Chatty

Filed in General, Life

My father has the uncanny inclination to talk to strangers. One recent time when he visited me here in Hong Kong, we were up at the Häagen-Daaz shop at The Peak and while I was getting our ice cream, he walked over to a group of Caucasians and struck up a conversation with them. He does this all the time, and with his general knowledge of a wide range of subjects and a humble disposition, he can usually carry on a conversation for quite a long time. Some people politely listen while others are actively engaged by the conversation. It's difficult to think that this elderly gentleman with a non-threatening whitish beard, a soft round tummy and a wink in his eye could be anything other than sincere in his conversation so he rarely gets any negative responses to his invitations to chat.

My wife has commented that I sometimes display the same behaviour, suddenly walking up to complete strangers and striking up a conversation. I'm not sure if I generally actively walk up to people but I am aware that I'm not too shy to exchange a few sentences with people in for example a crowded elevator.

There may be a couple of reasons for this chatty behaviour. For one, I am generally treated as a 'familiar friend' by most of the population of Hong Kong, the result of having been seen on local TV off and on for nearly twenty years. Many of the young people have literally grown up watching me on TV. I know that any attempt on my part to talk to the local people will normally be received well.

Secondly, I grew up in a country town. This is probably more relevant than some people at first perceive. In small country towns, most people are friendly toward each other. Gympie, on the outskirts of which I grew up, today still only has a population of around twenty thousand people. The average building estate here in Hong Kong houses far more people than that!

I also remember quite vividly that when my wife and I lived in any of Hong Kong's standard high-rise buildings, we barely knew our neighbours. Now that we're living in one of Hong Kong's villages where the buildings are only three stories high, we suddenly know many more of our neighbours. Perhaps growing up in high-rise buildings unknowingly makes people a little more wary of each other. Or perhaps it's just that life in the city here is so fast paced and high pressured that people simply don't have time or energy to make the effort to talk to others around them. Or perhaps it's simply that you're far more likely to run into your neighbours when there are fewer people to run into, and familiarity builds with frequent meetings.

So it is that we come to an event that occurred tonight. After rehearsing "They’re Playing Our Song (2007)" this afternoon, I drove back to Tsimshatsui to join my wife and her family for dinner at a restaurant to celebrate her father's eightieth birthday. While sitting at the table, my wife and her sisters had their topics to talk about and the older people had their topics. Feeling a little tired and not really wanting to join the girls' conversation, I started looking around the restaurant. Since ceasing my wasteful TV-viewing habit on New Year, I've slept more, exercised more, and done more, and my mind has generally improved significantly. I think clearer and faster than I've done for a long time, and I don't tire as easily. So it is that I decided to peer around the restaurant and as an actor, study the people I could see to see what I might observe and learn.

An elderly woman sat with her friends. She had makeup on and obviously took care to look good, but someone had neglected to help her tidy her thinning hair. At the back of her head, it was lifting and bunched.

An elderly man was cheerfully having dinner with friends. Judging by his mannerisms, it was probably a business dinner. He spoke on good terms with the waiter and it was obvious that he was a regular customer here. Occasionally, he closed his eyes excessively causing them to scrunch up in wrinkly knots, probably an involuntary and unbeknown response that he had attained with age.

Yet another man was having dinner with his family; a wife and a daughter. The man leaned forward as he ate and chewed every bite deliberately and with effort. He appeared to be one of many people in Hong Kong working very hard for his family, and the toil of his labours was clearly visible in the way he ate his food. His daughter was bright and cheerful and there was an obvious bond between them as she squatted on the chair next to him leaning on the table in front of her and chatted to them both. His daughter was possibly the one thing that made his toil worthwhile.

Then, there was a Caucasian. Dressed in a striped shirt; I think it was a t-shirt; the man possibly in his early forties was cheerfully enjoying the food in front of him. I watched him for several minutes. He intrigued me. There was an honesty and a freedom about him. He didn't seem to be as complicated as many people are today and there was a friendly confidence in him. There was also something very odd in the way he moved and bobbed as he ate his food, a movement often seen in Caucasians eating Chinese food. Only later did I come to realise that the strange movement was probably a result of the chopsticks that he was using. Although he held them well and correctly (which many Asians today curiously do not), I suspect that he wasn't adapted to the way his wrist had to twist and turn as he brought the food to his mouth, hence the extra movement of his upper body and head to meet the chopsticks midway. When using a knife and fork, we twist our wrists, but only a little and only on the horizontal axis. Chopsticks require a completely different twist action and I suspect it takes people a while to get used to it.

While watching the man, who I incorrectly believed to be French, he suddenly looked around and saw me watching him. Now my observation of him was completely one of curiosity, of investigation, and because I had no bad intentions of any kind, there was no need for me to hide and I simply smiled back at him. For a second, he thought he recognised me. I shook my head to indicate that he didn't know me and we then both went back to our meals.

A short while later, I decided to take a chance. I found the man's character attractive and I decided to meet him, so I stood up and walked over to his table. Now people do this all the time in pubs and bars, but it doesn't happen very often in restaurants, especially when you know absolutely nothing about the other person.

