Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Direct Action: Hong Kong Democracy Now!

There's something happening within Hong Kong's democracy movement - it's becoming radicalized....sort of. Up to now they've been allowing themselves to be consistently rolled by the central government in Beijing. As a result, their credibility has suffered and *surprise* democracy continues to be an elusive unicorn from Narnia.

It's an old story - play by the rules set by a corrupt power and you won't succeed - the game is rigged. Now it looks as though Hong Kong's so-called 'pan-democrats' are thinking outside the box and seem willing to engage in some peaceful civil disobedience.

Five have just resigned from the Legislative Council (LegCo) to protest the government's refusal to implement meaningful democratic reforms, something as basic as setting a timetable, for example. This is forcing a by-election that will become a referendum on universal suffrage for 2012. It's a risky gamble but that's part of the beauty - it's an open demonstration of these politicians' trust in the electorate, one of Beijing's greatest fears....the PEOPLE!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Anvil: A Rocumentary For The Ages

“It could never be worse than what it already is."
- Steve 'Lips' Kudlow
If you were a metal fan in that tangled-up-in-spandex period between AC/DC's Back In Black, Metallica's ascent and Gun & Roses' Appetite For Destruction, you know what a truly desperate time it was. A different breed was roaming the earth challenging audiences with bouffant hairstyles, dayglo attire and...a vibrator. I tried to take refuge in post-Ozzy Sabbath, but the gnomish antics of Ronnie James Dio and that other guy from Deep Purple were just too much to bear.

Enter Anvil. As Canadian as Loverboy was American, they carried the torch by combining punk's righteous thrash with the brute power of metal. Their hilarious and touching film, Anvil! The Story of Anvil, has gone on to become one of the best films of 2009 and the best rocumentary of the decade. Rock on!

The film’s director, Sacha Gervasi - the band called him 'Teabag' because he’s English — worked on an archive of Samuel Beckett material after his tenure as an Anvil roadie in the 80s. He obviously revels in the parallels. As Anthony Lane in the New Yorker put it:

"This film is not about rock music at all, still less about school lunches in Ontario, or unusual uses for vibrators; it is about time, and how it threatens to fade us out like a song on the radio, and why, risking ridicule, and leaning on love, we should crank up the volume and keep going. Whatever Lips maintains, not all has been said and done."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Merchants Of Bollywood: Hong Kong Premiere

Finally, the highly acclaimed musical The Merchants of Bollywood is coming to Hong Kong. As the Times UK wrote:
"Their energy is electrifying, their movements suffused with a rush of joy and yet ruthlessly precise, and the frenetic flow of onstage activity is almost non-stop. It all oozes sex and passion..."

Break out the saris and sandalwood!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Haiti & MLK: A Network Of Mutuality

"We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied
in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."
While the tragedy in Haiti unfolds across the screens of my TV and PC appearing to worsen by the hour, I'm reminded of the "inescapable network of mutuality" that binds us all together. It moves us to provide comfort and try to ease the suffering in any way possible. Martin Luther King Jr. knew that this impulse towards empathy was an innately human characteristic, one that needed to be fostered and cherished. He believed it held the key our collective moral code and in Lincoln's memorable phrase, revealed "the better angels of our nature."

It was the cornerstone of King's faith in non-violent resistance handed down from Gandhi - suffering awakens our awareness that "whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." This was something that come to him through sacrifice and hardship - in other words, through applying his beliefs in the field of deeds. As he lay in a jail in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 he wrote, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." He was jailed for believing that all people are equal, that all are worthy of dignity and justice.

MLK arrested in 1956 for the Montgomery Bus Boycott
As the U.S. marks King's birthday this Monday January 18th, the people of Haiti need not just empathy, but deeds.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Banana Leaves & Chutney: Mumbai's Parsis

The feeling was immediate - it was in the air, in the laid back nonchalance of the people. We were no longer in New Dehli. This was Mumbai, the financial and cultural hub for 14 million clinging to the shores of western India on the edge of the Arabian Sea.

Mumbai is home to two-thirds of India's 61,000 Parsi, a relatively tiny minority of India's almost 1 billion population, but they're hugely influential and have traditionally flourished. Queen's Freddie Mercury came from a Parsi family and the Indian version of the Rockefellers, the Tata family, are Parsis. Today their influence is found all over the country from cars and trucks to hotels and tea.

