Thursday, September 29, 2005

Disneyland (Was Made for You and Me)
I've been trying to wrest a harmless entertainment feature story out of the newly opened Hong Kong Disneyland lately -- no easy task given The Rodent's penchant for micro-managing its press and my own instinctive loathing of All Things Walt.
But I sucked it up and on a recent rainy Tuesday afternoon made the 70-or-so minute subway ride to the latest incarnation of the Magic Kingdom in order to take in two shows and to fulfill some latent curiousity. It's taken a lot of flak lately in the local press, some from my paper which has hammered it for hypocritical environmental follies, overcrowding and food poisoning incidents. The Chinese language rags which seized on opening day chaos to run generous photo spreads showing coarse mainland touristas littering, sleeping on the benches with their shoes off and urging their toddlers to relieve themselves from both ends in the carefully groomed hedgerows, garden paths and restroom trash cans and sinks.
Stories have also focused on both the mainlander and Hongkies passion for photographing and videotaping every facet of their visit. So much so that Snow White, Mickey and Donald et al have scheduled times and places for photo opportunities. The crush and demands for poses if they actually wandered around the park at will would otherwise be too much.
While I saw no public displays of relieving oneself or wanton littering, I can say that the picture taking was as depicted. It began immediately on the Disney Express, the final train to the park with cars bedecked with Mickey ear handhold rings and window frames as well as pewter colored Disney character statues under glass on shelves between the plush purple velveteen seats.
As the lone camera-free foreigner aboard my car, I felt more out of it than usual when the 18 or so other passengers immediately began posing and snapping pics nonstop for the 10 minute ride and virtually every step of the way into the park and beyond.
Once there I was somewhat underwhelmed. It's smaller than the US version in California (my only previous brush with the Evil Empire and one facilitated by `shrooms which nearly got me evicted after I began gibbering at Donald in a pharmacutically inspired fit of hilarity) and the US parks probably don't have Asian attendants with name tags reading: ``Mankind'' or ``Moses.''
It is hideously expensive even by Hong Kong standards with small bottles of water going for about US$3 and small portion meals for about US$24 per person.
On the plus side it's easy to navigate, the relentlessly cheerful employees are helpful and I got a free pen for participating in a survey for which I lied about my income, occupation, age, residence and plans to return.
The shows, one an Oscars-takeoff called ``Golden Mickeys'' and ``Festival of the Lion King'' were fast-paced and painless, though Mickeys is in Cantonese. Lion King, however, was mostly in English with stunt monkeys providing between scenes plot development updates in Cantonese.
My story involves some of the performers in these shows and unfortuantely through a combination of the company's reluctance talk about any ``angle'' they haven't approved and the performers' paranoia about blabbing to the press, so far I've only found one person to go off the record.
And the snarkiest thing this Deep Throat was able to tell me is something I can't print. But let's just say that one of the Snow Whites isn't exactly as pristine as as her role and she and a certain Little Mermaid are making big sparks with the Hawaiian fire dancers.
Now if I could get the gossip nailed down on Minnie and Goofy, I might have a real story.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

This week's column follows.
It's no surprise that in Beijing's struggle to ``correct'' and control mainland popular culture and the Internet that video games are causing the Party faithful to fret.
Internet cafes come, go and sprout up again; search engines are fine-tuned to exclude pernicious terms like ``June 4, 1989,'' Falun Gong, and ``Taiwan/ Tibet independence'' while chat rooms are scoured to expunge creeping independent thought that could disrupt ``social harmony.''
The dangers of online gaming addiction are trumpeted in woeful mainland news articles featuring distraught parents who discover their once-promising scholar son has blown his mental and physical health, not to mention hard-won tuition and food money on the likes of 27-hour binges on World of Warfare as a spell-casting, wolf-riding Orc.
What's a parent to do? Well, when the great and powerful concern of the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) is aroused it can do plenty.
Using guidelines developed by authorities for whom Pac Man is still cutting edge, it defined playing for less than three consecutive hours as ``healthy.'' Playing three to five consecutive hours is ``tiring,'' and after five consecutive hours it's downright ``unhealthy.''
