Umbrella Revolution Wall 2014

Umbrella Revolution Wall 2014
Admiralty, Umbrella Revolution 2014

Sunday, December 27, 2009

This is China: Liu Xiaobo Imprisoned

Forget the hype. This is China...

Hong Kong enjoys (still without universal suffrage) more of a semblance of freedom, but Mainland now is flexing its muscles. The world consumes its goods and the world is hooked on cheap goods. Yeah, every trip to Wal-Mart, every new piece of clothing from the Gap, every shiny thing you covet...someone is paying the price. Our consumerism has elevated the living situation of a good many in this nation, but many more remain in poverty and countless are jailed due to their beliefs. And China is powerful. It no longer feels the obligation it has in the past to its trading partners on issues of human rights or climate change, for that matter.

Note to my Chinese friends: Being critical of particular aspects of a country's policies does not mean that one (namely, an outsider like myself) disrespects its entire people or culture. There are many Chinese who think and dream this dream--that their nation will act fairly and that it will honor the dignity of those who speak out for a country that honors freedom of expression.
Let them find strength and courage in the name of Liu Xiaobo. Let them know that there are those who will support their desire for a better nation.

Leading Chinese dissident jailed

Leading Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo has been jailed for 11 years for "inciting subversion of state power", after a trial condemned in the West.

The trial, from which Western diplomats and journalists were barred, followed Mr Liu's co-authorship of a document last year urging political reform.

Several people were apparently hurt at a Hong Kong protest over the sentence.

The human rights group Amnesty International condemned the sentence, saying freedom of speech was at stake.

The US also denounced the sentence. China has accused Washington and the EU of meddling in its affairs.

The BBC's Michael Bristow in Beijing says the sentence shows China does not want anyone to challenge its authority.

'Release him'

"All I can tell you now is 11 years," the defendant's wife, Liu Xia, told reporters. Diplomats said they were told by Mr Liu's lawyers that he had been deprived of his political rights for a further two years.

Micky Bristow, BBC News, Beijing

Liu Xiaobo's sentence could have been worse - he could have been given a maximum of 15 years in prison but no-one is yet suggesting that the activist got off lightly.

Human rights groups and others with knowledge of China's legal system say this is a harsh sentence. Amnesty International said that according to their records this is the longest sentence handed down for this charge since 2003, perhaps longer.

China's Communist Party leaders appear to be sending a message to anyone else who might want to challenge their total grip on power: don't. Chinese people have been given many freedoms since reforms were first begun 30 years ago, but this sentence shows that they have only very limited political rights.

There was immediate US reaction to the sentencing.

"We continue to call on the government of China to release him immediately and to respect the rights of all Chinese citizens to peacefully express their political views in favour of universally recognised fundamental freedoms," said embassy official Gregory May at the courthouse.

Mr May was one of a dozen diplomats - from the US, Canada, Australia and several European countries - stopped by authorities from attending the trial and sentencing.

"Persecution of individuals for the peaceful expression of political views is inconsistent with internationally recognised norms of human rights," Mr May said.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters this week that statements from embassies calling for Mr Liu's release were "a gross interference of China's internal affairs".

Photographs taken outside China's Liaison Office in Hong Kong on Friday show three people being treated on the pavement for injuries.

The Associated Press, which released the images, said a security guard, a protester and a police officer had been hurt during a protest.

Singled out

Mr Liu is a prominent government critic and veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy protests.

We should end the practice of viewing words as crimes
Charter 08

A writer and former university professor, he has been in jail since 2008, after being arrested for writing a document known as Charter 08.

The charter called for greater freedoms and democratic reforms in China, including an end to Communist one-party rule.

Mr Liu is the only person to have been arrested for organising the Charter 08 appeal, but others who signed it have reportedly being harassed.

Amnesty International said it condemned the sentence imposed on Mr Liu and was "deeply concerned for other Charter 08 signatories and freedom of expression in China".

"Liu Xiaobo's detention and trial show that the Chinese government will not tolerate Chinese citizens participating in discussions about their own form of government," said Sam Zarifi, director of Amnesty's Asia-Pacific Programme.

In earlier interviews with the BBC, co-signatories of the Charter said they were ready to be punished alongside Mr Liu - not to admit they had done anything wrong, but to stress their ideas were the same.

Abolishing the law on inciting to subvert state power is among the reforms advocated in Charter 08. "We should end the practice of viewing words as crimes," the petition says.

"[Mr Liu] has worked to try to find a way to allow the ordinary citizen to criticise the government or to make proposals to the government, on how the people can participate in government," the head of the law firm defending him, Mo Shaoping, told AFP.

"We pleaded not guilty - his crime is a crime of speech," he said.

More than 300 international writers including Salman Rushdie, Umberto Eco and Margaret Atwood have called for Liu's release, saying he should be allowed to express his opinion.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2009/12/25 05:16:22 GMT

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

linkedin and Xmas

Random--but yeah, I have not gotten it together with LinkedIn so apologies if I have not added anyone out there who needs to be added. I may even have two accounts. So please don't take my non response to the emails as a personal affront.

Tmrrow is Xmas. Pride and Prejudice chat in the AM with Stephen and Margaret. Then onto the bikes and up the mountains of Mui Wo to an eve event at Kathline, Gary and little Emma's. The 25th is Nessa, John, and some drop ins for dessert.

Menu for the 25th:

Three tapenades: olive, aubergine, cheese

Salmon wrapped in Prosciutto with lentils
Chap Chae noodles
Sweet Red pepper and green bean salad
potatoes. sweet and standard, plus carrots roasted
something else--but I forget...but yeah, keeping it simple this year, not as many dishes.

Vanilla ice cream with cranberry sauce
Red velvet cake

Champagne and wine.

OH yes, and I have a meeting with the electrician at 5PM.

Merry Xmas!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Climate Change in Copenhagen; Rain in Mui Wo

China does not want international monitoring. The U.S. imposition of a tariff on goods that fail to adhere to carbon emissions may do something. The U.S. consumes an extraordinary amount of fossil fuel.


But here in Mui Wo, it's just raining in December. This is very unusual. Global warming.

Our Beloved Green Bog is rapidly disappearing. This place won't look the same in 10 years. It won't look the same in 5.

There are so many cars here now. Trying to think about our family's carbon footprint and what we can do to reduce it. We have no microwave, dishwasher, clothes dryer, hair dryer or car now. The car was a discussion in our household a while back. You can get them very cheap here from expats leaving and gas prices and registration and insurance fees are fairly low. But how often would we use a car? And didn't we hate this part of LA life? Driving? So I told Stephen, as long as we live here in Mui Wo, if we never have a car, we'll never have car headaches. I definitely do not miss it. Oh, how Keohi longs for a car. He takes one car ride with a friend and talks about it for weeks on end. He asks me if I like sports cars or taxis. I tell him I like bikes. Not motorbikes, but bikes...

Once we move, the place will be bigger, but we'll still have no microwave, dishwasher, dryers, or car. And we'll eliminate the TV. It's here with the rental, but we won't get another one, at least for a while. But our fridge will be bigger and we'll have more cooling to do in the summer.

It's just about consumption, really. How to consume less. Shop less. Buy less.

What does one really need?

How convenient should life really be?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Your Life

Your Life

Live a plane ride away from your home (in another country).
One week holiday per year. (You are often discouraged from taking this, but at least you have it, unlike some other countries.)
One day holiday per week. (Again, you’re glad you don’t live in Singapore. You get one day off a month. And should you get stuck in Lebanon, why, you might only have one day off in seven years.)
Before going on your one day off per week, you must cook, clean, and do the dishes. After coming in from your day off, you must do the same. It’s really not a day off. It’s a half day off. Actually, it’s a one third day off.
Public holidays. Some, but not all. Again, before going on your public holiday, you must do the same thing as you do before going on your weekly holiday.
Work hours: 12-17 on average (my guestimate).
Speak in non-native language all day long.
Your employer may lend you out whenever s/he feels like it. It’s against the law, but you’re lucky if your employer doesn’t do this. But if s/he doesn’t do this, it’s not because of any sense of fairness (usually), but because s/he wants you to do work at his/her own house, anyway. You’re not a slave, but you’re often close to being an indentured servant.
Natives of the country in which you work, usually do not respect you. This is often because you have darker skin, you are also poor. This is why you are a migrant labor. People who respect people who are rich. So often, the natives don't respect you.
Endure physical and mental abuse more frequently than not.
Feel lucky if you eat enough.
Feel lucky if you sleep enough.
Feel lucky if you’re not beaten.
Wish to be hired by a Western family. For the most part, the Westerners treat you better, although not always. Some Westerners like their curtains ironed 12 times in 3 days. Some don't give you a day off at all. Well, maybe it's not so great.
You don’t want to be hired by an Indian family. You understand there is a caste system. And your friend got burned by an iron. But maybe, you realize, it's all the same anyway.
You are in Hong Kong and the majority of people here are Chinese, but you would rather not be hired by a Chinese family. You want a Western family, really. You do, you think.
Westerners seem nice, but the bottom line is that they usually think little of your culture. But hey, that’s like most everyone else. You know this. You bear it in silence. But after the Western family kept trying to kick you out whenever they went on holiday and make you pay your plane fare back to your country, you got hired by a Chinese family and it was better. They were nicer. Go figure. Maybe the Westerners aren't so great after all.
You definitely don't want to be hired by your fellow countrymen/women. Yes, they're the worst. Your friends have been beaten, ripped off, cheated, and made to work without any day off. And these are from the people who share your language, nationality, and culture. And your friends--some of them are even working for their own relatives.
People don’t want your children to speak your language because it is “not useful.” (There are 90 million people in the Philippines and 228 million in Indonesia. But yes, it’s not a “useful” language. Mostly because your native country is poor and has been colonized. Heaven forbid that your employer’s child make friends with one who speaks your native language.)
The other reason people don’t want their children you raise, love, bathe, feed, dress, sing to, and play with, to speak your language, is that they fear that their children will either love you more, or you will cast some wicked spell on them and turn them against their parents. They want to know every word that you are saying to their child. This is because many of their parents treat you like crap and know that they do, and yeah, they have reasonable fears then, that you might say something terrible to their kids.
People say this about your culture: “Wow, but those people can really sing and dance!”
You work hard so that your employers values your work and hope that when you are entitled to your six year long term service bonus, you will actually get it. This is why you want a Western employer. You’ve heard that they are more likely to give it than a local employer—make that Asian employer (and this includes people of your own nationality, who are often the worst employers ever.) In fact, you’ve never met a local employer who has given it, although you are pretty sure that one would, one must…right?
You talk about going to Canada. England. Anywhere. But it’s far and cold. But still, you know that you should go. When you’re feeling brave and your husband back home quits asking you for money, you may indeed go.
You look at your fellow countrywomen who hooked up with a guy who is 35 years older and twice your body weight and think she’s lucky. She’s not a helper anymore. She is lucky.
You don’t want this life for your daughter, niece, or granddaughter. But you’re not sure how to avoid this from happening.
You don’t want to die a helper in Hong Kong.

