Thursday, October 29, 2009

Just a Hangover

By Chip Tsao | published Oct 29, 2009

If the Toshiba sign accidentally visible in the background of China’s National Day military parade added fuel to the flames of China’s anti-Japanese jingoism and triggered angry online protests, we Hong Kongers are not lagging too far behind our countrymen in terms of patriotic courage.

Francis Y. S. Mak, an RTHK DJ who hosts a program about courage, staged a brave confrontation with the Japanese aboard a JAL flight from Tokyo with his family last week. Because of his late check-in, the family of seven ended up being seated far apart from each other. Mak immediately demanded his family be re-seated, but the air hostess snubbed him because it wasn’t her duty to re-allocate seats.

The Hong Kong celebrity immediately summoned the air purser, who probably told him with a most professional smile that there was nothing they could do even if it was an order from Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama himself. Feeling deeply insulted, Mak organized a protest by having all his family members stand in the corridor, and then angrily informed the pilot that there would be no take-off unless the matter was resolved. The Japanese gave in, with air hostesses begging passengers to change their seats to accommodate Mak’s demands. Altogether, it was a two-hour delay in one of the most dramatic stand-offs in Asia’s aviation history.

But angry Hong Kong passengers wrote to local newspapers to complain about Mak’s “selfish and rude behavior.” Mak apologized, stressing the fact that the three-year-old kid traveling with him was a major kung fu and karate fan, making his demand nothing more than reasonable. JAL then apologized, and sent him a letter upon his request. Whether the Japanese have blacklisted him or not remains to be seen.

Sino-Japanese relations are always a sensitive matter these days, given the still-stinging memories of the Japanese invasion of the motherland in 1937, the subsequent “alleged” massacre at Nanking, and the recent occupation of the Diaoyu Islands. The Japanese are perhaps a bit uneasy as our GDP catches up with theirs. Gone are the days when we Chinese had to kneel down before the Japanese. If the same scene had taken place today on, say, an American flight in New York, the pilot would have immediately informed the security at JFK, then a couple of 6-foot, heavily muscled guards, one black one white, would rush into the cabin, twist our hero’s arms, cuff him, knock down the mini-Jackie Chan who would try to protect his father, silence the women, and have the entire clan removed within two minutes, muttering, “get back home you jerks, this is America,” in the midst of joyful applause from a flight full of global passengers who are perhaps all a bit jealous of China’s economic strength today. It never happened. Some comfort in the hangover from our National Day orgy.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009






    「香港爆發過五十萬人大遊行,後來, nothing happened,無聲無息,在社會學上,也是很不可思議的事。」朋友答。
    「這就是移民顧問公司永遠生意好的理由。」我說,大家哈哈哈,喝一杯啤酒,渡過了一個 happy hour。

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Hong Kong 1946

By Chip Tsao | published Oct 22, 2009

If you were in a time machine and you had to choose a year from the “good old days” of Hong Kong to travel to, you couldn’t do much better than 1946.

1946 is a vintage year, according to Hedda Morrison, a German photographer who stayed briefly in Hong Kong at the time with her husband, Alistair, who was then serving as an officer in the British army. She took photographs documenting Hong Kong and its most memorable features as they were—apart from the colonial buildings, she also photographed the harbor front, the valleys and coasts, and a wide range of rustic faces from the rural folk of Hong Kong. Her works are now on display outside the shopping mall in Stanley.

The most touching figures are the old amahs—a lost clan of single women from Shun Tak, a town in southern Canton, who refused to marry in the belief that women could survive on their own through embroidery, cooking and cleaning work. The amahs had been coming to Hong Kong freely since before the Second World War to work as domestic helpers. Pig-tailed and wearing immaculately ironed white blouses and silk trousers, these women represented the earliest feminist group in China—some were even rumored, quite naturally, to be lesbians.

Morrison took a close interest in the daily life of early Hong Kong women at that time. A smoking amah with a broad smile on her face. A street hawker selling cigarettes at a stall, lost in a trance during the quiet hours. A young girl with an earring carrying her younger brother on her back, apparently attracted to a hawker’s wares off-frame, staring ahead with a finger on her chin, her face bright with the curiosity and naiveté that belongs to a pre-industrial age.