GAPP's prescription? The compulsory installation of a Nanny device in every mainland online game to reduce the powers of Orcs, Dwarves and The Foresaken after three hours before breaking the spells at five hours.
That's the stick. Here's the carrot.
Goodbye Lara Croft. Hello Lei Feng. And Zheng He, Bao Zheng, Yue Fei and Zheng Chenggong. If the names aren't familiar it's because you probably weren't schooled on the mainland or, in Zheng He's case, haven't read The Year China Discovered America. He's the eunuch admiral (1371-1435) whose memory was resurrected by former Britisher submariner/author but is now celebrated by Beijing (as one Western commentator aptly termed it) in a ``flowering of patriotic kitsch.''
The others, save Lei Feng, are more or less equally ancient. Bao Zheng's (999-1062) claim to fame was as a judge who battled corrupt government officials. Yeu Fe (1103-1142) was a Song Dynasty general who was martyred after being framed on false charges and Zheng Chenggong (1624-1662) is ``the liberator of Taiwan'' who seized the island from the Dutch.
To some cynical Western minds the rough equivalent might be video games featuring the exploits of 19th Century US General Winfield ``Liberator of Mexico'' Scott or maybe Neville Chamberlain, the man who gave Czechoslovakia to Hitler.
Not exactly competition for Grand Theft Auto.
Lei Feng is in a class by himself, however.
For those unaquainted with him and despite some doubt that Lei actually existed, his memory was originally promoted by Mao Zedong in a long running ``Learn from Lei Feng Campaign'' as an unassuming, selfless People's Liberation Army soldier and unquestioning Party member who -- this part isn't exactly celebrated -- died ingloriously in 1962 at age 24 when a telephone pole fell on him.
Lei's burning ambition was said to be nothing more than to be ``a revolutionary screw that never rusts''. Though many younger Chinese may regard him privately as a joke, his earnest fur-capped image still hangs in lots of mainland school rooms and Beijing periodically dusts him off as an evolving model for changing times and new campaigns.
According to Stefan Landsberger's Chinese Propaganda Pages web site, ``he has been promoted as a homeowner, as the possessor of a savings account, and in many other modern guises that seem to clash with his original revolutionary `screw spirit.' Most recently, he even was touted as a possible patron saint of the private entrepreneurs.''
Now he's going to be a video game hero and if a small, completely unscientific opinion poll I took at the Ferrari Game Zone in the Dongman shopping area of Shenzhen recently is any clue, Lei Feng will need another makeover or else he's going to rust quickly as a video game hero.
With the assistance of a long suffering translator who said the mission made her ``feel like a snake head (people smuggler)'' I was able to eventually pry four male players, ages 15 to 22, away from World of Warfare, Xian Jian Qi Xia Zhuan (The legend of the Sword Fairy and Knight-errant) and a Japanese-made kick boxing blood bath to get their feelings on the five upcoming games.
When asked to rank them in terms of interest, the consistent loser was Zheng Chenggon, ``liberator of Taiwan.''
``Very boring,'' said Eleven Huang, 19, who said he plays about three days a week, at 5 to 6 hour stretches. ``Nobody cares what he did, I think.''
All ranked 11th century judge, Bao Zheng (nickname ``Blue Sky'') as their top pick. Reasons? Besides still being synonmous with justice, he also used unique guillotines or axes to dispatch evil doers. Commoners were decapitated with a blade decorated with a dog's head, royalty got the dragon's head treatment and tiger-headed steel fell on corrupt government bureaucrats.
``More points for dragon or tiger blades, maybe?'' said David Du, 22.
The eunuch admiral was also popular -- ranked No. 2 by Huang and Du and No. 3 by Huang Ping, 17 and 15-year-old Zeng Xiaolong.
``Many wonderful adventures,'' said Huang of Zheng He.
The martyred general also flip-flopped between second and third position for generally patriotic reasons but Comrade Lei Feng was a solid fourth, with a disclaimer.
``If they change him into a super hero, like the Spider-Man it might be interesting to play,'' said Huang. ``Give him many evil people to fight. Many powers.''
