Tag Archives: china

Kenny G’s Wrong Walk: the Rise and Fall of the Saxophone Revolution

24 Oct

kenny gHong Kong’s noble, determined pro-democracy movement was dealt a potentially fatal body blow this week when easy listening sax legend Kenny G cruelly withdrew his support.

Mr G had seemed pretty sympathetic to the protesters’ calls for universal suffrage when he posed for photos with some of the locals and tweeted a selfie in front of a pro-democracy banner.

With those ever semi-permed shoulder length locks and gaily tossed cashmere sweater, G cut an almost Christ-like presence in Admiralty. In the photo his two fingers are raised as if to say “peace be with you all, my funny little Asian friends”.

Then all hell broke loose.

You see, Kenny’s a bit of a big deal in China, where they absolutely bloody love him. He played four gigs there last month and his easy listening classic Going Home is played – very much like Auld Lang Syne in Japan – as a Pavlovian cue to shoppers and bar go-ers that a venue is shutting for the day/night.

His caché is in fact so strong with Middle Kingdomers that Chinese Marxist thought refers to opium as “the Kenny G of the masses”.

A Foreign Affairs Ministry spokeswoman was forced to denounce G’s apparent love-in with the Hong Kong protesters with the following statement:

“Kenny G’s musical works are widely popular in China, but China’s position on the illegal Occupy Central activities in Hong Kong is very clear. We hope that foreign governments and individuals speak and act cautiously and not support Occupy Central and other illegal activities in any form.”

Rather than grasp this opportunity to stand up and become a figure-head for a movement striving to achieve that basic human right of universal suffrage, he deleted the tweet and posted this bullshit to Facebook:

“Some fans took my picture and it’s unfair that I am being used by anyone to say that I am showing support for the demonstrators. I am not supporting the demonstrators as I don’t really know anything about the situation and my impromptu visit to the site was just part of an innocent walk around Hong Kong. I love China and love coming here to perform for over 25 years. I only wanted to share my wish for peace for Hong Kong and for all of China.”

You looked destiny in the face, you had a chance to make history G, and what did you do? You went and listened to your publicist. The Hoff – who single handedly tore down the Berlin Wall remember – would be ashamed of you.

So there we go. Before it even had a chance to flourish into something intense and irresistible, very much like a Kenny G ballad, the Saxophone Revolution had been cruelly ended. Amen.

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Hong Kong says goodbye to its dreams, JLaw says ta-ra to her dignity

5 Sep

jlawI’m a bit depressed.

It’s not because August in the UK was a steaming turd of a month. A grey, miserable, disappointing four weeks of anti-climax and ennui. Not even because on the other side of the world friends cavorted on junk boats under cyan skies and swam in seas the temperature of bathwater. Nope.

It was my 37th birthday at the end of August. The beginning of my late 30s. The downward spiral. The end of days. If Alex James did actually say he celebrated his 20s with booze, his 30s with drugs and his 40s with good food then he’s got it wrong, because I managed all three that weekend. Yet even this failed to disguise the very real fact that I was getting older. A lackadaisical approach to facial hygiene meant my beard grew a little (it only ever grows a little, the shit) and presented me with a little gaggle of white follicles. In plain sight they were, mugging me right off.

My Dad, who has a wonderfully anachronistic way of speaking sometimes, narrowed his eyes and asked me if I was “pursuing a beard”. Pursuing a beard? As if I’d just jumped breathlessly into the back of a cab and asked the driver to follow the car in front…the one with my beard in it. No father, I am not actively pursuing a beard, but I’m rapidly chasing down old age. It didn’t help that I fucked my back and got followed on Instagram by my 14 year-old-nephew in the same birthday weekend.

It’s a toss up which is the more traumatic. Initially it was definitely the intense pain of twisting my lower vertebrae, but now that’s subsiding the long term misery of being bombarded with inane pictures of nephew #1 and his mates is starting to sink in. I daren’t even leave an angry comment in case I’m branded an old twat, a paedophile or, even worse, completely ignored like an elderly uncle at a wedding.

