The Correspondent, October-December 2023

Page 1

How to do it Aaron Busch’s top tips
from John Duffus
The Art of Politics Funny Ha-Ha


Jim Laurie takes a ruminative spin down Memory Lane in Vietnam, where he used to work in the 1970s.

Cover: Backspin by Mark Caparosa.


8 Wine & Dine

Hailing the new menu in Bert’s and looking back at two successful events – one Swiss, one American; plus, the coming year’s house wines.


Member Insights

He’s Bulgarian, he’s in services engineering, and he plays a mean piano. Say Здравейте to Rumen Yordanov.



Hong Kong Philharmonic John Duffus raises a couple of glasses to the Hong Kong Philharmonic, which celebrates its 50 th anniversary next year.


René Burri

He took that iconic image of Che Guevara – but what else did he do? John Batten delves into the life and work of one of Switzerland’s most talented photographers.



Dodgy politicians, sex scandals and a not entirely independent media: Eric Johnston reports from Tokyo’s FCCJ.


On the Wall

A set of highly charged illustrations; some haunting images of the days of COVID-19; and a vignette of the much-ballyhooed King of Kowloon.


New Members

And still they keep coming – and a very good thing too.


My Hong Kong

Wendy Leadbetter, her many fourlegged friends, and her husband Chris.

37 Tech

Matt Haldane goes in search of a new global town square.



The National Security Law and the fate of District Councils provided much food for thought and discussion at lunchtime events.



Robert Elegant, Peter Wong, Stephanie Scawen, Thomas Bispham. All gone too soon.


Book Reviews

Two China tomes, one on Mongolia and a grand little volume on all things Irish, to be sure, to be sure.


Aaron Busch’s Guide to the Modern World

Ever wondered what goes on inside @tripperhead’s head? Now, for the first time ever, The Correspondent can reveal all. Well, some.

LEAD STORY 2 Editor’s Letter 3 From the President 4 Club News Sports societies’ news, news from Singapore, more about new podcasts and a fleeting glimpse of the new editor.
issue of The Correspondent may be found online at, as may numerous past editions.



Dear FCC Members,

This issue contains four obituaries. Taken together, they pretty much sum up the ethos of the FCC.

Primus inter pares is Robert Elegant – a true correspondent through and through who for the best part of a quarter-century braved shot and shell reporting both Korean and Vietnam wars, as well as lesser conflicts, before going onto an even more successful career writing books, both non-fiction and non-non-fiction. He was also a club President without parallel. Next, Pete Wong, whose prowess as a graphic designer was neatly matched by his skill at the pool table, something he was happy to demonstrate downstairs at the club any day (or night) of the week.

Star TV’s Steph Scawen – in the days when multiple sclerosis sufferers were not always accorded the support they deserved – battled her affliction for years and went on camera to broadcast her struggle, long before disabled presenters were a regular sight on screen.

Finally, associate member Thomas Bispham was, as Karen Koh suggests, a contender for the club’s most frequent visitor prize and a real gent to boot. I’ve long maintained that the FCC’s membership is both clued-up and cosmopolitan. For instance, you might be leaning up against the Main Bar bantering with a chum or shooting pool in Bert’s before discovering that you’re standing next to an expert on Chinese numismatics or an authority on the Australian artist Sydney Nolan. The above dearly departed quartet make up the quintessential example of the broad range of talented individuals who regard 2, Lower Albert Road as a second home. Anyone who belongs to this club can count themselves exceptionally fortunate. Another departure from the FCC, of a slightly different nature, is my own. I actually resigned the editorship in June but stayed on to helm the October issue as, I blush to record, the Board found it impossible to recruit anyone who was remotely good enough to take my place. However the global search is finally over, and my successor, whose identity is soon to be revealed will be seizing the reins for the January issue. Filling 48 pages once a quarter has been uproarious fun but, Candide-like, I have a garden to tend and, unlike Voltaire’s wayward hero, a best-selling, shortlyto-be-turned-into-a-major-motion-picture biography to write. Adios.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong

2 Lower Albert Road

Central, Hong Kong

Tel: (852) 2521 1511

Fax: (852) 2868 4092



The Board of Governors 2023-2024

President Lee Williamson

First Vice President Jennifer Jett

Second Vice President

Tim Huxley

Correspondent Member Governors

Karly Cox, Morgan Davis, Danai Howard, Karen Koh, Kari Soo Lindberg, Peter Parks, Kristie Lu Stout

Journalist Member Governors

Zela Chin, Joe Pan

Associate Member Governors

Genavieve Alexander, Liu Kin-ming, Lynne Mulholland, Christopher Slaughter

Club Treasurer

Tim Huxley

Club Secretary

Liu Kin-ming

Professional Committee

Conveners: Lee Williamson, Jennifer Jett, Karen Koh, Joe Pan

Press Freedom Committee

Conveners: Lee Williamson, Danai Howard, Jennifer Jett, Karen Koh

Constitutional Committee

Conveners: Liu Kin-ming, Peter Parks

Membership Committee

Conveners: Karly Cox, Jennifer Jett

Communications Committee

Conveners: Genavieve Alexander, Zela Chin, Morgan Davis

Finance Committee

Treasurer: Tim Huxley

Conveners: Karen Koh, Lynne Mulholland

House/Food and Beverage Committee

Conveners: Genavieve Alexander, Lynne Mulholland

Building – Project and Maintenance Committee

Conveners: Liu Kin-ming, Christopher Slaughter

Wall Committee

Conveners: Peter Parks, Kristie Lu Stout

Cricket Society

Chairman: Neil Western

Golf Society

Chairman: Russell M Julseth

Pool Society

Chairman: Tony Chan

Acting General Manager

Carmen Chan

Editor Email:

Publisher: Artmazing!

Noel de Guzman


Printing Elite Printing: Tel: 2558 0119

Advertising Contact FCC Front Office: Tel: 2521 1511

The Correspondent ©2023

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong

The Correspondent is published four times a year. Opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of the club.



Dear FCC Members,

Last year, at the height of Hong Kong’s fifth wave of Covid-19 infections, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club donated water and three square meals a day to dozens of domestic workers in need through the charity HELP for Domestic Workers.

I wasn’t personally involved in making these donations. Regardless, it was gratifying to know that my club was contributing to this important cause. Yet another reason to be proud to be a member of this magnificent club of ours.

It’s with a desire to harness this spirit, to bring our members together in service of a common goal, and to do some good in our local community that the Board voted to reinstate the club’s Charity Committee in August.

Rather than organise one large event to raise funds for a charity, the new committee will focus on community outreach, working with a number of Hong Kong NGOs to affect change. At least we anticipate that this will be the focus. The exciting part? This is all new. We can remould the committee into a shape that we think will do the most good, both within and outside of the club’s walls.

Do you have an idea for a cause we should support or an event we should run? Or, even better, do you want to be a part of this new(ish) committee? Please reach out to the Charity Committee’s co-convenor, Correspondent governor Morgan Davis.

Speaking of programmes with a purpose, I’m delighted to announce that we are bringing back the FCC’s Young Journalist Training Programme. Similar to its debut run last year, the programme will offer training workshops and seminars to early and mid-career journalists – everything from digital security workshops and beatspecific masterclasses to speed mentoring sessions. We want the programme to be of benefit to existing club members, while also helping to bring more young journalists through the doors of the FCC.

The programme kicked off with a bang in September thanks to a “tabloid” pub quiz that raised funds for the initiative. Thank you to everyone who made the event a sell-out and donated to the cause. We made over HK$7,000 on the night, all of which will go towards covering the cost of instructors and making the training more affordable. Plus, the tabloid format meant we got to have fun with rounds on the Kardashians rather than Kafka or Keats.

I was recently reminded that this year’s Board of Governors, and my term as president, is already a quarter of the way done. Time flies when you’re putting out fires! Through our programme of lunch talks and resumption of issuing press freedom statements, we’ve been busy getting back to business as normal – or at least whatever “normal” looks like in these uncertain times.

I think things have been going pretty well. But then, hey, of course I would think that. What do you think? As I’ve said from my first email to members onwards, I want to hear from you as much as possible. What’s been going well? But most importantly, what can we improve on as a club? I’d love to hear from you.

I want to hear from you as much as possible. What’s been going well? But most importantly, what can we improve on as a club? I’d love to hear from you.

Stop Press:

Just before this issue went to press, the Communications Committee confirmed a new permanent editor for The Correspondent I’m delighted to share that Ann Tsang, an experienced publisher with ideas and charisma to spare, will be taking up the position from the next issue. It’s my pleasure to welcome Ann to the fold; I can’t wait to see where she takes our esteemed club magazine in 2024. On behalf of the Board, I also want to thank outgoing editor Ed Peters for the excellent work and dedication to his craft over the last 18 months.


‘Where’s the grit?’

It’s nearly a year since Rachel Duffell quit the FCC and Hong Kong (but not her job) for Singapore. So how has she been making out?

Why did you leave Hong Kong and what are you doing now?

My husband Mekail’s job in finance was relocated at the end of 2022. Having both spent 15 years in Hong Kong, meeting and marrying, building our careers and having our first child, Aria, it was a special place. But we were both open to change, even if that meant Singapore, a place that had never really appealed to me. Luckily, I was able to relocate with my job, so I’m still looking after Tatler Asia ’s Front & Female platform, which serves as a resource for women, tackling timely, provocative issues and celebrating female trailblazers through content and events.

Do you plan to write a multi-volume tome on parenthood?

I kept a detailed diary for the first few months with Aria, who was born in 2021, but that went out of the window as the number of disturbed nights piled up and I returned to work, so any tome would be slim at best, though it would cover a particularly distinctive era given the COVID-19 restrictions at the time. There is, however, now the opportunity

to pick up where I left off, as Noah arrived in June, so perhaps it’s time to dust off the diary and keep a record as potential reference material.

Hong Kong versus Singapore: who wins?

There are certainly things to like about Singapore – how green the city is, the considerably slower pace of life, and having more space, particularly when you opt for so-called “old” buildings (is 40 years really old?). But the place has little edge. Where’s the grit? I miss the character and charm of Hong Kong;

Bert’s bounces back

Bert’s got paused back in September, closing for a week or so to allow its air-conditioning system to be given a once-over, although the menu was still available in the Lounge, and the VG Kulkarni Workroom was unaffected. However, once the engineers had worked their wonders, it was back to business (or rather, pleasure) as usual. Adam White reviews the really rather tempting new menu with his characteristic sagacity on pages 10-11.

the contrasts of old (or at least older) and new, East and West, concrete and jungle; the tenacity of its people; the food (Hong Kong’s dining scene is far superior to Singapore’s for me, and in particular I long for its unsurpassed Cantonese cuisine and the FCC’s chicken tikka masala); the hiking and trail running (where are the hills?); and the seasons (jackets come out at 22 degrees here). Hong Kong today is definitely a different place to when I arrived in 2008, but there’s just something about it. I think most of the expats who’ve shuffled between Singapore and Hong Kong pledge allegiance to one, and I’m definitely Team Hong Kong.

What next?

Singapore for a couple of years and then we’ll see. The beauty of being a writer is that you can do it anywhere. While Singapore has plenty going for it, it’s also something of a bubble and there will come a time – for us at least – when we have to burst out from it and return to the reality of the rest of the world, for our own sakes and those of our children.

Nancy Lim’s Memetime @hkmehmeh

Slasher flick

Olivia Parker writes: National Heroes’ Day in the Philippines fell on 28 August, - fitting date, as one member of the audience pointed out, for the FCC’s screening of Delikado

This powerful and moving documentary explores environmental crimes in Palawan through the people risking their lives to stop them. We go deep into the forest with Tata, a farmer from southern Palawan, as he and his team creep through the trees towards the sound of chainsaws. Sometimes, the loggers have guns; sometimes, men like Tata are killed.

When they can, the team seizes the chainsaws and carries them, dismantled, back to their base, the Palawan NGO Network, where its leader, Bobby, a lawyer, co-ordinates this extraordinary grassroots effort to try to protect the community’s natural resources.

Delikado, (“Dangerous”), recently nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Investigative Documentary, was produced and directed by Karl Malakunas, Asia-

Pacific deputy-editor-in-chief for AFP, who joined us at the FCC to speak about the film in a Q+A session hosted by Simran Vaswani.

He first came upon the story in 2011, having thought that a trip to Palawan for a piece about ecotourism might be a bit of a jolly. When his contact for that story, Doc Gerry Ortega, was shot dead just before he arrived, the piece he wrote became an investigation into the murder and the dangers faced by land defenders, which eventually developed into the film.

Delikado now has a mission beyond raising awareness, Malakunas explained. The Delikado Impact Campaign aims to raise funds for Bobby’s team and to host more community screenings to increase the visibility of their work and drive support. The FCC’s hosting of the film is also helping to fund a screening for over 100 people in a community in the Philippines.

To support Delikado’s impact campaign and learn more:

Onwards and podwards

FCC members Christopher Chu and Maggie Hoi, two of Macau’s greatest tour guides. (Be on the lookout for our latest episode, an interview with new FCC president Lee Williamson.)