But Huang Ping, who confessed he typically plays an ``unhealthy'' 5 to 6 hours a stretch, two or three days a week, just snorted. ``If they make a Lei Feng game, I will probably stop playing,'' he said.
Note to Beijing: Forget the Nanny. Just unleash Lei Feng.
All That Jazz
Backtracking before the fall I'm having Sherman and Mr Peabody and their Wayback Machine take us back to last Friday night in Shenzhen where I joined my friend James and a motley group of his students and other expats for a ``Happy Birthday to Shenzhen'' party.
James has undergone three identity changes and web site themes since arriving in Shenzhen. I first knew him as ``The Barefoot Fool'', a moniker he assumed after traipsing on foot across much of Japan dressed as an Asian pilgrim/monk of sorts. Not bad for a native Angelino and someone who once dated Cybill Shepherd.
Then he became ``The Temple Guy'' determined to detail and chronicle every temple in Hong Kong and Shenzhen. I think that's still a work in progress, but he most recently assumed a role as ``The Laughing Buddha'' (whom he somewhat physically resembles, see: a role that combines his passion for education, organizing and socializing with what I'm convinced is his yearning, burning ambition to be the male version of Julie, the Love Boat cruise director.
As such, he's organized weekly theme parties, events and walks under The Laughing Buddha label. Participants get a laminated membership card and a weekly LB newsletter via e-mail. I took my ID card and stuck on a name tag and despite feeling a little like I'd just been inducted into some kind of Super Double Secret Kid's Treehouse Club, the atmosphere at the Jazz Club was generally adult and the usual international mix of Serbs, Americans, Israelis, Chinese, Spanish and Urantian (that would be ``Elvis'' the bartender with whom I spent several fruitless, tedious minutes trying to teach the basics of making a double Jack Daniels on the rocks -- and that's another blog for another time).
I was quickly buttonholed by ``Dora'' a budding artist and eager 20-year-old English language student of Mssr Buddha. She had a notebook and pen and quickly began peppering me with questions about American culture, heroes and geography after having me draw a crude sketch of the US and put an ``X`` on Colorado's approximate location.
``What-is-`jazz'?'' she finally asked in a rapid-fire, robotic delivery after carefully writing down my name, rank, serial number, e-mail address and blood type. ``Is-it-a-song-name? Or-is-it-a-musical style-Is-that-jazz?''
She pointed to a video screen on which a female Hong Kong Cantopop singer in radioactive orange hair was caterwauling and gyrating in a costume that resembled something from a 1964 Omaha, Nebraska senior prom, only as designed by Liberace on mushrooms.
``Um. No. That is not jazz. Jazz is not a song. It's a musical style -- America's true classical music. Actually, black Americans ...''
She cut me off.
``I-have-heard-that-those-who-are-intellectual-and-often-depressed-enjoy-to- listen-to-the-jazz-song-is-this-so? And-please-give-to-me-five-popular-jazz artists!''
It was then that I recalled Annie Hall and how Woody Allen's character invoked the real life Marshall McLuhan to help settle an argument. I longed for a New York friend, a jazz aficianado named Fred to instantly morph into the club and give Dora the what's-what and who on jazz.
But Fred was half a world away probably breaking for lunch, so I told her that many kinds of people liked jazz, not just suicidal intellectuals, that there were different styles of jazz and scrawled down, `Miles Davis, trumpet, Charlie Parker, saxophone, Dinah Washington, singer, Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet and Louis Armstrong, trumpet/singer.' To update her a bit I added a sixth, Diana Krall, singer, but drew a firm, inflexible line at Kenny G.
``He was from New Orleans,'' I said pointing to Armstrong's name. ``You know, the US typhoon Katrina? That city. Some people know it as the home of jazz. But maybe not anymore, I'm afraid.''
Finally the Hong Kong video cut out and a CD began. It sounded a lot like Charlie Parker doing East of the Sun. So I put on my Fred hat and decided to sound authoritative, despite my tenative uncertainity.
``That is jazz,'' I said. ``Him.'' I pointed to Parker's name. ``His nickname was `Bird.'''
She wrote it down carefully next to his name. ``Why-is-it-Bird?''
