Sunday, October 29, 2006

Just desserts?

This week, the streets of Great Yarmouth, a seaside town in Norfolk, England, became blanketed by a considerable quantity of coarsely ground semolina grain. The road crews decided to clear it away by adding water. . .

Town gets stuck into semolina: Guardian Thanks, Gavin + Mick S!

Reading matters

Elephants with post-traumatic stress disorder? 'Fraid so. You may find this (long) article in the New York Times is more than depressing, it's heartbreaking.

Still, while there is life there is hope.

An Elephant Crackup? By Charles Siebert (registration-free link): NYT

Saturday, October 28, 2006

John Cooper Clarke: kung fu international

For the weekend, a guilty pleasure.

Prompted by a post several weeks ago by Birmingham City football supporter and blog person Fat Buddha, Mister B went in search of a clip of the Salford performance poet John Cooper Clarke.

The video quality ain't great. . . but the words come through clear enough. From 1977:

Lantau: Mui Wo. . . planned "facelift"

(click on image to enlarge)

One of the world's most idyllic voyages is the inter-island ferry from a little island in the South China Sea to the village of Mui Wo, Lantau Island.

Nestling in Silvermine Bay, Mui Wo village was in terminal economic decline from the 1960s, but the fabric of the waterfront and beach were spiced up in the mid-1980s. In discussion since at least year 2000, Hong Kong Planning Department has finally now released "Facelift of Mui Wo".

Brothers and sisters, the proposed plans rectify some of the mistakes made in the mid-1980s as well as suggest other changes so as to create a space and place even more interesting and pleasingly aesthetic. To see what is proposed for the "facelift": concept notes (pdf)

The full map -- of which the above is but a detail -- is available in better quality here: Map 3 (pdf).

Other maps are Map 1 (pdf) and Map 2 (pdf).

For Mui Wo residents, there is a public forum at Assembly Hall, New Territories Heung Yee Kuk Southern District Secondary School, 18 Mui Wo Ferry Pier Road, Mui Wo, Lantau Island. When? Saturday, 18th November 2006, 2:15pm - 5:30pm.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Chung Yeung Festival

This coming Monday (30 October, 2006) is the ninth day of the ninth month in the Chinese calendar. In other words, Chung Yeung Festival -- another public holiday.

As this will be a long weekend, a little island in the South China Sea will be overrun with visitors from Hong Kong and Kowloon who are either (a) paying their respects to the dead and visiting the local cemeteries to give their ancestors' graves a clean, or (b) people just taking a break from life in the great metropolis.

Can't say I blame them, if Mister B lived in that high-density environment he'd come over here, too.

The chrysanthemum? It's traditional at Chung Yeung to drink chrysanthemum tea. That, or an infusion made from the flowering Chinese dogwood (zhuyu) bush.

Anyway, happy holiday to one and all!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Hong Kong: Pinochet had gold account with HSBC?

Does Chile's (ex-) right-wing dictator General Augustus Pinochet (seated with sunglasses) have nine tons of gold (appoximate value: US$160,000,000) stashed in The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Ltd (since rebranded as HSBC)?

Pinochet's lawyer says the reports now circulating have no merit.

Pinochet, who was head of the authoritarian military council which ruled Chile from 1973-1990, instigated a brutal oppression of leftists and other political opponents in the several months after seizing power on 11 September, 1973.

Although an accurate figure will never be known, it is believed at least 2,095 murders and 1,102 "disappearances" occurred under Pinochet's watch in the first three months after the coup. Tens of thousands were detained and tortured, including Chile's current president Michelle Bachelet. More than 30,000 Chileans subsequently fled their country.

Pinochet is already under indictment on corruption, tax evasion and multiple human rights abuses charges. The tax evasion charges involve 27 million American dollars stashed in Miami's Riggs Bank.

According to the BBC, HSBC spokesman Richard Lindsay says the bank has started an investigation.

