Friday, 31 May 2013

Calling for the Truth... Again

Tens of thousands of people in Victoria Park to remember the victims of June 4
The countdown to the anniversary of June 4 has already begun and the Tiananmen Mothers have sent an open letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping calling for the government to reverse its verdict on the crackdown as "counter-revolutionary".

More than 100 people whose relatives were killed in Tiananmen Square in 1989, signed the letter, which added Xi was "not a real reformer".

"What we see, precisely, are giant steps backwards towards Maoist orthodoxy," the letter said. "This has caused those individuals who originally harboured hopes in him carrying out political reform to fall into sudden disappointment and despair."

The letter added China's leaders "come one after another, as if through a revolving door, and as they move forward, they become ever more distant and outrageous, causing a universal feeling of despair to descend on the people from all sides".

As it has every year, the group, consisting of 123 people, has called again for the government to publish a full list of the names of those who died and to compensate relatives.

"To this day, all our efforts have been in vain, we have received not a single response from the government," said the letter that was posted on an overseas rights group website.

So far China has not given any official toll for the violent crackdown, while estimates range from 200 to more than 3,000. Tiananmen Mothers believes the number is in the higher range.

"We will never give up, never stop, until June Fourth is finally reassessed, and the souls of the victims rest in peace," the letter said.

It must be so horribly painful for the victims' families not to be able to properly mourn for their loved ones, and not even have them officially counted among the dead almost 24 years ago. That means there is no official death certificate, no admission of murder, no compensation. In other words, no justice.

And of course the Communist Party will never acknowledge its bloody crackdown. We don't foresee it making any kind of mention of it in the future. To do so would shake the foundations of the Party to its core.

So life will go on on June 4 in China as it has for the past. But we are heartened to see more and more young mainland Chinese coming to Hong Kong specifically to see what happens on that day and find out more about the truth of this horrific bloody mark in modern Chinese history.

They need to know what happened because it became a turning point in how the Party behaves to this day. The future generation needs to know what kind of ruler is leading their country, and it is hardly a benevolent one. History reveals the truth.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

A Traumatic Start

Baby No. 59 goes home with his mother after being extracted from a pipe
The newborn baby who fell into a toilet pipe and had to be extracted from it in hospital has now returned home in Jinhua city, Zhejiang province.

The baby boy, nicknamed "Baby No. 59" after the number on his incubator, had a rough beginning but we hope he'll be OK from now on.

Local police aren't explaining exactly what happened, but the mother, a 22 year old who is unmarried, kept the pregnancy a secret and went to the squat toilet and "accidentally" gave birth.

The authorities aren't going to charge the young mother, saying she did not drop him on purpose as she 'tried to grab the newborn before it fell into the toilet, but its body was too slippery", according to police records.

He fell into a 10-centimetre hole and was trapped there for two to three hours before he was freed. The baby suffered some cuts to his face and limbs and put in an incubator for five days.

We wonder now if the mother's parents knew about this pregnancy and the purported father is going to take a paternity test.

At first there was outrage that the baby was stuck in the sewage pipe, as many people had thought it was abandoned, but the mother was there throughout the entire rescue.

However the incident raises more questions about the couple and the baby and the circumstances surrounding the pregnancy.

We wonder when the baby grows up and starts using the internet if he'll figure out he's Baby No. 59?

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

June 4 Anniversary Stirs Up Insecurities

We are dismayed to read the Chinese authorities are too scared to allow one of the Tiananmen Mothers to go to Hong Kong this week for a pipa competition.

Zhang Xianling's son died in the June 4 bloody crackdown and she and her husband were advised not to come here even though they were supposed to have arrived yesterday and then left on Saturday, days before the annual candlelight vigil. They had invited Zhang's husband to come as an adviser for the competition.

However, last week police visited the couple's home and told them not to come to Hong Kong without giving an explicit explanation.

"I don't understand why the police are afraid of our visit to Hong Kong," said Zhang, 76. "I have already told them I do not plan to go to the vigil. This is so shameful. The police only told us not to go to Hong Kong because the city was chaotic recently. They did not explain clearly what meant... this is clearly [infringing] our rights," she said.

Then on Monday Zhang received a call from the competition organizer, the China Soong Ching Ling Foundation, who told the couple not to come to Hong Kong.

"The organizer said that June 4 is coming and we should not go [to Hong Kong] during this sensitive time," Zhang said.

A report says Zhang's friends told her the foundation was under pressure from the mainland authorities over the couple's impending visit to the city.

These outrageous bullying tactics only reveal the deep insecurities of the Chinese government. The elderly couple was coming to Hong Kong for four days and leaving well before the 24th anniversary of June 4. What is the problem with that? And what trouble can a 76-year-old woman cause?

In any event Zhang is hopeful things will change.

"I hope to come one day but that will be after we can commemorate the crackdown freely here [in Beijing] first," she said.

That day will mark the anniversary of her son Wang Nan's death, who was killed while taking photographs on Changan Avenue during the crackdown. He was 19 years old.

Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance In Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China and vigil organizer, said Zhang recently donated the helmet her son wore that night that has a bullet hole through it.

He believes that may explain why the mainland authorities pressured the foundation to cancel the couple's trip to Hong Kong.

These people -- mothers and fathers who lost their children on June 4 -- have done nothing wrong. And yet China refuses to let them -- or anyone else -- remember their brood.

We will stand in silence and remember Wang Nan and all the other victims that night. We promise they will not be forgotten.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Reflecting the Horrors of Chinese Society

Jia Zhangke with his wife and actress Zhao Tao
Mainland Chinese director Jia Zhangke scooped up the best screenplay award at the close of the Cannes Film Festival for A Touch of Sin.

The movie is based on four true stories of poor people who are driven to acts of desperation that shed light on rampant corruption and exploitation in China.

"Cinema makes me live," Jia said as he received his award on Sunday. "China is now changing so fast. I think film is the best way to me to look for freedom."

Jia, 43, was born in Shanxi, a poor province, where he started making films about low-life characters including pickpockets, thugs and prostitutes.

A Touch of Sin is not far from this theme about social inequality and how the characters end up turning to violence as the solution.

In one, a miner tries to hold corrupt village leaders accountable; a migrant worker, returning home, gets hold of a firearm; a sauna receptionist who is involved with a married man, must endure humiliations; and a young man who moves from a thankless factory job to a thankless service industry position.

The seeds of these stories -- the pedicurist Deng Yujiao with her fruit knife come to mind -- were in the news in the last few years and were widely talked about on Weibo, which is what intrigued Jia to further explore them and create stories around them.

"These are people who feel they have no other option but violence," Jia said. "There's suddenly a big dose of violence in everyday life," he added. "But the problem is that new events keep coming, so old ones keep being forgotten."