So to cheer myself up I thought I’d revive the Noodle, so to speak, and write about something funny that’s happening in China. Except there isn’t really anything funny happening ANYWHERE on the planet, least of all Hong Kong, where the people have finally, definitively been told by Beijing that they can’t elect their own leader. At the risk of sounding like a know-it-all here, what did they think was going to happen? CPC in failing-to-honour-international-agreement-betrays-its-own-to-stay-in-power shocker. Fuck knows what the nightly news is going to report on now. Public backlash over a new waste incineration plant? Another preventable death at the annual Cheung Chau Bun Festival?

It’s not as if things are any better abroad. ISIS* continues to build a terrifying new world order, Putin remains a massive dick, Scotland unfathomably seems to think it would actually like to just bugger off on its own somewhere like a spoilt child, and Dave Lee Travis continues to … well we’ll find out pretty soon. And then some poor old grannie gets beheaded in her back garden in Edmonton. Are we actually playing out our final days here? It does feel like we’re building towards the denouement of something. I might place a bet on who we get invaded by first: Russia, Islamic State militarists, or China.

Then, just when it all looks so horribly, soul numbingly bleak, the internet goes and bloody saves the day by serving me up pictures of JLaw’s snatch. At least it’s not all doom and gloom out there. And I was writing a story on the iCloud hack so I didn’t even need to feel guilty. The Pete Townsend defence in full force for you there.

So, to the Oscar-winning actress and her perfectly hairless foo-foo I say “thankyou ma’am”. Life will always find a way…

 

*incidentally this is the name of the cleaning company which services my block of flats. They either need to change their moniker or embrace it, perhaps with a new slogan like “declaring jihad on dirty windows since 1997”.

We can’t fund no education: Hong Kong’s ‘screw you’ to foreign parents

23 Apr

HK clasroomEducation: another depressing postscript to the story of Hong Kong’s sad decline as a world class city. I’ve probably ranted about this in the past, but was recently reminded about the Hong Kong government’s woefully inept decision to phase out subsidies for non-local kids by a new feature in the SCMP.

It all revolves around the government’s English Schools Foundation subsidy – a HK$238m (£18m) annual sum which helps make schooling for kids not fluent in the local lingo affordable for their parents. The alternative is to send them (and there are over 15,000 of them) to local schools – where lessons are taught in Cantonese – or obscenely expensive international schools which all but the super rich cannot afford.

The article explains how one foreign HK resident – Amanda Chapman, who ironically is a teacher herself – is preparing to leave the SAR after 16 years because of the difficulty of finding a suitable, or affordable, school for her bairn.

“English-language education in Hong Kong is increasingly becoming a privilege exclusive to those who can afford it,” she told the SCMP.

“If you don’t speak Cantonese, then you have no choice but to go to international schools. And the government refuses to acknowledge there is a problem and so does nothing about it.”

No, no, no

Her story is echoed all over the former colony. This borderline racist stance from the government has also been criticised in the past for doing little to help even those wanting to integrate more fully into Hong Kong life, especially ethnic minorities.

Although the Education Bureau lists 83 fee-paying, so-called “direct subsidy”, schools as appropriate for “non-Chinese-speaking students”, the SCMP found almost 50 do not actually admit these kids because “either most of their lessons were taught in Chinese, or the subject was compulsory in their curriculum”.

Aside from the ethical implications of essentially removing the right to a free – or non-financially crippling – primary and secondary education for non-Canto speakers, the sheer short-termism of the decision to pull the plug on the subsidy is mind bogglingly stupid.

Hong Kong’s foundations as a free port, an international hub administered by the British crown but fundamentally a world city, are rapidly disintegrating.

It has always prized itself as a gateway to China and indeed much of its trade is derived from this fact, but since 1997 the SAR has also asserted a kind of ‘localised nationalism’ which is making it a less and less attractive destination for foreigners to settle.

empty classroom

 

For any normal city this wouldn’t matter, but for one so fundamentally dependent on trade and investment, and the settling of non-Cantonese speakers within its borders, it seems crazy to pursue this kind of policy.

