29 November, 2008

Hong Kong People Freed From City Regulatory Rules!

If you haven't already seen it, Causeway Bay — Times Square to be precise — has been taken over by Carrie Chau's (鄒蘊盈) quirky cartoon-like characters. Our Winter Wonderland is very "Hong Kong" indeed — not a Christmas theme in sight, but adorable mini old-fashioned lampposts, white trees and benches, adorned with Chau's figurines in all sizes, poses and settings.

Carrie Chau

Carrie Chau

Although there are the obligatory security guards pacing around the location, the sheer number of visitors taking photos and posing with the statues makes it an impossible task to ensure the 'do not touch' rule. Best of all is the number of people thinking up new ways to pose with each different character — encouraging Hong Kong to get creative on the spot can only be a good thing. Not only that, people are able to sit around the sculptures and on the benches included in the installation without being told not to. Seeing local residents freed from the normal regulatory rules, and interacting with art is truly satisfying!


© 2008 Vickie Chan

07 November, 2008

Go-Bama in the Year of Election: A New Face for USA?

Thanks America, finally. America has a new president (and so does the world).

This election was certainly more exciting than the one in 2004. Even despite the accusations that Ohio’s voting procedures were tainted, the close results, the millions watching worldwide with bated breath — the 2004 election candidates somehow had less panache than this year’s. In fact, despite the electoral vote results, only three states changes allegiance in 2004, making the country appear to be around 75% Republican, perhaps thanks to the invasion of Afghanistan and the Iraq war.

Nonetheless, Bush and Kerry were harder to differentiate than Obama and McCain.
Accusations regarding their respective ‘military’ services, talk of the secret Skull & Bones society that allegedly both Kerry and Bush belong to and their similar family backgrounds made it feel, to some, as though they belonged in the same kettle of fish.

The night of that election I was in San Antonio in a strange local burger bar that had a "middle-of-nowhere" feel, with a mixture of black and white locals, and me, accompanied by a collection of young Europeans traveling the USA. There was a freestyle open-mic event taking place next door, so as we watched the election and talked with the locals we heard prose creeping through the door every time it was opened. At first I thought that it was all anti-Bush — the rapping certainly was — but after a while I realised that the people in that joint had varying views and hopes for the outcome. I even had a very heated debate with a young English guy about why, in my opinion, Bush shouldn't be made president again. What I found with the locals was that I could talk to someone for about five minutes before fully understanding which side of the political fence they resided, because all the talking was wonderfully polite and euphemistic in that true American and ultimately patriotic, polite Texan way. I also found that nearly every American I met on that sojourn was surprised that a non-American would care about their election, because it had nothing to do with me — and when I tried to explain that America effects the whole of the western world, the response was always shock. So that was the bizarre atmosphere I found in a fairly warm burger bar in ol' "San Antone"…

On the plane home I had Americans come up to me and apologise, telling me they were ashamed of their country and how sore they were to admit that they were American, when in the past they could be proud and expect friendliness on their travels. I read an article in a British newspaper in which an author (I wish I could remember who) wrote about how the world (the western one at least) had always had respect and affection for America and its people, but that had changed, and if only the USA could go back to being the USA we all fell in love with… That he had met hundreds of Americans that echoed his sentiment.

On other travels after that I met Americans that had taken to sewing the Canadian flag to their backpacks in order to avoid hassle overseas and Canadians laughing at that, talking of the time when they had raised their hands and said, "no, I'm Canadian, eh."

So this year we enjoyed passionate debates between the two sides — some making more sense than others. We were entertained by Sarah Silverman, SNL and Tina Fey and of course Sarah Palin. And we watched, we watched a black man stand for president in the United States of America and win — by a majority. Even Florida didn't let us down.

I watched the whole thing live via the Internet from my office, a combination of ABC and BBC news — which I felt was a fairly balanced approach to the event. Justin Webb's comments on the BBC web were interesting and diverse; living in Hong Kong — mass producer of junky teeshirts — ensured that this was one of my favourites:

BBC Election McCain Tee

So what will happen in America now? Is it truly ready for a black president (and without meaning to sound cynical — is it because Bush f***ed up so much that Americans chose to elect this black president?)? Before my friend said it to me out loud, I had already thought 'Obama should be careful. As the fist black president, he's so much more likely to be shot' (after all we've all seen 24). I said the same to a friend of mine who's American. Her response was "that's true." And then, "gee thanks!"

