Archive for the ‘Hong Kong’ category


Don’t group Chinese New Zealanders into one faceless bunch

18.10.2018

Some visiting Australian friends have said that they are finding New Zealand politics as interesting as their own, although I don’t think this was meant as a compliment.
   Those of us in New Zealand had a few days of House of Cards-lite intrigue, in that it was stirred up by a conservative whip, in an attempt to take down his party leader. Except it was so much more condensed than the machinations of Francis Urquhart, and, if you were Chinese, Indian or Filipino, in the words of Taika Waititi, it was ‘racist AF’.
   Two of my Tweets garnered hundreds of likes each, which generally doesn’t happen to me, but I am taking that as reinforcing something I truly believe: that most New Zealanders aren’t racist, and that we despise injustices and treating someone differently because of their ethnicity.
   Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross and opposition leader Simon Bridges’ phone call, where the former stated that two Chinese MPs were worth more than two Indian ones, drew plenty of thoughts from both communities, where we felt we were treated as numbers, or a political funding source, with none of us actually getting into a National Cabinet (or the Shadow Cabinet) since Pansy Wong was ousted last decade—making you feel that had other Cabinet ministers been held to the same standard, they would have been gone as well. Here was my first Tweet on the subject:

   While Bridges was quick to apologize to Maureen Pugh MP, whom he insulted in the leaked phone call:

   There’s the inevitable look back through the history of Chinese New Zealanders, who have largely been humiliated since the gold-mining days by earlier generations, and the Poll Tax, for which an apology came decades after during the previous Labour government.
   And the scandal also inspired Tze Ming Mok to write an excellent op-ed for The New Zealand Herald, which I highly recommend here. It’s one of the most intelligent ones on the subject.

   She’s absolutely right: those of us with few connections to the People’s Republic of China don’t like being grouped in among them, or treated as though we’re part of the Chinese Communist Party apparatus.
   Her research showed that roughly half of Chinese New Zealanders were born on the mainland, and that the group itself is incredibly diverse. My father’s family fled in 1949 and I was raised in a fairly staunch anti-communist household, images of Sun Yat Sen and the ROC flag emblazoned on my paternal grandfather’s drinking glasses. My mother, despite being born in Hong Kong, grew up behind the Bamboo Curtain and survived the famine, and didn’t have an awful lot of positive things to say about her experiences there, eventually making her way out to her birthplace during her tertiary studies.
   Tze Ming writes:

This chilling effect is harming Chinese people in New Zealand. Many people cannot differentiate Chinese people from the actions of the CCP (I mean hey, many people can’t tell a Chinese from a Korean), but this is made worse when hardly any authorities on the topic will address the issue openly. Concerns can only erupt as xenophobia against the Chinese and “Asian” population …
   CCP-linked politicians parroting Xi Jinping and promoting Beijing’s Belt & Road priorities don’t speak for at least half of us.

   ‘At least’ is right. My father was born in the mainland where 反共 was a catch-cry in his young adult life. I’m willing to bet there’s an entire, older Chinese-born generation that thinks the same.
   She continues:

It’s endlessly irritating and insulting that both Labour and National have lazily assigned Chinese communities as the fiefdoms of politicians openly backed by the Chinese government.

   That’s true, too. In 2014 I was approached by the National Party asking how best to target the Chinese community. My response was to treat us the same as any other New Zealanders. I’m not sure whether the advice was taken on board, as within months I was invited to a Chinese restaurant for a $100-a-head dinner to be in the presence of the Rt Hon John Key, a fund-raiser that was aimed at ethnic Chinese people resident here. It certainly didn’t feel that I was being treated like my white or brown neighbours.
   The other point Tze Ming touches on, and one which I have written about myself, is the use of the term Asian in New Zealand.
   Let me sum it up from my time here, beginning in 1976, and how I saw the terms being used by others:

1970s: ‘Chinese’ meant those people running the groceries and takeaways. Hard working. Good at maths. Not good at politics or being noticed, and Petone borough mayor George Gee was just an anomaly.

1990s: ‘Asian’ became a point of negativity, fuelled by Winston ‘Two Wongs don’t make a white’ Peters. He basically meant Chinese. It’s not a term we claimed at the time, and while some have since tried to reclaim it for themselves to represent the oriental communities (and some, like super-lawyer Mai Chen, have claimed it and rightly extended it to all of Asia), it’s used when non-Chinese people whine about us. It’s why ‘My best friend is Asian’ is racist in more than one way.

2010s: ‘Chinese’ means not just the United Front and the Confucius Institute (which has little to do with Confucius, incidentally), but that all Chinese New Zealanders are part of a diaspora with ties to the PRC. And we’re moneyed, apparently, so much that we’ve been accused of buying up properties based on a list of ‘Chinese-sounding names’ by Labour in a xenophobic mood. I’ve been asked plenty of times this decade whether I have contacts in Beijing or Shanghai. If you’re born in Hong Kong before July 1, 1997, you were British (well, in a post-Windrush apartheid sense anyway), and unlikely to have any connections behind the Bamboo Curtain, but you’ve already been singled out by race.

   Now, I don’t want to put a dampener on any Chinese New Zealander who does have ties back to the mainland and the CCP. We share a history and a heritage, and since I wasn’t the one who had any experience of the hardships my parents and grandparents suffered, I don’t have any deep-seated hatred festering away. My father visited the old country in 2003 and put all that behind him, too. A republic is better than the imperial families that had been in charge before, and if I’ve any historical power to dislike, I’d be better off focusing on them. So in some respects, there is “unity” insofar as I’ll stick up for someone of my own race if they’re the subject of a racist attack. I’ll write about Chinese people and businesses without the derision that others do (e.g. here’s an article on the MG GS SUV that doesn’t go down the Yellow Peril route). But we’re not automatons doing Beijing’s bidding.
   I’ll lazily take Tze Ming’s conclusion in the Herald:

We deserve better than to be trapped between knee-jerk racists and Xi Jinping Thought. Abandoning us to this fate is racism too.

   I haven’t even begun to address the blatant sexual harassment that has since emerged as a result of the scandal, but others are far better placed to speak on that.

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Posted in China, culture, Hong Kong, India, media, New Zealand, politics | 1 Comment »


