Tuesday, April 26, 2005

...Discerning readers may note that portions of the following owe a debt to Apocalypse Now, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Simpsons. They would be correct.

The horror, the horror...
I was somewhere around Shenzhen on the edge of the Lohu-Hong Kong border crossing when the doubt began to take hold. I remember thinking something like "I feel a bit light-headed; maybe I should bag this assignment..."
The assignment, which I had chosen to accept, was to hang out in the exclusive Hong Kong Jockey Club Box for the Queen Elizabeth II Cup races at Sha Tin. Thorougbreds, both human and equine, were promised. It's a world in which I'm admittedly hopelessly out of my element in my native US, even more so in Hong Kong where names such as designer Lu Lu Cheung, model Balia Chan and second banana actor/director Kam Kwok-leung ("You may remember him from such classics as the 1974 Shaw Brothers film Killer Snakes and as 'the man in the restaurant' in 1991's Sisters of the World Unite") mean nada to me. Silent Witness, Hong Kong's finest horse, I was vaguely aware of thanks to a deskmate who covers the ponies.
But I'd been in Shenzhen for the weekend, waiting for the mission, getting softer. Every minute I stayed in there, I got weaker, and every minute Silent Witness dug into his feedbag or the likes of Chan tried on another designer gown, they got stronger. But I took the mission. What the hell else was I gonna do?
I was going to one of the poshest places in the world and I didn't even know it yet. Hours away, through two borders and many kilometers on an KCR railway line that snaked through the mainland and Hong Kong like a main circuit cable - plugged straight into Sunday afternoon decadence and frivolity.
I rendezvoused with my photographer at the Kowloon Tong subway stop where we experienced momentary confusion. Our briefing papers -- courtesy of a Hong Kong public relations firm which had organized this junket -- said we'd be picked up on a shuttle bus at "Kent Road" which didn't seem to exist. Several cell phone calls ensued and another two or three blocks walked until we found the bus parked next to a kindergarten and an adjoining love motel. "Very educational," quipped the photog regarding the free-spirited zoning plan.
On board an efficent, fey and almost overwhelmingly cheerful young male flak gave us our credentials, HK$100 in "Jockey Club cafeteria: coupons and an itinerary which included tidbits like "Socialites interview," and "Socialites photo opp with sports car Maserati"" -- a "very, very special Maserati" he stressed. The only other westerner I spotted was a woman who worked for The Hong Kong Tattler, a venerable society and gossip rag that dates back to the pre-handover days. I tried to plumb her for details but she was rather vague and confessed that many of the names listed on the pr release were also unknown to her.
"So what are we gonna say about them? What are we gonna say? That they were kind people? That they were wise? That they had plans? That they had wisdom? Bullshit, man!" I jabbered. Wide-eyed, she shrank back and pretended to intently scrutinize more press releases.
My only previous experience regarding mammal races and gambling was, sadly, confined to a dog track in northern Colorado that seemed to largely a playground for lots of desperate people who also rode Greyhound when they weren't betting on one. If memory serves, it was also rather small, a little larger than a high school football field. So the sprawling Sha Tin racing monolith, which resembled a battleship and easily dwarves the Denver Broncos playing complex came as shock.
Inside the media - a generally young, scruffy lot highlighted by a 20something Chinese female reporter whose low rider denim skirt continually revealed an appalling half inch or so of plumber's crack, or as one Aussie coworker later termed it "builder's bum" -- were led through several layers of security to the gilded clubhouse dining room stuffed with...overdressed living mummies; with many of the mummy queens sporting the remains of dead birds on their heads. Hats apparently play a big role in the QEII race and would even prove injurious as events unfolded.
I felt liked I'd warped through some space-time worm hole into a Victorian-era High Society affair and the cuisine descriptions at the buffet table only heightened the impression.
