Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Two More Days To Go

I did not blog in the past week as I was heavily involved in a piece of work which took up more than 16 hours of any day of mine.  With 4 or so hours of sleep everyday I really didn't think I could produce something marginally worth reading.  Luckily, in 2 days' time, I can have my vacation, a much overdue vacation.  Save that I know where my wife will take me to, I have no idea what she has planned for the vacation.  I do know, however, I am going to enjoy whatever she has planned.

I am going to leave my heavy gear at home and take nothing but a toy camera with me.  It's a Yashica EZ F521.  I am always a big fan of Yashica/Contax. Although it costs me no more than HK$680 (about US$87), it has everything I want - an optical viewfinder and a fixed-focal lens which is not too slow (it has a 42.5mm f.3.0 lens).  This 100% plastic little camera is amazingly light, lighter than my very light Summicron 50/2 alone.  I'll write a review of this little Yashica when I'm back from vacation.

To make this vacation a real vacation, I'll be away from phone, computer and internet.  So, there will be no update to this blog before August 13th.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Creepy Songs

This post should be read after the clock strikes 12.

Gloomy Sunday is probably the best known creepy song.  Legends have it that the original version was cursed, something about there being a subliminal message in the Hungarian lyrics and that people would kill themselves after listening to it on a bad day.   Here is Bille Holiday's cover, which, people say, does not carry the dark magic.

夜夜痴纏 is a Hong Kong's answer to the Gloomy Sunday.  Said to have been banned in the 80's following some strange occurrences to the DJs who were stupid enough to play it after mid-night.

I do not find 夜夜痴纏 creepy.  If there is a creepy Cantonese song, it is this one:

This must be the most creepy Bach of all. BTW, whether or not you believe that there is a memorial to Bach's wife hidden in it, this rendering of the Chaconne is deeply affecting.  BBC review of the Morimur here.

And, there is nothing more creepy than this: a 7-year-old playing a Paganini Caprice. (The lovely little girl got accepted by Julliard School and became the school's youngest student after playing Paganini Caprice No. 24, Vieuxtemps Violin Concerto No. 5 and Bach Sonata No.1 in front of Itzhak Perlman and Stephen Clapp.  Here is her short biography)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Education and Lottery

The Hong Kong A-level Exam results were out some two weeks ago and the IB Diploma results were released just now.  Parents of kids who did well (my congratulations to them) were reported to have said that getting 5As in HKAL or 40+ in IB and securing a ticket to one of the top universities is like finally winning a big lottery or a mega jackpot.

Numerous researches have shown that winners of mega jackpots live a short life, are far more likely to go bankrupt and have their marriage ended by way of a divorce.

Do you still want to win a big lottery or mega jackpot?

We often see in the papers stories of people winning a mega jackpot.  What about the people who did not win? I bet you've never read any news about Peter's not winning, Paul's not winning, Mary's not winning ... If we require a TV station to run a 30-second interview with each loser every time they interview a winner, the losers in a typical lottery in the US will require nine and a half years of your uninterrupted attention just to watch them say, "I did not win", "I lost", "Neither did I"... (There is an interesting TED video on this.)  The media bias creates an illusion that lotteries are winnable and makes people buy lottery tickets.

Is it the same with the attraction of the top universities?

We have stories in the papers and fancy magazines (which very often are more pornographic than the real pron magazines) that Simon Junior, graduate of Princeton, joining Goldman Sachs as its youngest partner, and Ann, grand-grand-grand-daughter of Peter the Great and a graduate from Yale, becoming CEO of one of the Fortune 500.  It's not that likely that we'll find in the papers stories of Simon, graduate of Harvard, becoming a police officer, or Peter, a Cambridge's graduate, becoming a pharmacist or a teacher.

Is there a similar illusion, like the lottery one, that makes people believe that going to one of the top universities will bring us happiness and success?

Winners of medium-sized lotteries are generally happier.  If Oxbridge and Ivy League = the biggest lotteries and second-tier universities = medium-sized lotteries, what do you prefer?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Hong Kong Book Fair and Stephen Fry

Although you are not going to see Chrissie Chau and other underage pseudo models in person, this year speaker lineup for the Hong Kong Book Fair has its own attraction.  The guest speakers include:
    • Han Han, Chinese blogger, named one of the "100 most influential people" by Time Magazine;
    •  Frederick Forsyth, author of thriller books The Day of the Jackal, The Odessa File, The Dogs of War and The Devil's Alternative;
    • Stephen Fry, actor, comedian, author and Twitter user with more thn 1.57 million followers;
    • Andrew Roberts, historian and author of Hitler and Churchill;
    • Jade Y Chen, best-selling novelist and playwright from Germany.
    To take part in the guest speaker forums, you have to register ahead of time.  Act now.  Chances are that all the places for Han's and Fry's forums will be taken very quickly.

    Here is Stephen Fry. (If you, quite understandably, don't want to see too much of Ann Widdecombe, jump to 1:15).