Hong Kongers were defined differently, with an innocence and self-sufficient serenity found at a time when Hong Kong had just been liberated from Japanese rule—a time when the word “liberation” had a genuine meaning—and things were just getting restarted under the British, who had made a triumphant comeback to regain the colony, luckily, from Chiang Kai-shek’s government. 1946 was just the beginning of a happy Cinderella’s ball that lasted until the clock struck midnight on June 30, 1997.

I remember my family had an amah at home when I was a kid. She took me to the market and sometimes to Cantonese operas. Like a moment from Proust, I remember the smell of the wax she used on her pigtail. She sang me bedside songs, melodies she recalled from her own childhood in the Shun Tak fishing villages of the late Qing dynasty. She never had to argue with me about the sovereignty of the Spratly Islands, knowledge neither of us had to begin with. And those were the good old peaceful days.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

I Have A Dream

By Chip Tsao | published Oct 15, 2009

President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last week based on great promises he has yet to fulfill. Meanwhile, a Democratic Hong Kong legislator named Kam Nai-wai found himself in a similar situation to Obama, as a public trial was unleashed on the poor guy over something he set out to achieve, but ultimately never consummated.

Kam’s crime was a verbal expression of his “good feelings” for a female assistant, followed by a shy offer to take her on a massage trip to China together. In terms of looks, it would be too cruel to brand him the Chinese version of Quasimodo, but the lackluster, bespectacled, asexual, anti-charismatic, would-be politician has the same facial banality as the average middle-aged Hongkonger in Happy Valley on any given racing day. So it is no surprise that his modest request was met with disdain and firmly rejected. The female assistant was then sacked, with alleged compensation of more than HK$100,000.

But nothing happened. No petting or pawing. No violent tearing off of clothes or forced hanky panky. Kam’s only mistake was the decision to icily dismiss her so quickly. If only he had read some Goethe, he could have written to the lady: “I have a dream of taking you on a massage trip. I have a dream of kissing your tender lips. I have a dream of making you my concubine. Since I’m madly in love with you, and my love has gone unrequited, your radiant physical existence in my office reduces me to a total wretch. Oh, how your glistening face tortures me! Your heavenly presence is like the celestial light of the cross tormenting the Dark Prince Dracula! I live in such abysmal agony at the very sight of you, even when you go to the coffee machine and make yourself a cup of cappuccino. Please show some pity on me and gracefully end my sufferings by leaving this office forthwith! I beg you with all of my pain, and bid you: Adieu.”

Blame Kam’s unimaginative crisis management skills first on Hong Kong’s failed education system. If Hong Kong schoolchildren were educated with western Romantics, they would grow up more sexually attractive to the modern global female, and not come across like a nation of inscrutable eunuchs in western suits. If Jude Law or even old Jack Nicholson made the same offer to a Chinese office lady,
who would refuse?

The next problem is the local media. New York journalist Lionel Shriver has recently defined exactly what a “hyper-narrative” is: “A story of nominal social importance that is played up disproportionately in the media because it satisfies what are essentially fictional appetites.”
Kam’s is a non-story. It is as fictional as Obama’s ambitions—for which the President has won a prize!—but poor Kam has paid a price.

Chip Tsao is a best-selling author and columnist. A former reporter for the BBC, his columns have also appeared in Apple Daily, Next Magazine and CUP Magazine, among others.

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Odd One on the Float

By Chip Tsao | published Oct 08, 2009

A vast cavalcade of tanks, missiles, astronauts, sport stars and goose-stepping soldiers rolled down Chang-an Avenue in Beijing in a spectacular parade held in honor of the Chinese Communist Party on October 1. What made this year’s military show-off more human was a float featuring foreigners, ostensibly gweilos, a few black people and some Hispanics, designed to showcase global recognition of the mighty status of the Rising Dragon.

It was this float that looked most human and the least robotic among them all—the foreigners were looking about with curiosity, some even clapping and laughing with an innocent joy, sort of like children taken to Disneyland for the first time.

But to the offense of Chinese nationalistic pride around the world, one white male on the float was not concentrating on his assigned role. Oddly, he was talking on a mobile phone. The CCTV cameraman was smart enough to discover this disharmonious scene and cut the picture away after a split second.

