Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Pain in the Ass

Trained as a journalist, I feel guilty to say that reading the news these days has become a pain in the ass. Seriously, it now takes quite some determination to switch on the television or pick up a newspaper.

This is all because the local news agenda has never seemed so hopelessly boring and tedious. So many seem to be happening, but little progress has been visible.

Much of the media attention has been focusing on the potential candidates at the next chief executive elections, for example. No doubt this is big news for Hong Kong, although only 0.1 per cent of us would have the privilege to "determine" who is going to succeed Sir Donald. Convenor of the Executive Council Leung Chun-ying has just tendered his resignation but it still remains unclear when he would formally leave his office. Chief Secretary for Administration Henry Tang manages to maintain his posture despite all the rumours and speculations. But it seems only God knows whether or not he would become another candidate for the helm of Hong Kong.

It is unbearably boring because so many guessing games have been going on for weeks and months and even years and the answer remains so remote and unreachable. It feels like watching a soap opera that has been dragging on and on for ages and no one can tell precisely who the leading players are and the cameos. The audience's patience and tolerance have been repeatedly put to test, but there is little, if any, escape. Essentially there is no such thing as a plot, although everyone knows that someone behind the scenes are masterminding the show. But this time it seems even those "invisible hands" are also confused and perplexed, not knowing exactly what to do with the available options. In turn, the absence of any direction only fuels the boiling speculations that only end up with nothing.

Be it political, economic, social or even showbiz news, it is incredibly tedious also because news stories these days are filled with endless chains of responses to responses to the most trivial stuff. Few can have a grasp of what is going on by reading the newspaper or watching television nowadays because too often everyone seems to lose sight of what the real issue is. To begin with, journalists are simply too obsessed to seek diverse views - an extremely misled but prevalent definition of balanced reporting. Constructive debates and contemplation with reason are replaced by wars of words fought in front of the camera. Everyone is so obsessed with the ability to grab a share of media exposure as if it were the ultimate end, not means of communication. No one seems to bother to pause for a second to think, let alone attempting to clarify, what the matter is all about. This is why the news pages are flooded with comments of relevant - and quite often irrelevant - parties on someone else's sound-bites - rather than the key issue - that mean anything but meaningful. Air time and columns are filled with the same opposing views by the same rivals from the same political camps and interest groups. Op-ed pages in the press are dominated by well-established names, although the quality of their content is not necessarily commensurate. Simply put, the journalists are abandoning their moral duty of being the gatekeeper. Instead, they are running after those who are feeding the advertisers to pay their bills, in the glorious name of market orientation.

So if all these do not cause inertia and sickness of news, what else does?

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

練跑記

這兩個月下來,一縷心魂牢牢繫在公主殿下身上,有意無意之間,腦海中不是鳳影翩翩,就是鶯聲嚦嚦,想擺脫也無從說起。

猶記得殿下諄諄囑咐:「要注意飲食,不要太長胖了。」鳳臺有命,焉敢不從?何況自己的小肚子實在漸成尾大不掉之勢,於是在練拳、做gym之外,打起精神練跑,一星期兩至三次,每次至少跑半小時。同時飯量減半,盡量少吃碳水化合物,連啤酒也差不多戒掉了--這一個月只喝了一杯。沒想到這一次功效顯著,四星期下來已輕了五磅,小肚子終於像股市一樣停止膨脹,掉頭向下。褲頭不再勒緊,也不用挺胸收腹裝腔作勢,彷彿走路的步履也輕盈起來。我不知道若是堅持到年底,能否減掉十多年來累積的二十磅贅肉;即使不能,這仍不失為難得一見的個人成就。

其實這幾年一直也有緩步跑的習慣,一星期大約跑一兩次,不過因為沒有練習目標,跑來跑去只能維持半小時,雙腿已經累到不行。最近買到了公主殿下多年前在電視上義演折子戲的DVD,裡面附送的原裝錄音可以轉錄到iPod上,真是功德一件,值得一讚。只是沒想到聽著殿下的歌聲練跑,居然如有神助;未到第三個星期,已可以連續慢跑一小時,大約就是兩段《牡丹亭驚夢》折子戲的長度。下一個短期目標,就是逐步遞增,從〈相遇〉、〈亭會〉到〈折梅巧遇〉,漸漸練到慢跑一個半小時。

這次練跑成功,也要感謝網友muifans的鼓勵和提點。顧名思義,他也是殿下的鐵桿粉絲,資歷卻比我深厚得多。若不是他提醒有關跑鞋的問題,可能我的左膝仍會繼續投訴,直至壯烈犧牲。於是星期六給自己買了一對新跑鞋作獎勵,今晚試跑,甚是舒服,左膝、左腳都不痛了,感覺很好。他又鼓勵我參加十一月底十公里的慈善賽跑,希望到時能夠在指定時間內完成比賽,再創一項個人紀錄吧。

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Next Steps

Nearly four months have passed since I re-started working after completing a year of historical study. As I settle in, I can't help contemplating what the next steps should be.

