Archive for the ‘Hong Kong’ category


Thoughts from a thoroughly modern machine

25.01.2012

After I got back from India, my desktop computer went into meltdown. This was Nigel Dunn’s old machine, which I took over after he went to Australia, and it gave me excellent service for over two years.
   I wasn’t prepared to go and buy a brand-new machine, but having made the plunge, I’m glad I did. The installation went rather well and the only major problem was Wubi and Ubuntu, which, sadly, did not do what was promised. The installer failed, the boot sequence either revealed Linux code or a deep purple screen, and the time I spent downloading a few programs to sample was wasted (not to mention the two hours of trying to get Ubuntu to work). Shame: on principle, I really wanted to like it.
   Funnily enough, everything on the Microsoft end went quite well apart from Internet Explorer 9 (the same error I reported last year), which then seemed to have taken out Firefox 9 with the same error (solved by changing the compatibility mode to Windows XP). Eudora 7.1 had some funny changes and would not load this morning without fiddling with the shortcut, Windows 7 forgot to show me the hidden files despite my changing the setting thrice, and there were some other tiny issues not worth mentioning. But, I am operating in 64-bit land with a lot of RAM, DDR5s on the graphics’ card, and more computing power than I could have imagined when, in 1984, my father brought home a Commodore 64, disk drive, printer and monitor, having paid around NZ$100 more than I did on Tuesday.

I could have gone out and bought the computer last week, after the old machine died. But there’s the whole thing about New Year. The focus was family time, preparing food and pigging out for New Year’s Eve (January 22 this time around), and New Year’s Day is definitely not one for popping out and spending money.
   Which brings me to my next thought about how immigrant communities always keep traditions alive. You do have to wonder whether it’s still as big a deal “back home”: I was in Hong Kong briefly en route back to Wellington, and you didn’t really feel New Year in the air. There was the odd decoration here and there, but not what you’d imagine.
   It’s the Big Fat Greek Wedding syndrome: when the film was shown in Greece, many Greeks found it insulting, portraying their culture as behind the times and anachronistic, while they had moved on back in the old country. The reality was a lot more European, the complainants noted.
   And you see the same thing with the Chinese community. People who would never have given a toss about the traditions in the old country suddenly making them out to be sacrosanct in the new one. Maybe it’s motivated by a desire to transmit a sense of self to the next generation: in a multicultural society, you would hope that youngsters have the chance to pick and choose from the best traditions from both their heritage and their new nation, and carry them forward.

Windows XP VM

A retro note: I love Fontographer 3.5. So I put it on a virtual machine running XP. Fun times, courtesy of Conrad Johnston, who told me about Oracle VM Virtual Box.
   I also found a great viewer, XnView, to replace the very ancient ACDSee 3.1 that I had been using as a de facto file manager. (Subsequent versions were bloatware; XnView is freeware and does nearly the same thing.) I’ve ticked almost all the boxes when it comes to software.
   Because of the thoroughly modern set-up, I haven’t been able to put in a 3½-inch floppy as threatened on Twitter. Fontographer was transferred on to a USB stick, though I have yet to play with it properly inside the virtual machine. Both the Windows 7 and virtual machines are, in typical fashion, Arial-free.
   Although I have seen VMs before, I am still getting a buzz out of the computer-within-a-computer phenomenon.

To those who expected me to Tweet doom and gloom from my computing experience last night, I’m sorry I disappointed you. My posts about technology, whether written on this blog or on Twitter, are not to do with some belief in a computing industry conspiracy, as someone thought. The reason: to show that even this oh-so-logical profession is as human as the next. Never, ever feel daunted because of someone’s profession: we are all human, and we are all fallible. Sometimes I like reminding all of us of that: in fact, the more self-righteous the mob, the more I seem to enjoy bringing them down to a more realistic level, where the rest of us live. We’re all a lot more equal in intellect than some would like to think, and that assessment goes right to the top of the political world.