The podcast is helmed by FCC member Jarrod Watt, known as the driving force behind award-winning podcasts at the South China Morning Post

“We were happy with the reaction from FCC members and from people in different locations around the world to our first few episodes,” he said. “I think the conversations with newsmakers and experts in the talks series can find an audience beyond YouTube, and that’s been borne out with the initial audience figures.”

Jennifer Jett writes: Have you checked out the FCC’s new podcast? Like our esteemed magazine it’s called The Correspondent, and it soft-launched earlier this year.

In addition to podcast versions of some of our most popular and insightful lunchtime speaker events, The Correspondent has built on magazine content with episodes featuring Hong Kong meme master Nancy Lim, FCC member Aaron Busch (better known as @tripperhead), and

Watt said he is looking forward to producing special projects with the FCC’s Clare Hollingworth Fellows, and that there is interest from organisations locally and overseas in collaborating on episodes that focus on things younger journalists want to hear about.

“There’s a lot to talk about for journalists in Hong Kong,” he said.

The Correspondent podcast is available on Spotify and iTunes.


Pool is back at the FCC

On 16 September, the Pool Society held its first tournament since 2016 with the Dr Chi Feng Cup 2023, a tribute to one of the most respected and feared cue-masters at the club. Ten players pitched up, and there were plenty of tense moments, but also plenty of laughs. In the end, society chair Tony Chan won on a spectacular (amazingly fluky) shot over Kam Daswani in the final. Cathy Hilborn Feng, the wife of the late Dr Chi, was gracious enough to present the trophy and prizes, including some generous contributions from the club.

A great close-out on summer golf

The dog days of summer heat didn’t stop the FCC Golf Society from playing some superb golf at the Kau Sai Chau public golf course in Hong Kong in July and August. Twenty-eight athletic bodies slathered on sunscreen and donned razor sunglasses and spikes to await the start. It could have been an Olympic event but instead it was the FCC golfers teeing up for the monthly outing on the sunbaked fairways of the South Course.

Each game was a Texas scramble, where teams of four share their best shots to record a score on each hole. This is a popular hot weather game since it speeds up play and reduces the total number of shots each player must play to get a team result. In addition, it lets everyone participate and be a hero, no matter how well they played. Alas, the heat was too much, and everyone started to rely on a mixture of Guinness and Gatorade to push them through to the finish. The younger players started off fast but soon fell into a funk, cursing the thick rough, the bumpy greens, runny mascara and lack of beer. The older groups plodded on, with precision and experience keeping it on the fairway and dropping putts.

All re-grouped in the 19th hole clubhouse to be rehydrated with carafes of gunners and pitchers of beer, then re-energized with hot dogs, curry and Singapore noodles. Prizes were awarded for closest to the pin on all par threes plus lowest nett and the coveted most lost balls. The team of Robin Wong, Larry Eisentrager, Steve Cho and David Chan

Striking gold

won in July with a new course record, while Mike Tinworth, Steve Knight, Paul Webb-Johnson and Barrie Goodridge won in August. A great close-out on summer golf.

Next up is 9 October, followed by 24 November and a Christmas special on 1 December. So, sign up and play. Any day on the golf course is better than a day at the office.


Zela Chin (1.5 metres) writes: Earlier this year I received a gold award from The Hang Seng University of Hong Kong for “Best Economic & Financial Policy News Reporting” for my report for TVB Pearl’s Money Matters. It focused on how China’s zero-COVID-19 policy was disrupting the manufacturing, logistics and container shipping industries, and ultimately the world economy.

The key interviewee was FCC Second Vice President and chairman of Mandarin Shipping Tim Huxley (1.95 metres), who I had interviewed in 2021 about China’s supply chain bottlenecks affecting the Christmas season. Douglas George, who is also a club member, copy-edited ,so it was something of a Team FCC production.

PHOTO: SUPPLIED PHOTO: SUPPLIED L to R: Norm Janelle, Steve Rowlinson, Russ Julseth, John Nash Clockwise from left: Boxship, Huxley, Chin, box of A4.

Short hair, khakis, rolled-up sleeves: meet Hugo Novales

The FCC’s newest recruit’s job title is ‘Journalist-Account Executive’ and one of his first tasks was to introduce himself to the readership of The Correspondent – so here goes!

I was born and raised in the United States, on Chicago’s South Side. My father moved to the US from Guatemala when he was two years old. My mother is Puerto Rican and I have six sisters. Yes, you read that right. I’m the only boy.

I attended the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) for my Bachelor’s degree and was originally a mechanical engineering student, but I was taking all English courses and switched my major after my first term (much to my academic advisor’s shock). I concentrated on both Creative and Professional Writing, but it was the latter which inspired me to pursue a career in journalism.

While job hunting right after graduation, I saw an ad for English teaching in China, which revived my desire to travel. I had been to the Middle East as a teenager but hadn’t been outside the country since then. I figured that even though the job itself wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, I could still have the experience of living in a new place – an opportunity most people in my position didn’t have.

A few months later I was on a plane to Beijing. I lived there for a year before moving to Hong Kong at the beginning of 2019 to continue teaching English.

After teaching for a couple more years, I applied for the Master of Journalism programme at The University of Hong Kong (HKU) and began classes in August 2021. I studied part-time while still teaching English full-time, a two-year mission that forced me to be organised, time-oriented, and committed towards my goals. I finally graduated this past July with As in nearly all of my classes.

Shortly before graduating from HKU, I began working as the FCC’s in-house journalist. Ironically enough, this is the first time the FCC – a club for journalists – has ever had such a position. I’m glad to already be making history here!

A big part of what I do is help to organise, promote and cover our speaker events. All those emails and posts on our Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter? Yeah, that’s me. This also comes with publishing the event write-ups that have made their return to the FCC’s website, as well as contributing to The Correspondent.

If you ever want to find me around the club, I’m not hard

Come on, Fellows

Pass the word – applications for the coming year’s Clare Hollingworth Fellowships close on 9 October. All journalists and journalism students aged 30 or under who are Hong Kong permanent residents are eligible. Apart from gaining unfettered access to the FCC, Fellows will also have the opportunity to rub shoulders – and bump elbows – with any number of senior experienced members. Full details may be found at

to miss: look for short hair, khakis, rolled-up sleeves and a yellow Bruce Lee bracelet. Feel free to say hi and chat with me about anything, especially martial arts, fitness, guitar, and of course journalism.

It’s been just a few months here so far, yet it feels much longer than that with everything that happens on a daily basis. I’m quite glad to be at the centre of all the action and look forward to what we can accomplish as a club in the future.

Speaking of the future, it’s obvious that the FCC is a members-only club for journalists and other professionals interested in our field, but what I hope the FCC can become is a home for more young journalists like myself.

Of course I’m elated to be surrounded by the more experienced journalists who I can learn from, but I find myself even more excited when I run into my former classmates and other journalists who are also just starting their careers.

I hope that through our upcoming activities catered towards young journalists, I’ll be able to see more of my peers come around and uphold the spirit of the FCC as a club where journalists can meet and make the most out of their lives in Hong Kong. n


American butchers

In celebration of US Independence Day, the FCC dedicated its July menu to American cuisine. Hot dogs, burgers, steaks and more were the highlights of the special menu, and the month was crowned by Butcher’s Night – a one-time collaboration with Steak King Foods and Snake River Farms.

The stars were Chef Jonathan Glover and Chef Brandon Tomkinson, two beef masters who have honed their craft together for many years. This guest chef duo brought their expert knowledge of American wagyu and charming sense of humour to a packed dining room.

Setting the mood for a US-

themed dinner was a special playlist of American rock hits, including Red Hot Chili Peppers, Journey and other musical legends.

To kick off the night, the duo demonstrated how to trim an entire wagyu rump. They made sure to explain the details of each and every cut, which then went into the kitchen to be prepared.

While the cooking of the main course was under way, appetisers like croquettes, wagyu tongue and tartar, and bone marrow were served while chef Jonathan and Brandon walked around and chatted with the guests. Some members even staged their own group photoshoots underneath red,

Celebrating our new house wines

white and blue banners.

Well into the evening came the main course: whole picanha with rump medallions, oxtail reduction, fries and salad. The chefs made their rounds of the tables again, this time offering a dash of seasoning to add to the diners’ main courses.

Lastly came dessert: candied pig’s ear egg ice cream. While pig’s ear is definitely a staple of southern US cooking, mixing this savoury dish with ice cream is rarely heard of. Not everyone in the crowd fell head over heels with this particular creation, but quite a few were satisfied with the Butcher’s Night sweet ending.

Until the end of next August, the FCC will be pouring two whites and two reds drawn from Australia, Italy and France. Chosen after some intense tasting sessions by the club’s in-house experts, they’re very pleasant on the nose and the taste buds and deliciously inexpensive. Salut!

Fantinel Pinot

Grigio DOC, Friuli

Grave Italy 2022

White wine (Correspondents’ Choice)

Pinot Grigio

Glass $36 / Bottle


Pale white | Dry | Fruity, citrus, mineral

Pierre Chainier Les

Calcaires Pinot

Noir, Loire Valley

France 2021

Red wine

(Correspondents’ Choice)

Pinot Noir

Glass $36 / Bottle


Dark Cherry | Dry | Balanced, mineral, supple tannins

Larry Cherubino Pedestal Chardonnay, Margaret River

Australia 2022

White wine (Publishers’ Choice)

Chardonnay Glass $56 / Bottle


Classic white | Medium | Vanilla, soft citrus

M Chapoutier Cotesdu-Rhone Rouge

Belleruche, France 2020

Red wine (Publishers’ Choice)

Grenache and Syrah Glass $56 / Bottle


Deep Ruby | Medium | Full bodied, plum, blackberry, well balanced


Swiss dishes

In August, our club chefs collaborated with Chef Heinz Egli, a longtime Hong Kong resident and the founding president of the Hong Kong Chefs Association, to create a menu of traditional dishes inspired by his grandmother together with the sort of quick-and-easy cuisine he would make for himself after a day’s hard work.

Chef Heinz also hosted a special Swiss dinner night, starting with a raclette-making demonstration on the Main Dining Room stage. Two large wheels of cheese were slowly melted

and scraped onto small plates of potatoes and shared with eager guests.

Next up were the main courses that were paired with Swiss wine: a selection of air-dried meats, barley soup and a choice of veal or fish. Just like the daily menus, the food served at the dinner would also not necessarily be considered “fine dining”, but the chef’s personal interpretation of home-style dishes.

Dessert was also unique: Chef Heinz’s own take on chocolate mousse, complete with an edible silver leaf on top.

Pop star

Mega congratulations to civil servant Marcus Lee, who won the July competition by sussing out that the fictional 007 James Bond and the late FCC member 009 Charlie Smith shared a fondness for a stiff Martini.

Lee, whose nine-to-five sees him at the Security Bureau’s Torture Claims Appeal Board dealing with non-refoulement claims, won a bottle of Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut NV Champagne, saving himself the handy sum of HK$530 by dint of his intellect and sleuthing abilities.

9 OCTOBER 2023 THE CORRESPONDENT BOOK YOUR EVENT Contact our experienced Banqueting Team for more details. Email:; Tel: 2844 2838 Whether you’re planning a cocktail party, a conference or a wedding reception, something even bigger or something much smaller, there’s a space (Dining Room, Verandah, Bert’s, Hughes and Burton Rooms) at the FCC for you.

The Taste of Surprise: Bert’s new menu

With the first of the club’s new menus successfully launched, Adam White glides from bar bites to Blue Period in Bert’s and enjoys himself no little en route.

Bert’s has a new menu, which is the kind of idea that can strike fear into the souls of those who want their FCC menus reliable and unchanged. The concept could be called “elevated bar bites” if you wanted to sound like a press release from a PR executive phoning it in at 4pm on a Friday. But the reality is quite a lot more interesting than that. Our new Sous Chef Freddie Wong has assembled some really arresting dishes that are ideal for sharing over conversation, a game of pool or a jazz evening. Perhaps all three.

And so, time to explore what’s on offer. Naturally, we are kept liberally topped up by George as we sample our way through enough food for six. Here’s what to get ordering: A traditional charcuterie/cheese ++ platter, well loaded: brie, gruyère, cheddar, walnuts, dried apricots, olives, sundried tomatoes, capers, grapes – and some very agreeable 25-month-aged Parma ham.

A stack of nachos, generously topped although a little light on cheese. The most impressive aspect here is a properly spicy chilli, meaty and satisfying with a kick. That said: a tower of nachos is a traditional manner to serve them, but it’s also silly. Stacking your nachos high means that those underneath don’t get the benefit of chilli nor cheese. This is the inverse square law of nacho topping, and it is nonsense. Thankfully, the Bert’s nachos skirt the issue somewhat with an intermediate layer of toppings before more are layered on top.

The tom yum chicken wings are a delightful Southeast Asian twist on a classic bar snack: satisfyingly crisp on the outside, beautifully tender and meaty on the inside, with lovely notes of makrut lime leaf. They’re topped with a touch of Thai chilli, coriander and crumbled crispy fish skin for an extra textural bite. These are a winner.

The roast bone marrow is not perhaps a traditional

A touch of the Neapolitan, with a very fine, toothsome bite.

bar snack, as it takes a bit of work to unearth. It’s hard to scoop marrow onto toast with a pint in one hand and your tiny marrow spoon in the other. But this dish rewards the Herculean effort of laying down your drink: unctuous bone marrow topped with a rich, chunky wagyu ragu, alongside balsamic-caramelised onions to cut through all that fat. Confit tomatoes alongside lend an extra pop of acidity.