So you respond to these conditions in any number of ways:

You find God.
You go out and get wildly drunk in Wanchai and sleep with strangers, sometimes for money.
You move very slowly. Very very very slowly.
You cry instead of ask. You become extremely passive aggressive.
You get pregnant and hope you can get permanent residency in Hong Kong. No one really explained that you can’t, but the rumor is out there, so you just go with that.
You try to find true love over the Internet.
You find God. Again.
You find another employer.
You have fun. You’re abroad. You’re independent for the first time in your life. Things could be much worse. You could be back at home, unemployed, with no money.
You remind yourself that your family is fed and clothed because of what you endure.
You have big dreams.
You have small dreams.
You just stop dreaming.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Outsourcing versus In Your Face

I was having a discussion with a friend who said to me (I paraphrase) —“Life in Asia is not neat. You’ve got to engage with it…it’s in your face…there is no outsourcing of experience.” My friend is Asian, from Malaysia, a longtime U.S. citizen, complete with American husband and son. I was thinking about this a great deal this week—grappling with my own questions about how I perceive life here versus life in the West. What is it that challenges and disturbs? How does one negotiate and navigate life here? What really is the difference between life here and the US, if one subscribes to the idea that human beings are at their core, so similar in their yearnings and needs.

Life here is in your face. It all unfolds in front of you. There is no instant experience, or if there is one, it’s only for a brief spell and then boom—there you are out the door and face to face with a reminder that you cannot escape the steps here, the details. You watch them all happen.

Take the chicken. Should one want to buy a chicken there are several possibilities. A dead chicken, mind you (they are closing or have recently, the live chicken markets due to constant bird flus). You can go to your wet market, or you can go to the supermarket. There are also some butcher shops on HK Island or Kowloon, but I can’t haul meat, especially in the summer for over an hour on the ferry. So, I usually go to the local supermarket, sometimes the gourmet supermarket in the city.

I don’t buy meat at the wet market. I admit it—it makes me feel a little queasy. It’s cheaper, but I don’t care and pay more. In the summer with the flies buzzing around, the smell and bloodstains…the meat is probably more fresh, but it seems definitely less appetizing. I am from a prepackaged, prefab society, and have prefab tendencies, I try to overcome these feelings, but can’t. I don’t feel this about butcher shops, let’s say, in England. Not that keen on the smell of blood. But I can deal with it knowing that England has a degree of health standards and Mainland China with its food labeling problems is not over the border. Anyway, the open market meat here really is an appetite killer.

OK, so for you who want to buy a chicken at the market, you can go and get one whole. It’s a chicken from China. So that in itself is a risk, given the food labeling issues (melamine in infant formula for starters) they’ve had and continue to have. But the chicken comes with the head and the feet. The organs are in there, but it’s not all packaged like in the US. You, the buyer, must chop off that head and feet. And it’s a scrawny chicken usually. Fewer hormones? Who knows. Ultimately, you outsource this chopping of the head and feet should you want a whole chicken.

In the States, I would go and buy a chicken at the supermarket and would happily get my plump bird horomone jacked up and all, with no head and no feat and with the internal organs neatly wrapped up. I would pick organic and pay a little more, or regular and pay a little less. Each chicken weighed the same…chicken after chicken. I had some level of faith in the packaging, that what it said was true. (Stupid, I know, but everyone likes to fool him or herself now and then). Obviously how the head and feet were cut off is not my concern. I just got the neat package. The mass production of meat to bring these millions of chickens in this way to this store that I drove my car to was not really a daily concern of mine. You can actually buy imported chicken here. And take pleasure in knowing that your chicken is certified organic and it costs a fortune and you used tons of fossil fuels getting that bird over here. How can you be an environmentalist if you import everything anyway? (Another story for later….)

Here in HK, the truth is you don’t know as much about your chicken—where it’s from. You don’t really believe the label. It says its from Guandong, but hell, it could be from Shaanxi and packaged in Guandong. But you do know that this chicken had one head and has two feet. The chicken may come in various weights, but it’s never as plump as the cheap chicken in the US.

So, where does that leave the chicken buyer? Well obviously, you’d prefer to buy the chicken in the US. But really, why? Because you can’t deal with that limp head with those closed gray eyes and that skinny neck. Because you don’t want to look at the toenails on the chicken feet. Because you believe the packaging in the US (maybe some stupid remote belief in the FDA that you should not have) and don’t believe for a single second, the packaging here. Because it’s just messier here in HK and you, the buyer, must deal with that mess. You the buyer, must throw that chicken head down your rubbish bin or fry up those feet (if you want, I am never inclined in that way, myself), or do whatever it is you do with those parts of the chicken. I was wondering how many people would stop cooking chicken if they had to deal with cutting off the head. For me, it makes me less inclined to cook a whole chicken, frankly. That’s a sad statement about me as a person, really. It means I want to eat the meat, but can’t deal with the mess of what it means to eat that chicken. The industrial process of farming, butchering, and selling meat. As an American raised on plastic packaging, I’m divorced from what it takes to bring that meat to the table. As I’ve gotten older, I’m less interested in eating meat, but I still eat it. It’s admittedly my very American side. I’m not the air freshener loving American—I do not require everything to be sanitized to the point of lavender, but I’m not exactly chomping on chicken feet instead of popcorn either.

Of course, we can then talk about outsourcing (or rather internal outsourcing) to the helpers—but this speaks for the middle and upper classes of Hong Kong and not the vast majority of China. We’ll get to the helper discussion and the complications of migrant labor in another blog. Stay tuned…so to continue…

And what about big box stores? Take Home Depot. When Stephen and I renovated our place in Arizona, we bought nearly everything we needed from Home Depot--from blinds to wiring, to paint to lights. You’re on a budget. This is what you do. You don’t have money to do much else. You know there are 10 different types of whatever it is that you need, ranging from cheap to more expensive, but not outlandishly so. It will never be hugely expensive because it’s Home Depot, and you’re fixing everything yourself. That’s the nature of Home Depot. You know that you will get a nice product in a box. You know that someone will tell you exactly how to install it. The price is what it says it is. There is no last minute changing of price. They probably decided the retail price of that item 15 months ago, no make that 36 months ago, before the factory in China filled with 12 year old girls started making it. Anyway, you buy your product. And before you get in your car, like millions of other people who go to Home Depot, you eat that same cheap hot dog and drink that same cheap coke outside on those plastic benches before you go home. You throw away that plastic and paper, creating more rubbish. But you don’t care. You don’t see landfills. You hardly see trash collectors. You definitely do not see old ladies hauling the trash down your small path and lifting huge bags reeking of dog feces and old eggs. You definitely do not run into these black plastic bags on your bike, because you don’t ride a bike. You may ride a huge car. Maybe you bought it when gas was cheap. You use it to haul your big lawnmower. Or maybe, you go wild game hunting. Whatever the reason, you don’t really need that big of a car. Anyway, your neighbors have all the same stuff from Home Depot. You can identify the lights in motel rooms and stranger’s homes and you know that the wall sconce by the bedroom cost 10.99 and was on sale for 9.99 and that’s why they bought 6 for their house and that is why you bought 6 for your house. And you feel a sense of accomplishment when the house is done—you did it, and now, presto, it looks fantastic, and like everyone else’s who went to Home Depot and did a home renovation. What you don’t like to admit to yourself is that Home Depot gobbled up all the small businesses that used to carry pipes and gardening hoses. Home Depot also famously donated money to political causes you don’t care for and in fact, despise with every atom of your body. But you don’t have much choice. Either you go to Home Depot, or you don’t fix your house. BOX STORE OR BUST.

Then you get Wanchai or Lockhart. You wander down this dusty filthy diesel laden street and there is one shop for hinges, another for toilet pipes, and another for window panes. There are millions of products to choose from. Unfortunately, nothing seems to be organized. Some say they are dealers of this bath product brand. But the sign that says that in the shop is probably counterfeit and printed up by some guy’s brother-in-law who owes him a favor for going to pick up the grandma one day. Anyway, these shops have men working shirtless in front of them with no protective eyegear and sparks are flying and they are hammering away and you notice a few missing fingers. A truck swings perilously close to your left foot. You almost bonk into a huge crate of marble slabs. People are busy. Lots of jostling. No one cares. This is China. They’re doing the job. They’re trying to make a buck. One guy’s store might be the size of a peephole. Another guy’s store hasn’t had any customers clearly, since 1995, and has every kind of toilet paper holder you could ever fathom and a great display of glass cups under the statue of a Venus de Milo. You’re just looking for this one thing. A basic sink. You get 4 prices for this sink. You have walked 25 feet and then decide on one of these stores and suddenly the salespeople say, they don’t have it. They’ll get it in stock about 3 months. You can’t buy the floor model. You go to another place. They decide to raise the price on you by an extra 10USD, just for the heck of it. Another asks you how you plan on getting the sink back to your village. Another tells you that this sink is nearly perfect, just has a small scratch blah blah. Forget it. You pay the extra 10USD and the price has gone up an extra 15USD. You don’t care. You pay it. You are sick of the noise. But then you realize, after you are thoroughly tired of this entire scenario, that this is mom-and-pop to the extreme. Sure, there are some who own a string of stores, but this is what it means to see all of the ugly stuff and deal with all the headaches of millions of stores and lots of variety. One place sells the tabletop. The next place sells the table legs. The next place sells the stuff to stick on top of the table to finish it. And then you have to find the guy to come over and install it. But he’s not in. He’s on holiday. His sister is sick. He’ll be gone at least 4 months. Can you wait? You long for Home Depot, and then catch yourself in this abyss of self-loathing. Since when have you ever liked a box store? You hyperventilate in malls, for chrissakes. You see what it takes to package those pipes, missing fingers, bruises and the stench of cigarettes. You don’t see any of this at Home Depot. It’s unfolding right before you. You’re glad for this. It’s just a terrible shopping experience. But in some ways, less belittling than the box store.

There is still more to be said on this subject, but in brief, life here is about dealing with chaos and the raw goods (not even raw, it was made in China, but still more raw than Home Depot, let’s say) versus the packaged chain. I do not like chains at all. Never been a fan of logos either. And here, you don’t have to experience them at all, if you want. Or you can experience them with the label ripped off, at least, sold to you from a box in an alley. What you may get here is a product, a food, or something without a label, and it is up to you to be the discerning one and be able to scrutinize it and decide if its safe, healthy, or what you really want. The joy in this is that it’s all up to you. The downside is there is no sense of order.

