Sunday, July 17, 2016

Hong Kong, a neon world

When tourist think of Hong Kong, two or three things come to mind.  Skyscrapers, shopping and the Hong Kong one might be familiar from watching films.  Skyscrapers, well to my mind, Hong Kong's skyline is not that impressive, when you look at London, Hong Kong's skyline is basically dense and most building are pretty boring.  Only a few really stand out, regardless of their age and height.  Hopewell Centre in Wanchai might be old, but it still stands out.  The former Prince of Wales building, looking like an upside down milk carton, still stands out, yet is barrack and not a commercial building and finally the HSBC building and the Bank of China building which were both darlings of the 80's.  There are a few more that are still quite special, such as the Lippo complex and the New World Centre complex.  The New World Centre was demolished in 2010 to make way for a new commercial block, but the Intercontinental Hotel took over the site of the former Regent Hotel which was the smaller section of the New World Centre complex.  Sadly a great many new buildings lack imagination and/or are quite ugly.

Shopping, Hong Kong was and is still a good place to shop, if you know what to buy and where.  For a while, shopping was geared towards Mainland Chinese tourist, but so far this year, numbers have dropped and the focus has been more towards the much neglected local market.  Not everything is cheaper in Hong Kong and nor would the goods be the latest.  Be savvy and shop around and the best deals might not be in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong in cinema.  Hong Kong has been fortunate in that she has had a lot of exposure in the world of cinema.  Think Bruce Lee, Jacky Chan, Shaw Brothers and James Bond to say a few.  Hong Kong has for a long time been a major producer of films and most influential in martial arts and action films.  Sadly, since 1997, there has been a shift in filming in Mainland China and many films are joint productions.  This isn't because of a government policy to dilute Hong Kong's culture and film industry, but because it is cheaper to shoot in Mainland China and joint productions mean entry in a bigger market.  It is sad that there are not so many locally produced films, but cheesy and innuendo filled productions are a minority, so that is fortunate.

In many films, the nights seem to be lit up back neon lights that seem to go on form miles.  That is something Hong Kong is known for.  Since the 50's, neon lights have graced Hong Kong's streets, letting the passer by know there exists a myriad of restaurants, bars, shops, barbers, hotels, Karaoke bars, hostess bars, brothels, hotels that charge by the hour, massage parlours and gambling dens.  Hong Kong is a very colourful and open society, which on the surface seems closed.

With the countless typhoons over the years, I do wonder how a great many survived.  I walk around the streets of Wanchai and Nathan Road in Kowloon.  This word still exists, where the neon lights provide hours of surreal wonder and amazement.  Hong Kong's culture is very interesting and the neon lights are very much part of the cultural landscape.  Generations have passed, shops and restaurants have come and gone.  Over the decades, new neon signs go and and some go down.  One might say that neon lights are a dated affair, but it is a something that Hong Konger's have got used to.

Over the years, there does seem to be less signs in some areas.  As old buildings get demolished and new building rise from nowhere.  As one who is quite nostalgic about the past, I hope they don't  disappear.  Shopping malls have no need for neon signs and upmarket neighbourhoods don't have them either.  Neon signs light up the colourful work of working class Hong Kong.  The real Hong Kong that people know to love.

Hong Kong based director Wong Kar Wai has made a number of films where neon lights play a significant part in the background of many scenes.  Not everybody is a fan of Wong or of art house films.  But neon lights play a clever part in that not only do people associate with Hong Kong, but provide a certain atmosphere that complements the mood.  Wong's films are somewhat timeless, they are not about the trick and famous, they are about common people.  The poignant feeling of love, lost and missed opportunities.  These are things that everybody experiences and perhaps, if we're honest with ourselves.  We can see ourselves in a Wong Kar Wai scene.

Christopher Doyle was the cinematographer who worked with Wong on a number of films.  I can't help but say, that at times, my vision of Hong Kong at night was influenced by watching Christopher Doyles work.  Here's a short video about neon lights in Hong Kong…

When tourist should know their place

Every year, for the pass few years, we hear about Chinese tourists behaving badly and it is not just a rumour or hearsay.  Videos have been shot documenting on where and when the dead was done.  Most countries welcome tourists, but whilst some can be very difficult.  I think Mainland Chinese really top the bill for being the least liked, before being rude, aggressive, obnoxious and filthy.  Vandalism or cultural relics, wildlife and fouling on the streets to give a few general examples.

