Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Gallon of Gas
Just a note on comparitive gas prices. The cost of oil is hitting drivers everywhere, but as someone who hasn't sat behind a wheel for about two years I've been fairly oblivious to the situation except when editing yet another narcoleptic inducing business story about $70/barrel for oil blahblah. But two HK auto-owning coworkers just clued me in to how relatively lucky US drivers are.
Adjusting for liters vs gallons ("petrol" is priced per "liter" here for those who want to "go motoring" on their "tyres" and look through their "windscreens") and currency rates, HK drivers are paying about US$8.35 per gallon of gas. One said it costs him more than US$100 to fill his tank. He's been walking and taking a lot of buses and subway trains lately.***************************
My comments feature has never worked but in the interest of equal opportunity dialogue and to reveal my gross ignorance in all things regarding economics ("invisible hand" always confused me, I thought it was a Vincent Price movie or something) here's an e-mail I received from a from a trained economist in New York City: "I always love to see gas comparisons - gas prices are hign in many other countries because there are huge excise taxes and VATs on them. The tax structure in the US is based on income, property and consumption, with most of the burden tied to income and property. In most other countries consumption is taxed more highly. Sooo gas price comparisons are like comparing apples to crabs - they just aint so.''

Monday, August 29, 2005

'Pride and joy and greed and sex/That’s what makes our town the best'
The Kissel trial is winding down this week but the defense is launching last gasp final arguments in the wake of Nancy's admission that she done it and questionable evidence regarding her self-defense argument. So her lawyer has been savaging the victim and the cops' rather lax investigation, which sounds very familiar to anyone who followed the JonBenet Ramsey saga in Boulder.
What follows is some raw copy.

The prosecution's case against Nancy Kissel is ``like something out of a movie script'' and ``simply defies common sense'' the High Court heard on Monday.
Defence counsel Alexander King, SC, submitted his final submission to a jury comprising five men and two women on Monday, before a packed court as the murder trial that has rivetted the Hong Kong local and overseas media all summer draws to a climactic end.
For the first time in the trial, King, who did not submit an opening speech, held the attention of the jury for the whole day, as he elaborated why Nancy Kissel, 41, is pleading not guilty to murdering her husband Robert Kissel because of lawful self-defense.
King however, failed to maintain the attention of the father of the deceased, William Kissel, who left the courtroom after only a few minutes of the final speech.
In his final arguments, King invited the jury use their common sense and see that the prosecution case paints a dramatic ``colliding of universes.''
``The prosecution would have you believe,'' said King, that on the one hand, the ``cheating, ungrateful, plotting, scheming wife'' has laid down a murderous plan ``there and ready to go'' while simultaneously, the husband, has been planning to reveal to her on that fatal night, November 2, 2003, that he wants a divorce, thereby springing her trap.
The motive, according to the prosecution, is equally ``a classic,'' said King: ``Money, love, lust and sex.''
King said the prosecution has used negative connotations when referring to Kissel's lover who lives in a trailer park in the New England state of Vermont, painting him as ``someone living a wretched life, eyeing up wealthy people'' and then tacitly encouraging a pre-meditated plan to kill.
``That is pure speculation,'' King said.
Instead, Robert Kissel's ruthless competitiveness in work and play, his detailed supervision of household finances, his installation of spyware and hiring of private detectives, is evidence of the paranoid, controlling nature of a violently abusive husband, King submitted.
Robert Kissel had been searching for an excuse to have divorce proceedings go in his favor, hence his obsessive spying on his wife, said King. The deceased knew that if the accused filed for divorce on the grounds of spousal abuse and sexual violence, the ensuing proceedings, as of all divorce suits, would be ``ugly, dirty and messy'' and that ``his whole world (and career) would come crashing down,'' said King.
Given that common sense should rule out premeditation, and the solid evidence of Robert Kissel's controlling nature, the scenario of the husband confronting his wife with the threat of removing the children from her care, escalating into a furious struggle in which she fears for her life, is the genuine one, he submitted.
The accused inflicted five fatal blows and stopped only when she knew he couldn't harm her, said King.
``How can someone turn around and decide how many blows are necessary? Adrenaline and fear takes over and you do what you can to defend yourself,'' said King.
King spent much of the day listing a series of factors in the prosecution case which show that ``the theory of pre-meditation goes out the window.''
He noted that the alleged murder weapon is a ``family heirloom. What's more likely? That being chosen as the murder weapon, or that being picked up in self-defense?'' he asked.
Despite all the evidence that has been based upon e-mail correspondence captured by E-blaster spyware, there is nothing to suggest that the accused was planning a future with Michael Del Priore. ``Where is the e-mail that says, `Oh my darling, we will soon be together?''' he asked.
The suggestion that she killed for the money is also ``nonsense'' said King. Claiming life insurance because one's husband has ``disappeared'' is not possible.
``Their (Life Insurance Agents') investigation would be a lot more thorough than the investigation conducted in this trial,'' he said.
King noted that for most of 2003, the accused had already set up a home with her three children in a lovely house in Vermont. If she wanted money, she could have said, ``sorry Robert, I'm not coming home, I'm filing for divorce,'' said King. Instead, when she received the call, ``she quickly packed up to go home.''
All the evidence in the case show that the accused ``was a very good organizer,'' he said.
``Where was the evidence for the disposal of the body before November 2? There simply is none,'' said King. Instead, the accused's ``bizarre'' actions after that fatal incident, show her ``meltdown in her mental condition.''
King asked why, if the rug was used to ``dispose of the body,'' that brightly colored cushions were secured to the outside of the rug, ``decorated it in such a way, making it almost unforgettable.''
He also noted, that according to the chronology of events, ``she must have spent at least two nights in the bedroom with the body of her dead husband,'' said King.
If she had a pre-meditated scheme, she certainly did not rely upon it, he submitted.
Robert Kissel on the other hand, wanted to be ``in total control'' at all times. When he suspected at the end of 2002, that their marriage might be in trouble, ``did he use his usual energy to say, `right lets go to marriage counsellors and sort it out'? What did he do? He installed spyware,'' said King, ``so that six times a day, Robert Kissel could check on his wife.''
He reminded the jury that the E-Blaster was installed before the accused had even started a relationship with Del Priore.
According to his colleague David Noh, the deceased had also explored the possibility in the event of a divorce that the children live with the domestic helpers in a separate apartment from either parent.
``All the evidence is that she is a first-rate mother'' said King, but Robert Kissel wanted ``a situation where you don't have the children either.''
``The truth (of Robert Kissel's character) is unpleasant, is brutal,'' said King. He was a man, who according to internet records, ``in advance of travelling to destinations, is looking to procure gay sexual services,'' said King. Records also show that his first search term on Google in April, 2003, was ``my wife is a bitch.''
He would refer to his wife in that way again, on November 2, 2003 when he was enraged at being hit by his wife, a reverse of the usual scenario of him doing the hitting, and bore down on her saying ``I'm going to f****** kill you, you bitch,'' submitted King.
Earning US$2 million (HK$15.6 million) on average in annual bonuses on top of a US$175, 000 salary as a Managing Director at Merrill Lynch ``does not put that person in a superior position in the family,'' said King. ``How can you measure the contribution of a wife, of a mother? There is no price you can put on that job.''
King will continue his final speech today before Justice Michael Lunn.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

You Gotta Move
This weekend's Standard column.
As an old blues song says, when the Lord gets ready, you've gotta move. In my case it hasn't been so much the Lord as perhaps his -- or his subterranian counterpart's -- instruments, as in employers, wives, ex-wives, circumstances beyond my immediate control and the occasional capitalist running dog feudal landlord who have forced me to relocate exactly 33 times in my 50-or-so years of life.
That's counting several US army transfers, childhood moves and the two months I spent on a coworker's couch as marriage No. 1 went down in flames. As I mentally crawled from that wreckage I was often unwillingly subjected to the sounds of his new relationship taking root in his bedroom as the happy couple explored new identities as ``School Marm and Outlaw.'' Feeling like a pupil held hostage, I figured it was a sign to move again. That was No. 23.
But last month was the first time I'd moved twice simultaneously, once by long distance.
It was my third recycle in Shenzhen after a protracted dispute with a landlord who had resolutely refused to provide a postbox key, pay for repairs and insisted that the 2,813 yuan unpaid power bill from the previous tenant was my responsiblity. She also labored under the curious misapprension that her apartment was not a fitting habitat for a litter of three weaned civet kittens that a Chinese pal had temporarily left with me. Go figure.
Meanwhile 11,995 kilometers and 15 hours away in Louisville, Colorado my son was vacating an apartment that he and I had called home for four years before I'd split for China to ``check it out, I'll probably be back in six months or so.'' That was two years ago and counting.
