Friday, 28 November 2008

I remember, I remember when I lost my mind

You may have noticed that I have a thing about green issues. You may also have noticed that I'm not all that impressed by the approach our great leaders are taking to these matters in Hong Kong.

Two small examples. This week there was a laughable article in the SCMP (again....) where a drop in energy consumption in HK over the past few months was somehow spun into a problem....Er, hello??? Isn't energy reduction and conservation something we're all gunning for these days? As a pertinent follow up, I've just collected my electricity bill. Due to the government's decision to subsidise electricity to the tune of HK$300 per month, I now pay nothing for electricity.

Complete lunacy. Mind you, if anyone would like to pop over and charge up phones, ipods, cameras etc and watch TV, all courtesy of our benign and generous leadership then please feel free.

Monday, 24 November 2008

word up! it's the code word....

and another thing....

my word's arrived early this year. It's "kindness". Nice huh?

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Step it up, step it up it's alright...

One of the most important life lessons I've learned in the past couple of years, thanks to LottieP, is the importance of stepping over things, rather than running headlong into them.

On this trip back oop north with my family, I realised to my surprise that this was one that I could indeed have learned from my family many years ago. Now, it shouldn't come as any surprise that the secret to reasonably functioning family relationships is the ability to ignore or tune out the more extreme or annoying habits and traits of one's family. You know, Dad's casual homophobia, Mum's ditziness, that kind of thing (worth noting at this point that it's just as well, of course, that I'm perfect and impose none of this burden on my family, oh no).

Anyway, as we drove away from Blackpool (allegedly the UK's premier tourist hotspot, but having seen the prom I have my doubts) we settled into the car journey home. As is usual, my brother was in charge of choons. As is also customary, he took no notice of the preferences of the audience and proceeded to treat us to a medley of Village People tracks (innofensive, crap), followed by this lil' number from Peaches and Iggy Pop (even by my very liberal standards a litle eye opening) before rounding off with this.

Hilarious. And somehow, throughout it all my parents didn't blink once, stepping over the whole smutty, bawdy mess with aplomb.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

What a waste.....

Thank you SCMP! From today's paper:

I was saddened to read your story on the decline in waste-paper recycling ("Waste recyclers plan protest as some exporters halt collections", October 29).

Presumably the lack of a local market for recycled paper products is in part a cause of the decline in recycling. I am always alarmed that it is so difficult to find recycled paper products, particularly for everyday items.

The versions available in high street supermarkets are usually made from 100 per cent virgin wood pulp (unbelievably, a fact boasted of on the packaging).

As the awareness of the importance of maintaining trees as a critical component of global ecosystems increases, it is incredible to me that recycled products are not more widely available.


Wednesday, 29 October 2008

when the leaves turn from green to brown...and autumn shades come tumbling down....

Oh it's been a while since I've bothered the SCMP, but a headline today has shaken me into action. Here's the letter. Replies and responses hopefully to follow.

I was saddened but not surprised to read your story re the decline in waste paper recycling in today's SCMP (Waste recyclers plan protest as some exporters halt collections). Presumably the lack of a local marked for recycled paper products is in part a cause of the decline in recycling?

I am always alarmed that it is so difficult to find recycled paper products in Hong Kong, particularly for everyday house hold items such as toilet paper, kitchen towels and facial tissues. Not only are recycled paper products only available in luxury stores such as 360 or GREAT (as far as I know), the versions available in high street supermarkets are usually made from 100% virgin wood pulp (unbelievably, a fact proundly boasted of on the packaging).

As the awareness of the importance of maintaining trees as a critical component of the global ecosystems that we are all dependent on increases, it seems incredible to me that recycled products are not more widely available to HK consumers.

Yours faithfully

Grande Poobah,
1 Grand Poobah Towers, the Island, the Earth, the Universe

Monday, 27 October 2008

Let's go sufing now, everybody's learning how

When I kicked off this sabbatical, one of my intentions was to do the stuff in HK that I don't have the time or energy for when I'm working. And so this weekend I headed off to Sai Kung country park to surf and camp out.

We were initially a group of 7, connected through yoga. At the ungodly hour of 7am we met in Central, the remnants of Saturday night streaming home as we headed out to the country. 45 minutes in a cab, followed by 15 on a boat and we were mooring up on a tiny pier to hike over to Tai Long Wan beach.

Sunday night, we pitched our tents and enjoyed a day's surfing followed by a spliff and beers on the beach. After dinner at a local noodle bar we headed back to camp, lit a fire and lay back, watching the stars (in Hong Kong! Who'd have thought it?) before heading to bed, tired and happy, at 9.

This, for me, is one of the amazing things about Hong Kong. Tai Long Wan (Big Wave Bay) is about as remote as you can get in HK. There are no cars, roads, few houses and today, Monday, no people either, save for a few other lucky souls who could afford to spend their time lounging on a beach and surfing. It's remote enough that you have to watch out for wild pigs (one was round our campsite and apparently they get nasty) and snakes (one of our party found out the hard way and got bitten - he'll live).

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

The times, they are a-changing....

It's a tough lark this sabbatical business, not having anything in particular to get up for and generally loafin........

Well, no, not really. Although it is taking some getting used to being able to sleep in and not having anyone to answer to apart from myself.

The most shocking part is realising the stress that work has added to my life on a daily basis. Apart from a staggering weight gain (which I largely attribute to my routine being shot to pieces by the amount of work travel I've had to do, coupled of course with a dip in Poobarian will power) I've also been told that my posture is shot (due to the amount of time I've been spending at a key board - so must stop this too soon) and my back is so stiff and immobile (due to stress) that it's going to take some serious effort to sort out. Brilliant.

I appreciate that this isn't going to get me any sympathy (!) nor do I seriously ask for any, however it's not a bad time to just reflect on the absurdity of modern life (for us priviliged westerners anyway), and the way it makes feeling good and content a near impossibility.

