Archive for August, 2007
Just for fun, I recently wrote a story for a new entertainment site: hiphongkong.com. Despite my heavy workload at the time, I was lured into the assignment by a topic very close to my heart: a dodgy night in Wanchai.
Hiphongkong.com is a start-up in a difficult space. Hong Kong has a lot of free titles in English — HK Magazine, Beats, Juice, Taxi, The List, bc magazine — jostling for ad dollars from the local entertainment sector. Not all of them can survive.
Below is the opening of what is a somewhat fictionalised amalgamation of many nights spent on the infamous Lockhart Road. (If you click through, you’ll notice I’m ‘John Lloyd’ for this one).
One Night In Wanchai
She tells me her name is Selina. Her adam’s apple tells me it’s probably something else. Still, I stop to chat. One does such things at 4am on Wanchai’s Lockhart Road. She’s very friendly, after all, and has clearly gone to great lengths to wriggle into a skimpy black mini-skirt, slink into a revealing white boob-tube, and paint her lips the color of hot-house strawberries. Feeling charitable, I even call back my stumblingly-drunk mates from across the road, where they’re hunting kebabs. Selina smiles broadly — a catch of three! She straightens her posture, pushes her chest forward, and flutters her obviously fake eyelashes.
“Paulll, Keevvvin,” I slur as the coy maiden extends her hand in greeting — “Meet Steve”. Her hand drops and her smile melts. That one burned. Our departure is hasty and the forlorn flexisexual is left alone on the street corner. On our post-kebab journey home we pass by her again. This time we’re greeted only by a sullen pout. She doesn’t deserve this treatment, but Wanchai has seen worse.
If you’re ever thinking of travelling in Vietnam, I’d recommend a motorbike tour through the Central Highlands — but don’t do it for more than two days, unless you really like your guides. The Easy Riders of Vietnam can be characters, but they can also come loaded with tiresome dirty jokes they expect foreigners to love. Still, it’s a beautiful trip and a worthwhile cultural experience.
Four months after my visit to Vietnam, I finally got round to writing about it. The result is on Asia Sentinel today, with photos taken by my travel companion and flat-mate, Andrew James. Here’s the opening paragraph.
Vietnam’s Easy Riders
Armed with cigarettes, bad jokes, and a nifty Honda motorbike, Endy, 42, lives a life on the road with strangers. For the past six years, he has been an ‘Easy Rider’ — one of a group of self-styled tour guides that ferry tourists through the war-ravaged, coffee-drenched and starkly beautiful Central Highlands of Vietnam.
A reader recently commented after one of my recent blogposts linking to a story I wrote for Asia Sentinel. “I’m not sure I like the trend of people lifting comments from blogs and using them in news stories,” he wrote. To me it sounded like a criticism of my piece, because in it I had quoted two bloggers: Alex Iskold from Read/WriteWeb, and Alice Marwich from Tiara.org.
Though he didn’t say as much, there was a clear tone of disapproval in the reader’s comment. Of course, I object.
The first problem is that the reader appears to have an in-built disdain for ‘blogs’. Bloggers are commonly derided and denigrated as lone-rangers at their computers writing for audiences of friends and family, if that. They are characterised as cavalier with the facts, heavy on opinion, and untrustworthy. Deborah Coddington, an ex-politician and now journalist in New Zealand, has referred to the “insane bloggers”.
Coddington is typical of people stuck in an old media mindset who misunderstand the import and breadth of blogging. She takes one small slice of a very large and disparate blogosphere — a misleading term in itself, since blogs shouldn’t be thought of as existing within a silo but as useful platforms in an evolving media landscape — and applies it to the whole. With one foul adjective, she manages to discredit every blogger from me (admittedly, slightly insane), to my friend in Toronto who writes about his new shoes, to Green Greenwald, to Jay Rosen, to Juan Cole, and to Roland Soong.
Of course there are insane bloggers. Too many of them. Too many readers of them. But that’s no reason to ignore the gems at the top of the pile. Blogs work best as platforms for commentators with specific focuses. The best bloggers are as worthwhile as the world’s best newspaper columnists. Their writing (or video or audio) just appears on a different platform.
When it comes to writing a news story or feature, few journalists would hesitate to quote a newspaper columnist promoting a point of view or pointing out facts that help readers better understand the issue at hand. Similarly, few journalists would shy away from quoting an essay from an academic with specialist knowledge — and opinions — on the issue at hand. Blogs can give journalists access to both those types of people. The only difference is, because of the borderless nature of the internet, their columns and essays can be shared with a wider audience, immediately, and often with a degree of interaction.