As such, I'd left most of my lifetime possessions intact and under the temporary guardianship of a college student. Artwork, furniture, kitchen and dining clutter, cabinets, clothing, two televisions, one non-working Mac, one operating Dell PC, 63 hardcover books, countless paperbacks, one working turntable, two CD players, one Beta format videocassette player, two VHS players, six speakers, 1,231 CDs, 807 vinyl LPs, three boxes of cassette tapes, 16 Beta tapes, four boxes of VHS tapes, three eight track tapes (Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, Do the Hustle Vol.1, Dean Martin: For the Good Times) and a pink Princess rotary dial phone.
The international phone calls began on July 5 -- him at 11am or so, me at 1am July 6.
``Dad, what do you want me to do with your books? Your CDs? And Agnes?''
``Agnes'' is a 500-year-old wooden French sculpture of St Agnes that my parents bought for a proverbial song in a Paris flea market in 1963. Aside from an unopened vintage British vinyl copy of Electric Ladyland a matched pair of 1960s-era Flintstones jelly/drinking glasses (Fred and Wilma), and a Ringo Starr autograph, she's probably my most most valuable posession.
I blanched thinking of her in a college student's cave amid Blink 182, Jimmy Eat World, Nicky Hilton, Carmen Electra posters, pyramids of beer cans, fetid bongs and crusty paper plates hosting 8-day old bean dip and congealed nachos.
I'm not Catholic but some of my best, well, one of my best friends is and Agnes found temporary properly reverential housing,
A yard sale took care of some of the furniture (``You only got $30 for the dining room set? I paid $1,200 for it seven years ago! What? And you threw in the couch for free?'') and basements and garages of friends in three neighboring towns and my sister in New York state were found for the rest as the weeks ticked by and the phone bills mounted.
In Shenzhen the clock was also ticking. After the civet petting zoo was returned to the original owner, new digs were found on another floor of the same building and transfers began courtesy of a Shenzhen moving company that consisted of an elderly wheezing man and his strapping son and nephew all of whom had been recruited from the street corner where they also moonlighted as trash collectors, occasional bootleg DVD and questionable quality fishball vendors.
There was only one hitch. An apartment security guard with apparently nothing better to do demanded to see receipts for my sound system and two laptop computers that he happened to see me transferring from one floor to another and my new abode.
``Receipts? We ain't got no receipts. We don't need no receipts. I don't have to show you any stinking receipts!'' I shouted at the callow-faced youth in a uniform that looked like a cross between Barney Fife's on the Andy Griffith Show and a botched second from a Croatian production of Pirates of Penzance. Oddly enough he appeared to be either unfamiliar or unimpressed with my clever reference to The Treasure of Sierra Madre and stood firm until my Chinese roomate assured him that as a two-year resident of the complex the oft-seen foreigner surely had better things to do than publicly burglarize his own apartment at 11am on a Saturday.
Fifteen hours away in the past, the international phone calls had dwindled but there were some burps, usually at 4am.
``Uh, Dad. Sorry to wake you but what about the Honda?'' The car was a problem. Inherited unwillingly from my late mother, the 1981 rust-ridden, barely working Civic probably had a resale value of negative US$150. In other words I'd have to pay someone to take it off my hands and the proceeds from the yard sale weren't going to cover it.
``I've got an idea,'' my son continued. It seemed a friend of his, a budding filmmaker, needed a burning vehicle to give his student project its proverbial money shot.
``Can he blow it up on private property? With a permit? I don't want a warrant waiting for me if I ever come back to a home I don't have.''
I was assured that all was street legal and that I'd get a screen credit (``Exploding Honda courtesy of Julian's Dad'') and my personal copy of Vampire Lesbian Kickboxers: The Prequel as soon as it was released.
He finally phoned to say that he'd turned in the keys and might get one sixteenth of the $800 damage deposit back due to some two-year-old collateral damage to the carpet involving a gallon red wine and pot of spaghetti sauce that had resisted industrial strength steam cleaning.
``It looks kind of like Jesus or Mary, maybe, if you squint hard enough,'' he joked.
I had a flash -- declare a miracle, charge admission or cut ``Jesus'' or ``Mary'' out of the carpet and sell it on e-Bay and recoup my financial losses. But no. Too late and I was beginning to feel extremely dislocated.
In the US my life was now scattered in four towns in two states and in China it was split between two apartments in Shenzhen and Hong Kong. Time to give it all a rest and wait for Vampire Lesbian Kickboxers to arrive. Maybe, I mused, I can get it pirated, cash in on the proceeds and finally retire in one place and never move again.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Call Any Vegetable
Vegetarianism is looking increasingly appealing to me lately, particularly in the last week or so when there's been a food scare 'o the day in Hong Kong and on the mainland. It began with bird flu several months ago -- at which point I took chicken, duck and goose off my menus. After reports of swine flu, particularly one about a Hong Kong butcher who caught it and is struggling for his life after he chopped up swine with an unbandaged, ungloved bleeding hand, pork was out the door.
News that some farmers in Hong Kong and the mainland ``vaccinate'' their swine by feeding the tissue of sick pigs to healthy pigs didn't exactly set my mind at ease either.
And lately it's been eels and freshwater fish, all apparently tainted with a cancer causing, banned, anti-fungal chemical that sounds either like a exotic jewel, a potent dope strain or a new age band: Malachite Green. I wasn't a huge eel consumer in the States - I'd eat it as sushi - but had developed a taste for it here after C introduced me to it in a dish called congee which is basically a sort of rice porridge with chicken, eel, shrimp or any other by-now toxic animal flesh added.
You won't read or hear much, if anything, about these problems in Shenzhen or the rest of the mainland due to a media blackout after an intital belch of reports regarding "questionable" pork being seized from SZ markets and private homes. What news there is currently is simply "health authorities" stating that everything is fine, nothing to see here folks, move along...
A Canadian researcher at the University of Montreal has offered his swine flu expertise to the Chinese government but has been ignored despite the fact that he's been studying the bacteria for 17 years and is one of only a handful of experts on the subject.
Hong Kong health authorities haven't been much better. They've stalled and stuttered on releasing what little information they've gleaned from their mainland counterparts and seem more concerned with playing footsie with Beijing and placating the fish, pork and fowl lobbies here rather than being upfront with Hong Kong consumers. In that placate-our-Beijing-puppetmasters vein, a ban on mainland pork that began about a week ago is about to be lifted.
And a short-lived ban on mainland freshwater fish will also be rescinded Tuesday. The reason for the flip-flop? "Freshwater fish is not food!" stated HK health minister (and alleged physician) York Chow with a straight face. He seems to believe that all such fish - dead or alive - sold in Hong Kong restaurants and markets are destined solely for lavish ornamental fish ponds and aquariums.
Much of this is, of course, reminiscent of the inital SARS cover-ups. It seems some children never learn.
Meanwhile, despite my bird flu fears and a life-long avowal that anything that plops out of a chicken's arsehole is best avoided, I've been eating lots of homemade cheese and tomato omelets. McDonald's salads, oodles o' noodles, and occasional duels with death-by-sushi and canned (British) tuna-mercury salad are also part of this Foreign Barbarian's South China Food Pyramid.
And C and I were thrilled last weekend to discover that a Pizza Hut delivery-only operation has just opened only four blocks from the Lucky Number. All their meat comes from the States (okay, I'm rashly taking their word for it) and they deliver in 30-minutes or less, even in the midst of last weekend's typhoon.
Make mine a 12-inch Godfather Supreme, just hold the eel.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

My Father's House
Shenzhen Zen is taking a short detour for a guest blog courtesy of Julian Mitchell who posted this on another site recently. It's related because he just packed up, cleaned out and turned over the keys to the apartment he and I shared for four years or so and that he continued to use for two more after I left for China for his trips back to Colorado from Drake University in Iowa. It was still being rented by my father for both he and Julian after I left, partially for their use when they were in Colorado and, I think, also in hopes of me returning sooner. I'll let the rest speak for itself.
I turned in the keys to 1608 Garfield Ave. Apt. 3 today. I gave away the keys to my home today. I walked into the main offices of Property Resources today and handed the woman behind the desk one mail box key and one key to the front door.
“Are you moving out?” the cheery thin-boned, high cheeked woman behind the desk asked.
“Something like that…” I mumble.
“Do we have a forwarding address? You know for the deposit.” She says almost singing
“No…I think, my aunt will handle that. I just moving the place out.” I remember vaguely Grandfather saying something about forfeiting the deposit.
“Oh, well than have a nice day.” She smiles and I smile back.
I spent most of my high school life in that apartment. It was where a became who I am today. It was my home. I felt safe there, I was happy there…well most of the time. I remember sitting in my room (when it was my room, not N8’s, not Squirts’…mine) Rachel looking around at my walls and basic layout and remarking, “Yeah, this is a happy place.” It was the house I enjoyed being at. A house where I wasn’t afraid of someone screaming at me for no reason. A house that was mine as much as it was my dad’s. I looked forward to coming home instead of dreading it. Dad wasn’t happy there, I knew that but he was strong for me. I was happy, really happy there. Like there was an energy about the place. Something that when I was there I was content, safe. Like the world outside, the walls weren’t that important.