Anyway, more later…on outsourcing here. Thinking about this too and what it means to have a civil society….

Friday, December 11, 2009


What hovers over the red and gold?
rays of the unborn
lights of the beyond
gods of the sky, earth.


They feast on coils of sharp scents,
charred paper that nips slow fingertips;
they imbibe drinks at their feet.

My son worships.
He stands in awe.
A believer.

The gold monkey.
The red faced general.
The man on the throne.
The porcelain goddess who rules the sea.

He quietly taps the gourd,
summons the ghosts,
dares to finger the pamplemousse.
a recorded warble
a golden pineapple
wooden carvings of birds and flowers
the clatter of tin and china
a darting black temple cat.
This makes him strong.

The pattern of belief?
The beginning of fear or hope?
Oh, to walk with faith.
This I do not know.

When ghosts descend in our room
he announces their arrival:
“Yum Yum has come to play.”
My young son, closer to birth
than to death. He knows
The Other Side.
But his journey
like all will end
in dust.

The dead quicken in dreams.
But this does not console.

Hold fast to dried orange peels and candles
red light bulbs and mirrors.
We will be parted as we were joined
puzzles fit to perfection
split by blood and age
flesh that cleaved flesh.
Never more than ghosts who wander among us now.
Never more than those who grieve what they cannot know.

©Stephanie Han 2009

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Primal Fear

Yesterday I thought for the first time in months, maybe I can watch a movie on TV. We get the MGM channel. I actually didn't know we even got this channel and was informed by Stephen that we did only four months ago. I obviously wasn't missing much, as the channel is pretty awful. Nothing on it and haven't watched an entire movie on it once. Actually, I haven't seen a movie since I've moved here. I mean to and want to, but somehow have not been able to drag my sorry behind to the movie theater and can't be bothered to buy one at the DVD store.

Anyway, I flick on the channel and note that it is an evening of romantic love movies or some such nonsense that Stephen would surely turn off. Given that he's not in town, it's my opportunity to watch a sappy movie. The logo comes on. The lion roars. Keohi begins to cry and runs. "The tiger on the TV. Scary!" I tell him to come into the kitchen. The lion roars again, it's logo time--between movies or whatever, at which point Keohi yells: "Off. Off. No TV. NO TIGER. Off." He's petrified. There's no discussion of it being only on TV. It's real to him. The lion is about to roar again and I flick it off in mid-roar. I explain to him that the lion is just on TV, but he shakes his head. He's crying and scared.

Even today he said: "Remember, I'm scared of the lion on TV."

I say: "Don't worry. We won't turn on the TV."

Primal fear of a great animal devouring one's very flesh. Shouldn't we all be scared of lions?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dragon Sought By Young Boy

Preferably accompanied by satin clad men who bang large drums, strike cymbals and wave banners. Dragons who demand firecracker accompaniment will be met with tears and genuine fright. Streamers and confetti accommodated and appreciated. Manners and deportment required: Do not come too close, especially when batting eyelids and rearing up on hind legs. Hours: Punctuality affords better opportunity. Mornings ideal (although it is understood that most dragons sleep late). After naptime and before bedtime is also suitable. Teabreaks at your convenience. We believe in flexible working hours although telecommuting is not an option. Note that we will not supply small amphibians, rodents, or knights/damsels of fairytale variety for your food. However, we will assist you should you desire to carry off and devour an unwanted villager—within reason, of course. Benefits and compensation: Adoration, Admiration, Emulation, Devotion and many other nouns ending with the ‘tion’ suffix. Drawbacks: Occasional run-ins with local police force due to complaints from villagers. Note: Dragons with prior citations are still welcome to apply. We believe in regeneration and second chances. Dragons of all colors, sizes, and abilities welcome. We embrace diversity. On-the-job-training provided. Dragons who refuse to work festival holiday calendar need not apply. Negotiation of certain standard duties is possible. i.e. store openings. Additionally, we have contract dragons who do the wedding circuit. Position to be filled before the coming Lunar New Year.

Copyright 2009

Monday, December 7, 2009

Dragons After Dinner

You sit behind your father, ride fast.
The wind parts
wisps of your hair
gravel crunches underneath rolling rubber
sharp air licks lungs.
Your small fingers wrap around
a bar—safe to stalk, the thrill calls:
Dragons after dinner.

I pedal and listen to your high voice:
“The silver dragon sleeps there. Behind
the window, Dada. There.”

With raised fists you shout
cry for drums, point to stars.
It is late. Time to go.

Elders sit by the temple door
Popo Apo Abaak Yi yi.
Spotted hands, hardship faces.
Black trousers, thick sweaters.
They see us: a man, a woman, a boy.
I meet the look and thick silence
I have come to know.
A mistake, a castoff
driven from family, no doubt.
And here, evidence of flesh: a small boy
all fair hair and dark eyes.

I do not smile—no.
They will never know the canyon so far
the deserts we loved and found the sorrow
of family the embrace from a wise uncle.
Sickness, empty pockets.
Oh, how our love raged and stormed—even now
unspoken and uttered, parted and divided
but still, we are here.

My love and son we move together
man, woman, and child
weave through this dark square
pass the stone ancients
slip out the side fence.
We dive into the night where forgiveness lingers
in the green.
Moon on our backs as gears click
steel rattles and bells sound.
The honeysuckles rises.
With each pedal, a pause, a push, a promise
as I race
my heart to home.

Copyright 2009

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Commercial Products...a catalog

Form Filled Out for Cathay Pacific RT Flight HK-SF

We got a kid’s toy bag filled with products from the Disney Movie Ratatouille. This is my delayed response and it will be posted tomorrow to ole Cathay City at the airport. Let me preface this by saying Keohi has a number counting book with this Disney movie theme and it is very clever. The book was a gift from my mother. The rhyme is excellent and the phrasing very witty. It also has lots of cooking terms and he has memorized the French ones like “flambé” and “soufflé,” that appear at the end in a glossary. We’ve enjoyed the book. We’ve never seen the movie.

The form went like this:

How old are you?

2 years 10 months

Gender: boy

How did you like this bag?

I like it a lot
I don’t like it very much
I quite like it (note the British English phrase vs. American English ‘It’s pretty good’)
I really don’t like it. (I checked this)

Do you like the characters in this kit?

I like them a lot.
I don’t like them.
I quite like them.
I really don’t like them. (I checked this)

Please name 3 of your favorite cartoon characters.
(I left this blank. No, I am not helping your marketing team, Cathay.)

Which item in this kit is your favorite?
(I left this blank. I guess the playing cards were okay? Keohi uses them now to pile up near his cars.)

What else would you include in this kit?
(I left this blank)

Additional comments:
I don’t like giving my child commercial tie-in products from Disney. I am not interested in having him associate Disney with his childhood and aiding Disney in creating a lifelong consumer of its company products.

So I decided to catalog his Disney items:

Winnie the Pooh

I have less of an issue with this image—I am partial to it as I had Winnie the Pooh sheets as a kid. (Hmmmm….permanent consumer?) But primarily because I like the fact it is based on a real children’s book.

Book: He has it in his library, a gift from a former work colleague. The original book. NOT the Disney thing. I will not buy this for him. He can watch the movie later. He can read the real book.

Washcloth: Goody bag birthday party gift from a pal’s 2nd birthday

Pooh washmit: Gift from grandma in UK

Pooh tricycle: Gift from grandma in US. Much loved trike. It’s kicking around, but we’re onto training wheels these days. It was during this stage from about 19 months that he began to say “Winnie the Pooh.” Shocked look from Stephen (dismay, distraught, pissed off) when we moved to the stage of Disney Pooh recognition.

Pooh Birthday Mat Squares: 4 big ones in rather garish colors. Purchased by Stephen before we moved to protect Keohi when he was falling all the time learning to walk. Saved some bruises from stone tiles. Now covered by a rug from Ikea. During this early stage when we arrived, Keohi was 14 months and we just said, “Oh, look at the bear!”

Pooh pink backpack: It’s more the color he notices. His favorite. But yes, it is still Pooh from Disney. Stephen did not like the Pooh image.

Flashcard set: A great set from his friend here. These have nature pictures and the Pooh gang on some of the opposite sides. But he seems more interested in the nature images.

The Jungle Book

Book: Copy of the Disney short book from my sister Kath’s library when she was a kid. It came with a record. No record anymore. He loves this book. We watched the one number on youtube of the bear singing. I loved this movie as a kid and Dad took me to it when I was around 3 or 4 years old. Yes, I am partial. Lucky for me, it’s not in vogue so I figured it was OK to bring back to HK this past August as it has few ancillary items for sale in the store. Is this hypocritical or what?


Saw this movie. At the El Capitain theatre in LA no less, complete with stage show and screaming young kids with my former Arizona community college student and friend Ahmed. A cute movie. Not sure how I feel about the glorification of autos given global warming. I’d be more into a movie about bikes. Since he hasn’t seen this movie and I know he would be crazy for it if he ever did, he’s not watching it.

Toy cars: He has a series of cheap set of 5 cars we got from the local shop. I think they may be knock offs of some version of this movie. Not really sure.

Pajamas: He got a free pair of worn PJ hand-me-downs at the Eco-Swap. He knows the PJs as car pajamas.

I think that’s about it.

He also had or has the following other commercial products.

1. Hand me down Snoopy Pants or Jeans. He loved these. He called them “Snoopy Pants.” A big winter favorite. He also still has stretch knit “Snoopy Pink Pants.” Nothing else with Snoopy

2. Thomas the Tank Engine: Railroad set and book. Not a lot of passion for Thomas in particular, but I’ve never let him watch the show. He can’t watch it anyway, we don’t get the channel.

3. A Spiderman toy to stick on the window. He likes this. He got it from the Eco Swap. We call it “Spiderman.” He also has noted a friend’s Spiderman tricycle. Spiderman could be a big deal. I sang the theme song chorus from the animated TV series from the 1960s Spiderman to him. Spiderman, where are you going, oh Spiderman. Nobody knows who you are….” I sing it about 10 times in a row as he sticks Spiderman to the window. He orders me to sing the song. Yeah. I’m brainwashing him. A good time is had by all with Spiderman.

4. Bob the Builder: He has a bulldozer—a gift from a relative. The bulldozer song died as he threw it in the water and it’s a battery toy. So it’s silent now. I think this is from Bob the Builder, but having never watched the show, I am not sure. He also has a secondhand tent bought from a Church bazaar. We don’t talk about it being a Bob the Builder tent. We just say “Here’s a tent! Wow. Cool!”

5. Cookie Monster Doll: Present from my sister when he was 9 months. I think he had a mild interest in it before, but he doesn’t seem so interested now.

6. Beijing Olympic Logo Dolls. Yes. All six of them. Stuffed toys. Gift from friend here. He likes these a lot. Carts them around his yellow wagon.