HSBC probes Pinochet gold claims: BBC News

Whether the Pinochet story is true or not, Hong Kong banks have not been averse to having dictators as clients.

Mister Bijou remembers that in the hours preceding the fall of the Philippines' Ferdinand Marcos (25 February, 1989), private planes were flying backwards and forwards between Manila and Hong Kong and unloading crates on the tarmac at Kai Tak Airport. Some of those crates were in transit, others were loaded into armoured trucks and delivered to one of Hong Kong's leading note-issuing banks.

Standard Chartered Bank, anyone?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Hong Kong: Cheap thrills

Low-fare airline Oasis Hong Kong commences its non-stop service today between Hong Kong and London (Gatwick).

At start-up, Oasis has two Boeing 747-400s -- each one has 81 business and 278 economy class seats.

Oasis says 10% of all economy seats wil be priced at HK$1,000 (one way) on every flight. Otherwise, tickets are HK$2,500 or HK$3,000 (one way) depending on day and hour of departure.

Surcharges? Yes, air passenger departure tax (HK$120), fuel surchage (HK$481), security surcharge (HK$33). How much is all that? HK$634. But all the other airlines also add those charges to their advertised tariffs, too.

Flight schedule: Oasis

Homepage: Oasis Hong Kong

Update: Oasis' inaugural flight never gets off the ground because Russian officials withold permission for airline to fly through their airspace.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Monday, October 23, 2006

North Korea: Country in the Dark


At night South Korea blazes with light, but North Korea? On the bright side, North Korea is the place to go for an almost perfect absence of light pollution -- which means a superb view of the always astonishing rich panoply of twinkling stars that is the firmament.

There's more. The Internet black hole that is North Korea (registration-free link): NYT

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Sunday, Sunday

This afternoon, a Scottish-kilted, tuneful, unisex, Hong Kong Chinese bagpipe band briskly marched up and down the waterfront, followed by disciplined ranks of crisply turned out Boy and Girl Scouts.

That's not all. There followed a red-jacketed brass band that preceded rows of young male and female Sea Scouts, who looked like they had just walked off a ship belonging to Her Majesty's Royal Navy. Sadly, there was no sousaphone in the ranks of the band.

More? You bet. A purple-jacketed Ruritanian-style silver band led thirty or so uniformed junior members of the St. John's Ambulance Brigade.

The whole shebang finally marched through the village square on its way to more jollies at the playground of the Rural Committee's Integrated Youth Centre, which overlooks the beach.

No photos, though. No camera.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Kronos Quartet: Requiem For a Dream

For the weekend, a guilty pleasure.

The year 2000 drug movie Requiem for a Dream has to be one of the most depressing films ever made. But then drug addiction is depressing.

The music, however, performed by Kronos Quartet is tip top. Here it is, with visuals from the Japanese video game series Final Fantasy:

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Hong Kong: Nosmo King

The Smoking (Public Health) (Amendment) Bill 2005 was passed into law in the Legislative Council today, 19 October 2006.

From January 1, 2007 the vast majority of indoor areas of workplaces and public places are required to ban smoking.

This includes restaurants, offices, schools, hospitals, markets, karaokes and bars which are frequented by people of different ages

However, smokers in over-18 nightclubs, commercial bathhouses, massage establishments, and mahjong parlours have until 1 July 1, 2009.

Other no-smoking areas: hospital open areas, school open areas (including university campuses), public beaches, public swimming pools, public transport interchanges, and public escalators.

Bus stops, however, are exempt. This is a Good Thing.

Free Hugs in South Korea

Let's free hugs: youtube

Iraq: The science of counting the dead

Publication by the British medical journal The Lancet of the findings of researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the School of Medicine at Al Mustansirlya Univesity in Baghdad recently made headlines worldwide.

The researchers estimate that approximately 655,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the invasion and occupation of Iraq since March 2003, including 601,000 whose deaths involved some form of violence.