It was just weird to see it so empty, I’d never seen it like that, there was so much room, so much space. I could have sworn I heard an echo. Dad moved us in while I was at camp. So I came back to a new place, but didn’t have to go through the whole moving process. I remember thinking if we were going to stay there long. We’d only stayed at Madison for three months, and Mohawk for like nine months. How long were we going to be at Garfield? Now, for the first time in six years, a Mitchell will not be on the lease.
I gave away the keys to my home today.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Gay Hate Crimes on Rise in China
Unedited extract from a story tonight
Lo said some mainland farmers also use homos to feed the pigs, which would affect the animal resistance against diseases.

The reporter meant hormones...
Name Game
This week's Standard column examines what's in a name, Sino-style
What originally brought me to China was a three-week summer English language camp in Shenzhen where one of my first duties was to name two students, a boy and a girl, who didn't already have English monikers.
But I was struck first by some of the names that had either been bestowed by Chinese teachers using lists apparently drawn from 19th century British census polls, or ones the pupils had chosen themselves. Most were fairly traditional (Tim, Kevin, Rachel, Cindy) or, at worst, only antiquated by western standards (Cora, Ivy, Heathcliff, Fletcher, Agnes, Ethel, Mabel).
But the best ones were incomprehensible, except to the owners. My favorites were the noun and adjective names. Three of my best students were girls named Street, Precious Moment and Most. Another teacher had what she dubbed ``The Fruit Sisters'': Lemon, Banana and Orange. One boy had apparently taken a cue from The Wind in the Willows with Mole and there were others seemingly inspired by the Seven Dwarfs: Happy, Itchy and Funny. A possible UFO freak called himself Roswell, though he wisely resisted my suggestion to change it to Area 51.
And there were a few gender-benders recalling Johnny Cash's A Boy Named Sue. One young man had no problem with Tina, another had tagged himself April Wednesday in honor of his birth month and day and there was a girl named Joey in honor of baby `roos.
I had little room to snicker, however. You see, I hail from Boulder, Colorado. Besides having a state university cafeteria named after a 19th century cannibal and being the editorial home of a magazine for wannabe mercenaries called Soldier of Fortune it's also one of the last refuges for the Woodstock Nation where names like Dharma Bum, Astral Plane, Bilbo Shrooms, Shamica Sativa and XXX God raise few eyebrows but lots of consciousness.
While my teaching stint gave way to more lasting and suitable duties, I later struck up friendships with long- term teachers who had some winners.
``Here's smattering of nonsensical names I've had the pleasure of knowing: Red Hat, Arrow, Small Fish, Yellow Pencil, Dolphin and Ranson,'' said Patrick Mullen. ``There are a good many others, but my beer-encrusted brain can't pull them out right now.''
Another American, James Baquet, who teaches at Shenzhen Polytechnic University, was a little more sober when contacted and a lot more comprehensive. His name game fascination also served as therapy in his personal Heartbreak Hotel.
``Last Spring, I compiled and alphabetized a list of 579 student names. I then assigned a category to each one,'' Baquet said. ``I only did this my first semester here; an update on the next two semeseters will happen if I ever lose my girlfriend and have too much time on my hands again.''
Baquet's list is staggering. It covers 17 categories ranging from Finance (four: two Moneys and, in a rare bubble of pro-Japanese sentiment, two Yens and zero Yuans); Animals and Humans (``Faves here include two girls with double-names Bear-Bear and Pig-Pig; one male and one female Fox; two girls named Man, and the superbly misspelled Gorille, a girl'') to Words: adjectives.
``There were 21 of those,'' Baquet said. ``My favorite was when a kid missed the first class. When he showed up for the second, I asked, ``What happened last time?''
``He said, `I couldn't find the classroom.'''
``How long did you look?''
``A couple of minutes.''
``Okay, what's your name?
``That got big laugh from the class.''
The two largest categories were No English Name (69) and Standard (299). ``I noticed a strong correlation between the failure to choose an English name and poor English conversational skills,'' said Baquet. ``I think it's something about a comfort level.''
``As for Standard names, there were some strange spellings like Carloes, Howy and Jackueline and some unusual ones: Athena, Astrid. I also had some gender-benders (two males, Gigi and Penny, a female Tom) and some names that should have been filed under Inexplicable: Connia, Dorty, Eline, Jeffson and Winson.
``I guess there are two defenses for including those. They're close to real names (Connie, Dorothy, Elaine, Jefferson, Winston) and I've lost some of my sensitivity about what's considered weird.''
As for Inexplicable (55, including gems such as boys named Figer, Hoorock and Potti and girls called Cavery, Gife and Sikky) Baquet said: ``In many cases, the students couldn't or wouldn't explain them or their explanation was still wanting. But Sikky was a sweetie and Potti became a good friend.''
There was also his Initials category (15) that might also have been called R2-D2. It was virtually all male with an A-2, an aspiring CEO and two inventive ones who melded their Chinese names with US hip-hop sensibilities.
``My favorites were T.W.I.M. Hu Bin -- a boy named Hu Bin who said it was The World Is Mine Hu Bin -- and Hmily, a boy named Hu Ming who said it was Hu Ming I Love You,'' said Baquet. ``The best part was that both insisted on being called by their full names every time.''
Unlike me, Baquet said he was never called to name a student. But I've got three great suggestions. Ultimately I dubbed my charges Elvis and Aretha. And though they were unaware of their namesakes' soulful significance, they seemed perfectly satisfied.
Another teacher at the summer camp had the same quandry and took a cue from the same book, just a more recent chapter. Suffice to say that somewhere in Shenzhen there's also a Chinese Bono.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Don't send me to heaven
It ain't where I should go
Cause the Devil's got a charcoal pit
And a good fire down below

This snatch of Robert Earl Keen's ode to 'que came to mind recently after I came close to committing a major religious/cultural blunder in a search for the holy grill.
Shambling from my digs at my usual bright and early 12:30-1pm rising hour, I noted recently that the apartment management had set up some temporary grills. Halved metal barrels were laid lengthwise across saw horses on edge of the sprawling patio, entrance area. Inside there were what appeared to be metal grates of sorts and the bottoms were lined with sand.
"Yowzah!" thinks I. A little late in the summer perhaps, but nice of them to put in some grills. I had the evening off and immediately made plans to bust out some 'que. A "Mongolian T-bone" steak - thin but serviceable - was found, as was a small bag of charcoal, cigarette lighter fluid, some corn to grill and some sauces, spices, garlic etc. I was salivating thinking of the final result as it's been about a year since I last had any proper contact with The Summer Grill Experience.
About 6pm I trotted out, two bags of fire starting equipment and fixings in hand, sauntered up to Barrel No. 1, lifted the grate and began to pluck out burned incense stubs that some idjit had thoughtlessly burned there (maybe the Chinese version of hickory chips?) and rip open the charcoal. That's when a Chinese resident, who'd been nursing a beer at a nearby bench suddenly lurched up and ran at me gesticulating and yammering.
"No eating! No fooding! No!"
I backed off, thinking perhaps it was a sanitary warning and then made eye contact with a security guard who was also headed my way. In slightly better English he told me it was a no-no and then escorted me politely but firmly to the apartment entrance corridor where he pointed to the notices bulletin board.
It's a board I rarely read, though admittedly it does provide helpful information about elevator closures, toilet tank water shutdowns and such that I sometimes manage to catch after the fact. More often it's a wealth of topical information on items such as the security guards' neckties. According to one, they aren't wearing ties due to summer heat from 0600 hours June 1, 2005-2400 hours September 1, 2005 but the dress code change "is not expected to have a negative impact on the performace of their assigned duties."
Imagine my relief.
But I had missed a crucial one. Reading it I learned it's currently "Yue Laan Festival" (Hungry Ghosts) and the apartment had set up temporary incense burning altars (the halved barrels) for residents to burn joss sticks in rather than doing so in stairwells and hallways. I later asked a Chinese coworker about Gwai Jit and was told it means "Ghost Festival." It's a month long period when ancestors from the underworld get a "summer holiday" among the living. A Dead Man's 30-day Party wherein incense and paper replicas of clothes and possessions such as lap tops, autos, homes, cell phones and even servants are burned to keep them amused and occupied. More convenient than real kegs, I guess.
But what I had almost done was akin to some halfwit going into a Catholic church to toast marshmallows and roast hot dogs over votive candles.
Still, I thought, I bet those Sino-specters would love some grilled 'que. It's just not the same pan-fried.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Odds and Sods
It grieves me to report that Kissel copy is rather tepid tonight. As such, I'm just running some juicy extracts and hope things pick up later.
The ``problem'' with her claim of memory loss during and after the fatal fight on November 2, 2003, is that she managed to recount a version of events to Dr Annabel Dythin, on November 4, said Senior Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions, Peter Chapman.
