I don’t know if you get annoyed as I do sometimes with people going to the movies and buying a 2kg bag of popcorn, a few drinks and several bags of sweets during the film? It’s not the eating or drinking that I mind, but rather the noise that goes with it. It was particularly bad in Hong Kong when I was living there, but it’s not much better here in Australia – okay, at least we don’t get the smell of McDonalds food in the theatre. I wish candy companies had found a way to produce plastic bags that make no noise when opening them. Popcorn can be particularly noisy too, and when you’re engrossed in a movie, it can be quite irritating. Well, I have found the movie you can go and see without having to worry about the noise people make when eating and drinking! It’s The Impossible, by director Juan Antonio Bayona and featuring Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts (I love her). The film relates the story of a family with three kids holidaying in Thailand when the 2004 Tsunami hit on Boxing Day. It’s based on the true story of a Spanish family, although they are English in the film. This is a compelling and heart-breaking story. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it, because the term is not quite right considering the topic, but it’s a very good movie. Anyway, back to my ranting about eating noises. The movie session started as usual with stacks of eaters and drinkers surrounding us, but fifteen minutes into the story, silence! You could have heard a pin drop! No one was either moving or opening their mouths to swallow anything or speak. The story is quite graphic and watching Watts’ torn calf bleeding profusely, the deaths that surround her and her son, the injuries, what she throws up at one stage, and other niceties, all this reduced the audience to silence – and later to tears. Popcorn was wasted, candies kept for later. Goodie!
Category Archives: Hong Kong
A few weeks ago I picked up a book in one of those shops that sell unsold items at very low prices. The book was only worth a few dollars, but the title attracted my attention and it had been published by Harper Collins, so I thought it couldn’t be that bad. The title of the book was created and written in a way to deceive people and make them believe they were buying a book from Sidney Sheldon, the well-known writer. If you went below the title however (Sidney Sheldon’s Angel of the Dark) you could see another name, Tilly Bagshawe, the real author. Everything about that method is cheap. Never mind, I started reading the book, supposed to be based on notes left by Sheldon when he died in 2007. The plot is good and the story starts well enough. In a nutshell, this is about a series of weird murders in which en elderly man is savagely murdered while his young wife is raped and left alive by his side. The murders take place around the world, and a number of individuals, one from Interpol and a useless comedy writer, set on a search for the killer. As I said, the plot is okay, until the end that is. The last part of the book is boring – a trial – and the ending so preposterous it made me cringe. You very quickly can’t stand the main character, the comedy writer. As for the writing, it’s all right most of the time, but sometimes you come across repetitions and gems such as (p. 222) “He was as Indian as the Taj Mahal.” Such trite similes should simply be banned from literature.
The worst, for me, started with Chapter Thirteen, which takes place in Hong Kong. This is a fine example of how easily you can lose credibility with your readers, something all writers learn very early on in their careers. If what you write is false or simply wrong, your credibility is gone – and it doesn’t matter if it’s fiction or not. With me having lived in Hong Kong, Bagshawe didn’t stand a chance, but had she done basic research, she would have been fine. The underground system in Hong Kong (probably the best in the world in terms of efficiency, network and cleanliness) is called the MTR (Mass Transit Railway)… and it becomes the DLR in the novel. But the worst is to come. I will only give two examples. The first one reads, “Lan Kwai Fong, the nightlife quarter and red-light district, glittered and screamed and stank, its narrow streets packed with some of the weirdest specimens humankind has to offer: juggling midgets, armless dancers, blind transvestite hookers and the ubiquitous, wide-eyed U.S. servicemen on shore leave, drinking it all.” Anyone who knows Hong Kong would scream with laughter when reading these words. Lan Kwai Fong is vile, I agree, but it is a modern street with bars like those you can find anywhere in the world – like Los Angeles or London where the author lives – and, on Saturday nights when it becomes rowdy and full of drunk people, mostly expats. None of the weird specimens described here. It is as normal as it gets. One paragraph further down and you find, “In New York and London, shopping streets were crowded. Here they were overrun, infested, alive with humanity like a rotting corpse riddled with maggots.” I had to read this several times to make sure I had read well. Is Bagshawe really comparing Hong Kongese with maggots? This has to be the most racist, wrong and offensive thing I have read in a long time. She should be banned from writing and Harper Collins should change editors. Honestly!
