well, well, well

June 19th, 2014

And now that I have access to Blogtown again…. This post at the Repatriates I would’ve preferred to put here, but wound up posting over there thanks to a crapped out connection yesterday.

And now over at Public Address Russell Brown has weighed in. I find myself agreeing with him.

in which I rant a bit

June 7th, 2014

I didn’t quite know where to put this particular rant, as it doesn’t quite fit on any of the little online projects I have going. So I put it over here. Short version: I find the idea of requiring foreigners to pass a test before being allowed to drive on New Zealand roads obnoxious and ridiculous.

xenophobia?

June 4th, 2014

*note: This was written yesterday, but my connection to Blogtown crapped out so I couldn’t post it, so I posted it over here instead. Now that Blogtown is accessible again, I’ll post it up here where it belongs:

Xenophobia of many kinds seems to be a fairly common weapon in politics, and New Zealand is no exception. But what’s got me interested is the talk of foreigners in NZ politics this year, what with the election coming up. You’d think it’d be the same old Winston Peters hating on Asians, but no.

First up is National’s apparent inability to stop its ministers from having their relationships with Chinese business people revealed. Potentially dodgy relationships, like Judith Collins and Oravida, or relationships with possibly dodgy people, like Maurice Williamson with Donghua Liu. And apart from bashing his partner and apparently using his political connections to ease the residency and citizenship process, it turns out Liu was involved in a corruption case back in Chongqing. He wasn’t charged, it seems, but gave evidence as a witness. But look at this:

According to a court judgment obtained and translated by theHerald, Liu – as general manager of real estate development company Chongqing Tianlong – sold real estate to the political leader and his wife at heavily discounted prices, purchased some back at inflated rates and waived debt to a total benefit of $375,000 to the couple.

In return, the Chinese politician used his position to support Liu’s construction and cement businesses by approving projects as well as land permits and mining licences.

[……]

“Although Liu didn’t make a specific request in exchange for the gift, the intention was clear that as a county party secretary Ping Ma would have the power to benefit the companies in the future,” said the verdict of the Intermediate People’s Court of Chongqing.

[……]

“Although the behaviour is different compared to directly receiving properties, it is only a different method of covering their criminal acts of bribery.”

Aha. And:

Liu’s Auckland-based lawyer, Todd Simmonds, said that neither Liu nor his company was charged with any alleged offending.

“The involvement of Mr Liu in these proceedings was simply that of a witness,” Mr Simmonds said.

“Mr Liu does not wish to make any further comment in relation to this matter.”

It would be useful if he did make further comment. Because it certainly seems as if even if his business practices were legal, they certainly seem to have been unethical. Otherwise why would he have been a witness in a trial whose decision mentions his business practices in such an unfavourable light? “Although Liu didn’t make a specific request in exchange for the gift, the intention was clear that as a county party secretary Ping Ma would have the power to benefit the companies in the future” certainly seems to make it clear the judges considered Liu’s behaviour to be something other than squeaky clean.

And somehow Liu was granted first residency then citizenship against official advice. How and why? And what was that official advice? What were the reasons given recommending his applications be declined?

Of course, a major problem for Labour in all of this is that some of those dodgy decisions made against official advice were made under Labour’s watch. But those two big questions remain: Why did the relevant officials recommend Liu not be granted residency then citizenship? And why were so many Labour and National politicians so keen to help him out despite the advice of their own officials?

And what does this have to do with xenophobia? Well, nothing, directly. Whether it’s Oravida or Donghua Liu, it’s business people apparently getting favours from politicians. That reeks of corruption. Trouble is, they all involve Chinese business people, which would seem to play right into the hands of those crying Yellow Peril from whatever soapbox they can find.