I wrote the first part of this blog some time back, and then, as I sank into sabbatical time (approx 0.25 the pace of work time) somehow didn't finish or post it. Now, due to popular demand (!) here it is. Since then, I've also visited a Chinese medicine doctor who's told me that my kidney system is weak (this is normal for stressed out Western wage slaves). I've also been an interested bystander as the credit fueled, market uber bubble has finally popped, showering us all in its aftermath. yuk.

Now, I don't want to come over as some sort of sub Mail on Sunday columnist (God forbid) but isn't there some way that we can organise ourselves better? I'm rereading (ok, reading) Marx and feel bewildered by what's happening.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

mama mia! here i go again.....

Last night I saw a movie that's still playing on my mind.

, as the name would suggest, is about sharks, how they live and how they're being finned to the point of population collapse. This is both sad and, from an ecological standpoint, dangerous.

HK is the main trading point for fins, and within a short walk of my new pad I could buy fins openly from one of the many stores that line the streets here. And a bird's nest or two to go with. Nothing illegal about it here.

Part of the film focused on the activities of Sea Shepherd, a direct action charity that puts itself and its boats on the line to stop illegal fishing globally. Earlier this year they chased a Japanese whaling boat around the pacific and successfully stopped its catch. This film showed some heart breaking footage of them pulling up long lines (60 MILES OF LONG LINES) that were illegally catching fish (including shark) off the coast of Costa Rica.

Needless to say, this extreme action has struck a chord with GP's more extreme personality traits, and this morning finds me signing up as a supporter of theirs, and looking into becoming a crew member....

Monday, 22 September 2008

I believe in miracles....

Moving home is a majorly stressful life event.

I am in the process.

This time last week I was packing up my old flat, under the supervision of one Mr Miracle, a HK removals guy recommended by a good friend of mine.

Turns out the name is well earned. Mr Miracle turned up, moved all my furniture single handed (I had assumed it was Mr Miracle and his team of Miracle Workers, but no), and, as we rattled down the road in his clapped out van, me clutching onto my peace lily, he whipped out a set of testimonials from happy patients he's treated.

In one of the more bizarre dual careers I've come across, it turns out Mr Miracle is both a removals guy and a faith healer.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Turning Japanese, I think I'm turning Japanese...

One of the crueler pass times that expats get up to is laughing at the standard of English of the locals.

As someone who can speak rusty French and German, and had to give up on Cantonese when I got my tones horribly confused and said "cock" rather than "nine" to a group of bemused business men (you think in the context of a lift I would have got away with it, but they can be unforgiving about this sort of thing...) I am generally pretty tolerant of anyone's attempt to speak English, as I don't think I've earned the right to have a giggle or criticize.

However, browsing the furniture ads (moving house means I've got to shift a lot of furniture quickly) I was surprised and a little disgusted to find someone proudly offering a "SOFA CUM BED".

Should you want it, you do have to trek to Lantau to collect :-)

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

It's just a jump to the left.....

Whilst we're admiring totalitarian regimes with a penchant for collective activity, seems timely to pay homage to that which all should aspire to - I give you the 60th birthday celebrations of North Korea.....

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Five gold rings!!!!!

Oh blimey there's only three days to go to the Olympics and for the first time ever I'll be living in the same country that they're taking place in and how exciting is that!!!! WAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Now, naturally, a lot of attention has been focused on what this means for China, and how they will handle the scrutiny that will come with having the Olympic circus turn up to town and rampage through Beijing. I, for one, hope that it goes well for them. The arguments about whether or not the games should be politicised are completely fatuous (the games always have been, surely?) but the sight of the Western press pack circling round clearly hoping for some juicy scandal to blast over their front page puts my teeth on edge. Leave the Chinese alone for God's sake!!! Let them have their coming out party in style, and don't give ammo to those who would want them to clamp down yet further in terms of freedom of speech and openness by going for the cheap shot of a lurid headline. Tomorrow's chip wrapper after all.......

Anyway, amongst all the hullabaloo, I'd almost forgotten that I should be whipping myself up into a nationalistic fervour about the UK's medal prospects. They are slim, granted, and not in exactly mainstream sports, but I think I may have found my top tottie for the games to concentrate my attention on for the next couple of weeks.

Friday, 1 August 2008

All day, and all of the night.....

OK, I admit, the unrelenting sun, sheer efficiency and super smooth service were beginning to work their hallucinogenic magic on me, were it not for one thing.....

Singapore celebrates its 43rd birthday on August 9th. Happy Birthday etc. One of the highlights of this is the National Day Parade, preparations for which are running non-stop outside my (luxury) bedroom window.

The parade itself is being celebrated on the largest steel floating platform anywhere, ever (or something) which I've read somewhere is capable of supporting the weight of 4 tanks (not to forget now, that Singapore still has National Service, and presumably, a well appointed army and navy with all the latest gadgets). The light show, music and choreographed water display look great, and obviously I took a particular interest in the men marching round in uniform/riding motorbikes and so on that were practising on Wednesday.

No, the bit that's getting my hackles up, and reminding me of dim distant Orwellian novels, is the singing. Right now, as I type, it's a poppy song with the key lyric "One nation, Singapore!!!" and yesterday I grinned and bore what I think might be the national pledge- truly ominous... In preparation, you can learn the lyrics to this year's songs here

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Sing, sing a song, make it simple, to last your whole life long!!!!!

Singapore. Singabore. Disneyland with the death penalty.

Before moving to Hong Kong, I thought it and Singapore were same same. City states, in Asia, ex colonies, financial/business hubs. National pastime = shopping. What could differentiate??

Having now a touch of experience, I know. I've grown to treat trips to Singapore with a mixture of dread and leaden anticipation. Dread as my time is usually accounted for before I land, and I have no time to myself, leaden anticipation as this place can be so, so dull....This time my feelings were heightened as the full enormity of the trip (10 whole days!!!) came on the back of the freedom, exhilaration and sheer beauty of Mongolia. A panicky email to friends to recommend "things to do" whilst in Singapore ensued - I was seriously worried that I might actually die of boredom whilst here...