"Seabass mousse with pencil asparagus." "Tomato carpaccio with aged Balsamio. "Matjes fillet with beetroot and sour cream." I fingered the wrinkled cafeteria coupons in my pocket and then impulsively snagged a red wine from a tray-bearing waiter.
"I'm with the Pongs," I mumbled, hastily scanning a large seating chart behind him. "Mrs. Pong, table 10. Thankyew."
At that moment a young, near-anorexic looking woman in a form-fitting, sleevless, plunging light pink silk dress and about three expired birds worth of jet black feathers on her head swished by with the rest of the Hong Kong media in her wake breathlessly recording every turn of her rictus-like head with pens, recorders and many, many cameras. I swiveled to get out of their way and promptly knocked an abandoned champagne flute to the marble floor. The sound of broken glass seemed to echo throughout the hubbub followed by a sudden hush as the mummies stopped murmuring and directed their dessicated, starched 'n' parched gazes at the wine toting, sweating shlub.
"Um, er, sorry," I said stooping to pathetically begin to pick up a flute stem shard.
"No matter, no matter sir," said a waiter. "It's our pleasure."
It was my pleasure to flee from the scene of the crime outdoors to check out the race track, video feeds of the starting gate, which seemed to be about half a country away, and the incomprehensible, to me, tote board. Trying to get into the spirit of the affair, I ducked back inside and listened as a man of some obvious importance addressed his fellow mummies with betting tips.
He recommended numbers 10, 12, 5 and 1 in that order for race two. I scrawled them down and went to a betting cage next to the dining room where I repeated them several times to a woman who kept garbling them and paid HK$60 for a ticket. Race two commenced and only one of the touted nags finished in the money. Too embarassed to know if I'd won anything, I simply decided to chalk it up to experience.
Removed and insulated as my photog and fellow media jackels were from the common folk, it turned out that we missed one of the day's major two QEII race stories. It wasn't hard to miss one, Silent Witness galloped to an easy, world record 17th consecutive win. That was celebrated loudly and replayed repeatedly on the countless video screens.
What wasn't replayed or even acknowledged were the 21 race fans injured in a cheap seats stampede for free Silent Witness "limited edition" (10,000) baseball caps.
To my shame, I only learned of it the next day when I sat down next to my desk partner who'd covered it by phone.
"It's easy to have missed it," he consoled me. "The area you were in is another world away."

Monday, April 25, 2005

A Double Shot (Of My Baby's Love)
A diverse weekend, to say the least. It more or less began by nursing C through a stomach bug while on a truncated trip with her ma to "Shenzhen Fairyland Botanical Park" at which the highpoint for me was the entryway warning sign illustrated with cartoon hookers, cops and thugs.
"Do not visit prostituting that is illegal and may cause to kidnapping and robbery! Do not get any touch of prostituting, gambling or robbery that is illegal!"
(Unlike another local park though, it didn't warn against "committing feudalism." But it left me wondering exactly what "touches" of prostituting, gambling and robbery were legal?)
Shortly before C tossed her lunch, I asked her why Fairyland, which also houses
the grand showcase Hong Fa temple why such warnings were necessary. Indeed, we were surrounded by nature-loving, idol-worshipping families and happy couples, hardly an apparent vice den. And the temple itself is so spiffy and inspiring that -- except for the piles of visitor trash cluttering the steps and grounds -- it was a bit like seeing a similar sign at Chartes or St Peter's.
Matter of factly she explained that Fairyland probably was a flesh pot "just like Lotus Park." Lotus Park is only several blocks from the Lucky Number and the first public park I'd visited when arriving in Shenzhen. I've since made half a dozen or more return trips - some with C - and never seen a sign of "chickens" (as hookers are termed in China) or any other unsavory behavior, except the ubitquitous litter.
I was mystified.
"What times have you been there?" she asked rhetorically.
Between 10am and 6pm.
"After dark there are a lot," she insisted. "From 20 yuan (US$2.40) to 120."