In my story I quoted two blog posts that were highly relevant to the issue I was discussing: privacy concerns about behavioral data. One quote was from Read/WriteWeb, a tech blog held in the high esteem and written by journalists with very specific knowledge and a proven track record of getting the facts straight. When it comes to tech issues, I would just as happily turn to Read/WriteWeb as to a New York Times columnist.
In the other case, I quoted Alice Marwich, an academic who is a PhD candidate studying social technology at New York University. She had an opinion relevant to my story and I decided her perspective was well argued and worth presenting to the reader. That she had written that opinion on a blog was of little relevance. (Actually, because I prefer phone interviews, I tried to arrange a time to chat with Alice — she agreed to the interview but inexplicably stopped returning my emails when it came to setting a time. In this case, quoting from her blog was a second best, but, given time constraints and the fact I’m working a full-time job and freelancing for other publications, it was a compromise I was willing to make.)
In these cases, I was confident of the bloggers’ identities and credentials, and they had perspectives that brought value to my story. It doesn’t mean I’m going to quote a blogger in every story I write. I can imagine situations in which I’d quote anonymous bloggers (a dissident from within a repressive state, for instance), but I’d try to avoid that whenever possible. I’d also never quote a blogger who writes for a discredited blog or one who can’t present a coherent argument. Nor would I quote a blogger speaking outside his or her area of specialty. In fact, there are so many criteria a blogger has to meet before I’d quote them that I won’t list them here for fear of sending you and me to sleep.
When it comes down to it, my argument is this: no-one should automatically turn away because of the word ‘blog’. A blog should be treated like a piece of paper. Give an idiot a piece of paper and on it he may write a profanity. Give it to a foreign policy expert and on it he may write an analysis of why war in Iraq is failing. Journalists should be able to tell which one is worth reading.
This is an experiment for an unrelated project. I’d appreciate to hear what you think about this post. Like it? Find it funny? Think it sucks? Be honest. Any feedback is helpful. Thanks.
Naked news in sign-language faced a set-back in Japan when the government stripped a weekly five-minute show of grants totalling 400,000 yen. Paradise Televion, the makers of the news flash, vowed to continue the programming in spite of the loss. Meanwhile, in Japan’s clothed sector, a company touted its self-cooling shirts as an environmentally-friendly alternative to air-conditioners. Small battery-powered fans sewn into the backs of shirts cool the wearers down and evaporate perspiration. They’re available in 10 styles and retail for 11,000 yen (US$94).
In Beijing, the deputy chief of China’s State Language Commission told a press conference that Chinese are taking an increasingly adventurous approach to their language as commercialisation and the internet break down conventions. He pointed to a couple who tried to name their child ‘@’ as an extreme example. The revelation follows soon after a New Zealand couple’s failed attempt to call their child ’4Real’. The couple settled on ‘Superman’ instead.
Still in China, five mourners at a funeral met an unfortunate demise when lightning struck a shack a villager had built for his dead wife’s wake in the eastern province of Jiangsu. The strike claimed the lives of two middle-aged women, two 14-year-old boys, and a four-year-old child. Sixteen others were injured.
A 63-year-old Malaysian man was arrested in Kuala Lumpur for practicing dentistry, despite the fact he had no medical training. The phony tooth-puller operated out of his home on a cast-off 1940s examining chair and charged up to 130 ringgit (US$37) for his services. He had once been a dentist’s assistant in the army, he told a newspaper. He also made house visits.
In other Japan news, it was revealed that students at a Hiroshima University campus had been unknowingly drinking toilet water since 1993, the world’s oldest person died at age 114, and a motorcyclist in the city of Hamamatsu continued riding for 2 km without realising his leg had been severed beneath the knee after hitting a safety barrier. A friend collected his limb.
I’m delighted to report that news of Richard Meros’ impending book launch for Richard Meros Salutes the Southern Man has been picked up by someone in the mainstream media. Guy Somerset, the Dominion Post‘s books editor, has flagged the Meros book in his blog, Shelf Life.
Somerset relies on this blog and a blog I previously contributed to for the bulk of his information, which I think is just fine because, after all, this is a site of the highest repute.
Of course, being a books blog, Shelf Life is hugely popular in uberliterate New Zealand, meaning the traffic flooding into Hong Kong Ham has been close to overwhelming, registering in the mid-to-upper ones.
Somerset’s post is largely complimentary and suitably cheeky, even if he does have the audacity to point out Meros’ spelling mistakes, and he finishes on praise of the highest order: by comparing Meros to an Irish-born English novelist and Anglican clergyman who just happened to be the author of a book called The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.
Incidentally, that book was made into a delicious comedy starring Steve Coogan.
I’d love to see Coogan star in a film adaptation of Meros’ first novel, On the Conditions and Possibilities of Helen Clark Taking Me As Her Young Lover. That would be a treat to watch.