The Margherita pizza uses house-made dough: a new recipe created by the kitchen. There’s a touch of the Neapolitan going on, with a very fine, toothsome bite. I quibble with the topping a bit. Pesto shouldn’t take the place of fresh basil: keep things classic on the classics.

Cheesy truffle fries come topped with parmesan and generous flakes of black truffle. I really like the size of them: halfway between French fry and chunky chip, with a lasting crispiness and a pillowy interior.

As we churn our way through the menu, the conversation flits across the usual topics: where were all the women in Oppenheimer? Why is Barbie categorically a better movie? Why is it so damn hard to sit down and write that one email you know you need to write? Sure, subtitled movies are superior to dubbed ones (subs not dubs, as the saying goes),

but are there exceptions to the rule?

Exceptions to the rule. Somehow, we come onto everyone’s problematic fave Picasso, a still life of bar bites arrayed before us. Picasso needed to learn the rules in order to break them. “At eight, I was Raphael,” he was fond of saying. “It took me a whole lifetime to paint like a child.”

It’s true. His early works are masterpieces of traditional figurative painting. He was 15 when he completed his first major work (First Communion, 1896) with a deftness of touch that I will never achieve in anything I do. It was realistic, subtle, grounded. And then – he spent a lifetime throwing the rules of art out the window, creating and creating and creating and creating.

The same might well apply to shaking up the menu somewhere like the FCC. We all have our favourites, our mainstays. But like Picasso, now that we have our parameters, we can reject them and begin anew. Throw away what you know, and discover a newfound beauty in the unfamiliar.

The next time you’re in Bert’s, explore the new menu. Find out what Picasso had in mind.

Now that’s a press release. n

Some really arresting dishes that are ideal for sharing over conversation, a game of pool, a jazz evening or all three. PHOTOS: BEN MARANS

Hong Kong Rhapsody

When Bulgarian native Rumen Yordanov arrived in Hong Kong in 2007 as a Master’s student, it was simply meant to be a stopover on his way to mainland China. It’s now the place he has lived the longest in his adult life. During 16 years in the city, he’s turned himself into an engineering consultant and entrepreneur, galvanised the Bulgarian community, and given his piano a passionate daily work-out.

What brings Bulgarians together in Hong Kong?

I don’t have the exact figures, but there are at least 50-100 of us hiding in plain sight. The community is reasonably close-knit, given the fast pace of living here. We have informal meet-ups every couple of months.

Most Bulgarians in Hong Kong work in the financial sector. But there are also architects – one of them actually works at the Zaha Hadid studio in Hong Kong. At the other end of the spectrum, there is one Bulgarian horn player at the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and a few professors at local universities.

Christmas is the biggest occasion for the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, but Bulgarians in Hong Kong usually go travelling then. So, unfortunately, we have not been able to celebrate it every single time.

But we’ve done Easter in Hong Kong, which is another big celebration, with some traditional dishes made specifically for the occasion. One of them is kozunak – a sweet bread that takes ages to prepare. You can’t buy it here, so I had to learn to make it myself. We are also very close with the similarly small Bulgarian community in Shenzhen.

Are Bulgarians well-represented here?

We have an embassy in Beijing and a consulate in Shanghai, but we don’t have a consulate in Hong Kong – it

is my personal quest to open one. I’ve been nudging our embassy since 2018.

It would not be just serving the Bulgarian community but also facilitating economic and social relationships with Hong Kong and the whole of south China.

Expatriates left Hong Kong en masse in the past few years, especially during the pandemic: why did you decide to stay?

I have always been interested in China because of the sheer amount of things happening in my field, which is technology and infrastructure, but also the economy in general.

I work in building services engineering, which means designing all the electrical, mechanical, water and lighting within a building. I am the director of Asian European Engineering, and provide consultancy services with a focus on sustainability. In the construction industry, about 30 to 40 percent of global emissions come from China, and another 20 percent from the rest of Asia. So if you want to make a change in energy efficiency and carbon net-zero engineering, you need to address this region.

This is also the most dynamically developing region, so whatever you do here is very likely to be adopted

Rumen Yordanov – one of the select coterie of Bulgarians who call Hong Kong home – tells Ambrose Li why he’s staying put and also his particular affection for Chopin, Herbie Hancock and U2. Rumen Yordanov.

in other locations, especially in developing economies.

I want to put in place my own ideas and give them a try – that is why I stayed. A lot of the work we do is in Hong Kong, mainland China and Southeast Asia, so Hong Kong is still geographically the most appropriate location to have the reach.

On top of everything, I met my wife, Aneta, who is from Poland, in Hong Kong and now we have a son, Daniel, so this is the family home.

I am betting on Hong Kong to get back to its pre-COVID-19 position. I am still not sure whether this will be correct, so I hope it is going to work out.

Did coming to Hong Kong from Bulgaria confirm the impressions you had of the city?

I had never been to Hong Kong before moving here. To me, there is a very interesting conflict. Apart from coming across the place in the news, reading about it in James Clavell’s novel Noble House and watching kung fu films – a lot of that was outdated or purely fictional information, of course – my expectation of Hong Kong was high-tech and highly efficient.

When I arrived in 2007, at the time, for example, the penetration of the Octopus card was quite impressive, it was already adopted everywhere. I hadn’t seen a card for public transportation being used in so many different ways. But also, there were many outdated things, like using cheques that took weeks to arrive in the mail.

The contrast between very

avant-garde buildings designed by internationally renowned architects and the very traditional construction industry in Hong Kong is another example of this interesting conflict.

We have a lot of apparently riskaverse behaviour here, but at the same time, Hong Kong has proven that it has this entrepreneurial mindset which is not risk-averse at all. It has done a lot of great things.

The contrast is even in the urban fabric. Look at Mong Kok and West Kowloon – they are only a 15-minute walk away from each other but they look so vastly different. It’s creating the face of Hong Kong, and there is definitely a charm to this.

What would life be like had you not become an engineer? Until I was about 24, I thought my future would be more about music than engineering. I had taken up piano lessons when I was nine.

I started playing in clubs with professional musicians when I was 15.

The following year, I got my first contract, performing every night for

Rumen’s recommendations for getting to know more about Bulgaria:

I was never interested in grades and certificates. I was focused on improving and spending more time on stage, playing with as many musicians as possible and learning from them. Playing the piano allows me to escape reality, to express myself and to connect to others on a completely different level. Of course, it helps me de-stress as well – it’s the ultimate therapy. I play more or less every day now but at home only.

I would say my favourite classical composer is Sergei Rachmaninov. He has that grand tragic mood mixed with magic realism to which I can easily relate. Frédéric Chopin is another favourite, as the gentlest of all piano composers. As for jazz, I love Bill Evans – he is like a textbook on classic jazz – and I am also a great admirer of Herbie Hancock. In pop or rock, I think bands like Pink Floyd and U2 have unique sonic signatures that deliver a bittersweet melancholy. n

TOOLBOX Visit Try my hometown Varna in summer – a mixture of white sand beaches, a history spanning more than six millennia, buzzing nightlife and culture, as well as super fresh seafood. To do Kom–Emine is one of Europe’s longest high-mountain trails – some 650 km from the border with Serbia to the Black Sea coast.
To read This year’s winner of the International Booker Prize is Time Shelter –contemporary Bulgarian novelist Georgi Gospodinov. three months at a Black Sea beach resort during my summer break from school.
Kazunak in Hong Kong. Pink Floyd.


Embassy; Independence Palace; tour buses outside the Caravelle Hotel; La Semaine à Saigo n; 1970s street scene. Past-president Jim Laurie recalls the heady days as the Vietnam War stuttered to an end and takes a thoughtful look at the metropolis named for the revolutionary Ho Chi Minh. PHOTOS: JIM LAURIE

It’s probably not surprising that after half a century, there is not much left of the South Vietnamese capital city that I came to know during the last years of the war.

Saigon today is a sprawling, bustling, growing, hugely commercial city. With nearly nine million people in its expanded Ho Chi Minh City reincarnation, it is nearly four times larger than the wartime capital I arrived in, back in April 1970.

The city is cleaner, wealthier, younger and far more congested than it was all those years ago.

Always in need of a good public transportation system, Saigon is still clogged with millions of motorbikes. (In a nation of 98 million, Vietnamese own an estimated 50 million motorcycles.)

Today the little Mobylettes, Lambrettas, Vespas and single-stroke Hondas have been replaced by newer, larger models of Hondas, Yamahas and Suzukis. The story during the war, unconfirmed by US aid officials, was that the Americans subsidised the import of Honda Super cubs in the 1960s. “Cheap Hondas,” one wag told me in 1970, “gave the South Vietnamese something to fight for. Plus, it was good for the Japanese economy.”

Financed in part by Japanese loans, a new underground rail system is due to open next year after many construction delays caused by massive cost over-runs and suspected contractor corruption. Perhaps the metro will finally ease years of congestion.

With each passing year, the vestiges of the American war are harder to spot.

The building housing the Joint US Public Affairs Office is now the Rex Hotel. Every war era reporter knew it. When you arrived in country, you had to obtain your military accreditation there. The hotel now features a rooftop bar called Five O’clock Follies.

The name refers to the daily military briefings held a few blocks down the street, where Louis Vuitton now peddles fancy handbags. The briefings may well have been full of folly, but they began at 4:30 pm – in time (when I wasn’t in the field) to race back to the Rex to file stories to meet my deadlines in New York.

The Pittman apartment building at 22 Gia Long Street (now Lý Tự Trọng Street), made famous by photographer Hugh van Es, still stands. His image of a stream of people desperate to board a helicopter perched on the building’s roof became one

of the most memorable of the war. Across the street, the Dong Khoi VinCom Center stands as a symbol of the new Vietnam’s stunning economic growth. The extensive office building and shopping mall is owned by Vietnam’s largest conglomerate. Real estate developer, supermarket chain owner, smart phone maker and automobile manufacturer – the multibillion-dollar firm seems to be into everything, including trying to sell (so far unsuccessfully) electric cars in Los Angeles.


Nowadays, red British-style double-decker tour buses ply the streets carrying tourists off to see a predictable list of city sites.

First stop: the War Remnants Museum. When I first visited it in the 1980s, it was named the American War Crimes Museum. The name changed several times to appeal to a broader group of visitors after US relations with Hanoi improved dramatically with diplomatic normalisation in 1995.

The museum houses hundreds of relics including old American tanks, artillery pieces, planes and helicopters.

There are many painful reminders of the American War.

One room displays large photos exposing the horrors of the My Lai massacre. In March 1968, US soldiers killed as many as 500 unarmed villagers in a small hamlet in Quảng Ngãi Province. It ranks as among the worst American atrocities of the war.

The museum of course renders a victor’s history. You will find no information on the revenge murders of more than 2,800 unarmed civilians by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops as they retreated from the embattled city of Hue after the failed Tet Uprising of February 1968.

The big red bus next unloads tourists at what is now called Reunification Palace – a landmark building set in the heart of the city amid 12 hectares of trees and gardens. I have a lot of memories of what five decades ago we called Dinh Độc Lập or Independence Palace.

Construction of the present building began in 1962 after two rogue South Vietnamese pilots trying to kill President Ngô Đình Diệm bombed and destroyed much of the old palace, once home to the French colonial governor.

In 1955, Diệm was South Vietnam’s first president after the Geneva Peace Accords,

In the days before the internet, I filed in one of three ways. Copy was sent via telex. My radio reports were delivered by scratchy phone lines. These were usually available only during certain times a day. As for television – the film we shot was shipped or hand carried to Hong Kong – for processing at the Kodak lab in Kowloon, editing at the NBC office in Wanchai and satellite transmission from the Cable & Wireless Building to either London or New York.


divided Vietnam in two at the 17th parallel, and in effect set the stage for the war which pitted the capitalist south against the communist north under the anticolonialist revolutionary Ho Chi Minh. Backed strongly from the outset by the Americans, Diệm, a minority Roman Catholic ruler in a predominantly Buddhist nation, succumbed to his autocratic nature and by 1962 had earned the widespread enmity of much of his nation.

Coup and assassination

The old palace could have been spared if the two pilots in their American made A1Skyraders had waited a year. In November 1963, Diệm was overthrown in a military coup d’etat. The CIA assisted half-a-dozen Vietnamese generals in plotting the coup.


Within about 12 hours on 29 April 1975, the number of foreign reporters in Saigon dwindled from several hundred to about 60. Most media and nearly all Americans left with the panicky US Embassy evacuation. Some were told by their home offices to get out. “Too dangerous,” they said. “By the way, we are cancelling your hazardous duty insurance.” Some wanted to leave but missed the Marine buses. Several Japanese were forgotten, including the Japanese consul. Good for me, as he lived at the Caravelle Hotel and on several nights shared his Tatenokawa Sake.

The most senior reporters who purposely stayed behind were Peter Arnett of the AP and my NBC cohort Neil Davis, who had both been in Vietnam since 1962. A large group of British reporters remained, including the BBC’s Brian Barron. For a while they gathered in the evenings by the pool at an abandoned British Embassy property. It was all very

dead by an army captain after being held captive in an armoured personnel carrier.

