Tuesday, November 29, 2005

It's All in the Name
One of the great things about reporting in Hong Kong is that you get to call women named "Bobo Yip" and you have to do it with a straight face.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Too Much Information
We were awakened Saturday morning at about 9 with pounding on the door and some muffled shouts. At first it was hard to tell it from the mega pile driver thumpthumpthump of the ongoing 7-days a week construction project going on outside the window but after creeping to the door and peering through the peephole the mystery was solved.
The fish eye revealed three goons: one dressed as a cop, one posing as a mostly normal human being with stubble in a cheap business suit and the other as an apartment security guard. Apparently her visitors from last night had returned in hopes of catching us en flagrante.
C cautioned me to keep quiet and we waited them out until the door knocks and rattling and shouts ebbed and finally ceased 10 minutes later.
"Persistent bastards," I muttered. "Very un-Chinese. I wish we could get service like that in a restaurant." We waited another 5 minutes and I cautiously opened the door to find they'd left a gift.
It was a one page Chinese language questionaire and form from the "Neighborhood Security Bureau."
"What's that? Who's that?" I asked.
"Twenty years ago it was mostly old ladies who went to people in their neighborhood to do things like try to tell them not to get divorced," C said. "I don't know what they do now."
"Busy bodies. Chinese versions of the Cuban block captains," I said.
"Cuban block captains?"
"Never mind."
(It's an ongoing mystery to me why no mainland Chinese I've met yet has seemingly ever heard of Cuba, Castro or Che Guevera. You'd think that one of the only two fully communist countries left on the planet would rate at least a paragraph in their textbooks. Ironically, you can barely go a day here or in Hong Kong without seeing some youngster in a Che T-shirt, though Che might as well be JoJo the Dog Faced Boy or Charles Manson for all they know.)
The form asked for a photo of her and lots of information. Among the pertinent facts requested besides name, birth date, ID number were marriage status, employer, rent or own apartment, why she is in Shenzhen, where she came from, education level, number of children and ... birth control method.
Yup. Birth control method. The choices were:
"1. Medicine or tools (condoms, she explained)
"2. IUD.
"3. Tubes tied."
No questions about vasectomies or -- save 'tools' -- any mention of a male's responsibility at all so I'm in the clear, I guess. Imagine my relief.
I called an American friend, Patrick, here and told him about it. "She should write in 'My man is sterile,'" he suggested. I told her and we played around with a few other write-in responses like "My man is impotent and sterile but his tongue is still larger than your penis," and "No sex, please. I'm Chinese."
In the end she filled it out minus birth control info. We dropped it off with an old spare ID photo at the Lucky Number's security guard's desk, made him sign a statement saying he'd received it, photographed a copy of the offending form to prove she'd filled it out, and left for lunch.
We're also planning on moving out next month.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Police State
On my way back to Shenzhen from Hong Kong tonight and gave C the obligatory phone call to say I was at the border and home soon. She was panicked and there was a lot of shouting and crashing in the background. Turns out the cops were there trying to bust her for being a woman living alone who shares an apt with a foreigner on weekends. Translated: a hooker. There are are perhaps hundreds of thousands women living alone in Shenzhen and very few are whores. Meanwhile there are about four low priced "chicken" operations fronting poorly as barbershops which have been operating freely for several months within three to six blocks of the local police station.
She managed to call a friend and momentarily deflect the cops and flee. On her way back here now to the apt where I am posting this.
I called an excoworker at the SZ Daily in the meantime for advice and possible aid. She told me that it was all okay and don't worry about it because it was "only" the police and not the security hbureau. "It's normal," she said.
I replied that a civilized country as China imagines itself to be doesn't try to arrest, question, hassle or detain women simply because they are living alone and have foreign boyfriend. She laughed nervously and told me again that everything will be all right.
I guess it depends on your definition of "all right."
I just wrote a letter of recommendation and edited an essay for this woman (who lives unmarried with a Chinese boyfriend) because she wants to get a master's degree in journalism from a Danish university. A lot of her essay was about how journalism uncovers "truth" which I thought was funny at the time cuz her idea of journalistic truth when I was working at the SZ Daily was only what she was permitted and preapproved to report.
It seems not much as changed.
