Thursday, November 27, 2008

Give me a T, give me an I, give me a B, give me an E, give me a T!

Ok, my first venture into the darkest realms of the human topic of politics. I spotted this article on the BBC today, and the current status of that ever-dragging soap opera that is Tibet. (Maybe in many years from now when we get some proper historical perspective some future budding Rodgers and Hammestein could do a musical based on these goings-on and call it "Tibet!". If you can do a Julie Andrews vehicle based on the Anschluss of Austria then why not Michael Crawford as the Daila Lama as he prances around the himalayas declaring his simple love of yaks' milk in song. But I digress a teensy weensy bit)

This is the article, and the paragraph that actually caught my attention was:

The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959, after Chinese troops had crushed an uprising by pro-independence Tibetans. Beijing says Tibet has been part of the Chinese nation since the 13th Century. Many Tibetans disagree, pointing out that the Himalayan region was an independent kingdom for many centuries, and that Chinese rule over Tibet has not been constant.

Now I actually applaud the BBC for starting to show signs of neutrality over the issue. A few years ago I would not have been surprised to see maybe only the first sentence being published. In other words the implication would have been was that Tibet was a happy, peaceful, independent and lover-ly place until the Chinese People's Liberation Army came in and annexed the region for no apparent reason other than maybe greed. The same kind of thing as Poland 1939 maybe. Now, I am no apologist for the People's Republic of China, but I do think the Western Media have been guilty of neatly packaging many of China's problems into easy-to-digest bite-sized morsels that somehow fail to provide any proper perspective and therefore nudges the reader towards one particular point of view.

In this article note how China "claims" something, whilst the Tibetans "point out" something else. Dipping into my Chinese history books written by westerners for the consumption of westerners it seems that Tibet was a part of Qing dynasty China before the whole nation splintered into independent, locally ruled provinces (including one called Tibet). It wasn't until the Chinese Liberation Army forcefully swept around the whole previous Qing-ruled territories (including Tibet) that China became united again. The violent cycle of unity and fragmenation is a sadly reoccuring theme in Chinese history.

I don't claim to be an expert in the Tibetan matter, or to have a solid opinion about Tibet, but I think many Western media should do more to provide the full facts on the issue and not just the bits that sound most juicy and riveting. The lesson for the today is that no media is free from bias intended or otherwise, here endeth the lesson.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Strictly Come Dancing

And now the other big news item of the past few days. Why yes it's got to be what the first ever black American president is up to as he appoints his first cabinet. Oh no, sorry, our political commentator seemes to have upped and skipped off towards to the glitzy and glamourous surroundings of Shepherd's Bush to debate a matter of great importance concerning the future of democracy and personal freedom and choice. Strictly Come Dancing.

I have to admit I was not a fan of the show when it first broadcast in 2004, and really had not much interest in it. My other half on the other hand was hooked from the start, and so I had to watch it too. Over the years I've slowly warmed to its sophisticatedly put-together charms until I've now reached the stage where I actually watch it virtually every week. OK maybe "watch" is too strong a word, because I have it on in the background whilst I'm doing other chores, but I find myself strangely needing to know the latest goings-on. And with the John Sergeant Scandal taking up headlines and shunting more important world events off the television news, you know we are witnessing something of a new TV phenomenon strutting at its peak.

What is it about Strictly that I personally find so interesting? Well, actually in a surreal way it's actually got not much to do with the dancing itself. The bits I do decide to skip are mainly the dancing, unless it's a bust-a-gust, go-for-it spectacular from an ultra-competitive finalist going for the kill, or an in-it-for-a-larf self mocking entertainer who's not taking themselves too seriously.

The bits I like to watch most are the comments from the judges and the reactions from the competitors, which tells you a lot about the people and their motivations. Some of the competitive ones really want to win because they are just competitive by nature. Others who are just as keen to win probably want to prove themselves to themselves because of the unstable and transitory nature of their fame and career. And then you've got those who don't really need the money, fame or self-promotion and just fancied a larf. Not forgetting the in-betweens who earn my greatest empathy because they are people of limited talent (dance-wise) who are genuinely putting themselves under pressure in order to learn a new skill and see how far they can go.

