Monthly Archives: April 2012

Kissing Malfunctions

Two kisses? Or one?

This is the centre of my universe at the moment. As you would know, Hong Kong is a double kiss zone – one on each cheek – while in Australia; it’s strictly one kiss only. In some countries, three, others, none at all. It can be terribly confusing.

This is a serious issue. I was recently in Australia and went in for the double kiss with an old friend. Both totally unprepared for the different kiss cultures, we suffered the awkwardness of me moving in, and her moving on.

It’s an issue I would like to see standardized.  I accept that countries will drive on different sides of the road, and railways have different gauges, but kissing surely needs to be sorted out. It will be hard, I know. Take the metric system of units. The uniform version of this was first introduced in the 1960’s, however, there are still two countries refusing to budge and adopt it: Burma and the United States… go figure.

Kissing etiquette may encounter similar stoic refusal to bend. Perhaps it should be a popular vote, or should we just defer to the proclaimed experts, the French?  The world has never before, as far as I am aware, voted on a single global issue of such importance. This could be groundbreaking stuff. I am certainly not advocating a worldwide plebiscite, but the United Nations Security Council could certainly vote on our behalf. And if you think this issue is too frivolous for such an esteemed body, read on:

I refer now to 2006, when the UN Security Council voted on sending peace keeping troops to the Sudan, to stop the Sudanese government killing of civilians – with one proviso attached – the resolution needed to be approved by the same Sudanese government to take effect: Strangely, they did not approve…. So I think the Council has plenty of time to weigh up kissing.

If it does get sorted out, it naturally follows that peace will descend on the Middle East, in my mind, anyway. On being told at the 1993 Israeli/Palestinian peace deal he would have to shake renowned snog merchant Yasser Arafat’s hand, Yitzhak Rabin famously said that he would, “…but no kissing”. Maybe a peck on each cheek would have done them both some good. Come on UN!

Once kissing is fixed, then in Hong Kong, we can move onto more local issues such as the problem of commuters rushing onto the MTR train before passengers have had a chance to alight, and even the weighty issue of Chinese mainland tourists going to the beach; men dressed in suits, the women in high heels. These issues need to be addressed.

Imagine a world without kissing malfunctions, a world where you can get off a train, without being jostled by a 90 year-old lady trying to get on. Imagine a beach full of people in swimmers rather than evening wear. Too much, too soon?


Is Brown the New Green?

I saw a poster in the train station the other day, “Be green; switch off idling engine” Let me first state the obvious. I agree. Switching off idling engines is a marvelous idea. Now to the not so good bit, so listen up folks: Switching off an idling engine for a bit, doesn’t make you “green” it makes you less “brown” or whatever the logical opposite is.

Recently I was in Australia. On the TV, I saw a commercial for a well-known brand of fly-spray. The perfect lady in the perfect house with perfect kids had a terrible problem. Dirty flies were invading her perfect world and spreading yucky diseases. The solution? Fly-spray. Let me first stare the obvious: I agree. Flies are dirty and spread disease. My problem here is the perfect lady in the perfect house picked up a handy can of prominently displayed product and sprayed. Superimposed coming out of the can – was a multitude of green leaves that gracefully swept the flies away – as if fly-spray is some sort of natural greenie insect removing wonder. It’s not. It’s poison.

My third observation: At Hong Kong airport, there is an advertisement. As I made my way to immigration there it was, a big poster: Under a wondrously lush rainforest scene, it boldly demanded: “Save Brazil”. Intrigued, I stopped and read the little print below. Get this; it was sponsored by a Petroleum company. Let me first state the obvious: I agree. Save Brazil, whatever that means. But seriously, are they having me on? A Petroleum companies job is to dig, drill, scrape or gouge oil and its by-products from the earth, then turn it into a myriad of noxious chemicals. Useful? Sure, and maybe even necessary, but green, they are not.

Am I alone in my cynical view that Petroleum Company has any real interest apart from cynical PR spin, to “Save Brazil”?  Does a fly-spray company believe its product is similar in any way to leaves on a tree? Is it actually being ‘green’, occasionally turning off your carbon monoxide spluttering engine?

Here’s a weird idea: let’s call things for what they are. I’m not green if I turn off my idling engine; I’m just less of a polluter. PR and advertising companies (not you, Rick, lol) inundate us daily, trying to steer us into thinking or acting in a certain way. Watch any advertisement on TV or in magazines for petrol, and I guarantee it will contain images of lush green fields and will prominently use the word “clean”, over and over. They will be “striving for a cleaner future”, “making a cleaner product”, or happily telling you: “our petrol cleans your engine as you drive”, what they mean is: “All the gunk that your engine produces through the magic of internal combustion, will be liberally sprayed into the atmosphere for all to enjoy”.

Being green, means you own a fly swatter and walk to work. Personally, I’m not so green, but I try to be less ‘brown’. I do a fair bit of walking, but I also drive my car, catch taxi’s, spray flies, and perform any number of tasks that harm the environment. I want to teach my kids to live their lives being mindful of polluting, encouraging them to reduce their footprint on the world, responsibly – not pretending it’s green if you pollute just a little bit – because that line in the sand is way too easy to move.

