Thursday, December 28, 2006

After Christmas..............

I was "obliged" to visit the Christmas sales. This was the grim scene of consumerism yesterday at Bluewater shopping centre in Kent England.

There was also barely a spare seat at the Bluewater sushi bar. There has obviously not been a polonium-related dip in this line........................

I guess I was relatively easy to spot- the unenthusiastic shopper taking photos of all the others :-)

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Watching (bad?) television across the world

Christmas and New Year seem to bring a significant deterioration in the standard of television. Aside from the statutory James Bond and the occassional film that I would like to watch, there is little else of interest. Aging TV stars are wheeled out to perform with a less talented but generally better looking recent addition.

The aim is obviously "family entertainment" but the result is a brainless pastiche of light entertainment quiz shows, pantomine-like drivel and of course the now mandatory "reality" formats.

Not that things appear much better elsewhere in the world. I have spent the last two Christmas's in Russia and Ukraine respectively. While not all readers will agree with this (!), there the diet is similar if not worse. A plastic surgeon's dream of singing and dancing "mature" stars perform a mind-numbing endless series of plays, sketches and songs culminating in a 12 hour marathon of ignorance on New Year's Eve going into New Year's Day. The stars of yesteryear are lead by an exhausting 57-year old Russian diva, one Alla Pugacheva I suspect being deficient in the language probably improves matters from a viewing perspective.

Anyway, enough moaning about the standard of Christmas and New Year TV.

I hope to improve my language abilities in New Year and I have discovered a great website that gives "streaming links" to live TV from accross the world. Hopefully being able to watch live TV will both stimulate and encourage my language learning.

My focus is on Russia and Russian at the moment but last evening I was browsing and saw the following:

- A documentary about group of Swedes on a fishing boat
-A Thai sing song
- A Japanese business news summary
- A Ukrainian feature film
- An Iraqi drama where the plot line appeared to involve a member of the family performing a suicide mission.

It is an amazing insight into what people are watching in their living rooms accross the world. With the Iraqi offering particularly, perhaps I should be more grateful for the singing and dancing airheads we get treated to in the UK, Russia and elsewhere.

See for links to live TV from across the world. Depending on broadband connection, it may not be possible to access them all.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas everyone !

I just wanted to wish everyone who reads this blog, either regularly or for the first time, a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year !

Friday, December 22, 2006

Repression in Chinese Shadows

Last weekend when I was in staying in Hong Kong, I decided to visit nearby Macao. This involved one hour spent in a "fast ferry" that would not be for everyone after a large breakfast.

Nonetheless I made it to Macao, stomach intact, for a day's sightseeing.

I had no real expectations of Macao except that it was a former Portuguese colony and is now home to many casinos. So I supposed a vaguely Portuguese version of Las Vegas ? In many ways that is about right, not forgetting that it is also Chinese controlled.

I found it more Chinese than international Hong Kong. A few elderly Portuguese men could be seen walking to the shops. Occassional wealthy looking young Portuguese zipped past in Mercedes but it was 99 % Chinese.

The casinos old and new were largely ugly and dominating from the outside. Vast new casinos were in the process of being built. This seemed more overtly industrial gambling than Las Vegas. There was little attempt at making the casinos pretty. This was large scale gambling for the serious gambler. I imagine that in time Macao will take more care in its development and future casinos will be less intimidating.

In contrast, the old heart of Macao was a delight. Narrow streets filled with local shoppers and occasional tourists, criss-crossed. Numerous Catholic Churches and a seminary were also to be seen.

I headed for the ruins of Sao Paulo church (photographed in an earlier post) to see if there was any good reason why this was the most photographed sight in Macao holiday literature.

I came to the conclusion that the impressive facade and the open space around it made it one of the few impressive and old sights that was easy to photograph in Macao.

I noticed a small table near to the church and walked over. On the table was a collection of literature, mainly in Chinese, on the alleged abuses of the Chinese Communist Party. An old woman gave me an English language newspaper. She didn't seem to speak any English but gestured as if to say "take it and read". A handful of other locals of various ages spoke to the small group that came up to the stall.

I wondered off into a nearby park and read the paper which made gruesome reading about the millions killed in the Cultural Revolution to the forced organ donations in modern China.

I then became aware of police in the area. They did not appear all at once in a big group but in twos and threes appearing on corners and around the Sao Paulo site.

Then a Chinese man in plain clothes (light suit and black polo neck) stepped out of a minivan with a walkie-talkie. Next I was aware of a young woman wearing an earpiece standing quite close to me in the park. I realised the traffic had stopped on the nearby roads and I saw a police motorcycle blocking the end of a road.

