Archive for February, 2007
It’s late, I know, but I just had to point out one of New Zealand’s top stories of the week.
Much to the nation’s disgruntlement, a Baptist pastor (no less) has been receiving uninvited text messages from one of the local mobile service providers. He was woken not once, not twice, but “constantly” over the past six weeks, often at times close to 6am, according to a recent report in the New Zealand Herald. And for what? Opportunistic advertising that has obviously decided to take advantage of Samuel Coleridge’s theory that one is at his most lucid and creative while in a drowsy state. Can anyone else say ‘blatant exploitation of a romantic literary theory fuelled by opiates’?
So, everyone, while you’re lying back in your comfortable cushioned couch thinking how easy it is to be alive, spare a thought for the Baptist ministers of this world who get disturbed from their slumber by the incessant ringing of a mobile telephonic device that can easily be turned off. Such is the woe of God’s people on this forsaken digital-ridden planet that we still, somehow, call home.
According to the story, the minister has been left with no option but to leave his phone dormant during the night.
These are desperate times, folks. Let us not sit back complacently while we watch the telco companies rule our evening hours. Fie on them! And let us sleep soundly without the spectre of unsolicited text messages in the future.
As promised, my story on triads, guns and intrigue is live on the internet today. Read all about it on Asia Sentinel. I must confess, the editors have added some historical context at the top of the story, but the rest is all mine (as cribbed from a variety of reports and documents).
It tells the story of a cop-on-cop shooting in a Hong Kong subway 11 months ago. The shooting remains unresolved, but police had said one of the cops, Tsui Po-ko — later dubbed ‘Devil Cop’ in the local press — ambushed two of his colleagues in an attempt to get guns and ammunition. The resulting shoot-out, the police say, killed Tsui and another constable. A third constable was left seriously wounded. Police also used the incident to conveniently explain two other unsolved murders, purportedly committed with the same rusty revolver found by Tsui’s side. Police have pinned all three murders on Tsui.
More skeptical reporters found other explanations for the story. Most credibly, the Sunday Morning Post linked it to an underground soccer gambling racket run by triads.
Just to add more confusion to the mix, two other cops — one of whom was also shot, non-fatally, by another cop — also died in unexplained circumstances last year. Go read the story for the full, twisted details.
As an addendum, I was interested to see the South China Morning Post and The Standard report in the weekend that the mother of the so-called Devil Cop won’t be entitled to legal aid and hence can’t testify at the inquest, which has finally just begun. That could be seen to affect Tsui’s right to a fair trial. The majority of evidence heard at the inquest will be presented by the police.
It was a day of quirky stories today in the Sunday Morning Post. I can’t link to them, because the South China Morning Post doesn’t have an open website. Yet. I’ve heard whispers (nah, actually, they were louder than that), that in good time, it’ll all be free. Can’t confirm anything yet, though. Of course.
First, a Hongkonger who has lived to 107-years-old — and he’s a smoker. Delightfully, he’s considering quitting now, because Hong Kong has recently introduced a law making it illegal to smoke indoors in places that aren’t bars. “Maybe the government should ban cigarette sales so I can give it up,” he said. Strangely enough, the man — who has lived in three centuries — also hasn’t had sex since he was in his 30s. He’s probably a bit late to quit that bad habit.
One from the wires: A ‘sex demon’ is on the prowl in Tanzania. In the city of Da es Salaam, people are blaming recent sex attacks on a demon called Popo Bawa, which apparently means winged bat. People have taken to smearing themselves in pig’s oil to ward off the demon, which is able to transform itself into a man at night. According to a BBC report, there have been no actual sightings of the demon.
Okay, the third one was in papers the world over. Prince Philip, the racist and bumbling husband of Queen Elizabeth II, is worshipped as a God by a primitive tribe in Vanuatu. His birthday is coming up and his humble subjects are mulling over how to celebrate.
I was up late last night — a solid 9am to 3am working day — beavering away on a freelance piece that will hopefully soon see the light of day somewhere on the internet. In fact, I can guarantee it will, because if it doesn’t get published on the site I wrote it for, I’ll post it here. I won’t say what it is just yet, but suffice to say it involves intrigue, guns, and triads.
The extra busyness meant no bloggage yesterday, and it translates in ubertiredness today. So this post will be Friday-afternoon brief. Tonight you can find me at Underground.
In the meantime, here’s a propaganda video that will make you vomit: Imagine a World Without America [note: they really just mean the US].
New Zealand’s most notorious — and hopelessly ignored — garage-country band has successfully reformed with new members to take on the world from a small stage in Wellington. Without me. Fuckers.
Yeah, that’s right. I used to be part of the Lonesome Buckwhips. And now I’m not. And I’m bitter about it. As soon as I skipped the country not long after our inaugural performance in 2004, I was callously tossed aside, consigned to the realms of the session musician, and now the salt has been rubbed into my festering wound with a stand-out performance last week by my bandmates at the Wellington Fringe Festival. Worse, they’ve added my brother’s girlfriend to the line-up, and my brother, Judas that he is, is offering directorial, er, direction.
