Archive for January, 2007
I’m writing this down so I’ll stick to it.
I’ve now been in Hong Kong for eight months. I am settled in a flat. I am familiar with this city, and I have used my weekends to explore some of its corners. I have a comfortable job at a decent publication.
But my job involves writing for an industry that, while interesting, doesn’t really need anyone’s help. My job does offer me valuable experience, some travel opportunities, and the occasional free lunch. But it doesn’t satisfy the idealist journalist in me. It doesn’t offer the social value I have been reminding myself not to lose sight of. And it risks becoming so comfortable that I forget to extend myself.
So, after a decision made in the shower — where all my best thinking is done — I have resolved to start freelancing harder news features for newspapers and magazines as of now. This post is pretty much preemptive arm-twisting.
And now that I’ve said it, I’ve got to do it.
Will probably regret this when I later need sleep.
Take one boat to Lamma, with girlfriend.
For lunch, consume:
- One bowl of dal
- One bowl of pumpkin soup
- One bowl of hummus
Following lunch, take leisurely stroll on blue-sky day over Lamma’s lazy hill to pretty Hung Shing Yeh beach and recline in shade. Read newspaper, and sleep under trees for upwards of an hour, until nicely rested.
Sit at beach-side cafe and consume one glass of red wine.
Drift back over the hill to seafood restaurant overlooking water as sun dips.
Order a Tsingtao, and, for dinner, consume:
- One plate of steamed prawns with garlic.
- One plate of clams with black bean sauce.
- One plate of black pepper beef.
Finish the island visit with three bourbon-and-colas at a quiet local bar.
Return to Wan Chai by boat and watch Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story on pirated DVD.
I’m in a morose state of mind, and I’m not sure what I write here today would be very uplifting for anyone, so I’m going to snip some passages from interesting readings I’ve come across lately.
- First, Andre the Giant and his legendary drinking habit, as read in Modern Drunkard Magazine:
A very green rookie wrestler named Hulk Hogan toured Japan several times with Andre and witnessed the Giant’s alcohol consumption first hand. According to Hogan, Andre drank, at a minimum, a case of tall boys during each bus ride. When he finished a can Andre would belch, crush the can in his dinner-platter-sized hand, and bounce the empty off the back of Hogan’s head. Hogan learned to count each thunk, so he could anticipate when Andre was running low. Whenever the bus stopped, it was Hogan’s job to scamper off to the nearest store, buy as many cases of beer as he could carry, and make it back before the bus departed, a sight that never failed to make Andre roar his bassoon-like laugh.
- An important lesson on Slate for journalists on ‘unspeak’. This from Jack Shafer’s review of Steven Poole’s Unspeak: How Words Become Weapons, How Weapons Become a Message, and How That Message Becomes Reality:
Pro-life supposes that a fetus is a person and that those who are anti-pro-life are against life, he writes. Pro-choice distances its speakers from actually advocating abortion, while casting “adversaries as ‘anti-choice; as interfering, patriarchal dictators.”
Poole’s list of suspicious phrases rolls on for more than 200 pages. Tax relief and tax burden, which covertly argue that lowered taxes automatically relieve and unburden everybody. Friends of the Earth casts its opponents as enemies of the earth and implies that the Earth is befriendable, a big, huggable Gaia.
- ‘Dikhsi Ah!’ A nice anecdotal piece on Hong Kong’s taxi drivers in bc magazine:
All drivers have had memorable experiences, some good and some bad, but all agree the worst is rude passengers. Chan, who works in the new territories, once picked up a drug addict who, unbeknownst to him, was being chased by the police. As the cops approached the cab, the passenger swallowed bags of drugs he was carrying and which would be evidence against him. Eventually after a struggle the police managed to arrest him and take him off to the police station. “When they said they were going, I said ‘No wait, stop. You’ve got to pay the fare, first!’” laughs Chan.