Meanwhile, C just called. She's okay but shaken and coming back soon. Details to follow if they are worth it. Otherwise, everything is fine. Just fine. Remember, China has a 5,000 year old culture and we westerners don't so it's legit and civilized to try to shake down and arrest women who live alone and see foreigners on weekends.
It's times like these where all my feel good notions about China go out the door.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Earthquake Shake
Harbin is a city in northern China currently struggling with an enormous problem - no water and contaminated water. A chemical plant explosion upriver which fouled Harbin's water supply had the local government doing the usual PRC thing of panicking, reacting too late and baldly lying about and/or denying the problem.
As rumors and propaganda flew, canny residents quickly bought out the city's bottled water, pop, tea, coffee, milk, juice and canned soups supplies after an announcement that the H20 taps would dry up for 4 days so "tanks could be cleaned."
But among the rumors that preceded the shutdown was one that the water supply would cease because an earthquake had been predicted. As most of us know, earthquake forecasting is an uncertain work in progress (except apparently in China) but these rumors even had specific times for the impending disaster.
But while Harbin authorities mucked around with the real problem, they were quick to take decisive, swift action regarding loose quake talk.
From China News, a notice from the Harbin Earthquake Management Bureau:
"According to the Earthquake Prediction Management Regulations (State Council Order No. 255), earthquake prediction will be issued by the provincial level government in accordance with procedures. Any other organization, group, media, website or individuals (including experts) have no right to issue predictions to society. The masses should neither believe nor spread rumors about earthquakes.
''Anyone who hereafter manufactures and disseminates rumors of earthquakes to disrupt the normal order will be prosecuted under "Earthquake Prediction Management Regulations" article 19.''
Bet this has those rumormongers quaking in their counterfeited Nikes....
(Thanks to ESWN blog for this item)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Once in a Lifetime
And you may find yourself sitting on a tour bus with 14 middle-aged, waxed, laquered, sprayed, glossed, blow-dried and mummified Hong Kong beauticians clad in identical white dresses and rhinestone edged jackets with wide lapels, pink T-shirts, pink high heels with matching pink polka bows bound for a women's prison.
And you may find yourself on the same bus with a public relations officer for the Hong Kong prison system who keeps tossing out unintentional malapropisms like "That's frozen water under the bridge," and "Let's foot it" and singing Tie a Yellow Ribbon as a joke because it's a song about getting out of prison.
And you may ask yourself...well, how did I get here?
It was an assignment. The beauticians were part of prison PR push to show off a new rehab program that will supposedly train female convicts how to use scissors for cutting hair instead of stabbing faithless boyfriends. Or something like that.
Gotta say, though, that my coworkers ears perked up when I mentioned that I was going to a women's prison.
"Yeah!" I replied smartly. "Caged Heat! Hong Kong Harlots Behind Bars! 'Lei Ming's burning loins twitched involuntarily as Warden Wong suggestively fondled the polished knob of his hefty nightstick...' 'I need correction, warden. Are you man enough to correct me?'''
Well, it wasn't like that, of course. Turns out it was a minimum security prison for girls and women ages 14-21 who were there for relatively minor offensives. I did ask about Hong Kong's Milk Shake Murderess, Nancy KIssel but found she is in stir somewhere harsher and harder to get to.
The cons looked like the children most of them were -- all in raggedly shorn bob haircuts and clad in identical dress gray cardigans, pin striped oversized button down shirts, gray slacks and clunky, shiny black shoes with waffle stomper soles.
Quite the contrast with the Mary Kay/Stepford Beauticians, but maybe that was the point. Girls, you may be convicted criminals now, but if you work hard you can be a Class 1 Fashion Felon!
Also on hand were several Hong Kong celebs I'd never heard of. Maybe you too? There was "Michelle" (one word, like Madonna or Cher) with her ex-jock boyfriend as well as "Supermodel Vanessa Yeung," and Kenix Kwok, an ex-insurance agent turned star of TV shows of which I was equally ignorant..
