Posts tagged ‘family’


The Lucire tribute to HM Queen Elizabeth II

09.09.2022

I wrote the below in Lucire—even though plenty of publications have covered our monarch’s passing, it still felt right to acknowledge it. After all, she had appeared in Lucire a few times.
 
With the passing of HM Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday UK time, it would be remiss of this magazine to not mark this world event.

During the 25 years of Lucire, the Queen has featured several times, mostly from events that she attended. We weren’t around when she was newly crowned in her coronation gown by Norman Hartnell, and wearing the latest British fashions in her youth, a glamorous symbol of a new Elizabethan era that lifted the United Kingdom’s mood after World War II and continued rationing. But it is easy to imagine the coronation in 1953 being a dazzling, colourful event, and indeed it was covered in the likes of British Vogue at the time.

Her era has seen unprecedented change. As the longest-serving monarch in British history, she presided over an era which saw television become mainstream (a technology that she embraced with her Christmas message), many former colonies gain their independence, the dawn of the World Wide Web, the end of apartheid in South Africa, and both her country’s entry into and exit from what is now the European Union.

Much has already been said about HM the Queen’s sense of duty, and how she still read her red box’s worth of papers as head of state right to the end. On Tuesday she asked Liz Truss as the new prime minister—the Queen’s 15th, having begun with Sir Winston Churchill when she ascended to the throne—to form a government.

Here in Lucire the late Queen has attended events we happened to cover, beginning in 2008, with her last appearance at the Cartier Queen’s Cup in 2017.

I only caught a glimpse of her during a state visit to New Zealand in 2002 during her golden jubilee. It was her last visit to Aotearoa.

The visit was very subdued and HM the Queen and HRH the Duke of Edinburgh were whisked from the airport round the back roads of Rongotai, past the main street by Lucire’s then-HQ. I managed to photograph them as they drove by.

A neighbourhood shop had a staff member who was a diehard monarchist. I mentioned I had a photo of the royal couple and later gifted her my print. I still have the negative somewhere.

At the time, my sense was that our Labour government had republican leanings and downplayed the royal visit, hence ferrying them in the viceregal Daimler past industrial areas; it was a far cry from an earlier visit I witnessed in 1981 when as a school pupil, my schoolmates and I lined the drive at Government House to welcome her.

As someone who chose to retain my British nationality (I dutifully renew my passport every 10 years), as well as adopting my New Zealand one in 1980, I admit to having a tremendous amount of respect for HM Queen Elizabeth II and her unwavering sense of duty. Some of us born in Hong Kong in the 1970s, whose parents had memories of less pleasant times behind the Bamboo Curtain, appreciated the freedoms, although they stopped short of democracy, that we enjoyed in a Crown colony. Up to a point: my father said he could have worked harder to lose his Chinese accent after fleeing Taishan for Hong Kong after the communist revolution of 1949, but he chose not to as he didn’t want to be seen as sycophantic to the colonial power.

It was thanks to the Commonwealth that my Hong Kong-born, but China-raised, mother was able to obtain her nursing qualification from the General Nursing Council for England and Wales. When we emigrated to New Zealand, that made her transition into her job that much easier, as it was considered a notch above the rest. (Having said that, the Hospital Board put her on a lower pay grade than what she deserved, leading my parents to fight for it, with the help of Sir Francis Kitts, a family friend and the former mayor of Wellington. We won.)

When we came here, one familiar thing was that the currency had the Queen on it, and it was her constant presence that told you that there were, in principle at least, shared values. While we can rightfully critique the Empire and what it was built on, at least for this chunk of history, it was a reassurance for us as émigrés that there would be the rule of law in our new country, something that, as my parents could attest, China lacked during the difficult years of the war and immediately after.

My father’s preferred form of governance was social democracy, but he appreciated a constitutional monarchy; and my own studies at law school concluded that while an imperfect system, it was one which I, too, valued. The prospect of one of our own being president, at least to the law student me in 1992, seemed unfathomable and potentially divisive.

The success of the system does depend on our faith and trust in the monarch. HM Queen Elizabeth II gave us that sense, as one who placed duty first. As this nation enters into a period of official mourning, we also wonder what her successor, HM King Charles III, will bring to the table, with his interests in the environment and a UK government that he might not see eye to eye with.

Whatever the future, we pay tribute to HM Queen Elizabeth II and mark the close of this second Elizabethan age.


