Archive for the ‘Hong Kong’ category


Live from Level 3

03.05.2020

Finally, a podcast (or is it a blogcast, since it’s on my blog?) where I’m not “reacting” to something that Olivia St Redfern has put on her Leisure Lounge series. Here are some musings about where we’re at, now we are at Level 3.

   Some of my friends, especially my Natcoll students from 1999–2000, will tell you that I love doing impressions. They say Rory Bremner’s are shit hot and that mine are halfway there. It’s a regret that I haven’t been able to spring any of these on you. Don’t worry, I haven’t done any here. But one of these days …

Perhaps the funniest Tweet about the safe delivery of the British PM and his fiancée’s son, for those of us who are Clint Eastwood fans:

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Light humour, dark copy

24.04.2020

I really love Hong Kong 漫畫 or manhua, and found this in one of the boxes from the move.

   This was before the days of our having a computer scanner, and I had photocopied it out of a magazine or newspaper. There were years the copier was on the blink and everything would come out way darker than it should be—it was only with a bit of photo editing in a modern program that I got it looking better.
   I swear that copier had a psychic circuit like the Tardis. My father was a technician and knew his way around the machine but could never find anything wrong with it. It was fine when new but there were years everything came out too dark. After my mother passed away, the machine went dark instantly. After a period of mourning, without warning, it brightened again and all was back to normal. The computer monitor at the time did the same thing: I had to set it to its maximum setting to see the screen properly. And around the same time, it fixed itself, and I could turn it back to where it was. Gadgets in mourning.
   Usually you just hear stories of light bulbs frying but we were more high-tech.
   When Dad’s Imac gave up the ghost days after he died (actually, that was the first time we tried to switch it on after he passed away), I didn’t bother trying to get it fixed. I had a sense it wouldn’t be worth it.

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A concert that takes you home

17.04.2020

One bonus of the lockdown was the live Easter Day concert held by Hong Kong’s own Sam Hui (許冠傑), perhaps fairly described as the king of Cantopop.
   I had no idea this was even on if it weren’t for the fire at the Baxter’s Knob transmitter that took out television transmission in our area. Faced with the prospect of no television during lockdown, and as I’m not a cat in an NZI commercial, I hooked up my laptop to the old LG monitor, relocated to the lounge, and streamed that evening.
   We put on TV1 but later that night, I headed to RTHK TV31, a government-funded channel in Hong Kong, and came across the commercial for Sam’s live concert at 5 p.m. HKT on Easter Day, which translated comfortably to 9 p.m. NZST.
   Hong Kong has some COVID-19 restrictions, with the safe distance a lower 1·5 m, though most people wear masks. Even TV hosts are masked on their programmes. There isn’t a big physical audience for the concert: just Sam, his guitar, sitting atop a building on the Kowloon side, with the Hong Kong Island business district skyline as the backdrop. The host is seated a suitable distance away. Some folks are seated in a roped-off area, sitting a bit closer, though masked. There’s a four-camera set-up. For such a massive star, this might have been his smallest physical audience, though on YouTube, the concert netted a six-figure audience (160,000 when I looked) around the world, and no doubt others will have watched on their television sets, while I watched on TV31’s stream. One source suggests a total viewing audience of over 2 million.
   Sam’s still got the same voice, despite being in his 70s—for the most part, he sounds like the young guy in his 20s that I watched on TV before I emigrated, and whose cassette tapes I cherished when they arrived from Hong Kong in the first few years we were in Aotearoa.
   For someone who missed contact with my birthplace, Sam’s music was a connection, something that took me back, a tiny slice of “home” that was both grounding and enjoyable.
   In those early days, Sam’s music struck a chord with HKers because he often sang about the working class, and in plain language. Few artists had done this at the time; most lyrics tended to be in properly structured Chinese, so Sam broke new ground by singing colloquially. A skilled composer and lyricist, we saw him regularly performing his own songs on programmes such as 歡樂今宵 (Enjoy Yourself Tonight), a variety show that was a big hit back in the 1970s.
   When he broke into films with his brothers, he was frequently cast as the hero type, and could genuinely claim to ‘star in it, write the theme tune, sing the theme tune.’
   His solo career as an actor hit a high in the 1980s and as the video cassette boom began, I indulged in the 最佳拍檔 (Aces Go Places) series. Most kids in the west watching Hong Kong cinema knew about Bruce Lee or that new guy Jackie Chan, but we locals knew that Sam was who you watched if you wanted decent entertainment with a mix of action and humour—and the obligatory Sam Hui theme tune.
   Watching the Easter Day concert brought back a lot of those feelings of connection, and Sam performed plenty of those earlier hits that anyone my age would know. You never lose your connection to the land in which you were born. Hong Kong might look different to how it did in the 1970s—the tallest building then, Connaught Tower, is dwarfed by the International Commerce Centre a short distance away—but the music took you back, and thanks to the cleaner air during the pandemic, the skies even looked as clear as they did back then. The city’s character remains intact, the concert a reminder of what unites Hong Kong people both there and abroad. We have a distinct culture, one that evolved through the will and the freedom of our people, that I hope will go on regardless of one’s political stripes.

