ling's superior.

Another question surfaced -- where did Ling's son get the money (6 million RMB or $964,536) to buy a Ferrari?

As a result last September Ling was demoted from chief of the General Office to head of the United Front Work Department.

And then two months later Ling's name was not on the list of potential Politburo members, even though he had previously been expected to be named.

So this post as vice-chairman is a token one for Ling. While he and Hu lost the battle for control over the Politburo, Ling is still somewhat prominent in political circles.

The Ferrari crash speaks to not only the privilege of senior officials, but also those of their children who are often seen as spoiled and having no morals.

Will this be a lesson to the children or fuerdai? Probably not.

But for the parents, it's a wake up call that even their children can control their fate.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Vancouver-Made Chinese Movie

Wu Xiubo and Tang Wei in Finding Mr. Right
The Granville Street Bridge is in the background
The opening scene with Tang walking through the airport
On the weekend YTSL invited me to watch a preview of the movie Finding Mr. Right or 北京遇上西雅图 starring Tang Wei and Wu Xiubo.

In the romantic comedy, Tang is Jia Jia, the young mistress of a wealthy mainland Chinese businessman. She's pregnant and sent on an all-expenses paid trip to Seattle to give birth so that her child will have a green card.

She stays in an illegal "maternity centre", which is actually a home, where a few other expectant mothers are biding their time. Jia Jia acts like the stereotypical spoiled brat who is used to dangling money in front of people to get what she wants.

However her naive belief that everything will be taken care of is shattered when her lover and patron is arrested for corruption...

There are cultural and communication conflicts and misunderstandings that would be expected in a cross-cultural movie like this, but perhaps most distracting for me was that practically the entire film was shot in Vancouver.

I was too busy identifying the various landmarks in the city -- BC Place, the Vancouver Art Gallery, Hotel Georgia, Stanley Park, St George's School, and Granville Island -- to name a few.

For those not familiar with Vancouver, it probably passed as Seattle, but it was definitely a distraction for me. Director Xue Xiaolu and her crew did have overview shots of Seattle and New York, but many of them were grainy in quality, which made one wonder where they sourced the footage from.

In any event, YTSL and I have concluded Finding Mr. Right is just average and disappointing to see Tang in such limited roles. We wonder if it's because she is still concerned about what the Chinese government thinks of her work and is self-censoring her projects in fear of a continued ban from working in China.

We can't blame her, but at the same time, we want to see the depth of acting we saw in Lust, Caution; or is she just picking flat roles for the money, or she hasn't come across a good director since Ang Lee?

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Picture of the Day: Daoism

A Daoist parade along Salisbury Road in Tsim Sha Tsui
I was in Tsim Sha Tsui for lunch and when my friends and I were walking to the Star Ferry, we saw an interesting procession.
A group of warriors marches past

We didn't quite know what was going on except that it is the day of Daoism, my friend quickly surmised looking it up on his iPhone.

Unfortunately we don't know much more than that other than it was intriguing to see many men and women dressed in scholarly robes followed by giant "warriors", as indicated by the flags on their back in Chinese opera. They had magnificent headdresses much like the ones on stage, but their heads were made of papier mache.

Some of the faces looked menacing, and even the eyeballs could move, while others seemed to have more serene looks. The rest of the outfit was very elaborate, perhaps to look like they were wearing armour and the embroidery made it look like the armour had scales and even a menacing face in front.

The detail of the robes is very beautiful
These warriors were actually perched on top of people's shoulders to give them height and they must have been extremely heavy to carry, which explains why some took a break from carrying these warriors.

Another group of people dressed in more robes with the yin-yang symbol carried what looked like a shrine in gold and black, and giving it the imperial treatment with the vermillion shade and fans.

More Daoists carrying a shrine
After these people was a group of marching bands, the instruments performed by kids. We wondered what they had to do with Daoism, but could only think that they had drums in common...

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Cupcake Craze Goes Mainstream

TVB films a show about cupcakes at Complete Deelite in Central
Hong Kongers are not just fascinated with makeovers and learning how to get the guy to be attracted to you.

Now it's cupcakes.

