Background: #fff
Foreground: #000
PrimaryPale: #8cf
PrimaryLight: #18f
PrimaryMid: #04b
PrimaryDark: #014
SecondaryPale: #ffc
SecondaryLight: #fe8
SecondaryMid: #db4
SecondaryDark: #841
TertiaryPale: #eee
TertiaryLight: #ccc
TertiaryMid: #999
TertiaryDark: #666
Error: #f88
<div class='toolbar' macro='toolbar [[ToolbarCommands::EditToolbar]]'></div>
<div class='title' macro='view title'></div>
<div class='editor' macro='edit title'></div>
<div macro='annotations'></div>
<div class='editor' macro='edit text'></div>
<div class='editor' macro='edit tags'></div><div class='editorFooter'><span macro='message views.editor.tagPrompt'></span><span macro='tagChooser excludeLists'></span></div>
To get started with this blank [[TiddlyWiki]], you'll need to modify the following tiddlers:
* [[SiteTitle]] & [[SiteSubtitle]]: The title and subtitle of the site, as shown above (after saving, they will also appear in the browser title bar)
* [[MainMenu]]: The menu (usually on the left)
* [[DefaultTiddlers]]: Contains the names of the tiddlers that you want to appear when the TiddlyWiki is opened
You'll also need to enter your username for signing your edits: <<option txtUserName>>
<link rel='alternate' type='application/rss+xml' title='RSS' href='index.xml' />
These [[InterfaceOptions]] for customising [[TiddlyWiki]] are saved in your browser

Your username for signing your edits. Write it as a [[WikiWord]] (eg [[JoeBloggs]])

<<option txtUserName>>
<<option chkSaveBackups>> [[SaveBackups]]
<<option chkAutoSave>> [[AutoSave]]
<<option chkRegExpSearch>> [[RegExpSearch]]
<<option chkCaseSensitiveSearch>> [[CaseSensitiveSearch]]
<<option chkAnimate>> [[EnableAnimations]]

Also see [[AdvancedOptions]]
<div class='header' role='banner' macro='gradient vert [[ColorPalette::PrimaryLight]] [[ColorPalette::PrimaryMid]]'>
<div class='headerShadow'>
<span class='siteTitle' refresh='content' tiddler='SiteTitle'></span>&nbsp;
<span class='siteSubtitle' refresh='content' tiddler='SiteSubtitle'></span>
<div class='headerForeground'>
<span class='siteTitle' refresh='content' tiddler='SiteTitle'></span>&nbsp;
<span class='siteSubtitle' refresh='content' tiddler='SiteSubtitle'></span>
<div id='mainMenu' role='navigation' refresh='content' tiddler='MainMenu'></div>
<div id='sidebar'>
<div id='sidebarOptions' role='navigation' refresh='content' tiddler='SideBarOptions'></div>
<div id='sidebarTabs' role='complementary' refresh='content' force='true' tiddler='SideBarTabs'></div>
<div id='displayArea' role='main'>
<div id='messageArea'></div>
<div id='tiddlerDisplay'></div>
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.wizardFooter {background:[[ColorPalette::PrimaryPale]];}
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.wizard .notChanged {background:transparent;}
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.wizard .changedServer {background:#8080ff;}
.wizard .changedBoth {background:#ff8080;}
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.wizard .gotFromServer {background:#80ffff;}

#messageArea {border:1px solid [[ColorPalette::SecondaryMid]]; background:[[ColorPalette::SecondaryLight]]; color:[[ColorPalette::Foreground]];}
#messageArea .button {color:[[ColorPalette::PrimaryMid]]; background:[[ColorPalette::SecondaryPale]]; border:none;}

.popupTiddler {background:[[ColorPalette::TertiaryPale]]; border:2px solid [[ColorPalette::TertiaryMid]];}

.popup {background:[[ColorPalette::TertiaryPale]]; color:[[ColorPalette::TertiaryDark]]; border-left:1px solid [[ColorPalette::TertiaryMid]]; border-top:1px solid [[ColorPalette::TertiaryMid]]; border-right:2px solid [[ColorPalette::TertiaryDark]]; border-bottom:2px solid [[ColorPalette::TertiaryDark]];}
.popup hr {color:[[ColorPalette::PrimaryDark]]; background:[[ColorPalette::PrimaryDark]]; border-bottom:1px;}
.popup li.disabled {color:[[ColorPalette::TertiaryMid]];}
.popup li a, .popup li a:visited {color:[[ColorPalette::Foreground]]; border: none;}
.popup li a:hover {background:[[ColorPalette::SecondaryLight]]; color:[[ColorPalette::Foreground]]; border: none;}
.popup li a:active {background:[[ColorPalette::SecondaryPale]]; color:[[ColorPalette::Foreground]]; border: none;}
.popupHighlight {background:[[ColorPalette::Background]]; color:[[ColorPalette::Foreground]];}
.listBreak div {border-bottom:1px solid [[ColorPalette::TertiaryDark]];}

.tiddler .defaultCommand {font-weight:bold;}

.shadow .title {color:[[ColorPalette::TertiaryDark]];}

.title {color:[[ColorPalette::SecondaryDark]];}
.subtitle {color:[[ColorPalette::TertiaryDark]];}

.toolbar {color:[[ColorPalette::PrimaryMid]];}
.toolbar a {color:[[ColorPalette::TertiaryLight]];}
.selected .toolbar a {color:[[ColorPalette::TertiaryMid]];}
.selected .toolbar a:hover {color:[[ColorPalette::Foreground]];}

.tagging, .tagged {border:1px solid [[ColorPalette::TertiaryPale]]; background-color:[[ColorPalette::TertiaryPale]];}
.selected .tagging, .selected .tagged {background-color:[[ColorPalette::TertiaryLight]]; border:1px solid [[ColorPalette::TertiaryMid]];}
.tagging .listTitle, .tagged .listTitle {color:[[ColorPalette::PrimaryDark]];}
.tagging .button, .tagged .button {border:none;}

.footer {color:[[ColorPalette::TertiaryLight]];}
.selected .footer {color:[[ColorPalette::TertiaryMid]];}

.error, .errorButton {color:[[ColorPalette::Foreground]]; background:[[ColorPalette::Error]];}
.warning {color:[[ColorPalette::Foreground]]; background:[[ColorPalette::SecondaryPale]];}
.lowlight {background:[[ColorPalette::TertiaryLight]];}

.zoomer {background:none; color:[[ColorPalette::TertiaryMid]]; border:3px solid [[ColorPalette::TertiaryMid]];}

.imageLink, #displayArea .imageLink {background:transparent;}

.annotation {background:[[ColorPalette::SecondaryLight]]; color:[[ColorPalette::Foreground]]; border:2px solid [[ColorPalette::SecondaryMid]];}

.viewer .listTitle {list-style-type:none; margin-left:-2em;}
.viewer .button {border:1px solid [[ColorPalette::SecondaryMid]];}
.viewer blockquote {border-left:3px solid [[ColorPalette::TertiaryDark]];}

.viewer table, table.twtable {border:2px solid [[ColorPalette::TertiaryDark]];}
.viewer th, .viewer thead td, .twtable th, .twtable thead td {background:[[ColorPalette::SecondaryMid]]; border:1px solid [[ColorPalette::TertiaryDark]]; color:[[ColorPalette::Background]];}
.viewer td, .viewer tr, .twtable td, .twtable tr {border:1px solid [[ColorPalette::TertiaryDark]];}

.viewer pre {border:1px solid [[ColorPalette::SecondaryLight]]; background:[[ColorPalette::SecondaryPale]];}
.viewer code {color:[[ColorPalette::SecondaryDark]];}
.viewer hr {border:0; border-top:dashed 1px [[ColorPalette::TertiaryDark]]; color:[[ColorPalette::TertiaryDark]];}

.highlight, .marked {background:[[ColorPalette::SecondaryLight]];}

.editor input {border:1px solid [[ColorPalette::PrimaryMid]];}
.editor textarea {border:1px solid [[ColorPalette::PrimaryMid]]; width:100%;}
.editorFooter {color:[[ColorPalette::TertiaryMid]];}
.readOnly {background:[[ColorPalette::TertiaryPale]];}

#backstageArea {background:[[ColorPalette::Foreground]]; color:[[ColorPalette::TertiaryMid]];}
#backstageArea a {background:[[ColorPalette::Foreground]]; color:[[ColorPalette::Background]]; border:none;}
#backstageArea a:hover {background:[[ColorPalette::SecondaryLight]]; color:[[ColorPalette::Foreground]]; }
#backstageArea a.backstageSelTab {background:[[ColorPalette::Background]]; color:[[ColorPalette::Foreground]];}
#backstageButton a {background:none; color:[[ColorPalette::Background]]; border:none;}
#backstageButton a:hover {background:[[ColorPalette::Foreground]]; color:[[ColorPalette::Background]]; border:none;}
#backstagePanel {background:[[ColorPalette::Background]]; border-color: [[ColorPalette::Background]] [[ColorPalette::TertiaryDark]] [[ColorPalette::TertiaryDark]] [[ColorPalette::TertiaryDark]];}
.backstagePanelFooter .button {border:none; color:[[ColorPalette::Background]];}
.backstagePanelFooter .button:hover {color:[[ColorPalette::Foreground]];}
#backstageCloak {background:[[ColorPalette::Foreground]]; opacity:0.6; filter:alpha(opacity=60);}
* html .tiddler {height:1%;}

body {font-size:.75em; font-family:arial,helvetica; margin:0; padding:0;}

h1,h2,h3,h4,h5,h6 {font-weight:bold; text-decoration:none;}
h1,h2,h3 {padding-bottom:1px; margin-top:1.2em;margin-bottom:0.3em;}
h4,h5,h6 {margin-top:1em;}
h1 {font-size:1.35em;}
h2 {font-size:1.25em;}
h3 {font-size:1.1em;}
h4 {font-size:1em;}
h5 {font-size:.9em;}

hr {height:1px;}

a {text-decoration:none;}

dt {font-weight:bold;}

ol {list-style-type:decimal;}
ol ol {list-style-type:lower-alpha;}
ol ol ol {list-style-type:lower-roman;}
ol ol ol ol {list-style-type:decimal;}
ol ol ol ol ol {list-style-type:lower-alpha;}
ol ol ol ol ol ol {list-style-type:lower-roman;}
ol ol ol ol ol ol ol {list-style-type:decimal;}

.txtOptionInput {width:11em;}

#contentWrapper .chkOptionInput {border:0;}

.externalLink {text-decoration:underline;}

.indent {margin-left:3em;}
.outdent {margin-left:3em; text-indent:-3em;}
code.escaped {white-space:nowrap;}

.tiddlyLinkExisting {font-weight:bold;}
.tiddlyLinkNonExisting {font-style:italic;}

/* the 'a' is required for IE, otherwise it renders the whole tiddler in bold */
a.tiddlyLinkNonExisting.shadow {font-weight:bold;}

#mainMenu .tiddlyLinkExisting,
	#mainMenu .tiddlyLinkNonExisting,
	#sidebarTabs .tiddlyLinkNonExisting {font-weight:normal; font-style:normal;}
#sidebarTabs .tiddlyLinkExisting {font-weight:bold; font-style:normal;}

.header {position:relative;}
.header a:hover {background:transparent;}
.headerShadow {position:relative; padding:4.5em 0 1em 1em; left:-1px; top:-1px;}
.headerForeground {position:absolute; padding:4.5em 0 1em 1em; left:0; top:0;}

.siteTitle {font-size:3em;}
.siteSubtitle {font-size:1.2em;}

#mainMenu {position:absolute; left:0; width:10em; text-align:right; line-height:1.6em; padding:1.5em 0.5em 0.5em 0.5em; font-size:1.1em;}

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#sidebarOptions {padding-top:0.3em;}
#sidebarOptions a {margin:0 0.2em; padding:0.2em 0.3em; display:block;}
#sidebarOptions input {margin:0.4em 0.5em;}
#sidebarOptions .sliderPanel {margin-left:1em; padding:0.5em; font-size:.85em;}
#sidebarOptions .sliderPanel a {font-weight:bold; display:inline; padding:0;}
#sidebarOptions .sliderPanel input {margin:0 0 0.3em 0;}
#sidebarTabs .tabContents {width:15em; overflow:hidden;}

.wizard {padding:0.1em 1em 0 2em;}
.wizard h1 {font-size:2em; font-weight:bold; background:none; padding:0; margin:0.4em 0 0.2em;}
.wizard h2 {font-size:1.2em; font-weight:bold; background:none; padding:0; margin:0.4em 0 0.2em;}
.wizardStep {padding:1em 1em 1em 1em;}
.wizard .button {margin:0.5em 0 0; font-size:1.2em;}
.wizardFooter {padding:0.8em 0.4em 0.8em 0;}
.wizardFooter .status {padding:0 0.4em; margin-left:1em;}
.wizard .button {padding:0.1em 0.2em;}

#messageArea {position:fixed; top:2em; right:0; margin:0.5em; padding:0.5em; z-index:2000; _position:absolute;}
.messageToolbar {display:block; text-align:right; padding:0.2em;}
#messageArea a {text-decoration:underline;}

.tiddlerPopupButton {padding:0.2em;}
.popupTiddler {position: absolute; z-index:300; padding:1em; margin:0;}

.popup {position:absolute; z-index:300; font-size:.9em; padding:0; list-style:none; margin:0;}
.popup .popupMessage {padding:0.4em;}
.popup hr {display:block; height:1px; width:auto; padding:0; margin:0.2em 0;}
.popup li.disabled {padding:0.4em;}
.popup li a {display:block; padding:0.4em; font-weight:normal; cursor:pointer;}
.listBreak {font-size:1px; line-height:1px;}
.listBreak div {margin:2px 0;}

.tabset {padding:1em 0 0 0.5em;}
.tab {margin:0 0 0 0.25em; padding:2px;}
.tabContents {padding:0.5em;}
.tabContents ul, .tabContents ol {margin:0; padding:0;}
.txtMainTab .tabContents li {list-style:none;}
.tabContents li.listLink { margin-left:.75em;}

#contentWrapper {display:block;}
#splashScreen {display:none;}

#displayArea {margin:1em 17em 0 14em;}

.toolbar {text-align:right; font-size:.9em;}

.tiddler {padding:1em 1em 0;}

.missing .viewer,.missing .title {font-style:italic;}

.title {font-size:1.6em; font-weight:bold;}

.missing .subtitle {display:none;}
.subtitle {font-size:1.1em;}

.tiddler .button {padding:0.2em 0.4em;}

.tagging {margin:0.5em 0.5em 0.5em 0; float:left; display:none;}
.isTag .tagging {display:block;}
.tagged {margin:0.5em; float:right;}
.tagging, .tagged {font-size:0.9em; padding:0.25em;}
.tagging ul, .tagged ul {list-style:none; margin:0.25em; padding:0;}
.tagClear {clear:both;}

.footer {font-size:.9em;}
.footer li {display:inline;}

.annotation {padding:0.5em; margin:0.5em;}

* html .viewer pre {width:99%; padding:0 0 1em 0;}
.viewer {line-height:1.4em; padding-top:0.5em;}
.viewer .button {margin:0 0.25em; padding:0 0.25em;}
.viewer blockquote {line-height:1.5em; padding-left:0.8em;margin-left:2.5em;}
.viewer ul, .viewer ol {margin-left:0.5em; padding-left:1.5em;}

.viewer table, table.twtable {border-collapse:collapse; margin:0.8em 1.0em;}
.viewer th, .viewer td, .viewer tr,.viewer caption,.twtable th, .twtable td, .twtable tr,.twtable caption {padding:3px;}
table.listView {font-size:0.85em; margin:0.8em 1.0em;}
table.listView th, table.listView td, table.listView tr {padding:0 3px 0 3px;}

.viewer pre {padding:0.5em; margin-left:0.5em; font-size:1.2em; line-height:1.4em; overflow:auto;}
.viewer code {font-size:1.2em; line-height:1.4em;}

.editor {font-size:1.1em;}
.editor input, .editor textarea {display:block; width:100%; font:inherit;}
.editorFooter {padding:0.25em 0; font-size:.9em;}
.editorFooter .button {padding-top:0; padding-bottom:0;}

.fieldsetFix {border:0; padding:0; margin:1px 0px;}

.zoomer {font-size:1.1em; position:absolute; overflow:hidden;}
.zoomer div {padding:1em;}

* html #backstage {width:99%;}
* html #backstageArea {width:99%;}
#backstageArea {display:none; position:relative; overflow: hidden; z-index:150; padding:0.3em 0.5em;}
#backstageToolbar {position:relative;}
#backstageArea a {font-weight:bold; margin-left:0.5em; padding:0.3em 0.5em;}
#backstageButton {display:none; position:absolute; z-index:175; top:0; right:0;}
#backstageButton a {padding:0.1em 0.4em; margin:0.1em;}
#backstage {position:relative; width:100%; z-index:50;}
#backstagePanel {display:none; z-index:100; position:absolute; width:90%; margin-left:3em; padding:1em;}
.backstagePanelFooter {padding-top:0.2em; float:right;}
.backstagePanelFooter a {padding:0.2em 0.4em;}
#backstageCloak {display:none; z-index:20; position:absolute; width:100%; height:100px;}

.whenBackstage {display:none;}
.backstageVisible .whenBackstage {display:block;}
StyleSheet for use when a translation requires any css style changes.
This StyleSheet can be used directly by languages such as Chinese, Japanese and Korean which need larger font sizes.
body {font-size:0.8em;}
#sidebarOptions {font-size:1.05em;}
#sidebarOptions a {font-style:normal;}
#sidebarOptions .sliderPanel {font-size:0.95em;}
.subtitle {font-size:0.8em;}
.viewer table.listView {font-size:0.95em;}
@media print {
#mainMenu, #sidebar, #messageArea, .toolbar, #backstageButton, #backstageArea {display: none !important;}
#displayArea {margin: 1em 1em 0em;}
noscript {display:none;} /* Fixes a feature in Firefox where print preview displays the noscript content */
<div class='toolbar' role='navigation' macro='toolbar [[ToolbarCommands::ViewToolbar]]'></div>
<div class='title' macro='view title'></div>
<div class='subtitle'><span macro='view modifier link'></span>, <span macro='view modified date'></span> (<span macro='message views.wikified.createdPrompt'></span> <span macro='view created date'></span>)</div>
<div class='tagging' macro='tagging'></div>
<div class='tagged' macro='tags'></div>
<div class='viewer' macro='view text wikified'></div>
<div class='tagClear'></div>
''March 14, 2015
by Jason Beerman''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, Doubleday, 736 pages, $35.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, Doubleday, 736 pages, $35.//@@

Hanya Yanagihara’s 2013 debut novel, //The People in the Trees//, conjured a fictional Pacific island as the setting for a tragedy that simultaneously revealed the horror and beauty of the human condition. It marked the arrival of a writer who seemingly came out of nowhere — she was and remains an editor at Condé Nast Traveler — to pen a novel whose scope and language evokes shades of Nabokov.

Her follow-up effort, ''A Little Life'', trades the exoticism of the South Pacific for the well-trodden realm of SoHo and TriBeCa in Manhattan, where the post-college lives of four friends unfold over several decades. JB is a caustic painter whose cinematic portraits of his friends vault him to MoMA and Whitney levels of fame, Malcolm is an architect who founds his own firm and attains global recognition, Willem is a struggling actor who becomes a world-famous Hollywood icon and Jude is a talented litigator with an enigmatic past.

The four friends originally meet as college freshmen in an unnamed college in Boston that seems to be a mash-up of Harvard and Amherst. There, despite their vastly different backgrounds, they forge a fraternal bond light on the stereotypical trappings of masculinity and heavy on earnest “I love yous” — a rat pack for the age of the enlightened male.

The novel’s centre of gravity spools more tightly as the story progresses and it becomes clear this is really the story of Willem and Jude. The portrayal of their relationship in particular forms the core of the novel’s ambition, as it is propelled forward not by plot per se, but by the ebbs and flows of friendship, of how small moments of mutual trust can accumulate into boundless devotion. “Friendship was witnessing another’s slow drip of miseries, and long bouts of boredom, and occasional triumphs,” thinks Willem about Jude. “It was feeling honoured by the privilege of getting to be present for another person’s most dismal moments, and knowing that you could be dismal around him in return.”

There is a fatalistic thread that is anchored at the very beginning of the novel, an elegant foreshadowing that tinges everything with a sense of dread. While this is a triumphant story of four young friends who grow up to conquer New York City, moments of elation are always short-lived, especially as the novel progresses and the points of view — which shift around and are told in the first, second and third person — focus increasingly on Jude.

An orphan named for the patron saint of lost causes perhaps “as a mockery; as a diagnosis; as a prediction,” Jude hides a pre-college past that has scarred him literally and figuratively. He is physically broken, but his nimble mind and his deep affection for his friends have bestowed upon him a new life. His dilemma, though, is to never speak of his past while growing closer to his coterie of friends — especially Willem.

His, he realizes, is a second chance, and there is an expectation that all the happiness and success he achieves will wash away his tragic past, or at least balance it out. As the novel delves more deeply into his extraordinarily bleak back story, though, the prose takes on a confessional quality, and it becomes clear that everything is mired in such hopelessness that no matter what bright turns Jude’s life takes, no matter who loves him and how much, his downfall of long ago knows no rescue.

//A Little Life// is an extraordinary novel, an exploration of how love can restore and renew but never repair. In haunting language that both reflects the beauty of devotion and disguises the horror of total betrayal, Yanagihara has written an American tragedy for our time, a haunting plea for redemption.

//Jason Beerman lives and writes in Amsterdam.//
''December 26, 2014
by Jason Beerman''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[A Map of Betrayal by Ha Jin, Pantheon 304 pages, $32.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//A Map of Betrayal by Ha Jin, Pantheon 304 pages, $32.//@@

In a 2009 interview with //The Paris Review//, Ha Jin was asked why his books are banned in China. He answered, “I’ve never intended my writing to be political, but my characters exist in the fabric of politics.”

It’s easy to see why Jin’s writing is steeped in politics. Born in China in 1956, he joined the People’s Liberation Army in the midst of the Cultural Revolution. In 1986 he emigrated to the U.S. to do graduate work, deciding to stay after the Tiananmen Square massacre. Since then, his lauded short story collections and novels have examined China’s schizophrenic recent history as well as the lives of people who exist between cultures.

''A Map of Betrayal'', Jin’s seventh novel, allows Jin to plumb the depths of his conscience for a tale that encapsulates U.S.–China relations during the Cold War and the life of an immigrant caught between love of home, both old and new.

The novel is partly narrated in the present day by 53-year-old Lilian Shang, the half-Chinese, half-American daughter of Gary Shang, who for more than 30 years was a Chinese spy employed by the CIA before being caught in 1980. Lilian decides to conduct her own inquest into her father’s past after receiving his six-volume set of diaries from his former mistress. Lilian, a college professor, uses the occasion of a semester in Beijing to shed light on her father’s mysterious circumstances in China prior to his leaving the country in 1949 as a low-level spy planted as a translator within an American cultural agency.

As Lilian retraces her father’s past life in China, she gets in touch with members of his hidden family — a wife and children left behind to be taken care of by the state while Gary rose in rank within both the CIA and, covertly, within the Chinese government. Meeting her half-sister and her family forces Lilian to come to terms with the untenable state of her father’s existence: a half-forgotten life in China coexisting with an adopted one in suburban Washington, DC with an American wife and daughter.

Lilian’s narration alternates with a third-person chronological account of Gary’s dual existence, a kind of historical record that mirrors Lilian’s personal discoveries as she traverses the Chinese countryside and visits its booming coastal cities, tracing the vestiges of her father’s mysterious past.

The two interspersing narratives draw an interesting parallel between the double life of a spy and that of an immigrant. Gary feels an almost inexplicable loyalty to China in spite of the political upheavals that marked its post-Communist evolution, although his is more of a familial than an ideological loyalty — a sense of “home.” The same can be said of his hesitant affection for his adopted country, despite his false pretenses for being there at all.

At the novel’s heart is the question of whether a person can love two things at once. This dilemma is implied throughout, but Jin repeatedly inserts reminders of it everywhere, which is a bit heavy-handed. Most unsubtly, during his American existence, Gary is torn between his American wife and his Chinese mistress.

//A Map of Betrayal// is much more effective when it takes a softer tack in examining the concept of patriotism as a religion, which is especially interesting given the vastly different ideas of citizenship in the U.S. and China. Moreover, the novel introduces the idea of a sort of filial patriotism, which is familiar to Chinese citizens who identify with the “motherland,” but lacks resonance in the West.

Throughout his stories and novels, Ha Jin’s strength has been in giving readers unfettered access to the vacuous space between here and there — the domain of the exile. With its tale of espionage, //A Map of Betrayal// offers, at times, a provocative tale of a spy turned immigrant who loses his homeland somewhere along the way, forever “out of place, like a stranded traveller.”

//Jason Beerman lives and writes in Hong Kong.//
@@font-size:11pt;Visitors searching for the city’s cultural heart need look no further than its distinctive cuisine. Not widely known outside China, the regional specialties reflect long-held traditions as well as an appetite for reinvention.@@

''By Jason Beerman  |  Issue 4, 2016''

[img[A Taste of Tianjin|]]
[img[A Taste of Tianjin|]]

@@font-size:11pt;Chinatown's story told in new book@@

[img[A Legacy: Chinese in the Hub|]]
@@font-size:8pt;The Chinese Merchants Association set up its headquarters at 2 Tyler St., at the corner of Beach Street, from 1919 to 1951 before moving to 20 Hudson St. Bunting was hung outside the building (left) in celebration of the 39th annual national convention held in Boston around 1943. At right, the same building in a photo taken last month. (Left: Chinese Historical Society collection; Right: George Rizer / Globe Staff)@@

''By Jason Beerman, Globe Correspondent  |  March 2, 2008''

[[Link to original article|]]

It's Chinatown, Jake, and now you can read the whole story.

The Boston neighborhood is changing yet again: High-rise condos sprout amid its dense blocks of low-slung buildings, new restaurant facades gleam, and a newly constructed park leads to the Chinatown gate, the neighborhood's symbolic entrance.

Compare today's street scenes with the ones in a new book chronicling the tiny neighborhood's first century, and you can see just how far Chinatown has come.

The book is "Chinese in Boston: 1870-1965" by Wing-kai To and the Chinese Historical Society of New England.

In 2004, Peter Kiang and Stephanie Fan, then copresidents of the historical society, urged To, an associate professor of history and the coordinator of Asian studies at Bridgewater State College, to take on the project.

Using archival photographs, prints, advertisements, newspaper articles, and lithographs, many from the society's collection, To assembled a rich portrait of the community's establishment and evolution, and he hasn't ignored its setbacks and dark times.

"It was good cooperation," To said, "because, as a historian, I have the skills and knowledge and experience and interest in the study of Chinese-American history. As a community organization, the Chinese Historical Society of New England has a lot of contacts with local community members and they have come up with archival material."

One of the society's goals is to "preserve and promote the stories of people and institutions who are part of the Chinatown fabric," said Caroline Chang, the society's cofounder and its part-time managing director. Gathering the 200 images for the book was a cooperative effort, Chang said, as it required extensive searches of various library and newspaper archives, as well as the generosity of community members to share their personal collections that portray the neighborhood's history.

Boston's Chinatown was first settled by Chinese immigrants in the late 1870s. They populated the South Cove landfill area, where Irish, Syrian, Italian, and Jewish immigrants had settled in the earlier part of the century. The completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869 made it easier for Chinese immigrants to travel to Boston from the West, where, as laborers, they had been lured by the California Gold Rush.

A scan of a Chinese language newspaper dating from 1892 indicates the existence of a stable Chinese community in Boston; scenes from the early 1900s show the city's first Chinese eatery, the Hong Far Low Restaurant, as a center of social life; photos show an elevated railroad over Beach Street, built in 1899; a story about a Chinatown immigration raid in a 1903 edition of the //Boston Herald// documents the anti-Chinese sentiment during the era that followed the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act by Congress in 1882.

In the first three decades of the 20th century, Chinatown persevered and grew, as new laundries, restaurants, and groceries expanded the neighborhood's scope and its boundaries. Family associations, founded as fraternal antidotes to the bachelor society that resulted from the lack of women and children in the initial wave of immigration, grew in social and civic importance, and continue to thrive today as benevolent organizations.

The ongoing push and pull of assimilation is exemplified in the photos of Chinatown during World War II, with Chinese and American nationalism coexisting in images of Chinese-American servicemen and in parade scenes of support for Chiang Kai-shek's Chinese Nationalist Party. "They were always in a kind of balancing act," To said, "whether it was good to support China or become American."

By the 1950s and '60s, Boston's Chinatown was firmly entrenched, as second- and third-generation Chinese settled in the enclave where their parents and grandparents had lived. The Quincy School, a public school that flourishes in Chinatown today, embodied this phenomenon. "After the 1950s," To said, "the Syrians moved away, the Italians moved away, so the Chinese population [of the Quincy School] increased from about 20 percent to the majority."

But the '50s and '60s also brought great turmoil to the area, as the construction of both the Central Artery and the Massachusetts Turnpike extension literally carved into the heart of the neighborhood. The book documents these incursions; there is no mention, however, of another challenge - the notorious Combat Zone, which festered at Chinatown's edge for decades. The Zone "was at its height from 1974 to 1985," said To, who said he chose to put his emphasis on the neighborhood's formative years.

The highway construction, To said, spurred political and social mobilization, and helped create a new Chinatown. It has come full circle today, as the completion of the Big Dig has freed up a swath of land, the so-called Parcel 24, that had been claimed by the Turnpike extension, and neighborhood activists are fighting to reclaim that slice and reconstruct a portion of the Chinatown that was.

"I think Chinatown has a pretty good future," said the historical society's Chang. "And I would like to see it, because it is also the place that provides a safe haven for new immigrants until they are established and can move and go to the communities outside of Chinatown."

To said: "We tend to forget about the long history of the Chinese community in Boston. Everyone talks about the Irish, the Italians, and they tend to overlook the Chinese." The North End as an Italian enclave "and Chinatown developed around the same time. So the Chinese are one of the older groups, and in the book, we try to present that."

//The book sells for $19.99 and may be purchased at area bookshops or directly from Arcadia Publishing (

@@font-size:11pt;RMB 2 billion marriage between giant of golfing and giant of nightlife despite green groups crying over-development@@

''By Jason Beerman
October 20, 2011''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Mission Hill's Ken Chu (left) and Lan Kwai Fong's Allan Zeman.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Mission Hill's Ken Chu (left) and Lan Kwai Fong's Allan Zeman.//@@

The Lan Kwai Fong Group and Mission Hills Group announced a partnership yesterday to develop a RMB 2 billion leisure complex located in Haikou, capital of Hainan island.