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Posted in China, culture, Hong Kong, internet, technology, typography | 8 Comments »


Surely something all Chinese can agree on

18.01.2011

It’s 2011, which, by my calculations, is the centenary of China kicking out the corrupt Ching dynasty.
   It’s the one event that both Republicans and Communists can agree on as being positive. It’s why Dr Sun Yat-sen is such a uniting figure for all Chinese, as the father of the nation.
   I can’t speak for all expatriates, but personally, I think this is an anniversary worth celebrating.
   Twenty-eleven might be the time to put aside the usual animosity and all the political rhetoric. Like New Year, we can look forward to some unity surrounding the formation of a Chinese republic.
   And since we’re unlikely ever to get the two sides agreeing on much more, then maybe a Chinese commonwealth is an idea we should entertain?

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Posted in China, culture, Hong Kong | 2 Comments »


It pays to read the terms and conditions

08.11.2010

Hopefully we can get an answer on this from Doubleclick. I fed the following in to its publisher form tonight:

Hello there: we currently deal with Gorilla Nation Media, an ad network that calls Doubleclick code … While we can control the ads that we get via GNM—as we can equally do with Burst Media—we can’t do anything about the ads that you show. I presume that Doubleclick shows ads that fit the user’s criteria when there’s nothing from GNM. Problem: you have some advertisers that conflict with our in-house sales. We really need to find a way to access the ads you show. Can you please advise?

   I’m sure we’re not alone. If anyone has any answers, please let me know in the comments.
   Meanwhile, I’ve had to take Lucire off Blogburst. Mark di Somma and I remember there was some pretty bad service there not too long ago, which already soured me to the company, even if we liked the offering. More recently, another mob, Demand Media, has taken over. I had some queries over two sets of terms and conditions that seem somewhat contradictory, as well as a form on the new company’s site which, on one point, contradicted both sets.
   Both sets are publicly accessible via Google (here and here).
   On October 13, I asked, alongside a question about moral rights:

In the first agreement:

You represent and warrant that:
you are at 18 years of age or older, are a legal resident or citizen of the United States, and that you have the right and obtained all authorizations and consents necessary to execute and enter into this Agreement and perform your obligations;

which I thought was a bit strange given that we had the option of choosing whether we are American, Canadian, British, or ‘None of the above’ [on your form]. (I chose the last one.) The second agreement then states:

You represent and warrant that:
you are at 18 years of age or older, are either: (i) a legal resident or citizen of the United States, United Kingdom, or Canada; and (ii) that you have the right and obtained all authorizations and consents necessary to execute and enter into this Agreement and perform your obligations;

   I went on to discuss the technicalities surrounding the term ‘citizen of the United Kingdom’ and the case of British overseas nationals (the hairy apartheid issue—I still await a second reply from the British High Commission on this, which had been promised me by the former High Commissioner, George Fergusson. Incidentally, former Indian PM Atal Behari Vajpayee agrees that the HM Government’s behaviour is apartheid).
   I haven’t seen a response from Demand, so I can only presume by now that Blogburst no longer wants us.
   You should, after all, always read the terms and conditions. Science Media Centre’s Aimée Whitcroft referred the case of GameStation to me, where 88 per cent of people failed to read its terms and conditions, yet clicked the box to assert that they had. Those 88 per cent effectively agreed to give their soul to GameStation.
   The clause read:

By placing an order via this Web site on the first day of the fourth month of the year 2010 Anno Domini, you agree to grant Us a non transferable option to claim, for now and for ever more, your immortal soul. Should We wish to exercise this option, you agree to surrender your immortal soul, and any claim you may have on it, within 5 (five) working days of receiving written notification from gamestation.co.uk or one of its duly authorised minions.

   The 12 per cent who opted out got a £5 voucher for their trouble. It literally paid to read the terms and conditions.