My former blogging team-mate Lyndon Hood gave the Buckwhips gig a very positive review: “When they launched into their Malboro-sponsored anthem on the benefits of smoking, I started to think I had finally found something I could call ‘politically incorrect’ and feel like the description was actually meaningful”.
In a startling turn, someone who might not even be remotely tied to the band gave it both thumbs up, too: “It’s very idiosyncratic yet totally recognisable fare that deserves to build a cult audience,” said John Smythe.
The musical comedy show, in the dry style made famous by Flight of the Conchords, features three deadbeat, country-playing brothers whose lives have been divided between incurable melancholy, prison, and shagging each other’s girlfriends. The boys — and a girlfriend — have a long-running grievance with Barry Saunders and his country band The Waratahs, who years ago penned the song for the Interislander ferry’s advertising campaign, ‘Cruisin’ on the Interislander’. Benny Buckwhip’s submission, ‘The Wahine Was a Once-Off’, unfortunately never made it past the selectors.
I’m sad to say I couldn’t attend the Wellington show (didn’t even get an invite), but more than one independent reviewer has told me it was excellent. I was glad to see many of the old songs were kept, and extremely jealous to hear new numbers had been added, and well received. Fuckers.
One of my favourites, the pro-smoking ‘Malboro’, apparently got a good hearing. How can it not, with lines like: “Babies born to smoking mums are quieter by all accounts”, and a chorus that goes, “Malboro heavy, Malboro light / Malboro get to sleep at night / Malboro mornings when I wake / Malboro Lord my soul do take.”
Apparently, though, the biggest laughs were saved for a new ditty that name-checked the Live8 charity concerts. It was the Buckwhips’ own tribute to Africa. In it, Arty, the eldest and the band leader — in real life a middle-class white boy from the ‘burbs — imitates Justin Timberlake and gives a shout-out to his niggers in Nigeria, Chad, Liberia, and the Philippines.
I believe the term for that is comedy gold. Or at least, a well-polished bronze.
Within four blocks of my apartment building in Wan Chai, you can find relics of early Hong Kong, a place of worship, crumbling apartment buildings, and startling modernity. This morning, my flatmate and I set out to capture some of this fascinating area in pictures. Here are the results. All photos by Andrew James, except the last one, which I took with my dinky Kodak EasyShare CX7300.
The most famous building in our area is probably the Blue House, a four-storey tenement block so-named for obvious reasons. It’s a Class-I historic building, whatever that means, built in the 1870s, and is one of the few remaining with this type of balcony. It was original the site of a hospital, possibly the first in the district, which provided Chinese medical services to the locals, according to Wikipedia. It was later used as a temple for the God of Medicine. Since its reincarnation as an apartment building, the ground floor has also hosted a martial arts school and an osteopathy clinic.
Up a short hill and slightly around the corner sits Pak Tai Temple. Talking to another expat who has lived in the area for 12 years, we learned that the temple until its upgrade last year was a decrepit shell of its current self, over-run by chickens and stray dogs. Its chief purpose was to host evening funerals, which were always accompanied by a monotonous horn drone — which lasted for three hours. This photo is taken looking up at the window of our flat (top left), with a statuette from the temple in the foreground.
Hong Kong’s oldest surviving post office is to be found not five minutes’ walk away. The building, erected between 1912 and 1913, and declared a monument in 1990, now houses an environmental centre, which no one in Hong Kong actually bothers to visit because on the whole they couldn’t give a damn about recycling.
My area is also apparently home to a lot of taxi-drivers. A stroll round the neighbourhood on this Chinese New Year holiday revealed lines of taxis parked bumper-to-bumper in the narrow streets. In the second photo, you can see the old-style skyscrapers reflected in the rear window. The third shot shows one of Hong Kong’s approximately 18,000 taxis zipping past one of Wan Chai’s countless awesomely-shaped buildings.
There’s more to be said about my neighbourhood, but that’s all for now. Again, these photos were brought to you by Andrew James, pictured below.
I seem to be spending a lot of time on the couch recently, watching movies. Two days ago, I fell asleep while watching Deepa Mehta’s acclaimed Water. That’s probably not so much a reflection of the film’s quality as it was of the previous night’s activities (drinks and eats in Chungking Mansions).
Yesterday, however, without falling to slumber, I watched another filmic think-piece: American Pie: Band Camp. Essentially a rite-of-passage of a high-school student on an unwitting quest for moral rectitude, this film is at once a tear-jerker and a deep questioning of the ethics and sexual standards of today’s American teenager. It also shows a lot artificially enhanced mammaries — presumably to heighten the aesthetic qualities of what really is a beautifully shot film from a director bent on combining brains with beauty.
The film centres around the troubled romance of Matt Stiffler (the younger brother of the loveable rogue Stiffler from the original) and the cutesy band-leader of an unrememberable name. Stiffler, after being caught in an unsavoury act on stage in front of his school, is sent to band camp to help heal his wayward ways. Crestfallen at the turn of events, Stiffler heads off to camp intent on making the most of his time there. And how does he do it? Well, naturally he buys lots of spycam equipment and conspires to make hard-core pornography with the unknowing band-campers as the main stars. But then something amazing happens: Stiffler turns good (but continues filming his porn).
