Umbrella Revolution Wall 2014

Umbrella Revolution Wall 2014
Admiralty, Umbrella Revolution 2014

Friday, December 19, 2008

More on our OBGB (Our Beloved Green Bog)

Went to the Island District Municipal Office today to get a copy of the ordinance that approved this horrific new drainage system.

There was a bit of beating around the bush about handing it over, but it was the law, as I told them, to provide a copy upon request (the requester paying for the copying) so it was given.

Huge walls of loose rock that will be encased in wires like the walls in the back beyond our yard diverting the stream towards the mountain will be doing the same right off our bike path. Awful.

So the noise is constant. Stephen picked out this place, Mui Wo, because it was one of the few places that didn't have constant construction, unlike the rest of HK. HK suffers from severe levels of noise pollution. But now, all day long the sounds of trucks and rubble, of drills and cranes and all types of equipment necessary to destroy the earth can be heard. The first loud drilling was so sudden that Keohi cried and ran to find me. That's how loud it is, or maybe, that's how unnatural the sound is.

Burnt out from the Grand Cookie Baking Marathon last night that commenced at 11AM and went for 12 hours. Oatmeal raisin cookies, chocolate chip, Russian teaballs, and chocolate cheesecake brownies were distributed to the bike shop, the grocery store manager (who kindly dealt with the eggs that Keohi had grabbed out of the carton and threw on the ground), Stephen's office, and some neighbors. Most went back with C to the Philippines to give to her family. I was doing a lot of conversion from grams to ounces and some intense fraction work. I am glad that I had some good elementary school instruction. What do you do if you only know how to use a calculator? I admit, I had to do a lot of conversion on paper because I couldn't be bothered to boot up the computer and then couldn't find the calculator and it didn't seem to be a big deal. Then when it turned out I had to do more math than I thought, I became more determined to do it in my head or on a piece of paper.

I am only now realizing what an intense year 2008 has been. If you would have told me that I would be living in a tiny village in HK a few years ago I definitely would never have believed it. The moral is you never know what life will throw you and you never can be too sure of where you will end up geographically. Or maybe this is just the case if you're married to someone like Stephen...:)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Another Thing About Our Beloved Green Bog

It's not just that OBGB (Our Beloved Green Bog) will be ugly with concrete (pictures to soon follow) but doing this development and supposed flood drainage system will destroy the entire eco-system that is there. All plant and animal life.

Recently, there was large outcry in HK's Clearwater Bay. In this area of HK there was an older building on the beach that will now be destroyed making way for a standard concrete shopping plaza with McDonald's. This artificial rec area will destroy about 200 native species of plant and wildlife.

About Cars and Fashion

Did you ever notice how the people who had the absolutely huge, large, and most gas guzzling SUVs ran out and got Prius cars as soon as they hit the market? This is not the people who were given the old SUV, or who had a smaller one, or had some used fleabitten version, or who actually camped or hauled stuff around. I'm talking about people who just drove monstrous cars because the gas was cheap.

Most people do things for fashion. No analytical thinking. No ability to understand cause and effect.

Yep, basic stuff.

The good thing about this new administration is that it is now fashionable to rethink our place in the world. Our level of consumption. Our environment.

Ahhh, the lovely sound of helicoptors above.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Flu Season and Our Beloved Bog

We are all recovering from the flu—an unpleasant several day of bodily fluids and excretions, the highlight being Keohi’s projectile vomiting on the ferry pulling into Mui Wo from our day out in Central on Sunday.

He was feeling a bit under the weather Saturday night and while he was very active, was not quite as uncontrollable and prone to yes, listening now and then, a sure indication that he was not himself. This did not stop him from pummeling me on the head with his red wooden bead the other day while I was trying to have a nap in the corner of the bed, to the point where Stephen had to even say in the most stern voice I’ve ever heard him use with Keohi: “NO! STOP THAT!” as Keohi had managed to get in several good whacks and I had cried out in surprise and a certain amount of pain.

I’m wondering about this “Don’t say NO” stuff. Within about 5 minutes today, Keohi managed to run out the door and proceeded to kick the plastic square bucket that serves as the abode of our landlord’s poor turtle (a bleak solitary existence, the poor turtle’s only companions a brick and a small pebble that Keohi had thrown in the bucket—its lucky brethren had escaped during the summer rains which had flooded the larger turtle tank its former residence, the overflow allowing them freedom to paddle away). After being told NO by yours truly to stop kicking the turtle’s home, he then proceeded to grab the handle of a plastic pot in a bucket of water and pour a quart of water on the cactus. If that wasn’t enough, he ran and tried to grab our landlord’s broom by his rusted steel pick and hoe (toddler parent nightmare), and then grab the white stones that our landlord had surrounded his plants with and walk away with two. This would not be so bad if Keohi had literally not taken dozens of the landlord’s stones (we had warned the guy) and thrown them in the gutter and all over the yard. Keohi, of course, did not comply when I asked him to return the rocks and then proceeded to throw one (heavy) a good distance on the front lawn. Then there was the fit (about 2 minutes later) after he ran out the iron gate (he now knows how to open it) when I told him he could not visit his friend Isabella and had to grab his shoulder as one of those three wheeled motorized tractors that move various odds and ends and barrel down the bike path was heading his way.

Never mind the fast charge directly towards the big pile of cow pies on the walk we took prior. I screamed COW POO. COW POO POO. NO NO NO. That seemed to halt it. He has some remote understanding that this was not so desirable but still seemed to want to give the pile a kick, so I had to pretend to walk away. He followed.

I took Keohi late last summer to a party and his antics were greeted with the friendly comment: “Oh, he’s very ACTIVE and ATHLETIC.” I’m thinking some testosterone must have kicked in because he is now beyond active.

It’s been a bit of a personality switch or blossoming, I think. He went from being this 16 month old who was shocked and who cried when a toy was taken from him in a playgroup, and who said BOO BOO when a little girl hit his arm, to the regular thug who has to be watched as he has a tendency to smack his best mates. The more he likes someone, the more he wants to hit him or her. I caught him last week standing over his dear friend Isabella with his orange wooden bead about to hit her and had to yell: KEOHI. He looked at me and then tried to kiss her instead.

Christmas is Coming

And we are eating Lebanese food. I’m getting the nearby helper who previously worked in Lebanon to come and show us how to make some food and do this up on Xmas day. Should be fun. No other plans. Stephen will be able to take a few days off, so we can have some time together. His hours are so long it will hopefully allow us some kickback family time.

Keohi’s big gift that was really MY new gift is a new stroller. Our new gift is a king size bed. Given the size of a HK apartment it takes up more than half the room.

The Devastation of Mui Wo’s Villages

Yep, sure enough, our little village Luk Tei Tong is being mowed over by some greedy developer or government project. When we moved here, our bike path cut through a green bog. Now one side of the green bog is being developed to divert a stream and create a circa 1940s awful ugly concrete project that will supposedly avert flooding.

Well first of all, we live on a flood plain. This was an area that was previously farmed, at the foot of rather big hills or mountains and there is no reason to try to alter this geological reality. But that’s logic. Apparently, people were shocked and horrified that there was so much flooding here. WHAT DO YOU THINK WILL HAPPEN ON A FLOOD PLAIN? Quit trying to defy nature! Accept that once every so many years, this place will flood. And don’t build your house on it. And don’t buy a house on it without it being properly raised. C’mon people. The other side is that some guy in the village rumor has it, has all the contracts and is making this terrible ugly mess, so now our beautiful green pastoral bog is now going to be a concrete road and river bed. UGLY UGLY UGLY like the one behind this village. On top of that, all of the construction waste is running down and polluting the stream which is inviting people like our landlord to dump his home renovation crap outside in the same area right beyond the garden wall. The plans will be to do this first. Then, our guess is that within a matter of years many homes will be erected and our lovely valley village will be yet another ugly HK concrete block with no thought to the preservation of anything. I predict too, that the waterfront, with its underdeveloped hotel areas, its cheap restaurants and food markets will become a place of high rises and shopping malls within my lifetime too. The sleepy village of Mui Wo will be no more.

But the majority of the Lantau locals remain oblivious, perhaps inured to this idea, and ultimately, they must step in. A great many of the environmental protests and outcry and pleas to preserve the green parks of HK are often due to the voice of the expatriate community, who do so a strong value in preserving the green area and maybe are not so enamored with an idea of construction and development and don’t see it as a sign of progress and enlightenment.

Apparently on Peng Chau, the site of a proposed radio transmission tower has been objected to by many, but now, all the literature about this project is no longer available in English. No doubt this is due to the petition circulated by people like my friend Daniela, a British longtime local HK resident. She had to request the English translation for the most recent information about this project. Since HK is officially a bilingual town, all government documents must be posted in both English and Chinese.

Further Environmental Damage: The Poor Cows

The herd of 8 is now down to 4. They are culling them. Soon there won’t be any left. We saw a lone water buffalo, probably looking for its herd, so it seemed to have joined up with the regular cows. Now though, it looks as if there are just 4 cows—3 cows really, and one calf.

That’s it…for now…

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Vocab Expansion

Okay, so Keohi is saying BAMA and pointing at Obama. And then saying BAMA BABY and pointing at Obama's kids. I put the campaign leaflets at his eye level on the fridge. But the thing is now he points to the TV and says BAMA...and has done so when seeing other TVs so he thinks, I believe, that TV is called BAMA.

This is not so bad, I suppose.

Prepping some lessons for teachers.

I am very disturbed by the heavy construction, the digging going on nearby. The one side of the bog opposite our bog now has a huge road going through it connecting the two villages, and there will be some big waterway or drainage system that will of course, disturb the local ecology.

I read a headline that the US refuses to sign an agreement to not use cluster bombs. I didn't click through the article. The headline was terrible enough. Cluster bombs are truly evil.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Terrible Two

Keohi has a lousy habit of hitting his guests. He also takes their toys and he decides that whatever toy they are playing with (usually one he has ignored or forgotten about) is suddenly his favorite toy and he grabs it from them.