Where does your petrol come from, and how do you use it?
Those are questions my friend Emma Smith wants you to think about. She’s travelling in Central and South America and she has just done what most travellers consciously choose not to do: peel back the shiny surface of tourismo to find the not-so-palatable truths of life in a third world country cursed with oil.
The oil companies didn’t need war to get their black gold in Ecuador, but as Emma points out in her excellent post, Toxic Shock Syndrome, that doesn’t mean that country’s inhabitants haven’t suffered the consequences of a very particular kind of exploitation.
Emma’s post is a must-read and a fine example of citizen journalism. Hopefully it’ll also make you think twice about driving to work today.
In other news, here’s a teaser for my latest story in Asia Sentinel:
We’ll Be Watching You
At 3:41am GMT on 8 August 2007, Asia Sentinel received an unusual visitor. Someone with an IP address in North Carolina came to the site apparently looking for naked 11-year-olds.
We know — we have it on video.
By all means, read the rest of it.
It’s taken me a while to get around to posting this, but last Friday I experienced my first almost-typhoon in Hong Kong. The typhoon warning signal was strong enough to get sent home from work early, and the boat trip back to Lamma was bumpy good fun. I was happy to hold onto my guts.
What we got in the end was, I thought, a little disappointing — a flying umbrella here, some broken branches there, and some heavy rain. But across the other side of the island the damage was apparently more severe. The barge below was washed up on to the beach by the power station, taking some serious real estate with it. I imagine it’s going to be a hell of a refloatation job — if they bother at all.
Prime Minister’s suitor returns with an ode to the Southern Man
For all those sick of fair and balanced journalism, relief is at hand.
Following on from his 2005 book, On the conditions and possibilities of Helen Clark taking me as her Young Lover, mysterious author Richard Meros is now set to reveal the equally mysterious Southern Man in a veneration to the spirit of the deep south, Richard Meros salutes The Southern Man.
Meros’ debut book, On the conditions and possibilities of Helen Clark taking me as her Young Lover was a world first, a political and academic love letter to a nation’s leader. Praised by The Guardian as “decidedly lascivious” it saw Meros hailed by some as heralding a new era in writing while being lambasted by others as ‘the poor man’s Nicky Hager’.
Having escaped the backlash of certain literati circles and harsh reviews of his punctuation and grammar, the elusive Meros went into hiding, recuperating in various author safe-houses around South America. Passing the hours he began to fondly recall his time spent living in a small southern town in New Zealand where he had become entwined in its many charming rituals, such as hay-baling.
The result is a surprising, pathos-filled and sometimes hilarious tribute to the Southern Man that not only explores one of the most complex and significant cultural bastions of New Zealand but muses upon his place on the world stage to come.
With corporations and conglomerates establishing a foot-hold over New Zealand agriculture, Meros takes stock of the legendary Southern Man.
Does he exist?
Where might I find him?
What of the Southern Woman?
“There is a difference between these people and you and I,” Meros affirms.
“While we sit here sipping our frappa-mocha-whatevers, they are dealing with the intimacies of living close to the earth. Their bodies become hard while we peddle our papers.”
But Meros has been doing more than just writing and along with the release of his text he is also proud to introduce Nestor Notabilis and his debut book, I know someone who knows someone who knows Kevin Roberts quite well, to the stables of the Lawrence & Gibson publishing collective.
“Lawrence & Gibson specifically publishes books of New Zealanders,” Meros explains.
“And Nestor’s – with digressions into Kakapos, Macrocarpa, and the Avon – does precisely that.”
After a chance encounter with Meros on the banks of Christchurch’s Avon River, Notabilis embarked on a pilgrimage to meet Kevin Roberts (the worldwide CEO of advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi and author of the branding bible Lovemarks) in the hope of learning the secrets of success through the wily means of marketing.
Complete with a Kierkegaardian reading of Lovemarks, discussions on anti-Christchurch sentiments and colourful digressions on such luminaries as Robert Rakete and Kevin Costner I know someone who knows someone who knows Kevin Roberts quite well displays Notabilis’ whimsical wit and charm as he attempts to traverse the three degrees of separation which keep him from marketing guru Kevin Roberts.
A bit about Lawrence & Gibson:
Lawrence & Gibson is a non-profit publishing collective and any mistakenly accrued revenue is stuffed back into our books. Have a quick flip through, maybe a five-spot will fall out.
Current issues under extended discussion at our irregularly scheduled meetings include; on alienation, on eroticisms lost and on the independent publishing industry in comparison with the independent music industry.