    Friday, July 09, 2010

    Hong Kong's Best Kept Secrets Series - Tiao Yuan Soya Sauce 調源醬油

    It's a very well kept secret.

    An extremely low profiled old money family in Hong Kong has been producing the Tiao Yuan soya sauce since time long forgotten.  The family, among the very rich though, is little known.  Members of the family have been patrons to China Care Fund, a local charity that is quietly helping many poor students (especially girls) in the more remote parts of China.  The family once hosted a causal party for the China Care Fund's people at the family mansion in Fanling.  I was lucky to be invited.  It was not a fancy party like the ones at Four Seasons but there were good friends, good food and good chats.  After the party the guests were presented some souvenirs - two bottles of Tiao Yuan soya sauce, freshly brewed from the in-house brewing facilities, which were behind the mansion and next to the private peacocks garden (there were some real peacocks!).  Nice party souvenirs indeed.  The soya sauce is brewed in the way their great grandparents did it.  No chemicals added; no preservatives, no artificial colouring and nothing of those substances whose names I cannot spell.  Just good materials and a lot of attention and a lot of time.  The soya sauce making business is now more a family heritage than a money-making business.  They are making it for friends, relatives and old customers who still remember them.  Production is extremely small.  There used to be an outlet in Causeway Bay but it is now gone.  To buy the soya sauce you need to go to Sham Shui Po and look for a little shop called Tai Hing Food, which is right opposite to Pei Ho Street Market Building.   Trust me, it is the best soya sauce you can find.  The price is a little unreal - it's HK$20 per bottle.  It makes the price for the balsamic vinegar from Modena or Reggio Emilia sound like a joke.

    Tuesday, July 06, 2010

    It's Complicated

    Summer must be a time for divorce.

    A few friends of mine have their problems with marriage resolved by way of a divorce recently.  The common issue - a third party.  The complication of having a third party is always under-estimated. Consider this: two cake lovers wish to share a cake so that each is satisfied that they have a fair share.  How to divide the cake between the two?  It's not that hard when there are only two cake lovers involved - A cuts, B chooses.  The problem gets tricky when a third cake lover is brought into the picture.  How to divide the cake among the three so that each is satisfied that they have a fair share?  I'll give you a moment to deliberate on it.
    Don't get frustrated if you can't think of an answer.  The question, posted hundreds of years ago, was left unresolved until 1944 when a group of Polish mathematicians came up with a somewhat right solution.  A tripartite situation is more tricky that one can imagine.  Anyone who thinks that he (seems that it's always he) can resolve a tripartite marriage is either completely stupid or hopelessly arrogant.

    Ironically, if one can divide a cake fairly among three persons, he can divide it among four, five, six or more (see How to Cut a Cake if you are interested).

    Chinese Lesson (1) - 山人仙谷俗

    人: man; person; people.
    山: mountain; hill.
    仙: immortal; god; divine; heavenly.

    人 + 山 = 仙. Therefore, to be immortal and divine, a man needs to go deep into the mountain, away from the material world.

    人: man; person; people.
    谷: grain, corn, harvest.
    俗: worldly, materialistic, vulgar.

    人 + 谷 = 俗.  So, a man who eats is bound to be worldly, materialistic, or even vulgar.  The more he eats or the more harvest he keeps, the more vulgar he will be.

    Friday, July 02, 2010

    Hou Yeh Pinoy! Great! Filipinos! 好嘢!菲律賓人!

    Traditionally, people don't talk much about the Philippines except the beaches in Cebu, Imelda Marco's shoes, Freddie Aguilar's Anak and, of course, export of domestic helpers. But, it seems that things are starting to change. These days, local newspapers carry stories of Walden Bello, and the Hong Kong Arts Centre is hosting the first Philippine Film Festival.  (I really want to watch Voices/Boses but my work schedule for the coming week sucks.)  A welcome change.

    Thursday, July 01, 2010

    A Quick Rreview

    This blog has been up for a few months.  It's time for a quick review.

    1. Microsoft is out

    2. The Metro Vocal Group is in
    I notice that in the last few days, quite a number of the new readers were directed by Google to this post as they were googling "Metro Vocal Group". They were from everywhere: Thailand, the Netherlands, New Zealand and ... Romania and Russia?  It seems that people all over the world are suddenly interested in the Metro Vocalists. Their new video "Under a Vast Sky" got almost 100,000 hits in less than 3 days.

    3. Top referral site
    Gweipo leads by a big margin, followed by Joyce and Ulaca.

    4. Apparently most loved post
    On fatherhood.  Surprisingly, people like it.  I guess the cute video helps.

    5. Apparently most influential post
    On fatherhood again. One reader said in a private comment that he (or she) may reconsider the kids issue.

    6. The worst post (nominated by SorLo)
    Application for permission to date my daughter. It's a shameless copy and paste, and completely devoid of originality. (But I know parents in  my situation will forgive me.)
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