Upon its completion by the end of 2013, Mission Hills-Lan Kwai Fong-Haikou will be a 240,000-square-meter retail, shopping, entertainment and dining complex that will adjoin the Mission Hills Haikou International Golf Resort, which opened last year.

Ken Chu, CEO and chairman of Mission Hills Group, said that his company will finance the project while Lan Kwai Fong will manage it. He did not offer a breakdown of the financing.

[img[Plans for Mission Hills-Lan Kwai Fong-Haikou.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Plans for Mission Hills-Lan Kwai Fong-Haikou.//@@

''@@font-size:12pt;Hainan highs@@''

Zeman is bullish on the Chinese market in general. He expects visitor arrivals in Hainan to grow to 30 million by next year.

Hainan, also known as "China's Hawaii," is an officially sanctioned tourism destination with tax-free shopping for domestic tourists, hot springs, golf and -- come 2013 -- its very own Lan Kwai Fong.

According to the local tourism board, 26 million tourists visited Hainan in 2010.  However, KPMG estimated in 2008 that there are only around 300,000 golfers -- or a tiny fraction of the population -- in all of China, due in part to the fact that greens fees and membership fees are the highest in the world.

Hence, the partnership with Lan Kwai Fong -- bypass the greens and bring the whole family out for a night of karaoke at the world’s largest 19th hole.

[img[The Black Stone course at Mission Hills Haikou.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//The Black Stone course at Mission Hills Haikou.//@@

''@@font-size:12pt;Ungreen greens@@''

Mission Hills Haikou is the sequel to Mission Hills Shenzhen, which surpassed Pinehurst in 2004 to become the world’s largest golf facility in the world, according to Guinness World Records.

The 10 courses of Mission Hills Haikou are spread over 80 square kilometers. The environmental impact of constructing the mammoth facility has been a cause of concern amongst green groups.

Mission Hills say their Haikou project has created thousands of jobs and was subject to stringent environmental impact assessments.

"Mission Hills has always strived to balance economic benefits to the community with proper stewardship of the environment," Chu told CNN by email.

"By incorporating low-density development with vast open-space greenbelts, our current project in Haikou has transformed a barren, lava-rock landscape into an economically productive community."

But Jonathan Smith, chief executive of the Golf Environment Organization, is not easily convinced.

"You have the longer-term concerns," says Smith. "Where does the water come from, where does the energy come from? Is it all fossil fuels? How much energy is required to desalinate or treat the sewage water?"

Ultimately, Smith hopes to see more transparency in China's development to ensure accountability and so that local population can adapt to big changes.

"There comes a point, particularly on an island setting, where too much development puts too much pressure on the natural resources, and the cultural heritage and the landscape of that particular region."


//Mission Hills Resort Hainan

1 Mission Hills Blvd., Haikou, Hainan, China, 571155, tel +86 898 6868 3888
@@font-size:11pt;Hard on the heels of eating and making money, running just might be Hong Kong's most popular pastime@@

''By Jason Beerman
September 26, 2011''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Best 5 Hong Kong running routes|]]
At first glance, Hong Kong doesn’t appear to be an ideal place for a dedicated runner. The streets are clogged, the sidewalks are narrow and the terrain is steep. Not to mention the air pollution.

But somehow Hong Kong supports a vibrant running community. The 2010 Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon, the biggest running event of the year, drew more 60,000 registered runners.

What's more, there are sanctioned running races scheduled virtually every weekend during the cooler months. These include the venerable China Coast Marathon in January and a substantial list of five-kilometer and 10-kilometer races along Hong Kong’s beautiful and extensive trail network. Other races scale Hong Kong’s highest peaks.

These competitions are held all over Hong Kong and feature fields that often exceed 1,000, with competitors ranging in age from eight to 90 years old and in ability from casual joggers to some of the best middle- and long-distance runners in the region.

The most comprehensive place to learn about the organized running scene in Hong Kong is [[HKRunners|]].

''@@font-size:12pt;Where to run@@''

Runners in Hong Kong are nothing if not resourceful. We can spot them pounding away on every scrap of pavement: on piers, in parks, and even in the tram lane. Everywhere is game.

But for the most enjoyable running experience we want routes that are scenic, easily accessible and relatively clear of traffic. With this in mind, here’s a primer on our favorite places to run in Hong Kong.

[img[A run that includes slopes, a cemetery and spectacular sea views.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//A run that includes slopes, a cemetery and spectacular sea views.//@@

''@@font-size:12pt;1. Victoria Road between Kennedy Town and Pok Fu Lam Road@@''

Victoria Road begins in Kennedy Town and heads southwest, winding around the lower slopes of Mount Davis. As you leave Kennedy Town, the road pitches upward at about a three-percent grade for about a kilometer.

After this initial climb, it undulates along the coast, offering spectacular views over the Lamma Channel as the road weaves under the shadow of High West and slices through the immense Chinese cemetery.

After passing Baguio Villas and Cyberport, the road ends at Pok Fu Lam Road. Take a right here to continue to Aberdeen or turn around and make your way back to Kennedy Town for a 12-kilometer round-trip.

//This route is approximately 6 kilometers. See a detailed map [[here|]].

Getting there: Buses 1, 5B, 5X, 10, 101 or 104 to the Kennedy Town bus terminus.//

[img[Probably the best waterside promenade in Hong Kong.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Probably the best waterside promenade in Hong Kong.//@@

''@@font-size:12pt;2. Ma On Shan-Sha Tin Promenade@@''

Ma On Shan boasts one of the finest waterfront promenades in all of Hong Kong. On a clear day, you can see the eight distinct peaks of Pat Sing Leng towering in the distance across Tolo Harbour.

This promenade also marks the beginning of one of the best (and most trafficked) running routes in Hong Kong. As you depart Ma On Shan, keep the water on your right and run along the promenade. Watch for bicycles on the shared path, but take a moment to enjoy the breathtaking views.

As you continue, the body of water narrows into the Shing Mun River, a channel that runs past Sha Tin and Tai Wai.

For a short run, peel off the waterfront and head inland to catch the MTR that runs parallel to the path.

For a longer run, cross the river when you reach Tai Wai and double back on the Sha Tin side. The route goes as far as Tai Po, making this one of the best long, flat training runs in Hong Kong.

//This route is approximately 6 kilometers. See a detailed map [[here|]].

Getting there: MTR to Ma On Shan.//

[img[How many buildings can you name in this vista?|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//How many buildings can you name in this vista?//@@

''@@font-size:12pt;3. Lugard Road to Severn Road figure-of-eight@@''

This run combines the most iconic view in Hong Kong with a jaunt along the most expensive road in the world.

Begin at the Peak Tower and run along Lugard Road, dodging all the tourists in the process. Catch your breath as the world’s most jaw-dropping skyline winks at you through the trees then wind your way around the Peak, picking up Harlech Road on the backside.

Harlech ends back at the Peak Tower, but run straight onward past the throngs and the gelato stands and pick up Findlay Road just past the Pacific Coffee location.

Follow Findlay until it meets Severn Road, which boasts the most expensive property in the world. Enjoy the opulence and the views before the road climbs back to Plantation Road.

Make a left and follow it back to the Peak Tower.

//This route is approximately 6 kilometers. See a detailed map [[here|]].

Getting there: Peak Tram to Peak Tower, bus 15, or green minibus 1.//

[img[Get off the concrete and onto the Hong Kong Trail.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Get off the concrete and onto the Hong Kong Trail.//@@

''@@font-size:12pt;4. Stages 1-4 of the Hong Kong Trail@@''

For a change of pace from running exclusively on cement and asphalt and as a respite from the seasonal heat, any section along the first four stages of the Hong Kong Trail offers a beautiful running venue.

Doing all four at once is a challenging 25 kilometers, but you can easily cut it short at any time since there are several outlets along the way.

The Hong Kong Trail actually begins at Lugard Road on The Peak and following the trail is easy as it’s marked by signposts spaced approximately 500 meters apart and featuring an icon of a male and female hiker in lockstep.

The first two stages of the trail are mostly paved and include stairs, both up and down. The third and fourth stages are mostly dirt, and they undulate quite a bit.

The trail as a whole is not an easy run, but as you wind your way through the canopy of beautiful banyan trees, the exertion seems to melts away.

//This route is approximately 25 kilometers. See a detailed map [[here|,114.162884&spn=0.052742,0.090895]].

Getting there: Peak Tram to Peak Tower, bus 15, or green minibus 1 for the beginning of stage 1; or bus 6, 41A or 76 for the end of stage 4 if you want to do it backwards.//

[img[Bowen Road, a favorite of Hong Kong Island residents.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Bowen Road, a favorite of Hong Kong Island residents.//@@

''@@font-size:12pt;5. Bowen Road@@''

This is the granddaddy of all jogging trails on Hong Kong Island. Bookended by Magazine Gap Road at the western end and Stubbs Road on the eastern end, Bowen Road offers postcard views over Central and Wanchai.

It also happens to be car-free along about four kilometers of its eastern portion. As a result, on temperate weekends, it’s awash with people and dogs, making it a tad congested for an unencumbered run.

However, flat and mostly shaded, it’s an ideal escape for anyone who wants to stretch their legs in the midst of a beautiful, verdant setting.

//This route is approximately 4 kilometers. See a detailed map [[here|]].

Getting there: Green minibus 9 for the Magazine Gap Road end; buses 6, 15, 66, 76, 19, 41A or 63 -- or green minibus 5, 2 or 24M -- for the Stubbs Road end; or walk up Wan Chai Gap Road.//
''October 26, 2012
Jason Beerman''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Chris Ware's Building Stories, Pantheon Books, 240 pages, $55.00|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Chris Ware's Building Stories, Pantheon Books, 240 pages, $55.00//@@

“Idle curiosity is an ineradicable vice of the human mind,” the poet W.H. Auden once wrote. “All of us like to discover the secrets of our neighbours, particularly the ugly ones.”

It is this curiosity, perhaps tainted with Auden’s implied Schadenfreude, which drives readers of fiction to keep turning the pages in search of a dose of artful voyeurism. And it is this curiosity about the lives of others that lies at the heart of Chris Ware’s new graphic novel, ''Building Stories''.

Actually, calling this a graphic novel is a bit of a misnomer. //Building Stories// constitutes a new kind of reading experience — it’s a weighty box containing 14 varying types of printed matter, including strips of paper, something that looks like a game board, a couple of hardcover books, two giant tabloid-sized sheets and other printed miscellany. There are no instructions per se on what this is or how it should be read except in the double entendre title, which suggests picking something out at random: Build the story.

Depending on what you choose first, the unnamed protagonist — an erstwhile art student with a prosthetic leg — is either in the throes of post-adolescence or on the slow march toward responsible adulthood, whatever that means. Frame by hand-drawn frame, Ware portrays in heart-wrenching detail the Faustian choice between the lonely detachment of a solitary urban existence and the ennui of the suburbs. In her 20s, the main character simultaneously celebrates her independence while engaging in bouts of self-loathing. Later, married and with a daughter, she and her husband conduct stilted conversations at home through the dull glow of their respective laptop screens, propped open and angled against one another like shields.

Set in Chicago and the suburb of Oak Park, Ware takes a microscope to the hopes, regrets and disappointments of a host of characters whose lives intersect in some way, including neighbours, lovers, friends and family members. Tangential stories are even told from the perspective of a bee and, yes, from that of a building.

Through Ware’s comprehensive renderings, readers are privy to the most mundane moments — the first sliver of consciousness after a deep sleep, the walk home from the grocery store, the light of the TV illuminating a change of expression. These moments are mere time fillers, uncounted minutes during the day. Characters are spied upon and their lives documented when they least expect it, when their guard is down and they take for granted that no one would bother to watch. This is when they reveal the most, and this is when Ware best focuses his voyeuristic lens.

Ware is an acute anthropologist and, to say the least, a skilled artist. The full extent of the graphic elements in //Building Stories// is epic in scope. The box should be opened and its contents read with restraint so as to peer into the corner of every panel, to read every thought and speech bubble, and to appreciate Ware’s pre-emptive rescue of a lost art.

Not to be overlooked, though, is Ware’s skill with words. As stunning as the visuals are in //Building Stories//, it is Ware’s writing that carries the story forward from frame to frame in bouts of existential prose.

“Who hasn’t tried when passing by a building, or a home, at night to peer past half-closed shades and blinds hoping to catch a glimpse into the private lives of its inhabitants?” Ware writes. “Of course, this game is rarely rewarded with any real trophy of stolen truth. The actual spoils are lean, muffled, like those gleaned from holding someone else’s mail to the sun, or by trying to read a stranger’s thoughts in the involuntary flutter of their eyelids.”

//Building Stories// works a lot like this, offering spoils that are diffused over a long afternoon spent picking through the box set, reading a section at a time.

//''Jason Beerman'' lives and writes in Hong Kong.//
@@font-size:11pt;Gringos, chinos and Mexicanos break bread together at these eateries and watering holes to celebrate El Tricolor@@

''By Jason Beerman
May 2, 2011''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Mr. Taco Truck|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//This taco truck comes with seating area.//@@

Hong Kong seems an unlikely venue for any type of Cinco de Mayo celebration to commemorate the day the Mexicans defeated the French. We are 14,000 kilometers away from Mexico City, and, at first glance, there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of Mexico-Hong Kong relations.

But links lie not too far beneath the surface.

“Chinese and Mexican civilizations are both beautiful amalgamations of rich millennial histories that underlie hundreds of years of colonial history,” says Andrés Peña, Mexico’s Acting Consul General to Hong Kong and Macau.

This historical backdrop provides a connection between Hong Kong and Mexico, as both continue to occupy a cultural, economic, and political middle ground. Due to its unique historical circumstances, Hong Kong straddles the divide between East and West. Likewise, Mexico fulfills a dual role as both a North American and a Latin American country.

Where, then, can Hong Kong denizens toast el tricolor? The most visible cultural activity coinciding with Cinco de Mayo is the Mexican Film Festival, which runs from May 2-5. Films being screened include “Nora’s Will,” which last year won seven Ariel awards (the Mexican equivalent of the Oscars), including best picture.

Of course, to supplement viewings of Mexican films and to truly get into the spirit of Cinco de Mayo, there's always the option of visiting one of Hong Kong's Mexican restaurants.

Traditional Mexican food was included last year as one of 46 cultural treasures worth preserving by UNESCO as part of its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

While Hong Kong’s Mexican restaurants fall far outside any type of UNESCO designation, they are nevertheless more than serviceable to assuage a taco or a tequila hankering.

Peña rightly points out that Mexico’s rich history allows for a somewhat flexible definition of Mexican food, meaning that chili con carne can conceivably sit alongside cochinita pibil on the menu.

This means that the authenticity of Hong Kong's Mexican restaurants cannot simply be written off by glancing at the menu.

“For me, Cali-Mex and Tex-Mex are Mexican food,” Peña says. “Whether they are prepared well is another question.”

We asked Peña to name his favorite Mexican restaurant in Hong Kong, but, like a true diplomat, he replied that he supports them all. With this in mind, below are our favorite places to eat and imbibe this Cinco de Mayo.

!!!Mr. Taco Truck

[img[Mr. Taco Truck|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Grilled fish taco at Mr. Taco Truck.//@@

This small corner storefront is tucked away off King’s Road in Quarry Bay. It takes its aesthetic cues from, yes, a taco truck, but don't let that dissuade you since the modestly-outfitted taco trucks that prowl the streets of Los Angeles and New York City churn out tacos of legendary quality.

Mr. Taco Truck is a valiant attempt at emulation and it offers a version of the classic fish taco that conjures up the hot blasts of smoke and the staccato Spanish that pour forth from a real taco truck. For the best Mr. Taco Truck experience, order the freshly made horchata (sweet rice milk flavored with cinnamon) and the grilled fish taco, substituting a corn tortilla for the flour one.

Squeeze some lemon juice onto the open taco, fold it into a crescent (holding it horizontally so you don't dump its innards onto your plate), and take a slow bite, mingling the tender, hot fish and the cool pico de gallo, lettuce, and mayonnaise in your mouth.

Take a sip of cold horchata and savor the creamy liquid as it blankets your tongue with a dusting of cinnamon. Finally, sit back, stare at the pastel yellow walls and Mexican flag hanging on the wall and transport yourself.

//Mr. Taco Truck, shop E, 22 Finnie Street, Quarry Bay +852 2590 6911 [[|]]//

!!!Agave Tequila Y Comida

[img[Agave Tequila Y Comida|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Molcajete de pollo y nopal at Agave.//@@

The vast drinks menu at Agave boasts 186 brands of the highest quality tequila, all clustered together in tiny font on a single page that, presumably, gets more and more difficult to read with each successive order.

But don’t just take our word for it. Consul General Peña commented that the tequila collection here is one of the most impressive he has seen outside Mexico.

In addition to Tex-Mex fare, the menu at Agave also includes interesting elements such as molcajete de pollo y nopal, a mélange of grilled chicken breast, nopal cactus, tomato sauce, cilantro, and cheese served in a molcajete, a mortar made of volcanic rock.

The presentation alone is reason to order this dish, as it arrives at the table spitting and heaving, a combination of hot-pot and sizzling plate. With a 4 a.m. weekend closing time and a prime location on Lockhart Road however, the main draw is the extensive tequila selection.

On a weekend night, the blender mixes so many margaritas that its whirr offers a soothing white noise that undercuts the boisterous conversations from within and the sound of traffic drifting through the open windows.

//Agave, 93 Lockhart Road, Wanchai +852 2866 3228 [[|]]//

!!!Café Iguana

[img[Café Iguana|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Drinks are the priority at Cafe Iguana.//@@

Café Iguana is a bit of a neutered Tex-Cali-Mex experience when it comes to food, offering the standard lineup of U.S. border state fare such as chili con carne and fajitas.

The burrito de puerco is a decent option, offering a well-flavored mix of shredded pork and asadero cheese wrapped in a spinach flour tortilla. And the tostada carne asada is a nice combination of textures and flavors, with a hodgepodge of sliced beef, peppers, lettuce, and cheese sitting atop a crispy tortilla.

But let’s be honest: the food’s not really the point here. Sitting atop Elements in the midst of a Disneyesque Main Street scene known as Civic Square, the food menu is a scant two pages long.

The drinks menu, however, is about four times the length and the bottles that line the wall offer a glimpse of the Café Iguana's priorities.

The best time to come is when the adjacent office blocks shed workers and those who don't make it to Central are more than happy to imbibe here.

A highlight is the chili-infused tequila. Take a shot, try to sit still as long as possible, and then reach for the Bloody Mary flavored chaser to exacerbate the burn.

//Café Iguana, shop R004, Roof Level, Elements, 1 Austin Road West, Tsim Sha Tsui +852 2196 8733 [[|]]//

!!!El Taco Loco

[img[Café Iguana|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Tortilla chips are the unsung heroes of a Mexican meal.//@@

Halfway up the Midlevels escalators, El Taco Loco does a good job of mimicking the grab-and-go, tin foil and plastic basket vibe that is de rigueur at many U.S. burrito joints. It churns out no-nonsense Cali-Mex fare in a casual, tightly packed space, and it offers among the best bang for the buck for eats and people watching along the escalator.

In addition, it also offers affordable margaritas which, true to form, can be ordered to go in plastic cups.

The unsung hero of Mexican restaurants is the modest tortilla chip, as a basketful usually comes at the beginning of a meal and often serves as a harbinger of things to come. If the chips are too soggy or salty or are served cold, it’s best to gather your belongings and back slowly away from the table before making a beeline for the door.

At El Taco Loco, the chips are a highlight. They are fried to perfection, lightly salted, and feature a light sprinkling of paprika, offering a great medium with which to dip into the accompanying guacamole and salsa. This bodes well for the rest of the menu, but alas: the emphasis here is on value. The tacos and burritos are uniformly serviceable, but the fish taco underperforms, as it features a large hunk of fish that seems more at home on a plate with ginger and scallions than in a taco.

The barbacoa pork is tasty, but it has a serious identity problem. The pork is lightly bathed in a sweet barbecue sauce that is more Memphis than anywhere even close to Mexico, making this, indeed, a crazy taco.

//El Taco Loco, 9 Lower Staunton St., Soho +852 2522 0214 [[|]]//

!!!Café Punta del Cielo

[img[Café Iguana|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Cafe de olla at Café Punta del Cielo.//@@

It’s important to pace yourself during the lead-in to Cinco de Mayo since it’s easy to overdo it when faced with the enticement of tequila and burritos.

In case you overstep your bounds, fear not: we have the antidote. Café Punta del Cielo, a Mexican coffee chain with more than 100 locations in Mexico, opened one of its first international outlets in Hong Kong last year.

On the corner of Lyndhurst and Wellington streets, it serves gourmet coffee from Mexico made from beans cultivated in the mountains of Oaxaca, Chiapas, and Veracruz. Mexico is the world's sixth largest producer of coffee, and Café Punta del Cielo hopes to parlay that level of production into a global coffee brand.

The best bet here is to grab a seat at the counter adjacent to the sidewalk so you can watch the pedestrians meander by. Order a café de olla and put your nose to the rim of the mug to inhale the bouquet of cinnamon and piloncillo (unrefined cane sugar).

Billed as “sweet and smooth with special aroma,” café de olla is a traditional Mexican beverage and is usually heated in an olla, a ceramic jar that resembles a beanpot. The version here is not prepared as such, but it retains the flavors unique to the original.

Sip slowly, feel the sly sting of the heat and the cinnamon against your lips, close your eyes, and dream of summer afternoons spent wandering the streets of Mexico City. Happy Cinco de Mayo.

//Café Punta del Cielo, LG/F, Shop 1, Lyndhurst Tower, 1 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central +852 2366 1977 [[|]]//

@@font-size:11pt;When the menus contain hundreds of items, whip this out and order@@

''By Jason Beerman
February 20, 2012''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Overwhelmingly plentiful at a Hong Kong cha chaan teng.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Overwhelmingly plentiful at a Hong Kong cha chaan teng.//@@

Cha chaan tengs fuel Hong Kong. These local diners are where Hong Kongers sate their appetite for almost anything at almost any time.

They operate round-the-clock, serving distinctly indigenous comfort food with no-nonsense service and an atmosphere of bustling industriousness.

Cha chaan teng culture came of age in the 1950s when Hong Kong’s increasingly cosmopolitan and westernized middle classes began to broaden their palates.

The result is a melange of tastes that fuses the cuisines of the various transient populations of Hong Kong into a new pastiche cuisine: accidental fusion food. 

It lacks a singular definition and there are nearly no parameters. The menu at a typical cha chaan teng is seemingly endless in scope. Written on paper and taped to the walls, they extend wall-to-wall like a madman’s scrawl.

In addition to the language barrier that exists for non-Cantonese speakers, this is all enough to make neophytes shy away.

Here's a short guide that highlights several surefire cha chaan teng dishes.

[img[Tai Fat's golden milk tea is the perfect pick-me-up.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Tai Fat's golden milk tea is the perfect pick-me-up.//@@

''@@font-size:12pt;Delicious to a tea@@''

Cha chaan teng literally means "tea restaurant" -- the drink has an important role at these establishments.

A light, weak tea is served to all customers as soon as they sit down. Some choose to use this to clean their utensils, but really it's for drinking.

The good stuff is the Hong Kong-style milk tea. This iconic drink made from a mixture of strong black teas with a lot of creamy milk should be an ocher-colored, velvet-smooth, mellow yet fragrant concoction.

A milk tea done right will distinguish a cha chaan teng from the crowd and garner legions of loyal customers.

Try one, hot or cold, sweetened or sugar-free, at Tai Fat Restaurant.

//Tai Fat Restaurant 大發餐廳開心菜館 
Shop 5, Beauty Court Shopping Centre, 4212-4213 Hung Shui Kiu section of Castle Peak Road, Yuen Long, New Territories
+852 2443 5533//

[img[Instant noodles become instant gourmet at Lan Fong Yuen.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Instant noodles become instant gourmet at Lan Fong Yuen.//@@

''@@font-size:12pt;Instantly gratifying@@''

Instant noodles have figured into the cuisine of Hong Kong since the 1960s when the “Doll Noodle” brand hit its shores. Since then, cha chaan tengs have served up instant noodles in endless variations.

Our favorite way of eating instant noodles at a cha chaan teng is to order them with stir-fried meat. Hong Kong’s finest representative of this is the scallion and chicken cutlet version at Lan Fong Yuen, a landmark cha chaan teng located in the shadow of the Mid-Levels escalator.

The noodles, sticky and chewy, are drizzled with soy sauce and topped with chicken with a strong ginger and scallion sauce.

Yes, these are the same instant noodles that you’ve likely made at home, but so much better.

Come for lunch (they close at 6 p.m.) and be prepared to wait in line. 

//Stir-fried instant noodles with scallion oil and sliced chicken cutlet 蔥油雞扒撈丁
HK$42 includes coffee or tea
Lan Fong Yuen 蘭芳園
2 Gage St., Central
+852 2544 3895//

[img["Oil and sand" toast at Cheung Kee -- or what we like to call "The Iraq."|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//"Oil and sand" toast at Cheung Kee -- or what we like to call "The Iraq."//@@

''@@font-size:12pt;Propose a toast@@''

French toast is neither French nor toast per se, so the fact that the Hong Kong version forges new culinary ground is not necessarily blasphemous.

Hong Kong-style French toast is, however, a potential coronary on a plate. A common version amounts to what is essentially a syrup-slathered, deep-fried peanut butter sandwich.

Si Yik, a small, no-frills eatery adjoining Stanley Market, seems far from the tourist hordes that proliferate nearby. More of a dai pai dong (outdoor food stall) than a cha chaan teng per se, it happens to serve the best version of Hong Kong-style French toast in all of Hong Kong.

Kaya, a sweet coconut jam popular in Southeast Asian countries, is smeared between two slices of bread, and the whole thing is lightly fried, which preserves the fluffiness of the interior.

Or have a French toast stuffed with satay beef slices if you dare. Available at Lok Yuen in the culinary mecca, Kowloon City.

Also of note in the toast category is the “oil sand” thick toast at Cheong Kee, a cha chaan teng-style eatery located in the Wong Nai Chung Cooked Food Centre in Happy Valley.

Unbelievably thick slices of bread are perfectly toasted, yielding a crusty exterior and a soft, steaming interior. The golden surface is topped with a light coating of butter (“oil”) and a sprinkling of white sugar granules (“sand”), resulting in the perfect crunchy, savory-sweet concoction.

//Kaya French toast 咖央西多士
Si Yik 泗益
2 Stanley Market St., Stanley
+852 2813 0503

French toast stuffed with satay beef 沙爹牛肉西多士
Lok Yuen
Kowloon City Municipal Services Building, 100 Nga Tsin Wai Road, Kowloon City

“Oil sand” thick toast 油沙厚多士
Cheong Kee 昌記
2/F, Wong Nai Chung Complex, 2 Yuk Sau St., Happy Valley; +852 2573 5910//

[img[Choosing is for losers. Win it all in a set meal.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Choosing is for losers. Win it all in a set meal.//@@

''@@font-size:12pt;You're set@@''

Walk into any cha chaan teng and the ubiquitous menu -- scrawled on all four walls, etched into the mirrors, perched in plastic holders on each table -- threatens to immediately overwhelm you with choices.

Do you order noodles? Rice? Toast? A sandwich? Do you wash it down with lemon tea? Milk tea? Ovaltine? Horlicks? Ribena?

To add to the pressure, the waitress hovers over you, tapping her pen impatiently. Sit tight: your savior comes in the form of the set meal. There are always a few choices, either grouped by letter or by type (fast set, nutritious set, special set, normal set), and they each usually feature a soup, a main course and a drink.

Sun Wah Café serves the Rolls-Royce of set meals, and you can enjoy it in the midst of a decor that feels positively old-school.

//Special set includes satay beef Doll noodles, a ham omelet, and milk tea 特餐
Sun Wah Café 新華茶餐廳
334 Castle Peak Road, Cheung Sha Wan
+852 2387 3698//

[img[Pineapple bun: baked goods heavyweight champion.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Pineapple bun: baked goods heavyweight champion.//@@

''@@font-size:12pt;Poeticized buns@@''

The Cantonese love to poeticize food names based on visual cues. Chicken feet are euphemized as "phoenix claws" and a noodle dish might well become “three rivers winding through the mist.”

Likewise, the pineapple bun takes its namesake from its vague resemblance to a pineapple. In essence, it’s a regular bun topped with a sweet, crusty pastry.

Cheung Heung Yuen, a venerable old cha chaan teng in Kennedy Town, serves a delicious and suitably understated version of the pineapple bun. Their freshly baked buns are continually whisked from the oven to the display case next to the entrance so that patrons can buy them on the go.

Eat them plain, skewered whole on a fork, or order them with a thick slice of butter, or an egg fried sunny-side-up.

//Pineapple bun 菠蘿包
Cheung Heung Yuen Restaurant 祥香園茶餐廳
107 Belcher's St., Kennedy Town
+852 2855 7911//


''@@font-size:12pt;Warholian noodle soup@@''

Tomato soup abounds in Hong Kong. Most cha chaan tengs serve a local variation of borscht, a beet-less version that more closely resembles minestrone, as well as a straight-up tomato soup of the Campbell’s can variety.

The latter features stewed tomatoes and a choice of meat and noodle type.

At Star Café, fresh tomatoes are used rather than the canned variety, and accordingly, its version of tomato soup noodles, which occupy an entire section of the menu, practically becomes its own genre.

Forget the overly salted, acidic version; this is tomato bliss. The best bet is to get the tomato noodles with mixed egg and instant noodles. The egg is whisked in the boiling soup, giving it a wispy quality that accentuates the subtle sweetness of the tomato base.

The ambience at Star Café provides its own unique vibe; think 1960s bomb shelter chic.

//Finding this place is a challenge. Enter Champagne Court “B” at 16 Kimberly Road (look for the Dadol Hotel sign) and take the first right. Star Café is down the set of dark stairs.
Tomato soup noodles with mixed egg and instant noodles 番茄撈蛋撈丁
Star Café 星座冰室 
Shop 36, Basement , Champagne Court “B,” 16 Kimberley Road, Tsim Sha Tsui
+852 2721 2908//

[img[Unhinge jaw. Insert into mouth.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Unhinge jaw. Insert into mouth.//@@

''@@font-size:12pt;Between two slices@@''

The humble sandwich often occupies an entire column of the cha chaan teng menu. With a tip of the hat to the colonial legacy of high tea, Hong Kong sandwiches almost always consist of lightly toasted, crustless white bread slices flanking a wide variety of proteins, ranging from luncheon meat to egg to tuna.

While the sandwich is seemingly one of the more mundane things to be found on a cha chaan teng menu, there is often a disconnect between its run-of-the-mill name and what you actually get.

Consider, for instance, the beef and egg sandwich at the Gala Café, a 16-seat café in Tsuen Wan. While perusing the menu, it would be easy to gloss over this nondescript sandwich. That, however, would be a mistake.

This is one fine sandwich. If Subway concocted this sandwich, they’d launch a huge ad campaign and call it the Messiah Sandwich.