Last year, a Chinese tourist thought it was funny to interact with one of the Queen's guard.  It is not funny, these are professional soldiers who are doing a job.  The fact that they are wearing a special uniform does not mean they are to be toyed with.  As this chap found out and as rumours got, he ran for his life and was in shock afterwards.  That was what observers said about the camp following the incident.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Brexit - The calm after the storm!

This week, the Conservatives have finally got a new leader in the form of Theresa May.  A finalist by default as the last nominee stepped aside to allow Theresa May to be leader by default.  Yesterday David Cameron officially stepped down and Theresa May officially became the new Prime Minister and the second female prime minister in British history.  Even before She was appointed by Her Majesty The Queen, the value of the pound slowly increased and still continued today.  Today, a new cabinet was formed and things are looking positive.  British is leaving the EU, there is no turning back. In less the 24 hours, Whitehall was starting to change.  Out goes the departments that had little value and incomes the team that will lead Britain out of the EU.  I have high hopes it will work and Theresa May means business.  This is a lady the EU will take seriously.  

David Cameron's legacy was that he lead Britain out of the gloom and doom, after more than a decade of the Blair years.  It was tough, but Britain is much better for it.  As much as a lot of people hate the Conservative Party, I do wonder is it the policies or the fact that a large number of their members are middle class or firmly in the establishment.  I have been a Conservative voter for years and yes there are policies I can't accept.  The Poll Tax being one, but in Cameron's time, cutting the benefits of the sick and disabled was a bit too far.  Some people just can't work and yet were made to.  Yet, plenty of economic refugees and dole spongers out there can work, but won't.  If Cameron was really politically brave, these are the people he should tackle.  Not the sick, the trainee doctors and arm forces veterans.  As much as Cameron was not perfect, he was not Tony Blair and I firmly believed he cared.  I like many people enjoyed his performances at the dispatch box every Wednesday at Prime Ministers Question Time.  Jeremy Corbyn never stood a chance.

In two weeks, the Conservative Party has a new leader.  Labour are still no closer to agreeing who should be on the ballot as to who will be their leader…

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Asian stereotypes

Whenever there is something on TV in regards to race relations and racism, it is usually a white on black.  But there are problems in all directions, it is not just of Afro-Caribbean decent who get problems, but Asians and even white people are the recipients of racism or race-related ignorance.  For too long Asians have been quiet and passive about race issues.  We Asians are just too nice about things and even when we're not, we just sweep it under the rug and get on with life.  That's us Asians, but when living out in the West, we should be a bit more open and assertive when the need arises.  I'm not saying we should play the race card, but at the end of the day, taking on the chin will not win respect in the West.

In Europe, we Asians are too passive.  We could be very successful and be at the top of whatever we do, but we don't have a voice.  We are very much an ethnic minority who are visible, but quiet.  In America, Asians are a bit more vocal and increasingly savvy at getting their point across.  Star Trek legend, George Takei is speaks for Asians and gender equality.  We have problems in cinema, where Asian women are seen as sex symbols and Asian guys are restricted to geeky roles.  There is clearly some room for change as how Asians are portrayed on TV and cinema affects how Asians are perceived in real life.

This article pretty much sums up what we Asians have to put up with.  The amount of times I get asked if I'm Chinese, Japanese etc, do I own a restaurant, can I speak some Chinese, do I eat cats and dogs.  It gets pretty tiring.  It gets very tiring, but if I started asking similar questions to white people, I sure people will get pretty annoyed.  Ok so stop asking stupid questions.

Here are a few videos that illustrates this scenario perfectly.

Friday, July 8, 2016

The Brexit - The sh*t is about to hit the fan!

Its been over a week since the the Brexit referendum.  So far it has been a disaster and a bad joke.  The value of the pound has taken a plunge, though the stock market has it's ups and downs.  Things will not get better until we have more certainty.  The pour has not dropped to such depths for decades and against the HK Dollar, its been a generation ago when £1:HKD9.  Consumer spending has taken a nose dive, but there is hope that the value of the pound means more overseas orders and therefore reduce Britain's balance of payments.