But who was that daring white man using a mobile phone at this crucial moment? Would the Party who hired him ask this arrogant moron to return his show fee after he botched up what should have been the most perfect parade Earth has ever seen?
And more curiously, who was he talking to? It must have been a very important person, perhaps a young Lily Wang from a Beijing bar.

Here’s an imaginary dialogue between the two lovers:
Bill: “Hi, darling. I missed you last night. Your sweet voice never fails to get me up.”
Lily: “Don’t be ridiculous, Bill. And don’t forget your promise. Have you rung your parents in Cardiff before the parade to let them know they’re going to have a Chinese daughter-in-law to celebrate our National Day?”
Bill: “Hmm... I haven’t yet, but I’ll certainly do that. By the way, I met a friend this morning from the British embassy. He told me even if I marry you, it’s not that easy for you to get a British passport.”
Lily: “Are you lying to me? All my classmates married British and American men got their passports as soon as they landed at Heathrow or Newark. You’re cheating me. You’re bullying me. I’m watching TV now. I wish I was one of the soldier girls who just marched past—I would have definitely shot your balls off with my gun, you imperialist bastard!”
Bill: “Hey, calm down, sweetheart. The British government is changing its immigration laws. There’s going to be a patriotic test for all immigrants, including newlyweds from countries like Thailand, Vietnam and China.”
Lily: “What’s wrong with that? I’ll definitely pass it. Let them test me. I love China, and I love Chairman Mao.”
Bill: “Well... I’m afraid the test is the other way round. You must show that you identify with freedom and democracy and all that crap. They follow George Bush, you see...”
The mobile line was then mysteriously cut off.

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Let’s Celebrate

By Chip Tsao | published Oct 01, 2009

Was it a move carefully calculated to add a cherry to the top of the cake celebrating National Day on October 1? The new CEO of HSBC has voted with his feet for the second time, by choosing to set up his office not in London, but here in Hong Kong—a move of remorse by the oldest colonial bank in Asia to make up for its vote of no confidence in China during the 80s?

After three solid decades of economic reform behind it, China has proven to the world that its commitment to jungle capitalism (“socialism with Chinese characteristics”) is indeed a great leap forward, with no return.

Even the west is being re-educated about the remarkable change achieved by the Middle Kingdom, and is acclimating to the new rules of the game. So long as China remains a dictatorship, it benefits the US, Europe and Japan. Multinationals take advantage of the world’s cheapest labor factory in exchange for low inflation. To balance the trade surplus, cargoes of second-hand computer keyboards and mobile phones are shipped to rural villages in the Chinese countryside, where they poison the children with lead.

Any uprising will be promptly smacked down by the Chinese police to protect investment profits. President Obama and Hillary Clinton have wisely stopped whining about China’s human rights. Had China enacted labor laws to protect the health and safety of their works as demanded by American liberals, it would cost three times as much to put the made-in-China plastic Christmas tree up this year in every house in America. Beijing is tightening its grip on online speech thanks to electronic technologies sold by Intel and other western firms. If Beijing wants to catch a dissident who writes “down with Chairman Mao,” Yahoo and Google will gladly provide his whereabouts to help thugs track him down, much like a kitchen porter helping the chef catch an errant rat in the kitchen.

Haven’t Chinese men benefited too from the rise of China, in a very practical way? Twenty years ago, how often did you see a single Chinese man with his arm around a western girl walking around Tsim Sha Tsui? The sexual surplus has for long weighed one-sidedly in pairs such as Robert Lomax and Suzie Wong, Pierce Brosnan and Michelle Yeo, or any gweilo, even ones who look like Mr. Bean or Austin Powers, with a woman who looks like Gong Li. Despite the rise of Bruce Lee, Asian men are widely snubbed as sexless by western women. Now the equation is quietly changing. Walk into Shanghai Tang, and you’d be surprised by the number of Chinese boyfriends happily choosing colorful traditional Chinese costumes for their English, French, or even German girlfriends, who look enchanted with Oriental culture (and who look like Elizabeth Taylor or Catherine Deneuve in their younger days
rather than future lesbians). What a heart-warming scene. Although some argue that they are working girls from Eastern Europe staying temporarily in Macau. But I’m not that cynical.

I think it’s all because of the strength of China.

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