Saturday, November 24, 2012

HKU Symposium Speech

Here's the link to my Asia Sentinel blog post containing a translated excerpt of my speech, which was delivered on November 14, 2012 in Cantonese to an audience of HKU students:-

http://www.asiasentinel.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=4989&Itemid=320


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

French Fashion Forefather

To say that French haute couture owes its origin to the English may sound sacrilegious. On the other hand though, history does tell us the saying has at least an iota of truth.

After reading Emile Zola’s La Curee (“The Kill”), I became most intrigued about the French Second Empire epoch. At one of the Vancouver Public Library periodic book sales, I spotted John Bierman’s Napoleon III and His Carnival Empire and lost no time in grabbing it.
In La Curee, I had read about the heroine’s lavish addiction to her “Worth” gowns. From Bierman’s interesting book, I came to know that Charles Frederick Worth, an Englishman born in Bourne, Lincolnshire, England, was the grumpy couturier who was the craze of upper-class Europe during the French Second Empire. The most renowned of his customers was French Empress Eugenie, and it was the Austrian princess Pauline von Metternich who introduced Worth to her.
Though described by Bierman as an “unfulfilled, neurotic woman of limited talents”, Eugenie was nevertheless the woman who instigated a passionate fashion sense not only in ladies of the outgoing aristocracy, but also those in the up-and-coming bourgeoisie in post-revolution France.
“If the emperor’s example inspired Parisiens of all classes to new levels of sexual activity, Eugenie’s example gave similar impetus to another form of commerce for which Paris had long been famous: fashion. While disdaining sex, she was obsessed with clothes and coiffure and set the standard for all – from the haughty ladies of the old aristocracy, who disdained the parvenu court of the Bonapartes, to the grisettes in the neighborhood dance halls.”
Worth started out as a drapery maker in England and moved to Paris in 1846. Having teamed up with a wealthy Swede, Otto Bobergh, who acted as his financier, he opened a shop at 7, Rue de la Paix, Paris. Before long, the Empress became one of his admiring patronesses.
The Empress’s relationship with Worth was much like the mutually enhancing relationship between Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy, in terms of augmenting each other’s fame, as Eugenie was fast becoming a fashion icon for the whole of France.
After being propelled onto a pedestal by the patronage of the Empress, Worth turned into a dictator in the world of fashion, treating his customers with utter disdain –they were not able to choose their own clothes; he would decide for them. He would usually hold fashion shows four times a year, during which he would display model dresses. Each of his patronesses would be allowed to pick one model dress, which would be sewn in the fabrics of her choice and tailored to her figure. But the ladies of Paris did not seem to mind his haughtiness and outrageous prices, as long as he was willing to dress them. At the height of his career, he did not deign to accept new customers unless they were introduced by an old client.
The zesty obsession with clothes, for better or worse, did bring into existence many grand department stores, like Le Bon Marche, La Samaritaine and Le Printemps, some of which have survived to this day. Critics, however, labeled such obsessive concern with outward appearance and embellishment as destructive and demoralizing, and as a reflection of the Second Empire’s predilection for style over substance. Indeed, the unabashed decadence and flagrant materialism of the era was the subject of excoriation in the works of many intellectuals of the time.

All said, the legacy left by Worth still blazed a trail for the numerous French designer houses that followed, which subsequently dominated the scene of European high fashion. His son, Gaston, actually founded the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in 1868, which was the precursor to the present day’s Federation Francaise de la Couture, du Pret-a-Porter des Couturiers et des Createurs de Mode. The Federation is responsible for setting the dates and location of the French fashion weeks, for establishing industry standards on quality and on the use of the word “haute couture”. Those once disdainful French haute couture houses, which have now become the craze of an oriental nation, seem to have lost a little bit of their cool hauteur of yesteryears.




Thursday, October 4, 2012

Condolences



My condolences to all who lost loved ones in the vessel collision off Lamma Island on the eve of October 1, and my best wishes for a speedy recovery to those injured in the accident.

It was a deeply tragic loss of lives. The unfortunate accident has sent a harsh blow to the lives of many families and calls for sympathy from all - not petty squabbles, nor unfounded accusations at this time of great sorrow. In the past, Hong Kong showed itself totally capable of dealing with grave accidents, and emerging therefrom a little wiser. This time, it should be no exception.