And then, in the manner of most things, the cards fell in a very different way and I began to appreciate its charms....Aided by a limo pick up from the airport (seamless), a stay in an amazing hotel and then the fortuitous appearance of many friends over the weekend makes me wonder what all the fuss was about....

Monday, 21 July 2008

And if I only could, I'd be running up that hill....

hello all

back, rested and refreshed from a sojourn of reflecting on life and stuff in the wilds of mongolia (there's just so much of it - it certainly impresses the smallness of us WRT everything else....)

Anyway, back to more profane matters - in the ongoing, informal competition for who has the most bonkers ex, I give you a bone fide story about a guy that a very good friend of mine had a thankfully brief liaison with some time ago.....

Saturday, 5 July 2008

And then a steppe to the right.....

I am typing this at 12 15 in HK airport. I have been here for 5 hours. Luckily, I have lounge access so I have been enjoying the hospitality of the Cathay lounge (my, I get value for money from Cathay in all sorts of ways :-) )

The reason I'm stuck here is that there is unseasonable weather in Beijing which is preventing my flight from taking off. From Beijing I will be going to Mongolia. Mongolia has also been hit by torrential rain. By rights, Mongolia should be one of the driest places on the planet if records are anything to go by. However, it has been struck by 4 catastrophic climate events within 10 years

WTF is going on?? This is profoundly depressing. And no matter how much free cab sav I pour down my neck, or how many South Africans I befriend at the bar, this just isn't right....

And so my jolly to Mongolia (also somewhat blighted by the recent riots ) starts in a less than auspicious manner.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

And you may find yourself.....

My current favourite blog (one that's written by an anonymous blogger not a friend :-) ) is Hemlock's diary, written by a Company Gweilo, i.e. a foreigner based in one of the big hongs out here. Check him out at for a very particular view on the Big Lychee

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Tragedy! when the feeling's gone and you can't go on....

Last night I got to see a side of HK that I rarely interact with - the ritzy-glitzy-designer'n'coke bar scene. As it was also a completely spontaneous thing, I found myself sitting in this pretentious, ridiculously look at me place dressed in a look that's best described as "urban wanna be dyke".

In my salt encrusted birkenstocks, rolled up badly fitting jeans and t shirt, however, I can honestly say that I was having a better time than the majority of the hello dahling look at me crowd who were orbiting round this extraordinary place. I gleefully swigged beer from the bottle whilst being introduced to some of HK's model set (if the women are good looking I can honestly say the guys are even more hot. Extraordinary).

The cue to leave was when the second DJ set of the night started and 3 idiots in gas masks took to the stage. Gas Masks???? Having enjoyed Nathan Barley too much last week I couldn't take it and shambled out into the pouring rain.

Keep it girthy.

Friday, 13 June 2008

We are the champions, my friend…

Dragon Boating is an odd sport. It’s completely uncomfortable. And anachronistic. 18 – 20 (or sometimes up to 50) paddlers propel a heavy wooden boat down a course of variable length, with a steersperson at the back and someone beating merry hell out of a drum to keep time at the front. As a friend pointed out this week, in any other sport there would have been technological advances to drive better performance – fibreglass boats perhaps? Carbon fibre paddles?? But no, dragon boating is a Chinese sport and so the preferred approach to making the damn thing go faster is to add more people.

We’ve just celebrated the finale of the Dragon Boat season, with the races at Stanley. These are an extravaganza of largely expat exuberance – 200 odd dragon boat crews, corporate junk jollies for paddlers and non paddlers alike and in the middle of it some surprisingly competitive paddling over a 200m course. This year marks my third appearance in our squad - and each year the races have been momentous for one reason or another.

2006 – meeting the people I now consider great friends was significant in giving me the courage to walk away from my simply dreadful relationship with toxic J Low. The day itself was marred by his staying out all night with a “friend” of mine and then finding out on the day that whilst I was away on business he would be bringing other women back to our apartment. Cue many tears and the realisation that, as he didn’t see this as his problem, the end really was nigh.

2007 – single, happy and enjoying life. The paddling itself went well, and the after party ended up in an unlikely snog with an unsuitable, but interesting, choice of partner. It was ever thus.

2008 – our guys have only gone and won it! I’m still smiling. Huge performance all round for all teams. Party tomorrow night to celebrate in some style. Watch this space for updates.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

She flies like a bird, oh me oh my!

The journey was going just fine until we pulled up to Terminal 5 - "welcome to our new home!" purred the BA hostess as we parked up at the gate. Tired and crumpled as I was after the long flight I didn't readily pick up the hint of menace in her tone.

The new building is in truth quite beautiful, and compared to the instant heart sink that was arriving at Terminal 4, a huge improvement. It's light, airy, I've even read reviews describing it as "cathedral like", which I guess is fanciful but is an adjective on nodding terms with the reality.

Aside from the soaring roof, imposing structure and other architectural features used to emphasise the smallness of man and his part in the greater scheme of life, the other way in which T5 could be liken to a cathedral struck me as the manner in which the services conducted within it are serving the needs of higher "powers that be" rather than the punters at ground floor level.

I was left to develop this somewhat complex metaphor whilst waiting for my bag. The arrival of all the luggage was slow, compared to any other modern airline terminal, but mine had the distinction of being the very last out. As I watched the rest circle gracefully, nay almost meditatively around the carousel, I pondered whether this was BA's way of commenting on the absurd pace of modern life, and encouraging us to slow down and enjoy our brief, fleeting sojurn by taking time out to enjoy the mundane and the everyday?

It was only when caught in second queue, this time for one of two lifts that take people to the car park (some bright spark had decided to dispense with stairs or escalators) that I realised I might be being too generous to the "planning" arm of BA...........and applauded my decision not to share my half baked theories with my fellow passengers on the BA28 this cold, drizzly and windy am. Welcome, indeed.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Fly me to the moon, and let me play amongst the stars

It's official - I must be the least credible environmentalist going.

