Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Fighting for Fragrant Harbour

I went through some old photos a few days past and saw one picture in particular that made me reminisce a past I didn’t know I had. It was picture of my father standing in front of an old sign that had been there before he was born. It reminded me of my origin and my father’s, and his father before him, 花園街 (Fa Yuen St)  was home to our family. It was a slice of HK which our family had occupied for over half a century. My father was born in an apartment right on that street just next to the billboard sign towering over the pedestrian walk. 八珍甜醋 (Pat Chun) was a company started in 花園街 over 70 years ago by a man named 伍森 (Sam Ng). The same sign stood when my grandfather would come back from work everyday dirt poor, to the day he came home with his first fortune, the same sign that my father saw everyday coming back from school, to the day he brought me back home for the first time.

I passed by a convenience store in 旺角 (Mong Kok) a year or so ago with my dad. I distinctly remember that afternoon. I was supposed to meet up with my friends Enoch and Jacky. The clerk yelled. "成哥!" he was looking at me but was referring to my dad's name. He was the son of the the owner of the store when my father was just a boy. My dad bearably recognized this man, they were of similar age though. They made small talks, and apparently he'd inherited the custodianship from his father and he plans to leave it for his kids. He had recognized my father and I walk by. That somehow this man whom I don’t know was able to pick my dad and I out from the crowd in a 17 year gap and he felt like a friend to me just sounds bizarre. Some exchanges later, it left us with a warm feeling we could almost taste. Maybe that’s what 人情味 tastes like.

That was the summer of 2013, a week ago we see this man and other people whom my dad and grandparents recognize on TV here in Vancouver. They were reporting about the HK pro-democracy protests and how the occupy situation affected local businesses in MK. They couldn’t care about the cause at all. All they wanted was for things to go back to normal. If there’s a fight worth fighting then who I am I to stop anyone, and of course there’s no change without some sacrifices. I am talking about the pro-democracy protests happening right now in Hong Kong. There is a politically fueled war on ideals and governance with no clear rights and wrongs, some may argue otherwise. The government abuses the guise of lawful authority to sunder the movement, others call this oppression and the truth is only time will tell the difference, but for now, the people do battle on the streets and the people of Hong Kong are paying and sacrificing for both sides and for both causes.

There is no distinction between the factions as far who’s paying for it. This isn’t a civil war, there’s no north and no south this time. The people of Hong Kong are paying government taxes to oppress them on the very same streets that the demonstrators are locking down. The same streets that people live during the day and destroy at night. This conflict is fundamentally divisive at the local level. It’s stratifying the society making people turn on each other. Maybe the plan is to make people so fed up with the protests, they becoming protesters themselves. Hatred breeding more hatred maybe? I don't know if that’s happening, or if people are just ignoring it and moving on. The latter is my guess.

No matter the outcome and resolution, the government must share this blame, if not be completely responsible for it. They are the authority tasked with competent governance. They have clearly failed at that task, they have allowed these battles to rage on the streets of Hong Kong, uncontrolled and unresolved, and they have failed the best interest of the people they were supposed to serve and let these conflicts damage the livelihood and overall economy of HK. Forget about maintaining the public trust, that dream was shattered long ago and it was inaction that shattered it. It’s not an opinion or me justifying the pro-democracy protests, it’s an opinion on a stale and incompetent organization still pretending everything is okay. There is no doubt the causes for these rally is a politically motivated attempt on loosening the grasp of the Chinese Communist Party hold on HK autonomy. That's a different can of worms requiring greater considerations beyond just the law in HK and is entirely political. Governance and politics are not the same thing, at least not in theory. These protests exposed real problems in effects of governance and their failure to respond proportionally. It makes me sad these peaceful protests derailed into something as disruptive as they are. Maybe every great battle deserves its glory and sacrifices, but are we all ready to pay that price, are we ready to turn on each other? Where is the 人情味 in that?

If you're interested to know more. Wikipedia is an excellent resource which could be accessed here.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

This Christmas in Paris Style

It’s my favourite time of the year again. For me, December is the warmest time of the year, not on the outside, but inside. I like it because it’s a time where we can do nice things for the people we love and care for no other reason than simply because we love and care for them. So first and foremost, I would like to wish all my friends and family members a merry Christmas and to share this time with the ones you love on this very special time of the year. I don’t know, maybe do something nice for them. I will now share the last part of my trip with you. It’s Paris - The city of love. (I know this is long, but if you have to skip, jump to the last paragraph)

I was really excited for Paris. After All, I’ve heard so much about the city, how it’s like the city of lights, love, romance, and a bunch of other descriptors, but above all I was excited because it was the first city where I will have some ability to communicate with people. I couldn't wait to show off my standard government issue French in high school, of which Ms. Zallen gave me a pity B 73% for my enthusiasm about the language. I am not going to lie, most of that energy came from the wrong place. From my sarcastic attempt to make fun of the language, but in doing so I learnt some, even if it was at a superficial level. Though I was never able to really to string together a sentence, I was able to say the words believably enough.