Perfectly scrambled eggs sit amidst fresh beef slices and a smattering of lettuce, all clenched between two slices of white bread.

Open (very) wide, have napkins at the ready, and prepare for the sandwich rapture.

//Fresh beef and egg sandwich 新牛蛋治
Gala Café 嘉樂冰廳
G/F, 40B San Chuen St., Tsuen Wan
+852 2493 7308//
@@font-size:11pt;MATCH ranked among the best@@

''By Jason Beerman, Globe Correspondent  |  January 13, 2008''

''[[Link to original article|]]''

Darkness is falling outside. The frequent rumble of the Green Line trolley mixes with the sounds of rush-hour traffic on Commonwealth Avenue as a city heads home from work. For many students, tutors, and teachers inside MATCH Charter Public High School near BU, however, the day is not over.

When the bell signaling the end of eighth period rings at 5 p.m., the main stairway turns into a waterfall of students as they cascade into the main lobby. Some mingle, then leave, but others gather their bags and books and head into the all-purpose assembly room. At once a meeting space, a dining hall, and a performance space, it now becomes a study hall, as students, tutors, and teachers gather for extra study that, for some, will last until 8 p.m.

It's a rigorous academic routine, and one that has brought recent accolades.

In the Dec. 10 issue of US News & World Report, MATCH was ranked 99th out of the 18,790 public high schools nationwide evaluated in the magazine's first high school rankings.

For its rankings, US News considered overall student achievement, academic performance of disadvantaged students, and students' college readiness.

"We see it as an interesting benchmark and a challenge to do better," MATCH's executive director, Alan Safran, says of the ranking. "Because the truth is, we don't consider ourselves a great school; we consider ourselves a good school. We have a lot of upside."

Boston Latin School, the city's venerable exam school and the first public school in the country, was ranked 19th and was the only other Boston school in the magazine's top 100.

While Boston Latin has a selective admissions process that looks at students' grade-point average and their score on the Independent School Entrance Exam, enrollment at MATCH is open to all Boston students entering the ninth grade. Admission is determined by a random lottery, and students are clamoring to get in. Last year, there were 641 applications for 70 slots in the ninth-grade class.

High expectations pervade everything at MATCH. Founded in 2000, it is a tuition-free public charter school whose mission is to help students achieve success in college and beyond. Ninety-three percent of MATCH's 220 students are black and Hispanic, and 73 percent are from low-income families.

Safran estimates that only about 20 percent of the ninth-graders entering MATCH received a proficient or better rating on the eighth-grade MCAS. MATCH sets about improving those scores even before new students set foot on campus, requiring all incoming ninth-graders to attend a five-week summer academy at MIT. Junior Joshua Johnson, 17, of Mattapan explains summer academy quite simply: "All we did was work."

Once they begin classes at MATCH, students face an eight-hour school day, a dress code, a strict code of conduct, and academic standards that designate a D as a failing grade. They also are required to attend at least two hours of daily tutoring with a member of the MATCH Corps, a group of 45 tutors who live in a dormitory at the school. And their parents get contacted at least once a week by a teacher, tutor, or the principal.

Propping up these high academic expectations is an underlying familial atmosphere. "There's a really small community feel," says math teacher Anthony Luckett, 29. "There's comfort that I take in being able to address my students on a very real level."

During the four-minute window between sixth and seventh periods, principal Jorge Miranda, 28, encamps at the base of the main stairwell. As students churn in transit, Miranda shakes hands and playfully admonishes them for taking too long to get to class. "Without the human element and the relationships, the kids would go crazy," he says later. "It would be too much of a pressure cooker."

The MATCH formula seems to work: On the 2007 10th-grade math MCAS, 100 percent of MATCH students who took the test earned a score of proficient or advanced, which put the school in a first-place tie in math with two other schools among 341 Massachusetts public high schools.

In order to graduate, MATCH students must take - and pass - at least two advanced-placement courses and two college courses taken through a partnership with Boston University.

In a tangible affirmation of their preparation, 99 percent of students in the first four graduating classes were accepted at four-year colleges or universities.

"You've got to hold high expectations and provide the support for kids to get there," Safran says. "That's what our model is."

Critics of MATCH point to the relatively high number of students who transfer back to city high schools: Administrators are projecting that about 50 percent of the original class of 2008 will graduate in June, up from 35 percent for the class of 2007.

MATCH "is helping a few kids, but it's also hurting a whole bunch of kids that it pushes out," says Marilyn Segal, director of Citizens for Public Schools. "What happens to a kid who starts at MATCH and gets pushed out and sent back to the public school system?"

The Center for Social Organization of Schools, an educational research and development center at Johns Hopkins University, studies the effects of social organization of schools on academic achievement and eventual career success. It initially included MATCH on a list of schools with an inordinately high dropout rate, but later removed it because the center's researchers concluded that MATCH's high transfer rate does not translate into high dropout or low graduation rates.

In fact, MATCH's rigors might help students who opt out. Center for Social Organization researcher Robert Balfanz hypothesized that students who enroll at MATCH and subsequently transfer go on to do well at their new school.

"When the high intensity is not a perfect match for them for the long term, some exposure to it leaves them better prepared to succeed elsewhere," he wrote in an e-mail.

Jamila Patrick, 20, of Dorchester attended MATCH as a ninth- and 10th-grader before transferring to Charlestown High School for personal reasons. "I feel like going to MATCH really did prepare me for Charlestown or for any other school because they taught me, I guess you could say, more than I was supposed to know," Patrick says.

This fall, MATCH plans to expand its reach to younger students by opening a 240-student middle school.

"I think the fact that we're starting a middle school is the realization that, with three more years, we can give students a much better experience in high school," Miranda says.

"Every moment that we have is precious, and we don't have any time to waste."

[img[Email me|]]
@@font-size:11pt;Burmese. Guatemalan. Vietnamese. Colombian. A corner of Allston has become the region's ethnic cheap eats capital. These 20 restaurants will leave your taste buds dancing.@@

''By Jason Beerman  |  February 15, 2009''

[[Link to original article|]]
[[Link to accompaying video|Diners' Paradise video]]

[img[Diners' Paradise|]]
[img[Diners' Paradise|]]
[img[Diners' Paradise|]]
[img[Diners' Paradise|]]
[img[Diners' Paradise|]]

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@@font-size:11pt;Public consultation for Hong Kong's next big infrastructure project is just an empty PR exercise@@

''By Jason Beerman
August 5, 2011''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Jason Beerman|]]

Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok is a source of public pride for the people of Hong Kong, and rightfully so. It’s an engineering marvel as well as a case study in passenger logistics.

So when the Airport Authority, the government agency in charge of operations, rolled out its Master Plan 2030 on June 2 that espoused the need for expansion either in the form of enhancements to the current dual runway system or the development of a third runway, my initial reaction was, let’s go big. Let’s build a third runway that will make other airports cower.

Let’s cement our airport’s dominance as the world’s preeminent freight airport and one of the world’s busiest airports by passenger volume. 

And don’t forget: This is Hong Kong. Of course we’re going to reclaim more land and build another runway. We have skyscrapers perched on mountainsides, our skyline is a who’s who of the world’s most eye-catching buildings, our transit network is damn near perfect and our bridges and tunnels form beautiful arterial webs, stringing plots of land together like constellations. It’s all enough to make a structural engineer weep with joy.

In a moment of exuberance, I logged onto the website that the Airport Authority has set up to solicit feedback during the current consultation period (which ends on September 2) and was about to lodge my preference for the third runway. Then I saw the price tag of HK$136.2 billion (factoring in inflation).

[img[Plane-spotters doing their thing at Chek Lap Kok.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Plane-spotters doing their thing at Chek Lap Kok.//@@

The cost of building the current incarnation of Chek Lap Kok and all its associated transport connections was only incrementally more at around HK$150 billion.

Look, I read through the whole of the Master Plan (and if you are a Hong Kong taxpayer, I recommend that you at least read the summary). I even read through the technical report.

I do not doubt that the airport in its current form will eventually be overwhelmed by the steady growth in both passenger and cargo traffic. I understand the opportunity costs of not confronting the need for expansion right now. But it seems that all this work was an exercise in putting the cart before the horse.

Unfortunately, this is a recurring tactic when it comes to large infrastructure projects in Hong Kong. A project idea emerges from behind closed doors with a price tag already attached, a public relations onslaught begins, a public consultation is staged, substantive questions are deflected, and the cement is inevitably poured.

Recent examples of projects that have employed this strategy include the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge project (which has been held up only due to a legal technicality), the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, Route 10, and Hong Kong Disneyland.

In the case of the third runway, while the plan is admittedly comprehensive (if not completely one-sided), it alludes to several important issues but leaves them unresolved. As a taxpayer who will almost certainly be on the hook for the cost of the project, I find this quite disconcerting.

Most glaring is the nugget that, based on current financial projections and construction estimates, “we cannot finance either of the options through our internal cash flows and external prudent borrowing capacity.”

The plan goes on to say that depending on what is favored during the consultation period, the Airport Authority would then hash out the financing details.

Really? The question of how the project will be funded is arguably the most important issue at stake here, but it will be shunted aside until the consultation period is over. At that point, the decision will have been made, and the public will have no say over who will foot the bill.

In order for this consultation period to amount to anything more than a farcical semblance of some democratic process, it needs to embody more important decision-making.

Another thing that was alluded to, but not resolved, is the central issue of airspace in the Pearl River Delta (PRD).

There are five airports clustered around the delta, making the airspace in the region one of the most congested in the world. This congestion is compounded by the fact that the Chinese military wields significant control over the allocation of all mainland airspace, limiting routes and imposing altitude stipulations for all entering and exiting air traffic.

This arrangement places a finite limit on flight movements into or out of Chek Lap Kok, regardless of the number of runways, and until this issue is formally addressed and resolved, the necessity for a third runway is rendered moot.

[img[Eva Cheng, Secretary for Transport and Housing, checks out a map of the airport with the proposed third runway.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Eva Cheng, Secretary for Transport and Housing, checks out a map of the airport with the proposed third runway.//@@

This congestion will only get worse in the future, as Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport opened a second runway in July and Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport is reportedly planning to add three additional runways to its existing two.

In the technical report, the Airport Authority mentioned matter-of-factly, “to fully realize the potential capacity gain of a Third Runway, the PRD airspace will need to be redesigned.”

Like the casual treatment of the funding options, this key factor is seemingly left to chance, to be dealt with at some unforeseen point in the future.

Perhaps in response to a groundswell of wonder over the necessity of the proposed third runway given the current airspace conditions, Hong Kong’s Civil Aviation Authority scrambled in mid-July and announced that it had reached a consensus with authorities in Shenzhen and Macau on altering airspace restrictions.

But alas, no formal arrangement was agreed and no formal solution has been put into place.

In addition, there are further complications since each airport in the region operates distinct air traffic control systems and there is an overall lack of integration. As a result, trying to coordinate air traffic as it passes into adjacent airspace is inefficient and haphazard.

Let’s be honest though. This runway is likely to be built first, and these questions will be answered at some point down the road. The public consultation process is merely for show. Deconstruct it a bit and you realize that it resembles the American democratic process: we have one choice, and our sense of enfranchisement is illusory. So sit back and enjoy the ride.

And sometime in 2018 or so, get ready for the drumbeat that will accompany calls for a fourth runway. Given current growth estimates, the third runway will be at capacity in 2031.

Don’t say that the Airport Authority didn’t warn you -- their plan is entitled Master Plan 2030, after all.

[img[Walden Editorial|][]]
I own and operate Walden Editorial, a boutique editorial services firm that provides comprehensive writing, editing and proofreading services to leading corporations and organisations. Please click above to learn more.
''October 29, 2013
by Jason Beerman''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Jung Chang's Empress Dowager Cixi, Random House, 448 pages, $35.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Jung Chang's Empress Dowager Cixi, Random House, 448 pages, $35.//@@

Jung Chang came to international prominence with her wildly popular 1991 book, //Wild Swans//, which traced Chinese history thorough three generations of women. She followed this up with the authoritative //Mao: The Unknown Story//, written together with her husband Jon Halliday, in 2005.

''Empress Dowager Cixi'', Chang’s new eponymous biography of the formidable woman whose rule marked, for all intents and purposes, the end of China’s dynastic era, is an attempt to set the record straight about the much maligned Cixi, who has been variously portrayed in Chinese historiography as a deranged despot and an ineffective ruler.

Chang’s exhaustive research included combing through official records and countless diaries written by members of the court, eunuchs, ambassadors and ladies in waiting, uncovering details down to the type of rouge that Cixi wore, and resulting in a comprehensive biography that is three-dimensional in scope.

At 16, Cixi was chosen by the emperor to be a concubine in his harem, and, after giving birth to the emperor’s only male heir, she ascended the ranks of the harem to just below the empress herself. After the emperor died in 1861 when Cixi was 25, a board of regents filled the power vacuum and Cixi and the empress were both given the title of empress dowager, becoming, in effect, equals. In a savvy move soon thereafter, the two empress dowagers staged a coup and overthrew the regents, taking power themselves through a series of proxies, owing to the fact that as women, they could not rule China directly.

Thus began Cixi’s almost 50-year rule of China from behind a yellow silk screen, which literally and figuratively kept her behind the scenes of power. Nevertheless, throughout her rule, Cixi endeavoured to modernize China as it struggled to rediscover its past glories amidst the growing geopolitical clout of the European powers that were carving the country up in a series of concessions and treaty ports.

The portrait Chang paints of Cixi is complex. Cixi sought to build a railway linking China’s north and south, but she was hesitant to disturb the myriad tombs along its proposed route. She was eager to learn from and mimic the West, but she was often a hopelessly naïve stateswoman. And, late in her life, she hoped to introduce universal suffrage to China, but she refused to relinquish the power of the monarchy.

Ambitious and Machiavellian to the core, Cixi is portrayed by Chang as a pragmatist who made due with the tools she had. On her deathbed, after her prolonged campaign to turn China into a constitutional monarchy, she sensed that the emperor — her adopted son — would undermine her plans and hasten the downfall of China, so she had him assassinated with a lethal dose of arsenic before dying herself the very next day at the age of 73.

During her rule, Cixi employed “Make China Strong” as the motto of her government — a dose of machismo for this enlightened woman among whose achievements included a ban on the medieval act of foot binding. Indeed, Cixi ruled with such a sense of purpose that no one doubted her power, silk screen be damned, and she operated in a male-dominated society with such aplomb that she was respected and feared, which partially explains the conflicting historical record. The mood of the time was such that it caused a Frenchman to say of Cixi, “C’est le seul homme de la Chine.”

With this authoritative and epic biography, Chang harnesses Cixi’s ambition and makes a bold attempt to broadcast Cixi’s achievements against the weight of history while chronicling China at the crossroads of a new era of change.

//''Jason Beerman'' lives and writes in Hong Kong.//
''October 22, 2013
by Jason Beerman''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Paul Harding's Enon, HarperCollins, 224 pages, $28.99.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Paul Harding's Enon, HarperCollins, 224 pages, $28.99.//@@

In 2010, the Pulitzer committee awarded the prize for fiction to a slim novel published by a small press affiliated with a New York City hospital. Paul Harding, the author of that novel, //Tinkers//, was a theretofore unheard of graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, who had been toiling in the minor leagues of writerdom — teaching creative writing to continuing-ed students while sending out manuscripts and collecting scores of rejection notes — when he hit novelist pay dirt.

An unlikely story, indeed, especially since //Tinkers// is a novel that reads like a jazz ballad: breathy, unpredictable and introspective to the core. In that novel, Harding intersperses the dying days of clock repairman George Crosby with sequences about George’s youth and his enigmatic father, who roamed the Maine countryside as a B-grade salesman.

''Enon'', Harding’s new novel, is a tangential sequel of sorts. Set in the fictional Massachusetts town that gives the novel its name, it traces a year in the life of Charlie Crosby, the grandson of George, after the accidental death of Kate, his 13-year-old daughter.

While both //Tinkers// and //Enon// are morbidly meditative, the magic of //Tinkers// relies heavily on its third-person narration, which allows the novel to achieve a dreamlike state. //Enon//, on the other hand, is told in the first person, which grounds it in the here and now and gives it a confessional quality.

Indeed, at times, //Enon// reads like the heart-wrenching diary of a grieving father, who knows not how to channel his sadness or even how to come to terms with his newly hollowed out family. Harding’s prose never flinches, never fails as Charlie descends a notch at a time into his own desperate, drug- and alcohol-fuelled destruction.

In pondering the idea of the home he once shared with Kate and his wife Susan, Charlie laments, “The house had not merely lapsed back into the equilibrium of the woods but was blighted, as if inside it did not contain a hearth and a chair and a bed but my cankered heart.”

Passages like this are where //Enon// shines. Harding writes about time as an elastic construct, so that the lives his characters lead are superimposed over their ancestral lines, and the town they live in mingles with “the ghosts of old farms and the foundations of former homes.”

Ultimately, //Enon// is a novel that is rooted to the eponymous place for which it is named. Here, generations come and go, and birth and death are just natural occurrences that move forward the hands of the clock while the place — stoic, unknowing — bears witness.

“Just beneath our feet,” says Charlie, “on the other side of the surface of the earth, there is another, subterranean Enon, which conceals its secret business by conducting it too slowly for its purposes to be observed by the living.”

Envisioning a revived Kate in an Enon from some fantastic history, Charlie sees her encounter a girl long dead, and together they are “in a suspended moment, a small eddy or niche set aside but within all the compounded times of Enon, which are always confluent and permeative.”

For all this theoretical time travel and retrospection, nothing really happens in //Enon//. A year passes, Charlie sinks deeper into depression and addiction, the memory of Kate is everywhere. While at times the novel descends into bouts of hallucinatory navel-gazing, on the whole, it is a forceful and contemplative study in grief. In sadness so deep that it becomes its own bleak universe, the only hope is to hit bottom as quickly as possible. Only then can the rescue come.

//''Jason Beerman'' lives and writes in Hong Kong.//
''July 11, 2014
by Jason Beerman''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Tim Winton's Eyrie, HarperCollins, 336 pages, $21.99.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Tim Winton's Eyrie, HarperCollins, 336 pages, $21.99.//@@

Look at a map of Australia and Perth teeters on the continent’s western brink, with the unknown depths out to sea on one side and the tumbleweed dustbowl of the heat-ravaged outlands to the other.

This is Tim Winton’s territory.

In ''Eyrie'', his new novel, the twice Booker Prize-shortlisted author centres his gaze on Fremantle, home to Perth’s booming port and the gateway to Western Australia, “rich beyond dreaming. The greatest ore deposit in the world. The nation’s quarry, China’s swaggering enabler. . . Leviathan with an irritable bowel.”

It is here, in the early days of the global financial crisis, that 40-something Tom Keely finds himself trying to negotiate the daily struggle of survival. Once a high-flying environmentalist whose repeated stints as a talking head have made him something of a local celebrity, Keely’s unearthing of a real estate scandal leaves him the victim of a smear campaign that ruins his career and financial standing. On top of that, his marriage has been destroyed by myriad betrayals.

In his newly ruined state, he has relocated to a top-floor apartment in the Mirador, a sort of mid-rise flophouse for those on the fringe: “Ten floors of architectural uniformity. And within it, all these folks resisting replication.” His rapid socioeconomic descent mixes with his erstwhile idealism to make him a mix of “working-class prejudice” and “middle-class anxiety”— a cynic perfectly suited for the times.

Indeed, //Eyrie// is in part a takedown of the strange brew of inequality that has taken hold of the developed world. Like every commodity-rich locale, half of Winton’s Fremantle seems to be “at the mines,” where labour shortages have created a host of get-rich-quick opportunities that fuel “the angelic logic of the trickledown economy.” This is no place for a bleeding-heart environmentalist like Keely.

As Keely negotiates his new life in the Mirador — helped along by a never-ending stockpile of prescription drugs — he crosses paths with Gemma Buck, who lives three doors down with her six-year-old grandson Kai. Gemma and Keely both grew up on Blackboy Crescent, a cul-de-sac in Perth’s sprawling suburbs. It was here that the idyllic home life of the Keely family came into direct conflict with the chaotic existence of the Buck family. Gemma, the neighbourhood beauty, often sought refuge from violence and sexual abuse in the Keely house, where mother Doris took her on as a surrogate daughter.

This saviour theme underpins much of the novel, but it is most evident in the relationship that Keely strikes up with Kai. Wracked with self-doubt at the outset, Keely unwittingly becomes a father figure to the boy, whose actual father is a two-bit meth addict and whose mother is serving time for drug offences. Kai is a silent witness to a string of unknowable violence and neglect, which has left him taciturn and inscrutable. He exists in his own world of Scrabble, birds and books, and his strange dreams betray suicidal thoughts that haunt Keely with their matter-of-factness.

To his own concern, Keely grows strongly attached to Kai, and Kai to him. In Keely’s confused state, Kai seems to anchor him to a sense of obligation — a promise he cannot break. Their relationship, marked by a neighbourly friendliness that evolves into the slow-burning intimacy of father and son, becomes as much a portrait of a boy saving a man as that of a man pulling a boy from the brink.

With //Eyrie//, Winton delves into the lives of his characters to recall what is too often forgotten: that we need to tether ourselves to one another not only to survive, but to feel substantial.

//''Jason Beerman'' lives and writes in Hong Kong.//
@@font-size:11pt;Two floors of gadget glory, a children's corner and staff who aim to answer your every i-question@@

''By Jason Beerman
September 23, 2011''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Siren's call to all gadget lovers.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Siren's call to all gadget lovers.//@@

Hong Kong's first Apple store has landed. While it doesn’t open to the public until Saturday, September 24 at 9 a.m., we managed to get a first look at what will become the computer giant's flagship store in the city.

Located at the eastern end of the IFC shopping mall, the two-story Apple store manages to remain somewhat understated at first glance. Its indoor location doesn't afford it the space for any architectural statement-making, unlike the one in Shanghai.

Walk a few steps inside the front door, however, and you're greeted by the Apple Store's signature glass staircase with an oversized Apple logo and the view of Hong Kong's cityscape in the background.

Transparency is one of the key elements of the store's design. During the day, the amount of natural light that pours into the space is striking.

The blue-shirted Apple service army, drawn from a total roster of 300 employees at this store location alone, buzzes around the store smiling and preening. 

Some of them were flown to Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California for training. They’ve come back dapper and eager, looking like a cross between an Abercrombie & Fitch photo spread and the backup dancers at a Joey Yung concert.

[img[The Apple Store's signature clean, minimal look.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//The Apple Store's signature clean, minimal look.//@@

The first floor is entirely dedicated to Apple products which are prominently displayed. The vibe here is an expensive toy store for grown-ups, as the displays are all experiential.  

The second floor is dotted with low tables. This is the children’s area. It’s reminiscent of the men’s waiting areas in women’s clothing stores, but here the children’s area is more than a mere distraction. Apple employees stand at the ready to assist pint-sized customers.

Most of the rest of the floor is given over to a personal setup area, where customers can personalize their purchases. The store's "genius bar" provides tech support.

''@@font-size:12pt;Eastern expansion@@''

The opening of Hong Kong’s first Apple store is joined this week by the opening of Shanghai’s second (and China’s fifth) Apple store.

Opening additional stores in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan is especially enticing to Apple since sales in the region increased 600 percent last quarter.

It was revealed last year that Apple plans to open 25 retail stores by 2012 in China, a market that newly installed CEO Tim Cook has called “a priority.” 

Bob Bridger, Apple’s vice president of real estate and development who is in Hong Kong to oversee the IFC store opening, also states that the existing four stores in China are the most heavily trafficked of the more than 325 Apple stores around the world. These four Chinese stores generate on average Apple’s highest revenue.

[img[The store takes care of mini Mac heads too.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//The store takes care of mini Mac heads too.//@@

To date, the Hong Kong market has been able to absorb the intense demand for Apple products through a network of authorized resellers.

One of the exclusive Apple resellers, DG Lifestyle Store, is a chain that had a location at the IFC Mall until, in a sign of things to come, it relocated last year.

DG, along with other exclusive Apple resellers such as Sunion and Ultimate MAC Gallery, have thrived as Hong Kong’s default Apple stores. They even take their design cues from Apple, offering spare interiors and white and silver furnishing.

When asked what impact the opening of Apple’s first retail location in Hong Kong will have for these resellers, Bridger says, “When we open stores worldwide, it creates a greater awareness of Apple products and all resellers can expect a lift.”

None of the premium resellers in Hong Kong who we contacted, however, wished to comment on the arrival of the Apple store.

Not all resellers are wary though. At the Wan Chai Computer Centre, Harry Lai, the operations supervisor at 2C Company Limited, a diversified computer shop that is a non-exclusive Apple reseller, says, “We support Apple, and we’re very confident in our own business because we’re flexible and are able to support a wide range of products.”

A scan of the shelves at 2C makes clear the reasons behind Lai’s confidence. In addition to offering Apple products, 2C is also an authorized Microsoft retailer.


''@@font-size:12pt;Apple Store, IFC@@''

[img[They know all the keyboard shortcuts.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//They know all the keyboard shortcuts.//@@

Opening day tip: Don’t bother camping out early. First, IFC security probably won’t allow it and second, the only thing you’ll get for your trouble if you’re among the first 3,000 people through the doors is a red T-shirt featuring a partially eaten apple.

Grand opening: September 24, 9 a.m.
International Finance Center, 8 Finance St., +852 3972 1500
''July 26, 2013
Jason Beerman''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Tash Aw's Five Star Billionaire, Hamish Hamilton, 400 pages, $30.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Tash Aw's Five Star Billionaire, Hamish Hamilton, 400 pages, $30.//@@

Modern China’s coastal cities are crucibles of development, where tens of millions of migrants from the country’s inland provinces have arrived over the past few decades to better their lives on the coattails of the Chinese economic miracle. In addition, scores of overseas Chinese whose forebearers had gone abroad in previous generations are now making their way "home" to China and seeking their fortunes in these coastal cities as part of a large wave of reverse migration.

This latter phenomenon is chronicled in ''Five Star Billionaire'', the third novel by Malaysian Chinese author Tash Aw. Taking place in autumn 2008 in Shanghai, the novel traces the lives of five ethnically Chinese characters who have arrived in the city from Malaysia for various reasons. Phoebe Chen fled village life for a job in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen only to find that she had been scammed. After taking a few menial factory jobs, she arrives in Shanghai and tries to cobble together a respectable living through a series of low-level cons. Gary Gao is a poor village boy whose brief turn on a talent show has vaulted him to fame as a pop star. Justin Lim is an heir to one of Southeast Asia’s oldest continuous family-owned companies, which is expanding its operations in mainland China. Yinghui Leong is a bohemian-turned-businesswoman who is trying to outrun her family’s fall from grace. And Walter Chao, the author of the self-help guide for which the novel is named, is a mysterious businessman whose robotic personality masks his ultimate motivation.

Beneath the glittering spires of Shanghai’s glass and steel skyscrapers, the lives of this ensemble cast intersect or come tantalizingly close to doing so, and their intertwined pasts are revealed bit by bit. While the novel can be read as a story about Shanghai and the go-go life modern China has engendered, it is more interestingly interpreted as a riff on the idea of China as a new land of opportunity.

In the wake of the Great Recession in the West, the notion of the rise of the East is almost cliché at this point. However, insomuch as the two mirror one another, //Five Star Billionaire// is a retelling of the Horatio Alger fantasy with Chinese characteristics. The chapter headings are almost all uniformly translations of traditional four-character Chinese aphorisms ("Choose the Right Moment to Launch Yourself," "Bravely Set the World on Fire," "Embrace Your Bright Future") mixed with a few Dale Carnegie-like instructions ("How to Achieve Greatness," "How to Manage Time," "How to Be Gracious").

Unlike the classic rages to riches tale, however, //Five Star Billionaire// recounts a more cynical version that hinges on the new global breed of unscrupulous, cutthroat capitalism practised by those “with a hardened edge that announced that life could no longer surprise them, that the only route to happiness lay in the accumulation of more.”

This is no morality tale, though. Idealism is beaten down time and time again, and in this version of Shanghai, people arrive “like explorers, but soon they disappear and no one remembers them; no one even hears them as they fade away.”

Tash Aw, born in Taipei, raised in Kuala Lumpur and schooled in London, writes comfortably about the novel’s upper middle class characters, but is less adept in chronicling those from more modest backgrounds. The early life of Phoebe, for instance, reads like a stereotypical account of poor village life in Southeast Asia. In addition, her migration from rural Malaysia to the factory towns of Guangdong province via Hong Kong to toil on the assembly line is not only improbable, but nonsensical.

However, taken as a whole, this tale of intersecting lives in a Chinese boomtown reveals how ambition can take root and persist in our globalized world, where cities with interchangeable monolithic skylines reflect the endless pursuit of wealth for the sake of wealth.

//''Jason Beerman'' lives and writes in Hong Kong.//
''August 11, 2012
Jason Beerman''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Gail Tsukiyama's A Hundred Flowers, St. Martin's Press, 304 pages, $28.99|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Gail Tsukiyama's A Hundred Flowers, St. Martin's Press, 304 pages, $28.99//@@

People caught up in tumultuous times often become nostalgic for the past or hopeful for the future. The characters at the centre of ''A Hundred Flowers'', San Franciscan Gail Tsukiyama’s seventh novel, do both as their lives become increasingly rattled by political upheaval.

Set in China between July and November 1958, the book chronicles the life of a family in Guangzhou and the people they encounter. Kai Ying, an herbalist, lives with her son, Tao, and her father-in-law, Wei, on the top floor of an old European-style villa in Dongshan, a once grand historic district of the city.

The story, with each chapter narrated from the perspective of a different character, begins when six-year-old Tao falls from the upper branches of a kapok tree in the courtyard of their home and breaks his leg. This event sets the characters into subtle motion, as each reacts to the accident and comes to terms with it against the backdrop of the even larger misfortune that underlies all of their lives: the arrest and detention the year before of Tao’s father, Sheng.

“Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend,” was Mao Zedong’s clarion call in 1957 for China’s citizens to openly criticize the Communist Party, purportedly to help it improve. At that point, Mao’s atrocities — the Anti-Rightist Movement, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution — were ahead of him, and the citizenry had yet to fully understand the depths of his megalomania. Intellectuals therefore dutifully heeded his call for criticisms to the point where these turned into a deluge of attacks against the Party, leading Mao to purge those who had spoken up — the “hundred flowers” were quickly mowed down.

In Tsukiyama’s story, Sheng is punished for writing a letter critical of the Party, presumably owing to his earnestness in believing “if the Chinese were going to forge a stronger nation with a vibrant future, they would have to move past their history and learn from their mistakes.”

Unfortunately for Sheng, the Party, as it has always done, operates with an unvarnished paranoia, and he ends up languishing in a labour camp in Luoyang, a city in central China. Back home in Guangzhou, his absence eats at Kai Ying, Tao and especially his father, Wei, whose sense of nostalgia and life as a professor of Chinese art history have imbued in him an innate longing for the past.