In researching for the film, Jia visited the areas where the incidents took place and interviewed people who were familiar with the events.

There's been a lot of chatter about how violent A Touch of Sin is, but Jia is unapologetic.

"Violence has long been neglected in Chinese culture," he said. "We don't talk about it, we don't understand it. In a way movies can do a lot in terms of inspiring people to confront, to understand, to feel violence. If you don't allow violence to be discussed in movies, we're just going to become a more violent country."

It's a frightening thought, but Jia is bravely showing a mirror in front of China's face to reflect what is happening in the country. A Touch of Sin is a shocking and sad commentary on modern society in China, but it is something it must see and confront.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Ai Weiwei's Art = Reality

A stencil of the artist that was posted around when Ai was detained by police
When artist and activist Ai Weiwei disappeared for 81 days in 2011, we wondered where he went and if we would ever see him again.

For him the experience of being illegally detained in a secret prison somewhere in Beijing was something he would never forget -- not just the physical and psychological confinement of being watched 24 hours a day by two guards at a close distance, but something he would document in his mind for the world to know.

He has managed to do this in the form of six dioramas at half the real size, that will be shown at an art gallery by the Zuecca Project Space that is run concurrently with the 2013 Venice Biennale.

How Ai managed to complete these in secret and transport them to Italy is also a feat in itself, though the artist declines to disclose this.

Instead he lets the dioramas clearly illustrate what he went through.

He made himself memorize every aspect of the rooms, the white padding of the walls, and the blue colour of his flip flops. And if what he has depicted is accurate, the scenes look frightening but almost comical at the same time.

In one scene he sits at a table facing the wall while two young guards stand by him and watch him eat from four tin containers of food. Another shows him sleeping with a bright light shining in his face as the two uniformed guards watch him. In an even more outrageous trespassing of privacy, the two men watch him shower too.

These dioramas show how the state wants to show it has full authority over Ai and his fate, but also the extent to which the authorities were willing to spend on detaining a man in his mid-50s who had not done anything illegal.

Not only do these works have artistic merit, but also serve as evidence of how Ai was detained by the government for over two months, to show the world what kind of a repressive state China is.

Who has the last word now?

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Covertible Renminbi? Dream On...

Banking in China is one of the most annoying chores in the country...
When the media talks about how China is going to make the renminbi a convertible currency, I can't help but laugh.

In China, banking has to be one of the most frustratingly bureaucratic things to do in daily life. No wonder the banks are open seven days a week.

While ATM machines have made it easier to withdraw and deposit money and credit cards are more popular, cheques are still unheard of let alone bank drafts. And still having its highest denomination bill as 100 yuan?

When I worked for one company, every employee had a bank account with the firm's bank. That's because that was the only way one would get paid. If you changed jobs, which I did, you had to open up another bank account with that new employer's bank. If a person changed jobs say five or six times in their career, they could easily have that many bank accounts. It was deemed impossible to do direct deposit into another bank.

The same goes for transferring money from one bank to another. To pay rent to my landlord, I withdrew a red brick of cash from my bank, had to physically go to my landlord's bank and deposit it into his account.

One time a foreign colleague had moved from Shenzhen to Beijing and wanted to transfer her money to the same bank, but in the capital. This was a daunting task and it wasn't even done properly -- her money was somehow transferred to some bank account in Shenyang. Eventually she somehow got the money to Beijing.

Fast forward to last year. I opened a bank account with a Chinese bank here in Hong Kong and was given a cash rebate that was in the form of credit in a credit card. I naively assumed that since the credit was available in Hong Kong dollars and renminbi that I could use it on the mainland with no problems.

So when I visited China, I put two charges on there and assumed my rebate would cover them -- but I was wrong.

In the statement I received earlier this week I was shocked to find I had an overdue payment on my credit card. I called to find out what the issue was, and the rebate would not cover any renminbi charges, even though it would only involve converting the renminbi charge into Hong Kong dollars and then deducting from my rebate.

No. Impossible. In a hurry to pay up the overdue charge as soon as possible, I was advised by customer service over the phone to do online banking. But then I soon discovered that I could not log on because a) I did not have a PC; b) I did not have a desktop computer; and c) I did not have Internet Explorer.

All three criteria prove how mainland Chinese this bank is -- and how utterly useless it is in Hong Kong where a good number of people use Apple laptops that don't use IE. It also illustrates how this bank's online banking system is not very safe if one must use a desktop computer...

In the end I had to physically go to the bank to get the overdue charges settled. I explained to the teller that I couldn't do online banking and she gave an understanding smile, probably having heard that complaint many times before.

It's safe to say I will be cancelling this credit card as soon as my rebate runs out -- banking with a mainland Chinese bank is so tedious particularly in a financial centre like Hong Kong where practically any banking request can be completed quickly and efficiently without much fuss.

So China having a convertible renminbi anytime soon? Don't bet on it.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

The Art Basel Report

A spherical Volkswagen Beetle
Vik Muniz's ode to van Gogh with flowers
The first year of Art Basel taking over Art Hong Kong started off ominously with a black rainstorm warning on Wednesday.

There's been a lot of hype about this giant fair taking over a locally produced one. Galleries and artists were keen to be associated with such a large institution, but locally some worried if our own artists were going to get enough exposure, with the potential of being overshadowed by a corporate fair run out of Switzerland.

Fun colourful graphic prints
YTSL and I checked out the fair this afternoon and we were quite surprised by the relatively low turnout, or was it because there was a massive rainstorm this morning? It was pretty much gone by early afternoon though.

In any event we wandered the main hall in the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai and sadly we were not impressed.

For the most part, many of the pieces seemed pretentious and trying to hard to be "art", others looked like semi decent ideas, but not enough thought was put into the execution.

There was a giant black inflated castle-like installation, suspended by ropes and had an S&M kind of quality to it with zippers, chains and studs. The work is called Play (210301) by MadeIn Company in Beijing.

A suspended inflated Goth-like castle with S&M connotations
We also saw a Volkswagen curled up into a ball called Beetlesphere and a replica of the ruins from the original Summer Palace painted shiny black called 11 Degree Incline by Zhuang Hui and Dan'er.

For a little levity, there was a cute installation of giant yellow inflated tubes like punching bags, all lined up together and with people moving through, them it generated the same kind of look as fish going through anemone.

Having fun interacting with giant inflatable art
Things got markedly better on Level 3, which was smaller, but has higher quality works. The usual crowd pleaser and hot artist these days is Japan's Yayoi Kusama with her polka-dotted... everything. She has a bizarre outlook on things which may explain her residency in a mental hospital, but also she does do so graphically outstanding work. We also saw only ONE Takashi Murakami work, a caricature of the artist and his dog Pom on a pile of colourful skulls, his latest theme.