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Posted in business, Hong Kong, humour, internet, UK, USA | No Comments »


The small things spoil the flight

04.02.2010

We might get critical over the upcoming uniforms, but the service on Air New Zealand that I experienced was very good. The staff was brilliant (deserving of whatever award was given to them), and the personal screens remain a lifesaver for in-air boredom. (I was surprised that Lufthansa, an airline I used to enjoy flying, still has not caught up with what must be seven- or eight-year-old technology on any of the aircraft I flew.) Thank goodness, too, that we international travellers did not have to put up with the ghastly nude safety video (which is mostly distracting and not at all helpful).
   But it was not without problems. On the Auckland–Hong Kong leg, I had to ponder the following:

• why were the announcements in English and Mandarin, when most Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong people do not understand Mandarin? (How different are Mandarin and Cantonese? Ask yourself: how different are Danish and Italian? Same idea.) On a flight in 2008, I specifically had to ask the Air New Zealand flight crew to do announcements in the correct dialect for the destination. I managed to get two out of them before they reverted back to Mandarin. (Compare this to Lufthansa, which provided English, German and Cantonese on the Hong Kong–Frankfurt flight.) Now, if I were flying to Beijing or Taipei, I would get the fact that Mandarin was spoken. But to Hong Kong, where you might get stuck-up, proud southerners like me? I remain puzzled, because I have now taken enough flights to know the 2008 experience was not anomalous;
• why did the subtitles on the safety video switch from Chinese to Japanese three-quarters of the way through? (Let’s not even bring up the war on this one);
• why was a Korean film labelled as ‘Chinese’ in the menu, when it clearly was not? Apart from the actors’ names, the credits were clearly in Korean script. Unless Air New Zealand believes ‘Asia’ is one place. (On a related note, I am told that it is impossible to search for flights to New Delhi via the Air New Zealand website: India is not considered an important enough nation.)

   There are enough travellers going between the two countries for this to be very important to Air New Zealand.
   I’ll write to the airline today. I reckon the above needs addressing.

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Posted in business, culture, Hong Kong, New Zealand | No Comments »


The “other” Tsang Tsou Choi biography

16.01.2010

I can’t find much by way of biography for artist Tsang Tsou Choi (曾灶財), the self-titled ‘King of Kowloon’ (九龍皇帝), but the following gives a good summary about how most feel about him:

   Since his death, some of his work has been destroyed by the Hong Kong authorities, though others have been preserved. (Initially, the government promised to preserve Tsang’s work, but I’m sure Beijing would frown upon even an artist claiming that he was the rightful ruler of the territory.)
   What is interesting, and not found readily online, was Tsang’s claim to an imperial bloodline. If you follow the story, as told decades ago in a newspaper there, he said he was playing as a child in a royal courtyard, and found himself going through a portal, and meeting monks on the other side. They told him that it was a miracle that he had made it through there, as mere mortals generally could not. Eventually, he was given directions to return, but wound up penniless in Hong Kong. When turning back, the monastery had disappeared.
   The original story was told with a great deal of clarity (or embellishment).
   Many people dismissed the story as apocryphal or, worse, that of a crackpot, especially in an age when Tsang’s work was considered more a nuisance than art.
   What do you reckon? Did Tsang have a Bermuda Triangle–Life on Mars moment, or was he a bit loopy? (The official story sees him coming out of Guangdong as a teenager to join his uncle in Hong Kong, which is far more likely.)

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Posted in culture, Hong Kong, media | No Comments »


A reminder to the British Government: Hong Kong Chinese have died for you

16.01.2010

Remember the issue I had last year with getting a new Permanent Identity Card for Hong Kong and finding that the British Government—which I have accused of apartheid over the situation surrounding British Overseas Nationals—would not do its job via the Foreign & Commonwealth Office?
   No, it hasn’t been solved, but I thought it might be rather nice to remind the FCO that, whenever Britain needed help, we Hong Kong Chinese were there. And we were prepared to die in the name of HM the Queen:

Falkland Islands roll of honour

   Most Britons I have spoken to agree: a British subject is a British subject is a British subject.
   If only we had a celebrity like Joanna Lumley, who campaigned on behalf of those brave and loyal Gurkhas.
   Never had this problem when John Major’s Tories were in power.