Today with Ella and Isabella he did just this.

Yesterday he was so happy that he tried to climb on my back when I was sitting and then he headbutt me as hard as he could on the top of my spine. My back is still sore today. That's 30 pounds straight into your spine.

Mad=Hit Someone. Happy=Hit Someone. In fact, hitting just seems to be an overall expression of joy, sorrow, and upset...

Thug Baby.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Very Late-Thoughts of Private and Public Education and Grading

Very late now and am getting rather tired. Thoughts on writing and teaching. Very often the skills that are required for one are not required for the other. While they are always grouped together and I have done both, I find that in each case, the demands of one crush aspects of one's self that necessitate cultivation in order to excel at the other.

I am thinking that a year ago I was working 70 hours a week teaching and lesson planning and grading. It was not the work itself that was exhausting but the politics of the work that were rather tiresome. This many of this grade was to be given or not, and the repercussions of doling out grades were severe. I thought of this a lot because actually what ends up happening in the private school education system in the US is that money ultimately buys admission to elite universities. Does this mean I do not stand by the education that a private school can buy? Absolutely not. As a product of both public and private education I can see the merits of both, but it does mean that I know that the stakes in the US are heavily weighted AGAINST any student coming from a poor background or from a school that lacks funding or support.

Money buys education in the US. Money buys status. Money buys too often your path in life and those who say that it does not, that the US is a meritocracy are really not examining the US education system very closely.

Let's say that you were student A at some dinky poor rural or urban school, who happened to score well on your standardized tests. But your grades were given by someone who was a strict grader. Let's say out there in Smallesville USA there was an old-fashioned non-grade inflater teacher. Well, tough luck for you because you won't make it into the top school because someone who bought a $40,000USD education who scored the same as you and whose school is known, and whose faculty is told that such-and-such grades must be given will beat you out of your place. The situation is in no way equitable. This does not mean that either student is a better or worse person, it merely means that should you have the financial means to enter the educational stream that has a direct line to the top US universities, you will inevitably gain a place at some uni that has some clout because the teachers at your school will follow the grading guidelines which are pretty much as follows--as far as I can ascertain. The higher the tuition the pay, the more that it is assumed that you are a) in an intelligent competitive academic environment and b) that you can therefore perform at this level and so c) the unlikely reality that you will get anything lower than a B grade on your transcript. So maybe you get a B at Elite School, but the perception that a B at Elite School is probably better than an A at the non-elite school. Is this necessarily so? Maybe, maybe not. It could be that the C grade at the Elite School is really an A grade at the Non Elite School. Or it could be that the A grade at the Non Elite School is an A grade at the Elite School. These factors are really determined by the individual teacher, but at most elite schools, heavily governed by college admissions the grades are ultimately called by the departments and the school itself. Actually, it's the parents that call it as the parents are the ones who pay the tuition and thus make the decision about this kind of stuff.

What you also get at private schools versus public schools is often a strangely insular way of thinking. I offer as an example my experience as a 5th grader in Penn Eleemntary School in North Liberty, Iowa, a farming community. In 5th grade we studied and learned about South Africa and apartheid, in the public school in 7th grade we studied (yes, superficially) the Palestinian versus the Israeli conflict. When I hit Andover in the 9th grade I might as well have been talking to people from another planet. Not only did anyone I encountered failed to even know what apartheid was, but most had no idea about the complications of the Palestinians and almost every one of my female dormmates laughed when I said I supported the Equal Rights Amendment--back in 1977, a hot topic for all junior high students--girls and boys, at least in Iowa. Now these fine young minds could quote the Iliad at the age of 14, but I had to wonder and still do about the ramifications of being so sheltered from the currents of the time due to their curriculum that they did not know in the least what was happening in the world around them.

Yet these were and remain the minds that then stream into the elite universities and proceed to govern and make decisions in often powerful positions in the United States--not surprisingly, a nation known for its often insular ways of thinking, due to geography and its own mythmaking, which its citizens happen to believe (and that can be debated later). Would such find young minds develop an awareness of the other things that the public school kids known about? Maybe yes, and maybe no.

Is there anything wrong with this situation? Not sure, as both sides have their merits--if we are talking public versus private schools. It's not about right or wrong really, it's just the way it is and it will remain that way.

The crucial thing is for people to be aware that the US is not a meritocracy. It may be more than many other countries, but it is not an egalitarian society. Yes, we elected Obama--which indeed did restore some of my belief in the potential of the individual in our country, but we remain a nation of haves and have nots. And what is interesting is how our individual actions, such small actions as even grading an essay, or how one participates in academic life as a teacher or a student, is a reflection of what we believe about our country and about our ideas of meritocracy.

yadda yadda

BBQ#3 will take place this Saturday. Kind of getting into the swing of the routine of throwing these things now. The key is trying to get people to haul their behinds over to Mui Wo as it is so far from HK proper, at least according to most people.

Hey, our household now has 2 MUGS. That's right. Come on over for a wild cup of coffee...but only one at a time...I have used both. They both hold a cup of tea very nicely. And...drum roll...we are getting the oven hooked up officially in 2 weeks--just in time for holiday dinner. Hooray!

I feel like I should say something about Clinton as secretary of state. I am not happy about this choice. I feel that it is too much baggage all around and that Bill is somewhat of a liability. I understand why Obama had to do this and what his reasoning is, but this is still not good.

And another thing...I am really wondering about the US and Israel and the failure of the US to recognize the human rights abuses perpetrated by the state of Israel and the failure of the general population to really see the suffering of the Palestinian people. I have my own theory about this--the fact that the US is a Christian nation and all that might mean in terms of the relationship between Christianity and Judaism.

I think about this because I find Clinton to be too conservative in this area.

Finished grading my essays. A big switch going from teaching competitive young affluent high school students in LA to night school community college goers--most secondary teachers of literature trying to get extra qualifications, or the random banker or accountant looking to understand poetry for pure intellectual pursuit.
I can't say that one group is wholly better than the other or that one experience more fulfilling than the other.

I would like to recommend South African Merlot Djembe--excellent....seriously a nice bottle of wine.

Have to get back now to doing some lesson planning...

Keohi's vocab: growing exponentially due to an understanding of grammar and now he has full sentences--hot, cold, wet, tight, tub, over there, Obama, soup, his friends names--Isabella/Emma, seat, fork, ring, blue, yellow, mirror, etc...comprehension is high. He also identifies the letter O and the letter Z although sometimes he mixes up Z with V or N. Kind of interesting as I have not been compelled to teach him reading or do any of this baby education kind of stuff. I can't be bothered and don't believe in doing it. What's the point? Eventually all kids do read. He just likes the letters on his stuffed caterpillar. He is now Terrible. I heard that Terrible Twos last 18 months. He now runs really fast and jumps off things and lands in a crouched frog position. Very agile and athletic. Not from me, that's for sure....

Sunday, November 23, 2008

My Scrabble Points

Sad, but here are my recent Scrabble point highlights with my game against first-time Scrabble player Mee-ling a few weeks back. Figure that I should relish the moment as I am certain that she will beat me the next time. 44 points with my addition of the word QUIZ to my former words DRUGS and ZEN.
No comment on the word compilation itself...

I am trying to get psyched up for a big household week. For starters, I plan to get the case from the oven and haul my butt over to Causeway Bay--the most polluted and crowded place in HK, to go to HELP...IKEA. Then, I have to go look at beds. Keohi pulled out three buttons so now our futon is beyond lumpy. It's like sleeping on a very hard waterbed with no water. More like mud that dried. We've always had a futon but they don't sell any decent ones here in HK. The one Japanese place here has probably (it seems) been hijacked and taken over by a local cost cutting family because for $550USD this was about the worst futon I've slept on in my life. Then, yes...drum roll...I plan to buy ANOTHER MUG. We have been a one mug family for about...6 months. Well, briefly we had two mugs but that was about 6.5 months ago before one broke. Yeah, try being hospitable and offering people tea and realizing that you only have one mug. I also have to add to my vast wardrobe as I have one thin cotton sweater and it's now hitting 14-19 degrees around 60F here tops. My wardrobe is now so bleak that Keohi's nanny has kindly offered to give me a long sleeved shirt. She is a migrant worker from the Philippines. So you can imagine what I am looking like these days. I brought one suitcase only of clothes and they were all summer clothes except for my hiking boots and one pair of heels that I still have not worn yet. This paragraph paints a rather bleak existence and my friend Vanina just told me that I need to buy one more mug before she visits from Paris/Los Angeles...but since I have a year, I figure I can manage that. SCRABBLE configuration. Look and enjoy!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The New Drainage System's a new drainage system. It flooded once here, in LTT and not that badly, so I have my doubts about the building of this system.

Am reading very very slowly AN INSULAR POSSESSION by Timothy Mo, one of my favorite writers. I have read all of his later books and the earlier SOUR SWEET which beats the hell out of the majority of Asian American writers. I respect and admire Mo's work--it does not pander to those wanting that delicious slice of Orientalism and is simply fine literature. The English language used to describe an area that was not originally English speaking.

Keohi's vocab seems to have been growing exponentially and he now makes small sentences: The ball is here. The moon is there. See the ball...etc...I think the grammar has just kicked in so he is really starting to talk...and when he can't fill in, as he couldn't when his friend Isabelle said, "Keohi!" he simply spits...

That's it...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Goodbye to Green Fields, Hello Concrete

Yep, they are paving it all and will destroy the little stream in the front, and are making a tremendously big road. This is a reaction to the summer rains and the flood that occurred (what, once?) here in Luk Tei Tong/Tai Tei Tong.

So the answer seems to be to address the flooding issues by paving over the natural environment.

WOW That really solves it. Hooray. More pollution. Contributing to global warming. Destroying the natural wetlands and the fields where there are birds and all kinds of other creatures.

Impressive. Really thinking about that one...WHAT A JOKE. WHO RUNS THESE PUBLIC PLANNING OFFICES ANYWAY? It's like 1950s environmentalism. Building dams and ruining everything in the name of progress. I am sure some person here is making a pile of money from this project and in the process ruining one of the last remaining areas in HK that is rural and away from the city.

