Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Stamp duty
Whenever I see the Revenue Law lecturer, I'm reminded of Principal Snyder from Buffy: the Vampire Slayer. They are identical in appearance - both are small in stature, follically-challenged, have ears that point out and have giant craniums. And like the principal, the lecturer seems intent on making life uncomfortable for Buffy the students. I've mentioned this to some people already, but folks never seem to know what I am talking about. I guess Buffy isn't shown on Hong Kong television.

In what has become the norm, we completed the topic of stamp duty this morning and then went through a practice exam paper in the afternoon. Needless to say, stamp duty is far more complicated than salaries tax and the paper was universally-opined to be v. difficult. I'm hoping profits tax won't be that hard.

Sunday, October 27, 2002

Undoubtedly, one of the most spectacular scenic views in the world comes with the HK$2.20 ride on the Star Ferry on Victoria Harbour.

On both sides of the narrow strip of water (which has been excessively reclaimed and continues to be so) lie some incredibly stunning feats of modern architecture and engineering, such as Lord Norman Foster's HSBC headquarters, IM Pei's Bank of China, the funky Lippo Centre, Jardine House (aka "the House of a Thousand Arseholes") and the Convention & Exhibition Centre (aka "the Flying Cockroach") by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

Of course, amongst these great buildings, the bland and the horrendous (of which there are plenty) are clearly evident. Those who were associated with construction of The Center (really tacky), the Central Library (post-modernism at its worst - references to Chippendale furniture in an Asian city!) and the Cultural Center (giant windowless school gym with the best view in HK) should be ashamed.

Although, in recent years, there has been a dramatic slow down in economic growth, construction around the Harbour has not abatted. Incredibly, in the next five years, one will see an unprecedented level of construction.

The final phase (thank God) of the Central and Wanchai land reclamation project will see the development of a garden promenade from Sheung Wan to Causeway Bay. The Star Ferry terminal will be relocated to a new location, which has been designed to pay "homage" to the original, destroyed years ago. (In fact, the design fails in this regard and looks like a second-rate imitation. The irony of it all is fantastic.)

Behind the new terminal now lies the International Financial Centre - the future "heart" of the Central Business District when completed. Currently, the 88-storey IFC 2 (which remarkably looks like an electric razor or light-beaming torch) is being constructed (adove left). When completed in mid-2003, the Cesar Pelli-designed building (which reflects his design of the Goldman Sachs building in New Jersey), standing at 420m, shall be the tallest in Hong Kong and third tallest in the world. (The Hong Kong Monetary Authority has already signed on to be tenants of the highest floors.)

Directly opposite IFC 2, on the Kowloon side, construction workers have already broke ground for Union Square Phase 7 (right), designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox. This tower will stand 60m taller than IFC 2 and will be completed in 2005. Due to their locations, Union Square and IFC 2 shall fittingly act as a "gateway" to ships and cruise liners entering the Harbour. What a sight it will be to behold!

With the airport relocated from Kai Tak to Chek Lap Kok, previously-held height restrictions in Kowloon have been abolished. The bustling areas around Nathan Road in TST are already in the throes of redevelopment and with the completion of the KCR rail extention to the MTR subway, one can only expect further projects to reach even higher.

For some excellent information of modern towers built, being constructed or proposed in different cities around the world, go here. It's my favourite site at the moment.

Some additional information of interest: approval has been given to construct a Ferris wheel on top of Ocean Terminal in Tsimshatsui. At completion, in 2004, it will reach a height of 105m. With a wheel diameter of 75m, it will be the fourth tallest such structure in the world (after the BA London Eye and to-be-built Tokyo and Shanghai wheels).

I think it's an exciting idea and will obviously be a big attraction, when completed. However, I think many people will be curious to know how the engineers plan to make the structure withstand tropical typhoon and black rain conditions, especially when it is grounded on a pier!

Friday, October 25, 2002

According to an index compiled by Reporters sans Frontieres, Hong Kong is ranked first in Asia and 18th in the world in press freedom.

The index measures the amount of freedom journalists and the media have in each country and efforts made by government to see that press freedom is respected. It was drawn up by asking journalists , researchers and legal experts to answer 50 questions about press freedom violations in their respective countries.

Finland, Iceland, Norway and the Netherlands shared first place. The US came 17th and mainland China came 138. North Korea was the worst offender at 139th and last spot.

Hong Kong should be proud of its relatively free press and protect it vigorously, especially when the currently proposed anti-subversion legislation could dramatically alter this.

In another survey, the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups found that almost a third of more than 2,000 respondents to a questionaire were unable to name a single item that makes them feel proud of the SAR. This clearly reflects the pessimistic and judgemental attitude held many local people, especially in these hard economic times.