Here is a song, called “I Am A Thousand Winds”, to sooth the grieving families:-


Lyrics of “I Am A Thousand Winds”:-

Please do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there, I do not sleep
I am the sunlight on the ripened grain
I am the gentle autumn rain

I am a thousand winds
I am a thousand winds that blow
I am the diamond glint on snow
I am a thousand winds that blow

Please do not stand at my grave and cry
I am not there, I did not die
I am the swift rush of birds in flight
I am the stars that shine at night

I am a thousand winds
I am a thousand winds that blow
I am the diamond glint on snow
I am a thousand winds that blow

Please do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there, I do not sleep
I am the sunlight on the ripened grain
I am the gentle autumn rain

I am a thousand winds
I am a thousand winds that blow
I am the diamond glint on snow
I am a thousand winds that blow

I am the diamond glint on snow
I am a thousand winds that blow




Wednesday, October 3, 2012

An Anti-Greed French Song



Since the days of Gordon Gekko’s motto “greed is, for lack of a better word, good”, we have seen the world swept up by uninhibited avarice in the last two-and-a-half decades. This vice finally led to gargantuan financial debacles in many countries and cities. Zazie’s song “Etre et Avoir” (“To Be and To Have”) is a light and sweet ridicule of this particular human foible.

This song reminds me of an essay that says it is important, as an inward-looking morality check, to discern what “need” and “want” is. It also reminds me of what Bud Fox’s father said in the film “Wall Street”, that a person’s character is not measured by the money in his pocket. One verse in the song says it all « Il en faut peu pour etre heureux. »  (“We need little in order to be happy.”)

Link to the song:-



French Lyrics of « Etre et Avoir » (‘To Be and To Have’) by Zazie :-

Des chaises, une table, un lit, un toit,
C'était tout ce qu'on avait.
Vingt ans, pourtant, des rêves en grand,
C'était tout ce qu'il nous fallait.

Voiture, maison, c'est sûr, c'est bon.
Maintenant qu'est ce que ça cache?
Ca nous remplit, ca nous rend pas meilleur,
Pour autant que je sache.

Car tout ce qu'on est, pas tout ce qu'on a,
Tout ce qu'on est, pas tout ce qu'on a.

Plus beau, plus cher, plus riche, plus fort,
Voilà tout ce qu'on adore
Autant d'efforts, tous ces trésors,
On en fait quoi quand on sera mort?

De tout cet or en banque, ces armes, ces tanks
Alors que c’est d’amour que l'on manque.
Et l’être humain l’est un peu moins
Depuis qu'il s'est fait avoir.

Car tout ce qu'on est, pas tout ce qu'on a,
Tout ce qu'on est, pas tout ce qu'on a.

Des chaises, une table, un lit, un toit,
C'était tout ce qu'on avait.
Il en faut peu pour être heureux,
Moi c'est tout ce que je sais.

Tout ce qu'on est, pas tout ce qu'on a,
Oui, tout ce qu'on est, pas tout ce qu'on a.

Tout ce qu'on est, pas tout ce qu'on a
Oui, tout ce qu'on est, pas tout ce qu'on a

My English Rendition of the Lyrics of « Etre et Avoir » by Zazie :-

Chairs, a table, a bed, a roof,
It was all that we had.
Twenty years, yet, of great dreams
It was all that we needed.

A car, a house, sure, it is good,
Now what is it that it hides?
It fills us up, it does not make us better
For as much as I know.

Because all that we are, is not all that we have,
All that we are, is not all that we have.

More beautiful, more expensive, richer, stronger,
This is what we adore.
So much efforts, all these treasures,
What do we do with these when we’re dead?

Of all this gold in the bank, all these arms, these tanks
While it is love that is lacking.
And the human being is a little less human,
When we are bent on having.

Because all that we are, is not all that we have,
All that we are, is not all that we have.

Chairs, a table, a bed, a roof,
It was all that we had.
We need little in order to be happy
For as much as I know.

All that we are, is not all that we have,
Yes, all that we are, is not all that we have.

All that we are, is not all that we have.
Yes, all that we are, is not all that we have.



Thursday, September 13, 2012

Planning for One System



What would be the best way to bring Hong Kong into “one country, one system” mode to enable a seamless transition by 2047? Might the answer lie in gradually dissolving the ideological as well as the physical boundary that demarcates Hong Kong’s existing lifestyle? Hong Kongers have just won the first round on the ideological front by having successfully forced the Leung administration to drastically pull back the controversial national education policy. But they’d be wrong to let up their solidarity now.

According to InmediaHK, the no less menacing threat to the physical boundary, in the form of “Guangdong Hong Kong Cooperation Outline Agreement”, had already been surreptitiously incorporated as part and parcel of some national education teaching handbook, which was issued in May 2012 by the National Education Services Center and is probably widely in use by now.


The following is an abridged translation of the InmediaHK report:-

“The Guangdong Hong Kong Cooperation Outline Agreement forms a part of mainland China’s overall ‘Twelfth – Fifth Plan’ and was drawn up without the knowledge or participation of Hong Kong residents. It has four salient objectives:-

1.      Planning for massive infrastructure facilities (e.g. building cross border roads and bridges; building nuclear plants in Guangdong to supply electricity to Hong Kong.)
2.      Planning for a better quality life circle (merging of the education system of both places; promoting individual travel by car; moving Hong Kong residents into the mainland etc.)
3.      Promoting cooperative tourism (expanding the individual visit scheme; developing the New Territories North as a mainland tourist destination.)
4.      Planning for the Pearl River Delta Bay Area Development (absorbing Hong Kong into the PRD plan; developing the New Territories North-East, Hung Shui Kiu and Lantau into a suburban economic zone; moving Hong Kong’s services industry into the zone.)