- What life’s like for a kept woman in China, and the art of being a mistress (or, an ernai)? It’s in The Sunday Times’ ‘Wife Sentence‘:
In the US, a mistress should be a well-kept secret. In most of Europe, she should be kept with discretion. In China, the keepers of ernai get not only the service but also the face (maintaining face, or an unchallenged public persona, is seen as hugely significant). In a second wife’s lifestyle is a reflection of her master’s capacity to spend. Her beauty is a testament to his taste, her role both public and private.
Last night I got back from a trip to Shanghai. The internet is still on half-gas there because of the damage caused by the Boxing Day earthquake in Taiwan. Consequently, I couldn’t access WordPress. So, you’re going to get my Shanghai trip in one hit; diarised for your reading pleasure. Here goes.
Wednesday, January 17, 10pm
Shanghai since noon
Hours in Shanghai: 10
Number of taxi drivers seen stopped on side of highway for purposes of urination: 2
Total number of expensive meals consumed alone at romantic Italian restaurant for sole purpose of making most of per diem allowance: 1
Chinese Yuan given to beggars: 4
Pirated DVD movies bought on street corner: 15
Pirated series of Deadwood bought on street corner: 2
Number of grinning DVD salesmen gathered round me on street corner gently suggesting I also buy porn: 6
Percentage of time in China spent in taxis: 20
Number of dumps executed: 2
CEOs of China’s mobile equivalent of Google (for advertising) met: 1
Thursday, January 18
I’ve been in Shanghai a day and a half, and I still haven’t seen the city. That doesn’t mean what it sounds like – it’s not an ‘I’ve only been round the commercial district’ sort of comment (although that is true). I mean, I actually haven’t seen the city. A combination of winter fog (cold air, river dissecting the city, ocean nearby) and terrible pollution (17 million people trying to keep warm by coal) is brushed on to the trees, the buildings, the cars, as thick as paste. It’s damned hard to see past.
Think I’m exaggerating? This is a shot from my hotel room window.
The only thing scarier is that this is considered tame compared to Beijing.
Pity the hordes of cyclists that cling to the sides of streets like slaters on rotting wood.
Friday, January 19
Staying at a hotel has its advantages, but for a travelling experience it just can’t be compared to a hostel. At least, not if you’re either: a) young; b) relatively adventurous; c) interested in local life beyond the middle classes.
Sure, I like having a robe to wear in the morning, and a nice bed with soft pillows, and cable TV, and a desk to work at, and room service, and so on. But when you have guys your age opening doors for you and calling you sir and telling you to enjoy your stay – well, you soon start to feel like a bit of a cock.
So I’m glad to have checked out of the City Hotel Shanghai, even if my company was footing the bill. I’m looking forward to getting to a hostel for the next two nights. There I hope to meet people like me and start to wrestle with the less varnished elements of this city.
Sunday, January 21
I now know what it’s like to fly on the ground. I took the Maglev train from the city to the airport, and it was one truly memorable and amazing (for once, that word isn’t out of place here) travelling experience. The train, which is basically suspended above the flat track by magnetic force, sped up to 431 kilometres per hour.
It was a great end to what has been a great trip. Staying at the hostel, as anticipated, was much more rewarding than the hotel. Friday was quiet, but I got to hang out with a 69-year-old American guy who found his wife in a magazine called Asian Presentations. This guy – let’s call him Don (because that is his name) – heard of this magazine while he was in the US. It was 1990, so online connections were out of the question. Each magazine offered 300 women looking for love (i.e. financial security). He had three issues. On the second leg of world tour, he stopped in the Philippenes and sent out 40 telegrams (yes, telegrams – this is old school dating) to potential wives he scouted from the magazines. He’d already decided he wanted to marry again – his first ended in divorce – so it was just a matter of whom he could find. He got 70 replies. Apparently social networking can also be done by telegram.
Don spent his time in the Philippenes meeting a woman every hour. In the end he did fall in love… or convenience… or… well, I’m not sure what the word would be… But anyway, he got himself a girl with a nice smile, and he seems pretty happy about it. But he did offer one sage piece of advice: “It seems to me that if it was possible, a man would do best to stay single for all his life.”
Don was a straight-up guy, though, and I got on with him very well. Together we lamented the state of the American government, and politics, and the war in Iraq – and I had to assure him that the US is still a great country. He didn’t seem so sure.