The rest of the EU are very annoyed with the Brexit.  Closer ties were sought and now plans have been ruined.  It oops like other countries may have their own referendums.  Europe will be on shaky ground for a long time.  But one thing is certain, nobody wants to cut these ties and even if Britain does leave the EU, deals will be in place to enable people to do as before.

So just when things cannot get worst, Boris Johnson decided her wasn't up for being Prime Minister, Nigel Farage of UKIP has decided he wants his life back and quite the UKIP leadership.  He is of course still an MEP, so he's definitely not leaving the EU, when he's paid to sit around and do very little.  Michael Gove, who stabbed Boris Johnson in the back to get the votes to be the next PM, lot the votes.  So the main contenders are now Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom.  The former was previous the Chair of the Conversative Party and the latter, most people have never heard of until this week.  It is likely Theresa May will win as we need proven leadership, common sense and a woman who loves her shoes.  Britain needs another female Prime Minister, a new Mrs T.

Will the Brexit leaders get away with this?  I hope not, but watch this space.

In the mean time, those rise in hate crimes must stop.  We should stop harassing innocent Muslims and Polish workers.  The sooner we have order the better.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Brexit

It has happened, it has finally happened.  Britain went to the polls on Thursday 23rd July 2016 to vote on whether Britain should be in the EU.  And voted they did with 51.9% voting to leave and the remaining 48.1% voting to stay in the EU.  So it the matter will be put in motion and Parliament will have to debate on whether Britain will indeed stay or remain.  The pros and cons on the matter have to be considered.  Before declaring formally to the EU that Britain will start the process of leaving.  Whilst  many people might think that Britain has left the EU, in actual fact, Britain still a fully paid up member. Until Parliament has debated the matter and the Bills have been passed, Britain is still in the EU.

Britain joined the EU (The EEC as it was known then) in 1973 after two previous failed attempts.  Since joining, Britain has been an active member in Europe.  However it has not always been a cosy relationship.  Britain being an island with her distinct identity was going to be at odds with Mainland Europe.  With the economic benefits were always going to be the drawbacks.  Laws passed in Europe became laws in member states and together with regulations, it was not always ideal.  Britain is not the only member state that voiced discontent, but with the recent polls being announced.  Other member states have become more vocal about the possibility of leaving.

For many years, politicians have talked about leaving the EU.  But it was never something that was going to really happen.  Whilst nobody wanted to pay huge sums of taxpayer's money to the EU and some of the policies have been wasteful, such as the old food mountains and development projects that didn't bring in the desired benefit.  We all agreed that free trade has been good for all.  The freedom of movement of goods and people meant it was easier to do business and find work.  However, in recent years the ever increasing number so refugees coming into the EU has become an increasing problem.  Together with terrorism in the Middle East, there are problems growing inside the EU.  The violence demonstrated in recent years, in Denmark, London, Paris and Brussels shows how bad the problem is.  The EU is simply having problems housing refugees.  It has become difficult to tell apart the genuine cases from those who are here for free housing and benefits, or cause terror.  

Europe has a skills gap, and Britain is no different.  Millions from Eastern Europe have moved from their home countries to find work.  The shortage of nurses means Britain has to hire from overseas.  Most of these people are genuinely here to work and are no trouble at all.  But it doesn't take much for the right wing groups to make all foreigners targets and Muslims have become prime targets.  If the vote  out of the EU was because Britain will definitely benefit economically, we can understand.  But a lot of voters, voted out because of immigration and other small minded race-related reasons.  So what will become of the thousands of people from across the EU who currently work in Britain, if Britain does leave?

The Conservative Government does not have a clue.  The bet was that the remain vote will will, but it didn't.  There was no plan B in place.  We simply haven't a clue as to what to do.  To stay in the EU will be embarrassing after all that talk.  If Britain leaves, then Britain will have to re-write her laws and the new agreements will have to be made with the rest of the world.  For more than 30 years, Britain has not had to do this.  The rest of the EU will also face problems.  Britain is a major force economically as well as politically.  The negative impact will very much be felt by both sides for many years.  Some quote the Swiss and Norwegian example, but in reality, neither are ideal.  Both countries are very rich and outside the EU, but they pay a lot of money to be in a club, but none of the voting rights.  It took decades of negotiations to get these deals, and decades later, they have not concluded.