Yayoi Kusama has an eye -- for everything polka dots
There was also a work by Liu Jianhua, featuring a giant ceramic plate with a headless and armless woman in a qipao kicking up her high heels on a bed of roses. This artist started doing these pieces over a dozen years ago in his commentary on the Chinese becoming materialistic and losing sight of moral behaviour.

Other interesting works included two cartons of mainland Chinese cigarettes and two bottles of maotai that seemed to be "breathing". Perhaps the cigarette cartons would be even better if they emitted black clouds of smoke...

We liked Polly Apfelbaum's colourful graphics that were also embossed, and Damien Hirst's butterfly works, though not the ones with the real butterflies stuck onto the canvas... that was too morbid.

"Breathing" cigarettes and maotai, for what reason?
Photographer/artist Vik Muniz continues to amaze us with his intricate art work. Last time we saw him create collages of famous paintings and photograph them and the blow them up large. Now he has recreated well-known works again, this time painstakingly arranging flowers together before photographing them. Amazing.

A gorgeous line drawing by Henri Matisse
Picassos were around... if you could find them. They were mostly drawings, and Miro's work emerged too, perhaps Spain trying to boost its economy by selling some of its famous artists... however we loved this simple yet elegant drawing by Matisse.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Making Time for Music

Russian-born pianist and conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy still full of energy
We just came back from a concert by the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra inspired and excited by Jean Sibelius' Symphony No. 5 in E flat, Op.82 conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy.

The program of three pieces were deftly chosen by maestro to generate a crescendo and climax by the end of the evening and the audience was in thrall with the performance.

Ashkenazy is 75 years old and still going strong. He comes to Hong Kong regularly, though the last time I saw him perform was over 10 years ago with an intimate piano recital that was mesmerizing even at that time.

While he doesn't play the piano live anymore, he does focus on recordings of him at the keyboard, though he admits he doesn't listen to them.

"I have no time for that," he says. "Time is very precious. I have very little time to listen to my own recordings. What's the point of doing that when I can't change anything that I don't like? So it's a waste of time."

He is also very efficient on the conductor's podium. Once he gets up there, he starts right away -- why wait? The opening piece, Don Juan, Op. 20 by Richard Strauss was romantic, a musical interpretation of Hungarian-born Nikolaus Lenau's unfinished poem about the Don's tireless search for the perfect woman.

It's carefree at first, amorous and light, but towards the end Don is confronted by the angry male relative of one of his conquests and meets his fatal end with an abrupt finish. My concentration dipped towards the end when I could hear a man behind me snoring. It got louder and louder, and then by the time he stopped, the piece had ended.

Soprano Camilla Tilling sang songs by Strauss
Next came Swedish soprano Camilla Tilling to sing Four Last Songs by Strauss with the orchestra. In 1894, the composer married soprano Pauline de Ahna. While they did not have an easy marriage, they could not bear to be apart from each other long. He died two days short of their 55th wedding anniversary, and she passed away eight months later.

Four Last Songs was supposed to be a gift to Pauline, but he never finished the last one. Each of them follow the progression of a human lifetime, similar to the four seasons. Tilling's voice was soft and sweet, though she seemed restrained in the beginning and opened up by the third song to give more depth in her voice.

The audience was so enamoured by her that she finally did an encore where she had no hesitation whatsoever and gave a delightful performance.

After the intermission we were back for Sibelius. I was concerned it would be similar to the one the Hong Kong Sinfonietta performed last Saturday (Symphony No. 2 in D, Op.43) a piece that while impressive, never seemed to end.

But Ashkenazy, ever mindful of time, cut to the chase with a rousing end. He was very particular about his conducting instructions and they resulted in a range of volumes, textures and colours in the piece. By the end the audience was eating out of his hand even though he didn't get caught up in all the admiration; he's not jaded, but rather wants to go back to his hotel and rest!

He pumped both fists in the air, pleased with the orchestra and many times singled out the various soloists.

If you missed him this time around not to worry -- Ashkenazy is already scheduled to come back to Hong Kong next April with cellist Sol Gabetta.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Iron Chef -- The Bulge Battle

Harlan Goldstein and Alvin Leung ham it up for the press yesterday
We are bemused by the efforts of two Hong Kong-based chefs eager to wager HK$20,000 to see who can lose more weight three months from yesterday.

Harlan Goldstein of Gold and Strip House fame, and Alvin Leung of Bo Innovation and Beautifood have challenged each other to battle the bulge, and the loser has to dress up as a waitress and work in the winner's restaurant for a day. They will also donate their money to their favourite charities, the winner's charity getting 80 percent of the loser's money.

Yesterday was the weigh-in for the chefs, both 52 years old. Goldstein is heavier at 118kg, while Leung is 110kg. Not only do both sport large stomachs, but also double chins.

It'll be interesting to see how the race goes as both serve indulgent dishes at their restaurants, though Goldstein is known for working out through kick boxing. Leung is famous for his cigar smoking.

We took a straw poll last night asking people who they thought would win, but reaction was mixed, which was intriguing. These two are pretty evenly matched up and as both are eager for publicity, their egos are on the line to shrink their waistlines.

Goldstein is known not to be a sore loser -- last July he was matched up with a banker at his gym to see who would lose more weight in a "Biggest Loser"-style challenge.

The banker won, who lost 15kg from his original weight of 135kg, while Goldstein, then 134kg only lost 13.5kg.

The chef/owner was not happy with the result and asked for a rematch. The banker agreed and then he lost, actually gaining 2kg, while Goldstein managed to lose 25kg in total.

We hope to get periodic updates from people who may see the two contenders in and around Hong Kong. Or is this a publicity stunt for both Goldstein and Leung to drum up more business for their restaurants in a bid to get customers to check out their waistlines?

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Negative Population Growth

Hong Kong has a shrinking population, as the birth rate has fallen further in the past five years because the number of one-child families have outpaced two-children families for the first time.

A survey of 1,518 married or co-habitating women aged 15 to 49 surveyed by the Family Planning Association says 37.5 percent had one child, while 32 percent had two. This makes the average number of children per household at a record low of 1.12 last year compared to 1.49 in 2007 and 1.6 in 2002.

While Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai, chairman of the association's research sub-committee says the proportion of childless families also rose markedly from 16.1 percent in 2007 to 23.4 percent in 2012, it did not mean Hong Kong people did not like children.

The survey found most respondents wanted to have two children, but 39 percent of women ended up having fewer children than they wanted -- the biggest gap between actual and desired outcome since 1987.

That's because -- surprise surprise -- of financial pressure, long working hours and late marriages.

The economic pressures are the biggest factor for 29.7 percent of women, up 15.4 percent from five years ago.