“When Wei was a boy, it was a different world, one that was now condemned by Mao and the Party as extravagant and wasteful. But he also remembered the beauty and intellectual curiosity of a country that could have easily caught up with the rest of the world, if she weren’t always being dragged backward.”

For Wei and Sheng, hope lies in the past and in the future. The present is a tangled darkness, a fate derailed by historical and political circumstance.

//A Hundred Flowers// narrates this moment in time simply, through the lives of a few characters who cluster around hope and disappointment, great and small: Tao falls from the kapok tree, Kai Ying saves the life of a pregnant beggar, a neighbour is haunted by memories of her own traumatic marriage.

But it is Wei and Sheng, in absentia, who figure at the centre of this novel, as each tries to navigate his way out of the present to a better time and place. Both are “prisoners of the past,” but they are also hopeful of the future, waiting on the promise of a glorious China that they want to will to life, one critical letter at a time.

//''Jason Beerman'' lives and writes in Hong Kong.//
@@font-size:11pt;Researchers believe we’re hard-wired to be nice to others. Still, selfishness often reigns. Could one Orange Line hero inspire others (that includes you) to do a good deed?@@

''By Jason Beerman  |  November 8, 2009''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Have You Been Kind Today?|]]
[img[Have You Been Kind Today?|]]
[img[Have You Been Kind Today?|]]
[img[Have You Been Kind Today?|]]

@@font-size:11pt;A bible for history buffs with more than 500 profiles of people who made an impact on Hong Kong@@

''By Jason Beerman
January 9, 2012''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[The case of Cheong Alum was an early victory for the rule of law in Hong Kong|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//The case of Cheong Alum was an early victory for the rule of law in Hong Kong//@@

A new book annotates the history of Hong Kong in the most illustrative way -- through the lives of people who have made an impact here.

Hong Kong's first tome on the who's who of history, "The Dictionary of Hong Kong Biography" contains more than 500 entries authored by 90 contributors, including the editors May Holdsworth and Christopher Munn. 

Other than the stipulation of including only the deceased, the editors worked with open-ended criteria.

In addition to around 100 major figures such as governors, the individuals portrayed in the Dictionary run the gamut of identities and professions, including entrepreneurs, colonial administrators, philanthropists, journalists, artists, photographers, athletes, corrupt cops, revolutionaries, clan leaders, pirates, gangsters, merchants, missionaries, military figures, scientists and film stars.

The Dictionary entries paint a comprehensive portrait of Hong Kong’s history, from the earliest about a fifth-century Buddhist monk, to those depicting the lawless days following the First Opium War when the colony was a “fever-ridden strip of matsheds and mudpaths, subject to almost nightly raids by seaborne gangs of robbers.”

The most recent entry commemorates Szeto Wah, the political activist who died at the beginning of 2011.

Other biographical capsules trace the rise and fall of once powerful hongs, the role of opium in Hong Kong’s development, the lives of revolutionaries -- Ho Chin Minh, Sun Yat Sen, José Rizal -- who sought refuge in the colony, the years of Japanese occupation and the lineages of New Territories family clans.

Place names that have withstood history’s assault -- Po Shan, Shouson, Hebe, Plover, Bisney, Tonnochy, Gutzlaff, D’Aguilar, Braga -- are contextualized. Gangsters and pirates are humanized, and the lives and moments of minor and major players alike all intersect to provide a multi-dimensional history of Hong Kong.

Here are some of the more notable and emblematic people from "The Dictionary of Hong Kong Biography."

[img[James Stewart Lockhart (in wide-brimmed hat), colonial administrator, March 1899.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//James Stewart Lockhart (in wide-brimmed hat), colonial administrator, March 1899.//@@

''@@font-size:12pt;Home-bread terrorism@@''

n 1857, as the Second Opium War was beginning in earnest, tension began to build between the local and the foreign populations.

One January morning, terrorists laced the bread at Cheong Alum -- the main foreigners' bakery -- with arsenic. Around 400 people were poisoned, and Cheong was immediately arrested.

Many, including Hong Kong’s Attorney General at the time, called for Cheong to be executed without a fair trial, but the governor insisted that Cheong and the co-defendants be tried before a jury.

Prosecutors lacked evidence and a motive, and Cheong was acquitted in what can now be perceived as an early victory for the rule of law in Hong Kong.

''@@font-size:12pt;The man of a thousand faces@@''

Harry Odell was emblematic of the peripatetic souls that continually landed in Hong Kong and made their mark here.

Born Harry Obadofsky in Cairo in 1896 to Russian Jewish parents and educated in Shanghai, he worked as a tap dancer in Nagasaki before emigrating to the United States and fighting for the U.S. military in France during World War I.

Following the war, he moved to Hong Kong, changed his surname to Odell, and married into a wealthy family of jewelers.

Odell cut his teeth in the import-export business and as a stockbroker, and was also a volunteer with the naval reserve in Hong Kong. He was wounded during the defense of Hong Kong in 1941 and became a Japanese POW.

Following the war, Odell started a film distribution business and was a major force behind the construction of the City Hall theater complex, putting his stamp on the cultural life of his adopted home.

''@@font-size:12pt;HSBC lost a million -- and it mattered@@''

In colonial Hong Kong, compradors were Chinese or Eurasian agents of foreign trading houses.

Lo Hok-pang was the son of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation’s first comprador. He inherited his father’s post in 1877 and proceeded to leverage the bank’s assets to finance his own under-the-table endeavors.

His speculation eventually backfired and the bank was left with over a million dollars in losses. Lo fled in shame to Guangdong, where he later died in a monastery.

''@@font-size:12pt;The one-legged escape from Hong Kong@@''

[img[Chan Chak, his arm in a sling, after leading the escape from Hong Kong to central Guangdong in December 1941.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Chan Chak, his arm in a sling, after leading the escape from Hong Kong to central Guangdong in December 1941.//@@

Chan Chak, a Chinese naval officer, lost his leg during the Sino-Japanese War. During a period of recovery in Hong Kong, he worked as an undercover representative of the Nationalist government and served as a go-between with British authorities.

In the wake of the Japanese attack on Hong Kong, he helped keep order in the suddenly chaotic colony, and following the British surrender on Christmas Day 1941, Chan was evacuated to Ap Lei Chau where he led a daring, one-legged escape (he had lost his wooden leg) to a Nationalist base in central Guangdong.

Feted for his bravery and his loyalty, he later became the mayor of Guangzhou before his death in 1949.

''@@font-size:12pt;Scandalous Sweetie@@''

[img[Nina Wang: scandalous even in death.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Nina Wang: scandalous even in death.//@@

Nina Wang, Asia’s richest woman at the time of her death, was an enigmatic figure whose death practically upstaged her strange life.

Known as “Little Sweetie” for her predisposition toward pigtails and miniskirts, she was the wife of Teddy Wang, the founder of Chinachem, one of the largest privately held property companies in Hong Kong. Teddy was kidnapped in 1983 and was only returned after a HK$33 million ransom was paid.

In 1990, he was kidnapped again, this time never to return.

In his stead, Nina assumed the role of “chairlady” and continued to build the company. Teddy was finally declared dead in 1999 (although his body was never found), thus beginning the battle over the Chinachem fortune between Nina and Teddy’s elderly father. The legal battle included multiple wills and claims of forgery and adultery, and when the dust finally settled, Nina retained her fortune.

Two years later, Nina died and a new series of court battles took place over new allegations of a forged will, this time between her married and dubious “feng shui master” lover and the Chinachem Charitable Foundation.

The trial was a bizarre and sordid affair, with Nina’s pigtails even making a posthumous appearance. In the end, her fortune went to the Foundation, but poor Nina was subjected to derision and Schadenfreude even in death.

''@@font-size:12pt;Tragic figures@@''

[img[Actress Lam Fung died of an overdose at 36.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Actress Lam Fung died of an overdose at 36.//@@

In 2003, Leslie Cheung, the talented and revered actor and singer, committed suicide at the age of 46. His premature death is part of a tragic pattern among popular Hong Kong stars.

Bruce Lee, perhaps Hong Kong’s most iconic star, died mysteriously at the age of 32; Lin Dai, a film actress during the 1950s and 1960s, committed suicide at the age of 29.

Lam Fung, a film actress during the 1960s, died of a drug overdose at the age of 36; Danny Chan, a singer and actor during the 1980s, died of a drug overdose at the age of 35.

Roman Tam, the “godfather of Cantopop” died of cancer at the age of 52; and Anita Mui, the “Madonna of Asia,” died of cancer at the age of 40.

//“Dictionary of Hong Kong Biography” edited by May Holdsworth and Christopher Munn, Hong Kong University Press. Available at English language bookstores in Hong Kong and directly from the HKU Press, HK$495.//
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@@font-size:11pt;New app offers all the Hong Kong tram trivia we ever wanted to know: Too bad about the video@@

''By Jason Beerman
September 28, 2011''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[HK Tram Trail app|]]

A new free smartphone app, available to Android and iPhone users, allows tram riders to hear and see the history of Hong Kong’s development along the historical tram route stretching from Kennedy Town to Wanchai.

Designed and developed by a team at Hong Kong University’s urban planning and design department, the “Hong Kong Tram Trail” app was recently released to coincide with the university's centennial anniversary.

The app offers what amounts to a portable narrated video tour (in English, Cantonese, or Putonghua) that doles out historical facts and anecdotes at various sites along the route.

Hong Kong’s tram tracks were originally laid in 1903 along a waterfront that has since been pushed outward by reclamation.

Today, the tracks remain etched like an ancient tattoo on the congested roads of the north side of the island. Even though the surrounding streetscape has changed almost beyond recognition, the tram tracks are a fossilized reminder of what once was.

We hopped on the tram and took the app for a spin. A preliminary word of warning: the app relies on streaming video and is data intensive, so without a 3G data plan it’s virtually impossible to use.

Assuming your data plan is up to snuff, the app is thoughtfully designed and well executed. In portrait mode, it displays a split screen with an interactive map on the top half and the video on the bottom half. In landscape mode, the video converts to a full-screen display.

The app’s ingenious design relies on the user’s GPS positioning to provide the relevant content. If you’re not actually on the tram route, the app will not work.

Starting at the Kennedy Town terminus, the narration provides historical facts and colorful anecdotes at various locations along the route. The accompanying video complements the narration with photos of buildings and streetscapes with some live action shots interspersed.

Most interesting is the split-screen juxtaposition of both old and current photos of the same street or building as the narrator talks about the development from then to now. Each narrated portion lasts from 30 seconds to just over two minutes.

Places covered include large neighborhoods and districts such as Shek Tong Tsui, Sai Ying Pun, Sheung Wan, Central, and Wanchai as well as sites, streets, and buildings such as Belcher’s Bay, Dried Seafood Street, Western Market, Queensway, and, of course, Hong Kong University.

The history is well researched and provides a useful, albeit superficial, understanding of the places the tram travels past. Historical anecdotes are colorful and suited for the medium.

As the tram ambles past, it’s interesting, for instance, to learn why there’s only one statue in Statue Square and where Wanchai’s original red-light district stood in the late 1800s.

The app is a wonderful addition to a tram ride. That said, the video, while a nice idea, is superfluous since most phone screens are too small to fully appreciate the visuals.

More than that, with the exciting hustle and bustle of everyday Hong Kong life in abundance along the tram route, it’s almost criminal to bury your nose in your phone screen.

You’re better off listening to the narration and letting your imagination picture the scenes of yore as the timeless “ding ding” of the tram’s bell fills your ears.

After all, you can always look at the corresponding historical photos when you get home.

//For more information and to download the app, visit the [[website of Hong Kong Tram Trail.|]]//

[img[HK Tram Trail app|]]
@@font-size:11pt;New restaurant Cantopop wants us to think health and sustainability before we fork in that next bite of Spam and spaghetti at the cha chaan teng@@

''By Jason Beerman
May 17, 2011''

[[Link to original article|]]

@@font-size:8pt;//Beef Bolognaise, Cantopop-style. All eggs served at this cha chaan teng are sourced from a farm where music is used to enhance the hens' egg-laying mood.//@@

What would Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin have made of Hong Kong's cha chaan teng?

The oft-quoted French gourmand famously wrote in 1825: “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.”

Today, I am having pork chop in black bean sauce on a bed of spaghetti with a side of French toast, accompanied by a glass of Ovaltine -- what does that make me, monsieur?

Prevailing trade winds, the spikes and valleys of population patterns and the postwar economic surge have each played a part in determining Hong Kong’s iconic purveyor of comfort food: the cha chaan teng.

Although the menu has its classic items, one defining characteristic of the cha chaan teng is continuous evolution with an anything-goes attitude. The latest development is in the form of Cantopop, a new restaurant on Queen’s Road Central that seizes on the “healthy cha chaan teng” angle.

A collaboration between the team behind Italian restaurant Posto Pubblico, and Margaret Xu, owner and chef at private kitchen Yin Yang, Cantopop is a reflection of their shared passion for sustainable, locally-sourced ingredients.

“What we’re trying to do here is give you comfort-style Hong Kong food that doesn’t make you feel bad after you’ve eaten, ” said Xu, who is also Cantopop’s executive chef. “Cantopop is an everyday Hong Kong restaurant that’s more environmentally conscious, fresher, and free of the junk.”

The menu at Cantopop is a mixture of re-imagined cha chaan teng staples, built on the notion that cha chaan teng cuisine is inherently fusion cuisine which is open to further interpretation.

Veronica Mak, an anthropologist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong agrees, noting that Tsui Wah has recently done its part in redefining the cha chaan teng yet again.

“Tradition is always an invention,” said Mak. “The cha chaan teng is an imagination of a certain kind of culture or a certain kind of culinary presentation.

“Is [Cantopop] a redefinition of the cha chaan teng or, to put it another way, is it the invention of tradition for a certain kind of interest?”

''@@font-size:12pt;The tea room@@''

@@font-size:8pt;//The egg-tastic Margaret Xu.//@@

Cha chaan teng translates literally from the Cantonese as "tea meal room," but like many literal translations, it is arguably a bit of a misnomer.

Yes, weak tea is exactly what you are first served when you walk in and the centerpiece of the meal is naaih cha (“milk tea”), a mixture of evaporated milk and strong black tea. It is Hong Kong’s de facto official drink.

But the menu at a cha chaan teng is breathtaking in scope. It’s not unusual for the food and drink options to number in the hundreds.

If there is any equivalent to the cha chaan teng, it is the venerable American diner. Yet the definition of a cha chaan teng is much more elusive than that of a diner since there are no tangible criteria that serve to classify it.

In the 1950s, shortly after they began to proliferate, cha chaan tengs were places where Hong Kong’s burgeoning lower-middle class could go to eat affordably and sample exotic “Western” foods interpreted to suit local tastes.

The typical food at a cha chaan teng, ranging from borscht to bo lo baau, is far from what one would label gourmet, yet in 2007, a member of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council proposed that the government endorse the inclusion of cha chaan tengs on UNESCO’s list of “intangible cultural heritage.”

As Hong Kong continually seeks its cultural identity in the post-Handover era, the cha chaan teng somehow feels like an appropriate mirror.

It’s not quite Western and it’s not quite Chinese, it’s both traditional and modern, it can be chic in a drab sort of way and it provides a sense of nostalgia and historical continuity to the city.

''@@font-size:12pt;"Clean" cha chaan teng@@''

@@font-size:8pt;//Cantopop features Scotch eggs on its cha chaan teng menu. It's crazy like that.//@@

What a cha chaan teng does not necessarily provide, however, is a healthy eating experience. Canned meats and soups proliferate and MSG is usually the additive of choice.

High levels of sodium provide an in-your-face taste experience that has, for better or worse, become a selling point. One doesn’t go to McDonald’s to eat a Kobe beef burger and one doesn’t go to a cha chaan teng to eat sous-vide cha siu.

At least, we hadn’t thought so.

Cantopop opened to the public last Friday evening. We had the old cha chaan teng standby of macaroni, fried egg, and luncheon meat in broth.

Except, the macaroni is made in-house using a pasta machine from Italy, the chicken stock is made from scratch and is entirely free of MSG, the luncheon meat is freshly made, and the egg is sourced from a local farm in the New Territories.

In the parlance of Todd Darling and Robert Spina, the co-founders of Posto Pubblico, all the dishes on the menu use “ingredients with integrity.”

“This project allows us to make clean food accessible to more people than we had previously been able to reach,” said Darling.

Indeed, the majority of dishes at Cantopop are priced below HK$70, democratizing the Posto Pubblico experience and the restaurant space aims for mass appeal to a younger demographic. The low-slung plastic stools, Roy Lichtenstein-esque murals and statement butcher lamps make for a sort of whitewashed cha chaan teng for the hipster set.

The difficulty, however, in paying homage to a culinary tradition while attempting to simultaneously redefine it is that something must be conceded along the way.

In the case of Cantopop, the restaurant has gone out on a limb by avoiding the traditional crutches of MSG, high sodium and random sourcing of ingredients.

But by remaking the cha chaan teng into something new, the dishes become unrecognizable even as vestiges of their original forms.

After tasting a sampling of dishes on the menu, it’s difficult for us to categorize Cantopop as a cha chaan teng per se.

The sous-vide cha siu, for instance, lacks the salty and sweet burst of the cha siu you would find in a regular cha chaan teng. In fact, the Cantopop version doesn’t even really taste like cha siu at all.

The paradox is that this is precisely the point of Cantopop. It doesn’t offer cha siu. It offers sous-vide cha siu, made with ingredients curated with purpose and crafted with care.

So be warned: Cantopop is not your father’s cha chaan teng, although it might very well end up forging its own tradition. As with everything in Hong Kong, blink, and everything new is old again.

//Cantopop UG/F, The L Place, 139 Queen’s Road Central, Central +852 2857 2608/2007 [[|]]//

@@font-size:8pt;//Pop art and Hong Kong's ubiquitous butcher lamps adorn Cantopop.//@@

@@font-size:11pt;Slow, cheap and terrific, the bus trip is the new road trip in Hong Kong@@

''By Jason Beerman
October 11, 2011''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Touring Hong Kong by bus -- strictly about the journey and not the destination.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Touring Hong Kong by bus -- strictly about the journey and not the destination.//@@

One of Hong Kong’s best tour options offers unparalleled sights and a healthy dose of local culture at rock-bottom prices. It happens to be the public bus.

Suspend your idea of what a public bus is for a moment and consider that the top deck of Hong Kong’s double-decker bus fleet offers a unique vantage point from which you can explore all of Hong Kong for just a handful of dollars.

The MTR rapid transit railway system is speedy and convenient, but it whisks you mostly underground from place to place and there’s little chance to view more than tunnel walls.

The bus, however, trundles along, stops every few hundred meters, and offers a bird’s-eye view of everything along the way. Short of walking, it’s the best way to slow things down enough so that you’re able to enjoy the journey as much as the destination. And isn’t that the very essence of travel?

With this in mind, we spotlight three bus routes that will enable you to explore large swaths of Hong Kong frugally and with eyes wide open. The caveats are that it is imperative to ride on the top deck and highly preferential to ride in one of the front four seats, where the views are unfettered.

''@@font-size:12pt;1. Iconic Hong Kong: Victoria Harbour to Victoria Peak@@''
[img[View of the Happy Valley racecourse from bus no. 15.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//View of the Happy Valley racecourse from bus no. 15.//@@

First Bus #15 
Start: Central Pier 5 
End: The Peak Tower 
Cost: HK$9.80 
Duration: 60 minutes

Get in line early and get ready to do battle with the mainland tourists who opt for this roller-coaster bus route over the more staid Peak Tram.

The minute the bus leaves the waterfront, the air is alive with loud chatter. As the bus lurches past the old Legislative Council building and the Cenotaph, be sure to glimpse the imposing apartment buildings of the Midlevels between Central’s glass-and-steel buildings.

Past Admiralty, the bus veers right onto Queen’s Road East in the heart of old Wanchai. Look for two notable buildings -- Hung Shing Temple and the old Wanchai post office -- on the right.

Peer left down the narrow streets to spy small shops and markets that have remained intact through years of turmoil and development.

As the bus climbs out of Wanchai, it makes a right onto Stubbs Road at the Khalsa Diwan Sikh Temple, which serves as a center of activity for Hong Kong’s large and active Sikh community.

Stubbs Road ascends sharply and passes the Happy Valley Cemetery, which dates from 1845. Keep looking left as the expansive jumble of Happy Valley seems to fall away at your feet. Ahead are Highcliff (252 meters) and The Summit (220 meters), two of the tallest residential buildings in Hong Kong, appropriately nicknamed “the chopsticks.”

After a sharp right, your ears begin to pop with the rise in altitude. Branches of overhanging trees slap against the windshield like a violent metronome.

King Yin Lei, a massive brick and tile Chinese-style mansion, is to the right. Farther up Stubbs Road, Frank Gehry’s new creation, the Opus, is visible to the left.

[img[Pass the Opus... construction site.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Pass the Opus... construction site.//@@

As the road continues to climb, you marvel at the idea that there is no way a double-decker bus should be plying this road. The pitch and the width make each switchback a nerve-wracking exercise in geometry and the crowded bus oohs and aahs with every turn of the road.

To the right, the skyline is visible through the trees. As the road continues to rise, the harbor soon comes in sight, and so too do the mountains of Kowloon.

Over Magazine Gap, the entire south side of the island opens up. The chasm that yawns to the left as the bus leans toward the abyss causes everyone on the upper deck of the bus to gasp. Islands dot the far waters. Clouds ring the radio towers of The Peak.

Our heartbeats finally slow down as the bus pulls into the terminus. We enjoy walking around for a spell but forgo a trip down on the Peak Tram. We like to gird ourselves instead for the even more harrowing return trip on the no. 15 bus.

''@@font-size:12pt;2. Iconic Kowloon: Below the Lion Rock@@''
[img[Nathan Road, aka the Golden Mile.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Nathan Road, aka the Golden Mile.//@@

KMB bus #87D
Start: Bus terminus outside Hung Hom Station
End: Bayshore Towers, Ma On Shan MTR station 
Cost: HK$8.50 
Duration: 70 minutes

Leaving the terminus, the bus passes the Hong Kong Coliseum, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the Hong Kong Museum of History, and the Hong Kong Science Museum before making a right turn onto Nathan Road.

During the postwar years, Nathan Road was known as Hong Kong’s “Golden Mile” due to the bounty that could be found here. The name could well still be valid since there are seemingly more jewelry stores here per square kilometer than anywhere else in the world.

The Peninsula Hotel stands on the left at the beginning of Nathan Road. Further along on the right is Chungking Mansions, the hub of activity for many South Asian and African traders in Hong Kong.

The minarets of the Kowloon Mosque are visible up the road, surrounded by the lush greenery of Kowloon Park.

Entering Jordan, the neon signs jut well into the road and seem to threaten decapitation.

Buildings to the left and right are caged in scaffolding, old tong lau-style tenements overhang sidewalks like chins and surrounding buses congest in a slow, claustrophobic dance.

The frequent stops allow you to peer into the small eateries that spill out onto the sidewalk.

[img[Get a glimpse of Chungking Mansions.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Get a glimpse of Chungking Mansions.//@@

Entering the northern portion of Mong Kok, the bus seems too large for the narrow residential streets. It rolls down Boundary Street, once the border between British-controlled Hong Kong and the Chinese-controlled lands beyond, before heading into the heart of Kowloon Tong, a low-rise bedroom community where the large suburban homes and the road names -- Oxford, Lancashire, Waterloo, York -- evoke visions of Abbey Road.

Lion Rock looms above as the road climbs past the American and Australian International Schools, a number of posh wedding venues and Hong Kong Baptist University before funneling into the Lion Rock Tunnel.

On the other side, the landscape becomes reconfigured. Clustered housing blocks rise above small village houses. Sha Tin, one of Hong Kong’s original new towns, lies to the left, punctuated by its massive racetrack. The dramatic cliffs of Ma On Shan jut upward to the right and the new town that bears the mountain’s name looms ahead.

One of the newest MTR lines runs above ground here and its presence has given rise to gleaming new developments.

Alight at Bayshore Towers, one of these new developments where you can explore on foot before catching the MTR back toward Tai Wai.

''@@font-size:12pt;3. Iconic New Territories: Manifest destiny, west to east@@''
[img[Let the bus do the hiking for you on Tai Mo Shan.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Let the bus do the hiking for you on Tai Mo Shan.//@@

KMB #64K
Start: Yuen Long MTR station, exit G1
End: Tai Po Market MTR station
Cost: HK$7.60
Duration: 60 minutes

The heart of the New Territories is expansive, mountainous and difficult to navigate, but this bus route offers the perfect way to traverse it and view otherwise unseen portions of its breathtaking landscape.

The 64K is busiest on weekends, as families make the trek to otherwise hard-to-reach villages along the route. As it leaves Yuen Long, the pace of development in this evolving old town can be seen in the massive luxury developments that have been built on its outskirts.

The beautiful, dappled ridges of the mountains of Lam Tsuen Country Park rise to almost 600 meters on the left. The MTR’s elevated West Rail Line carves through the countryside like an oversized aqueduct.

As the bus winds eastward on Kam Sheung Road, shanties and corrugated roofs are at eye-level and junkyards and scrapheaps stand adjacent to low-rise village homes, both old and new. Some of the more dilapidated structures broadcast their build dates -- 1962, 1969 -- but one wonders how much longer they will stand as new, glass-walled mini-mansions go up in their midst.

After a right turn, the road skirts between some of Hong Kong’s highest peaks. Tai Mo Shan, Hong Kong’s highest mountain, looms to the right. The bus climbs an impossibly steep grade, offering glimpses of small farms and houses to the left. As it crests the top, it descends past Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden, a center that encourages conservation and biodiversity and is a great spot for a weekend trip.

The road rockets down into another valley. To the left and right are small roads that snake toward unseen villages. Houses dot the lower hillsides to the left.

The outskirts of Tai Po begin to make themselves known as the road infrastructure becomes more extensive. Highway overpasses flail in the air above and trucks roar loudly around rotaries. Closer yet to Tai Po proper are huge housing developments that rise like concrete monoliths.

The river on the right slides past Tai Po Old Market and the Hong Kong Railway Museum. When the bus arrives at the terminus, alight and head into the pedestrian tunnel to locate the entrance to the MTR station.

''@@font-size:12pt;Honorable Mentions@@''
[img[He's got the best seat in the house.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//He's got the best seat in the house.//@@

1) First Bus #14, Sai Wan Ho to Stanley: The bus traverses tightrope-like Tai Tam Road which winds across the top of the dam wall high above the reservoir.

2) Airport buses (#A10, A11, A12, E11): Zip through the Western Harbour Tunnel, view the massive Kwai Tsing Container Terminals and ride over the Tsing Ma and the Kap Shui Mun bridges.

3) Lantau bus #23, Tung Chung to Ngong Ping: Buckle up as you’re whisked from sea level to the Big Buddha through Lantau’s rolling countryside. Keep an eye out for feral cattle and water buffalo by the side of the road.
@@font-size:11pt;In response to popular demand, McDonald's offers a fast-food version of the classic wedding experience.@@

[img[McDonald's balloon cake|]]

''Jason Beerman
April 29, 2011''

[[Link to original article|]]

HONG KONG — It may not be a royal wedding, but a typical Hong Kong marriage ceremony is epic in scope.

It involves a team of handlers, photo sessions, multiple banquets, ancestor worship, more photo sessions, countless costume changes, red packets of money, numerology and a suckling pig.

McDonald’s, of all places, has a better offer — and, yes, it comes with fries.

Beginning in January, the U.S. fast food chain’s Hong Kong operation responded to what it called strong customer demand and began offering wedding party packages at three of its 225 locations. The “Warm and Sweet Wedding Package” pares the wedding process down to the bare essentials.

For less than $1,300, a couple gets a venue and decoration, invitation cards, audio equipment, McDonaldland figurines for each guest, an emcee and $385 worth of McDonald's food.

In addition, the bride and groom can choose among wedding gifts that include a crystal McDonald's house and a pair of balloon wedding rings inscribed with the iconic golden arches.

The themed wedding isn't a new concept in Hong Kong.

In 2006, the government passed a law that made it possible for couples to get married virtually anywhere. Since then, weddings have taken place in shopping malls, boats, and on board Hong Kong's double-decker trams. Hong Kong Disneyland hosts “Fairy Tale Weddings” and Ocean Park, another theme park, hosted Hong Kong's first underwater wedding in 2007.

McDonald’s, however, is the first fast food restaurant to enter Hong Kong’s supersized wedding market.

Katemagg Chau, the founder of Katemagg Event and Weddings and the director of greater China at the Association of Bridal Consultants, says that the average wedding in Hong Kong costs $26,000. With about 50,000 weddings per year, this means that Hong Kong's wedding industry is worth about $1.3 billion — and that's U.S. dollars.

“For the mass market, a McDonald’s wedding is a really good deal, so I think it would be good for people who don’t want to spend a lot of money and just want to have a theme wedding at McDonald’s,” Chau said.

Indeed, McDonald’s has hit an ideal price point for couples on a budget. But the question remains: Besides the sheer affordability, why would a couple choose to wed at McDonald’s?

James L. Watson, an anthropologist at Harvard University who studies Chinese society, explains that the idea of a “McWedding” embodies a cultural transition among young people in Hong Kong.

“In the past, Hong Kong has always been a place where weddings are an occasion for ostentatious display and conspicuous consumption,” he said. “What this shows is that a lot of young people no longer care about that sort of thing.”

At the same time, however, it is important to consider that McDonald’s occupies a far different place in Hong Kong’s cultural landscape than it does in the West.

In Hong Kong, one of the world’s most densely packed urban environments, 90 percent of families live in homes smaller than 700 square feet. To those who live in these tight living quarters, McDonald’s outlets represent communal oases, Watson wrote in his book, "Golden Arches East."

McDonald's, which arrived in Hong Kong in 1975, redefined the notion of a commercial eating establishment. It was the first to offer clean bathrooms, a casual and smoke-free environment and cheap food on a wide scale.

McDonald’s has also endeared itself to generations of Hong Kong youth by playing different roles throughout their lives — first as the place to have a birthday party, then as the place to go after school, where homework, socializing and matchmaking could be done in a safe and spacious environment.

Generations that grew up with McDonald’s have now hit marrying age, and view McDonald’s as a viable wedding venue.

Elsewhere, McDonald’s is widely scapegoated as a root cause of obesity and other health problems, but in Hong Kong, McDonald’s is viewed as part of a larger public health problem.

“It’s unfair to pinpoint McDonald’s, as there are many kinds of fast food shops,” said Daniel S.Y. Ho, an assistant professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong. “Fast food is only one of a myriad of factors, and they all must be tackled together.”