The monitor, incidentally, was much easier to view than the television, with softer colours and less brightness. No matter how I played with the settings on the TV, I couldn’t get them to match. I suspect the TV has a lot of blue light, which makes prolonged viewing difficult. I notice that one can buy blue-light glasses, highlighting once again where we have gone wrong: we humans shouldn’t be adapting to technology, it’s technology that should be adapting to us. The LG (LED) monitor isn’t new, so clearly the technology is available to make TVs calmer on the eyes. Yet no one touts this as a selling proposition. Head into an appliance shop (outside of one’s lockdown) and all the TVs are set on the brightest setting, which would completely turn me off buying one.
   Friends tell me that OLED is the way to go in terms of getting the right setting. One of these days I’m going to look into it, but I will bet you that no one who sells these things in the shops will know what a “calm” screen is. They’ll just get excited about forkay, or maybe even atekay, not someone who wants 32 inches or less who wants to preserve their eyesight. ‘Big! Big! Big!’

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COVID-19 infections as a percentage of tests done: April 13 update

13.04.2020

I can cite these COVID-19 calculations (infections as a proportion of tests done) with a bit more confidence than the last lot, where many countries’ testing figures had not updated. I see the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has released its total test numbers now, and they show a pretty good result, too.
   Compared to my post of the 7th inst., there are improvements in France, Italy, Switzerland and Germany, while Spain has shown a marked and positive improvement (from 39·58 per cent to 28·25 per cent).
   The UK’s delay and its initial reliance on herd immunity, with sycophants up and down the country agreeing, is showing up now as its number grows slightly, from 20·4 per cent on the 7th to 23·88 per cent with the latest data.
   The US’s numbers are holding fairly steadily with an increase of 0·8 per cent since the 7th (to 19·78 per cent).
   Sweden’s total test figure is one of two inaccurate ones here, having remained unchanged since the last tables, which obviously cannot be right. I estimate they have done around 75,000 tests so far, which would bring the figure to 13·98 per cent, fairly close to the 7th’s, rather than the 19·16 per cent that the Worldometers’ table would have me calculate.
   Also statistically similar are Switzerland, South Korea, Australia and Hong Kong, though Hong Kong’s total test figure is also inaccurate (unchanged from the 7th). Singapore is showing a rise with the reports of community transmission. New Zealand is showing a small drop (2·71 to 2·15 per cent), though the percentage change here is less than what the US’s is.
   Taiwan continues to see its percentage decline with another 8,000 tests done and only an additional 17 infections since the 7th’s post.

France 132,591 of 333,807 = 39·72%
Spain 169,496 of 600,000 = 28·25%
UK 84,279 of 352,974 = 23·88%
USA 560,433 of 2,833,112 = 19·78%
Italy 156,363 of 1,010,193 = 15·48%
Sweden 10,483 of c. 75,000 = c. 13·98%*
Switzerland 25,449 of 193,800 = 13·13%
Germany 127,854 of 1,317,887 = 9·70%
KSA 4,462 of 115,585 = 3·86%
Singapore 2,532 of 72,680 = 3·48%
New Zealand 1,349 of 62,827 = 2·15%
South Korea 10,537 of 514,621 = 2·05%
Australia 6,359 of 362,136 = 1·76%
Hong Kong 1,010 of 96,709 = 1·04%*
Taiwan 393 of 47,215 = 0·83%

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Another COVID-19 table: total infections as a proportion of tests done

07.04.2020

Peter Lambrechtsen rightly pointed out that COVID-19 per capita infection statistics aren’t as good as knowing the infection rate based on tests done, so at 2 a.m. I decided to crunch some numbers based on the stats I had on hand. These are many hours old now but hopefully still indicative of where things stand. Here you want a low percentage, and we are very fortunate to be sitting on 2·71 per cent. This site has tests per million as well, which I haven’t factored in. Taiwan and Hong Kong are looking even better on this measure; Australia isn’t looking too bad, either. The European and US numbers are sobering. Mainland China and the KSA haven’t released their testing numbers, only total infections.
   I don’t really want to go into fatality rates.