On discussing the result with my father, he also said "I hope he's careful" and then said, "well, he's not really black, he's only half black." The race issue. It's so strange. I am half Chinese, I am not English, I am not Chinese, I am what I am — half. But people don't see you that way, and in my experience people in the US and the UK consider you black if you are as much as half. In any case, you certainly aren't white.

So far most non-Americans I have discussed the election with have echoed the same fears of a racial attack on the president-elect.

The road for Obama will not be easy, but let's hope that with his help America can again become the land that we had respect and affection for, and that American's can unpick those Canadian flags from their backpacks and go back to being American when overseas, and Canadians can be Canadian and the rest of the world can rest a little more assured that America will stop its neo-imperialistic bullying.

My sister who lives in San Francisco sent me a photo of my nephew at 8.11pm PST — just after the California result came through. He's fiave years old, yet his look of resolution, determination and 'HOORAY!' was perfect. My sister captioned the photo 'I hope he remembers this historic day'.

Muse XKCD-pt1

Muse XKCD-pt2

Muse XKCD-pt3

Muse XKCD-pt4

31 October, 2008

The Office (USA) Fitness Orb

You may have seen this before — it would seem that the fitness orb featured highly in The Office (sorry for low res).

Here is a photo from my office


23 October, 2008

The Rough Guide

The most-used word in The Rough Guide (any one of them) is "ubiquitous", followed closely by "eponymous".

© 2008 Vickie Chan

22 October, 2008

Toilets (what is it with...)


Aside from the fact that in nearly every mall or cinema, the queue for the ladies toilet is usually around 4-fold that of the men’s, and town planning departments should make it a rule that there are always four ladies toilets to every men’s toilet (but don’t), toilets don’t need Marcel Duchamp to make them interesting. There is something about toilets — I just don't quite know what it is yet.

For that reason alone, I (artist, Vickie Chan) plan to make an exhibition about toilets. I am going to collect photo evidence of toilets all over the world and make a giant montage. I am going to build a dummy toilet where people can go in and write their own message to the world. I am going to ask people to write down their most interesting toilet story, to ask them where the coolest toilet they have ever seen is, and do they clean up after themselves?

One day I am going to make a toilet travel guide. There will be one for France and one for Japan.

Toilets encourage and display all kinds of bizarre, wonderful, terrible, funny, abusive, hope-filled, spite-filled, angry and kind words of sentiment in the form of graffiti written in eyeliner, lipstick, Biro, Sharpie or scratched in paint using a nail file, safety pin, earring — whatever is at hand. We feel so safe in there we can bare our deepest thoughts and tell our most buried secrets. And say the nastiest thing about the person we hate most.

When you watch a TV show or a movie, toilets mean something. When I watch a show like ER or CSI, if I see a main character alone in the toilet, I start to think something bad is going to happen. If the character is perhaps sitting on the toilet with the door locked, or leaning over a sink just looking in the mirror and nothing happens, I know it’s ominous: bad times ahead. Veronica Mars used her high school toilet as some kind of makeshift office for her PI work, Judd Nelson shoved Rob Lowe’s head down a toilet in St. Elmo’s Fire and they bonded over it. And if you ever watched Ally McBeal you will know all about the crazy happenings in the toilets where she worked. I’m telling you people, there is something about toilets.

Toilets also encourage the least of cleanliness, it seems. While at home, you would wipe the seat clean, flush the toilet, maybe even replace the used toilet roll with a fresh one, outside of the home is a different story.

In Asia we commonly have two types of toilet:
  • The hole-in-the-ground squat toilet
  • The Western 'throne' toilet
Asian people think the squat toilet is cleaner, presumably because you don't have to sit on anyone else's pee and your skin never touches anything. Western people think the squat toilet is primitive and hard work. Let's face it, there are plenty of western-residing folk who are too overweight to squat.

And there's a lot less graffiti here. On a recent trip to Melbourne I was quite overwhelmed and bemused by the scribbling — no, discourse — taking place in the toilets. Interestingly, Australia is one of the few places I have visited where they use UV lighting in the toilets to prevent people from shooting up in there.

If I thought toilets in the UK were gross, I was wrong. They are worse in HK, I promise you, worse by far. In a ladies toilet you’d think that people might be a little more considerate but 95% of the time I walk into a stall to find that the seat has urine on it. And how is it that plastic toilet seats have scratches all over them? Do all women but me have metal spikes on the backs of their thighs? And if the toilet lid is down — walk away, my friend, walk away. It doesn’t mean that someone polite put the lid down when they finished, or sat for a few minutes composing themselves before hitting the humid streets. It means there is something bad in there, something you don’t want to see.

