Posts Tagged ‘recommended’


September 2, 2014

So here is the last blog post of the holiday season. Turn away now if you cannot cope with the f-word. 

What follows is a verbatim rendering of a conversation that took place last week in the car, driving down to the Isle of Wight. Me driving. Wife in the front. Three kids, 11, 9, 7, in the back.

9 year-old boy: ‘What does fuck mean?’


Wife: ‘It’s very rude and you must never say it.’

9 year-old boy: ‘I know that. But what does it mean?’


Me: ‘You’ll find out in Year 6 sex education.’

9 year-old boy: ‘But I don’t want to wait for Year 6. Tell me what it means now.’

Wife: ‘Look, I’ll talk to you about it later. We can’t do it now — daddy is driving and I have to do the directions.’

9 year-old boy: ‘Why can’t you just tell me what it means?’

[long pause] 

Worldly-wise 11 year-old sister, feeling very pleased with herself: ‘Look, It’s like a hug.’


9 year-old boy, turning to 11 year-old sister: ‘Can I fuck you?’

7 year-old girl, turning to 11-year old sister: ‘I want to fuck you too.’



Here is a funny video I saw this summer, on how to assess the marriageability of women. It is funnier for me because my wife is called Tiffany. It is probably funnier for anyone when you have had a couple of drinks.

Here is a funny song about learning Chinese (in Chinese, so skip it if you don’t speak any). In case you are wondering, it was done in Taipei. Can’t imagine something like this being done on the mainland.



Just now in the car…

9 year-old boy: ‘I know what fuck means.’

Me: ‘Oh yes?’

9 year-old boy: ‘It means sex.’

Wife: ‘How do you know that?’

9 year-old boy: ‘X and Y [friends at school] told me.’


9 year-old boy: ‘But why can’t you say: “What fuck are you?”.’


FT Longlist

August 8, 2013

The Financial Times published its longlist for the FT/Goldman Sachs Book of the Year today and I am honoured that How Asia Works is on it. Below is the full list of 14 titles.


After the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead, Alan Blinder, The Penguin Press

The Alchemists: Inside the Secret World of Central Bankers (UK subtitle); Three Central Bankers and a World on Fire (US subtitle), Neil Irwin, Headline Business Plus; The Penguin Press

Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier, John Murray; Eamon Dolan Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The Billionaire’s Apprentice: The Rise of The Indian-American Elite and The Fall of The Galleon Hedge Fund, Anita Raghavan, Hachette Book Group/Business Plus

The End of Competitive Advantage: How to keep your strategy moving as fast as your business, Rita Gunther McGrath, Harvard Business Review Press

The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being In Charge Isn’t What It Used to Be, Moisés Naím, Basic Books

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, Brad Stone,Transworld/ Bantam Press; Little, Brown

Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, Adam Grant, Weidenfeld & Nicolson; Viking (Penguin)

The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality, Angus Deaton, Princeton University Press

How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World’s Most Dynamic Region, Joe Studwell, Profile Books; Grove Press

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg, WH Allen/Random House Group; Knopf

Making it Happen: Fred Goodwin, RBS and the Men Who Blew Up the British Economy, Iain Martin, Simon and Schuster

The Org: The Underlying Logic of the Office, Tim Sullivan and Ray Fisman, Twelve

Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir, Allen Lane; Times Books/Henry Holt

Weekend reading and viewing

June 21, 2013

Just started watching The Bridge, but I imagine the whole world has seen that by now. Not too bad. Below is the first 14 mins, enough time to decide if you like it.

What journalists deserve when they ask incredibly stupid questions. We’ve all been there as hacks. But this woman really cops it from Lou Reed. An interviewee after my own heart. See the very end.

Martin Wolf’s piece on Greece (sub needed) stuck in my mind this week.

The death of Michael Hastings in a car crash made me read his remarkable Rolling Stone story about Stan McChrystal in Afghanistan. It was the end of McChrystal in Afghanistan. He is now reduced to speaking with me at a conference in Wisconsin next week.

Booked my tix for the Young Lions, below, in the Django Rheinhardt festival in NY next week. What is not to like?

Only thing you can really say against them is that the original guy had two less (functioning) fingers

Just in:

US government files sealed complaint against Snowden. Britain’s government and GCHQ are mindless lickspittles (again); with their own, non-existent moral bottom line.

The Snowden White House petition will go through 100,000 signatures today, 22 June. If you are an American, sign this thing. You’ll have something that makes you proud to tell your kids.

