Saturday, January 31, 2009

History of 2008, Part 1

I really remember my first week at secondary school very well. Every first lesson we had was basically a very high-level discussion on what that particular subject was really all about. I rememeber discussing "What is Geography?" in my first Geography class, and we had very long discussion in History about what was the difference between History and News, because both essentially perform the same task of documenting "what was in the past".

Now that I am a bit older, and looking back on that discussion,what distinguishes "History" from "News" for me (apart from scope of coverage) is the context that History provides. So to provide a very crude example

News: Neville Chamberlain has managed to negotiate peace with Hitler.

History: Oh No He Hasn't!

Neville Chamberlain: Oh Yes I Have!

Adolf Hitler: I will go down in history as the greatest German leader

History: Erm.....

Which is why I still don't want to say too much about 2008 yet, even though I truly believe this was a year that will truly go down in history for so many reasons. What I can say though was that it was the year of one important first: the first black President of the USA.

Let's have a look at some other years and important firsts.

1783: First hot air balloon

1865: Slavery illegal in US

1903: First powered flight

1928: UK women achieve equal voting rights

1962: First man in space
1963: First woman in space
1969: First man on the moon
1979: First UK woman Prime Minister

2008: First black elected US President

Do you notice something about that list above (apart from the fact it's terribly formatted and therefore totally dull and uninspiring? zzzzz) Do you see how over the past 100 or so years human achievement seems to be accelerating at an ever greater and dizzier rate? If this increased acceleration continues unabated then what great achievements are awaiting us around the corner and within our lifetimes?

2016: First woman US President

2020: First Chinese man on the moon
2021: First black woman (with learning difficulties) on the moon
2030: First woman US President to score a hole-in-one on Mars

2050: World peace and a cure for all illnesses
2051: China and Taiwan top leaders agree to meet each other

Don't all rush off to Corals at once.....

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Chinglish, Franglais, and Globish

Chinglish, Franglais and Globish. No, they're not a family of characters from a J.R.R. Tolkein novel (along with younger brother Singlish)

They're all...well, they're dialects/languages that have evolved from a combination of relatively "purer" forms of language. But the English "language" is itself of course a combination of Germanic tongues, Vulgar Latin and bits of herbs and spices like Viking thrown in for fun.

Which really goes to show that what we think of as "languages", which are analysed and neatly categorised in authoritative textbooks, are nothing more than the current status du jour of the continuing evolutions in the noises that eminate from out of our mouths when we want to say something. And when even the French are finally admitting this, then you know it really is true! For example even in La Belle France they're calling their markets "markets" instead of "marche".

In Hong Kong I'm always fascinated to hear people, especially those with a bit of education behing them, converse in what is essentially a form of Cantonese but where every other noun or adjective is basically an English word (but pronounced with an inescapable Cantonese twang, so "cute" becomes "Q"). Well I've always welcomed this, not least because it means I can communicate with Hong Kongers even more effectively, but I always had a nagging doubt that maybe they were just trying to impress each other in how much English they knew (and therefore how educated and advanced they were)

But if the French are now adding English words to their languages (effectively downgrading their tongue into a mongrel, and one that's distinctly been infected with les fleas anglaises) then we know that surely it is only a matter of time before English invades every known "language" in the word.

Oh well, c'est la vie. Plus ca change plus c'est la meme.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


So now we have it, America has its first African-American President. For blacks in America - sorry, African Americans - and even blacks all over the world - sorry Afro-Carribeans - this will be a red letter day to beat all red letter days. Dark crimson, surely, or some deep and luxurious red that Dulux would probably charge £200 a tin for (that's $1.05 in US dollars)

Whilst I cannot deny that this a great day for mankind and especially ethnic minorities all over the world, I cannot help but feel that we are all being swept into a huge euphoria that must die down at some point, after which the problems of the world will unfortunately still be with us. The inauguration of Barack Obama reminds me of the euphoria the day Tony Blair walked into Downing Street, and in some strange ways to the collective public emotional bonding that the death of Diana triggered (though a different kind of emotion, of course). In both cases we were all swept up and seduced in the heat of the occasion, but what happened the morning after?

Don't get me wrong, it's great that a people who were once slaves, second class citizens and segregated only a generation ago now have one of their own in the White House, but in my own opinion this is not so much how great America and the World is now, but rather a sad reflection and reminder of what mankind was capable of in the past.