While emphasizing the economic benefits that the Agreement might bring about, the teaching handbook makes no mention whatsoever of the dire consequences it might cause, namely, that it would upset Hong Kong people’s existing way of life, unnecessarily develop the countryside, alter Hong Kong’s existing modus operandi of town planning, squander away Hong Kong people’s tax dollars and, in sum total, trample on the ‘one country, two systems’ promise. Neither does it mention that a social activist group was formed to oppose the Pearl River Delta Bay Area Development Plan earlier this year.

As a tactic to fool students into embracing the ‘Twelfth – Fifth Plan’, a working paper is incorporated in the handbook which seeks to draw their attention to job prospects in the new economic zone and to instill into them the idea of having a chance to contribute to the motherland’s future economic success.

The fact that Hong Kong has been ‘involuntarily planned’ and made to lose its autonomy on planning matters has been twisted around to something to the effect that mainland China is supporting Hong Kong’s development. Who is supporting whom really?”


The recently promulgated New Territories North-East outline development plan, which is believed to be a precursor to the broader Shenzhen-Hong Kong merger plan, has met with overwhelming public disapproval and despite that, the public consultation period has only been extended for a month to the end of September.

It does seem that there is a real risk of Hong Kong losing the physical (or geographical) boundary, which would mean no less than an imposed mainlandization of the city and the inevitable loss of the Hong Kong identity. Hong Kongers have to decide whether they want this to happen or not and to make their opinions heard. This may be an even tougher battle to fight than national education.




Monday, September 3, 2012

Love Poems by Lu You and Tang Yuan



This is a follow-up to the last post regarding the poignant love story of Song poet Lu You (陸游). I’ve given my attempted English rendition to Lu’s poem 釵頭鳳:紅酥手, which he wrote on a wall inside the Shen Garden during his chance encounter with his ex-wife Tang Yuan (唐婉), as well as to Tang’s reply poem 釵頭鳳:世情惡 .

At the Shen Garden (沈園) accidental encounter, Tang Yuan, with her husband’s permission, had some food and wine sent over to her ex-husband Lu You as a courtesy (presumably they were at different spots inside the big mansion). Her gesture got Lu all sentimental, and the lovelorn poet improvised his poem on a wall, which Tang later set her sight on, and she wrote her own reply there.

【釵頭鳳】紅酥手 南宋陸游
 
紅酥手,黃藤酒,滿城春色宮牆柳。
東風惡,歡情薄,一懷愁
緒,幾年離索。
錯!錯!錯!
 
春如舊,人空瘦,淚痕浥紅鮫綃透。
桃花落,閒池閣,山盟雖在,錦書難托。
莫!莫!莫!

My English Rendition (Title: Phoenix Hairpin by Lu You):-

Tasty pork, golden wine, spring came amidst willows draped over walls.
Wicked custom, short-lived joy, leaves a pining heart, and lonely years befall.
Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

Spring comes and goes, as I waste away; my tears have soaked many a handkerchief.
Peach blossoms fall, by the lonely pond, our vows intact, yet we can’t connect.
Lost! Lost! Lost!  

【釵頭鳳】世情惡 南宋唐婉
 
世情薄,人情惡,雨送黃昏花易落。
曉風乾,淚痕殘,欲箋心事,獨倚斜欄。
難!難!難!
 
人成各,今非昨,病魂常似鞦韆索。
角聲寒,夜闌珊,怕人詢問,咽淚裝歡。
瞞!瞞!瞞!

My English Rendition (Title: Phoenix Hairpin by Tang Yuan):-

A pitiless world, hard-hearted people, the evening rain beats petals down.
Morning wind dries, not the tears, I want to write, but can only lean on the fence.
Tough! Tough! Tough!

We parted ways, yesteryears gone, the ghost of sickness haunts like a hanging rope.
The horn is chilling, the night is long, shunning questions, I dry my tears and feign joy.
Hide! Hide! Hide!



Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Yuan Qu Aria and a Song Poem


Recently I came across two Chinese poems that I became immediately smitten with. One is a Yuan qu (aria) (元曲) by Ma Zhiyuan (馬志遠), called “Sky and Clear Sand: Autumnal Thoughts” (天淨沙: 秋思), and the other is a Song seven-character quatrain by Southern Song poet Lu You (陸游), called “Revisiting Shen Garden, One of Two” (再遊沈園, 二首之一).

Ma Zhiyuan was born in war-torn Southern Song dynasty and was a Yuan dynasty court official by profession. He was also a well-known Yuan drama (雜劇) and aria (散曲) writer and was honored with being named one of the four great masters of Yuan aria writers (元曲四大家之一).