In the question asking respondents what government policies would encourage them to have more children, this time more than 50 percent cited subsidies for education, medical services and housing.

Then there's the issue of late marriages. The current average is 28, which makes it harder for women to have children by the age of 35, when the pregnancy rate drops even further.

As a result Dr Susan Fan Yun-sun, the association's executive director said couples should think ahead and adjust their life goals so they would not have any regrets.

Or as my ex-colleague used to say, no time is ever a good time to have children -- in other words you can never plan to have the perfect conditions to have a child.

Hong Kong's fertility rate is now at 1.2, the same as Singapore, but lower than Japan's at 1.4 and the United States at 2.0. Only Taiwan is lower at 1.1.

Yip says the Hong Kong government should be concerned about these numbers and try to think of policies to encourage families to have more children.

"Sixty percent of support given to the elderly comes from their families. If the elderly have no children, the responsibility of taking care of them will fall on the government," Yip said.

The government could also be more progressive in mandating companies offer new mothers more flexible work hours or part time positions so that they can not only feel relatively productive, but also have more time for their children. Right now the option is either work full time or quit.

Mothers today aren't as willing to sacrifice everything for their careers -- they want some kind of balance -- on their own terms. And why not give it to them? They're smart, savvy and hardworking. Why shut them out just because they want to have one or more children? We should be supporting them in propagating the future of Hong Kong.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

A Letter to the Censor

The name Murong Xuecun is a pen name for prolific writer Hao Qun
Murong Xuecun (慕容 雪村) is the pen name of a well known writer and author who also has a microblog followed by over 8 million people. On it he writes a lot of social commentary.

But one day over a week ago his blog was suddenly completely deleted from cyberspace and then a few days later reappeared without any reason.

Needless to say he was shocked and mystified by this action without any kind of warning.

And so he recently wrote a letter to the censor in the hopes of getting some answers. It's long, but well worth the read into how censors work in mainland China, and also his reaction to having his work censored.

For the Chinese version, click this. Here is the translation:

Open Letter to a Nameless Censor
Murong Xuecun
Dear Nameless Censor,
On May 11, 2013, you ordered the termination of all my microblogs on Sina Weibo, Tencent, Sohu and NetEase, deleting every single entry I ever posted.
On May 17, in the afternoon, you ordered the reinstatement of all my microblogs, but a few hours later, in the early hours of May 18, you ordered my accounts be shut down again.
You have been unpredictable from the very beginning. To date, I have received no explanation or notification about what happened to my microblog accounts.
I do not know your name, which organization you work for, or even if you are a man or a woman, but I do know you will read this letter.
To you I am just another microblogger whose accounts can be deleted at any time. But for me those four microblogging accounts have become a part of my life, the place where I meet with my family and friends. In this virtual space, we greet each other, share thoughts, and sometimes exchange jokes. These microblogs are also my most important platform to communicate with more than 8.5 million followers.
Over the past three years,I posted about 200,000 characters, with each post limited to 140 characters and every word was chosen with painstaking care. These posts were notes on books I have read, my thoughts about life, commentaries on current affairs, and flashes of inspiration. These microblogs, or weibo entries, should not have been deleted because not a single word violated any law or threatened anyone's safety.
Dear Nameless Censor, perhaps you will never understand that to a writer, the words he writes are more important to him than his life. On the evening of May 11 my words accumulated over the years in these blogs disappeared because of a single command from you.
I am sure there are reasons for your action. But no matter what the reasons might be, I hope you will honestly tell me what they are and apologize to me for what you did.
Dear Nameless Censor, I know you possess enormous power but you have no right to delete what I write, and you have no right to intrude into my life. Most importantly, you have no right to deprive me of my freedom of speech, because freedom of speech is my inviolable constitutional right.
I know that in this country, at this time, you are far more powerful than me--I am merely an ordinary citizen, a writer who writes for a living, while you, a nameless censor, have the power to push me off a cliff with just one phone call.
Still, I am writing you this letter because I believe your awesome powers are only temporary. You can delete my words, you can delete my name but you cannot snatch the pen from my hand. In the years to come this pen of mine will fight a long war of resistance, and continue to write for as long as it takes for me to see the light of a new dawn. I believe you will not be able to hide in the shadows forever because the light of a new dawn will also expose the place where you are hiding. Dear Nameless Censor, when that time comes, the whole world will know who you are.
For far too long, you and your colleagues have devoted all your efforts to suppressing freedom of speech in China. You have created a never-ending list of sensitive words, deleted countless articles, and closed down thousands of microblog accounts. You have constructed the Great Firewall of China and kept the rest of the world at bay behind a wall of ignorance, turning China into an information prison.
You censor articles and delete words. You treat literature as poison, free speech as a crime, and independent thinkers as your enemy. Thanks to your efforts, this great nation of 1.3 billion people does not have a single newspaper that can express objective views, nor a single TV station that broadcasts objective programs, or even the smallest space where people can speak freely.
This is your legacy, dear Nameless Censor. If this were a war, then standing in front of your gun is not just me. You are also making yourself the enemy of our beautiful language, our nation's future and the progress of mankind.
Perhaps you believe you are standing on the moral high ground, and believe what you are doing is for the sake of national security and a harmonious society. I hope, however, you can understand the following:
China doesn't just belong to you and the organization you work for. This nation is home for 1.3 billion Chinese people. Therefore, China's national security must guarantee that all people in this nation are free of fear, not just the few who are in power;
True stability is based in the happiness and freedom of the people and not derived from obedience enforced down the barrel of a gun. True harmony is a raucous affair, not silence enforced by clutching at people's throats.
The power you have been given is supposed to protect the freedom of your people, not take that freedom away. Your responsibility is to help our language flourish, not kill it.
One day in the future you may defend what you what have done by saying: I knew it was wrong but I had to execute my duty. Maybe this is a mitigating factor but you will not be exempted from moral responsibility.
Among the blog entries you deleted, there was this:
If you were a guard patrolling the Berlin Wall in East Germany, when you saw someone trying to climb over the wall, your responsibility was to aim your gun slightly higher than you were trained to do; if you were guard patrolling a village in China in 1960 during the great famine, when you saw a group of starved countrymen trying flee the village, your responsibility was to turn a blind eye and let them go; if you were a city management officer whose job is patrolling the streets to ensure they are free of unlicensed vendors, when you are ordered to chase vendors who are only trying to earn a humble living, your responsibility is to run slower. When your normal duty becomes a crime, then high above your duty there is a more lofty principle that we all must respect: our conscience as a member of humanity.
I now dedicate these words to you, dear Nameless Censor. I hope that the next time you are on patrol for sensitive words you will aim your gun slightly higher and run a little slower because of your conscience as a member of humanity.
Or perhaps you will say, I did not actively do evil but I had to follow orders. This is not an acceptable excuse, dear Nameless Censor. You are an adult--you have eyes that see, ears that hear and a brain that can think. You are supporting these orders from above by following them. If you know these orders are wrong, then please tell me why do you support them?
Clearly, what you are doing is solely to protect your own power and status and you will not stop. I have suffered because of you but please tell me, how many more people have to be sacrificed to serve your personal interests?
Please look closely at these names:
Ran Yunfei, writer, scholar Zhang Xuezhong, professor of law Xiao Xuehui, professor of ethics Song Shinan, scholar He Bing, professor of law Si Weijiang, renowned lawyer.
Shen Yachuan, veteran journalist Xiang Xiaokai, scholar Wu Wei, scholar Wu Zalai scholar Teng Biao, renowned lawyer, scholar
The list goes on...
Over a period of a just a few days, these people's Weibo accounts have also vanished at the end of your gun muzzle.
This, is your legacy, dear Nameless Censor.
Please look at the list again, put your hand on your heart and tell me, and tell yourself and the whole world, what crimes these people have committed. Why did you censor their works and blacklist their names? What legal procedure did you follow and which criteria were violated to provoke you to cock your gun? Which article of the law was broken to oblige you to pull the trigger?
You of course know that people fear being shot in the dark. Each deletion is a victory for you and you are by now probably accustomed to the silence of your victims. This silence encourages you to be more determined and more brutal. However, this is not your victory because in the mist of this silence millions of people are raging, resisting, and cursing, and a huge storm is brewing.
I hope that from this day hence you will receive a letter like this one every time you delete someone's writings. I hope that when you finally retire from your position these letters piled up like a mountain will burden you for the rest of your life. Dear Nameless Censor, this burden will be your legacy too.
I am fully aware this letter will cause me nothing but grief: I may not be able to publish my writings in China, my words may be expunged and deleted, and my future path may become even more difficult, but I must tell you: I once had fear, but from now on, I am no longer afraid. I will be here waiting for sunlight to brighten the world, to brighten people's hearts, and light up the place you where you hide. That is the difference between you and me, dear Nameless Censor---I believe in the future, while all you have is the present.
The long night is almost over; I wish you peace. Sincerely yours,
Murong Xuecun