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Posted in China, culture, Hong Kong, media, New Zealand, publishing, technology, UK, Wellington | 4 Comments »


Battle

12.08.2022

There was a Tweet recently along the lines of, ‘Dear media, stop characterizing a death from cancer as a “battle”.’ If I deciphered their Tweet correctly, their rationale was that it can’t be won, so using such a term is somehow (politically?) incorrect.

I call BS.

My mother characterized her fight as a battle. And my father and I were the enlisted troops to support her.

So f*** anyone who wants to lecture me on how this should be stated. You have your viewpoint, and I have mine. Don’t get on your high horse about it, thanks.

And coming from a family where we have “won” against the big C a few times, all I can say is: fight it if you choose.

If you want to believe it’ll take you and you want to give up, that is your choice.

If you want to characterize it as a battle and have some hope, that is your choice.

This isn’t clear-cut, like so many other things.

My mother fought it very bravely. She wasn’t given that long and she beat every prediction. If she had given up from the start, to meet some prediction, who knows if things would be different? The day she died the X-rays showed no cancer in her lungs and her blood tests were normal. It appeared that we had beaten the primary.

But sadly, it had spread elsewhere, to places where medicine couldn’t reach.

In fact, she only knew about it because of back pain—like Olivia Newton-John’s third diagnosis.

About six weeks before it took her, Mum said to me, ‘I don’t think I’m going to make it.’

I was a dumb kid in denial so I said, ‘Nonsense, I think you can do it.’ (As this was in Cantonese, I would have started with ‘大吉利是.’)

With hindsight, I envy some of those families who have managed to say their farewells, but you can’t turn the clock back.

On the morning about an hour and a half before she died, I said—to God, to my inner voice, to my spirit guide, to whatever you want to call it—‘Screw this, no one should have to go through this sort of pain.’

Maybe that was letting go or accepting it. And not long after she was gone with Dad and me at her bedside.

So may I say in all sincerity, win or lose, fuck cancer.


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John Shaft beats Luke Skywalker hands down

03.11.2021

I always had decent pencil cases at kindergarten in Hong Kong and then when I started school in New Zealand. Usually they were car-themed but the pièce de résistance was this one, far nicer than what my classmates in my new home country had.
   While other kids were into Star Wars and things I had no interest in at that age, I could at least show off my badass side with my Shaft’s Big Score pencil case. John Shaft isn’t going to muck around with pussy stuff like the force.


 
I was thinking earlier tonight how cars were the one thing that helped me navigate Aotearoa when I got here with my parents. I might not have understood the culture immediately, and very little outside the faces of my family was familiar to me. But I saw Toyota Corollas (the E20s) and Honda Civics outside. And BMC ADO16s. These at least were an external source of familiarity, since they were commonplace in Hong Kong. A neighbour had a four-door Civic back in Homantin, the first car whose steering wheel I ever sat behind as a child.
   The cars here in New Zealand were much older generally, since there was more of a DIY fix-it culture, and Hong Kong prospered later, resulting in a newer fleet. Those early days were like a history lesson on what had gone before in the 1950s and 1960s, filling in the gaps. But my eyes still went to those newer 1970s shapes. Curves? Who wants curves when you can have boxy shapes and those groovy vinyl roofs?!
   I didn’t say I had taste at age four.


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On Cantonese, for Te Papa’s Chinese Languages in Aotearoa project

26.10.2021


 
What a real honour to promote my reo! Thank you, Dr Grace Gassin and Te Papa for spearheading the Chinese Languages in Aotearoa project and for this incredible third instalment, where I get to speak and promote Cantonese!
   Obviously I couldn’t say anything earlier, especially during Chinese Language Week, but I am extremely grateful the very distinct Chinese languages are being given their due with this project!
   My participation began with Grace and I having a kōrero last year, and how Chinese Language Week was not inclusive. The organizers of that make the mistake of equating Chinese with Mandarin, and claim that Cantonese and other tongues are dialects, which is largely like saying Gaelic is a dialect of English.
   Do read more at the Te Papa blog as Grace goes into far more depth, and brings everything into the context of the history of Aotearoa.
 