7. John Deere Tractor book. He LOVES this book shaped like a tractor. My parents have a John Deere he sat on this summer. He’s probably hooked—yeah, a lifer for this product, for sure. This company will make some serious money from him if he is ever in the market for a tractor. I myself am very partial to John Deere tractors as it was part of my childhood and my parents still have the same tractor from when I was 9 years old.

8. Dora the Explorer book. Gift from my sister. He loved this. We took it to Mr. Mok to get it fixed two times as it sang tunes in Spanish and English. Unfortunately, it just died so I had to hide it as Keohi would get frustrated that the mechanism was busted and would demand we see Mok for hours and hours. Recently pulled it out again.

I think that’s the product wrap up in our house for the Under 3 set. It’s quite a lot, really. And he does know who Mickey Mouse is—he’s watched the cartoon at a friend’s house. My guess is that he will associate Winnie the Pooh with his childhood, buy a John Deere tractor, and have a thing about the Olympic logos.

Food and The Police

YUM. It’s been a good food week. Mostly due to my friend Kathline, Olivia and C. Headed up to her place on Thursday. Hey, Stephanie, she says…you want some papaya salad? And she picks a green one and whips up the best salad with grated carrots, fish sauce, chili peppers, and I’ll have to find out what else. It was very very good. Food is always excellent at her place. Kathline is an excellent cook, deals South African wine, sews beautiful clothes for her daughter, digs her own (no joke) coy pond and swimming pool, grows liliquoi and lemongrass and rolls out her own dumpling skins. The closest thing I can think of is Martha Stewart meets 4-H, plus she’s from Mainland China. A pretty amazing woman. I’m not really sure that there isn’t anything she can’t do. Most significantly, her food is awesome. So a good lunch at hers put me in a great mood for the next day.

The day after, Olivia came by with a fantastic and simple dessert. Take the skins you’d use to roll out spring rolls or wonton, fill with some mashed banana and brown sugar. Fry. Delicious. Hot and crispy is the best.

Then Saturday, after the Cantonese class, we ate some fried chicken wings made by C. It’s a Filipino dish: partially boiled first, then fried with garlic, bay leaf, peppercorns and probably some other secret thing that I will ask her about. Very crispy and very good. Forget those plain old chicken wings.

It was a good food week. No wonder I’m happy.

I’ve noticed that the province folks from the Philippines tend to make and eat better types of food. C. climbs a tree to pick leaves for soup with mung beans and ground pork, and understands fresh ingredients. Often if you are really in a very very rural area, you have to grow your own food so you understand the importance of fresh produce. Plus, no money to buy. And the city folk without money, and even those with, head to the frozen food section or microwave all the time.

After dinner Keohi was not tired (bed eventually at 11PM) so at around 8, we headed out so Stephen could do some work, and went looking for drums and dragons. Tai Tei Tong Square was kicking as someone was having a birthday celebration. The village was alive. The woks were going outside under the corrugated tin roof BBQ area, and kids were running with soccer balls and cycling like mad around the plastic chairs. There was a happy birthday sign over a group of tables. We got a peek at the dragons in the village room where they store the dragons and drums and Keohi kept telling me how he was going to drum. He can hardly control himself anymore when he sees a drum. He runs towards it and just stands over it, barely able to maintain himself and he really exhibits a good deal of control, so every now and then I let him bang it once or twice.

The temple interior was lit up. Keohi pointed to the pictures on the door, wooden figures of warrior or guards and told me those were kings. I was glad to hear him say that. I corrected him, told him they were guarding the temple. Given the images of books and the predominance of European featured men in the children’s book illustrations I was glad to see that he could transfer that idea of what constitutes a king to an Asian face. That said, I did buy him a book with a Chinese Emperor, a very nice book called THE EMPTY POT, to balance out that idea some months back. Inside the temple was an old gong. We’re having discussions on a daily basis (hourly even) about how you cannot go into the temple and start hitting the gong without asking. We had it again. The fierce looking god is in an enclosed glass box and Keohi and I talk about how ghosts used to be people, and Keohi tells me that this god in the box is a father. Have to find out what type of figure it is, really, but that sounds about right.

We head back to Luk Tei Tong and the temple there and we luck out! Some dragon and drum folk still going! And one guy lets Keohi drum on an enormous drum—he hand him his drumsticks. Dream come true! Keohi does some banging—a little timid at first, and then I tell him, hey, you’d better drum loud and a lot right now because this is your opportunity. So he drums and drums and it’s around 10PM now so the police come. And all they see is Keohi drumming away. The guys had gone inside the temple. So they’re weirded out. How do you give a citation for noise to a 2 year old, right? I was about to yell JEUK HEUI to the police. It means “Arrest him!” to the police, but thought they might not get the joke.

All good times must come to an end. We close up shop quick—hand over the drumsticks to the guys in the temple and are told that people have been complaining about the noise.

BUT HEY COME ON—who is complaining? Who are you? We live in a Chinese village. What do you think young people are going to do? Wouldn’t you rather have them drumming and practicing the dragon dance than vandalizing, or getting fall down drunk and vomiting all over the square and shooting heroin? People make no sense.


Now complaining about mad karaoke singing to Killing Me Softly for 3 hours at full blast is another thing. But cultural practices such as drumming are to be protected and people should really not complain. I’m not always a fan of it myself, but that’s just part of life here.

OK, no more ranting… The evening ended on another good food/drink note. Stephen and I drank the bottle of champagne given to my for a birthday gift from Liam and Maddy. And then ate it with blue cheese, crackers, and some of Kathline’s stash of very large dried whole shrimp from Xing Dao. Wow. Very good combo.

So life continues in Mui Wo, Lantau. Where the children are young, the drums go continuously, the cows stop bike traffic, and the po-pos (Cantonese grandmas) are grumpy.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Week of Menial Tasks Wrapping Up

Low point: Ever wander around aimlessly in Kwai Fong? No? Missed that hot spot? You mean, you don’t know about Minico Storage in Kwai Fong? You’re missin’ out…Well, gee, howz about hanging out at the gas station in ole Tung Chung. You know, the one near the interchange that is sort of like a truck stop.

Yes, it was one of those, how shall I put it—admin-errand-running-in-China days.
It’s been like that all week. My life has now descended into these mundane details. After Kwai Fung and cruising around on a bus in Tung Chung to who knows where, I did get home 7 hours later. Choice: taxi ride $$$$ that makes me feel like vomiting vs. taking a bus in hopes of getting home before 5PM for cheap.

Well. I now have a sofa.

Please ask if you want the information on a truly aimless bus ride of one’s life. It was a kind of Jean Paul Sartre day. NO EXIT … from Kwai Fong. Or NO EXIT from Tung Chung. Or NO EXIT … from my bad Chinese language skills.

Question: How does the hideous architecture of modern Asian cities buildings that are seemingly erected as a monument to ugliness, affect the mental outlook of its black lung inhabitants?

Question: Why do the majority of foods courts in malls around the world serve bad food?

Question: Are Mui Wo police bored? Or just ineffectual.

Question: 3 toilets and 80 children in a local primary school. No library. No improvements in 70 years. Why doesn’t the government deal with this?

Some memories of the week:

From the kitchen guy: “You can’t reach your upper kitchen cabinet? X and X can. It’s the same height as their kitchen.”

From me: “But they are 6 feet tall.”

From the kitchen guy: “Maybe I have to add a shelf.”

From the stone guy: “Can you find your own aluminum legs?” WHAT – it’s not like those words are in the Cantonese dictionary, sorry. Go ahead, try looking up “I need two aluminum or steel legs to support 290 pounds of granite.” And quit trying to sell me a granite Corinthian column. “You find in Mongkok.”

From me: (thoughts…evil pathetic thoughts, at least according to everyone in HK)…I HATE MONGKOK. I HATE SHOPPING. DO NOT TELL ME I WILL FIND IT IN MONGKOK-home of the acid throwing lunatic who sprays people as they are shopping. DO NOT TELL ME THAT SHOPPING IS NOT SO BAD.

From the kitchen guy: “Your stone guy not taking responsibility.”

From repair guys: “Yes, the paint definitely looks like two different colors on this door.”

From the agency: “The electrician does not want to install the light.”

From C: “There is cat poo all over the front of the house. You have sand.” Our entire front is the stray cats of Mui Wo litter box.

From me to a friend: “I have a very nice sewage pipe.”

From Keohi: “Stop being so impatient.” Crying. Yes, I feel guilt.

From Handyman: “Take it or leave it. Yes, extra charge of 50USD because I have to pay for lunch.”

From me: “But the job only takes one hour.”

From friend: “You’re moving. Good thing. Your gas tank under your sink now should actually be outside of your house. Very dangerous. You could burn down the building.”

From government education bureau: “But this is our policy. Statistics show that the population of Hong Kong’s young people is decreasing. There is no demand for a school in your area.” They refuse to examine distribution of population. Bureaucrats. Not surprised. Just annoyed.

From me: “I pulled a muscle in my back.”

From Keohi: “I want a big Christmas tree.”

From me: “What about a kid size tree?” I am thinking of the small plastic tree underneath our kitchen sink stored there with cotton fake snow on it since last Christmas.

From Grandma to Keohi on skype videochat: “No, you want a big tree, right?”

From Keohi: “I want a big one.”

From me in a text to Stephen: “I will not discuss laundry and drycleaning. Liaise with C.”

From Stephen to me in a text: “Calm down. Get a grip. You are a lovable loon.”

From me to Stephen in a text: “I love you but I cannot talk about drycleaning anymore.”

From Stephen to Keohi: “The firemen will repair the red fire hat you had and send you another one.”

From Me to Keohi: “But maybe you want a Hong Kong fire hat, right? The Hong Kong firemen wear yellow fire hats.”

From Stephen: “No red ones are better. Right, Keohi?”

From Me to Stephen/Keohi: “Stephen, I B-O-U-G-H-T a Y-E-L-L-O-W one. You like yellow, Keohi?”

From Keohi: “I like red.”

From friend: “Have you been writing?”

From Keohi: “I want Daddy.” Spoken while crying after I was again, impatient, and gave a frown.

