Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Anti-racism campaign... or someone's idea of a joke?

Perhaps inspired by the recent Celebrity Big Brother controversy, The Sun ran a front page anti-racism campaign yesterday.

I don't know about you but I didn't really see the point of this. If kids are racially abused it's usually by other kids, and they don't normally read The Sun. Racism from adults is, if anything, less commonly directed against children.

It would have been more appropriate for the newspaper to tackle possible racism amongst its adult readership - a much harder issue to deal with head on.

And in any case, a photo of those same children all holding up signs saying 'British' would have gotten the message across better, I think (they did have a photo like that but it was inside the paper, not on the front page)

Rather than a positive anti-racism message, the impression I got was this was some kind of joke.


Monday, January 29, 2007

Oriental City row: Beijing intervenes.

Thisislocallondon.co.uk reports that a senior figure from the Chinese government has stepped into the controversy surrounding plans to redevelop Oriental City in Colindale. The Chinese Consul General to Britain, Jiang Yuansong has written to Mayor Ken Livingstone saying:

"As the counsellor and Consul General of the Chinese Embassy, I would like to express my deep concern to the plan which has negative impact on so many Chinese families.

"I also have great sympathy for the tenants, whose businesses would be affected if the proposed development goes ahead without modification."

"Many tenants take the relocation plan as inadequate and request it be practicable and workable. Otherwise their business and living would be seriously affected by the rebuilding.

It was reported that the rebuilding would have impact on about 1,000 Chinese families in the next three to four years if the present plan is approved."

The article goes on to say that the official request to greenlight the plans will be submitted to Mayor Livingstone at the beginning of February and the final decision will be taken after 14 days - just in time for Chinese New Year.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Bus Uncle - The Aftermath

No doubt you've seen the original video (here's a version with subtitles).

Just so that you're all caught up, the Bus Uncle video also led to:

1 - The identification of the Bus Uncle as Roger Chan Yuet Tung, a man who had twice tried to run for Chief Executive of Hong Kong despite apparently having no relevant experience whatsoever. He was later hired as a 'public relations officer' (i.e. a sideshow to attract customers) by a restaurant in Mongkok (great Hong Kong logic there) during which time he was beaten up by three assailants. The attack almost caused the restaurant owner's daughter to kill herself.

2 - Minor celebrity status for the young man being berated by Bus Uncle, the intruigingly named Elvis Ho Yui Hei, and the phone camerman Jon Fong Wing Hang. Elvis has not released a record yet, as far as I know.

To catch up fully, there are tons of Bus Uncle links here. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Reality of Racism - Celebrity Big Brother 2007

I'm sure all of you will have heard by now about Celebrity Big Brother Series 5, officially the most complained about tv programme in British history.

It started with contestant Jackiey Budden (not a celebrity at all) refusing to pronounce Indian actress Shilpa Shetty's name (she claimed she was physically unable to pronounce it but, come on, if you can say the word 'contract' you can say 'Shilpa'), asking her if she lived in 'a shack' and generally displaying a lack of respect for the actress that smacked of outright hatred.

The viewers showed their displeasure by voting to evict Jackiey first but what followed was a turning point in the show, and maybe was where it all started to go seriously wrong. When Jackie referred to Shilpa as 'the Indian' during her post-eviction interview, there were laughs from the audience. Presenter Davina McCall grinned happily along with Jackiey's jokes and told her she was "an awesome housemate". Something didn't seem quite right here. Why was this person being celebrated? What exactly had they done to deserve admiration?

It was starting to seem that the audience was being asked to view racism and hate as entertainment. Ignorance was being portrayed as something cool and funny.

Things got worse. Jade Goody, her boyfriend Jack, Jo O'Meara and Danielle Lloyd formed a gang and made delightful comments about Shilpa which have been reported extensively (calling her 'a dog', and worse).

Had we seen this kind of behaviour from ordinary people in a documentary, I doubt anyone would have cared much. But the fact that these were so-called celebrities - people who expected the support and admiration of the British public - made it far worse.