Furthermore, the image of McDonald’s as a steamrolling multinational corporation holds little weight in Hong Kong, where the economy is inherently multinational, most foods are imported, and multiple generations have lived under distinct sovereign powers given Hong Kong’s handover from Britain to China in 1997.

Since its official launch, McDonald’s has hosted three wedding parties, but more than 130 people have inquired about the service — suggesting that the novelty may soon gain steam. McDonald's declined to give out contact information for the three couples.

When asked about what might entice a couple to wed at McDonald’s, Chau, the wedding planner, paused before answering.

“It’s a pretty good deal compared to Ocean Park,” she said.

@@font-size:11pt;A wide-scale composting campaign is needed to combat Hong Kong's incredible amount of organic waste@@

''By Jason Beerman
October 6, 2011''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Jason Beerman|]]

If you don’t happen to live downwind from one of Hong Kong’s three gigantic landfills, you might not be aware that Hong Kong faces an acute garbage problem: our landfills will be full within a matter of years.

We’re drowning in our own filth.

This is no exaggeration. It’s estimated that Hong Kong residents, per capita, produce the most garbage of any place in the world.

That’s a dubious distinction to be sure, but it’s compounded by the fact that we happen to inhabit a tiny landmass and we’re running out of places to stash our trash.

''@@font-size:12pt;Government involvement needed@@''

There are two solutions to this problem.

First, Hong Kongers need to reduce waste generation at home.

Second, the Hong Kong government needs to introduce a sustainable waste treatment technology that can reduce total waste generation.

Granted, domestic waste is not the only source of waste; there are many other types, including restaurant, commercial, construction, chemical, clinical and livestock waste.

But domestic waste constitutes 45 percent of total solid waste and it is something that we can readily control with our own day-to-day personal choices.

Dear Hong Kong government, since your residents will not cease engaging in overconsumption, the onus is on you to at least mitigate the resulting flow of waste.

Here’s what we’ve learned from the recent history of waste disposal in Hong Kong: landfilling is a short-term solution, and recycling cannot keep pace with steady increases in total waste generation.

[img[A Hong Kong landfill located in the northeast New Territories.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//A Hong Kong landfill located in the northeast New Territories.//@@

To date, the government has made nominal overtures to the idea of composting with pilot programs and ad hoc subsidies, but so far no concrete plan to implement composting on a wide scale has been put forth.

''@@font-size:12pt;Long-term vision@@''

There are plans to build two organic waste treatment plants, which would use a combination of anaerobic digestion and composting, but if they are built, they would handle only a fraction of the total organic waste generated.

Currently, the government espouses the use of incineration as a sort of panacea, citing its usage in Japan and other small, industrialized nations as an example of its efficacy.

Incineration has limited benefits -- it’s efficient at reducing the volume of waste and it results in short-term energy outputs -- but it is ultimately a wasteful and harmful method of waste disposal and should not be relied upon as a large-scale alternative to landfilling.

Alas, our current choices appear to be limited to the equivalents of sweeping our trash under the rug or lighting it on fire.

Here’s a better idea. Let’s create a large-scale composting program in Hong Kong.

After all, food waste constitutes 37 percent of total municipal solid waste (or about 0.47 kilograms per person per day) so diverting this from the waste stream would reduce total waste generation.

Not only that, but it would also result in the generation of large amounts of organic compost that could be used by the very mainland farms that grow most of the produce that we consume in Hong Kong. Perfect, right?

Several municipalities in North America and in Europe operate composting programs of varying scale.

''@@font-size:12pt;Asia's world city or Asia's landfill?@@''

The bottom line is that these programs require significant help from the government.

In the case of Hong Kong, the government would have to coordinate organic waste collection, provide land (since composting requires a large area and a long period of incubation) and designate funds to carry out the actual composting.

The marketing and transport of the eventual compost to farms could be privatized, allowing Hong Kong’s compost to have a competitive and sustainable market niche.

If a viable composting program actually existed in Hong Kong, the positive externalities would be tremendous. Combined with incineration on a lesser scale, we would have a more sustainable cycle of waste and the pace of landfilling would slow considerably.

Perhaps more importantly, Hong Kong would figure at the center of an international conservation effort.

If Hong Kong -- capitalist concrete jungle that it is -- managed to operate a sustainable and successful large-scale municipal composting program, it would pack far more PR punch than simply yelling that we are “Asia’s world city.”

Although I guess that sounds better than “Asia’s landfill.”
''December 25, 2014
by Jason Beerman''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[I Am China, by Xiaolu Guo, Nan A. Talese, 384 pages, $32.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//I Am China, by Xiaolu Guo, Nan A. Talese, 384 pages, $32.//@@

When author and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo left China to study film in London in 2002, she went into a sort of cultural exile. Her films, and especially her books, signalled her shifting world view as she grappled with a new language and a new existence that refracted her previous one in a new, bitter light.

''I Am China'', her fourth novel written in English, to some extent brings Guo’s retrospection to a close. In a recent interview, she stated that this marks the final time she will ever write about China. It makes for quite a send-off.

Comprising the jumbled diary entries and letters of Kublai Jian, a politicized punk rocker, and Deng Mu, his idealistic poet girlfriend, //I Am China// spans three continents and 20 years to reveal an evolving China and examine its place in the world through the eyes of exile. These diary fragments and scrawled missives reveal Jian and Mu in tantalizing fragments — Jian during his quest for political asylum after the publication of his manifesto railing against the Communist Party, and Mu during her parallel quest for stability, born out of her belief that “the infinite world is there beyond trivial ideologies and politics.”

This correspondence has landed in London, in the lap of Iona Kirkpatrick, a Scottish-born translator who becomes consumed with the documents. Day by day, she randomly fishes photocopies bearing Jian’s soon familiar scrawl and Mu’s precisely drawn characters out of a pile, translating them and trying to make sense of what has happened to these two over the intervening 20-year period.

She has been given this task by a London publishing house, whose publisher was handed the correspondence in haste by Mu during a Beijing literary festival to give to the London office of Amnesty International. Curious about the literary value of this jumble of handwritten notes and letters, the publisher gives them to Iona to decipher.

Xiaolu Guo, who had published six novels in Chinese before writing her first one in English in 2007, is intimately familiar with the voids that exist in translations, from simple misunderstandings to flawed inferences. This is especially the case when translating from the Chinese, with its lack of tenses and use of opaque idioms. In the character of Iona, Guo sketches the translator as voyeur, as an empty vessel through which Jian and Mu’s story can come to light: “Both of them trying to build a bridge on which to meet. And it’s like Iona is building this bridge again, through her reading, her translation.”

Jian’s and Mu’s earliest letters are written in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre, which shaped them irrevocably, as it did most of their generation. This political awakening, combined with Jian’s family background, which is revealed as one of the novel’s central plot points, leaves him “obsessed with trying to understand power.” For Mu, it brings to the surface her inner struggle to balance her idealism with “the repressed dutiful daughter in me, struggling to fulfil other people’s desires, the desire of continuing the tradition, and the weight of carrying history.”

As Jian writes to Mu over the years and distances, his exile brings him from the foothills of the Alps to the back streets of Montmartre. He is a man without a home, never missing China, but never able to put his own set of ideologies into context anywhere else. Meanwhile, Mu resolves to retain her individuality against the “hard ideology” of her countrymen. Through it all, the two cling to the memory of their past life together — a shared sense of innocence that likely exists only in hindsight.

With //I Am China//, Xiaolu Guo has completed her metamorphosis from an exile writing about displacement in a second language to a writer who seems to occupy two worlds at once, with a discerning eye cast on each and the myriad intersections between them.

//Jason Beerman lives and writes in Hong Kong.//
@@font-size:11pt;Money tight? Getting hitched in one of the city's parks is a cheap thrill.@@

[img[I Do. In Public.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;(Photo by Nicole Monforti)@@

''By Jason Beerman
January 20, 2008''

[[Link to original article|]]

I KISSED MY BRIDE, Jennifer, under a rose-wrapped trellis as an audience of friends, family, and peripheral parkgoers whooped and cheered. She and I strolled a manicured garden, smelling the cut grass and peering over the hedges to glimpse the Boston skyline.

All this for just 50 bucks.

Our wedding took place in September in the Back Bay Fens at the Kelleher Rose Garden, a public park stewarded by the Boston Parks and Recreation Department. Weddings are permitted between April 1 and December 1 in five city parks at a cost of $50 for Boston residents and $100 for non-residents. There were 286 wedding permits issued in 2007, according to Paul McCaffrey, the department's director of permitting.

A park wedding in Boston is a no-frills, fair-weather affair: It cannot last for more than an hour, attendance (including the wedding party) is capped at 50, and music, food, tents, decorations, signs, chairs, tables, and props of any kind are prohibited.

The no-frills approach happens to be what many couples seek. While planning their wedding in Boston, Chris Chiavelli and his now wife, Mary, who currently live in Simi Valley, California, realized that their desire for something simple, intimate, and affordable was difficult to find. When they discovered that they could wed in the Public Garden, they applied for a permit and had their wedding there in July. "I would 100 percent recommend this idea to anybody who's looking for a simple, nice wedding in Boston," says Chiavelli. He notes that marrying in a public park has unique advantages: Looking at their wedding photos now, he and Mary notice bemused strangers in some of the shots. "You can see all the smiles on their faces as they're watching us get married in the background. It's kind of neat to have an audience like that."

@@font-size:11pt;Author of "Ghetto at the Center of the World: Chungking Mansions" reckons the building is the epitome of Hong Kong@@

''By Jason Beerman
August 15, 2011''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Gordon Mathews embedded himself into the Chungking Mansions community for four years.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Gordon Mathews embedded himself into the Chungking Mansions community for four years.//@@

I am at Chungking Mansions, a high-rise warren in Tsim Sha Tsui known to contain the cheapest guest houses in Hong Kong, and immortalized as a den of lawlessness in Wong Kar Wai's 1994 movie "Chungking Express." With me is Gordon Mathews, a professor of anthropology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the author of the recently published book, "Ghetto at the Center of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong."

I find myself standing in the alley behind Chungking Mansions talking to s_pain, a rapper and record producer from Ghana. Around us are other Ghanaians gathered around a small stall that sells, among other things, shots of Indian whiskey known to the alley regulars as “tears of the lion.”

Suddenly, a young Chinese woman stumbles out of the building and sits down on the ground, completely catatonic. She is followed by two uniformed policemen who try to coax her out of her stupor. “Siu je? Siu je? (Miss? Miss?)” they say, snapping their fingers in her face, trying to get her to answer.

Above us, the thin sliver of evening sky visible through the scaffolding is fading to black. Inside Chungking Mansions, many Muslim traders, shop owners, asylum seekers, and workers from Africa and South Asia are taking a break and heading to the nearby Kowloon Mosque to pray and end the daily fast of Ramadan.

These small scenes, intertwined yet disparate, are a summation of the soul of Chungking Mansions. It is a dichotomy: a third-world flophouse in the midst of the glitter and sheen of Nathan Road, Hong Kong’s Golden Mile.

''@@font-size:12pt;Chungking microcosm@@''

Chungking Mansions in the popular Hong Kong imagination is a dodgy place, but for its residents the building is a landmark of opportunity for a rags-to-riches climb. Chungking Mansions figures as an important depot in the worldwide movement of goods and capital to and from the developing world -- low-end globalization.

“Low-end globalization is globalization not as practiced by the big multinationals with their batteries of lawyers and their billion-dollar budgets,” says Mathews.

“It’s globalization done by individual traders carrying goods in their suitcases back and forth from their home countries. That’s the dominant form of globalization here and that’s how globalization works for 70 percent of the world’s people.”

The bearded and energetic Mathews bounds through the small corridors of Chungking Mansions shaking hands, bantering, and joking with people along the way.

Mathews is well-known in Chungking Mansions because he spent over four years doing research in the 17-story building, sleeping in any of its 90 guesthouses, dining at its restaurants and food stalls, meandering through its stairwells and alleys and speaking with its people.

In addition, for the past four years, Mathews has volunteered as an English teacher for asylum seekers every Saturday at a non-governmental organization situated on the upper floors of Chungking Mansions.

“I don’t believe you should write a book and then leave,” says Mathews. “I think you’ve got an obligation to the place, and I carry this out.”

The book that resulted from Mathews’ immersive research is comprehensive in scope and immensely readable.

In "Ghetto at the Center of the World," Chungking Mansions is a Grand Central Station and Mathews traces the passage of people and goods from the building to destinations such as Dubai, Lagos, Mombasa, Nairobi, Bangkok, and Kolkata. 

[img[The majority of traders who frequent Chungking Mansions are from Sub-Sahara Africa.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//The majority of traders who frequent Chungking Mansions are from Sub-Sahara Africa.//@@

While traders in Chungking Mansions hail from the world over, the majority comes from sub-Saharan Africa. They are drawn to Chungking Mansions by the collegial atmosphere, the cheap accommodations and the ready availability of a number of China-made wholesale goods, including mobile phones, clothing, watches, and computers.

Mobile phones figure at the center of Chungking Mansions’ global trade, and Mathews estimates that up to 20 percent of the mobile phones recently in use in sub-Saharan Africa had passed through the building at some point.

Increasingly, African traders travel on to China where they source goods directly, but some spend the entirety of their time in Hong Kong and, indeed, within Chungking Mansions. 

Mathews writes that some small traders can expect to make between US$400 and $1,300 per trip, but sustaining and building this income takes intelligence, business acumen, and luck.

''@@font-size:12pt;All walks of life@@''

Mathews leads me on a walk around the ground floor of Chungking Mansions. Among the approximately 140 shops are eateries, phone card stalls, groceries, newsstands, packing and shipping stores, Internet cafés, and shops selling retail and wholesale mobile phones, clothing, watches, and electronics.

While the majority of traders are African, the owners of these shops are largely South Asian and Chinese and some of them have been working in the building for many years. These shop owners have lived their own version of the Chungking Mansions dream, persisting as a rising tide has lifted them toward a middle class existence.

“When Hong Kong Chinese and Chungking Mansions denizens see each other they think they’re strangers, but in fact, they’re the same,” says Mathews. “They’re striving to be middle class. That’s the nature of this building.”

Abrar Ahmad, the owner of a computer repair shop on the ground floor, moved to Hong Kong 20 years ago from Pakistan.

“For 20 years, Chungking Mansions has been up and down,” he says. “It’s been a good place to do business, but these days, it has also become a community center, offering services for all people in the building.”

Indeed, a community of sorts does exist, and many other constituencies walk the halls of Chungking Mansions.

Temporary workers, many of who hail from a single neighborhood in Kolkata and work here illegally on renewable tourist visas, staff the shops and restaurants. Asylum seekers await their fate in various states of logistical and legal limbo. A few sex workers discretely ply their trade among Chungking Mansions’ 1,000 guesthouse beds. Around 40 Nepalese heroin addicts haunt the stairwells.

Finally, an international array of tourists, drawn by the low prices, the mystique of Chungking Mansions, or perhaps unexpectedly misled by their own shoddy Internet research, makes up a significant number of the around 4,000 people who bed down in Chungking Mansions each night.

''@@font-size:12pt;We'll always have the Mansions@@''

[img[Chungking Mansions is a hotbed of low-end globalization.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Chungking Mansions is a hotbed of low-end globalization.//@@

At the end of our visit, I sit  with Mathews at a Pakistani eatery on the ground floor. We order dinner at 7:04 p.m. sharp, when the daily Ramadan fast ends.

We watch a stream of people -- women in saris, a man in an elaborate headscarf, a young Hong Kong Chinese couple, an Indonesian shopkeeper across the corridor, a backpacker couple with a dog-eared Lonely Planet in hand -- and I wonder aloud what the future holds for Chungking Mansions.

The building’s exterior is currently being refurbished to coincide with its 50th anniversary later this year, but how much more staying power does it actually have?

Mathews, who devotes an entire chapter of his book to the building’s future, is not prone to nostalgia.

“I would guess that Chungking Mansions will probably remain, for at least another decade or two, as a center of low-end globalization, but it will eventually be torn down. This is inevitable,” he says.

“However, in a larger sense, Chungking Mansions will remain. There will, in the future, be more and more nodes where the developed and the developing world meet, where all the world intermingles.” Long live the ghetto at the center of the world.

//Chungking Mansions, 36–44 Nathan Road. Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong.

"Ghetto at the Center of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong" by Gordon Mathews, Hong Kong University Press. Available at English language bookstores in Hong Kong and [[|]].//

@@font-size:11pt;Although a huge buyer of commodities, Chinese futures markets don't set prices. London, New York, and Chicago do. A new Hong Kong exchange aims to challenge them.@@

[img[A laborer works on a steel structure at a financial building construction site, as the cityscape is seen amid smoke from burning straw, in Hefei in China's Anhui Province June 3, 2011.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//A laborer works on a steel structure at a financial building construction site, as the cityscape is seen amid smoke from burning straw, in Hefei in China's Anhui Province June 3, 2011. China is a world leader in importing commodities, but it's a pipsqueak in terms of setting the prices of those commodities through its own commodity exchanges. That could now change.

''By Jason Beerman, Contributor / June 22, 2011''

[[Link to original article|]]

''Hong Kong''

As the world increasingly tilts from West to East, the corresponding economic shift has not been all-inclusive.

China, the world’s largest consumer of commodities, has largely been left on the sidelines with regard to the setting of global commodity prices.

China operates futures exchanges in Shanghai, Zhengzhou, and Dalian that, collectively, make up the world’s largest by volume, according to data from the Chinese Futures Association.

In spite of this, exchanges in the West – such as those in London, New York, and Chicago – continue to drive price discovery, or the determination of the price of a commodity. The continued reliance on Western markets to set prices is the result of implicit trust in established legal systems and in the security of pricing contracts in a freely convertible currency: the US dollar.

Commodities futures form the backbone of the global marketplace since raw materials form the basis of everything on the market. As a result, commodities futures are used by many businesses to set prices and predict costs for an array of products, ranging from clothing to food to electronics. These futures are used by farmers to determine what to grow, and they are used by manufacturers to determine levels of production. Price discovery is the resulting price that is gleaned from current and anticipated supply and demand.

Since price discovery continues to be driven by a handful of markets in the West, markets in Asia are forced to take prices that are based on factors that do not take local or regional market conditions into account. This means that Chinese buyers are often forced to purchase commodities at prices that are artificially high since these prices do not reflect real supply or demand within China. From a Chinese perspective, it also means that prices fluctuate arbitrarily and without explanation.

The basic reason that China has been sidelined in price setting is that there is not a lot of faith in China’s adherence to the rule of law – something that isn't helped by the restrictions on the influx of foreign money and the lack of foreign players. China’s markets are inherently inward-looking and lack transparency.

It’s a missed opportunity for China because despite all of its buying power, it remains a follower, or a price taker. This leaves the country in an especially precarious position as its reliance on commodity imports only continues to grow.

In 2009, China consumed almost half of the world’s coal and steel and around 40 percent of its aluminum and copper. Project forward and by 2025, according to a report by McKinsey, it is estimated that China will have 221 cities with more than 1 million inhabitants, of which 23 will have populations over 5 million.

This continued drive toward urbanization on an unprecedented scale has already resulted in higher global demand for commodities, and with the additional burden of rising inflation, China can ill afford to remain on the sidelines when it comes to having more of a say in the setting of commodity prices.

Fortunately for China, it may soon wield more clout in the global commodity market.

On May 18, the Hong Kong Mercantile Exchange (HKMEx) opened for business after almost three years of planning. The exchange takes advantage of Hong Kong’s highly-regarded regulatory and legal environment to give China a globally significant futures exchange to challenge the global leaders in London, New York, and Chicago.

Appropriately, trading hours for HKMEx span 15 hours, from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Hong Kong time, to overlap with trading hours in the US and Europe.

“Global demand for core commodities has in recent years been driven by Asia,” said Barry Cheung, chairman of HKMEx. “Our new platform will offer Asia a bigger say in setting global commodity prices.”

Indeed, HKMEx offers the advantages of the huge mainland exchanges minus their associated impediments. Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy under the post-1997 “one country, two systems” principle has granted it license to continue operating as a freewheeling capitalist haven where the rule of law is practiced resolutely.

It therefore offers a jurisdiction in which contracts can be bought and sold in a transparent manner, and where buyers and sellers can trust the consistency of the underlying rule of law.

In addition, HKMEx boasts a stable of powerful shareholders including ICBC, the world’s largest bank by market capitalization, and Cosco, China’s largest shipping company. The backing of HKMEx by these Chinese state-owned giants offers the exchange access to enormous sums of capital that will ensure that trading volume remains high, a necessary condition if the exchange is to have any say in price discovery.

The success of HKMEx hinges largely on how well it is able to tap into the huge commodities spree going on in mainland China.

“I think, given the rise and people’s awareness of commodities and natural resources in this part of the world, that it will be an exchange for people in the region to use,” said Andrew Ferguson, CEO of APAC Resources, a Hong Kong-listed natural resources investment and commodities trading company. “I suspect the exchange will be nothing short of a success on the basis of the fact that it’s going to capture a lot of the business which goes on in this corner of the world.”

Whether the exchange can capitalize on its geographic advantage remains a looming question. Other regional exchanges – including those in Tokyo, Singapore, and in mainland China – have failed to challenge the dominance of the incumbent exchanges due to various barriers to entry that include issues of currency, jurisdiction, taxation, and local rules and regulations. HKMEx is betting on the fact that Hong Kong will provide a more viable venue for a dominant exchange.

“The major financial players come here to interface with China, and China comes to Hong Kong to interface with the internationals," said Albert Helmig, president of HKMEx. "So we think this is a leverage scenario.”

Trading volumes have so far averaged around 2,500 contracts per day for the sole product currently on offer: a US dollar-denominated one-kilogram gold futures contract with physical delivery in Hong Kong. Admittedly, this daily volume is minuscule when compared with the overall volumes churned out by exchanges in Chicago and New York, but Mr. Helmig sees this as the starting point for what he hopes will be a sustainable, vibrant market in the long run.

To this end, HKMEx is not wasting any time in rolling out additional products to meet burgeoning Chinese demand for commodities and to boost trading volume, having already indicated that it plans to offer futures in base and precious metals, energy, agriculture, and commodity indices.

Additionally, a launch of yuan-denominated gold futures later this year has already been announced. Trading of the Chinese currency in Hong Kong has exploded since last July when restrictions on its usage and circulation within Hong Kong were removed. “It will make it a lot easier for those trading in China, which is obviously where most of the end consumers are,” said Mr. Ferguson.

''November 23, 2012
Jason Beerman''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Kurt Vonnegut: Letters (edited by Dan Wakefield), Delacorte Press, 464 pages, $39.95|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Kurt Vonnegut: Letters (edited by Dan Wakefield), Delacorte Press, 464 pages, $39.95//@@

Reading a posthumous collection of letters can sometimes feel a bit invasive. After all, the letters themselves originally had an audience of one or perhaps two, and their content carries the privilege of privacy, with truths unvarnished and opinions unmasked.

This reader’s guilt is somewhat dulled in ''Kurt Vonnegut: Letters'', a comprehensive collection of the author’s correspondence from 1945 until a few months before his death in 2007. After all, Vonnegut’s public output over the years was peppered with allusions to his personal life, his struggles with depression, the ongoing anguish from his mother’s suicide, his own perceived shortcomings and, of course, his dismay and disappointment in modern civilization’s self-destructive tendencies.

While he readily and routinely unmasked himself in his fiction, however, Vonnegut ultimately wrote at arm’s length with the jaded voice of a cynic, cloistering his idealism within alter egos and pat aphorisms weighted with a haunting irony (“So it goes”). But look carefully enough and the idealism was there, his glibness providing a reassuring coded message that said clearly and carefully: We are all connected, and you are not alone.

In these letters, collected by Dan Wakefield and distilled from over 1,000 total pieces of correspondence, Vonnegut hides behind nothing. Spaced chronologically and organized by decade, these are addressed to a wide range of people: fellow writers (among them Norman Mailer, Bernard Malamud, Nelson Algren and William Styron), his editors and agents, literary critics and academics, his first and second wives, his children (“Most letters from a parent contain a parent’s own lost dreams disguised as good advice”), and his own parents and other family members. In fact, the first letter in the collection is one from a 22-year-old Vonnegut to his father, written from the Le Havre P.O.W. Repatriation Camp three months after the fateful bombing of Dresden that inspired //Slaughterhouse-Five//.

There are also one-off gems, such as his 1967 letter to the local draft board in Hyannis, Massachusetts on behalf of his son Mark, who had requested classification as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War: “He will not hate. He will not kill. There’s hope in that. There’s no hope in war.” Also noteworthy is a 1988 letter to a teacher at a secondary school in Ontario, where there had been an attempt to censor Vonnegut’s 1968 short story collection //Welcome to the Monkey House//: “I express dismay at violence and humourlessness in everything I write, and in my ordinary life as well. I celebrate compassion and tenderness, and parents of every persuasion should be happy to have me do that.”

The letters trace the evolution of Vonnegut, who goes from being a self-described hack who struggles to put food on the table for his growing brood to an internationally recognized literary figure following the 1969 publication of //Slaughterhouse-Five//. The change in Vonnegut’s circumstances, as evidenced through the anecdotes contained in his letters, is palpable. In his formative years, he flails about at sundry money-making schemes — various letters contain pitches for a new board game and a line of atomic bow ties, and one is written on the letterhead of Vonnegut’s short-lived Saab auto dealership on Cape Cod.

Then, almost suddenly, he is a celebrated literary icon, although he struggles to fully come to terms with this. “They are in awe of what I dislike about myself,” he writes to a cousin, “the tin-horn part, the fame.”

Indeed, it is this sudden rise that seems to befuddle him. He struggles with his personal life, writing a prolonged confession spread out over years to Nanny, his youngest daughter, about why his marriage fell apart, imploring her to forgive him. It is in these particular letters that he lays himself most bare, even eschewing his normal sign off of “K” for “DAD,” his earnestness spelled out in all caps.

In the introduction to //Mother Night//, published in 1961, Vonnegut wrote, “This is the only story of mine whose moral I know . . . we are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” If these letters are any indication, Vonnegut was exactly what he pretended to be, and this masterful collection comprises the truest reflection of who that is.

//''Jason Beerman'' lives and writes in Hong Kong.//
@@font-size:11pt;Aaron Kwok, live at Mohegan Sun, December 20, 2009@@

[img[Kwok 'N' Roll|]]

By JASON BEERMAN  |  December 22, 2009

[[Link to original article|]]

After the third costume change of his show, Aaron Kwok strode from the midst of a gaggle of backup dancers to the front of the stage, rearing his head back. A skintight, white-sleeved top hugged his body and broadcast each gasping breath as he sang a sweet melody of love and loss in Cantonese. Thousands of voices in the crowd sang along, and the arena shook with their impassioned pleas.

This wasn't a telecast being beamed from Hong Kong, but rather it was arguably Asia's most popular pop star of the past 20 years performing live in New England.

Yes, Kwok — who rose to fame in the early 1990s as a "Heavenly King" of Hong Kong's syrupy Cantonese pop-music scene, and who has sold millions of albums and routinely headlines massive shows around the world — had come to Connecticut. Kwok's 2009 world tour included a North American leg, during which he played two shows this past Sunday, one at 2 am and the other at 2 pm, at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville.

This was reason enough for celebration in Boston's Chinatown, from which a virtual Chinese diaspora (including myself, a half-Chinese native of Hong Kong) boarded a phalanx of buses and headed southwest in mechanized migratory formation. On board, people read newspapers, conversed in Mandarin, and sang out loud in Cantonese.

Two hours later, Mohegan Sun announced itself without hint, its glass high-rise jutting incongruously above a canopy of trees. A stream of buses pulled into the loading bay, and people clambered off quickly and dashed into the lobby, yelling at one another in Mandarin and in Cantonese through the cigarette smoke.

"Where's the bathroom?"

"Where's the baccarat table?"

Kwok's pull was enormous: from the coat check to the food court, almost everyone in the casino was Chinese.

The food court itself boasted a menu loaded with staples of Hong Kong cuisine. Roast duck and roast pork hung on hooks behind glass, and the sizzle of a wok was audible above the din. The gambling tables between the dining area and the arena where Kwok was slated to play featured the Chinese game of //pai gow//. Each table was filled with Chinese gamblers and Chinese dealers. Between the tables, Chinese pit bosses prowled small patches of carpet.

And then, at 2 pm, the crowd surged toward the arena. As thousands of people filled the seats, Kwok rose from the depths of the stage in an explosion of glitter and song, wearing the very Daisy Buchanan–meets–//Blade Runner// costume that was depicted on the promotional posters plastered throughout Chinatown.

Halfway through his energetic two-hour set, Kwok wiped the sweat from his brow and addressed the crowd in Cantonese. "I've traveled far to be here in America, and I'm happy to see so many Chinese people." The crowd roared. Kwok squinted through the spotlight. "And I can't forget there may be some non-Chinese friends here, too."

Kwok was too polite. Simply said, the only non-Chinese people in the arena were the ushers. And they had no idea what he had just said.

When the show was over and Kwok descended into the bowels of the stage in a sequined flash, the house lights came on and the crowd made a beeline for the dazzle of the casino floor. There was time for one more round of //pai gow// before getting on the next bus and heading home.

I am a contributor to the 4th Edition of the Lonely Planet Boston City Guide.


[img[Lonely Planet Boston|]]
I am a contributor to the 5th Edition of the Lonely Planet Boston City Guide.


[img[Lonely Planet Boston|]]
[[Writing]] [[Multimedia]] [[Contact]] [[Editorial Services]]
''June 30, 2012
Jason Beerman''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Paul French's Midnight in Peking, Penguin, 272 pages, $27.50|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Paul French's Midnight in Peking, Penguin, 272 pages, $27.50//@@

Peking in January 1937 was a city on the edge. Comprising the northern outpost of a fractured China, it sat squarely in the crosshairs of the Japanese army who were massed in the Japanese-controlled lands to the city’s north.

Accordingly, Peking was awash in the precursors of war: hired thugs roamed the streets, Japanese-supplied opium and heroin assuaged the masses and a protean cast of refugees and migrants continually appeared and disappeared in its maze of hutongs, the narrow alleyways that weaved the city together.

Death was not uncommon in this setting. At daybreak each day, carts roamed the streets to collect corpses that had materialized overnight, the victims of suicide, overdose, starvation or even murder. The victims were uniformly impoverished and mostly drawn from the city’s desperate Chinese population.

On the morning of January 8, 1937, the body of a young, blonde-haired woman was found at the base of a watchtower along the ancient city wall. Her death had obviously been a brutal one: her face was unrecognizable due to trauma, she had been stabbed numerous times and, most gruesome of all, her chest cavity had been pried apart and her heart removed. Even in a city numbed to the shock of death, this murder was unfathomable. It was made even more so by the fact that the victim, Pamela Werner, was the wealthy nineteen-year-old daughter of a former British consul to China.