Overall. A week that passes without much happening. But significance in some things:

a) Reminder not to be in a rush when it comes to Keohi, if at all possible. So what if it takes 5 more minutes to put on some shoes. I’ll be sad when he runs out the door soon enough and wish he hung out for 5 more minutes.

b) Stone in China is very very cheap. But if given a choice between a slab of stone and a quick jaunt to Bali, a pile of books, or not spending it at all, avoid the slab of stone. Yes, it is nice to roll out pastry on stone, but one should not resume the old habits of baking and eating a dozen scones in one go.

c) I have to remember that this is not the West. Even if at times, it is boring, uncomfortable, nonsensical, and enraging, at times. Kind of in Step 3 of cultural transition after 18 months—but not, I realize, fully there. Every now and then, the Step 2 stuff creeps in. Need to check that. And the woman at the storage place was very nice. Now I know Kwai Fong. And I know not to take the bus around Tung Chung and that Stephen’s laksa noodles taste better than the ones at the food court.

d) Be relieved that I am not in the group of 1 out of every 8 Americans on food stamps.

e) I should have read Stendahl’s The Red and the Black when I was 20. It might have influenced me in a profound way. Remember to give it to Keohi when he’s in high school. Should have read that along with Kerouac’s On the Road…

Holiday season about to start and am contemplating the bottle of unopened champagne right this minute.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Happy Late Thanksgiving

Keohi, C. and I went to my friend Adeline's, a Canadian, for Thanksgiving. Since turkeys don't get to HK until November, even the Canadians do Thanksgiving in November...

Good meal. Started at 9:30PM. Eat and run. Caught the ferry with Stephen -- late, on the 10:30PM.

Menu Turkey--perfect--really really good. They used the NY Times guide.
Garlic mashed potatoes--lots of butter and cream. Nice.
Broccoli salad--made by C. Delicious recipe from my California cousin, a great cook.
Bread--baguettes from City Super
Fresh green beans--with garlic. Nice.
cranberries--Fresh. NOT FROM THE CAN. GOD WILL PEOPLE STOP MAKING IT FROM THE CAN? I mean, it's downright wartime rationing behavior. The canned shape just plop on a plate is such a food downer. Geez. Boil it, cook it, something, please. Get away from the canned stuff!
pies (missed those--sigh)

Adeline and her boyfriend Franklin hosted. Very good food.

Pondering Xmas. Last year we had a Lebanese feast prepared by someone who had lived in Lebanon for 7 years. GREAT.

I'm thinking Indian-Lebanese this year.

Food on my mind...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Drums and Dragons

Drums and Dragons

On the ground
tiny pieces of colored foil
scatter in the light.

from the weekend drums and dragons.
You look for reasons

they have left.
Later the uncles call from the square;
you run to join them.

Cold wind cuts--
small fists grip fast the wooden sticks,
thump the drum's taut skin.

You belong
to a place I can never know
my village boy child.

Your tongue speaks
words I will never understand.
Dreams? Drums and Dragons.

On the edge
you dance to rhythms on concrete
clap with the cymbals.

Here, I watch.
You long for age, movement of time
to join the uncles.

It opens--
what will be a gulf of sorrow
now a bare echo.

Take your place
the dragon calls you, the drums beat.
Go, my son, in time.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


OK. So I was lazy and desperate. C., Keohi and myself had a sad and pathetic lunch at Ikea. THE FOOD IS THE PITS. Not that anyone in his or her right mind should eat there, but god, how terrible. Bad hot dog. Bad soup. Depressing. What a waste of some good calories. Should've walked across the street to Freshness Burger, but tried the Ikea concession. YUCK. In the end Keohi and myself had a bad ice cream cone. The $2 kind. Had that same awful McDonald's taste. Really, a bad meal can really get me down. My intestines felt awful. I came home and ate a big salad and cooked up some homemade macaroni and cheese and felt much better.

Speaking of good food, there was some great food at Isabella's 3rd birthday. I appreciate good food. Well, beyond that really, if it's a bad meal I get depressed, if not foul tempered. WHAT you invite me over for a lousy meal! Forget it! Let's meet at a restaurant. A DECENT ONE. Here in Mui Wo, I eat out mostly at the cooked food market. I'm from California for chrissakes. We have a serious food culture there. There's a lot of bad food going around here in HK. And a lot of people who don't know that they are eating some bad food. And no, drinking lots of alcohol does NOT MAKE FOOD TASTE BETTER.

So back to IKEA.

I'm not sure about Ikea -- how it's come to play such a big part in my life as a place to get stuff. Back in LA, I'd avoid Ikea like the plague. Here, I run to Ikea every few months or so to pick up this or that. A mug. A bathmat. Bought spotlights today for the kitchen. Stephen had such an intense loathing of Ikea that he usually would announce before we went into Ikea: "OK. We're only getting X. And then we're getting out of there. Fast." Usually, once I'm in a browse now and then, here and there, I figure, never hurts. But Stephen usually starts to feel grumpy in about 2 minutes. And the thing too, about Ikea is that usually out of every dozen or so items you may purchase, one is a complete and utter dud. I got a curtain rod there about a year ago and ended up trashing it and heading to the store behind the damn wet market as the Ikea one just kept falling.

To continue with our hum drum day...

Ikea was the usual bed-jumping frenzy. I can't go to Ikea with anyone because Keohi jumps around on the beds. And since I don't like for him to do it in our house, yes, I let him do it on the beds in the store. Doesn't make sense, but he's having such a grand time it's hard to dampen the enthusiasm. He tries out all the beds, pulls up the covers, and pretends to sleep. I think people might hint to me that he shouldn't do that if I actually went with anyone. So usually I prefer to do the Ikea without Keohi, or if it's with Keohi without anyone else. He shouldn't jump on beds. But he'll get over it. I don't think he'll do it when he's 18. Besides. It looks really fun. I feel like jumping on them too so I get a vicarious thrill.

Speaking of food courts. The food court in Tung Chung IS TERRIBLE.

Speaking of 18, Keohi said again, "When I am 18, I can drink coke." It's a recent obsession this coke business. "When I am grown up, I can eat candy." The best was on Saturday when he looked at the cupcakes we brought for Isabella that we made-- chocolate, covered with sprinkles. "LOOK AT THAT JUNK FOOD, Mommy. I WANT JUNK FOOD. Do you want JUNK FOOD?"

At least he knows anything that is bright pink and purple is probably junk food.

Doctor Visits

After the Hep B shot last week we have many conversations about shots and doctors.

"Don't worry, you're fine. It's just a shot," he says.

He then tries to look in my ear with some plastic object--like a film canister. "Do you have an ear confection? I'm being the lady. I'm taking the temperature. I'm the doctor. I am seeing an ear confection."

"Do I have one?" I say.

"No, it's ok. You can have a dumpling now!" He eats Beijing dumplings after every shot session, up the street off Lyndhurst Terrace. "Hooray, dumpling time! AND, you can eat duk too. (rice cakes). You get duk for the shot. Do you need to take pink medicine for the fever?"

"No, I don't have a fever."

"Maybe you need some Hep B shot."

"I don't want a Hep B shot," I say.

"Don't worry. You're fine," he says. "Would you like some duk, please?"

"Oh, thank you," I say, pretending to eat a piece.

"Where is my delicate motorbike?"

"I think you left it on the ferry, remember?"

"We have to ask the man on the ferry about the delicate motorbike. We left it there," he says. "It has a kickstand. Are there panda bears in the bog, Mommy?"

Monday, November 23, 2009

Hiking and Dum Dee

Keohi hiked 1.5 hours yesterday! We biked up to the entrance of the waterfall, parked our bikes, and then climbed up the steep hill. We did the same trail as last week, including the cave stopover and went past the gravesite to the first bench near the top of the mountain. Not bad at all. Stephen had to carry him a few minutes total, but I was impressed that Keohi walked up that steep path. Maybe I have low expectations. After all, if he were a Tibetan or Nepalese child he’d be ascending mountain paths with no problem. Walking miles. Through snow. Something like that…

We greeted the butterflies… “Hello, Black Butterfly” sang Keohi. There are so many here on Lantau that are spectacular. The kind of butterflies I had always imagined as a child in Iowa, but never saw. Iowa has mostly the standard yellow and white moth varieties. I think once I saw a lost Monarch, but not these blue and black and purple patterned butterflies that are here. Mind you, given the development, I’m probably looking at the last of the species, but enjoy it while you can.

There was one crying incident. Stephen yelled “Keohi” when Keohi stuck his head under the bar of the fence over the water. A big dropoff. Keohi cried and Stephen hugged him. You realize that people become inured to yelling and everything else. If you yell a lot, people tune out. If you don’t, they really are very upset when it happens. I don’t remember mom yelling at all. Mostly, it got scary when she got really quiet. That’s when we knew Mom was mad! Stephen told me I’m the same. I yell plenty, but when I am really really mad, I got very very very quiet. Hmmm….

We passed the one lone blackish green pineapple, green bananas (“we have to wait until they are yellow and ripe to pick them” the general recorded answer that Keohi repeats over and over) and the abandoned police station. We hung out at the gravesite and Keohi talked about the ghosts.

I remembered visiting my grandmother’s grave in Korea as a five year old child. I’ve only visited the site a few times in my life. That visit was significant as we were living in Seoul and back then, the graves were a carpeted mound of green. So my cousins and I were running up and down the mound until some uncle yelled at us to stop, probably mad that we were bouncing up and down on his mother’s grave. But in retrospect, it seems a nice thing –- to have your grandchildren laughing on your grave, playing in the sun. The graves have now changed. The site is not even there anymore. Family squabbles and the land taken over by government. Thousands of years of being buried on that mountain and now, no more mountain! Once the land has gone, a family falls. Or maybe, it’s once land prices go up, people get greedy and think about condos, so a family falls…

On the way back down, Keohi sang “Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son” and skipped along down the path, barely touching the ground at times as he jumped down the steps, dangling from my hand gripping his. We went to the second birthday party of the weekend, Oliver’s (Saturday was Isabella’s) and then headed home. Keohi and I then walked to the new white house or The White House, as we call it, and he was a worker man in the dirt. He picked up a shovel, stuck stones in the cement bucket and we both did drilling. He called me The Worker Mommy and he was The Worker Man or The Worker Guy. We made drill sounds against the wall for awhile and then I yelled because he was about to pick up a dead bird and step in some cat poo and then I called it a day. He decides then that he has to drum outside the house by the pile of gravel. Fine. He drums. He biked home, me trailing behind on foot and then—the square!

The Big Dum Dee Guys were out…Dum Dee guys are drummers. Dum Ditty Dum, Ditty Dum Dum Dum. A quotation from a book. So since the BIG Dum Dee guys, out come his drumsticks and red drum, which he carefully places on the side of the temple. He then drums along while the village guys rehearse. Keohi is just dying to join in.

“When I am big, I can play big DUM DEE and be an UNCLE. LIKE A BIG GUY. I can hit the drum with the BIG STICK. I am going to be a dum dee guy. Drum. Big DRUM. BIG BLACK DRUM.”

