Sunday, November 11, 2018

the glorious dead

The Cenotaph, Central, Hong Kong


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

zhan pianyi, or misbegotten joy

When I try to verbalize a trail of living in Hong Kong and China that wears me down, my friends don't understand; they think that I'm describing the struggles of living in a mega city and rubbing elbows with millions of other people but that's not it. I understand the hustle and bustle of a city but this is something that has been creeping into Hong Kong culture over the past several years and it exhausts me.

I live in Happy Valley, and SB and I chose to live here because it's not as easily accessible as the MTR proximate neighborhoods, thus there is a bit of a community feeling. The community groups are vibrant and active, and most of us are neighborly with one, glaring exception: public transportation.

If you ride the tram into Happy Valley, you are most likely departing at the terminus, along with almost everyone else. When the tram pulls up to the terminus, all neighborliness goes right out the window. There will be three or four passengers who have given up and remain seated until the end but most of the passengers begin rushing for the doors if they haven't already been clustered around the exit since the previous stop (and woe to any passengers who needed to get through to depart at the previous stop). I have seen women using their children as battering rams, teaching them how to be the most absolutely rude, uncharitable trolls. I have experienced old ladies humping me from behind to prevent other passengers from slipping between our fused pelvises. I have seen helpers ducking under and around taller passengers, and men in natty suits deploying the stiff armed fend. It will make you lose hope in humanity. I suspect that at least half of the passengers understand critically that exiting in an orderly fashion and alternating between those coming down the stairs and those departing from the bottom level would be more efficient than say, everyone shoving in a giant viper mating ball, but the lure of getting one up on the passenger whose turn they took is too great.

If you ride the bus out of Happy Valley, you have likely experienced trying to sit and finding a two person seat occupied by someone who is apparently in a coma, only capable of being awakened at the exact moment their stop comes up.

New Yorker columnist Jiayang Fan wrote a remarkable essay on Yan Lianke's satires of China, which addressed the concept of zhan pianyi, which translates to "occupy small advantages". Yan describes this legacy of communism as the compulsion for people to only be satisfied if they feel that they gained an unfair advantage. Apparently the act of preventing someone from exiting until you go first in their turn, or enjoying the extra bus seat while they have to stand, is intensely pleasurable to some people. It is more than just asserting yourself, which has to happen in big cities that practice a form of social Darwinism; in Hong Kong and China I am apparently living a Trumpian dystopia where the art of the deal is all that truly matters.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

down another rabbithole

Every so often I discover something new that takes up all of my attention, maybe to the point of obsession. Last year I became obsessed with tropical flowers and scents of my childhood, and spent months hunting down niche perfumes that were evocative of tropical scents. I finally found Les Nez' Manoumalia, a scent so powerful and literal that I would never subject any members of the public to its pungent exuberance, but it's something that I really enjoy dabbing onto my wrists when I'm stuck indoors in inclement weather. Why don't I wear it in public? Because it is not an easy scent and quite the opposite of the more subdued, unisex "skin scents" that I prefer. It leaves a trail that can compete with the sillage monsters of the 1980's (I'm looking at you, Drakkar and Poison); but it is not a "power fragrance" with all of its white flowers and strangely rotting, vegetal undertones. I both love and hate it, and thus it does not leave the home with me.

So my latest foray is into the world of fountain pens. As someone whose AP art portfolio consisted of ink drawings, and who ended up becoming an architect, this seems a natural progression. I have always been very particular about my pens. My office kit consists of several varieties of the Pigma Micron, Pilot and Pentel sign pens, and the Pentel Stylo. In fact, the Stylo is a disposable fountain pen. I dove into fountain pens for a reason not at all related to aesthetics: earlier this year SB and I did an audit over how to be better at environmental consciousness and eventually I reviewed that large number of pens that I go through on a monthly basis in the course of my work.

I am now in the middle of a full fledged pen and ink obsession, testing out colleagues' pens and I've already ordered several beautiful inks for the pen or pens that I don't yet own. I had a friend pick up some Robert Oster "Fire and Ice" ink when she was in Australia, and another from Maryland is bringing to me Organic Studio's "Walden Pond". Now I just need the vessel to set sail.


Monday, July 23, 2018

in which I rant about sporks

Yes, this is a blog post dedicated to ranting about the spork.

SB and I are soon to be embarking on some backwoods camping in the Adirondacks. Unlike our HK beach camping experience where we were a bit casual about provisions owing to a village within a 15 minute walk, this excursion requires proper planning. There is no village that will sell water, or rent out sleeping bags when we discover that our bones do not appreciate sleeping on the sand. I mean, even our dogs were trying to climb onto us for softer bedding than that packed sand that seemed so comfortable when we were not trying to sleep.