A look at how scientists figured these numbers out, how their methods compare to other counts, and whether criticism of the numbers is justified, by Rebecca Goldin Ph.D:

How the mainstream media covered The Lancet’s Iraqi casualty study? A surprising inability to convey the study’s findings accurately, by Robert Lichter Ph.D:

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Evil Paradises: The Dreamworlds of Neo-Liberalism

Mike Davis is the author of a number of books including City of Quartz (about Los Angeles) and Planet of Slums (about everywhere).

In this extended essay, Davis takes a look at the gloss and glamour of the emirate of Dubai, and the fear and money which underpins what may be the fastest-growing city in the world: New Left Review

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Pauline Harrison RIP

Resident of a little island in the South China Sea in the late-1970s and again in the mid-1990s, Pauline Harrison died peacefully in her sleep in a hospice in east London, England, at 9:15pm, 16 October 2006.

She was 57.

Diagnosed with colorectal cancer in October 2004, Pauline underwent extensive surgery as well as chemotherapy and then decided to forego any further intrusive medical treatment.

Instead, Pauline elected to spend whatever time was left to her enjoying life to the max with family and friends, and wrapping up her affairs.

She was great fun, a kind person, an erratic car driver, and much more besides.

The photo was taken on her last birthday -- 12 August (for the huntin' and shootin' crowd, that's the start of the grouse shooting seaon, the Glorious Twelfth).

Condolences to her family and her many other friends around the world. Pauline, thanks for everything.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Foreign bodies: Bedbugs

Confession time: Mister B has been bitten in bed more than a few times. And very nice it was, too. But bedbugs? (See left) Only thrice by bedbugs. Once in a decidely downmarket hotel in Paris' Latin Quarter, another time in an upmarket flat in Neuilly-sur-Seine, and the third and last time (fingers crossed) was in a very cheap hotel cum brothel in Tangiers. That was all a long time ago.

Now, bedbugs are making a comeback! In New York City, that is. Big time. No doubt some of those bugs will soon be making the long-haul, non-stop, trans-Pacific flights to hereabouts. That being the case, be -- as they say -- prepared. . . Everything You Need to Know About Bedbugs but Were Afraid to Ask (registration-free link): NYT

What's real in virtual China

Chinese online superstar Little Fatty aka Xiaopang and friend. For more lowdown on what's going on across the border in virtual mainland China, the très intéressant English-language Virtual China

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Hong Kong: Albert Ho investigation

Hong Kong police take hoodman for walkabout in Sai Kung.

Full report: Hong Kong Standard

Ivete Sangalo: Se eu não te amasse tanto assim

For the weekend, a guilty pleasure:

Currently Brazil's most popular chanteuse, Ivete Sangalos, guest artist (?), and the audience celebrate the beautiful Se eu não te amasse tanto assim (If I Hadn't Loved You So Much).

Friday, October 13, 2006

Hong Kong: Something's in the air

Editorial in today's New York Times about Hong Kong's air (registration-free link): NYT

There are problems, however, with comparing Mexico City and Hong Kong. For instance, Hong Kong has the Pearl River Estuary -- in its backyard but across the border. This is a locality which in the past twenty years has become one of the premier workshops of the world. Yes, many of the manufacturies are Hong Kong owned. Many others are Taiwanese, South Korean, Japanese and mainland Chinese owned. Yet others are British, European and American-owned enterprises.

But most of those air-polluting plants are subcontractors for American, British, European and Japanese brands and retailers, and are funded by American, British, European and Japanese banks and finance houses. Ironically, most all of those brands, retailers, banks and finance houses have regional offices in Hong Kong. . .

Still, there are plenty of things Hong Kong can do to lower the amount and types of air pollution the city itself produces. But as long as they can get away with it, those foreign-funded subcontractors across the border in mainland China will continue to crank out local and regional air pollution as by-product in their manufactory of price-busting goods for over-extended consumers in the West.

Yippee! Profits for some, pollution for others.

