Jolly Lee, Hong Kong (Standard letters 26 August 2010)
About Novel HKSAR Names
Name Category: Creation
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6 hours ago
In Hong Kong's urban jungle, fruit, vegetable and herb gardens are sprouting on rooftops and window sills as families get the organic cultivation bug
Jul 29, 2012
Most people who choose to go back to the land have to leave the city far behind - but for former independent film producer Chang Wen, becoming a farmer was simply a case of wandering upstairs.
She launched Project Grow on the roof of an old factory building in To Kwa Wan a year ago as a collaboration between the Film Culture Centre(FCC), which operates from the building and which Chang heads, and a design group called re:ply Workshop, which specialises in upcycling - taking waste materials and turning them into something more valuable.
Chang helped revive the FCC last year by getting government funding for the charity. The FCC began holding film nights and educational activities for residents of the working class neighbourhood. The rooftop farm was intended to be a side project, to encourage the viewers to stick around after the credits rolled.
"It was initially a way to connect with the folks who come over. They felt like there was a gap between us - we were 'the intellectuals' while they were 'the uneducated'. So I wanted to start something where we can get to know each other in a natural and non-awkward way," Chang said.
But the farm took on a life of its own, helped by a growing interest in organic products in the city and concern about a series of food safety scandals emanating from the mainland, both of which have revived interest in farming.
While some people switched to buying from the "organic section" in supermarkets, others went further and actually rented agricultural land in the New Territories for some leisure farming, Chang said.
Chang's introduction to farming came after a drink-driving conviction that earned her 240 hours of community service. As she helped kindergarten children to the bathroom as her punishment, she "looked at my life and thought - wow I've got to change this, I can't live like this."
She fell in love with working on her friend's farm in the New Territories and slowly began to realise that the fast-paced life of a film producer was no longer for her, and she began her drift away from the industry to a farming life. She no longer produces films, although she is still involved in bringing cinema to the masses through the Film Culture Centre.
"It gave me peace in my mind," said Chang.
The idea of a rooftop farm started when Chang gathered old wooden boards discarded as rubbish both from around the neighbourhood and from her farmer friend. She turned them into boxes and lined them up on the FCC's rooftop, filled them with dirt and seeds, and invited locals to stay and help with the gardening.
Its popularity grew just as surely as the 20 types of edible vegetables, gourds and herbs that were planted there, among them maize, Chinese cabbage, bitter gourd, tomatoes and even strawberries, as well as herbs like mint, lemongrass and basil.
The farm works with community centres and social workers, providing free farming classes for locals in To Kwa Wan and paid three-month classes for those not from the district.
"We don't want to make money off this farm- we hope to educate people and spread the inspiration. The idea is to have them start doing this at home," said Chang. "You don't need a whole piece of farmland to farm. Sometimes, you just need a pot, soil and some seeds, which is completely achievable for those living in an apartment."
Chang said the aim was to transform Hong Kong's old urban areas into urban farms - to fill window sills and empty rooftops with independent little patches for growing.
Chang isn't the only person growing things on a rooftop. In Ngau Tau Kok, Michael Leung, founder of HK Honey, raises bees on a rooftop and recently started a herb garden and experimental organic farm. Wan Chai bookstore and cafe ACO has composting bins and a herb garden on its roof, and Chang has heard of another rooftop garden taking shape in Aberdeen.
"Some of my friends now regularly farm in the New Territories," said Chang. "There are organic farms springing up everywhere."
Chang has now been invited to put together an organic section at the farmers' market at Cyberport in Pok Fu Lam when it begins in September, where wooden boxes will also be given out for those interested in planting and harvesting a few seeds.
The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said the number of farms involved in government organic farming schemes had reached 193 last month, compared to 182 last year and 152 in 2010. There were only 123 farms taking part in the scheme back in 2008.
Anyone who acquires a piece of agricultural land can start farming immediately as no licences are required, a department spokesman said. Agricultural structures such as greenhouses, fish ponds and livestock sheds will need approval from the Lands Department, however.
"I didn't know [farming] was possible at all," said housewife Lisa Yeung Lai-sha, who joined a class at Project Grow. "I didn't think I could actually grow things at home."