I am thoroughly disgusted already by the rapacity of the developers and other such ignominious individuals. This just repels me even further.

This is a city where a few people become exceedingly wealthy and in the process let everyone else live in the muck. I bet that 15 years from now the bay as we know it with the small local restaurants with blue plastic chairs and the old guys shuffling around and that lazy feel of a small town will have gone. In its place will be a mall with music blasting and huge cosmetic stores. And people will say how great it is and will comment on the lovely promenade and potted plants not knowing that all the real ones were killed in the process. I do not wish to be here at that time. I would never come back actually to see what they did to this place. It would be really depressing. What you have here is still very much how HK was over 15-20 years ago, a place with no tall buildings, no malls, no artifice. But it will change. And people will say that it's progress.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Birthday, Video, Capitalist Consumption

Went to Isabella's 2nd birthday last PM with Keohi and Stephen. Keohi's first social event thrown by a peer--sort of, her parents, really. Isabella is his little neighborhood pal--Keohi runs out the gate and tries to go to her house every morning.
Anyway, due to the length of the nap we arrived after many of the festivities had happened, but he had a swell time. The exception was the one woman who kept trying to chase him around and kiss him. He was clearly getting mad. He probably didn't understand this is how people act at parties, especially when adults get a little tipsy. Anyway, she didn't seem to get (despite having 6 kids of her own) that Keohi was getting pissed off at her. I can't figure out adults who like to torture kids like that by tweaking your ears. I distinctly remember getting mad at adults who would do things like pinch your cheeks really hard or want to pick you up or just plain bother you. I mean really, why the hell would anyone want to kiss a stranger anyway who keeps hassling you?

Mom being mom (me), Keohi got no chocolate cake (he didn't notice) but ate plenty of teriyaki sticks and plain pasta. He also saw his very very first music video. A Michael Jackson circa late 80s number--one of those concert videos. He really enjoyed it and was dancing and dancing. That's his first and last music video for a while. It's not like we get that programming. It's odd how TV mesmerizes--I realized this watching all the kids sit still blankly staring at the screen. This is how you train your child to behave in front of the screen. To sit still. To absorb. To be passive. But clearly, one must be trained to watch TV. Because if you are not trained, you would physically and otherwise react to the lights and sounds and images flashing and be prompted to move or run away, or something as there is nothing about television that is natural to what we are.

Computers are the same. I think it is the supposedly discerning educated parents who seems to think that computers are much different than TVs but again, it's about teaching passivity. They've charted how TV consumption at a young age yields children who end up more sexist, more racist, and more exposed to commercial influences than those who don't consume. I wonder how different computer screen time really is. Sure, at a more advanced level, we must interact with the screen--through writing, through reading, but for a child it is about absorbing images and the quick movement of the icons or graphics and the click of the keyboards. I show Keohi the computer (he doesn't like it really whenever I am writing on it) to show him slideshows of himself (which he loves) and then to talk to his grandparents or auntie, but now, since he can't read, don't see what the point is of him viewing the screen for anything else.

I remember watching TV as a kid--Captain Kangaroo, in particular, but the images were slow moving, not clipped. The Captain would read books out loud and talk to puppets or his friend Mr. Green Jeans. There were no flashing graphics, no commercial products you would buy. I sound like someone from another century, but I remember that I am.

Thinking a lot these days about commercial influences on society and how it promotes consumerism. What can we do to stop the rapacity? It's killing our planet, destroying our individual selves--pursuit of more, of better, of everything that is again removed from what we are as beings, as animals, as creatures of the earth.

What are we here for anyway?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Clothing Tags

Was obliged to buy a few pieces of clothing as I had carted nothing for cold weather here in April. So I head to Wanchai, to what I term the "box shops" which are shops that have factory overruns and clothes on racks that you cannot try on, and stuff in boxes. It ranges from J.Crew to Gymboree to Levi's to whatever else, but the rules about shopping like this in HK is that you can never really know what you will find, you can never count on anything being there later, so if you like it buy it then, and finally, you have to have a sense that it's an adventure or you're sure to get in a lousy mood in about 46 seconds...

So I bought a plain white sweatshirt (hoodie) for US$10, rather dull with the brand name of Street One

This is what was on its tag

Street One


Quality Guaranteed

Then I see it was made for the German market?

My guess is RUS BRAND must be a knock-off of Russell or something.

I would also like to know why people think that it is fine for young boys to have dull drab colored clothing in muted grays, greens, and blues, but young girls clothing is in bright colors of purple, pink and red.

I am finding this entire gender bias really offensive and backwards. You really have to make an effort or you will invariably fall into the hands of having a young girl or boy raised in an entirely sexist backward unintelligent manner due to the perceptions of marketing folks who determine what products are out there to purchase for children.

And apparently studies were done that showed that most young children preferred pinks, lavenders, reds, and purple shades. This are all verboten for boys. I don't dress Keohi in girls' clothing but make an effort to have clothing and toys and other items around him and for him that are those colors. Why should he be consigned to navy blue at the age of 21 months? Why would I want train him to be inflexible and gender biased at his age? I don't get it. I can only conclude, as I usually do, that the majority of the population are idiotic and narrowminded when it comes to gender issues. Just because a young boy cradles a doll or wears a pink shirt does not mean that he will think he is a girl, nor does it mean that he will be gay. And if he is gay when he's older WHO CARES?! GEEZ! But wearing pink won't have anything to do with that--it's GENETIC and biological!

The weather is beautiful--Bay Area cool, breeze, sun, and a slight cool that wraps itself around your legs when you walk out the door in the AM. It's definitely the best time to be in HK. Visitors, you should come in October -- for balmy Hawaii weather or November -- for great SF weather.


Got a lot of it here. Went to the Mui Wo rec to sign Stephen and I up for this introduction class that is necessary to take in order to use the weight room at the local gym in town (free) that is on the 2nd floor of the recreation center. When I went there were only 3 spots left. They have induction meetings once a month from 7-10, very inconvenient. No wonder the place is always empty. Anyway, signed myself up and then I got the paperwork to sign Stephen up. He had to sign and fill out a form and attach a copy of his HK ID. Bring it back and the places are all full.

I ask if he can take my place.

I might as well have been asking the guy to move the building to the left. He had to confer with two other people behind the desk about this. They rattled on and on, a good 5 minutes before he came back and said, "No, it's full." I had to explain that Stephen couldn't take it next month and that I wanted him to take it that particular day coming up. The guy spends another 5 minutes discussing this, pausing in English a few times to tell me that he was trying to work on it. Finally I said, "Hey, he's taking my place, okay? What's the problem?" They finally agreed to let him take my place. THEN I asked if could be put on a waitlist. They had to discuss this for about 5 mintues more too. They finally agreed after another few minutes of telling me why this was difficult etc...

It kind of reminded me of the time I went to Macau with Kath and they refused to let Keohi in the women's dressing room because he was MALE and he was, at the time 18 months old!

Been thinking about Kafka quite a bit these days. Kafka would have a field day at the HK Cultural and Leisure Activities Bureau. Or at any of these governmental organisations.


Went to the big celebration last PM in Dublin Jack's. It was with the HK Dems. Nice group of people and everyone was in good spirits about Obama's win. Tried to explain to a few people how NAFTA really was not beneficial to Mexico and how it destroyed the MExican agricultural economy, but don't think I could convey the message properly. The border towns in Arizona and Mexico are really instructional and should be visited by more people to understand the complications of immigration, migration, and economics.

Since when do walls work? They never have...they usually cause the state more problems and cost them more money...

Friday, November 7, 2008

MAP of GOP as regional Party, Berkeley and MLK

Quite interesting. Imagine that I have lived in two of these areas and that Mom and Dad continue to live in one of them. The other day I found myself telling the story of my own family, of Dad in specific when it comes to how political leaders can shape individual lives.

When Dad came from Korea, his host American family the Freeman's in Berkeley, California were one of the first, if not only whites to begin a chapter of the NAACP, inspired to do so by Dr. MLK. Their ideas of an inclusive US coupled with the changing times of the US, and JFK strongly influenced my father, and thus my childhood. Dad and Mom have always voted Democrat, have always supported the rights of people of color and of women and of the poor. They did this not only through the choice of their political candidates but how they treated people. This idea is one that strongly influenced my own childhood. Dad often quoted Dr. King's speech "I have a Dream" and at the age of 9, I went to the pubic library, copied the speech from a book, and presented it to him in a folder of red construction paper. I remember how happy he was to receive this. My father remembers this gift as one of his favorites. Throughout his career he had a lab that encouraged diversity, employing people of all nationalities and ethnicities. Mom was always there too, to encourage us to experience all cultures through food, music, and art, and to emphasize the world as a global village.

The last time I think that Dad and Mom were this excited about a president was when Kennedy ran. They were big fans of the Kennedy's. Kennedy's vision of America too was one that they embraced wholeheartedly. Poetry and politics, the ability to inspire youth--a new America...


GREAT Obama Victory slideshow showing people around the world

Check it out. Here in HK, everyone is excited.

The dream is alive...that is the ephemeral idea of what the US is--after all, the US is not really a place, but an idea.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election Day in HK

Keohi, C, and I went to Election Central on Chater Road. Given Mr. Boo's behavior, it is clear that he does not have a career in politics ahead of him. He popped two balloons very loudly, spilled orange juice, cried two times, and tried running away from his mom and the stroller. On the ferry ride back he kept calling FLOAT FLOAT for the orange markers that are on the beach.

He could not be contained. Clearly, he was excited by the events. So the morning was then spent rushing back to the TV in Mui Wo to finish watching the rest of the returns.



November 5, 2008
The Next President

This is one of those moments in history when it is worth pausing to reflect on the basic facts:

An American with the name Barack Hussein Obama, the son of a white woman and a black man he barely knew, raised by his grandparents far outside the stream of American power and wealth, has been elected the 44th president of the United States.