The man stood up as I approached. We introduced ourselves and sat down. His companion at the table was a local Chinese lady who knew me as a 'familiar friend' and chatting was therefore relatively easier. He was indeed a nice guy, and similar to me in some ways; an Italian now living and working in Sydney, speaking with an international English accent. I'm an Australian, living in Hong Kong who very rarely speaks English but on the occasion that I do, I too speak with an international English accent. It was not a long conversation but it was pleasant. I returned to my table. Soon after, as he was leaving, the man and his companion were kind enough to walk over to my table and bid me farewell.

If I did indeed inherit this 'chatty' behaviour from my father, than I have no choice other than to thank him for it, because on occasion, we do get to meet and know the nicest people.

No longer just ‘hokwokwing.hk’

Filed in General, Technology

For those of you who find it difficult to remember my web site's domain, I have registered another one. You can now use either www.hokwokwing.hk or www.gregory.hk. Both domains work equally well for web and email (although the RSS feeds will always refer to hokwokwing.hk for the time being).

I have applied for yet another two domains. I'll let you know when they've been confirmed; quite possibly next week ;-)

Perfection. The Lie of the Century.

Filed in Current Affairs, General, Hong Kong, LifeTags: , ,

The truth is that everyone wants to be happy. The reality is that apparently, most people are very confused about how to be happy.

For years, advertising agencies have been using images and movies of seemingly very beautiful and happy people to sell products, everything from beer to jewellery. The core of their message is that you'll be happy too if you consume or own whatever they're selling.

The reason that this advertising works is a deep-seeded psychological need for people to be part of a community, to be accepted, to be 'one of the gang'. Many organisations use this need to their advantage. Beer and cigarette commercials imply that if you're not drinking their beer or smoking their cigarettes, that you'll not be welcome by others in the community, or at least if you do drink their beer or smoke their cigarettes, you'll have 'better' friends and more of them. Many young people have come to believe these messages.

Unfortunately, materialism has become a major influence in today's world. We as a society are becoming more and more materialistic, and consequently more and more superficial. Over time, people will lose themselves. They will forget the true value of their lives and despair and hopelessness will ultimately ensue. Perhaps this is the reason that so many young people commit suicide in Hong Kong when relationships fail or when they get unsatisfactory results in their exams. I wish someone would tell them that there's more to a person than what they're wearing, smoking or drinking, and there's much more to a person than the prestige of the school they're attending.

The reason I'm writing this article; the trigger that made me sit down and begin typing, was an article in today's S.C.M.P. titled "Alarm bells ring over cosmetic surgery push". Corporations in Hong Kong are arranging cosmetic surgery tours to Korea where the surgery is cheaper and reportedly more advanced than that available in Hong Kong. Company's are paying big money to hire spokespeople and perform non-trivial surgery to become walking examples of their work. One such corporation by the name of Be a Lady recently paid one million Hong Kong dollars to a former Miss Hong Kong lady (吳文忻, Miss Hong Kong 1998) to have surgery done and become one of their spokespeople. Just the name of the corporation upsets me (colourful language would be more appropriate than 'upset' but generally speaking, I don't use colourful language). It implies that if you're not perfect, then you're not a lady. Unbelievably pathetic!

One of the procedures that Miss Hong Kong 1998 had done was the straightening of her nose. I feel sorry for her. The one million dollars will probably be useful to her, but I very much doubt that any of her operations are going to make her any happier, especially in the long term.

People seem to forget. What the surgeons and corporations are referring to as perfect features in people are in actual fact not attractive. Perfection is boring. Imperfections; the way her nose slants to one side, the way his left eye is slightly smaller than his right eye, or the unusual shape of her lips; make us special. Our wrinkles represent our past; the joy, the laughter, the pain, the hardships and the toil. They also represent our pride because we survived that pain, those hardships and that toil, so why hide them?

We are who we are. Our looks are a very important part of who we are, and that we all look different and perhaps curious is what makes us interesting. It's what makes us human. To infer and teach that people will be happier if they have 'perfect' features is perhaps one of the biggest lies of the century. I wish people would wake up.

The Devaluing of Human Life

It's not unusual in a newspaper's account of a young person committing suicide to read of elder family members or friends struggling to understand why today's young people undervalue their lives. I have my suspicions.

When our parents were growing up, advertising of the variety that implies that you'll be accepted and happy if you use a certain product were minimal. Newspapers were basically text with very few pictures. Television was in black and white and advertising agencies were still learning the psychological side of advertising. Admittedly, they too used pictures of smiling 'happy' people in their advertisements (and 'cool macho' men in the Marlboro ads) but it was harmless for the most part. Most people from that generation worked very hard to make a living and raise their families. Many did it without grudge or complaint. It was an accepted part of life and life itself was to be treasured.

