After the fortress-houses of Floating Moon Village, we stopped by at another group of buildings in Toi Shan, those belonging mainly to the Boey (Mui) family many of whose descendants are now in the East Coast of America and Canada.
This is a panoramic view of the two rows of houses copied from the Internet. There are a total of some 108 such houses more than half of which belonging to the biggest name there Boey (Mui). So they are popularly known as the Mui Family Court (梅家大院). They were all built in the 1940's just before WWII and reflected the Western architectural style of the period and is the site where the famous Chinese film "Let the Bullets Fly" was filmed. It's one of the best preserved kind of buildings of the period. A typical feature of such houses is that each of their verandahs are supported by front pillars on the kerbside facing the huge courtyard.
Christmas is over. Really? If so, why are all those reindeers, Christmas trees, white fleece-snow, balloons, and color metallic balls, tinsels and ribbons etc still around all the shopping malls? And perhaps even the jokes?
1. Christmas In my Heart
Christmas is in my heart twelve months a year. Thanks to credit cards, it’s on my Visa card statement twelve months a year also.
2. Santa and the little girl As a little girl climbed onto Santa's lap, Santa asked the usual, "And what would you like for Christmas?" The child stared at him open mouthed and horrified for a minute, then gasped: "Didn't you get my E-mail?"
3. Boys and Grandma Two young boys were spending the night at their grandparents. At bedtime, the two boys knelt beside their beds to say their prayers when the youngest one began praying at the top of his lungs. "I PRAY FOR A NEW BICYCLE... I PRAY FOR A NEW NINTENDO... I PRAY FOR A NEW I-Phone 5..." His older brother leaned over and nudged the younger brother and said, "Hey, why are you shouting your prayers? God isn't deaf !." His little brother replied, "No, but Gramma is!"
4. Christmas in the Courtroom
It was Christmas and the magistrate was in a merry mood. He leaned over and asked the accused “Why did they bring you here?” “For doing my Christmas shopping early,” replied the accused. “That’s no offense,” said the magistrate "but when and where did you do your shopping?". “Before the store opened,” countered the accused.
5. Three Wise Men
Q: Why weren’t there any nativity scenes in Washington D.C.? A: They couldn’t find three wise men. 6. Teacher & Pupil
Teacher: If I have 20 cents and ask Ebenezer Scrooge for another 30 cents, how much will I have? Pupil: 20 cents, teacher! Teacher: You don’t know your arithmetic. Pupil: Please, miss, you don’t know Scrooge!
7. The 3 stages of man
1. He believes in Santa Claus. 2. He doesn’t believe in Santa Claus. 3. He is Santa Claus.
8. Santa Claus is a woman!
Santa Claus can't be a man. Here's why:
The vast majorities of men don’t even think about selecting gifts until Christmas Eve and then only go for a last-minute shopping spree. A man would inevitably get lost up there in the snow and clouds and then refuse to stop and ask for directions. Men can’t pack a bag. Men would rather be dead than be caught wearing red velvet. Men don't ever want to be seen in the company all those elves. Men don’t answer their mail. Men can't be bothered with stockings unless somebody’s wearing them. Being responsible for Christmas would require a commitment.
9. All You Needed to Know About Life you can learn from Santa
Encourage people to believe in you. Always remember who’s naughty and who’s nice. Don’t pout. It’s as much fun to give as it is to receive. Some days it’s OK to feel a little chubby. Make your presents known. Always ask for a little bit more than what you really want. Bright red can make anyone look good. Wear a wide belt and no-one will notice how many pounds you’ve gained. If you only show up once a year, everyone will think you’re very important. Whenever you’re at a loss for words, say: “HO, HO, HO!”
Christmas usually means agonizing over dresses, accessories, jewelry, hairdos, handbags, shoes, lipsticks, eye-lashes, eye shadows, face powder, nail polish and deciding which parties to go to and whose to politely refuse and dreams of meeting the right guy for teenage girls and similar sleepless nights over what gifts to buy for whom, when and how to give them away and fussing over the Christmas lunches and dinners for married couples, and shopping, dinners, cinemas or mahjong parties for the junior office workers and looking forward to being rejoined by their children and grandchildren for the older folks. But for me, Christmas this year meant a new adventure: a short trip to nearby Guangdong with fellow amateur photographers.
The trip meant meeting at the Futian Port Station across the border from Lok Ma Chau MTR station 7 a.m. in the morning. I arrived early and waited for the late comers but didn't have to wait long. We had a tour leader and a local guide. Our tour leader was a lovely young lady trying her nervous best to look self-confident and competent. Our local tour guide was her complete opposite: a seasoned loud-mouth, no nonsense tom-boy whose jokes about some of the things which could happen would make us gasp for breath from belly aches from laughing too hard. One of her "would-you-believe it?" tales concerned her anxieties during one of her many tours: after several hours of urgent telephone calls to and from the hotel management and her, one old couple who vigorously denied having left anything important inside a combination-lock operated hotel room safe deposit box despite a message requesting for combination lock number code from the hotel manager for their locked safe deposit box, something nobody expected was discovered after the they called in an expert locksmith: a "pineapple bun" which the old couple bought from a restaurant where they lunched earlier in the day because they mistook the safe deposit box for a micro-wave oven and then decided to abandon their pre-bedtime snack because they couldn't remember the combination number a minute after they put it in!