On November 4, evidence suggests she went to consult Dythin, who compiled an assault report based on an account given by Kissel. The report says she was holding a fork upside down and a glass, while her husband assaulted her using hands and feet, chasing her around the room.
Chapman said the fork was a lie used to explain the puncture wounds on her hands she received when she used the ornament ``to smash Robert Kissel's head.''
The days about which she has no recollection include ``incriminating acts where you sought to cover-up what you had done on November 2 to Robert Kissel,'' said Chapman.
``I don't know what happened to me after that night,'' said Kissel, who said she had to accept what the prosecution claims. ``I still don't know. It's a part of my life that's been taken from me,'' she added.
``The person who as had a part of life taken from him, is Robert Kissel, because you killed him,'' said Chapman,
``and in order to achieve that purpose, you had to drug him first.''
The accused said there was a ``horrible fight'' with a baseball bat. ``He was going to kill me, and I defended myself, because he was going to kill me. I fought for my life,'' she said.
``You just forgot to mention that to Dr Dythin, 36 hours later,'' said Chapman.
``You remember not putting drugs in the milkshake, but remember Robert Kissel threatening to kill you,'' noted Chapman.
Chapman said she described her husband standing over her, aiming blows to her head from above. ``How did you get the better of Robert Kissel using this ornament?''
``I don't know,'' she replied. ``Because it didn't happen Mrs Kissel, it just didn't happen,'' said Chapman.
As the day's proceedings ended, the accused, in her loudest outburst yet, exclaimed ``he was going to kill me, he was going to kill me, oh God, he was going to kill me'' while lying with her face on the desk.
``Thank you Mrs Kissel, please return to the dock,'' said Justice Michael Lunn.
Bird is the Word
Longtime SZ Zen readers may recognize this week's Standard column as recycled material. It's been beefed up with some additional details, however, and may prove worth the read even if you've seen it before. Or maybe not.
So, there I was sitting on a street corner in Guangzhou in the 35-degree Celsius, quadzillion percent humidity, sucking up exhaust fumes with a Chinese newspaper-wrapped blue plastic cage stuffed with eight fledging supposedly-rare birds on my lap.
Just another day in China, I thought. Animal smuggling and heat stroke.
Chirp, chirp, replied the allegedly endangered myna birds, which at that point were more at risk from dying of C02 poisoning than anything me or my Chinese pal, Simon, would do with them. Actually, they were for Simon's reclusive, bird-obsessed foreign wife back in Shenzhen, a woman I'd met briefly only once.
Simon, who held another wrapped cage 'o covert fledglings in one hand while trying to hail a taxi with other, is a grudgingly devoted spouse. He's a fellow who would rather have a drunken chimpanzee perform an appendectomy on him with a rusty spoon than say `I love you' or give her flowers for no reason, but he was eager get out of their apartment for the day to fulfill her request for endangered species delivery. His spouse apparently fancied herself as a lone wolf amateur conservationist -- a quasi-Jane Goodall of birds -- and had fixated on the notion that this Guangzhou market had a stash of endangered Bali mynah birds, of which there are only about 900 in captivity. Her madcap plan was to get as many as possible, raise them in their apartment and then either donate them to a sanctuary or free them. They would join two herons that Simon had previously ``rescued'' and were occupying an extra bedroom and generally stinking up the entire flat.
Simon, who privately admitted that there were, yes, holes in her scheme that you could drive a bus through and never tired of complaining to me about how their place smells like a combination chicken coop-fish market, is also a go-along, get-along kind of a guy.
``Yes,'' he said. ``Maybe she is a little crazy. Maybe I am, too. But it is our fate.''
I'm an avian ignoramus but I had my doubts about what he'd actually purchased. A cursory Internet check for pictures of Bali mynahs I'd made prior to our departure was successful but showed that the real deal is white with black tipped wings and tails. Our 16 were more or less sold brown. Bali mynahs also sell on the bird black market for about US$2,000. Simon's had cost about 12 yuan apiece. Niggling details, but perhaps these were endangered species knockoffs, just like the DVDS, Rolex's and Gucci handbags also on sale at the market. It had taken us two hours by bus and another 30 minutes on a subway until we found the Endangered Species Outdoor Market. There appeared to be some authentic rarities. I spotted one bedraggled caged eagle and some parrots perhaps smuggled from South America or Africa. It also included a small ocean of fish, some scorpions, a slew of dogs and a tarantula or two.
It was either a World Wildlife Fund nightmare or a mainland PETsMART, minus the air conditioning and ambience, but it was worth the trip if you like squalor and enjoy watching a woman pick up scorpions by their claws and place them on her arms and shoulders to show off the merchandise.
After buying the birds and we'd considered returning to Shenzhen using the same methods as we'd come to Goughzou, but it seemed the subway cops didn't look favorably on transporting live animals -- endangered or not -- and Simon didn't want to risk that leg of the journey.
There'd also been a series of those universal no-nos signs on the subway that, due to the poor and puzzling graphics, to me appeared to ban otherwise popular subway riding activities such as projectile vomiting, crucificifixions and cats having sex with dogs. There was nothing about crucifying Bali mynas that were projectile vomiting and having sex with dogs or cats, but we weren't going to risk it.
A taxi was found and the next stop was a bus terminal where Simon decided to use the foreign barbarian curiousity factor as a diversion to get the two cages past the dozing guard at an X-ray scanner that appeared to have last seen use during the break-up of the Soviet Union.
``You put my backpack through and talk to the guard. She won't understand, but it's okay. It's okay. I will go behind you and with the birds pass her very fast.''
So I tossed Simon's backpack on the conveyor belt and made eye contact with the uncomprehending guard and began my spiel.
``See nothing of note up my sleeve! Or in my backpack. And please ignore that guy slipping behind me with two cages full of rare birds! He's harmless. They're harmless and his wife promises to give them better care than the wretches he bought them from at a ridiculously low price. Did you know you can buy a Bali myna here for less than a bottle of beer?''
She smiled and shrugged.
The belt wheezed and belched out the back-pack.
I vaguely heard ``cheep, cheep'' as Simon slithered through on his way toward the buses, cages still in his hands.
I grabbed the pack. ``Thanks! Gotta run!''
We made it to the bus where the attendants seemed to think nothing of a guy hauling two parcels of bird sound effects on board.
The next obstacle was at a checkpoint between Shenzhen and The Rest of the Province where a People's Liberation Army guy who appeared to be all of 14-years-old climbed on the bus to scrutinize IDs and passes needed to enter Shenzhen.
After throwing about six people off -- two of whom was a couple with no IDs -- he studied my passport as if he could read it and then gave Simon's particulars a once over. Meanwhile the birds sang on, something that made me tense. Simon only laughed after I said something about a ``close call'' and then watched the couple with no IDs climb back aboard, apparently after greasing a few palms during their brief interrogation.
``China is very funny, sometimes,'' he said. ``Some rules they ignore all the time. Sometimes only a few times. Not like the USA where everything is a law. We have laws, but nothing is real.''
Including, perhaps, the Bali mynahs.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Queen of my Doublewide Trailer
Yet more unvarnished Kissel copy, today featuring sordid testimony regarding Nancy's Italian Stallion Cable Guy (or electrician, it's not clear) who lived not in a 'trailer park' but in a 'stationary mobile home,' according to the confessed Milkshake Murderess.
Realizing that the knowledge of her affair with an electrician living in a trailer park would disadvantage her in divorce proceedings, accused murderer, Nancy Kissel went on a ``shopping spree for drugs'' the week before her banker husband Robert Kissel was murdered, the prosecution suggested in the High Court, Tuesday.
At the same time, the lover, Michael Del Priore, considered the accused a ``goldmine'' and was willing to invest time and money on long-distance calls, which increased in frequency in the months leading to the alleged murder and intensified on significant dates, such as the day the accused was prescribed Rohypnol, the court heard.
Senior Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions, Peter Chapman, also suggested that it was ``nonsense'' that the accused had felt so lonely that she searched for ``medication causing heart attack'' on the internet to commit suicide, because e-mail records suggest at the time she had plenty of social functions with her female friends to go to.
She was also ``intimately familiar with sleeping pills and painkillers'' by this time, said Chapman, and could have just taken any one of the bottles she said was lying around the house to kill herself. Regarding the accused's testimony that she searched for Rohypnol on October 23, 2003, because she was prescribed it and had not heard of it before, Chapman commented: ``So Dr [Annabel] Dythin is the sort of doctor who doesn't tell her patient what she's prescribing is she?''
Kissel replied she wanted to find out more about the drug. She said she never thought of leaving her husband, was visiting alternative doctors, not shopping for drugs, and was spending more time on the phone to Del Priore because the intensity of Robert's abuse was increasing.