The Parsis (Gujarati for Persian) originally came to the sub-continent over 1000 years ago, arriving from Persia, now Iran. They follow Zoroastrianism, the ancient religion of Persia, and have been able to freely practice it in India. The center of Zoroastrianism is in Iran, but its adherents face discrimination and are discouraged from any open displays of worship. Nevertheless, most Indian Parsi long for a chance to visit Iran.

We read that Parsi food is delicious and were directed to "Jimmy Boy" restaurant in the Fort area of Mumbia. A seventy-year-old institution, Jimmy Boy is now run by the grandson of the original owner who explained his plans to return to Iran later this year. We ordered cashew vegetables and patra ni machhi or white fish baked in chutney and banana leaves.

Friday, January 08, 2010

5 Years On: The Tsunami In Aceh

It's been just over five years since the "cobra wave" lashed out in the Indian Ocean on the morning of December 26th in 2004. I went to investigate while living in Indonesia in the summer of 2005 and filed this story for the Hong Kong Standard.

For donations at Uleh-leh
Six months later, the scene was still a horrific one. There were fragments of bone embedded in the parched land, shallow mass graves exposing limbs and packs of dogs roaming around. But there was also hope - I met this survivor, a young man by the name of Akbar, who generously shared his story with me. Here's a snippet:

"Standing amid the collapsed rubble of Merduati, a kampong, or neighborhood, in the city of Banda Aceh, there is little sign of rebuilding and Akbar finds it difficult to feel much hope.

Instead, he points to where he was sleeping when the "cobra wave" struck. "Like a blender" it overturned and churned the furniture in the ground floor bedroom. Fleeing upstairs from the fast-rising water, he leapt out the window and ran towards the Baiturrahman Mosque near the city center.

He wasn't fast enough. The wave swallowed up Akbar, carrying him along amid the debris and carnage until he clutched a branch at the top of a tree and held on for his life. He stayed there for more than two hours, watching bodies, trucks and parts of houses, the entire life of his hometown, swirl beneath him as the wave slowly receded back into the heart of the Indian Ocean.

When Akbar eventually returned to his home, it was flattened and the tsunami had extracted a precious toll: Twelve members of his family including his father had been killed.

Now Akbar's face seems far older than his 25 years as he recalls that day. Walking among the broken shards of cement at the edge of the ocean at Uleh-leh, the former village where the wave first struck, shadows of remorse and bitterness darken his expression. He stops and stares pensively at Pulau Weh, a small island off shore, then gazes out to the wide open sea beyond.

"Is that where it came from?" I asked.

Akbar nodded then swept his arm across the horizon, "And from there, there, everywhere."

Today his mother and older brother live in Meulaboh, 250 kilometers south along the coast. He rarely sees them as the road connecting the two cities has not yet been repaired after being wiped out by the tsunami. It takes about nine hours over a rough mountain pass, much of it gravel, to reach the town.

Akbar is the only one of his family to have remained in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, living with a friend while studying nursing at the University of Muhammadiyah. He is determined to keep going. When he can he works as a taxi driver, hoping to earn enough to rebuild his home."

Monday, January 04, 2010

Ganesh: Lord Of The Threshold

It's a new year and a time to give praise to the lord of new beginnings - Ganesh, the Hindu elephant-headed god. While Yuko & I were in India I realized that I was a sucker for this type of techno-coloured, Disneyesque religious art. It's beyond kitsch or irony - I really like it, especially if it's done by Idra Sharma.

Hanuman, symbol of loyalty

Yuko bought me this beautiful book filled with Sharma's art and the stories of the Hindu gods and goddesses:

Sharma cut his teeth making Bollywood film posters and then calendars where he refined his style. He quit painting in 1995 and now lives in Bombay (Mumbai) with his son. It's an exciting, and in many ways a beautiful city, a swirling mass of humanity from all walks of life gorging itself on delicious food, basking in breezes from the Arabian sea while living in either opulent apartment complexes or dirt poor slums.

Krishna revealing his universal form
This is what the record company was aiming for on Jimi Hendrix's Axis: Bold As Love, but apparently he wasn't too happy with it. He wanted the cover to represent his American Indian heritage...whoops!