Obama (below) does a good job of defending what has been going on (though he weasles around the hard bits). But in the end, he is wrong. Because he is defending a means of opposing terrorism that rests on intrusion into privacy and the support of despotic allies, with money and guns, instead of solving the problems that create terrorism in the first place. He needs to break out of this way of thinking. If he wants to be the greatest American president since Truman — and he should want that — he needs to go back and look at the way in which the United States headed off insurgencies in the 1945-52 period by supporting land reform programmes and tackling the root cause of poverty and anger in the third world. Think bigger. Drones and snooping are not the stuff of a great American leader.

Fragrant harbour

February 1, 2011

I make it five times that Stanley Ho has changed his mind over his inheritance… in the last week. It was ‘You can have it’, ‘No you can’t’, ‘Yes you can’, ‘No you can’t’, and yesterday, 31 January 2011, ‘Oh go on, take it and just leave me alone with my dogs.’ Today, glancing at the headlines, it seems he may have changed his mind again but, frankly, I can’t be bothered.

Instead, here is a bit of commentary on the three videos that have been released on YouTube by Stan’s lawyer (I have used the link posted by David Webb). Let’s meet Stanley at home:

Video 1. Stan opens with: ‘We must get back Lanceford [the holding company he held all his big stuff through]’, speaking like and doing a great facial imitation of the bad guy at the start of an episode of Flash Gordon. Then the lawyer, more on him anon, asks Stan about some further comment for the press to which Stan replies he’s game as ‘I want to make it [the story] very big.’ Stan is already laying into Pansy, the daughter who is seen as both the most capable in business and about whom the most malicious and serious gossip circulates (perhaps these two things go naturally together). Then comes the now-famous: ‘It is something like robbery’ quote. Stanley says he wants to go ahead with legal action. Note the furnishing of Stan’s time-warp mansion on the south-side of HK island. To the left you can just catch a glimpse of a hideous mock-baroque table. The staff, family and nurses sneaking by the camera are also good value. In the foreground is the mandatory Chinese tea flask (must admit I have been caught on film with one of those myself) and a glass of hot water. ‘I want a fair division among my family,’ says Stan, before appearing to be pained by some inconvenient fact inside his head (like he never organised a fair division?).   At around three-and-a-half minutes you get a look at the always-on television, the electronic tombstone of the fading godfather. Stan’s ex partner Henry Fok was a big soccer fan, so at least with him you would get to take in the football. Another of Hong Kong’s octogenarian big boys is a closet Arsenal fan, and even has comfy sofas. Many are the mysteries of Confucianism… At the end Stan thanks the lawyer for having ‘blown up’ the whole affair in the space of a few days. The lawyer jokes about a huge fee to come. Or let’s say he laughs while talking about the huge fee to come; it may just be coincidence.

Video 2. Here Stan is trying to explain why he just withdrew legal proceedings and announced he had fired the lawyer. ‘The problem is Pansy,’ he starts. At this point I begin to become more interested in the lawyer than in Stanley. For one thing, you might argue that the lawyer is leading his client at the point at which he responds to Stanley: ‘To which I say: “So what?”’ The lawyer, Gordon Oldham, has a faded (south) Irish accent, though his profoundly undetailed official biography says only that he arrived ‘from the UK’ in Hong Kong 30 years ago. After Stan says Pansy is the problem, a woman, who for me has a stronger Irish accent, says off-camera: ‘But he [Stanley] is not afraid of her.’ What is going on here? My wildly speculative first thought is that there has long been a wee Irish mafia connected with the dogs and the horse-racing in Macau, but this is indeed wildly speculative. I must check further. The only thing I learn quickly from someone who knows Oldham quite well is that he is ‘a clever fellow’. Meanwhile in the video it is subsequently, I think, the Irish-accented woman off camera who butts in again to say to Stan: ‘Gordon will still represent you, ok?’ I think this is right, but then an ethnic Chinese woman I do not know moves across camera right to left saying ‘They made him, they made him [Stanley sign documents against his will]’. Stanley says he was forced during his television appearance to read ‘the plaque’ [cue card] organised by Pansy and Daisy. The video ends with the lawyer saying: ‘Are you telling me that I can now go ahead with filing and getting back your interests in Lanceford?’ To which Stan responds: ‘I suppose so…That’s what I want.’ The lawyer gesticulates everything to Stan as if he is an idiot. But Stan isn’t an idiot, even at the age of 89. After all, he is the one looking at the silly gweilo. Upshot of video 2. I think the lawyer has definitely got some questions to answer. I find it creepy the way he refers to Stan as Dr. Ho, using the title he never earned. Stan’s slaves, like Henry Fok’s (‘Dr. Ho’s office’, ‘Dr. Fok’s office’!) have long done this, but a self-respecting lawyer does not need to. I would also like to see the written consent from Stan to post this stuff to YouTube; it should have been put up with the postings.