``It doesn't matter,'' I said. ``Just listen for awhile.''

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Ambulance Blues
I am listening to a baby crying, a woman murmurring comfort in Contonese to her comatose husband as I lie on a small short hard bed covered with a thin nubby blue blanket, one of six beds in observation room of the Run-Run Shaw Hong Kong Christian Hospital. Run-Run Shaw was better known as one of the Shaw Bros, kingpins of the Hong Kong chop socky film industry in the 70s. He's reportedly about 99 years old and still alive, perhaps in a state of suspended animation several floors above me.
What brought me here was no chopsocy. Well, maybe self induced chopsocky. It was a rocky ambulance ride that was the transport after I stood up suddenly at home in hopes of making dinner. Several minutes later I awoke on the floor, a pool of blood behind my head and the stereo still playing "Streets of Love" from the new Stones disc. So I haven't been out that long. It was playing when I got up to begin dinner.
After a cell phone call to an understanding editor, help arrives in a flurry of aid workers to take me to a hospital. I remember enough to make sure I have my keys and to pack a roll of toilet paper and my passport in a backpack. I lost my wallet and local IDs lsat weekend in Shenzhen and recalled that advanced as they are that HK hospitals don't provide toilet paper for patients. Strange, given the government push in public service ads and stiff fines for people who litter and spit publicy and otherwise commit other sanitary offensives, but logic as Westerners know it has never been a major player.
It's a long night at the hospital. Many questions delivered in a toneless, unsypathetic robotic delivery that suggests that 1. The doctor and staff haven't watched enough English language TV and movies to get the idea of inflection and 2. I am a major pain in the ass that they'd like to get on and off the record as soon as possible.
I am awakened about every 60-90 minutes for a blood pressure check after my head is stitched by an an evil cackling nurse. After each blood pressure check the attendant emits a "Wah.." sigh. Meaning he doesn't like what he sees but I know that already and am tired of having it repeated.
All I want is my mother. There I said it. My head hurts, I'm alone in a foreign hospital and there's still a blood stain back on the floor of my apartment and all I can think of at age 52 is wanting maternal comfort and soup and to be tucked in whenever I get back to the apartment. I sort through various substitutes. C can't jump the border. No woman at work I'm familiar enough to fill the role. No guy either.
I've also brused a cornea in my fall and later -- 10:30am the next morning -- I'm on another floor of the hospital in a small, full waiting room of mostly elderly Cantonese with eye and other problems awaiting an examination. A hoary guy next to me in an ill fitting fake Italian waiter's jacket and dirty white socks keeps hawking up phlegm into grubby strips of toilet paper he's carefully collected from trash bins. I move and he seems insulted. So I fixate on an strangely beautiful blind (or growing blind) woman across from me. Her pupils are still clear above elegant cheekbones but her vacant gaze and the way she moves her head suddenly at some sounds reveals her problem. A sister or friends sits next to her stroking her hand and occasionally whispering to her.
I want to take her home and care for her. I want her to care for me. It's a long way home and substitutes are always second best.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Poor Pitiful Me
As alluded to in the last entry, the well is currently running dry, though by all rights perhaps I should be happier with what's recently transpired. After a nearly 2-month wait, I was finally shifted from copy desk duties and away from an increasingly hostile situation with an under assistant major domo Yank hater who resembles a squatty rotund fetus to full-time reporting which means better hours and more opportunities.
But I'm splatted over a few speed bumps. I now find myself shy of good story ideas and it's been made very clear that expectations are high for me. My most recent column was killed _ the first time that's happened. And I find myself increasingly bored with life as I've known it so far in Hong Kong; not a good sign.
So thems the breaks and that's the news. Hoping for something light, bright and mirth making to come my way soon. As Dylan sang in Brownsville Girl: ``Oh, if there's an original thought out there, I could use it right now.''
PS Did I mention that I've also been moved to three different desks in two days? And that when I just finished posting this I felt a large gob of water drip on my wrist. I looked at my wet arm, looked up and a female Chinese coworker across from me looked at me sympathetically. "Sometimes the water drip. Very much," she said solemnly. "Maybe you change another desk?"