France 98,010 of 224,254 = 43·70%
Spain 140,510 of 355,000 = 39·58%
UK 51,608 of 252,958 = 20·40%
USA 369,179 of 1,941,052 = 19·02%
Italy 132,547 of 721,732 = 18·37%
Sweden 7,693 of 54,700 = 14·06%
Switzerland 22,242 of 167,429 = 13·28%
Germany 104,199 of 918,460 = 11·34%
New Zealand 1,160 of 42,826 = 2·71%
South Korea 10,331 of 461,233 = 2·24%
Singapore 1,375 of 65,000 = 2·12%
Australia 5,908 of 310,700 = 1·90%
Hong Kong 936 of 96,709 = 0·97%
Taiwan 376 of 39,011 = 0·96%

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One more COVID-19 post: graphing and animating the data

06.04.2020

Russell Brown linked this COVID-19 trend page by Aatish Bhatia on his Twitter recently, and it’s another way to visualize the data. There are two axes: new confirmed cases (over the past week) on the y and total confirmed cases on the x. It’s very useful to see how countries are performing over time as it’s animated, and to get a handle on what trajectory you’re on.
   I’ve plotted us against some Asian countries and territories in the first graph and western countries in the second. South Korea is doing quite well and Taiwan is really bending its curve down. Try it yourself by clicking on either of the screenshot graphs below.


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COVID-19 per capita: April 2 update

02.04.2020

I had to see how we were tracking on total COVID-19 infections alongside other countries on a per capita basis, and here’s the latest update (source also linked above). I knew Switzerland was doing badly, but not this badly. I know I haven’t been consistent with my previous post’s country selection, but I don’t want this becoming an obsession.

Spain 2,227·1
Switzerland 2,057·5
Italy 1,828
Germany 931·6
France 873·6
Netherlands 795
USA 651·7
Sweden 490·7
UK 434·8
Australia 202·2
South Korea 194·6
Singapore 171·3
New Zealand 165·7
Hong Kong 102·4
Mainland China 56·7
Saudi Arabia 49·6
Japan 18·8
Taiwan 14·2
India 1·5

   I said in a recent post that a lot of the Asian territories have done well because of a community response. Another thing Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore have in common: a lot of people descended from Chinese who fled the mainland in 1949, and have a mistrust of anything the Communist Party says. If the CCP said Dr Li Wenliang was a stirrer, then that would automatically have these places thinking: shit, there might be a pandemic coming. That could account for their numbers being on the lower half, and for their general decrease in new infection numbers. (I realize Singapore just had a big jump. Anomalous? Or were things not tracking downwards?)

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Alone again, naturally

12.01.2020

Looking back over the years
And whatever else that appears,
I remember I cried when my mother died
Never wishing to hide the tears.
And at fifty-nine years old,
My father, God rest his soul,
Couldn’t understand why the only lass
He had ever loved had been taken,
Leaving him to start
With a heart so badly broken
Despite encouragement from me,
No words were ever spoken.
And when he passed away,
I cried and cried all day.
Alone again, naturally.