I said in my previous post that you wouldn’t hear from me in a while, but I was obviously wrong! The combination of a typhoon in Hong Kong on the day our removalists were supposed to turn up and masses of people wanting to leave Hong Kong at the occasion of the Chinese National Day holiday has left me stranded at the airport. I have finally managed to get a seat on a plane to Sydney tonight, but this means I will get there a good 48 hours after heading to the airport the first time…. As a consequence, I have stacks of time for reading (and of course, writing this banter). I finished We need to talk about Kevin, by Lionel Shriver. This book won the 2005 Orange Prize for Fiction. It is a psychological, harrowing, disturbing exploration of several important topics which include responsibility and accountability, guilt, the “nature or nurture” question, innate evil, and – let’s not forget the heart of the story – what it means to be a parent (or a child), as well as the why of mass shootings. Phew! Do you think that’s enough? My sister-in-law gave me the book after reading it and warned me about the “difficult” ending chosen by Shriver. So of course, I was looking for that ending from the very start, but apart from one element, I missed it until it finally dawned on me about fifty pages from the word “End”. The book is written in the form of letters addressed by Eva to her estranged husband Franklin; I thought it would annoy me, but it didn’t, on the contrary. It provides a wonderful insight into what goes through Eva’s mind as she initially refuses to have a child, then gives in, much to her husband’s surprise and utmost joy. But things turn a little sour, as their son Kevin is nothing what they expect – and not someone they are able to understand. At all. The letters explore the relationship between Kevin and her mother, between Kevin and her father, but also between Eva and Franklin themselves. At times I found myself angry at one or the other, sad, happy or simply sympathetic, but never neutral. Having children is often not an easy (Read: natural) decision for women, unlike what many would like to believe, and this book is quite courageous in many ways. I am already thinking of quite a few friends to recommend it to. It’s well written and clever. But what I loved about it is that even after finishing it, I keep thinking about what it means. It’s not quite philosophical, but almost. It’s definitely a great book, and I wish I had read it earlier. It’s also a nice change from the crime novels I have been reading lately. Since reading We need to talk about Kevin, I have discovered that it was made into an eponymous movie this year. I think I’ll go and see it if I can. It was directed by Lynne Ramsey, and stars Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly and Ezra Miller. We need to talk about Kevin, the book: five stars!
That’s it, the time has come! Tomorrow we will be moving back from Hong Kong to Australia, not to Sydney where I normally live, but to Melbourne. It’s an exciting time for us, and we’re happy to settle in a new city. Of course, I have been to Melbourne many times for work, but never actually lived there. It was recently voted the most liveable city in the world, so it can’t be a bad choice, can it? :-) Having said that, I have no idea when my next post will go up. With having to find somewhere to live, organising all the paperwork, meeting with friends, and last but not least starting a new job, I think my blog may suffer a bit. Bear with me!
I’m currently reading “We need to talk about Kevin“, by Lionel Shriver. It’s a difficult topic (a school shooting in the US) but so far I’m loving it, as it is well written. It actually won the 2005 Orange Prize for Fiction. I have been told the ending is both unexpected and striking, so I can’t wait. Of course I will write about it as soon as I can. The next three books on my list are “The Tiger” by John Vaillant, “The Colour of Death” by Michael Cordy, and – yes, I have never read it! – “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte.