It’s also a sad indictment of the current administration given the city-state’s history under British rule, which gave locals at least a decent English language education. Surely that’s one legacy of colonialism that most people would have wanted to keep – one which at least benefits the SAR and its avaricious locals?

Nope, it seems like post-97, Hong Kong is turning inwards, both in its trade with China and in focusing its education system on Cantonese and Mandarin.

When Singapore is a promising alternative, you know things are bad

If Hong Kong’s the loser, Singapore is undoubtedly the winner.

Most if not all lessons in Singaporean schools are taught in English, aside from “mother tongue” classes.

In stark contrast to the SAR government, the Ministry of Education believes “mastery of English is vital to Singapore’s pupils” because it is “the language of administration, education, commerce, science, technology, and global communication”.

Now, I might have nicked that quote from Wikipedia, but you get the point.

Education is one of the key criteria and expenses aside from housing when ex-pats come to decide where to base themselves.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out what will happen to HK post-2016. Now I’m not saying they shouldn’t teach Cantonese in local schools, far from it, but for a government with a budget SURPLUS which topped HK$64 billion (£5bn) in 2012-13 a piddling HK$238m would not be a big ask.

Not that the government cares and there are too few gweilo voters for it to matter anyway, even if they could directly elect their CEO.

The locals, meanwhile, are more focused on preserving their own educational independence from China, which recently almost managed to bully officials into imposing a “national education” curriculum designed to brainwash local kids.

Internatio-no thanks

What we can hear loud and clear from the HK government on this subsidy issue is that you can come and settle here, but if you have kids you’d better get your wallet out.

Christ, have you ever met international school kids? I wouldn’t wish them upon any territory or nation state. Soon these rootless offspring with whiny trans-Atlantic drawl and a misguided sense of their own pre-eminence in the world will be all that’s left of non-Cantonese speaking kids in Hong Kong. That day is drawing shudderingly close.

The hypocrisy is stunning. As Chapman told the SCMP: “The government’s argument that it should not have to support a non-local curriculum is nonsense when you consider that senior civil servants’ children are educated either overseas or in international schools here at taxpayers’ expense.”

Even the Education secretary’s kids apparently went to an Aussie international school here.

It’s almost as if the Hong Kong government only wanted rich foreigners to settle here, which I’m sure you’ll agree is an outlandish and libelous thing to say considering the billions it spends on social welfare and, er, care for society’s most needy…

So, to recap: come to Hong Kong and make shitloads of money, walk around in red chinos and drive white Maseratis. However, if you have kids they are going to international school or you can fuck off to Singapore.

Patten’s last stand: must watch Hong Kong documentary

11 Apr

chris pattenI’ve just finished watching The Last Governor for the second time. The first was in 1997 when it was broadcast following the teary handover of Hong Kong back to China.

Seeing it now, from the comfort of my 6th floor hovel in Sai Ying Pun, has turned what I thought at the time was a rather dry documentary about Chris Patten’s five years in charge of the colony into a fascinating portrait of a soon-to-be-SAR afflicted with what amounts to a massive personality disorder.

The biggest surprise of all was Patten, who emerges from it a genuinely nice chap who literally couldn’t do right for doing wrong. A man of political conviction in stark contrast to the obsequious kowtowing diplomats who preceded him as governor. Watching this I’m not surprised he was greeted on his return to Honkers recently like some kind of messiah.

On the one side he was accused by pro-China dicks of riding roughshod over the Joint Declaration written up by Britain and China in ’84 in trying to force through some very mild pro-democracy changes before the big handover.

On the other side, pro-democrats basically accused him of being China’s bitch and endangering the livelihoods of the locals post-97.

Vitriolic personal insults were hurled at him and his family throughout the five years but the louder his detractors shrieked, the more calm and unflappable he seemed to become.

In fact, Patten only showed signs of slipping once, when in a private scene, after 80 rounds of negotiations with the Chinese over a minor technical point, he calls them “a bunch of wankers”.