Where I work, the ladies toilet is disgusting. Aside from the apparently obligatory urine-on-seat situation (we work together ladies, don’t we have more thought for our colleagues than that?) the floor and surrounds often look like a giant hamster has passed through there and bedded down for the night - balls and chewed-up-looking tufts of tissue paper on the floor, in the bin, on the seat…

To top it off, why do women insist on standing chatting in the toilets for hours on end? I can’t think of a worse place to be. Ok, as a non-smoker you may feel that you are owed some kind of break in the daily bore we call work, but honestly, can’t you think of a better place to catch up with a colleague? Surely even the sweaty cigarette break scented stairwell would be better?

In that respect, I would say the staff of Seattle Grace has it right - meet in the elevator people, the elevator. Don’t hang around in the hamster cage we call the ladies toilet.

[And here's a tip for the ladies: When using a squat toilet, face the wall, not the door. It's a lot easier.]

Tokyo toilet

© 2008 Vickie Chan

Band Names (real bands that could have my name in their name)

  • The Chan Pelt
  • Chanpower
  • The Fucking Chans
  • Chanson
  • Samichan
  • The Weakerchans
  • Chan of Horses
  • Chandy Flip
  • Chan of Four
  • Nachaniel Green
  • Propachandhi
  • Teenage Chanclub
  • The Gaslight Chanthem
Please add more...

21 October, 2008


Non-Fiction - Chuck Palanhniuk quoting Andrew Sullivan:
' "Someone once pointed out: 'Among straight people, you're a gay guy. Among English people, you're a Catholic. Among Americans, you're sort of English. Among the academia establishment, you're a hack. Among the hacks, you're a sort of academic. You keep distancing yourself out of any particular team." '

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - Robert Persig:
ZEN quote p1

I'm a Cat — Adam Phillips:
"i'm a cat dressed as a bigger cat. what the fuck"

Not Fade Away — Jim Dodge:
"The ghosts spun from the silver thread the white lines thin to when you're running on the edge."

"The fourth wiseman delivered his gift and slipped away."

The Passion — Jeanette Winterson:

'There's no sense in loving someone you can only wake up to by chance.'

'You play, you win. You play, you lose. You play.'

'Somewhere between fear and sex passion is.'

'Hopeless heart that thrives on paradox; that longs for the beloved and is secretly relieved when the beloved is not there.'

'I say I'm in love with her. What does that mean? It means I review my future and my past in the light of this feeling. It is as though I wrote in a foreign language that I am suddenly able to read. Wordlessly, she explains me to myself. Like genius, she is ignorant of what she does.'

'It's hard to remember this day will never come again. That the time is now and the place is here. That there are no second chances in a single moment.'

Amrita — Banana Yoshimoto:
'Certainly my love was something shiny, like a UFO, and I knew that in order for us to change the future we'd have to bend the rules so we could be together. Regardless of what was destined to happen, if the two of us didn't take each other by the hand and jump into the unknown, we'd just get lost, losing each other somewhere along the way.'

The Red Pony — John Steinbeck:
'She said quietly, "Look at it this way, Carl. That was the big thing in my father's life. He led a wagon train clear across the plains to the coast, and when it was finished, his life was done. It was a big thing to do, but it didn't last long enough. Look!" she continued, "it's as though he was born to do that, and after he finished it, there wasn't anything more for him to do but think about it and talk about it. If there'd been any farther west to go he'd have gone. He's told me so himself. But at last there was the ocean. He lives right by the ocean, where he had to stop." '

CD Wright:
'First the light sinks to shadows...
Watch. As the dark comes
Entirely into its own

Shantaram — Gregory David Roberts:
'But strangers that we were then, we stood for five long seconds and held the stare, while all the parallel worlds, all the parallel lives that might've been, and never would be whirled around us.'

15 June, 2008

Hong Kong International Art Fair 2008

At last month’s first ever International Art Fair in the city, there were plenty of galleries and even more attendees. But amidst all the Asian art being sold by foreign galleries, Vickie Chan started to wonder what it all means…

Last month over a hundred leading galleries gathered for the Hong Kong International Art Fair 2008. A record attendance of over 19,000 made it a seminal event signaling the city’s arrival on the global art scene. Most of all, it raised awareness in Hong Kong on where to find art, which artists to check out, what is “in” and the biggest question of all: where is the local scene headed?