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Posted in Hong Kong, politics, UK | 3 Comments »


I remember 1973 more clearly than Sam Tyler

07.01.2010

I read a blog post tonight on my friend Jen’s Tumblr, about a memory that goes back to when she was about three or so. But she wondered if it was accurate.
   I believe it was, because for me, by age three I had over two years’ worth of memories. I have met two people in my life who can remember back, clearly, in a temporal, linear fashion, to before we were one. When we discuss this, our first comment to the other usually is, ‘No one believes you, do they?’
   Many doubt us, saying, ‘You must have heard that from your parents,’ or ‘You must have seen this in a photograph,’ until we start telling the stories.
   I wrote on Jen’s blog:

I have a few vague memories similar to this prior to nine months, and they are dream-like, almost like flashes. I assume the human mind does not string events together in a temporal fashion at earlier ages, so we recall them as unclear glimpses rather than moments that are anchored to past and future events on either side.

   I don’t know if studies have been done about this, about why those early memories are not stored. The above is only a theory, but I have a hunch it is right. We are not taught the concepts of past and future as babies, so we don’t store anything in a linear fashion. Why I began to earlier than most, I do not know. No single event triggered it.
   I usually tell people I began remembering when I was nine months old. That’s only a rough date, because at that age I had no concept of what a month was. The date does come from photographs, but that’s all I will give childhood photography. The rest is down to my own mind.
   The story that usually convinces people in regular conversation is this one: learning to walk. It was not my first memory—that was one of those “flashes” that I alluded to in the quote—nor was it the first one that I can trace right back. But I think most people will agree that getting on to your two feet should be quite a memorable event.
   I was a late walker and a happy shuffler. If we put the average baby learning to walk at around age one, then I was still shuffling at 15 months.
   My friend Tim, who remains in contact with me to this day, is younger than me by just over three months. His family came over to visit and he had just started walking. I believe I retold this to him when we were in our late 20s. Sadly, he does not remember it and cannot corroborate the events.
   I had already put up with encouragement to walk for ages (again, at this point, I had no concept of ‘months’, but it must have been) so, naturally, there was a lot of ‘Oh, look at Tim, he’s walking! Isn’t he a good boy?’
   My thought, because at this point I had attempted to walk (and fall) numerous times was: ‘This is peer pressure. I’m not doing it. Look, I can get across the room shuffling more quickly than he can walk. It’s safer, and it’s a known quantity. Just because everyone else is doesn’t mean I should, and so what if I don’t?’
   I should note that the thought was not structured as language, but as impulses, which, really, is the way most of us think. It’s only in recounting the event that we stretch it into comprehensible sentences. I also did not say this; if I did, it probably was as infantile babbles.
   And I could get across that room more quickly. Shuffling 1, walking 0.
   If you think back to when you were five or six, or whenever it was when you first began your set of memories, you might remember that inner voice of yours. It’s your own Jiminy Cricket. It’s not a weird voice telling you to do evil stuff, but your thought process. You know, the one talking to you right now as you read this. And I’m willing to bet that that voice has remained identical all these years in your own mind.
   For the fellas, that means that when your voice broke, it didn’t suddenly change. It’s as though it was the same all along.
   And that’s the voice I had at 15 months.
   It means that even at age one, I was a stubborn so-and-so.
   I should also mention that I was on “the leash” (which demeans us both). And from personal experience of being the leashed, it is bloody painful on your armpits when you get dragged up. It’s only natural for your parents to not want you to hurt yourself and they jerk you up. But by 12–15 months, you’re used to the pain of falling and you know how bad it is. In fact, the pain of falling was preferable to the pain of being yanked up. (In the 1990s, I went to Plunket to tell them of my experiences, and begged them to never recommend the leash to parents.)
   The leash might well have made me more rebellious than I normally would be, but eventually, as anyone who knows me today, I eventually learned to walk. I was about 16 at the time and wanted to pull chicks. Only kidding.