天淨沙·秋思馬致遠 (“Sky and Clear Sand: Autumnal Thoughts”) by Ma Zhiyuan
 
枯藤老樹昏鴉,
小橋流水人家
(平沙)
古道西風瘦馬。
夕陽西下,
斷腸人在天涯。
 
My English Rendition:

Dying vines, old trees, aging crows;
Beneath the bridge flows a creek, bordering homes.
On the ancient path a gaunt horse braves the west wind.
In the light of the setting sun,
The homesick man pines away on Earth's rim.


Most Chinese poetry lovers would find the name Lu You (陸游) very familiar. Until recently, I only knew him to be one of the greatest poetry and lyrics writers of the Southern Song dynasty. I’ve lately stumbled upon a poignant love story of that dynasty, in which he, and ironically, his ex-wife, were the two doomed lovers. This love story spells the background for the poem that Lu wrote forty-three years after his chancing upon his beloved ex-wife at Shen Garden (poem introduced below).

The Shen Garden chance meeting, which had taken place a few years after their forced separation, had prompted him to write her a riveting poem called “釵頭鳳:紅酥手” to express his undying love for her and his powerlessness in face of rigid customs. Upon receipt of that poem, she had replied her ex-husband with an equally heart-rending poem. Shortly after that chance meeting and exchange of poems, she had died from heartbreak.

The tragic love story started out as a happy union in marriage between a great young poet (Lu You) and a beautiful and intelligent lady of great literary talent called Tang Yuan (唐婉). The twenty-year old Lu was deeply in love with Tang and the two shared a bonded life. But marital bliss was short-lived. Lu’s mother was far from appreciative of her new daughter-in-law and began finding faults with her. The wicked woman found a way to forcing her son and his wife to live in separate living quarters. But Lu still tried to make contact with his wife stealthily. Not long thereafter though, Lu’s mother found out about their secretive rendezvous and demanded that her son divorce Tang to marry another. Pressured by traditions and his filial duty, Lu succumbed to his mother’s wishes. Tang also remarried a little later. The year when Lu was thirty-one, he encountered Tang and her husband by chance at Shen Garden.    

再游沈園, 二首 之一, 陸游 (Revisiting Shen Garden, One of Two, by Lu You)

採得黄花作枕囊,
屏深幌泌幽香。
喚回四十三年夢,
燈暗無人說斷腸。

 
My English Rendition:

Having picked some yellow mums to pillow my head,
Behind the screen and curtains, there wafted a luring scent.
Recalling a dream forty-three years back,
In the faint light, no one to share my self-torment.

The fact that Lu still couldn’t let go of Tang in his thoughts at the senile age of seventy-five says something about his love for Tang. Perhaps “one life, one love” would be a truly apt description here.



Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Satirical and Sensible French Song

I just can’t stop. I’ve found another French song that I like very much. This one is by Zazie and has witty and poetic lyrics set in satire. This song is a powerful wakeup call to all mankind who are the ultimate Earth Destroyer. I’m inclined to think that it’s human greed that drives an incurable addiction to wasteful consumption, which causes steady destruction of the Earth. In the end, greed will destroy humankind – in a vicious circle.

Link to the song:-

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05fRI9CkL7k&feature=my_favorites&list=FLlMBDFYTe8MGL_Z6TJc6LOg 

Je Suis Un Homme (French Lyrics):

Je suis un homme de Cro-Magnon
Je suis un singe ou un poisson
Sur la terre en toute saison
Moi je tourne en rond, je tourne en rond

Je suis un seul puis des millions
Je suis un homme au coeur de lion
A la guerre en toute saison
Moi je tourne en rond, je tourne en rond

Je suis un homme plein d’ambition
Belle voiture et belle maison
Dans la chambre ou dans la salon
Moi je tourne en rond, je tourne en rond

Je fais l’amour et la revolution
Je fais le tour de la question
J’avance, avance a reculons
Et je tourne en rond, je tourne en rond

Tu vois, j’suis pas un homme
Je suis le roi de l’illusion
Au fond, qu’on me pardonne
Je suis le roi, le roi des cons

Je fais le monde a ma facon
Coule dans l’or et le beton
Corps en cage, coeur en prison
Moi je tourne en rond, je tourne en rond

Assis devant ma television
Je suis de l’homme, la negation
Pur produit de consommation
Oui, mon compte est bon, mon compte est bon

Tu vois, j’suis pas un homme
Je suis le roi de l’illusion
Au fond, qu’on me pardonne
Je suis le roi, le roi des cons

C’est moi, le maitre du feu
Le maitre du jeu
Le maitre du monde
Et vois ce que j’en ai fait
Une terre glacee, une terre brulee
La terre des hommes que
Les hommes abandonnent

Je suis un homme au pied du mur
Comme une erreur de la nature
Sur la terre sans d’autres raisons
Moi je tourne en rond, je tourne en rond

