Posts Tagged ‘hong kong’

pop goes the world: sorry, we aren’t trained

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 26 August 2010, Thursday

Sorry, We Aren’t Trained

That is what the acronym “SWAT” stands for in the Philippines, say many in the aftermath of last Monday’s hostage-taking bloodbath.

Former senior police inspector Rolando Mendoza’s frustration over what he perceived was an unjust termination of his bemedalled service in the police force drove him to hijack a tour bus full of visitors from Hong Kong and demand his reinstatement.

When this did not happen and instead an inept SWAT team took a sledgehammer to the back window of the bus, he slew eight of his captive tourists.

Brave but inept policement prepare to storm the bus. (Click on pics to go to image source.)

Hong Kong erupted in anger. According to the Associated Press, several dozen protesters chanted in front of the Philippine embassy there: “Strongly condemn the Philippine government for being careless about human life!” “Filipino police incompetent,” blared Hong Kong’s Ming Pao Daily News on its front page. The South China Morning Post said the incident was “a wake-up call” to improve gun control and security measures.

Interior Secretary Jessie Robredo, in charge of the police, was quoted by AP as having said, “Had we been better prepared, better equipped, better trained, maybe the response would have been quicker despite the difficulty. All the inadequacies happened at the same time.”

This painful admission underscored the galactic incompetence of those involved in the rescue attempt – the negotiators; the SWAT team members; the government officials who panicked and could not be reached by indignant Chinese diplomats demanding news and the safety of their nationals.

People who had their photos taken in front of the horror bus have been accused of insensitivity.

It also pointed to another tragedy brought about by corruption. There should have been enough funds for equipment and training. The delivery of basic social services such as law enforcement should have been prioritized by government.

Sadly, this hostage tragedy was not the only violence that humans committed against their fellows around the world.

Last week, a South Carolina mother suffocated her two toddler sons, strapped their corpses into her car, and pushed the car into a river before fleeing the scene. Upon her capture, police officers said she showed no remorse for her deed.

On Sunday, a Virginia man killed three family members and wounded four others in a property dispute.

On Tuesday, a suicide bomber killed 32 people at the Muna Hotel in Mogadishu. The attack followed a day of fighting in the Somali city in which around 40 others were slain, bringing the death toll to over 70 in just 48 hours.


In her column about torture last Monday, MST opinion editor Adelle Chua referred to psychologist Philip Zimbardo’s theory of the “Lucifer effect”, or how good people turn evil through the “pervasive yet subtle power of a host of situational variables” which can “dominate an individual’s will to resist” and cause him to perform actions that he would ordinarily consider evil.

Yet could there be a deeper, underlying cause for all this human rage and cruelty? Eccentric intellectual Howard Bloom, in his controversial 1995 book The Lucifer Principle posits that human evolution can “explain the fundamentals of human nature and the broad sweep of human history”.

Primal rage, he says, lurks within our reptile brains, and “a strange thing happens when humans and other animals are cornered by the uncontrollable. Their perceptions shut down, their thoughts grow more clouded, and they have a harder time generating new solutions to their problems.”

Experiments with rats have shown that faced with electric shock punishments, those given some sort of control (being able to leap to an unelectrified platform) avoided a brain-dulling endorphin surge, “remaining perceptive and alert”.

The rats without control, subjected to shock after shock, suffered from systems flooded with endorphins and were unable to “retain and act on vital information.”

In short, Bloom said, “Control, in humans and rats, energizes the mind. A lack of control can cripple mental powers”.

Perhaps this explains Mendoza’s actions. Freed bus hostage Ng (who did not give her first name) said that Mendoza at first “did not want to kill us, but since the negotiations failed, he shot to kill people.” His lack of control over the hijacking, adding to the loss of control in his own life, pushed a desperate man over the edge.

Many who watched the hours-long live coverage on TV said that it was apparent to them that Mendoza was not thinking clearly. Political science doctoral student and Lopez, Quezon mayor Sonny Ubana said that Mendoza’s use of violence as a way of settling his problems is “not part of our culture; we tend to seek amicable solutions.”

Moreover, by choosing foreign nationals as his victims, Mendoza violated the norms Filipinos hold most sacred – that of hospitality and its accompanying accommodative behavior. His culturally and morally aberrant actions, many opined, were proof of his mental breakdown.