I didn't press for further details as she suddenly began to turn green, gripped her stomach and lurched for a bush,
She'd recovered by evening and we hit a gathering organized by James the Temple Guy at a club he favors called The Jazz Club. James has been here a little more than a year and it's been a small joy recently to see how life has improved for him. Not that it's been any serious hell, but he initially more or less arrived for love after meeting a Chinese-native soulmate in LA. Her subsequent, er, extreme mood shifts followed by a quick and largely mysterious exit after they'd moved in together didn't exactly sit well but he perservered. He's since found a new, more stable Filipina love and was in his glory onstage at the Jazz Club surrounded by friends and admirers while backed by a Chinese trio (clarinet, keyboards and drums) while he belted out Route 66 and Rock Around the Clock, among others.
Perhaps only in China, I thought, can a guy pushing 50 completely reinvent himself as a jazz/pop idol. And only in China does one have to minutely, painfully instruct the bartender on how to pour a double.
C was having a double Absolut on the rocks, I was having a double Beam on the rocks; doubles because they are the size of normal singles in the US. Foregoing the overworked waitresses I went straight to the source, smiled and bellied up to the bar and began talking, very, very slowly. I know it's ludicrous to talk slowly to someone who can't understand your language - it sure doesn't help when a Chinese speaker does the same to me - but he did seem to catch a few words, like "vodka" and "Jim Beam."
"Two drinks. One Absolut vo-od-ka. One Jim Beam. Whis-key. With ice. Bing!" (Bing is Chinese for ice. He smiled and nodded enthusiastically as we met on common linguistic ground) "Bing. In both." Then I pointed to the shot glass and mimed pouring two shots in one glass.
He looked seriously puzzled. I called to a Chinese speaking foreigner near me. She rattled off the instructions but warned me to oversee the procedure.
The barkeep carefully poured bing in two glasses. Then he picked up two more glasses and poured one shot in each one. He paused. I pumped my fist and made a 'V' sign. "Yes! Now again!"
He slowly poured another bourbon shot in one glass, vod-od-ka in the other and looked up for further affirmation that he was on the right track.
I bobbed my head, then reached over and impetuously poured the vodka into one 'bing' glass. (Never mind wondering why they don't save on dirty glasses by just pouring directly into the glasses with ice. I've long since given up pondering that, along with the concept of free will, does God have a fractal nature and how to commit feudalism in a public park.)
He then picked up the bourbon and almost poured it in with the Absolut. "Together?" he asked brightly, as I grabbed his hand, did a grimace smile and said, ''No, no. No, thank you!"
Tomorrow, a visit to the exlusive Hong Kong Jockey Club club house in which our protaganist is hopelessly out of his element among wealthy, over-dressed HK society mummies, anorexic, rictus-like models and washed-up actors dining on seabass mousse with pencil asparagus while he is relegated to HK$20 coupons for in the Jocky Club cafeteria and completely misses the real story.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Street Fighting Man
What follows is a story I filed for The Standard after slogging through nearly 4 hours of an anti-Japanese protest in Shenzhen today. What I didn't write about was how we were almost late because C, also my faithful translator, couldn't decide what to wear. White pants or green? What exactly does one wear to an anti-Japanese protest? I suggested red in case there was any bloodshed. As it happened, the worst casualities seemed to be a Hitachi billboard and an unfortunate (and Hong Kong-owned) Japanese noodle and rice fast food eatery.
If you happened to work for a Japanese-owned or related company in downtown Shenzhen Sunday, chances are you had the day off.
For the third Sunday in as many weeks, thousands of anti-Japanese protestors took to the streets of Shenzhen bent on venting their outrage at what they perceive to be distortions and omissions in a Japanese history textbook, Japan's attempts to gain a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Councils, the disputed Senkaku/ Diaoyu island and just about anything else Japanese connected that they could seize on.
As such, many Japanese connected businesses were closed, advertisements were covered over and one posh Japanese-related shopping mall, Jusco, in which windows had been broken a week ago, appeared to be sealed off completely and ringed with PLA soldiers and police.