I’ve been meaning to write a few words about COCORICO, a show that I went to see a few weeks ago, and which was part of Le French May Arts Festival here in Hong Kong. It is a duet made of two Frenchmen, Patrice Thibaud, a hilarious physical comedian, and Philippe Leygnac, an amazing musician. The show is in mime and with music. I hadn’t laughed that much in a long time. Thibaud is an expert at making you understand a situation with only a few gestures, and at making you scream with laughter at the same time. As for Leygnac, he is a genius – just visualise him playing the piano while his compadre keeps pushing the piano left, right and back, and you will understand what I mean. The show can be seen by people of all ages – in fact, children should rush to see it, I can guarantee you they will love it as much as adults do. Judging by the number of encore and the duration of the applause at the end, the audience lapped it up. The show is made of a series of tableaux, all linked by one element. It lasts about an hour and a half. I still haven’t got over the surprise created by Leygnac jumping out of a suitcase that had been standing at my feet for a few minutes. Ten stars!
I am currently working on a thriller taking place in Hong Kong, and which deals with the terrible issue of stolen children in China. These children end up in families who cannot have children but are desperate to have one, but sometimes also end up begging on the streets. I was therefore very interested in Iveta’s Cherneva’s non-fiction book, Trafficking for Begging – Old Game, New Game. Iveta Cherneva works in the field of human rights and writes on the issue of human trafficking. In this interview, Iveta tells us more about her book.
Iveta: This is the first book to take up the idea that begging can be a form of human trafficking by arguing how this is the case under international law and in practice.
Jerome: What triggered you to write on such a difficult topic?
Iveta: Jerome, human trafficking, enslavement and exploitation are practices, which have existed since the dawn of civilization – since the time when one human being realized that he/she can control another human being and profit from that. Let’s think about the building of the Pyramids in Egypt – an example of mass-scale enslavement and human trafficking.
It is only over the last decades that we began thinking about defining human trafficking and expanding the types of exploitation, which should be covered, by going beyond the classical concept of enslavement. Begging, I find, is one of those activities that don’t necessarily and immediately make us think of human trafficking or enslavement. We usually give money to beggars thinking that they are lonely individuals in need of help, money and food. I decided to write Trafficking for Begging: Old Game, New Name because not a single book had taken up that topic and I wanted to prove that the exploitation of beggars is human trafficking. Going back to the title, I also chose this topic because I wanted to underscore that the practice has been around for a long time, hence: old game. In the same time, I wanted to draw attention to the fact that here we are shaking up things and re-conceptualizing old phenomena into new legal shapes and contours, which ultimately, I believe, is for the benefit of begging victims’ protection.
Jerome: Who are your readers?
Iveta: Lawyers, law students, international relations and public policy students, human rights practitioners, policy makers, moms and dads. People with a heart that can be touched by others being hurt.
Iveta: I’ve published a number of books and articles. To me ‘doing’ must be accompanied by ‘writing about it’, and vice-versa. Only then we can hope our efforts mean something. So, my journey as a writer has been parallel to my journey as a learner, speaker, organizer, listener and doer.
Jerome: Do you follow a specific writing process?
Iveta: For more technical longer legal pieces I first have to do extensive research before I sit down to write. For shorter pieces, such as articles or magazine features, which require mostly my thoughts, I just sit down and write. What my friends also know is that I write at night.
Jerome: Where do you find inspiration?
Iveta: In the news and by looking at what is around me.
Jerome: Who are your favourite authors?
Iveta: I have one – Arundhati Roy.
Jerome: Is there a book you wish you had written? Which one?
Iveta: It’s her book – The Good of Small Things.
Jerome: Do you have any tips for budding writers?
Iveta: If you have a message or a story you want to share, write it and share it. Also don’t be deterred by people around you who express scepticism. Yes, scepticism may be a product of jealousy, but it might be rooted elsewhere. Many people might simply not believe that it could happen, or that it could be easy to succeed.
People who care about you might also not want to encourage you in order to avoid you being disappointed. So scepticism is sometimes rooted in actual care and well-wishing. Learn how to be aware of this dynamics and keep going.
Jerome: What are you working on at the moment?
Iveta: I am writing a short article on human trafficking for begging for a journal. I hope I can share it with you when it’s finished.
Jerome: Please do. I’d love to read it and I am sure readers of this article would too!