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Keith Don't Go
This week's column. A desperate, last minute riff on the Stones and their new album. My fodder, both for blogging and columns has been dwindling lately due to circumstances I'd rather not blog or columnize about but suffice to say I hope for renewal soon.
I'd just been to the doctor, swallowed antibiotics and swigged some industrial strength cough syrup but there was one more tonic I needed and Dr Chan couldn't help. Only the CD store where I found the Rolling Stones latest disc, Bigger Bang was really able to start me up.
Not counting a forgettable live disc (why didn't they stop with Ya's Ya's) A Bigger Bang is the Stones' first fresh release since 1997's Bridges to Babylon. Eight years and it's been worth the wait.
There are purists and naysayers who will say that Mick and Keef haven't released anything worthwhile since Exile on Main Street, or perhaps Some Girls. But these are niggling trolls not worthy to pass judgement. Ignore them for they are not believers. They are heretics, mere insects not fit to lick Keth Richards' snakeskin boots, much less his radioactive liver.
No matter where I am or what condition my condition is in, a new Stones album is a deeply personal event. A sacrament ever since I first cut myself underneath a thumbnail while slitting the shrink wrap from The Rolling Stones, Now! in February 1965. Jagger and Richards hadn't yet come into their own as songwriters but their reworkings of obscure American blues and r&b tunes from the likes of Bo Diddley, Willie Dixon and Otis Redding crawled inside my bones like nothing -- short of Suzy Quigley adjusting her short skirt in 4th period civics class -- before. Consider Mick drawling and snaking his way through Down Home Girl: ``Lawd I swear/the perfume you wear/was made outta turnip greens/and everytime I kiss you girl/it tastes lahk pawk 'n beans.''
Never mind that at that time none of the Stones had probably seen or tasted turnip greens, or pork and beans that didn't come from a can -- neither had I. And irony of ironies, it took five scruffy white Brits to introduce me to America's black musical heritage when I scrutinized the liner notes and song credits and returned to the record store searching for the roots in the form of Otis, Willie, Howling Wolf et al.
For that alone I am forever in their debt, despite the hassles and increasingly ridiculously high financial prices I've paid to see as many concerts as possible.
The first time was in 1969 or '70 when I stood in line in intermitent rain for nearly six hours armed with nothing but US$6.50 for a ticket and a bottle of Boone's Farm strawberry wine and two bags of Doritos for nutrition to see them in a venue normally used for livestock exhibitions. Later my friend who drove me to the show also got his first traffic ticket on the way to the show, which added another US$50 to his cost. But it was worth it to see Mick flogging the stage with a leather belt under blood red spotlights for a menacing Midnight Rambler.
The last time was 2002 when I booked two tickets online, paid several hundred dollars with a Rolling Stones credit card and took a porn actress as a date. A porn star date for a Stones gig. No brag, just fact and there simply ain't nothing better.
Between the shows, though, it's been the songs have sustained me; usual suspects such as Jumping Jack Flash, Gimme Shelter and Sympathy for the Devil never fail as does all of Exile on Main Street right down to the unfortunately titled Turd on the Run and obscure one-offs like Jiving Sister Fanny or a magnificent (and largely overlooked) number from Bridges to Babylon called Saint of Me.
Back in my flat and almost flat on my back from the Hong Kong crud, I carefully peeled open Bang and reverently stored away the promotional geegaws that came with it: two mock dog tags, one with the lips and tongue logo, the other stamped with CD's title. I put them carefully next to the expired Stones credit card, a pick from Keith Richards' X-Pensive Winos tour and other sundry Stones geegaws collected through out the years. They are talismans that follow me everywhere I travel, like an old voodoo medicine bag to keep the hoodoo and bad juju at bay.
The only song I'd been aware of prior to cracking open the disc was one that had caused some minor controversy in the US and had been fodder for rightwing columnists who hadn't actually heard it but were desperate for material and the chance to recycle the hoary quips about the Rolling Stones using walkers and canes for the latest tour.