The easy-to-spot signs of the social media racist

02.10.2018

As Twitter (and other social media) descend, what’s been interesting is seeing how many of us Kiwis aren’t being terribly original. No, I don’t exactly mean Dr Don Brash thinking that he can import US-style division into New Zealand wholesale without understanding the underlying forces that helped Donald Trump secure their presidency (in which case such attempts here will fail), but I do mean how later Tweeters hunt for keywords and arguments to defend institutionalized racism, sexism, and other unsavoury -isms, then use imported techniques because they saw on television that they worked overseas.
   I recall one not long ago who was evidently looking out for white male privilege, with some pretty standard Tweets prepared and an odd refusal to address fundamental questions—that sort of thing. There’s little point getting into a debate with nobodies who troll, and it’s all too obvious how they emerge on your radar.
   Once upon a time social media didn’t have these types, but then once upon a time, email didn’t have spammers. It’s the natural development of technology that humans tend to mess up pretty decent inventions. But, like spam, we find ways of dealing with it.
   Race was one that came up over the weekend. Now, if you’re against racism, it would stand to reason that busting false stereotypes would be something that you’d savour. Ditto if you’re battling sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.
   I’ve mentioned some of these before, e.g. ‘Asian drivers’ somehow being terrors on our roads, something that statistics don’t bear out. (Or, for that matter, the total lack of truth about ‘women drivers’, who are statistically safer than men.) Among tourists, we’ve established Australians and Germans are the two most dangerous groups. Food has been one that’s been on our minds lately, since my other half managed to find herself ill from eating at two occidental restaurants, and given the amount of research she’s done into the area, I’ll defer to her on the subject. Again it’s an area where I hear myths about Chinese food repeated ad nauseam.
   The thing is that busting stereotypes gives racists less to go on, less of a feeling of superiority, so they’ll begin countering. Women know full well when sexists attack, and racists follow the same pattern.
   A very funny chap sent two swear word-filled Tweets which—and this is the only interesting thing about them—were extracted fully right out of the racists’ playbook. I was only surprised that this was still going on in 2018, hence this blog post, since I thought these signs were so clear by now that no one would be daft enough to try them on.
   Their overriding message: dissing a western stereotype makes you a racist.
   Akin to the ‘I’m not the Nazi, you’re the Nazi’ Tweets and comments seen overseas, there was a suggestion that my lot was just as racist. Now, I don’t deny that any majority race in any country can be racist. It’s how I met one gentleman in Hong Kong who pointed out racism in a schoolbook that had a Filipina caricature—I reached out offering to help. Or calling out the treatment of Malays and Indians by certain business people among my own lot in Malaysia. When you’ve been the minority for most of your life, you can spot it, and you find it particularly tasteless when it’s perpetrated by your own race. (Thanks to #MeToo, it appears some men are getting better at calling out “locker-room talk”, too.)
   But this is a diversion meant to cloud the issues. The intent is to criticize the person (by their race) in order to devalue the argument they make, and not deal with the argument itself. They miss the irony of this and it actually validates your original point. If you can’t answer something civilly, then you haven’t answered it at all.
   In Tweet no. 2 (I wish I had taken a screen shot, as it has been deleted—I didn’t expect the cowardice) was a variation on ‘My best friend is Asian.’ This one was about his partner and stepchildren being Asian, and his own son, who is half-Asian, and how he considers himself Asian. Um, no, you’re not, not from the exhibited conduct, but it’s a feeble attempt to scramble to give his own position a status above yours. Again it’s not about addressing the argument (a classic move in social media), but about debasing the opposition. Another one to look out for.
   Now, if you really were to address this, wouldn’t your best friend being Asian, or having a child with Asian heritage, mean you have a stake in busting myths that could harm that person? That’s not something they really care about, even if it harms those supposedly closest to them. (And those of us in New Zealand have a negative history with the term ‘Asian’, so I doubt you’d actually use it in referencing your ‘best friend’. You’d actually know their heritage, whether it was Iraqi, Asiatic Russian, Japanese, Kazakh, or whatever.)
   Then there are the emotive overreactions, the falsely placed righteous moral indignation that this group is particularly good at. It’s to make you think (unconvincingly) that your statements have potentially offended not just the racist, but, shock, horror, all right-thinking people.
   Think about how a normal person would have reacted, and you have to conclude that no one jumps to uncontrollable shaking anger, the keyboarding equivalent of firing a gun as a result of road rage.
   There’ll be aspects of one or more of these in social media, and those who are combatting prejudice would do well to spot the signs.
   To me, these are signs of unstable characters, akin to an adult having a tantrum. Or they specifically fish for things to make them angry. Now, I don’t know how they dealt with their powerlessness ten years ago, but now they surf among us, hoping in vain to drag you to their level.
   So given they are still around, the local body elections next year are going to be interesting, because you don’t need the Dirty Politics crowd to coordinate it now: it’s a lot easier to provoke this dying group with fake news and let them run riot. On the other hand, it’s also a lot easier to spot them and see the conceit behind them.
   We’re a small enough country for most of us to know this by now anyway. Or so I hope.

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Eighty-three today with Alzheimer’s: a caregiver’s viewpoint

15.08.2018


Above: Dementia Wellington’s support has been invaluable.

Today my father turned 83.
   It’s a tough life that began during the Sino–Japanese War, with his father being away in the army, and his mother and grandmother were left to raise the family on their land in Taishan, China.
   In 1949, the Communists seized the property and the family had to start again, as refugees, in Hong Kong.
   Ever the entrepreneur, during the Vietnam War, Dad and his business partner, an US Army doctor by the name of Capt Dr Lawson McClung, set up a mail-order business for deployed troops. As I recall it, Lawson said that he would be able to secure jobs for my parents—my late mother was a nurse—at his stepfather’s hospitals in Tennessee. We either had a US green card, or one was merely procedural.
   My mother realized we had family in Aotearoa and I remember going with her to Connaught Tower, to the New Zealand High Commission. I didn’t know what it was for, but filling in the gaps it must have been to secure forms for immigration. As Plan Bs go, it was a pretty good one.
   In 1976 came another move as we headed to New Zealand, originally on holiday, given that my grandfather had taken ill whilst here. As we flew in to Wellington, Dad pointed at the houses below. ‘Those are the sorts of houses New Zealanders live in.’ I thought it was fascinating, that they didn’t live in apartment blocks.
   That first night here, on September 16, 1976, it was Dad who tucked me in, which at this point wasn’t typical: it was usually my grandmother who did this. He asked if I wanted to see the two Corgi toy cars that my grandmother had bought me prior to the trip, which I could have if I behaved myself on the flights. I did. He took them out of the luggage and I had a brief look at them. This was an unfamiliar place but it was just a holiday and things would be back to normal soon.
   It was during this holiday that word came that our immigration application had come through. My parents regarded our presence here as serendipitous. They neglected to tell their four-year-old son that plans had changed.
   For the first 18 years of my life, I regarded ‘the family’ as being my parents and my widowed maternal grandmother, who lived with us ever since I could remember—and I remember an awfully long time. We even had a photo taken around 1975–6 of the four of us, that I just remember represented everyone dearest to me.
   As ‘the family’ lost one member to a stroke brought on by Parkinson’s disease and complications from diabetes, and another to cancer, by 1994 it was just Dad and me.
   At the beginning of the 2010s, Dad had a bout of shingles. By 2014 he was forgetting individual words, and I insisted he get checked out for dementia. Around the time of his 80th birthday, in 2015, the diagnosis from the psychogeriatrician was formal, although he could still speak with some stuttering and one or two words unreachable by his brain. The CT scans showed a deterioration of the left side of his brain, his speech centre. Within half a year there would only be one or two words per sentence that were intelligible.
   The forms for an enduring power of attorney were drawn up as 2016 commenced. He was still managing, and he had his routines, but in mid-2018 we decided he should get some respite care.
   He wasn’t happy about this, and it took four hours of persuading, as well as a useful and staunch aunt, who got Dad to put on his shoes and head up with us to Ultimate Care Maupuia.
   We had thought the second visit in late July would be easier but it took 19 hours over two days, an experience which we do not want to repeat.
   Dad had lost the ability to empathize with us and was anxious and agitiated. While he insisted he could look after himself while home alone, there were signs over the last year that indicated he could not. He fell while having the ’flu in mid-2017 and Amanda and I came to a house with all its lights off. We had no idea how long he had been down. By 2018 he would cry if left home alone. Even at his most insistent that he could look after himself, we returned after the first day of trying to coax him to Maupuia to find that he had not eaten.
   The second day was when I called everyone I could think of to find a way to get to respite, since we weren’t going to be around to look after him.
   You name it, I called it, Age Concern aside.
   Dementia Wellington, the police, the rest home, Wellington Free Ambulance, Driving Miss Daisy, Care Coordination, Te Haika, and so on. I spoke to 11 people that day.
   Te Haika said that the issue wasn’t mental, but legal, which was about as useful as telling an American Democrat that Donald Trump was the Messiah.
   Driving Miss Daisy said that I wasn’t in their area but a colleague was, not that I ever heard back from that colleague.
   Dementia Wellington, the police, and Free Ambulance were brilliant, as was my lawyer, Richard Brandon of Brandons. Our GPs at Kilbirnie Medical Centre were also excellent.
   The up shot was that Free Ambulance could take Dad if the enduring power of attorney was enacted, and that would take a declaration of mental incapacity by the GP, which was duly written. He was also good enough to prescribe some medication to calm Dad down.
   However, because it wasn’t an emergency situation, there was no telling when Free Ambulance could come by.
   It did make me glad that they were one of the charities I gave to this year.
   However, you don’t ever imagine a situation where you effectively drug your Dad to be able to put his jacket on and take him to a rest home for respite care. I felt like part of the Mission: Impossible team, except the person being drugged wasn’t a Ruritanian dictator, but someone on the same side. When I say Mission: Impossible, I don’t mean that series of films with Tom Cruise, either.
   On September 16, 1976, you didn’t think that in 42 years’ time your Dad would have dementia and you’d need to break a promise you made years ago that you would never put him in a home.
   You also feel that that photo of ‘the family’ has been decimated, that you’re all alone because the last adult in there isn’t around any more for you to bounce ideas off and to have a decent conversation with.
   I realize I hadn’t been able to do any of that with Dad for years but it feels that much more painful knowing he can’t live in a place he calls home presently.
   And you also realize that as a virtually full-time caregiver who has cooked for him for years—and now you know why I didn’t reenter politics in 2016—that his condition really just crept up on you to a point where what you thought was normal was, in fact, not normal at all.
   You also realize that the only other time he was compelled to leave his home without his full volition was 1949, by a régime he had very little time for through most of his lifetime. You don’t expect to be the next person to have to do that to him, and there’s a tremendous amount of guilt that comes with that.
   Earlier this week, our GP reissued his letter in ‘Form 5’ (prescribed under the Protection of Personal and Property Rights Act 1988), which I drafted, since these procedures aren’t altogether clear. It makes you wonder how people without law degrees might cope. Tomorrow I will meet with Care Coordination and see if Dad can be reassessed based on his current condition. He was only very recently assessed as not needing long-term care so it will be interesting to see if they accept that he has deteriorated to this extent. I’m not a Mystic Meg who can make a prediction on this.
   The rapidity of Dad’s change—one which he himself noticed, as years ago he would complain that his ‘brain felt different today compared to yesterday’—has been a surprise to us, although mostly he is happy at Maupuia and interacts positively with the staff. It’s not all smooth sailing and there are days he wonders when he can come home.
   And I find some solace in that his father, and his mother-in-law, wound up in care for less. My grandfather had PTSD from the war and was unable to cook for himself, though even at the end he was bilingual (being educated in the US) and had successfully quit smoking after 70 years. My grandmother needed care because of her insulin injections but was also mentally fit.
   But part of me expected that I’d see it through with Dad to the end, that these rest homes were some western thing that separated families, and here is part of that immigrant experience.
   The reason you didn’t see as many Chinese New Zealanders on welfare wasn’t down to some massive savings’ account, but a certain pride and stoïcism in being to keep it to yourself. You’re in a strange land where there’s prejudice, and that’s often enough for families to say, ‘F*** everyone else, we’re getting on with it and doing it ourselves.’
   And that’s what we did as ‘the family’. We fought our own battles. Dad was once a helluva correspondent whose letters used words like proffer and the trinity of ult., prox. and inst., and plenty of officials got the sharp end of his writing. When Mum got cancer we brought in our own natural medication because westerners couldn’t fathom that the same stuff cleared my grandfather’s liver cancer in 1976 and healed several other members in the whānau. Dad sacrificed everything to try to save Mum and that was the closest example I had of what you’d do for someone you love.
   When you’re deep in the situation, rationality goes out the window and you’re on autopilot—and often it takes serious situations, like two days’ angst and stress of trying to get someone into respite care, to make you think that staying at home isn’t the best for someone who did, even though he won’t admit it, thrive under rest home care.
   We know that if we left it even later, it would be even tougher to get Dad into care and he would resist his new surroundings more.
   Today’s lunch at Maupuia was curried beef on rice in recognition of Indian Independence Day, a much nicer meal than what I might have made for Dad.
   He has staff to hug and laugh with even if I have no idea where he’s putting his dirty undies.
   And while aphasia means he hasn’t made any new friends yet, I have faith that he’ll do well given the circumstances.
   It’s those circumstances that mean the situation we find ourselves in, with Dad at the home, is one which we’ll roll with, because, like 1949 and 1976, forces outside our control are at play.
   I’d love to make his Alzheimer’s go away given that I already lost one parent prematurely.
   My mind goes to a close friend who recently lost her mother, and her father was killed in a car crash around the time my Mum died. Basically: not all of us are lucky enough to have both our parents peacefully go in their sleep. Many of us are put through a trial. And there’s a real reason some of us have been hashtagging #FuckAlzheimers on Twitter, if out of sheer frustration.
   For those who have made it this far, here are the points I want you to take away.
 