Despite a fevered investigation and attention from the international press, the case was never solved. War officially descended on Peking in July 1937, and the murder of Pamela Werner was swept aside by history and forgotten.

Until now.

''Midnight in Peking'', the new book by Shanghai-based analyst-cum-historian Paul French, relies on archival materials to re-launch an investigation into this 75-year-old unsolved murder mystery. With precision and dramatic flair, French paints a convincing case and, with this book, has perhaps finally attained some form of justice for Pamela Werner.

As he describes her, Werner, a student at the Tientsin Grammar School who speaks fluent Mandarin and has spent her entire life in China, is an independent spirit with a bit of a rebellious streak. On the cusp of womanhood, she has a bevy of suitors and a penchant for attention. Her father, E.T.C. Werner, is a widower whose young wife died under mysterious circumstances years before. A prototypical “old China hand,” Werner is a retired diplomat and a scholar whose own independent streak has made him an outcast from the gilded and insular world of Peking’s Legation Quarter, a kind of miniature Europe populated by an elite diaspora and walled off from the rest of Peking like a medieval town.

While the Legation Quarter is awash in relative luxury and even boasts its own police force, the rest of Peking is hardscrabble and chaotic. This is especially true of the Badlands, a no-man’s-land adjacent to the Legation Quarter made up of twisting hutongs and ramshackle dive bars, brothels and nightclubs. White Russians who fled Bolshevik Russia rule the roost here, with madams and prostitutes working alongside burly bouncers and pimps dredged up from the growing lot of castaways who have landed hard in Peking.

The mystery of Pamela Werner’s murder, as portrayed by French, straddles these disparate worlds and reveals that they overlap more than it might appear. Detective Chief Inspector Dennis, an ex-Scotland Yard detective stationed in Tientsin, teams up with Colonel Han, the district police chief, to retrace Pamela’s last days through the streets of the Legation Quarter to the shadowy corners of the Badlands. However, they are continually stymied by a lack of clues, an unclear motive and an ongoing power struggle amongst their superiors meant to avoid losing face at all costs. As a result, their investigation goes nowhere and is discontinued when Peking finally falls to the Japanese.

With the city under siege, only E.T.C. Werner continues the quest for the truth by heading up his own investigation funded by his life savings. Indeed, it is the documentation that resulted from this private investigation, miraculously discovered by French in an uncatalogued file in Britain’s National Archives almost three-quarters of a century later, which spurred French to write //Midnight in Peking// and unofficially reopen the case.

French writes with a novelist’s eye for detail, sketching a forgotten Peking down to the colour of the lanterns in the hutongs and the types of street snacks on offer at the late-night Badlands cafés. Despite having drawn largely from primary sources, including police records, medical reports, newspaper articles, diplomatic dispatches, interviews and E.T.C. Werner’s own desperate investigation, the book does not read like a dry historical record. It is colourfully plotted and suspenseful as it untangles the story of who killed Pamela Werner, and why.

French uncovers more than a mere murder mystery, however. In his portrayal, the murder of Pamela Werner is at once an omen, a game of diplomacy and a window into the duplicity of human nature. Vice and virtue, we learn, are never mutually exclusive.

//''Jason Beerman'' lives and writes in Hong Kong.//
[img[Diners' Paradise video|][Diners' Paradise video]]
''November 30, 2012
Jason Beerman''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Da Chen's My Last Empress, Crown, 288 pages, $29.95|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Da Chen's My Last Empress, Crown, 288 pages, $29.95//@@

''My Last Empress'', the new novel by Da Chen, is a Nabokovian romp that extends from the Connecticut coast to the lantern-lit passageways of the Forbidden City during the waning days of the Qing Dynasty. The story is recounted by Pickens, a New England aristocrat whose destiny — “Phillips Andover followed by Yale, then days at the family law firm and evenings at the club” — is derailed when at the age of 18, he falls for Annabelle, the 19-year-old, China-born daughter of a missionary.

In one of many overt allusions to //Lolita//, Pickens’ Annabelle, like Humbert’s childhood obsession, Annabel, dies a premature death and Pickens is left chasing her ghost, finding her in depraved trysts with mannequins, in bouts of insomnia and in fragmented dreams. Like Humbert, Pickens is trapped in time, his heart ensconced in pubescent amber that leaves him with a “penchant for the young, the tender, or the ghostly.”

Pickens is convinced that it is Annabelle’s posthumous will that he go to China, a place she had romanticized and to which she had longed to return. With her “subliminal consent,” he studies Chinese and unsuccessfully signs up for service as an overseas missionary upon graduating from Yale. In a series of improbable events that Pickens ascribes to “the underbelly of a busy loom that wove the fabric of coincidences, making them seem so conveniently and banally coincidental,” Pickens is eventually hired to tutor the young Qing Dynasty emperor.

Even within the walls of the Forbidden City in Peking, he continues to seek his Annabelle, finding her quite suddenly — “In a green-lawned backyard, a dazzle of a nymphet blonde, 13 and no older, was straddling over a beastly motorcycle, sun in her face, goggles in her hair, thin thighs apart, one long and booted leg resting on the gas pedal, the other on the ground.”

The nymphet is Qiu Rong, the fourth consort to the emperor, a precocious girl of mixed blood whose mysterious origins form the novel’s backbone. To Pickens, she is his “pubescent siren,” the reincarnation of Annabelle, and he pursues her with all the strength of his “ape heart, thawing and melting all in one monstrous beat and phantasmal rhyme.”

Their affair is but a part of the general palace intrigue: the emperor is merely the puppet of an ancient dowager, pejoratively called “Grandpa,” and inside the gilded and insular walls of the Forbidden City, the eunuchs and concubines who grovel and tremble before the throne actually dictate the corrupt rot that slowly eats away at the entire regime. Pickens, together with Qiu Rong and a few allies, attempts to uncover the depths of corruption as the anti-Western Boxer Rebellion plays in the background and the inevitable end of dynastic China looms just outside the palace walls.

Da Chen was born in China and emigrated to the U.S. in his 20s to attend Columbia Law School. English is his second language, but like Joseph Conrad, and to some degree Nabokov himself, Chen has achieved a subliminal command of the language that seems to channel his cadence and imagery through a heretofore undiscovered prism.

With //My Last Empress//, Chen has crafted a novel that bravely delves into the darkest nooks of the emotional spectrum through the eyes of a narrator whose own sense of depravity collides with his earnest will to love. Against the beautifully rendered backdrop of the almost mythical Forbidden City, Chen employs the surreal and the taboo to shed light on nostalgia, betrayal and the dichotomy of the human heart.

//''Jason Beerman'' lives and writes in Hong Kong.//
@@font-size:11pt;Hong Kong's unique soy sauce Western cuisine is good on a regular night. As a post-party feast, it's even better@@

''By Jason Beerman
August 11, 2011''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Loyal Dining's green neon signage competes with Tsui Wah Restaurant's.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Loyal Dining's green neon signage competes with Tsui Wah Restaurant's.//@@

Serving late-night dim sum from 10 p.m., and staying open until 4 a.m. on weekends, Loyal Dining seems determined to take on that stalwart of post-party dining, Tsui Wah Restaurant, located just a few meters away on Wellington Street.

Both eateries are about classic Hong Kong dining available late-night in the heart of our nightlife district.

But Loyal Dining is sophisticated and retro-chic. No greasy, tissue-strewn floors here.

Loyal Dining is a peculiar name for a restaurant, but it’s actually an adapted transliteration of a local slang word "來佬" pronounced "loi lo" which refers to imported goods from the West.

The term gained currency in the 1960s and 1970s as Hong Kong’s rapid economic progress enabled a higher standard of living for a growing Chinese middle class that was, for the first time, able to experience the exotic and relatively luxurious foods of the West.

The result was a surge in restaurants that fused the imported goods and flavors of the West with existing local tastes, marking the birth of a new cuisine: soysauce Western.

These East-meets-West restaurants have mostly faded away over the years, but some, notably Goldfinch Restaurant, Boston Restaurant, and the granddaddy of them all, Tai Ping Koon, are still in existence.

We visited for dinner on a recent weekday and found this newcomer in the soysauce Western game a worthy rookie. After 11 p.m. however, the items featured here are not available as Loyal Dining rolls out its late-night menu of dim sum and signature roast pigeon.

[img[Loyal Dining interior: nice looking, but too noisy.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Loyal Dining interior: nice looking, but too noisy.//@@

Walking into Loyal Dining, the decor evokes the gravitas of the past as viewed through a modern prism. Heavy doses of marble and wood define the dining areas that span four floors. Leather upholstery, bound menus and framed photos of old Hong Kong complete the ambience.

One drawback is the tile flooring and wood walls seemed to emphasize the conversations of surrounding tables, making the space a bit of an echo chamber. It was difficult to carry on a conversation amidst the din.

[img[Soft, very garlicky escargots.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Soft, very garlicky escargots.//@@

The menu features the usual mishmash of dishes one would expect from a soysauce Western joint, including everything from Portuguese-style baked chicken to stir-fried ho fun noodles. We were most curious about the baked escargots.

Arriving on a bed of garlic mashed potatoes, the half dozen escargots were tender and well-flavored with the expected heavy overtones of garlic.

[img[Beef Wellington with a touch of Hong Kong -- served on a heated iron plate.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Beef Wellington with a touch of Hong Kong -- served on a heated iron plate.//@@

The 66 Beef Wellington is billed as one of Loyal Dining’s specialties.

We ordered it with gravy (the other choices were black pepper sauce or garlic sauce) and it arrived on a Hong Kong-style sizzling hotplate alongside a baked potato and a handful of boiled vegetables.

The Beef Wellington was very straightforward. The puff pastry provided a nice exterior texture to the tenderloin, and there was a musty flavor to the whole package by virtue of the middle layer of pâté.

The main complaint about the dish is that at HK$188 (for the set, which includes a dessert and coffee or tea), it is the most expensive thing on the menu, and it seems a bit pricey for what it is.

[img[Char siu, foie gras and a syrupy sauce.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Char siu, foie gras and a syrupy sauce.//@@

The seared foie gras and barbecue pork (cha siu) with rice was a bit of a disappointment, as the cha siu was drenched in an overpowering sweet sauce.

The dish was nine parts cha siu to one part foie gras. The foie was also permeated by the sweet sauce but it worked with it markedly better than the cha siu. Skillfully seared, the foie was able to showcase its natural earthy umami flavor.

Against the backdrop of a local heritage movement that always seems to be perilously close to being overrun by salivating land developers, Loyal Dining has inserted itself into the heart of one of Hong Kong’s oldest neighborhoods and has chosen to showcase a unique segment of Hong Kong’s dining heritage.

Keeping this in mind, don’t visit Loyal to snack on run-of-the-mill noodle or rice dishes, as you’d be better off eating at a nearby cha chaan teng or dai paai dong for a fraction of the price. The full Loyal Dining experience is best enjoyed if you treat it as part of a larger exercise in nostalgia.

Tell yourself: it’s 1969, Hong Kong is growing by the minute and “loi lo” goods are in abundance. Take the tram to Central one night, make your way to the laddered stretch of Pottinger Street, and walk up the steps. Look down at the large stone slabs beneath your feet that were laid in the early days of the colony. 

As you enter Loyal Dining, pull up a chair, open the menu and understand that you are now part of a cosmopolitan city and that the world has come to you in the form of hotplate Beef Wellington and baked escargots. 

//Loyal Dining; open Sunday - Thursday, 7:30 p.m.-2 a.m.; Friday - Saturday, 7 p.m -4 a.m. 66 Wellington St., Central, +852 3125 3000, [[|]]//

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@@font-size:11pt;Savvy mainland tourists come to Hong Kong to spree at book stores for these censored tomes@@

''By Jason Beerman
July 4, 2011''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Browsing books at People's Recreation Community.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Browsing books at People's Recreation Community.//@@

The Chinese government has long engaged in Sisyphean tasks. Beginning in the fifth century, it built the Great Wall to keep a flood of invaders at bay. More recently, the current incarnation built the Great Firewall to keep a flood of electronic information at bay. In both cases, the walls have proven to be anything but impervious. The Great Wall was breached repeatedly, and the Great Firewall can be sidestepped relatively easily.

In theory, an easier task is that of book banning. When you control the granting of publication licenses for all printed materials, as the Chinese government’s [[General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP)|]] does, it’s easy to snuff books out at their source.

While weighing the prospects of economic reform, Deng Xiaoping famously said, “If you open the window for fresh air, you have to expect some flies to blow in.” He betrays a certain passivity with this comment, but the government takes a decidedly active stance when it comes to controlling the printed word within its borders. If a book contains certain unmentionables (for instance, the purges of Mao or Tiananmen), chances are that it will fall victim to the censors.

For authors, a banned book means losing out on a potentially massive reading public. At the same time, a new audience is forged by virtue of the fact that banned books enjoy a newfound notoriety that only a “banned in China” label can bestow. And thanks to historical circumstance, newfound mobility, and a thriving market economy, it is now easier than ever for curious mainlanders to get their hands on the entire back catalog of banned books.

Taiwan and Hong Kong, due to their respective levels of autonomy, each enjoy the right of a free press. Publishers in each locale are quick to print books that prove to be too edgy for mainland censors. Moreover, they seek out and publish works that would never pass muster on the mainland, driving the offshore market for books that probe the depths of mainland taboo.

[img[Den of literature debauchery: People's Recreation Community.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Den of literature debauchery: People's Recreation Community.//@@

From the moment they alight the plane, mainland visitors to Hong Kong and Taipei can sidle up to one of the requisite airport bookstores and peruse the books that are stacked in the highest visibility areas near the entrance. These are the implied “banned in China” sections that boast titles probing Mao’s dark side or the debauchery evident in the People’s Liberation Army.

Savvy mainland tourists can continue this spree in the main shopping districts, where chic chain bookstores and small second-floor bookshops alike cater to “book tourists,” a growing segment of these bookstores’ customer bases.

Paul Tang, co-owner of the [[People’s Recreation Community|]], a small bookshop in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay district, estimates that over 90 percent of his customers are from the mainland. The shop’s floor and shelf space are a testament to the book tourists. Colorful covers and bindings blare titles that read like ironic slogans of China’s recent history.

During a recent visit, a shopper balanced a small stack of books on his arm near the register and Tang noted the relative ease with which these book tourists are able to smuggle banned books back across the border into China. “The customs officers can’t search every person’s bag,” he said. “And even if they find something illegal, the only punishment is confiscation.”

The sole land border crossing between China and Hong Kong connects Hong Kong and the Chinese city of Shenzhen at seven different control points. According to the latest data, between April 1, 2009 and March 31, 2010, there were [[187 million crossings|]] between Hong Kong and Shenzhen. This makes it, by far, the busiest border crossing in the world. Bundle this with the myriad of other entry points into the mainland via land, sea, and air, and it is apparent that the Chinese government has mired itself in yet another impossible task in trying to control the flow of information into the country.

“In a few years, these books will all be in electronic format,” said Tang, sweeping his arm up and down the length of his store. Many of them already are, and PDF files proliferate alongside pirated photocopies and smuggled soft and hardcover versions in households across China.

Human curiosity knows no bounds. Suppress it, and it only gets stronger. Ban a book, and its contents become inherently valuable. Here are a few of our favorites.

''大江大海:一九四九 (Big River, Big Sea: Untold Stories of 1949)''
By 龍應台 (Lung Ying-tai)
2009, 天地圖書有限公司 (Cosmos Books)

[img[Lung Yingtai is a Hong Kong favorite.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Lung Yingtai is a Hong Kong favorite.//@@

Lung Ying-tai is a Taiwanese essayist whose work is read widely in the Chinese-speaking world. Her courageous early work was regarded as influential in the [[eventual democratization of Taiwan|]]. This book, her most recent, chronicles the chaos of the Chinese Civil War in 1949. She traces, in detail, the paths of families and individuals as they are wrenched and displaced, caught in the throes of history’s unrelenting march. Lung spent over 10 years researching the book and had wanted it to be widely read on the mainland. It is a best-seller in Taiwan and in Hong Kong, but alas, it did not pass muster with Chinese censors.

''為人民服務 (Serve the People)''
By 閻連科 (Yan Lianke)
2005, 花城 (Hua Cheng literary magazine)
Published in English as Serve the People! (2008, Grove Press/Black Cat)

Yan Lianke is one of China’s most original novelists. He allows his skeptical viewpoint to shine through in his characters and his plotlines. Naturally, he continually runs afoul of the censors. This 2005 send-up tells the story of the wife of a military commander who seduces a young soldier. Each time she desires his company in the bedroom, she leaves a sign in the kitchen that reads—you guessed it—“Serve the People.” The censors were not impressed, issuing a decree noting that this book “slanders Mao Zedong, the army, and is overflowing with sex.”

''毛澤東:鮮為人知的故事 (Mao Zedong: The Unknown Story)''
By張戎 (Jung Chang) and喬•哈利戴 (Jon Halliday)
2005, 開放出版社 (Open Press)
Published in English as Mao: The Unknown Story (2005, Jonathan Cape)

[img[Mao: The Unknown Story.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Mao: The Unknown Story.//@@

This biography is a naked attempt to portray Mao as the worst tyrant of the 20th century. The authors explicitly state that Mao was responsible for “well over 70 million deaths in peacetime” and was a megalomaniac who was “more extreme than Hitler or Stalin.”

The book is obviously extreme in its portrayal of Mao, and the authors never relent and find no silver lining in anything he did. Reading this is enough to deflate even the most ardent Mao apologist, provided you are successful in smuggling this to them across the border. The gaze of Mao is everywhere, after all.

''上海寶貝 (Shanghai Baby)''
By 周衛慧 (Zhou Weihui)
Published in English as Shanghai Baby (2002, Simon and Schuster)

''北京娃娃 (Beijing Doll)''
By 春树 (Chun Sue)
Published in English as Beijing Doll (2004, Riverhead)

''糖 (Candy)''
By 棉棉 (Mian Mian)
Published in English as Candy (2003, Back Bay Books)

[img[Shanghai Baby.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Shanghai Baby.//@@

These three novels were each originally published in China to various levels of acclaim before being ceremoniously banned and panned. Published in quick succession by young, female authors, these books drew attention to a newly urbanized and sexualized generation of disaffected Chinese youth, and established these authors as China’s very own literary “brat pack.” After the respective bans, each of these three books was scooped up by major publishing houses in the West and translated, but they all uniformly underwhelmed in the English-speaking market.

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[img[Partygoers prepare for the Year of the Rat|]]
@@font-size:8pt;Lion dancers celebrate the Year of the Pig last February in the Chinatown section of Boston. (John Bohn/Globe Staff/File) @@

''By Jason Beerman, Globe Correspondent  |  February 3, 2008''

''[[Link to original article|]]''

On Thursday in the Chinese cities of Hong Kong and Shanghai, massive New Year celebrations ushering in the Year of the Rat will kick off with a three-day public holiday that includes parades, all-night fireworks displays, multicourse banquets, family dinners, and parties.

The celebrations continue for the first 15 days of the New Year and culminate with the Lantern Festival at the full moon.

Though it shares some of those traditional features, Boston's Chinatown marches to the beat of its own gong with its New Year celebrations.

The festivities in Boston -- some open to the public, some private -- stretch out over nearly a month.

"We only have so many weekends to hold these New Year parties, and the Chinatown community has so many organizations and family associations," said Gilbert Ho, chairman of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of New England. And the fact that only a few restaurants in Chinatown can hold these large banquets means the celebration goes on. And on.

The only public celebration on Thursday in Boston's Chinatown starts at midnight, just as Feb. 6 ends and the New Year begins. The Boston Chinese Freemasons Athletic Club lion dance troupe will perform in front of 6 Tyler St. to welcome in the New Year, the first of 11 performances on its schedule for the holiday.

Ten days later, the real celebration gets underway as 11 lion dance troupes from local kung fu clubs and associations hit the streets for the Chinese New Year Festival at the corner of Essex Street and Harrison Avenue. Performed to the staccato cadence of drums, cymbals, gongs, and firecrackers, the lion dances are intended to ward off evil spirits and bring in luck and fortune for the New Year.

Civic associations, such as Chinatown Main Street and the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center, host large banquets that double as fund-raisers at Chinatown dim sum halls. "With the New Year, people think if you do a good deed, you'll be rewarded for the rest of the year," said Carmen Chan, director of major gifts and communications for the center. "So it's a good time to do charity work."

Local family associations - combination social club, civic association, and extended family - host their own banquets.

"Altogether during the Chinese New Year, there are probably in the vicinity of about 34 Chinese banquets," said Frank "Uncle Frank" Chin, a member of the Gee How Oak Tin family association and a longtime patriarch of Boston's Chinatown.

"We really welcome the diversity of people who want to get to know our culture and be part of the celebration," Chan said.

[img["Europe in the World"|]]
[img[Futurism at 100|]]
''January 4, 2013
Jason Beerman''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Mo Yan's Pow!, The University of Chicago Press, 386 pages, $27.32|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Mo Yan's Pow!, The University of Chicago Press, 386 pages, $27.32//@@

Mo Yan, the 2012 Nobel laureate in literature, is the pen name of Guan Moye, one of China’s most influential writers of fiction. His pseudonym literally translates as "don’t speak" — a directive that has served him well in toeing the line between writing oblique political satire and pointed commentary.

His work, which primarily takes place in settings reminiscent of his formative years spent in rural Shandong Province, tends to draw attention to the hypocritical corruption and wealth accumulation that has occurred under Communist Party rule. Yet Mo continues to publish freely in his homeland and is celebrated as an icon of modern Chinese literature.

What is Mo’s secret to success within China’s highly regulated system of state censorship? In addition to himself being a member of the Communist Party, Mo cloaks his writing in absurdist plots and settings, which frame his commentary in a veneer of confusion and half-truths.

''Pow!'', Mo’s 2003 novel that has now been translated into English for the first time, is a perfect example of this method. The narrator, a 20-year-old man named Luo Xiaotong, tells a tall tale to a monk in a dilapidated temple near his hometown of Slaughterhouse Village in the year 2000. Ten years earlier, Xiaotong recounts, he and his mother were abandoned by his philandering father. Reduced to a life of scavenging and determined to make ends meet, Xiaotong’s mother dictates an austere lifestyle devoid of any and all luxuries, including meat.

Meat, it turns out, is young Xiaotong’s obsession, "the loveliest thing on earth, that which makes my soul take flight." He claims he can convene with meat, feel its pain, talk to it. It nourishes him above all other foods, and it forms the basis of every strange plot twist in the novel.

When the butchers who make up the majority of the population of Slaughterhouse Village want to inflate their earnings, they inject formaldehyde into meat to make it last longer, and they inject water using increasingly sophisticated methods to make it heavier. They are reacting to a new age of "immoral behaviour" — "that of the primitive accumulation of capital" during which "people will make money by any means necessary." Everyone in Slaughterhouse Village, it seems, has become a "peasant-turned-entrepreneur."

Accompanying this newfound affinity for capitalism are its related trappings: the harnessing of the media as a public relations tool, the pervasive rot of corruption and nepotism, and the move from collective ownership to a stockholder system. As Slaughterhouse Village loses its innocence, so too does Xiaotong. His unadulterated love for meat leads him to destroy everything that he once held dear.

As he tells his tale to the monk at the temple, Xiaotong is confronted by an absurd confluence of events. During an out-of-body experience, he suckles at the breast of a mysterious woman who might be his father’s dead mistress. Outside the temple, a Carnivore Festival takes place, capped off by a Meat Appreciation Parade and an opera titled “From Meat Boy to Meat God” that seems to mythologize Xiaotong’s own life. Amidst all this, corrupt officials pop Viagra like candy and roll around in phalanxes of Audis. The mixture of the real and the hallucinatory makes the real seem all the more absurd.

Shortly before accepting the Nobel Prize in December 2012, Mo Yan compared censorship to airport security, calling it necessary. Relatedly, in a brief afterword to Pow! Mo offers this cautious thought: "What about ideology? About that I have nothing to say. I’ve always taken pride in my lack of ideology, especially when I’m writing."

It is this evasiveness that allows Mo to write within the confines of strict censorship, but it is this same evasiveness that makes reading him a potentially frustrating experience. "The goal of narration is narration," he writes. //Pow!// is a frenzied stew of stinging satire and theatre of the absurd. Readers are free to interpret it as they wish; the truth is in there somewhere.

//''Jason Beerman'' lives and writes in Hong Kong.//
''January 14, 2012
Jason Beerman''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Chan Koonchung’s The Fat Years, Random House, 289 pages, $27.95|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Chan Koonchung’s The Fat Years, Random House, 289 pages, $27.95//@@

Chan Koonchung’s novel //The Fat Years//, newly translated into English, portrays a China of the very near future that can best be described as slightly off-kilter. The year is 2013 and, following a calamitous worldwide economic meltdown, China has emerged seemingly unscathed.

It basks in a “Golden Age of Prosperity and Satisfaction,” complete with Lychee Black Dragon Latte-slinging baristas at Starbucks, which has been acquired by the Chinese conglomerate Wantwant. China is the preeminent world power thanks to its economic dominance and its soft power strategies which, among other things, have resulted in a Sino-Japanese free trade sphere.

Meanwhile, the Chinese people have achieved an accelerated course in yuppiedom thanks in large part to a rapid rise in domestic demand, which has resulted in higher living standards for newly urbanized and rural dwellers alike.

There is a catch, however. The entire month of February 2011— a brutal and chaotic period immediately before the beginning of China’s Golden Age — has gone missing from people’s memories and no one other than the social misfits who figure at the center of the novel’s plot seems to realize or care. Simply put, everyone else is too busy making money.

This sounds like the type of late night fantasy a Politburo member might have after ingesting too much baijiu at a banquet. But the premise isn’t a classic dystopian one per se since the amount of control that the state exercises over the people remains somewhat of a mystery. A central plot point revolves around whether the government forced a collective amnesia upon its people by drugging the water supply or whether the people simply willed the missing period from their minds by ignoring it en masse.

The rhetorical question that lies at the center of the novel is this: “Between a good hell and a counterfeit paradise, which one would people choose?” Or in the context of the general Chinese populace portrayed in the novel, would people choose to forget or ignore an ignominious past in favor of a prosperous present and future?

The author of the novel, Chan Koonchung, grew up in Hong Kong and Taiwan but now lives in Beijing. The Fat Years was written in 2009 after Chan observed a major change to the Chinese mentality in 2008. Following the grandeur of the Beijing Olympics and China’s reaction to the world economic crisis, Chan felt a general domestic confidence boost vis-à-vis China’s place in the world, and he wanted to write a novel that examined this phenomenon.

Indeed, the China of 2013 portrayed by Chan seems to have lurched forward into a stroke of good fortune, and the country scrambles to capitalize on this as best as it can. This means that while external factors have catapulted China to sole superpower status, its intact political system — corrupt, bloated, and paranoid — is ill-equipped to handle the change.

Chan uses this framework to poke holes in the country’s current political structure. Call it prosperity with Chinese characteristics.

For instance, in the novel, Chinese people have “90 percent freedom.” They’re free to make money, to be sure, but they’re also free to watch whatever is on TV, browse whatever books are in the bookstore, and read whatever articles appear in the newspaper or on the Internet. The catch is that all this readily available information is tightly controlled and access to non-sanctioned information remains out of reach.

Furthermore, the political narrative of the Communist Party of China originally revolved around the ideals of class struggle and equality. Following the dual debacles of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, the Party conjured a new storyline of having saved China from foreign imperialism and humiliation in order to deflect attention from its own failings. In the novel, its raison d’être has come to include the idea that it should “accomplish big things” in order to rationalize one party rule and differentiate it from democratic systems of governance.

This type of protean leadership benefits greatly from a populace that willfully forgets.

//The Fat Years// draws easy comparisons to both //1984// and //Brave New World//. Like Winston in //1984//, Chen, the protagonist of //The Fat Years//, clings to old newspaper articles whose facts have since been wiped from the official record. And like in //Brave New World//, state-produced drugs are used to stabilize the population.

What makes //The Fat Years// even more jarring than either of these classics is that it is rooted much more closely to current events and it is, at times, eerily prescient.

Much of the novel’s long epilogue section is a deconstruction of China’s hypothetical reaction in the wake of its rise to sole global dominance. The immediacy of the novel’s time horizon is such that the predicted trappings that would accompany China’s superpower status — a freely convertible yuan, an alienated and isolated West, the construction through Iran of a “Pan Eurasian Energy Bridge”— are really not that far-fetched.

In our brave new world, it is this plausible realism that fact makes //The Fat Years// a gripping, if not terrifying, treatise on the rise of China, present and future.

//''Jason Beerman'' lives and writes in Hong Kong.//
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config.options.txtBackupFolder        = "";            // default ""
config.options.txtMainTab             = "tabTimeline"; // default "tabTimeline"
config.options.txtMoreTab             = "moreTabAll";  // default "moreTabAll"
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config.macros.timeline.dateFormat = "DDD, MMM DD, YYYY"; // dates in the timeline

<<tabs txtMainTab "Timeline" "Timeline" TabTimeline "All" "All tiddlers" TabAll "Tags" "All tags" TabTags "More" "More lists" TabMore>>
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<div align=center>
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@@display:none;Jason Beerman | Amsterdam-based freelance writer and journalist@@[img[Jason Beerman, Amsterdam-based freelance writer and journalist|][]]

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''August 22, 2014
by Jason Beerman''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Sweetness #9, by Stephan Eirik Clark. Little, Brown and Company. 352 pages. $29.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Sweetness #9, by Stephan Eirik Clark. Little, Brown and Company. 352 pages. $29.//@@

Any American who chugged a diet soda or chewed a stick of sugar-free gum from 1977 to 2000 did so at their peril. These products used saccharin, the ubiquitous artificial sweetener of the era, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had determined was a possible carcinogen, leading to the stark warning on every Diet Coke and sugar-free Bubble Yum that read in part: “Use of this product may be hazardous to your health.”

Eat your heart out, smokers.

''Sweetness #9'', the debut novel by Stephan Eirik Clark about an eponymous, fictitious artificial sweetener, is seemingly inspired by the history of saccharin. The novel traces the life of David Leveraux, a budding flavourist who begins his career in 1973 at New Jersey’s Goldstein, Olivetti, and Dark — the global juggernaut of the flavour industry — at the bottom of the ladder: in the animal testing division. Here, his job is to carry out a chronic toxicity test of Sweetness #9 on lab rats. Wide-eyed and earnest, David starts to sympathize with the rats, even naming one of them, as he watches them gain weight and fall into a general stupor after ingesting punishing amounts of what he calls “The Nine.”

He relays his concerns to a co-worker, citing “anxiety, lethargy, unexplained anger, reduced intellectual acuity . . . a generalized dissatisfaction with life.” To which his co-worker replies, “Then put down that he’s suffering from the American Condition and be done with it.”

Indeed, the “American Condition” becomes a fallback diagnosis to explain the vaguely alarming symptoms displayed by people who ingest The Nine, creating a vexing chicken-and-egg scenario that turns this novel into a wide-ranging reflection on the afflictions of the modern consumer class, from obesity to depression.