So we landed and I am reading the signs and I am understanding them perfectly. “Bagages, Taxi, Sortie...” I thought Paris was going to be a cakewalk. As soon as we got into the taxi, we had a problem. The driver didn’t understand where we wanted to go. I knew what the problem was though, the driver didn’t speak very good french, and I didn’t speak French at all it turns out. Because we all know you have to be a minority to drive a taxi at a major city. But it was ok, I saved the address on Google maps and even the map itself on my phone.

Paris is cool. It’s Louis Vuitton on a city scale. It’s glamorous and some parts of the city felt very grandeur. It really was a city that delivers what it promises on the brochure, and looks the way it does like in the magazines too. With 12 million people, you’d expect the streets to be packed, but surprisingly it is not. Unless you’re walking on Champs-Élysées, the most famous street in France. That’s because the city limit is huge, 17,000km2. Compared with New York city, 19 million people living at a space of 10,000km2. Yeah NYC is packed, Paris is not, and the streets... look surprisingly drivable.

The city was definitely very alive and I think I know why Paris is called the city of lights and the city of love. The lights part is pretty self explanatory, the place was bright... like all the time. That’s just the result of a big city in my opinion, it’s not like there’s a choreographed light show going on every night or anything like that. Though it would be a damned great idea, if they can afford it. Paris is the city of love because Parisians invented a lifestyle where they budget time out of their days, weeks, months, and years, and dedicate that time to leisure. Somehow that’s ok in Paris, it’s even valued, like “Oh you found time to just sit here and stare at the river at 2 o’clock on a Monday, damn... you must be very successful, you probably run your own business.” Take another one. “Those guy’s aren’t ordering wine or liquor with their lunch, they must be planning to rob a bank later, they’re up to no good.” The Parisian mentality is just a little different because everyday is Christmas day. Work is always a part-time affair, it should be balanced with a lifestyle. The great Parisians are able to incorporate work into their leisure time. Hence, the fashion industry is very popular in Paris. Paris is not just a city of love, it’s a city of lifestyles, love is just the most expressive form of that lifestyle. Still I can’t help but think that my Paris trip was a little bit of a missed opportunity on my part. I think Paris is best experienced with a romantic companion because everyone’s stress level is so low. You feel like you have an extra hour to spend in your day. Eventually everyone is more passionate and more expressive because that’s what’s normal in Paris. Which brings me full circle back to the holidays and what it’s about. Christmas is like a mini-vacation except you have to go nowhere to experience it. Just like in Paris, everyone’s attitude is different for a while, there’s love in the air. Take this chance, which comes only once a year, and be a Parisian for the holidays. Spread the love, show your care and they will greet you back and you will be loved. Merry Christmas and happy holidays.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Ugly - Scenario B

Scenario B
If you opt for public transportation, the metro subway provides quick and efficient locomotive around the city that also has a diverse selection of thieves and picks pockets of various ranges of expertise. Oh! and you better have exact change for your fare, or else someone will run to your rescue and break your 5 or 10 or whatever for a nominal charge of 1-2 Euros at your distress when you realize that breaking a five means getting 3 bucks back.
Your fare costs about 2 Euros. Why don't you just feed your bills to the machine, it's 2012! That's because the machines will always reject your bills, and they know that. Which is ok because you'll lose your wallet later to a pickpocket. Great... Now you’re broke and and without identification because you took the subway. So you decide to report that to the police. Only to realize that you’re not the only one who's had that happened to them today, because half the city is there queuing... in front of you.

Scenario C
Mr/Ms. Imaginary does not exist and there is no scenario C.

I would also like to clarify that scenario A and B are not mutually exclusive to each other, but in fact quite likely that Mr/Ms. Imaginary has had to experience both.There is simply no way of avoiding contact with the dishonest once in the city. Thus, making honesty and chivalry a virtue that is truly valued and appreciated in Rome. Rome is not only a city of arts and history; it is also an open university for the modern world, an urban world. It is a symposium of modern city living etiquette.

This is by no means a holistic representation of Italians in general. Like many major cities in the world, there are various levels of crime. I am strictly speaking about the petty crimes in Rome. However, the sense of danger in Rome, not of violent crimes, but of scams, are persistent to tourists. Keep your valuables close!