• Immediately upon finding out your parent has dementia, get your enduring power of attorney sorted out, for both property and personal care.
• Dementia Wellington is an excellent organization so get yourself along to the carer support groups, second Monday of every month. Dementia New Zealand can’t help at this level.
• Care Coordination has been very helpful and their referral to Dementia Wellington proved more effective than phoning—however, I should note that the organization changed for the better between Dad’s original diagnosis in 2015 and how they are today.
• You do need ‘Form 5’ from your GP or someone in a position to assess your parent’s mental capacity to kick off the enduring power of attorney.
• It’s OK to cry, feel emotionally drained and ask your friends for support. It’s your parent. You expected to look after them and sometimes you need to let others do this for everyone’s good. It doesn’t mean you love your parent any less. It also doesn’t mean you are placing yourself or your partner above him. It just means you are finding the best solution all round.
 
   Dad is still “there”, and he recognizes us, even if he doesn’t really know what day it is, can’t really cook for himself, and doesn’t fully understand consequences any more. I’m glad I spend parts of every day with him while I’m in Wellington. And while this wasn’t the 83rd birthday I foresaw at the beginning of the year, he is in a safe, caring environment. I hope the best decision is made for him and for all of us.

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Twenty years on, the Hong Kong handover reminds us how impotent Britain proved to be

01.07.2017


Hong Kong’s skyline in 2008, photographed by Scrolllock.