Mostly, the teens and young men are indifferent. I’m not Chinese. Keohi is not only not Chinese, he’s a blond hapa kid who marches around with a drum and screams at his mother to “BE THE DRAGON, MOMMY.” Keohi does the commands only to me, C. and his father. Everyone else thinks he’s so quiet and sweet. But privately, to us, he’s always yelling and bossing us around. I think the Dum Dee Guys he’s a little weird. He’s really fanatical about them and keeps placing his drum closer and closer to their rehearsal stage. And I sit there looking on, rather amused, clapping now and then to them/Keohi. We’re the strange foreigners all right. I declined Keohi’s command that I be the dragon (usually I run around the living room a little bit up and down and do the dragon dance, but uhm, not in public in the square, sorry), but agreed to do the pretend cymbals stuff for him. So he’s drumming away and I’m doing pretend cymbals.

A good way to end a Sunday…

Friday, November 20, 2009


"Do you want to make toast?" says Keohi.

"OK, go get the stool," says Mommy.

Keohi brings white plastic IKEA stool from bathroom while Mommy drags out toaster from underneath the sink. This is a particularly unattractive and well-worn appliance, but is able to spit out some toast. Mommy bought this and the equally ugly rice cooker with peach flowers from some old expat for 50HKD--advertised on a sign in the local Wellcome, the supermarket chain.

"Toast, toast, I make toast." He puts in the toast, and presses the button (with some assistance), and waits for the sound. "WAIT FOR THE POPPING SOUND!" he yells.

Toast done. "I'm a cooker," he says to me.

"You're a very good cook," I agree.

Household chores--making banana shakes, unclipping laundry from sock rack, and making toast. Independence looms...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Privacy and Affection

In times of duress, Keohi usually calls for me, but ideas of privacy and affection have now taken hold and are shifting. A few weeks ago, I was hugging him and he looks at Stephen in the doorway and says: "Daddy, can you close the door?" The other day, the same response with a different parent. He had fallen, or maybe was having some other crisis and Stephen was holding him on the bed. I stood in the doorway and Keohi says: "Mommy, can you leave?"

We can now have conversations--words are strung together with adjectives and articles, pronouns correctly used and wow, he's really expressing ideas that show he's becoming a full person. I hear him cry in the other room: "I'm frustrated! I'm frustrated!" And he points to the small plastic bus into which he is trying to shove his large stuffed toys. "It doesn't fit. I can't get it to fit. I'm frustrated."

Today I bike up to him and C. who accompanies him by foot--it's cold, and he's wearing his park with the tufts of brown fake fur around it. Navy blue. The kind of coat the little boys wore when I was kid. He bikes up to meet me on his neon green spider bike with training wheels. "I came to find you. I was worried, Mommy. You weren't there."

I say, "I'm right here. Even when I'm not right here, I'm still thinking about you, right?"

"I was worried," he says, nodding his head. "I want to look for the black dragon in Tai Tei Tong. Do you want to look for the dragon, Mommy?"

"Let's go home and eat something."

"No, I don't want to have tea," says my half-English son. Not sure where he's heard this. Around the 'hood, I think. I never say that, though his friends, most half, if not all English or Australian, do, obviously. "When I'm 18, I can drink Coke," he tells me. "Miss C. drinks Coke," he adds. "And Grandma."

"Mommy does not drink Coke," I say.

No response...we bike home. The wind cuts through our jeans. Winter in Lantau. Keohi, age 2.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Family Time, Life, and Lipstick

Today was a very good hike for a young chap like Keohi. Impressive climb for age 2. We walked up up up, a good 30 minutes up the the mountain on pavement and steps. We ambled by a huge forest spider spinning by the lamp, saw green bananas by the dozens, crab and crayfish and goldfish in a stream by an abandoned police station, and talked of ghosts and gravesites as we looked down and out at the bay hugging South Lantau. Coming down he needed a bit of a lift from ole Dad, but not all the way, and we stopped at the waterfall and did the usual run around the bathroom buildings shaped like a circle. Keohi went one direction and I another and then surprise, we ran into each other and this is wildly entertaining for about 5 minutes. We did this earlier in the week too. This time, Dad was here, so it was the three of us circling about a bit.

Last Sunday was great, a meal spontaneously shared at Pui O beach into the night, drumming circle (Keohi loved that--he's a mad drummer) and running in a green field (littered by water buffalo poo) and watching the amusing set up of Native American style teepee tents in South Lantau. Nice teepees.

There are some Sundays that are nearly perfect. These Sundays must include naps.

For Dad and for Keohi. Today, I joined the family nap, so feel particularly cheery. And I wasn't crowded off the bed. We have a king size bed. But somehow with a 6'2" Stephen and a long legged 2.5 year old who sleeps diagonally, Mommy gets pushed off and often is reduced to closing her eyes on the beige vinyl sofa that came with our apartment--in other words, the most uncomfortable sofa in the world. This sofa was designed NOT to allow anyone to relax. I've even attempted naps on Lamby bed from Ikea with Bubble Sheet and Alphabet Caterpillar. Again, anyone over age 6 would find this most uncomfortable, but hanging perilously on the edge of king size bed with two others who are dead logs often means no sleep anyway. But today was a vertical miracle--we were all lined up vertically. Wow. What a difference good geometric sleep makes.

Sundays are the only day we really have to spend as a family together. Stephen's job takes up 70-80 hours a week. He may be out the door to catch a 7AM ferry, maybe 8:30 if we are lucky, but then he is often not at home until 10PM at night. The other night, Keohi wanted to see him, so he was tired, but I kept him up, biking in the dark, we looked for dragons and drums until nearly 9:30PM. Fridays, when the publication goes to press, Stephen is not home until midnight. So weekdays we may get one meal together as a family, if we are lucky. This week, Keohi did not see Stephen for 3-4 days even though he wasn't out of town. This is Hong Kong and these are the kind of work hours that some people have here. It's brutal for Stephen, and lately Keohi asks where his father is. It's hard on everyone.

We tell him that Daddy is at work to buy you ice cream. This seems to be something he can comprehend more than Daddy works to feed the news wire and the wire never stops. The constant rush for information affects people in a myriad of ways--Keohi does not see his father, but we are fed, clothed, and housed in a worldwide economic meltdown. And everyone gets their news faster. It's more complicated, of course, but on the basic macro level, it boils down to hours, time, human beings.

We head to Tom's later. My English husband and half English son sit together and eat a breakfast plate. The only time Keohi will eat tomatoes--covered with beans and fried, with bits of bacon in his mouth, fed by his doting dad. We read the classic Golden Book on firemen. We eat toasties--ham and cheese, mushroom/tomato/cheese. Dad finishes his latte and Mommy and Keohi head to the supermarket to buy the coveted Girl's FAvorites. Girls Fashion Beauty Set. MADE IN CHINA.

Yes, for 14HKD or 2USD, he gets a plastic pink purse, 3 clips, 2 ponytail holders, a purple comb, and a purple lipstick (fake). This set is not the same one his friend Isabella has with the blow dryer and perfume spray (unfortunately), but it does come with a small compact mirror and the pink purse. Keohi is thrilled. Isabella had shown him how to do blow drying and spray perfume and put on lipstick. He loved the pretend lipstick. Since it was the first time he did not run away when a comb was near him I was keen to buy the set. I'm hoping it might inspire some grooming. Whenever I pull his brush out, or comb, he literally runs across the apartment and it becomes a chase. I confess I am rather apathetic about this. I haven't owned a blow dryer in years. I barely brush my own hair (not today, but it has a nice California bedhead look, I think to myself). Who am I to enforce grooming? But every now and then I feel I have to try, so this is my effort. Purchase some plastic product and hope it inspires some behavioral change. Yes! He loves the purple plastic comb and tries it out. He takes the pink plastic purse and tells me: "This is for wipes." He's seen his friend Bodhi's mom with a plastic case for wipes. He is quite fascinated by plastic cases. This is probably because his mom usually just carries a backpack she got free with stamps from the supermarket with a ziplock bag of his wipes. So boring. He puts lipstick on me. And himself. Since he's seen me do this very rarely, I was surprised he made the connection, but he tells me: "Mommy does this. I'm Mommy."

So his two imitations of Mommy have been pretending to type on the computer and putting on lipstick. Thinking about how we try to encourage our children to imitate and model what they would like to become. But how it's all shaped by gender. I've never seen so many princesses and princess items in my life as I do in this village. Little girls running around in ballet outfits and pretending to be princesses and ballerinas. (I recall I wanted a ballet outfit myself) And why is it that the boys all pretend to be workers (maybe the diggers and construction here) and firemen and police officers?

I was so annoyed with the Xmas toy catalog I saw from Bumps to Babes, the big toystore here. An entire page of pink toys for girls. Pink cars and castles. And then the boys page. Big muscle figurines with black and dark green macabre castles. Horrific. Why do I want my son to play with some steroid induced looking idiot with no neck toy who carries a plastic knife? Why, of course, I would much rather have him play with a pink princess with white blonde hair who would tip over due to the size of her bust and tippy toe toes in high heels! AUGH! Toy nightmares!

Thinking of Keohi entering the rigid world of boys do this and girls do this. It's coming soon. Thinking a lot too about what kind of man he will be and what will help make him a good partner or a good individual when it comes to being egalitarian minded. I've decided it can really boil down to a few things. Men who have the ability to cook, and men who have the ability to clean, and who do both of these things, or have, are usually far more tolerant and open to the reality of women's lives.

So Keohi's started making toast and helps to bake. He takes his plate to the kitchen--we try at least 1-2x a day. And we have started to do tidy-up. He will be a 21st century kind of guy, I hope, a feminist who is tolerant. I realize as a feminist with a son, it is my responsibility to him and to other women too to raise him this way. Hopefully, it works.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Picture to follow. Keohi given a huge piece of watermelon. He eats it, very messily, of course, thoroughly relishing every little bite.
"I wash my hands," he announces. He looks at me and starts pointing and wagging his index finger. "No, no, no. I wash my hands. BY MYSELF."
I hear him scramble onto the too high wash basin countertop. The thump against the door. The scrape of the stool against the tile floor. I can barely spit it the sink myself. It's some messed up architectural nightmare. Normally, everything is short and compact here. Made for 19th century heights and diets devoid of anything to increase one's height. In short, (no pun intended) for folks like myself at a towering 5'1". But our sink basin is all off. Now that I've been studying things like sink basin heights, I can tell you that at 39" it is way too high...
So Keohi climbs up, turns on the faucet. Comes down and out of the bathroom.
"I WASH MY HANDS." His face is covered in pink slushy watermelon. His shirt is drenched in juice. But indeed yes, his hands are clean.
"Very nice, Keohi." I'm really pretty happy about this. I wonder if it will translate into using the toilet anytime soon.

Keohi is downright ANTI-TOILET. I've decided, well at least for a while, to let it go, having had his godfather Andrew tell me the story of his son. Apparently he announced one day that he would simply no longer wear diapers, and never did again. This was maybe at 3 years 2 months or so. Keohi can recite the entire book about Joshua and the potty by heart, and frequently does, but used his pink potty as a helmet until very recently.