I am finally connected again. Between the Japan earthquake and tsunami and my travels to Kunming, it’s been hard to find a working internet connection. I seem to have solved this problem for the moment. Before leaving Hong Kong, I went to see In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play by Sarah Ruhl at the Mcaulay Studio, Hong Kong Arts Centre. What a night! This play, which premiered at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre on February 5, 2009 is absolutely fantastic! It was nominated for three 2010 Tony Awards, and I understand why. I hadn’t laughed so much at the theatre in a very long time. The dialogues are witty, the subject funny, its treatment clever, the structure of the play works well and it’s easy to relate to the characters, even if they are from the US in the late 1800s. The play is about a doctor who uses recently discovered electricity to treat women suffering of hysteria and depression with a piece of equipment that he created himself: a vibrator! But Ruhl’s play is not a joke about the medical world, its real topic is the misunderstanding between men and women, the lack of expression of emotions, the absence of well-developed sexuality, and even female fertility. It’s a play you will remember for a long time. It’s a little in your face at times, which probably explains why it was only for over 18 years olds in Hong Kong, but I highly recommend it to anyone who wants a great night out. I’d see it again any time.
Last night I saw “Educating Rita”, the play by Willy Russell at the McAulay Studio in Wanchai, Hong Kong. For those of you who don’t know the play, it premiered on the 10th of June 1980 at the Royal Shakespeare Company Warehouse in London with Julie Waters as Rita and Mark Kingston as Frank, and received the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy. It was also adapted into a movie in 1983, starring Michael Caine and Julie Walters, and directed by Lewis Gilbert.
Educating Rita is the story of the relationship between a young working-class hairdresser from Liverpool and Dr. Frank Bryant, a University lecturer in English literature, which takes place during one full year. We witness how Rita (who later calls herself Susan), dissatisfied with her life and education level, enrolls in an Open University course in English Literature, meeting her tutor Frank and learning “everything” from him. Rita learns fast but Frank (who deals with his own demons) is devastated to see her losing her individuality and the mere reason why he’s fallen for her. He can’t bear to see her adopt the superficiality of so many of the other students. It’s an interesting topic, it’s fun to watch and it makes you think… all the ingredients of a good play – and a good night.
The actors, Kim Haslam and Adam Harris, did a good job, even if – in true Hong Kong style! – they were sick: Haslam tried to suppress a nagging cough during the whole play (through lots of drinks and a few Fisherman’s friends - I admire her for being able to speak clearly with one of those in her mouth) and Harris had the sniffles. They were not the only ones; the audience echoed their plight! An honest production.
I saw a wonderful exhibition today, which shows a selection of around 60 paintings and calligraphies by three artists, Lu Chen (1935–2003), Zhou Sicong (1939–1996), and Shi Hu (1942– ). Pictures are mostly in ink and colour on paper, and were collected by Dr Leung Kam Ching over the course of thirty years. Some of the pictures are exquisite; they need to be seen from various angles to realise the power that lies underneath each one. My favourite ones are from Shi Hu and Lu Chen. “A keen collector of Chinese antiquities, Dr Leung began to include contemporary paintings to his Jian Gu Xuan collection in the 1980s. Leung’s interest in traditional Chinese culture, and specifically the expression of the human figure, can be seen as a consistent theme throughout his painting collection. Another prominent theme is that of friendship as Leung’s collecting of these paintings arose out of his close personal relationships both with the husband and wife team of Lu Chen and Zhou Sicong, as well as with the iconoclastic contemporary artist Shi Hu.” (Extract from the exhibition’s brochure)
The exhibition was supposed to end on 15 February, but I went on the 16th and it was still open, so you may try your luck. I love the calligraphy below.
The exhibition is held at the University Museum and Art Gallery – UMAG
94 Bonham Road, Pokfulam (University of Hong Kong) – Hong Kong
Opening hours are Monday to Saturday 9:30 am to 6:00 pm; Sunday 1:00 to 6:00 pm
Admission is free.