For many years there has always been a long list of plans and projects in my mind, although very few of them, unfortunately, could ever become reality. Long-term priorities are yet on another list of the must-dos.

Despite all the setbacks, challenges and frustrations over the past few years, at least there is one thing for which I should be grateful - alarming signals reminding me to re-evaluate and re-define what my priorities should be. I am even more grateful that I had an opportunity to take a meaningful and rewarding break, during which I could sort out my thoughts and get better prepared for the days and years ahead.

Although the workload during the peak season in the next couple of weeks and months remains uncertain, it seems more manageable than what I used to have. If this were truly how things turn out, then it should not be too much of aggression to pursue the next goal on the priority list. When it comes to a commitment of six to eight years in a row, however, I still think I'm not confident and resolute enough to say yes at this point of time. For some reason I have very little confidence in my preparations so far. Despite all the time and effort spent on the research, I have absolutely no idea whether my proposal is going to sell. Worse still, I have yet to figure out how it can be improved. Perhaps I just need to be a bit more patient to see what is going to happen in the next couple of weeks and months before making up my mind. Perhaps all I need, after all, is just an irresistible trigger just like what I had two years ago.

But most recently there emerges another warning from within. Over the past few days I found myself extremely tired and therefore hard to concentrate, as if the brain has gone on strike. No matter how much or how little I slept, I still felt far from being fully recovered. I'm not sure if it happens because I have driven myself a bit too hard in jogging over the past three weeks. I'm not sure either if it has anything to do with other hidden causes. Physical fitness and mental power are now very important to me, not just for my overall well-being but also determinant to whether the next goal could ever be accomplished. At the same time, I must admit that I do enjoy the recent carefree status. Spending time on no-brainers such as working out, going to the cinema, meeting friends and even blogging at home is genuinely soothing and comforting. It seems questionable whether I'm now physically and mentally fit enough to take up the next challenge that is going to drag on for six to eight years.

This is how I get stuck between the long-standing desire of achieving something and the immediate advantage of having a more relaxed and balanced life.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Ten Years on…

Tomorrow marks the tenth anniversary of the terror of 11 September 2001.

This day ten years ago, thousands of lives were brutally put to an end. Millions around the world witnessed the collapse of the twin towers of World Trade Centre in New York. Everyone was shocked.

I still remember how I was overwhelmed by anxiety and astonishment when I watched the news live on television returning home from the evening class. I thought sooner or later someone would declare war on someone else that might plunge the world into another catastrophe comparable to the Third World War. Thank God that my worry did not come true. But its aftermath lingers on, overshadowing not only the United States but the rest of the world.

The consequences of 11 September are much more intense and far-reaching than anyone might have originally expected. They are by no means confined to politics either. As Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz has convincingly argued earlier this month (thanks Chris for introducing me to his article), "President George W. Bush's response to the attacks compromised America's basic principles, undermined its economy, and weakened its security." Worse still, the rest of the world seems to have no escape from the spill-over effect of the American blunders.

According to Dr Stiglitz, the global financial tsunami that erupted in 2008 could have been attributed, at least indirectly, to the disastrous decision to wage costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in the name of anti-terrorism: "The wars contributed to America's macroeconomic weaknesses, which exacerbated its deficits and debt burden. Then, as now, disruption in the Middle East led to higher oil prices, forcing Americans to spend money on oil imports that they otherwise could have spent buying goods produced in the US.

"But then the US Federal Reserve hid these weaknesses by engineering a housing bubble that led to a consumption boom. It will take years to overcome the excessive indebtedness and real-estate overhang that resulted."

Essentially, all of us living in this world have to pay a price for the aftermath of 11 September, in one way or another, more or less.

Today Pope Benedict XVI has also published a letter to the Archbishop of New York, expressing his condolence and prayers for the victims. What seems more interesting is that there are signs of his disapproval of the anti-terrorist endeavours of the United States between the lines, "The tragedy of that day is compounded by the perpetrators' claim to be acting in God's name. Once again, it must be unequivocally stated that no circumstances can ever justify acts of terrorism. Every human life is precious in God's sight and no effort should be spared in the attempt to promote throughout the world a genuine respect for the inalienable rights and dignity of individuals and peoples everywhere."

Notwithstanding the bloody history of the Crusades and countless violent clashes between some Christians and Muslims over the past millennium, the Pope's words are by all means comforting and inspiring. Monotheism in the twenty-first century, I believe, must cease to insist on absolutism but show more respect and tolerance for diversity, a reality that has existed as long as human history anyway. High-sounding and even unrealistic it may seem for sceptics, the Pope's emphasis on universal love and respect, I'm convinced, remains the ultimate prescription to all conflicts and hostilities.