After the past couple of week's jaunt around SE Asia (including an interesting interlude in GP's personal life that deserves its own blog once I've decided just how to describe it so I appear in some kind of favourable light) I am now jetting off to London. For my sins I will be landing in Terminal 5. I do hope my luggage does too.

This trip will be my first back to Blighty for a while, something I always look forward to enormously and then end up itching to come back to HK. Normally it's just the overwhelming sense that the UK is in some sort of unstoppable decline, as evidenced by the overwhelmingly negative media, crassness of much of public life, crap weather, general pessimism........

This trip is all timed around my company's strategy day, which will hopefully reignite my enthusiasm for working life, or at least give me a change of scenery and the chance to recharge my batteries somewhat.

Hope springs eternal, life is a journey and all travel is a metaphor (or something).

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

it's I'm after baby

Writing this now from the Metropolitan Hotel in Bangkok, recommended by Luxe Guides (the more than slightly snooty guide book series that markets itself as being unashamedly elistist - "the best of the best") as "The Temple of Suave for the stylish bodkin". I do hope I measure up.

This will be the 4th different bed I've stayed in in less than a week since leaving HK and it's not much fun. It's also got me thinking about just how much my job is, in many ways, like being a high class hooker, only valued and paid for for my intellectual skills rather than anything else I might have to bring to the party.

I see clients. I have an hourly rate. I spend a lot of time in hotels. I have many fleeting relationships which, whilst superficially might be quite pleasant, have at their base money. Ho hum.

Maybe it's time to brush down the CV and get myself a proper job?

Thursday, 3 April 2008

It's like thunder! lightening!

No - it's not just like thunder and lightening, it is thunder and lightening.

Typing this from a deck in Phuket, where I've set up my laptop to do the couple of things that need to happen before I can put the damn thing away and spend a couple of days doing sweet FA. In a glamorous (I'd like to think) way, I realise that for the past couple of years I have ended up in Phuket for a mini spa break after 7s weekend. I shall turn this into an annual ritual. Anyway, I was entertaining fantasies of sunning myself and catching a few rays before coming back to HK - until that is the plane landed and the heavens opened.

Fortunately I like watching storms, and I don't tan so well anyway, so maybe it's all good if the sun's not shining this weekend...

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

sweet caroline....wah wah woah!

This blog is turning into a gallop through the key events in the expatriate social calender. This weekend, I give you, the beer fest that is the Hong Kong 7s.

Ostensibly, this is a leg of the International Rugby Board's 7s Rugby Tournament - there are also rounds of this in Dubai and, er, other places too, and it's all good fun and teams from around the world get together and play in a 3 day tournament in HK.

It's also, in a town that likes to party, one of the biggest piss up weekends that people travel from miles around to come to. Four of my friends came out from the UK, 2 for the weekend only, one from KL and one from Melbourne. This is in no way unusual. The epitome of the spirit of the weekend is the South Stand, where the hard core 7s fans , often in costume and always lagered up to the eyeballs mass and party hard for the full 3 days. Photos available on facebook.

I am now too old and crumbly for this, so do the slightly more gentile version which is ligging shamelessly into the corporate boxes. Last year I inexplicably ended up grappling Ieuan Evans and then being taken out to dinner by a CEO and his visiting Chairman. Half cut, I ended up giving my views on what he should be presenting to the global HR conference in the next month. They are still a client. It couldn't have been all bad.

This year was slightly more restrained, but it's all relative. Saturday and Sunday saw me enjoying the hospitality of various companies, running into ex players (David Campese is both shorter than he looks on the telly and seems to have no mates) and eying up the new batch (like policemen, rugby players do look awfully young these days....)

And then Monday rolled round, HK woke up to one mutha of a hangover and the city ticked back into its more usual routine (much, one would have to think, to the relief of the locals).

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Video Killed the Radio Star

And more's the pity if you ask me!

At the beginning of February, in manner of engaging, enlightened boss who practises what she preaches, I held an off site team day for the Hong Kong office. Not content with just getting everyone together, I also engaged a good friend here, L, to film the day with us, and get us using the camera.

All good fun. Until, that is, two things happened.

The first is the resignation of one of my team. Admittedly she will continue to work with us as an associate, and it is the best configuration all round, but what now to do with the footage of her banging on about her hopes and dreams for the forthcoming year??? I'm fairly sure, although my memory's not crystal clear on this, that one of them wasn't leaving the company.....

The second was viewing the rough cut of the film last night. Who was that wrinkly, tired looking, funny chinned woman with the oddly posh voice? Surely not......

I now have options.

1. cosmetic surgery.
2. photo shopping Uma Thurman in for me in the video
3. getting over myself.....

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Money makes the world go around....

I've been banging on to anyone who will listen about a book i've recently read.

Asian Godfathers by Joe Studwell (ISBN 13 978 1 86197 711 3, available at all good book stores near you, no I am not on commission) is the story of the political and social conditions that have enabled a unique cadre of people to emerge in this neck of the woods - the handful of tycoons whose business activities dominate this part of Asia. Taking as his territory SE Asia (Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore and HK) he explores the pre and post colonial landscape, impact of WWII and subsequent development to account for why a small number of gob smackingly wealthy families and their cronies control so much of the wealth and power in this region.

For full details, naturally I'd recommend getting a copy yourself. However, reading it challenged one of the nagging ideas that has been growing within me since moving to HK in October 2005. Now, lest you are in any doubt, GP is a very liberal creature, brought up on a diet rich in left wing media and taught to shred copies of the Daily "Hate" Mail on sight no questions. (As an aside, the currently most rabid columnist in the Mail - stiff competition there too - is hilarious referred to in all Guardian blogs at present as "clinically sane" Melanie Philips" which reliably raises a chuckle in me). ANYWAY, point is that the principles of a modern, Western democracy are something that I have grown up enjoying, expect as a right without question and I've never even dreamed of any other system.