By the time I got to Saigon, the palace was occupied by President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu. I met Thiệu there in 1971 and interviewed him just before his October re-election to the presidency. Running unopposed, he garnered more than 94 percent of the vote. Thiệu told me: “Just because no one wants to run against me, doesn’t mean I don’t believe in democracy.”

Thiệu served as South Vietnam’s president from September 1967 to April 1975. He had been one of the military officers involved in the bloody 1963 coup.

Inside Doc Lap Palace, tourists visit the map room where Thiệu monitored the war’s progress and worked with the Americans, often antagonistically, through

pleasant – until the new communist rulers kicked them out. There were other larger-than-life friends still in town: Tiziano Terzani, probably the only Italian reporter to work for Der Spiegel, who ended his days as an Indian sadhu in 2004. And Julian Manyon, whose adventures with ITN continued in Israel, Russia, Afghanistan and Argentina. Future Oxford Professor of Poetry James Fenton took over the Washington Post office. “I wanted very much to see a communist victory.” said Fenton. When the US Embassy was thoroughly looted on 30 April, James made a point of inspecting the library. I saw him run out of the embassy with a pile of books and what looked like a portrait of President Ford under his arm.

James later said that for Americans, the story was the evacuation, not the communist victory. When the Washington Post learned that its biggest rival, The New York Times had left no one behind, James simply said “They lost interest in me.” Finis.

Just because no one wants to run against me, doesn’t mean I don’t believe in democracy.
– President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu
Laurie interviewing General Văn Tiến Dũng. PHOTOS: JIM LAURIE

over seven years of war, culminating in final defeat.

The communists called Thiệu the puppet of Presidents Johnson, Nixon and Ford. Thiệu was glad of the massive buildup of American troops, which by 1968 numbered nearly 550,000. He encouraged the extensive American bombing, which gave his troops vital air cover.

If Thiệu was a puppet, he was a very reluctant one. When in 1973, President Nixon finally called it quits and agreed in Paris to a rather poor treaty with the communists, Thiệu vigorously opposed the deal. He realised at once that the accord served only two purposes: to get American troops home and American prisoners of war released from North Vietnam.

Thiệu relented to American demands only when Nixon threatened to cut off military assistance.

The “puppet” was right to regard it as a sell-out. With communist troops permitted to remain, supposedly frozen in place, across southern Vietnam, the Saigon regime didn’t stand a chance.

Thirty-five years later, Henry Kissinger (who negotiated the Paris Accord) would say: “We had hoped for a resolution like Korea. An independent South Vietnam that would develop just like South Korea had done.”

Kissinger neglected to mention that what kept the peace in Korea and permitted the South to prosper was that more than 23,000 US troops remained there as a tripwire if the North were ever to violate the armistice. The troops are there to this day – 70 years later.

Thiệu’s Vietnam began to unravel in January 1975. More than 300,000 communist forces were positioned in the south, freshly armed with Soviet tanks and Chinese munitions.

At best Thiệu was an indecisive


Isolated in his Independence Palace map room, suspicious of all his commanders in the field, lacking sufficient planes and helicopters, knowing Washington would not come to his aid, by the middle of March, Thiệu had ceded half the country to the communists. He decided to defend the more valuable territory around Saigon and the rich Mekong Delta. Occasionally there was an impassioned and staunchly fought defence, but more often South Vietnamese troops beat hasty and disorganised retreats.

I had no map room from which to watch the South Vietnamese army collapse.

Hatching a plan

I very nearly left it too late. I had hatched a plan with veteran Australian cameraman Neil Davis, who had been one of my earliest mentors.

We had been in Cambodia, and flown out just before Phnom Penh fell to the murderous Khmer Rouge on 17 April.

We decided to return to Vietnam, and no matter what happened, stay on. Both of us had left dear friends behind in Cambodia. We were determined not to repeat that mistake. And we wanted to see the war through to the bitter end.

On 27 April, we landed in Saigon, which was in panic mode. Nearly everyone was trying to escape.

President Thiệu had given up following the collapse of his armies. The CIA flew him to Taiwan on 21 April, carrying 15 tonnes of luggage – much of it, according to some reports, gold bullion.

Before he left, he denounced the US in a television broadcast. “The United States has not kept its promises. It is unfair. It is inhumane. It is not trustworthy. It is irresponsible.”

Davis and I checked into the Caravelle

Veteran Australian cameraman Neil Davis. Obligatory journo mugshot. The hair, the safari suit, and those lapels! It can only be May 1975.

Hotel to await the inevitable North Vietnamese victory.

Today the hotel – now much expanded – boasts of its wartime connections with a photo display near the rooftop bar.

My second-floor room is now the hotel business centre. On 30 April 1975, I stood on the balcony snapping photos of North Vietnamese tanks rolling down Tự Do Street toward the river. I then raced into the streets to join thousands of shocked but curious Saigon citizens.

Davis and I watched the last helicopter fly away from the US Embassy. Operation Frequent Wind, during the previous 36 hours, had evacuated 1,373 Americans and more than 6,000 Vietnamese and other nationalities on a steady stream of helicopters bound for aircraft carriers off the coast.

Dozens of desperate Vietnamese left behind – some with US employee badges –begged me for help to escape. I had no way of assisting.

Davis captured the iconic shot of a T-54 crashing through the front gates of Dinh Độc Lập.

I filed my last story for NBC News on the surrender of the city. General Dương Văn Minh, the very same general who had led the coup against Diệm in 1963, handed over the keys of the palace to the communists and called on South Vietnamese forces to lay down their arms.

The new rulers of Vietnam then cut off all communication with the outside world.

In a world before mobile phones, direct satellite hookups or the internet, Saigon remained silent. Eight days later, the new authorities restored communications.

I went back to Dinh Độc Lập, this time to meet some of the new communist leaders.

‘Our Great Spring Victory’

The head of the Saigon Military Region Management Committee, General Trần Văn Trà, welcomed us. Only about 60 journalists had chosen to remain to witness what was later referred to in Hanoi as “Our Great Spring Victory”.

General Trà told us: “The road to reconstruction will be long and difficult” but “we will soon return to ‘normal’ in a ‘reunified’ Vietnam”.

Many years later, I would sit down with the commanding general of all of Hanoi’s forces.

General Văn Tiến Dũng admitted he was surprised how quickly he had achieved victory. Hanoi’s plan had called for liberation in 1976. Under instructions from Hanoi not to fire on the American evacuation, Dũng nonetheless was both nervous and irritated by how long it took for the Americans to leave.

When he received word at his headquarters that his tanks had entered Saigon, Dũng told me “a great cheer went up in my bunker and all the officers began hugging each other”.

Davis and I were permitted to remain in

Four wheels good, two wheels... The Pittman apartment building – location of Hugh Van Es’ 1975 evacuation photo. Givral’s has given way to a fancy fashion boutique. PHOTOS: JIM LAURIE Givral’s continued to serve Laurie’s favourite ice cream well after the communist victory.

communist Vietnam a while longer. I was asked to leave before the end of May, Davis by August.

The unified nation suffered grievously during the tumultuous first 15 years of communist control.

A rigid attempt at collectivisation stifled economic growth. Hundreds of thousands of refugees fled the country seeking better lives. Tens of thousands of soldiers were despatched to re-education camps, where some died.

A new reformist government came to power in Hanoi in 1989 and the prosperity every tourist sees today has grown out of the unleashing of Vietnam’s capitalist tendencies in the 1990s.

As tourists make their way through motorbike-clogged streets atop those double-deckers, what they see of the new Saigon is very different from what I see.

They will pass the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, which is slated to open in 2026. I will see instead the old French building which housed my office 50 years ago. I will also see on the corner an old French cafe –Givral’s – where I sipped iced coffee in the morning and wolfed vanilla ice cream in the heat of the afternoon.

When the bus heads down Đồng Khởi (Popular Uprising Street) to the waterfront, I’ll remember that the street’s name was Tự Do (Freedom Street) and I will see on the pavement a young woman of perhaps only 18, dead or dying on a Wednesday night around 10 pm in September 1971. She had been dancing at the Tự Do nightclub when a terrorist bomb detonated, killing 15

and injuring 60. I raced to the scene from my apartment two blocks away on Nguyen Thiep Street. Saigon police said the Viet Cong were to blame but in those days it was hard to know anything for certain.

And when the bus stops in the square between the old Post Office and the Notre Dame Cathedral, two graphic reminders of French Colonial rule, I’ll remember sitting alone on a pew on an occasional Sunday in the 1970s, reflecting on Vietnam and what to make of the war, the country and its people, who certainly deserved better lives. The cathedral was closed for renovations when I was there last, but I sat on a bench nearby, watching the city whizz by.

I came away with the feeling that 50 years after the American War, a new vibrant population, 53 percent of it under the age of 35, had finally come into its own. n

We wanted to see the war through to the bitter end.
Jim Laurie worked in Vietnam in the 1970s for NBC News. He has returned often, most recently in May 2023. His book about the wars in Cambodia and Vietnam – The Last Helicopter: Two Lives in Indochina – is available at the FCC front desk and via History is written, and painted, by the victors. Nguyen Hue Street in 1972 (top) and half a century later. PHOTOS: JIM LAURIE


John Duffus looks back on a stellar career in the arts that has brought him into contact with Placido Domingo, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Dionne Warwick, Danny Kaye – and Dick Hughes.

Next year will mark a major anniversary in Hong Kong’s history. The Hong Kong Philharmonic, now acknowledged as the finest symphony orchestra in Asia, gained Gramophone ’s prestigious Orchestra of the Year Award in 2019. Next year it celebrates 50 years since its inauguration as Hong Kong’s first professional arts group.

Orchestras had visited Hong Kong before the Phil turned professional in 1974. The Los Angeles Philharmonic performed in a basketball stadium in Mong Kok in 1956. Three years later, the Lee Theatre in Causeway Bay provided barely acceptable facilities for the Vienna Philharmonic under its conductor Herbert von Karajan.

After the opening of the City Hall

Concert Hall in the early 1960s, more orchestras were to visit. But it was thanks to the encouragement of the Governor Sir Murray MacLehose that the decision was made for Hong Kong to develop its own professional arts groups rather than always importing them.

Hong Kong’s first amateur orchestra had been founded in 1895, when its conductor was an auctioneer, George Lammert. The change from amateur to professional was to be far more complicated than any had imagined, though. First, whereas there were string players aplenty residing in Hong Kong, many having studied in China before emigrating to Hong Kong, the territory had very few wind and brass players. With American conservatories churning out far more instrumental graduates than available jobs, it was understandable that some were recruited for the new Philharmonic.

their local counterparts. Allegations of favouritism and racism soon found their way into the Chinese media. Similarly, finding conductors prepared to work with a young struggling orchestra was far from easy. Eventually the Phil’s General Committee invited a German, Hans Gunter Mommer, then based in Bangkok, to become Principal Conductor.

For a time this worked reasonably well. But Mommer seemed always frustrated about something. Matters came to a head in November 1978 when he gave a Rotary Club speech and finally lost his cool.

“Hong Kong has a HK$10 million fucking orchestra trying to exist on a HK$5 million budget!”

Hong Kong has a HK$10 million… orchestra trying to exist on a HK$5 million budget!

Favouritism and racism

This led to major problems. With accommodation being expensive, overseas players were paid more than

Within days both he and the General Manager had resigned. With indecent haste, in an attempt to solve the increasing problems the Phil’s Committee Chairman, John Mackenzie, made the ChineseAmerican conductor Ling Tung Music Director, a singularly inappropriate appointment that was to result in many near disasters, including his

The Hong Kong Philharmonic. Pavarotti in Hong Kong, 1990.
John Duffus with Andrew Lloyd Webber.

getting rid of 16 musicians.

It was into this challenging and near impossible situation that I arrived to take up the post of the Phil’s fifth General Manager in just six years in March 1979. I had then just turned 33. My background was a first class honours degree in Music, two years working for the BBC in London and then eight with the excellent Scottish Opera. I had been hugely enthusiastic when appointed to the Hong Kong post. Little did I realise I would be in for a baptism of fire.

Ling Tung and I just failed to get on. He did not have the professional background to be in charge of a fulltime symphony orchestra. Most of the musicians actively disliked his conducting technique to the point where they petitioned the Committee to have his contract annulled. Those musicians whose contracts were not renewed were provided with Legal Aid to take action against the Phil. That case took seven years to reach the High Court.

But once the Committee decided Tung’s contract would not be renewed after three tumultuous years, I was finally able to get my way in developing the orchestra in accordance with my brief: to bring it up to international standards. I have traced this near-eight year tenure and several later decades working in the arts in Hong Kong in Chords and Dischords: Reminiscences Of A Life In The Performing Arts In Hong Kong, which is published next year.

High Cs

Roughly half the book centres on many adventures as we developed the Philharmonic into an orchestra of which the city could be proud, increasing audiences by nearly 500 percent, changing its balance from around 80 percent expats to almost 80 percent Hong Kong Chinese, commencing tours around the region, including the first to mainland China, in 1986, and making its first commercial CD recordings. A visit by the great Danny Kaye to conduct a benefit concert in 1983 was sadly thwarted when Kaye had to cancel following open heart surgery.

