Friday, March 27, 2009

The War At Home

By Chip Tsao | published Mar 26, 2009

The Russians sank a Hong Kong freighter last month, killing the seven Chinese seamen on board. We can live with that—Lenin and Stalin were once the ideological mentors of all Chinese people. When the Japanese planted a flag on Diàoyú Island, that was no big problem either. We Hong Kong Chinese love Japanese cartoons, Hello Kitty, and shopping in Shinjuku, let alone our round-the-clock obsession with karaoke.

But hold on—now the Filipinos? Manila has just claimed sovereignty over the scattered rocks in the South China Sea called the Spratly Islands, complete with a blatant threat from its congress to send gunboats to the South China Sea to defend the islands from China if necessary. This is beyond reproach. Why? Because there are more than 130,000 Filipina maids working for $3,580-a-month in Hong Kong. As a nation of servants, you don’t flex your muscles at your master, from whom you earn most of your bread and butter.

As a patriotic Chinese man, the news has made my blood boil. I summoned Louisa, my domestic assistant who holds a degree in international politics from the University of Manila, hung a map on the wall, and gave her a harsh lecture. I sternly warned her that if she wants her wages increased next year, she had better tell every one of her compatriots in Statue Square on Sunday that the entirety of the Spratly Islands belongs to China.

Grimly, I told her that if war breaks out between the Philippines and China, I would have to end her employment and send her straight home, because I would not risk the crime of treason for sponsoring an enemy of the state by paying her to wash my toilet and clean my windows 16 hours a day. With that money, she would pay taxes to her government, and they would fund a navy to invade our motherland and deeply hurt my feelings.

Oh yes. The government of the Philippines would certainly be wrong if they think we Chinese are prepared to swallow their insult and sit back and lose a Falkland Islands War in the Far East. They may have Barack Obama and the hawkish American military behind them, but we have a hostage in each of our homes in the Mid-Levels or higher. Some of my friends told me they have already declared a state of emergency at home. Their maids have been made to shout “China, Madam/Sir” loudly whenever they hear the word “Spratly.” They say the indoctrination is working as wonderfully as when we used to shout, “Long live Chairman Mao!” at the sight of a portrait of our Great Leader during the Cultural Revolution. That could be going a bit too far, at least for the time being.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009



菲律賓政府宣布,南沙群島那幾堆海礁,是菲律賓領土。馬尼拉的國會,還有議員提案,不惜出動海軍一戰。消息傳來,午飯時大家肺都氣炸了。「俄羅斯擊沉了中國船,打瓜了七個中國人,中國人認命,沒辦法,因為列寧和史太林,是炎黃子孫的白種爺爺。」×君來自武漢,是留學生,來香港兩年,操帶有普通話口音的粵語,緊握着一杯普洱,手在微微發抖:「賓佬算個什麼東西?給你們香港人開車,他們的老婆,給香港人洗地燒飯,媽個巴羔的也敢侵略?」「我已經採取了相應措施,」國難當前,至緊要沉着,我說:「自菲律賓挑釁之日起,我已經對家裏的菲傭,訓話半小時,上地理課,除了申明南沙群島的主權,還着令她星期天去皇后廣場坐在地上跟一眾姐妹啃雞腿的時候,把中國人民對菲律賓的憤怒,廣泛傳達出去。香港人愛國有責,師奶護土也有責,每次批准你家的菲傭上廁所前,必須大聲斥問:南沙群島是哪一國領土?非要那位Maria高聲答:China, Madam!才准她解決。」「有幾個會那麼溫順呢?」秘書Grace說:「平時叫她少打兩個錢斧頭,她都眼瞅瞅,我家那隻衰嘢,我先生也跟她講過南沙問題的,她一扁嘴,走進工人房不出來。」「那就快把熨斗插上電掣,燒紅來侍候好了,」×君說:「愛國無罪,賓婆那麼囂張,要予以制裁。」「但香港的司法,不幸還由港英餘孽把持着,他們不會配合香港僱主的愛國行動的,」我沉吟:「菲傭說南沙群島是她的,你用熱熨斗燙她的嘴,申張民族大義,不是不可以,但律政司會控告你傷人,法官夏正民之類,會與美國暗相呼應,重判我們香港師奶同胞入獄的。」「到底是香港人,」×君說:「就是畏首畏尾,跟煲呔一個樣。行政、立法、司法,要互相支持,為國家主權服務,這是大原則嘛。」我聽了,低頭不語,政治太複雜了,我們香港人不懂。但如果菲律賓政府派海軍在南沙插了旗,香港僱主非禮菲傭的個案,可能理直氣壯地大增。「你偷雞了我一把,我也那麼狗摸你一下,為什麼不可以?」×君說,仰首大笑,我也在一旁陪笑!哈哈,哈哈哈──高官們,聽到了沒有?這就是民意了。