However, of those who were able to answer, the most popular choices were freedom (16.6%), the strong spirit and diligence of HK people (8.6%), infrastructure (8.2%) and economic achievement (6.9%).

Do you see a common theme to all this?
Trinkst du Bier gern?
Yesterday, some folks and I attended the opening night of the month-long German Bierfest, held on a sixth floor hotel carpark, with a killer view of the harbour, in Tsimshatsui. (In previous years, between 15,000 to 20,000 attended.)

Everyone had a sensational time. There was some v. tasty German food (hmmm, Bratwurst und Kartoffelsalat) and, obviously, plenty of fresh beer. I have never been much of a beer drinker, but then one can argue that I had never tasted das Bier aus Deustchland before - it's far superior than the Australian or American stuff.

The Notenhoblers, from Munich, provided some excellent entertainment, which included a longhorn-playing drag queen called Tina, "the Munich Olympics", the ubiquitous Chicken Dance and some tragic DJ Otzi and Venga Boys covers, which can only be tolerated "appreciated" while intoxicated. To great rounds of applause from an appreciative audience, the band even played a couple of Cantonese numbers, including the classic Shanghai Beach. Liz and I felt that one particular member of the band had way to much charm for his own good, with his cute Bavarian accent, comedic antics and impressive use of Cantonese.

Afterwards, some folks wanted to sing karaoke, so we staggered across Canton Road to the nearest establishment - a Hello Kitty-themed karaoke club. Clearly, my intoxicated state impaired my usual judgement (I have complete disdain for karaoke and Hello Kitty), as I did not automatically leave for home, but stayed there till 1:30am. Needless to say, I did miss the Accounts lecture this morning at 9:30.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

Hong Kong nightmare
A Hong Kong resident's worst nightmare (apart from partaking in an all-you-can-eat buffet and finding out there is no seafood) is, undoubtedly, living through the home renovations of a neighbour.

I am living through the nightmare.

Some new neighbours moved in next door the other week. The previous tenant, according to my gradfather, was an old man, whose family (like half the tenants in the building) all moved to Canada. He stayed there alone, for half of the year and the rest of the time in Canada. As the story goes, he unexpectedly died one day and was only discovered by the part-time domestic help, a few days later. Quite obviously, the place has been vacant for a while. I wonder if the new neighbours know?

Anyway, I digress. The new neighbours moved in and without as much as a courtesy call or mailbox note to moi, they brought in some contractors and began renovating the place.

It is generally well known that the size of residential accommodation in HK tends to be on the smaller side (OK, homes here are like shoeboxes), so the slightest noise of one tenant would easily disturb the domestic peace of those living in adjacent flats. Regular residential building plans don't help either. It is common practice for builders to shun false ceilings, as the space between would seriously limit the number of floors that can be constructed in a height-restricted property. Dry-walling is completely unfashionable, meaning all walls (including internal ones) are made full-brick. So, when they start knocking down the walls, with HK's favourite tool - the jackhammer - the noise can be unbearable.

I could go on and on about the dust the workers produce! The whole common area around the elevators is completely covered with dust. Furthermore, the stuff has been seeping into the flat as well. I had to go around with a wet rag to clean it up. I should sternly warn them that they are currently violating their Deed of Mutual Covenant and that if there is no action taken in the immediate future to rectify this situation, I shall inform our fellow tenants in common and legal action may be considered. (See, I did learn something in Conveyancing!)

In complete contrast with the contractors at home, the ones here tend to work more than five hours a day, five days a week. They usually start early, finish late, seven days a week!
Yves Saint Laurent
From October 24, within the pages of various fashion publications, there will be a provocative advertisement for YSL's new men's fragrance, M7.

Generally, advertising campaigns for perfumes do not generate much media attention (unless it's the relaunch of Poison by YSL, with Sophie Dahl stretched out on her back, sans clothes, in ecstasy), but M7 has caught the eyes of journalists all around, and it's not just because the model (former tae kwon do champion Samuel de Cubber) is so damn fine. Schwing!

M7 will be the first campaign by a leading fashion house to use full-frontal male nudity. Many publications, including Out (and their editorials are so more provocative than this) are refusing to publish the advertisement. In consideration of this, YSL is offering mainstream media a toned-down version showing de Cubber from the waist up instead (shown above).

The M7 campaign is hardly gratuitous nudity without meaning or context. It is a fitting homage to beautiful nude of Yves Saint Laurent by photographer Jeanloup Sieff in 1971.