Apart from the people-watching then, what are the ingredients of this expertly crafted tv serving that makes me switch on the telly whenever it's on (note how I'm still denying I "watch" it in the true sense of the word)

Brucie. In an age where everything is becoming more and more analysed and put in its place here is a living example of something that defies categorisation. Imagine pitching this host to the Americans for their version of the show. We want a man in his 70s or 80s (but who looks his age) whose is a veteran of 1950s tv and who tells jokes with a sense of humour that is at least two decades old, preferable someone who previously had reached a career low of taking "The Price is Right" to Channel 5. Now imagine pitching the host to the British. Three words. It's Brucie Forsyth! Despite his terrible jokes that bomb more often than succeed (but I'll admit when he does succeed he can be funny, or am I just willing him on too much?) it seems that everyone including myself is in awe of the guy. But why? I don't know. Maybe it's the way that he shows now signs of slowing down in his 80th year still hosting a LIVE weekly peak-time tv programme. It's probably the effortless and obvious zest for life he still displays. But it's got to have something to do with how we hope we will all be as active, chirpy and on-the-ball when we reach that age. Surely the mantle of our Favourite Oldie vacated by the Queen Mother has now been taken by our singing, dancing and joke-cracking all-round entertainer?

The Judges. What a cocktail of personalities. Whilst it's debatable about how much of their in-fighting when they disagree is stage-managed and how much of it is genuine, you can't deny that when they start shouting at each other and getting ugly and rowdy in front of 10 million (or whatever) live viewers, it's hard to stop watching. Normally it takes our Brucie to step in, calm things down and smoothly link to the couple as they talk to Tess Daley. It certainly says something that when the Americans created their own version of the show they decided to take the two most interesting judges with them. (But not the 80-year old who looks his age!)

The contestants. This is a soap opera in itself. I only need to list a few names. John Sergeant. Jimmy Tarbuck. Natasha Kaplinski. Even the professional dancers themselves are becoming celebrities in their own right.

So there you go, a great way to pass your early Saturday evenings whilst you get the things that you didn't get around to doing earlier in the week done (and you don't get a greater endorsement from me than that!) The format is so successful it's been sold to countries all around the world and as such is the most successful television program in the world. It's even being made in China as a joint venture between Hong Kong's TVB and Hunan TV (though I don't know if it's broadcast in Mandarin or Cantonese or both in a strangely Eurovisionesque manner). It's called 舞動奇跡 and here are a few images I found on the web. I wonder what HK or Chinese touches they've added to it? Maybe a token English government official who doesn't underground Chinese sitting in the background painfully trying to look as politely interested as possible even though his bum must be aching by now, and how much longer can I sit here, and if I look at my watch will anyone notice?

Your mission, should you chose to accept it, is to make Strictly Come Dancing even more glitzy, camp and cheesy for the Chinese market. Surely it's a mission impossible? Maybe not....

Who would be the Chinese version of John Sergeant? Tung Chee Hwa? And when are they going to get Sammo Hung to take part? He'd be awesome! And the obligatory too-tall-to-be-a-decent-dancer? Mmm, can't think of a really famous really tall Chinese person who plays basketball............

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Somali Pirates

One news item that particularly grabbed my attention in recent days (amongst stories of job cuts, bank failures, growing personal and government debt, and erm, oh yes, the economic downturn) was the story of audacious Somali pirates who had hijacked an oil tanker the size of Wales (OK then, maybe containing oil equal in value to the GDP of Wales).

I don't know why this story grabbed my attention in particular (apart from the fact it was not yet another story about The End of Capitalism). Maybe because it involved pirates that I don't normally hear about. That is, they are not of the kind that make counterfeit CDs, broadcast rock and roll songs from rickety ships in the North Sea, frequent parrot and wooden limb shops on Penzance High Street or even zip around the South China seas in speedboats waving kalashnikovs in the air. Maybe because it was a hijack but not of a vehicle that would be the choice of your average discerning hijacker: a jet passenger airliner. At least with a jet plane you're able to fly to almost anywhere in the world in a matter of hours. But to be honest a fully laden oil tanker is not exactly the fastest and nimblest of vehicles is it? I mean I'm not sure how many knots an oil tanker can do, but instead of scrambling fighter jets to follow its every move I'm sure the Navy could easily casually send out a few canoes and dinghies. Or sit a bloke on the beach with a pair of binoculors.

Then there is the matter of the ransom on demand. $25 million dollars!? How on earth are they going to receive that money and then try to avoid detection afterwards? Do they want it all in used banknotes? Or gold bullion? How about crude oil? Yes, in the current economic climate they would be foolish to ask for the ransom to be paid in Sterling and nobody will be able to obtain that much gold in such short notice. And everbody knows that crude oil is going to get scarser and scarser as the time goes by.

Yes, we demand $25 million in crude oil for the safe return of the crew of the Sirius Star. In fact since it's already carring $100 million of the stuff just tell us where to dump the remaining 75% of its content then we'll be off thank you very much. And no funny tricks or men in canoes following us.

This being my first post in this blog I've forgotten to put a British Chinese spin to this article. Oh well, c'est la vie.