 
   It turns out that Grace had been thinking about this for quite some time and had already shaped ideas on recording the Chinese languages here in Aotearoa as part of her job as curator, Asian New Zealand histories. She is a fluent Hokkien speaker, a dialect we Cantos often write as Fukkien, though that can lead to unfortunate puns with Anglophones. She also has some command of Cantonese—certainly far, far more than any Hokkien I know.
   There was such an amazing crew on this, with Yong-Le Chong (who is a Cantonese speaker, incredibly learning the language from television!) directing and prompting me off-camera and Tim Hamilton as DOP—plus Grace and Daniel Crichton-Rouse from Te Papa producing and supervising. Luckily I said nice things about Tim’s work in Lucire (not knowing he would be the DOP) prior to this!
   I was a bit under the weather when we filmed, having had a cough for many weeks and dodgy eggs at a café two days before. Big thanks to the crew for putting up with this and for believing me when I said it was not COVID (a test had confirmed that, and it was just before the August 2021 lockdown, when the notion of COVID in the community was unfamiliar).
   My thanks to Kent Favel and Erica Harvison for their permission to film at my Alma Mater, St Mark’s Church School, and to my darling partner Amanda.
   Note that the Māori terms in this post are only italicized because of the international readers who form the larger part of my visitors; in New Zealand these are words that are commonly used, and are not italicized.


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台山阿伯返鄉下講英文

12.10.2021

This is one of those things I have to note down otherwise it’ll get lost to time. And you won’t see this mentioned during ‘Chinese Language Week’ here.
   In the old country (台山, or Taishan, China), when my father was a boy in the 1930s and 1940s, there were some whānau in the village who had been to the United States, where his paternal grandfather had settled. When conversing with them about their experiences in foreign lands (specifically, 金山), they said a few things that confused him then, but as an adult it all clicked.
   One was when they spoke of their travels to 金山. They claimed, ‘船頭打鑼船尾聽唔度.’ As a child, Dad would think, ‘Wow, that ship must have been massive.’ He knew that if someone had 打鑼 in one village, the next village could hear it. Conclusion: the length of the ship between the bow and stern must be greater than the distance between two villages.
   As an adult, ‘The buggers tricked me. No wonder they couldn’t hear 鑼 at the bow of the ship. They would have travelled in the hold!’
   The second one was in response to, ‘What are movies like?’ I imagine cinemas were thin on the ground during wartime, so he could only ask those who had been to the US. Their response, ‘打煙塵.’ Hitting smoke and dust? (Note that these have to be pronounced in Taishanese, not Cantonese, and definitely not Mandarin, for this story to make any sense.)
   Again, as an adult, who wound up grasping English better than many Anglophones, he realized the old 台山阿伯 had seen westerns, where they fought Indians, or more specifically, Injuns.
   The third one was, ‘What’s it like speaking English?’ The reply: ‘婀籮心.’ He never figured that out as a child—it sounded like gibberish. Again, when older, having learned English, he realized what they meant: all the same.
   Bear in mind those early travellers, or immigrants who were returning to visit the old country, wouldn’t have had great jobs and learned little English. It isn’t surprising in this context that they had pidgin phrases, ones they could fool a boy with.


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Other than the ending, this is my only memory of St Elsewhere

18.05.2021

Conversation with Mum, some time in the 1980s.
   The credits for St Elsewhere begin rolling, and they read, ‘and starring William Daniels as Dr. Mark Craig’. Two taller actors flank Daniels as they walk toward the camera.
   I say, ‘Mum, that’s the guy who plays KITT on Knight Rider.’
   She replies, ‘He’s very short, isn’t he?’
   ‘Of course. How do you think they fit him under the bonnet of the car?’
   (At this point, I knew Daniels was dubbed in post, but I’d say my humour was pretty similar as a teenager as it is today.)


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There goes the neighbourhood

05.03.2021

Demolition has commenced on 1–4 Māmari Street, across the road from where I lived for over three decades.
   I’m not against change and my feelings toward the development have already been recorded here.
   It was with a tinge of sadness that I saw the demolition crews there and the only wall left standing was part of the north side to no. 4.
   Right now the sections, littered with debris, are letting in plenty of summer sunlight.
   But not for long.
   I’ll remember Gus and Lyna Bourke’s place at no. 2 which I understand they bought after the war. Lyna was widowed by the time we met her in 1983, and she had an incredibly low-mileage silver Hillman Hunter in the garage. As her eyesight failed, the car stayed in there, and it was in incredibly good nick by the time she passed in the 1990s. We always had good chats and Lyna was our “neighbourhood watch” as she kept an eye on the street from her living room.
   Frank and Carol Reading and their family at no. 3 were probably there for a decent half-century, and they were incredibly good neighbours. Frank passed only a few years ago but they had wisely bought the Bourke residence as well in the 1990s, plus no. 4 decades before, so I imagine that made life easy for the developers who only had to purchase from two sellers to build on the site.
   We visited the Reading house many times over the years to help each other out, and that was the great community we had in the cul-de-sac back then. On our side of the street there were frequent chats over the fences with nos. 12 and 14.
   The old street changed a lot when both nos. 10 and 11 went on the market in 2018, then it was our turn in 2019. And now it has had its biggest change in probably a century as those old weatherboard bungalows from the early 20th century were demolished.
   I realize same-again McHouses aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but as one famous architect recently told me: it’s hard to get creativity consented. And the demand is there, so this was inevitable. I already felt that the old street was a memory, but one that could be refreshed on a revisit; but now it really is a memory. Contrast this with the other neighbourhoods I’ve lived in Wellington, which have remained largely the same, or were subject to far slower developments after our departure.
   Just as well I got the neighbours together in 2011 to stop the council taking away the right turn into the street. With 24 dwellings there in the near future, they’re going to need it more than ever.