Come to HK of course and things are different. Not so different, like on the mainland, that you get a clear sense of what you are missing out on (the TV screen blanking out for example every time the Dalai Lama appeared, which given the situation in Tibet right was a lot). No - here everything is pretty much like at home, apart from it's really efficient, everything is clean, streets are safe, stuff happens without endless consultation and you earn more money because the tax rate is peanuts. All good right? And so it was that the minor inconveniences, like having to carry an ID card around at all times, the more subtle irritations (only 2 supermarket chains here, and both are crap, because the system will only allow a duopoly) and the occasional story in the press about another absurdly rich bloke getting away with it (today's story is Peter Lam Kin-ngok, escaping a speeding fine on some highly dubious grounds) kind of melt away before the rich expat playground that HK can be.

Ambling back to the point, HK on the surface is a great place, and for certain aspects of life it certainly is. However, on a personal level I don't have a vote. My choices as a consumer are limited as extremely wealthy and powerful families control and shape the business landscape here, and can do so as there is no effective competition law to challenge the incumbents. There is nothing like a fair taxation system to redistribute wealth or provide a basic level of social security for those at the bottom of society's pile. And nothing like a free press to bring pressure to bear on those who are raking it in with both hands.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Mama, we love you...

Recently it seems that everywhere i look my female friends are either having babies, desperate to have babies, dealing with the aftermath of having a baby or resolutely not having babies. As a thirty something woman, I'm not sure what I want, but I do know that I feel overwhelmed and stressed at not having a position on the subject. Is it naive to think that it really was all much easier in my mum's day - roles more fixed and expectations unchallenged? Mind you, she had two children, a number of miscarriages, a very nasty bout of post natal depression and the on going challenge of raising a disabled child. Not sure with hindsight this is what she would have chosen. If she ever perceived she had a choice at all. Anyway, to illustrate some of the traffic around this issue:

From a former colleague at work to the entire practice.

I’m about to do something I thought just wasn’t me. Housewives and stay-at-home mothers always seemed strange creatures to me – is that sort of life really satisfying? Well, having been there for nearly a year and a half, I can report that yes it is very satisfying and rewarding and all those clich├ęs people like to band around. It is also more stressful and emotionally tiring than any work experience I have ever had.

Having a child has changed me, my life, my expectations and my desires, and whilst I’m knackered most of the time and crave me time, being first and foremost a mother is just what I need to do right now.

From today's Observer

3. Corinne Maier

Who: Author

Why: In a culture of yummy mummies and giant designer prams 43-year-old Maier, mother of two, says the unsayable: having kids is overrated. Her book No Kid: 40 Reasons Not To Have Children, has scandalised France and topped the bestseller lists. The former economist rails against everything from giving birth and breast-feeding to sexless relationships and anodyne child-talk: 'In France, people go on too much about the glory of motherhood, and you're not allowed to talk about all the problems having kids causes. I thought it would be fun to take a dig at the myth that having a child is wonderful.' She's bold, funny and, often, spot-on.

She says: 'There are moments when I bitterly regret having kids.'

We're so pretty, oh so pretty....

And so to another staple of the HK scene - the charity ball. The format is a simple one - take a top end location (ballroom of a plush hotel, top end restaurant or, last night, the deck overlooking HK's skyline), adopt a cause (Care for AIDS sufferers), invite guests and add booze. Then chuck in a raffle, silent and real auctions and proceed to part the guests and their money.

HK is a remarkably wealthy place (I think I've read somewhere that it has the highest per capita number of millionaires of any city) and also somewhere where enjoying and displaying your wealth is not viewed with any distaste at all. In fact, vulgar (to my mind) and ostentatious shows of just how much cash you have are almost mandatory.

I have been on the guest side of such events of course, and they are normally quite good fun, depending on the guests at your table and the entertainment laid on. Last night, however, I was on the other side of the fence, volunteering my time to work behind the bar at an event to raise cash for supporting AIDS suffers in HK and China.

It's been a long time since I worked behind a bar. I've certainly never before worked behind a bar where the most popular order was $800 bottles of Moet. Still the evening was great fun, and most of the guests remembered that we were in fact volunteers rather than professional bar staff and modified their behaviour and expectations accordingly. I got to stand behind the makeshift bar watching the great and good of HK society troop past, regulation furs for the ladies and arm candy for the men. The owner of one of the more pretentious bars in HK (Dragon-i - somewhere I avoid on principle ever since a friend was denied a table because she didn't fit the look of the place) arrived with a troop of young models for his guests. Hilariously they arrived after the food. I guess when you work in the catwalk trade main courses aren't part of the deal.

The realisation I had was that working the bar was actually more fun for me than being a guest at the event. I chatted to far more people, got a better view of the entertainments and altogether felt far more comfortable than parading around in a posh frock spending money like water. Hey ho. Still, next week I am the guest of a good friend to the American Chamber Ball so will get the chance to compare and contrast. And I'll certainly make sure that I'm polite to the staff.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Everybody hurts sometimes.....

In my line of work - being a corporate shrink - there's a movement at the moment called "Authentic Happiness". this is all based on the premise that you can learn the tricks of being happy. Happy people live longer, have more fulfilling relationships, are healthier and generally live "better" lives. Psychologists have, traditionally, looked at what causes abnormality - depression, obsessions, anxiety and the like and sought to cure these conditions. Then someone (bloke called Seilgman, actually) decided to turn the paradigm on its head and look at what factors promote psychological wellness. He found that gratitude, forgiveness, investing in relationships and playing to strengths are all correlated with psychological well being and a feeling of contentment. Check it out at

All good stuff.

Apart from, for me, a nagging doubt at the back of my mind about the value to individuals of experiencing the full range of emotions. Don't get me wrong, extremes (clinical depression, anxiety and so on) are debilitating and I wouldn't wish them on anyone. I've had too much personal and professional experience to glamorize them for a moment. But there's something about this current trend to cure, avoid, medicate or otherwise deny experiences that seems to me to lessen and diminish the overall experience of what it is to be human.