It's called Sweet Neo-Con and suffice to say rhymes ``hypocrite'' with ``patriot`` and the `s' word over a a raw, almost skeletal blues arrangement. But even a die-hard, Stones-loving liberal like myself will have to admit it's probably the weakest of the 15 tracks. Good for pre-sale promotion but, yeah, in terms of musical political commentary it's no Street Fighting Man or even Sweet Black Angel.
What the outraged pundits overlooked, though, was a more subtle and eerie Iraq-related track called Dangerous Beauty, which seems to have been inspired by the shameful photos of US Army Private First Class Lynndie England dragging a naked prisoner by a leash.
While anyone who saw PFC England's sneering mug wouldn't call her a ``beauty'' it's clear from lyrics such as ``In your high school photo/You look so young and naive/Now I heard you got a nickname/The lady with the leash ... Are you one bad apple in a box/Dealing out electrical shocks/I saw the gloves are coming off'' that Mick isn't necessarily singing about Condoleeza Rice.
The other 13 songs mostly bring satisfaction, particulary the down and dirty stripped down harp-drenched blues of Back of My Hand and the chugging swagger of the opening track, Rough Justice artfully shot through with Ronnie Woods' stinging, swiveling slide guitar work. Laugh I Nearly Died recalls the spirit of Miss You and to an expat far from home and listening alone has an a cappella chorus shot through with meaning and longing: ``Been wandering far and wide/Wonder who's gonna be my guide'' chanted repeatedly until it fades slowly away.
I thought Mick was speaking for me and to me for a moment.
But then I realized I had a head full of narcotic cough medicine and a small fever. Still, Bang is perfect medicine. In other words, just what the doctor didn't order.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Well, I doubled my money in the Nancy Kissel jury pool. She's guilty, guilty, guilty of murder and will be serving a life sentence although appeals are expected. The verdict came in at about 8:40pm tonight and the jury had convened at 12:30pm. Not a bad day's work, as one editor quipped, and they got two free meals.
What follows is an interview I did for The Standard with Robert Kissel's high school girl friend/prom date. She and other women who knew him painted quite a different picture of him than his killer.

As the dead can't speak for themselves, it's left for those who knew and loved Robert Kissel to speak on his behalf.
In court testimony his widow and confessed killer portrayed the millionaire investment banker as an angry, abusive cocaine- and scotch-fueled sodomite -- possibly with a penchant for gay sex.
At one point Nancy Kissel testified that she told her psychiatrist that Robert had been expelled from high school for dealing drugs.
That's not the Robert Kissel Carol Japngie-Horton or her family knew at Pascack Hills High School in Montvale, New Jersey in 1978.
They dated for two years (``a seriously long time in high school''), she said from her Phoenix, Arizona home and even after their break-up he made good on an earlier promise and took her to her senior prom. They remained in touch off-and-on throughout the years, although she didn't learn of his death until two years after the fact. ``Rob was never suspended or expelled from high school. He was a straight A student, and he certainly never dealt drugs,'' Horton said.
``He left public school to go to a private all-boys prep school. Rob was really sweet and quiet. He was totally approachable to anyone, very laid back, mellow, and handsome.
``He was the most sought after boy in school, all the girls had a crush on him,'' she said. ``We became friends first. I think I was trying to hook him up with another girl. But he invited me to go with his family on a ski trip and we ended up getting together then.''
Horton said it was the first of many ski weekends she spent with his family and the two were virtually inseparable, spending time at each other's homes for those two years.
She was particularly struck by two things _ how well he related to women, particularly his mother and younger sister Jane, and how he was the only boyfriend she'd had who'd been able to make her father, a rather stern Ingersol-Rand executive, smile.
``He treated his sister Jane and his mother Elaine with the upmost respect and love. He was always patient with Jane, who, at the time, was a little girl that most big brothers in most families would not want to have much to do with.
``I remember watching Rob and Jane perform ballet together on skis. God they were beautiful to watch. He was so graceful and had to ability to master anything he wanted. He didn't really have to put his mind to it. Everything came naturally to him.
`` My dad was a very strict business man who never really smiled. He didn't like any boy I brought to home to introduce. Rob was the only boy that he would crack a smile for. It was amazing to watch.''