Cheng Oi-ling, a housewife with grown-up children, said that her whole family loved the idea of being able to produce their own food for the table.
Cheng and Yeung are both part of a group from the Holy Carpenter Church Community Centre in Hung Hom, who are taking classes about organic farming at Project Grow. Apart from actually farming, the group has also been taught how to make all-natural dish washer detergent and pickled vegetables out of rinds and discarded fruit and vegetable parts.
Chang said many children who normally wouldn't eat vegetables at home, would actually be willing to eat ones they've picked from the garden themselves.
"I think it's important for them to learn and to know that they can eat healthily," said social worker Rita Chan Sin-ki. "Organic food is not just for the rich."
Chang added that there had been a misunderstanding about organic food.
"Organic food has been marketed as being for rich people, and is sold at higher prices. However, health should not be an exclusive right. Even the poor should be taught what is healthy, and have access to healthy food," Chang said.
However, Chang warned that the "organic" label could also be used as a sales ploy.
"I think if something is from nature - not genetically engineered - it's organic. It's impossible to be completely sure there are absolutely no chemicals. We can only farm it as naturally as possible," Chang said. But she doesn't mind that there are multiple definitions of "organic", and believes people spend "too much time arguing about it [and] miss the point, which is to eat and live as healthily as possible.
"Hongkongers want everything now and fast, but even vegetables need time to grow," she said. "We need to change our mindset, reset our rhythm."
According to a government report released in January this year, around 18 square kilometres of land in the city are actively farmed. Most farms are small and produce mainly vegetables, pigs or poultry.
Hongkongers consumed about 908 tonnes of rice, 1,790 tonnes of vegetables, 4,710 pigs, 77 head of cattle and 36 tonnes of poultry each day in 2010. While most of the produce is imported, "Hong Kong's primary producers help … satisfy some of the demand" according to Chang.
The gross value of local agricultural production stood at HK$615 million in 2010. The value of crop production is at HK$232 million, and consists mostly of vegetables and flowers.
Three per cent of the vegetables, 56 per cent of the fresh poultry and 6 per cent of fresh pork consumed in Hong Kong comes from local farms.
Researchers in US, Thailand and Taiwan are at a loss to explain the cause of an autoimmune disorder that is striking middle-aged patients
Aug 24, 2012
Researchers have identified a mysterious and sometimes fatal new disease that has left scores of ethnic Asians with Aids-like symptoms, even though they are not infected with HIV.
The patients, both in Asia and the US, had immune systems that became damaged, leaving them unable to fend off germs.
The new form of acquired immune deficiency in adults is neither contagious nor inherited, said Dr Sarah Browne, a scientist at the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. It does not spread the way Aids does through a virus, she said.
Browne helped lead the study with researchers in Thailand and Taiwan where most of the cases have been found since 2004. Their report was published in yesterday's New England Journal of Medicine.
"This is absolutely fascinating. I've seen probably at least three patients in the last 10 years," who might have had this, said Dr Dennis Maki, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
It's still possible that an infection of some sort could trigger the disease, even though the disease itself does not seem to spread person-to-person, he said.
The disease develops at around age 50 on average but does not run in families, which makes it unlikely that a single gene is responsible, Browne said. Some patients have died of overwhelming infections, including some Asians now living in the US, although Browne could not estimate how many.
Kim Nguyen, 62, a seamstress from Vietnam who has lived in Tennessee since 1975, was gravely ill when she sought help for a persistent fever, infections and other bizarre symptoms in 2009. She had been sick off and on for several years and had visited Vietnam in 1995 and 2009.
"She was wasting away from this systemic infection" that at first seemed like tuberculosis but wasn't, said Dr Carlton Hays, a doctor in Jackson, Tennessee.
Nguyen was referred to specialists at the National Institutes of Health who had been tracking similar cases. She spent nearly a year at an NIH hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, and is there now for further treatment.
"I feel great now," she said on Wednesday. But when she was sick, "I felt dizzy, headaches, almost fell down," she said. "I could not eat anything."