In fact, David has been sneaking small portions of The Nine home to his wife, Betty, whose paranoia seems to be getting the better of her and whose once lithe body is abandoning her. Is it The Nine, he wonders? Or that he just lost his job at Goldstein, Olivetti, and Dark because he had threatened to derail government approval of The Nine with his myriad concerns? Or that the two of them are having a hard time conceiving?

The novel continually hangs these types of scenarios in front of the reader — sort of a Schrödinger’s cat experiment for the Michael Pollan set. We are what we eat, right? Or is it just, we are?

Fast forward to 1998 and David is employed as a flavourist at FlavAmerica, a rival flavour house, and he and Betty are parents to two teenagers. But in the intervening years, Sweetness #9 has been given blanket approval and is literally on every ingredient list, from foodstuffs to toothpaste.

David’s own household seems to be a microcosm of the America he sees around him, where terrorists plant bombs on supermarket shelves and pharmaceutical companies make bubble gum-flavoured liquid anti-psychotic medication for the children’s market. His son is becoming increasingly monosyllabic and his wife anxious and plagued with self-doubt. His daughter, on the other hand, maintains a refreshing cynicism that makes her the sanest character in this off-kilter world. Not coincidentally, she’s a vegan who has sworn off ingesting any and all food additives, especially Sweetness #9. In the midst of all this, David confronts his own complicity over the proliferation of The Nine, and his past threatens to derail his future.

While //Sweetness #9// is initially well paced, the novel tends to go off onto quirky tangents that are distracting and, ultimately, irrelevant to plot or theme, leaving the last part of the novel feeling rushed and hackneyed. With tighter editing, Clark’s deadpan delivery could have come through in its full satirical glory. As it stands, though, //Sweetness #9// is entertaining in the way it confronts the malaise of modern American life — with tongue firmly in cheek.

//''Jason Beerman'' lives and writes in Hong Kong.//
<<allTags excludeLists>>
''December 21, 2012
Jason Beerman''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Tie Ning's the Bathing Women, Scribner, 368 pages, $29.99|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Tie Ning's the Bathing Woman, Scribner, 368 pages, $29.99//@@

A Chinese novel that narrates the lives of its characters from the Cultural Revolution to the go-go 1990s cannot help but be read as an allegory of China’s rise to modernity. After all, there exists a stark generational contrast between parents who are sent to labour camp for being a part of the educated class and their children who are able to hitch a ride to prosperity in the aftermath of Deng Xiaoping’s 1978 //gaige kaifang// (“reform and opening up”) policy for precisely the same reason.

''The Bathing Women'', the first book by Tie Ning to be translated into English, a best-selling and celebrated novelist in China, embodies this very allegory. The novel focuses primarily on the lives of two sisters who come of age in post-reform China. Tiao, an editor of children’s books at a publishing house, balances her complicated love life with her careerism. Her younger sister Fan exhibits almost pathological levels of sibling rivalry from her perch in America, to where she has fled after becoming disillusioned with what she perceives as generally backwards behaviour in China.

The novel jumps around in time from the dark days of the Cultural Revolution, when Tiao and Fan’s parents are condemned to a labour camp for being outspoken intellectuals, to the 1990s, when Tiao and Fan manage to ride China’s booming wave of double-digit GDP growth to their own middle class existence. The jumbled chronology highlights some incredible contrasts: food shortages and ration cards stand in relation to the Christian Dior counter at the Fuan Famous Brand Department Store, populated by “the sort who got rich overnight and hadn’t learned to conceal their essential vulgarity.”

To Tiao and Fan, the Cultural Revolution is only a series of vague remembrances from a childhood spent as virtual orphans while their parents toiled away at labour camp. Starker moments stand out, such as when Tiao was in first grade and a teacher was forced to eat excrement for “hooliganism,” an anachronistic catch-all crime against the state. However, the sisters’ sense of suffering is more clearly conveyed in the lives of their parents rather than their own hazy memories.

Yixun, their father, is a onetime promising architect whose career was ruined by the Cultural Revolution. Wu, their mother, is racked by guilt over her own past. They are members of China’s “pathetic generation” — those who lost the primes of their lives to the nihilism of a failed political experiment. As they watch China, and their own children, rise in the post-reform era, they feel a perverse mix of pride and revulsion.

When discussing a lover of Tiao’s who also happens to be an architect, Yixun bitterly says, “There’s nothing special about people like him; he just showed up during good times. His smooth sailing was paid for by the sacrifices the previous generation made in the political movements that came, one after the other.”

Indeed, this is a story of suffering and of how that suffering is borne. It is also the story of “the cruelty of time,” and how sacrifice becomes a wasted effort when it occurs in the vacuum of a meaningless revolution.

Given the relative dearth of Chinese literature in translation, //The Bathing Women// is an interesting read even though it can seem dated at times; it was originally published in China in 2000, which, given the pace of change in the country over the past 12 years, practically makes it an artifact. Despite prose and dialogue that can be stilted at times, on the whole, the novel manages to poignantly portray a China coming of age, sacrificing a generation or two along the way to gilded glory.

//''Jason Beerman'' lives and writes in Hong Kong.//
''September 4, 2014
by Jason Beerman''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. Knopf Canada. 640 pages. $34.00.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. Knopf Canada. 640 pages. $34.00.//@@

When reading a David Mitchell novel, it is easy — and tempting — to simply get wrapped up in the plot and thunder forward, finishing the book in wide-eyed wonder at how Mitchell manages to navigate his way through myriad consciences and worlds without missing a beat. But that’s akin to taking a trip and looking only at the road ahead as it twists and turns, arriving at a destination exhilarated but having missed the small moments of wonder and surprise that pepper the fringes of the route.

That is to say, when you read ''The Bone Clocks'', Mitchell’s new novel, do so with your sense of wonder and curiosity fully intact.

//The Bone Clocks// begins in 1984 and revolves around Holly Sykes, a 15-year-old living in Gravesend, between London and the mouth of the Thames. Holly is a jaded yet naïve teenager who runs away from home after a quarrel with her mother. As she wanders along the Thames toward the marshes at the edge of the North Sea, she meets a mysterious woman fishing off a jetty, who cryptically asks for “asylum” — “Refuge. A bolt-hole. If the First Mission fails, as I fear it must.”

Holly assumes the woman is a drunk and continues along her way, but this odd interaction, combined with Holly’s history of hearing voices, sends her down the rabbit hole and begins the thread that stretches through the novel’s six sections, which span 1984 to 2043. Similar to what he did almost throughout the entirety of his 2004 masterwork //Cloud Atlas//, Mitchell writes each of the six sections in //The Bone Clocks// in the first person, showing off his narrative dexterity with splashes of period slang and singular wit that give rise to fully formed characters and an undeniable sense of time and place.

By the end of the first section, Holly is compelled to return home from her brief sojourn by her friend, Ed Brubeck, who tells her that her little brother Jacko has disappeared. Then we’re whisked to 1991, where an egotistical Cambridge student named Hugo Lamb ponders his own mortality between games of poker and sniffs of cocaine at a second-rate Swiss nightclub, where he happens to meet a vagabond 22-year-old Holly, who tends bar behind a veil of defensiveness.

And then it’s 2004, and Ed Brubeck returns to compellingly narrate his life as a war journalist cum war-zone junkie, whose domestic life with partner Holly and their 7-year-old daughter Aoife seems too vanilla compared to life amidst the anarchy of post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.

From 2015 to 2020, Crispin Hershey, the erstwhile “Wild Child of British Letters,” humorously chronicles his fallen status as a mid-list author whose chip on his shoulder proves to be a major liability. During his grand tour of global literary festivals, he befriends Holly, who has written a best-selling spiritual memoir titled //The Radio People// about the voices she heard as a child and the disappearance of Jacko.

Throughout each of these sections, the narratives overlap like a set of Venn diagrams, with the interspersing lives of characters combining with generous foreshadowing to set up the decisive fifth and sixth sections, which take place in the near future in a fantastic underworld and a dystopian “real world.” As //The Bone Clocks// reaches its denouement, Holly’s role as a bridge between these two worlds and the souls within them is uncovered puzzle piece by puzzle piece, all the way back to her meeting with the woman on the jetty by the banks of the Thames in 1984.

With The Bone Clocks, Mitchell has crafted a novel of such breadth and magic that his oeuvre no doubt by now deserves its own adjective: Mitchellian. A master stylist who conjures a “granite sky full of oaths” and a Shanghai skyline “like a doomed game of Tetris,” Mitchell also manages to reinvent the very art of storytelling, bending genre along the way while clinging hard to a sense of what it means to be human, to love and be loved.

//''Jason Beerman'' lives and writes in Hong Kong.//
''April 19, 2013
Jason Beerman''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[J.M. Coetzee's The Childhood of Jesus Random House, 288 pages, $29.95|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//J.M. Coetzee's The Childhood of Jesus Random House, 288 pages, $29.95//@@

In a reading at the University of Cape Town in late 2012, J.M. Coetzee said he had hoped his new novel would appear with a blank cover and a blank title page so that only after the last page had been read would the reader know the title. Alas, he lamented, his publisher would never allow such gimmickry, so Coetzee’s new novel now sits on shelves with its title starkly displayed: ''The Childhood of Jesus''.

Coetzee’s point is well taken. The title is, to say the least, provocative. But it also constructs a confining context for the reader before the first page is even read. For a novelist whose best work is steeped in allegory and symbolism, this title seems to give too much away, like a magician allowing a peek behind the curtain before the act has even begun.

When //The Childhood of Jesus// opens, a man and a five-year-old boy are scurrying around Novilla, a city in an unnamed Spanish-speaking country. They are newly arrived from an immigration camp and, before that, a long ocean voyage. From where they come, we do not know. Everyone in Novilla, it seems, has "washed themselves clean of old ties," everyone starting anew "with a blank slate, a virgin slate."

The man, given the Spanish name of Simón at the immigration camp, is not related to the boy, who is named Davíd. "Not my grandson, not my son," Simón reports, "but I am responsible for him." Their paths crossed during the ocean voyage when Davíd lost a letter containing information about his parentage, and Simón takes it upon himself, for some unexplained reason, to find Davíd’s mother.

From the moment they arrive, Simón is driven by this quest. He has nothing to go on — the wayward letter frustratingly contained every piece of useful information — but he is convinced that he will know Davíd’s mother the moment he lays eyes on her.

The makeshift family of two falls into the mundane and hardscrabble rhythm of immigrant life. They struggle with their new language and Simón finds work as a stevedore, lugging sacks of grain to and fro like a beast of burden. The boy remains inscrutable and solemn, his existence and his behaviour a riddle.

The Novilla they inhabit is, at best, innocuous. People are awash in goodwill — full of empty platitudes and altruistic gestures. But it is all abstract and intangible to the great frustration of Simón, who laments that the place "lacks substance — lacks the very substantiality of animal flesh, with all the gravity of bloodletting and sacrifice behind it."

Therefore, when Simón finds Ynes — "a stolid humourless woman" with a "life of tennis parties and cocktails at dusk" — and declares her to be Davíd’s mother based on some vague intuition, there is a self-effacing irony in all this. She takes possession of Davíd with a strange sense of duty that lacks any semblance of humanity. She hoards him, dresses him in girls’ clothing and, eventually, sends him to school. There, his strange combination of innocence, anger and precociousness makes him an outcast and prompts the threat of exile to a special needs school at the behest of the Novilla Office of Education. This forces Ynes, Simon and David to band together and set out from Novilla in search again of a new life.

The beauty of a good allegorical novel is that it can be informed, to some extent, by the experiences of individual readers, and can be applied to a number of situations. Coetzee most famously achieved this balance in //Waiting for the Barbarians//, his 1980 masterwork on the abuse of power.

//The Childhood of Jesus// is an affecting novel full of intriguing characters and topical themes, including immigration, national identity and the social good. However, it pigeonholes itself by conforming to a preordained allegory, shoehorning hints and thinly veiled parables all along the way.

In this regard, Coetzee had it right: rip off the front cover, ignore the title page and just start reading.

//''Jason Beerman'' lives and writes in Hong Kong.//
''June 21, 2013
Jason Beerman''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Ma Jian's The Dark Road, Chatto and Windus, 368 pages, $39.95|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Ma Jian's The Dark Road, Chatto and Windus, 368 pages, $39.95//@@

Ma Jian, the Chinese dissident writer, is well versed in exile. Since the Tiananmen Square massacre, which he wrote about poignantly in his 2008 novel //Beijing Coma//, he has lived outside his native country, first in Hong Kong, then in Germany and now in London. Outspoken, brash and anti-authoritarian to the core, Ma Jian’s books have been labelled by Chinese government censors as “spiritual pollution” and are banned in mainland China, and he himself has been barred from entering the country.

''The Dark Road'', Ma Jian’s new novel, recounts nine years of a peasant family’s exile from their home village. There is no glint of hope in their story. Their old home, their temporary lodgings on the road and their final destination — ironically named Heaven Township — are all cesspools of despair.

The novel begins in Kong Village where Kongzi, a 76th-generation male descendant of Confucius, lives with his wife Meili and their young daughter Nannan. Kongzi has an obsessive desire for a son to carry on the family line, so Meili is pregnant with the family’s second child in violation of China’s one child policy.

She tries to lay low, but family planning officers have been dispatched around the county, and they literally hunt pregnant women with reckless brutality. This forces the family to begin their life of exile as they first trace the length of the Yangtze River and then head south along the country’s snaking waterways — a polluted mess of chemicals, dead bodies, poisoned fish, stink and decay — in search of a place where Meili can carry her baby to term.

Unfortunately, almost as soon as they set off, family planning officers catch up with Meili and she is subjected to a forced abortion. Ma Jian writes this scene with a cool brutality, depicting the medical staff as almost gleeful in carrying out their cruel duty. There’s a dark sense of humour at work here, too, when a hospital administrator hands Meili an itemized bill.

This shocking scene sets the tone for the entire novel, which reads like a study in depravity. Ma Jian, with the perspective of an exile, writes with raw anger at what he sees as the failures of the Communist Party. This is a China where pollution has rendered the air “a foul medicinal brew,” where child trafficking is rampant, where corruption is ingrained, where women are subjected to forced sterilizations and abortions, where family planning fugitives roam the countryside and where infant formula is tainted with deadly chemicals.

Ma Jian, as many others have done, deflates the Communist Party’s ideological basis by showcasing China’s mutant form of capitalism where everything is for sale, but nothing can be trusted.

Meili is forever hopeful, though. Her one dream — “to be a modern woman with a briefcase full of documents and one of those credit cards that you swipe over machines” — echoes the dream of hundreds of millions of Chinese peasants. But she has an innate understanding that the “Chinese dream” — to borrow the phrase of Chinese president Xi Jinping — exists only as a rhetorical device.

As Meili negotiates her place in this new China, perhaps she would be better off pursuing the more modest dream of her daughter Nannan, who bleakly wishes, “When I grow up I want to live in a country that doesn’t kill babies.”

With //The Dark Road//, Ma Jian steers the spotlight away from China’s prosperous coastal cities and toward its impoverished hinterlands. He fixes the reader’s gaze on the sordid plight of the innumerable peasants whose lives remain untouched by the Chinese economic miracle. Theirs are the crooked backs on which this miracle has taken place, and theirs are the lives that are compromised in the name of national glory. //The Dark Road// is a rare glimpse into the gruesome engine of so-called progress, told in a voice that is at once empathetic and outraged.

//''Jason Beerman'' lives and writes in Hong Kong.//
''December 14, 2012
Jason Beerman''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Victor LaValle's The Devil in Silver, Spiegel & Grau (Random House), 432 pages, $32|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Victor LaValle's The Devil in Silver, Spiegel & Grau (Random House), 432 pages, $32//@@

''The Devil in Silver'', Victor LaValle’s third novel, is a strange tale that takes place within the psychiatric unit of New Hyde Hospital, a public hospital in the New York City borough of Queens. Pepper is an oversized professional mover with a penchant for glam rock and an earnest streak that makes it immediately clear he is not mentally ill. However, he ends up in the psych unit at New Hyde after he mistakenly beats up a trio of cops who offload him there to save themselves the trouble of booking him at the precinct.

What begins as a 72-hour observation period for Pepper immediately turns nightmarish. He is tranquilized with a combination of Haldol and lithium, which renders him (like the rest of the patients) semi-comatose. Then, in the middle of his second night, he is viciously attacked in his room by a demonic beast that appears to be part man, part animal — the Devil.

On the third day, Pepper flattens another patient’s mother during visiting hours in a rash escape attempt, extending his time on the ward indefinitely. As his stay stretches into weeks, he forms alliances with fellow patients to negotiate the tribulations of life on the unit, where the monotony and the drug regimen “will scramble anyone’s brains.” He also leads an effort to find and destroy the Devil, who attacks Pepper again and kills another patient in the meantime. The quest to destroy the Devil therefore becomes a welcome distraction for the patients, whose sporadic behaviour begins to seem merely idiosyncratic — even rational at times — as they band together to take a stand.

This is, of course, the main point of setting a story in a mental hospital. Our idea of sanity is reconfigured as we contemplate the disconnect between the hospital staff and the patients, as we witness the oppressive nature of control, as we begin to wonder: who are the crazy ones here?

//One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest// is the modern-day standard bearer of this very genre, and LaValle is quick to acknowledge it with two mentions. But while //One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest// embodies a near-perfect allegory, //The Devil in Silver// feels schizophrenic. At times, it reads like a campy gothic novel (“And that dude smelled blood!”) At others, it’s a postmodern romp, full of parentheticals and self-referential authorial asides: “Which is why we might marvel, offer our fair share of respect to the powers of Providence. (Or Plotting?)”

Meanwhile, it addresses, or makes gestures toward, serious issues, including racism, the sorry state of mental health care in the U.S. and economic injustice. In one scene, a character — an African immigrant — is shot and killed by police. In an obvious allusion to the infamous 1999 killing of Amadou Diallo, an African immigrant who was hit with 19 bullets after being fired upon 41 times by New York police officers, LaValle’s character is also shot 19 times after 41 shots are fired.

There are also short chapters devoted to two real-life cases of mental patients who had been left to die by negligent hospital staff. One of these chapters simply cites the first paragraph of a New York Times article on the abuse of the mentally ill.

These are powerful references, but, randomly inserted and juxtaposed against a steady stream of pop culture references (lines from //Fight Club//, Iron Maiden lyrics) and a surreal plot, they have no context, and so they lose their poignancy.

LaValle’s first two novels — //The Ecstatic// and //Big Machine// — both tied together disparate issues and ideas in colourful bouts of language and plot. //The Devil in Silver// is a bit of a letdown in their wake. While it is suspenseful and the characters and setting are vividly portrayed, the story does not consistently connect with the underlying themes it introduces, making it feel rootless and random.

//''Jason Beerman'' lives and writes in Hong Kong.//
''July 12, 2013
Jason Beerman''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Andrew Sean Greer's The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, Ecco, 304 pages, $28.99|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Andrew Sean Greer's The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, Ecco, 304 pages, $28.99//@@

Surely one of the purposes of reading fiction is to filter the familiar world through a new, strange prism. There is a sort of magic to this, when we begin to hear snippets of things we might say out of the mouths of characters in a novel, when we begin to feel their ache.

Two novels ago, Andrew Sean Greer achieved this magic when he portrayed love and loss through the eyes of a man who is born into the body of a 70-year-old man and ages backwards in //The Confessions of Max Tivoli//, one of those rare books that achieves a sense of universality within the framework of an improbable premise. Like a man in a cage, Max Tivoli was forced to live his life, and to find love, while the world around him aged and crumbled.

Greer’s latest novel, ''The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells'', comes close to providing this same transformative experience. Similarly to Max Tivoli, Greta Wells must also deal with the quirks of non-linear time when she is shunted backwards in history. However, this is not a book about time travel as such. Instead, it is a rumination on the lives we do not end up leading — those impossible lives — where our myriad desires are rearranged in a different order to form new selves.

In Greta’s case, it is 1985, and she lives on a quiet alley in New York City’s West Village. Her twin brother, Felix, has just succumbed to AIDS, which is just beginning to ravage the gay population, and her lover, Nathan, has just left her for another woman.

To seek solace from this confluence of events, Greta undergoes electroconvulsive therapy, which opens a portal that sends her to 1918. There, she undergoes the same treatment, which sends her to 1941, then back to 1985 and so on. In total, the treatment course lasts 12 weeks, with 25 total procedures, which means that Greta is continually jumping across eras with each passing day.

The wrinkle is that 1918 Greta and 1941 Greta are doing the same thing at the same time with the same supporting cast, so this becomes a game of parallel universe musical chairs, where "each morning would unfold anew like a pop-up book of possible lives."

It is with this premise that Greer ponders the question of nature versus nurture and of the consequences of the choices people make. In what almost amounts to episodes of speed dating, Greta meets different Nathans in different eras and sees echoes of the same man in each. But he goes from being her husband and father of her son in one to a man newly returned and scarred from war in another to her philandering lover in yet another. Likewise, before his death from AIDS, her brother Felix is an openly gay man in 1985, but his earlier versions are painfully closeted, much to Greta’s chagrin.

While //The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells// veers toward melodrama in a few instances and sometimes gets sidetracked in overly florid soliloquies, it manages to construct three carefully sculpted worlds that can be compared and contrasted in a number of different ways to ask: Who are we really? If we strip away the conventions and expectations of the age in which we live, what guides the quivering compass of our heart?

"I knew that not all lives are equal, that the time we live in affects the person we are, more than I had ever thought," Greer writes as Greta. "Some have a harder chance. Some get no chance at all. With great sadness, I saw so many people born in the wrong time to be happy."

//''Jason Beerman'' lives and writes in Hong Kong.//
''December 6, 2014
by Jason Beerman''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[The Laughing Monsters by Denis Johnson, Harper Collins, 240 pages, $27.99.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//The Laughing Monsters by Denis Johnson, Harper Collins, 240 pages, $27.99.//@@

Roland Nair, the protagonist of Denis Johnson’s new novel ''The Laughing Monsters'', is a chameleon: he’s a dual US-Danish citizen who doesn’t seem to possess an allegiance to either passport; he works for NATO’s intelligence arm but has the agenda of a mercenary; and the closest thing he has to a friend is Michael Adriko, a mercurial African whom Nair is apparently trying to ensnare on behalf of his employer.

Welcome to the post-Sept. 11 spy novel.

Once upon a time, tales of espionage were told in black and white — think of Ian Fleming’s James Bond and his cartoonish nemeses, or even Graham Greene’s espionage thrillers and their echoes of post-colonial guilt.

In today’s globalized world, where allegiances are forged via Twitter and outrage fomented via YouTube, international men (and women) of mystery fall into a nebulous grey area. The good news is this makes the subject ripe for well-told stories filled with characters whose complexities are natural extensions of the turbulent times in which they live. And the better news is that Denis Johnson has decided to refashion himself from a chronicler of the down-and-out (most memorably in his short story collection //Jesus’ Son//) into a Graham Greene for our times.

//The Laughing Monsters// opens in the near present with Nair making a return to Freetown, Sierra Leone after an 11-year hiatus, a place where “anything can happen . . . Traitors and deserters can evaporate before your eyes.” In the interim, he had been stationed in Afghanistan for a spell, where he met Michael Adriko, who was perhaps working as an attaché of some kind for NATO — it’s never made clear.

Nair and Michael had become a short-lived duo, making “a lot of money for guys in their twenties” slinging classified documents or perhaps “pebbles and powders” — again, it’s never made clear. But what is clear is that these two very different men — Nair reserved and cynical and Michael gregarious and prone to emotional outburst — share the same desire for nihilistic adventure: “good for the soul and the mind and the bank balance.”

For Nair’s second tour in Sierra Leone, he is sent by NATO to make contact with Michael, although Nair also claims to “have come back because I love the mess. Anarchy. Madness. Things falling apart.”

With this tip of the hat to Chinua Achebe, Johnson brings us deep into the lawlessness of Africa, where NATO safe houses sit in basements beneath nondescript shops and where a merry band of intelligence community mercenaries with nebulous connections to MI6, the CIA, Interpol and Mossad ply hotel lobby bars in small games of spot-the-spy.

Nair’s ever-changing mission brings him west to east and then back again, accompanying Michael on his whimsical jaunt from Freetown to Uganda on a 30-year-old cargo plane piloted by a Russian charter crew. Whenever Michael enters the frame, the novel pulses — he is self-effacing and worldly, full of lies yet with such a wide-ranging personal history that everything he says might be true: “When it came to fountains of falsehood — a bold artist.”

Nair is at once repulsed by and attracted to Michael, and his professional mission is always in doubt, muddied by his desire to make a quick buck on the back of Michael’s shadowy deal-making and by his own plan to sell out his NATO bosses.

Indeed, Nair’s motives are never made clear and it is this unreliable narration that gives //The Laughing Monsters// its unruly momentum, portraying an Africa that mirrors our whole messy world: nations within states, movable borders, power from the barrel of a gun, and con artists who conduct this whole mad, dissonant symphony undeterred by conscience.

//Jason Beerman lives and writes in Hong Kong.//
''August 30, 2013
by Jason Beerman''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Hanya Yanagihara's The People in the Trees, Doubleday, 384 pages, $32.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Hanya Yanagihara's The People in the Trees, Doubleday, 384 pages, $32.//@@

''The People in the Trees'' is the debut novel of Hanya Yanagihara, an editor at large at Condé Nast Traveler, who cast off her magazine persona to pen this audacious, beautifully wrought tragedy of Nabokovian proportions.

Of course, before the downfall that tragedy promises, there is soaring ambition, which in this case is encapsulated in the fictional memoirs of Dr. A. Norton Perina that form the backbone of the novel.

These memoirs, we learn at the novel’s outset, are written in 1998 from Norton’s cell at the Frederick Correctional Facility, where he is serving 24 months after being convicted of sexually abusing one of the 43 children he had adopted from the Pacific island nation of U’ivu. This fall from grace has brought him full circle, since it was on Ivu’ivu, an island in this isolated archipelago nation, that he discovered a condition in 1950 that prolongs human life, which eventually led to his receipt of the 1974 Nobel Prize in Medicine.

In a nod to //Lolita’s// John Ray, Jr. and //Pale Fire’s// Charles Kinbote, Norton’s memoirs are edited and footnoted by Ronald Kubodera, a onetime research fellow in Norton’s lab, whose own motives are masked behind a blend of sycophancy and arrogance, his footnotes dripping with obsequiousness and punctiliousness.

Norton’s account itself is an exercise in arrogance, or perhaps the result of a breed of awkward introspection that accompanies a life spent primarily in a lab. Even his systematic adoption of scores of abandoned children is treated cynically. “Again and again I was asked why I had adopted them, a question I found difficult to answer. The truth would be distasteful, and the lies — because I wanted to help the less fortunate; because I loved their company — seemed laughably simplistic and banal.”

This distasteful truth is sparingly revealed through Yanagihara’s masterful unravelling of an epic story through Norton’s eyes that, despite his self-ascribed monstrousness, imbues him with a sense of longing and hope that makes him all the more human.

The story gets underway in earnest after Norton graduates from Harvard Medical School in 1950 and is invited on an anthropological expedition to Ivu’ivu in search of a mythical “lost tribe.” Indeed, the tribe exists, but even more compelling is the discovery of an offshoot of the tribe, some of whose members appear to be more than 200 years old and all of whom are in various stages of senility. Norton deduces that their advanced age can be traced to their consumption of the opa’ivu’eke, a rare freshwater turtle that is seen as sacred by the people of the island.

Driven by a sense of discovery, Norton secretly kills an opa’ivu’eke and brings the meat back to his lab at Stanford University where he runs a series of experiments on mice and reports his findings — “the medical equivalent of Martin Luther posting his theses on the church’s wooden door” — in an obscure journal. This sets into motion a global pursuit for the promise of immortality, and the subsequent loss of innocence for U’ivu and its people. It also marks the beginning of Norton’s quest for personal penance to atone for this ruination, culminating with his flock of U’ivuan children and his own eventual downfall.

//The People in the Trees// is a novel that pulses with big ideas about moral relativism and human desire and greed — a “White Man’s Burden” for the pharmaceutical age. Through it all, Yanagihara’s transformative prose is so utterly beautiful in its composition that the horrors of the world she portrays become instead moments of wonder. Similarly, her physical descriptions of Ivu’ivu bestow upon this fantastic island and its stark cliffs and stifling jungles a sense of transcendence, as if we are explorers gazing upon a new world where life takes on unimaginable hues and knows no end.

//''Jason Beerman'' lives and writes in Hong Kong.//
''February 15, 2013
Jason Beerman''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Andrea Hirata's The Rainbow Troops, HarperCollins, 304 pages, $21.99|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Andrea Hirata's The Rainbow Troops, HarperCollins, 304 pages, $21.99//@@

Postcolonial literature is often rife with despair. In the wake of decolonization, entire populations struggle to reconstitute themselves, and the literature that records this process is pockmarked by an elegiac sadness and unanswered questions about identities, both new and old.

Not so with The ''Rainbow Troops''. This 2005 autobiographical novel by Indonesian writer Andrea Hirata — newly translated into English — is a stand-up-and-cheer yarn about a group of students who continually overcome great odds to attend school so that they can someday pull themselves out of the abject poverty that affects their parents.

The book struck a chord among Indonesian audiences upon its release. It sold five million copies (in addition to the countless pirated copies that purportedly abound), it spawned a film that became Indonesia’s highest grossing movie of all time, and it inspired three sequel novels.

Set on the island of Belitung off the coast of Sumatra, the novel offers a simplistic view of the world — it is blindingly obvious who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, and their respective motives are never surprising. In this sense, it reads like a modern-day, third-world fable, with the moral of the story writ large.

This, however, is not necessarily a flaw. In fact, once you give yourself over to the fact that this is an entirely earnest tale of perseverance and of chasing impossible dreams, the story skates forth effortlessly and endearingly, and the optimism that Hirata infuses into each of his characters becomes contagious.

The story begins when Ikal, Hirata’s alter ego, enrolls at the Muhammadiyah School, the poorest village school on the island. Housed in a building that, “if bumped by a frenzied goat preparing to mate, would collapse and fall to pieces,” the schoolhouse has “a roof with leaks so large that students see planes flying in the sky and have to hold umbrellas while studying on rainy days.” These hardships do not dissuade the initial 10 students — later christened the Rainbow Troops — from attending school every day, however. One even braves a daily 80-kilometre round-trip journey by bicycle.

The students, who range in age and ability, are driven to succeed largely due to the unflagging efforts of their teachers, Pak Harfan and Bu Mus, neither of whom receives any remuneration. Together they embody an example that underlies the entire story: the pursuit of education transcends everything.