Monday, 20 May 2013

Hear Us Out

A prominent Vietnamese monk is in Hong Kong visiting for two weeks and many of his devotees are here to hear him speak.

The man is full of wisdom, so much so we think the Hong Kong government should listen to him too.

He seems to have his hand on the pulse of the city, saying you can stop a protest one time, but you can't stop another from starting up if you don't deal with the problem.

"There are people who have not been heard, which leads to problems," says Phap Kham, head of the Hong Kong branch of Buddhist Centre Plum Village.

"Protests are just a manifestation of unhappiness inside. They are only symptoms. there should be a way for people's voices to be heard in a peaceful way."

The Zen master adds not only are people's voices not heard, there was no communication between the government and its people.

"Policies should be made to meet people's needs, but sometimes policies are made without meeting needs," he said. "When people speak out, does [the government] make an effort to listen? If they are heard, then there wouldn't be more protests. Protests are a way of saying 'we need to talk'."

Why does it take someone who doesn't live in Hong Kong to crystallize this perfectly for us?

His other observation was that Hong Kong people have a lot of stress and anger because the city's fast pace of life didn't allow them to slow down to take care of themselves.

"When water in the pond is clear, we can see the bottom clearly. But when a herd of buffaloes stamp and stir up the mud, the water becomes murky and no one can see through it," Phap Kham said. "It is important to be calm before we can see solutions to problems."

It's true -- we all need to stop and reflect back what's going on in our lives before we can move forward; otherwise we will continue making the same mistakes or continue to be frustrated.

We need to be more reflective in fast-paced Hong Kong and be mindful of ourselves and others for a more productive and peaceful co-existence.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Time to Go Rice-less?

One more thing you cannot eat in China...
OK folks, another food item not to eat from China -- rice.

Food inspectors have found some rice tested in Guangzhou had excessive levels of cadmium. a heavy metal that ingested or absorbed in the skin can cause kidney failure, bone disease and other ailments.

Perhaps the more outrageous thing about this story is that at first officials refused to divulge which brands were involved and where they rice was distributed to.

However more details have come out, with inspectors saying six batches of rice were from Hunan province, and two batches of rice noodles from two processing plants in Dongguan, Guangdong.

Officials also finally provided the names of restaurants and schools where the rice products were distributed, but really too little too late -- the food has already been ingested. Now what?

Apparently the testing was conducted between January and March and the results were only released now. Even more puzzling.

One would think food safety involving this chemical would require staff to act more quickly, but it seems with the 18th Party Congress, there was some suppression of the news until after the change of leadership occurred.

Does this sound familiar? Five years ago with the melamine milk scandal that didn't erupt until after the success of the Beijing Olympics?

The government even has the gall to stress that the high proportion of tainted rice in the tested samples did not reflect the overall food-safety situation in Guangzhou because of the limited number of samples.

However, the highest cadmium levels of 0.4 micrograms per kilogram of rice is twice the national food safety standard.

Surely even such a small number of samples warrant some kind of alarm, and also that inspectors should be testing many more samples of rice?

This incident clearly illustrates the food safety situation in China and how inspections are lax or not enough, and even when tested, information is not released in a timely manner.

As one internet user in Shandong wrote online, "How can you requires us to trust... the government, trust the party, if you can't even give us the most basic health?"

The next thing mainlanders are going to buy in Hong Kong are sacks of rice...

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Musical Dress Code

Recorder soloist Stefan Temmingh who made a metallic red fashion statement
When solo classical musicians perform, it's interesting to see how they dress. 

A generation ago violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter made a fashion statement in her strapless dresses. I haven't seen her perform in person but surely she's one to watch. According to a Wall Street Journal article, she has several John Galliano strapless dresses in a number of colours. She says she wears them because they're comfortable.

Anne-Sophie Mutter in her strapless gown
Some male soloists stick to the standby classic tuxedo, but some are more creative, injecting some of their personality with the clothes they wear on stage. Pianist Lang Lang favours wearing Armani suits or maybe it's because they are given to him? That's what he says in a Bloomberg article.

Tonight YTSL and I saw recorder soloist Stefan Temmingh. He's originally from South Africa but lives in Munich. The last time I picked up a recorder was in elementary school playing very basic songs.

But here of course Temmingh has taken the recorder to amazing heights thanks to his massive lung capacity and artistic flair.

He made an entrance with a shiny black jacket with a gold collar, black shoes, pants, and a pair of shiny metallic red shoes and belt to match.