Horton's mother, Marjorie Japngie, added that. as far as her husband was concerned, no boy her daughter brought home after the break-up could measure up to Rob Kissel.
``Much to Carol's chagrin, whenever she brought home a new suitor her father would always compare him to Rob and they all fell short one way or another,'' Japngie wrote in an e-mail. She described him as a ``quiet, serious young man with impeccable manners and a sweet smile that would melt any mother's heart.
``The news of his death brings bitter tears. But the memory of the kind, gentle, and loving young man that enhanced all our lives remains.''
Horton, a graphic designer who grew up in an expat family, said though her contact with Kissel was sporadic after college, Nancy Kissel's portrait of her husband as an out of control man who reportedly broke his daughter's arm was alien.
``I lost touch with Rob for years after school, I was traveling all over the place. I found him again through a friend years later, before he went to Hong Kong. We talked over the phone, he told me he got married and had a little girl. He told me about his mother's death and that he named his daughter after her. It was a sweet conversation but I never spoke to him again after that.''
In fact it wasn't until two years after his November 2, 2003 death and at the start of Nancy Kissel's trial that she learned of her old flame's fate via e-mail.
``A friend e-mailed me to let me know. When I read the news I burst into tears and couldn't finish reading the rest of the e-mail. My 6-year-old son got scared and started crying as well because he didn't know what was going on with me and I couldn't stop clutching myself, rocking back and forth, and crying. It was bizarre.
``I have lost a lot of friends in my 42 years. But this news about Rob unexpectedly blew all my circuits. I can't stop thinking about him. I still cry. I'm obsessed with the case. It's weird and my husband is not liking it very much to say the least. But he's being really patient because I can't put it down.''
It was also the Internet and a Hong Kong blog site that has brought some closure and put her back in touch with others who loved and honored Robert Kissel. The site, Simon World (, featured daily updates on the trial and a comments section in which Horton and others who knew Rob posted their memories and later exchanged e-mails.
One was from a college girlfriend of Kissel's, a physician named Jill Endres, who wrote: ``I am a better person for having known Rob. Simon's website has connected me with another who is one of the few people in Rob's life who knew him as I did. Talking with Carol, who has exactly the same feelings as I do about who Robert Kissel was, has helped me realize several things.
``I wasn't able to do anything to help him avoid such a violent death. I couldn't help to put away the monster who has robbed us all. But lastly, I can help his father, brother, sister and children let the world know who this man was and what a difference he made in the lives of others.''
While Endres called Nancy Kissel ``a monster,'' Horton blasted her as a ``pathological liar,'' partly based on her own experience as a child living in Tokyo.
``The maids live on top of you. They know everything there is to know about the family they are working for,'' she said. ``And you can bet that they talk amongst themselves. That's one of the main reasons why I don't believe what Nancy said about the abuse. Believe me, if she were being beaten up every maid and nanny in the complex would have known about it.''
And while she said she hopes Nancy Kissel ``gets sent to the worst prison in the worst area of China'' she said she believes he would have forgiven his slayer.
``Although I am not able to see Nancy with compassion, I know Rob was an amazingly compassionate man. If he were able to speak today, even for just a second, he would probably ask all of you to be compassionate towards his wife and understand that she acted in utter sickness.''
Ramblin' Gamblin' Man
I'm not much for gambling, but how, tell me how could I not resist throwing HK$10 (US$1.28) into the office Nancy Kissel jury verdict pool today?
There were three picks: 1. murder (the favorite at 14); 2. manslaughter (10 picks) and 3. aquittal (6). One enterprising editor spread his bets-- $20 for manslaughter and aquittal. Total pool at this point? A whopping HK$300 or about $38 in real money.
I went with my heart and the odds and picked murder, though some doubters are saying the domestic abuse claims will sway the two women on the seven person jury.
And here's what the local oddsmakers say, from an e-mail sent around alerting our staff to the opportunity.
Five Senior Counsels and a law professor were questioned for this case's article, which I am writing. Here are the stats:

3 say Murder
1 says ''Don't know''
1 says manslaughter
1 says acquital
Place your bets

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