Throughout the trial, the prosecution has suggested that Nancy Kissel was the primary beneficiary of the deceased's life insurance policies. His sister, Jane Clayton, the first prosecution witness, estimated his estate to be worth US$18 million, including stocks, cash, real estate and life insurance.
Tuesday, Chapman continued with his third day of cross-examination. He suggested that by August, the accused had no intention to salvage the marriage.
``Michael Del Priore was the man you loved. He was the man in your life,'' said Chapman.
Kissel replied that he was the person she had become very close with since they shared a lot and that ``he continued to give support.''
``Del Priore lived in a trailer park right?'' asked Chapman. ``No,'' she answered.
``In a stationary mobile home?'' suggested Chapman. ``I believe something like that,'' she replied.
``And you represented a potential goldmine to him didn't you Mrs Kissel?'' said the prosecutor.
``No, he had an understanding of what my life was about,'' she said
Kissel said he did not judge her by what she possessed and accepted her as a person.
Chapman pointed out that in the month of September, 2003, Kissel made 52 calls to Del Priore and then 106 calls in October. On the day she was prescribed Rohypnol, a drug found in the stomach of the deceased, she made seven calls to Del Priore before and after her meeting with the doctor.
At the end of August, two days before her husband returned home from New York from back surgery, the accused had searched for sleeping pills, ``drug overdose'' and ``medication causing heart attack.'' That day, she had spoken to Del Priore for over three hours.
The accused said she never talked about receiving the drugs, nor her thoughts of suicide to Del Priore.
Chapman noted that the ``pattern'' was she would only call for a few seconds, and then receive a call back from Del Priore, but the accused said she would not pay for the return call.
``This man called you back, spending hours on the telephone, spending hundreds and hundreds of US dollars, which a resident at a trailer park can ill-afford,'' said Chapman.
``He worked,'' she replied.
``I suggest to you, he considered that a good investment,'' said Chapman.
Prosecution witnesses have testified that they thought the accused realized her husband had discovered her secret mobile phone which she used to contact Del Priore and that he was preparing divorce papers.
The accused said Tuesday, she did not know he knew of the secret mobile phone at the time.
``So he didn't come and confront you and beat you up? That would seem a bit out of character wouldn't it?'' asked Chapman.
Nancy replied, ``yes, it would seem so'' and did not know why he didn't confront her.
By the end of October, ``you had 10 tablets of Rohypnol provided on the 23rd and 20 tablets of Dextropropoxythene provided on the 28th -- that's 10 pretty good nights of sleep and plenty of painkillers,'' said Chapman.
``Then on 30th October, off you go to Dr Fung and you end up with Lorivan, Amitryptaline and some more Stilnox,'' he noted.
Nancy agreed, but said she switched to Dr Fung, because he was a psychiatrist, and more suitable than the previous doctor.
``Three days after that,'' said Chapman, ``those three drugs end up in Robert Kissel's stomach, Mrs Kissel, along with the Rohypnol.
``In relation to those four drugs. How were you supposed to take them?'' he asked.
``As directed,'' she replied.
``All together?'' Chapman asked.
She said she was not sure, but would have taken them according to instructions.
``Robert Kissel seemed to have taken them all together on 2nd November with two as an added bonus, didn't he?'' asked Chapman.
``I don't know,'' she replied.
Nancy Kissel is accused of serving her Merrill Lynch banker husband a pink milkshake laced with sedatives, which left him unconscious at the foot of the bed as she bludgeoned him to death with the heavy metal ornament on November 2, 2003.
The decomposing body of Robert Kissel, a former high-flying banker with Merrill Lynch, was found wrapped in a rug, locked in a storeroom at their Parkview residential complex in the early hours of the November 7.
Kissel testified last week that she thought he was going to kill her that night during which they had a furious argument about divorce, resulting his attempt to have sex with her.
In resisting the sex, she knocked him on the head, which resulted in him swinging a baseball bat at her while repeatedly saying, ``I'm going to kill you, you bitch.''
Last week she admitted that she inflicted the fatal wounds with the metal ornament, but said she could not remember any further details about the fight, and her consequent actions. She denies the murder charge and is out on bail.
Tuesday, Chapman suggested that the accused returned to Hong Kong on July 30 from Vermont, only to go back to New York on August 3 with her husband because she would have the opportunity to make a sneak visit to Del Priore in Central Park.
Kissel said she did meet him then and there for half an hour, but the purpose of that trip was to support her husband through back surgery.
The accused said that in this period, the ``anal sex, cocaine use and painkillers'' continued.
Chapman said that the banker's doctor in Adventist Hospital gave the impression, ``he was a cripple, barely able to walk, destined for New York to have back surgery.''
``That's what painkillers are for,'' said the accused. She said, ``he still drank, he took drugs. He was a very capable person of getting things he wanted from me.''
Chapman pointed out that the deceased had by September, known web pages for drugs had been visited, half-jokingly expressed concerns for his life to his confidante, wondered to his private investigator whether his whisky was being tampered with, and did not trust his wife -- ``that's something that would put a stop to his drinking isn't it?'' he asked.
She said he continued drinking.
The prosecutor also noted she had written in her computer diary, ``he wants kissing, sex, sex, sex'' and that when she refused, he would ``throw a fit, opened his book, and stick his nose in the book.''
``Was that an accurate description of your sex life?'' he asked. She said she couldn't understand the kissing, given his forceful sodomy.
According to Nancy's testimony, ``Robert would not take no for an answer and would extract sex through violence that's not what it says here is it?'' said Chapman. ``Sex doesn't fix things,'' she replied and that the sex didn't correlate with him reading the book.
Earlier, the prosecutor noted that in the literature from her computer diary, there was no mention of cocaine or forceful sodomy.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Love is Strange
It's all Kissel, all the time this week! Once again, ripped directly from the reporter's notebook for your viewing pleasure...
Despite her earlier claims of suffering intense physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her husband, an emotional Nancy Kissel declared Monday that she still loves Robert Kissel, whom she is accused of murdering.
``I still love him,'' she said during cross-examination at the High Court.
Shaking and choking out the words, ``he was my husband.''
The prosecution suggested Monday during cross-examination that she did not tell family or friends about the alleged history of sexual abuse she suffered from her former Merrill Lynch banker husband.
Nancy Kissel also said she could not say for sure whether she mentioned the sodomy and cocaine abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband when she spoke to doctors and counsellors, because ``there was nothing to tell'' or ``because it wasn't happening,''
The court also heard that Kissel's chief psychiatrist Dr Henry Yuen, who had previously reported that the accused murderer was mentally stable with no suicidal tendencies and has made no mention of memory loss, was not granted permission by the defendant to testify in these criminal proceedings.
Kissel, in her fifth day in the witness box, was subjected to another day of questioning about her alleged memory loss and her failure to make concrete reports to friends, family, doctors or the police during the five years she said she was abused.
Since the beginning of her testimony the crowds have swelled to an extent that Monday, two crowd-controlling marshals have been employed to ensure there are no more than 10 persons standing, with a note saying the public may have to queue for re-entry if they leave their seats.
Nancy Kissel said that Robert Kissel's confidante, Bryna O'Shea would not want to hear anything bad about him and that those in the expatriate community in Hong Kong do not want to hear about such issues.
``The alternative, Mrs Kissel, is that there was nothing to tell,'' said Peter Chapman, Senior Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions.
When asked by Chapman to elaborate on her husband's ``abusive behaviour'' towards their children, the defendant replied emotionally that she only noted isolated incidents of violence towards her children.
She then said she ``still'' loves him, ``he was my husband.''
Kissel is accused of serving her husband a pink milkshake laced with sedatives, which left him unconscious at the foot of the bed as she bludgeoned him to death with the heavy metal ornament on November 2, 2003. The decomposing body of Robert Kissel, a former high-flying banker with Merrill Lynch, was found wrapped in a rug, locked in a storeroom at their Parkview residential complex in the early hours of the November 7.
Kissel testified last week that she thought he was going to kill her that night during which they had a furious argument about divorce, resulting his attempt to have sex with her.
In resisting the sex, she knocked him on the head, which resulted in him swinging a baseball bat at her while repeatedly saying, ``I'm going to kill you, you bitch.''
She later accepted that she inflicted the fatal wounds with the metal ornament, but said she could not remember any further details about the fight, and her consequent actions, which the prosecutor labelled, ``memory gaps that relate to significant events.''
Monday, Chapman pointed out that during her bail application in November, 2004, her instructing solicitor, her close friends, and her chief psychiatrist, Dr Henry Yuen, had made affirmations that they thought she did not suffer from any psychiatric illness.
Using the transcripts of that bail hearing, he noted there was no suggestion by anyone that she suffered from memory loss.
Reading from the transcript, Chapman quoted the Senior Counsel for the accused at the time, John Griffiths; ``she is visited monthly by a psychiatrist and there has been no suggestion by himthat she is in need of any help.''
``So, a person with dissociative amnesia doesn't need help?'' asked Chapman. Kissel replied she was not in a position to comment on psychiatric terms.