But then there’s the fuss over Labour’s new questioning of immigration and threats to limit the number of immigrants. There’s good discussion, as always, over here at Public Address, and as Russell says, there are real issues that need discussion without people immediately reaching for the xenophobia card. But something is bugging me about all this. Maybe I’m reading too much into it all. Maybe it really is just an odd series of coincidences. Maybe I have too much invested in all these issues to see it clearly. But I’m just not comfortable with Labour’s questioning of immigration. But, there are, as noted, real issues to be discussed, and the case of Donghua Liu seems to highlight one of them, which apparently Labour wants to look at:

Labour is looking “very closely” at changing the rules for foreign investors who can get residency in New Zealand by paying $10 million.

[……]

Immigration spokesman Trevor Mallard said yesterday that one of the categories Labour would consider changing was business migrant schemes, introduced by National in 2009.

[……]

The Investor Plus scheme allowed an applicant to get residency if they invested $10 million in New Zealand and committed to living in the country for 44 days a year, even if they spoke little English and had no business experience. The Investor scheme required a $1.5 million investment but had stricter language, age and travel tests.

Now, this does not seem to be a very smart way to dish out visas, not to me. So they’ve got money. So they might agree to spend a tiny fraction of each year in New Zealand. Woopdedoo. Start a token business and fly in either for a Northern Summer ski holiday each Southern Winter, or flee the Northern Winter to enjoy Christmas and New Year at a more civilised time of the year. But of course, going to the Immigration website and finding out the actual rules is the smart option. Now look at that table. Yes, indeed, as the Herald article states, for an Investor Plus visa you only need to invest NZ$10 million for three years and spend at least 44 days of each of the last two years of that investment period in New Zealand. That’s it. You don’t even need any business experience. Contrast that for the requirements for the regular Investor visa, which are not especially stringent – overall band 3 in IELTS, wow, so you need to be competent enough to handle buying your own groceries – but do at least include some minimal business experience, and therefore proof that you may have actually earned your money and might know one or two things about investing and doing business.

Of course, there are health and character requirements for both Investor visas. But check out character. Based on the little publicly known about Donghua Liu, it’s only on that last bullet point that Immigration would’ve had grounds to recommend he not be granted residence. And that is a rather vague bullet point.

Tangent: This Entrepreneur Work Visa seems much more robust. I’d much rather be working for or with somebody who’d entered NZ under those requirements.

But this brings us to some numbers from that article on Labour’s rethink of the Investor and Investor Plus visas:

Immigration New Zealand data showed the number of successful Investor Plus applicants jumped from nine to 21 between 2010 and 2013, and from 30 to 99 people in the Investor category over the same period.

So we’re not talking a large number of people, which is strange because in all articles I’ve seen so far on Labour’s thinking on immigration, we see this, from earlier in this particular article:

The party has said it would place further controls on immigration after Treasury predicted net migration would soon increase to almost 40,000 a year, but it has not given details about cuts.

Uh huh. So how, precisely, is a review of two visa categories that apparently allowed a grand total of 120 people into New Zealand in 2013 going to have any affect on this predicted spike in net migration to forty something thousand? And if, as the government claims, a large part of the predicted net migration spike is due to Kiwis not jumping on planes to Australia and Kiwis facing an economic downturn in Australia jumping on planes home, then how is tinkering with immigration policy going to realistically affect anything?

So yeah, I can’t shake the nagging suspicion that at least some in Labour are cashing in on the happy confluence of National’s apparent ([ahem] Chinese) corruption problem, stubbornly skyrocketing housing prices and this predicted spike in net migration to try and drum up a little more support. “Oooh, look at the people National’s letting in! And they‘re buying up all our houses, driving the prices up so real Kiwis are priced out of the market! We’ll crack down on them!”

And then I read things like this piece by Lew over at Kiwi Politico, and Labour’s new focus on immigration just rings even less true.

an interesting idea…

March 23rd, 2014

This news is three days old, already, but I missed it on the day and only came across the story via an NZ Herald editorial published yesterday, but which I didn’t have time to read until today. It’s an interesting idea, boost New Zealand’s profile in China by having the All Blacks visit, but I’m not convinced. It’s not much of a story, little more than yet another of the “Oh, look, John Key!” puff pieces the NZ media has gotten so good at, and it seems to be based on even less, just a throwaway comment by John Key on seeing the China Agricultural University rugby team perform a haka:

The Prime Minister made the comment after he was greeted with a haka by a rugby team at the China Agriculture University (CAU), where rugby is a popular sport.