The villains of the piece, for me, were not the Chinese – they acted true to form, channeling Sun Tzu at all times to lie, disrupt and discomfort their opponents (the UK).

It was the spineless shower of businessmen who jumped ship when they thought supporting the UK would put them out of favour with Beijing. Pretending to be the true upholders of the Hong Kong way of life this loathsome clique of immensely privileged taipans are truly a disgrace to Britain, Hong Kong and China.

They continue to hold the SAR to ransom even now – making themselves richer still while one fifth of the former colony lives in poverty and spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt whenever their vested interests are threatened.

Watch it now for some spectacularly candid behind-the-scenes moments from the last days of Britain’s last major colony, days when politicians told their press advisors what was going to happen next rather than the other way round.

The final takeway for me (no pun intended) is that the current members of Legco – although they may have lost the clipped public school accents of 17 years ago – are still debating exactly the same issues they were in the late 90s.

That, unfortunately, is what China is going to try and keep them doing until the end of time.

Beijing: Mission Accomplished

3 Apr

chinese flagI finally got to Beijing last month. Now, a few Noodlers may remember that the last time I tried to fly there during summer 2013 I got as far as the airport before I was turned back. So my hopes weren’t high. I’ve also been a little dismissive of its somewhat dubious claims to be a genuine contender for world city alongside the likes of New York and London. Pollution, common rudeness and a somewhat robust approach to civil liberties (and journalists) did not fill me with a great deal of hope for a lovely weekend away.

Well in the end the planes flew on time; the 72-hour transit visa (flying from Macau and back to Hong Kong) worked a treat; and the miserable immigration guard only laughed once in my face, which I think is about as good as it gets in Beijing. The skies were the bluest blue I’ve ever seen in this part of the world, the locals were, well, pretty decent sorts, and the Hutong bars were an eclectic, messy, jumbled-up delight. Add in Peking duck at Da Dong and an overnighter to the Great Wall and you have just about the perfect weekend getaway.

In fact, the whole weekend made me thoroughly unimpressed on my return with the moody arrogance of parochial Hong Kongers, their shitty identikit bar/clubs, and paranoid NIMBY-fied attitude to late night licensing. For the record, I still like dim sum and junk trips though.

Here, as promised, is some gratuitous photo-porn from the weekend.

mau

forbidden city

lanterns

Lovely hutong: nanluoguxiang

Zhonglou and gulou

Zhonglou and Gulou: Bell tower and drum tower

gulou

great wall

toboggan

The only way to exit the Great Wall

chinese flag

Justin Bieber in Hong Kong? Nope it’s a tubby Tory in a suit.

21 Mar

Hong Kong colonial flagI was in Beijing last week (gratuitous photo-porn post coming soon) and had the strangest experience. Everyone was actually pretty friendly. I mean, not bend-over-backwards have-a-nice-day friendly but, you know, civil. I was not shouted at, hockled on or barged out of a queue. It was a thoroughly relaxing weekend.

All of which made me think how parochial and moany Hong Kongers can be, especially on the thorny issue of mainland tourist “locusts”. I’m not saying the big city types of Beijing are representative of the entire Middle Kingdom, certainly they’re not of the tourists who swarm the streets of Tsim Tsa Chui. But Hong Kong’s NIMBY shrillness is increasingly getting on my wick.

Or at least it was, until a couple of days ago when this little rocky outcrop of 7 million people outdid itself. The occasion? Last British governor of the former colony and current BBC Trust boss Chris Patten was in town to open an exhibition at the Maritime Museum. Now we all know colonial era Hong Kong flags are increasingly being waved about by protesters a) to get on the nerves of the Communist Party b) to protest against what many see as an erosion of civil liberties, press freedom and rule of law here and c) because the Union flag is, quite frankly, a design classic. But the bizarre scenes which greeted Patten’s appearance outside the museum last night took the colonial love-in to a whole new level.

