Thoughts on Kingdom, Church, and Grace from an American living in Hong Kong

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Chris Patten, Hong Kong's last Governor, back for a visit

Chris Patten, Hong Kong's last Governor, returned to the territory for the first time in 3 years to a receptive audience of well wishers.  Patten, or Fat Pang as he is also affectionately known, remains popular among the people of Hong Kong for his championing of democratic reforms in the run up to the handover of sovereignty from Great Britain to China in 1997.

Last week I was sitting with some Hong Kong Chinese peers and the subject of next years Chief Executive election came up.  (The Chief Executive is the post created to replace the Governor after the handover)  My friends were bemoaning the choice of the the two front runner candidates that they felt would be ineffective in leading Hong Kong into the 21st Century.  There seemed to be a consensus that either candidate would be too scared of upsetting Beijing to be very effectual. 

It was at this point I piped in and suggested, "Sounds like Hong Kong needs a Chinese Chris Patten as a candidate." 

Surprisingly (or perhaps not surprisingly) there seemed to be universal agreement on the subject.
"He was good for Hong Kong" responded one
"He didn't care what Britain or China thought...He put Hong Kong people first." responded another.
"The Hong Kong people still think very highly of him." added a third.

Its easy to see why, even after 14 years, Fat Pang still holds a certain soft spot in the locals hearts, particularly with the older generation of Hong Kongers.  Unlike previous Governors, and later Chief Executives, Chris Patten was known for frequently strolling along Hong Kong streets in an attempt to meet everyday Hong Kong people.  In fact, many a Hong Kong restaurant would have a picture on the wall of the Governor stopping by their establishment and posing with the owner.

I remember once in the late 1990's after the Handover the owner of a restaurant Tammy and I frequented in Wan Chai told us a story.  For a number of years he had a picture of himself with Chris Patten on the wall when Patten had dropped by out of the blue one day to meet him in his back kitchen.  Some local government officials who were part of the new post-British administration came in for lunch one day and called him over to their table. He said to me, "Steve,  they pointed at the picture of Chris Patten and me shaking hands and asked whether it wasn't about time I took that picture down."  

He told them, "No, the picture stays but any time Tung Che-Hwa (the then Chief Executive) wants to come around and shake my hand, I'll be happy to put his picture up as well".

The officials never came back...

Patten was well known for his love of local egg tarts and the South China Morning Post newspaper reported that his plane had landed at 4:00 PM and the former Governor was able to sample his first local egg tart at "quarter past five".

Although Patten's visit to Hong Kong is not political in nature he did have three pieces of advice for the two men seeking to run for his old job;

"Understanding the profound honor of serving  the people of Hong Kong.  Understanding the reasons for the city's success are prerequisites for success.  Comprehending the full meaning of 'one country, two systems' is important too."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Border Crossings: The New Shenzhen Bay link

Just got back from a few days in China.  Rather than fly out of Hong Kong Internationally into China, we decided to go over the border locally and take a domestic flight from Shenzhen airport. (Significantly cheaper but a bigger hassle) We bought tickets for a cross border bus from Kowloon Tong and headed north through the territory for about 45 minutes.

Now, I've been through just about every border point between Hong Kong and China.  There are bus borders like the one we were on, pedestrian borders, ferry borders, and even train borders.  However as we got on the new Shenzhen Bay bridge, separating Hong Kong and China, I was confused.  As we got about half way over I realized something was different.  The road signs had changed to Chinese only (rather than English and Chinese on the Hong Kong side) and we were obviously entering Shenzhen which is the border city with Hong Kong on the China side. We had entered China but we hadn't passed through customs "exiting" Hong Kong.

Normally on the bus borders (and a big hassle) is you approach the Hong Kong immigration point and then everyone gets out of the bus. You go through customs, get back on the bus, travel through the border, get off the bus again, and the then finally enter China passing through their immigration point.

As we came to the end of the new bridge across the bay I saw the Hong Kong flag at the front of a brand spanking new customs building... but we were obviously "in China".  We got off the bus and entered the terminal.  Using my "smart" ID card I exited Hong Kong through the e-channel avoiding the long immigration lines for non-residents.  Then just a few meters ahead was the China immigration point.

Now I got it!  They put the whole process under one roof to eliminate some of the time and hassle involved.  Very cool and then I thought, "This could never happened when Britain controlled Hong Kong!"  But now, with China exercising sovereignty over the territory having a Hong Kong check point on Chinese soil was not quite as big a deal...and a whole lot more convenient.  (Or, was the the beginning of Hong Kong exercising control over China... mmmmmm ...interesting...)

 Looking up the check point on Wikipedia they went on to note that Hong Kong phone coverage, both mobile and landline, are provided via Hong Kong (which explained why I could still call Tammy from the border) and Hong Kong's power company provided the electricity for the Hong Kong side of the building.  (That must have been a fun design for the planners)

Despite the new convenience, I have to leave for Qingdao China later this morning and this time I'm just leaving from Hong Kong International Airport which is still the easiest way to cross the border by far.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Way: Hiking the Way of St. James

Just watched a wonderful inspirational movie called The Way and thought it deserves a post.  The film chronicles the adventure of a successful doctor who takes up his son's journey to complete the El Camino de Santiago (or The Way of St. James) after the son's tragic death in the French Pyrenees.  Real life father and son Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez team up for the project which was obviously a labor of love for the both of them

The El Camino de Santiago is a thousand year old Catholic Christian pilgrimage to the  Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in north west Spain.  The journey can originate from different starting point but the most famous, and the one accomplished in the movie The Way, starts in France and is a total of 780 kilometers.

