Tag Archives: hong kong

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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The best of times: bai bai Hong Kong

2 May

HK night viewRight, that’s it. I’ve had a jolly nice time in Hong Kong over the past two years but, just like Fat Pang, I must now make like a pot of Jasmine tea and leave. Hopefully my departure from this Special Administrative Region of China will be a tad smoother and less tear-sodden than that of the British colonialists who bid bai bai 17 years ago. It’ll certainly be less controversial:

Now I’ve read some pretty self-indulgent “leaving China” twaddle from various flacks and hacks since I’ve been here and I have no desire to add to it. So instead here’s an easy-to-digest list of highs and lows.

Love it when you move in and it seems so QUIET!

Hate it when your upstairs neighbour turns out to be a 15 year old girl who spends her evenings screaming at her family. Every freaking night. Oh, and now the bulldozers have started. Brilliant.

Love the MTR – anywhere in Hong Kong for around a quid.

Hate getting stuck behind someone standing on the escalator (wrong side) watching TV on their phone.

Love listening to my neighbours have extravagant noisy sex at 3am; hate it when she leaves at 3.05 with a packed bag and tears in her eyes. She just did that by the way. Poor girl.

Hate it when it looks like you’ll be late for an important meeting because there are no fucking seats on the mini bus.

Love it when, yup, you always get one and actually make it with several minutes to spare.

Hate it when you meet a lovely bunch of people a few weeks before the big off

Nah, there’s no positive here, unless they turn out to be annoying cunts

Hate not being able to see as far as Kowloon on what should be a normal, sunny day. Cheers Shenzhen, you dirty bugger.

Love being able to hike up the peak from my door in just 40 minutes.

Hate not being able to do it for three months straight because it’s still bloody raining.

Hate standing on Wyndham Street with generic house music raping my ears.

Love bunker rave-in-a-cave parties. Shhhhh.

Love  no frills Cantonese food at dirt cheap prices

Hate Greek restaurants serving pasta, Thai tapas and everything else in Soho. Oh and when that local family run Canto joint is forced to close and gets replaced by a poncy jewelry shop.

Hate being cooped up in my tiny flat with the mould and mosquitos.

Love jumping off a boat into sea as warm as bath water. With a Tsingtao in my hand. And a slice of lemon drizzle cake.

HK night view

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!”

Best dim sum in Hong Kong? Lung King Heen

17 Mar

xiao long baoI’m glad I saved Lung King Heen till pretty late on in my Hong Kong sojourn. Like flying business class for the first time, once you’ve done it, everything seems inferior by comparison. I’d hate to have spent the past two years moping about from one ‘sub-standard’ dim sumerie to the next; bemoaning the stolid thickness of the pastry, the prosaic mediocrity of the filling and the sub-standard Ryanair-ness of the service.

As it is I’ve had a blast so far. But good dim sum is not great dim sum and Lung King Heen has brilliantly blown my carefully constructed ‘dim sum quality graph’ out of the water.

On that fateful Saturday lunchtime a fortnight ago we were escorted into a light, airy room – a picture of modest understatement (apart from the silver leaf ceiling) as befits the first and only Michelin 3 star Chinese restaurant in the world.

I’m not one to dwell on surroundings as long as the food is good, but this is one of the nicest dining rooms I’ve ever had the pleasure to park my overfed arse in. Everything from the silver-plated tea warmer to the matching dim sum basket holders, the elegant Chinese tea pots and art deco-like toothpick holders gelled effortlessly. As did the service; less obsequious than the two starred Tin Lung Heen across the harbour and only missing a beat once when we waiting 10 minutes for our menus.

I’d made my mind up to stuff as many different little treats down my cake hole as possible on that, my first and probably last visit. Cheung fan came first – the thinnest, lightest rice noodle rolls I’ve ever tasted. A scallop version slippery and singing of the sea came with a nice bamboo crunch while an earthy mushroom variety was bejewelled with finely chopped carrots and mange touts. Next came ha gao – shrimp dumplings containing huge juicy prawns entombed in ethereally thin rice flour casing. This dish is a kind of steak-frites test of a good dim sum restaurant and it passed with ease. Turnip cake came with the addition of dried scallops (conpoy) and was all the better for it, although I’d have liked the edges to be a bit more crispy.lobster dumpling

The standout dishes came later. Sea bass dumplings were filled with soft, delicate fish and, unexpectedly, chopped okra, which gave the parcels a different texture and helped bind the whole together. From the subtlety of that dumpling we then got a huge garlic kick from prawn spring rolls. Again those monster prawns, fat and juicy and this time wrapped in paper-thin deep fried wantan pastry.It was served with Worcester sauce which was a nice touch to cut through the greasiness of the dish. Xiao long bao followed, the best I’ve had outside of Din Tai Fung – thin casing, and a juicy, umami-packed porky filling, with each bao perched on its own little bamboo gazebo for easy serving.

xlb

The best we had, though, was the lobster and scallop shumai. At one piece for around HK$45 it’s not cheap but if there’s one dish you try off this menu it should be this one. Like a greatest-hits-of-the-sea shumai, juicy chunks of lobster and minced scallops came wrapped in a strange green steamed wantan case topped with another prawn – just in case lobster and scallops weren’t enough seafood for you. Sadly even my oversized gob wasn’t big enough to take this in one bite which led to some rather inelegant spoon-sawing in the basket. But it was incredible.

All told the bill came to around HK$750 with jasmine tea, which for cooking of this quality in these surroundings is not bad. I’d be back in a second but I’ve got some graph rewrites to do first.