Has it been 20 years since Dad and I sat in front of the telly to watch both Britannia sail out of the harbour and China set off a magnificent fireworks’ display to celebrate getting Hong Kong becoming one of her possessions again?
   Following some of the 20th anniversary commemorations through the media, notably the BBC World Service which followed them keenly, I had very mixed feelings.
   Having been born British in the then-colony (whilst cheering the All Blacks today, natch) I have some nostalgia for the Hong Kong of old. If it weren’t for some aspects of colonialism, my mother wouldn’t have secured a decent job at Wellington Hospital (viz. an English and Welsh qualification) and I probably would never have learned English before the age of three. It all helped.
   It was the spectre of 1997, specifically the fear of what the Communists would do after July 1, 1997, that prompted my parents to make plans to emigrate as early as the 1970s.
   Of course, history as shown that largely those fears have not come to pass, although the Umbrella Revolution highlights that universal suffrage is not a reality in the city.
   In a post-Brexit (or at least a post-Brexit vote) era, these past two decades also highlight that British nationalism is meaningless and little more than a tool for politicians to yield for propaganda.
   You can fairly argue that that is what nationalism always has been. It could also equally be argued that nationalism is founded on some rose-coloured-glasses past, painting a picture that actually never existed.
   American nostalgia looks back at a 1950s’ economic boom while ignoring segregation while British nostalgia shows a child pushing his bike up a hill to Dvořák’s New World Symphony.
   Brexiters, rightly or wrongly, want to reassert a British self-determination founded on a British national character.
   Most Britons I talked to, regardless of their politics, agree that if you are Hong Kong British, then you are British. That should be some solace to the families of those HKers who lost their lives fighting under the Crown in both World War II and the Falklands.
   Yet there is no reality to this claim when it comes to government. Fearful of an influx of Hong Kong British emigrating to the UK, the British National (Overseas) category was invented in 1985, to replace our previous status as Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies. It didn’t do the wealthy any harm, mind: a lot went to Canada and Australia and took their money there. Others stayed and invested in China, and helped fuel the growth of Shenzhen as a technological powerhouse. The Hong Kong Chinese person is generally industrious, many having descended from refugees from China in 1949 who decided to make the most of the freedoms in the colony. That work ethic was certainly nothing any Briton in the UK needed to fear, yet somehow we were classed as Johnny Foreigner.
   When I went to the UK in 2001 with that BN(O) passport, I had terrible trouble at immigration, denied entry when queued up with other British subjects. I wound up at the back of the queue with some white South Africans, who were less than impressed and said, ‘But that’s apartheid.’ Correspondence to the High Commission, Foreign Secretary, and Shadow Foreign Secretary went unanswered, though I did get a response from the PM.
   In other words, the fears within Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech held more sway in Blair’s Britain than any sacrifice in the Falklands (even if, I should point out, Powell was not addressing immigration per se). Today, I wonder if they still do.
   The Tiber was greater than the Atlantic.
   Labour were quick to point out how wrong the Tories were with BN(O) back in the 1980s, but in 2001, Labour wasn’t working.
   Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, said at the time of the handover in 1997 that Britain would ‘walk with you’, that Britain had won assurances that elections in Hong Kong would be free and fair, and that if China ever failed to live up to this pledge, Britain would take the matter to the United Nations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
   In 20 years, Britain has not lifted a finger.
   We might get lucky like the Gurkhas one of these days if Joanna Lumley wants to come to our aid. But we certainly can’t rely on any politician.
   Being British (I retained my nationality and applied before the deadline to be a BN(O)), you can see how the pro-Brexit position was hard to stomach to me. The likes of Nigel Farage and the “other” New York-born politician with funny hair, Boris Johnson, seemed to revel in some idea of British unity, but anyone from Hong Kong will tell you that in politics, that is an empty concept.
   Only one of my friends who was pro-Brexit voted based on the idea of an independent Britain being more efficient when freed from the whims of Brussels, and I respect him for it; most of what I saw was aimed against immigration. The current PM’s belief in safeguarding the interests of British subjects should be cold comfort to those affected: if they couldn’t defend our interests, will others fare any better, especially with a minority government in a Conservative Party that actually remains as divided as ever?
   Not that I am championing the People’s Republic of China for its handling of relations between mainlanders and Hong Kongers; it has equally been exclusive of us and our unique culture. I have already gone into the Umbrella Revolution elsewhere (even if the TV One website omitted my televised comments about Wikileaks’ reporting of US State Department interference as this goes against the western narrative), and this doesn’t need exploring again. The disappearance of publishers critical of Beijing should sound alarm bells—I note that one of them was a British subject, but the best the UK could muster was an expression of concern. I cannot help but wonder if this is the fate that awaits Britons on the Continent should something happen to them.
   Some negatives aside, I am happy that when I visited a “Chinese” Hong Kong in 2006, I found a city whose character was intact, and I remarked at how unchanged that was. In subsequent visits in 2008, 2010 and 2012, that core remained. Given all the paranoia before 1997, ‘One country, two systems’ has certainly not been as bad as many of us—including those of us who moved our entire lives abroad because of those fears—predicted. I wish all HKers well on this 20th anniversary.

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Bye to the US news app that ranks the Steven Joyce dildo incident above Martin Crowe’s passing

04.03.2016

I’ve just switched from Inside, the much vaunted news app from entrepreneur Jason Calacanis, to Wildcard as my principal news app on my phone. I never got to use Circa (which I understand Jason was also behind), which sounded excellent: by the time I downloaded it, they had given up.
   But we all need news, and I don’t like the idea of apps that are from a single media organization.
   Inside seemed like a good idea, and I even got round to submitting news items myself. The idea is that the items there are curated by users, shared via the app. There was a bit of spam, but the legit stuff outnumbered it.
   However, I can’t understand the choices these days. A few items I put in from Radio New Zealand, Māori Television and The New Zealand Herald were fine—stories about the flag and the passing of Dr Ranginui Walker, for instance—but none of the ones about the passing of Martin Crowe, possibly of more international interest, remained.
   There were other curious things: anything from Autocar is summarily rejected (they don’t even appear) while I notice Jalopnik is fine. When it comes to cars, this is the only place where the publication with the longest history in the sector is outranked by a web-only start-up, whose pieces are enjoyable but not always accurate. The only car piece it accepted from me was about Tesla selling in Indiana, but Renault, Volkswagen, Lamborghini, Porsche, Aston Martin and other manufacturers’ news didn’t make it. This I don’t get. And I like to think I know a little bit about cars, in the week when Autocade hit 8,000,000 page views.
   Now, if this is meant to be an international app, downloadable by everyone, then it should permit those of us in our own countries to have greater say in what is relevant to our compatriots.
   Visit the New Zealand category, and you see a few items from yours truly, but then after that, they are few and far between: the Steven Joyce dildo incident, for example, and you don’t have to scroll much to see the Otago car chase being stopped by sheep last January. A bit more has happened than these events, thank you. No wonder Americans think nothing happens here.



According to Inside, these news items—separated only by one about Apple issuing a recall in our part of the world—are far more important to users following the New Zealand category than Martin Crowe’s death.

   The UK is only slightly better off, but not by much. I notice my submission about Facebook not getting away with avoiding taxes in the UK vanished overnight, too.
   News of the royal baby in Sweden wasn’t welcome just now. Nor was the news about the return of one of the Hong Kong booksellers, but news from Bloomberg of a luxury home on the Peak, which I submitted last month, was OK. Lula’s questioning by police has also disappeared (admittedly my one was breaking news, and very short), though Inside does have a later one about his brief arrest.
   Yet to locals, the rejected ones are important, more important than Gladys Knight singing to a cop or a knife on O. J. Simpson’s estate (which have made it).
   This is a very American app, and that’s fine: it’s made by a US company, and I’m willing to bet most of its users are American. However, the “all” feed, in my view, should be global; those who want news tailored to them already have the choice of selecting their own topics. (It’s the first thing the app gets you to do after signing in.) And if some fellow in New Zealand wants to submit, then he should have the same capacity as someone in the US. After all, there are more of them than there are of us, and I hardly think my contributions (which now keep vanishing!) will upset the status quo.
   Or does it?
   I mean, I have posted the odd thing from The Intercept about their country’s elections.
   Whatever the case, I think it’s very odd for an app in the second decade of the century to be so wedded to being geocentric. I can understand getting stuff weeded out for quality concerns—I admit I’ve posted the odd item that is an op-ed rather than hard news—but this obsession to be local, not global, reinforces some false and outdated stereotypes about the US.
   It’s like Facebook not knowing that time zones outside US Pacific Time exist and believing its 750 million (as it then was) users all lived there.
   My advice to app developers is: if you don’t intend your work to be global, then don’t offer it to the global market. Don’t let me find your app on a Chinese app centre. Say that it’s for your country only and let it be.
   Or, at least be transparent about how your apps work, because I can’t find anything from Inside about its curation processes other than the utopian, idealistic PR that says we’re all welcome, and we all have a chance to share. (We do. Just our articles don’t stay on the feed for very long.)


Wildcard has an attractive user interface, and its mixture of news is more appealing, especially if you want more depth.

   Admittedly, I’ve only been on Wildcard for less than a day but I’ve already found it more international in scope. It also has more interesting editorial items. It is still US-developed—east coast this time, instead of west coast—but it supplements its own news with what’s in your Twitter feed. It’s not as Twitter-heavy as Nuzzel, which I found too limited, but seems to give me a mixture of its own curation with those of my contacts. The user interface is nice, too.
   I’m not writing off Inside altogether—if you’re after a US-based, US-centric news app, then it’s probably excellent, although I will leave that decision to its target market. I can hardly judge when dildos matter more to its users than the greatest cricket batsman in our country.
   For me, Wildcard seems to be better balanced, it doesn’t make promises about public curation that it can’t keep, and I’ve already found myself spending far more time browsing its pieces than the relatively small amount that seem to remain on Inside. It is still a bit US-biased in these first 24 hours, probably because it hasn’t taken that much from my Twitter contacts yet. There seems to be more news on it and I’m getting a far better read, even of the US-relevant items. I’m looking forward to using it more: it just seems that much more 21st-century.