The story itself is a little familiar.  A successful American doctor is seemingly happy in his suburban Western world of rich patients and golf courses.  He and his son's relationship, seen in flashbacks, shows a young man wanting to explore life and a father not understanding him.  Forced to confront the tragedy of his death, Sheen picks up the mantle of his son's pilgrimage first as a sense of obligation but later, after encounters with fellow travelers including a priest recovering from cancer, he experiences his own personal and spiritual awakening.

The movie appealed to me on many levels.  Gabriel (my 13 year old son) and I are preparing to do a two week 200 mile walk across a section of England next summer called the Wainwright Coast to Coast walk  so a movie chronicling the impact a long distance walk had on a man's life was particularly relevant.  Also, Sheen's character experiences a  renewal in his Christian faith during his journey.  Beginning the movie as a self-made man of means he becomes increasingly aware that the world is much more than what he conceived and that God's place in his own life is maybe needed more than he thought. 

During the journey Sheen acquires fellow travelers that help him see life through a new lens.  Each of them has their own "issues" but those issues are best worked out in their togetherness and shared humanity.  
And lets face it, any movie that has a group of people drinking wine at the end of day with the beautiful European countryside in the background is worth watching on those merits alone. 

And I have determined that the El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage is on my "bucket list"...but I'll see how we do on a 200 mile hike next summer before I plan on a 500 mile one :) 

So if you get a chance, watch The Way...and then go take a hike :) 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Pet Peeves of Working in a Bookstore

For three years I got to work in what many consider a dream job;

...I worked in a bookstore.

Yes, I worked for Barnes & Noble Booksellers.  And yes, it was fun and got to work with some fantastic people, (and thanks to the magic that is Facebook, I able able to stay in contact with many of them.)

Anyhow, there are a 101 funny stories from my time there and they were often the direct result of the absurdity that is the American Consumer.  People are selfish and our retail led culture panders to that selfishness by, well, pretty much giving them whatever they want no matter how badly they act. 

Over the summer, Barnes & Noble's biggest competitor, Borders, filed for bankruptcy. With their stores closing, one employee apparently got to declare what the employees of any solvent retail organization would never dare;  He got to list a number of grievances that the employees had with their customers.  So, without further ado:

Here is a Borders Bookstore's employee' “Things We Never Told You: Ode to a bookstore death”(and you can believe Barnes & Noble employees have a similar list)

++ We hate when a book becomes popular simply because it was turned into a movie.

++ It confused us when we were asked where the non-fiction section is.

++ Nicholas Sparks is not a good writer … if you like him, fine, but facts are facts.

++ We greatly dislike the phrase “Quick question.” It’s never true. And everyone seems to have one.

++ Your summer reading list was our summer reading NIGHTMARE. Also, it’s called summer reading, not three days before school starts reading.

++ It’s true that we lean to the left and think Glenn Beck is an idiot.

++ We always knew when you were intently reading Better Homes and Gardens, it was really a hidden Playboy.

++ Most of the time when you returned books you read them already — and we were onto you.

++ Limit One Coupon did not mean one for every member of your family — this angered us. Also, we did know what coupons were out.

++ It never bothered us when you threatened to shop at Barnes & Noble. We’d rather you do if you’re putting up a stink.

++ “I was just here last week and saw this book there” meant nothing to us. The store changed once a week.

++ When you walked in and immediately said, “I’m looking for a book,” what you really meant to say is, “I would like you to find me a book.” You never looked. It’s fine, it’s our job — but let’s be correct about what’s really happening here.

++ If you don’t know the author, title, or genre, but you do know the color of the cover, we don’t either. How it was our fault that we couldn’t find it we’ll never understand.

To this I would like to add a few I remember from my time at the bookstore:

* Parents that let their kids pull out 20 books and then say, "Come on the attendant will put them away"

* People that would come with a STACK of books that obviously had not been bought there and try to return them

* People that would grab a book off the rack and then come up and say, "I'd like to return this book but I lost the receipt."

* Customers that would come into the coffee shop and have a whole other meal from a different restaurant.

* People that would buy, "Eat, Pray, Love"

* When people would get mad at Christmas because we had run out of "Hanukkah" wrapping paper.  (We only had 1 or 2 rolls every season)

I'm sure I could think of more but this "Ode" pretty much sums it up.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

TV You Should Watch: Yes Minister!

I've been meaning to start a series of occasional posts highlighting what I believe are the Best TV Shows ever and why you should give them a look see.  This post is prompted by seeing a You Tube clip from the BBC highlighting the possibility that Yes Minister  is the Best British comedy ever.
Co-Writer Jonathan Lynn describes it best when he says, "There is no reason why, when you think about it, Yes Minister should be a hit.  There's no sex, no action... on paper it's a complete dud!"

Despite this, I have watched all of the episodes MANY times over and in my humble opinion it is one of the funniest, most intelligently written shows ever produced. Yes Minister follows the exploits of the Minister of Administrative Affairs James Hacker and his Machiavellian Cabinet Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby.  In later episodes, Hacker is elected to be the Prime Minister and then things get even more crazy.

I know this clip is a little long but if you want a good laugh and a little understanding of what I find to be extremely funny, watch it until the end.

Although the action takes place in a Reagan / Thatcher era Great Britain, the parody of the absurdity of modern politics are laid bare in all of their glorious grandeur.

So take Uncle Stevie's advice and give Yes Minister & Yes Prime Minister a look...