He said he believed the All Blacks should visit at some point.

“It’s the same thing we see happen in a number of other countries. They play exhibition games and I know the Rugby Football Union … are thinking a lot about this market.”

Mr Key said the CAU rugby team should travel to New Zealand to play universities. “I think those guys were good. They were big and strong and young and fit.”

And that’s about half the story right there.

Now, I think it’s a great idea for the CAU rugby team to visit NZ. Especially if they’re going to go performing haka for visiting NZ dignitaries, then they need to go to the source and understand what it is they’re doing. And any other Chinese rugby team, too. Just so long as they get decently-matched opponents. There’s also nothing wrong with having the All Blacks visit China.

But there is a really huge problem with all this. Rugby is not big in China – there you go, there’s my entry for understatement of the decade. Using rugby as a base for NZ-China sports diplomacy would mean NZ needing to start its marketing from a baseline of near zero awareness. For starters, rugby shares a Chinese name with American football, and apparently other codes with similarly-shaped balls. Every time students ask me what sports are popular in New Zealand, I tell them rugby, they reach for their dictionaries, and then it takes several minutes to stop them constantly repeating “Oh, American football” so that I can explain that the two forms of “olive ball” (literal translation of the Chinese name – 橄榄球/gǎnlǎnqiú, gǎnlǎn meaning olive, qiú meaning ball) are two completely different sports. But even then I find it nearly impossible to persuade people that rugby and American football are not the same. The overwhelming majority of Chinese people know nothing about either of these two sports beyond the fact that something called gǎnlǎnqiú exists and is played in faraway countries – and the USA, being so big, rich, powerful and the object of so many people’s obssessions gets a lot more brand recognition than any of the rugby powerhouses, therefore gǎnlǎnqiú is more likely to bring to mind men in tights, huge shoulder pads and helmets than rugby.

Also, mention “New Zealand” to any random Chinese person on the Mainland streets and if they know anything about the place, they’ll happily talk till the cows come home about beautiful natural scenery, sheep, and milk. It is exceedingly rare that anybody will mention any sport. The sports NZ is strong in simply do not register on Chinese radar. Not only that, but it is my experience that when exposed to sports NZ is strong in, Chinese people tend to think we’re a bit, well, mad.

And if the Rugby Football Union (who was Key referring to there? The NZRU? The IRB?) is as interested in the China market as Key seems to think, then they’ve got a hell of a lot of work to do not just raising rugby’s profile [ahem] building almost from scratch a profile for rugby, but also marking out a clear differentiation in Chinese minds between rugby and that other code involving men in tights, huge shoulder pads, and helmets. For example.

So I dunno, interesting idea, but it’s an idea that’s going to need a hell of a lot of work building up a foundation for it to have even the slightest chance of being noticed outside China’s infinitisemally small rugbyhead community.

proper schools

February 23rd, 2014

A department of China’s Ministry of Education and China Service Centre for Scholarly Exchange (CSCSE) have announced a list of over ten thousand “standard” or “regular” overseas schools so that Chinese people looking to study abroad can make sure they choose “proper” schools and not be fooled by diploma mills.

An aside: “diploma mill” in Chinese is “野鸡大学” – yějī dàxué – pheasant/unregistered and illegal/prostitute university.

The list of proper schools covers 44 countries, including the USA, UK, Australia and Canada. Sina’s repost of the Beijing Times article says the purpose of the list is to protect Chinese students travelling to study overseas at their own expense. The article says three problems have appeared with the rise of such students in recent years: The appearance of poor quality private schools in certain countries, several of which have gone bust; the poor abilities of some of these students to study abroad, especially their inability to live independently, meaning they have a hard time adjusting after they leave China; and “black agents” – agencies getting up to all kinds of shenanigans, passing out fake information or not living up to their responsibilities.