While he slowly comes to realise that he really wants to bone his sworn nemesis — she of the forgotten name — he learns to befriend the nerdy band-campers. More importantly, he starts to see them as people, just like himself. Still, though, he continues filming his porn, until — totally unexpectedly — he gets caught! Then he stops. Then the girl doesn’t love him anymore. Then the band loses the band competition. Then Stiffler goes home, manfully deletes his porn flicks (losing some improbably good-looking high-school friends in the process), and wins back the girl, who has somehow found a way to forgive the man that stuck a camera in the girls’ showers and watched her and her friends undressing. Now that’s love.
The thing about this film that really touched me is its insight into the human spirit. In Stiffler, we have a character that represents all humanity: flawed, despicable, yet full of potential. Full of love. Matt Stiffler is more than just an amateur porn maker who wants to copulate with a wholesome young blonde with perky tits. Matt Stiffler is a man who learned not only to love others, but also to love himself. In that way, this little art house film will change the way you think — because, irrevocably, there’s a Matt Stiffler in all of us.
I just witnessed one of the most pointless television experiments in the history of entertainment. In a commendable move HBO Asia screened all-time comedy classic Team America. In a not so commendable move, HBO saw fit to edit out all swearing, all gore, and anything that might be construed as unsavoury in the eyes of hypersensitive censors.
This, for a movie that sells on the tagline: “Putting the ‘F’ back in Freedom”.
I only caught the closing few scenes, but noticed the whole “dicks fuck assholes” speech — the literary and philosophical centrepiece of the whole film, and the climax, where protagonist Garry out-acts Alec Baldwin — was cut to non-sensical shreds. Garry got as far as saying “Kim Jong-il is an asshole” before the camera cut to rapturous applause from the crowd.
It didn’t even show Kim Jong-il impaled on the Austrian delegate’s pointy hat. For shame.
I came to the film too late, but I guess there wasn’t much hope for the puppet sex scene. And in the closing credits, the rousing anthem, ‘America, Fuck Yeah!’ had been simplified to ‘America [duh, duh, duh,] Yeah!’
[duh, duh, duh] that.
After a couple of blissful weeks having the TV to myself, I now have another flatmate — my third in eight months in Hong Kong. The problem is, most people take about four months to decide they don’t like me. That’s what happened with my previous two flatmates — a Canadian guy and a British girl — and I’m picking it’ll happen with this guy too. But for now, this 26-year-old Canadian, a veteran of Guelph, Ontario, is none-the-wiser. He’s already in the process of burning (his legitimately acquired) Photoshop onto DVD for me, and soon he’s going to figure out what to do with the router that has been hanging around impotent since my first tech-literate flatmate left.
This guy, let’s call him Andrew (that is, after all, his real name) was actually my friend prior to becoming my flatmate. I met him via a j-school buddy who happened to be his sister. And now? Well, I’ll have to see how many pubes he leaves on the soap. Anything below two a morning should see him retain his friend status. More than that and he becomes my nemesis, and I may never let him see my excellent collection of televisual delights.
Our first night as flatmates has been, so far, perfunctory. I’ve talked him through the flat rules: waste paper in the paper bin; towel by the toilet for hands, towel by the sink for feet (a rule he unwittingly breached on a previous visit); miscellaneous stuff in the miscellaneous stuff cupboard; and, crucially, how to flush the toilet (smooth and long).
Andrew has spent his time here so far teaching English to kids aged three to six — you know, the ones that really need the language. His most famous and most successful line in class was, “Kids, draw your hands.” The kids, perhaps not understanding, or perhaps just not willing to oblige, sat blank-faced. Andrew eventually gave in, drew his own hand, photocopied it, then handed around the copies and told the kids to colour it in. The word the kids had to learn that day, if you hadn’t already guessed, was ‘hand’.
But Andrew is also a photographer and illustrator (if you’re looking for one of those, by the way, I can highly recommend him), and I can think of no better way to end this post than to show a sample of his work. The photo below was taken in the Distillery District in Toronto. A blonde girl in fairy wings was handing out random fortunes to passers-by. In high-resolution and close-up, you can actually read the fortune shown below. It says, “You will eat a delicious lunch today.” Out of curiosity, tonight we checked the timestamp on the photo. It was 2:30pm. Maybe those fortunes weren’t so accurate.
Just as well my grandma can’t figure out how to work the internet, because she definitely wouldn’t approve of this post (and Dad, you’re not allowed to print it out and post it to her snail-mail).
What follows is an example of Chinese poetry at its finest, translated by the good people at Danwei.
The Golden Island Bath House is medium sized, but has girls and private rooms
I went there for a wash, chose a girl and did her
Her pussy was very big. When my instrument went in, it hung around without touching sides.
She was excited
And said a lot of dirty words
Which made me happy
Time came and so did I
I got up and bade her farewell