Posts tagged ‘Hong Kong’


A brief misadventure into the Chinese internet

28.04.2021

When I was a kid and wanted to hit back at someone for being mean to me, my parents would often say that successful people, true leaders, would be 大方, which is roughly akin to saying that one should rise above it. I would say that goes with nations as well: you can tell when a country is in a good state by the way its citizenry behaves, and online behaviour is probably a proxy for that.
   As many of you know, my literacy in my mother tongue is just above the level it was at when I left Hong Kong, that is to say, it’s marginally better than a kindergartener’s. And where I come from, that means age 3, which is already in the big leagues considering I started at 2½, having passed the entrance exam, and had homework from then on. What I can write is in colloquial Cantonese, devoid of any formal structure that someone with a proper education in the old country would know. If you’re Cantonese, you’ll be able to read what I write, but if your only idea of Chinese is Mandarin, you’ll have little clue. (Bang goes the official argument in Beijing that Cantonese is a ‘dialect’. It can’t be a dialect if a speaker of one finds the other unintelligible.)
   With Meizu having essentially shut its international forum, I decided to head to the Chinese one to post about my experience with its Music app, and was met by a majority of friendly, helpful people, and some who even went the extra mile of replying to my English-language query in English.
   But there were enough dickheads answering to make you think that mainland China isn’t a clear global leader, regardless of all the social engineering and online credit scores.

   When I used Facebook, I had ventured on to a few groups where people simply posted in their own language, and those of us who wished to reply but didn’t understand it would either use the site’s built-in translator, or, before that was available, Google Translate. I still am admin on a group where people do post in their own language without much issue. There’s no insistence on ‘Speak English, I can’t understand you,’ or whatever whine I hear from some intolerant people, such as the ones sampled below.

   That makes you despair for some folks and one conclusion I can draw is that members of a country who demand such a monoculture must not see their country as a leader. Nor do they have much pride in it. For great nations, in my book, embrace, or believe they embrace (even if they fall short in practice) all tongues and creeds, all races and abilities. They revel in their richness.
   Of the negative souls on the forum, there was the crap you’d expect. ‘Write in Chinese,’ ‘Why is a Cantonese person writing in English?’ ‘Think about where you are,’ and ‘I don’t understand you’ (to a comment I wrote in Cantonese—again supporting the argument that it isn’t a dialect, but its own distinct tongue).
   Granted, these are a small minority, but it’s strange that this is a forum where people tend to help one another. And it tells me that whether you’re American or Chinese, there’s nothing in the behaviour of ordinary folks that tells me that any one place is more likely to be a centre for 21st-century leadership than another.
   I’ve had far worse responses to Tweets, by a much greater proportion of people (the UK still stands out as the worst when I responded to a Tweet about George Floyd), but it’s the context. Twitter is, as Stephen Fry once put it, analogous to a bathing pool into which too many people have urinated, but a help forum?
   It’s the globally unaware, those who engage in casual xenophobia, who are intolerant of other languages, who are the little people of our times, having missed out on an education or life experience that showed them otherwise. They reside in the old country as much as in so many other places. The leading nation of the 21st century does not look like it’s one of the obvious choices. Future historians, watch this space.

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Posted in China, culture, Hong Kong, internet, leadership, New Zealand, technology, UK, USA | No Comments »