Je suis un homme mais je mesure
Toute l’horreur de ma nature
Pour ma peine, ma punition
Moi je tourne en rond, je tourne en rond

Je suis un homme mais je mesure
Toute l’horreur de ma nature
Pour ma peine, ma punition
Moi je tourne en rond, je tourne en rond

Moi je tourne en rond, je tourne en rond

My English Rendition of the Lyrics of “Je Suis Un Homme” (“I am a Man”):

I am a man, of prehistoric times
I am a monkey, or a fish
On the earth in all times
Me, I go round in circles, go round in circles

I am one, but then of a million
I am a man, with the heart of a lion
Going to war all the time
Me, I go round in circles, go round in circles

I am a man, full of ambition
Beautiful car, and beautiful house
In the bedroom or in the parlor
Me, I go round in circles, go round in circles

I make love, and revolution
I ponder over and over on a question
I go forward, forward to be backward
And I go round in circles, go round in circles

You see, I’m not a man
I am the King of Illusion
Basically, if you’ll pardon me
I am the king, the King of Idiots

I fashion the world in my own way
Cast in gold and in concrete
Body in a cage, heart in a prison
Me, I go round in circles, go round in circles

Seated in front of my television
I am a man, of passivity
Pure product of consumption
Yes, I’m good at counting, good at counting

You see, I’m not a man
I am the King of Illusion
Basically, if you’ll pardon me
I am the king, the King of Idiots

It is me, the Master of Fire
The Master of Games
The Master of the World
And look what I’ve done to it
An earth frozen up, an earth burnt down
The earth of men that
Men have abandoned

I am a man at the end of my rope
Like an error that nature has made
On the earth without any other reasons
Me, I go round in circles, go round in circles

I am a man but I take count
Of all the horror of my nature
For my penalty, my punishment
Me, I go round in circles, go round in circles

I am a man but I take count
Of all the horror of my nature
For my penalty, my punishment
Me, I go round in circles, go round in circles

Me, I go round in circles, go round in circles


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Who Has the Right?


I came across this French song “Qui a Le Droit” quite some time ago, and, apart from being moved by the angelic Soprano voice of the young Jean-Baptiste Maunier, I thought the lyrics were hauntingly inspirational. As a way to brush up my French, I’ve given the lyrics my English rendition.

Here’s the link to the multi-artist performance on Youtube (the other singers being Bruel, Zazie, Boulay, Corneille and Garou):-


Qui a Le Droit (French Lyrics)

On m'avait dit :
‘Ne pose pas trop de question,
Tu sais, petit, c'est la vie qui t'répond.
A quoi ca sert de vouloir tout savoir?
Regardes en l'air et vois ce que tu veux voir’

On m'avait dit:
‘Faut écouter son père’
Le mien a rien dit quand il s'est fait la paire
Maman m'a dit: ‘Tu es trop petit pour comprendre’
Et j'ai grandi avec une place à prendre

Qui a le droit
Qui a le droit
Qui a le droit de faire ca
A un enfant qui croit vraiment
C'que disent les grands
On passe sa vie à dire merci
Merci à qui? à quoi?
A faire la pluie et le beau temps
Pour des enfants à qui l'on ment

On m'avait dit:
‘Les hommes sont tous pareils’
Y'a plusieurs dieus mais y'a qu'un seul soleil"
Oui mais le soleil il brille ou bien il brule
Tu meurs de soif ou bien tu bois des bulles

A toi aussi j'suis sur qu'on t'en a dit
De belles histoires. Tu parle, que des conneries
Alors maintenant on se trouve sur la route
Avec nos peurs nos angoisses et nos doutes

Qui a le droit
Qui a le droit
Qui a le droit d'faire ca
A des enfants qui croient vraiment ce que disent les grands
On passe sa vie a dire merci
Merci à qui? à quoi?
A faire la pluie et le beau temps
Pour des enfants à qui l'on ment

My English Rendition of the Lyrics of “Who Has the Right?” :

Someone had told me
“Do not ask too many questions,
You know, little one, it’s life that answers you.
What’s the point in wanting to know everything?
Look into the air and see what you want to see.”

Someone had told me
“One should listen to one’s father.”
Mine said nothing to me when he philandered.
My mother said, “You are too young to understand,”
And I’ve grown up, with an empty place at my side.

Who has the right
Who has the right
Who has the right to do that
To a child who really believes
Anything that the grown-ups say.
He goes through life saying thankyou
Thankyou to whom, for what?
For creating the rain and fine weather for the children?
To whom one tells lies?

Someone had told me
“Men are all the same,
There may be several gods, but there’s only one sun.”
Yes, but the sun, it either glares or else it burns,
Either you die of thirst, or you drink the bubbles.

To you too, I’m sure, one has told
Beautiful stories. You say: what a farce!
Well now we are on the road again,
With all our fears, our anguish and our doubts.