When he performed Vivaldi's Recorder Concerto, RV443, he conducted the small group of musicians too and this enabled him to turn around and make eye contact with them as well as with the audience. He was so into his element that he began jump around and dance a bit. He reminded YTSL of a satyr, half man, half goat.

Lang Lang tends to favour wearing Armani suits on stage
He calmed down during the Asian premiere of Enjott Schneider's Omaggio a Vivaldi, written for Temmingh. He performed the piece using four different recorders of different sizes which was really interesting. Our only quibble with him was that he didn't memorize the pieces he played and had the sheet music in front of him which is unusual for a soloist.

Nevertheless, the audience -- me included -- enjoyed his performance so much that he did an encore of a 17th century piece by a Dutch composer called The Nightingale, but sounded more like a duet of two birds rather than one.

Jason Lai: Sibelius
May 18
Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall
Part, Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten
Vivaldi, Recorder Concerto, RV443
Enjott Schneider, Omaggio a Vivaldi (Asian premiere)
Sibelius, Symphony No 2 in D, Op 43

Friday, 17 May 2013

How to be Good Tourists 101

Vice Premier Wang Yang wants Chinese tourists to behave
Finally! A senior Chinese official has said it -- mainland Chinese have "uncivilized behaviour" when they travel abroad.

Vice Premier Wang Yang has said these people are harming the country's image, and blamed it on their poor "quality and breeding", he told People's Daily.

In particular he deplored "talking loudly in public places, jay-walking, spitting and willfully carving characters on items in scenic zones".

We wish he included squatting, relieving themselves in public areas and being rude, but he's made a good start.

Wang said such "uncivilized behaviours" were "often criticized by the media and have damaged the image of Chinese people and caused vicious impact".

Can we add a few more incidents?

Tonight on the bus home, a precocious boy around four or five years old was drinking milk from a small carton from a straw. He didn't know how to use a straw because he had milk droplets forming on his chin and his frazzled mother tried to get some wet tissues out to wipe his face. While she was doing that he pulled the straw out of the carton, which flicked milk drops onto people sitting opposite them.

Did the mother notice anything? The couple who was sprayed on tried to show their wet trousers, and that an apology was in order, but she was too busy going through her purse to notice while her son placed his hands all over the handrail and then started sucking his thumb...

When the wet couple left, the father sat down in their seat and what did he do? Pull out his smart phone and started playing games, completely ignoring the fact that his son was talking loudly and should be disciplined immediately. The mother looked stressed out and tired (and overweight), probably due to the fact that she had to look after two boys, not one.

Then we heard about an investors seminar my cousin attended a few weeks ago. It was held in a hotel ballroom and he noticed the mainlanders wore sharp suits, but the white socks gave them away.

They were also quite aggressive in meeting people, immediately asking what they did, what company they worked for, which turned people off. Did we mention they talked loudly too?

During the seminar, some of them sat at the back of the ballroom. One guy in a nice suit took one of the brochures, spread it out on his lap and then bent his head and started running his hands through his hair and let's just say he was able to create a snowstorm.

After he was done with that, he just flicked the pile of dandruff on the carpet for the staff to clean up...

And former director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office Lu Ping tells Hong Kong people to "consider the feelings of mainlanders... There is no need to voice degrading comments publicly, such as calling mainlanders locusts. This will only hurt the feelings of each other. Hong Kongers should not be utilitarian. After all, the individual visit scheme has done a lot to help the economy."

Lu obviously has not seen the day-to-day happenings in Hong Kong when locals are confronted with the behaviour of mainlanders. They are shocked and appalled and most of the time Hong Kong people have no choice but to quietly complain amongst themselves.

It's when push comes to shove do they let out their frustrations and with good reason.

In the meantime we are relieved Wang has taken the first step in admitting Chinese citizens are not good exporters of China's soft power.

So far the immediate reaction to Wang's observation is mixed, including some mainland Chinese who don't care to listen to a senior official criticize their behaviour.

We shall see if the rest of the government officials agree with him and what will be done about it.

"Improving the civilized quality of the citizens and building a good image of Chinese tourists are the obligations of governments at all levels and relevant agencies and companies," Wang said, a former party chief of Guangdong province.

He believes authorities should "guide tourists to conscientiously abide by public order and social ethics, respect local religious beliefs and customs, mind their speech and behaviour... and protect the environment."


Thursday, 16 May 2013

Crying Fowl

A giant fried egg in the harbour to the dismay of Hong Kong's rubber duck fans
What happened to our giant inflated rubber duck?

It became a giant fried egg floating in Victoria Harbour after it deflated in a few hours.

Its sponsor Harbour City explained the duck was having a "body check" and that it would need to rest for the long weekend before coming back.

However, rumours quacked their way through cyberspace, with theories that included the pollution was to blame, resulting in lung cancer and its fowl demise, vandalism from duck haters, and the latest hypothesis -- cigarette butts thrown by mainlanders punctured holes in the bird.

The shopping mall assures the public it's because strong winds and waves caused the duck to deflate which also makes us query this reason. How do strong winds and waves cause a bird to seep air?

In any event, Harbour City promises the poor duck, which has now been folded up and taken on shore, will apparently appear again in the next few days.

While news of the duck has become a priority for media outlets, it does show how much Hong Kong loves this bird that doesn't even have a name.

Gaffe of the Day: Secretary for Security

Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok
Hong Kong Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok has no clue what is going on
in the city when it comes to sexual assaults against women.

He has said that women should drink less to avoid being raped.

And of course women's groups are outraged that he would blame the victim
instead of the attacker.

"Women do not get raped because they drink too much alcohol," said Linda
Wong Sau-yung, or the Association Concerning Sexual Violence Against Women.
"In many cases, they are raped because they have too much trust in their
friends who rape them."

Lai made the remarks Tuesday after the government's Fight Crime Committee
released statistics that showed rapes in the first three months of this
year were up almost 60 percent to 35 cases from the same period last year.

He said in all of the cases, the victims knew the attackers.

"They are either friends, close friends, or they just met a few hours ago,"
Lai said. "Some of these cases also involved the victim being raped after
drinking quite a lot of alcohol. So I would appeal that young ladies should
not drink too much."

Wong said Lai should withdraw his comments, that seemed to insinuate that
the victim was to blame and would not report the abuse. She believes the
number of rapes could be up to seven times the number reported.

Liu Ngan-fung, a spokeswoman for Forthright Caucus that campaigns on
women's issues, asked whether Lai was saying women should not go out at
night nor should they drink alcohol.

"Instead of putting the blame on the victim, he should step up efforts to
arrest the rapists. Did he mean that the victims deserve to be raped?"