Just finished a trip to a mystifying country: India. I came away with a puzzle that I can never figure out: how is possible for a people of such obvious intelligence and subtlety of thought to remain a third world country for such a long time? I shall try to find out but that should not stop one from having a little fun about that inscrutable subcontinent.
1. Asardarji walks into a bar and orders 3 shots for himself. The bartender asks him why 3 shots? Asaradarji says that he has two brothers overseas and that whenever they drink, they all drink for each other as well. A few weeks later, Asardarji comes in again and orders 2 shots for himself. The bartender asks him if something happened to one of his brothers. Asardarji replies "Nah, I've just stopped drinking but the other two haven't. " 2. A Western expatriate teacher at an international school offers a cash reward to the child who can name the greatest man who ever lived. “Buddha?” says a Buddhist. “The prophet?” says a Muslim. “Jesus?” says a Hindu. The teacher hands the money to the Hindu, who says: “Thanks, Miss. Actually, the right answer is Krishna, but business is business." 3.
Asardarji brings his best buddy home for dinner
unannounced at 5:30 after work. His wife starts screaming at him whilst his friend just sits and listens. "My hair and makeup are not done. The house is a mess. The dishes
are not done. I'm still in my pajamas. And I can't be bothered with
cooking tonight! Why the hell did you bring him home for?" Asardarji "Because he's thinking of getting married."
Our next stop is the Qutb Minar (Urdu: قطب مینار), or Qutub or Qutab, the
tallest minar in India, originally an ancient Islamic
Monument inscribed with Arabic inscriptions an is now a UNESCO World
Heritage Site. The minar itself is built on the ruins of the Lal Kot, the Red Citadel
in the city of Dhillika, the capital of the Tomars and the Chauhans, the
last Hindu rulers of Delhi. One engraving on the minar reads, "Shri
Vishwakarma prasade rachita" ("conceived with the grace of Vishwakarma"),built by Qutb-ud-din Aibak.
Without a doubt, one of the main reasons I chose the tour to the Tourist Triangle including Agra is the Taj Mahal. It is supposed to be the best example of the blend of Islamic, Persian,
Ottoman Turkish and Indian architectural styles and has been called "the jewel of Muslim art in India" and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage. According to Begley, an expert on Indian architecture, it is likely that the diagram of "Plain of
Assembly" (Ard al-Hashr) on the Day of Judgment by Sufi mystic and
philosopher Ibn Arabi (ca. 1238) was a source of inspiration for the
layout of the Taj Mahal garden. Ibn Arabi was held in high regard at the
time and many copies of the Futuhat al-Makkiyya, that contains the
diagram, were available in India. The diagram shows the 'Arsh (Throne of
God; the circle with the eight pointed star), pulpits for the righteous
(al-Aminun), seven rows of angels, Gabriel (al-Ruh), A'raf (the
Barrier), the Hauzu'l-Kausar (Fountain of Abundance; the semi-circle in
the center), al-Maqam al-Mahmud (the Praiseworthy Station; where the
prophet Muhammad will stand to intercede for the faithful), Mizan (the
Scale), As-Sirāt (the Bridge), Jahannam (Hell) and Marj al-Jannat
(Meadow of Paradise). The general proportions and the placement of the
Throne, the pulpits and the Kausar Fountain show striking similarities
with the Taj Mahal and its garden.
My first glimpse of the entrance of Taj Mahal: two towers topped by 11 chittras in the middle guarded by two minarets, the central gate flanked by 2 symmetrical pishtaqs (a Persian term for a portal projecting from
the facade of a building usually decorated with calligraphy
bands, glazed tilework, and geometric designs) on each side.This type of form is commonly
associated with Islamic architecture but was invented much earlier in
Mesopotamia ( present day Iraq), around the third century of the Parthian Persian period.
After visiting the Palace of Breeze and the Amber Fort/Palace and lunch we were taken to see one of the most spectacular examples of precision Indian architecture: the Jantar Mantar stone observatory . The Observatory was built by Sawai Jai Singh II, a Rajput king who served Emperor Aurangzeb and later Mughals and who rebuilt the Jaipur as the new capital between 1727-1734,. The observatory was modeled after a similar one he built at the Mughal capital of Delhi. Of 5 such observatories he built, this is the largest and best
preserved. It was designated a monument of national importance by India in 1968 and now forms part of the UN World Heritage as
"an expression of the astronomical skills and cosmological concepts of
the court of a scholarly prince at the end of the Mughal period". It was also built as a symbol of royal authority, through its urban dimensions,
its control of time, and its rational and astrological forecasting
capacities. Thus the observatory is the monumental embodiment of the coming
together of three different needs: political, scientific, and
This is a view of the observatory taken at a corner close to its entrance. The word "Jantar" means instrument and the word "mantar" means "formula" or calculation and the two words "jantar mantar" together means "calculating instrument". In ancient India, astrology is inseparably linked to astronomy. There are a total of some 20 major instruments at the observatory, all built of stone, marble and brass and each has carefully calculated calibration marks on the inner marble rings for measuring solar time in hours and minutes and second at the particular longitude and latitude of Jaipur, for ascertaining the declination of planets, for tracking stars from the perspective of planet earth as the earth orbits the sun and for predicting solar eclipses. Each of such instruments is fixed on the ground and is a "focused" tool. Designed for the observation of astronomical positions with the naked
eye, they embody several architectural and instrumental innovations.
