Sunday, November 28, 2004


Less than three weeks until I go back to Sydney and I need to start working on my accent.

I've had two interviews about work this week. One was with a postgrad student writing on homelessness. The other was with a reporter and a celebrity columnist from HK's premier English language newspaper. By 'celebrity columnist' I mean a very famous columnist, not a columnist that writes chiefly about celebrities. Having said that, I may be a celebrity after the article comes out (probably this week).

It sounds like the newspaper is going to do quite a special on the asylum seeker issue. They even took about fifty photos of my colleague and I sitting back to back, turning our necks to put our heads side by side in a pose reminiscent of an ABBA video.

Anyway, the newspaper reporter told someone else (who told me) that I was 'the most un-Australian sounding person she had ever met'. I was recovering from the shock of that when the student asked me if I was South African!

Seeking a third opinon I went to a friend from Sydney who gave me the following response ' Your accent is something between Indian English and Chinese English'.

Aiyaa bhagwan!

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Crowd control

I arrived home last night to be greeted by Daisy, Uncle Yiu and Jacky who were gathered in front of Daisy's store. I'm sure Uncle Yiu has seen me several times since I returned from Vietnam (in August) but he must have forgotten and asked me about my trip to Thailand.

'Yuetlam' I corrected him. 'Oh yes, Yuetlam' Uncle You said. 'Before, not so good. Now getting better'. I guess Uncle Yiu should know. He used to work on a ship and visited there many times while the war was still on.

As I was talking to Uncle Yiu I had stepped off the footpath and into the gutter so we were at a more comfortable height for conversation. I was in the gutter for a few seconds before Jacky grabbed my arm and yanked me back on the footpath.

Jacky yelled something at me and Daisy explained that the was trying to keep me safe from the passing cars. He then took it on himself to give the same treatment to the next three people that passed by, grabbing them by the arm and pulling them fast onto the footpath.

All three of them were elderly citizens who feared they were getting pulled into the nearby alley and mugged. As soon as Jacky released each of them they scuttled off towards Shanghai St with Daisy calling out 'm'ho ee si' (no offense) behind them. She had to shout loud to be heard over Jacky yelling that they should be more careful of walking on the road.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004


I went to see Bride and Prejudice again last night. It was a big group event that had been planned for weeks and I was too embarrassed to admit to the organisers that I had already seen the film. Particularly so because they had bought everyone's tickets.

I enjoyed the movie again but I found the difference in audience behaviour just as fascinating. In Mong Kok last Friday night, the teenaged crowd laughed loudest at the slapstick. Last night we were in the classy Pacific Place cinema complex on Hong Kong side. I noticed that there was a lot of laughter whenever people detected a cleverly adapted feature of the novel.

My own laughter was a problem. I started to giggle uncontrollably when I knew there was a funny scene coming up ('Mary's' version of Sri Devi's cobra dance was hilarious!). I was trying my best to suppress this because it was a sure sign that I had viewed the film previously. In addition to this, I began to laugh whenever the guy behind uttered 'crazy' in Cantonese. This also had to be suppressed. Why do I always get one of these behind me when I go to the cinema in HK?

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Bride and Prejudice

After waiting for more than a year I finally got to see 'B and P' yesterday. Having read mediocre reviews for the film and worse ones for the music I was very nervous that I wouldn't like it.

I should have had more faith in Gurinder Chadha and ignored the reviews because the film turned out to be hilarious. I'm was extra glad I liked it because I had already committed to see it again on Tuesday with different friends.

At the same time, I definitely laughed louder than anyone else in the cinema. Being a huge fan of Aishwarya Rai (and Hindi films) who has read 'Pride and Prejudice' more than ten times I certainly was the ideal audience.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

My raffle tickets...

Brought all of Yau Ma Tei to the yard.

One of Hong Kong's big charity fundraising events was held on weekend and I got lumped last week with thirty raffle tickets to sell.

Since most of my friends have very little buying power I anticipated having to buy a lot of them myself. That was until Daisy took over as my sales manager.

She was working in the shop when I asked her if she wanted to buy a ticket. She bought four and then sold several to her colleague and customers who were shopping at the time.

We then asked the lady in the book store next door who said that she isn't lucky and wanted to give ten dollars without buying a ticket. From there we went to the key copying stall, the shoe shop, the Nepali hairdresser and the bag shop. My real estate agent and her daughter bought seven tickets, making sure they picked their lucky numbers. We were planning to sell some to the naughty nun in the Buddhist centre but we ran out before we got there.

I couldn't believe how keen people were to buy the tickets. Daisy told me that Hong Kong people are very good in giving to charity. I teased her that they jump at any excuse to gamble.

I was quite disturbed when Mama, the old can-collecting lady, insisted on buying a ticket. At ten dollars she would have to collect 1000 cans to cover the cost. In my guilt, I've started collecting cans from friends to give to her when she drops by Daisy's shop in the evenings.

It's going to take a while to reach 1000 but she was very grateful for the first five I gave her yesterday. Her thanks were so heartfelt that Daisy suggested I give her a kiss. Mama then said I should kiss the beautiful girl (i.e. Daisy) so no one got kissed in the end.

Thursday, November 11, 2004


Our current affairs English class studied a couple of articles about Yasser Arafat this morning.

The first was an Al-Jazeera article which quoted an anonymous Palestinian official as saying that Arafat's death would be announced today.