Video 3. Roll on to January 30. Stan says Pansy says he can have his shares back, but it is ‘only words’. Third ‘wife’ Ina, who’s got a bunch of stock, doesn’t want to meet. (Ina was the ailing first wife’s nurse when Stanley got the hots for her. If you have ever seen the UK sit-com Are You Being Served you’ll have a picture in your head at this point.) Note that Stan here is saying he wants to get all the share scrip back and ‘then decide what to do’; do you remember the fair division promised in video 1, Stanley? Not much of interest here. It ends with Stan pointing out what a stand-up guy he has been.

Video 4. (Not yet released). Stan sits in his favourite cardigan looking into a full-length mirror intoning the mantra: ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall, who has shagged the most among us all?’ From a pair of old speakers the voice of Michael Jackson responds: ‘You have Stanley, you have’, followed by a trademark yelp. At length Stanely picks up a hand-held mirror and quizzes it: ‘Mirror mirror in my hand, who’s the foxiest in the land?’. From another pair of speakers, the double-deep voice of Errol Brown (per his legendary BabyCham add)  replies: ‘You da one, you da one Stan…’ This continues indefinitely.

A note on the lawyer, February 2:

The verdict from various people who know Gordon Oldham, personally and professionally, is that he is by no means the most amoral lawyer in Hong Kong (a warm breeze wafts across the Big Lychee as Ron Arculli, Stephen Cheong, Charles Lee and pals breathe a collective sigh of relief). Perhaps the mid-point of the opinions is one that calls him ‘aggressive and innovative and he doesn’t give a fuck about anything’. The others range from ‘decent guy’ to ‘slipperier than a donkey’s dick’ (the last, I would stress, is from a journalist who has only seen Oldham’s press performances). Anyhow, there does seem to be some consensus that posting Stan to YouTube without publishing his written consent and a full explanation of what is being done begs various question; as — and several people have said this pointedly — does the posting of edited interviews. You will notice there are plenty of cuts in the tapes. Can we have the full tapes please?

Mr Oldham has not responded to an email to the contact address given on his firm’s site yesterday. I will send another one.

Other points of interest: it seems that Oldham has not acted for Stan on other cases (at least ones I know about). Of course Stan, being a godfather, has almost as many lawyers as girlfriends, and so this is hardly surprising. But it does maintain one’s interest in knowing how Oldham got on the roster for this job. Finally, one who knows Oldham claims the accent is northern Irish, tho it sounded poshed up southern to me.

As to Stan’s choice of lawyer, I think it is good. There is an illustrious history of godfathers using gweilos to front for them when they need to do something very public. Remember all KS Li’s public relations problems at Hutchison in the 80s when he paid himelf a huge special dividend he had said he would not take? That was when he hired Simon Murray. Isn’t it great that everyone trusts white people? I think it’s fan-bloody-tastic.

Fade away and radiate

February 21, 2010

To San Martino di Castrozza for what northern Italians call una settimana bianca or ‘a white week’. In fact, this is the white week, the week of carnevale when northern Italian schools shut for a ski break and everyone grabs the three official days of public holiday and adds to them the inevitable ponte of two more days which takes them to the weekend, allowing for nine consecutive workless days. At the lift where ski school meets, we overhear a woman asking her friend if her husband is working this week. The response is as if the dumbest question in the history of the world has been asked: ‘But of course not, this is white week.’ Even if Italy sinks back into the Third World, its holiday arrangements will remain forever sacrosanct.

I have to leave white week early to give a talk in Florida. But this isn’t so bad because I already had three Sundays skiing at our local Umbrian mini-mountain, Monte Nerone. Despite living 45 minutes away for eight years, this is the first year we have been. There is just a single button lift, but it is quite long and gives access to two good pistes of about 800 metres. Better still, the place is run by very nice people. My son was initially undone by a pair of skis from the sales that are almost twice as long as the ones he used the year before. I could do little to help him because, as part of my ongoing mid-life crisis, I started using a snowboard when I hit 40. So one of the young lift operators put on his skis and spent two hours teaching Luca. Not the kind of thing that happens in your average ski resort. And, after all that, there is a decent enough rifugio at the bottom of the pistes which serves pasta at Euro7 a plate. Given that there is a web camera overlooking the bottom of the pistes which allows you to see exactly how much snow there is in real time, and given that you can wake up and arrive after a fresh snowfall to find there are only 10 other skiers at 10am, it is a pretty good deal. Adults pay Euro18 per day, children Euro10; the lift is only open on weekends when there is sufficient, natural snow. Amazingly enough, the place has been operating since 1969.