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Read the report: Deloitte actually doesn’t blame migrants for increased corruption

26.03.2015

Deloitte has published a report on the increasing corruption in Australia and New Zealand, which Fairfax’s Stuff website reported on today.
   Its opening paragraph: ‘An increase in bribery and corruption tarnishing New Zealand’s ethical image may be due to an influx of migrants from countries where such practices are normal.’
   The problem: I’m struggling to find any such link in Deloitte’s report.
   The article paraphrases Deloitte’s Ian Tuke perhaps to justify that opening paragraph: ‘Tuke said one working theory explaining the rise was the influx of migrants from countries such as China, which are in the red zone on Transparency International’s index of perceived corruption,’ but otherwise, the report makes no such connection.
   The real culprit, based on my own reading of the report, is the lack of knowledge by Australians and New Zealanders over what is acceptable under our laws.
   Yet again I see the Chinese become a far bigger target of blame than the source suggests, when we should be cleaning our own doorstep first.
   The Deloitte report acknowledges that there is indeed a high level of corruption in China, Indonesia, India and other countries, making this a big warning for those of us who choose to extend our businesses there. It’s not migration to New Zealand that’s an issue: it’s our choosing to go into these countries with our own operations.
   It would be foolhardy, however, for an article in the business section to tell Kiwis to stop exporting.
   But equally foolhardy is shifting the blame for a problem that New Zealand really needs to tackle—and which we are more than capable of tackling.
   The fact is: if we Kiwis were so clean, we’d uphold our own standards, regardless of what foreign practices were. Our political leaders also wouldn’t confuse the issue with, say, what happened at Oravida.
   When faced with a choice of paying a kickback or not in the mid-2000s when dealing in eastern Europe, our people chose to stay clean—and we lost a lot of money in the process.
   To me they did the right thing, and I credit less my own intervention and more the culture we had instilled.
   Hong Kong cleaned up its act in the 1970s with the ICAC, and I have said for decades (since the Labour asset sales of the 1980s) that New Zealand would do well in following such an example. Why haven’t we?
   Perhaps if we stopped shifting the blame and followed the recommendations in the Deloitte report, including shifting corporate cultures and instigating more rigorous checks, we can restore our top ranking in those Transparency International reports. But this has to be our choice, not a case where we are blaming migrants, for which there is little support in this very reasonable report.

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A year of random thoughts: 2014 in review

29.12.2014

For the last few years, I’ve looked back at the events of the year in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. (In fact, in 2009, I looked back at the decade.) Tumblr’s the place I look at these days for these summaries, since it tends to have my random thoughts, ones complemented by very little critical thinking. They tell me what piqued my interest over the year.
   These days, I’ve been posting more about the TV show I watch the most regularly, the German Alarm für Cobra 11: die Autobahnpolizei. A good part of my Tumblr, at least, and of Danielle Carey’s, whom I first connected with via this blog, features screen shots and other photographs from it. But Cobra 11 aside—and for those “cultured” Germans who tell me it’s the worst show on their telly, may I remind you that you still make Das Traumschiff?—I still will be influenced by everyday events.
   So what do I spy?
   Sadly, despite my intent in wanting to blog humorously, it turns out that 2014 doesn’t necessarily give us a lot to laugh about. And we’ve had over a year after that Mayan calendar gag, and 13 years after Y2K. It’s still not time to laugh yet.

January
I made a spoof English Hustle poster given all the hype about American Hustle, which seems to have, prima facie, the same idea. It meets with Adrian Lester’s approval (well, he said, ‘Ha,’ which I gather is positive).

   I post about Idris Elba giving a response about the James Bond character. (Slightly ahead of my time, as it turns out.)
   Robert Catto wrote of Justin Bieber’s arrest: ‘So, J. Biebs is arrested for racing a rented Lamborghini in a residential neighbourhood while under the influence (of drugs and alcohol) while on an expired license, resisting arrest, and a bunch of previous stuff including egging a neighbour’s house. With that many accusations being thrown at him, this can only mean one thing.
   ‘The race for Mayor of Toronto just got interesting.’
   I wrote to a friend, ‘If there was a Facebook New Zealand Ltd. registered here then it might make more sense ensuring that there were fewer loopholes for that company to minimize its tax obligations, but the fact is there isn’t. Either major party would be better off encouraging New Zealand to be the head office for global corporations, or encourage good New Zealand businesses to become global players, if this was an issue (and I believe that it is). There is this thing called the internet that they may have heard of, but both parties have seen it as the enemy (e.g. the whole furore over s. 92A, first proposed by Labour, enacted by National).
   ‘Right now, we have some policy and procedural problems preventing us from becoming more effective exporters.
   ‘It’s no coincidence that I took an innovation tack in my two mayoral campaigns. If central government was too slow in acting to capture or create these players, then I was going to do it at a local level.’
   And there are $700 trillion (I imagine that means $700 billion, if you used the old definitions—12 zeroes after the 700) worth of derivatives yet to implode, according to I Acknowledge. Global GDP is $69·4 (American) trillion a year. ‘This means that (primarily) Wall Street and the City of London have run up phantom paper debts of more than ten times of the annual earnings of the entire planet.’

February
The Sochi Olympics: in Soviet Russia, Olympics watch you! Dmitry Kozak, the deputy PM, says that westerners are deliberately sabotaging things there. How does he know? ‘We have surveillance video from the hotels that shows people turn on the shower, direct the nozzle at the wall and then leave the room for the whole day.’
   Sports Illustrated does an Air New Zealand safety video.
   This was the month I first saw the graphic containing a version of these words: ‘Jesus was a guy who was a peaceful, radical, nonviolent revolutionary, who hung around with lepers, hookers, and criminals, who never spoke English, was not an American citizen, a man who was anti-capitalism, anti-wealth, anti-public prayer (yes he was Matthew 6:5), anti-death penalty but never once remotely anti-gay, didn’t mention abortion, didn’t mention premarital sex, a man who never justified torture, who never called the poor “lazy”, who never asked a leper for a co-pay, who never fought for tax cuts for the wealthiest Nazarenes, who was a long haired, brown skinned (that’s in revelations), homeless, middle eastern Jew? Of course, that’s only if you believe what’s actually in the Bible’ (sic). For those who want a response, this blog post answers the points from a Catholic point of view, but the original quote’s not completely off-base.

March
My friend Dmitry protests in Moskva against Russia’s actions in the Crimea. This was posted on this blog at the time. He reports things aren’t all rosy in Russia when it comes to free speech.
   Another friend, Carolyn Enting, gets her mug in the Upper Hutt Leader after writing her first fictional book, The Medallion of Auratus.
   MH370 goes missing.
   And this great cartoon, called ‘If Breaking Bad Had Been Set in the UK’:

April
I call Lupita Nyong’o ‘Woman of the Year 2014’.
   A post featuring Robin Williams (before that horrible moment in August), where he talks about the influence of Peter Sellers and Dr Strangelove on him. I seem to have posted a lot of Robin that month, from his CBS TV show, The Crazy Ones.
   A Lancastrian reader, Gerald Vinestock, writes to The Times: ‘Sir, Wednesday’s paper did not have a photograph of the Duchess of Cambridge. I do hope she is all right.’
   A first post on those CBS TV attempts to create a show about Sherlock Holmes set in the modern day in the US, partnered with a woman: on 1987’s The Return of Sherlock Holmes.

   The fiftieth anniversary of the on-sale date of the Ford Mustang (April 17).
   The death of Bob Hoskins. Of course I had to post his last speech in The Long Good Friday, as well as the clip from Top Gear where Richard Hammond mistook Ray Winstone for Hoskins. They all look the same to me.

May
Judith Collins’ story about what she was doing in China with Oravida collapses.
   Someone points out there is a resemblance between Benedict Cumberbatch and Butthead from Beavis and Butthead.

   Jean Pisani Ferry’s view on the origins of the euro crisis in The Economist: ‘Suppose that the crisis had begun, as it might easily have done, in Ireland? It would then have been obvious that fiscal irresponsibility was not the culprit: Ireland had a budget surplus and very low debt. More to blame were economic imbalances, inflated property prices and dodgy bank loans. The priority should not have been tax rises and spending cuts, but reforms to improve competitiveness and a swift resolution of troubled banks, including German and French ones, that lent so irresponsibly.’

