Where has the clarity gone?

Filed in Hong Kong

Since owning the Canon 350D camera, I have been taking many more photographs than I've taken in many years. I have also had to spend an inordinate amount of time loading them onto my iMac, converting to tif and then touching up and converting to jpg (in three sizes). By touchup, I don't mean opening the photos in Photoshop. In fact, I don't own Photoshop. All of my touchups are done with a scanning and image processing software called SilverFast, developed in Germany and sold around the world. A lot of professional photographers know about the software; many non-professionals don't, only aware of Photoshop which by the way is too complicated for me personally; it's true.

My touchup only involves improving the colours, contrast, colour range and lighting of the photos. Sometimes, I need to adjust the white balance which in itself is a topic I plan to discuss some time in the future. It's while making these adjustments that I have become aware that almost always, nature in Hong Kong doesn't look as beautiful as the photos. It's a shame but true. The biggest factor is contrast and clarity. They're simply not there in nature.

I remember back in the days of SARS, the scenery in Hong Kong was fabulous, better than anything I'd seen in all the years I've lived here. I had to wonder why this was so and the only answer I could come up with was pollution. At the time, masses of people were staying at home, afraid to go out. Most people would continue to work to continue providing for their families but going out for entertainment or food was simply out of the question. Combined with the effects of the economic depression in effect at the time and you get a situation where the number of cars on the road at any one time was only a fraction of what would be normal.

Driving to work in the Tseung Kwan O industrial estate, the hills were green, the sky was clear blue, and sea was crisp. Just looking at everything around me was a pleasure in itself and gave me a great feeling. It's a shame it couldn't last although nobody obviously wanted SARS to last.

Pollution in Hong Kong is pretty serious now. The Hong Kong government has a rating for air pollution levels throughout Hong Kong but they are a comparative rating from low to high (the Disclaimer is interesting). The common person is never told the actual levels of chemicals and pollutants in the air. I remember a few years ago that some interest groups in Hong Kong were complaining about the rating system compared to the actual levels of pollutants. They were especially concerned about crowded popular shopping areas like Causeway Bay. People were actually advised to stay away from these centres because of the pollution levels. I haven't heard similar warnings since but can only imagine that they'll reoccur soon with the increasing pollution and extreme heat that we'll see in the coming months.

I guess we've been lucky so far this year. The extra rain would have taken a lot of the pollution out of the air and washed it away.

Industry hasn't increased in Hong Kong in the recent years so where's the extra pollution coming from? Apparently, it's coming from China, places like Gwangdong. When asked about the pollution problem, officials replied there was nothing they could do. Every developed country had gone through a highly polluted industrial development stage and China was no different. Hong Kong would simply have to put up with the pollution while it's parent grew and developed into something better. Regrettably, it's true. We'll have to wait; maybe another twenty years or more. Development takes a long time.

China has rules and measures in place to reduce pollution from factories and industries. Some of these require the use of catalytic converters to change the pollution into something friendlier to the environment and to people. Unfortunately, the catalytic converter systems are expensive to maintain and run so many of the factories in China turn them off at night to save money. At night time, the dirty pollutants can't be seen by the average person so nobody's going to report the factories for violating the rules.

Today in Hong Kong is a wonderful day. The sun is high in the sky and there's a breeze blowing through the air. Unfortunately, the hills only a kilometer away are slightly blurry to look at simply because of the pollution and there's nothing we can do;

except touchup our photos on our computers to make the world appear better than it actually is.

It’s noisy but who cares!

Filed in Music

My wife and I are at the Robin Gibb concert in the HK Exhibition Centre. We arrived half an hour late much to my wife's chagrin. I planned on parking beneath the new extension but after half an hour of queueing in traffic finally arrived at a full car park. We had to swing around and park in the car park next to the hotel and walk over instead. Whoever designed this exhibition centre should be shot. They should have planned for large numbers of people parking here. It is after all an exhibition centre.

So we finally made it to the concert, albeit late.

My impressions? This place wasn't designed for concerts. The sound properties are terrible. Add to that the loud volumes that the speakers have to produce and substandard sound mixing and you end up with a lot of noise where Robin's voice is sometimes hardly discernable.

Robin's voice is raspy and the chorus is sometimes off key. The music is over-bearing and the orchestral music arranger succumbed to the common temptation and musical sin of using as many instruments as much of the time as possible.

The floor of the hall is flat so people at the back have a hard time seeing Robin on stage, and because all sound is produced by the speakers in front, people sitting in the front section are getting blasted as if they were in a rock concert.

But the songs are great, and the Bee Gee fans? Well they're having a fantastic time!

Time to sign off and listen to the music ;-)

E.T. go home!

Filed in Photo of the Day

He's a small praying mantis that I found in our flat. He wouldn't survive inside so I took him back outside. (Click here to see other web sites with amazing photos of praying mantii and stick insects)

I've been told by someone at Kadoorie that Stick Insects and Praying Mantii are the same, except that one is male and the other is female. I don't believe that's true though. There are structural differences which make the two insects too different to be related.