Today, advertising, television programs and magazines now have almost every young person convinced that they'll never be happy if they're not beautiful and don't own all of the latest fashions, accessories and gizmos. The situation is probably further complicated because most parents today are working long hours at the office to pay the household bills and rarely have time to spend with their children, teaching them the value of the family unit, and hence the true way to find value in themselves.

Unfortunately, since we live in a very capitalist world and money controls what we see and read, I don't see a solution to this problem. Materialism will continue to increase. Our society will continue to commoditise and debase humanity. People will continue to buy into the lie of perfection and those people will inevitably arrive at a point in their lives where they'll feel alone, disillusioned, betrayed, degraded and devoid of self-worth. The future doesn't look good for humanity.

If you're considering cosmetic surgery in an attempt to perfect a certain feature, please stop and remember. You're perfect just the way you are. If anyone tries to say otherwise, it's certain that they don't respect you, they don't love you, and they're not worthy of your friendship.

“They’re Playing Our Song” — My first starring role.

Filed in Events, They’re Playing Our Song (2007), WorkTags: , , ,

Back in July of last year, I was pondering whether to go to L.A. and study singing with Miss Peisha McPhee. During this time, I received a phone call from a local director who explained that he wanted to produce a pet project that he had dreamed of for many years. It was an English language stage musical and he wanted me to star in it! I was surprised, slightly stunned and ecstatic. At the time though, that phone call was confirmation to me that I should go to L.A. and work with Peisha which is exactly what I did.

The name of the play is They're Playing Our Song, written by Neil Simon in 1979. The music was written by Marvin Hamlisch and the lyrics were written by Carole Bayer Sager.

They're Playing Our Song is a simple light-hearted love story, about two very different people falling in love.

While the original script involves two main cast members and six music accompaniment members, our version will only involve the two main cast members; one man and one woman. It's a fun story and I think you'll enjoy it. Personally, I like the story and love the music ;-)

They're Playing Our Song will be performed at the Hong Kong Arts Centre in Wanchai in mid-March 2007. I'll provide accurate dates later on. The play will be performed nightly from Mar 16 to 23 at 8pm with extra matinée shows on Mar 17 and 18 at 3pm. Seats will be limited. The theatre seats approximately 100 audience members and we'll only be performing ten shows.

Work begins.

In mid-December, work on the play began. I began taking lessons with a local singing coach picked out by our director. The singing coach is well respected in Hong Kong for both her singing knowledge and her musical acting skills. Her name is Miss Fung. Many of her students know her as Miss Beer. Working with her has been fun. Although I learnt a lot with Peisha in L.A., I am still a long way from being the singer I want to be and there's always plenty to learn. Miss Fung is helping to fill in more of the gaps in my technique while of course also helping me to sing the play's songs as well as I can.

For the time being, we are learning the basics of the songs. Unfortunately, getting the music for the songs has not been easy. Because the play was written back in 1979, the music score is not available in its entirety. We are missing the music scores for two of the songs and also small music pieces that occur during the play. Fortunately, those two songs are available on various CD productions of the play so we can learn from them. As for the other small pieces of music, we have a very capable (and celebrated) music director/arranger who should have no trouble working out something for them from the script.

We are now two months away from performing the musical. Two months may seem like a long time but it's not. There is a lot to do and a lot to learn. I won't be doing much of anything other than work on this play until the performance. Doing otherwise would be unfair to everyone including myself, the director, the actress and the audience.

Two months to go…

The Yellow-bellied Prinia

Filed in Digital Hunter, Hong Kong Wildlife, Photo of the DayTags:

I went digital hunting yesterday. While standing on the upper rail of a steel pipe fence, leaning against a five-inch thick tree which was the only thing between me and an eight-foot drop to the road on the other side of it, I waited and waited. Suddenly, an unnatural movement of the twigs in the bushes ahead of me caught my eye and I watched and readied my camera. A few twitches later, I spotted the small bird, rustling through the bushes looking for food. He wasn't a variety that I recognised and I therefore hoped more than ever to get a decent photograph of him before he left.

Suddenly, he decided to leave; possibly aware that I was just ten feet from where he was foraging for food; but he needed to find out where his partner was. He flew up onto a thin bare trunk protruding from the grass and called out to his partner who replied immediately from the other side of the road. Another thirty seconds and he was gone, but not before I had photographed him a few times. Here is what I consider to be the best of those photographs.

Yellow Bellied Prinia

Yellow-bellied Prinia 灰頭鷦鶯

(Prinia flaviventris)

Date: 9 January 2007, Location: Clear Water Bay, Hong Kong

There is another variety of the Prinia known as the Plain Prinia, but I'm pretty sure that this one is a Yellow-bellied Prinia based on the yellow in his tummy region.

The blue behind him is not the sky but rather hills blurred by the particulate pollution (and the lense's DOF) now pervasive here in Hong Kong.

The image has been cropped to about a third of the original image. He was too small and too far away to photograph at a decent size with my 300mm (x1.6 = 420mm) lense.

For a 750x500 version, click here.

Just for fun, here is a photo of the prinia while he was foraging for food. Can you see him?

Yellow Bellied Prinia in hiding