"I'm very angry about the texbook," said 36-year-old Peng Zhaodi, a housewife who was one of the tens of thousands who paraded slowly and generally peacefully for about four hours through corridors of soldiers and police in Shenzhen's two major retail areas, Hua Qiang Dei and Dong Men. "The Japanese are not supposed to deny their past." Like many other protestors, Peng said she had joined the march "spontaineously" and added that the paper flag she carried urging a boycott of Japanese goods had been given to her "by a friend."
Marchers, many carrying Japanese mobile phones and recording the event with Japanese digital and video cameras, chanted slogans urging a boycott, sang the Chinese national anthem and shouted "join us!" to onlookers who lined the streets. Many carried signs and wore T-shirts advocating the same themes.
"If we don't buy their products they will all starve to death," one mother was overheard explaining to her small daughter who had asked her why a boycott made sense.
Police vans with loudspeakers urged the crowd to "please remain calm," "resist the influence of evil groups" and to "always remember the lessons of history." What evil groups or lessons they referred to was unclear -- whether June 4, 1989 where unruly protestors met a bloody end in the Tiananmen Square massacre or possibly the 1939 Nanjing massacre.
While the authorities urged calm they did nothing to stop an occasional burning of a Japanese flag, or two rather pathetic vandalisms. Lacking a specific site at which to target their discontent -- such as a Japanese consulate -- the marchers took a break beneath a large Hitachi billboard and watched for more than an hour as several young men, one carrying a sword, attempted to peel the offending advert away amid cheers and more sloganeering.
That mission accomplished, the next target was a Hong Kong-owned Japanese rice and noodle bowl chain that the owners had padlocked, complete with a red and white sign that proclaimed the business was "100-percent Hong Kong-owned, we love our motherland."
It didn't stave off the wrath of the protestors, though, who cheered lustily and threw water bottles and vegetables at the offending noodle shop as a young man with a handy stepladder and a hammer smashed the store's neon sign and slowly tried to scrape and peel away a large picture of a sumo wrestler.
Occasionally a store occupant would raise the metal door shield part way up to peer out at the crowd, only to quickly slide it back as another rain of plastic bottles and vegetables showered the storefront.
As the sign was smashed, police on Honda motorcycles moved around the edge of the crowd, which either failed or chose to ignore the Shenzhen government connection with a major Japanese manufacturer.
"Tell the world the truth. This is a spontaneous activity sponsored by Chinese youth because Japanese invaded our island," a 69-year-old retired college professor, Shen Lantian, told a reporter. "The Japanese should face their past as they are a developing economy like China." Shen, it turned out, was a retired chemistry prof, obviously a man more at home with bunsen burners than the realities of international economics.
A few others were more pragmatic.
Thirty-year-old Liu Shangwu, who sells printed circuit boards, said he while he joined the marchers, he didn't agree with the call for a boycott. "We are too connected. If it's done it should be step-by-step. I don't agree with the Japanese government's actions, they must apologize for them, but I also have business with Japanese. Not all Japanese are bad, mostly only the government.
Eddie Mong, a 60-year-old retired Hong Kong police sergeant said he joined the crowd out of professional curiousity. "The police are doing a very good job," he said. "But the Chinese government has to be careful because the whole world is watching these protests." Mong said he bears no ill-will against the Japanese, partly because in retirement, he said, "I love to sell Japanese products to Thailand. It's a very good market."

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Working Class Hero
Wednesday morning was one of those moments when I found myself wondering how, and why exactly, I'd come to ... well, come to be cooking an omelette for a retired Communist party mid-level bureaucrat.
I guess it was my way of saying, 'pleased to meet you and thanks for dinner. It's nice that East and West can meet for breakfast.'