Who has the right
Who has the right
Who has the right to do that
To a child who really believes
Anything that the grown-ups say.
He goes through life saying thankyou
Thankyou to whom, for what?
For creating the rain and fine weather for the children?
To whom one tells lies?




Monday, June 18, 2012

A Lovely French Song


Thanks to Mister Bijou, I've been alerted to a lovely French song sung by Zaz, a popular French singer. This song not only has a pleasing melody, but also has beautifully poetic lyrics. I've tried to give an English rendition of the lyrics. Hopefully the poetic element is not all lost in translation!


La Pluie  (By Zaz) French Lyrics :-
 
Le ciel est gris la pluie s'invite comme par surprise
Elle est chez nous et comme un rite qui nous enlise
Les parapluies s'ouvrent en cadence
Comme une danse,
Les gouttes tombent en abondance
Sur douce France.

Tombe tombe tombe la pluie
En ce jour de dimanche de décembre
à l'ombre des parapluies
Les passants se pressent se pressent sans attendre

On l'aime parfois elle hausse la voix elle nous bouscule
Elle ne donne plus de ses nouvelles en canicule
Puis elle revient comme un besoin par affection
Et elle nous chante sa grande chanson
L'inondation

Tombe tombe tombe la pluie
En ce jour de dimanche de décembre,
à l'ombre des parapluies
Les passants se pressent se pressent sans attendre

Tombe tombe tombe la pluie
En ce jour de dimanche de décembre
à l'ombre des parapluies
Les passants se pressent se pressent sans attendre
Et tombe et tombe et tombe, tombe
Et tombe et tombe et tombe...
 
My English Rendition of the Lyrics :-
 
The sky is grey, the rain invites herself as if by chance
She’s in our home, and consumes us like in a rite
Umbrellas open up in rhythm as in a dance
Raindrops fall in abundance
Over gentle France

Fall, fall, fall the rain
On this day a Sunday in December
In the shade of umbrellas
Passers-by hurry, hurry, without delay

One loves her when she shouts, pushing us around
She gives nothing more than news of a heat wave
Then she comes back as if in need of affection
And she sings us her great song
Of inundation

Fall, fall, fall the rain
On this day a Sunday in December
In the shade of umbrellas
Passers-by hurry, hurry, without delay

Fall, fall, fall the rain
On this day a Sunday in December
In the shade of umbrellas
Passers-by hurry, hurry, without delay

And fall, and fall, and fall, fall…
And fall, and fall, and fall




Friday, June 1, 2012

Imaginary June 4th Apology


In June 2006 Canada found it in its heart to say sorry for a racist head tax imposed over a century ago on foreign nationals - Chinese immigrants. On the 23rd anniversary of the June 4th event, an apology from the Chinese government is still being awaited for a much more heinous crime it committed in 1989 - mass murder of its very own nationals.

Some passages in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s address delivered in June 2006 appear interestingly suitable for paraphrasing into part of an imaginary apology statement by Chinese leaders:-

Original:-

“We acknowledge the high cost of the head tax meant many families were left behind in China, never to be reunited, or that families lived apart and, in some cases, in poverty, for many years.”

Imaginary:-

“We acknowledge the atrocious killing of students and citizens meant their loved ones and families were left with raw emotional wounds, never to be healed, or that many families suffered further agony when their pleas for redress were ignored, and were, in some cases, penalized, for many years.”

Original:-

“We also recognize that our failure to acknowledge these historical injustices has prevented many in the community from seeing themselves as fully Canadian.”

Imaginary:-

“We also recognize that our failure to acknowledge such historical brutality has prevented many in the Chinese community, especially the Hong Kong and overseas community, from seeing themselves as fully Chinese.”

Original:-

“Therefore, Mr. Speaker, on behalf of all Canadians and the Government of Canada, we offer a full apology to Chinese Canadians for the head tax and express our deepest sorrow for the subsequent exclusion of Chinese immigrants.”

Imaginary:-

“Therefore, Mr. Chairman, on behalf the Government of the PRC and the Politburo, we offer a full apology to Chinese nationals for the unwarranted June 4th killings and express our deepest sorrow for the subsequent gross mistreatment of the victims’ families.”

Original:-

“This apology is not about liability today: it is about reconciliation with those who endured such hardship, and the broader Chinese-Canadian community.”  

Imaginary:-

“This apology is not about face-saving today: it is about reconciliation with those who endured such pain and agony, and the broader Chinese community.”




Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Preserving Agricultural Land for Food Safety


People want to have affordable housing. People want to eat vegetables without the fear of being poisoned. The second statement seemingly is a non sequitur. But it doesn’t have to be. Here is where sensible rustic planning comes in.

Thanks to the Land Justice League’s report on InmediaHK, we are told that the SAR government is planning to develop a new town in Yuen Long South and is applying to LegCo for funds of about HK$50 million to be used in hiring consultants to do planning and engineering studies in identifying suitable housing sites.