Even as I tackled the problems, there was much to enjoy. I loved Hong Kong. I was delighted at the

opportunity to build an administrative team that was mostly Hong Kong Chinese, some of whom would go on to run other major arts organisations. I also met and became friends with many fascinating personalities.

I was particularly pleased to join the FCC in 1980 and still remain a member. I was thrilled that the great Richard Hughes seconded my nomination. For years the FCC had a photograph on the staircase with Dick, Cynthia Hydes, me and Maxim Shostakovich lunching at the Club. I had recently persuaded the son of the great Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich to become the Phil’s first Principal Guest Conductor.

Following my time with the Phil, I founded my first company, Pacific Images. In 1987, I made the first of three trips to Moscow and Leningrad as the Cold War was ending to bring Russian artists to Hong Kong, the first since the Sino-Soviet split a quarter of a century earlier.

In 1990, I decided to join the King of Sport Mark McCormack’s new venture IMG Artists as its Director for Asia. I then started bringing to Hong Kong and other parts of Asia some of the world’s great artists, including Pavarotti, Domingo, Carreras, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Jessye Norman and Isaac Stern, as well as pop icons Dionne Warwick and Olivia Newton John. Indeed, the concerts I presented in Shanghai, Beijing and Taiwan in December 2005 were to be the last Luciano Pavarotti would ever sing before a paying public.

One special highlight was arranging the performance of The Three Tenors in Beijing’s Forbidden City in June 2001 as part of Beijing’s bid to host the 2008 Summer

Olympics. Part of this episode and other adventures are included in my book Backstage With Pavarotti And Other Egos: Disasters On The High Cs

I also had a spell as the first Asian Manging Director of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Company, bringing CATS and Phantom of the Opera to Hong Kong in the mid1990s. While Hong Kong loved these true Broadway productions, the dramas I write about behind the scenes far eclipsed those on stage.

With a half-century career in the business of the performing arts, I aim a few major brickbats at some Hong Kong institutions. I am especially critical of the design and planning for the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, and during the time I spent as Head of International Events for the old Hong Kong Tourist Association in the late 1990s.

In general, though, my decision to move to Hong Kong 44 years ago was the best I ever made. As the Phil celebrates its 50th anniversary, I shall raise a glass or three in gratitude for the opportunity I was given to play a small role in its development. n


February 1982 : Three generations of Shostakovich for the Hong Kong Arts Festival.

April 1983: Osaka International Music Festival featuring the Brahms Violin Concerto with Polish virtuoso Ida Haendel.

October 1983: Movie music for 35,000 at the Hong Kong Coliseum.

The Three Tenors in Beijing. With Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.


It made my career,” Swiss photojournalist René Burri (1933-2014) said of his iconic photograph of Ernesto “Che” Guevara smoking a large cigar, which became arguably one of the most readily recognised portrait photographs of the 20th century.

On New Year’s Eve 1963, just a few months after the Cuban Missile Crisis, Burri’s photo agency told him to fly to Cuba. It was Burri’s passport, and not requiring a visa, that got him the job; Swiss neutrality would subsequently help him easily cross borders on many future assignments. Burri accompanied American journalist Laura Bergquist of Look magazine, who had just received permission from the US State Department and CIA to visit Cuba to interview Guevara in Havana.

Guevara, Cuba’s then Minister for Industry and director of its national bank, was interviewed and photographed for over five hours in his office. While Guevara spoke with Bergquist, he chain-smoked cigarettes and cigars. Given complete freedom, Burri captured Guevara from all angles to record a range of emotions: looking relaxed, charming, amused, serious and exasperated. Not once, Burri noted later, did Guevara actually look directly into the camera. The Look interview and photo spread was published in April 1963 with Burri’s photograph cropped and seemingly overlooked, occupying a minor part of the page.

It was only following Guevara’s death in October 1967 that the image’s use became widespread after Burri allowed it to be used on a large

poster. Burri remembers that “…from that moment on, it all began. People wanted to have the photo. The real boom was in Paris, in May 1968, when the photo appeared on flags.” Che with Cigar has been used and seen so widely, especially on T-shirts, that as far as Burri was concerned the image no longer belonged to him, so he “bequeathed” it to the world.

Explosions of sight

The large retrospective exhibition René Burri. Explosions of Sight, first seen in Switzerland in 2020 and recently shown in Taipei, was organised by the Fondation René Burri and the Photo Elyée museum in Lausanne, and curated by Marc Donnadieu and Mélanie Bétrisey.

Burri joined Magnum Photos in 1955 and became a full member

PHOTO: JOHN BATTEN Everyone knows the iconic shot of Che Guevara – but who took it? Inspired by a recent exhibition, John Batten takes a moment to appreciate one of Europe’s most accomplished photographers.
René Burri working with his many cameras with photographs featured in his Explosions of Sight exhibition at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum.

in 1959. In a career spanning six decades, Burri adopted an eclectic and humanistic approach to photojournalism. His work is particularly remembered for lon- duration stories, portraits, communities and key moments in recent history, including political incidents and armed conflicts. Originally studying and working as a filmmaker, Burri uniquely used the

inventiveness of cinema as inspiration for much of his still photography.

Dismissive of the preciousness of his profession, he advocated that: “…Photography, that’s nothing; what counts is what you feel and express. It’s about raising awareness, saying ‘look!’ It’s the opposite of exploitation: it’s about going beyond yourself, sharing.” Working outside the usual boundaries of 1950s newspaper and

magazine photojournalism, Burri was an early adopter of using colour in combination with black-and-white photography. He would often work, in bursts of energetic enthusiasm, with four cameras around his neck, one of which would always be loaded with colour film. Throughout his career he continued making documentary films. In collaboration with his wife Rosellina Burri-Bischof, he filmed The Two Faces of China in 1965 on his first visit to China. The photographs from that visit were exhibited the following year in Zurich as his first solo exhibition. The definitive version of their documentary, however, was presented to the wider public in Behind the Great Wall of China: Photographs from 1870 to the Present at New York’s Metropolitan Museum in 1972.

Burri took a considered, artistic approach to his craft. His reportage, photo essays and street photography had a structure that the Taipei exhibition curators identified around three primary structural principles, which when seeing his photographs have guided generations of photojournalists. Firstly, the curators identify that his “double plan” depicts images with “frames (and) interplays between surfaces…which render

René Burri in Hong Kong for his 2013 exhibition at The University Museum & Art Gallery. Exhibition entrance with display panel and neon calligraphy inspired by Burri’s design and photomontage work. PHOTO: CARSTEN SCHAEL PHOTO: JOHN BATTEN

it more ambiguous, surprising and mysterious”. This can best be seen in his “two level” image of men walking on a roof with a distant view of the street below, taken in São Paulo in 1960.

A second principle is his unique use of dots, lines and planes often formed by light and shadow, shot “in high contrast, in transparent layers… (and) sometimes, his subjects are photographed beneath overhead lighting, or lit from below, and form lines, dots and planes which frame or slice the framework in unexpected ways”. This approach is seen in his photograph of two young women walking across a Rio de Janeiro courtyard crossed with a pattern of “luminous shadows.” A final principle, borrowed from cinema’s filming techniques on built sets, is his “blurring [of] the foreground”, often photographing a main image from a low angle, with the foreground intentionally out of focus.

In 2013, the year before his death, Burri visited Hong Kong for his exhibition at the University of Hong Kong Museum: Rene Burri: UTOPIA, which documented the

construction of Brasilia, the new capital of Brazil. Built in a frantic 41 months and opened in 1960, the project was spearheaded by urban planner Lúcio Costa and landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx and featured the modernist brilliance of architect Oscar Niemeyer’s individual buildings. Burri’s photographs bring alive what could have been purely

dry architectural documentation. Alongside the necessary architectural photography, Burri tells a richer story by also photographing visitors, Brazil’s workers and their families, who experience, often with pride, their country’s post-war boom and this urban symbol of optimism.

Photojournalists of Burri’s calibre inevitably are assigned to photograph

Burri’s 1958 design for Du magazine featuring his photographs of Pablo Picasso in Nîmes and Cannes. PHOTOS: JOHN BATTEN A reconstruction of one of the MegaPhotoMobil multimedia installations designed by Burri for his first retrospective exhibition at the Zurich Kunsthaus, 1984.

famous people. Alongside Che, he memorably photographed well-known artists and performers, including Picasso, Giacometti, Klein, Tinguely, Maria Callas and Le Corbusier. Picasso, however, was a lifelong inspiration and he independently sought to photograph the great artist.

Magnum Story

In 1953, a young Burri was in Milan and visited a Picasso exhibition in a bombed-out building next to the Duomo. Although the building had been re-roofed, its walls were still scorched. Guernica was the centrepiece of the exhibition and in that setting, Burri recalls in a “Magnum Story” from 2004, “ was very emotional... For me, it was like an explosion. It changed my life. I said to myself, ‘I must meet this man!’” It wasn’t to happen until later that decade, much aided by serendipity.

Burri had just finished his first big assignment for Holiday magazine in San Sebastián, Spain and heard that Picasso was at the bullfight in Nîmes, France. He drove overnight across the Pyrenees, arriving in Nîmes early next morning. At his hotel, a chambermaid,

seeing his camera equipment, hurried him upstairs, saying obliquely, “…they are all waiting for you.” He entered a room to find Picasso entertaining; momentarily stunned, he quickly motioned to Picasso for permission to photograph; Picasso nodded yes.

Later that night, there was an odder coincidence. Burri was grabbed in a downstairs corridor, and bustled into the dining room. “And there in front of me was a vision like Da Vinci’s Last Supper. People were sitting (waiting)...Picasso was in the middle... Picasso’s son, Pablo, said, ‘Papa, I found someone, it’s the photographer from this morning.’ Picasso said, ‘Sit down. Eat.’ It turned out that Picasso was superstitious and wouldn’t eat while there were 13 at the table.” He photographed the dinner and the next day they all “went to the bullfights with Jean Cocteau”. Later that summer, working for Du magazine, he visited Picasso at the Villa la Californie in Cannes and again photographed him, memorably seen entertaining and drawing together with his children.

Throughout his life, Burri filled notebooks with drawings and in the

late 1950s he started collaging as a way to overcome his fear of flying. He then always travelled with sketchpads, glue and pencils. His collage practice expanded into photomontage and book design using his excellent graphic and layout skills. This holistic approach to visual discovery complemented his photography and provides for any aspiring photographer. As the curators of the Taipei exhibition highlighted, Burri lived up to the 1939 principles of Life magazine: “To see life; to see the world; to eyewitness great events; to watch the faces of the poor and the gestures of the proud; to see strange things – machines, armies, multitudes, shadows in the jungle and on the moon….” n

John Batten writes on art, urban planning & heritage issues. As cofounder of the Central & Western Concern Group, he continues community activism campaigns to preserve many of Hong Kong’s historic buildings.

Display of Che with Cigar, including Du magazine cover (1984), contact sheets, photographs, press cards and documentation of his 1963 trip to Cuba. PHOTO: JOHN BATTEN


I’m pleased to say that I joined the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan (FCCJ) in 2000 and have never regretted it for a moment.

As former Time reporter and noted Japan scholar Frank Gibney observed in his 1995 introduction to the club’s half-century history, Foreign Correspondents in Japan , the Japanese media “has been something less than a vigilant watchdog of civil liberties and a crusader against political malfeasance”. Japan’s press (kisha) club system, whereby politicians, bureaucrats and corporate and industry groups spoon-feed select information to mainstream newspaper and television reporters from a couple of dozen large media firms creates, a cosy, incestuous relationship that benefits both sides.

Foreign media were not part of this system traditionally. While the wire services were finally getting starting to get more access by 2000, print and broadcast journalists not favoured by Japanese officialdom were outsiders, often forced to beg for whatever

scraps of information their contacts in government, or sympathetic Japanese reporters who were press club members, would give them.

If Japan’s press club system was all about official secrecy, carefully orchestrated press conferences with scripted questions, and top-down control of information, to a chosen few, FCCJ press conferences were about transparency, spontaneous, unscripted questions that could sting, and a wide variety of speakers with a very wide variety of views that often contradicted the official briefings press club reporters were given.

Press freedom

As a very peripheral member of the Japanese media, I knew many of the FCCJ’s complaints about press freedom in Japan were valid, and hoped that by becoming a member, I’d learn what the “international standard” for journalism was all about. Nearly a quarter-century later,

my reasons for joining FCCJ remain valid. Despite all the changes in media technology that have revolutionised the definition of a journalist, and the exodus of individual journalists and foreign news bureaus, the club continues to work for freedom of the press and serve as a sanctuary for those who have been shunned by the Japanese media.

Some issues that have long been a bone of contention between foreign and Japanese journalists, like press club access on an equal basis, are still problematic. But in terms of access to officially endorsed information, at least, the internet revolution has forced Japanese officialdom to make information and data available online that, two decades ago, foreign journalists would have to spend hours, if not days, fighting to get hold of after being told that the kisha club system that passed it out already “forbade” public officials to release publicly funded information.

