March 21, 2014

Notes from Parag Khanna's "How to Run the World: Charting a Course to the Next Renaissance"

Are the second Dark Ages and, subsequently, the next Renaissance upon us?

I'm proud to announce that I finally finished Parag Khanna's "How to Run the World" last month! I'm a pretty quick reader, but this book dragged over 4 months - in between which I finished the first 4 books of George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire"series and "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" (both which I highly recommend). 

"How to Run the World" bears an ambitious title, with a similarly ambitious scope. (But of course, it's international relations, n'est-ce pas?) Author Parag Khanna is an international relations expert: his résumé includes being Director of the Hybrid Reality Institute, Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation, and Visiting Fellow at LSE IDEAS, amongst others. 

The basic premise: we're in the middle of a second Dark Ages. "Rising powers, multinational corporations, powerful families,... religious radicals, universities, and mercenaries are all part of the diplomatic landscape." Khanna raises a valid point in that our current world order is broken. For example, the United Nations is inert, bound by accumulated bureaucratic inefficiencies and the vested interests of its Security Council members. The American government has teetered on the brink of a shutdown twice. In Sudan, redrawing borders hasn't reduced violence levels in the South. Mercenaries were involved on both sides in the Syrian civil war. More recently in Ukraine, it seems that Crimea may secede - what Kiev calls theft, Putin claims is the legitimate desire to return to Moscow. 

To this end, Khanna proposes a grand solution: mega-diplomacy. Mega-diplomacy is not confined to officially-appointed diplomats. Mega-diplomacy involves influencers such as Bill and Melinda Gates whose foundation has granted US$ 28 billion for global health, development and advocacy efforts, and actress Angelina Jolie for her humanitarian efforts, among others. These efforts - along with various NGOs - cut across national borders. A firm believer in technology (check out the Hybrid Reality Institute - and, perhaps, suspend your skepticism), Khanna suggests that, armed with a smartphone, you and I can participate in this mega-diplomacy.

Khanna also suggests the mantra, "Govern globally, act locally". Without going into too much detail, you can watch what he means here.

I think the book only comes into its own in the third and final part, titled "A World of Need". It affirms that there is so much that we still have to do in solving issues common to all societies: poverty, disease, education, human rights and inequality, conserving the environment.

Otherwise, I found myself mentally arguing with Khanna's points as I went along. I found some of his recommendations dubious and "fluffy" ("make safari, not war" really?). I'm not sure if I want to sit down (and procrastinate) with it for another 4 months though.

March 18, 2014

A Bit of Angst from a Malaysian Abroad

Last weekend, I read a Bloomberg View article titled "A Plane Disappears, Malaysia's Flaws Emerge". On 8 March 2014, Flight MH370 disappeared while travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. To date, the cause and plane location are unknown. I hope both aircraft and passengers will be found safe.

Anyway, the article was pleasantly on-point, highlighting how the incompetence of Malaysian officials (note: not the brave folk doing the actual searching; I'm looking at you Hishammuddin) in managing the aftermath and coordinating search efforts with other countries is a symptom of the underlying political malaise in Malaysia.

Reading the article gave me mixed feelings, but mostly frustration. Frustration with the Malaysian government's incompetence re the MH370 disappearance, frustration with the corruption, cronyism and divisiveness of Malaysian politics (aaaaaand they're going after Anwar with the same sodomy charge for the third time), and frustration with myself for being in HK and not being able to contribute to nation-building.   

I didn't vote in last year's General Election - a non-action that I will regret until the next election. It was definitely an opportunity squandered, as the 2013 elections marked the first time Malaysians overseas could cast their votes. Then again, considering the massive election-rigging, I wouldn't be surprised if my vote had been substituted... which is why some of my fellow Malaysians in HKUST flew back to vote in person. 

Now that I've further solidified my residence in Hong Kong by taking a job, I often ask myself  "to be or not to be". I'm just 2-3 years short of being eligible for a HK PR, a very attractive proposition. After all, more opportunities await ambitious fresh graduates in Hong Kong than in Kuala Lumpur, and I'm definitely relieved to have escaped the institutionalised racism in Malaysia.