One cultural meme that he got correct was that of the angry man running amok.

Mendoza’s fatal move of taking and slaying hostages was his way of regaining the control he had lost over his employment situation, which had defined him. Being a cop was his identity. Shorn of his badge and rank, he was a nobody, only a shell filled with rage.

For the Philippines and the world, this lamentable crime points to the lack of control of law enforcers and government over extreme situations such as these; the lack of control over corruption; the lack of control of an entire society over one lone killer.

A recent survey says the Philippines ranks twelfth globally on the “net happiness” scale  despite low per capita income. Are we as a people too high on mind-dulling happy endorphins to think rationally and logically, so that we give police badges and guns to untrained men who either go berserk or who through their inadequacy botch the rescue of berserker victims?

Ours is not the only nation where violence takes place. The Internet is full of stories of murder and mayhem every day. Yet this particular incident could have been avoided or its tragic effects averted or mitigated.

Sorry, world. We aren’t trained to take control.   ***

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worth a thousand words

I’ve been taking a lot more pictures lately, since we got the Nikon D60. There’s something about a kick-ass SLR camera, that, well, kicks ass once you’re squinting through the viewfinder, with trigger finger itching to pop off a shot.

Mind you, I’m nearsighted, and often all I see through the teensy window is a mass of color. I try to frame using shapes and lines and forms. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, you’ll never know what you’re going to get until you upload those files into your hard drive and look at the images you captured on a 19-inch color monitor.

Then in comes Photoshop or Windows Photo Gallery for a dose of  “auto-adjust”, increased brightness/contrast, cropping, or whatever it takes to resolve the images’ minor issues to bring them to full, colorful, spectacular beauty, ready to tell their story to the viewer.

Here are some of my personal favorites (mostly taken on a recent trip to Hong Kong) and the stories behind them:

A dragon dance ritual for luck in Hong Kong, Feb 2009. From the demeanor of the store manager and other people nearby it was clearly an important ceremony; yet they allowed me to get as close as I wished to take this shot.

View of a hilly street in Hong Kong, taken from the top deck of a #973 bus on the way to Stanley Street.

View of Repulse Bay, enclave of ritzy homes and yachts.

The Stanley Street market.

Jade jewelry on display.

Lanterns like colorful bubbles.

Another view of Stanley Street.

One of my favorite images. Macro shot.

Miniature “terracotta” warriors at Stanley Street.

View at Stanley Street main. I love landscapes and macro shots.

Another favorite macro shot – a sign in Braille somewhere in the bowels of the MTR (subway) system.

The Happy Valley cemetery, as seen through a moving bus.

A traditional Chinese building on a hill in the New Territories looks more at home in its setting than does the modern tower beside it.

A cup of Chinese tea. Gazing into its depths, I tried to read my future…and couldn’t. So I drank it. *burp*

A serving of chocolate mousse at Bambu buffet, The Venetian hotel, Macau.

View of a bay and harbor in Hong Kong. Taken from the top of the revolving tower ride at Ocean Park.

Australian wool tapestry designed by artist Michael Santry. It took several weavers three months to finish.

Drain in the shape of a horseshoe at Sha Tin stable.

Saddlecloth and helmet at Sha Tin.

A groom leads a horse into the John Size stables at Sha Tin.

As a graduate student of communication, anything to do with signs and symbols (semiology) interests me.

I love this shot of jockeys, their owners, and trainers huddled together before a race at Sha Tin.

Jockeys wait for their mounts.

One of my favorite shots – I love how the jockey’s leg is parallel to the horse’s back. This is one of France’s leading riders, Cristophe Soumillon, getting aboard Steel Nerves.

Soumillon’s face is set, strained, serious.

In contrast, Hong Kong’s leading rider, Douglas Whyte, always had a half-smile on his face.

Hong Kong Jockey Club race judges bank to see the action better. I love this!

A judge makes notes as horses cross the finish line. I like how the shot incorporates part of the indoors with a view of the outdoors.

Another nicely-composed shot of a scene at Sha Tin.

The huge video screen in the infield at Sha Tin shows the jockey in the lead looking over his shoulder. It’s a metashot – a shot of a shot.