Showing extraordinary focus and quiet certainty, Mr. Obama swept away one political presumption after another to defeat first Hillary Clinton, who wanted to be president so badly that she lost her bearings, and then John McCain, who forsook his principles for a campaign built on anger and fear.

His triumph was decisive and sweeping, because he saw what is wrong with this country: the utter failure of government to protect its citizens. He offered a government that does not try to solve every problem but will do those things beyond the power of individual citizens: to regulate the economy fairly, keep the air clean and the food safe, ensure that the sick have access to health care, and educate children to compete in a globalized world.

Mr. Obama spoke candidly of the failure of Republican economic policies that promised to lift all Americans but left so many millions far behind. He committed himself to ending a bloody and pointless war. He promised to restore Americans’ civil liberties and their tattered reputation around the world.

With a message of hope and competence, he drew in legions of voters who had been disengaged and voiceless. The scenes Tuesday night of young men and women, black and white, weeping and cheering in Chicago and New York and in Atlanta’s storied Ebenezer Baptist Church were powerful and deeply moving.

Mr. Obama inherits a terrible legacy. The nation is embroiled in two wars — one of necessity in Afghanistan and one of folly in Iraq. Mr. Obama’s challenge will be to manage an orderly withdrawal from Iraq without igniting new conflicts so the Pentagon can focus its resources on the real front in the war on terror, Afghanistan.

The campaign began with the war as its central focus. By Election Day, Americans were deeply anguished about their futures and the government’s failure to prevent an economic collapse fed by greed and an orgy of deregulation. Mr. Obama will have to move quickly to impose control, coherence, transparency and fairness on the Bush administration’s jumbled bailout plan.

His administration will also have to identify all of the ways that Americans’ basic rights and fundamental values have been violated and rein that dark work back in. Climate change is a global threat, and after years of denial and inaction, this country must take the lead on addressing it. The nation must develop new, cleaner energy technologies, to reduce greenhouse gases and its dependence on foreign oil.

Mr. Obama also will have to rally sensible people to come up with immigration reform consistent with the values of a nation built by immigrants and refugees.

There are many other urgent problems that must be addressed. Tens of millions of Americans lack health insurance, including some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens — children of the working poor. Other Americans can barely pay for their insurance or are in danger of losing it along with their jobs. They must be protected.

Mr. Obama will now need the support of all Americans. Mr. McCain made an elegant concession speech Tuesday night in which he called on his followers not just to honor the vote, but to stand behind Mr. Obama. After a nasty, dispiriting campaign, he seemed on that stage to be the senator we long respected for his service to this country and his willingness to compromise.

That is a start. The nation’s many challenges are beyond the reach of any one man, or any one political party.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Obama Obama Obama

The big day. Tomorrow.

I made another Obama T-shirt for Keohi today to wear for the event. And hey, check this out! This is from Time's me in the Obama shirt on the left. Wow, my back with an Obama decal.


Today we all got flu shots. Nasty bugs here in HK.

Did I mention that we are slowly going to be fried via an AM radio transmitter?

Bad air and radiation. It's the invisible stuff that is killing us.

OBAMA the countdown...begins

It's only a matter of hours now. All I remember about the last election was being in Tucson, Arizona thoroughly disgusted at the number of people in the creative writing program who were actually voting or supporting those who were voting for GEORGE W. BUSH AGAIN. Once is bad enough. But twice? Poets for Bush? I mean, c'mon.

Weak intellects. I will say nothing else.

Keohi will be watching the returns at Chater Garden HK Club Building 15th floor at an event for the HK Dems/Repubs, League of Women Voters and the other American and Am Cham groups. I plan on taking his photo next to an Obama photo. It will be his first major political event. Hooray. We'll watch 11/5 around 10AM-2PM...don't think I can haul my butt to Dublin Jack's for a drink later, but who knows.

A friend said she is being cautiously optimistic, but I feel very confident. Obama is not a savior, and is a pol, not the kind of spiritual leader that let's say King was, but I will say this: he is someone that Americans overseas can point to and say that is a fine example of what America can create and what America is.

Thinking of the French psychologist who said that America is not a place, but an idea, a dream. I think this is true. There are minimal things that I miss about America beyond my family. But I do think that the idea of reinvention is very strong there, and not the way that it is here in HK--reinvention focused on what you do for a living, or how you make money. America is also about reinvention of the self or spirit. It is that it gives people the idea that they can dream. Unfortunately, the dream can be more powerful than a sense of pragmatism, but nevertheless, this ephemeral dream is significant and profound.

Last week of poetry class. I'll be starting other work -- teacher lesson planning/training.

I plan on including information on my next blog about the AM power station being built on Peng Chau. Disturbing. The waves on this kind of thing cause leukemia in children. This, and all of the pollution. It's frustrating and depressing to me. The beach here is beautiful and so is the environment. I'm not sure why people are hell-bent on ruining it and destroying their own health and the earth.

So I took a hint from a environmentally friendly web page and was using my old Paul Newman pasta jar as my makeshift water bottle as my old one got lost or left behind and besides, it was probably leaking all kinds of chemicals. I got it from HArd and Soft. Who knows where it was from. I am supportive of Hard and Soft but I will not vouch for the ethics of Mainland China's product manufacturing, at least those that make it all the way to Mui Wo.

Anyway, so the jar...Chinese have a reputation for being thrifty, but you should have seen the reactions when I pulled out the jar from my bag and started drinking water from it. HAHAHA. Classic.

BAD NEWS: the castrating cow people are out and about trying to cull our lovely herd of cows. I personally can live with a few cow pies and the on and off again smell wafting here and there. They keep the grass short and therefore the bugs away.

New Keohi words: eat, hot, king, whale, kitten, flower, hat, seat, shoe, float. Oh, and "low" still means "tree" as that is the confusion from a book of adjectives...oh well.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Palin and Evita HYSTERICAL

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Keohi went to the downtown Mui Wo Halloween parade here and then on to the celebration at the playground--the latter briefly. He did his usual thing and ran away from the large group and ended up on the beach. We went there this AM and it's been a rather frequent outing as he likes the huge plastic orange floats "FLOAT FLOAT" and the weather is nice.

Tomorrow Stephen and I go to see "Waiting for Godot" which I've never seen performed live. An Irish rep company on tour in HK. Should be good.

This past week was my birthday--went to the FCC cocktail on Tuesday PM and Wednesday, the actual day, was rather low key--Stephen took the day off. So tomorrow is kind of a celebration. Dad emailed me and told me that on my first birthday, he took me to the Sound of Music. Funny how I now sing that old soundtrack to Keohi as we go down the Luk Tei Tong bike path.

My second to last class was on Thursday PM and I'm starting to do some other freelance work. I registered a company here in HK--they are really set up for business in this town. The paperwork took all of 30 minutes tops; in terms of efficiency it's quite amazing.

Keohi's recent words: seat, whale, doo doo (rooster), bear, quack, mow (meow), pea, lemon, shoe, baby book, fruit, roll, lala (glasses).

Okay, time to look at some student essays.

Keohi and McDull the Pig and Apple Juice

End of the Mui Wo swimming season, the public pool closes on 11/1. It's warm enough that you could swim this entire month at least, but HKers have thin skins and so weather in the 80s is freezing to them...oh well.

So Keohi smiled when he saw the big cardboard cutout of McDull the Pig. That's right, McDull the anti-poo-poo-in-the-pool pig.

Having completely sheltered Keohi from a vast degree of commercialism, I was kind of surprised, but then again, he enjoys that McDull the Pig pamphlet on why one should not poo in the pool. So we've read it numerous times. Keohi has 3 Winnie-the-Pooh items (trike, floor mat, and stuffed bowling pins), 1 Cookie Monster toy, 1 Dora the Explorer book, and Thomas the Train flip flops. But he can't identify any of them. I had learned that any product your child gets hooked on before age 12 usually results in the child getting so hooked that s/he will become a lifelong consumer of such product. And I didn't want this to happen. So we never have shown him any Disney products and have never reinforced any memorization of TV character animals like Cookie Monster. The end result is that Keohi doesn't know any of that (good) but seems to have a strong fondness for MCDULL THE PIG. The HK government poo-poo spokespig.

Stephen found this rather amusing.

I guess it's better than liking Mickey Mouse.

We just had a bad 4 day run with apple juice. It was like living with someone who was on drugs and then going through a bad withdrawal--cold turkey. Post BBQ there was a big carton kicking around and Keohi went totally crazy for it to the point where he was yelling for it and hanging out by the fridge and whining and doing strange sort of well, junkie behavior. Moaning. Crying. Repeating the word APPLE so many times with a sense of disillusionment and loss. Geez. Sugar, I think. Since he's only had sweetened biscuits or cookies outside the home and apple juice now and then at the cafe, I hadn't tracked how he behaved with a good influx of sugar. He doesn't get any at home. He went through that carton and the entire time, he really was so out of it. At first I was wondering what was up with him, not thinking or remembering that I had let him have several cups on Sunday. Then he got two cups on Monday. He got aggressive and moody. He was crying for the stuff. He needed a fix. Tuesday he was moping around for it. I drank the last of it on Tuesday night. Wednesday he kept wanting me to open the fridge almost in disbelief that there wasn't anymore left. I can't even imagine what it would be like to be around him if I gave him a cup a day. I could never take it! Today he was finally back to normal. He's forgotten about it. But god, he really was a different person. So he's back to his usual ration of milk, water, breastmilk, and 5 ounces of OJ a day. He's forgotten about apple juice. I figure he can have some when he a) figures out how to brush his own teeth and b) I am not at home with him most of the day...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Check out the SCMP online 10-21-2008

The South China Morning Post published my letter to the editor (10-21 Monday) on free distribution of infant formula at hospitals after all. It was on p C2 in the Talkback section of the City pages. It looked pretty much like what I posted except they changed stuff from the American English to British English spelling. That's okay. Doubt anything will change, though. It takes more than a letter to the editor to stop people from taking advantage of others through advertising.