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sister Aloysius’s Doubts and Mine

By Chip Tsao | published Mar 19, 2009

Ever annoyed by the orchestra of mobile ringtones and high-pitched conversations in the middle of a movie at a Hong Kong cinema? Consider my recent adventure.

“Doubt” is a dramatic movie about a nun named Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), determined to expose a priest named Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) whom she believes is molesting a schoolboy in a Catholic secondary school in 1960s New York City. It is not the kind of film that would attract many local Hong Kong moviegoers. I went to see it at the IFC cinema in Central. There were a little more than a dozen people in the audience, most of them westerners.

Most unsurprisingly, a mobile started ringing halfway through, and soon a woman began engaging in a long business bargain from her seat. Eventually a western man decided he couldn’t put up with that sideshow anymore. He stepped forward, gently tapped her on the shoulder, and reminded her of the nature of the venue, where people prefer hearing the dialogue between the on-screen characters rather than hers. She immediately responded to this interference with an even louder cannonade of abuse, in a funny mixture of four-letter broken English and angry Cantonese indictments, asking why there were so many gweilos in Hong Kong and why they had the right to tell Chinese people what they ought or ought not to do. Gone are the days, she fiercely refuted, when white bastards could tell us what civilization means, and now we Chinese have money.

In a world where the US is apparently on the decline in its powerful role as a world cop, the other western audience members had very little choice but to put up with the nationalistic pride of this lady, who left the cinema after her harangue, still breathing fire. After ten minutes, she came back with four policemen and policewomen. The screening had to be temporarily stopped as she complained to the police that the gweilo had committed an indecent assault against her by tapping her on the shoulder. The accused was asked to leave the cinema hall with the plaintiff to sort out the matter outside.

A few Chinese people in the audience, who had been bored by the movie anyway, hurriedly left the cinema. But the rest of the western audience stayed behind until the end, and afterwards volunteered as witnesses and offered to go to court if necessary.

It was an impressive movie. Is Father Flynn a child molester? A weeping Meryl Streep cries out her famous line, “I have doubts. I have such doubts.” Well, I have little doubt about who the real criminal in the cinema was. But I do have some doubts about the future of the world if common social etiquette has to be rewritten to accommodate the fragile ego of a nation as paranoid as Sister Aloysius.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Monkey Business

By Chip Tsao | published Mar 12, 2009

Someone has been killing monkeys at Monkey Hill at the Shek Lei Pui reservoir. This may seem an odd way to pay tribute to Charles Darwin for his 200th birthday, but the huge Chinese market for monkey meat and brains is said to be the motivation behind the massacre.

Allegedly, each adult monkey in Hong Kong can sell for $1,000, and a baby monkey for $800. A Chinese fine dining connoisseur can buy monkeys in the market to resell to specialized restaurants, who prepare the brains as a delicacy. The cook imprisons the monkey and force-feeds it rice wine (in some places, French red wines are substituted to make the brain tastier and mark up the price). The head is shaved, the skull is opened, and the brains are dug out and served as soon as possible, preferably with seasonings such as soy sauce, wasabi, or chili peppers.