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


COVID-19 infections as percentage of tests done, December 7

07.12.2020

It’s hard not to be in a bubble sometimes, especially when that bubble is safe in the southern hemisphere and away from wars and COVID-19.
   With TVNZ having a New York bureau, we of course hear about how poorly the US is doing with COVID-19, and we also hear from the London bureau, where the numbers aren’t as staggering, so they don’t always make the six o’clock programme. Aljazeera English mentioned South Korea’s third wave, looking worse than the second, and I knew Hong Kong’s numbers were on the up.
   However, right though the month of November, I didn’t calculate positivity rates at all, even though I had been doing them most months, sometimes multiple times a month. These were going on to my NewTumbl blog, which I’ve decided not to update for the time being, for reasons already outlined.
   Doing them again since late October gave me quite a surprise. I knew Europe was having a rough time with it, but there was quite a change in the numbers. In fact, it wasn’t long ago that these rates were trending downwards for the majority of countries that I had been tracking; that is no longer the case. It’s rising almost everywhere apart from India, the KSA (which has sensibly and surely got its first wave down—I’ve seen days of under 200 infections), Singapore, Australia, and, of course, here in New Zealand.
   For the first time since I’ve been doing these calculations, we are at the bottom of the table, a fact that I’m relieved about, but it does make me worried about the rest of the world. I have a lot of family in the US and Hong Kong.
   The data come from Worldometers and they tend to source from official parties. I believe I loaded the page around 2200 GMT.

Brazil 25·77% ↑
France 10·86% ↑
Sweden 8·07% ↑
Italy 7·50% ↑
USA 7·33% ↑
Spain 7·12% ↓
India 6·57% ↓
Germany 4·11% ↑
UK 3·79% ↑
KSA 3·62% ↓
Russia 3·12% ↑
Singapore 1·25% ↓
South Korea 1·19% ↑
Taiwan 0·64% ↑
Australia 0·27% ↓
Hong Kong 0·159% ↑
New Zealand 0·158% ↓

   The arrows are in comparison to the last set of calculations from October 26:

Brazil 24·63% ↓
France 7·651% ↑
India 7·645% ↓
Spain 7·16% ↑
USA 6·67% ↓
Sweden 5·33% ↓
KSA 4·50% ↓
Italy 3·59% ↑
UK 2·80% ↑
Russia 2·64% ↓
Germany 2·15% ↓
Singapore 1·66% ↓
South Korea 1·02% ↓
Taiwan 0·55% ↓
Australia 0·32% ↓
New Zealand 0·18% ↓
Hong Kong 0·15% ↓

which were measured against a bunch from September 2.

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Posted in China, France, Hong Kong, India, internet, media, New Zealand, TV, UK, USA | 1 Comment »


Podcast for tonight: behind the scenes on The Panel

28.08.2020

For your listening pleasure, here’s tonight’s podcast, with a bit behind the scenes on my first appearance on RNZ’s The Panel as a panellist, and ‘I’ve Been Thinking’ delivered at a more appropriate pace, without me staring at the clock rushing to finish it before the pips for the 4 p.m. news.

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Posted in China, culture, Hong Kong, media, New Zealand, TV, Wellington | No Comments »


When not having something drives creativity

23.07.2020

I hadn’t expected this reply Tweet to get so many likes, probably a record for me.

   It is true. That book was NZ$4·99 in 1979, when it was offered through the Lucky Book Club at school, at a time when many books were still priced in cents. Some kids in the class got it, and I admit I was a bit envious, but not having a book in an area that interested you can drive creativity. While my parents didn’t make a heck of a lot in the 1970s—we flatted and didn’t own our own car at this point—they would have splashed out if I really insisted on it. After all, they were sending me to a private school and their sacrifice was virtually never going out. (I only recall one night in those days when my parents had a “date night” and my maternal grandmother looked after me—and that was to see Superman II.) But when you grow up having an understanding that, as an immigrant family that had to largely start from scratch in a new country, you have a rough idea of what’s expensive, and five bucks for a book was expensive.
   As an adult—even when I was a young man starting out in my career—I did not regret not having this book.
   Someone in the thread asked if I ever wound up buying it. I never did: as a teenager I managed to get my hands on a very worn Letraset catalogue, which ultimately proved far more interesting. But it is good to know that, thanks in large part to my parents’ and grandmother’s sacrifices, and those in my partner’s family who helped her in her earlier years, we could afford to buy this book if anyone in our family asks for it.