Had a BBQ today at Luk Tei Tong Village. Our yard was fully used for the first time by our neighbor kids. It was a neighborhood thing, mostly people who live right around the corner. Plus a few Obama supporters I met earlier and a few old old HK people I knew from 2002, which seems to be a lifetime ago although it was only 6 years. I have about 7 mosquito bites. Guess that's better than 60.

Trying to decide where I should spend the historic moment when he's elected. I should drag Keohi to the event. I can't believe that I actually like and respect a candidate running for political office on this level. It's never happened before.

Keohi is sick now with a cough. My real concern is that whatever his illness is may be, or probably is compounded by the air pollution levels here. Right now the HK government sets its own standards, well below the recommended levels of the WHO for air quality. What I don't get it this: why would those who would seemingly benefit financially from not cleaning up their industrial acts want to pollute the very environment they live in? I just don't get it.

Home news flash: Yep, hung up one picture.

Actually the handyman did. About the workmen. Well, what can I say? I think the inefficient handyman is an international phenomenon. You know, show up without a tape measure and say that they are going to give you an estimate about something that requires measurement, piss in your front yard, stomp around and get mad and yell when you pay them when they say that you can pay them whatever you want to pay and you pay fairly. I could go on. So this guy had to build new cages to go around the extractor fans that ran out of our house due to the numbers of large large insects that had been wandering in lately. The last cage or square wood net frames that were built didn't fit and kept falling off. He did a good job but I think I was pressing my luck though asking him to put the BBQ together as of course, he failed to put part of the screws in, and now those screws are lost and gone. And I had paid him extra. I couldn't summon the greater IKEA in me to put the BBQ together although I should have risen to the challenge for a number of reasons, the main one being that you can't rely on anyone to put something together for you.

Speaking of IKEA I will have to go there to get the case for my oven. AUGH. I hate IKEA. IKEA is not really that much different in HK--much smaller, but the same feeling pervades every time I go: why am I looking at a kelly green shoe bag in the shape of a tortoise, anyway? Do I need that small footstool called EVVISKU? Are those the same Swedish meatballs that they have in LA and every other IKEA location? I don't like meatballs...

There are so many ways that IKEA annoys me. I think I could write a sonnet about it. But I am going. The main reasons are that it is cheap and they actually deliver to Luk Tei Tong.

Actually, it's not just IKEA. When you get right down to it, I really don't like malls. It makes HK a bit difficult. HK is about malls and shopping. My idea of shopping, unless I am doing it with visitors is this: figure out what you need, get there when it opens, buy what you need, and get the hell out. I would show up at the mall in LA at 10AM outside the door, run in (no joke, pushing the stroller really really fast), pick up what I needed and get out by 10:45AM at the latest. That was how I shopped for 3 years in LA.

I'm not into malls. I like food stalls. But not food courts. I like open air markets, like the kind in Asia where everyone is out on a Friday night in the village, food is being cooked, crafts are being sold, everyone is out laughing and having a good time. I don't like malls. The only thing I like about malls are that there are usually decent restrooms.

For example, the only reasons I enjoy the IFC are as follows: clean restrooms/baby changing rooms and the chocolate mochi ganache at City Super.

Enough--have to go....

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Six months in Mui Wo, Luk Tei Tong Village

So, it will soon be 6 months in Mui Wo-Luk Tei Tong Village. April 23 Keohi and I left Memphis to join Stephen. Mui Wo is now our town--people are familiar, there are the same faces on the bike path and in the shops. I know the bend and curves of the bike path, which dogs bark, where the snakes might appear, and the hours of the trash collecting old ladies. With 3000 people, you do get to know people along with the patterns of the bugs and birds.

Mosquitos are dying. HOORAY. This is probably one of the more thrilling aspects of fall coming. Now you can stay out til around 6:15 without too many bugs, although the little playground starts to host the mosquitoes at around 5:45. Like I said, I know the pattern of this bug stuff down to the minute.

Today was a nice leisurely day. I took Keohi to the pool in the AM--it unfortunately will close for the winter season on November 1, although really, it is still warm here. Then was lunch of pasta salad, and for Keohi, kiem and rice (seaweed). KIEM is his favorite snack/meal accompaniment and is now yelled for on a daily basis. Really, the already made stuff has too much salt on it--it's Stephen's substitute for potato chips when he drinks beer and no chips are around. I guess I somehow allow this because it is Korean food. I'm a nutrition obsessed mom with strong ethnocentric tendencies.

This afternoon was the first that we did not turn on the AC. It was breezy; nights now are balmy and warm. The smell of clean grass...and now COW POO, well that's of last night because the herd is wandering around and leaving crap, literally, all over the place. In the bog I saw pink lilies in bloom and mom noticed the plethora of white ginger flowers. There's also the Rose of Sharon, moo-goonghwa, Korea's national flower. I was pleased to see this. Stephen told me I was being a raving nationalist.

The Namkoong family--this is my grandma's twin sister Marie's husband, Peter Namkoong, Paul and Joan's parents, were known in Korea historically, as being ardent nationalist and outspoken critics of the Japanese during the colonial era. The Namkoong's ran newspapers and one from the Namkoong family (only one branch--2 syllable Korean last name, rare indeed), was actually killed by the Japanese for growing the Rose of SHaron in his garden. There is something utterly tragic about being killed for growing a flower, but that is the strength of the symbol in Korea.

Mom left early in the week--she's our last visitor for the year, unless Dad makes a trip out again. As you can see from the photos, we did some tourism stuff. We went to the jade market and then right around the corner our temple was decked out for a funeral. The paper figures and boats and all of that were out--ready to be burned to give the deceased a nice lifestyle in the next life that s/he has. The day before we heard the drums going down the path and people were dressed in white clothes. The square of Luk Tei Tong village was decorated with different colored banners. Keohi's having an interesting childhood.

The other day in Central, I was walking through an old neighborhood and I got this whiff of what I think of as real HK. The top note smell was incense, then there was the smell of dried fish and oranges. Around these smells was that of veggies being unpacked, boxes--paper, slightly damp. It was cleaner, probably due to a recent rain. Of course, there was hovering the ever-presnt diesel fuel smell, but very faint and the breeze felt pleasant against my skin and for a few minutes, it seemed more livable and human, not the mass of concrete and gray air. I remembered walking home at night through the empty alleys and streets of Sheung Wan in 2002. The yellow lights and squares of red--paper fluttering or bits of wood or paint. Gunmetal door gates with rust on the edges carved in patterns--rare now, but there are still some functioning. Uneven stone. Mold and mossy corners.


More later

New words: pepper, quack-quack (duck), king, roo (kangaroo), float, seat (Stephen's removable bike seat that Keohi gets to ride on the weekend), bear,

Friday, October 17, 2008

Momo died

I thought I should spread the word that Mom and Dad's little Maltese dog Momo died. Mom was a devoted and smart dog with a high yelp and bark. A very sad day for Mom, Dad, and Momo's pal Pico.

TALKBACK to the South China Morning Post

It is highly unlikely they will publish this. And, I should add that my pitch to the SCMP about HK and breastfeeding bore an uncanny resemblance to the articles that have since appeared.

Well, at least the discussion is being had. This below I submitted to the question posed in the SCMP talkback forum.

Should Free baby Formula be given out in hospitals?

Free Baby Formula should not be given out in hospitals for one reason only: it discourages breastfeeding.

Hospitals accept free samples claiming that it is for the purposes of those mothers who are medically unfit to feed their babies, but the truth of the matter is this: the vast majority of all mothers who give birth are physically able to nurse their children. They simply need the physical, emotional, and mental support to do so.

One of the most disturbing, but hardly surprising aspects of the infant milk formula scandal is the failure of authorities to acknowledge that the advertisement of formula and the ready distribution of formula by places such as hospitals undoubtedly contributed to this tragedy. Without free samples and advertisements touting the benefits of formula, would families have opted for formula over breastmilk?

Instead of accepting free formula, the hospitals and local government should be concentrating on providing pre-natal education about the cost of formula, both nutritional and financial, and the benefits of breastfeeding for the baby's and mother's physical health. Hospitals should work to ensure that their facilities support rooming-in so that mothers can easily nurse their babies after delivery, and should staff not only lactation consultants, but nurses who can assist new mothers with breastfeeding, and doctors who heartily support such efforts.

Finally, this is a community responsibility. Women are more likely to breastfeed if laws mandate that workplaces provide facilities other than the restroom to pump. Women are also more likely to nurse if private and public facilities are readily available, and their decision to nurse their babies is viewed as natural. The embarrassment or discomfort supposedly suffered by unenlightened individuals who are unable to view breasts as anything but sexual objects has the tragic effect of discouraging mothers from providing nutrition for their babies.

People can privately despair over the health of thousands of babies, but until hospitals, government, workplaces, and individuals truly prioritize the welfare of mothers and children by enacting legislation and changing policies and opinions, nothing will change. Formula companies will make huge profits, more babies will be sick, and some will needlessly die.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Human Interest Story

Mary Menth Andersen was 31 years old at the time and had just married Norwegian Dag Andersen. She was looking forward to starting a new life in Åsgårdstrand in Vestfold with him. But first she had to get all of her belongings across to Norway. The date was November 2nd, 1988. At the airport in Miami things were hectic as usual, with long lines at the check-in counters. When it was finally Mary's turn and she had placed her luggage on the baggage line, she got the message that would crush her bubbling feeling of happiness.

"You'll have to pay a $103 surcharge if you want to bring both those suitcases to Norway", the man behind the counter said.

Mary had no money. Her new husband had travelled ahead of her to Norway, and she had no one else to call.

"I was completely desperate and tried to think which of my things I could manage without. But I had already made such a careful selection of my most prized possessions", says Mary.

Although she explained the situation to the man behind the counter, he showed no signs of mercy.

"I started to cry, tears were pouring down my face and I had no idea what to do."

Then I heard a gentle and friendly voice behind me saying, "That's OK, I'll pay for her."

Mary turned around to see a tall man whom she had never seen before.

"He had a gentle and kind voice that was still firm and decisive. The first thing I thought was, Who is this man?"