The taste is said to be not terribly impressive—a bit like tofu. And this may be urban legend, but some say that in the drive for ultimate freshness the monkey is still alive when the brains are harvested, and it might even regain consciousness depending on the cook’s generosity with the amount of alcohol used (being economical is understandable these days, especially if you are using the more expensive French wines). Chinese gourmets can eat with a lot of noise, but the monkey’s mouth is firmly sealed shut to prevent even the faintest cry of dissent. This is, of course, a practice all too familiar to the Chinese.

In the interests of being environmentally friendly, the rest of the monkey can be made into other dishes. The meat is traditionally fried and the paws are used in a popular type of medicinal soup.

An adult monkey weighing 1.5kg has a brain that weighs 150 grams—perhaps only slightly heavier than both George W. Bush and Tung Chee-hwa’s added together. So it is rather puzzling that baby monkeys have become victims. A baby monkey is not enough for a table of four, which would surely result in a fight of kung-fu movie proportions between hungry customers.

Cruel? Some would say that’s just Western prejudice. Personally, I wish the poachers on Monkey Hill good luck. I hope they can get their monkeys processed without delay, and avoid lingering with, or even fornicating with the creatures, which thanks to the barbarous actions of similar tribal folk, is how many scientists believe HIV first spread to humans.

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

A Question of Context

By Chip Tsao | published Mar 05, 2009

China has fallen out with the French over the auction of a rabbit’s head and a rat’s head in Paris—a diplomatic spat that has done the Chinese heads in and left the French scratching their heads. The two controversial bronze heads were allegedly looted from the Summer Palace in Peking by the joint Anglo-French army in 1860.

The “burning of the Summer Palace” (in Chinese, “huo shao Yuanming Yuan”) has become synonymous with nationalistic humiliation, and anything that invokes it would deeply hurt the feelings, as the jargon has it, of the Chinese people. But why was the Summer Palace burned in the first place? Chinese history textbooks tell only half the story.

In June 1858, Hsian Fung, the Chinese emperor, had surrounded himself with a gaggle of hawkish ministers while the British and the French were knocking on the door, demanding more trade. The diplomatic row soon escalated into a military crisis, as a large flotilla of Anglo-French forces sailed northwards from Hong Kong, threatening a full-scale invasion. Hsian Fung responded by fleeing to his Royal Garden Villa in Manchuria, and ordered his ministers to open urgent talks with the white devils.

The British sent an envoy named Harry Parkes, who was arrested with his entourage in Tientsin. Parkes was made to kowtow to the Chinese officials, who forcefully beat his head on the ground a few hundred times, apparently in retaliation for the refusal of the previous envoy, Lord McCartney, to pay necessary deference when he arrived at the court of the late emperor Ch’ien Lung. Then as the British navy approached off of Bohai Bay, Parkes and his followers were tied up with waterlogged leather straps and removed to Peking.

The British prisoners, still tied up in belts, were locked in a small cell in the Summer Palace. Parkes then supposedly sang “God Save the Queen” to the grinning prison guards, who had no idea what it meant. Not long after, the prisoners fell ill and their bodies were infested with maggots. A reporter for the Times was the first to die and his body was fed to the dogs. Some other prisoners were mutilated. When the group was eventually released, only 19 out of the 39 captured survived.

The tragedy sent shockwaves back to Europe, and both the British and French peoples’ feelings were deeply hurt. The French suggested burning down the Forbidden City as revenge. But a more lenient Lord James Elgin, the British High Commissioner to China, proposed that the Summer Palace, where the crime was committed, should be destroyed instead. Should we blame the British and the French?

Not quite, according to the logic of someone such as John Pilger, a left-wing Australian journalist who blamed Pol Pot’s massacre of 2 million Cambodians on President Nixon for originally bombing Cambodia and thus triggering the Khmer Rouge terror.

When you read history, context is paramount. Whether you’re arguing about a rabbit’s head or a rat’s head, it’s always hard to keep your own head cool when you have it up your ass.

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