Florida is not quite like Umbria. I arrive via New York, which is very deep in snow and very white and beautiful from the air. Florida is unseasonably cold too. Landing in America there is the usual double-take at the number of very fat people. And then arriving in Orlando, there is the supplemental double-take at the number of old people and the number of trousers with elasticated waistbands. Ten minutes in Orlando and you begin to think that Italians have found the Holy Grail itself with their determination to maintain an attractive outward appearance. I take a cab to the 750-rooom hotel with its obligatory man-made lakes, two golf courses, jogging trails and written warnings not to ‘jog alone’. Reckless as ever, I complete a run on my own and live to tell the tale.

The talk I have to give is to a group of people who definitely do not originate in Florida – steel producers and traders, the kind of Americans who still smoke and drink large quantities of beer. They want to hear about China and are friendly. Given that I have to address them at 8am and they were out drinking the night before, I write up a short note about the four points I told them to bear in mind when thinking about China in the next few years.

That done, I am looking for something to occupy me on a Saturday night in Orlando when I notice a poster of an aging blond woman who looks strangely familiar. The haggard, too-much-Prozac look makes me think of a kindly Delta Airlines stewardess who served me coffee on the flight in. But no. On close inspection I realise that what I am looking at is the current incarnation of Debbie Harry, lead singer of the eponymous band Blondie. A quick web search reveals that she was born in Florida, before being adopted by shopkeepers in New Jersey. As if this isn’t compulsion enough, while I am on my rebellious lone jog, my i-pod randomly shuffles Union City Blues to the top of the playlist – a song I have not heard for a long time. It is obvious that I am destined to attend a Blondie concert at the Universal Studios theme park in Orlando. Will it be better than the theme park gig in This is Spinal Tap, where the rockers open for a puppet show?

We must support the aged. I take back what I said about Ms Harry’s appearance on realising that she – singer of one of the first singles I ever bought, aged about 10 – is now 65 years old. We must respect the aged because it will not be long before we dwell among their number.

On which subject, it is worth mentioning that a major golden oldie, one who has been to crack hell and back, has just brought out an album that may be rather good. After many disappointing later-life recordings, Gil Scott Heron has released an album with a slick, modern sound that may be what the poet-singer has been looking for for so long. I saw him in London, years ago, in the midst of quest for something new and good and he was rubbish. But in this album there reside flashes of the tortured genius of his youth. You can have a listen here.

And so what of Debbie Harry and crew in concert in a theme park? Well, let’s just say I may have seen the future and it ain’t entirely pretty. Debbie darling, if you are reading: you cannot wear a bondage girdle and have a tea mug on stage. There has to be a choice.



Oh, when we were young.

Big and small boys’ toys

June 12, 2009

Pestered with the usual impressive application by my four-year-old son, we stop at a bar next to the Cerbarra petrol station for a pasta, and there meet Mario and Carlo from nearby Agrisystem, out on a coffee break. Of all the people I know who run businesses in the area, I think I like Mario and Carlo the best.

Why? Because they take responsibility for the stuff they sell. When you buy something from them, you know that if something goes wrong they will sort it out.

We pop over to get a can of pre-mix for the strimmer; it costs more but I find the petrol/oil mix from petrol stations highly corrosive of the plastic tank and tubes on my strimmer. The machine doesn’t consume much fuel, even with our large garden, and it starts first time with the stuff Mario sells. Since we are there, he invites Luca, 4, to select a tractor-mower he would like to drive from the large assemblage outside. Moments later, Luca cruises by in the biggest tractor there is. I get to stand around pretending I wouldn’t be interested in driving it myself.

Luca pronounces himself impressed with the number of buttons on the machine, which far exceeds the complexity of our own ten-year-old bottom of the range affair; focusing, as ever, on the critical issue, he informs Mario that we need a tractor with headlights for ‘night-time work’. Mario agrees that his father is indeed a fool for not having one.

A couple of days later, I get a reminder of why Mario and Carlo (the mechanic) are people who make life easier. The tractor-mower’s ignition is broken. The grass is long, and growing. Mario would come out if asked, but we can get the machine on the back of the pick-up  truck (tied up, with the back door open). So I call him. He says he has every part that could go wrong with an ignition in the warehouse and he will put a new battery, which I have been avoiding buying (by jump starting when it is cold) for a year, on charge. I say I’m in a hurry and he says that if I come down the next morning, they will do the work while I wait. In the event, it isn’t necessary as I have other things to do in town. So I leave the tractor and pick it up in the afternoon. Carlo, as a matter of course, has sharpened the cutting blades and set the tire pressures.

Before we leave, there’s just one more thing: ‘Luca — which tractor?’ He goes for a mid-size yellow one, again with a lot of knobs and headlights, and loads of gears. I try to do my not-interested face.