My fave thought was the emcee, a cheerful, portly gray bearded B or C-list celeb named Michael Law whose credits include a mainland movie called A Widow's Romance and "runnerup Asia Pacific Singing Contest." Kind of Hong Kong's Troy McClure I was thinking, though Bill Murray's old SNL lounge singer also came to mind when in the process of chatting me up he interrupted himself to grab a female prison PR woman gently by the arm, gaze deeply into her eyes and croon, "Saayyy, did you happen to see the most beautiful girl in -- the Hong Kong prison system?" in his best Charlie Rich.
But maybe you had to be there. I know I'm glad I was.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Broken English Pt 2
Some quick Chinglishisms discovered this weekend. The first from the menu of a Shenzhen restaurant chain called Coffee Language - notable for its high prices and mediocre-to-prison cafeteria quality food, both western and Chinese.
American Pork Cutlet
''Coming from the United States adds the continent the White Pig picks connecting the bone portion.''
Air Freight Chilled Steak
''Through disenfecto handles with the vacuum packed, because of fresh this its meat quality pole with delicate slippery.'' (Ed Note: I thought I ordered a steak, not a porno flick...)
Chilled Angus Rib Eye Steak
''Chilled Angus Rib Eye Steak call to contain the sidelips cow rib eye open again is from the cow, the cent inside the ridge of the rib slices.''
The proceeding is taken from a high-end clothing boutique entrance display board:
''...It is basing on everlasting dress culture, composing a warm and fashion music for the rag trade. A believer in the principles of humanism our products ... will make you endless imagination and dream of you in a fresh, exciting and crazy when viewing our products!''

Friday, November 18, 2005

Wooden Ships
``Junk?'' asked C over the phone from Shenzhen. ``That's the word for garbage or British rubbish, right? You were riding on garbage?''
I don't know why Westerners call the traditional Chinese sailing ship a junk so I couldn't explain that part but I'd called to tell her I was back from a day of sailing on one of Hong Kong's last junks with a group of mentally and physically handicapped school kids who'd been paired with normal kids from another school.
It'd been a refreshing break from sitting in the office and phoning sources whose secretaries either didn't speak clear English or insisted on re-routing me to The Department of Something Not Remotely Connected To What You Are Writing About.
Just me, the sea, a motor powered teak junk and about 30 teenagers of varying abilities plus assorted wheel chairs, teachers and a sturdy, tanned and sinewy crew of four.
Earlier I'd been paranoid of getting lost on my way to the Kowloon City Pier and had arrived early, but as the time neared I began to wonder if I'd hit the right spot. So far I'd only seen:
1. One unconscious young woman on a stretcher being taken from a ferry to an ambulance. She wasn't wet so I guessed it wasn't one of Hong Kong's daily, multiple suicide attempts, plus they usually jump from buildings.
2. An elderly apparently homeless couple doing tai chi between rooting through trash cans.
3. A sikh reading a Chinese language newspaper.
Finally a long yellow bus with a wheel chair lift and large black letters reading ``HONG KONG SPASTICS ASSOCIATION'' pulled up.
My powers of deductive reasoning slowly kicked in and I ventured that I had indeed arrived at the correct destination.
The kids weren't spastics, or at least most of them, a teacher explained later. Apparently it was sort of an umbrella phrase to cover myriad disabilities. The normal students from another school with a name about eight words long, but not as catchy as Spastics Association, arrived shortly thereafter and the two groups merged quickly and naturally, each fully abled kid seeking the buddy he or she had been paired with at a getting to know you meeting last week.
On board it was mostly orderly and always enthusiastic. The whole schtick would be familiar to anyone remotely informed about or connected with special ed in the US -- everyone has different abilities, is a winner, blahblah, but it was truly touching to see how enthusiastic the students were with each other.
Amid the hub-bub about two hours into the voyage, I sat back against a lower cabin window and just zoned out for a moment. The captain was shouting good naturedly at some children who were shouting back. Teachers were sheparding others to the ship's head. I could hear the engine chugging and then I looked to my right.
Two girls were sitting together, gently holding hands and singing softly in perfect harmony. Due to a spinal deformity, the disabled child was bent lower and looking up while her normal buddy was tenderly returning her new friend's slightly cross-eyed gaze as they sang.
Pure and innocent. Easy, you know the way it's supposed to be. And for a moment I felt released.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Desolation Row
C was outta town most of the weekend on business and left to my own devices I immediately chose to tutor handicapped, low income Filipina and Thai refugee children with Spike (see his blog, Hongkie Town http://laowai.blogspot.com/ for his version of events) on Saturday night.