I did not know what all this meant but there was an eerie feeling and people seemed to be leaving the area voluntarily. The woman with the earpiece fiddled with a bulge under her coat. Was she going to pull out a gun, I wondered ?

I gave up my attempt at postcard writing and walked back to the Sao Paulo site to see if I could see the stall. My way was blocked by a uniformed policeman who said "Not allowed here now".

I glanced over to where the stall had been. Nothing was there now. I will never know if they were simply moved on or if they were "taken away" for questioning or worse.

However it is clear that under the surface there is much discontent in places such as Macao and probably China itself. As China becomes more visited and visible the attempts to stifle dissent are becoming more subtle. Potential witnesses are "excluded", roads shut until undesirables have been moved on. This is dictatorship in the age of global media. However the effort to deal with a small stall on a Saturday morning in Macao demonstrates that the Chinese government remains deadly serious about preventing rebellion.

I can only admire the bravery of a small group who came out to distribute literature on a Saturday morning. In the scramble for the Chinese market place, the vast repression in recent Chinese history seems to be forgotten. However until China acknowledges its past, surely its future is ultimately built on sand ?

Clear night from the Peak

Last photo for a bit. Hong Kong in winter is generally free from the smog and pollution that plagues it for much of the rest of the year.
Locals say quietly that technologically orientated Hong Kong is not really responsible for much of the pollution. True, it does have a lot of cars but as an island should be able to clear this quite easily. The real cause is the dirty industry in the Pearl River delta in mainland China. The pollution crosses Hong Kong on the way out to sea. However this is not politically adviseable to repeat too often.

Still, in winter, there is not too much pollution from any source. This allows some great views of the city in day and night.

Memories of the Sun

View of the skyline on Hong Kong island last Sunday afternoon. All seems a world away from the fog of London.

The Fog of London

Street lights pierce the fog, forming halos in the air of outer London tonight.
I returned to London yesterday morning and it seems winter has truly arrived since I left.

Most of the country is covered by thick fog. The main airport in London, Heathrow, is running reduced services with no domestic flights and delays on other routes.

My flight back from Hong Kong was totally unaffected but 747 technology is more than up to dealing with a bit of fog. However the sunny 20 C (68F) of Hong Kong's "winter" was swapped for fog and -2 C (28 F) at Heathrow (at least at 5 am in the morning).

It is a bit of a shock but it is good to be home for Christmas.

Back with more Hong Kong related posts shortly.

Monday, December 18, 2006


Another photo ! I don't seem to have much time or inclination for "proper" writing on this trip.

However at the weekend I took the ferry from Hong Kong to Macao. Most readers will know that Macao is a former Portuguese colony, now controlled by China but like Hong Kong still operating with its own system and currency.

Much Catholic influence remains in Macao and it has a number of churches, many still functioning. This is the ruins of Sao Paulo church, burnt down in 1835. The bones of Japanese Christians martyred at Nagasaki in the 17th century remain on the site.

This is now one of the focal points for tourism in Macao.

I had an interesting experience which I feel highlights the current state (or lack) of freedom in modern China. That probably merits more telling than I can manage tonight, so I will save that for another day.

Anyway, I have two more days in Hong Kong before returning home to my wife in London.

Back soon !

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Hong Kong tinted spectacles...............

Two views of Hong Kong Island from the Kowloon Penninsular, this evening.

And 5 things that are better in Hong Kong than London:
1) Trains. Sheer luxury in the train from the airport to the City Centre. Also a metro service that is air conditioned and seems to work.
2) No "hoodies". Very little evidence of delinquent youths in general !
3) Better security and absence of crime. Although this is always easier to achieve in "less democratic" situations !
4) Prices. A high standard of living but much cheaper than London e.g. metro fares, electrical goods, restaurants.
5) Weather. Enough said !
Anyway its not all rosey so back soon (or when I'm back in London !) with some areas where London beats Hong Kong !

View from the Peak

As seen this evening from "the Peak" on Hong Kong Island. My photo doesn't really do it justice but I hope it conveys an impression of the marvellous night time scene.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Jobs for the boys

I went to work in Hong Kong today.

The firm I work for has nice offices in featureless skyscraper.After being introduced to the staff and sitting down to work, I went in seach of the loo. I found a male, female and "executive" toilet but all three were locked.

I then returned to reception where they directed me to alternative "facilities". However I was told that in future I could gain access to the nearer toilets by asking "the boy" for the key.

Confused by this I enquired with other colleagues. Apparently the office has 12 boys, one of whom is female but gets upset if not also referred to as a boy.

"Boys" in Hong Kong are doing a variety of messenger and practical jobs in Hong Kong. They are mainly young hence the description.Later on I saw the female boy who had suitably short hair combined with severe glasses. I can see why she might be offended to be called a girl !