The article also says there are two ways prospective students can get information about studying abroad: One is through the website of the above mentioned department of the Ministry of Education or the website of the CSCSE, the other is through the Ministry of Education’s Study Abroad Service Centre, Chinese diplomatic missions abroad or through the diplomatic missions of foreign countries in China. The problem I have with that is that the website of the above mentioned department of the Ministry of Education I can not persuade to open in Firefox, Maxthon or on my phone, nor by Baiduing it. And a Baidu search for “Ministry of Education’s Study Abroad Service Centre” (in Chinese, of course), is not overly helpful – the best results are for CSCSE. And the links at the bottom of the article to the four lists of schools deemed genuine? Well, they’re on that Ministry of Education website I can’t persuade to open.

Naturally, my first reaction is to try and see where New Zealand’s universities are on these lists – or, perhaps, if they’re on the lists. Trouble is, with websites that don’t open, I’ve had to poke around the CSCSE website. A lot of the information  on that site is a tad out of date – especially the English version. But I did find this list. It has all eight universities, many (most? all? things have changed while I’ve been in China…) polytechs, Te Kura Toi Whakaari o Aotearoa: New Zealand Drama School (what is its status? I honestly don’t know. And why “Te Kura”, which Toi Whakaari does not seem to use?) and some of what were called Private Training Establishments (PTEs) last time I was in NZ for any extended period of time. But again, I’m not sure how up to date that list is, because it includes Tairawhiti Polytech, which apparently merged with EIT in 2011.

Curious, and perhaps a story to keep an eye on.

And the Mountains Echoed

February 11th, 2014

My wife has suddenly turned into a bookworm – this is a most interesting development – and as part of this sudden transformation, she bought And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini, giving it to me to read first. And read it I did. It’s one of those mesmerising books that you can’t put down until you’re in a zombie-like trance from a lack of sleep. It’s subtly seductive, gently wrapping its story around you until you feel an intimate part of it. The back cover quotes Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times thusly:

[Hosseini’s] most assured and emotionally gripping story yet…]

Except it’s not a story, or at least, it’s not one story. It’s several stories of a diverse set of characters from and in Afghanistan, California, France, and Greece, some via Pakistan. Their stories intertwine to weave a beautiful tapestry. A terrible tapestry.

This isn’t really a story or stories so much as a description of all the myriad ways we hurt each other, especially those closest to us, whether through resentment at being overshadowed by a more beautiful, talented or extroverted sibling, cousin or parent, the shame of or disappointment in a child who doesn’t measure up to the parent’s wishes, the frustration and slowly building rage at constantly cleaning up and cleaning up after a melodramatic and self-absorbed family member bent on self destruction, impotent rage at poverty and the shame and self-loathing for the actions and situations it forces one into, the suffering and disappointment we cause others through our own inability to rise above our circumstances. It describes the pain inflicted on us not just by our own actions or inactions or those of our closest loved ones, but by the simple passage of time itself, the unfolding of life as it happens, events of which we, not even Vladimir Putin, have even the slightest semblance of control, pain inflicted by simple, cold, inevitability.

This is not a story or stories, this is a paean, a love song to life in all its glorious filth, a song which holds out the promise of a possibility of some small measure of redemption, though never the redemption we desire. A redemption perhaps best analogised by Hosseini in his description of the Pont Saint-Bénezet:

It’s a half bridge, really, as only four of its original arches remain. It ends midway across the river. Like it reached, tried to reunite with, the other side and fell short.

And that’s how it is for the most successful characters in this novel – without giving away too much (I hope), one fairy, blown away by the wind, returns too late to find what she craved for so long. A younger fairy discovers she was born too late for what she thought she desired. But together they find they can make some measure of redemption, no matter how incomplete, but something with a future.