And yet my tanah air still calls to me. Well, mostly through my family who still reside there... and through my stomach on days I wake up craving asam laksa or Nyonya kuih. Some days I feel displaced, neither here nor there. I speak much better Malay than Cantonese or Mandarin. Despite being mostly Chinese (go, Peranakan!), I don't really fit into the Hong Kong Chinese culture/mindset. But back home, we have blowhard racists like Perkasa's Ibrahim Ali who spout things along the lines of "Cina balik Cina, India balik India" (translation: the Chinese should return to China, and Indians back to India) if we dare object against the status quo, so where do I go? When and how can we take back our country?

March 9, 2014

Indie Movie Review: Velvet Goldmine

I occasionally search for movies based on an actor/actress I want to watch. When I was looking for movies starring the rakishly gorgeous Jonathan Rhys Meyers (of The Tudors and Dracula TV series), I found this 1998 movie called "Velvet Goldmine", also co-starring Ewan McGregor and Christian Bale. 

yi wei lim, yiweilim, velvet goldmine, david bowie, christian bale, jonathan rhys meyers, ewan mcgregor, glam rock, david bowie velvet goldmine, ziggy stardust, 2hb, roxy music, brit rock

"Velvet Goldmine" is a loose adaptation of British musician David Bowie's life during the height of the British glam rock era. Glam rock, also known as glitter rock, was a music genre that gained popularity in the mid-1970's, featuring singers and musicians who wore flamboyant makeup and clothes with a camp or androgynous twist. The glam rock era is also associated with the blurring of gender roles. 

yi wei lim, yiweilim, david bowie, ziggy stardust, david bowie ziggy stardust, aladdin sane, glam rock, bowie, velvet goldmine, space oddity
David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust persona
yi wei lim, yiweilim, lou reed, glam rock, velvet goldmine, lou reed transformer, david bowie, ziggy stardust
Lou Reed

Rhys Meyers plays protagonist British glam rock star Brian Slade, whose career abruptly ended from a backlash towards a publicity stunt during one of his concerts and subsequently faded away from the public eye. The film follows journalist Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale), who is assigned to find out what happened to Slade after. The narrative is non-linear, interspersed with Stuart's interviews with people who once knew Slade and vignettes of the glam rock scene in Britain. 

If you're a 1970's music fan, you may enjoy this film. References are heavy to the artists of old: Bowie, Andy Warhol, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed. The movie is also peppered with Oscar Wilde quotes (I adore Wilde!). Even if you're not a fan of glam rock or Wilde, the actors' performances are quite engaging: Rhys Meyers and McGregor playing off against each other as the androgynous British glam rock personality vs. the raw American grunge rocker respectively, and Bale as the (closet?) bisexual journalist who retraces Slade's and his own journey within the glam rock world. 

yi wei lim, yiweilim, christian bale, velvet goldmine, patrick bateman, david bowie, glam rock, todd haynes, british, christian bale velvet goldmine

Besides that, I really enjoyed the soundtrack; some of the tracks were done superbly by Radiohead vocalist Thom Yorke. One of my favourite songs from the movie is "2HB" by 1960's English art rock band Roxy Music, sung by Yorke.

To cap it off: if you're a music fan or interested in socio-cultural phases, or enjoy watching any of these three actors, OR are looking for a more unusual / non-mainstream movie (to quote Lou Reed, "Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side..."), do check it out! For me, the equation of too many good things e.g. JRM + Ewan McGregor + Christian Bale + Oscar Wilde quotes + Thom Yorke + glam rock was too good to pass up.

March 4, 2014

Weekend at Harbour Artisanal Food Market

Last fortnight, I went to the Harbour Artisanal Food Market at Fire Dragon Path in Causeway Bay. As implied by its name, the Market gathers some very unique F&B vendors across Hong Kong! 

What a baller name for a road.

First off, appetizers from Sugo Sushi! From left: 
  • SPY-DA: spicy soft-shell crab (I think this was our favourite)
  • Yakiniku: Japanese BBQ beef with burdock root
  • Ebi Ebi Prawn: tempura prawn with wasabi mayo
  • No Way Jose: spicy beef with Mexican sauce and cheese.

Sugo Sushi
Ground Floor, Hop Hing Building, 30 Gilman's Bazaar Central District, Hong Kong
Phone: (852) 2259 5151 | Mon-Fri 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. | Sat 12 p.m. - 8 p.m.