The ex-bureaucrat in question was C's mother, who has come to Shenzhen to oversee the construction and design of an apartment room she and C's father are buying. Her length of visit is "not sure" according to C, but one thing that is sure is that she's staying in Lucky Number II for the term. Quarters are cramped but nerves aren't frayed, yet, because I'd only just met her the night before. I'd been able to scrape some time away from work in Hong Kong and get back for C whom I hadn't seen for about 12 days because she'd been away on business.
Her mother speaks no English, but I've had more than a little experience in that regard with my first wife's mother ("Paging Dr. Freud, paging Dr. Freud"), so I just played genial, polite, funny, friendly foreigner who wouldn't dream of defiling your daughter and she returned the favor with a pleasing 'welcome home' dinner of ginger flavored fish, rice, chicken and edible foliage and scrambled eggs mixed with an also edible bitter root plant.
"A typical northern Chinese meal," C told me. It was good and, except for one meal with ex-Shenzhen Daily coworker commie party member Helen, I think the first home-cooked meal I've had here. C doesn't cook to speak of, except for herself, and my only other homestay was with the alcoholic Strawberry King (see Jan. 24, 2004 Everybody's got something to hide 'cept for me and my monkey) and family - wait, he did throw a cold cooked chicken, feet, head and all on the breakfast table - but that doesn't really count.
C's mother is old enough to have gone through the Cultural Revolution, and though I knew kinship-political connections had kept her and her family out of the fray, I asked through C about it. Her mother mainly remembered a family friend - a newspaper editor - who'd been imprisoned for 13 years for the crime of forgetting to wear a Mao badge one day and then joking about it.
"We have a saying when something is stupid to do that it's like looking for a donkey when you're riding a donkey," C translated. "He forgot his pin and then went to put it on and said that wearing it was like looking for a donkey when riding a donkey. It was like calling Mao a donkey. He was in jail for 13 years." Her mother looked sober during the telling but brightened up when I said I felt supportive for him because we had shared a common job. "A lot of journalists have big mouths," I said. "Sometimes we get into trouble."
She laughed and returned to watching a Chinese TV soap opera, something C said she's done a lot of since arriving in a city where she knows no one except her daughter.
I asked about her old job.
"She organized events and wrote reports for the Party for 33 years," said C. "She was very, very good at writing reports. Like me. I think I have a report writing gene from her. But mostly she drank tea and read newspapers and went shopping during working hours."
As I rolled her omelette and tried not to break it, I thought about how I'd grown up with so many alien fears, among them the Red Menace. It was nice to know that about four decades later I'd come face-to-face with one of them and that she'd spent most of her time slacking off and writing officious bogus reports as part of the People's effort to repel US Running Dogs like me. And now here I was in the belly of the beast and we were cooking for one another.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

It's a Wild Weekend
C was out of town for the weekend on business and my options were:
1. Go to Shenzhen where her non-English speaking mother whom I've yet to meet and who is under the illusion that we do not cohabit has recently decamped for an unspecified amount of time.
2. Stay in Hong Kong left to my own devices.
I'll take 'Hong Kong' for 500, Alex!
Friday night began with a boy's night out, courtesy of a new Yank expat pal, Spike with whom I recently bonded due to similar ages, ex-marital fallout (we both have two ex's, Asian and Jewish) and fanatical musical tastes. We also blog, his is at http://laowai.blogspot.com/. Other than that, I am not from New York, have not jammed with Mike Bloomfield or driven Bruce Springsteen in a taxi nor do I live in incredibly well-appointed Hong Kong digs with two large, cool 'n' frisky dawgs, a live-in Filipina housekeeper and possess a video and music collection that would make the National Library of Congress gag with envy. I also don't work for an international entertainment conglomerate. But he's never helped haul charred wreckage out of Jewel's childhood bedroom in Homer, Alaska in 3-degree weather, either. But who would want to?
I digress...forgive me.