   Soon after (again, I cannot give you an exact time-frame), I discovered that I could run. Fast walking. And I loved it. (Driving on the autobahn gives the same thrill.)
   I then remembered thinking, ‘If someone had told me that I could run after I learned to walk, I would have done this ages ago [or, at least, in the past]. Why didn’t someone tell me?’
   Even at a time when we are not supposed to understand language as it is constructed, I am convinced infants actually understand any language as impulses, probably picking up vibes. They can reason, and it means that parents should be clear in explaining everything to their children, even at a very young age that they cannot remember back to.
   But it shows me that at around 12–18 months, I had a clear idea of ‘the past’ being the time when I was being encouraged to walk.
   The memories may well have been triggered by another phenomenon: the need to begin schooling at age two, as was common in Hong Kong.
   We are expected to attend kindergarten from 2½, and it’s not what occidentals associate with that term.
   We are talking nightly homework and getting graded. Sucks, I know. You don’t get much of a childhood, though there were really cool tricycles there.
   The idea is that if you don’t get into a good kindy, you don’t get into a good primary school, which means you don’t get into a good college, which means you don’t get into a good university. Therefore, in Hong Kong, in the 1970s, it was important to get the right start in life.
   However, to get into a good kindergarten, you have to sit an exam. Solo. With the examiner in the room in front of you.
   This would have been around two, and in the period before, while you are still one, you notice your parents buy join-the-dots puzzle books (I could count by this stage, thanks to my grandmother) and books with the alphabet.
   This was not exercising my mind: this was serious swotting.
   Because of the kidnapping of infants by Red Chinese back in those days, we also have the ‘Don’t talk to strangers’ message drummed in to us. By this point, my parents and grandmother were rationalizing with me, adding, ‘Because if you do, you might not see us again.’
   You can imagine that being abandoned by your mother with the examiner in a room is a pretty traumatic experience, because it goes against the whole anti-stranger thing.
   It didn’t make it easier that the bloody exam was not alphabet recitation or joining the dots.
   Maybe this is why, to this day, I still have nightmares about not having studied for an exam, though usually it’s set at law school, and it’s often constitutional law. (Thank you, Prof Palmer. Ironically, I did quite well with Sir Geoffrey’s exam.)
   The exam was putting shapes in to holes: the one Frank Spencer had to do when he joined the RAF.
   I eventually did it, crying through the process, but I guess at the end of the day, it was about the result and not the means. And I could see my Mum again.
   So by age two, most kids in Hong Kong had to rely on some form of memory, and when I was younger, I usually credited that with why mine went so far back. However, I wonder if others from the same place can report the same.
   Or, for instance, can actress Alicia Witt recall that she recited Shakespeare on That’s Incredible at age four? Considering her profession today—musician and actress—she must be blessed with a good memory, one that she’s had to exercise for a longer time than most.
   Emigrating to New Zealand in 1976 might have triggered a new set, because of the then-unfamiliar surroundings.
   I have a photographic memory, and I can tell you that the first car that went on the other side of the road as we left Wellington Airport on September 16, 1976, three days shy of my fourth birthday, was a Holden.
   There were few Holdens in Hong Kong but I remember the shape of the station wagon and finding out the brand later.
   It’s a little obsession I have always had, long before I even came to New Zealand.
   If anyone who worked at the Fiat dealership on the corner of Victory Avenue, Homantin, Kowloon, in 1975–6 remembers a two- to three-year-old who could tell them which was the 124, the 127, the 128 and the X1/9, and what years they were registered, then that was me. I still regret missing the launch of the 131, which was scheduled to take place in late September–early October 1976, but the cars were in the showroom, covered up.
   The dealership is no longer there, nor is the kindergarten, otherwise I would be asking Fiat Hong Kong for photographs of the launch event. It must have been the first launch to which I could have gone to, and had to miss.


Above The corner of Victory Avenue and Waterloo Road. At the far right, cut off, is where the Fiat dealership would have been. The laundry was there in the 1970s.

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Posted in cars, general, Hong Kong, interests, New Zealand, Wellington | 3 Comments »