The book has its imperfections, I hasten to add. I found the dialogue of the characters in Paris and Tinos a touch too American in flavour. And riding elephants in Kenya? I’ve never heard of African elephants being domesticated. Could Asian elephants have been taken to Kenya during colonial days? I suppose. But that was jarring. Perhaps I’m being obtuse and it was meant to be jarring, to highlight the superficiality of the character that made that claim. I don’t know, but it broke the spell woven by the book, if only, mercifully, for a split second.

But what’s so powerful is the style of narration. For all the brutality in the book – and given how much of it is set in Afghanistan, or how many of the characters are at most one step removed from Afghanistan, there’s plenty of scope for brutality – the brutality is purely domestic in nature and is described in such a calm, relaxed, matter of fact way that you won’t feel that superficial moral outrage you feel whenever you watch the news on TV or pick up a newspaper. What you feel is deeper, in your marrow, a warm, almost comforting ache, a horror most familiar.

I very much recommend this book, it is superbly structured and brilliantly written. But beware, those of a weepy persuasion will need a large supply of tissues as they read.

*As the Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini, Riverhead Books, New York, 2013.

sentences, sentences

February 8th, 2014

Further to Mr Pasden’s musings on first language acquisition in a bilingual child, and, just like him, basing this purely on observation of my own daughter (so extremely rigorously scientific, of course):

My daughter, not quite 3 years old, has been able to say complete sentences in Mandarin for quite some time now. “Oh sure”, you say, “really simple sentences.” Well, yes, but she had the infamous “把字句” down pat a long time ago, and that’s something that gives a lot of adult second language learners trouble. Well, to be fair, Chinese as a foreign language textbooks do tend to offer rather inadequate explanations of the 把字句, especially failing to answer the questions “When do you use it?” and “But, WHY?!” – hence the link to the wonderful Chinese Grammar Wiki. Anyways, moving on, as I was saying, my daughter has been saying complete sentences in Mandarin for a while now, but her English has been limited to single words or short phrases, often inserted into otherwise Mandarin sentences.

Now, I haven’t been particularly worried about this. She’s still little, there’s plenty of time for her to learn, she has plenty of English-language books and DVDs and I’m very strict about only speaking English to her, and besides, she’s in an overwhelmingly Mandarin language environment. She attends a normal Chinese kindergarten where she is surrounded my monolingual Chinese staff and pupils, and I am the only one who regularly speaks English to her. But her English will come with time.

But over the last few days she’s suddenly started coming out with complete English sentences. We were at Decathlon the other day, where we found her a wetsuit. We also showed her a boogieboard/body board, and she liked the look of that. Then she told me “I go swimming at the beach”. Just like that, unprompted. Later she was watching the Dora the Explorer episode Pablo’s Magic Flute, and she picked up her own flute (actually a 葫芦丝/húlúsī, and a toy plastic one at that) and started playing. I asked her, “Are you playing your flute?” and she replied, “Yes, I play the flute.” Still later, she told me, “I am pretty, I am ML*”

You’ll notice something in those sentences. Apart from ‘am’, there is a definite lack of conjugation of verbs. Well, that’s not something she has to worry about in Mandarin, of course, although she does hear me conjugate verbs all the time. Still, it’ll come. English grammar is more complex than the grammar of spoken Mandarin, so it’s to be expected that these niceties will take  a little more time. At least she doesn’t have to worry about grammatical gender or the declension of nouns, and she’ll only have to get her head around a few ragged remnants of a case system hanging on in pronouns.

Then, as I was trudging through the snow on the way to pick her up from kindy yesterday afternoon, I got to idly wondering if she would be able to form English sentences by analogy to Chinese. I mean, could she be thinking, “I know these Mandarin words and can join them together this way to express this idea. I know these English words, could I join them together just like I do in Mandarin?” Well, of course she wouldn’t be thinking exactly as expressed in those words – still no conjugation of verbs, for starters. But could that process be going on in her mind?