If gripes about press club access seem less intense than in the 1990s, the reasons are not necessarily due to the fact that press freedom in Japan is getting better. Taboos still exist

Eric Johnston PHOTO:
FCCJ member Eric Johnston writes in some detail from a scandal-ridden Tokyo, where the term ‘cosy club’ is not what it might first appear. The Japanese media ‘has been something less than a vigilant watchdog of civil liberties and a crusader against political malfeasance’.

on some subjects, and the past year has shown that the FCCJ’s role in promoting freedom of the press within Japan is as important now as it was when the club was founded in 1945.

Two of the biggest scandals were the revelations, following former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s death, of his close relationship with the Unification Church, and that a powerful, deceased talent agency boss sexually abused boys in his care for decades, while the Japanese mainstream media turned a blind eye.

In the former case, Eito Suzuki, a brave freelance journalist who had followed the church and its exploitive methods of financing for decades, was a fountain of rock-solid information for mainstream media on the dirty but deep connections between the church, the former prime minister and many members of his ruling party. After the assassination, Abe’s allies, including right-wing journalists, commentators and former officials who served under him, devoted themselves to whitewashing his past and turning him into a hero. But the damage to his image was done, and Suzuki could take a share of the credit – or the blame.

Sex scandal

The scandal involving the talent agency, called Johnny’s, was even more taboo among the Japanese media than a prime minister connected to a South Korea-based church labelled a dangerous cult in many parts of the world. For decades, Johnny Kitagawa, the agency’s founder, provided a steady stream of young, male performers who were ubiquitous on television

and in advertising. TV stations in particular relied on Johnny’s talent to pull in viewers, and thus advertisers. But behind the façade of a powerful man who could make or break the entertainment careers of young, freshfaced boys lay troubling rumours of sexual abuse of his charges – rumours that were mostly ignored.

It would take a BBC crew to blow the scandal open with a documentary earlier this year. When it did explode, it was the FCCJ, not the Japanese media, to whom the victims turned in order to tell their stories publicly for the first time. Today, four years after Kitagawa died, the Japanese media, due to the international attention, has finally been forced to confront the story, and more victims are coming forward to tell their stories of abuse –this time, speaking to Japan’s National Press Club rather than the FCCJ.

That it took journalists outside Japan’s press club system to expose the depth of Abe’s Unification Church ties and the abuses of the powerful head of one of Japan’s premier talent agencies is no surprise. In fact, it’s the continuation of the long tradition in Japan of mainstream press club media ignoring scandals involving powerful individuals and groups due to fears of social, legal or economic reprisal

(resulting in a loss of access and advertising revenue), and reporting on them only after outsiders – be they foreign journalists or independent Japanese journalists – have broken them in non-press club media, and when they have no choice but to report them.

As outgoing FCCJ president Peter Elstrom said at the FCCJ Freedom of the Press awards in July, where both Suzuki and the BBC film crew that made the Johnny’s documentary were honoured for their efforts, foreign journalists in Japan are not under the kind of legal constraints, let alone the threats of violence and physical intimidation, seen in many other parts of the world. But, echoing Gibney’s words, Elstrom said “the Japanese press is, at times, complicit in the face of wrongdoing and silent in exposing bad actors”.

Legal changes over the past decade restricting journalists’ ability to gather information as well as problems common to media worldwide (ageing, declining readers/viewers, less ad revenue, and the rise of the internet and social media platforms offering free news) have made Japan’s press club media even more risk-adverse. As the FCCJ approaches its 80th anniversary, the lines between official press club journalists and those who are not, and between media organs trusted by Japan’s status quo leadership to toe the line and those who are not, remain largely as they were drawn in the previous century, and look set to continue. All this means that my reasons for joining the FCCJ in 2000 remain equally, if not more, relevant today. n

The Japanese press is, at times, complicit in the face of wrongdoing
PHOTO: JIJI PRESS / AFP A roadside television screen reporting the death of Johnny Kitagawa in Tokyo in July 2019. The late Shinzo Abe. PHOTO: KAZUHIRO NOGI / AFP

The Art of Politics

Pithier than a magisterial editorial, and sometimes even sharper than a news photo, a well-judged cartoon or illustration supercharges all that picture = 1,000 words stuff. And how.

Political cartooning has an august history. Members will be familiar with – to name just a few – Hogarth’s Gin Lane, Gillray’s endangered plum pudding, Zec’s Don’t Lose It Again and – in more recent years – the searing graphic commentaries of Matt Wuerker in Politico and Steve

Bell in The Guardian. As has been noted frequently noted, political cartoons are vivid primary sources that offer intriguing and entertaining insights into the public mood, the underlying cultural assumptions of an age and attitudes toward key events or trends of the times.

A rather neat collaboration between Peter de Krassel – sometime lawyer, oftentimes publisher, environmental activist and much else besides – and illustrator, fine artist, photographer, photo retoucher and portrait artist Mark Caparosa saw the Van Es Wall assume a colourful bent.


De Krasell’s book covers featured prominently, and there was also a definite focus on the shenanigans taking place in the United States, with ex-President Donald J Trump taking a starring role.

This is written on 1 September, shortly after The Trumpster, as he used to refer to himself, pleaded not guilty in the Georgia election racketeering case and vowed to lock up political enemies if he is re-elected. None of this augurs well for the one-time champion of democracy. However, the fact that a bevy of artists are still willing to speak truth to power is a definite cause for hope. And in the meantime they give us something to smile about, even if it is accompanied by a weary intake of breath. n

1 The pen is mightier than the stab in the back.

2 Black power.

3 Catch me if you can.

4 Ah, but will it ever get that far?

5 “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

6 Farcebook chimes in.

7 “Would it be possible to find a more ungrateful boy, or one with less heart than I have?”

8 A practical look at a burgeoning problem.

All the artwork is for sale. Details of print sizes, additional paper media and presentation options are at or via the QR code.

Anything But Normal

It was the worst of times – and the least best of times. COVID-19 put Hong Kong in a stranglehold for what seemed like forever, as the HKPPA’s photographers recorded in telling detail.

Rather than a selection of stills from a sci-fi movie, it’s shocking to record that August’s expo on the Van Es Wall consisted of actual snapshots of a city that’s always been synonymous with teeming crowds, freedom of movement and laissez faire.

Looking back, COVID-19’s impact appears to have been nothing short of incredible. We masked up. We scanned a sensor simply to enter a supermarket. We stayed at home, and sometimes were even compelled to do so by law. Big Brother wasn’t so much watching us as right inside our heads.

Amid myriad other inconveniences, people started to talk about “a new normal”: it was anything but. It was if the city had been taken over by a

cult, which imposed its own quixotic and illogical rules and regulations. At least if Hong Kong had been at war, there would have been some sense of the enemy’s identity. What was COVID-19, where had it come from, and – the question uppermost in the minds of cash-strapped business owners, quarantined families and marooned travellers – when was it going to end?

Finally, the barriers came down, aeroplanes took off, ferries to Macau and the mainland started running again, and WFH became an occasional rather than a daily occurrence. Most of all, leaving home safely became a simple fact rather than a dictatorial app.

For this edition of On The Wall,

the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association curated images showcasing the best and worst side of the city’s pandemic experience from the 202022 editions of its news photography competition Focus at the Frontline. Each of the images won a prize or a special mention in its respective category, and the competition was judged by a panel of esteemed photographers and other experts in relevant industries. n

2 Life was an app – and no bed of roses.

3 Solitude became the leitmotif of the pandemic.

4 Shoppers’ paradigm.

PHOTO: HANNA VANHARANTA 1 Mondo bizarro: a sunny day, a splash pool and a metal barrier. PHOTO: JAMES MODESTO PHOTO: RACHEL CHAN TSZ CHING
2 3

The king is dead – long live the king!

Not everyone would agree that Tsang Tsou-choi (曾灶財)’s work ranks as high art, but he certainly made his mark on the streets of Hong Kong.

Willie Chung Yin-chai and Hilary Wong co-curated one of the more unusual Van Es Wall’s expos, remarking: “The King of Kowloon’s works compel us not just to remember, but to profoundly understand the lessons of the past.”

Backstory: Tsang arrived in Hong Kong at the age of 16, and scraped a menial living doing odd jobs. In the mid-1950s, having made an exhaustive study of his family tree, he came to the conclusion that his grandfather had owned most of Kowloon and set about trying to prove his claim. Alas, nobody in officialdom, or his family for that matter, had much sympathy for his case, and – increasingly erratic and isolated – he took to daubing any

available public surface he could find to plead his case.

Tsang might just have been consigned to the city’s more eccentric margins had not various denizens of the art world taken him up. An exhibition at the Goethe-Institut propelled him into the limelight, there was a coffee table book and M+ acquired several of his works. It’s ironic that for many years Tsang’s work was considered a nuisance, but his unique form of visual expression came to represent a local vernacular point of view during a period of transition from colonial rule that made his perspective on identity all the more pertinent.

Tsang died in July 2007 at the age of 85. Busybody officialdom had

whitewashed much of his oeuvre by that stage; however, he had become something of a cult figure and remains so today. It’s of note that some of his works are being touted for sale online for as much as HK$200,000. And how often have we heard that sort of tale before? n

1 Tsang’s armoury comprised just a regular brush, the cheapest bottled ink he could procure, and his own startlingly vivid imagination.

2 His calligraphy enlivened many a dreary concrete surface.

3 Tsang was undaunted by occasional prosecutions and fines – although police and other officials generally turned a blind eye.

4 Kodak moment.

5 A vernacular point of view.

5 4 1
3 2

What an Amazing Bunch!

As per usual, we extend a very warm welcome to a magnificently diverse mix of Liquorice Allsorts who bring with them a vast range of talent and experience. Wow.


I am a Canadian and Hong Kong solicitor, who moved with my wife from Toronto, Canada to Hong Kong in 1997. I worked within legal departments in the banking and insurance industries for 20+ years. Since 2020, I have been working as a co-founder of a tech startup, AIn’t Games Ltd, at Cyberport. My time in Hong Kong has exactly matched the post-handover period, and much has changed. I am keenly interested to attend FCC events, and hope the club can continue to provide much-needed support to both journalists in Hong Kong and to the larger community.

I am Hong Kong born and bred and have been a licensed financial advisor for almost 30 years. My interests are global and regional politics and economics. I often write on HKSAR government policies in newspapers and for many years I also organised Belt and Road Forums in my capacity as Chairman of Silk Road Economic Development Research Center. I am also an advocate of promoting equality, helping ethnic minority groups in Hong Kong to really blend into mainstream society.


I am a banking and finance lawyer at Ashurst, helping clients mitigate risks and prevent losses and liabilities in my day-to-day work. Outside of the office, I am an adventure seeker and a wildlife enthusiast. When I am not camping in the wild, jungle trekking or diving with sharks overseas, I am learning new skills and trying to improve at tennis, sailing and boxing in Hong Kong. I hope to connect with likeminded individuals at the FCC.

I joined Siemens India in 1966, resigned and came to Hong Kong in 1968 and eventually found a job in a trading company. Since then I have travelled on business to 71 countries. In 1987 I was elected President of the Lions Club (HK). I have since been elected to the general committee of the Indian Chamber of Commerce. I fought for the rights of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong to have equal opportunities and received a Medal of Honour from the Chief Executive for community service.

I am a freelance journalist, passionate about food, travel, water sports and good people. I lived in Shanghai for 20 years, spent another ten in Europe, and have been in Hong Kong since 2016. I am eager to explore further excitement and get to know a new community which brings me to FCC.


I am a practising barrister. I also make arts on the side and have a bachelor degree in fine art. I enjoy painting, making ceramics, practising yoga and running in my leisure time. I am always curious about the uncanny features of the cityscape and seek to incorporate that in my paintings and artworks. My set of chambers has just moved into the neighbourhood. It is my great pleasure to join FCC and have meals amid the beautiful and historical architecture.



Originally from Sheffield, England, I’ve lived in Hong Kong for the last 25 years working mainly in human resources in the finance, design and talent acquisition industries. I love Hong Kong, but somehow my main hobby appears to be leaving it; I’m forever chasing passport stamps, looking to experience different cultures, and collecting stories and countless memories from across the globe. Although temporarily grounded by the pandemic, I’m now trying my best to make up for lost time. Between trips overseas, my main passions are listening to live music, dogs, gin and chocolate –not necessarily in that order.



Married with two children, I am originally from the UK. After studying law I worked in marine insurance before moving to Hong Kong in 2013. In 2018 my company moved me to Greece where I stayed before changing jobs and returning to Hong Kong two years later. Not only did the new job see me return to Hong Kong, it also gave me corporate membership of the FCC… when I changed firms again I lost the membership so promptly rejoined. My interests include reading, hiking, walking our dog, sailing and supporting Plymouth Argyle.

I was educated in the interdisciplinary studies of finance, international relations, and global economy. I recently “retired” after 32 years as a global fund manager, much of which was spent visiting far-flung places, such as Kamchatka, seeking out the best opportunities for my clients. Michiko and I enjoy traveling, exploring new places and cultures, skiing, and hiking with our dogs. We have two children who have just started on their careers. The world is my portfolio but Hong Kong, the most vibrant of all cities I have known, is my home.


Originally from Singapore, I’m a freelance editor, writing coach, and consultant supervisory analyst. Having studied Medieval and Renaissance literature, I can still recite lines from the Canterbury Tales, in Middle English. I love to read (mostly fiction) and travel (my aim is to have visited 60 countries by 2030). Somehow, I manage to land in interesting situations: for example, I was on campus at the University of Iowa during the 1991 shootings (often called the precursor to US school shootings), and I was stranded in Jakarta when the 1998 riots erupted.