Spike and I and another Yank expat with entertainment conglomerate employment began slowly and darkly with delivery pizza and an unauthorized viewing of Sin City. I say unauthorized because it's not due for release here until June, pirate DVDs are scarce in HK and Spike downloaded it from some super secret crypto ranger Internet mystery cavern o' digital delights for our viewing pleasure. After that it was off to Wan Chai where, like picking from some demented menu we tried to decide on a country-specific nightclub. Did we want Indonesian? Phillipines? Thai? Native Chinese? We eventually settled on Filipina fare where we paired off with three more or less compatible companions for an evening of drinking, occasional quasi-dirty dancing and some low key tom-foolery.
My Saturday plans had included a 6pm meet & greet with an expat Brit I've yet to meet but who obviously has good taste in blogs, as he'd read SZ Zen and e-mailed me to introduce himself. Unfortunately, I'd screwed up his phone number and attempts to reach him were fruitless, and more so after my cell phone battery went south.
I'd also made a date for lunch and possibly a matinee movie with a Hong Kong woman who splits time between here and Canada, where she also holds a passport. She's a strange case. With an unlikely name, I'll just call her S and let you decide the rest.
We've since had one dinner and a couple or so lunches and S does most of the talking. She's 45 (looks younger) divorced, one 20-year-old child in college, apparently independently wealthy and extremely vain, neurotic, somewhat shallow, somewhat puritanical, quite judgemental and very lonely.
She jets between Vancouver and Hong Kong regularly and lives on the 23rd floor of a furnished service apartment in Central - a posh, bustling area that reeks of cash and privilege. Her money seems to come from her mother, real estate holdings, her occasional accounting work (she claims to have worked for fashion designer Vera Wang) and an Japanese ex.
I met her while drinking alone on my birthday at a bar favored by HK liberals, artists, gays, lesbians, beats, and the local "radical activist lawmaker" (as the papers refer to him) nicknamed "Long Hair". She embodies the notion of liberal chic - supporting all the right democracy causes, but treats the underpaid help at her apartment with almost dismissive disdain.
I find her a bit fascinating, not in a romantic or sexual way - even a general reference to sex in conversation has her diving for cover - but simply as a quirky character study.
Her favorite movies are the Tolkien adaptations, a 1990something remake of Anna Karenina and Phantom of the Opera. Like most of the rest of the airport bookstore crowd and much of Hong Kong, she's also currently fascinated with The Da Vinci Code and can't understand why I have el zippo desire to read it. And her interest in that has taken to another, earlier quasi-historical conspiracy-theory mishmash book involving the Knights Templar and the Holy Grail and from that she's decided she wants to "know more about the Bible and King Arthur."
"Well, they're both largely fictional," I said. "And King Arthur isn't in the Bible, as you probably know. But did you ever see Monty Python and the Holy Grail or Life of Brian? That might be a better place to start. More entertaining, at least."
The quip was mostly lost on her but after lunch when we scanned the movie listings, she couldn't decide between The Days of Noah, made by two Hong Kong evangelicals about close encounters of the supernatural kind during a search for Noah's Ark on Mount Ararat or Howl's Moving Castle, an anime adapation of a new wave fairy tale by British author Diana Wynne Jones, directed by famed Japanese animator Hayao Miyasaki.
Alex, I'll also take 'Howl" for 500, please. Just the thought of trying to undo the damage of what is yet another rehash of the 'Is Noah's ark, isn't it on Mt. Ararat?' psuedo-science flick gave me the heebiejeebies. But I've found that living in Hong Kong is often like living 20 or more years ago in the US. (Did you know, for instance, that it's recently been found advisable here that women over 30 should have an annual mammogram and pap smears are recommended for females over 40? Or that some developed societies have minimum wage laws? That too much salt can raise your blood pressure? Along with the Noah's Ark hoohah, these are just a smattering of "startling" discoveries just beginning to make inroads in "Asia's World City.")