Aids, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, is a specific disease in which the immune system becomes impaired during someone's lifetime, rather than from inherited gene defects like the "bubble babies" who are born unable to fight off germs.
HIV, the virus that causes Aids, destroys T-cells, key soldiers of the immune system that fight germs. The new disease doesn't affect those cells but causes a different kind of damage. Browne's study of more than 200 people in Taiwan and Thailand found that most of those with the disease make substances called auto-antibodies that block interferon-gamma, a chemical signal that helps the body clear infections.
Blocking that signal leaves people like those with Aids vulnerable to viruses, fungal infections and parasites, but especially micobacteria, a group of germs similar to tuberculosis that can cause severe lung damage. Researchers are calling this new disease an "adult-onset" immunodeficiency syndrome because it develops later in life and they don't know why or how.
The fact that nearly all the patients so far have been Asian or Asian-born people living elsewhere suggests that genetic factors and an environmental factor such as an infection may trigger the disease, researchers said.
"We know there are many others out there," including many cases mistaken as tuberculosis, Browne said.
Jun 12, 2012
State-controlled Guangdong TV surprised the province's soccer fans when it introduced a bikini-clad weather girl for its broadcast of a Euro 2012 soccer match at the weekend.
Local media said ratings for the station's broadcast trumped those for many of its competitors, which featured well-known commentators or celebrity guests. The official state broadcaster brought in acclaimed pianist Li Yundi to play Chopin pieces before the start of the match. The tournament co-hosts are Poland, the composer's birthplace, and Ukraine.
"Do you want Li Yundi playing Chopin or bikini weather girls forecasting Polish weather?" Guangdong-based Information Times newspaper asked readers.
Although footage with girls in bikinis is commonly broadcast on the mainland during family viewing hours or in movies classified as suitable for children, it is very rare for state-controlled television to introduce anchorwomen wearing only a swimsuit.
The weather forecast for Euro 2012 venues, which was broadcast just before midnight and lasted several minutes, sparked huge debate among internet users.
Mainland newspapers cited the television station as saying that dozens of beautiful bikini-clad women, many of them undergraduate students and in their early 20s, would appear in the weather forecasts during the tournament to boost ratings and advertising sales. The women were selected in a Miss Bikini competition organised earlier by the station.
An unnamed director from the station's sports channel was quoted by news portal Sina.com yesterday as saying the programme hadn't been expected to spark such a huge public response, but suggested it was because mainland audiences rarely see scantily clad anchorwomen.
As for Saturday night's weather girl, many soccer fans said she looked a bit shy and embarrassed on television.
Some internet users poked fun at the station, saying its sports channel should be renamed the "human flesh watching channel", as the pronunciation of "sports" and "human flesh watching" in Cantonese are the same. Other fans praised the appearance of the anchorwomen, adding that they were a welcome move away from the mainland's old-fashioned, Communist Party-controlled broadcasting and urging propaganda authorities to learn more from TV stations in the West.
Jun 15, 2012
Tony Blair was in Hong Kong yesterday to answer questions on the impact of faith and globalisation, but instead he was nearly the victim of a citizen's arrest for war crimes.
The former British prime minister was giving a lecture at the University of Hong Kong to inaugurate a partnership between the Tony Blair Faith Foundation's global network of leading universities and HKU's Faith and Global Engagement Initiative.
However, he had only just taken to the stage when a Hong Kong-based British activist, Tom Grundy, approached him from the packed auditorium and shouted: "Mr Blair, I'm conducting a citizen's arrest for crimes against peace under the Hong Kong power 101 law." The number refers to a section of the Criminal Procedure Ordinance.
Grundy got to within a few feet of the podium before Blair's two personal bodyguards intervened, but Grundy stood his ground and continued to berate him.
Shocked, Blair soon regained his composure, telling Grundy he had made his point and should leave.
"That's democracy for you," Blair said. Then, addressing the stunned audience he said he was "used to all this by now". Grundy retorted: "You should be, you're a war criminal."
Grundy eventually left of his own accord and did not encounter any security or police upon his exit.