I wrote this post a while back, apropos of goodness knows what. Nice to see that sometimes random musings and thoughts are validated by mainstream opinion. The news broke this week that Prozac is no better than placebo (the drug not the band - not sure that anyone's run that comparison) in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. Eli Lily, the corporate monster who've made a stack from licensing the drug, suppressed results that didn't fit the party line (i.e. span the story). A team of researchers, using the Freedom of Information Act, demanded to see the whole lot, and, wouldn't you know it, when you take all results into account the treatment effect disappears. Oops.

The other interesting (to me anyway) part of the story has been a rush of articles on the upside of depression (or at least why, in an evolutionary sense it's survived as a thing rather than being selected out). Check out for one view on this.

Monday, 25 February 2008

(Pipe line) Pure as the driven snow.... (Running through my mind) And now I'm having fun, baby....

Holidays are a funny business. Like Christmas, the promise is often more alluring than the reality. This is a short preamble to the deconstruction of a trip away that, with hindsight, seems to have been jinxed from start to finish.

On paper, it showed great promise - a week's skiing in Niseko, powder capital of the world and somewhere I had a fantastic weekend away last year. Although not a skillful skier, I'm certainly enthusiastic, and normally well able to throw myself reasonably safely (if not stylishly) down the slopes. Add in beautiful surroundings, interesting company and a week out of the office - what could go wrong??

Where should I start?

Involving my parents was, with hindsight, a mistake. Whilst their sole role was to mail a parcel (at my expense) to HK (containing all my ski kit) this in the end proved so difficult and stressful (and ultimately pointless) that I really wish I hadn't bothered. My parents can not only create mountains out of molehills, they can create huge, spiky, impassable ranges out of absolutely nothing. Nothing is easy, everything is a "disaster" and oddly enough usually my problem to sort out. Suffice to say, once they had found the boots (one bag) and mailed it (i.e. taken it to the Post Office) - all involving extraordinary amounts of contact with me to check they were doing the right thing - the bag promptly went missing somewhere between Crewe and Stoke. Brilliant. I can only assume that some pikey bastard somewhere in the Midlands is now wondering what to do with a pair of ski boots tailored precisely to my feet, some aging goggles and, I really hope, socks that haven't been washed since my last ski trip.

So, problem one, no kit.

The next hiccup was one more of my own making. HK is not a place that's easy to stay well. Coughs, colds and bugs abound. I have been suffering from a cold for the past month, but, true to my Protestant work ethic, didn't do anything as slack as take time off. Oh no. Struggling on, feeling tired, miserable and contagious was clearly the better option. And, predictably, one that ensured I turned up on holiday and promptly got really ill. So, having travelled for a day, I spent the first 2 days in bed, occasionally struggling out and then really wishing that I hadn't bothered. Wonderful.

Problem two - felt crap.

This then led into the next issue - ski holidays are great, sociable occasions - as long as you are feeling sociable. I wasn't. But neither did I want to be a party pooper. But then again any time I went out I tended to ruin the ambiance of the evening with my hacking cough. My inability to manage small talk didn't help much either.

Problem three - social leper.

By the end of the week I was quite looking forward to coming home, curling up in my flat and getting better properly. I chose not to extend the trip for another day (not least because of the absurd amount of cash I'd burned through on the trip already). So - I waved goodbye to the rest of the group and headed off to the airport. Which was promptly enveloped in the biggest blizzard in living memory. All flights cancelled. As the full implication of this became apparent, a fellow passenger and I hatched a plan to get to Sapporo to stay in a hotel. Don't hold your breath - this isn't a story that will have a sudden happy ending.... My traveling companion was a charming, 70 year old German physics professor on a trip to Tsingdao. He was truly fascinating company, and thank the lord I ran into him otherwise I would have had an utterly grim stopover in Sapporo. As it was, the highlight of the trip home was dinner watching the snow pile down, whilst talking about the second law of thermodynamics and the links between physics and philosophy.

Problem four - it never rains but it blizzards.....

Anyway, said snow meant that all forms of transport from the airport to Sapporo were suspended, leaving no option but to sleep on the terminal floor and then hope that it all picked up the next day. And so it was that 24 hours behind schedule I finally schlepped back to HK, tired, ill and smelly.

Have I had a holiday?? Doesn't feel like it. I've now been signed off work for the next 3 days ("You've got flu" diagnosed my HK GP astutely) and will pioneer an urban mini break instead.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Sometimes I feel like throwing my hands up in the air.....

Poor Benny. This, I would assume, is a comprehensively crap start to the year of the RAT. Sadly, as I'm now off skiing for a week I won't be able to follow the paper trail further, as undoubtedly Benny, or maybe Benny's boss (one can only hope) will pick up the baton and respond. Dear reader, if you have a moment and can be arsed, please keep an eye out for the next salvo from the EPD?

Reply cannot be taken seriously

Feb 15, 2008

I would like to thank Benny Y.K. Wong from the Environmental Protection Department for his response ("All views on air quality welcome", February 5) to my letter ("Wrong day for crucial meeting on air quality", January 27), inviting public consultation on the air quality objectives.

Sadly the department's website recommended does not have a way of actually giving feedback other than through a generic e-mail address. I have shared my views but have little confidence that they will be acted on in a meaningful way.

A friend involved in public consultation for local and national government in Britain, and who worked for a company that specialised in public consultation, notes the type of consultation that occurs in Hong Kong is about 20 years behind best practices.

It seems that the government culture in Hong Kong is one of actually being scared of public input. And as to the assertion from Mr Wong that, "We take all views from the community seriously", this hardly squares with the paltry numbers who were at the consultation meeting - 200 participants, that says it all.

In a city of 7 million people, all of whom have a direct interest in air quality, only 200 people were able to attend. Wrong place, wrong time, wrong answer, Mr Wong.

La Grande Poobah, and friends, Mid-Levels

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Can you hear them, talking about us....

From today's SCMP - told you this one would run and run......