A spokesman for the Security Bureau said Lai had not intended to blame
rape victims, and only wanted to highlight the ways in which culprits
took advantage of their victims.

This will not be the end of this fiasco until Lai realizes his gaffe
and formulates some strategy to educate women on the signs of
potential attackers and encourage women to come forward if they have
been raped.

The last thing Hong Kong needs is a security chief who is insensitive
to women when there are more females than males in the city.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

HK's Superman Foiled Again

Li Ka-shing suffered a blow this time, but he will be back for sure
It hasn't been a good few weeks for Li Ka-shing and his company Cheung Kong Holdings. First it was the 40-day dock workers' strike and now his brilliant plan of exploiting a loophole and selling hotel suites as individual units was cancelled after Hong Kong's securities regulator started an investigation into the transactions.

The latest blow came a few days ago when the Securities and Futures Commission found the deals in February that totalled HK$1.4 billion ($180 million) in sales breached the law as unauthorized investments.

As a result Cheung Kong will begin refunding deposits plus any partial payments including 2 percent interest to buyers.

However things are going to get even more complicated for those buyers who sold the suites to other people.

That's because some sub-sale agreements include the phrase "the parties must complete the sales and purchase". And so because the deal did not go through, some sellers would have to return 10 percent deposit plus an extra 10 percent of the property price to the second buyers as compensation. And then there are legal bills on top of it.

In other words this whole incident is a complete mess.

Of course Li will blame his wily staff for this oversight, but at the time they claimed they spent over a year checking to see if the sale of the individual hotel suites would be legal.

And now that they're not, Cheung Kong has to retreat with its tail between its legs.

We are pleased the government has finally found a way to shut down the sale, but sorry the buyers will be screwed over by this deal that seemed too good at the time. We thought it was a strange sale and had too many questions that weren't fully answered.

The incident only proves how people -- both Hong Kong and mainlanders -- are keen to buy property -- almost anything -- to get into the market.

And we know Li will be back with more creative ideas to lure potential buyers into the market because he knows demand is there. However we hope this is a lesson for people to think twice about Li's ventures. Not everything is as they seem in reality...

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Two Hong Kong Smarties

In your expansion plans, always remember to think big, and quality!
There are people in Hong Kong who are the tycoons who have seeped their fingers into every aspect of our lives and so we can't go a day without contributing to their already massive bank accounts.

And then there are some really smart people who are passionate about what they do but also have a keen business sense and this has paid off for them with very comfortable lifestyles.

In the past several days I've had the opportunity to meet two of them. Both collect cars -- one has at least four Porsches, the other showed off his black speckled customized Maybach in front of his shop.

One is Hong Kong Chinese and owns a shipyard with his brothers in Dongguan. They build everything from yachts to large ships.His engineering background has helped him immensely in producing top quality products, but at the same time his Hong Kong attitude towards efficiency has helped him deliver orders on time, because if he doesn't, his company is fined each day it's late.

He has been working in China for almost two decades and has seen a lot of changes in the labour force in southern China. In his generation, in his late 50s, there used to be a practice of apprenticeships, particularly in his field.

But in the last several years he sees hardly anyone interested in learning a trade or skill -- everyone wants to get a degree and sit in an air-conditioned office even though they might be paid well building a ship or customizing a yacht.

He realized this early on and so he invested in technology -- design software and machinery that could help him design parts with accuracy and cut them precisely too. He recalls that when he started he had over 1,000 staff, and now it's down to over 800 and he hopes to reduce it further to around 600.

When the cost of labour rises, he says, one must find a way to keep costs down and for him it's automation.

Meanwhile a Frenchman who has lived in Hong Kong for over 20 years has created a pastry empire. He started off as a pastry chef working in hotels and then with his experience started his own company, a fine-dining restaurant with a take-out area for sandwiches and pastries, and then a side business of supplying hotels and restaurants with baked goods.

Today he not only supplies baked goods in Hong Kong, but in 41 countries around the world -- the 42nd one -- Taiwan -- starts next month. He meets this demand by opening factories in Dongguan and the Philippines, exporting everything from croissants and chocolates to macarons and breads.

He showed me a video with workers wearing white suits and masks, putting together thousands of macarons. The shells are piped by machine, then taken to the oven to be baked, and afterwards a number of people are on the factory line, piping them with filling and then adding the top shell, then packaged carefully and boxed up.

He sends out containers of these macarons, each one with 36 pallets, each pallet containing a few hundred macarons, so in the end he exports about a million macarons per container. Everything is shipped frozen to ensure freshness.

It's mind-boggling but impressive how he jumped to the next step. Despite the mass production, the Frenchman insists on quality to differentiate himself from his competitors and will pay for top ingredients. Everything is hand made so it cannot be easily replicated.

The business has done so well that it has allowed him to do what he really wants -- open up a pastry shop that serves only the best breads, pastries, cakes and macarons in the city. He doesn't have to answer to his clients who are only concerned about the bottom line -- here he will use the best quality vanilla and French flour, and bake in small batches to ensure freshness.

He also doesn't care if he runs out of his famous baguettes -- too bad. Come back tomorrow, he says. For him it's about quality, because people will recognize it and pay for it. And for a venture he thought would lose money has actually profited handsomely. Originally he expected some 200 customers per day, but they are actually having 400 to 600 and more on the weekends. Amazing.

In the future he hopes to expand more stores and open more factories. Not only does he think big, but quality too.

And this is the attitude Hong Kong needs more of. We all need to think this way to make the city even better than it is now.

Monday, 13 May 2013

A Step Closer to Gay Marriage

We are extremely pleased Hong Kong is FINALLY moving forward on LGBT rights.

Today the Final Court of Appeal ruled that the current law of barring a Hong Kong transsexual woman from marrying her male partner was unconstitutional.

The woman, identified as W, had a sex change in a public hospital a few years ago. At first the Hong Kong marriage registry refused her request to marry because her birth certificate said she was male.

"The right to marry guaranteed by our constitution extends to the right of a post-operative transsexual to marry in the reassigned capacity," said the majority ruling, co-written by Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma and Permanent Judge Robert Ribeiro.

"In present-day multicultural Hong Kong where people profess many different religious faiths or none at all... procreation is no longer (if it ever was) regarded as essential to marriage," it added.

The ruling said references to "woman" and "female" in Hong Kong's marriage law should include post-operative male to female transsexuals.

Of the five judges, four supported the ruling, while one voted against on the basis that adding post-operative transsexuals to the definition of "man" and "woman" was "a radical change of the traditional concept of marriage".

Hello? We're in 2013.

According to a BBC report, transsexuals in even mainland China as well as countries in the EU and Canada can marry.

In the meantime the court said it would not implement the judgment for the next 12 months to allow the government time to consider changing the law.

