Thursday, February 22, 2007

Kung Hei Fat Choi! and other New Year stuff

Wishing a happy, peaceful and prosperous Chinese New Year of the Pig (not the Golden Pig, that's a load of PR hype) to all my 11 readers.

I noticed that Hong Kong's Chief Executive Donald Tsang was unable to resist turning his traditional New Year message into a propaganda plug for "family values". He must be under the delusion that he's Lee Kuan Yew rather than a jumped-up civil servant.

If the Hong Kong government is really concerned about preserving traditional values, they could start by squashing the stupid proposal to use plastic buns for this year's Cheung Chau Bun Festival. This is turning a living tradition into a Disneyland pastiche of the real thing. What idiot came up with this idea? And they even have the cheek to cite "environmental concerns"! Simple environmental lesson that even civil servants should be able to understand:
  1. real buns are biodegradable if not eaten;
  2. plastic ones will end up as litter, either in a landfill, or worse, in the sea.

Probably this idea came from the same twit who decided to direct vehicles to the car park near the Wishing Tree in the Lam Tsuen Valley on Chinese New Year's Day, only for them to find on arrival that the entire spacious car park was unnecessarily cordoned off and closed to cars on the one day of the year when it was most needed. (Part of it was marked as being reserved for tour buses, of which there were none at all present when I arrived.) The only alternative was to park wherever one could find a space in the nearby villages, risking a ticket or blocking access to someone's property (not to mention that, as any New Territories village resident will tell you, nasty "accidents" can happen to cars - and sometimes even their drivers - when they encroach on what some villager considers his private parking space, even if it's marked as public).

As for the poor old Wishing Tree itself, I appreciate that it's now protected because of its fragile state of preservation. But what's with the ugly and pointless metal cage around the shrine at the base of the tree? Ot the weird little structure next to it that looks like a pyramid-roofed Portaloo?

Does anyone in the Hong Kong government have even half a brain any more? Or care?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Wind Between My Wings

A few years ago I felt that the standard of Cathay Pacific Airways' service was declining, but on my recent trip to London it was fine. However, on the return trip to Hong Kong my wife and I had the misfortune to find ourselves seated behind an elderly couple one (or perhaps both) of whom had a major flatulence problem. Now we all let one rip occasionally, but this was different: a steady stream of non-stop stinkers.

We tried to put up with it for a while, but eventually the malodorous miasma around us became totally intolerable, and my wife had to request the cabin attendant in our section to find new seats for us. (Since this was done in Cantonese, the offending couple, who were not Chinese, presumably could not understand).

The plane was nearly full, and I don't know how she did it, but the stewardess managed to persuade someone else to move and thereby succeeded in getting us two seats a couple of rows further back, out of range of the pungent putridity. Another passenger, seeing our two previous seats free, attempted to colonise them, but also rapidly retreated from the noxious emanations.

So to the helpful, cheerful and diplomatic stewardess on flight CX 254 on 30 January, many thanks! And to the rancid reeker producing the pestilence, for God's sake see a doctor to get your digestion sorted out. Or get yourself some charcoal filter underwear. Or just never get on the same plane as me again!

And that should be the end of the story - except that after landing at Chek Lap Kok we took the airport bus to get home, and found ourselves seated behind another foul farter! One is just bad luck, but with two I was beginning to suspect a conspiracy. Fortunately he got off at the Tsing Ma Bridge tollbooths, and the rest of the journey was as fresh as Hong Kong's polluted air ever is.

Probably the only good thing about him

Quote of the week: from veteran singer and peace campaigner Joan Baez, on being awarded a (well-deserved) Grammy lifetime achievement award:
"President Bush is the best publicity agent I've ever had".

Friday, February 09, 2007

Two nations divided by a common language

Quip of the week: older readers may remember the late Alistair Cooke's Letter from America on British radio, a long-running weekly feature in which Cooke, a British-born naturalised American, wittily explained his adopted country to his country of birth.

My brother and his wife are currently spending a year in the arms of American academia, and being trained sociologists with a keen eye for social detail, are keeping friends and family entertained with a periodic Email from America along the same lines. In this week's edition, they report that her parents have just arrived for a visit, adding wryly that "It’s nice to have some people to talk English to".

By the way, will someone please tell the Americans that "leverage" is a noun, not a verb?

Monday, February 05, 2007

Political Correctness Gone Mad

The title phrase is not one I generally use; it is more commonly heard (in the UK) from the kind of rightwingers who read the Daily Mail, call black people "darkies", and think the country went downhill when women were given the vote. But once in a while you have to concede that they may occasionally have a point.

On a recent trip to Britain (hence the lack of posts in the last few weeks) I had occasion to make a lost property report to the police. The details were taken down by a polite and helpful young constable, but I was surprised to find that even on lost property reports the police are now required to enter the "ethnicity", as they call it, of the contact person.

Now I can see that for many police matters this detail would be highly relevant: cases of incitement to racial hatred; defilement of synagogues or mosques; and senseless racially motivated attacks, such as the tragic murders of Stephen Lawrence and Anthony Walker (among many others). But lost property? Come on!

I have alarming visions of a battalion of dedicated civil servants toiling away in a Whitehall basement somewhere to produce detailed statistics showing that Bangladeshis are 4.2% more likely to lose their wallets but 3.7% less likely to lose their mobile phones than Vietnamese. Absurd.