As did the fact that this was a live, ongoing situation, not a past incident that had been and gone. Viewers wanted this to end immediately, but it didn't, which added to the anger.

But what has been reported less is how the Big Brother producers' actions seemed to make things worse. Presenter Dermot O'Leary questioned whether we were seeing racism at all and asked if it was the much nicer and innocent sounding 'cultural ignorance'. Not when there is so much hatred behind the comments, Dermot. Racism is, after all, just a form of ignorance.

Channel 4 then issued a statement claiming 'no overt racism' had been directed at Shilpa in person so no action would be taken. This further frustrated the viewers who were incensed at the hate-filled, behind-the-back gossiping that was on plain view (later Channel 4 made much of the fact that Shilpa herself had said she did not think the girls were being racist - however she had not, and still has not - heard the worst comments that were made behind her back).

On internet forums, behind-the-scenes information was divulged such as the fact that presenters Davina McCall, Dermot O'Leary and Russell Brand all share the same agent as contestants Cleo Rocos and Jade Goody, the ring-leader of the gang of bullies. It was questioned whether Jade would or could ever be criticized by people so professionally close to her.

These fears were confirmed when Dermot O'Leary presented a spin-off show called Big Brother's Big Brain - at a time when the racism issue was beginning to explode - which was seen as a sustained attack on Shilpa's character and a clear attempt to justify the Jade Gang's bullying of her. "She's brought this all on herself. She deserves it." was the message Channel 4 was trying to propagate. No-one was having it. On forums such as digitalspy.co.uk, virtual jaws were dropping at these crude attempts to massage public opinion.

The hatred of Shilpa continued unabated: Danielle handed the actress a dirty towel picked from the floor when she was in the shower, Jade launched a verbal assault against Shilpa during an argument over a stock cube labeling her "a fake and a liar", with aggression that in the outside world would have attracted police attention (Jade, by the way, is reported to have had liposuction whilst releasing fitness DVDs promoting her 'new figure' so the fake and liar comments seem a little bit hypocritical).

The hate campaign only abated when Big Brother warned Jade about her language, and after days of unprecedented news coverage, she was finally voted off the show by viewers on Friday night.

So, does a 'bbc' watching this show have a take on these events which is different to the rest of the audience? Probably not hugely different. I was appalled as anyone at what I saw. One difference is that, in my experience 'bbc's' have never bought into the 'cult of the idiot' that has made Jade a wealthy celebrity. So if that cult is now coming to an end, it's probably not going to change our world.

But I wonder if any other 'bbcs' saw this controversy, like me, from two angles. First it was terrible to see a newcomer to this country treated so badly by a group of Brits. And to see someone who embodied such positive values - elegance, quiet confidence, politeness, intelligence - metaphorically being trampled by British people so obviously lacking those values. I guess you could say this is seeing it from the 'British' point of view.

But secondly, as a Chinese person, I could identify with what Shilpa was going through too. Because the reality of racism as we experience it does not consist of Union Jack waving, BNP skinheads. Perhaps this what Channel 4 meant by 'overt' racism. The reality of racism is that odd look from the other side of the train carriage, that person who will talk to everyone else with a certain level of respect "but not to me", that throwaway 'ching chong' comment from the kid on the bus. In other words, the little stuff. If CBB has done anything worthwhile, its been to highlight this 'little stuff', the disrespect that lies at the heart of it, and showing that a lot of people find this unacceptable.

Another hugely positive thing to come out of the show, I think, is the incredible strength of character shown by Shilpa Shetty. When the hate campaign against her was in full effect, I was horrified at what young Indian kids in the UK would make of what they were seeing - a person of their ethnic background being victimized in such a way. But in the end, Shilpa has provided an object lesson in how to deal with situations like this, and how to maintain your character and dignity in the face of hatred fueled by stupidity.

One last point: I thought it was funny when one commentator said that Jermaine Jackson, despite being black, had escaped any racist abuse "because he's one of the Jackson Five". Yes, readers, for people like Jade, Jo and Danielle, that's what it takes to prevent yourself from being racially abused. Had he not been part of one of the most influential groups in pop history, in the world, ever, I dread to think what the Goody Gang would have made of him.