I am often described as Hong Kong’s Boris Johnson. Like him, I have a mop of unruly hair, and went to a posh boarding school and Oxford. I am also seen as being rather outspoken. I practised at the Bar for two years, and am now a social media influencer. If I had not needed a lucrative career in order to sustain my lifestyle, being a journalist could have been a great career for me. Having no fixed career, my latest is in the field of crypto currency exchange.


Hailing from Queensland, Australia, I grew up around my family’s restaurants and I think my work ethic came from helping dry dishes from the age of six so I could spend time with my parents. Fast forward to now as a data scientist, I work with the Jockey Club supporting the business to solve questions in a data-driven manner across the organisation. Previously, I’ve worked for KPMG and HGC Global Communications. My Canadian wife, Monica and I are welcoming our first child this October. I also build watches as a hobby.




I am an “astropreneur” – an entrepreneur with a love for anything that is related to outer space. When I am not travelling in this part of the world, I like to spend time exploring the mysteries of the unknown universe, through my work at the Orion Astropreneur Space Academy and at the Lab for Space Research at HKU. Navigating and understanding paradoxes in humanity helps me to understand another mystery that has escaped me so far, that of quantum and complexity. Trying to understand humanity is too tricky without a complementary understanding of sciences and its interdependencies.


My father worked in Hong Kong for Lufthansa in the late 1960s – I wish he had bought an apartment. I studied engineering and maths and came to HK in 2007 to work as a programmer. After a multi-year sabbatical I’ve just returned and joined the FCC. While I am a technologist professionally, my interests include atheism, aviation, ballroom dancing, books, cycling, economics, evolutionary psychology, fragrances, Latin, pinballs, political philosophy, random number generation, stoicism, and travel. I coorganise HK Skeptics in the Pub and founded the Crypto Critics’ Club HK.

I’m Hong Kong Bureau Chief for PEI Group – a global trade publication, data and events business centred around the flow of institutional capital into alternative assets. Though I write for several of our 15 titles, most of my time is spent on Private Equity International. I’ve been with the company for six years, having previously served in our London office. I moved to Hong Kong in 2019 and have been coming to the FCC as a guest of my close friend Nick Atkin ever since, though only recently decided to become a member myself.



I arrived in Hong Kong in March to run Agence FrancePresse’s operations across Asia. Originally from Canada, I’ve spent the last 20 years as a foreign correspondent covering stories across Europe, the Middle East and the former Soviet Union, most recently as AFP’s Moscow bureau chief. Hong Kong so far has been a joy to discover – the hiking trails, amazing food, friendly people – and I’m looking forward to seeing more.

I am a lawyer from Canada and have been in Hong Kong for 25 years with my wife Kirsti and our three children. Currently I am General Counsel at Vistra, a global corporate services firm. I play guitar whenever I can around town and elsewhere with a pub band called Bus Uncle. Other than music (a lifelong obsession) I am an avid skier, and try to keep fit in Hong Kong by swimming and playing tennis. I have loved FCC for years (with a special fondness for music nights at Bert’s Bar) and am delighted to finally join.

I work with CNN Hong Kong, but my journey to get here has been an adventure. I grew up in both Detroit and Kyoto, attending grade schools in both countries. I started my career at NHK Japan Broadcasting Corporation in Los Angeles covering US news for the Japanese audience. To grow as an international journalist, I moved to Ukraine, where I worked for the Peace Corps and UNHCR. I learned Russian, integrating into their culture as best as I can. When my service ended, went on to work for CNN in Atlanta, then to Hong Kong.


Born and raised in Hong Kong, I spent my early adulthood in Chicago and started a restaurant there. Getting tired of the weather in the Windy City, I went to Shanghai and acquainted myself with my Chinese heritage and started a finance company. I soon expanded my business, Metropolitan Capital, back to Hong Kong and decided to stay here for good. I love the music from the 1980s and 90s and also enjoy a few drinks every now and then.



I come from Penang, Malaysia. I boarded at the Methodist College in Belfast before qualifying in medicine from Queen’s University Belfast in 1985. After spending some time working in the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, I then worked in England specialising in radiology. I came to Hong Kong in 1995 and joined the radiology department of Queen Mary Hospital, Hong Kong University. I am now head of Medical Imaging at Canossa Hospital on the Old Peak Road and very much enjoy hiking, travelling, good movies and entertaining.


With nearly two decades of experience in the renewable energy sector, I’ve had the privilege of working both as an engineering consultant and an investment professional. It’s been incredibly fulfilling to contribute to an industry that has such a positive impact on society, particularly in the realm of sustainable development. My journey led me to Hong Kong in 2011, where I am now Technical Director for Albamen Capital Partners Ltd. I’m passionate about engaging in conversations that revolve around energy transition, ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) investing, and the exciting developments in renewable energy.



CARSTENSCHAEL.COM – Award-winning Photographer. People - Corporate - Stills - FoodArchitecture - Transport. Tel: (852) 9468 1404


JAYNE RUSSELL PHOTOGRAPHY – EditorialPeople - Food. 18 years Fleet St, London experience. Tel: (852) 9757 8607 Email:


Thirty years after leaving Hong Kong for the US as a teenager, I am back in my hometown to take up an assignment as a correspondent for The New York Times covering Chinese foreign affairs. I arrived in June with my wife and two children, who are attending the Harbour School in Ap Lei Chau. I was previously posted to Beijing and Singapore for the Los Angeles Times. It’s a joy to be back in the city, gorging on yum cha and soaking in the skyline. I’m thrilled to be able to finally join the FCC.


I am the Deputy CEO of Lenovo PCCW Solutions, responsible for leading the company’s business operations and driving operational excellence across all business areas. My main hobbies including hiking and golfing in different countries.

Website: SOOTHE

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In search of a new Global Town Square

As Twitter fades in relevance, Matt Haldane ponders whether the likes of Mastodon, BlueSky, Nostr and, of course, Threads have Got What It Takes.

We were promised social media decentralisation, but what we got was fragmentation.

Amid the slow X-termination of the Twitter brand, and thus the platform, its relatively small but dedicated user base – many of whom are journalists – have been looking for a new home. You have likely encountered some of the names: Mastodon, BlueSky, Nostr and, of course, Threads.

Threads launched in July to an explosion of interest, although daily active users plummeted 80 per cent in the first month. But it at least proved one thing: people are very eager for something that can replace Twitter.

The launch was also accompanied by a curious pledge: Instagram plans to “make Threads part of the fediverse”, the company said, by eventually integrating ActivityPub.

For the uninitiated, ActivityPub is the protocol used by Mastodon and similar social networks, allowing them to talk to each other across different servers. (A full username looks something like an email address: @username@server. com.) The idea is that this puts users, not Big Tech, in control of their own data.

It is a romantic bit of tech utopianism (obviously anyone joining the fediverse via Threads will still be handing their data over to Meta) and the technology of decentralisation is often clever, but no one so far has been able to replicate the “global town square” feeling of Twitter.

This is an aspect of the microblogging platform that made it a magnet for journalists. Seemingly anyone, across a wide variety of contexts, could be available for public comment on Twitter, which hosted conversations between loosely connected people that became grouped together through unofficial labels like Black Twitter, Science Twitter and Celebrity Twitter.

One partner researcher at Microsoft Research who styles her name in lower case – danah boyd – has described this as “divergent norms [sitting] alongside one another”. This allowed people to join a social network within a specific context and then renegotiate that context over time as a platform evolves.

while also attracting criticism for “armchair journalism”. Combined with proper fact-checking and verification, though, Twitter made news accessible in a way it hadn’t been before simply because so many different people from different backgrounds were accessible there.

By contrast, Threads is too young to have fostered the kinds of meaningful connections once found in Twitter communities. Mastodon has for years had dedicated communities on specific servers, but they are relatively small and often hidden away from public view.

Combined with proper fact-checking Twitter made n ews accessible

Nostr and Bluesky, both endorsed by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, have promised a Web3-like social media experience by using public key cryptography to identify users and content. But again, their usage is small. Nostr has a dedicated fanbase in the crypto community but is little known otherwise. Bluesky is still in beta testing and tightly controls invitation codes for new users.

Twitter was once the go-to platform to publicly distribute information on current events – an endless deluge of vox pop. The 2009 Iranian protests were one of the first major events in which Twitter became known as a powerful primary source of information, allowing news organisations to get photos, videos and other first-hand accounts from people uploading their experiences directly to the web.

In the years since, Twitter grew in importance as a place for newsgathering and for reaching out to sources,

Nothing precludes any of these platforms from growing into a new global town square, but there isn’t a clear path. In the meantime, digital sleuthing across a variety of private and semi-private communities is becoming the norm.

Consider how earlier this year The New York Times and The Washington Post had to go digging around a chat group on Discord to find leaked intelligence documents that resulted in the arrest of National Guardsman Jack Teixeira.

Welcome to the new digital shoe leather reporting. While this, too, could technically be done from the comfort of an armchair, at least digital shoes won’t wear out when you’re running from one platform to the next. n



The Nurse Education Manager at MARS has a great deal to say about animals, but refuses to breathe a word about her “intriguing hobby”…

Working with animals in Chengdu must have brought some, er, challenges – please elaborate: There were challenges, but so many positives too. I was Senior Veterinary Nurse with Animals Asia (which is headquartered in Hong Kong), and our work with rescued bears from illegal bear bile farms and helping dogs and cats in the community gave me more satisfaction than I can say. No week was the same: and one day we would be performing major abdominal surgery on a bear, and the next giving lectures in a university about responsible dog and cat care, or pain management, or both. The relationship that Animals Asia has developed with local government departments is seeing significant progress, and they’re even embarking on projects with the authorities to alleviate human wildlife conflict (when wild bears, for example, venture too close into human habited areas) that have humane outcomes for animals and people alike.

Why did you move to Hong Kong?

I’ve been visiting Hong Kong since I was 18, when some family members moved here, and have always loved it. When I met my American husband, Chris Noble – who is now maître d’ at Club Lusitano – we could not decide where we wanted to settle in the UK or US, so we decided to try Hong Kong and have been here since 2017.

Anything in particular that you really like about the 852?

After living in Asia for 17 years, Hong Kong is more familiar than going back home to England. One of the things that we most love about the city is the ease of getting around. In an hour you could get to almost anywhere. Plus, living in Central is very dog-friendly. Hong Kongers really enjoy being outdoors with their pets; in one day you could go hiking on a beautiful park in the morning, spend the afternoon at the beach and in the evening enjoy dinner

and drinks in the city, so in Hong Kong you get the best of everything.

What is MARS and what do you do?

MARS Veterinary Health (MVH) is a division of Mars, Inc (yup, the chocolate!). Petcare is an important part of Mars and MVH operates veterinary hospitals in the US, Europe and Asia with the mission of making a better world for pets. My role is to lead the nursing, education and training initiatives for the MVH veterinary hospitals in Hong Kong and to improve the quality of vet nurse training. I am developing a vocational training course with similar skills and knowledge required for nurses as the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in England. This includes skills-based training and online learning from the MARS Veterinary Centre For Excellence, which holds courses on all aspects of vet nursing from over the world.

What’s the state of animal welfare in Hong Kong?

The biggest issues now are the smuggling of both domestic pets and wildlife or wildlife parts. Companion care is improving but there is still a long way to go to understand the needs of individuals and really agree if all their needs can be provided for. There is so much abandonment in Hong Kong due to relocation of owners or allergies and even, sadly, when dog and cat family members reach old age. Another big welfare concern is the use of cruel glue traps: I would ask that people never use them and for “pest” controllers to dump them from their repertoire of so-called solutions.

You must have some sort of intriguing hobby... Ha, I do but not for this article! I do love paddle boarding and spending time at the beach or out on the water on a junk. And although I’m from West Bromwich in England, and the local team is owned by the construction tycoon Lai Guochuan, I am not a football fan. n


Hot topics

A bevy of prominent guests chewed over two of Hong Kong’s most pressing issues – the National Security Law and the changes to the city’s District Councils – at club lunches in recent months.

In July, as Hong Kong entered its third year under the Beijing-imposed National Security Law (NSL), a panel of legal experts and politicians – John Burns, Honorary Professor of Politics and Public Administration at The University of Hong Kong (HKU); Albert Chen, Chair of Constitutional Law at HKU; former Legislative Council member Emily Lau; and Senior Counsel/Executive Council member Ronny Tong – gathered to discuss its effect on the city.

“When it comes to Hong Kong, the sky falls down,” said Tong, pointing out the support behind other countries’ national security efforts and the criticism Hong Kong’s NSL receives from the international community.

Burns agreed that all states must ensure national security; however, he emphasised that interpretation was key in how national security laws are enforced. He believes that the local government has been using the NSL to intimidate the public and encourage selfcensorship, ultimately changing political behaviour in the city despite how vague he finds the NSL to be.

“Political offences are not subject to extradition,” Chen said, when asked about the eight self-exiled activists for whom the Hong Kong police have posted a HK$1 million reward.