Gillo Pontecorvo: RIP

Italian film director Gillo Pontecorvo died yesterday. He was old, and probably most well known as director of the film Battle of Algiers.

What a truly awesome film. Watching some sections it is easy to forget this is not newsreel but was made in Algeria soon after that country's independence. A frighteningly vivid portrait of the secular, national liberation struggle during the 1950s of the Algerians against the French colonial system, it was made in the Italian neo-realist cinematic style (with music by Ennio Morricone and Pontecorvo). The film is a classic of 20th cinema.

The Pentagon are reported to have watched the film in 2003, soon after their occupation of Baghdad started to go awry. Given how the situation there has since spiralled out of control, it is difficult to see what they learned.

Mister B saw Battle of Algiers a long time ago. The following two clips from the film are in French and have no subtitles. This is not a problem for Mister B, but may be for others. Oh, the prints are not very good. Stiil, I think a look at both clips gives a taste of the manner, pace and style of the film. Hopefully, there are prints available elsewhere with English subtitles.

Clip 1: youtube
Clip 2: youtube

Hong Kong: Albert Ho

Legislative councillor Albert Ho was the victim of a baseball-bat attack in a crowded McDonald's one Sunday afternoon some seven weeks ago.

Hong Kong police, aided by their confreres across the border, have now arrested a bunch of people. How'd they find them? Depends which newspaper you read. To see how: EastSouthWestNorth

Hong Kong: Internal Affairs

Slick, glossy, fast-paced, the film Internal Affairs starring Andy Lau and Tony Leung was a big local and regional box office success in 2002. So much so that everyone involved went on to make two rubbishy sequels (Internal Affairs 2, Internal Affairs 3).

Now comes Martin Scorsese's remake The Departed. Any good? No idea.

But Mister B can recommend the original film. Here's the trailer (with difficult-to-read English subtitles):

Andy Lau profile in yesterday's International Herald Tribune: IHT

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Hong Kong: Invisible city

Hong Kong Observatory now has a new-fangled. hi-tech system for measuring visibility, or conversely invisibility, in Hong Kong's shrinking harbour. To wit, a visometer.

The enemies of visibility: Rain in the summer / Fog in the spring / Haze in the autumn / Smog? / These days -- most of the year.

HKO: the invisible made visible

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Singapore: Disneyland with the death penalty

This may, or may not, be true:
Large-size woks will no longer be allowed in Singapore, according to a press release from the Prime Minister’s office. The size and shape of metal woks makes it possible to illegally convert them to satellite dishes. Since Singaporeans must be protected from undesireable foreign broadcasts on hundreds of free satellite television channels, the woks must go. Plastic and glass woks will still be allowed, however.
Singapore's finest news source: Singapore Donkey. Via Hemlock

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Lost in translation

One word that captures the essence of something, whereas English requires a whole batch of words? Some excellent examples: Guardian Thanks, Gavin!

Not included in the Guardian's list is the Japanese word bakkushan, for a woman who looks good from the back but not from the front. Very useful in the latitudes and longitudes east of India.

Synchronicity? EastSouthWestNorth discusses problems found in rendering into English some Cantonese slang (with accompanying photos): EastSouthWestNorth

Durian & The Double Tenth


The Double Tenth is celebrated in Taiwan, mainland China and the Chinese diaspora to mark the start of the Wuchang Uprising (10.10.1911). A military mutiny which within months led to the downfall of the long-lasting Chinese monarchial system and the establishment of a republic -- yes, a republic -- with democratic ideals.

The Double Tenth is, if you like, Bastille Day à la chinoise.

The Double Tenth is also the birthday of a special friend of Mister B's. Though that friend no longer lives on a little island in the South China Sea, Mister B will celebrate that anniversary with one of the world's most wonderful fruits: durian.