So I made lists and checked twice and then checked thrice. I love planning and entered into the backpacking provisional list with joy and military precision. We have sleeping bags and very comfortable, lightweight air beds. We have our trusty cookware and water filters. We have an ultralight tent, but one made for four people because we appreciate comfort and bringing our gear out of the probable rain over those 250 grams that we would have saved with a 2 person tent. I finally overcame my frugality and invested in some highly recommended, technical, ultralight outerwear. As a result, each of us will be carrying packs that come in under 6kg, including the pack base weights.

I didn't want to go truly ultralight because I appreciate my luxuries and comfort. However, I did not want to be slogging for several hours into the woods with an excessive burden, so I lost weight where I could and read through many, many ultralight packing lists. On a side note, there are a lot of backpackers who enjoy publishing their packing lists.

One thing that came up over and over again on the lists was a spork. Not only have backpacking suppliers found a way to make lighter, strong titanium cutlery, but they decided to save even more weight by combining everything into one utensil.



This is the most popular spork for backpackers, the Light My Fire Spork

Now, let the ranting begin:

  1. Ultralight backpacking has become an fixation, with many a trekker obsessed with reducing their overall weight by the gram to the point of obsession. I'm talking to you, camper who is slicing their toothbrush in half to save weight. I might forgive the people who are thru hiking the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest, or Continental Divide, which take months to complete, but for the average backpacker, this is crazy. The weight savings of combining your spoon, fork, and knife into one utensil simply cannot outweigh the costs in terms of utility.
  2. I have a plastic spork that came with my lunch kit. It sits at the bottom of my utensil drawer, where it will stay until I move. If you ever wanted a fork with such shallow tines that you can only use it to stab at carpaccio, but with the risk of the carpaccio sliding off onto your blouse, this is the utensil for you. If you ever wanted a spoon with pointy bits to stab the side of your mouth, this is right up your alley.
  3. And then there is the cutting edge. My spork does not have a cutting edge but the most popular spork does. So there you are, wanting to cut your food and thankfully you brought your spork. You start to saw away with the pathetic, serrated side when you realize that you need something to hold the food in place while you saw at it. If only you had something like a fork with you.
  4. Most sane backpackers bring a folding pocket knife. It is used for things such a cutting. Or stabbing the person who is offering you a spork.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

fit for posterity


I saved this screenshot of Fox News so that I can remember how they reacted differently than most of the rest of the world, including many Republicans, to Trump's boot licking of Putin.

Although it seems that a couple others are going to hell with their leader. Via Slate:

VP Pence offers a rose-colored view of Trump's Putin summit: "What the world saw, what the American people saw, is that President Donald Trump will always put the prosperity and security of America first."

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) who is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Cybersecurity Subcommittee, offered up this explanation: "Everything I’ve seen and all the facts are very clear: Russia did meddle in our election. That was very clear. So I think what actually happened, I think Mr. Putin just got out-Trumped by Trump. If Mr. Putin thinks he can tell a whopper, he’s not gonna be outdone by this president. And so if Mr. Putin is going to look at him and try to straight-faced tell him that they didn’t meddle, our president can look right back at him and tell just as big a whopper back to Putin as Putin told him." 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

vomit comet

While I was splashing about the reservoir with the dogs, SB was on a hydrofoil on his way to Macau with a large group of mostly Canadian hockey players, to celebrate the impending nuptials of the largest of the group, a 6'3" boulder of a man, and Happy Valley neighbor. According to his professional career stats, he shoots left, something that might be helpful if you run into him at your local and want to arm wrestle. SB reported that the seas were rough and that their group was surrounded by vomiting passengers, not an auspicious start to the festivities. The groom, a former Navy diver on top of his hockey creds, was reduced to sweats and shakes by the time they arrived. SB noted that an army of mop bearing cleaners invaded as soon as the doors opened.

The rest of the weekend went very well. SB didn't share all of the details because it would be unsporting, but the rain didn't present an issue at all once they were on land. They even managed time at the pool, albeit without much sunshine, but this might have been a boon for a group of people of the tundra. Now, because the other details of the weekend aren't forthcoming, I must surmise that they spent their time cloud-bathing and drinking clamato.

I imagine that the return trip will be even more exciting, with passengers not being in their best sea form.

Monday, July 9, 2018

never such a believer

On Saturday evening, SB and I attended a house party attended by a large number of Brits. You would have thought we were attending a funeral, so morose were the guests. While stating that they were going to cheer for England in the upcoming match against Sweden, they were the saddest, droopiest group of football fans that I've encountered since SB sulked his way through the Denver Broncos, his team, winning the Superbowl.

These ardent England fans reminded each other how the Three Lions hadn't won since 1966. They sang like a Greek chorus about the failed exploits of their football gods, struck down in their Olympian feats by equally Olympian tragic devices of hubris, injury, and women. Well, this time around Helios will have no objection to their success considering how humbly their supporters are showing their support. I half expect them to wear black and wail through the final should they reach it.