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.