I’m pretty sure portly Patten has never received quite so rapturous a reception. He didn’t really know what to do with himself as God Save the Queen started blaring from a nearby loudspeaker and fans holding banners such as “Dear Governor Patten, we miss you so much” and shouting “we love you” jostled to get a view of the tubby Tory. Some had even waited over 3 hours to catch a glimpse of their silver haired hero, who by now presumably thinks he’s some kind of grey-suited rock star.

The irony, of course, as we’ve mentioned many times on the Noodle, is that Britain never made much of an effort while it was in charge here to transition to a system of government democratically elected by universal suffrage. On the other hand, what it did manage was to uphold those precious civil liberties pretty well. Following the recent knife attack on former Ming Pao editor Kevin Lau, two execs from the soon-to-be-launched Hong Kong Morning News were attacked in broad daylight this week by four men armed with iron bars. Hong Kong is an increasingly dangerous place to be a newspaperman.

The saddest sight during the Patten-love in for a definite article pedant like me, however, was one of the banners held up by his adoring fans. “Save us from the hell!” it read. Hmmm. I imagine another might have added: “Look what’s happened since you left us Chris. All our grammar are wrong now!”

You dirty Ho! HK lawmaker gives democracy a kick in the teeth

7 Mar

Those of you (both of you?) that regularly read this blog may detect a certain implicit distrust of the establishment and tendency to side with the underdog in many of my posts.

albert hoWell, in the interests of balance, I’ve decided to focus this week’s rant on former Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho, who decided to do something rather silly during last Wednesday’s budget speech.

Having resigned his chairmanship of one of the SAR’s numerous “pan-democrat” (ie anti-Beijing/establishment) parties following poor performance in the 2012 elections, Ho is now the secretary general of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China.

More importantly, he’s the rather portly and well-tanned member of Legco who helped Edward Snowden escape to victory, or er, to Moscow, during the time the sysadmin was holed up here following his high profile dash from the evil US empire (ie Hawaii, where he lived in relative affluence with his pole dancing girlfriend).

62-year-old Ho, who’s an outspoken pro-democracy and universal suffrage advocate, was photographed in the chamber last week browsing through pictures of bikini-clad hotties on his tablet. All of this as finance minister John Tsang gave arguably one of the most important policy speeches of the year.

Now I’m all for lawmakers browsing the interwebs to buy gifts for their loved ones and I’m sure that all Ho was doing was looking for a nice swimsuit for his niece, or daughter, or … wife’s birthday? Or perhaps his secretary’s.

Anyway, you’ve got to play the game Albert. You can’t be on your iPad when you should be taking notes on an, albeit dreadfully dull 90 minute-long, important budget speech.

It’s what you were elected to do matey. Fannying around, almost literally, when you should be at work is the preserve not of elected politicians but those employed by social media and digital marketing companies.

Your campaigning for greater democratic accountability among Hong Kong’s leaders, including support for the Occupy Central civil disobedience movement which is pushing for true universal suffrage, has been rather undermined by the fact you couldn’t wait 90 minutes to look at some fanny.

What Ho should have been doing was taking apart Tsang and his “fiscal advisors” dire warnings that Hong Kong could face a structural deficit of HK$1.54 trillion (£115bn) by 2041, miring the place in Greek-style levels of debt.

Now Hong Kong is, I believe, the only country/state/call-it-what-you-will which actually runs a budget surplus. Yup a surplus. Every year it gravely predicts a deficit – the last fiscal year a HK$3.5bn one (£269m) – but each year lo and behold a surplus appears. This past fiscal year it was a whopping HK$64.9bn (£500m).

The reason? It makes the US seem positively generous with welfare and social spending. Yes the SAR is starting to increase spending on the poor and ageing but it’s still a pittance.

For years the government has relied on good old Confucianism to ensure families look after their elderly members and it still allows a fifth of its population, over one million people, to struggle below the poverty line – with tens of thousands ‘living’ in cage homes little bigger than a coffin.

So should we believe the dire financial warnings from the government? Nope, I smell vested interests trying to scare the populous and justify continually, shockingly, low welfare spending.

I’d love to think the pan-democrats could effect some serious change in this regard, so come on guys, do it for the Noodle. It’s my way or the Ho-way.