``I suggest to you Mrs Kissel, that the reason for that (not allowing Yuen to testify), as disclosed in the transcript by your counsel, Mr Griffiths, is there is absolutely no psychiatric problem with you. Do you agree?'' asked Chapman.
``Yes,'' replied the accused, but she said the psychiatrist's report was given in the context of whether she was psychiatrically fit enough to be granted bail, and that indeed, she did not suffer from schizophrenia or any other disorders covered by the Mental Health Ordinance that would prohibit bail.
Since the accused has said she spoke to Yuen about her memory loss, his testimony should in fact help her defence, not hamper it, said Chapman. ``Did you tell Dr Yuen about the cocaine, the sodomy, the suicide attempt?'' asked the prosecutor.
``No, he was mostly interested in my medication and my day to day life in Siu Lam (psychiatric center),'' she said, at which point she grew emotionally excited.
``They have no idea, they have no idea of what you've been through in your life and you just can't go in there and say, `hey this is what happened to me','' said Kissel, choking on her words. She said there were many factors that affected her such as the language barrier between her and others at Siu Lam, the isolation, the loss of her children, but she was only asked specific questions about medication.
``There's nothing psychiatrically wrong with me. I'm not suffering from a mental illness. Depression _ yes. Feeling sad, feeling remorseful _ yes. Suffering from something tragic _ yes,'' she said.
Chapman also noted that in Yuen's first report, made on her first day in Siu Lam, November 19, 2003, he said that she was conscious and alert, spoke relevantly and coherently and that she had denied she had suicidal ideas. Kissel said she could not be sure what she said on the very first day of admission into Siu Lam.
Pointing out that she herself has said she was a prominent figure in the Hong Kong International School community and was frequently exposed to public occasions as an ``ambassador'' for the school, Chapman asked why she did not tell, and why no-one noticed her injuries allegedly inflicted during forceful sex.
``I didn't think about approaching anyone,'' she said. ``Because it wasn't happening, Mrs Kissel,'' interrupted Chapman. Finishing her sentence, she said it was something she was ashamed of and not something you talked about at the dinner table or during social occasions.
When Chapman began his questioning on her husband's alleged ``abusive behaviour'' towards the children, Kissel replied in her most emotional state yet; ``I'm not trying to paint a bad picture of him, because I loved him and he was not a bad husband, and I still love him. He was my husband, he was my husband,'' she repeated. She said it was during the isolated instances of violence that scared her.
In relation to one such incident, during a holiday in Phuket ``your evidence was that Robert Kissel treated her (younger of two daughters) so forcefully that he broke her arm.''
But according to her domestic helper also present at the time, ``her version of events is whole different from yourswho's making up the story, you or Connie?'' asked Chapman.
``Connie'' _ Conchita Pee Macaraeg, had testified that the arm was broken when the two daughters were playing on the floor and the elder daughter jumped onto the elbow of the younger. Kissel said she believed the arm was broken because her husband was irritated by their playing around while he was making a business call.
She replied that it wasn't about someone making things up, ``we both recall the girls running around anywhere,'' but Connie had said it happened during the day, and Kissel did not think they would remain in the villa in the day during a holiday.
Chapman said that by this time, 2001, ``Robert Kissel's behaviour around the children, unsettled and scared'' the accused, yet she allowed him to take the two daughters skiing by himself over Christmas 2001, and then returned early in Christmas 2002, again leaving him alone with the daughters.
Kissel replied that on those occasions, it was not her choice to leave him alone with the daughters.
Earlier, the accused said she only realised, ``putting it together now,'' that her husband ``had a fascination for gay sex.''
``This shocking and horrific revelation,'' said Chapman, ``has that triggered you to seek medical advice _ Aids test, have you had one (now)?''
``No,'' she replied. ``Because you don't believe it yourself do you Mrs Kissel,'' suggested Chapman.
I Am The Ocean
It's been just a tad claustrophobic at the ol' Lucky Number II what with C's mother extended stay, so C and I decided on Friday to hit a beach and hotel for an overnight. Our destination was Da Mei Sha (see: Sea and Sand, July 22, 2004) where we'd fled a year before and while my memories of it were lukewarm at most and getting there involved a 90-minute bus ride on wooden seats, it offered a change of scene and some privacy in the Airland Hotel, room 2222. The sign behind the check-in desk proclaims that the Airland (also China's largest mattress manufacturer) is a "Four Star Tourist Hostlery Establishment" but two is more like it.
Still, the AC worked and even if we had to call four times for ice (ice machines are non-exisistent in 99.9% of China's hotels) and twice for more toilet paper it was a cushy relief.
Following a dinner of squab (nearly all Da Mei Sha's tourist restaurants, save McDonald's and KFC feature baby pigeon), brocolli, tofu embedded with pork, barbecued oysters and scallops with vermicelli noodles we waddled back to change for the beach and to make an important purchase - an inner tube.
C, like seemingly most of the rest of her countrymen, cannot swim and while any self-respecting adult in the US would rather be caught molesting an armadillo than be spotted at a beach or pool packing a bright yellow, red and blue plastic child's inner tube, the Da Mei Sha beach was awash with unashamed tubers. There were thousands of beachgoers, young and old alike bobbing and thrashing with tubes circling their midriffs and under their armpits stretching from the shore to a bouy line nearly a half mile out. It was nearly 9 pm by now and I'd never seen anything like it -- a Dada-esque version of D-Day.
On the shore, tube hawkers, reed beach mat vendors, women and children selling grilled corn and hard boiled eggs competed for space with beachcombers - the women all clad in "bathing costumes" that were fashionable in the US circa 1961 (lots of skirted bottoms, absolutey no cleavage or - gawd forbid - butt floss) and potbellied and rail thin guys in skimpy Speedo knockoffs and a few in their tighty whities.
We squeezed into a space near shoreline and took turns guarding our bag as the other went seaward. The tide was nearly nonexistent but the water was just the right temperature - cool enough to sooth and not enough to shock.
I'm not a swimming fan (thrashing around in a box full of water is how I usually describe it) but after doing a slow breast stroke through the armada of tubes, waving arms and kicking legs and getting into deeper water I found myself in a strange, blissful state. The unaccustomed exercise was triggering bursts of pure euphoria. Irrationally, I felt as though I could swim forever -- memories of a wonderful short story, The Swimmer by John Cheever, about a guy who swims across an entire suburban neighborhood from pool-to-pool came to mind -- and I kept stroking toward the bouy line until I recalled that, oops, I also had to swim back.
But the farther I went, the fewer the people -- another plus.
I drifted on my back for awhile, occasionally cringing and twitching at the slimy touch of a plastic bag or discarded condom slithering against my feet and arms and then began a relaxed, slow return to shore.
"Hello! Hello!'' hailed a creaky sing-song voice. I spit some water out and rolled to my left and saw an elderly, balding white haired man, also swimming and bobbing, sans tube. He'd apparently learned his English and swimming from pre-Revolution Canadian missionaries, or that was as much as I thought I understood as we exchanged some brief sputtering pleasantries before the tons o' tubers forced a separation and I returned to C and the sand.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Dirty Laundry
More unedited Kissel copy (a weekly recap for our Monday paper) for those who care. I know I do. Deeply. It's better than cable.
Accused murderer Nancy Kissel, who accepted last Thursday that she had used a heavy metal ornament to inflict the fatal injuries to her husband's head on November 2, 2003, faces another grilling cross-examination today.
In the trial's most dramatic week of proceedings, day after day the court heard new claims about the deceased's character, adding to the twist of the murder case which has already heard a history of, gay porn, sex, lies, love and betrayal. Beginning with the claims that the former Merrill Lynch banker, Robert Kissel, was a controlling and abusive husband who demanded to be shown respect during acts of sodomy, last week's proceedings concluded with his wife admitting that she killed her husband.
Kissel, 41, is accused of serving her husband a pink milkshake laced with sedatives which left him unconscious at the foot of the bed as she bludgeoned him to death with a heavy metal ornament. She testified on Wednesday that on that fatal Halloween weekend, there had been an argument about divorce, which escalated into a furious struggle between her husband wielding a baseball bat, and herself with the metal ornament.
In resisting more sexual abuse, she knocked her husband on the head. After realising he was bleeding, her husband came at her, swinging the baseball bat, saying repeatedly ``I'm going to kill you, you bitch,'' said the accused.
In relation to the milkshake, alleged to have been laced with sedatives, she said she had made it for her children and would never harm children.
When asked by her counsel, Alexander King, SC, whether she could recall how her husband ended up with five fatal wounds to his skull, she sat in her witness box, shaking, without reply.
Later Thursday, Senior Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions, Peter Chapman opened his cross-examination, asking, ``do you accept that you killed Robert Kissel?''