This devotion is almost tragic. The members of the Rainbow Troops know only hardship. Their fathers are largely coolies who work for PN Timah, the state-owned tin company that has capitalized on Belitung’s huge mineral deposits, which have made it the richest island in Indonesia. There’s no trickle down of wealth, though. “The Indonesian government took over PN from the colonial Dutch. And not only were the assets seized, but also the feudalistic mentality.” The natives of this rich island are therefore “like a pack of starving rats in a barn full of rice.”

The government continually tries to shut down the school because of its decrepit physical state, and PN Timah at one point discovers tin beneath the school grounds and sends an armada of dredges to roll over the school and dig for wealth. But the students and their teachers keep coming to school. Lintang, the Rainbow Troops’ star pupil, vows to “keep on studying until the sacred beam supporting this school collapses.” It never does.

Like a good fable, the book imparts a simple moral, voiced by Ikal: “We had learned the spirit of giving as much as possible, not taking as much as possible. That mentality made us always grateful, even in poverty.” There is universality to this story that makes the Indonesia on display in these pages — a multiethnic hodgepodge of haves and have-nots — seem sadly familiar. Stories bind us together, and this one offers the purest kind of secular hope, that everything will be all right.

//''Jason Beerman'' lives and writes in Hong Kong.//
''September 1, 2012
Jason Beerman''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Duong Thu Huong's The Zenith, Viking Adult, 528 pages, $35. |]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Duong Thu Huong's The Zenith, Viking Adult, 528 pages, $35. //@@

Think of literature written in or translated into English about Vietnam and a handful of writers come to mind: Marguerite Duras, Graham Greene, and Tim O’Brien. Giller Prize-winning author Vincent Lam also based his recently published first novel, //The Headmaster’s Wager//, in Vietnam, from where his Chinese parents emigrated.

While these authors each evoke a Vietnam of their choosing — a Vietnam steeped in war, a Vietnam seen through the lens of colonialism or the eyes of American soldiers — none can claim the unique perspective of Duong Thu Huong, a former Vietnamese Communist cadre who was kicked out of the Party and jailed in 1991 after writing two novels — both bestsellers in Vietnam — that depicted the Vietnamese government as corrupt and abusive. Since then, her work has been banned in Vietnam, but has appeared in translation in several languages abroad, likely making her the most widely read Vietnamese novelist in the world.

Huong currently lives in exile in Paris, where she wrote ''The Zenith'', her sixth novel to be translated into English. Like her previous work, this is an overtly political novel — it traces, through several tangentially related narrative threads, Ho Chi Minh’s final days spent in an isolated mountaintop temple, where he languishes under the watchful gaze of a coterie of guards, cooks and a doctor.

To this day, the Vietnamese government cultivates a carefully constructed image of “Uncle Ho” as a celibate saint-like figure who is a revolutionary father to all of Vietnam. Writing about him in a way that does not conform to Party mythology is not permitted, which makes Huong’s version of Ho inherently blasphemous.

When the book begins, it is 1969, and Ho lives an imprisoned and monastic life timed to the temple bells, the chanting of Buddhist prayers and the whims of his guards. He ponders the past in a series of conversations with himself, moments of reflection, and hallucinations, one of which includes a cameo by Chairman Mao, who tells him, “Power cannot be harmonized with ordinary feelings of conscience.”

This idea of power clashing with conscience forms the core of the novel. Surprisingly, it is Huong’s fictionalized Ho Chi Minh for whom conscience overrides the desire for power, to the point where he is powerless to do anything while his erstwhile comrades plunder.

In the novel, Ho is haunted by memories of a love affair he had in the 1950s with a woman forty years younger. The relationship, which resulted in a son and a daughter, was kept out of sight, and when Ho wanted to make it public, the Politburo voted against it and eventually set into motion the woman’s brutal torture, rape and murder.

Ho is tormented by his inaction, but realizes that he is fated to become “a hand-carved wooden puppet to these murderers.” Indeed, he had already ceded power long before. His conscience — his idealism rooted in socialist doctrine — gave rise to a liberated Vietnam, but in the subsequent grab for power, he is turned into a figurehead, “his authority no more than the fleeting enchantment thrown by an opera-house lantern.” As a result, those who are really in power remain huddled in the shadows, pulling tautly on the marionette strings.

//The Zenith//, lyrically translated by husband-wife translators Stephen B. Young and Hoa Pham Young, is part modern Vietnamese fable, part tragedy. Huong, who says she spent 15 years researching the novel, has written what amounts to a eulogy for Uncle Ho. Amidst the simmering anger directed toward “the state machine,” there is a modicum of sympathy for Ho, who dances under strings manipulated by men without conscience.

//''Jason Beerman'' lives and writes in Hong Kong.//
''September 17, 2012
Jason Beerman''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Junot Diaz's This Is How You Lose Her, Riverhead Books, 224 pages, $28.50|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Junot Diaz's This Is How You Lose Her, Riverhead Books, 224 pages, $28.50//@@

''This Is How You Lose Her'', the title of Junot Díaz’s new collection of short stories, sounds like an instruction, confidently stated, on how to lose the girl, how to expel her from the deepest recesses of your heart.

Or, out of the mouth of Yunior — Díaz’s recurring narrator who also featured in //Drown//, his brilliant 1996 story collection, and //The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao//, his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel from 2007 — it is the lament of a sometime cad, a self-effacing shrug of the shoulders after yet another relationship comes crashing down in a heap of machismo.

In this new collection of nine linked stories, the focal point is once again Yunior, a cocksure Dominican transplant whose neither-here-nor-there life in the barrios of New Jersey infects him with a mix of swagger and naïveté. On the one hand he proclaims, “I had an IQ that would have broken you in two but I would have traded it in for a halfway decent face in a second.” On the other, he’s the kind of guy who holds out hope that his fiancée will forgive him after he cheats on her. With 50 other women.

But through Díaz’s eyes, Yunior is an empathetic character. He loves and loses with a reckless obliviousness that’s almost endearing.

In “The Sun, The Moon, The Stars,” Yunior’s girlfriend Magda discovers that he cheated on her prior to their long-planned trip to Santa Domingo to celebrate their anniversary. They still go, but instead of seeking forgiveness, Yunior expects that reconciliation can simply be found in the next embrace. “I’m an optimist,” he thinks. “Me and her on the Island. What couldn’t this cure?”

In “Alma,” one of three stories told in the second person present, Yunior is again caught cheating, this time by his girlfriend Alma, and he is “overwhelmed by a pelagic sadness. Sadness at being caught, at the incontrovertible knowledge that she will never forgive you.” Yet, on the other hand, “prevaricating to the end,” he coyly asks, “Darling, what ever is the matter?”

“The Cheater’s Guide to Love” is a second person’s recounting of six years in the life of a thirtysomething Yunior after he is dumped by his fiancée in the wake of his 50-woman cheating smorgasbord. In a sure sign that Yunior has matured from his earlier, mostly teenage exploits, he carries a sense of remorse with him that he cannot shake, eventually conceding, “You are astounded by the depths of your mendacity.”

While Yunior matures over the course of these stories, there is no triumphant, linear arc. The stories jump around chronologically, with the earliest one tracing the arrival of Yunior as a small child to a bleak New Jersey apartment block (“You’re Americans now,” his father tells him and his brother, nursing a bottle of Chivas Regal on his knee). Other stories take place mostly during Yunior’s teens and early 20s, when he is coming to terms with the illness of his brother while harbouring a sense of pity for his mother, whose inability to assimilate has left her isolated. And all the while, he clutches at love, or some semblance of it, without any sense of what it entails.

One story, “Otravida, Otravez,” is devoid of any connection to Yunior and, as such, it seems very much out of place; the book would have been better without it despite its strength as a standalone story. Otherwise, //This Is How You Lose Her//, which occupies the space between a story collection and a novel, is a subtle mosaic of love and commitment, punctuated by Díaz’s kinetic Spanglish prose that laces each casual utterance with the bravado of the barrio.

//''Jason Beerman'' lives and writes in Hong Kong.//
''November 30, 2014
by Jason Beerman''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Ticket to Childhood by Nguyen Nhat Anh (translated by Will Naythons), Overlook Press, 160 pages, $24.95.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Ticket to Childhood by Nguyen Nhat Anh (translated by Will Naythons), Overlook Press, 160 pages, $24.95.//@@

If universal truths exist, what better place to find them than in childhood memories? There, untarnished by the loss of innocence and the hardships of adulthood, life — even in hindsight — is a boundless adventure. Through the eyes of a child, there is no distinction between the unknown and the unknowable, which makes every moment one of fantastic wonder.

Nguyen Nhat Anh, a revered and bestselling author in his native Vietnam, seems to have an innate understanding of childhood’s appeal. The majority of his bibliography features either teenage or child characters, and his serialized short stories are wildly popular among Vietnamese readers. One of these, ''Ticket to Childhood'', marks the first appearance of Nguyen’s work in English translation.

This slim volume sold a reported 350,000 copies in Vietnam when it was originally published in 2009, qualifying it as an unprecedented literary sensation in that country. Told in a series of vignettes by an adult narrator looking back on his eight-year-old self, the novella employs a voice that combines the world-weariness of age with the wit and energy of youth.

The absence of any real plot gives the book a somewhat manic feel, with the narrator rattling off a day in the life one minute before firing off a humorous story or two, peppered with truisms such as “One man’s boring rut is another man’s domestic harmony,” and “The function of children, as adults see it, is to outgrow their childishness.”

As the narrator delves into his stockpile of memories, he apologizes to the reader for confusing chronology and jumps between the adult self writing the book and the child envisioned within it. This gives //Ticket to Childhood// a fabulous quality, making it a sort of anti-memoir.

Stripped of maudlin effect, the novella does in some respects deliver what its title promises. And while the narrator’s tales of home life and school are rife with Confucian themes that have clearly resonated with a Vietnamese audience, the vignettes also manage to spark a universal familiarity. At one point, to battle monotony and escape conformity, the narrator and three of his closest friends decide to arbitrarily replace certain words with others, saying, “We did this because we were so young, and the world was so old. It was a way of staking our claim to a new, richer dominion of our world.”

Any parent who has thwarted endless barrages of “why?” understands that the world of a child is not yet bound by explanations (or logic, for that matter). When Nguyen’s narrator decides to drink water from an empty soda bottle and eat rice out of a wash basin (both deemed strange behaviour by his parents), he does so only “to make [his] orbit a little more erratic.”

Reflecting on his parents’ puzzled queries, the narrator writes, “The objects in an adult’s world are defined by their function. Consult a dictionary if you want to know the meaning of adult life . . . But kids possess an invaluable treasure — their power to assign strange functions to familiar things.”

It is this type of reflection that forms the core strength of //Ticket to Childhood//. Since there is no plot per se, in a sense the narrative garners its momentum from the long glance backwards by the introspective narrator forty years on. The arrival of adulthood, he indicates, does not come all at once in a single moment of bittersweet revelation. Instead, childhood seems to disappear piece by piece, and only if we are lucky can we find the ticket back.

//Jason Beerman lives and writes in Hong Kong.//
@@font-size:11pt;Hong Kong's restauranteurs tell us how they are running their businesses now and why@@

''By Jason Beerman
July 1, 2011''

[[Link to original article|]]

@@font-size:8pt;//Ordering wine with dinner is becoming a habit for Hong Kong diners.//@@

Hong Kong has long billed itself as the culinary capital of Asia. It’s a subjective boast that is rooted largely in the fact that in past generations, the Cantonese diaspora blanketed the globe so comprehensively and with such speed that Cantonese cuisine in some shape or form came to exist in every single far-flung corner of the globe.

Hong Kong, as the hub of this culinary wheel, capitalized on the newfound prominence of its cuisine and offered it in its purest form, from the thrill of the dai pai dong to the opulence of the cavernous dim sum hall.

Meanwhile, as the city grew as a financial and logistical hub, it also grew as an internationally-inclusive culinary destination born out of a combination of expense accounts and demand from homesick expatriates and émigrés for the flavors of home, a place that ranged from the glittering canyons of Park Avenue to the docks of Goa.

These days, the dining scene in Hong Kong is still rooted in classic Cantonese fare, but there are countless layers on top of this, and a quick walk down random streets showcases Hong Kong’s other claim of being Asia’s world city.

When the Michelin Guide first covered Hong Kong in 2009, it felt like a stamp of authority. The dining scene has since continued to grow in stature, and this ongoing growth has resulted in a rapid evolution.

To document this evolution, we glance at a snapshot of today's dining scene and take stock of 10 current dining trends in Hong Kong.

''@@font-size:12pt;1. Wine, wine, wine@@''

@@font-size:8pt;//The wine cellar at Guo Fu Lou. Hong Kong is the world's largest wine market and drinking it "has started to become a cultural habit for locals."//@@

Caroline Chow, of [[Lan Kwai Fong Entertainments|]], which runs [[Kyoto Joe|]], [[Indochine|]], and several other Lan Kwai Fong establishments, notes that “wine has started to become a cultural habit for locals.” Think of it as a trickle-down phenomenon.

In 2009, Hong Kong overtook New York and London as the [[world’s largest wine market|]]. Sotheby’s and Christie’s have each sold bottles of wine here for small fortunes. In May 2011, a buyer purchased a single bottle of 1961 Château Latour for [[US$216,000|]].

Hong Kong's new role as a literal funnel for fine wine owes everything to the government’s 2008 decision to eliminate duty on imported wines. Since then, nouveaux riches on both sides of the Shenzhen River have been eager to slurp down wine at an unprecedented clip.

''@@font-size:12pt;2. Everyone's a critic: the smartphone and social media effect@@''

@@font-size:8pt;//"What are you having?"//@@

We’ve all seen them. They’re at the next table, taking photos of everything from the first amuse-bouche to the last dessert crumb. They’re on their smartphones the entire meal, liveblogging every bite. Even you may have engaged in this behavior from time to time.

This is the new fact of dining out in Hong Kong: everyone’s a critic. And, for better or worse, there's a willing audience out there.

[[Openrice|]], Hong Kong's online home of user-generated restaurant reviews, packs more clout for most of the population than either Zagat or Michelin, offering in-depth reviews of everything from the decor to the service.

“We even see customers taking out smartphones to help them make menu choices,” says Bridget Chen,  partner of [[798 unit & co.|]] and [[Just-a-Restaurant|]].

''@@font-size:12pt;3. Westward Ho! The rise of Western District@@''

As commercial rents in Central continue to spiral into the stratosphere, restaurateurs have looked west for relief. As a result, there has been a notable spillover effect in the neighborhoods of Sheung Wan, Sai Ying Pun, Shek Tong Tsui, and Kennedy Town.

“Due to the high levels of rent in SoHo and Central, we can definitely foresee a shift of the dining scene to the Sheung Wan and Kennedy Town neighborhoods,” says Robert Spina, founding partner and executive director of IHM, the company behind [[Posto Pubblico|]], [[Cantopop|]], and [[Homegrown Foods|]].

''@@font-size:12pt;4. The kiss of death: high rent@@''

This being Hong Kong, upward rent pressure features in two of our trends.

“High rent squeezes our ability to do anything very, very good,” says Paul Hsu, executive director of [[Elite Concepts|]], a restaurant group whose portfolio includes Michelin-starred restaurants [[yè shanghai|]] and Nanhai No. 1.

“It marginalizes the quality of the operators and the restaurants because so much of your bill is paid on rent.”

''@@font-size:12pt;5. Responsible eating: Food origins@@''

@@font-size:8pt;//"Where is this from?" There is increasing demand for a more transparent food chain.//@@

Hong Kong, due to its small size, is inherently incapable of growing enough food to feed all of its residents. China, the supplier of most of Hong Kong’s food, is certainly not a poster child for food safety, and disruptions to other sources, such as those in the wake of the recent earthquake in Japan, make clear how convoluted the food chain actually is.

Bridget Chen adds, “There are more people nowadays asking, ‘where is this from?’” Good question.

''@@font-size:12pt;6. Pop-ups@@''

What better way to indulge our fickle minds than with shops that appear and then disappear before we even have time to fully compute their worth?

Meet the pop-up shop. It’s been in vogue in retail for a few years, especially in London and New York. Hong Kong is no stranger to the phenomenon, with recent pop-ups ranging from American Apparel to Taschen Books. Applying the pop-up model to restaurants has been catching on, and it takes whimsical dining a step beyond the private kitchen.

“I think we will definitely be seeing a lot more pop-up concepts in Hong Kong,” says Alan Lo, co-founder of the [[Press Room Group|]], which owns several restaurants including [[The Pawn|]] and [[Classified|]].

“With rising rents, a shortage of space and increasingly curious consumers, pop-up concepts will take flight. They are great ways to dip your toes in the market and test one’s product.”

''@@font-size:12pt;7. The clout of celebrity@@''

@@font-size:8pt;//Jaakko Sorsa, chef at FINDS. Identified as a "celebrity chef" by the restaurant, it shows that the term is very flexible and wide-ranging. What qualifies one as a celebrity chef?//@@

In case you haven’t noticed, the pendulum of cultural influence has gradually swung farther and farther east. Take note of the aforementioned wine market as well as the burgeoning art market, and Hong Kong seems to be at the center of a cultural maelstrom.

Or, depending on your perspective, Hong Kong has commodified culture and now sells it to high bidders from the mainland.

Regardless of how it is viewed, this phenomenon is especially tangible within Hong Kong’s dining scene.

In recent years, brand name chefs have fallen over themselves to set up shop in Hong Kong -- Nobu Matsuhisa, Joël Robuchon, Alain Ducasse, Richard Ekkebus, and Pierre Gagnaire all hang their shingles here.

“People are becoming a little bit more brand conscious,” says Sandeep Sekhri, founder and managing director of  restaurant group [[Dining Concepts|]]. “I think people are wholeheartedly accepting the inflow of celebrity chefs into Hong Kong.”

The phenomenon is gaining steam and becoming ubiquitous across all classes and types of cuisine. Sekhri is well aware of this, having recently imported New York chef Michael White to open [[Al Molo|]], an Italian restaurant.

''@@font-size:12pt;8. East meets West: fusion, redefined@@''

The term “fusion cuisine” evokes visions of some neon-walled 1990s-era restaurant trying to be edgy by featuring stuff like wasabi-infused pesto. But if you think about it, all cuisines have overlapped with others in some way over the course of history, and all have lent or derived some semblance of influence.

Noticeable of late is a disproportionate flow of influence from East to West.

“There is obviously more use of Asian ingredients amongst European chefs,” says Margaret Xu, owner and chef at private kitchen [[Yin Yang|]] and executive chef at Cantopop.

“I see that Western chefs in Hong Kong are getting prouder to use some popular Chinese flavors in their cooking and therefore contributing to Hong Kong establishing its own style of Western cuisine.”

''@@font-size:12pt;9. Out is in: al fresco dining@@''

[img[Al fresco|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//On the top deck of Hong Kong's legendary Jumbo Floating Restaurant.//@@

Anna Adasiewicz, managing director of [[FINDS|]], says, “The European culture of al fresco dining is slowly taking off.”

Although strong demand from the dining public exists, outdoor dining in Hong Kong is greatly restricted by an arcane set of licensing rules and regulations. The best many restaurants can do, especially in Central and Western districts where space is at a premium, is to offer seating at adjacent public space, without the option of table service.

Witness the roof deck of the IFC Mall, where wicker furniture and sweeping views are on offer outside, but where patrons of adjacent rooftop restaurants must serve themselves since the seating area is technically public. For restaurants and customers, it's a workaround, but it’s a bit inconvenient.

“It’s quasi-impossible to get licensed for al fresco dining almost anywhere in Hong Kong,” says Daniel Schneersohn, managing director of [[Chez Patrick|]]. “It’s officially non-existent but tolerated.”

''@@font-size:12pt;10. Simplify, simplify@@''

@@font-size:8pt;//Keeping it simple is a perennial trend.//@@

The term “trend” implies something that’s fleeting or rooted in a specific temporal context. Trying to constantly create or follow trends can complicate the very essence of dining. Restaurateurs have taken this to heart.

“Things are a lot simpler,” says Linda Kwan, of the [[Café Deco Group|]]. “Food can be very nice without having to be ostentatious.”

Calvin Ku, co-owner of [[Lily & Bloom|]], says, “I think right now we are at a point where there isn’t really a leading trend that’s too mind-blowing, so we fall back on the fundamentals of what makes food exciting in the first place: great ingredients, and sensible and simple preparation cooked by people who care.”

@@font-size:11pt;David Bellis, the man behind the crowd-sourced website on all things historical, unearths a fast-vanishing Hong Kong@@

''By Jason Beerman
November 14, 2011''

[[Link to original article|]]

Some people in Hong Kong walk around with their necks craned upward. After all, sights abound in the upper stratosphere of our vertical city.

David Bellis, on the other hand, walks with his gaze set firmly on ground level, constantly looking for physical evidence that sheds light on Hong Kong’s history.

Bellis is the man behind Gwulo: Old Hong Kong, an online repository for all things historical in Hong Kong. 

On November 16, he'll be giving a talk sponsored by the Royal Asiatic Society titled, “Photos of Old Hong Kong and the Tales They Tell."

[img[David Bellis of|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//David Bellis of

Gwulo, which logs around 10,000 unique visitors a month, is a crowd-sourced digital archive of Hong Kong’s complex history.

The site’s strength is interactivity, which has resulted in 14,000 comments, many of which include photos and videos, giving the site the semblance of an ongoing conversation.

“A lot of the photos on the site would otherwise be sitting in drawers somewhere,” says Bellis. “This is a way of preserving them and sharing them with a wider audience.”

When it comes to Hong Kong history, Gwulo is a catchall, and the titles of some of the more popular posts offer a glimpse of the range of subjects covered -- 1941 Hong Kong: the Harrison Forman Collection of photos; Views along the tram line in the 1950s; Life in Hong Kong's air raid precaution (ARP) tunnels.

One of Bellis’ ongoing projects is to organize content in a more structured way since Gwulo currently embodies a Library of Babel dilemma.

Other ongoing projects include mapping the full extent of Hong Kong’s ARP tunnels and creating a digitized, searchable database of Hong Kong jury lists dating from 1855 to aid the many amateur genealogists who use Gwulo as a reference to trace ancestral roots in Hong Kong.

Curious to learn more about Hong Kong’s rich history and about Gwulo’s role in the documentation of this history, I meet Bellis one morning for a walk around Mount Davis, located at the edge of Kennedy Town in Hong Kong’s Western District.

[img[Happy Valley, 1955.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Happy Valley, 1955.//@@

''@@font-size:12pt;Ducking fences@@''

Bellis is a master of spotting arcane historical minutiae, and to walk with him is to see Hong Kong through a new set of eyes.

We walk past Chiu Yiu Cemetery, built for Eurasians at the end of the 19th century, before ducking up a steep path toward a small serial reservoir.

At a dead end, Bellis disappears behind a fence and I quickly follow. We are on a narrow path leading through the dense jungle above Kennedy Town.

This is an old escape route, he tells me, laid by the British military and since hacked clear by the legions of morning walkers who escape into the hills each morning.

“Here,” he calls to me later as we wind our way down a road along the lower slopes of Mount Davis. He is pointing at a stone that sits just above the gutter.

It’s about 20 centimeters high and offers no unusual features. I lean down and take a closer look and I see a faded inscription.

“WD -- this is a boundary stone of the War Department,” Bellis tells me, sweeping his arm toward the summit of Mount Davis, from which we just descended.

I walk this route weekly, but I’ve never noticed these stones before. Nor have I noticed the large iron rings that sit alongside the side of the road.

Bellis explains that these were used as part of a pulley system to haul heavy equipment, including 28-ton guns, to the summit, where today only the skeletal remains of gun emplacements and bunkers remain.

The British military originally built up Mount Davis Battery as a strategic artillery emplacement in the early part of the 20th century, and it played a large part in the attempt to hold off the Japanese invasion during World War II.

As we walk, Bellis regales me with snippets of history, describing the parabolic paths of shells fired from the heavy guns of the Mount Davis Battery toward the Shing Mun Redoubt, where Japanese forces had entrenched themselves 20 kilometers to the north.

He points out an abandoned building at the crest of Victoria Road, noting that in 1967 during the leftist anti-colonial riots, the Hong Kong government locked up troublemakers here.

The building today looks like a peaceful Mediterranean villa and as we pass the locked gate, we spy an open upstairs window and wonder who might be lurking in the old building.

[img[The route taken on David Bellis' tour of Mount Davis.|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//The route taken on David Bellis' tour of Mount Davis.//@@

Further down Victoria Road heading back toward Kennedy Town, Bellis points out the stepped hillside that once housed squatters’ encampments. We pause high above the Lamma Channel and smell wood smoke wafting upward, likely emanating from a last remaining squatter’s hut.

As our walk draws to a close, Bellis leads me across a cement football pitch near the China Merchants Wharf on the outskirts of Kennedy Town. This park, built far from a residential area and smothered in concrete, feels a bit forgotten.

Bellis disappears behind a planter and I find him crouched next to a small obelisk that stands forlornly between a water fountain and a rubbish bin. The chiseled text on its face reads, “CITY BOUNDARY 1903.”

Victoria City, once the capital city of British Hong Kong, used to occupy the area from Kennedy Town to Wan Chai, extending inland from the shoreline to the Mid-Levels. Boundary stones were laid along the perimeter, and this stone marked the far western edge.

Beyond the imperial city frontier, the thick jungle must have felt like an unmapped dimension.

We wonder aloud what ceremony, if any, accompanied the laying of this stone. Was an official cartographer here as a witness? A government surveyor? Or was the stone simply plopped here, forgotten and disused until it faded into an ignominious obsolescence marked by the sad shadow of a rubbish bin?

History, it seems, has passed this poor relic by. The same can be said for the other boundary stones that ring old Victoria, for the crumbling pillboxes that stand sentry along Hong Kong’s shoreline and for the faded ARP tunnel entrances that remain tucked away in the alleyways of Causeway Bay and Wan Chai.

On Gwulo, these boundary stones have all been meticulously cataloged, mapped and documented. Their stories exist just a mouse click away.


//Getting there: “Photos of Old Hong Kong and the Tales They Tell,” November 16, 2011 at 6:30 p.m. Visual Arts Centre, 7A Kennedy Road, Central.

RAS Members, HK$50. Non-members, $100.

Gwulo [[|]] 

RAS [[|]]
''May 12, 2012
Jason Beerman''

[[Link to original article|]]

[img[Jim Lynch's Truth Like the Sun, Alfred A. Knopf, 254 pages, $30.00|]]
@@font-size:8pt;//Jim Lynch's Truth Like the Sun, Alfred A. Knopf, 254 pages, $30.00//@@

Depending on one’s perspective, Seattle’s Space Needle is either a symbol of the limitless future or a kitschy historic emblem. Either way, there’s something wonderfully earnest about this skinny tower which punctuates the city’s skyline like a concrete and steel exclamation point.

''Truth Like the Sun'', the new novel by Jim Lynch, takes place atop and around the Space Needle, jumping back and forth between 1962 — the year Seattle hosted the World’s Fair for which the Needle was built — and 2001. The novel’s protagonist, Roger Morgan, is the fictional mastermind of the fair, and he is shown in 1962 to be a 31-year-old precocious “silver-tongued P.R. Hercules” whom everyone seems to love. He is at once an MC, a ringmaster, a power broker, a cheerleader and a director. Above all though, he is an optimist and a dreamer.

In fact, Roger is the embodiment of that signature 1960s American optimism: The space race is in the bag and boomers from coast to coast are stretching their legs and experiencing their gleaming, modern country from behind the steering wheels of big, American cars and from within new Boeing 707s, crisscrossing the lower 48 in a haze of jet vapor.

In the northwest corner sits Seattle, “a sleepy Boeing bunkhouse without a freeway.” Through a series of lucky breaks, Roger is handed the reins to the 1962 World’s Fair, officially dubbed the Century 21 Exposition, and is determined to parlay it into the city’s international coming out party. Indeed, an international hodgepodge is showcased at the fair: Filipino dancers, Thai silk, French perfume, Danish sausage, Belgian waffles and Mongolian steak all make an appearance. And luminaries trek out to Seattle where Roger hosts them one at a time, including especially memorable visits from a crass Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, a foot-stomping Prince Philip and a humble young Elvis Presley, whose passing comment — “Truth is like the sun” — gives the book its title.

Meanwhile, alternating chapters whisk us to 2001, where Helen Gulanos, an ambitious Pulitzer-hunting, muckraking journalist, balances single parenthood with her job as a reporter at the //Seattle Post-Intelligencer//. Her underwhelming beat consists of bridge jumpers and dot-com bust confessionals, and when she is asked to produce “enterprising retrospectives” on the 1962 World’s Fair, she sees the assignment as nothing more than a corny, fawning exercise in nostalgia.

Thus begins her interaction with Roger Morgan, who in the intervening years has acted as a proxy mayor of Seattle, advising local politicians on almost every major civic issue and hobnobbing with seemingly every power broker in the city. As soon as Helen starts researching Roger for her innocuous retrospective, he suddenly announces his candidacy for the mayoral race and her assignment transforms; she is instructed instead to dig into Roger’s past and uncover what lays beneath the façade of “Mr. Seattle,” the father of the fair. All, it seems, is not as it appears, and questions immediately surface about the legitimacy of Roger’s dealings over the years.

Lynch, a Seattle native and a former journalist, manages to fit a lot into //Truth Like the Sun//. As times, it reads like a lo-fi political campaign exposé and at others, it reads like a small-scale version of //All the President’s Men//, as Helen and her sidekick Bill Steele — a hardened sage of the newsroom — rush around following the money. Lynch’s own experience as a reporter shines through in his rendition of the //Post-Intelligencer// newsroom (“a brevity mill”) and the newspaper’s ongoing battle with the //Seattle Times// — the cross town rival — to win the race to the scoop.

At the heart of this novel, though, is Roger and the fair, and how idealism can persist in the face of fear and greed. In 1962, President Kennedy is facing off with Khrushchev at the Bay of Pigs and bomb shelters are being carved out beneath postcard neighbourhoods across America. But in Seattle, the Space Needle rises like a hopeful sprout, people gawk at displays in the Science Pavilion and at the World of Tomorrow, and a monorail zips around above the city streets. “Hi-ho, come to the fair,” beams a slogan. “See the world of tomorrow today!”

By 2001, “the world of tomorrow” seems to have come and gone. Seattle’s vaunted rise during the dot-com boom is destroyed in a confetti storm of worthless stock options and Roger, in the midst of his mayoral run, is a relic. He says the wrong things on the stump, has no campaign cash and has been out of the public eye for almost forty years, yet he thrives, and people flock to him. Once upon a time, he made the city the centre of the universe, the populace seems to think, and by golly, he can do it again!

At times, Roger’s idealism seems so pure, it borders on naïveté. At others, he operates with cunning ambition. But throughout, he remains a dreamer who simply wants the city he loves to thrive and succeed. And who can fault him for that?

//''Jason Beerman'' lives and writes in Hong Kong.//
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