June
British-born Tony Abbott says he doesn’t like immigration, or some such.
   This humorous graphic, made before the launch of the five-door Mini, on how the company could extend its range:

   Sir Ian McKellen says, ‘Did I want to go and live in New Zealand for a year? As it turns out, I was very happy that I did. I can’t recommend New Zealand strongly enough. It’s a wonderful, wonderful place, quite unlike [the] western world. It’s in the southern hemisphere and it’s far, far away and although they speak English, don’t be fooled. They’re not like us. They’re something better than us.’
   Lots of Alarm für Cobra 11 posts.

July
Sopheak Seng’s first Lucire cover, photographed by Dave Richards, and with a fantastic crew: hair by Michael Beel, make-up by Hil Cook, modelled by Chloé Graham, and with some layout and graphic design by Tanya Sooksombatisatian and typography by me.

   Liam Fitzpatrick writes of Hong Kong, before the Occupy protests, ‘Hong Kongers—sober, decent, pragmatic and hardworking—are mostly not the sort of people who gravitate to the barricades and the streets. Neither do they need to be made aware of the political realities of having China as a sovereign power, for the simple fact that postwar Hong Kong has only ever existed with China’s permission. In the 1960s, the local joke was that Mao Zedong could send the British packing with a mere phone call.
   ‘With that vast, brooding power lying just over the Kowloon hills, tiny Hong Kong’s style has always been to play China cleverly—to push where it can (in matters such as education and national-security legislation, where it has won important battles) and to back off where it cannot.’
   It didn’t seem completely prescient.

August
The General Election campaign: National billboards are edited.
   Doctor Who goes on tour prior to Peter Capaldi’s first season in the lead role.
   The suicide of Robin Williams.
   Michael Brown is killed. Greg Howard writes, ‘There was Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., and Oscar Grant in Oakland, Calif., and so many more. Michael Brown’s death wasn’t shocking at all. All over the country, unarmed black men are being killed by the very people who have sworn to protect them, as has been going on for a very long time now …
   ‘There are reasons why white gun’s rights activists can walk into a Chipotle restaurant with assault rifles and be seen as gauche nuisances while unarmed black men are killed for reaching for their wallets or cell phones, or carrying children’s toys.’
   Like so many things, such a statement of fact became politicized in months to come.
   Darren Watson releases ‘Up Here on Planet Key’, only to have it banned by the Electoral Commission. With his permission, I did a spoken-word version.
   Journalist Nicky Hager, who those of us old enough will remember was a right-wing conspiracy theorist, is branded a left-wing conspiracy theorist by the PM because this time, he wrote about National and not Labour. The Deputy PM, Bill English, who commended Hager’s work 12 years ago over Seeds of Distrust, and even quoted from it, remained fairly quiet.
   It wasn’t atypical. I wrote in one post, ‘In 2011, Warren Tucker said three times in one letter that he told PM John Key about the SIS release. Now he says he only told his office but not the PM personally—after an investigation was announced (when the correct protocol would be to let the investigation proceed) …
   ‘Key did not know about GCSB director Ian Fletcher’s appointment (week one of that saga) before he knew about it (week two).
   ‘Key cannot remember how many TranzRail shares he owned.
   ‘Key cannot remember if and when he was briefed by the GCSB over Kim Dotcom.
   ‘Key did not know about Kim Dotcom’s name before he did not know about Kim Dotcom at all.
   ‘Key cannot remember if he was for or against the 1981 Springbok tour.’
   Some folks on YouTube did a wonderful series of satirical videos lampooning the PM. Kiwi satire was back. This was the first:

   Matt Crawford recalled, ‘At this point in the last election campaign, the police were threatening to order search warrants for TV3, The Herald on Sunday, RadioNZ et al—over a complaint by the Prime Minister. Over a digital recording inadvertently made in a public space literally during a media stunt put on for the press—a figurative media circus.’
   Quoting Robert Muldoon in 1977’s Muldoon by Muldoon: ‘New Zealand does not have a colour bar, it has a behaviour bar, and throughout the length and breadth of this country we have always been prepared to accept each other on the basis of behaviour and regardless of colour, creed, origin or wealth. That is the most valuable feature of New Zealand society and the reason why I have time and again stuck my neck out to challenge those who would try to destroy this harmony and set people against people inside our country.’
   And my reaction to the Conservative Party’s latest publicity, which was recorded on this blog, and repeated for good measure on Tumblr: ‘Essentially what they are saying is: our policy is that race doesn’t matter. Except when it comes to vilifying a group, it does. Let’s ignore the real culprits, because: “The Chinese”.’

September
The passing of Richard ‘Jaws’ Kiel.
   John Barnett of South Pacific Pictures sums up Nicky Hager: ‘Hager is a gadfly who often causes us to examine our society. He has attacked both the right and the left before. It’s too easy to dismiss it as a left wing loony conspiracy. We tend to shoot the messengers rather than examine the messages.’
   New Zealanders begin vilifying Kim Dotcom: I respond.
   I blog about Occupy Central in Hong Kong—which led to a television appearance on Breakfast in early October.

October
I’m not sure where this quotation comes from, but I reposted it: ‘A white man is promoted: He does good work, he deserved it.
   ‘A white woman is promoted: Whose dick did she suck?
   ‘A man of color is promoted: Oh, great, I guess we have to “fill quotas” now.
   ‘A woman of color is promoted: j/k. That never happens.’
   Facebook gets overrun by bots: I manage to encounter 277 in a single day. (I eventually reach someone at Facebook New Zealand, who is trying to solicit business for one of the fan pages we have, and point this out. I never hear back from him.) The trouble is Facebook limits you to reporting 40 a day, effectively tolerating the bots. It definitely tolerates the click farms: I know of dozens of accounts that the company has left untouched, despite reports.
   Kim Dotcom’s lawyers file a motion to dismiss in Virginia in United States v. Dotcom and others, and summarize the case so far: ‘Nearly three years ago, the United States Government effectively wiped out Megaupload Limited, a cloud storage provider, along with related businesses, based on novel theories of criminal copyright infringement that were offered by the Government ex parte and have yet to be subjected to adversarial testing. Thus, the Government has already seized the criminal defendants’ websites, destroyed their business, and frozen their assets around the world—all without benefit of an evidentiary hearing or any semblance of due process.
   ‘Without even attempting to serve the corporate defendants per the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the Government has exercised all its might in a concerted, calculated effort to foreclose any opportunity for the defendants to challenge the allegations against them and also to deprive them of the funds and other tools (including exculpatory evidence residing on servers, counsel of choice, and ability to appear) that would equip robust defense in the criminal proceedings.
   ‘But all that, for the Government, was not enough. Now it seeks to pile on against ostensibly defenseless targets with a parallel civil action, seeking civil forfeiture, based on the same alleged copyright crimes that, when scrutinized, turn out to be figments of the Government’s boundless imagination. In fact, the crimes for which the Government seeks to punish the Megaupload defendants (now within the civil as well as the criminal realm) do not exist. Although there is no such crime as secondary criminal copyright infringement, that is the crime on which the Government’s Superseding Indictment and instant Complaint are predicated. That is the nonexistent crime for which Megaupload was destroyed and all of its innocent users were denied their rightful property. That is the nonexistent crime for which individual defendants were arrested, in their homes and at gunpoint, back in January 2012. And that is the nonexistent crime for which the Government would now strip the criminal defendants, and their families, of all their assets.’
   Stuart Heritage thinks The Apprentice UK has run its course, and writes in The Guardian: ‘The Apprentice has had its day. It’s running on fumes. It’s time to replace it with something more exciting, such as a 40-part retrospective on the history of the milk carton, or a static shot of someone trying to dislodge some food from between their teeth with the corner of an envelope.’

November
Doctor Who takes a selfie and photobombs himself.