The Ugly - Scenario A

No surprises here, thieves and scammers rule the streets of Rome. To be fair they trouble only areas where tourists frequent. One does not shit where he/she sleeps, no? They are what taint the image of Rome, and the Italian people as a whole really. The locals despise them and don’t see them as one their own, which was previously mentioned and thus why they often seem more supportive to tourists because they understand what you’re going through. Here are two fictional scenarios of Mr/Ms. Imaginary:

Scenario A
As you arrive at (FCO) the da Vinci airport in Rome, as many would, and you first walk the streets of Rome, looking like a tourist with all with your bags and stuff, which is the biggest give away. Then you would be immediately greeted with solicitations of overpriced tours and phone plans that do not work. How do you it’s overpriced and the phone plans don’t work? Well because there's another guy who tried selling the same tour to you for half that price and the phone plans don’t have an advertised carrier. So you successfully hunted down a taxi to find that it is the taxi who has successfully hunted you down as you begin to suspect that the taxi has rigged meters or have a different interpretation of the metric system, the situation is likely both. By the time you arrive at your pre-negotiated location you discover there is an imaginary fee of the driver's like and that there is apparently a 10% tax on top. In the end, your trip costs 103 Euros.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Bad

The modern Rome that you’ll come into contact first, is run by Italians, it is the Italian capital and the most populous city in the country. Hence, it also reflects all the problems of the country. The economic slow down, the constant influx of unaccounted and sometimes illegal migrants and workers, and believe it or not the trouble of maintaining service standard is difficult in Rome. A wise man on the internet simply put in elegant words: The rent is just too damn high! This level of decentralization leaves the Roman people stranded and has to fend for themselves, hence the segregation within the city. The challenges in the modern world has never been more tested than present. EU as a coalition, as a concept, as an international organization is being put to the test as we now wait and see if it’s all for one, or one for all. ;) The put it more in a polite term, the modern Romans are a practical people, but realistically speaking, the Romans are not an easily trusting group of people. They let their guards down with tourists though, a more docile and naïve group of people who reminds them of who we all once were.

Now I’d hate to end on a sad note. So I’ll include something that I’d left out in The Good, which is the people. Your typical Italian is full of passion. They love visitors and they just seem to have this energy to do things. All things... smart things... stupid things... and all the things in-between. Whereas when compared to North Americans, we look like a bunch of pansies. Well... compared with me, I look like a pansy. They can out drink, out party, out rowdy, and out woo anyone. The influence of Casanova (an Italian) is strong in Italian culture. Every hour is happy hour, and with espresso this good, there is no reason not to. You only live once: that’s the motto.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Good

Rome is an absolutely beautiful city with architectural designs that are nowhere to be found in the modern era. The buildings exuberates a level of attention to detail like no other modern design. The city is simply an extravagant display of human ingenuity and accomplishment in the arts. The most appropriate way to describe Rome, and Milan as well is to compare it with time travel. This is about as close as it gets to being thrown back into the Renaissance. Rome is also a city of history. The city was found by two boys who were raised by a mystical wolf, which dates back to the 700s BC Era. I shit you not. It is a story of empires and glory, a child’s fantasy come to life and more. A tale of the rise and fall of Empires and civilization. You won’t be reading it here first, but the city is a very accurate depiction of ancient, Renaissance, and modern Rome. There are three very different faces of the city, which together forms Rome. Words don’t do the look of the city justice and I would rather not start. Otherwise I would be here for days.

Also did I mention the food? It’s spectacularly good. The restaurant scene isn’t dominated by franchise chains with generic formula. There is a good and a not so good aspect to this. The good thing about this is that because restaurant tend to be a family run business. You can often find great food at low prices if you know where to look. There are hidden gems all over Rome. A very runned down restaurant can often turn out to have spectacular food. The bad? Well... it’s either a hit or miss most of the time unless you revisit the same restaurant over and over again. Now I am not a connoisseur or Michelin guide reviewer by any extent, but the Italian culinary formula works and they know it too. So do yourself a favour next time you visit Rome, skip the McDonald’s and Starbucks and opt for something more local, even if it looks daunting at first.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Life's Too Short

Today is the fourth day of our stay in Rome and I write this summary with mixed feelings about the city. There is the good the bad and the ugly. What I said about not being able to immerse yourself into the culture of your touring city remains very true in Italy. Perhaps more so in Italy, segregation between tourist and the local does just stop at the cultural and ethnicity level. Segregation in Italy transcends into socioeconomic realm. Which is sort of like a nice way to say that there are a lot of disenfranchised members of society. Which, in turn is another way of saying there’s tons beggars and sketchy people in walking around in Rome. It’s not the nicest thing to say as a first comment, but it is a stark image that is worthy of mention as it occurred to me when I first set foot in Rome. The separation is clear, so much so that the locals treat them like foreigners, these “city dwellers”. Then what happens is that tourists suddenly become the makeshift class of its own in tourist cities such as Rome and Milan. You probably have more in common with the regular Italian than they do with the local lower class, even if you speak a different language or look completely different.

The modern Romans are a diverse people; it is a dynamic city with high volumes of demographic influx. Making matters more complicated is the fact that Rome is a one of Europe’s most visited cities. Making it harder to tell who’s from here and who’s not. Not that it’s important at all, but people there lose track and simply can’t keep track of people coming in and out. The bustling and hustling of the city is the way of life in Rome. Out of all this confusion, Romans are incredibly nice and, with a lack of a better term, understood the idea of YOLO very well. Sometimes too well.