He's cute!

A cute praying mantis

For a close-up shot of the praying mantis, click here.

「情迷黑森林」 Thomas and I

Filed in TVB (H.K.) 香港無線電視, WorkTags:

This is a photo of Thomas Lui and myself. Thomas is the chief pastry chef at the Marriot Hotel. He's a great guy and incredibly talented when it comes to pastry and chocolate. Every cake and chocolate creation you see in the show was made by Thomas, with great attention to detail. He loves his work and he never settles for less than perfect.

I remember one night filming at the studio. My scene was the second-last scene of the night but rather than leave and go home straight away, I decided to wait until they had finished the last scene so that I could get one of the cakes that had been made for that night's shooting. Sure enough, after every scene had been filmed, I was able to leave with half a cake; the producer took the other half. It was no ordinary cake, not the fluffy kind you normally see in shops and restaurants. This cake was made of yoghurt and something else that I can't remember at this point. You'll probably see it in the series. The cake was absolutely heavenly to eat. My family loved it as much as I did. It was possibly one of the best cakes I've ever eaten in my life!

By the way, the orange 'wall' that you see in front of Thomas and myself in the photo is in fact a sponge cake! All of the cartoon adornments on the front of the cake are made of chocolate, made by Thomas of course.

Thomas and I

One more thing. If you watched the first episode of the TV series, you should have seen the cake that 高根 made for his son. It was a taxi cake. Thomas in fact made a taxi cake for his baby boy a few years ago, so you can see where the idea came from. In Thomas' case, the taxi was full of chocolates and other nicities. Thomas has also made a Kowloon bus cake for his son's birthday. He's an amazing guy.

「情迷黑森林」宣傳#2

Filed in Events, TVB (H.K.) 香港無線電視, Work, 中文文章Tags:

我們「情迷黑森林」的人明天(六月五日禮拜天)將在尖沙咀再做宣傳活動,下午二點三十分在美麗華酒店對面的柏麗大道。

「情迷黑森林」宣傳

Filed in Events, TVB (H.K.) 香港無線電視, Work, 中文文章Tags:

我有份拍的「情迷黑森林」在下個星期一在香港開始播。現在我坐著公司車到萬豪酒店去,為這個劇集做宣傳。我有點兒開心因為有機會再見劇集的顧問厨師阿 Thomas 。劇集內的朱古力和蛋糕大多數都是由他親手做的。

這個劇集是我在 Los Angeles 讀演戲之後第一個機會試我學了的演戲方法,所以我對我在這個劇集內的表現好有興趣。

我們開始!

“Perfume” 「香水」; my Prologue

Filed in Events, Perfume 香水 (2005), Work

It's been three weeks since "Perfume" 「香水」 finished, enough time to feel the after-show depression and get over it again. I always enjoy the stage performances. They are the rare opportunity for me to share time with the same group of people over an extended period of time, an opportunity to discover new friends.

"Perfume" was no exception.

Terence 鄭傳軍, the director, is himself an actor with five years of study at the Hong Kong Institute of Performing Arts. He was very particular with every aspect of the play and gave advice or requests to the actors frequently but also respected their need for room and freedom to try their own methods of expression. He did a terrific job with Josie who was simply great on the stage.

Josie 何超儀 has been acting for an eternity but almost always on film. Acting for stage is different and she had to adjust. She's a smart lady though and she worked hard to become the best she could be. It showed. I guess I was lucky on this occasion. When I began working with these people, I had no pre-conceptions about them, their abilities or their personalities. I was starting from scratch. I knew Josie's background but that was all I knew and it didn't affect my relationship with her.

Josie's a marvel. She has many serious physical debilitating problems and she never lets them hold her back. Her mind is as strong as steel and she works as hard as a horse to get whatever she wants. And she doesn't have a single hint of arrogance in spite of her family background and her success in the film world. It's no wonder she has the respect of her peers.

Alice 劉雅麗 was wonderful. She has years of stage acting experience and no character is too big a challenge for her. I'd heard of her a few times over the years that I've been in Hong Kong but I've never worked with her, and I've never seen her performances. It's a pity because she's really a great actor.

Gary 譚偉權 is remarkable. If anyone needs a model of hard work and determination, they need look no further than Gary. He gave up his work in TVB several years ago because they were holding him back, confining him to the children's program. Now he has a full time day-time job and pursues his true love at night; ie, acting. Every day during rehearsals, Gary would work a full eight-hour day at his day-time job and then rehearse with us for four hours in the evening. He's proven that actors can continue to act if they really want to, even if they have to work a day-time job to put food on the table.

Four hard working actors without arrogance, malice or envy all working hard and cooperating to make the best production possible. It's no wonder we became friends.

Sally 林愛心 and Shirley 梁雅芝 were wonderful to work with. If you saw the show, you probably saw them dressed in black walk up onto the stage to stand with us at closing before we left the stage; two wonderful and hard working girls. They faced multiple challenges every day, and they did it without complaint. They were usually over-worked and tired but always wore a smile none-the-less.