Howl's Moving Castle was quite the contrast to Sin City and not an unwelcome one. Though it's comparing apples and meatloaf, it was effortlessly more original and elegantly animated.
But what really startled me was what I noticed S doing midway into the flick.
In the darkness of the theater, she kept her eyes steadliy fixated on the screen while her hands moved quickly, firmly, tightly and restlessly between her blue jean-clad thighs. If this was a Penthouse Forum letter, I'd throw in additional details along with how I reached over and my proud Love Trout jumped out and ... but, hey, there's nothing more to say.
I was somewhat unnerved and she just kept doing it, while occasionally quickly and tightly crossing and uncrossing her legs with her hands still between them as if she was alone, not in three-quarters filled afternoon theater showing of a family flick.
I was embarrassed, yes, but what does one do? Hey, uh, S, the restrooom is back there? Do movies about ramshackle wizard castles with spindly legs really turn you on that much? Finally she stopped, shivered a little and stopped, though the shiver-quiver could've been the air conditioning. She never made a sound and her eyes never left the screen. We left the theater as we entered it.
A trifle weirded out - especially given her near-Victorian social mores - I made an excuse for not having a drink and dinner and headed back home, thinking maybe SZ might've been a better bet. Not as interesting, but a little more stable and that's not always a bad thing.

PS Maybe I was right in my decision to stay. Turns out one of my favorite SZ shopping areas was also the scene of a massive anti-Japanese protest cum riot this weekend by brain-dead Chinese youth upset over new, little-used Japanese schoolbooks which many Chinese say whitewash Japan's occupation of China during the 1930s and early 1940s. Critics are angered that one of the books refers to the killing of more than 250,000 civilians by Japanese troops in Nanjing in 1937 as an "incident", rather than the "massacre" it is known as elsewhere. Protest signs in Shenzhen read, among other things: "Don't Alter History!"
Of course, the fact that the Chinese government itself officially refers to the 1989 Tiananmen Square "incident," omits all textbook references to it, and devotes only one or two textbook lines to the Cultural Revolution isn't 'altering history' or a 'white wash...' It's just, uh, selective editing. Yeah. That's the ticket.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Fire on the Mountain
SZ Zen readers outside Hong Kong may not be aware that today is an official holiday. April 5 is Ching Ming Festival, or tomb sweeping day, when dutiful families are supposed to tend their ancestors' graves. As space is extremely limited in Hong Kong, there are thousands of tombs stacked on the hillsides and it seems that April 5 is also a day when firefighters are hyper-alert due to the many worshippers who routinely litter and set fire to the brush and trees while leaving food, flaming offerings and burning candles and incense in the course of their tomb cleaning duties.
The paper offerings range from routine items for sending comfort smoking skyward like clothing and jewelry, as well as replica laptop computers, cell phones, electronic massage chairs and - my favorite - paper mistresses and spirit money issued by "The Bank of Hell."
Of course, because I had to work I wasn't fortunate enough to be able honor my ancestors by torching the hillsides. But thanks to the handy "Don't burn and litter the tombs" public service TV ads seemingly broadcast every 2 minutes, I've been quite vigilant lately concerning my ancestor worship activities in general.
There are English language versions of these ads, too, because it's well known that many of the native English speakers here are heedlessly careless and casual when it comes to ancestor worship. Equally helpful are the English language TV ads that also warn us against playing with and/or stuffing live chickens and ducks in our suitcases while on vacation.
It's good to know that Hong Kong cares.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

This is a headline from the official Chinese news agency Xinhua announcing Terry Schiavo's death. According to this website: www.danwei.org, and confirmed by C, it literally reads: "American female plant person dies."
No word yet on how the pope will be characterized, though the PRC does not recognize the Vatican and, just as it has a bogus Dali Lama, it has a token "Pope." And in a quirky spinoff ... the head of the Hong Kong Catholics is a fellow named Bishop Zen or Zen Ze-kiun (Bishop Joseph Zen when he's using his English moniker).

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