Were we fleeing anything when we came to Aotearoa? We left Hong Kong in 1976 because my parents were worried about what China would do to the place. In other words, what’s happening now is what they hoped for me to avoid. They called it, in the 1970s. And here I am.

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Posted in design, interests, New Zealand, typography, Wellington | No Comments »


Back on RNZ’s The Panel: on Hong Kong’s new national security legislation

08.07.2020


Public domain/Pxhere

What a pleasure it was to be back on The Panel on Radio New Zealand National today, my first appearance in a decade. That last time was about the Wellywood sign and how I had involved the Hollywood Sign Trust. I’ve done a couple of interviews since then on RNZ (thank you to my interviewers Lynda Chanwai-Earle and Finlay Macdonald, and producer Mark Cubey), but it has been 10 years and a few months since I was a phone-in guest on The Panel, which I listen to very frequently.
   This time, it was about Hong Kong, and the new national security legislation that was passed last week. You can listen here, or click below for the embedded audio. While we begin with the latest development of social media and other companies refusing to hand over personal data to the Hong Kong government (or, rather, they are ‘pausing’ till they get a better look at the legislation), we move pretty quickly to the other aspects of the law (the juicy stuff and its extraterritorial aims) and what it means for Hong Kong. Massive thanks to Wallace Chapman who thought of me for the segment.

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


Where does Hong Kong’s new national anthem law leave parody?

05.06.2020


Steve Cadman/Creative Commons 2·0

I don’t profess to be an expert on how Hong Kong law functions these days with its mix of old British ordinances and the laws made after 1997, but one thing that struck me with at least the news reports covering the criminalizing of insults against ‘March of the Volunteers’, the national anthem of the People’s Republic of China, is whether parody—a fundamental part of free speech—will still be permitted.
   I don’t have a problem with the anthem being taught to children as it was sung long before 1949, the establishment of the PRC. It was a wartime anthem, which people like my father knew, having been born in the 1930s at the time of the Sino–Japanese War. It is historical, and it has meaning. It is arguably even more familiar to older Chinese than the Republic of China’s anthem generally sung on the island of Taiwan. But, even back then, ‘March of the Volunteers’ had picked up this parody:

起來! 買嚿牛肉蒸葱菜!

   If I recall correctly, the parody emerged when the Communists and Nationalists were trying to entice the citizenry over to their side, and the Communists were promising food.
   I won’t go in to parody and its relationship to freedom of speech here; there are plenty of resources on it online.
   But does it mean that repeating the parody lyrics would put me at risk in Hong Kong?
   Of course it has escaped no one that the law was passed on June 4, a ballsy move by Beijing.
   Meanwhile, a few members of the UK government have talked about giving BN(O) (British National [Overseas]) passport holders a pathway to British citizenship, leading some to say there would be a brain drain. What I will say here is: the British have talked about defending the rights of Hong Kong people under the joint declaration ever since 1997—indeed, even before, with the Blair-led opposition—and nothing has happened. I’ve gone into my issues entering the UK with this passport before, so you’ll excuse me if I say that actions speak more loudly than words. British politicians have been high on rhetoric for over two decades on this issue and I have no reason to believe the least trustworthy lot they have ever elected.
   I disagree that they are interfering with Chinese affairs if they are simply looking after those that identify themselves as British, but at the same time I don’t think Beijing’s foreign ministry has anything to be concerned about. The British have their own doorstep to think about, and the prospect of millions of Hong Kong Chinese heading there was too hard for them to stomach under Major or Blair, and I do not expect that attitudes have changed.

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Posted in China, Hong Kong, politics, UK | No Comments »


Live from Level 3

03.05.2020

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

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

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

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Posted in China, culture, France, globalization, Hong Kong, humour, New Zealand, politics, publishing, Sweden, UK, USA, Wellington | No Comments »


Light humour, dark copy

24.04.2020

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

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

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


A concert that takes you home

17.04.2020

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

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

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Posted in culture, Hong Kong, interests, New Zealand, technology, TV, Wellington | No Comments »