Speaking in cultural terms, perhaps this is also why East Asian philosophies such as Daoism and Buddhism have gained increasing favour among Westerners in recent years. Both Daoism and Buddhism, as far as I know, tend to emphasise more on recurrence, relativity and universal equity. Unlike monotheism that promotes unquestionable loyalty to one single authority, Daoism and Buddhism help promote greater respect and tolerance for difference and deviation as an undeniable and unchangeable fact of existence. In an increasingly sophisticated world where people of various cultures and backgrounds run into each other more frequently and inevitably, mutual respect and tolerance are simply indispensable.

Perhaps this should be the best moral lesson to be learnt from the 11 September tragedy.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Why Why Tell Me Why

Readers of this blog might wonder why I haven't commented on what happened at the University of Hong Kong on 18 August. I haven't because, as you can see from the previous posts, I was privileged enough to be distracted to something much more pleasant and rewarding over the past two weeks. This is especially soothing in one way or another when you feel so hopelessly frustrated by the repeated blunders of the administrators of this great city.

Another reason that I haven't uttered a word is that so many questions remain unanswered. Despite the inquiry at the Legislative Council and all the war of words and changes of positions, little has been clarified and confirmed. The full picture remains pretty much as blurred and remote as it was two weeks ago. There don't seem to have enough facts to draw an informed conclusion. Venting your emotions is by all means good for your psychological health, but not necessarily so for identifying the root causes and prescribing the right medicine to deal with them.

I don't need to repeat myself how ridiculous and unacceptable the police actions were. Neither do I need to repeat myself that the recent public uproar once again demonstrates the irrevocable, deep-rooted mistrust and discontent of communist China among many people of Hong Kong. But what seems most intriguing to me is the question of WHY. Why do the decision-makers, whoever they are (although I can't wait to be told), keep making stupid decisions, big and small, from giving a remote corner seat to Lord David Wilson, one of the officiating guests at the University of Hong Kong to allowing the police to cordon off the campus for the so-called security concerns. Why did the government (both the Security Bureau and the police in this case) insist to upgrade the security precautions to unprecedented levels, even more stringent than those for previous visits by the Chinese president, the premier and the US Secretary for State? Why did senior government office-bearers and social leaders such as Henry Tang and Rita Fan choose to support a hard-line approach to fend off opposition, which has always been a commonplace in Hong Kong? What does it tell you about them and other creatures alike that are said to be contenders for the helm of Hong Kong in the next few years?

As a history student, I know too well how collaborative the government and the local business leaders, be they Chinese or British, has always been during British colonisation. But that does not necessarily mean that the business leaders are ready to do anything to please the government. Leading British merchants had direct access to the Colonial Office in London and thus were powerful enough to give the local administration a cold shoulder. Prominent Chinese tycoons had extensive networks in the Chinese government and generally maintained good terms with the local administration, which could be leveraged and manipulated to their own benefit when the tides changed. But rarely did they lose sight of what is right and wrong. When it comes to the big question, confrontation and even clashes with those in power were not uncommon. Why do the rich and powerful guys nowadays seem to have lost the courage to uphold our values and beliefs? Why do so many of them behave like eunuchs who devote their time to gain the master's favour and care for nothing else?

Monday, 5 September 2011

從別後,憶相逢

我知道自己很無聊,但真的很希望把當日站在開山祖師後面九位女士認將出來,記下芳名,彌補這次盛宴的遺憾。

余生也晚,兼之孤陋寡聞,九位女士之中,認得臉孔的不到一半。

但開山祖師翩然出場,俏生生往椅旁一站,親自向觀眾道謝,能恭恭敬敬站在她後面護駕的,除了自家的得意門生,還能有誰?

各位神通廣大的網友,你能幫個忙嗎?

這是九位同一打扮的雛鳳成員一字排開的情形,左排五人,右排四人。已確認右排右起第二位是言雪芬、第三位是蓋劍奎、第四位是江雪鷺。

感謝網友Portia Lee指點,下圖沈殿霞右邊長髮披肩者原來是蕭劍纓,她是上圖左排左起的第一位。

左排除蕭劍纓外,還有四位,站在沈殿霞和朱劍丹後面。請問有誰知道她們的芳名?下圖是左排左起第二位和第三位。

任冰兒後面是左排靠中的三位,最右邊是江雪鷺。

跟在言雪芬後面出場,右排右起第一位又是誰呢?

也許有人會問:數十年過去了,當日的青春少艾,如今都已滿臉風霜,即使認出了又如何?

不為甚麼,只為紀念一份同門情誼,珍重一場相識大半生的緣分。世事無常,當日的熱鬧圓滿,竟似是為了慰藉今時的寂寞和淒涼。今年雖是這班「同學仔」相識五十周年,但是這個彩鳳還巢、花團錦簇的場面,已無法完整重現了。