Iran – Travelogue

In my ongoing effort to find new and inventive ways to worry the crap out of my poor mother, I finally boarded a flight to Shiraz in Southern Iran on the Arabian take on Easyjet. After numerous payments to an extortionist sponsor in Tehran, an endless Sisyphusian battle with Iranian bureaucracy and a sizeable donation to furry-faced Armadinajad, I’d managed to secure a visa for a two week stint in the dark beating heart of the Evil Axis.

There’s no poetic way of putting it – after just 5 minutes of sitting on the runway, we’d barely gotten through the pre-flight prayer and it was brown trousers time. Minutes from takeoff, a fellow at the back of the plane suddenly started hollering something about God with half a dozen others. Embarrassingly, it was enough to induce a mini-panic attack – my heart raced and the colour must have visibly drained from my face since my fellow passengers (in a four-row radius) began cracking up. Apparently, it’s not uncommon for folks to get some jazz-chanting going when they’re keyed up – especially on flights or at a concert or celebration. Shouting on a plane is alarming anywhere – but especially when done in a Middle Eastern language en route to Iran. I eventually laughed along, but damn Iran – you scary!

Korea – Travelogue

Journal Extract – DMZ Tour

The US military-led tour of the Korean border zone Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) commenced at 7:30am sharp. In charge of proceedings was poker-faced Sergeant Rivera, an American solider with a well rehearsed, distant, steely squint. With clinical delivery and detachment, he informed us of the DMZ’s many rules and regulations, along with tips on how not-to-get-shot by edgy North Korean guards. Each instruction was conveyed with precision, repeated twice and usually book ended with “let’s just have a good day folks”. I sensed some weary exasperation in his tone and felt glad I’d left my (Chinese New Year of the) rabbit costume at the hotel. Indeed, clothing deemed “faddish, extreme, torn, tattered, frayed, overly provocative or otherwise inappropriate” was disallowed, including – quote – “baggy gangster-type” garb.

Throughout the day, as Rivera ordered us about, I felt that he was able to penetrate my soul with his trademark, no-nonsense glare. It was mildly unnerving yet oddly invigorating to be bossed around – I particularly enjoyed being told twice. “No photography here. Repeat: No photography.” What a thrilling paradox to be addressed as ‘sir’ as he humoured my stupid questions, yet also be ordered around – certainly, for a few moments, I had to question my heterosexuality.

Hong Kong – Mourning Sickness

9 days later, and the the front page of the SCMP has still not changed its tune. Below is a preview of my upcoming column for Time Out.

Mourning Sickness

In conclusion, Manila police lacked gear and training during August’s hostage crisis. Any further media commentary or sensational analysis which went beyond this simple statement was redundant, unnecessary and arguably dangerous.

Voyeuristic tabloids splashing a bloody corpse on their cover, cynical companies advertising their ‘condolences’ (complete with prominent logos) and opportunistic, diversion-hungry politicians were all beneficiaries of the media circus surrounding the bus hijacking. This hyper-attentive, intrusive press coverage – often dubbed ‘grief porn’ – was also seen during events such as Princess Diana’s death, Madeleine McCann’s disappearance and the murder of Anna Svidersky in Vancouver.

Prompted by similar gratuitous and emotive reporting, HK subsequently experienced a phenomenon known as ‘mourning sickness’ where readers became actors and the entire populace indulged in mass grief and mourning. But this unified outpouring of sorrow and anger was mostly related to our own emotional needs rather than any real empathy with the victims, whom most of us had never met.

HK Time Out Magazine – Column #32

I’m currently contributing a short, light-hearted political column to Hong Kong Time Out Magazine. Below is the uncut, original version of my latest piece…

Capping Greed

Japan is one of the world’s most equal societies partly because large salaries are seen to be somewhat uncouth. The average Japanese CEO earns just over HK$3million – which is relatively low compared to their US counterparts who often earn between HK$8-30million annually. Toyota’s board members received a comparatively modest HK$3.4million last year whilst, say, HSBC’s chief enjoys a rather gratuitous basic wage of HK$13.5million.

Executive pay in HK remains the highest in Asia, surpassed only by South Korea, and there is certainly little taboo locally over amassing big bucks. The new watered-down minimum wage bill may help curb inequality – our city’s biggest social problem – but since we lack a ‘cultural cap’ on excessive earnings, further legislation is the next natural step to control executive greed.

HK Time Out Magazine – Column #31

I’m currently contributing a short, light-hearted political column to Hong Kong Time Out Magazine. Below is the uncut, original version of my latest piece…

Sharpened Elbows

When ‘scuffles’ break out on protest frontlines, it’s often difficult to tell whether it is provoked by frustrated activists or the police themselves. If it’s a high profile demonstration, protesters will sometimes find themselves outnumbered by police, undercover goons and a gaggle of photojournalists with sharp elbows. The latter are already somewhat notorious in the territory for snapping away at bloody accident scenes and, with many prepared to literally fight for the most sensational protest shots, their integrity remains in question.

Clement So, Director of Journalism at The Chinese University, says photojournalists getting “too involved” has always been an issue, since “HK reporters are aggressive and try to beat competition.” He agrees there are some bad apples but says that that should not render the whole journalistic community as subjective or taking sides. Despite this, I’ve had quite a few run-ins myself with forceful photographers who can be blamed for obstructing protesters and causing things to escalate.