The accused replied ``yes,'' and confirmed that she had used the metal ornament, the alleged murder weapon, to inflict the wounds. Chapman then proceeded with his questioning of Robert Kissel's alleged five-year history of alcohol and drug-fuelled acts of forceful sodomy on his wife.
Monday, the court heard that the former banker's success in the banking world changed him into a power-crazed, controlling workaholic who used cocaine to increase productivity.
But ``the hours took its toll,'' said the accused, and by the time he came to Hong Kong, his mood swings and demand for undisputed respect, resulted in him hitting his wife on several occasions.
Sex became ``predominantly oral sex for him and anal sex for me,'' she said. Once, as she resisted being flipped around into a position to facilitate his sexual preference, she said she ``heard something pop'' and later realised she had fractured a rib.
When her husband found out that the birth of their third child, their first son, would clash with an important business trip in Korea, he lost his temper and hit his wife, she claimed.
At the same time, the banker ``eventually came to love single malt whisky. It became his drink,'' said the accused. The stress and long hours of his work would result in drinking and cocaine use at night.
But instead of shying away, ``it's what made him tick -- the power of it all, succeeding.''
Financially, he also became more controlling, subjecting her decorating duties on their luxury house in Vermont to methodical financial scrutiny, she claimed. In Hong Kong, he ``condensed'' her spending, reducing her five credit cards to one.
``He wanted a better control over what I was spending. It's easier to look at one statement than five,'' she said.
Tuesday, she said that the words, ``Sleeping pills, Drug Overdose, Medication Causing heart attack,'' which were found to have been typed on her computer in late August, 2003, were a result of her suicidal thoughts.
She said that she had sought ways to induce a heart attack for the protection of children as she ``wouldn't want my children to be affected -- of going through the knowledge of their mother committing suicide,'' she said.
She also said on Tuesday, that she had a relationship with Michael Del Priore, who helped ``wire up'' their house in Vermont, which involved three sexual encounters around July.
Del Priore's openness and willingness to hear her speak about the burden of being a corporate banker's wife effectively bringing up three children on her own caused her to break down in tears.
``It was the first time anybody ever stepped forward and confronted me on an issue that scares a lot of people. People look at you and see change and they don't really want to know,'' said the accused. Consequently, they kept up a relationship for the next few months, communicating through letters and phone calls.
Wednesday, the accused described her version of events on November 2, 2003, the day she killed her husband. She said her recollection of that day was ``patchy.''
In the afternoon she remembers a chaotic scene in the kitchen as the children all helped with the making of milkshakes. Since it had just been Halloween, they decided to add red food colouring to the milkshake to make it ``Halloweeny.''
Once the children had left leaving, an argument began about divorce, said the accused. Seeing that her husband was holding onto a baseball bat, she picked up a metal ornament as she went to the doorway to confront him, she said. Her waving a finger at her husband angered him, who hit her and dragged her into the bedroom, trying to sexually abuse her, said the accused.
As she was trying to crawl away, she swung the ornament behind her, without looking. ``I felt that I hit something, and he let go,'' she said.
When the banker realised his head was bleeding, he said ``I'm going to fucking kill you'' and started swinging his baseball bat, hitting the metal ornament as she raised it in front of her face.
But then? ``I don't remember,'' she said.
Thursday, she also told the court that she could not remember any of the events in the days after she killed her husband, which the prosecution alleged were part of her attempted cover-up.
Chapman then proceeded on asking for details of the banker's alleged history of alcohol and drug-fuelled sexual abuse, such as where he got his drugs from, how much was he spending, the frequency and injuries the accused sustained during the abuse, and why the risk of Aids, given his frequent travels, had not been considered.
Chapman continues with his questioning today, before Justice Michael Lunn.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Confessin' the Blues
The Kissel trial only gets hotter, so hot that we copy desk droids have to scrub some of the really sordid details cuz The Standard, despite being a tabloid, has to maintain some, er, standards what with being "China's Business Newspaper'' and all. But if you're into too much information, here's some raw copy -- some of which won't be in print Friday.
Caution: Cocaine, Lubricants and Bleeding Anuses Ahead.

The high profile murder of a top Merrill Lynch banker took a dramatic turn of events when accused murderer Nancy Kissel accepted on Thursday that she used a heavy metal ornament to the inflict fatal injuries on her husband.
Nancy Kissel, 41, was then subjected to an intense afternoon of questioning for details about the alleged history of persistent drug-fuelled, forceful sodomy.
With his very first question in cross-examination, Senior Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Peter Chapman dealt with ``just one little matter that (the accused) might be able to help us on; Do you accept that you killed Robert Kissel?'' he asked.
``Yes,'' she replied.
``Do you accept that you used that ornament to inflict those (fatal) injuries?''
``Yes,'' she replied.
Chapman noted that throughout the trial the accused had been taking notes and passing messages to her lawyers from the dock. With her knowledge of the prosecution case, ``can you help us please, with which of those (prosecution) evidence, do you dispute?''
``I've heard a lot of people talk about what they participated in, what they saw, and what they said. I'm not sure it's about disputing, but trying to understand what's been said. So many people saying things of what I don't have any recollection. I'm not sure of whether it's about it being right or wrong,'' she answered.
Pressed further by Chapman, she said she ``disagreed'' with the fact she was ``hot-tempered'', a description offered by her former domestic helper, Maximina Macaraeg.
Nancy Kissel is accused of serving her husband a pink milkshake laced with sedatives, which left him unconscious at the foot of her bed as she bludgeoned him to death with a heavy metal ornament on November 2, 2003.
On Wednesday, she told the court there had been a furious struggle between herself and her husband in their master bedroom that night. After knocking her husband on the head with the alleged murder weapon while resisting more sexual abuse, Robert Kissel charged at her with a baseball bat, repeatedly saying, ``I'm going to kill you, you bitch,'' she claims.
The decomposing body of the former Merrill Lynch banker was found in the early hours of November 7, 2003, wrapped in a rug in a storeroom at the Parkview residential complex. She has denied the charge of murder and is out on bail.
Earlier Thursday morning, she was asked by her counsel, Alexander King SC, whether she could remember how the fatal blows to the head of the deceased got there. She sat in her witness box in silence, shaking, and offered no reply.
Chapman's first line of questioning, and consequent response, stunned the courtroom just before the lunch break. When the trial resumed, the courtroom was packed to the brim with many in the public gallery unable to find a seat.
The prosecutor established with the accused at the beginning of his unrelenting cross-examination that apart from two occasions in 2003, she had never seen a psychiatrist and does not have a history of memory loss prior to that fatal night, November 2, 2003.
Chapman then took the accused to the beginning of her testimony where she described her life as student in New York juggling three catering jobs to fund her former husband's MBA and cocaine use.
``So what were the three restaurants that you worked at the time, do they have names?'' he asked. The accused explained that she knew people in the restaurant business who would phone her up when there were catering jobs available but she did ``not really'' know of any names. In other words, ``these three jobs you held at the same time were for nameless corporate catering-related organisations,'' said Chapman.
Referring to the deceased's alleged frequent cocaine use since his days as an MBA student, ``you were supporting him, you were giving him the money'' how much would he spend on the drugs? asked Chapman.
``It would vary. Sometimes 100 dollars a day, sometimes more.''
``So you were giving him three to five thousand dollars a month?'' he asked.
``There were times he received drugs without paymentI don't know where he got those drugs from. On occasions, friends would give him drugs,'' she said.
``2, 500?'' he asked. ``I don't know.''. ``2,000?'' he asked. ``I don't know.'' ``500?'' he asked. ``I don't know,'' she said.
``So how much were you shelling out for Robert's cocaine habit? Give us a figure Mrs Kissel,'' said Chapman.
She said she was unable to give a figure, since her financial support went to food, rent and various facilities, but that she was largely paying for the drugs in the beginning of their relationship. ``And while all this was going on, you managed to purchase property in New York,'' noted Chapman.
She said she could not remember how the loft apartment in Greenwich Village was paid for.
Moving on to their relocation, ``while he was in Hong Kong, where was he getting his cocaine from?'' asked Chapman. ``I don't know,'' she replied. She said she never asked where he got his supplies from and did not know whether she used it on business trips.
``Did you remind him that countries around this area take a pretty dim view of hard drugs?'' asked Chapman. She said she only talked about the health issues and not the legal implications. ``He's not much good to you busted in Malaysia on drugs charges is he?'' Nancy agreed.
When they came to Hong Kong, ``did the frequency that he demanded anal sex change in any way?'' asked Chapman. She said it ``increased tremendously'' towards 2002.
``How often each month would you be having forced anal sex with Robert Kissel?'' he asked. She said she never counted. ``Give us a number Mrs Kissel.''
``It wasn't about how many times. It was a progression of how we were together. Starting in different positions. The ability to move into those positions. Progression of sexual activity. There were times that he got very frustrated, by my changing, moving into ways he didn't wantIt was a period in which things developed into something different. There was force involved.''
She said sometimes there would be cocaine involved, sometimes alcohol, sometimes both, sometimes neither.
