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June 2005

Those shoes again

It's those Chinese tourists in the Clarks factory outlet again:

The Chinese were well-prepared. Armed with paper cutouts of their relatives' feet, they leaped from their coaches and headed straight for the racks of shoes at the Clarks shop. "It was a bit of a frenzy," said a staff member at Bicester Village, a collection of factory outlets near Oxford visited by a group of 2,000 Chinese salespeople this month. They bought up to six pairs of shoes each and the queue stretched out of the door.

There's more:

According to Calum MacLeod, director of the Great Britain-China Centre, many Chinese still have an outdated view of Britain shaped by classic literature and old movies.

"Oliver Twist is a very popular book in China and the title of the Chinese version translates as Foggy City Orphan," he said. "When I tell people I live in London they often ask me how bad the fog is."

MacLeod says phrases such as "the home of the industrial revolution" or "the empire on which the sun will never set" still resonate strongly with many Chinese. "But not in a particularly negative way," he said. "They are very interested in the UK's history and traditions."

This amused me:

The British Museum is a less straightforward attraction. "The Chinese section contains precious exhibits from the imperial times, many of them given to the British as gifts from the royals. Many feel that these are looted from China."

This seems to be a common misconception.  I remember explaining to my wife (as she then wasn't) about the stuff that foreign governments had so kindly donated to the British Museum, and she also seemed to have the idea that it had actually been stolen.  Perish the thought.


Best foot forward

The Economist reports (subscription required) that what Chinese visitors to the UK want most of all...is to go to factory outlets.  And the first choice of of 2,000 door-to-door salespeople from Amway is...Clarks shoes:

The trip took 700 of them to Bicester Village, a collection of designer-outlet stores near Oxford. Though many of the most expensive fashion brands have shops at Bicester, the only place where it was difficult to get through the door was Clarks, makers of frumpy but sensible shoes for British adults and schoolchildren. Some of the shoppers were filling suitcases with the shoes. During a previous Amway visit, the store had to hire security guards to restrict entry to the store. Why the crush?

Oddly, Clarks shoes are apparently seen as luxury items in China. The company reckons that the brand, which has been around since 1825, may be helped by its lingering colonial associations. Its presence in Hong Kong when the Chinese market was opening up may also have allowed it to get its products into smart department stores before the competition: although many of the shoes are made in Guangdong, they are pricier there than in Bicester. Evidently much planning had gone into the shopping expedition: some shoppers brought pieces of string cut to the length of a friend's shoe to get the size right, others brought cardboard cut-outs of a child's foot.

This is not altogether surprising.  If you read Chinese language newspapers or magazines in Hong Kong they often mention factory outlets in the UK.  Clarks shoes are definitely cheaper in the UK than here, and presumably the factory outlets have the lowest prices. 

I remember when I first came to Hong Kong being surprised to find that another famous British name - Marks & Spencer - also had a distinctly upmarket image in Hong Kong, with prices to match.  Then they reorganized and restructured, and these days their prices here are more reasonable.  I believe that Clarks are in the process of doing something similar (based on two newspapers articles I read recently), so perhaps there won't be any need to travel to the UK to buy their shoes at reasonable prices.

The Economist also says some interesting news:

At the moment, Chinese visitors can travel to Britain only on business or student visas. But from the end of July, they will be allowed to visit Britain as tourists, thanks to an agreement signed by the British and Chinese governments earlier this year.

It's interesting (to me) because if the British government is making it easier for Chinese citizens to visit the UK, one can hope that the Chinese government will make it easier (and cheaper) for Brits to get visas for China.


Enthralling?

The Kissel case seems to be getting widespread coverage around the world: US banker murder case enthrals Hong Kong according to The Guardian.  Well, I don't find it all that entralling, but then I don't live in the posh parts of Hong Kong island (where the Kissels lived) or work in a merchant bank. 

Regular readers of Flying Chair will know that Phil seemed at one stage to be the only source of English language information on the case (with Simon following up whilst Phil was too busy), with the Standard and SCMP ignoring it completely.  When the SCMP roused itself and printed a front page story at the start of the year, it merely repeated something that Simon had revealed three months earlier.

Phil and Simon were concerned that the trial itself might not be fully reported, and I think Simon tried to find someone who would provide reports for his site.  Then an apparently knowlegeable person stated that reporting on criminal cases was not allowed in Hong Kong.  In fact the case is being covered extensively by all the major Hong Kong newspapers, as well as being picked up by foreign titles such as The Guardian (presumably because of the expat angle).

However, ESWN seems surprised that a Google search for Kissel throws up Phil's and Simon's sites (and his own) ahead of news sites.  This seems to echo ESWN's earlier comment to one of Simon's posts about "blogging superceding the influence of mainstream media", but in this case he feels that it's unfair:

Whatever happened to justice in the Internet age?  The best coverage comes from reporters like Albert Wong of The Standard and Polly Hui of South China Morning Post , who show up day in and day out in the courtroom.  Why should a bunch of bloggers banging on their keyboards in the comfort of their homes or offices soar to the top of the world's most popular seach engine?

Well, who said life was fair?  Phil and Simon were upset because they feel that they were covering this story when the mainstream media (in English at least) were ignoring it, but the truth is that Google neither knows nor cares about that.  Blogs get prominent positions on Google because of the number of links, not because of the quality of the coverage.  Anyway, if you want to limit your search to news sites you can do just that, and there's no sign of any pesky bloggers.  The irony here is that by doing that you would miss out on ESWN's translations of what the local Chinese-language press have been saying about the case.


What splendid weather we're having

Last Saturday it was hot and sunny for the Dragon Boat festival.  Then it started raining.

This week's thunderstorm warnings:

Sunday 12

18:00

21:00

3 hours

Monday 13

08:08

11:15

3 hours

13:25

15:30

2 hours

Tuesday 14

12:55

midnight

11 hours

Wednesday 15

07:50

23:55

16 hours

Thursday16

06:15

16:30

10 hours

Friday 17

00:30

02:30

2 hours

13:40

16:40

3 hours

Plus on Tuesday we had an Amber rainstorm warning from 4 pm till 11.15 pm.

Going to work on Thursday morning, I saw the aftermath of two minor collisons, and watched a van skidding across the carriageway at a busy intersection, narrowly avoiding being hit by an oncoming bus.  It ended up stopped against the railings, facing in the opposite direction to the oncoming traffic, but the driver was soon heading off again.  Just an everyday tale of tropical rainstorms in Hong Kong.


Maybe I'm stoopid

Hey, look, another article about BitTorrent and UK Nova and all that Shaky type of stuff.  It all sounds great:

One site, UK Nova, specialises in providing TV programmes to those who can't get them because they are outside the UK. It started as an informal way for a small gang of expat EastEnders addicts to get their daily fix and now, a year later, has a global community of 30,000 people swapping all sorts of new and vintage programming - from Jamie Oliver to Are You Being Served?.

Roger, one of the site's moderators - a British expat living in Germany - stresses that they are providing a service to people who simply can't get these programmes - and they are keen not to do anything to damage the broadcasters' commercial interests. They automatically remove anything that is released on DVD, for example. "If there was a legal service that allowed us to do this," he says, "we'd happily pay for it."

Well, so would I.  I pay for BBC Prime (which is rubbish, basically) and I buy BBC DVDs, but there are many shows that never seem to make it either on to DVD or on to any channels available here.

Yes, DVDs.  I bought the DVD of Spooks (series one), and discovered that somebody has been all creative and decided that the menu system needed to be 'clever'.  Oh no it doesn't.  When I put a DVD into the player, all I expect to see is a menu with a few basic options (Play All/Select Episode/Subtitles & Language/Extras).  I do NOT want to have to endure someone's idea of a funny or 'appropriate' introduction and then have to guess which button to press to watch the damn DVD.      

Oh yes, and it's loaded with "extras", but doesn't have subtitles!  Genius.

Nothing to do with the DVD, but the acting is appallingly wooden - with a few honourable exceptions (step forward, Hugh Laurie).  Once the action gets underway this isn't a problem, but when they are trying to set the scene it is painful to watch. 

According to Spike over at Hongkie Town you can now buy (in Shenzen, naturally) boxed sets of TV shows that haven't even been released.  They download episodes from the Internet and then create their own packaging.  And I bet they don't have stoopid interactive menus.

Back to UK Nova and BitTorrent, and I can't help feeling that I'm missing out on something (maybe a large fine and time in prison...).  Other Hong Kong bloggers seem to be happily downloading all sorts of stuff, but my attempts have not been very successful.  I've got no idea how to join UK Nova, or whether Suprnova is the same thing (or worth paying for).  It seems that I'm just not geeky technically competent enough:

If you have a broadband connection and can set it all up (and you need to be reasonably technically competent to do so), you can download an album in an hour; an hour's worth of TV in a couple of hours; and a movie overnight.  A quick word of caution here: first, downloading copyright material is illegal. Second, setting it up is quite fiddly.

As I have said before, I'd happily pay for a service that allowed me to watch or download TV shows easily and legally.  It seems that the BBC is testing a service that allows viewers to watch anything from the past week's programmes, but I assume that it will only be available in the UK.  I know there are issues with the rights, but it must be technically possible. 

Perhaps I just have to be patient.  Or more geeky.


Puzzling

Two strange tales from the hard shoulder of the digital superhighway.

Firstly, I sent an email to a Hong Kong company (via their website) saying that I wanted to order something from them.  A day later they called me back (on the phone) and promised to fax me a price list.  Nothing arrived, and there has been no reply to my email, nor any follow-up phone calls (incidentally, why are people so attached to fax when email is so much easier?).

Then I placed an order with a US company.  Unfortunately their stupid web page decided I lived in Canada, and apparently they have despatched the goods to a non-existent address there. 

Brilliant.

What is puzzling about this is that no-one seems to have checked the address or compared it to the address on my credit card (which is definitely in Hong Kong).  You may recall that Typepad mysteriously found themselves unable to take money from my credit card because of a trivial mismatch between the address on the card company's database and where I actually live, but this company apparently doesn't care that the address is on a whole different continent. 

Then there might be the clue that I had paid for international shipping, which would not be required if lived in the Northern United States.  Nope, they just despatched the goods to totally the wrong place.


Slow

Fumier noted that I hadn't had a cheese post for a while.  True enough.  I haven't had many posts of any kind for the last few weeks, due to lack of time.

Anyway, Cheese Slices (shown last week on TVB) was about the Cheese Festival in a place called Bra in Italy.  It seems that cheese producers from all over the world gather in this town every two years to promote their wares.  The next one is this September, so book your trip now!

The event is organized by the Slow Food movement.  To be honest, they sound a bit too serious and po-faced, but anyone who organizes a 3-day cheese festival can't be all bad. 


Poor show

The most frustrating (and frankly rather puzzling) aspect of English language Hong Kong TV is not that we miss out on all the best shows, but that they are scheduled, publicised and presented so very badly.

One example of inexplicable scheduling is that ATV are showing the 2nd series of The Restaurant at 8 pm on Saturdays.  That's right, overlapping with The Apprentice.  If I'm not wrong, we have two shows set in New York, both produced by Mark Burnett, and probably appealing to the same target audience.  As I recall, TVB purchased the first series and ran it in a weekday 8.30 slot, where it presumably didn't do very well.  However, you'd think it would be a natural for the Weekend Reality strand at 8.30 on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but instead it has ended up on ATV World.

I find it hard to believe that ATV outbid TVB for the show, but if they did then surely they should be putting it out at 10 pm on Saturday - or anywhere else apart from at the same time as The Apprentice. 

Then there's the insane way that TVB place commercial breaks at apparently random places in so many of their shows.  It's as if there is a man with a stopwatch determined to have a commercial break at a fixed time.  For example, last week's Cheese Slices had a break in the middle of a short cooking demonstration when there was a natural break a minute or two later.

It's even worse when it happens with 'factual' shows that were produced with summaries of what has happened so far to follow after the commercial break.  Two fairly recent examples are that Richard Branson Quest for the Best thingy, and the Supernanny series on Friday nights.  No-one at TVB can be bothered to re-edit the show or place the commercials in the break, so you get a non-break, followed by a summary (that you don't need), followed one or two minutes later by a TVB commercial break in an inappropriate place. 

Finally, there's the pathetic excuse for a TV listing guide that the SCMP serves up on Sunday.  All it needs to do is list the programs for the current week, and draw attention to anything notable.  So, what do they do?  Get the timings and programmes wrong and fail to notice new shows.  For example, Desperate Housewives was a big success in the States, and TVB have managed to get it on air here fairly quickly (only a few after it aired in the UK, for example).  Yet it wasn't mentioned at all in the Post's TV guide the first week it was on TVB, though they did pick up on it the following week.  How can that be when TVB were advertising it on-air for weeks in advance?  Then last week (and this week) they have the show listed as being broadcast at 10:30 when actually it has moved to 10:45.

Hopeless.


Not qualified

When English teams are successful in international competitions I usually have rather mixed feelings.  I can't help feeling a little patriotic pride that an English team has won (even if the coach and players are actually foreigners), but I also feel some resentment towards the big clubs with the money and the fair weather fans.

I usually make an exception for Liverpool.  Rather endearingly, in spite of a being a 'big club' they haven't won the Premiership or the "old" 1st Division title in living memory.  Even better, if you're a small club in search of three points then Liverpool are often happy to oblige.  Then, just to add to the fun, Rafa Benitez will be affronted that lesser mortals should have the nerve to outplay the mighty Liverpool. 

As a result of all this, they only managed to finish fifth in the Premiership, just below Everton, who therefore qualified for next season's Champions League. 

In spite of this, Liverpool somehow managed to win the Champions League.  The final was remarkable - in the first half they looked like the side that has been so inconsistent this season, and then somehow they scored 3 goals in about 5 minutes and finally won on penalties.   

Naturally, Liverpool think they should be allowed to defend the trophy, but inconveniently the rules say that only four teams can qualify from the Premiership, and 'big club' Liverpool weren't in the top four.  Oh dear.

Captain (and actual native Liverpudlian) Steven Gerard insisted that as it is called the Champions League, the champions should be allowed to play.  Well, Steve, that's a good argument, but I'm just wondering how Liverpool got in to the competition last year - was it by being the English champions?  No, it wasn't - it was by finishing 4th, a long way behind the champions.

Nevertheless, it seems that UEFA will make an exception for Liverpool and let them defend the trophy.  Or, more likely, get eliminated at the first opportunity.


Getting the message

I liked this story from The Guardian.  Someone took revenge on cable company NTL by changing the message on their automated phone system to something a little rude.

The gentleman was charged with "making a grossly offensive message".  Fortunately the magistrates decided that what he done was merely "offensive" and acquitted him.

Telephone "help lines" do seem to upset a lot of people.  The same newspaper has a rant about the "painting by numbers" approach of so many so-called technical help desks. Yes that probably works for 98% of the problems, but it drives the other 2% of callers quietly mad.