   Andrew Little becomes Labour leader, and is quoted in the Fairfax Press (who, according to one caption, says his mother’s name is Cecil): ‘I’m not going to resile from being passionate about working men and women being looked after, having a voice, and being able to go to work safe and earn well. That’s what I stand for.
   ‘The National party have continued to run what I think is a very 1970s prejudice about unions … We have [in New Zealand] accepted a culture that if you are big, bold and brassy you will stand up for yourself. But [this] Government is even stripping away protections [from] those who are bold enough to do so.
   ‘I think New Zealanders are ready for someone who will talk bluntly about those who are being left behind. That’s what I’ll be doing.’
   I’m not a Labour voter but I was impressed.
   I advise my friend Keith Adams in Britain, who laments the driving standards there, that in order to have the road toll we have, they’d need to kill another 2,000 per annum. ‘The British driver is a well honed, precision pilot compared to one’s Kiwi counterpart.’

December
Julian Assange on Google, and confirmation that the company has handed over personal data to the US Government. He calls Eric Schmidt ‘Google’s secretary of state, a Henry Kissinger-like figure whose job it is to go out and meet with foreign leaders and their opponents and position Google in the world.’
   The Sydney siege and the tragic deaths of Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson.
   The killing of NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu. The NYPD doesn’t look very white to me, but a murderer used the death of Eric Garner as an excuse to murder a Dad and a newlywed.
   My second post on those CBS TV attempts to create a show about Sherlock Holmes set in the modern day in the US, partnered with a woman: on 1993’s 1994 Baker Street.

   Craig Ferguson hosts his last Late Late Show. And more’s the pity: he’s one of the old school, never bitter, and never jumped on the bandwagon attacking celebrities.

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An expatriate’s view of Occupy Central and what Hong Kong wants

29.09.2014

Equal access: an audio recording of this blog post can be found here.

I know I’m not alone among expats watching the Occupy Central movements in Hong Kong. More than the handover in 1997, it’s been making very compelling live television, because this isn’t about politicians and royalty, but about everyday Hong Kong people.
   I Tweeted tonight that if I were a student there, I’d be joining in. While the idea of direct elections is a recent development—they started in 1985 for the Legislative Council, it’s important to remember that all UN member nations should permit its subjects the right of self-determination. It doesn’t matter when they started, the fact is they did. The latest protests aren’t about Legco, but the election of the Chief Executive—the successor to the role of Governor—which Beijing says can only be for candidates it approves.
   Legal arguments aside, protesters are probably wondering why they could enjoy free and fair elections under colonial rule from London, and not by their own country from their own people.
   I cannot speak for Beijing, but their perspective is probably more long-term: in the colonial days, the Legislative Council was appointed by London, not voted by Hong Kong subjects, for most of its existence. The Governor was always appointed by London. Surely what it is proposing for 2017 is far better?
   And given that the Chief Executive currently is selected by an election committee of Beijing loyalists, then 2017 presents something far more open and akin to universal suffrage.
   Those are the issues on the surface as I understand them, but they ignore some of the history of Hong Kong.
   Hong Kong was a backwater until 1949, when the Communists revolted, and refugees poured in. My father was one of them, having made the trek from Taishan with his mother and sister. Other members of the family had got there on other journeys. The stories can happily fill chapters in a novel.
   He recalls in his first days in Hong Kong, police officers had three digits on their shoulder. ‘I don’t know how many policemen there were,’ he recalls, ‘but there couldn’t have been more than 999.’
   Hong Kong’s population swelled, and the colonial authorities found a way to accommodate the new arrivals.
   I don’t have the exact figures but at the dawn of the 1940s, the population of Hong Kong was 1·6 million, and it was close to 2½ million in the mid-1950s. When I left in 1976, it was 3 million.
   The reason most people went there and risked their lives to escape the Communists: freedom. Most were skilled workers and farmers fearing prosecution.
   Dad recalls that in the lead-up to the family home and farm being seized things were getting tough at school, with false accusations made against him by teachers and students. The vilification of land-owning families had begun.
   The day he left, he saw a notice on the front door and the family departed for Hong Kong, where my paternal grandfather already had contacts from his military days.
   Assuming a million people came across from the People’s Republic of China, then it’s not hard to imagine a sizeable part of the modern population of Hong Kong to have grown up with negative impressions of Beijing.
   Those same impressions saw to the mass exodus of Hong Kongers in the lead-up to the handover, with most expecting doom and gloom despite assurances under the Basic Law—though of course many have since returned to Hong Kong since things hadn’t changed as badly as they feared.
   They were the reasons my parents left in 1976. My mother simply thought a generation ahead and figured that by the 1990s, it would be hard to leave Hong Kong since some western countries would start going on about yellow peril again. (She was right, incidentally.)
   While in the post-colonial days, there is more contact between Hong Kong and the rest of China, it will take a while for those impressions to subside.
   It would be fair to say that culturally, we are predisposed to taking a long view of history, and the Cultural Revolution and the mismanagement of the economy in the earlier days of the People’s Republic stick in our minds.
   Even if the PRC proved to be a benevolent nation and made no wrong moves since 1997, the suspicion would remain.
   It hasn’t been helped by June 4, 1989 and its aftermath, continued censorship within China, and, more recently, some Hong Kongers feeling that they’re a second class in their own city when mainland tourists pop over for a holiday.
   Then you get people like me who cannot understand a word of Mandarin, which these days tends to be the second language many people learn. When the language of the colonials is easier to grasp, then that doesn’t bode well for our northern friends. There’s a sense of separation.
   This may explain a natural resistance to Beijing, because the way of life that the Chinese Communist Party envisages is so very different to what Hong Kongers believe they should enjoy.
   Scholarism, meanwhile, from which Occupy Central has spawned, has come from this culture: a group protesting the introduction of ‘moral and national education’ as a compulsory subject in Hong Kong. The subject was seen by opponents to be pro-communist, with the teaching manual calling the Communist Party an ‘advanced, selfless and united ruling group’.
   It’s hard, therefore, for Hong Kongers who grew up in this environment not to be suspicious of Beijing.
   That explains the solidarity, the sort of thing that would have inspired me if I was a young uni student today in Hong Kong.
   Now we are looking at two sides, neither of which is famous for backing down.
   One possible resolution would be for Beijing to accede yet bankroll a pro-Beijing candidate come 2017, which could, in the long term, save face, but provide the protesters with a short-term victory. It’s not what they are fighting for—they want everyone to be able to stand for the post of CE—but it may be one way events will play out.
   Hong Kong isn’t prepared to risk its economic freedom and progress, and it remains proud of its stance against corruption which has helped the city prosper. Citizens also place faith in the rule of law there, and the right to a fair trial.
   Beijing, meanwhile, isn’t prepared to risk the danger of an anti-communist CE being elected and having that trip up the development of the rest of the nation.
   I have to say that such a fear is very remote, given the overriding desire of Hong Kongers to get ahead. If Hong Kongers are anything, they are pragmatic and ambitious, and a Chief Executive who is imbalanced to such a degree would never get elected. With the rise of the orient and the sputtering of the occident, the “competing” ideas aren’t so competing anyway. The United States and Australia have laws either enacted or at the bill stage in the name of national security that they can hardly serve as an ideal model for democracy. After all, Edward Snowden went to Hong Kong first.
   The Cold War is over, and what is emerging, and what has been emerging, in Hong Kong and the rest of China since the 1990s has been a distinct, unique, Chinese model, one that has its roots in Confucianism and which takes pride in the progress of the city.
   The ideal Chief Executive would more likely be a uniter, not a divider, balancing all sides, and ensuring those they represent a fair go. They would be a connecter who can work with both citizens and with Beijing.
   Under my reading, there shouldn’t be any concerns in Beijing, because pragmatic Hong Kongers would never elect someone who would risk their livelihoods or their freedoms.
   And when Beijing sees that such a development can work in Hong Kong, it could be a model to the rest of China.
   Taiwan, too, will be watching.