Then later I saw another female looking "boy" so I am confused as there is only supposed to be one female boy !

Towards the end of the day the boys all sit in the stationary office playing cards on the computers. It is a sign that the end of the day is coming when there are no longer any jobs for the boys..........

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The positive legacy of empire ?

It is a little thing, but when you are 6,000 miles away from home and the electric plugs are the same, it all feels a little less alien !

I am in Hong Kong for the first time and it is hardly alien at all. In fact in some districts it is familiar to the point of nearly being dull. Plump blonde english girls wearing "bunny ears" leave their Christmas parties along with their Hong Kong Chinese friends as "Gingle Bells" plays past the Pizza Express restaurant Christmas tree. All this in a territory officially part of the People's Republic of China for 9 years.

Here in this vibrant outpost on the edge of China, the British Empire, whatever its many other faults, has left a legacy that is positive. Depsite now being under the control of communist China, this territory excudes a cheery and (reasonably) free spirit. There are a few examples of the British idiosyncrocity like driving on the left, pelican crossings, double decker buses and of course the plugs. For the rest the people seem hard working but happy.

Within walking distance of my hotel there is a mosque, a synagogue and a Catholic cathedral. A sikh manager was minding his 7-11 store as I walked past. It is strange to be so far away and see sights so familar.

I really feel that Empire did have its benefits (as well as its many documented problems). The legacy in this city is a metropolis of sky scrapers with churches, a mosque and a synaogue nestling beneath them and a multinational community more worried about making money than political ideology.

Back with further thoughts from a lost corner of Empire shortly..........

Saturday, December 09, 2006

A strange new hobby,,,,,,,,,,,,

Very few posts this week as regular readers will have noticed.

The reason is quite strange for me- I have been busy at work !

In addition to a Christmas Party, there's been interviews to hold, reports to write and plans to make.

Now barely two weeks from Christmas, I am Hong Kong bound for 10 days. A 12 hour flight awaits me tonight. Somehow I got busy at the wrong time of year, after quite a calm year.

Hopefully there will be some opportunity for blog updates from an Eastern perspective.

For now, ciao.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Why I like the man with the cushiest career in Television...........

John Craven- as he was in Newsround Days up until 1989

Maybe there are a few other candidates for the title of having the cushiest career in Television but JOHN CRAVEN has to be up there somewhere.

I feel like I have "known" John Craven all my life, in that strange way we sometimes feel we know celebrities we have never even met. "Celebrity" is probably not the obvious title for John Craven but I am sure he is known to millions of Britons.

To the unitiated he presented the BBC's "Newsround" for 17 years. At home we always called it "Lightweight's Newsround" as my Father complained the news coverage was "too lightweight". Somehow he overlooked that it was supposed to be news for 10 year olds !

Then JC caused sadness amongst all news loving children by moving on in 1989. Horrors have followed since with newreaders standing up or leaning against the desk. JC, in contrast, was always reliably seated and modelling a pullover that could have come from C & A or BHS.

However JC moved on to a career presenting "Countryfile" a BBC TV programme on rural affairs that goes out on Sunday morning. As far as I know he has presented it continuously til this day. My Mother recently mentioned watching him.

JC has made this programme his own. Somehow he does not seem to work. He just drives up to a farm in a Landrover, gets out wearing a jumper or wax jacket and chats with the farmer over a cup of hot tea, on some rural or agricultural issue.

And that is it ! That's a career in television. Reading news for children for 10 minutes a day over 17 years and then driving round in a Land Rover stopping for tea with farmers for a further 17.

However despite this slight jealousy at the ease of your career, I salute you as one of the most decent men in Television. Your amiability in front of the camera, calmness, politeness and sheer enduring presence on our TV screens have endeared you to millions in a subtle but unique way.

Let's hear it for John Craven !

John Craven, as he is now- Countryfile Presenter

Monday, December 04, 2006

Frothing at the mouth

An incredibly exciting start to the week.

One of my colleagues offered to make coffee this morning. My other colleague, the frothy coffee lover mentioned last week sent it back for being "flat". Well he didn't actually send it back but took it back and quite demonstrably made himself a frothy one ! The offending coffee maker has vowed not to offer his services in future. Both men are in their late forties !

Then this evening, in order to improve my professional education, I went to a lecture on "auditing". Those present were looking incredibly bored but we did get a few tips on what the "best sellers" were in terms of books on auditing !

Wine and nibbles followed the lecture but a surprising number, including myself, made for the door and the train home !

Anyway Christmas will be here soon and I shortly go to Hong Kong for a work related visit.