Sadly, his back didn’t hold out for the night, so he couldn’t accompany me to a bar. Probably just as well – I would have got too drunk, like I did last night…
Indeed, Saturday was more eventful.
I managed to pull myself out of bed in time to catch a midday bus heading in the complete opposition direction to my intended destination. Damn Mandarin and its four tones and similar “ch” sounds. I ended up in a grey industrial part of the city noteworthy for the absence of any personality. It reminded me of Christchurch (snap!).
An hour later, I was on the right bus, heading to the ancient town Zhujiajiao – most famous, unfortunately, for appearing in a scene in Mission Impossible 3, and known as China’s Venice. Well, it was a much smaller, boutique Venice; pretty as a picture, and good for a few (as sold by the many tourist hutches that line the cobbled streets). It was a lovely detour – one that many tourists seem to forego in favour of avoiding a two-hour busride through the burbs.
Later, I got back to my bunkroom and struck up a conversation with an amiable Dutch couple, who had travelled overland by train all the way from their homeland. Soon I was joining them for a drink in the hostel bar, and the beginnings of drunkenness were quick to greet me after just a couple of Tsingtaos (Hamish McKenzie 2.0 is a new lightweight model with enhanced fuel efficiency). Happily, we all shared a love of jazz, and, even more happily, we were soon sharing beers at the Peace Hotel, taking in the traditional jazz sounds of the Peace Hotel Jazz Band, which has entertained presidents Carter and Reagan, among other luminaries. Actually, to be honest, it was highly unlikely that we were listening to the selfsame band, because: 1) the dudes didn’t look that old; and 2) the ‘band’ turned out to be two bands, playing on rotation. Hell, sounded the same to me.
The Dutch couple ditched me for the comforts of the hostel (the girl was sick), so I headed out to the new ‘hot’ bar district, Xintiandi. I’d heard a lot about it, so I couldn’t in all conscience leave the city without sampling its wares. It turned out to be pretty much a replica of Lan Kwai Fong, only with hotter singers in the covers bands. There must be something about expat cities that attract trashy overpriced bars in swept-up ‘districts’ with bored shitless covers bands feigning enthusiasm.
Of course, I was alone, which I normally don’t do very well with in bars, but this was different: I was pretty drunk, and I was travelling. In those states, I have no problem making friends with complete strangers. It wasn’t long until I was hanging out with a couple of young Brazilian guys who were in town for business. They wanted to find a decent bar too, so we went round the corner to a place with a band playing Bob Marley songs. More agreeable, but it was soon shut, so we headed off to a big trashy meat market night club called Mirrors (or Windows, or something like that), where we laughed at the punters and watched the younger Brazilian unsuccessfully try to pull. My memory’s murky, but I’m pretty sure I cut the cord earliest and was tucked up in my bunk bed by about 5am.
One incident of note today: while I was walking along Nanjing Road in a (later successful) bid to bag me some cheap new threads, I was harangued into getting my shoes polished by, er, a shoe polisher. He was happily chatting away shining my shoe and asking me where I was from without understanding my response when a couple of guys approached him and said something angrily to him. He stood up and said something back and there was a moment of weird silence. That lasted all of two seconds. Then, much to my surprise, the polisher hoofed it, trailing some of the tools of his trade behind him, as the two strangers chased in hot pursuit. My left shoe remained conspicuously unpolished.
Today I have the great pleasure of bringing you an exclusive interview with the elusive Richard Meros, world-acclaimed author of the world’s first political fantasy academic novella, On the Conditions and Possibilities of Helen Clark Taking Me As Her Young Lover — a book described by The Guardian as “decidedly lascivious” and by others as “wack — wiggedy wack”. As I’m sure you’ll be delighted to learn, Meros has a new project, this time in collaboration with new writer Nestor Notabilis, who has penned a novel called I Know Someone Who Knows Someone Who Knows Kevin Roberts Quite Well. Here’s the interview, conducted by online chat just 24 minutes ago. Enjoy.
HK Ham: Richard Meros, thank you for joining me today
Richard Meros: My honour.