It is the second time in a matter of weeks that Blair has encountered such behaviour. Last month's incident came when he was at the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics, where he had to explain his friendship with media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. The inquiry was set up by British Prime Minister David Cameron after the now-defunct Murdoch-owned News of the World tabloid admitted intercepting voicemail messages of prominent people. During Blair's evidence, a protester was ejected after calling him a "war criminal".
A spokeswoman for HKU said all appropriate security arrangements had been taken and that Blair's office did not have specific requirements. "We only were asked to deploy basic security measures like having people's bags checked before they entered the auditorium," she said. She confirmed Grundy had got in by registering as a freelance writer.
"We were asked just to register local media. But we cannot check every freelance writer's authenticity," she said. The spokeswoman also said the man was not arrested as he was "expressing his own views without doing anything that was aggressive".
The rest of Blair's lecture went without a hitch. He recalled how Hong Kong held fond memories for him. He came on his honeymoon here and his brother married a Hong Kong woman, now a leading light of the Chinese community in London.
"I'll also never forget that dripping wet day in 1997 [during the handover ceremony] where I was glad I wasn't wearing the same see-through suit as Prince Charles," he quipped.
His Faith Foundation seeks to promote understanding between the major religions.
Thursday, June 21, 2012
Long-time Hollywood couple Johnny Depp and French singer/actress Vanessa Paradis have agreed to separate "amicably," a publicist for the US star said.
The Pirates of the Caribbean star and his Gallic muse have been together for 14 years, but rumors of trouble have circulated for more than a year, leading to Paradis denying a split in January.
The couple divide their time between France and the United States. They have two children aged 10 and 13 but have never married.
Depp, 49, has had a number of celebrity partners over the years, and has been engaged to four: Sherilyn Fenn, Jennifer Grey, Winona Ryder and Kate Moss, according to the IMDb movie industry website.
He was married to Lori Anne Allison in 1983 but divorced in 1985.
His latest film is Tim Burton's Dark Shadows, and who is lined up for a fifth Pirates of the Caribbean outing.
He and Paradis met in Paris and began dating in 1998. She gave birth to Lily-Rose Melody in 1999 and to Christopher - known as Jack - in 2002.
Paradis, 39, began as a model and singer before branching into movies. Her films include 1999's La Fille sur le Pont (Girl on the Bridge) and, more recently, last year's Cafe de Flore.
She and Depp reportedly divided their time between a home in the Hollywood Hills and a farm in the south of France, while they have also owned apartments in Paris, Manhattan and in the Bahamas.
By Hollywood standards they have been remarkably discreet, making headlines for their respective career successes rather than any romantic strains or scandals.
But for more than a year rumors have been circulating about the state of their once idyllic relationship, fueled by increasingly infrequent public appearances together.
While Paradis' career has slowed somewhat, Depp's has skyrocketed during the 14 years they have been together.
Aug 09, 2012
Starring: Chapman To Man-chat, Ronald Cheng Chung-kei, Dada Chen
Director: Edmond Pang Ho-cheung
Category: III (Cantonese and Putonghua)
With Vulgaria, director Edmond Pang Ho-cheung further builds on his reputation as the raunchiest filmmaker of post-handover Hong Kong cinema.
The film stars Chapman To Man-chat as divorced B-movie producer To Wai-cheung, who will do anything to secure funding for his films while fighting with his ex-wife (Kristal Tin Yui-nei, the actor's real-life spouse) for access to his young daughter.
The story, written by Pang, veteran screenwriter Lam Chiu-wing and writer Luk Yee-sum, begins with To at a filmmaking class where he compares the role of film producer to that of pubic hair. The joke sets the tone of the movie, which only heads lower as To recounts his sacrifices while remaking the sexploitation classic Confession of a Concubine.
To's misadventures begin with his meeting a triad boss, played by Ronald Cheng Chung-kei, who has an attraction to animals. The boss agrees to fund To's project on the condition that veteran actress Susan Shaw Yin-yin - star of the original Confession over 30 years ago - appear in steamy sex scenes. The producer decides that by hiring upcoming starlet Popping Candy (Dada Chen) and using computer generated imagery, they will have a body double for Shaw.