Although this happened 20 years ago, Mary still remembers the authority that radiated from the man.

"He was nicely dressed, fashionably dressed with brown leather shoes, a cotton shirt open at the throat and khaki pants", says Mary.

She was thrilled to be able to bring both her suitcases to Norway and assured the stranger that he would get his money back. The man wrote his name and address on a piece of paper that he gave to Mary. She thanked him repeatedly. When she finally walked off towards the security checkpoint, he waved goodbye to her.

The piece of paper said 'Barack Obama' and his address in Kansas, which is the state where his mother comes from. Mary carried the slip of paper around in her wallet for years, before it was thrown out.

"He was my knight in shining armor", says Mary, smiling.

She paid the $103 back to Obama the day after she arrived in Norway. At that time he had just finished his job as a poorly paid community worker* in Chicago, and had started his law studies at prestigious Harvard university.

In the spring of 2006 Mary's parents had heard that Obama was considering a run for president, but that he had still not decided. They chose to write a letter in which they told him that he would receive their votes. At the same time, they thanked Obama for helping their daughter 18 years earlier.

In a letter to Mary's parents dated May 4th, 2006 and stamped 'United States Senate, Washington DC', Barack Obama writes**:
'I want to thank you for the lovely things you wrote about me and for reminding me of what happened at Miami airport. I'm happy I could help back then, and I'm delighted to hear that your daughter is happy in Norway. Please send her my best wishes. Sincerely, Barack Obama, United States senator'.
The parents sent the letter on to Mary.

This week VG met her and her husband in the café that she runs with her friend Lisbeth Tollefsrud in Åsgårdstrand.

"It's amazing to think that the man who helped me 20 years ago may now become the next US president", says Mary delightedly.
She has already voted for Obama. She recently donated 100 dollars to his campaign. She often tells the story from Miami airport, both when race issues are raised and when the conversation turns to the presidential elections.

"I sincerely hope the Americans will see reason and understand that Obama means change", says Mary.

*Not at all sure about this part of the translation. The Norwegian word used is 'miljøarbeider', I don't know what the exact English word for that is or even if there is one, and I don't know enough about Obama to say what job of his they're talking about.
**This is my translation of the reporter's translation of the letter. From English to Norwegian and back to English. So obviously it is not correct word for word.

Via (a translated story originally covered here: )

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Aging Rockers Put On Good Show

Forgot to mention that Stephen and I went to the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) ball-- a fundraiser for a children's home about six weeks ago. It was for his work, but it was a fun event. The band was World Classic Rockers or something like that, basically band members from all of these groups from Santana to Toto to Boston to Lynard Skynard. It was a weird thing hearing all of the tunes that were familiar from the radio or just popular at that time in the 70s or early 80s, and the band were pros, really, they did a great job. Some songs I noticed I had specific memories attached to, others, were more of a frame of mind that was brought back. Unfortunately, some of the songs brought back bad memories. Like a boring aerobics class that was a gym requirement my freshman year in college. The instructor never changed the tape. A scratchy version of 'Rosanna' playing all semester long at 8AM in a cold gym floor that smelled like sweat in the middle of winter. Yuck.

People were going CRAZY for these guys. It was kind of funny really, these rockers in their late 40s to nearly 60, and the audience filled with women who were 30 plus who were screaming like teenagers. It was like watching a bunch of people relive their teenhood--at last they had the chance to see XXXX band member as when they were 15 and the band came to town, their parents wouldn't let them go to the concert. Security had to tell the women to get off stage as they kept going on and trying to sing in the mike and all of that.

Undergarments in HK

A note about underwear in HK.

Okay, here's the scoop. First of all, Kath found out that most of the bras are the same size. They just stuff them more to get them to fit. So you can be one size too big for a bra, and I guess they just take out the extra padding. This was really annoying to me the last time I was here and trying to buy a bra. First of all, not everyone wants to wear 3 inches of padding in her bra. Padding exists for a few reasons--to make one's chest bigger, or to cover up the nipple area. Unlike in Europe and in most parts of California, there are absolutely no outlines of women's nipples in HK. I support free nipple exposure for those who don't care about wearing padding. Why not? Who cares? I bought a bra here the last time from a store, from something like the Triumph bra shop (what a terrible name, right? since when are bras triumphant?) and as I was leaving, the saleswoman tried to shove padding into my bag. When I said I don't want the pads for the bra, she shook her head and insisted that I take them. I was so annoyed. Years and years ago, Stephen actually did the copy for the Diamond A Day bra giveaway for Triumph bras. Pretty funny. And then a few years ago, I read that the Filipino women in the factories that make Triumph bras had organized a union and were protesting against really terrible working conditions. Knowing that women were miserable sewing these bras might make one feel less triumphant marching around in a Triumph bra. My one Triumph bra got left behind in LA.

Okay, then there's the underwear issue. There seems to be a dearth of bikini or g-string underwear that you might wear under a dress or thin pants or any clothes that fall low on your hip. In fact, the only place that I saw such underwear was in the box shop the last time I lived here next to the Parknshop grocery in Sheung Wan. This time, I was really desperate before the black tie deal we went to a few weeks ago and resorted to buying some that one woman had a bunch in a little stall on Queen's Road.I didn't even end up wearing it because the thing was a one-size fits all number and it cut off the circulation of my hips. Drag. So does everyone wear big ole underwear? Jeans and pants are often rather low on the hips these days. What are local women wearing? Where are they buying it? I had luckily bought some undies right before coming, but still, had been spending random moments in HK looking for some underwear to no avail. Imagine my level of excitement at finding a box shop of French undies designed for the US market that did not resemble girdles. I bought 7 pairs.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Visitors...

Asau came and left. As predicted, he was here waiting when I biked up to get him from the ferry terminal at 8:05AM on Thursday. We had to hoof it back, unfortunately, as the combo lock on the big rickshaw-like tricycle with umbrella that I rented was off! I was a little concerned, but he had his good walking stick and we made it back in about 20 minutes or a little more. He liked Mui Wo, I knew that he would. It's different from most places that people see in HK. I think nearly 80% of HK is actually designated park land--but people only view HK as a big city. There's great hiking trails here--but if anyone wants to do the lot, remember to come in the fall, or early spring. The weather has turned now--slightly cooler and I turn the AC on later in the day...about 11AM now. Whoopee! But seriously, the weather change is a relief.

When Asau got to our place, I sent Cecilia, Keohi's nanny, out to get the big trike/umbrella as I got the new combo from Leo, the bike shop guy. Poor Leo, I got his mobile on the card so I'm calling him in a raw panic for the bike combo for the trike locked outside his shop by the pier. Leo's the Merida bike shop owner. I always forget the name of the business establishments here. You just go by the name of the person who owns the place, at least most of the time, as it's such a small town. We're Merida bike customers. Very loyal. They always fix our stuff, do a good job, and he gives us discounts as we do all of our bike accessories shopping from him. We tell Keohi to call him Uncle Leo.

Then yesterday I met Asau at the FCC for a long lunch. He's going to be 78 next year. I can't believe it!


Yes, we TRASHED the two suitcases so have officially moved in after nearly 5 months! One suitcase was full of Keohi's toys (the random toys have now moved to a smaller suitcae which is serving as his toy box) and the other suitcase was this terribly old soft shell square Samsonite number circa 1995 that I swiped from the upstairs closet in Memphis. It had seen better days and was only used to haul stuff from the States and was supposed to be dumped, but we never ended up getting any drawers so the ugly functional suitcase served as my storage for my clothing. And yesterday--we threw it out. Wow. What a relief.

Ophelia is my Filipino neighbor whose husband is also a Brit, her daughter is Keohi's age and they are great pals. Keohi heads right out the gate and knows to turn the corner to go to Bella's house. Anyway, thanks to Ophelia, we now have drawerw. And then Cecilia had a friend, a Turkish pilot who is moving to Shanghai who was getting rid of his apartment and we just made out with his storage stuff. That was just tonight. We're not so much living out of boxes anymore. It feels a little better. Not so temporary, though of course, we are already nearly halfway through our lease. It's such a pain to haul stuff to our village even from Mui Wo that we agreed not to buy anything as this place was mostly furnished when we moved in. Getting furniture or any kind of stuff from HK Island to Mui Wo is difficult enough, but to actually get it to Luk Tei Tong means you have to call the gas company (they have a sideline moving business going) and then these little motorized 3 wheel trucks wheel your stuff down the bike path. So whatever you move, even some cheap crap from Ikea, will cost you an extra $100USD to get it to Luk Tei Tong, on top of the regular delivery fee. I hate coordinating and doing that stuff and even worse, hauling and unpacking. Having spent the good part of 2 months this past year packing and unpacking and sorting things for storage, or to dump or to take to HK, I am really sick of doing any kind of moving or home improvements or anything along those lines. STephen and I have moved a ton during our nearly 11 years together.

First I was moving from Korea to LA, then he moved to LA from HK, then we moved to another flat after he arrived to LA. Then we moved to the Bay Area, then we moved to HK, then to Tucson--in that city we moved twice, then we moved back to LA--again moved twice, and now we are back to HK. I can't remember all of my addresses or phone numbers. I'm sort of thinking that I'd like to stay in one city, maybe one geographic location for a while. Moving is such a pain. We lived in a total of 9 places in 11 years.

I really have to open my Cantonese book. I have no command of the language and can barely say anything and it's really embarrassing. The last time I had made an effort to study the calligraphy and I brought my notes to review but haven't done a thing.

Keohi's words: Paul, goat, doo doo (rooster--cock-a-doodle-doo), whale, bear, knee, eye, row-row book (nursery rhyme book), pop book (Dr. Suess Hop on Pop). The words are starting to come now. I notice he may say them for a few days, but doesn't necessarily retain them. His comprehension however, is quite high. It's fascinating watching the development of speech.