Durian? Yes I Know. Durian has a bad press in the West, mostly as the result of negative accounts in numerous guide books published during the past forty years and written by ignorant, prejudiced British travel writers. Such negative reports are ironic given how bad British food used to be. It wasn't always the case:
A rich custard highly flavoured with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but there are occasional wafts of flavour that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes. Then there is a rich glutinous smoothness in the pulp which nothing else possesses, but which adds to its delicacy.
Alfred Russel Richard Wallace. 1865. Naturalist
Mercifully, Malaysians, Thais, Indonesians and southern Chinese have never read those modern guide books, or, if they have, they continue justly proud of their own culinary preferences -- a bit like the Brits with Marmite.

Which may also show that: one person's poisson (fish) is another person's poison.

Anyway, my friend (who is European) and myself came to our love of durian independently. And then we shared the joy, for a period of time. Now, we don't. So it goes.

Mister B wonders if durian is available where my friend is currently -- a chilly part of the USA near the Canadian border. Probably not. That being the case, Mister B on a little island in the South China Sea will do double helpings.

Happy birthday, you know who you are!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Waterboarding: A User's Guide

Khmer Rouge waterboard (Tuol Sleng Prison, Phnom Penh, Cambodia).

The Japanese used waterboarding against Allied soldiers during World War II. Waterboarding was used around 1968 by U S soldiers interrogating captured North Vietnamese soldiers during the Vietnam War. Later on, Cambodia's Khmer Rouge used waterboarding against supposed class enemies.

More recently, the Americans are reported to have used waterboarding against alleged members of Al-Qaeda including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed -- the supposed mastermind of the aerial attack against financial, military and political targets in the USA on 11 September, 2001.

Usually, a towel is positioned over the (often blindfolded) detainee's mouth. The Americans, however, are reported to have used taped Saran-wrap, which muffles the detainee and has the further advantages of blocking oral breathing as well as impeding the expulsion of water by way of the mouth.

Either way, because your head is lower than your feet, the water courses down your nostrils and fills the back of your throat. Sooner or later you are going to have to swallow that water. You can't get away from the water because you are tied down. It's difficult to breathe, and the water is going into your stomach, or ends up in your lungs.

By all accounts, it doesn't take long to give in - about two and a half minutes, about as long as you can hold your breath. And while there is water, your torturer can repeat the procedure all day.

Photo (above) and more about the history and uses of waterboarding: david corn

Sunday, October 08, 2006

In watermelon sugar

There used to be a hawker at the night food market on the waterfront of a little island in the South China Sea, who sold slices of watermelon. Delicious!

Even more so if you followed a local custom of lightly sprinkling the watermelon slices with some salt.

Result? Sweet and sour in one heavenly bite. Plus, but this may have been an old wives' tale, the addition of a small amount of salt was said to ward off diarrhoea.

Watermelons are believed to have originated in southern Africa, but by 1000AD they had arrived in China. They are hugely popular there, Mister B in Beijing in 1984 saw truckloads of watermelons pouring into the city everyday during the hot summer. China is the world's largest producer of watermelons, it is a humongous big business.

Here is a fascinating article about how Chinese peasant farmers have learned how to switch on a computer, gone on-line, and are now using the Internet to market their juicy watermelons. Beijing Times article translated into English by: EastSouthWestNorth

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Vitas: Blessed guru

For the weekend, a guilty pleasure:

That was in 2002. Since when, Latvian-born Russian countertenor Vitas has abandoned his Ziggy Stardust personna, put on weight, and let his hair grow, somewhat.

Running the gamut from eccentric techno to classical music, Vitas performed in Beijing in mid-June and there is talk he will do shows in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand in 2007. . .

Official website (English):
Vitas -- The Artist Who Has Been Waited For
Chinese fan site: Vitas中国在线

Friday, October 06, 2006

Hong Kong: Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival

Tonight is the night to go up on high ground and admire the full moon. Only thing is, there is a thick carpet of cloud covering a little island in the South China Sea.