When it comes to publishing we endeavour to use what industry moguls designate ‘expensive Lenny Kaye production’ methods. We prefer to use non-toxic glues, recycled paper, and ink made of organic soy beans. We often fall short.
Any information on reliable sources for these products would be appreciated. For information, updates or just a friendly chin-wag contact Richard Meros at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
‘Richard Meros salutes The Southern Man’ and ‘I know someone who knows someone who knows Kevin Roberts quite well’ are available mid-August from all good bookstores or through firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Lawrence & Gibson will be holding a launch party for both books at the Paramount Theatre, Wellington, 7.30pm, Thursday August 23rd.
To RSVP please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Media and Publicity Enquiries:
Lawrence & Gibson
Mobile: 027 430 8033
Read HK Ham’s interview with Richard Meros
Child abuse of the most sickening kind is a hot news topic in New Zealand at the moment. The ‘national outcry’ finally reached a tipping point after a three-year-old girl died after a group of miscreant thugs had assaulted her by, among other things, spinning her in a tumble drier and on a clothesline.
Here I could reel off a list of adjectives to describe how reprehensible this assault is, but I don’t think you need that.
Ever since the Prime Minister rightly pointed out that child abuse of this nature is a “national scandal” (actually, it has been for years — and a cynic might point out the PM came out so strong about this at a time when her party was on a downward slide in the polls and embroiled in a mess caused by a nuisance MP), people have been going out of their way to say they’re against child abuse.
I’m yet to meet anyone’s who’s for it. (Russell Brown nailed this point in a post on Public Address.)
Worse, though, is that the moralists are creeping out of the woodwork. Their most recent stunt to prove they care about children more than the rest of us was to stage a protest of three-minutes silence. Okay, the sentiment behind that is fine. And it’s good people are finally angry enough about this to stage public demonstrations (again, child abuse is hardly a new problem in New Zealand). But it’s the posturing around this stunt to which I object.
Christine Rankin’s comments especially irked me.
“We’re hoping it does [have an impact]. If it doesn’t, then I feel New Zealand is lost,” the chief executive of the For the Sake of Our Children lobby group told the New Zealand Herald.
For a start, Christine, some people might not agree that three minutes’ silence is an effective way to address a problem with such deep and knotted roots. (In fact, I like the response of Te Kanikani Tautoko from the Allies of Whanau of Aotearoa: “Silence on the issue sends out the wrong message… It’s something we need to be discussing as opposed to not saying anything.”)
Secondly, how many people participated in this three minutes’ silence and will now push the issue to the back of their minds, thinking they’ve done their part? My guess is more than zero.
But it’s this comment that really gets on my tits: “If we don’t care enough to take that three minutes at the beginning of a lunch hour then I will despair.”
Translation: If you don’t take part in this protest, you’re okay with child abuse.
I want to use a lot of expletives, but instead I’ll just say that I think there are more intelligent approaches to dealing with this problem than offering a fleeting and superficial gesture that instills certain parties with a sense of moral righteousness.
It would have been nice if Rankin had extended that three minutes to, say, three years…
(Now you’re going to ask me what I suggest. I’m not an expert on this, but I’d at least recommend a continuing investment into education, ongoing discussion in the media and Parliament, more support for the groups who have been dealing with child abuse issues for years, and some tough treatment for the abusers. One good thing about this morally-loaded protest is that it at least keeps the issue alive in the media.)
I have a little love note to Lamma up on Asia Sentinel today. Lots of people have written about Lamma before, and most gush about it, so I tried not to idealise the place too much. There’s a photo on there you’ll recognise from one of my previous posts. The other photo — the one below — was taken by my flatmate, Andrew James.
Here are the opening paragraphs:
Deranged, in a Lamma Sort of Way
Pak Kok, a tiny village of two-storey villas and narrow paths nestled in a small, verdant corner of Hong Kong’s Lamma Island, is home to exactly one convenience store. It sells what you need: vegetables, toilet paper and beer. Outside the store, at a simple table under a canopy, two prematurely weathered Brits in their 30s sit drinking Tsingtao. Fat drops of condensation run down the tall bottles, forming a spreading puddle that is obviously multiple-bottles old.
Richard and Richard — though the one with a chipped tooth and a shaved head prefers to be called Tin — are catching up with each other for the first time in 10 years. Tin has been AWOL in Lapland, Finland, Iceland and numerous other frigid-sounding lands. The other Richard has been on Lamma the whole time. The two are in good spirits, despite what could be a fraught friendship. Years ago, the details are a little fuzzy, one took over the other’s restaurant job after he was fired. They confess to being “derangedly drunk” as my friend and I chug Ribena and enjoy the entertainment that only two happily intoxicated Brits can bring. It’s just after midday.