While culturally this should have been an important event for Hong Kong it soon became evident that its prime purpose was to sell and trade art. Educating and exposing the general public about modern art was a lower priority. While several “Hong Kong Conversations” and free, guided tours made the event more accessible than a trade fair, the fee-based entry might have discouraged some members of the public.

The attendees were an even mixture of local Chinese and westerners, some obviously there to buy and others just to look. You would expect the international galleries to surprise everyone, but instead you couldn’t help but notice more than one of the “Big Faces” paintings by Yue Minjun amongst several Warhol pieces. Many other galleries brought paintings by Mainland Chinese and other Asian artists. One gallery from New York even had a giant grey portrait of Bruce Lee. It begged the question: why was there so much Asian art on offer?

Wading through the diverse Asian collections at the Fair, Pékin Fine Arts of Beijing represented some newer styles of Chinese and Asian art. The piece by Huang Zhiyang showcased his incredible talent in the traditional Chinese method of painting with ink on silk. Rather than bamboo or lilies, Huang surprised everyone with wonderful organic patterns that were similar to a Rorschach print. It was modern without being blatant or obviously political. Star Gallery, also from Beijing, displayed intriguing photos of period western style furniture covered in colourful drips of paint — so delightful in part because they were not obviously drenched in political quandary.

Union of London brought more art by Asian artists, but with a kitsch feel that was better suited for a shop display in Mongkok, or even Harajuku. Zoo Inkyung’s bizarre and entertaining pink painting of naked Matt Groening style characters brought humour to the occasion while Yu Jingyoung’s Japanese-looking and ghostly Perspex figures attracted the most photographers. Finally, painted entirely in symbolic red, Sea Hyun Lee’s landscape reinterpreted the traditional Asian style landscape.

Even American galleries like the Frey Norris Gallery of San Francisco seemed to cater to what they perceived to be Asian tastes. Kate Eric’s Crossing Parallel Line was made entirely of embroidered Chinese fabrics that could easily have been an antique from the Mainland. “These are simply our best emerging artists,” explained a representative from the gallery. “They probably wouldn’t know an Asian artist if one hit them in the face — but they are all coincidentally influenced by Asian themes.”

GBK of Sydney brought mesmerising pieces by Hitesh Natalwala. Born in Africa to Indian parents, he lived in the UK before settling in Australia. His work evoked the emotional shifts in place and identity. He recreated his archaeology by cutting, re-positioning, and pasting different papers before drawing on them. Even here, there were statements of ‘福’, ‘樂’, ‘友’, and ‘囍’ amongst his pieces that were only finished a few weeks ago.

By way of contrast, M+B of Los Angeles stood out with a fantastic collection of photography-based work that didn’t have a single Asian theme! Massimo Vitali’s giant overexposed photos received a lot of interest from the public. Photographing people relaxing and interacting in public spaces (such as ski slopes or beaches), he manages to overexpose the photos while retaining saturated colours that form a strange perspective. The large format of the pieces accentuated a sense of voyeurism. It was reminiscent of a ‘Where’s Waldo’ illustration, or a modern ‘Sunday afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte’ by Seurat. Opposite those were photos by Mona Kühn who created an interesting interplay between nature and man-made environments. Her nudes were magically dressed by warm light, dark shade and reflections of nature.

Most of the galleries reported that they expected to take few pieces home with them. But what does this mean for the artists of Hong Kong? Commerce and economy have always been paramount to Hong Kong’s existence. Ironically, there may be no better way to bring attention to the local art scene than to invite international galleries to an art fair where they sell… Asian art. Perhaps Asian style art sells better in Hong Kong because its themes and references are easily understood. But let’s hope that with more media coverage, emerging contemporary Hong Kong artists will be better represented at the Fair next year.

Most of the galleries reported that they expected to take few pieces home with them. Perhaps Asian style art sells better in Hong Kong because its themes and references are easily understood. But what does this mean for the artists of Hong Kong? Commerce and economy have always been paramount to Hong Kong’s existence. Ironically, there may be no better way to bring attention to the local art scene than to invite international galleries that represent Asian artists to an art fair in Asia. Let’s hope that with more media coverage, emerging contemporary Hong Kong artists will be better represented at the Fair next year.

© 2008 Vickie Chan