No matter; full of mooncake, Mister B will go to the beach to peer intently.

Oh, for times of Hong Kong's Mid-Autumn moonrise, transit and moonset: go here.

The NTSCMP Affair: Final Words

Regarding lack of access to, Mister B sent an email to PCCW Netvigator's Tech Support on Thursday, 14 September. That elicited a standard Netvigator autobot reply. From Customer Service (?):
Many thanks for writing to us. This message serves as an acknowledgement that your mail has been received. A response to your enquiry will be provided within two working days.
Mister B then received another Netvigator autobot reply on Saturday, 16 September. From Tech Support:
With regards to your message, kindly be informed that we have passed your concern to our relevant department for investigation. Once they have completed the findings, we will get back to you.
Could this be a corporate run-around? Be that as it may, Mister B was unwilling to wait any longer -- and made a first post in the late afternoon of 18 September about the apparent blocking by PCCW Netvigator of

Lo and behold, today (6 October) a reply from Netvigator:
I am writing in response to your previous enquiry about accessing "", kindly be informed that the situation is resolved. Please kindly try again.
A Netvigator reply which isn't half as interesting as the one sidekick got on 3 October (scroll down comments):
With regards to your last email about the website ( Inform by our backend engineering department, the problem had been resolved. Please kindly try to access again.
Backend engineering department?

Hong Kong's Office of the Telecommunications Authority (ofta) was somewhat prompter. Its reply arrived on 5 October:
With reference to your earlier complaint on blocking of access at the website, we would like to reply as follow:
This Office has made enquiries to PCCW-IMS Limited and Hutchison Global Communications Limited regarding the issue. However, there is no evidence showing that they have wilfully blocked the website "".
Therefore, this Office cannot take any regulatory action under the Telecommunications Ordinance at this stage. We will continue to monitor the situation.
So what did Netvigator's backend engineering department do? Or undo? Whatever. It's done. Case closed, final words, et cetera. Thanks!

Hong Kong: Brave New World

Hong Kong's English-language bi-monthly bc Magazine has an excellent article by Hamish McKenzie on the local Chinese- and English-language blogospheres.

Many of the mentioned blogs have been previously linked here, and there is also passing reference to Yours Truly: bc Magazine

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Tornado watch: Brighton division

Brighton, last Sunday afternoon:
"I could see the tornado about a mile off out to sea. I thought that it would back off but it just kept coming in. It must have stretched about 1,000ft into the sky and it was about 150ft wide at its base. It seemed to be throwing up water and other debris as it moved along the seafront and all the seagulls were flying away from it as it came in."
Short video clip: Brighton & Hove Argus Thanks, Gavin!

Tornado report: Guardian

Battle of Cable Street, 1936

Today is the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street. That was when Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists, attemped to lead a march through Stepney in London's East End. Stepney was, at that time, predominantly a Jewish area.

Thousands of anti-fascists, anarchists, communists, Jews and residents of London's East End had other ideas. Coinciding with General Franco's murderous siege of Spanish republican Madrid, the overwhelmingly working-class anti-fascists painted the slogan ‘No Pasaran’ ('They Shall Not Pass') all over East London.

Fascism is still alive and well in the UK. Troubling article in today's Guardian about extreme right-wing thugs who target, intimidate and physically attack journalists, trade unionists and other opponents in Britain of the far right: Redwatch web of hate

News reel footage of the Battle of Cable Street: youtube

Colliding with death at 37,000 feet

A contributor to the New York Times' business-traveller section, Joe Sharkey was a passenger on the Embrace 600 business jet that collided with a Boeing 737 over the Amazon jungle last Friday afternoon. Here is his account (registration-free link): NYT Thanks, Nick G!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The NTSCMP Affair: Access all routes?

Looks like the PCCW Netvigator lack of access to is now resolved. It would be instructive to know how and by what means that was achieved.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Hong Kong: National Day

(click on image to enlarge)
Make your own comic strip: Commix