"Endless talking does not curb pollution"

I found the statement by the assistant director of the Environmental Protection Department (EPD), Benny Y.K. Wong - that the government welcomes and takes seriously the community's views on how to tackle the air pollution problem - quite depressing ("All views on air quality welcome", February 5).
So the EPD needs our help? I thought they were the experts. Shouldn't the people responsible for clearing our skies already know what to do? I guess not

Mr Wong, here are some suggestions. I am only a teacher, not an environmental expert, but these ideas seem easy to understand. We should implement an idling-engine ban, something discussed since 2000, and introduce road pricing - also discussed for years.

All vehicles that do not meet the most recent environmental standards should be removed within six months. London imposes a daily fine of more than HK$3,000 on polluting trucks. This is action, not consultation.

Make catalytic converters mandatory immediately on all vehicles that do not meet current standards.

Our two power companies should be required to install the most advanced technology that is available to reduce emissions.

Finally, we should use the new World Health Organisation scale for assessing pollution, not the 1987 scale now in use. This is the easiest one to do immediately, but is currently in the consultation process.

These ideas are not new. They have been "discussed", some for many years, but no action has been taken. So, Mr Wong, can you please tell me what good it does to make suggestions when no action is ever taken?

It is sad that the ones who could make a difference just do not seem to care enough. Mr Wong, the people cannot make any of these changes. We need action, not endless consultations, which it seems is the only thing this current administration is good at.

Terry Scott, Sha Tin

Monday, 11 February 2008

Blue Moon, you saw me standing alone, without a dream in my heart, without a love of my own....

I was going to blog about my recent trip to the mainland, about the extraordinary development there and the mixed emotions that it evokes in me. Incisive comments about the march of development in China, how awe inspiring and terrifying it is in equal measure. About how your own relative wealth is jammed down your throat before you can scream "too much!! of everything!!! just stop it can't you!!!!". Shape shifting narrative about the unstoppable rise of the wild east....

And then City beat United 2 -1 AWAY and completed the double for the first time in 38 years, and the scales fell from my eyes and I saw with utmost clarity what's truly important.

It makes me laugh, being in Asia and seeing how the Premiership is so utterly commoditised out here. A friend in KL pointed out recently that if you watch Man U's premiership games, all the billboards in the grounds are for Asian businesses. Tells you exactly who's watching. The bit that is really poignant for me is that the "fans" of these clubs really do engage with the brand as a lifestyle choice. They could no more find Manchester or name Arsenal's home town than I could reliably locate Nanjing on a map.

Being a City fan to me is not a matter of choice, it's part of my identity. My dad, uncle, brother, mother, cousins and grandparents on both sides were/are City fans. I grew up listening to my maternal grandfather's tales of watching Ardwick AFC (as they were). I have been bored to tears by reminiscing between my dad and his brother about great City sides of the past. Their cat used to be called Bert, named after Bert Trautman, the German goalie post WW11 who nevertheless found favour with City fans for somehow managing to play out a game with a broken neck (I can only assume it wasn't badly broken - rather than that he was really good at playing prone). I watched the Division 2 playoff at Wembley between Gillingham Town and City that we somehow snuck in extra time - my cousin was so overexcited by it that he had to have his appendix out the next day. And on and on. The idea of not supporting City, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, is simply not an option, even when now they are funded by a highly dubious, discredited Thai politician and managed by a Swedish serial shagger who looks suspiciously like Mr Burns off the Simpsons. No - despite all of this, I'm City 'til I die, I'm City 'til I die etc etc.

Of course the real irony of this, and bear with me as I try to desperately link the two themes within this post, is that there would be no City or United had there not been the huge influx of people into Manchester as a result of the industrial revolution and the corresponding increase in population along the banks of the Mersey. Poor farm workers, my forebears very much included (apart from the German Jewish lot who turned up a tad later) moved towards the money and king cotton, off the land and into the factories (or, I'm told, for some, working below stairs in service in the better off Victorian households of well to do Manchester and its suburbs).

Not too hard to find parallels between that and the huge migrations and social changes that are all too evident in China right now.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

oooh - I'll get by with a little help from my friends....

This one will, I feel, run and run. Thanks to Mummy and Lottie P for their insightful comments on Benny Wang's response to my SCMP letter. True to my views on recycling, I've taken the liberty of cut and pasting them into a reply, sent to the SCMP this morning. Watch this space for further thrilling action in the on-going case of The People vs EPD! Maybe we could have a private audience with Benny?? Maybe this blogspot will become a focal point for urban activism in HK? Maybe, just maybe, I'm getting ahead of myself.....

Anyway, here's the original, submitted online today. Lottie P/Mummy - if you would like clearer (OK, any) recognition for your plagiarised words then let me know!

I would like to thank Benny Y.K. Wong for his response to my letter inviting public consultation on the air quality objectives ("All Views on Air Quality Welcome, February 5).

Sadly the website recommended doesn't have any way of actually giving feedback other than a generic email address. I have shared my views but have little confidence that they will be acted on in a meaningful way.

A friend who used to do a lot of public consultation for local and national government in the UK, and worked for a company that specialised in public consultation notes that the type of consultation that occurs in HK is about 20 years behind best practices.

It seems that the government culture in HK (URA et al) is one of actually being scared of public input.

And as to the assertion from Mr Wong that "We take all views from the community seriously" this is hard to square with the paltry numbers who were at the consultation meeting. 200 participants - that says it all. In a city of 7 million people, all of whom have a direct interest in air quality, only 200 poeple were able to attend. Wrong place, wrong time, wrong answer!

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

You say you want a revolution.......

Wonderful! The pages of the South China turn out to be an open forum for debate. I shall naturally be replying in kind. :-)

From today's South China, under the helpful strap line "All VIews on Air Quality Welcome":

I refer to La Grande Poobah's letter ("Wrong day for crucial meeting on air quality", January 27).

We take all views from the community seriously and would like to hear from them on how best the current air quality objectives should be reviewed and how a long-term air quality management plan should be developed. In choosing the time and day of the forum, we took into account the availability of the speakers, audience and suitable venue. We understand that any day we chose may not have suited everyone's schedule.

Nevertheless, the forum held on January 31 attracted some 200 participants. It seems the choice was largely acceptable though it may not be convenient for some.