Let me give a few examples to explain.

When she was 18 months old we told her she was only allowed her dummy (pacifier in American, 安抚奶嘴 in Mandarin, don’t know what other English dialects may call such a thing) when she was thinking. She looked at us thoughtfully and somewhat cunningly for a minute or two, climbed up on the bed, lay down, and told us she wanted to sleep. We gave her her dummy, sceptically, because she’d just not long gotten up, and she closed her eyes and happily sucked on it, opening her eyes just a crack to make sure we were fooled by her ruse. Even at that age she was able to understand perfectly a rule, a rule that she had been told clearly in both her languages, and quickly figure out a way to use that rule to get what she wanted. If that’s the kind of thinking she was capable of at 18 months, could she be analogising at almost double that age?

My wife isn’t quite as strict as me on the One Parent One Language rule. I don’t mind that, because although my daughter sees plenty of evidence of me being bilingual, she only ever hears my wife speak English when we Skype my family in New Zealand, and then only a little bit of English. My wife occasionally using a bit of English with my daughter means the wee one gets a bit more evidence that both her parents are equally bilingual. But also, this helps just a little bit more in balancing out the language equation. What’s interesting, though, is that my daughter will very often refuse to let my wife use the English word for things. My wife will say, “Umbrella”, and the wee one will insist, “不是umbrella,是雨伞,好不好!”, but then I’ll say “Umbrella” and the wee one will agree that the 雨伞 is an umbrella. So she is quite aware that English and Mandarin are two separate languages and that Mandarin is for speaking with Mummy, and English for speaking with Daddy.

But, of course, her English so far lags quite a bit behind her Mandarin, so she’ll usually just speak to me in Mandarin with a few English words thrown in.

Having said all that, I was quite interested this morning when, watching Pablo’s Magic Flute again, she wanted her flute, but we couldn’t find it. She said to me, “I 没有 flute!” Then she said, “妈妈, I 没有 flute”, correcting herself to say “Mummy, I 没有 flute”. Could it be that, watching an English-language DVD and talking first to me and second to her Mummy, she decided English was appropriate, but then, realising that not being able to conjugate verbs on her own yet and therefore not being able to form the negative of ‘have’, or ‘can’ (though I don’t know if she knows ‘find’ yet), she fell back on the Mandarin word she does know? At least that way she gets to complete her sentence.

Unrelated to sentence formation, but another aspect of English grammar the wee one has yet to grasp is singular/plural. She’ll often say “a socks” or “a shoes“, final s bolded to emphasise that it is clearly there in her speech, it’s not just a toddler twist of the tongue. Last night we were reading a poster with her – one of those character recognition posters with pictures of loosely unrelated things an a Chinese character and English (often Chinglish) word for each picture. There was a picture of a bunch of bananas and a picture of a banana (the poster was trying to express the concepts of ‘many’ and ‘few’), and when we pointed to the bunch she said “bananas”. When we pointed to the single banana she said “bananas” again. We went through “one banana, many bananas” a few times, emphasing the lack or presence of that final s, but I don’t think she realised the difference. Oh well, there’s time.

And one final bitlet of toddler cuteness: The wee one tends to pronounce ‘bananas’ as ‘bunanas’.

*She actually stated her name, I’m just continuing an old policy of loosely disguising names of real-world people who haven’t given express consent and aren’t in any articles online I’m discussing in the blogpost in question.

thank you, Mr Feng

January 12th, 2014

Two paragraphs from Feng Xiaogang’s autobiography:

来到新西兰,飞机落下去的时候,天刚破晓,大地一片沉寂,天空如浸在显影液里的相纸,渐渐浮现出一层层青灰色的云。走出机场,鼻子头像涂了薄荷,深深吸一口干净的空气,一路凉到肺里。刚下过一夜的雨,汽车碾着积水上路,奥克兰像一位刚刚哭过的美人走在风里。这里的七月是冬天。

Coming to New Zealand, when the plane was landing, dawn had just broken, the land was silent, the sky was like photographic paper soaking in developing solution, gradually layer after layer of grey clouds appeared. As I left the airport, it was as if peppermint had been painted on the tip of my nose. I took a deep breath of clean air, cool all the way into my lungs. It had just rained for a night, cars were rolling through pooled water, Auckland looked like a beautiful person who had just cried walking in the wind. Here July is winter.