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starbucks stores i have met

As a Starbucks fan, I “collect” stores wherever I go. This one’s at the corner of Nathan Road, in Hong Kong.

There was a branch inside The Venetian hotel in Macau.

At New Town Mall in the New Territories, Hong Kong, I took a picture of the Starbucks signage as I spotted it from afar. I went inside and had a Raspberry Mocha (skim, no whip) while waiting for friends to finish looking around the mall.

I didn’t take a shot of the interior because Starbucks stores look the same inside wherever you go – Hong Kong, Manila, Dubai, New York, Pasadena. They all have the brown tables and tan, chocolate, or olive sofas, the warm orange lights over the bar, the same smell of roasted coffee, the same subdued chatter.

The consistency is boring, but it is also comforting. I know that wherever in the world I go, hearing a cacophony of languages I don’t understand, brushing past tall men in robes or fashionable women in knee-high boots, once I enter a Starbucks it’s like coming home. It’s something familiar, something I understand. Being in a different city, you can go adrift, cast loose from the moorings of your own place and culture.

Starbucks, transcending culture, having created its own, is a pocket of home wherever it is.

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favorite chinese things

A recent trip to Hong Kong yielded some interesting finds from the markets. Much were tourist-y gimcrack doodads, but since I was, after all, a tourist, I flung myself into the role with enthusiasm and poked around for items to take back.

I fell in love with a personalized seal and a watch.

On our first day of our trip, we headed to the Stanley Market for souvenirs to take home as pasalubong (lit., “to welcome”). It is part of Filipino culture to take home gifts to family and friends.

After looking at countless tee shirts, silk bags,  and other things, a seal engraving shop caught my eye. Run by a family – the mother, who sp0ke English, was the sales person while the father, son, and grandfather did the custom engraving, drawing, and other services – the shop offered countless blank seals to choose from.

I’d always wanted my own seal, ever since my Mandarin teacher at the Ateneo, Prof. Songbee Dy, gave me a Chinese name – “Ai Fei Fei”.

“Ai” is from the “A” in Alcasid, and “Fei” means “luxuriant and beautiful”, from the “fer” in “Jennifer”. Prof. Dy had thought about the name over a weekend, putting much effort in coming up with something special. After all, it was like she was naming me all over again.

I told the seal lady and she wrote the characters down for me, asking me if they were the right ones. We were taught to speak a little Chinese, not read it, so I wasn’t sure. I gave her the meaning; she nodded and asked me to choose a seal.

Since my zodiac animal in Chinese astrology is a Sheep, that’s what I chose, along with a red box. I was told to return in twenty minutes.

When I came back for my seal, it was beautifully engraved. My Anglo name “Jenny” was added at the bottom, rendering it invalid for use as an “official” seal. Still, it is special as a souvenir of this trip.

The box is of red brocade and fastened with a plastic splinter. Formerly, deer horn was used.

Closeup of the seal, with my Chinese name engraved in the ancient seal script.

The interior of the box is lined in red silk, with hollows for the seal and the covered dish of seal paste.

Playing with the seal.

The seal is marble, while the seal paste dish is porcelain.

The underside of the seal and the dish of seal paste. Seal paste is made of pulverized red cinnabar mixed with castor oil and silk strands to bind everything together.

At the Night Market at Jordan, one subway stop away from where our hotel was in Tsim Sha Tsui, I got this watch.

I don’t usually wear watches. But I couldn’t resist this old fashioned clockwork one, which features Chairman Mao constantly waving his arm up and down.

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hong kong color

Hong Kong in winter, right after the Lunar New Year but still during the celebration, was a a feast of color and texture.


Flowers along Canton Road.

More color comes from other things – seals at a stall at the Stanley Street Market, for instance.


The seals (yin) are usually of marble or other stones, or plastic. They will be carved with a person’s personal name for use on official documents (chop), using an ancient script form. Seals may also be engraved with corporate names and studio names. For the tourist market, seals are carved with the person’s name in Anglo and Chinese and are not for official use.


The seals come with Chinese zodiac animal finials while some are plain cylinders. Those are only for Chinese names; Anglo names would not fit.


Metal exercise balls for the hands.

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