As general courtesy to the conservative, prudish or phallophobic, I have posted the full frontal version of the advertisement here.

Raise your hands if you want to join the Samuel de Cubber fanclub?
Victime de mode
In general, society in Hong Kong is highly conformist. Obviously, this charasteristic is common amongst Asian societies, where the "comfort" of the group comes before the rights of the individual. People tend not to "rock the boat", as such an action would "disturb" the community as a whole.

However, there is one aspect of living in which individual preferences are freely expressed, without the same degree of ridicule or prejudice as in the West - fashion.

Many Hong Kongers have taken their inspirations from different sources, varying from Tokyo fashionistas to Carrie Bradshaw. There are some, like the tutu-wearing, Tina Turner-haired PCLLer at CityU, who look way fierce, while there are others who offend the eyes of others by simply looking cheap and nasty.

Since I arrived, I have been dismayed by the sheer proliferation of Bon Jovi mullets. Commonly, this frightful sight can be seen on the heads of both genders, often aged well into their thirties. Teens and twenty-somethings caught having one understandably have the excuse (experimentation), but one would suspect that a thirty-something has had enough life experience (as well as having lived through the Eighties in their youth) to know better than to attempt to revive the mullet. Recently, I saw the most vile sight - two garish mullets in persimmon orange on a couple! It looked as though they both went to the salon at the same time and asked for the same hairstyle (maybe there was a two-for-one?). Couples dressed identically is weird; having the same hairstyle is disturbing!

Anyway, speaking of fashion victims, I am seriously considering overhauling my wardrobe. Currently, I am wearing button-down shirts, for the sake of looking different (as everyone else seems to be wearing T-shirt, jeans and sneakers). However, the opportunity to wear more outlandish "fashion-forward" clothing in HK (without general public ridicule) is one reason I am encouraged to make my own statement (or to be more precise, copy someone else's statement) in fashion. This means late 70's/early 80's punk fashions (think more of Johnny Rotten schoolboy, than Sid Vicious scary motherf@cker). Fashionistas have raved about Hedi Slimane's (who calls the Clash's Paul Simonon a style icon) skinny black tie and white shirt offerings, for Dior Homme (left) and I have to concur.

Readers' opinions on such a stylistic change would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

People needn't have to tell me. I have been a naughty, lazy boy for not keeping this blog up-to-date. Indeed, I have been v. discourteous to readers, by stripping this site to its bare bones and removing the links and supplementary pages, without replacing them. I shall attempt to resolve my tardy behaviour from here on, okay?

Isn't it always lovely to receive word from friends abroad in the mail? Not to sound like a whining Luddite, but letter writing, and penmanship in general, is a lost art that should be revived. There is nothing better or puts a smile on my face quicker (and I don't often smile) than receiving a piece of mail from someone halfway around the world. Email doesn't have the same qualities as old-fashioned mail, nor does it seem as personal. It is simply words on a flashing screen, often hastily written and instantly sent off with a click of a button. On the other hand, putting pen to paper takes time, effort and forethought, and as such, always has more heart.

Anyway, after another long, tedious day at uni, I went over to Central to pick up my mail, which included a really nice postcard from Naoko and a video tape of the four final episodes of Felicity from CreatineMonster back home.

Naoko and I have corresponded on-and-off to each other, ever since that fantastical year in Chapel Hill. More recently, we've been emailing each other quite regularly. We are both, figuratively, fish out of water in environments we aren't completely familiar with. After her time in Carolina, she went back to Japan to complete her bachelor's, only to return to the US (and to an ACC university!) for postgraduate studies. She's currently "suffering" through a PhD in Economics at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

CreatineMonster has been my lifeline to news from home. Lately, there has been some unfortunate events that have awoken the nation from, what many consider, the false sense of safety lulled into by distance from "the rest of the world". (I am not willing to delve into them, as I have less information than any other person, and I do not wish to make, what could be cynically interpreted as, a completely presumptuous or pretentious statement.) It is always difficult to sense the mood of a place from afar, especially when popular media is the only source of information. Unless, of course, there is someone over there to mention what is often missed, one always gets half the picture.

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Video games
Some folks and I went to this dinghey video arcade in Tsimshatsui (after a period of indecision on where to go) this afternoon. I'm quite pathetic at video games (except Super Bomber Man!) and it showed, when I literally threw away money attempting to play Street Fighter III, the skiing simulator game and that undead shoot 'em up.

I have sworn that I will never play Dance Dance Revolution and I have kept the promise... for now. However, I did go close to breaking it, when I played three times on a tamborine game with Liz. Trying to explain the concept of the game without sounding pathetic is a bit difficult. Shaking and hitting a tamborine along to some funky Japanese pop music sounds so stupid, but from the amount of time we wasted on the game, it proves that such a game can be so addictive.