离开新西兰,和这个赏心悦目的国家依依惜别。朋友包了饺子饯行,七天的相聚短暂又美好。好花不常开,好景不常在,今宵离别后,何日君再来?这歌词是我心情的写照。一个与我毫不相干的国家,竟让我有些眷恋。回程的飞机上,心头一直在挣扎,无数次问自己:老了,死在哪儿?

Leaving New Zealand, I reluctantly parted with this beautiful country. A friend made jiaozi for a farewell dinner, seven days together had been short but happy. A good flower doesn’t open often, one isn’t often in beautiful scenery, after we say goodbye tonight, what day will sir come again? This lyric describes how I felt. A country that had absolutely nothing to do with me, I hadn’t expected it to make me feel a certain attachment to it. On the plane back, my mind was constantly struggling, I asked myself countless times: When I’m old, where will I die?

Yes, that could be translated much better, especially the Teresa Teng lyrics – but in my defence, Feng Xiaogang didn’t remember the lyrics perfectly, anyway. And I’m not sure of his choice of lyrics, either – that song always sounded to me like a hostess in a club talking to a client, perhaps a frequent client, probably older and with a bit of money, encouraging him to run up a decent sized bill.

But the point is this: When she read that, my wife came bouncing into the room saying, “Wow, Feng Xiaogang really loves New Zealand!” and she made me read it.

And I’m thinking: So New Zealand is a beautiful place to go to to die? And what is this preoccupation with death? It reminds me in particular of his If you are the one/《非常勿扰》 films. In the first, he has Shu Qi’s character attempt suicide by jumping off a cliff in Hokkaido, and the second culminates in an assisted suicide, Sun Honglei’s terminally ill character jumping off a boat driven by his best friend, played by Ge You. So Mr Feng thinks of beautiful islands as places to go to die?

Maybe, or maybe my response is rather different from what he intended – after all, I’m not exactly his target audience. And like I said, my wife’s reaction to those two paragraphs was overwhelmingly positive. So I’m thinking, given how popular Feng Xiaogang is, that these two short paragraphs are a big advertisement for New Zealand.

The book, by the way is: 《不省心》,冯小刚著,长江文艺出版社,2013年9月。

and crocodiles cry, too

January 12th, 2014

And once again, two things about this article:

1: Assuming that the photo is of the Neill Andrews who made the reported dickheadish racist statement on Facebook – and given the Herald’s preference for vaguely borderline irrelevant photos from Thinkstock, I’m not sure – then I’m curious as to why he’d get a tattoo that looks an awful lot like Japan’s World War 2 rising sun flag with the word 家族 (family, household, whanau, MDBG also says clan, pronounced jiāzú in Mandarin) in the middle? Oh well, at least it says something coherent, I mean, it could be a lot worse. But the flag that tattoo so resembles is associated with some rather horrific events, and I find it hard to reconcile with “family” or “whanau”.

2: Why is this guy being given any credit for expressing remorse or regret? Look how the Herald quotes him:

“I pretty much take the piss out of everything and everyone,”

[…]

“I make fun of stereotypes and topics that are taboo because it’s important that we do talk about these things,” he said.

“Yes, I am over the top in the way I do it at times, but it gets the issue and message out there. I certainly didn’t want to offend a whole race of human beings and for this I am extremely regretful.”