What next for Jade? I think journey of discovery to India looks almost certain and perhaps she will have dumped Jack and be seen stepping out with an Indian boyfriend in the near future. Stranger things have happened ;)

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Reality of Racism

Just trying to put together a post about the recent furore surrounding Big Brother. Will hopefully have something over the weekend.

In the meantime here's a comment from The Guardian.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

£20,000 reward to find killers of Helen Chung

The search continues for the killers of Chinese restaurant owner Helen Chung Kam Fum, who was brutally killed in her home, first mentioned here.

Police have now offered a £20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the killers:

DCI Steven Lawrence, leading the investigation, said: "The investigation into the murder of Mrs Chung and the linked break-in in Vine Lane on the night of November 6 continues. We know at least three suspects broke into Vine Lane.

"There is a reward of £20,000 for information that will help us prosecute those responsible."

He added: "The local community has been very helpful with our enquiries into these two appalling crimes where victims have been brutally attacked in their own homes.

"But I believe that within the local community of Hayes and West Drayton people have information who have yet to come forward.
It was initially thought that Helen had the restaurant's takings with her when she returned home, but police now know she did not.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the incident room at Belgravia on 020 7321 9251, or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Full story here.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The 'bbc' causing a stir on the contemporary art scene

His parents moved from Hong Kong to London in the Sixties. His dad worked at a waiter. His early years were spent 'bored mindless' in his family's chip shop. He became interested in digital technology. Sound familiar? :)

He was told he would never get into the best art school in the country, St. Martins, but he did. Now Gordon Cheung is a celebrated, award wining contemporary artist.

Since graduating from the Royal College of Art in 2001, Cheung, a British-educated son of Hong Kong Chinese restaurateurs, has made his name with strange, visionary dreamscapes painted on to a backdrop of stock listings from the Financial Times. Over the past two years these economic landscapes of the imagination have made the shortlists of half a dozen art prizes, been included in the British Art Show 6, appeared in group exhibitions from Arizona to Slovenia and secured Cheung a solo show in São Paulo.

Two years ago financial pressures nearly forced him to give up painting. “I hit rock bottom, and when I clawed my way out I resolved to paint like every day was my last day.”

Story from The Times.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

HK fashionistas pounce on star's 'pirate' costume

Found this story on Asianfanatics.com

Cantopop star Joey Yung appeared at the 2007 Chik Chak Music Awards show to pick up an award wearing a distinctive, starry tutu outfit. All would have been fine were it not for the fact that the outfit was a pirated copy of a design by Viktor and Rolf.

Cue dozens of complaints from eagle-eyed, trendy Hong Kongers and an apology from the star. Only in Hong Kong!

More on the Chik Chak awards: The big winner was Leo Ku who won four big awards, including Album of the Year for "Human" and Favorite Song. He ran second for the Male Singers Award and his single "It's Too Late to Love" was listed in the Top 10 Songs.

Also check out Eason Chan's, erm, distinctive outfit (below) from the show (the Chik Chak awards have a tradition of stars dressing as outrageously as possible).

'Ghosts' - The Story of the Morecambe Bay Cockle Pickers

British director Nick Broomfield has dramatised the harrowing story of the Chinese cockle pickers who died on Morecambe Bay in 2004. His film 'Ghosts' screened at the 2006 San Sebastian International Film Festival and the 50th London Film Festival. It will also be in competition at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2007.

The film is released in the UK from January 12th. Official movie site.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Burberry may soon be 'Made in China'

British luxury clothing brand Burberry has been in the news recently for its latest ad campaign featuring Kate Moss but another story about the company you might have missed concerns its decision to switch nearly all of its manufacturing from its traditional base in Wales to China.

It's a decision that has drawn fierce criticism from many and there is even talk of a parliamentary investigation over the matter. Actress Emma Thompson added her voice against the move, saying:
"Burberry should not make this move: it will brand itself as greedy, unethical and -- perhaps most importantly for the profile of the company -- inauthentic. By staying in Wales and honouring a contract that has long been held with the workers there, it will retain its code of decency and high standards. Anything else is a betrayal of the workforce and a bastardisation of the brand."
It is hard to see how Burberry can maintain its upper class, British image if it were to become common knowledge that its products were made in China by a workforce probably earning a pittance compared to the average western wage.