Xavier has been heralded as the tamborine king. He is bloody good at shaking and hitting the thing to the proper directions (as opposed to the rest of us, who are uncoordinated and percussionally-challenged - even though I played the big cymbals and triangle in the percussion section of the orchestra in Benjamin Britten's Noyes Fludde in Grade 6). If he is absent from any PCLL lectures and tutorials in the near future, it is highly likely he will be playing the pink tamborine to Track Eight at the video arcade.

I have photos for future blackmailing.
I went to a promotional screening of two award-winning American documentaries, organised by the HK Independent & Short Film Awards, last night. I dragged HKPhooey along to the screening, which had the vague title, "War Among Us". Somehow he had the impression I was taking him to a screening of documentaries about the "war on terror", even though I had mentioned a week earlier that they concerned different kinds of conflict within the US, which have been going on in America (and in other countries) for decades now - big business v small community and moral conservatives v gay rights advocates.

Anyhow, the two documentaries were Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town and Scout's Honors. The former concerns Wal-Mart's attempts at establishing one of their mega strip malls in the small Southern town of Ashland, VA. As Wal-Mart is the biggest corporation in the world, in terms of revenue, and has some of the most shrewd and "admired" business practices (it likes to place stores so close together that they cannibalises each other's markets a la McDonald's), a small, yet vocal opposition, created by some residents, had an overwhelmingly uphill battle to persuade their own town council to reject any planning approval for a local Wal-Mart. In the end, Wal-Mart, with its big incentives, like extra funding for roadwork and greater tax revenue, were too irresistable.

I love how the documentary perfectly captures the environment and "feel" of the town, which was so typically Southern. It reminded me of all the gentil, little communities I visited in VA, WV, NC and SC.

The latter documentary traces the conflict between the anti-gay policies of the Boy Scouts of America and the broad-based movement by some of its members to overturn them. The efforts of David Rice, Tim Curran, James Dale, and especially Steven Cozza are totally courageous. For a teenager to take such a vocal stance on gay rights (and who is not even gay) Steven Cozza is an absolute inspiration. That guy definitely has heart. He is a true hero in my eyes, as well as many others!

Monday, October 14, 2002

Wow, was I pleasantly surprised when I opened the Sunday Post. On the front of its Sunday Young Post section, there was a great article concerning gay youth in HK. The piece mentioned the coming out stories of two HK Chinese high schoolers and the support provided by their families/friends.

Even though modern HK society retains v. much the conservative Chinese traditions (such as filial piety) of yesteryear, it is definitely encouraging to see progressive articles such as this one, written with a sympathetic and understanding voice.

I withdraw my earlier comment about how the SCMP is now merely a shadow of its former glory and is little more than Beijing-appeasing, printed toilet paper. Some of it is quite good, like said article and the daily columns of HK's last economic optimist, Jake Van der Kamp, in the Business 2 section.

Saturday, October 12, 2002

Il est très unusal
Is it completely redundant to describe a French film as bizarre?

To highlight the opening of 8 Women in HK, there is a Francois Onzone retrospective at a cinema in the middle of nowhere (OK, I shouldn't be insulting. It was in Yaumatei. The area is a complete flashback to 1950's HK.). It's incredibly hard to describe the film, Criminal Lovers, except to say that the plot is a Deliverance-meets-Hansel-and-Gretel, gothic, teenage tragedy. There are even elements of Blue Lagoon, Alive and Fatal Attraction, to confuse anyone who is trying to create a mental picture.

I am simply unable to say whether or not I like the film. What I do know, is that the whispered commentary of the fellow in the row behind me were hilarous! (Masterbating with spirit fingers... hah!)

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

Just for laughs
From the Sydney Morning Herald:
Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn't seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy whips out his cellphone and calls the emergency services. He gasps: "My friend is dead! What can I do?" The operator says: "Calm down, I can help. First, let's make sure he's dead."

There is a silence, then a shot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says: "OK, now what?"

According to the LaughLab experiment conducted by psycholgist Richard Wiseman, from the University of Hertfordshire, that was the funniest joke in the world (pourquois?). The experiment was dubiously conducted on the internet (there goes all ounce of credibility), where people were invited to rate jokes out of five and to nominate their favourites.

As well as identifying the joke that appealed most to people around the world, the experiment revealed wide humour differences between nationalities.

People from the UK, the Republic of Ireland, Australia and New Zealand preferred gags involving word play, such as:
PATIENT: "Doctor, I've got a strawberry stuck up my bum."
DOCTOR: "I've got some cream for that."