For those who could not attend the forum we welcome their views and comments by e-mails at our website at

Benny Y. K. Wong, assistant director (air policy), for director of environmental protection

Naturally I invite you all to submit your views to Benny and his cronies on the website post haste!

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Baby it's cold outside....

Before coming to HK, I was woefully under prepared in terms of what to expect of this city state. Aside from the usual images of tall office buildings, and some notion that there was a harbour here, I was truly clueless. I need to remember my ignorance (only 2 years ago after all) when, as happens frequently, I end up having a frustrating conversation with colleagues in London about some basic fact of life in Asia.

Common bugbears include:
My colleague who insists on referring to HK as "South East Asia" - what does he think is in the north?
Another who lectures me on expanding into China - I had to break it to her that HK IS in China;
Those who think it's perfectly possible to have a morning meeting in Singapore and an afternoon one in Shanghai...
and so on, and so on.........

When I head back to London I'll be taking an atlas with me as a gift.

ANYWAY, prompt for this post is that HK is going through a cold snap, one of the coldest on record. For the past week we have shivered as the temperatures plummeted below 10 degrees. It's been horrible, and for just about the first time since arriving here I've felt properly cold. Before my arrival I had in mind that HK was kind of tropical, and that the only thing to worry about was the heat. Not any more.

As a Mancunian I'm hardly a stranger to crap weather and really should not be finding this spell quite as challenging as it's proving! However, my local colleagues really don't seem to know what's hit them. They are presently modeling a look best described as "urban dumpling" - plenty of layers, top to toe coverage, round in the middle.

Of course, what's going on in HK is nothing compared to the mainland right now where the terrible weather is in danger of causing all sorts of civil unrest. Problem seems to be that the awful weather and the subsequent disruption to travel has coincided with Chinese New Year. Traditionally this is the time that migrant workers travel home - for many this is the only time of the year that they will see their families. Thus you have the scary sight of 800, 000 disgruntled workers queuing up in Guangzhou desperately trying to get back for the New Year celebrations. Scary because this is exactly the type of urban unrest scenario that "the authorities" work overtime to prevent. Witness the Chinese Premier zooming around the country, exhorting, praising and generally doing everything and anything possible to keep the show on the road.

All this makes my current discomfort small fry (to anyone other than me of course) but for the record this will be a weekend spent largely under a duvet, ingesting large amounts of lemsip (yes, I have a common or garden cold to boot as well, poor me) and in general moaning on to any friends who will listen in a vain attempt to get sympathy from them. You have been warned.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

You could write it in a letter....

Oh my it never rains but it pours.

As my working life picks up speed, I find myself procrastinating in new and varied ways. Flirting with boys via email and text, playing several boards of scrabulous and latterly turning into Hong Kong's version of "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells" - the ficticious letter writer to the Torygraph. There is a strange buzz that comes with seeing your stuff in print (er..maybe that's why I like the micro ego trip that goes with blogging?)

Anyway, here's the latest missive published in my newspaper writing career. After sharing my thoughts with the Guardian last year on having a disabled sibling, I'm turning my attention to the painfully banal South China Morning Post. There is, naturally, a formula for getting published.

First, never forget Beijing is good. It just is. OK?

Secondly, letters that refer to business, and how to build business/make money/beat Singapore are particularly welcome.

Thirdly, knock governmental departments. For starters it's easy, always plenty of material to go on and relatively harmless. The SCMP can therefore look like a connected and concerned commentator, whilst not actually promoting any change.

I'm choosing, as my primary source of material, the environment. However, if there are issues that should be brought to the attention of the readership of SCMP do let me know and I'll do my utmost to bring my creative talents to bear to get it into the rag :-)

Wrong day for crucial meeting on air quality

The air quality in Hong Kong is poor and it is a relief to see the government taking steps to consult the public on Hong Kong's air quality objectives.

The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) is therefore to be applauded for launching a consultation forum to gather opinions about these objectives. Unfortunately the meeting is to be held on a Thursday afternoon ("Review of air quality objectives and development of a long-term air quality strategy for Hong Kong consultation forum", January 31).

As the managing director of a business in Hong Kong, the subject of our air quality is of the utmost importance to me, as it has a direct impact on the well-being of my customers and my staff, and therefore, by implication, the success of my business.

I have strong views which I would love to have the opportunity to share with the EPD.

Why then could the meeting not be scheduled on a weekend, or in the evening, which would enable a broader attendance from business leaders in Hong Kong?

Is the EPD afraid to hear our views?

Grande Poobah, Mid-Levels

Friday, 11 January 2008

Dear sir or madam, would you read my book?

A first for me this week - a letter of mine was printed in the South China Morning Post. Regular readers (!) will know only too well my views on this rag, but, for better or worse it is HK's leading English Language paper and the closest thing to a free press that we have locally. My letter was prompted by the news that the mainland is taking action to curb plastic bag use. My good friend, the redoubtable Lottie P, followed it up the next day with a second letter on the same theme.

The most interesting thing about this whole process was the angle that the SCMP placed on both. Both letters had as their core point the lamentable lack of action taken by HK to sort out its own plastics consumption. However, the headings for the letters in the paper highlighted their relative support for the Chinese position. Mine, for example, was titled "Decisive Action" - a header that so missed the mark that I didn't even notice that it was my letter underneath!

Decisive Action

Jan 11, 2008

I read with interest the report that the mainland is taking the lead in reducing the use of plastic bags ("Plastic bag crackdown to include ban on free handouts from June 1", January 9).

I applaud the firm and forward-looking stance that the mainland has taken, which places it alongside other forward-looking nations which are prepared to take decisive action to deal with the environmental problems caused by excessive and irresponsible plastic use.

It therefore is all the more shameful and inexplicable that Legco and Hong Kong retailers are so spineless in their efforts to curb plastic (mis)use.

Where are the leaders who are prepared to take the brave and morally responsible decisions necessary to bring Hong Kong into line with the mainland?

La Grande Poobah, Mid-Levels