Personally, I think the EU need to look at reforming.  There are too many members and with more than half in dire economic turmoil.  It is a wake up call.  No European country will say no to cooperation, but no European country will yes more red tape and something must be done about the borders.  It is time for change, but not like this.

And here's something a bit light hearted…

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Kodo One Earth Tour 2016: Mystery, 15/02/2015

I went to watch Kodo play live at the Barbican Centre in London back in mid-February.  I have been following Kodo for nearly three years.  For years I have been amazed by Japanese taiko music, but never found the chance to get into this area of Japanese culture.  I've not listen to much else since.  Kodo tour every year and they send a part of their group to tour different parts of the world, before coming back to Japan to tour Japan.  Europe seems to be visited once every two years.  I last saw them perform in Brighton 2014.  Listening to a recording is definitely not the same as experiencing them perform live.  Whilst you can say that about any act, Kodo is best experienced live.  You experience the energy and the music is like nothing you could experience before.  Kodo play with such artistic flair and power.  The beats are precise and the sound has to be heard as words simply cannot describe.

Watching videos on YouTube and DVD or past performances.  It is clear that Kodo was just about drumming with Japanese folk music, song and dance.  It has generally been quite conservative. The current artistic director Tamasaburo Bando changed that.  The last 3-4 years have been a time of change.  Younger members get a say and female performers now play a more prominent part.  Taiko drumming remains to be their soul, but there have been more emphasis on stage performances, with more singing and dancing.  I had my doubts about the Mystery tour concept, but I ended up loving every moment.  The Mystery tour really introduces Japanese musical culture as never before.  It was intelligent, witty, charming and inspirational.  It was very Japanese in how they repackage and reinvent,  so bring new dimension to a much loved Japanese tradition.

There are many professional taiko groups in Japan and thousands of amateur groups.  Some are better than others.  But you got to love their spirit and enthusiasm.  Taiko drumming is enjoyed by people found and old.  Kids come back from school and play taiko drums.  Taiko drumming has followers all over the world.  This is an art form that will live on for a long time.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

BTOCC, Oxford, 24th April 2016

Today, I competed at the British Open.  This year, it was held at a much later date than usual.  It is the fifth time I have entered.  My experiences and successes so far have been mixed in the years I have competed.  In the first year of competition, I came home empty handed.  However, every year I have competed, I have taken home a medal, either silver or bronze.  Sometimes, I have earn't it, other times I got it by default.  Early experiences of competition were painful and looking back, I have changed so much.  Your first medal is always special, but the rest, I have not seen in the same light.  All I can say is that I came home with something.  It is painful when you see others go up again and again to collect medals, you you have only come up once.  Hardly the stuff of legends.  Being Chinese and sucking in Chinese martial arts is very embarrassing.  I decided two years ago to change my approach to training.  A friend of mine told me that my forms were nice to look at, but they were not martial.  The painful truth hit hard, but motivated me to work harder on everything.  I took a year out of learning the sword, to find time to get the basics right.  I had to find my identity and I don't intend to come last.  I have a number of silver and bronze medals.  I now need to collect gold medals and I want to come home with more than one medal.  Starting with the European Open 2015, it happened.

Things have not been great over the last six to eight months.  I still have the motivation to go further and train harder.  I train hard every weekend and every day, if time permits.  It has seemed a long time. Now I just want to do my forms and move on.  This year, I have made a number a changes to my forms.  However, as somebody who is well known for weapons, especially the spear.  I came last or out of the medals.  Sometimes, it is luck or lack of.  What is disheartening is when you see poor performances being awarded good marks.  But I will not give up and I will prepare for next year.

Success came in double gold for Men's Open Internal hand forms and Mens's Open Tai Chi hand forms.  This was not expected as my hand forms have usually been the weakest and I've not forgotten the shame and embarrassment of not even getting decent points.  So it is good to know that my hand form was well received.

To me, this year has been a mixed bag.  I would have wanted more medals, but silver and bronze will only make up the numbers.  So in a way, coming home with two golds in core categories is far better than gold in peripheral categories.  I got what I wanted, but the feeling is strange.  Part of me feels very annoyed that I didn't do well with my spear.  I have invested a lot of effort in my spear work.  I would have liked a gold in spear.  I'll get it, but it will not be this year.

After all that, I can relax and focus on other things…