Watch this Video

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Insomnia in Hong Kong

I think this could be a new title for an international blockbuster movie. Kind of like Sleepy in Seattle or Sleeping in Seattle or whatever that terribly dull movie was.
The Hong Kong film would feature people peering out of their 23rd story windows at 2-4AAM with big bags under their eyes from watching Bloomberg TV or some other stock market reporting show. Or maybe the people would be madly surfing the internet for cheap deals that they could get on XXXX that they could cut their cousin in on, the cousin that they owe XXX dollars to for some rotten deal that nearly cleaned out their savings a few years back...

As you can see, I am starting to get the HK Insomnia thing...HELLPPPP.

I am not, however, turning on the telly for financial news...but turnin' on to the ole blog...

Have to be up early to hoof it to the ferry. Then do ala rickshaw driver with Asau tomorrow AM. Stephen is now in out of town, so it's just Keohi Boo and moi.

His first full full sentence: The moon is there.

Not bad! Of course, there was no moon. It was day. He was pointing at a round outdoor lamp. But that is just a matter of technicality. A sentence! He also managed to yell GOAT GOAT at Holly to whom I was chatting on skype.

Tomorrow's poetry lecture: Emily Dickinson, Yeats, Lucille Clifton. Mixing it up a bit. The best part of teaching at this job is that there is only ONE PAPER to GRADE. HOORAY. God, the grading just killed me before. I forgot how much it drove me crazy.
I'm trying to figure out a way to minimize the grading that I do in my life...

Signing off from the house with runny nose baby--

New York Times

Please be warned: McCain ads are LIES. For example, the one about Obama supporting sex ed for kids who can't read? Give me a break. THIS IS AN OUTRIGHT LIE.

I am assuming people who are voting are actually READING the information put forward by each candidate on his policies and are not solely relying upon the TV NEWS.

This is from the NY Times. For those who blather on about how the NY Times is "liberal media" this is ridiculous. The Times embedded journalists in Iraq, previously wrote favorably about Reverend Jerry Falwell who supported segregationist policies in his university, and therefore, the Times, as I have always thought, since reading it from the age of 17 on and off, is VERY conservative by any international newspaper standard...

so this below is quite radical from the NY Times in my opinion...

September 30, 2008, 4:07 pm
The Republican Party, Having Brought You the Meltdown, Now Blames Obama

By The Editorial Board

Well, that certainly didn’t take long.

John McCain had barely finished pompously proclaiming his commitment to non-partisan solutions to the Wall Street meltdown and giving himself credit (where none was due) for producing the compromise that got voted down yesterday. And then the Republican National Committee produced an ad accusing Barack Obama of plotting to make the crisis worse.

We won’t pretend to be shocked at Mr. McCain’s hypocrisy. But this ad is low even by the standards set in this campaign (mostly by the Republicans).

We’d tell you which parts are true and which ones are not, but, basically, it’s all nonsense, especially the implication that Mr. Obama wants to add a trillion dollars to the bailout plan. The one true thing is Wall Street is in a world of hurt. The ad just does not mention that it developed on the watch of President Bush and the Republican majority in Congress:

Just to make sure no one thought he was farming out all his mindless attack ads to the party machine, Mr. McCain issued his own ad accusing Mr. Obama and the Democrats of creating the problems on Wall Street.

This ad is just as misleading and propagandistic as the RNC ad, hewing to Mr. McCain’s line that the whole thing is the fault of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That’s nonsense, of course. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were badly mismanaged. That’s obvious. And they should have been more carefully regulated. But the idea that Fannie and Freddie on their own caused mortgages to soar and created the real estate bubble, as Mr. McCain says in his ad, is false.

Fannie and Freddie certainly had a part in the mess that led to the turmoil on Wall Street. But the greatest measure of blame lies with the federal government’s failure to exercise its regulatory powers, and the systematic shredding of other regulations by Mr. Bush and his party.

Among other things, the Fed, under the man Mr. Bush chose to run it, could have exercised more control over banks and non-banks that lent money to buy homes to people who could not afford them, and to the financial institutions that turned those loans into investment instruments and recklessly traded in them. All in the name of those eight, nine and 10-figure annual bonuses. Those would be small institutions, like Citibank, and Merrill Lynch, and Goldman Sachs and, well, you get the idea.

The very idea that Mr. McCain is quoting former President Bill Clinton (apparently quite selectively) is rich, especially because the McCain folks only showed part of what he said. Asked what responsibility the Democrats have in the current mess, Mr. Clnton did talk about their resistance in the 90’s to tightening regulation of Fannie and Freddie. But then he goes on to say that much bigger contributing factor to today’s turmoil was the elimination of the “uptick rule” that had been in place for many decades to stop traders from “short selling” a stock whose price is falling. That was a move by the Securities and Exchange Commission … during the Bush administration.

Mr. Obama’s new ad, in sharp contrast, talks about his own plans for the economy if he wins.

Mr. Obama criticizes the Republicans for the failure of their trickle-down economic theories, but does not talk directly about Wall Street. And the failure of trickle-down economics is inescapable and indisputable. That’s why the Republicans are having such a hard time with the bailout. It undercuts their ideology, a well as everything they have been saying to their constituents to get elected.

As we watched Mr. McCain’s ad, we wondered why he is so intent on blaming Fannie and Freddie for everything bad (except perhaps global warming)? We suspect there are two reasons. One is that Mr. McCain did indeed push new regulations for Fannie and Freddie during the Clinton administration and they did not pass. It is about the only form of regulation of the financial sector that Mr. McCain was not involved in blocking.

The other, more insidious reason, is that the two mortgage giants were created to help lower-income people buy homes, especially minorities. In the Republican view of politics, that makes them the enemy.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Another visitor on Thursday and Keohi update

Our second visitor--Asau Lee from Hawaii, will be coming on Thursday. I've practiced today riding the big tricycle with the umbrella awning top in preparation. I'm pretty good on it except for when it comes to the small hills. I'll be asking him to step down as I am afraid the bike will tip over. Today there was a near miss on the ole Luk Tei Tong bike path, very narrow, just missed the ole bog, with Keohi's nanny and Keohi in the back while I was pedaling. This is a big deal. After all, it's not like Mui Wo is a huge hot spot. Uncle is collecting his 1,000,000 airline miles by taking a trip to HK. Pretty amazing, but I've seen him now in New York, Korea, the Big Island, Hong Kong, talked to him in California, and now will see him again in Hong Kong. He gets around.

I'm into Al Jazeera news. This is hands down the best news show reporting I've seen.
I highly recommend anyone who can subscribe to please do so for some decent coverage of international issues.

Being a loyal Obama supporter I've taken the opportunity to wear my shirt into Central every time I take the ferry in. Go Obama! I'm feeling good about the election possibilities and am posting my absentee ballot tomorrow. Looking up the judges and DAs for the California ballot took some time. One was rather scary as both candidates were given a bad rating by their peer group of judges. Yikes. I had to vote for the lesser of two evils and went with the one with the most endorsements by the organizations that I was mildly familiar with.

Cadbury, Oreos, and Snickers candy has been found to have melamine! I probably have a big wad of various chemicals snaking through my system from the last time I lived here. I ate so many Cadbury bars. I ate a ton about two months ago too--I went through a mad Cadbury fruit and nut bar phase. Poor Keohi probably got some too as he's nursing. Here he is being protected from mass media commercial images like Mickey Mouse and never watches TV due to his prole mom who makes him wear his big ole cloth nappies. She has barely given him any sweet and he probably had traces of melamine in his system. This is life here. Very glad though overall, that he is still nursing.

Again, the government angle and all concerns are focusing on the reputation of Chinese food products instead of the fact that the international formula companies were preying on the poor and uneducated parents who did not understand the ramifications of formula versus breast milk in terms of cost and nutrition. Ugh.

No more China milk from us. No more noodles made in China. No more food from China. Period. Mainland China, that is.

Keohi is on a 2 week quarantine lockdown from all indoor playgroups and playtime. We're trying to isolate his on and off again 3 week cough and determine if it is due to toddler interaction or smog. Smog doesn't seem to be slowing him down at all, but it's because we live here in Lantau, south Lantau where there is less smog. We're a ways from the airport too. Still, I've already figured that he will probably not become a) a marathon runner or sprinter b) a serious mountaineer c) a deep sea scuba diving instructor. He won't have the lung capacity. So his career options are dwindling. And he's only 19 months old.

He went to his first birthday party for baby Nim who turned one. He was being a maniac and kind of did his rock star thing of trying to jump on the furniture, and attempted to throw or smash some wine glasses, spit food on the carpet and tried on someone's high heeled shoes. He tried to climb in the bathtub and on top of the record collection, open drawers, knock over the guitars and throw the glass candle holders on the ground. The worst was how he bolted to the patio fence--19th floor. I think it would take him about 3 hours to have figured out how to climb up and over. I'm very glad we're not in a high rise. Too scary. He's a very bad guest these days. He was definitely the most badly behaved baby. Then again, he thoroughly enjoyed himself. I think the next time he'll be engaging in that sort of the behavior is when he's around 17 years old. His mom, however, will not be chasing around after him and saying "Oh no!".

New words: umbrella (ulla), bear (frequently used now), light, hole, low, and a short sentence other than Neh-neh Boo--Look there! Look there! The big word NO has now entered the vocabulary...hmmm...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Energy, Arizona, McCain

About MCCAIN in the debates regarding his energy policy:

I lived in Arizona. Arizona is a perfect place to employ solar energy on a private or commercial level.

It is nowhere to be seen. It is OVERPRICED and there are absolutely NO TAX INCENTIVES in this state. This is McCain's home state. Some nerve saying in the debate that he is supportive of solar. If he was a leader in his state he would have done more to work for solar energy so that we are not dependent on foreign oil.

Let me tell you a little story about our experience with solar energy in Arizona. We were shocked and disturbed when we discovered that few, if any used it in that state given the amount of sun that is in that state and the massive energy consumption that is required to run the AC units that are required to get through the hot summers/springs/falls! Many use 'swamp' units (these are units with pans of water) but most do use the traditional AC units now -- new places are rarely built now with swamp units.