Saturday night is always exciting for me. It usually means another pleasant experience at the Cultural Centre. It has been so for many years now. I'm seldom disappointed. Last night. I had two pleasant surprises again.
The first relates to Ning Feng's Beethoven Violin Concerto in D, O. 61 in Allegro ma non troppo, Larghetto and Rondo (Allegro) under the baton of Jaap van Zweden. This piece had a special meaning for me. When I was young I was part of our school harmonica band which played a harmonica version of its second movement with Wong Jim, who later went on to be one of Hong Kong best lyricists, as our soloist and we won a second prize at the school music festival for its performance. I had listened to it I don't know how many times. Yet, no matter how many times I heard it, I never cease to be moved by its beauty. Neng Fung is an excellent violinist, technically perfect. And he played on a Strad whose sound is as bright and silky as it could be. Yet somehow I found something lacking, a little something. It's difficult to describe. It's not that he did not play with feeling. It's not that he did not play with variation in the violin's tonalities or that he played at a mechanical pace. It's not that he failed to play the fortissimos and pianissimos at the wrong volume level. Could it be that he paid a little too much attention to the smoothness and the continuity of the sound and failed to stay just a wee bit longer at certain notes before moving on to the next string of notes or that he failed to press his bow a little harder at the G strings and the D string so that the full emotional impact of the violin's sound would have the kind of time the relevant notes need to have their full effect? I was thinking if he could have played the violin the way Gidon Kremer or David Oistrach played it. At places I felt that he played a little louder than was necessary. Was that because the HKPO was too loud in their accompaniment and he had to play louder to maintain the proper balance between his solo sound and that of the orchestra. I really do not know. This feeling was particularly strong at the first movement. His cadenza when the orchestra was not playing was by contrast much better. But somehow I just came away feeling that it would have been perfect had he played a little differently from the way he actually did.
After the morning tour of the City Palace, we were taken to another highlight, the 1.5 sq. mile Amber/Amer Fort, some 7 miles from Jaipur, Rajasthan, built by Raja Man Singh I and known for its blend of Hindu and Moghul architectural styles.
This is the Moata Lake. Tthe Amber Fort is at the further end of the lake.In the Middle Ages, Amer was called Dhundar (the name derived from a sacrificial mount in the western frontiers) and was ruled by the Kachwahas from 1037 until 1727 when Sawai Jai Singh II moved the
capital from Amer to Jaipur. Before the Kachwahas, Amer was just a small settlement built
by the Meenas in honour of Amba, the Mother Goddess,
whom they called `Gatta Rani' or `Queen of the Pass'. The present Amer Fort was built over the remnants of this earlier structure
by the Raiput Raja Man Singh and was expanded by his descendant, Jai Singh I and further added to and improved upon by successive
rulers over the next 150 years. Many of the original structures by the Meenas have since been destroyed or replaced by new structures.
I attended an excellent talk last night about Buddhist views on gay rights which was contrasted with the views advocated by some Christian fundamentalists in Hong Kong whose government is now consulting the public about the possibility of passing new legislation to give equal rights to gays, neutrally described as people having different sexual orientations. That turns my thoughts on the mysteries how it is possible for Christian fundamentalists to remain as such. Are their brains somehow made in a different way from that of the rather more "ordinary" people. But how to tell if you're a Christian fundamentalist? This is what I found on the net. Top Ten Signs You're a Fundamentalist Christian
10. You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.
9. You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.
8. You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.
7. Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Allah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and trees!
6. You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a God-man who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.
5. You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (between 4-4.5 billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few tens generations old or just about 6000 years.
4. You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs -- though excluding those in all rival sects - will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."
3. While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christianity.
2. You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers.You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.
1. You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history, but still call yourself a Christian.
But then, this is a strange world. There certainly are many many things that us poor benighted fools whose resurrected "bodies" are destined to burn for all eternity in a fire which somehow will never turn them into cinders, unlike the Christian fundamentalists, don't "really" understand.
"The only good is knowledge, and the only evil is ignorance." Herodotus
"Ignorance is the curse of God; knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven." William Shakespeare
"Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family." Kofi Annan
"Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind." Plato
There can be little doubt that knowledge is the dream of great leaders in every field of human endeavour and those who will make a difference to the lives of their fellow men. In contemporary societies everywhere, despite the popularization of the internet, the school is still one of the most important institutions through which children may acquire knowledge. My last film at the Cinepanorama, "Sur le Chemin a l'école" (On the Way to School) (平平安安上學去) (2012) by Pascal Plisson, is a documentary about the kind of difficulties which some children may have to endure daily or weekly to realize their dream of knowledge. Specifically, the film tracks the respective journeys to their school of 4 children and their brothers and/or sister.
India is full of surprises. Before I stepped on to the plane to New Delhi, India was for me the land
of the famous Taj Mahal, of colored men with big bushy eyebrows, deep
set eyes, straight nose, thick black beard below his chin upon a turbaned
head, sitting on the ground with a gourd-like pipe luring the cobra
out from a wicker basket and dark skinned ladies in colorful lacy saris
with hands folded in front of her breasts, a beauty spot right between her two eyebrows turning her head left and
right as if it were somehow detached from her upper body always in wavy motion, her bare feet moving in tiny dance steps, of train
carriages with people packed inside like sardines, some sitting
atop their roofs and some merely clinging on for dear life to
the handrails between train compartments, of people bathing themselves
on the dusty banks of a polluted Ganges, of little shops with all kinds
of brass and finely crafted silver plated vessels and the land which gave us Mahatma Gandhi, the father of civil disobedience and where Mother Teresa spent a lifetime helping. Is that the India
that I found?