HK Ham: I believe you’re in Argentina?
Richard Meros: Yes, that is correct. I’ve been in Buenos Aires for four months now.
HK Ham: And what are you doing there? Seeking refuge after the savage backlash from your Helen Clark novella?
Richard Meros: The backlash was more than I expected. I was shocked when my name began to be mentioned in literary circles as “the poor man’s Nicky Hagar”. I am also recouperating from a rather harsh review in The Dominion. Also, I am putting together a new book, and have edited and introduced another book of my loyal friend, Nestor Notabilis.
HK Ham: So I understand. Still, you must have been heartened by the positive review in The Guardian, which some would argue is a somewhat superior publication to the Dom Post. But that aside — can you tell me something of your role in this project with Notabilis?
Richard Meros: Mr Notabilis – Nestor – is an old friend from Christchurch who was a struggling writer. Recently he had something of a spiritual experience – a trial – involving Kevin Roberts (author Lovemarks, head of Saatchi and Saatchi). I advised him during this trial, and offered him a publishing deal through the Lawrence and Gibson editorial collective of which I am the secretary. He has written these experiences into a novel called “I know someone who knows someone who knows Keving Roberts quite well”.
HK Ham: Keving?
Richard Meros: Sorry, Kevin, these latino typing machines are a test for the best (and a trial for the worst)
Richard Meros: “A poor tradesman and his tools”
Richard Meros: you say?
HK Ham: Oh, I just thought you meant the verb version of Kevin Roberts. But I digress. Would you call this new work a novel?
Richard Meros: Nestor’s book is certainly a novel. My own is not. It is a reverie.
HK Ham: But let us talk of Nestor for a moment. What in him did you see that made you decide, “Yes, this man should be with Lawrence & Gibson; yes, this is the man to produce the follow up to ‘On the Conditions and Possibilities of Helen Clark Taking Me as Her Young Lover’?”
Richard Meros: Well… Hmm… Nestor embodies naivety. At least he did. And he writes a very Kiwi story. Lawrence & Gibson specifically publishes books of New Zealanders. And Nestor’s – with digressions into Kakapos, Macrocarpa, and the Avon – does precisely that.
Richard Meros: Plus he is very handsome and will look good on the back of a book.
Richard Meros: And on the cover.
Richard Meros: And on book tours.
Richard Meros: Are we lovers?
Richard Meros: I don’t know how to answer that.
Richard Meros: Friends with priveleges.
HK Ham: Meros, I’m going to be straight with you. I haven’t read Nestor’s book, even though you sent it to me two months ago. To enlighten me and others, please, share an anecdote (and learn how to spell privileges).
Richard Meros: Thanks for the honesty, twerp. Sorry that was rude. Uh. Well, the book begins with Nestor on the banks of the Avon. He is drinking a banana milkshake. Of real banana. He is approached by some skinheads who are his eternal foe. Instead of taking a walloping, like Don Quixote fighting the sheep-herders, Nestor leaps into the Avon. He drifts down the Avon as flotsam.
Richard Meros: Or is that wolloping?
Richard Meros: Dear english major.
HK Ham: I believe you had it correct the first time. But prey tell, is there any metaphor in this passage?
Richard Meros: I’m not sure what Nestor intended with that passage. I can guess it is a fairly accurate representation of what happened. it was after this incident that I met him in park and at that point he indeed was sopping wet. I’m sure earnest readers and historians will do all the work in picking out metaphors. But Nestor is simply telling his story and that moment was central to us meeting and thus, the rest of the plot.
HK Ham: Fair play. What transpired in that meeting in the park?
Richard Meros: It was in the park where I informed him that ‘I know someone who knows Kevin Roberts quite well’. I believe I was feeding the geese with oe of my rye loaves at the time. We bonded. He knew of my book and was a little awed, on that first occasion.
HK Ham: Great. How does Kevin Roberts actually figure in this novel — and is there any chance of libel?