On Friday night he and I had watched Martin Scorsese's No Direction Home at his Library of Congress-style ville stocked with seemingly every box set, vinyl album and DVD issued within the last 40 years and more. As such Dylan's Desolation Row was still an insistent ear-worm burrowing through my brain on Saturday when we gave up the idea of a Macau sleaze tour package (roundtrip ferry, hotel, and, uh, female ``guide service'') in favor of the local options in Wan Chai.
I gotta say I don't know how he does it. It was like being out on the town with the King of Hearts and Tarts -- a guy with an amazing mix of true sincerity and good natured lechery in one often simultaneously cynical package.
As for me, I went into sodden, slightly sullen-looking journalistic voyeur mode watching the hookers transform themselves from early (7 pm or so) arrivals with still-wet hair from their wake-up showers into whatever it was the men on the prowl wanted them to be.
I wound up sitting with an entertaining Filipina working girl who'd been in Hong Kong since 1985, easily the oldest one there though she wore it well. Like Spike, she seemed to have the entire place wired and (correctly) told me without prompting or hints that
1. we'd never spoken before;
2. I worked for The Standard;
3. had been in the bar three times previously within a year;
4. had never picked anyone up, and then went on to dish the dirt on a coworker whom I'd previously thought of as your basic lovable rogue, but not a philanderer.
It was like being with a combination red light psychic/gossip columnist.
``They never forget a face or a history,'' said Spike, pausing a minute from wooing an old Thai flame (``Best sex I ever had!'') while putting the good natured munch on about six others. ``Just like a journalist.''
I wish.
I left alone, muddled, somewhat in awe of her mental skills and missing C more than ever.
New Boots and Panties
I'd like to thank my SZ buddy Patrick for the sparkling new look (`Mr Sparkle: Banishes dirt and primitive old school style blogs to the land of ghosts!') and activating the comments dealie so it actually works.
Coming soon! Links! And maybe graphics someday. Meanwhile I'm just happy for the makeover. Now if only the mind and fingers will follow...
Be the first outside of SZ or Hong Kong to leave a comment and win, er, something. Yeah. Something like a Mao rear view mirror dangle bangle featuring Old Mao and Young Mao.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Dirty Laundry
There are a lot of cliches that many newcomers (and that still includes me after 2 years) have to disabuse themselves regarding China. The first -- despite my so-called sophistication, education and intellect regarding All Things Asian -- was my initial surprise that the populace wasn't wearing drab Mao suits, riding bicycles and quoting The Little Red Book
Many of them were driving Benz's and high-end Toyotas and Hondas, had sex before marriage and thought Crouching Tiger, Hidden Weasel was old school and couldn't understand why America was so taken with such repetitive drek.
The Mao suits/Flying Pigeon bicycle era was 30 years ago, of course. Thinking back, it would be like a Chinese guy arriving in the US expecting to see leisure suits and Nixon posters. But of course we Americans all still routinely pack heat, have the Carpenters on our iPods and engage in random high speed car chases at leisure.
Which brings me ideals and cliches regarding journalism and democracy in China. Recently I learned via a comprehensive China blog called ESWN that Shenzhen was recently gripped with protests.
There have been a slew of Western news reports about growing protests (i.e. a growing democracy movement) in China and they aren't all wrong. Some have been resolved or quashed and some have not been reported accurately. A long running fracas in a village called Tashi that went from July through October and still isn't completely at an end was the most famous and infamous, though ill-reported internationally outside of ESWN.
But when I learned of the Shenzhen brouhaha earlier this week I thought I saw an opening to report something other than the thumb sucking features I've been doing recently.
Summation as I understand it: a group of ex-PLA soldiers now employed as construction workers last weekend protested and petioned the Shenzhen mayor (a corrupt asshole and probably an unindicted --- though there is no legal concept for indictment there) criminal himself. But I'm a natural sucker for causes such as lost wages, poor working conditions and democracy.
Hizzoner stalled them with rhetoric and bullshit and called in working PLA troops/SZ cops to enforce his edict. He also enforced a press blackout and currently it's all at a standstill.