I'm quite sure that had Jacques Derrida visited India, he'd probably find it a philosophic paradise: it's a paradigmatic exemplar of his concept of "différance". What a pity he didn't do so. That is the feeling I came away with at the end of my weeklong tour of North India. To me, India is truly a land of diversity, of difference, of contradiction, of heterogeneity, not of unity, of identity, of consistency nor of homogeneity both in terms of time and in terms of space. I found not just one single India but a multiplicity of Indias!
What do I mean?
Of all the French language films I saw at the Cinepanorama this year, Inch Allah (2012) of
screen-writer and director Anais Barbeau-Lavalette must surely count as the most emotionally draining of all.
As the film opens, we see a young child admiring some birds in a number of cages. Behind him, we see various tables and chairs on the pavement of a cafe-bar with Chloé (Evelyne Brochu) relaxing with her friend Ava (Sivan Levy). Then suddenly we hear the noise of a loud explosion and we see frightened doves flying in the air against the blue sky. Later that evening, we see Chloé walking in the cobbled street of Ramallah half drunk with Ava asking her to say something while she takes her photo on her i-phone. Ava did not know what to say. Chloé told her to say "Hello Palestine". She tried but Chloé said she did not it say it with the right tone and she had to do it again. When it's morning, we see Chloé hurriedly grabbing something to eat whilst her mother in Canada watches her through the web-cam of her computer notebook. Then she goes downstairs and gives a knock at the door of the floor below. Then Ava comes out. Chloé drives her to work and then goes to work herself. We learn that Ava is an Israeli soldier assigned to check the identity of Palestinians with permits to cross the city barrier into the Israeli side of the town of Ramallah and that Chloé is a Canadian doctor working for a UN maternity clinic on the Palestinian side.
My next film at the Cinepanorama is completely different again. It's a simple romantic comedy by director and scriptwriter Axelle Ropert, starring Cédric Kahn, Laurent Stocker, Louise Bourgoin: Tirez la langue, mademoiselle (2013) in English Miss and the Doctor.
According to Ropert, "The heroes are brothers who are not doctors like those we see in TV
series. They are neither neurotic nor obsessive. They practice medicine
in the most traditional aspect, but also the most idealistic way, that
is by taking care of others.” Not only that, the brothers Boris Pizarnik ( Edric Kahn) and Dimitri Pizarknik (Laurent Stocker) share the same clinic and make their diagnosis, give their prescriptions and visit their patients together. But their otherwise calm and balanced lives were turned into a silent and subterranean conflict with the "irruption" upon the scene of Judith Durance (Louise Bourgoin) the beautiful, elegant but a bit emotionally restrained nightclub bar-tender mother of a diabetic but precocious bespectacled pre-teen Alice (Paula Denis). Judith, whose guitar playing husband Max (Jean-Pierre Petit) is separated from her and is now working at a gig in Italy, falls in love with Boris.The trouble is that the alcoholic Dimitri is also attracted to Judith, and as he told Boris when he discovered Boris seeing Judith alone for purposes unrelated to their joint practice, he wished there were two Judiths. This caused an inseparable rift between the two brothers to the extent that apart from the time when they were seeing patients when they had to be together, they no longer saw each other and even when they were together, they had to communicate with each other through an intermediary Charles (Serge Bozon) who had to go first to one brother and then relate back to the other brother what the first brother said and then hurry back to first brother to tell him what the second brother said. It was really comical to see the intermediary going back and forth. In the end, Judith, who still harbored hopes of a reunion with her husband decided to go with Boris.
Amitiés Sincères (True Friends) must count as one of the best films I saw at the French Cinepanorama.
Every Wednesday, three good friends of more than 30 years, now all in their 50s, Walter Orsini (Gérard Lanvin), owner of a Michelin one-star Parisian restaurant, called Les Trois Zebrès (The 3 Zebra) and a single parent who dotes on her 20 year-old daughter Clémence ( Ana Girardot) meets his 2 friends of more than 30 years, Jacques ( Wladimir Yordanoff) a homosexual intellectual who knows all about literature at Jacque's bookstore and Paul (Jean-Hugues Anglade) an expert on Faulkner who had already written copiously about that novelist of the so-called "stream of consciousness" every Wednesday at Jacques' bookstore where they would share some excellent food, vintage wine brought by Walter and the free flow of no holds barred conversation contributed by all. Of the three, there's little doubt that Walter has the strongest personality: he holds on to one principle: between friends and people, there should be no lies. That's because when he was young, his father hurt his mother by lying about his outside relationships. He is impulsive, direct, sincere and honest to fault: always telling others what he truly thinks about any matter, even if it might be a matter of great delicacy and his timing might not be the best. Is he right? Were there really no secrets in his relationship with those nearest and dearest to him? Or should one tell the truth under all circumstances?
It's feels good to be back to Hong Kong. There're concerts and films again. One such concert is that by the HKPO as part of its bieannal World Cultures Festival entitled "East Europe Postcards" under the baton of guest British conductor Martyn Brabbins. The pieces are a bit unusual. As far as I'm concerned, all but one of the pieces are new to me. So I came full of expectations. When I arrived, I met only one of the usual 8-10 regular concert companions with me. There were only 2 persons, including myself in the whole row of seats!