Richard Meros: Well… not wanting to give too much away, but Kevin Roberts was seen by Nestor as the geat marketing guru that he is. Nestor intially wanted Mr Roberts to help him become a success through the wily means of marketing. I am not really sure what was going through his head as he had not written a book at that point. Anyhow, there are plenty of people who want to write books, but who aren’t gripped and pursued by a subject matter. And libel? I don’t know. I suspect Roberts will rather enjoy the book. As I wasn’t in New York where his part is played out, I can’t say whether Nestor was exaggerating their encounter or not. I suspect he embellished a little, but the core is true.
HK Ham: Sounds intriguing. And finally, what are three things readers will take away from reading this novel?
Richard Meros: (1) They will be entertained, but I’m not sure if that’s something they ‘take away’ – perhaps entertainment is more of an ‘eat-in’ experience. (2) They will be presented with a Kierkegaardian reading of Roberts’ Lovemarks. They can take that away with them to eternity. (3) They will take away a sense of the aesthetic beauty of the book itself, which while I am still in collaboration with the designers, seems to becoming a real highlight, and a joy to Nestor.
HK Ham: Hot. Can I have fries with that?
Richard Meros: And a shake full of chicken fat.
HK Ham: Richard Meros, thank you very much.
Richard Meros: Oh, can you ask me if I have anything to add?
HK Ham: Might as well. Shoot.
Richard Meros: If so, please do.
HK Ham: Do you have anything to add?
Richard Meros: Earlier you asked about the ‘savage backlash’ to On the condition and possibilities of Helen Clark taking me as her Young Lover. I didn’t mention that in response to the ‘savage backlash’ I am working on a book called Tino Rangatiratanga Motjerfucker! and am collaborating with some well known musician friends of mine to release a CD-single and a 7″ of the same name.
Richard Meros: I think I may have spelled Motherfucker wrong. It is not an attempt to bypass censoring.
Richard Meros: It looks scandinavian.
HK Ham: 7 inches really is no big deal.
Richard Meros: I don’t follow…
Richard Meros: 45rpm?
Richard Meros: With a cover of Tom Petty’s ‘You don’t have to live like a refugee’ as the b-side.
Richard Meros: Or Elton John’s ‘I guess that’s why they call it the blues’
Richard Meros: Or E.S.G.’s ‘You’re no Good’ in spanish.
HK Ham: Marvellous stuff. I look forward to it. Now, I’m sorry, but we’re out of time. It’s been a great pleasure. Now, goodbye.
Richard Meros: Ciao, rico.
I was delighted to hear that the US Air Force has developed self-cleaning underwear that kills bacteria.
The US$20 million technology works like this:
“The new technology attaches nanoparticles to clothing fibers using microwaves. Then, chemicals that can repel water, oil and bacteria are directly bound to the nanoparticles. These two elements combine to create a protective coating on the fibers of the material. This coating both kills bacteria, and forces liquids to bead and run off.“
Basically, that translates to: you wouldn’t have to wash your gruts for weeks!
Oh, the glory.
But take a look at that picture in the demo box — I’m pretty sure that’s a rugby player from the Canterbury Crusaders, no?
Trawling through the excellent new Time website, I came across a piece on the ’50 Coolest Websites’ (note: never let Time decide for you what is cool). While many of the sites listed were the expected run-of-the-mill fare (has anyone heard of this YouTube thing?), a couple of delightful nuggets reared their heads.
Among them was The Morning News, which, to be honest, I’ve only visited the one time and only read one thing from. But it was an amusing and beautifully written piece, and one that should, by all rights, send me back to the site for future viewing.
The New York-based rag (or not-rag) has a section called ‘Spoofs and Satire’ written by very clever people with very dry senses of humour — that much I discerned from the reading of one article mocking the stuffy-nosed Christopher Hitchens, represented as a multiplicity of himself. As an ardent childhood fan of the WWF, the following passage, in which Hitchens is imagined as a professional wrestler, was particularly enjoyable. Says Hitchens the body-slammer:
Now. If you’ve all been listening you’ve just heard the boasts of one Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake and how he so eloquently details how I will be “crushed.” Up until now, I have resisted all urges to assume the mantle of generalship and to describe how I personally will fight him, but I can no longer hold my anger back. There are a number of reasons for this. First, he makes the claim that he will be cutting my hair at the end of the match as some form of ritualistic dominance. Not so. Instead I portend a future outcome where I, the more magnanimous of soothsayers in this arena tonight, will instead take it upon myself to appropriate his time and countenance by rambling on, thus draining his will and his perspicacity. Then, maybe through the use of a full nelson or flying-elbow bone-crusher, I will accomplish the feat I came here to do with time to spare.