It also happened in the general SZ neighborhood where I live on weekends, though I was clueless about it at the time -- probably cuz I was probably ordering in from the new Pizza Hut delivery and watching a pirate copy of "Forty Year Old Virgin" while alternately listening to a bootleg Lou Reed "New York" CD that I'd congratulated myself on stumbling upon recently.
But C has one PLA connection and on Tuesday after I'd seen on ESWN what I'd missed in the neighborhood, I asked her to quiz him if any of his comrade PLA veterans might be interested in some Hong Kong/Western coverage and if they'd clue me in to any future protests.
"They would love some fair and balanced Hong Kong English language Western democracized press coverage," I was idealistically thinking. "Who wouldn't?"
Well, they aren't.
After two days of protracted cell phone third party conversations their message was basically this.
It's an internal problem. We can handle it thankyouverymuch but no thankyou. Hong Kong media - English or not - can't be trusted because it distorts and exaggerates mainland problems and never reports the positive. We didn't like the coverage we got initially, mainland and especially Hong Kong, so butt out, please.
I can't say I disagree. Even my paper tends to paint the mainland as a uniform hellhole of censorship and repression with reports about mainlanders tending towards uncouth tourist hoardes that pissed, shat and spit in public at Hong Kong Disneyland and authorities who detain democracy and press activists randomly on bogus charges.
And after all, the guys I was (sort of) negotiating were PLA vets. Minimally educated, unsophisticated working class heroes who were being ripped off after leaving the service.
They don't spend a lot of time - if any - dicing the differences between mainland and Hong Kong media, much less the English language press. They just want to make a living and be treated fairly and don't see any advantage in bringing in foreign hacks from a snooty, rich and stuffy city like Hong Kong to aid their case.
I can't say I blame them.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Fiddle About
Your faithful Far East correspondent is painfully aware that his dispatches are not as frequent, as funny (or occasionally poignant) as when he began this sojourn more than two years ago and for that he apologizes -- and often frets.
Basically, his life has come to this. He lives in a shopping mall. Five days a week he works 9-hour days at a daily newspaper after which he returns on a company shuttle bus to mallville where he holes up, eats dinner, often makes incoherent phone calls to the States, sleeps fitfully and turns around and does it again.
Weekends are in Shenzhen, mostly, where he and C fiddle about, usually without incident.
But for those craving something, anything he presents a smattering of recent material gleaned not first-hand but unwittingly contributed via e-mail by a couple kindred spirits. Props to expat pals Patrick and James in Shenzhen for the following.
In the Dysfunctional Families Aren't Unique to the Western World Category Patrick writes of his Chinese girlfriend (whom I'll also call ``C''), her psychotic mother and their new puppy.
Last night C and her mom were sitting around doting over their new puppy: scratching his belly, looking in his ears, letting him chew on their hands -- all the things people do with their new puppies.
At some point C's mom started inspecting his paws -- which are still quite small now, as he is only two months old, but which will soon grow quite large, as he is a dalmatian.
C's mother remarked about the puppy's pink paw pads: ``This part of the dog's paw is the most delicious'' -
That coming from a woman who once served her 11 year-old daughter the family cat for dinner just out of spite.

James weighs in with the latest Chinglish harvest and delivers an inspired riff on one I sent him, a Hong Kong film fest that, according to the press release on my desk, will feature a screening of the James Dean classic ``Rebel Without a Claus.''
A Christmas classic, beloved by parents and their fucked-up kids for decades! See what happens when one-time good boy Jim Stark (James Dean) stops believing in Santa Claus. With Natalie Wood as The Girl Who Wouldn't Float, Sal Mineo as ``Plato the Fairy,'' and Jim Backus as the voice of Scrooge Magoo.
But I have been collecting some cool stuff, too, that you might appreciate.
1. Last week's discussion was on movies. Several students suggested that I see ``The Mice.'' It took me several tries to discover that they were referring to Jackie Chan's new movie, ``The Myth.''
2. Near my house, I saw a woman in an expensive-looking sweater bearing the words, ``It's now or nerve.''
3. CD titles in a store
For pre-natal listening (remember when that questionable technology was all the rage?):
For the infant:
Probably for adults, but continuing the infantile theme:

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