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Archive for September, 2006

What’s going on at the SCMP? Lately, I have spotted more typos and errors than usual. But while those kind of mistakes are forgivable and usually forgettable, I can’t forgive the editors for the headlines I have been reading lately.

In Friday’s paper (Sept 29) the story on yet another senior official in Shanghai being implicated in the recent corruption scandal, had a headline that read: Shanghai Scandal Claims One More Scalp.

Sorry, what? Scalp? Before I go any further, let me assure you that, as a Canadian, I am well aware of what a scalp or scalping means. Scalping (the act of removing the scalp, usually with the hair, as a portable proof or trophy of prowess in war) is mostly associated with Native Americans and the battles fought between them and white settlers in North America.

Although the practice has been traced back to China, the term is generally one most associated with cowboys and Indians (excuse the use of non-politically correct terminology here).
While I understand the reference, I thought the imagery seemed completely inappropriate when referring to Chinese politics; especially in a headline on the front page. I had to wonder as to whether readers with English as a second language would understand the connotation. In my opinion the term was too informal and of a vernacular too specific to North American culture.

Moving along, in today’s paper, I spotted another beauty that made me pause in wonder, but for different reasons.

On the front page of the Life section, topping a feature on snake charming in Thailand, was a headline that read: Fangs for the Memories.

Sorry, that is just lame.

OK, while I’m complaining, I’ll add another. This isn’t about another headline horror, but a glaring error. In a feature story that made the case for the Hong Kong Arts Festival feeling threatened by a newer, edgier New Vision Arts Festival, the following was written:

“Their (the HKArts Festival staffers) fears seems unwarranted when 90,000 tickets — 80% of seats have already been sold for next year’s event.”

80%? This is quite a claim, and is used as proof of the festival’s success. Yet tickets for next year’s festival have not even gone on sale yet, a fact the HK Arts Festival office verified for me this morning when I called them.

When I asked the Features Editor, how the writer could have made such a big mistake that would, no doubt, flood the HKAF office with panicked phone calls from anxious patrons who were waiting patiently for the box office to open next month, she advised me that the error was the fault of the editor.
OK, maybe I’m being a bit picky, but between the bad headlines and the typos, I have to think that recent cut-backs and staff shuffling have taken its toll.

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Today the HK Observatory again did what they do best: they screwed up. I knew the weather warranted a Signal 3, and a red red rainstorm warning at exactly 7:50am. I knew this because I could barely see through the windshield of my car as I drove my kids to school. The roadsides were flooded.

At about 11am, the HK Observatory finally upped the warnings from T1 to a T3 and red rain warning. Of course, now the parents of 900 children at my kids’ school will be driving down to the school (where there is no area for pick-ups) causing complete traffic chaos.

I was in HK in August when the ‘signal 3’ closed the airport, destroyed 800 trees and shattered windows in office blocks and buses. I thought, after the surge of criticism the observatory earned from that under-estimation, they would, in future, err on the side of caution. But judging by today’s announcements, I guess not.

The observatory always claims they make announcements based on readings from their various stations. But anyone with a window could have called this one this morning.

Weather plays a big role in HK. Isn’t it time the observatory review its procedures to avoid the chaos caused by people being forced to commute during dangerous conditions?

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Since finishing my master’s degree, I have been on the job hunt. And although my degree has opened a lot of doors, it has done little in the way of getting me an increase in salary over my pre-degree jobs.

In the last couple of months, I have applied for 6 jobs. Out of those six, 4 turned into offers, all of which I turned down.

My first offer was for a full-time job heading the proofreading department of a European publisher. I would oversee the proofreading and copy-editing of not one, not two, but 17 magazines — all on the same production schedule and all with their own style sheets. That adds up to lots of overtime and red eyes. After some negotiating, I finally got them up to $30K (HK) a month. But then I realised I would be getting no more pay than I did as editor of The Parents’ Journal. I promptly turned it down.

Offer 2 and 3 met the same fate. But offer 4 was the most extraordinary. A small, but trendy magazine was looking for a new editor. I called the company, which is a big publisher in HK, and had a chat with the managing editor. We hit it off right away and he made it clear that I was just what he was looking for.

I went down to the office which was full of underpaid 20 year olds working on various magazines published by the same company. He said he was looking for someone with experience to take over this particular magazine. “The editor of this magazine is the hardest working person here,” he said.

He asked me to discuss ways in which I would improve the magazine. But I’ve been in this situation before: I give them all these great ideas, they offer me crap money, I walk away and they find someone else who, then in turn, puts my ideas into action.

So I said: “Look let’s not waste each other’s time here. We can chat for an hour, you love me, I love you, but then we talk about money and it’s all over. So let’s start there. What’s the salary?”

“Fifteen thousand,” he said (and I swear he had a straight face).

I was tempted to say “a week?” but caught myself in time.

Instead I stood up, held out my hand and said “nice meeting you,” and walked out.

Now according to this guy, this company makes money on all of its magazines — a claim few publishers can make. Well, now I know how: they hire kids who are willing to work for experience rather than money, and squeeze the rest of the staff of a decent wage.

That was a month ago, I felt rather smug when I saw the job still being advertised recently. It seems no one else is willing to work like a dog for scraps either.

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Now that the moving of the Star Ferry is a done deal, I swore I wouldn’t make anystar ferry comments on it. But in the lead-up to the opening of the new Star Ferry, the press (at least in English) has been criticising the move and predicting the decline of one of Hong Kong’s most loved means of transportation.