It was a great team. I'm proud to have been a part of it.

The play was an original, written by 喻榮軍, a playwright from Shanghai. It was written for a Mandarin audience and we had to make changes; both from a language standpoint and from a content standpoint; for the Hong Kong audience. That said, the playwright did a great job with the play, creating something that was interesting, intriguing and entertaining to watch. That's not an easy feat and the playwright should be commended for his achievement.

Unfortunately, there was one aspect of the play with which I didn't totally agree. Many of the audience found it confusing that Gary and I would suddenly and so obviously be gay partners at the end of the play. It was clearly out of sync with the rest of the story. As actors, there's only so much we can do to control the result of the play. In the end, we have to listen to the demands of the director and the company executives. In this case, it was the company executives who requested this particular ending; albeit in the best interests of the play. They thought that Hong Kong audiences would be entertained by this comical result, and in fact, many audiences were entertained by the ending. Unfortunately, they were also confused. If there is ever a re-run of the play, perhaps they can polish the ending a little to keep it entertaining without the confusion. It won't be easy but they're smart people so anything is possible.

For me, the question now is one of waiting, waiting for the next opportunity to perform on stage. In many ways, it's superior to working for television or film because you're given every opportunity to develop the character, to always be working with your partners on set, and to always perform the role from start to finish without interruption. It's a great way to act.

My first stage performance was in 1997 with "Magic is the Moonlight" 「上海之夜」. My second performance was in 2002 with the "Teresa Tang Forever" musical 「但願人長久鄧麗君音樂劇」. "Perfume" 「香水」 was my third stage performance. Hopefully, I won't have to wait long for my fourth stage performance.

I had a dream

Filed in Memoirs

I had a dream this morning. I can't remember all of the details. Dreams are strange in nature, adding bits and pieces of our lives into a montage that we call a dream.

I was in a man's home. It wasn't an expensive home. It was relatively old with lots of wooden furniture, the type that you can move around, not the built-in wardrobe type. It was open with windows all around; windows with wooden frames. I seem to remember ceiling fans.

At one side of the flat, I was able to through the window see strange things that looked like trees except that they were huge hanging mobiles planted in the ground; very artistic and very typical of the man's nature. A few seconds later, the mobiles disappeared and there were instead tables spread out in a 'U' shape, tables big enough to seat 12 people each. It was a restaurant, a Chinese restaurant, with fanned paper napkins, pink actually. There was a 鬼佬 sitting at one of the tables and a waiter serving him. I suddenly remembered the restaurant that I'd seen downstairs. It was the same restaurant although if the dream was reality, it wouldn't be possible; for the restaurant to be both downstairs and at the back of this man's home somewhere up in a high-rise building.

I turned around and we were sitting down at a table having dinner. The man's wife, 曾華倩, perky and sprite as ever, was there sitting to the left of me. The man's personal assistant and one other person were there too. One talked about computer problems (職業病?) and then the man asked his assistant about a problem he was having with his music composition program. Although the man had retired from professional singing, he was obviously still deeply involved, writing his own music, possibly for others to sing.

I was petrified. This man was one of the greatest. We had known each other although only for a minute far far in the past but he was still a great man. He wasn't my idol but he was still wonderous. I had nothing to say but they didn't seem to notice. While talking about the music composition program, I had the urge to offer my computer help but repressed the urge because more than appreciation for my computer skills, I wanted the man to appreciate me as a friend, if not now then later.

Suddenly, as is common in dreams, I was in the kitchen in front of the dish washing basin. I was washing a cup, at least I thought it was a cup. It turned out to contain dish washing powder used in commercial dish washing machines like the ones I attended while studying at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. I looked over to the right and there was a huge commercial dish washing machine, probably the same size as the one I used at the Baxter College dormitory at the university. Of course, this was the man's home. There shouldn't have been a commercial dish washing machine here but this was a dream. Anything goes.

曾華倩 came in and told me that I didn't have to help with the dishes. Somebody grabbed a couple of bottles of beverage from the fridge and then we were in the adjoining room, like a dining area but not the one where we had dinner. The man was there and I was beginning to calm down and become comfortable around him. He looked great, the way I remember him from our time together in Sydney many years ago. We picked up our brown bottles of beer from the table although my bottle mysteriously became a clear bottle of 7-up or something similar.

We talked a little.

And I woke up.

After playing with our dogs in the garden, I went back to our own kitchen and began making a cup of coffee with our Breville coffee maker. Suddenly, one of the man's songs was in my head and it's still there as I write this prose:

風繼續吹 不忍遠離
心裡極渴望 希望留下伴著你
風繼續吹 不忍遠離
心裡亦有淚 不願流淚望著你

過去多少快樂記憶 何妨與你一起去追
要將憂鬱苦痛洗去 柔情蜜意我願記取
要強忍離情淚 未許它向下垂
愁如鎖 眉頭聚 別離淚始終要下垂

Some men are truly great.