According to this document issued by the Development Bureau, the studies will form the basis for an official Outline Development Plan (equivalent to an Outline Zoning Plan in urban areas):


The Land Justice League has conducted some on-site investigation and found that a substantial amount of farming activities have been on-going for a long time covering over 10 hectares of land within the area earmarked for the studies. Most of the farmers are vegetable growers who have made a livelihood out of farming on land leased from the indigenous villagers. The vegetables that they grow are sold through distributors to the Cheung Sha Wan wholesale market. Hong Kongers should be grateful that they still have the choice of safe, Hong Kong grown vegetables because of the hard work of those farmers.
Since the announcement of the earmarking of the study area, a few farmers reportedly have noticed some anomaly where some landowners have begun ending the farm leases and resuming their land.

The LJL report made one very valid point, and that is, that by arbitrarily making public a tentative map showing the study area, the administration is actually hinting to developers, especially those who are familiar with the land use conversion procedure, where to sweep up agricultural land for their hoard. (I took great pains in trying to explain in my book Land and the Ruling Class in Hong Kong how the large developers use this land use conversion procedure to their competitive advantage. I also made it quite clear that this land use conversion procedure should be thoroughly reviewed with regard to its fairness and efficiency.)

One very sound point made in the LJL report is that whenever government plans to develop a new town, all developers’ hoard of agricultural land in the area in question should first be resumed by government and then properly zoned and put up for public auction.

Suspected government-developer collusion aside, a crucial question to ask is: must the land in the New Territories be solely used to pile concrete on? In the present times when there’s one report after another of poisonous vegetables being shipped to Hong Kong from north of the border, isn’t it about time for the planners to begin thinking outside the (concrete) box and start looking seriously at farming as a viable local industry, food safety and sustainable agricultural land use? Is there a way for housing and farm land to co-exist? Apart from farm use, are there other compatible uses like open air farm produce markets, flea markets, cooked food markets etc. (like those popular “marches” in urban and suburban France) that can be considered as viable zoning?

While I concur with the suggestion in the report that the land currently being used for farming should be taken out of the study area altogether to protect the farmers, I think we could go one step further and start considering the active preservation of agricultural land for exclusive agricultural use (i.e. application for land use change not to be allowed).

As early as the 70s, British Columbia already saw the importance of agricultural land preservation. The province introduced the Agricultural Land Commission Act in April 1973. An Agricultural Land Commission was set up and charged with the duty to designate a provincial Agricultural Land Reserve (“ALR”) and to encourage farm businesses. The ALR presently covers an area of 4.7 million hectares (5 percent of the province) and is a special zoning in which agricultural use is recognized as the priority use. It is typically difficult to apply for non-farm use where such a zoning exists.

Hong Kong may find the British Columbia experience worth studying. 



Sunday, April 29, 2012

Caixin Media Interview 財新媒體專訪

Here's the link to the interview text titled "潘慧娴:香港被地产商操控背离市场经济":-


http://special.caixin.com/2012-04-28/100383246.html


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Better Late Than Never


The 55-page Consultation Report on the Proposed Legislation to Regulate the Sale of First-Hand Residential Properties may have eluded the Hong Kong public when they are knee-deep in the muddy news relating to the present CE candidates’ life-or-death fight. What is striking about the Report is the SAR government’s uncharacteristic firm tone in response to “what else is new” protest from the developers’ quarters.
Here is the link to the full Report:-
Proposed salient measures include the requirement for developers to use Saleable Area (i.e. habitable area plus balcony or verandah if any) in their price lists, to provide price lists to potential buyers at least 3 days before actual sale begins, to disclose key and relevant information (including plans) pertaining to the development in the sales brochures, to sell a specified minimum number of flats in any available batch, to keep for public display a constantly updated register of transactions and to disclose sales to the Vendor’s family members, directors or managers.
Other important measures are the criminalization of offences relating to false or misleading information and misrepresentation and the setting up of an enforcement authority with appropriate investigative powers.
As one reads the Report, one cannot but ask why these proposed measures weren’t in place eight or ten years ago? Or at least six years ago, after this article Fleecing Asia’s Homebuyers appeared on this website trying to debunk the malpractices in the industry:-
But alas, if you think that by today, the attitude of fat rich developers would have changed just a tiny tiny bit after the majority of Hong Kong people have expressed their disgust with them, you cannot be more wrong. Their thinking can be summed up in this sentence in the Report:-
“While REDA (Real Estate Developers’ Association) indicated no in-principle objection to regulate the sales of first-hand residential properties, it qualified its statement of support that the proposed measures had to be reasonable and proportionate, the restrictions imposed should not be more than necessary to accomplish such legitimate purpose, and that it was unconstitutional to regulate the sales of first-hand completed residential properties.”
More than once throughout the Report, the REDA voiced their resistance to the proposed measures because they “contravened the protection of the right of private ownership and disposal of property stipulated in the Basic Law.”
They might as well be saying that anything that would remotely weaken their rights to screw others is unconstitutional and that they are entitled to use the Basic Law as their shield, however indefensible their position is. If you tell them that while legislation is not expected to change their hearts, it is at least expected to restrain their heartlessness, they’ll think you’re talking gibberish.
As for the sudden change of heart the SAR administration has just shown, could it be a desperate attempt by the corruption-scandal ridden Tsang to win a few scores to save his tarnished face before riding out into the lonely sunset, or could it be that the administration is warming itself up for a new work style under the next CE, or something else? Only time will tell. The proposed Bill is way late. But it’s still better than if it never came.