I try to ask Keohi if he wants to use the toilet. Randomly he does. We've come a long way since last year. Last year he cried last year when he watched his poo go down the toilet. Stephen tried to tell me that it was a part of him that was disappearing down a mysterious hole, that Keohi was attached to his poo. Some other scatalogical psychological whatever. Keohi's feeling about toilets and flushing have since shifted since last summer's scandalous TRAIN DOWN THE DRAIN incident. Flush. Toss. Mom shock. Keohi surprised. Yep, the toilet works. I will not say anymore...but if one should see a small blue cargo car in the Pacific, it's probably from a Mui Wo toilet.

He wants to flush every opportunity he can. Flushing is the motivation behind using the toilet. But mostly, he likes hanging out if someone else is on the toilet and then running over and trying to push his way to the toilet tank and yell: "PRESS THE SILVER BUTTON. I WANT TO PRESS IT."

"No. The only people who get to press it are the ones who do the pee pee in the toilet." I hope this will inspire him to use it.


"No. Mommy will press it. Mommy went to the toilet."

"PRESS." A mad quick press and he laughs and runs out of the room. Who knew that flushing could bring such happiness? It's really hard to be a toilet killjoy.

But pressing the silver button seems to be as far as it goes. I try asking him if he wants to use the toilet. He tells me "NO I GO PEE PEE ON THE LAWN."

"No, how about peeing in the toilet?"


"No, not on the bed, not on the tree, not down the drain." I feel like a Dr. Suess book, really.
And so the argument continues.

Then usually later, after running around sans diaper a bit, if it doesn't end up with him peeing on the floor, carpet, bed or whatever, he announces: "I want a disposable, please." Or maybe: "I like the cloth diaper. The disposable is itchy. NO. I do not want to wear undies. Diaper. Just diaper." I figure anyone who can discuss which type of diapers he prefers to wear should be out of diapers. I try asking him if he wants to wear his dinosaur underwear. Nope. He puts on the diaper. "Snuggy. Fix it, please. I have snuggy." He waddles off happily in his diaper.

I'll try again in another month.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The boy and the dragon and the drums...

I think about cultural immersion living here.

Keohi tells me he likes the rugby ball, wants to play cricket, eats chips, not french fries, and says "zed" instead of "Z." I tell him to "bali bali/wiki wiki" (Korean/Hawaiian for hurry-up) and he says "okole" (Hawaiian) for his bum, and "nahbi" (Korean) for butterfly, along with plain ole "butterfly" and now speaks a fair amount of Tagalog. "BAHBAHT, Kong" ("come down, Kong" in Tagalog, he tells his Cantonese only speaking little friend. I sing two Italian art songs to him every night and we read the French version of "A Little Red Hen" in my very bad schoolgirl French. He will go to a Cantonese preschool.

My son is half-British. Half American. Half Korean American via Seoul/Hawaii.

And then, there's the thing about living in a Chinese village. How does this shape him?

Clearly--our Mui Wo Chinese environment is winning out--oh, how he LONGS to DRUM and to do the DRAGON DANCE.

His obsession is drumming and dragons. Good and bad, we live in a fairly traditional village. This means that drum troop is practicing ALL THE TIME. Monday. Saturday. Friday. 2PM. 10PM. 11AM. 6PM....In fact, whenever the guys feel like hauling out those old drums. (Much preferable to our weekend neighbors who do karaoke with the windows open. and have a 3 song repertoire, but that's another story...) And the dragon is pulled out (red, black, or white one, you choose) every festival, weekend, birthday, holiday, store opening etc...

A year ago I had wondered if the drumming tradition was dying. I had seen these older teenage guys, young men, really, in their drumming and dragon outfits after the Dragon Boat Races. And then, a group of really young teens, tweens, who amped up their music system and started doing hip hop. The older guys looked at them. The younger guys seemed determined to prove their worth and that they were doing something different. Innovative. New. And I felt sad about this aspect really, of globalization. Yes, there is this exchange of music. The dancing was good. Kind of like you'd see in LA on the street. Yawn. And probably not that good, really. I thought about the drumming and dragon dance and how it would be replaced by pop songs, mostly insipid, and grumbled, gee, what's so original about that? Boring. It's an adaptation again, rather than a focus on what is truly local to these people. Colonialism. Globalization. Being hip. Being cool. Being Western. It's a mixed thing, really. Good overall. But there is always a local price to pay too for this. You want the latest music and would rather learn all that it involves and forget about the stupid drumming patterns and dragon moves that your grandfather did...boring...So I felt a little sad watching this scene between the two generations. But I realize now, I shouldn't have worried about the drumming and dragon tradition dying, in fact, from what I see, there seems to be a very large base of young people--mostly if not all male, (oh, how I'd love a girl to break the ranks!) who are determined and proud to uphold this drumming and dragon tradition.

Keohi's dream is to be a drummer, a "big guy" that drums in the village square on the weekends, practicing with the dragon and drumming troop. We search for Dum Dees (Dum Ditty Dum--a.k.a drums) everyday; try to see if people are practicing drumming. We look for a glimpse of the dragon troop donning the dragon head and snaking their way around the village. The drums invite wild head shaking and thumping on whatever is in front of Keohi (while drumming there is no air guitar, but that's his other instrument) and often we run back to our house so that he can beat his own drum with the "big kids." My Balinese sash is knotted around the hooks and so he wears the drum slung over his shoulders, steadily thumping with his sticks, looking around to try to join the group of teenage boys who hang and drum in the village, as their fathers, and grandfathers, and great great great grandfathers...and so it goes...have done forever...

When the dragon comes out there's a mixed reaction--Keohi wants to go closer, but he's scared. He steps back. He drums on the sidewalk with his stick. He grabs my hand. "I'm scared. The dragon!" But it's too thrilling to run away. He knows it's is real. It is not a young man. It's a dragon. For real. And when he sees the dragonhead on top of a teen boy wearing a T-shirt, he tells me: "The dragon has a T-shirt."

We go home and he bobs his head up and down and jumps and says: "I'm a dragon. I'm a dragon." I say, "help" and run away from him. He tells me to drum. And then it's my turn to be the dragon. The other day I pulled out a silky navy blue Chinese outfit--pants and a mandarin collar shirt with frogs. I had been meaning to send it to a friend for forever, and it fit him perfectly. Keohi was ecstatic.

"Dragon clothes. Dum Dee clothes. Like a big guy. When I grow up. I'm going to play the big drums. The BIG DRUMS. Let's go look for Dum Dee, Mommy. Where's the dragon?"

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Lantau Island Women's Eco-Swap!


DATE: November 7, 2009 Saturday

TIME: 11-2 (11-11:30 set up your stuff; 11:30-2 swap begins)

PLACE: 159 Luk Tei Tong Village Mui Wo (Stephanie Han and Stephen Aldred) It’s the tan brick house on the very edge of the village with the big garden; on the left as you approach from the bike path.

RULES: There is no exchange of money. This event is about swapping books, clothes, kids stuff, household goods, or any craft/baked goods that you might create. You may also swap service favors such as babysitting, driving, errands, and any skill that you feel might be of interest to others. If interested in exchange such as this, you should exchange contact details. If you want to just give, rather than exchange, that’s OK too.

If you have larger items (such as a bureau, desk, table etc…) you should bring a photo and description for pick-up/drop-off. Don’t bring it to the event!

LEFTOVERS: Leftover items in good condition will go to the Salvation Army and/or the Capongcol family – victims of Ketsana. The Salvation Army will not accept anything with missing buttons etc… so if any of your swap items are in poor condition and do not get swapped, please take this away (use it as a rag? Doll clothes?). We will not arrange any tax-deductible receipts. We will arrange transportation of good condition leftovers to the Salvation Army.

HINT: In the spirit of the event, it is best to be generous. You should not bring anything to this event that you would prefer to sell, as the point of this event is to exchange your item.

THANKS: It would be greatly appreciated if you gave a small donation to cover transport costs to the Salvation Army and/or for postage to the Philippines to mail a box to the Ketsana victims.

REFRESHMENTS: Bring food/drink to share. Bring your own cup, plate, and utensils.

NOTE: Women only, please!

QUESTIONS: Contact: Stephanie Han or Katie Norman, 或 Hilda Galloway(漢語) -

Friday, October 30, 2009

Insects and bravery

There is a large hornet, bee-like, wasp-y, ugly thing flying around by the light. Under normal circumstances I would run like hell out of the room. It's flitting by the ceiling light. I hope that it will kill itself, as moths do, by going into the light. I have never seen this kind of prehistoric mothlike huge flying creature.

Keohi: I'm scared, Mommy. I'm scared! (starts to cry)

The thing is batting around the room...furiously, nervously. I don't like the looks of it. It probably has some venomous sting. My HK insect book is nowhere in sight. Besides, it looks now like a dark blob against the light.

Me: Don't worry. Don't be scared.

I grab him and his entire bedsheet and plunk him down in the next room. Look for my insect killer racquet.

Me: Mommy will kill it!

I wave the racquet. I'm feeling brave. Sort of. The last time I tried to kill some flying thing near the light last year, I whacked and smashed the entire light. Glass all over the floor. It's never been replaced. Bare bulb in the living room...

Keohi: I'm scared!

Me: Don't be scared. It's a small bug. Mommy will get it.

I am suddenly omnipotent. Able to KILL. BIG BUGS. BIG FLYING BUGS. Mom power. I don't see it. Relief. It fried itself. I carry Keohi and bedsheet back into bed. Resume reading "A Mama for Owen."

Keohi: What's that up there?

He points with bottle to the light. A dark spot near the light. In the fixture.

Keohi: What's THAT? I'm SCARED.

Me: Don't worry, Mommy will kill it.

I grab racquet.

Keohi: No, don't kill it.

Me: OK, Mommy won't kill it.

I try to push it into the ceiling light. Yep. It's half-fried.

Me: All gone.

Keohi: All gone.

Me: Don't worry. Mommy got it. It disappeared.

I am so relieved. It is dead. Light is still intact. Yeah, I'm acclimatized and adjusted to living near an insect infested swamp....OBGB--our beloved green bog, and all of the creepy crawly flying things that it spawns...

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Truth About Living in a place with pythons...

Keohi: Are there polar bears in the bog?

Me: No. Only snakes. So don't jump in the bog. There are snakes in the bog. And snakes will eat you. And then mommy and daddy will be sad because we won't see you anymore.

Keohi: There are polar bears in the bog!

Me: There are snakes in the bog. BIG SNAKES. (My nightmare. Keohi jumps in the snake infested bog.)

Keohi: Are there polar bears in the bog?

Me: I don't see any. I don't think so. Just snakes. Do you like snakes?

Keohi: No, I don't like snakes.