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Loud Talkers

I have detected a curious obsession lately of loudly talking on the phone or to friends siting a foot away. I was in a coffee shop recently when two ladies decided to ring their friend. Not happy to pass the phone around, they put her on speaker, placed the phone in the middle of the table and had a three way phone party. This was all done at the decibel level of a flock of quite angry cockatoos. Another day saw me with little choice, but to closely follow a couple of business people talking loudly about their work in promotions; expertly trying to out do each other and impress the room, by casually dropping names, as if it made them significant that they knew famous people. Note to promotions people: Giving your seat on the bus to an old lady makes you important; meeting Nick Faldo does not.

The ultimate inappropriate public conversation is a Skype call happening as I write this. Two sisters are engaging in a transpacific moan about their mother – one because Mum won’t come and visit Asia, and the other, because Mum won’t go and visit Asia.

Since when did the public airing of dirty laundry become hip. Do people honestly think indirectly telling a room full of strangers their business is cool? Or are people just that unaware these days?

I have a theory that the more you have to tell people how valuable you are, the more likely it is you’re not.  If Sting walked into a local café, I am pretty sure he wouldn’t need to tell folks he’s a rock star (or rock god, according to a friend of mine).

Of course, this throws up another disturbing fact; that I spend way too much time in coffee shops, (or “the office” as I like to call them). Maybe I do, but as a writer, you have little choice as to where to ply your trade. Sitting cross-legged in Zara Men’s, with a laptop on your knee is both inappropriate and to be frank, a little weird. Come to think of it, just being in Zara Men’s at all is a little weird.

In any event, I try to behave appropriately. I neither talk loudly if I am on the phone (sometimes if an editor yells at me, I may cry a little) nor do I bellow at anyone sitting directly with me. It is all done in the reserved understated Hong Kong way. Just like if I am at, say, a rock concert. Polite clapping as the Rolling Stones launch into ‘Satisfaction’ – it’s the way it’s done here… hmmm, come to think of it, maybe we do need a little over the top Perhaps being reserved isn’t such a bright idea. I’ll ponder that some more, but right now, the sisters have an issue as to who comes to what country for Christmas. I think L.A. sister should come to Hong Kong, after all her kids are a bit older, and little Sally has never been overseas to visit Aunt Mary before. Sally’s dog Rex will be Ok – Mr. Samuels next door will happily look after him. Gee, I feel like part of the family.



Driving and Queuing

I am introducing a new driving code to Hong Kong.

Gone are the pushing, shoving and uncompromising practices of the past, replaced by a courteous and happy driving experience. As with the English language, there is always an exception to every rule. In my new driving code, mini-buses are the exempted entity from any display of civility. For those readers not from Hong Kong, the mini-bus is a 25 seat public bus, general menace, and apparently, self exempt from obeying any road rules. Sadly, they are just beyond redemption. I equate them to the driving version of a schoolyard bully and I will always take delight in getting in front of them, especially in heavy traffic, where they think they are invincible.

So notwithstanding this ‘exception’ I decided to change my driving habits the other day when I found myself using school boy geometry to calculate the angle needed to edge marginally in front of a taxi, thereby gaining one vital car length ahead in the traffic jam, but more importantly, getting the psychological advantage known as ‘I got in front of you, sucker’.

It’s the same for queuing. I will no longer stand so close to the person in front that it would be difficult to slide a sheet of paper between us. I will stand a reasonable length back, and might even politely welcome the 108 year old lady that sees the opening and squeezes herself in, except, of course, at the mini-bus stop. There, I will fight for my place. (While I hate mini-busses whilst driving, I hypocritically and happily use them for getting around.)

Both driving and queuing are peculiar idiosyncrasies of Hong Kong. This obsession with not letting traffic merge and trying to join a queue in the middle if there is the slightest gap is quite intriguing. Maybe it’s because Hong Kong is a polite and generally respectful place, it is unlikely you will ever witness road or line rage, certainly not physical violence; so do people take advantage of that?

Many years ago I lived in Johannesburg. At the time, pre 9/11, it was the most dangerous city to live in, outside a war zone. I can tell you, the drivers there were all extremely well mannered, and people merged graciously – drivers even occasionally waved you out at busy T intersections. Then again, the fact the other driver might have a semi-automatic assault rifle on his or her lap does give you plenty of reason not to upset them.

Now I certainly don’t advocate Hong Kong develops a gun culture to make the roads better, but just a wave every now and then would be nice.  Let the old person squeeze in front of you as the MTR train pulls in, and stand back to let people out. You will be the only one, and you might even miss it and have to wait 2 minutes for the next one, but you will be the moral victor.

And finally: next time you see a person running for the elevator you’re already in, don’t madly press the close button – hold the doors open for them. If nothing else, you will enjoy the look of shock as they suspiciously get in.


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