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When referring to your Australian office might not be a smart thing to do

02.08.2014

There are some companies that do not realize that we live in a global community.
   And there are at least two who have done themselves a disservice by referring our account or enquiries to their Australian representative.
   We left Rackspace in 2013 although, for most of the 11½ years we were with them, things were fairly good. I had issues with them in 2005, but they weren’t serious enough to depart. In the last year, the server fell over regularly, and suddenly we found ourselves being referred to their Australian office.
   From then on, I just got jargon from their rep who tried to get us on to the “cloud”. When I asked about further specifics, I heard nothing back, and when I sent another query to the company, I found her response rude and dismissive. The sense I got was, ‘How dare you keep asking questions on how much you expect to spend.’ I can’t remember her exact words, but I seem to recall she used the, ‘As I told you before’—when in fact she hadn’t.
   So we left. It was a sad end though I still think the world of Rackspace’s techs. The guys running their Twitter are second to none as well. The guys in the US are fantastic and are completely on to it. But, as I told one of the Kiwis working from their Australian office, I wasn’t going to stand for their rudeness after paying them a fairly hefty amount each month.
   He explained that they were rude in Australia, which is a pity. I wasn’t sure if he referred to his company or to Australians in general, because I certainly haven’t found the latter to be the case on my visits there, and I haven’t encountered that in 99 per cent of Australian organizations.
   Before the Australian office was opened, we had very cordial dealings with our Texan and later Hong Kong account managers. I get why they want to localize: it’s to serve different time zones and, in many cases, to serve different languages. But, for goodness’ sake, make sure that you hire people who have had some training on how to talk to customers.
   I was always under the impression that the account manager is the one who doesn’t talk technobabble, the one who translates all of that to human, in order to secure your business. She’s not the one who joins in with the throng in a game of “us and them”—and in Rackspace’s case, undoes a decade’s worth of hard-earned goodwill, earned largely by the US staff.
   Interestingly, they were replaced by a small Australian firm run by an expat New Zealander, who tells me that there is some rudeness in the Aussie IT sector. Maybe that’s what the Kiwi at Rackspace meant.
   Hugo Boss is the other story, to whom we sent a query for press images, at their German HQ. We were referred to their Australian office. And from there we never heard back. Luckily for us, we wound up using catwalk imagery from Berlin Fashion Week, which we can access. They got their story, one which looked at their history and how it impacted on their design, written by one of our associate editors, but I’m not convinced they deserved the two pages in Lucire.
   And now we’ve been referred again by a European label to their Australian PR. I won’t name this company this time, because the rep might not have had the chance to respond yet. Or the enquiry is somewhere in their system. But it is a company for whom we had a username and password for their press database, neither of which works now. (That is a whole other story—companies which take your data but upgrades mean that you have to sign up again. I am looking at you, Telegraph Group plc.)
   She was nice enough and asked which images we sought. The reality, as I explained, was that we often didn’t know ourselves till one of our editors went through the image database for something that fitted with the issue’s theme. In addition, as we at Lucire produce magazines for the international market-place, the Australian season would be off. We needed to get access to the European database.
   Companies like Hennes & Mauritz, Swatch or Bang & Olufsen have no trouble comprehending this, but it amazes me that some still do. A New Zealand-HQed company does not necessarily produce things strictly for the New Zealand market. Why is this so hard to understand? Globalization has been around for centuries, and surely in the electronic age, it applies even more regularly.
   Of course, in future, this compels one to start lying. Or I’ll use one of our alternative addresses in New York or London, but I’ve only employed that in situations where they require a local address. I’m proud of being a New Zealander and letting people know that this country does amazing things internationally. That’s why we went to that last label, who sells next to nothing here, in order to give them some publicity.
   We’ve also been approached by what I believe is an Australian SEO firm wanting a link for their client in one of Lucire’s online articles. That’s all well and good, but I had to tell her that the au.companyname.com domain would have little relevance for the site’s readers, 38 per cent of whom are in the US. Less than 10 per cent are Australian. However, I can imagine behind the scenes, they were employed to get these links from regional publications, and we never hide our Kiwi origins. She didn’t do anything wrong, but again the reality of globalization changes initial perceptions.
   If I wanted the local rep, I would approach them (as I have done on many occasions, e.g. with Chanel or L’Oréal—and both companies are smart enough to get me the information I need from their French counterparts if required nearly immediately, so there are no hiccups). But the first two situations are ridiculous because they seem to suggest that their regional reps don’t understand the global links in modern business. In the first case, not everyone dealing with IT is a boffin. In the second, palming things off to a regional office simply doesn’t work.
   Then you wonder how they could even have global marketing and sales’ ambitions.

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Open the shop and strip away the jargon

05.01.2014

I’ve been reading this Grauniad interview with Rory Stewart, MP, referred by Jordan McCluskey. I’m told that Stewart, and Labour’s Frank Field are the two worth listening to these days in British politics. On Stewart, someone who can speak with a Scots accent and has lived in Hong Kong must be a good bloke.
   Two quotations resonated from this interview, which I posted on Tumblr this morning.

Our entire conceptual framework was mad. All these theories—counterinsurgency warfare, state building—were actually complete abstract madness. They were like very weird religious systems, because they always break down into three principles, 10 functions, seven this or that. So they’re reminiscent of Buddhists who say: ‘These are the four paths,’ or of Christians who say: ‘These are the seven deadly sins.’ They’re sort of theologies, essentially, made by people like Buddhist monks in the eighth century—people who have a fundamental faith, which is probably, in the end, itself completely delusional.

And:

We have to create a thousand little city states, and give the power right down to all the bright, energetic people everywhere who just feel superfluous.

   The second is familiar to anyone who follows this blog: my belief that people are connected to their cities and their communities, probably as a counterpoint to how easily we can reach all corners of the world through the internet. We want that local fix and to make a contribution. Power should be decentralizing in the early 21st century—which is why I thought it odd that the majority of my opponents in the mayoral election took the line of, ‘We should cosy up and further the cause of statism,’ even if they did not express it quite that way. In every speech. Yes, a city should work with central government, but we do different things and, being closer to the action, we can find ways of doing it more effectively and quickly. With statism being an aim, then the regular entrepreneurs—or even as Stewart says, ‘bright, energetic people’—came further down the list. For me, they were always at the top.
   But the first quotation is more interesting. In my work, especially in brand consulting, I’ve harboured a dislike for the manuals that get done but are never referred to. Better that a lot of work goes into a 15 pp. report than scant work going into a 150 pp. one. The former might not look impressive but if every word in there is filled with substance, then it can help get an organization into high gear. And the shorter one is usually harder to write because more preparation goes into it.
   In short: take out the wank.
   Strip out the wank and you can see the truths for what they are. And if they don’t apply, then try to find ones that do.
   Yet to make ourselves look smart—remember, I did law, and that area is filled with a lot of it—we bury things in jargon so that we keep everything a closed shop. Every profession has such a tendency. However, when things are actually revealed in plain language, does it make the specialist look superfluous? On the contrary, it makes them able to connect with an audience who come to appreciate their expertise. (On a side note, in terms of car repair, this is why I go to That Car Place.)
   So when we start dealing in international geopolitics, we want to keep the power among a closed shop. The words that Stewart used served to highlight the gulf of the occident in its dealings in Afghanistan—that is the context of his remark—and it connects with a story I remember about a certain US policy institute when I was studying law. Our lecturer said the failure of the institute in the countries it went to was its expectation that a US solution could be imposed, whereby everything would then be all right. Use enough jargon to make it all sound legitimate to the casual observer. The consequence of this (whether this was his conclusion or mine, I do not recall): blame them when it doesn’t work.
   Without understanding the cultural context of why things are the way they are in a given system—and lacking the knowledge to analyse it and quickly localizing your knowledge and gaining the context—make for a disadvantage. It must be said that even some within a system don’t realize the context! But you can strip away the mystery by simplifying the language, removing the jargon, and understanding things the way they are. Progress comes from understanding, not from creating mysteries—and Stewart is wise to have come to the conclusions he has, thanks in no small part from a global, well travelled context.

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