Monday, January 23, 2012

An Estranged Hong Kong

I’ve just learned from the HK Golden Forum that my favorite wonton noodle haunt Sum Kee (森記) on Percival Street has just closed shop. The reason? The shop landlord has asked to increase the monthly rent from HK$100,000 to HK$400,000, the last straw on the camel’s back. For a modest wonton noodle and congee shop like Sum Kee, which has been selling a bowl of wonton noodle for HK$21.00 for the last three years, paying HK$100,000 rent is already quite ridiculous, not to mention four times the amount. Only I didn’t realize that my last visit in December would be the last.

Each year I visit Hong Kong, the place seems a little more distant than the last. In Causeway Bay, streets are packed to the point that it’s easy to feel claustrophobic. Mainland shoppers towing big and small suitcases jostling with locals. Self-important, curtained Guangdong-licensed cars competing for roadways with local cars. Strange faces. Unfamiliar Putonghua. Forever changing shop facades in the vicinity of Time Square.

Sum Kee, which has been around for twenty years, is the last victim of crazy shop rents. The next is predicted to be another old-timer: snack shop Yiu Fung (么鳳). Replacing Sum Kee will be a luxury watch shop that is the love of mainlanders. Of course, their love takes precedence over mine and that of other Hong Kongers, because in the eyes of big businesses and developer landlords, these outsiders are the much coveted big spenders. They can afford anything that ranges from obscenely expensive luxury apartments, ludicrously overpriced European luxury brand-name clothes and shoes, to private hospital baby-delivery services, university places reserved for mainland students and everyday necessities like baby formula milk powder and sundries. It is probably an understatement that these people are the cause of greedy shop rent hikes that lead to the surmise of many small old-time businesses and of consumer price inflation in Hong Kong.

The D & G protest that has ultimately forced a belated apology out of the shop is only one detonator that ignited Hong Kong people’s long repressed fury over the dire consequences of Hong Kong’s too laxly managed border. Wealthy mainland tourists have spoiled the big businesses so much that they don’t even realize they are stepping over the line by discriminating against locals.

It is certainly no coincidence that a recent survey finds that more Hong Kong people choose to identify themselves first as Hong Kongers. It is becoming clear that the basic divide between Hong Kongers and mainlanders is one of civic values, as this latest incident shows:-

http://blog.martinoei.com/2012/01/%E9%A6%99%E6%B8%AF%E5%B7%B1%E7%B6%93%E5%8E%BB%E5%88%B0%E9%97%9C%E9%8D%B5%E6%99%82%E5%88%BB/

[Some mainlanders were eating cup noodles and made a mess on the seats of an MTR train. A Hong Konger told them it’s against the rules to eat in the train and immediately got angry and vociferous rebuttals. A couple of other Hong Kongers joined the fray. Security was called in. The mainlanders insisted they had done nothing wrong.]

Such kind of rude behavior is already less obnoxious than that of some who unashamedly use public space inside shopping malls as toilets.

On a deeper level, the unbridgeable gap seems to be between (Hong Kongers’) acceptance and (most mainlanders’) rejection of or aversion to universal values like rule of law, democracy, equality and liberty. It is not through the latter’s fault that they find these values alien; it’s just because they have been living under a political system that has infiltrated them with the idea that those are not Chinese values and therefore no good for them. The system has taught people that all they need worry about is the economy and how to make money and practically nothing else. Morals aren’t important. Corruption can be tolerated. There is of course no lack of intellectuals in China who have refused to be brainwashed and who truly embrace universal values, but most of them unfortunately are rewarded with either political exile or incarceration.

It goes without saying that the only Hong Kong people who welcome mainland tourists, immigrants and shoppers are developers and their cronies (real estate agents, contractors etc.), especially those who are large shopping mall landlords. Even for retailers, whether or not they can benefit from the influx depends on whether the products they sell are mainlanders’ favorites. As for the rest of Hong Kongers, all they can feel towards the swamping inflow is resentment.

At the end of the day, Hong Kong society has its own unique cultural characteristics, which are different from those of other mainland cities or regions. It should be every Hong Konger’s duty to try to preserve those characteristics for posterity. And it would be dead wrong to try to supplant or dilute Hong Kong core values which coincide with universal values.

I only visit once a year. Yet I can feel how dispossessed many Hong Kongers must feel. It’s time to act now to protect that border, before the city becomes a totally alien place.