The second was a BBC article which said that Arafat was in the final stages of his life after suffering a brain haemorrhage on Tuesday.

It turned out that the official announcement of his death was made while our class was in progress. Arafat will probably have a funeral in Cairo and be buried in Ramallah.

I love that our mixed nationality class that includes both Muslims and Christians can discuss Israel and the Palestinians in such a sane way. Having suffered so much violence themselves, I realised that most of the class can empathise in a way that isn't even possible for me.

Setting boundaries

This week my popularity in Chungking Mansions has hit an all time low. I'm normally greeted with enthusiastic cries of 'Mr Joe' at two metre intervals when walking through the ground floor. Now I meet with nasty stares as I walk past the crowd who congregate around the main enterance.

What did I do?

The aim of our centre is to help two types of clients. My job is to coordinate the help that we give to asylum seekers and refugees. My Sister S' job is to coordinate the work we do with ethnic minority Hong Kong residents.

We also have a third type of clients who don't fit into these two groups - those who are in Hong Kong on a visitor visa but not doing very much. Most of these come from Ghana because, unlike citizens of most other developing countries, Ghanaians get an automatic three month tourist visa to Hong Kong on entry.

Previously we turned a blind eye to the couple of these non-asylum seekers gettting assistance from our food program. When the number starting to increase dramatically I had to make an 'asylum seeker ony' rule. Resources are limited.

As far as I'm concerned, non-asylum seekers on visitor visas should return to their countries if they are in financial difficulty. I'm just going to have to ignore the angry stares for a while!

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Beware! Hawker Patrol!

There's a restaurant where I usually eat dinner. It's a terrific Nepali place where I can eat as much rice, daal and vegetable curry as I want for $HK20. I even get pickle and a bowl of yoghurt on the side.

This particular restaurant is on Temple St and faces out onto two night market stalls. One is a jewellery stall where the stallholder has been playing "Jenny from the Block" constantly since its release. The other is an illegal VCD stall.

Illegal VCD's are rife in Hong Kong. They are particularly rife on Temple St. At the (relatively) respectable end where I live you can find copies of latest Hollywood and Canto films. At the other end you can't walk two metres without someone yelling 'sexy movie!' at you.

Most illegal VCD vendors sell their goods out of a large wooden suitcase like contraption propped on cardboard or polystyrene boxes. The vendor in front of my favourite restaurant has rented a whole stall space which can fit four of these large foldable suitcase things.

At least two people have to be working at the stall at any one time. One sells the VCD's while another keeps an eye out for the Hawker Patrol - kind of like traffic wardens who go after illegal street vendors. This photo comes from the HK government website:

The thing is that the Hawker Patrol are not that vigilant as they appear to be in the above photo. In addition to the illegal VCD hawkers there is an abundance of illegal cooked food hawkers selling fried stuff around my place. Their little kitchens are on wheels for an easy get away but the little old ladies operating them don't move all that fast.

Sitting in my regular restaurant I get to see exactly how hard the hawker patrol try to do something about the illegal VCD stall.

Sometimes the scout sees the Hawker Patrol coming and they pack up the stall before the HP manage to saunter up. The HP then observe that absolutely nothing illegal is going on in the strangely empty stall.

Sometimes they don't finish the pack up before the HP arrive. On those occasions, the HP stand close by, looking in another direction until it is safe to observe that nothing illegal is going on.

Once last week, the stall holder didn't notice the HP and they had to make their presence known. They said something, probably along the lines of 'Don't you know you're supposed to run away before we get here?'. The stall holder then packed up and the HP noted that nothing illegal was going on.

I have two things to say about this:

Firstly I don't think it does anything for HK people's respect for the law. I will blog another time about how this type of problem is huge in HK.

Secondly, I want a t-shirt that says:
'Yau Ma Tei Hawker Patrol'


Wednesday, November 03, 2004


The personalities in our centre continue to diversify. I have come to appreciate this crazy mix as a source of humour. I have also come to appreciate the bizarre range of talents that I can rely upon when I want to delegate tasks.

At the mental end of the task spectrum we have university maths graduates who can help me out with statistics for monthly reports.

At the physical end, we have huge ex-army types who can break open locked bags with a screwdriver and their bare hands. A few weeks ago I even requested a couple of guys to carry a very heavy, 213cm long desk up sixteen flights of stairs. I tried to help but they wouldn't let me, fearing that a white person would be crushed under the weight.

Recently, however, I have delighted in delegating a particular task. As would be expected, the majority of our asylum seeker clients have been hoping for a Kerry victory in the US election. Amidst the sensible people there a couple of deluded ones who say they admire Bush's approach to tackling terrorism. I've been busy lately and I don't have time to argue with everyone. Fortunately, I have several eloquent and convincing anti-Bush clients who have been diligent in doing re-education on my behalf.

After the release of Osama's message last week we analysed a BBC article in English class. I got them to compare the latest image of Osama with one from several years ago and recieved the following comments:

"Now Osama fat, before thin" (The word is healthy! In English fat is insulting.)
"Before Osama wear military, now suit"
"Before in cave, now office"
"War on terrorism only kill people, no killing Osama!"

Correct answers make this teacher very happy!

Voting has now closed in Chungking Mansions with a decisive victory going to Kerry. Unfortunately it looks that the same may not be the case in the US. My only consolation is that a Democrat loss may increase the probability of Hillary running as the Democrat candidate in 2008.