Considering Gilbert O’Sullivan was 21 when he wrote ‘Alone Again’, it’s a remarkably mature lyric, particularly as he didn’t know his father well, and his mother was alive when the song was penned.
   But it is my current earworm and with a slight change in the words, it reflects my mood.
   Of course I’m not “alone”: I have a partner and a network of friends, but there is an element of loneliness as part of the immigrant experience that hardly anyone talks about.
   When you emigrate to parts unknown with your parents, and you don’t have a say in it, you arguably have a different perspective on your new home country than someone who perhaps chose to go there, and you certainly have a different perspective to someone born and bred there.
   I’ve never blogged the full story though most of my friends know it.
   There is a photo somewhere of my family as I knew it at age two or so: my parents, my maternal grandmother, and me. At that age, I knew there were other family members—paternal grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins—but this was my immediate definition of family, and I held on to that for a long time. Certainly it was my definition during my formative years.
   I came with my parents and not my grandmother, landing here three days shy of my fourth birthday.
   When my grandmother arrived in March 1978 under the family reunion policy, my mother and I being her only living descendants, I felt ‘the family’ was complete again.
   Immigrants will probably tell you, more so if they are not of the majority race, that they have a sense that they need to face life in this new country together. That most of the people around you won’t be able to share the experience you’re having, because you’re making sense of it through a different lens. We spoke Cantonese at home, and we will have talked about the odd customs of the people here, from the stupidity of the colloquialism bring a plate to my parents needing to fight for the Wellington Hospital Board to give my mother her correct pay (something which ultimately required the intervention of former mayor Frank Kitts). Most of your peers wouldn’t know what it was like for a white person to tell your Mum and yourself to go back to where you came from. Or to be denied service at what is now Countdown on account of your race.
   Repeated experiences like that give you a sense of “the family versus the world”. Happy ones naturally outnumber negative ones—by and large, New Zealanders are a tolerant, embracing people—but it’s probably natural for humans to build up some sort of defence, a thicker skin to cope with a few of the added complications that the majority don’t have to think twice about. It’s why some of us will jump to “racism” as an explanation for an injustice even when the motives may not be that at all. It’s only come from experience and reinforcement, certainly at a time when overt racism was more commonplace in Aotearoa, and more subtle forms were at play (as they still are with decreasing frequency; hello, Dominion Post).
   As the family’s numbers dwindled, it impacts you. It certainly impacted my father in 1994, in the way O’Sullivan’s song says, and as “the last man standing” there is a sense of being alone. Never mind that my father had aphasia in his last years and couldn’t respond intelligibly when I spoke to him: the fact he could hear me and acknowledge me was of great comfort. He understood the context. And frankly, precious few others do.
   Other than aunts, uncles and cousins, the only time I really get to use Cantonese now is at shops where Cantonese speakers serve me. The notion of an ‘Asian’ invasion where you’re walking the streets not knowing what’s being spoken (I’m looking at you, Winston) is rot. You feel the loss of identity as well as your family because identity is relative: while you have a soul, a deeper purpose, that is arguably more absolute, you answer who you are in relation to those around you. I am proud of my heritage, my culture, my whakapapa. They identify me to the rest of you. Each of you holds a different impression, part of the full picture, just as in branding. The last person who understood part of my identity, the one relative to my immediate family who came with me to this new land, is now gone, and that cannot be reclaimed.
   Therefore, this isn’t solely about the passing of an elderly man and the natural cycle of life. This is about how a little bit of you goes as well. Wisdom tells you that you form another part of your identity—say how I relate to my partner, for instance—and in time you rebuild who you are and how you face the world. However, that takes time, and O’Sullivan might be an earworm for a little while longer.

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First night

16.09.2019

Forty-three years ago (September 16, 1976), we arrived in this country.
   As we flew from Sydney and into Wellington, my Dad pointed out the houses below to me. ‘See, those are the sorts of houses New Zealanders live in,’ he said. I thought it was odd they lived in two-storey homes and not apartment blocks. I was three at the time, so I had no clue about the population density of Aotearoa.
   I frequently point out just how cloudy and grey that day was. I don’t remember a summer of ’76–’77, just as no one here remembers a summer of ’16–’17. Only one other car, a Holden station wagon, went along Calabar Road in the opposite direction as we left Wellington Airport.
   Before we departed Hong Kong days earlier, my maternal grandmother—the person closest to me at that point and whom I would desperately miss for the next 18 months—gave me two very special Corgi models at the airport, large 1:36 scale Mercedes-Benz 240Ds. I said goodbye to her expecting to see her in weeks.
   As I was put to bed that night by my father—it wasn’t usually his role—he asked if I wanted to see the cars, since I had been so good on the flights. He got them out and showed me, and I was allowed to have a quick look before they were put back into his carry-on bag.
   None of us knew this was the trip where we’d wind up in Aotearoa. Mum had applied—I went with her to the New Zealand High Commission in Connaught Tower in Hong Kong to get the forms—but we had green cards to head to Tennessee. But, my mother, ever careful, didn’t want to put all her eggs into one basket. And like a lot of Hong Kongers at the time, they had no desire to hang around till 1997 and find themselves under communist rule.
   It was a decision that would change our lives.
   Whilst here, word got back home—and then out to us—that New Zealand immigration had approved our application. In the days when air travel cost a fortune, my parents considered our presence here serendipitous and decided to stay. What point was there to fly back if one’s only task was to pack?
   It’s hard not to reminisce on this anniversary, and consider this family with their lives ahead of them.
   I’ve had it good. Mum never wanted me to suffer as she had during the famine behind the Bamboo Curtain, and to many in the mid-1970s, getting to the Anglosphere was a dead cert to having a better life.
   I had a great education, built a career and a reputation, and met my partner here, so I can’t complain. And I couldn’t have asked for more love and support than I had from my immediate family.
   My grandmother eventually joined us under the family reunion policy in 1978. My mother and I were her only living descendants.
   Despite the happiness, you don’t think, on that night in 1976, that in 18 years my mother would die from cancer and that my widowed father, at 80, would develop Alzheimer’s disease, something of which there is no record in the family.
   Despite both parents having to make the decision to send a parent to a rest home, when it came time for me to do the same thing—and it was the right decision given the care Dad needed—it was very tough.
   A friend asked me how I felt, and I said I felt like ‘the meanest c*** on earth,’ even though I knew I would have made the same decision regardless of other factors as his disease progressed.
   Immigrant families stick together because we often have the sense of “us versus the world”. When Racist ’80s Man tells you to go back to where you came from, it’s not an experience you can easily share with others who aren’t immigrants and people of colour. So as our numbers diminished—my grandmother in 1990 and my mother in 1994—it was Dad and me versus the world, and that was how we saw things for the decades that followed.
   That first night he went to live in a home was the same night I flashed back to the evening of September 16, 1976—and how impossibly hard it would have been to foresee how things would turn out.
   He’s since changed homes twice and found himself in excellent care at Te Hopai, though he now needs to be fed and doesn’t detect as much to his right. The lights are going out.
   It’s a far cry from being the strong one looking after your three-year-old son and making sure he could fall asleep in this new country, where things were in such a state of flux.