I've been posting jokes I found on the internet for quite some time now. They're all jokes from the West. But that doesn't mean that Chinese, especially Cantonese have no sense of humor. So I'll post one which has just been passed to me. New interpretation of traditional sayings.
A Cantonese Robbery A gang of robbers entered a bank, black hoods over their heads, overcoat of the same color, guns in hand. Ah Wong, their leader, shouted. "This is a hold up. I don't want anyone hurt. Now, everybody on the floor. You don't want to lose your lives. It's state money but it's your own life. " Everybody lay on the ground without a sound.
Those who wanted to make a better living abroad just for a short time but who for one reason for another find themselves unable to return to their homeland will perhaps find a certain emotional resonance with the characters of my next film at the French cinepanorama, Franco-Portuguese or Portuguese-French Ruben Alves' Le Cage dorée (The Gilded Cage)(金色牢籠) 2013.
A down and out struggling stage actress in her late 30s or early 40s who just finished playing a minor role for an Ibsen play in a small provincial theatre which can't even pay her the remuneration owed her and whose primary school teacher cohabitee Antoine (who never actually appeared throughout the entire film) is always too busy to answer her incessant telephone calls professing her need of him made at public phone booths and who had to rush to "borrow" some money to pay for her café at a Parisian brasserie from her wealthy middle-aged and apparently "happily" married elder sister whose most urgent business in life appears to be doing yoga and beauty treatment at her garden stealing "casual" glances from time to time (apparently out of boredom) at a middle-aged gentleman on her way from a Calais-Paris train for an audition for a film. She followed him after hearing that the gentleman was asking a passer-by if she knew English and if so how he could go from the Gare du Nord to a Parisian church for a funeral, first to the site of the funeral and then to his hotel. An "impossible" relationship developed at the end of which the man, an English literature professor, asked her if she would go back to England with him. She hesitated but finally declined. A simple enough French romance one often finds in the kind of penny novels favored by dissatisfied daydreaming housewives having a little time to spare after their daily domestic chores of tending to the humdrum needs of their husbands' and/or children in their otherwise lack lustre lives. But at the hands of director-writer Jérôme Bonnell and through the subtle and sensitive acting of Emmanuelle Devos as Alix and Gabriel Bryne as Doug, the story takes on a kind of credibility as only the French could pull off.
It's a rare cinematic experience to go through the greater part of 104 minutes of screen time with just two actors constantly repeating certain lines from a play over and over again with only some slight variations in a house or whilst cycling on a narrow grit path upon an embankment close to the sea in an out of the way little seaside town in the south west of France without yawning from time to time. Yet that is exactly what happened last night when I saw Philippe Le Guay's Alceste a bicyclette. The two actors are Fabrice Luchini as Serge Tanneur and Lambert Wilson as Gauthier Valence. They were rehearsing the lines from what is thought to be one of Molière's greatest plays, Le Misanthrope ou l'Atrabilaire amoureux (the Misanthrope or the Cantankerous Lover) , a 17th-century comedy of manners in Alexandrines first performed on 4 June 1666 at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal, Paris by the King's Players. It's a play in which Molière was do his best to satirizes certain hypocritical practices and ideals of the French aristocrats but his criticisms actually may be extended to all humanity and not just the French nobility at the time. Different from other farces of the time, Molière characters there are much more rounded out, much more dynamic, more truly human and not just cardboard figures of fun as similar farces in the 17th century. Its principal character is without a doubt Alceste, a very complex character who holds on tenaciously to some very strict standards of honesty and hence harbors a horrendous hatred of what he considers the unacceptable conduct of the ordinary men and women around him, ie. practically everyone. That's why Molière entitles his play Le Misanthrope (or Misantropist). Yet in the play, despite his values, he loves the heroine Célimène, a playful and flirtatious girl who is courted by a number of other men including Alceste, Oronte, Acaste, and Clitandre.She is always talking behind people's back but is most careful about keeping up appearances. As a result of such complexity, there are endless academic debates as to how exactly the character of Alceste is to be interpreted: is he a hero or is he a fool or in a way another kind of hypocrite, a bit like Don Quixote. The foil to Alceste in the play is Philinte, a polite man who truly cares for Alceste but thinks that one should sometimes not tell others his true opinion for the sake of saving other's face. Who is right, who is wrong?
After the heavyweight "The Nun", it was a most welcome relief to be able to see my fourth French film in the film festival, David Moreau's "20 ans d'ecart "( literally "20 years difference") but subtitled "IT Boy" in English. It's a fast moving romantic comedy about how an uptight perfectionist just under 40 editor of a popular fashion magazine called Rebelle, Alice Lantins' ( Virgine Efira) life was completely transformed by a 19 year-old student Balthazar Apfel
My third film at the French Cinepanorama is La Religieuse (The Nun) based on an 18th century novel written by the French Encyclopedist Denis Diderot in about 1780 but not published until after his death in 1796. It's co-adapted for the screen by Jérôme Beaujour and the director Guillaume Nicloux.