By the way, well done Obama, and the best of luck :-) GR8! LOL!

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Prince and the P word

A serious posting for once.

I've just been listening to a radio phone-in program where on the one hand a number of listeners (who were probably almost entirely not Asian) were saying that Prince Harry's use of the P word to describe an asian colleague in the army was not insulting nor racist and the whole affair had been blown out of proportion, whilst on the other hand a number of Asian people were saying this was an extremely derogatory and racist word being used by a member of the royal family and it scandalous that is has happened.

I myself am a Chinese person living in Britain, and I'm not particularly bothered if someone uses the term "chinky" in my direction. That however does not mean I think the word is not insulting onr racist; that is just a reflection of how personally sensitive I am to that word. And I am only one Chinese person.

This is surely stating the obvious but the people who should decide if a word is racist, derogatory and insulting or not should be the people on the receiving end. If they deem it to be racist and derogatory then IT IS. Just because some black people have reclaimed the 'N' word does not give everyone else in the universe (especially members of the royal family who supposedly have been given the best education in the world) carte blanche to use what terms they think are acceptable to describe peoples of other ethnic origins. The prince has issued an apology, and whether it was sincere or not is something only Harry knows himself.

However people of Britain who want to defend the guy, dismiss this whole thing as "banter" and think this whole affair has been blown out of proportion do not know what it is like to be on the receiving end of vicious racist abuse.

Friday, January 2, 2009

That was the year that was ... 2008

Well, it's a dead cert that 2008 is going to go down in the history books as something of a watershed, something that can only be said of only a handful of years since WWII. Let's see, there's 1963, 1973, 1981, 1989, 1997 and now 2008. But what makes a watershed year a watershed year, (and what exactly is a watershed? Personally I find wood makes a much better material for shed construction, more likely to stay, erm, solid). It's hard to put down a recipe if you want to make your own watershed year a la Blue Peter, but a good start would be some of the following ingredients

1. Big changes in politics and government
2. Change of direction in the economic wind
3. Big changes in fashion, music or popular culture
4. The passing away or emergence of an iconic personality

So let's quickly whizz through those watersheds.


Beatlemania is born, but more importantly four lads from Liverpool, it can be said without hype or exaggeration, irreversibly change and influence the path of modern popular music. Profumo scandal brings down long-serving Tory government (and produces world's sexiest photo involving a chair, phwoar!!! But enough about that...)


Oil crisis gives the world a wake-up call that energy is neither cheap nor forever, and as a result teenagers suddenly decided that they like Glam Rock and singers like, erm, Gary Glitter. Somehow somewhat not so "phwoar", unfortunately...


A bit of a minor watershed, I have to admit on a global level, but for Britain the Falklands War revives Margaret Thatcher's political fortunes and properly kick-start Thatcherism (with a capital T), the 80s (with a capital 8 and no apostrophe) and the decade of the Yuppy (with a capital W).


Oh nothing much happened in this year did it? I mean only the beginning of the end of Communism as we know it, the fall of the Berlin Wall and a reverse-domino effect leading eventually to the break-up of the Soviet Union. However Communism survived in China despite Tiananmen Square, or did it......?


A bit of a biggie this one, if one blonde woman did not make 1981 a big year, then another blonde woman certainly made 1997 a really big year. Hong Kong was returned to China, Deng Xiaoping passed away, Tony Blair swept the Tories out of power, and most importantly of all, the Spice Girls hit their peak and, it can be said with total hype and exaggeration, forever changed popular music as we know it. OK well they certainly invented the phrase "girl power", not even Lennon and McCartney influenced language in that way, unless you count "yeah, yeah, yeah". Finally, Diana's death caused the world to react in a way that no-one could have predicted. What on earth made so many people mourn her in such a way they did? Maybe we'll have to wait a little more before we can properly analyse that one.


It's impossible to say how exactly 2008 will be remembered until 2009 has finished and the events that recently unfolded finally reach some kind of conclusion. However economic disaster, runs on banks, collapses of banks, unprecented actions by governments to pump money into banks, and the start of what is either a recession or a depression is key to figure. It's been so gloomy people resorted to watching Mamma Mia at the cinema to try to take their mind off it. Now that IS serious......