Tonight on TVB there was an hour-long show devoted to making and decorating cupcakes -- oh sorry -- wedding cupcakes, as there were well-dressed young couples who were the studio audience sitting at small tables off to the side.

Meanwhile three women on stage talked about the different cupcake shops they went to, which ones they tasted and got a few decorating tips from the pastry chefs. Then in front of the camera they tried to replicate what they learned...

Perhaps what was even more bizarre was that these women were wearing nice dresses, one even in a strapless number, wearing high heels and baking! Is this supposed to signal the return of June Cleever?

What is going on with this cupcake craze? It happened in North America over two years ago and it's only arriving in Hong Kong now???

We find it amusing there is a whole cottage industry behind these cupcakes; either you can buy the finished products in the store, or you can go to a shop and buy all the necessary (or frivolous) accessories to make cupcakes from fancy paper liners to sparkly sprinkles to put on the cupcake or even fancy embossed rollers to create patterns on marzipan.

The hosts also invited the pastry chefs they interviewed to come on the show to give demonstrations and even had a guy and a girl who are not a couple to come on and talk about how they would like to have the engagement ring presented via cupcakes.

While the girl preferred a bunch of roses made of marzipan on top of cupcakes that surrounded a box also made of the sweet sugar confection, the guy wanted one giant cupcake and when the muffin top was lifted, inside was a ring pillow with a sparkly marzipan ring inside.

Awwww, how sickeningly sweet.

Many women may love cupcakes, but men must wonder if buying them cupcakes is the way to their hearts, that there is yet another expectation in the rules of romance that includes the expensive dinners, 99 roses and chocolates...

We also wonder how long this fad is going to last. Who has decent a oven at home anyway? And who's going to eat all these cupcakes that will only bring the onset of diabetes?


Friday, 8 March 2013

Differences Remain

Yu Zhengsheng presses the flesh during a gathering at the CPPCC
Mainland Chinese officials think they know what's going on in Hong Kong, but they still don't get it.

Or rather there are some cultural differences that still haven't been ironed out.

Earlier this week Politburo Standing Committee member Yu Zhengsheng warned Hong Kong should not become a base for subversion, saying "opposition" and "centrifugal forces" could not be allowed to rule the city after universal suffrage was attained.

And now another fellow committee member Zhang Dejiang who will supervise Hong Kong and Macau Affairs as well as head the top legislature also lectured the city.

According to Xinhua, in a closed-door meeting with Hong Kong delegates, Zhang told them to help deepen the implementation of "one country, two systems" concept.

He said Hong Kong residents should have a fuller understanding it, as he was concerned some locals put more "two systems" ahead of "one country".

China is obviously irked that Hong Kong is not integrating into the motherland fast enough, or is readily accepting of Chinese rule.

These officials probably think the faster Hong Kong becomes like any other Chinese city then the tensions between locals and mainlanders will decrease.

But they still don't understand the fundamental problem!

Zhang Dejiang reiterates Yu's comments about Hong Kong
While Hong Kong people are Chinese, they are not mainland Chinese. They were born and raised in a completely different environment and context compared to their cousins in the north and Hong Kong residents are proud of calling themselves Hong Kong Chinese and speaking Cantonese instead of Putonghua.

Which is why some have chosen to go back to waving the colonial flag because it is the closest symbol they have to indicate they would like things to be the way they were.

And this shocks Chinese officials, who are warning Hong Kong residents, that doing such things is equal to subversion. "The Chinese people will not accept some Hong Kongers waving the colonial flag," Zhang said, quoting Yu.

Excuse me, according to "one country, two systems", Hong Kong has freedom of expression and waving a colonial flag is a person's free choice to do so.

Obviously it is the mainland masters who have no understanding of its 1997 acquisition and that its governance over the city that should remain unchanged until 2047.

By the same token Hong Kong people cannot comprehend the mainland with its opaqueness and its people with unsightly manners.

It's a huge divide both Chinese and Hong Kong officials don't know how to bridge... or perhaps both are too caught up in other internal issues to really get at the crux of the problem.

But really for the Chinese it's the integrity issue -- until its government is more open and transparent, and there is rule of law in the country will Hong Kong people even begin to trust them.

Until then they will continue to wave colonial flags and protest -- because they have the right and freedom to do so.