Many 'bbc's' and indeed Chinese people in general view lifestyle and luxury goods that are 'Made in China' as less desirable and a large part of the appeal of brands like Burberry is their authenticity and European origin.

Moving production to China will undoubtedly save Burberry money but it may find itself losing quite a few customers from the Far East as a result, even with Kate Moss gracing their posters!

More on this story here.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Inventor of Doll Noodles ('gung jai mein') has passed away

Momofuku Ando, inventor of Nissin instant noddles, has passed away. His noodles may have contained more MSG and fat than you might have expected, but boy how many of us have turned to Doll noodles in times of need? His is some legacy.

Mr Ando, thank you.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

This Life + 10 + a Chinese character = ???

I found This Life compulsive viewing during the 90s. At the time, it was the only TV drama to set itself in a world anything like the one I was experiencing although when I look back at the shows now, the dialogue seems incredibly cheesy and unrealistic. Of course, this could mean that I and the people around me at that time were also incredibly cheesy and unrealistic but never mind.

So it was with some anticipation that I tuned in to watch 'This Life + 10' - the much hyped reunion show that would presumably try to portray thirtysomething life in contemporary Britain as insightfully as the originally series showed twentysomething life. Surprisingly, a Chinese character appeared early on in the show. Specifically, a Vietnamese model based in Hong Kong who had married one of the lead characters, Miles (he's the guy on the far right in the picture above, if you don't know the show).

Interesting... How, I wondered, would TV drama's 'voice-of-my-generation' portray a Chinese/English mixed relationship?

Well, sadly, the Chinese character was a bit of a cliche - all timid and awkward - only coming to life mid-way through the show when she had a semi-breakdown (brought on by being around the characters of 'This Life', I guess).

It didn't seem to occur to the writer that a professional model based in Hong Kong might in fact have quite a personality, confidence and energy about her. Clearly, we were being asked to see her as an 'ornamental Oriental' and before long, the acerbic female character, Anna was referring sarcastically to Miles' wife as a 'geisha'.

Later on, Miles says his wife naively married him because she thought he would be 'an English gent'. Anna suggests he went along with it because he thought she would 'an easy ride.'

I thought this was the most interesting aspect as it's not often you see a white, female's perception of mixed relationships expressed so frankly, and it got me thinking.

In Paul Courtenay Hyu's Missing Chink programme of 2004, people in the street were asked to give their general perceptions of Chinese people and at least one (white) female described Chinese women as 'pleasure givers'.

From Little Britain's Dudley and Ting Tong to This Life + 10, white male + Chinese female relationships tend to get a bad press. Often it's suggested the woman is needy or subservient to her man whilst the white male is, by implication, a bit of a loser and inadequate - in some way not good enough to get a 'normal' girlfriend. It struck me that this really isn't a positive view of Chinese or Asian women.

The question is should the media be criticized for these kinds of portrayals, or is it simply reflecting the truth? After all, 'This Life', whether you like the show or not, does strive to be authentic in a way many other shows do not.

It seems to be one of the strange quirks of western media that Asian females are portrayed as universally attractive to white males, whilst at the same time, relationships between white males and Asian females tend to be portrayed as something derisory, sad and not quite as 'real' as other relationships.

Now all we need is for someone to depict a Chinese male + white female relationship and things would really get interesting :)

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Happy New Year Random Photo of the Day Or So

I thought I'd start the New Year with this earth-shattering discovery from a recent trip (or should that be food odyssey?) back to Hong Kong.

Your eyes do not deceive you. No Photoshop has been employed. Yes, Haagen-Dazs does indeed make Azuki bean (aka red bean) flavoured ice-cream. Hallelujah!

It was just one of three delights I picked up from a local 7-11, the others being these cute, little ice-cream mochi.

And I can confirm they were all yummy.