It's a film about the fate of a nun called Susanne Simonon ( Pauline Etienne) whose letters of petition to his real father formed the backbone of the story. She was the youngest daughter of the Simonon family and was about to be sent to a convent when she turned 16 but she resisted with all the force of her will. She was told by her parents that they had little choice because the marriages of her two sisters Armelle and Lucie had exhausted her lawyer father's estate. To persuade her to drop her resistance, her mother (Martina Gedeck ) who loves her but could not resist the
insistence of her strong willed ostensible lawyer father, tells Susanne the darkest secret of her own life: Susanne was the fruit of "sin", ie. one night of love between her and her real father, the Marquis de Croismare and asks that Susanne goes to the
convent as her own act of contrition of her sin to God. Susanne, a sweet, naive and innocent girl who has got some real musical talent who really believes in God and especially in the need for complete honesty before God, reluctantly agrees. That is the start of a series of revelations of what really went on in two French convents.
Movies are musts for me. See, I'm a what they call a film buff. But not only are films exciting, boring, uplifting, depressing, titillating....(add to taste), the people who work so hard or so little to produce and to make us fork out our cash or plastic can be sources of fun too.
1. After a difficult day a
struggling actor returns to his neighborhood and is shocked to find a
cadre of police and fire trucks surrounding the smoldering remains of
his house. "What happened?", he asks. One of the officer's says, "Well, it seems that your agent came by your house earlier today and while he was here he attacked your wife, assaulted your children, beat your dog and burned your house to the ground." The actor is struck speechless, his jaw hanging open in disbelief... "My agent came to my house?"
It's the French Cinepanorama in Hong Kong. I saw my second film last night: L'amour est un crime parfait (2013) directed by the brothers Arnaud Larrieu and Jean-Marie Larrieu, originally written by Philippe Djian and adapted for the cinema by him and featuring Mathieu Amalric as Marc, Maïwenn as Anna, Karin Viard as Marianne. The original story was taken from Dijan's Incidences. Dijan already had a number of novels behind him like Bleu comme L'enfer (1986), 37.2 degré le matin (1986), Ne fais pas ça! (2004), Inpardonables (2011) and Krocodil (2013) some of which had already been adapted for films.
Trust the French on the know how of portraying how love can arise and how they can go away but always with its own peculiar twist. Just as people can love in different ways, so French directors will always have their own manner of saying the same thing but in a way which is entirely original and even the same director can do the same thing differently in different films. This is the thought that occurs to me at the end of the film Une Autre Vie of French director Emmanuel Mouret who writes, directs and frequently acts in his films, among them Change Of Address and The Art Of Love.
Mouret likes to portray love but in his latest offer, he does it with a sombre wist. A bit like Erich Rohmer, he is often obsessed with exploring moral dilemmas through his films. In this film, he treats that subject which had been done to death: adultery.
After Ohrid, it's another 178 Km before we'd arrive at our next destination, Skopje, located on the upper course of the Vardar River, on a major
north-south Balkan route between Belgrade and Athens. It is a center for
metal-processing, chemical, timber, textile, leather, and printing
industries. Industrial development of the city is matched by growth in trade, logistics, and banking as well as culture and sport. According to the last
official count from 2002, Skopje has a population of 506,926 inhabitants
but according to two unofficial estimates for more recent period, the
city has a population of 668,518 or 491,000 inhabitants. Seismic
movements have formed medium-sized mountains around the city. It's
bordered by Šar Mountains to the west, by the Jakupica chain to the
south, and by hills to the east that form the early Osogovo Mountains,
which are situated on the border between Macedonia and Bulgaria.
George Gershwin must be one of the most dearly beloved American jazz composers of all times. An emigrant from Russia to Brooklyn, he was little exposed to music until his father bought him a second-hand piano when he started to self-teach himself until he's sufficiently good to be hired as a pianist to play the latest releases by a musical publisher at age 15. He was very talented and instead of playing songs by others, soon started writing songs of his own and by 20 had a number of hits in his own name including the song Swanee, made famous by Al Jolson's.
Have been reading quite a lot of philosophy recently. The most recent being the kind with an extremely long name: " phenomenology". You may wonder what on earth that may be. I had the same thought at the beginning. In the course of doing do, I had to learn about all sorts of weird sounding words like phäinomen, noumen, noema, noematic, noesis, noetic, ontological, ontic, dasein, seinlessen, gelassenheit,eignetlich, geworfenheit, befindlichkeit, entschlossenheit, zielichkeit, verfallen, verhanden, hijdlichkeit etc.Quite enough to give you a headache. But there can certainly be other much more enjoyable neologisms like these ten which I found on the internet:
Our first sight of another little 3,500 year-old coastal town in Montenegro called Budva (Будва in Montenegrin and Serbian and Budua in Italian and Μπούντβα in Greek)
with some 18,000 locals living there, mostly Serbian with a smattering of Muslims and Croats. It forms part of the so-called "Budvanska
rivijera", famous for its sandy beaches, diverse nightlife, and
samples of Mediterranean architecture . It now has more than half a million
visitors a year but tourism also brought problems, mainly
shortage of water, electricity and parking spaces.