So we moved into this gated community type of place (but no gates) and discovered that the communal pool house was not using solar energy and that we, the homeowners, would soon have to replace the pool's pump and heating system. While there is no snow in the winter in AZ, the pool is still going and requires heating. So, Stephen and I go to a meeting and bring up the possibility of installing a solar unit for the water system. I know from a friend who had installed one that it pays for itself in a matter of a few months. And we noticed that there seemed to be some remnants of a solar system on the roof of the poolhouse--we were wondering what happened? Apparently there was an old solar system before and someone (who?) had mysteriously run off with some of the panels? We could not get a clear answer about this. Our suggestion was met with a laugh and we were completely shut down. Sure, we said, it was expensive, but it was an investment for a community, we could afford it, AND it would pay for itself in a matter of months! But instead of the board trying to discuss how to be energy efficient with a future solar water heater, they kept discussing that they would use what they were presently using and not a SINGLE person even wanted to use solar. This is in Arizona.

Mccain's state. Solar and alternative energy? He is not the guy. DRILLING in Alaska and more nuclear power -- he's the guy. Nuclear power? We still don't have a way to properly store it and have it not harm the environment. I wish everyone who supports nuclear power would visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki (extreme bad use of nuclear power) and talk to people who live in small towns and places whose health is suffering due to nuclear power plants. Check out The American West by Alex Shoumatoff for a great section on workers who live around Los Alamos...

To return:

A few board meetings later I was called "one of those environmentalists" by the president of the board (yeah, the old lady with the gun in the purse--oh for gun people, please note that I think people have a right to hunt for food with a gun-- deer, duck hunters etc...just not old ladies with shaky hands, no licenses, are wandering around down my street) when I suggested that we discuss with the landscaping architect and gardener the replacement of plants that required water with those that match the desert environment. There were many local plants, plants that are flowering and survive in the desert that were part of the shared land in the community, but there were also plenty of trees that were not indigenous to the desert. There had been complaints about the high community water bills. BUT DID ANYONE MAKE THE CONNECTION BETWEEN DESERT FRIENDLY PLANTS AND WATER CONSUMPTION? NO!

Watching Al Jazz...tune in, great commentary.


We handed out and gave forms to at least 75-80 voters. Many were in their 30s and 40s and voting for the FIRST time for Obama. Many were previously from the Republican party and wanted to vote Democrat this election. Some were McCain supporters and now wanted Obama.

Let the truth be known: Americans overseas, from all walks of life, ethnicities and backgrounds and cultural origins, wanted Obama. We also had people from France, the Netherlands, from India, the UK, from all over the world, all over Asia come up to our table and express their support for Obama and said that should they have the privilege to vote, they would vote for Obama.

The bottom line:

We have spent nearly a trillion dollars on a FALSELY perpetrated war in Iraq. We spend 10 billion a month in Iraq. Obama voted against this war. The international community was against this war. Remember we said we went to Iraq because of WEAPONS of mass destruction. THERE WERE NONE -- then, only after that debacle and embarrassment, we said: We went to Iraq to promote democracy.

Oh, for those who say that McCain's party supports the troops. MOTHERS were buying their CHILDREN extra security bullet proof vests!National guard units are on their third and fourth tours...uhm..yeah, the current administration really CARES about our troops.

By the way, we have destroyed Iraq...let's be clear about this.

To move on, as only 9% of the US said that they would vote for a president because of his position on Iraq...we care more about our economy. Somehow we are not connecting the WAR and our economy! Go figure!

The economy has TANKED and the current administration has promoted poor policies that have landed us in this situation. Businesses and banks are collapsing. Who supported this last admininistration? NOT OBAMA.

Our healthcare system is in shambles. Stephen and I get far superior medical care on all levels in Hong Kong. Yep, people here get basic health care where most Americans do not.

Finally, McCain keeps LYING about Obama and his record.

And THE PALIN FACTOR. What kind of fool picks a woman who has governed a state with a population under one million people, who supports drilling and is against the POLAR BEAR and who didn't get a passport until LAST YEAR to be PRESIDENT?

GO OBAMA. OBAMA has the support of the international community, the admiration and respect of the young and the old, and has the intelligence and intellect that we need in the 21st century. McCain is outdated, out of touch, and can't even use email....

So I go on. But it's gotten to the point where I truly think that the people who support McCain at this stage fall have the following qualities:

a) inability to properly judge the CURRENT WORLD SITUATION

b) fear of change (common fear that most have...baaahhhh...baaah --sheep sound)

c) general racism and bigotry (a nasty but unfortunately true phenomenon--look deep inside people and accept it--hard to erase this--how do you erase hatred and evil?)

d) fear of intellect due to their own personal general low intelligence and analytical abilities (look at the education level between the two different candidates and their running mates) so they want a president who is at their own level, rather than a leader who can lead due to his/her intelligence and education and insight.

e) failure to recognize their own situation. After all, how many Americans (5%) make more than 200 grand a year individually? Even if people don't, they will vote against their own interest because Americans have the mentality that they COULD have that much money. Obama will give 95% of the US population a tax break yet so many fools who fall into this bracket will vote against their own interests. Such Americans also do not realize that the gap between the rich and the poor in the US is at the same level that it was over 100 years ago! WE HAVE A SHRINKING MIDDLE CLASS-get it?

f) believer of a narrowly interpreted Christian view of the world. One might call them the Christian Taliban. Uhm...these are the folks who believe that the heavens will open, trumpets sound, little cherubs will fly above their heads with small white wings and that they will ascend without their undies in the buff straight to heaven...uhm...well..what can I say about those kinds of ideas? Sounds kind of like the dreams that the Al Qaeda folks have about the multitude of virgins in the heavens, right? Enough said.

Signing off from Hong Kong--home of Obama supporters from all countries and cultures...

Friday, September 26, 2008

Hey--again--the French have it right...I think I have to brush up on my French...

French hold out against credit crunch

Unlike Britain, the US and many other countries, France appears to have weathered the credit crunch storm far better.

The BBC's Emma Jane Kirby asks if other nations should take a leaf out of the thrifty Gallic book?

If I had to use one word to describe France's financial system, the word I would choose would be "cautious".

French banks are immensely careful about whom they lend money to and, to limit risks, they spread their investments much more widely than those in the US or UK.

Only about a quarter of banking activity is related to investment banking and dealer-broker activity - the rest is all to do with retail banking.

This meant when the credit crunch bit, the French banks were hit a lot less hard than those in many other countries.

But it is not just about banking investments - this country as a whole simply takes far fewer risks.

In London... it was as if wealth was something you could get from a bank, it's a sort of miracle people seem to believe in England
Francois Artignan, banker

Take the level of household debt. In France, it is at 47% of GDP, while in the UK it is well over twice that.

Its not that temptation does not exist in France - the lure of consumerism is just as strong as it is elsewhere.

But it is very difficult to spend money you do not have in France.

French credit cards are little more than debit cards, so there is no question of simply sticking a couple of flat screen TVs on your credit card and hoping to pay for them later - if there are insufficient funds in your account, your bank will immediately block the transaction.

In the wealthy suburb of St Germain-en-Laye, just outside Paris, I met Francois Artignan, a well-to-do banker who moved back to France two years ago after a long stint of living in the UK.

Francois admits he misses the buzz of London living but says he was alarmed by the way so many British people lived on their credit cards and never saved money.

"It's true that you can note a big difference in consuming behaviours between the French and the English," Mr Artignan says.

"People here don't believe you can just put your debts together and get them refinanced... But in London... it was as if wealth was something you could get from a bank, it's a sort of miracle people seem to believe in England.

"It seems to me people there are very keen to use up all the money they have, and that's a worry when you wonder how people are going to have money for retirement for instance," Mr Artignan says.

Sluggish growth

From his Paris office, the chief economist for market analyst Xerfi, Alexander Law, has been comparing the spending patterns of France and Britain.

Mr Law, who has dual nationality, believes that innate French prudence has saved it from disaster.

"Generally in France you spend what you have and not more," he explains.

"In the US and the UK, the economy has been driven by household spending, consumption has been driven by credit, and a lot less in France, so that's why when there were periods of expansion France grew a lot more slowly than the UK and the US but conversely when it's slowing down, it will slow down in a more moderate fashion than the UK or the US."

France's rate of growth is horribly sluggish - this year it looks set to hover around just 1%, meaning its likely to be way off target for meeting its promise to the EU to bring its budget deficit back under control by 2012.

But although its slow economy is hardly the envy of the world, its reticence to tie its economy into the housing market in the same way the US did has also meant that when the American sub-prime market collapsed, it did not drag the French market with it.

There are far fewer household owners here than in the UK - about 57% of French people are on the property ladder, compared to 70% in the UK.

Although a high earner, Mr Artignan was 43 before buying his first home because in France, unless you have a big deposit, you can forget begging the banks for a huge loan.

Two conditions

President Nicolas Sarkozy is trying to push France into becoming a nation of house owners by building thousands of cheap new homes.

But France still believes in strict rules and regulations, Finance Minister Christine Lagarde says.

"Expect two conditions - a down payment of 20% of the value of the house plus mortgage [repayments] which will not exceed 30% of income.

"You already have a pretty good safety net there and clearly no real estate financing similar to the sub-prime market that has existed in the US and which has hurt the financial system so much," Ms Lagarde says.

France has long been feeling the pinch of the global rise in food and fuel prices and many people here complain that their spending power is falling fast.

In France, 46% of people chose to stay home for their summer holiday this year rather than splashing out on an expensive break away, and so many people are cutting back on dining out that some 3,000 cafes and restaurants went out of business in the first three months of this year.

Sparse spending means sparse growth - but should other countries take a leaf out of the parsimonious Gallic book?

"I'm not suggesting that we have the basic principles right, I'm not suggesting that we can teach the world lessons," Ms Lagarde says.

"But I think it will be for each and every category of players, traders, regulators, supervisors, to examine what they have done, what they should have done and what they should be doing in the future to bring a bit more morality into the system.

"I think we have let this world of fantasy and virtuality overcome reality... There have to be more principles, more discipline and a bit more reality," the minister says.
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/09/26 00:12:37 GMT