Me: Mommy doesn't like snakes either.

And to anyone who wants to chastise me for being an amphibian hater, go ahead. Try living in a place where a python has been spotted slithering around the playground...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Home Renovation in Hong Kong

BOO to Year in Provence and A Year in Tuscany book. I met Peter Mayle, interviewed him for the Oakland Tribune, found him as witty as his book, but I will say that home renovation in Provence sounds amusing and entertaining. At least he could speak some French. Try home renovation without Chinese (yes, my own monolingual existence is really a pain now). Home renovation in France, or Italy, or Arizona (my only past real life experience) is NOT like home renovation in Hong Kong.

These days I find myself having fantasies about big box stores like Home DeSpot...(as we called the place in AZ). There I found 15 sizes of light sconces, I picked the cheapest one, at US $10 and got it installed by Home Repair Handyman Husband and it is done. Period.

Home renovation in Hong Kong means everyone says they know what you are talking about, agrees to what you say, and then says 24 hours later that they don't know what you are talking about and don't know what you are saying. And the quotation is yes, valid. Until the person forgets what the quotation was, at which point it goes up, or the job is deemed impossible. Usually 14 days after it is given. What do you mean you are waiting for the quotation? Oh yeah. Everyone very very busy. Very busy. OK. No problem. No problem. Yes, you pick wrong tile. Not working. Why didn't you tell me that tile wouldn't work? Shrug shoulders. Haha. Yes. Tile not working. Not good for bathroom. Yes, I do granite. Yes. No problem. Really, we can do it. Well, small problem. But I see...ask boss. I want this black granite. I can't do the granite. No. No, can't. Sure. Fill in the door. No problem. OK, fill it in. No, we can't fill it in. Well, we can but this charge is too low. Maybe 1/3 more. You didn't say you wanted it filled in like that. If I make it look like outside, I charge more.

You are also female. Who listens to women discussing walls and electric sockets in Hong Kong? Tsk. Tsk...

There are a few heroes here: Mr. M of the local electrical supply store who sells everything from DVD players to washing machines and lights. But Mr. M cannot, unfortunately, do the renovations.

Signing off from Home Reno Hell

Burmese Pythons in Lantau

Apparently a man's dog was barking like crazy and he went into the garden and found his toddler near a snake. But the python is an endangered species. So he was fined.

I am all for protecting endangered species but if one was slithering near Keohi I think my natural instinct would be to kill it and scream YOU ARE A HANDBAG! Or YOU'RE NOTHING BUT A PAIR OF SHOES!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Fall is Here and Foreigners Abound

I am so glad. The heat is unbearable in Hong Kong. The sounds of the diggers and trucks, the dust flying, even on sleepy Lantau feels worse when the temperature is high and your clothes are sticking to your body, and your AC is busted and smells like mold.

Rereading The Namesake by Lahiri as I will be leading a discussion on this book for the Lantau Book Club. Being "foreign" has always been a subject of interest to me and here in HK takes on multiple layers.

What does it mean to be a Westerner?

What is a foreigner?

How does one belong?

This city is about foreigners of some kind--whether they be from Shanghai or Sydney. The one thing that all of the foreigners share is a desire for financial security or wealth--this is what brings them to Hong Kong. Most people who are interested in Chinese culture or language or history head up north--we are in the south--this is the land of commerce, trade, and money. Marble floors and mirrored glass. Shoes that pinch. Dark suits worn in a place where thin cottons would be more appropriate.

And then there is the rustle of pink against the green leaves of our bog. The silky gray of the water buffalo. The wind that hits your knees when you hug the curve on the bike path by the beach. This too is Hong Kong, but when I described this to someone who had lived here for several years she said: "You sound like you're describing a foreign country."

Signing off...

Monday, October 5, 2009

So much for 60th anniversaries...

Chinese authorities have increased surveillance, harassment and imprisonment of activists ahead of the country's 60th anniversary on October 1 to prevent them from raising human rights concerns that challenge the authorities' image of social harmony, Amnesty International said today.

Amnesty International estimates that several hundred activists and dissidents are under various kinds of surveillance or house arrest and thousands of petitioners are being swept out of Beijing. The organization continues to receive reports that petitioners are being kept in "black jails" and other informal detention facilities outside Beijing.

"The Chinese government wants to celebrate the country's success while ensuring that no dissenting view or complaint is heard," said Roseann Rife, Amnesty International Asia Pacific deputy director. "As a result, what the Chinese government is highlighting is its own fear of giving the Chinese people a real voice to talk about the reality of their lives, good and bad."

In the past few weeks, the authorities have increased their surveillance of petitioners, human rights activists, religious practitioners and ethnic minorities to ensure that they do not raise human rights issues and complaints in any forums during the National Day celebrations.

Petitioners seek justice directly by presenting their cases to central authorities in Beijing after failing to redress their grievances locally.

On Friday, September 25, Chinese media reported that local authorities were told by the central government departments that manage petitioners - the State Bureau for Letters and Visits and the Public Security Bureau - that they should review their records and keep anyone who has filed a petition under local surveillance during this time period.

Beijing authorities regularly forcibly return petitioners to their hometowns before major events or celebrations as they believe petitioners would reflect badly on the country's international public image.

"We call on the authorities to immediately and unconditionally lift all restrictions on human rights activists and release all prisoners of conscience across the country," said Roseann Rife.

Amnesty International has recently recorded the following incidents:

* Zeng Jinyan, wife of imprisoned human rights activists Hu Jia, was asked by authorities to leave Beijing on September 25 and not to return until after October 10. Zeng Jinyan has been under tight surveillance since her husband was imprisoned in April 2008, effectively halting much of the couple's human rights work.

* On September 23, police informed the lawyer of detained human rights activist Liu Xiaobo that his client had to remain in detention for further investigation of suspicion of "inciting subversion of state power". Liu Xiaobo was seized from his home in Beijing by the police on December 8, 2008, two days before he was due to launch Charter 08, a blueprint for legal and political reform in China.

* In mid September, several Beijing activists were forced to leave the city. Those included former political prisoner and China Democratic Party member Gao Hongming, housing rights activist Wang Ling, who was sent to Re-education Through Labour during the 2008 Olympics, and pro-democracy activist Qi Zhiyong who was left disabled from a gunshot injury during the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.

* Since September 22, Tian Qizhuang, a director of the Open Constitution Initiative (OCI), has not been seen by his family. On September 24, he called his son explaining he is under police surveillance and asking him to prepare some clothes for him. OCI Founder Xu Zhiyong remains under surveillance and the organization's finance secretary Zhuang Lu has had only limited contact with her immediate family since her release on August 23.

* Two dozen plain-clothed security forces have been stationed outside the home of Yuan Weijing, wife of imprisoned activist Chen Guangcheng. Her phone is also intermittently cut off. Together with Chen Guangcheng, Yuan Weijing defended the rights of people with disabilities and women affected by abuses of enforcement of family planning policies in Linyi city, Shandong province.

* In Zhejiang province, several members of the banned China Democratic Party, including Zhu Zhengming, Zhu Yufu, Mao Qingxiang, and Hu Xiaoling have had police stationed in front of their homes to prevent them leaving.

* Earlier in September, China Democratic Party member Xie Changfa was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment on "subversion" charges in Hunan province. This is one of the longest sentences given to human rights or political activists in recent years.

* Four female petitioners, Yang Xinmei, Li Suping, Wang Lina and Sun Li from the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region were detained in Beijing in late August. They were originally placed under 15 days' administrative detention and now have been sent to 2 years of Re-education Through Labour to prevent them from further petitioning over the National Day holiday. The women were petitioning about several issues including land confiscation and miscarriage of justice.

國際特赦組織聲稱 ,臨近十‧一60週年國慶之際,中國當局加強對人權活躍人士之監視、騷擾,甚至監禁他們,以阻止他們提出關注人權的議題,威脅當局致力維持的 「社會和諧」形象。

國際特赦組織估計有數以百計活躍人士及異見份子被監視或軟禁,而數千請願人士被拚諸北京城外。 組織繼續收到消息,請願人士被囚在北京外圍 的「黑獄」或被非正式的拘留設施內。

國際特赦組織亞太區項目 副主管阮柔安說:「中國政府希望確保國慶不會被反對聲音或投訴影響, 這更表現了中國政府害怕給予人民表達他們生活真實的一面──不論是正面或負面的表達。」


9月25日,中國傳媒報導,地方當局收到負責管理請願者的中央部門 –國家信訪和公安局的通告,地方部門須這段時間審查記錄,監視任何提交了請願書的人士。




* 被囚人權積極分子胡佳的妻子,曾金燕,公安加派人手注守在其居住的大廈,不准她離開寓所。9月25日當天,當局要求她離開北京城,10月10日前都不可以回來。自從胡佳在2008年4月被監禁,當局嚴密監視曾金燕,阻止他們進行人權工作。

* 2009年9月23日,公安對劉曉波的律師表示,他會繼續被拘留,就其「煽動顛覆國家政權」罪作進一步調查。2008年12月8日,在世界人權宣言60週 年的前兩天,劉曉波在家中被公安強行帶走,當天也是「08 憲章」原定的發報日,「08 憲章」乃是一份民間社會要求根本法律及政治改革的藍圖─ 。

* 自9月中起,多名北京的活躍分子被逼離開該市,包括前政治犯及中國民主黨成員高洪明,在2008年北京奧運期間被遣勞動教養的住房權活躍人士王玲,以及在89天安門事件被槍擊而成為殘疾人士的民主積極分子齊志勇。

* 自9月22日,法律緩助及調查組織公盟的行政署長田奇莊已失去聯繫。9月24日,他致電兒子告知他被公安監視,吩咐他準備一些衣服。公盟創辦人許志永繼續被監視,而公盟的財政部長莊路自從8月23日被釋放,只能 跟家人作有限聯絡。

* 在囚法律權益積極份子陳光誠之妻子袁偉靜家外就有24名便衣公安注守,袁偉靜的電話間歇性中斷;陳光誠跟袁偉靜曾為殘疾人士爭取人權,與及幫助在山東省臨沂市因當局濫用劃生育政策而受影響的婦女。

* 在浙江省,數名中國民主黨成員的家亦被公安看守,阻止他們離開。當中包括祝正明、朱虞夫,毛慶祥,和胡曉玲。

* 9月初,另一名中國民主黨成員謝長發在湖南因顛覆罪被判監禁13年。此監禁是近年來人權及政治積極份子最長的判決。

* 8月下旬, 4名來自新疆維吾爾自治區的請願者已被拘留在北京。她們原本只被拘留在行政拘留所15天。然為阻止她們在國慶期間發起請願行動,卻最終被遣送到 「勞動教養」兩年。當時,這些女士正在就有關土地徵用和誤判作請願。