Of course, that’s poppycock — the only man with any chance of taking out Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake (real name: Edward Leslie) is “Ravishing” Rick Rude (who, I’m astonished to report, sadly passed away in 1999).
My new Macbook can make my girlfriend and I look like Warhol works of art.
Certainly an improvement on the Pollacks we were before.
Interesting fact: My flatmate’s dad played golf with the chief suspect in the Suffolk serial murders the day before he was arrested.
It’s true: Forklift driver Stephen Wright, 48, was a member at the same golf club as Mr. Flatmate Snr. For what it’s worth, Mr. FS beat Wright on the course that day and told his daughter he never really liked that guy; thought he was odd.
Strange that a man who may have killed a slew of prostitutes in one of the most high-profile murder cases in England’s history should see fit for a spot of golf the day before he was nabbed.
As soon as I found out I could pay for a Macbook over 12 months with no interest, I bought one. It’s now on my lap, separated by a cancer-deferring cushion, purring under my fingertips, which are still slightly splotchy from my second feed of KFC in five years. (I was planning on a home-cooked Malaysian curry, but my gas supply chose today to exhaust itself.) I am happy — and not just because of the better-than-expected Zinger burger.
Now I can blog. Now I can take grainy photos of myself with the in-built webcam. Now I can mix and edit podcasts. Now I can get all my music into a central system. Most importantly, now I can download the latest episodes of NBC’s The Office (season three).
I arrived back in Hong Kong two nights ago. The holiday in New Zealand — poor weather aside — was great. There’s much to be said for sitting on a couch reading books for days on end. And sleeping until midday.
Mummy got me Nicky Hager’s The Hollow Men for Christmas. Because it was tall and chunky, I determined to read it before I left the country, so I wouldn’t have to cram it into my backpack. I managed to read it in three days, which is good going for me.
And my opinions? Well, despite Hager’s own transparent politics, the book is well-grounded in solid research, and, on the whole, carefully written. It is a fascinating glimpse at the inner workings of a political party on campaign, and a disturbing reminder of the lengths to which politicians will go to get in office. It reveals the extent to which Don Brash really wasn’t the leader of the National party — he allowed himself to be shaped by a harem of advisers who were often cat-fighting for their master’s affections — and his surprising bullishness in putting himself forward as the leader. One particularly amusing scene had Brash questioning his advisers why his grinning mug didn’t feature on National candidates’ stationery.
The supposedly sensational elements of the book, including the revelations on just how much Brash et al knew about the Exclusive Brethren smear campaign (a lot), weren’t to me all that sensational — but that could have been tempered by publicity surrounding the book’s launch that I read back in November and early December. What was most striking to me was the sheer arrogance displayed by the party in knowingly transgressing election campaign funding rules (I’m talking about the commissioned biography of Brash, which was passed off as independent; the Fair Tax campaign, run in association with the racing lobby; and one other glaring example, which slips my mind at the moment). No doubt Labour was guilty of similar transgressions (the pledge card being only the most obvious), but those actions make National’s mindless ‘Pay it back!’ mantra seem like the work of outright hypocrisy, and almost evil.
In all, after reading the book, I’m even more glad Brash is gone. Key, while not totally clean, will be a fresh start for the party. Good luck to him. I can see National losing some of their funding back to Act, though.
New Year’s Eve in Sydney was a fun affair. I managed to stay up the whole night, circumventing the need for accommodation, and while I had to resign to watching the (spectacular) fireworks alone on a hill at the botanical gardens (fine by me), I did manage to make friends with an Egyptian, an Iraqi, and three Aussies later on. I was also happy to get my first look at King’s Cross, which was teeming with gay homosexualists.