If you want to take the piss, you actually have to be funny, for starters. Secondly, precisely what issue and message did he want to get out there? If he was meaning to call attention to the evils of racism, then, judging by what they Herald quotes him as having posted to Facebook, he really needs to seriously rethink his communication strategy, because it reads a hell of a lot like he was actually encouraging racism. Thirdly, if you don’t want to offend entire races of human beings, don’t say or write things that offend entire races of human beings. It’s really not difficult. But far more importantly, this just reads like crocodile tears. He behaved, to put it very mildly, like a dick, then when he got called on his dickishness, he was all “Oh, woe is me! People are taking issue with my dickish behaviour!” If you load your apology up with “I was just taking the piss” and “I am over the top at times” then I see no reason to believe you are actually remorseful for your behaviour. Perhaps “It was a badly failed attempt at humour” would be better, but whatever, that’s not what he’s quoted as saying. What he’s quoted as saying reads like just as big a non-apology as a certain two former radio hosts made a couple of months ago.

Two things irritate me about this article.

1: So what if the Brits want to whitewash the ANZACs out of their World War 1 centenary? We really need to drop the post-colonial chip off our shoulder. It doesn’t matter what they do, we still know we and the other colonials saved their sorry pommie arses from ignominious defeat three times (Boer War and both World Wars) before they finally resigned themselves to being America’s lapdog.

2: Dear NZ Herald: “media” is plural, so that sentence should read “Australian media report” – note the lack of a 3rd person singular ‘s’ at the end of the verb. But more importantly, who wrote this?:

Australian media reports the “Anzac whitewash” is driven by a bid to win political and economic favour in multicultural Britain.

“It’s basically to remind Britons the First World War wasn’t just soldiers from here fighting in France and Belgium but involved people from Lagos, Kingston and the Punjab,” a government insider told News Corp. “There has been no mention of old Commonwealth allies like Australia or New Zealand but more interest in celebrating the role from new Commonwealth countries. I think it’s fair to say Commonwealth ties are being frayed a little on this one.”

What utter nonsense! Why? Well, Lagos clearly refers to Nigeria and Punjab to India, and I’m going to assume that Kingston refers to Jamaica. Jamaica came under English rule in 1655. The British East India Company began trading with India in 1617, and the Raj began in 1858. British influence in what is now Nigeria seems to have begun with the 1807 abolition of slavery, but Nigeria didn’t become a proper colony until 1900. New Zealand was colonised with the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, Australia’s colonisation began with the arrival of the First Fleet and the construction of the penal colony that became Sydney in 1788. Nigeria gained its independence in 1960; Jamaica in 1962; and India in 1947. Australia and New Zealand? Well, the Statute of Westminster was passed in 1931, but not adopted by Australia until 1942 and New Zealand until 1947. The Australia Act of 1986 ended whatever constitutional ties may have remained between Australia and the UK and effectively ended the right to appeal to the Privy Council. New Zealand passed a similar law, the Constitution Act in 1986, but did not abolish the right of appeal to the Privy Council until 2003 So, actually, I’m not sure when either Australia or New Zealand can be said to have gained independence from the UK. Jamaica, Australia and New Zealand are Commonwealth Realms, with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. India became a republic on independence, and Nigeria in 1963. And how is it that “soldiers from here” is somehow magically more inclusive of ANZACs than of Nigerians, Jamaicans and Indians? Australia and New Zealand are much further away from “from here” than those other three countries.

Alright, so I’m relying on Wikipedia for my fact-checking here, but my point is this: I can’t see how Australia and New Zealand can be called “old Commonwealth” and Nigeria, Jamaica and India “new Commonwealth”. That’s just absurd. What I can see is that perhaps this mysterious Australian media writer might mean by “old” and “new” Commonwealth, especially considering that not-especially-subtle hint that the British authorities are trying to include normally excluded minorities, is that Australia and New Zealand are “predominantly white Commonwealth”, while Nigeria, Jamaica and India are “predominantly something other than white Commonwealth”.  And that disgusts me far more than the possibility, however vague, of an “ANZAC whitewash”.