Now I don’t disagree with these opinions: the new building is not only a hideous eyesore that looks like a set for a children’s show, and the new location will put off the majority of Hong Kong’s fickle commuters — it’s the timing I have a problem with: I don’t remember this level of media scrutiny at the time the decision to move the Star Ferry was being made.

new star ferry pierHong Kong has some examples of great architecture. I can’t understand how the decision to re-create an Edwardian-style building could have been made without the commitment to follow it through down to the details. It looks like a cheap copy.

In my opinion, if they wanted to go with a period piece, they should have done it 100%, or else have departed from the past and created a symbol more reflective of our times.

Either way, it won’t matter. The new pier will become a tourist attraction as locals will no doubt abandon the ferry for the MTR. With the amount of harbour reclamation going on, the waters will only get too rough to enjoy the ride anyway.

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Today, Neil and I had to head over to Soho to visit our tenant and check out a problem in the flat. Two-thirds of our offspring are now at an age where they can be left at home, with a chain of command decided by age, so we told them we’d be back in about an hour.

After poking around with the plumbing in the flat we paused on the quiet terrace street in front of the building and thought “wouldn’t it be nice to have breakfast in Soho?” We walked down to Peel Street to the Brunch Club — a restaurant we had passed on other occasions but never tried.

It was 11am and we were amazed to score a table right away. I guess Soho-types don’t emerge from their flats before noon. The restaurant has a friendly, casual atmosphere with white sofas, piles of magazines (for sale and browsing) and an outdoor terrace.

I felt slightly guilty ordering breakfast when my last words to my own hungry children as I exited the flat were: “Fend for yourselves!” But I overcame it and ordered the eggs benedict with smoked salmon.

The food was OK. One of my eggs was perfectly poached, the other overdone. The hashbrowns were not cooked properly at all — some were still raw. But I can still see coming back for another visit.
Not many restaurants in Hong Kong feel like neighbourhood hangouts, but this one does. The crowd was a mix of expats and locals, mainly couples, all adhering to a similar dress code: girls in summer skirts and tank tops, guys in baggy surf shorts and flip flops. We couldn’t help but notice how many of them knew each other, there was a fair amount of socialising. Like I said, it was a friendly place to hang out.

I couldn’t help but laugh when Neil said that this would be the kind of place we would eat at if we were still single with no kids. I laughed. “But we are eating here,” I said. And at that moment we realised that our family had reached a level of independence where we could do all the things we used to do before we had kids, just maybe not as often.

The Brunch Club No. 70 Peel Street, Central. Open everyday 8am-midnight. tel: 2526 8861

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bel airLast night, Neil (aka ‘spouse) and I went down to Bel Air (phase 3) to visit our friends who have, in recent months, done two things which top the list of ‘lifestyle-altering events’: they bought a flat and had a baby.
Bel Air reminds me somewhat of the Land of Mordor from Lord of the Rings. Getting there is a piece of cake — just like Sam and Frodo, you can see the enormous towers for miles in either direction. It’s getting in that presents the biggest challenge.

If you happen to want to visit, my advice to you is do not drive. The parking lot decends to depths rarely known to man — who knows what kind of evil lurks so deep in the ground. If we had encountered a giant spider’s lair, I would hardly have been surprised.

Once parked you are then faced with surfacing. The lifts that immediately appear to be your best bet, are accessed only through a secret code. Try in vain to call your friends for help, there is no phone reception in hell. I’m still not sure the ‘correct’ procedures from getting from parkade to podium. For this reason, (and the still-vivid recollections of our past, failed attempts), we decided to take a taxi last night instead.

However, even though we bypassed the parking-lot trap, in the lobby we were faced with our final opponent: the computerised lift. Push the buttons too fast, she rejects you; too slow, she ignores you. I’m convinced the lift has taken a life of its own, much like HAL from 2001:Space Odyssey. I swear it assesses your suitability for visiting Bel Air, then treats you accordingly. Next time I visit, I half expect a suspiciously mellow voice to say: “22nd floor? Are you sure you want to visit them? After all, they had a dinner party last night and didn’t invite you. Why not go home where you’re more welcome.”

Despite the user-unfriendliness of the perimeter, once in, I have to say the flats are very appealing. I was so seduced by the top-of-the-line kitchen appliances, I could almost trade in my love of colonial charm for the sheer-newness factor. But on second thought, maybe not.

Our quest was to see the baby, and that’s what we did, basking in her aura as she slept in our arms. It’s magical holding a little baby, their little hands, their smell. The new-ness of them is so compelling, I could almost trade in the independence of our family unit for a chance to have a baby once again in our home. But on second thought, maybe not.

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My daughter (10) came home from school last week with a letter about their Year 6 camp on Lantau Island. School camp is a great event, I still remember my school camp: campfires, jumping in lakes, sleeping bags. For us Canadians, camping is sacrosanct: a means of character-building.

Apparently in HK, camping means something else entirely. The camp letter assures us our daughter will be well taken care of — not to worry. The 5-star hotel she will be staying in has every amenity she could possibly want, including an indoor pool complete with slide.

I guess being a child in Hong Kong means learning a different set of survival skills: will she be able to work the hotel room remote to find Cartoon Network? Will she be able to resist the temptation of the mini-bar snacks? Can she learn to be environmentally aware by putting her non-dirty towels back on the rack?

Of course, we parents will consider the $1800(HK) cost (for 4 nights) well worth it when we see how much she’s learned during our next 5-star resort holiday.

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