And yes, the above video was on Instagram, which is going the way of Myspace and Facebook, I believe. I haven’t been on there for nearly a fortnight and the feed held little interest to me. Near-daily ’Gramming from 2012 to 2019 was enough.


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Helvetica in metal, 1985

03.03.2021

This was the back of Mum’s 1985 tax assessment slip from the IRD. Helvetica, in metal. The bold looks a bit narrow: a condensed cut, or just a compromised version because of the machinery used?
   Not often seen, since by this time phototypesetting was the norm, though one reason Car magazine was a good read was its use of metal typesetting until very late in the game. I know there are many reasons the more modern forms of typesetting are superior, least of all fidelity to the designed forms, but there’s a literal depth to this that makes me nostalgic.


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From one émigré to the Lais, leaving Hong Kong for Scotland

31.12.2020

This final podcast of 2020 is an unusual one. First, it’s really directed a family I’ve never met: the Lais, who are leaving Hong Kong for Glasgow after the passing of the national security law in the Chinese city, as reported by Reuter. They may never even hear it. But it’s a from-the-heart piece recounting my experiences as a émigré myself, whose parents wanted to get out of Hong Kong because they feared what the communists would do after 1997. Imagine heading to a country with more COVID-19 infections and lockdowns and feeling that represented more freedom than what the Chinese Communist Party bestows on your home town.
   Secondly, it’s in Cantonese. The intro is in English but if you’re doing something from the heart to people from your own home town, it’s in your mother tongue. It seemed more genuine that way. Therefore, I don’t expect this podcast episode to have many listeners since I suspect the majority of you won’t know what I’m saying. They are themes I’ve tackled before, so you could probably guess and have a good chance of getting it right.
   If you know the Lais, feel free to share this link with them.


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The Grundig parts’ cache time capsule

27.12.2020

When Dad was made redundant from Cory-Wright & Salmon, which had purchased his workplace, Turnbull & Jones, he bought all the Grundig equipment and accessories, thinking that he would find it useful. And for a while he did. The odd one he cannibalized, while the parts were used and adapted. Cory-Wright wound up contracting him for all the servicing of Grundig office equipment—principally dictating machines—and actually wound up hiring three people after they realized all the things Dad actually did there.
   He was quite happy to go to work for himself, as he picked up contracts with other firms as well. Some were companies who had gone to him at Turnbull & Jones anyway, and upon being told he had been let go, sought him out. But in the long run Grundig proved to be a fraction of what he wound up fixing, and it was the Japanese brands that I usually saw at home in his workshop, along with Philips (and no, the Japanese brands were not more reliable). Like many hard workers with a customer base, he did far better in self-employment than he did as an employee.
   Which brings me to this post. You could say this cache of Grundig parts is part of my inheritance, but what to do with it? The trouble with being in New Zealand is that there’s no Ebay—we’re told to use the Australian one if we wished to sell, except none of the postal options apply—and outside these shores no one’s heard of Trade Me.
   I’d like to sell the bits though I haven’t done an inventory yet. That was one of my favourite things when I visited Dad at Turnbull & Jones: he kept an inventory of all the items in his room and I used to make new ones as a fun activity. I marvelled at the new packaging that Grundig introduced, and this probably got me in to German graphic design.
   Here’s one item for starters: the wall box (die Wanddose) for the central dictation system (Central-Diktat-Anlage), Typ 593. I have at least five of them, boxed. This was opened for the first time when I took the photo, between 40 and 50 years after it was packaged. That’s the original rubber band as it left the factory in Germany. Some have already been opened. I’ve microphones, foot controls, complete machines. Suggestions are welcome, especially if someone might find it all useful. Those mics are going for €12 on Ebay in Germany, and mine are new. If anyone out there ever wondered, ‘Is there a lost cache of Grundig parts out there?’ then I have your answer.



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