And while it ruminates over allowing transsexuals to marry, why not homosexuals as well?

Hong Kong is so advanced in many ways, and yet its societal values are still so conservative. However in the last few years attitudes have become more accepting and liberal of the LGBT community, so why not go the whole hog and demonstrate why Hong Kong is an international city?

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Official and Unofficial Remembrance

A clock showing the time the 8.0-magnitude quake shook Sichuan in 2008
I remember five years ago sitting at my desk in Beijing at 2.28pm and suddenly feeling very woozy, as if I had drunk too much alcohol, but didn't.

It only lasted a few seconds, but was a very strange sensation. A few minutes later a colleague came to tell me there was an earthquake in Sichuan and a few hours later we were able to see the overwhelming images of destruction on the television.

Many of my colleagues could not sleep that night, seeing buildings reduced to rubble and wondering if there were any survivors.

A week later at the exact same time, we all stood at our desks to remember two minutes' of silence as alarms wailed throughout the city. It was unprecedented, but also the central government was anxious to claim this event as one of propaganda.

Five years on the government still continues to remember the catastrophe as a triumph of the human spirit, but others, particularly parents who lost their only children, are still wondering if they will ever find out who was responsible for constructing the shoddily-built schools in which their children died.

Some have given up petitioning and quietly taken sums of money from the government, others continue to mourn in private and fight for justice.

The BBC managed to secretly interview one woman who lost her twin girls five years ago. The emotions are still raw today, but she somehow manages to live each day with the help of Christianity.

When the BBC tried to interview others, the crew was stopped by the local government, questioned and then suggested the authorities would round up people the foreign media outlet could meet with instead.

And as expected, the government wanted the BBC to meet families who claimed to be relatively happy, rebuilding their lives, having another child or starting new businesses.

Today dissident artist Ai Weiwei released a video on YouTube called Remembrance, or 念 (nian) with voice recordings of names of students who died in the earthquake. He started collecting the names in 2010.

His number of student casualties is over 5,000. To this day the government still refuses to release the official number for fear of demands for responsibility...

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Pictures of the Day: Le French May

Cecile Bart's Mobile above the fountain in LANDMARK
We're well into Le French May in Hong Kong, a period where the city becomes more cultured thanks to France's temporary influx of art, music movies and dance. It's become so popular that the month of May has actually stretched over at the end of April to the beginning of June.

Dali's giraffe-like elephant carrying an angel
Today I checked out the public art display at the Landmark Atrium and above the fountain are multi-coloured transparent canvases hung at various angles by Burgundian artist Cecile Bart. Called Mobile, the installation is meant to challenge the conventional straight-on view of art.

Another popular one is a growling silver bear called Wild Thing. But on further inspection, it's actually made of coat hangers. Artist David Mach likes to use everyday objects to create his sculptures.

Also in the atrium is Rene Magritte's Les Menottes de Cuivre. The figure looks familiar, as it's the torso of the Venus de Milo, but he recreates her head with an elongated neck, but not her arms. Instead he paints her torso in a skin colour and makes the cloth around her hips a denim blue.

Famed Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama's Kei Chan is a fun piece, a tall girl who is head to toe in polka dots looking a bit in awe of something, while Marc Quinn's white orchid sculpture called Archeology of Desire is quite provocative with its sexual undertones.

David Mach's sculpture Wild Thing is made of coat hangers
Meanwhile surrealist Salvador Dali has a piece here, by the entrance to the Landmark Mandarin Oriental. Entitled Triumphant Elephant, it's a curious-looking creature, With spindly skeleton legs carrying an angel trumpeting a horn on top.

Nearby is another of Dali's pieces called Woman Aflame. She does seem kind of in flames, but she also appears to be propped up at the back as if she's a robot or her body is in some kind of brace. Then again Dali did have a weird imagination...

Polka dot fun with Yayoi Kusama's Kei Chan
Mobile + In the Public Eye
Until May 26

Friday, 10 May 2013

Zhang's Alleged Paternity Woes

Did Zhang's familial production include seven kids?
Does famed Chinese director Zhang Yimou really have seven children?

That's what the authorities are trying to figure out after Southern Entertainment Weekly published a report on Monday saying Zhang had two sons and a daughter with his second wife, Chen Ting.

He also has an adult daughter, Zhang Mo, 30, with his first wife Xiao Hua, whom he divorced when he started going out with Gong Li and made her into an international star.

As for the three other children, the People's Daily said there were reports he had them with two other women, but there were no further details.

If Zhang is found to have really fathered seven brood, then he could be fined 160 million RMB ($27 million), according to some local media.

First it needs to be verified if Zhang really does have seven children, and then where they were all born. If they were born overseas, then they don't really count. But it does bring up further questions of their nationality and where the director's patriotism lies...

It's interesting these reports are coming out now, and why? Zhang has his critics, claiming that he "sold out" to the establishment, as the 61-year-old was originally best known for directing movies that were banned at home, but popular overseas, such as Red Sorghum and Raise the Red Lantern.

But then he became a darling of the Communist Party, which invited him to direct the Opening Ceremonies for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and garnered much attention and praise for the stunning spectacle.

Is there a vendetta out for Zhang or has he managed to hide his large extended family until now?

We wait for the results with baited breath...

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Profiting on Mao's Name

Kong Meidong even has the same facial mark as Mao
What would Mao Zedong think of his granddaughter making their debut on the 2013 New Fortune 500 Rich List?

Kong Dongmei and her husband Chen Dongsheng are listed at 242nd with family assets estimated at around 5 billion RMB.

Chen is chairman of Beijing based Taikang Life Insurance and Kong is a major shareholder and executive.

Kong is the daughter of Li Min, Mao's only surviving child with second wife He Zizhen. Kong joined the start-up life insurance company in 1992 after graduating from the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. She also got a Masters from the University of Pennsylvania in 1999.

There's no further details on what she studied in these two institutions, but a curious combination to say the least.

Kong is also president of a cultural company in Beijing that has a bookstore dedicated to protecting communist culture, and she has capitalized on her pedigree by writing four best sellers on her grandfather.

Her appearance on the rich list contradicts what her cousin, Major General Mao Xinyu, said. The offspring of Mao's second son had told mainland Chinese media in 2009 that: "The Mao family heritage is honest and clean. None of the Mao family members have entered business. They all live on their modest salaries."

Or did he only mean to refer to those with the Mao family name and not necessarily those who were related to the Great Helmsman? Or did he not know Kong is his cousin?

In any event this latest revelation of Mao's family is very intriguing but not surprising. It also goes to further prove, those with pedigree or serious guanxi tend to earn way more than the average person. And "socialist" China wonders why it has such a big gap between the rich and the poor...