Wanted activists

He added that returning the wanted activists to Hong Kong would only work if the countries they fled to had extradition agreements with the city, but that many countries had abolished their agreements due to the NSL.

To her, this results in the criminalisation of free speech in Hong Kong.

For Lau, the strongest critic on the panel, her biggest concern with the NSL is Article 29, which prohibits “provoking hatred” among Hong Kong residents towards the local and central governments. She argued that criticising the government does not equate to provoking hatred but that Article 29 implies as much. To her, this results in the criminalisation of free speech in Hong Kong.

Lau also criticised the continued detention of the 47 Democrats who have now spent over 90 days in court.

Chen, on the other hand, described NSL offences as “narrowly defined” and added that most of the ongoing cases dealt with sedition, not the NSL. He explained that sedition falls under the Crimes Ordinance, which has been a part of Hong Kong’s legal system since the city’s days as a British colony.

“This is a question of humane treatment,” Lau said, citing this case as one of the “shockwaves” felt across Hong Kong since the NSL’s enactment, along with the various news organisations and NGOs that have either disbanded or left the city.

“I have strong faith in One Country, Two Systems,

Left to right: John Burns, Albert Chen, Emily Lau, Ronny Tong and Lee Williamson PHOTOS: FCCHK

and the judiciary,” Tong repeated several times during the discussion. “As a lawyer myself, I know many of the judges and I don’t believe any of them are corrupt. If you think they are corrupt, please tell me.”

The four panelists were also asked about their thoughts on “soft resistance”, a concept that has recently become the target of Hong Kong’s national security police.

Burns reemphasised the vagueness he finds throughout the NSL while also mentioning that there may be a difference between soft resistance and legitimate anti-China sentiment in the public. He also explained how he interprets the HKSAR government’s use of the term “patriot”.

“It’s almost as if the government is saying the word ‘patriot’ is code for ‘you agree with us’? If you agree with us, then you can be in the District Council, LegCo, Election Committee… if you don’t agree with us, then you’re resisting,” Burns said.

Panelists also debated Article 23 and the potential ban of the 2019 protest anthem Glory to Hong Kong.

Earlier in the month, Legislative Councillor Joephy Chan, district councillors Christine Fong and Paul Zimmerman (who is retiring at the end of his term), and former district councillor Fred Li discussed the government’s reform plan for the District Councils.

While both Zimmerman and Li opposed the reforms, Fong said that she welcomed any changes. Chan maintained the strongest support for a District Council overhaul, claiming the proposals were “much needed” and that they put Hong Kong “back on track, according to the Basic Law”.

Under the proposals, only 88 of the 470 District Council seats will be directly elected, less than 20 percent of the total. Moreover, every candidate will require nominations from three committees which will screen for political loyalty and national security risks.

Currently, the proportion of directly elected seats is over 90 percent. The new plan will increase the number of government-appointed seats to 179, and another 176 seats will be decided by indirect elections from a limited number of organisations.

Li, as a member of the District Board which preceded the District Councils, noted that the new reforms (and the Legislative Council reforms) were in direct response to the events of 2019, but he mainly criticised the increase in government appointees.

“This is like chopping off your ears or being blindfolded,” said Zimmerman. He questioned the necessity for reform given the National Security Law and the oaths that public figures must take before assuming office. Zimmerman also faced questions from Chan, who accused him of quitting without giving the government a chance.

[I] will not be a flag for dramatic change,” Zimmerman said. “[I] cannot pretend it’s a democratic system.”

Fong stressed that the District Councils are meant to make residents’ lives better and have a duty to serve people.

A duty to serve

In response to a question if there was any more room for democracy in Hong Kong, Chan claimed that direct

elections don’t work due to their “loss of efficiency” and “political chaos”. She cited cases of filibustering in the 2015 District Council elections and emphasised that Hong Kong’s political system shouldn’t be judged by Western values.

An attendee commented that filibustering exists on all sides of the spectrum, citing the various District Council walkouts staged by pro-establishment officials after the implementation of the Beijing-imposed National Security Law.

Former FCC President and Director of HKU’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre Keith Richburg asked about future voter turnout. The 2019 District Council elections enjoyed about 70 percent turnout, almost all in favour for the pro-democracy camp, but the 2021 Legislative Council elections saw barely 30 percent of the city’s voters participate.

Chan reiterated that voter turnout was not the sole indicator of a good election and compared local elections to elections in cities like New York.

Li opposed such a comparison and instead suggested Hong Kong compare itself to its own history. To him, not doing so would be like “putting our heads under sand”.

In a final question, the panelists were asked if government appointees truly understand their role and the communities they serve, and what the voter turnout for the upcoming November elections might mean for Hong Kong.

“Fantastic! Low turnout!” Zimmerman said with a chuckle.

Chan mentioned that she collaborates with government appointees to do district work, and then criticised Western politicians for polarising people to vote with emotion. She also reiterated her earlier point that a high voter turnout doesn’t signify a good election or that the people care about their livelihood. She said these circumstances mean that the voters care more about politics above all else.

Sharing his final thoughts, Li said, “We’ve lost checks and balances.” n

Both panel discussions are on YouTube channel @fcchkfcc Left to right: Joephy Chan, Christine Fong, Fred Li and Paul Zimmerman PHOTO: FCCHK


A gentleman in every sense of the word

Thomas “Tom” Pedder Bispham passed away on 29 July. He was 77.

If there was a prize for being the most regular user of the FCC, Tom would definitely be among the top contenders to win it. Tom joined the club in 2007, and for many years worked from the V G Kulkarni Workroom on a daily basis. He made friends with the other regular “denizens of the deep”, and they checked up on each other if there was any prolonged absence. It was a unique and exclusive club within a club.

Tom and his wife Barbara also loved the annual Super Bowl Breakfast at the FCC. In Barbara’s words, “such fun and such bountiful victuals”.

Tom came to Hong Kong from New York in 1995 to launch the project finance business of Peregrine Investment Bank. His initial five-year placement turned into 28 years in Hong Kong, where he and Barbara raised their two children. After Peregrine, he became Chief Operating Officer of JPMorgan’s Asia Pacific investment banking business.

Following retirement from JPMorgan, Tom went on to advise a number of companies in the mining and metals industry.

He was a founding director of the Asian Mining Club, a trade association based in Hong Kong. There he was a trusted colleague, ready to help handle any task. His colleagues at the AMC recall that while being a natural leader, he could also “play in the back” and be part of a team. He made it easy to become great friends.

Tom excelled in all his endeavours, but was humble and genuinely sought out your opinion, enquired as to how you were, or just gave you a friendly smile.

Tom was active and literally vocal in his social life, being a dedicated member of the Hong Kong Welsh Male Voice Choir for 23 years. He was a stalwart of the bass section after joining the choir in December 1999, singing solos on occasions including O Holy Night and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at Christmas.

He also embodied the spirit of Christmas, for many years donning a red suit to play Santa Claus for the Hong Kong Mothers of Multiples Christmas party, frequently held at the Verandah of the FCC. Picture 20-plus sets of twins and their siblings all clamouring to sit on Santa’s lap and share their exhaustive Christmas lists. Tom was warm and patient throughout, kids were excited, and parents were relieved.

Tom was a Freemason, and held the position of Master of the Perseverance Lodge of Hong Kong in 2022. Tom

served with brilliance, dedication, and humour was loved and admired by his Brothers. He was passionate about charity: during his year as Master, he made sure a very generous donation was awarded to the disability charity The Nesbitt Centre from the Hong Kong Masonic Benevolent Fund, as well as to many other charities.

Tom dearly loved ketchup and his Brothers always enjoyed lunches with him at Zetland Hall, marvelling at the copious amount he might apply to anything. His lodge was also graced with his beautiful baritone on many festive occasions.

At St John’s Cathedral, Tom served in nearly every capacity – sidesman, Council Member, Eucharistic Minister distributing communion, treasurer of the Michaelmas Fair, reader and Intercessor and many other capacities. He always had fun guiding some of the several hundred communicants, including children, in how to take communion. He was old-school – “no baseball caps while getting the Blessed Sacrament”.

He was a gentleman in every sense of the word, and is dearly missed by friends and family. He is survived by his wife Barbara and his children, Thomas Pedder Bispham Jr. (“Binky”); and Barbara Harlin Bispham (“Bunny”).

A memorial service will be held on Friday 24 November at St John’s Cathedral. n

Thomas Bispham
If there was a prize for being the most regular user of the FCC, Tom would definitely be among the top contenders to win it.

‘What more can you ask?’

In 1945, at the age of 17, Robert Elegant – who had set his heart on becoming a foreign correspondent –was perusing the available courses at the University of Pennsylvania, reasoning that proficiency in a foreign language would be a useful asset. Arabic classes started at 8 am, Chinese at 4 pm. He chose the latter, setting in train a career that would be largely centred on what was then widely known as the Far East.

Robert picked up Japanese during a spell in the US Army, and in 1951 secured a job with the Overseas News Agency at the princely salary of US$60 a week. He followed the haphazard trail of a foreign correspondent for much of the next quarter-century, covering the Korean and Vietnam wars as well as other lesser conflicts, and garnering a Pulitzer Prize as well as several other awards along the way. He worked for Newsweek from 1956-65 and later was appointed Bureau Chief of the Los Angeles Times, based out of Hong Kong.

Given his expertise in Asia, it was not surprising that Robert was regarded as a useful source by Washington high-ups, and he was regularly consulted by President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who in the early 1970s were exploring ways to reopen diplomatic channels with China. Robert treasured a thankyou note that read: ““You are my favorite China expert. Richard Nixon.”

Robert had written various books while working as a correspondent but by 1976 had turned to full-time authorship. Dynasty, the saga of a fictional Eurasian family in Hong Kong in the first half of the 20th century, was published that year. It sold by the million.

Still focused on Asia, but taking a more serious bent, Pacific Destiny: Inside Asia Today – which could be described as his magnum opus –sought to paint a portrait of the region, which at the time (the late 1980s) was steadily assuming a more prominent place on the world stage.

Accompanied by his wife Moira, whom he had married in Delhi in 1956, Robert travelled some 120,000 kilometres in the course of research, stitching together a comprehensive analysis spiced with anecdote and his own personal memories. When Indonesian officials sought to impress the visiting Nikita Khrushchev with a display by its most skilled artisans, the Soviet leader cast a lugubrious glance at the silversmiths and weavers, and snapped: “You should get rid of all this handmade rubbish – you should have machinery. All that counts is production.”

Like Dynasty, Pacific Destiny stormed up the bestseller charts, its success fuelled by Robert’s straightforward,

chatty approach, which augmented the book’s magisterial style. He once confided: “I like to write as if I was talking over a drink after dinner.”

He added: “I don’t think I’ll ever write my memoirs, so writing Pacific Destiny was a chance to sum up a lot of things.”

Robert was a much admired and extremely motivated president of the FCC 1961-62. Aside from his professional life, he was a cultured man with a wide variety of interests.

His home in Buckinghamshire in the UK had a voluminous library, many antiques and paintings by such celebrated artists as Sydney Nolan and Clifton Pugh. Robert was equally fond of his second home in the hilltop town of Todi, Umbria, a thriving colony of artists and writers. He also bred a number of shih-tzus, and was never happier than when out sailing in a dinghy or similar small craft.

Robert died in June in London at the age of 95. He is survived by his second wife, Rosemary, daughter Victoria and son Simon.

Interviewed by Carol Thatcher for the Los Angeles Times, Robert offered a modest comment on his long and successful career: “I used to get paid for going where I wanted to go and asking people rather impertinent questions, then writing what I thought about them. What more can you ask?”

All in all, a pretty good sign-off. n

Sailing in HK in 1956 and at a wedding in Italy in 2004
You are my favorite China expert.
– Richard Nixon

Stephanie Scawen: ‘MS and ME’

Stephanie Scawen, who died in June, had a long and eventful career in journalism that took her around the world, including five years in Hong Kong, where she worked for Star TV.

She battled multiple sclerosis for decades, and some of her best work is still available on YouTube, where her Al Jazeera documentary MS and ME reports on the daily struggle of living with the disease and the hopes for a cure.

After training at Harlow College in the UK, Steph put in a two-year stint at The Sun , which in the early 1990s was still very much in “Gotcha”, “Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster” and “sex sells” mode. She moved to the Daily Express for a short time, before making the transition to television, working first for London Weekend and then AP. She flew to Hong Kong in 1996, and over the next two years was employed variously by CNBC, AFP and AP again.

She got her big break in 1998, when she was appointed Supervising Producer at the fledgling Star TV, where she wrangled 12 staff on Asia News Sunday, which later became Focus Asia. Nobody was surprised when she picked up a Sustained Excellence award from Amnesty International and the Hong Kong Journalists Association for consistent human rights’ reporting from 2000 to 2004.

Later, she also garnered awards for a profile of the Motswana judge Unity Dow and a documentary on the Hmong tribe in Laos who were inveigled into fighting on behalf of the CIA.

One former colleague commented: “Steph was brilliant – it wasn’t difficult to see that she was very passionate about what she did. She was always very thorough – everything she did was executed flawlessly and the stories she produced were always very comprehensive and, more importantly, fair and impartial.”

Another wrote: “Stephanie was one of few very talented field and supervising producers I ever had the pleasure of working with. