3-23July2011 :: These (Hong Kong) Weeks
- The City
(From a week ago) The last few weeks have been awfully rushed, something of a blur, with a last-minute trip to Hong Kong squeezed in there. I had a week's notice before travelling, which meant that that week passed quickly in preparation, then a week over there, then spent the following week back just catching up. Outside aeroplane movies, these weeks were River of Gods, Transformers 3, The Hangover.
- Finished reading River of Gods (amazon); when I started, it struck me as remarkably literary, but unfortunately that shine wore off; it's an ambitiously long novel, with some incredible concepts and a reasonably interesting, diverse cast, but as it goes on there's just a little too much that only the author really understands, and after a while it feels as though it's forcing the epic feel a little too much; my feel for it wasn't helped by my rather ambivalent relationship with western art's relationship with India (having no direct relationship with India myself), as the novel at times slips into stereotype and orientalism; it's at times self-aware, commenting on British culture's fascination with class as expressed in India, but mostly just falls back on fascination without engagement; it, curiously, has a number of plot points that evoke Neuromancer, but where that novel was gritty and only epic in its vision, River of Gods forces the "epic" and ends up feeling too polished, even as it pretends to deal with the streets and the underclasses; it's well-written for the most part, but is long enough that the not-well-written parts are too long, leaving me unwilling to pick up the other books in the series.
- Watched Transformers 3 (imdb); up there with the first in the trilogy, with excellent (restrained even!) 3D, though perhaps longer than it deserved; that's not really a point against it, in that I wasn't sitting there bored at any point, but it felt like a big investment in something ultimately meaningless; where the first movie was delightfully self-aware, this one is even aware of its predecessors, full of snark about Megan Fox's departure (of the never-liked-her-anyway variety, far more uncomfortable than its earlier objectification of her) and a sense that it's climbing to heights it shouldn't, pushed there perhaps simply because the first two movies had covered all the low ground; it not only interweaves live action with documentary footage for an epic opening (particularly emotive viewing the same weekend as the final US shuttle takeoff), but follows that directly with Rosie Huntington-Whiteley's legs bathed in light, the camera climbing slowly higher as she walks, and as the film continues, the mix of robots and guns and hot girl continues to swirl about Shia LaBeouf, completely out-of-place but by now comfortable to just run with it.
- Watched The Hangover (imdb); I'd heard good things, and I was pleasantly surprised; it's dumb, but cringeworthy only a few times, and smart a few more, so on balance works out alright, the non-stop absurdity and ever-raising stakes serving to keep it entertaining through its flaws.
- Aeroplane films included Limitless (imdb) (started strong, very stylish, but limped to a finish), No Strings Attached (imdb) (strong cast make it better than it could've been), The Mechanic (imdb) (great, until it fell apart for the final act, and was pulled together with some dubious plotting), Just Go With It (imdb) (cheesy, but watchable, at least while sleepy), Tangled (imdb) (entertaining and featuring a near-excellent female protagonist, but it was unfortunate she was still a princess).
- Highlight from the Instapaper queue was Paul Ford's Facebook and the Epiphanator: An End to Endings?, about the new forms of narrative and storytelling that Chatter enables, but with the (somewhat comforting) note, "We’ll still need professionals to organize the events of the world into narratives".
The birth pangs of a new City
- Hong Kong was— interesting, definitely a place I'll go back to; but it was strange, the city's identity torn in different directions, between the British colonial/imperial past and its vestiges in contemporary corporate power, its fraught relationship with mainland China, and its youth, many of whom are foreign-raised and/or -educated; that fractured identity is absolutely fascinating, and I'd love to spend some time there closely observing the birth of what is sure to be a new City, but I'd only be comfortable there if I could fracture my own identity similarly, say by picking up enough Cantonese and living in a different quarter such that I'm not just co-opted into the wider Brit and Aussie expat community.
- I wonder if Hong Kong belongs to the foreign-educated natives, and just maybe a few Cantonese-speaking foreigners; the outsiders from that venn diagram just don't feel right; as a foreign/foreign I can't help feeling awfully invasive, even when the locals try really really hard to be accommodating and make me feel welcome.
- The use of English contributes to this strange sense of welcome and unease, with the foreign-raised Chinese favouring English, even when they speak Cantonese fluently, and with almost all the local staff speaking — perhaps a little uncomfortably — perfectly functional English, and understanding a range of accents far better than native English speakers from the US and UK.
- I'm more and more driven to the conclusion that I couldn't really live anywhere; I sat in lounges in Hong Kong reading Monocle's liveable cities edition and constantly thinking, Ooh, I could live there. But I know all of those theres are likely the same as Hong Kong, and not really a place I could individually live. Instead, I plan on living everywhere, becoming a resident of the global City.
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