Americans and Canadians favoured jokes where people were made to look stupid.
TEXAN: "Where are you from?"

HARVARD GRAD: "I come from a place where we do not end our sentences with prepositions."

TEXAN: "OK -- where are you from, jackass?"

Meanwhile, many Europeans liked gags that were surreal or made light of serious subjects such as illness, death and marriage:
A patient says, "Doctor, last night I made a Freudian slip, I was having dinner with my mother-in-law and wanted to say: 'Could you please pass the butter?'

"But instead I said: 'You silly cow, you have completely ruined my life.'"

Surprisingly, Germans laughed the most (additionall proof that the experiment is statistically flawed or proof that Germans have such bad humour, they would laugh at anything) and Canadians were the most humourless.

Ha ha, strawberry and cream...

Friday, October 04, 2002

Course Review Panel
I am too tired to blog. I have another day of lectures tomorrow morning.

Instead of the usual bitching and moaning, here is an email I just wrote, as group representive, to the other members, for your general reading pleasure:

Dear Group 3,

Here is a brief outline of the issues raised in the second Course Review Panel on Friday afternoon.

1. Christmas Party. There are plans to organise a Christmas/End of Semester Party, on the night of the final exam (Accounts on 23 December), but it all depends on the level of student interest. Expected price for the event is $50 per person and will most likely be held somewhere on campus. Folks should expect a guest speaker (required in order to gain Faculty and University support), a DJ, some nibblies and drinks of the alcoholic variety.

A page, with an online poll, will be set up on the PCLL website, to gauge the level of student support for this event.

2. Open Book Exams. Although many people are supporting this, it is unlikely that many of our exams will be open book. It all depends on the coordinators of each subject.

3. Schedule Changes. Many feel that notice of changes in the schedule are coming too late. In addition, people feel that there are too many sources of information (pigeonholes, emails, notice board and website) that need to be looked at, in order to be aware of all schedule changes. In future, the Department plans to improve their timing, in notifying students of changes. In addition, they plan to centralize the posting of notices, so people only need to look at one or two sources for all relevant changes to the schedule.

4. Training Contracts and Graduate Recruitment. The majority of people will be seeking training contracts in the near future. However, the Department, Faculty and University are sadly not resourced to help students in this area. Many feel that the Careers Placement Centre in the Meng Wah building does not adequately cater for the special needs of PCLL students.

Doug Arner, in the Faculty, has made some progress in creating a database of law firms to better aid PCLL students in finding training contracts.

Plans are underway for the creation of a Careers Officer, in the Faculty, to offer assistance to those seeking training contracts and/or pupillage. Great plan, but don't hold your breath! It'll probably come into fruition long after we graduate!

5. Examination marking. Papers with marginal passes, marginal fails and distinctions will be marked more than once to ensure fairness of the grade.

6. Accounts. A request was made for more model question and answers for Accounts. These will merely be optional exercises!

7. Photocopied cases. Since people have all paid over $1400 for course materials, many on the Panel feel that it is only fair if the Faculty would print out all the cases. Everyone knows how to find cases, and photocopying them ourselves merely wastes valuable time and effort. However, acceptance of this request is unlikely.

8. Past exam papers. Nathanson assures us that even though the course format has changed, the exams will basically be of a similar format to previous years. However, one should always check with each subject coordinator about exam formats in their respective subjects. It is also important to note that the knowledge review sessions at the end of the semester will also help in telling us what is and is not examinable.

OK, that was pretty much the gist of the meeting. If anyone has a question or something they would like me to mention or find out in future Panels, don't hesitate in telling me. You could leave an anonymous note in my pigeonhole if you like.

About me
I have been extremely dissatisfied with my "About Me" page for the longest time (pretty much since I uploaded it), so I decided to de-link it.

So, a new page will be coming soon. Just don't hold your breath!

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

Revenue Law
Why oh why must they insist on us sitting through a practice exam on salaries tax? To make matters worse, it is completely closed book.

I think I'll start doing some work then...
Blogger Pro
I switched to Blogger Pro today. Will it make any difference to my writings?

Tuesday, October 01, 2002

National Day

The East is red, the sun has risen,
China has produced a Mao Zedong.
He creates fortune for the people,
Hu er hai yue, he's the saviour of them all!

Yes, it is National Day - a public holiday to celebrate the founding of the People's Republic of China. Yet another public holiday within the space of two weeks (the other was the Mid-Autumn Festival).

Please forgive me if I am not overly enthused with patriotic fervour. There may be no classes today, but we are required to attend some lectures on Saturday morning.