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An expat’s thoughts about Hong Kong

01.09.2019


Studio Incendo/Creative Commons 2·0

As an expat, I’ve been asked a few times about what I think of the Hong Kong protests. There’s no straight answer to this. Here are a few thoughts, in no particular order.

  • The British never gave us universal suffrage, so the notion that it was all roses before 1997 is BS. The best the Brits managed was half of LegCo toward the end, but before that it was pitiful. And the express reasons they didn’t give it to us, certainly in the mid-20th century, were racist.
  • Having said that, I’d love to see half of LegCo up for grabs, if not more.
  • The extradition bill is, in the grand scheme, pretty minor. If the PRC really wants to grab you, they will.
  • However, I totally get that codifying it into law gives them greater authority, or is perceived to give them that.
  • It wouldn’t be the first time the US State Department and others meddled in our affairs, and I don’t believe this is an exception.
  • Expecting the British to help out is a hiding to nothing. The Shadow Cabinet was critical of John Major’s Conservatives in the 1990s over Hong Kong, and when in office, months before the handover, was arguably even less effective. There’ll be the occasional op-ed from Chris Patten. Not much else. The UK is too mired in its own issues anyway, looking more and more like the sort of failed state that it professes to “help” right now.
  • It hasn’t helped that HK Chinese feel that our culture is under threat, including our language, and there hasn’t been any indication from the PRC of alleviating this (the old playbook again). Observers inside China may see HKers’ embrace of its internationalist culture as colonial and subservient to foreigners; HKers see it as a direct contrast to the lack of openness within the PRC between 1949 and the early 1980s and as a “freer” expression of Chineseness. Arguments could be made either way on the merits of both positions. That resentment has been stoked for some time, and HKers will only need to point to the Uighurs as an indication of their fears.
  • Withdrawal of the bill, even temporarily, would have been wiser, as it’s not a time for the PRC to get hard-line over this. This shouldn’t be a case of us v. them. This is, however, a perfect opportunity to have dialogue over reinterpreting “one country, two systems”, and persuade the ROC of its merit—the Chinese commonwealth idea that has been in my thoughts for a long time. However, Xi is one of the old-school tough guys, and this mightn’t be on his agenda. China hasn’t exactly gone to young people to ask them what they think—we never have, whether you’re talking about the imperial times, the period between 1911 and 1949, or afterwards.
  • This might be my romantic notions of Hong Kong coloured by childhood memories, but the place thrived when the young could express themselves freely through music and other arts. They felt they had a voice and an identity.
  • Right now there’s a huge uncertainty about who we are. I think we’re proudly Chinese in terms of our ethnicity and heritage, and we might even think our ideas of what this means are superior to others’. Rose-coloured glasses are dangerous to don because they don’t tell us the truth. But we might be nostalgic for pre-1997 because the expression of our identity was so much clearer when the ruling power was nothing like us. Who cares if they thought we were a bunch of piccaninnies if they just let us get on with our shit? Now there’s a battle between “our Chineseness” versus “their Chineseness” in the eyes of some HKers. Thanks to certain forces stoking the tensions, and probably using the resentment HK Chinese feel, there isn’t a comfortable, foreseeable way out any time soon.

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