``Did Robert Kissel ever wear a condom?'' asked Chapman. ``No.''
``Did he ever use any lubricant or gel?'' asked Chapman. ``No,'' she replied. ``And he never had a problem effecting anal entry throughout this period?'' he asked. She said she would bleed from the anus, two times a year, each time for ``maybe a day or two.''
While on business trips, ``you wouldn't know he slept with other women in other countries and had anal sex with them, would you,'' said Chapman. Nancy agreed.
Chapman noted that two of the accused's close friends had sexually contracted HIV and died of Aids, including her maid of honour, Ali Gertz. ``Did Gertz's fate ever cross your mind while you were passing blood'' as a result of forceful sodomy, asked Chapman. He noted that given the deceased's alleged cocaine habit, appetite for sodomy and frequent travelling, he might be considered ``high risk.''
The accused said, ``I had a huge awareness of Aids, when my friend was diagnosed'' and that she did not believe those factors would make him ``high-risk.''
``In relation to these activities -- cocaine, alcohol fuelled anal sex with you by Robert Kissel. Did you at anytime tell anyone about it?'' asked Chapman.
``No,'' she replied, ``it was something that was happening gradually in my marriage. Something I took responsibility for, not something you talk about to the girls.''
``During the more violent episodes that involved hair being pulled, ribs being broken and pain causing blood did you ever scream out?'' he asked.
``Did I scream out? I may have,'' she replied.
``Did anyone ever hear you over five years?'' he asked. ``I don't know, a lot of the time I was facing down. A lot of the time, I cried,'' she said,
``Have you ever been examined in relation to the results of forceful anal sex over this five year period?'' he asked. ``No, it's humiliating,'' she replied.
The trial has been adjourned until Monday acommodate an appointment for a juror. Nancy Kissel will continue to be questioned before Justice Michael Lunn.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

A slightly rewritten-for-blog-use version of the column I'm filing for this weekend's Standard. Special thanks to James The Temple Guy for barroom and Internet research assistance from Tokyo.
Song to the Orphans
I've never met Liu Lianyun, but I learned about her through the incredibly cool Japanese dresses and blouses she occasionally sends C.
``Hey, spiffy dress. Is it new?''
``Thank you. Yes, it's new. It's from my mother's friend again.''
I've also never met Maiko Kato, but I first learned about her through the Japanese threads she sometimes sends to C.
Liu and Kato are 64-years-old and the same person. In her native city of Dandong (also C's hometown), bordering North Korea in Liaoning province, her family and friends know her as Liu. But since 1982 she's been living in Tokyo where her Japanese passport identifies her as Maiko Kato -- her birth name.
It's a name she said she never knew she had before 1981. And it's one she said via phone from Dandong (with C translating) that she had trouble getting used to. But it was the name her Japanese birth parents gave her before left her behind with a Chinese family in Dandong and fled with her older sister to Japan from advancing Soviet forces in Manchuria in August 1945.
Her father was a Japanese military officer. Her mother died enroute to Japan, but her sister and father -- whom Liu saw in 1981 for the first time since 1945 via a video phone hookup in Tokyo -- survived.
She's one of about 2,700 Japanese ``war orphans'' who have been repatriated from China beginning in 1981 after a Sino-Japanese Orphan Search Group contacted authorities in northeast China looking for people such as Liu and Japanese women who had married Chinese men during World War II for survival, Chan Yee-shan, a Hong Kong University Japanese studies scholar working on a doctorate degree on the repatriation program said via e-mail.
Liu was matter-of-fact about being left behind. ``It was common to leave children behind if we were too young or too sick,'' she said. ``I was only 4 and I was also sick. My Chinese family had lived in the same neighborhood as my Japanese parents and they felt sorry for me and wanted to help me. They didn't even think about sending me back.''
But she said it wasn't all love and charity. ``I had three Chinese older brothers and they didn't treat me well because I was adopted and a `foreigner.' But while my Chinese mother was alive my life was okay. But she died in 1958 (the first year of the Great Leap Forward famine) and I wasn't treated well because there wasn't enough food for us. I ate last and there wasn't always anything left for me.''
Still, Liu said she rarely dwelled on her Japanese roots before the two countries established formal diplomatic relations in 1972. The little she knew of her birth parents and sister was only gleaned through stories and comments from childhood neighbors. Her adoptive family told her virtually nothing. ``I think grew up like most Chinese children. But sometimes I thought about my sister -- what she looked like, if I looked like her and what it would be like to have a sister because I had only brothers.''
After getting a junior school education and studying accounting Liu worked as an accountant in Dandong. She later married and had two children, a boy and girl, and said her life was routine, except for some tension during the Cultural Revolution.
``I was scared during the Cultural Revolution. I worried I would be picked out because I was Japanese but nothing happened.'' Later that she changed jobs to the human resources department of the Dandong propaganda bureau and became close friends with C's mother who also worked there.
In 1981, though, her life changed dramatically.
``One day the Chinese government told me that my Japanese father said he had left a daughter in Dandong and he provided the address. I was still living very close to that old address and that's how they found me ''
After establishing that she was indeed the same person that her Japanese family had abandoned, the orphan search organization flew her, her husand and teenage children to Tokyo for a three month preview of what life might be like if they became Japanese citizens. The offer included a year's free rent, low-level jobs for the parents and free Japanese language training school for all.
Liu's family liked what they saw and the Chinese government had no objections
``The Chinese government's official interest is to send as many `peasants' to emigrate to Japan as possible,'' said Chan at Hong Kong U. ``So the Chinese authorities have been very helpful. The Japanese citizenship law had been very rigid and the Japanese government had been passive and tried to procrastinate.
``But the Japanese government's attitude has changed, mostly because of pressure from domestic lobby groups, made up of some ex-Manchurian-Japanese who repatriated in the 1940s and 1950s, and they have been supported by liberal lawyers and journalists.
``One repatriated orphan told me emotionally that the only reason they could live in their `mother country' was because of the volunteers. The Japanese government has done nothing but continuously try to abandon them,'' Chan said.
Indeed on July 7 this year the Osaka District Court turned down a damage suit filed by former Japanese war orphans demanding that the government pay 33 million yen (US$295,700) to each. It was the first ruling among 15 lawsuits filed by 2,063 plaintiffs, representing 80 percent of repatriated war orphans. The Osaka plaintiffs are appealing to a higher court but Liu and her family were never among them or others who felt isolated in Japan where they are often described as Chugoku zanryu koji(orphans abandoned in China) and often viewed as objects of sympathy and national guilt.
``We came to Japan for better living conditions and we have them,'' Liu said. She became a waitress in a Tokyo old age home while her husband worked construction. Liu's retired on a pension now and says her subsidized rent for a three bedroom apartment is the equivalent of 500 yuan (US$62). Her children have married, the daughter to a Japanese and her son, who became a plumber, to a Chinese woman.
But it has not come without a heavy price. Liu said her husband found life in Japan ``too good'' and began drinking heavily and sleeping around. Before she could make the decision to divorce him he died in 1998 of a heart attack while on a visit to Dandong.
Liu said she's learned to speak conversational Japanese, though her literacy skill is poor. She's made a few friends with fellow repatriated war orphans.
``We always talk about being raised in China and how we appreciate what Chinese people and our parents did for us. That is all we talk about. I will never forget what Chinese people did for me. I don't want any wars to happen anymore because children like me were also war victims.''
She says she is uncomfortable now when she hears or reads anti-Japanese propaganda in China or Sino-slagging in Japan.
``When I hear anti-Japanese news I understand how Chinese feel. But Japan did do wrong and should apologize, I think. And when I hear Japanese people talking about how bad China is, I feel upset and I feel very Chinese. I don't want to hear that kind of news. I just always hope that the countries can get along.''
Mostly, Liu said she misses Dandong where she returns for about a month every year to touch base with some of her Chinese family and friends such as C's mother to whom she's been bringing trendy Japanese clothing since the `80s.
Liu is in touch with but not especially close to her Japanese sister and father -- whom she said both she and her sister resemble.
``He struggled a lot after the war and became a farmer, but is old and retired now. I was very happy to meet my sister because I didn't have one in China. Looking at her was a little strange at first. It was a little bit like seeing my face and also a face I had never seen before.''

Monday, August 01, 2005

Backdoor Man
This Kissel murder case just gets better and better. Today's testimony featured the accused Milkshake Murderess on the stand with graphic testimony of her late hubs on cocaine and single malt Scotch binges forcing her to endure nights of anal sex and perverted role playing. Of course "Tail gunner Rob" as he was instantly dubbed by newsroom wags isn't around to defend himself against these sordid tales of forcing Nancy to give him express trips on the Hershey Highway and she's so far provided no medical proof, but it's a great read.
If you're reading this Monday morning or early afternoon the story won't be up online until Monday afternoon US time but cut and paste this link if you're interested.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?