Even before it hit the screens, the buzz on Vulgaria was that it might leave a bad taste - a clever ploy for getting people into cinemas. Audiences who enjoy below-the-waist jokes find countless gags about bestiality, oral sex, anal sex and masturbation.
The obscenity is mostly verbal, yet is no less shocking than hard-core pornography. While sensible viewers may dismiss the movie as crude, its obscenity goes deeper. Pang has devised a world where only fellatio seems to matter, and he expects us to see this as funny and hip.
To is mediocre here and Chen is nothing more than a sex object. The cameos by Shaw (pictured, second left with Hiro Hayama, Chen and Matt Chow Hoi-kwong), singer-actor Fiona Sit Hoi-kei and Simon Lui Yu-yeung fail to bring anything to the paper-thin plot.
Given the favourable response from audiences at the premiere, comedy has clearly moved on since Michael Hui Koon-man retired and Stephen Chow Sing-chi crossed the border for greener pastures. Vulgarity is now the chosen flavour of moviegoers.
The lure of beach volleyball is not only about athletic ability but also about the scantily clad women who scamper around on the sand
Aug 01, 2012
Even Nelson perched high above Trafalgar Square would have found it hard to turn a blind eye to all the hype and hoopla going on at Horse Guards Parade. Bikinis and Bermuda shorts was on show at the Olympic sport which draws the most amount of sexual innuendo. And like many thousands of others, it was enough to attract Kevin O'Connor to make the trip to London with his buddies to watch athletic, bronzed bodies throw themselves all over the sun-baked paddock.
"To be honest there is a lot of enthusiasm from us Brits about sports which we know nothing about and what better way to spend a Monday morning than out here in the sun and with a beer in my hand," smiled Kevin, who hails from Gloucester. He was also honest about the fact he and his mates preferred to watch the "girls" rather than the men. Every move of the Chinese pair Zhang Xi and Xue Chun, Beijing bronze medallists as they defeated a pair of Swiss missies, were lustily cheered by Kevin and company, all decked in Union Flag shirts.
When Queen Victoria found no one on duty at the Horse Guards gate one afternoon, she ordered the Household Cavalry - the soldiers who have provided protection for the monarch since 1660 - to parade at 4pm every day for 100 years. The order still stands and the tradition continues. But that parade of horseflesh has been put on hold until the beach volleyball ends, and instead there is another parade on show with 96 athletes - beefcakes and models who could grace the pages of Sports Illustrated's swimwear edition - competing on a beach made of 4,386 tonnes of high-grade sand specially quarried in Surrey.
And the mood at the venue in the heart of London was electric. It is used to pomp and pageantry every afternoon but this was way different. An announcer spurred the crowds on to clap and dance in the aisles much to the horror of Kevin, who suggested that the prancing presenter was probably in love with his voice and the mic. But the crowd responded. Every time there was a break between sets or if a team took a timeout, out came a group of scantily clad girls, of course in bikinis, with a couple of token, bare-bodied guys thrown in who did the Conga and shook their derrieres to tune.
Sexual innuendo? Forget it, this is in-your-face sex highlighted by the sun and sand. You can feel yourself being transported to some idyllic island in the tropics where everyone looks like Raquel Welch walking out of the surf, or in the case of the women fans, a hunk with six-pack abs and straight out of Baywatch.
The closest thing to a well-defined six-pack I witnessed were the glistening, cold beers in the hands of Kevin and his mates. Unlike the women, the male beach volleyball players are covered up, almost to the point of being indecently clad for the beach.
It raised the question if female spectators were hard done by. While the men had their fill gawking over the sweaty, tanned limbs of the girls, the men wore T-shirts or singlets and long Bermuda shorts. So do women watching beach volleyball find it as sexy as their husbands or boyfriends?
For all their grunting the Norwegian and Canadian men hardly stroked the imagination. It seems the sport is sexually biased. The FIVB, the world governing body for volleyball, has all but put its eggs in one basket - believing sex sells and it is the women who should carry the burden. Among its regulations are that for women, there should be "no more than six centimetres of cloth at the hip". But men can wear anything as long as it is not a tuxedo or tights.
Is this sexual discrimination?
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