According to historians, some people were already living there in 5th
century BC.Legend has it that the town was founded by Cadmus the
Phoenician, a Thebean exile. A bone of contention between ancient
Greece and Rome, upon the fall of the Roman Empire which divided into Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire, Budva became the defensive barrier which separated the two powers. In the Middle Ages, Budva was reigned
by a succession of Doclean kings, as well as Serbian and Zetan
aristocrats.For close to 4 centuries, from 1420 to 1797, it was ruled by the Venetian Republic which
strengthened its fortifications against the Ottoman Turks and until
early 19th century the people there spoke Venetian.Then it was ruled
successively by Austria, France and Russia. In 1813-1814, Boka Kotorska
and Budva joined Montenegro in an alliance and thereafter until the end of WWI in
1918, it became part of the Austrian Empire after that part of
the Kingdom of Yugoslavia but it was annexed by the Kingdom of Italy in
1941 and upon being liberated from the Fascists at the end of 1944, it reverted to
Yugoslavia. It's now part of the newly independent Montenegro.But the
town was rocked by an earthquake on 15 April 1979 which devastated most of its
old buildings. It took them some 8 years to have them restored to
their original form. The Old Town, along with the city of Budva was said
to have been discovered by a Greek sailor by the name of Boutoua.
Eventually the Roman Empire took over the whole Montenegrin coast but since it was under Venetian rule for 4
centuries, much its architecture is Venetian in design but many doors,
hinges, windows, balconies and many other small but noticeable things remained Romaneque. The town has a
typical Mediterranean climate, with warm summers and mild winters, and
230 sunny days in a year. Budva is referred to by the locals as the
Montenegrin Kuwait, because of the number of resident millionaires
compared to its relatively small population: there are
approximately 500 millionaires in that town of around 22,000 people. Many
of the newly rich re-invested their money in real-estate, buying homes
in central Podgorica and Belgrade, which resulted in higher real-estate
prices in Podgorica and Belgrade.
After Belgrade, we had to go to another small town, Mostar the fifth largest city in Bosnia-Herzegovina. But we had lots of mountains and rivers to pass through.
It was quite cloudy. As we had a lot of distance to cover, we had to leave quite early. When it was time for our first rest stop, it was still quite early, the mist on the river had not yet dissipated.
I had a taste of Romanian song and dance last night at Shatin. When the show opened, we had a small group of musicians on the left of the stage: two violins ( one of which has only 3 strings, used not for playing melodies but only for complementing the rhythm of the main melodic line from the first violin and/or accordion) one viola (played surprisingly vertically, held upon its side between the chin and shoulder instead of upon the top left corner of the bat-like surface of its body!), one doublebass and an accordion and a male singer. They started playing a song full of minor notes. The the male voice sang in a deep voice with the kind of variation somewhat like the glissando on the violin. What struck me instantly was how like the flamenco jondo style of singing it was. It made sense, the flamenco style moved West with the gypsies from Northern India.Whatever the true reason might be, after the singer had sung his soul out, there was a complete switch of mood: it became gay and exciting as he was joined by a troupe of male dancers all dressed in colorful floral patterned shirt and black trousers the same way and some female singers/dancers each in her own colorful flowing dresses with emphasized hemlines and fluffy underdress which they would lift from time to time but all with two ribboned braids one on each side of their shoulders. It's as if after lamenting the sorrow of leaving their home thousands of miles away or some more recent misfortunes they've decided that there's enough of that sadness which is eating into their here and now and that they really must make a virtue of necessity and concentrate in making the most of their present and to find such ephemeral joy as they can the living present. I turned to the Programme Notes. That opening piece is called "Gelem, gelem--Gypsy Anthem", a song written by Zarko Novanovic which he himself calls "Opre Roma "("roma"" the Gypsy term for "human") , often used by gypsies in different countries as the anthem of the Roma. The song was written in 1949 after the Gypsies were massacred by the Nazis in the Porajmos (The Romani Holocaust in World War II) and was adopted as the anthem of the Gypsies everywhere in first World Romani Congress in 1971.
Snakes must be one of the most dangerous reptiles around. Perhaps that's why most people have an instinctive aversion to them and upon seeing them, most women would scream. And we got good reasons to react so. According to the Bible, it was a snake who got mankind into the kind of trouble the effects of which they are still suffering today .That's what I was thinking when I saw one whilst hiking to Mui Wo. But like other cases, there's more than one way of looking at snakes. 1 Two snakes are talking. The first one says 'Sidney, are we the
type of snakes who wrap ourselves around our prey and squeeze and crush
until they're dead? Or are we the type of snake who ambush our prey and
bite them and they are poisioned?'. Then the second Snake says "Why do
you ask?" The first one replies: "I just bit my lip!"
After the relatively difficult mountain trail to Tai Tung, perhaps I ought to introduce another much easier trail, also on Lantao Island. You can take the MTR to Tung Chung, get out from the shopping mall on to the road until you get to a Gas Station. You then take the narrow path to its right to go on to a paved path between the coast and the MTR tracks and stroll through it until you reach a tunnel which will take you to Pak Mong Village (白芒村). Then you go on to what's now called the Olympic Trail (it used to be called the Old Mui Wo Trail 梅窩古道), about 7 KM of nicely paved path with direction indication notices erected at the side of the trail wherever there are turnings. Just follow the path and it'll take you all the way to Mui Wo. Along the way, you'll pass through the now disused Silver Mine Cave and a short distance below it, a magnificent set of waterfalls.
Tai Tung Shan must be one of the highest mountains in Hong Kong. I first went there years and years ago. But it has never lost its fascination for me. So from time to time, I would pay it a revisit for a bit of exercise and to jog my memory of the happy times I spent with an old friend who used to roam the mountains and countryside of Hong Kong with me and who has since left for the country of the maple leaves. I really don't know when he'll be back and have a drink with me for old times sake. But one can't really live in the past. As the weather in October was cool and dry, I chose a steep path: from Tung Chung straight up the mid-mountain trail. I was in for a surprise.
Saturday nights for me always arrive with a certain expectancy and excitement. It's concert time. This Saturday was no exception. Two big names: Lorin Maazel ( earlier this year he played Mozart No.41 and Brahms No. 2 with CSO when it arrived in HK in January) and Richard Wagner. However, unlike other Saturday nights, the concert did not begin at the concert hall of the Cultural Centre but at its ground floor lobby. Yes, the lobby! There, 83 year-old Paris born American conductor, composer and violinist of Russian-Jewish origin conducted our first piece of the evening: Wagner's Siegfried Idyll. It was a very special piece of music for Wagner. It was written specially for Cosima, Wagner's second wife, in celebration of the birth of their son called Siegfried on 11th June 1869. Early on Christmas Day morning in 1869, Wagner arranged for a small band to appear on the staircase outside Cosima's bedroom at their home by Lake Lucerne and played this piece of music. It was Comisa's birthday. We had a dozen of choice musicians from the HKPO to do the same for us at the staircase of the hall's lobby. It was a unique and most intimate experience to be able to listen to that piece of music not 10 feet away from the conductor. Almost all the themes of this short piece came from Wagner's opera of the same name. It's first theme came from Act III of that opera about Brünhilde's awakening and its second came from Brünhilde's slumber in Die Walküre whilst a third came from a German folksong Schlaf, mien Kind.(Sleep, my baby)
Since picking up the camera a couple of years ago, I'm beginning to get a little the hang of things. Whatever the results may be, taking photographs is fun. But that may not be the only kind. We may have not only the fun "of "photography but also fun "about" those who engage in it. What do I mean?
It's a blessing to learn to play the violin. It may be an even greater blessing to listen to the performance of a truly great violinist which makes one feel that when one finally decided not to going on playing any more, one probably had made the right decision. That's how I felt last night at the Cultural Centre when I listened to the play of Kyung-Wha Chung.
It's rare nowadays to have a day in Hong Kong without being flooded by what passes from the mouths of our politicians and our inept political "leaders". But we're probably not alone. Perhaps the only difference between us and people elsewhere is that they can still have the heart to joke about it. Well, so can we, about their politicians and their politics! Here are some quotable quotes:
1. The trouble with practical jokes is that very often they get elected.' --Will Rogers
Hong Kong is really blessed. As the Tao Te Ching says, "bliss may be based on blight the way that blight may result from bliss." Despite its inglorious past, it's now a thriving commercial and a financial hub (fast losing the glitter of its status as the so-called "Pearl of the Orient) at the mouth of the Pearl River Estuary in South China, having been exposed to Western influence since the mid-19thC. People blithely forget that Swire and Jardines, two of the biggest English hongs here, started out as drug pushing smugglers trying to openly "sell" opium into China and when stopped at Tun Mun by General Lin, the British Empire declared war on the then decadent and corrupt Tsing Empire in the iniquitous Opium Wars following which Hong Kong was ceded "in perpetuity" to Britain under the Treaty of Nanking 1841. Whatever its past might have been, we can often benefit as one of the stops of a greater East Asia tour including Japan, Taiwan, Korea, China, by famous European orchestras and other artists. We had one such at the Cultural Centre last night. It came from Dresden, a German city which established a philharmonic orchestra as far back as 1870. According to the programme notes, the Dresdner Philharmonie had had as its guest conductors such notables as Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Dvoràk, Strauss, Jochum, Kleiber, Nikisch, Järvi, Marriner, Masur, Torteliar etc. So I had great expectation of this rare appearance.
It's a long time since I went to Luk Keng, that part of Northeast New Territories facing Shenzhen. I've already been fascinated by the variegated landscape leading from Bride's Pool or Wu Kau Teng to that remote and unpolluted part of our fast vanishing country park.
I started off at Wu Kau Teng and had first to cross a stream.
Van Jaap is back again last Saturday. This time with Schubert's and Richard Strauss's lieders and Beethoven's "Fate" Symphony, all equally moving, each in their own way.
Schubert has often been called a composer's composer. He's known not only for his piano works. He simply loved little songs. He wrote more than 600 of them in his life! And some say that one can even detect a song-like quality in his piano music. In his songs, his piano does not serve merely as an accompaniment: it's an active part of the song, introducing it, supporting it, varying it, giving it a proper emotional context, contrasting it with the singing parts, complementing it and sometimes paralleling the relevant lyrics, often based on poetry. We had 4 such pieces that night, An Silva (Who's Sylvia) D891, a song in praise of a lady beautiful both in appearance and in heart, Grensengesang (Song of Old Age) D 778 about an old man whose house is covered with snow but whose blood has gone from his face to a heart which beckons him to close the door to the world of reality so that he may the better preserve the fragrance of his dreams inside, Im Abendrot ( At Dusk) D799, a song about how a man finds the golden beams of beautiful red clouds in a sunset shine into his heart and how he feels united to God and Tränenregen (Rain of Tears) D795 No. 10 about how a man looks into his lover's eyes and sees not the reflection of moon, nor the stars which had already came out and how he saw the blue flowers on the bank and then everything melted when she said, "I'm going home", filling him with tears. They were sung for us by baritone Matthias Goerne from Germany, who is now in the middle of recording an 11 CD collection of Schubert's songs. He's got an excellent baritone voice, clear and warm and what's most important, he sang from his heart. An Silvia came from the words of Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona.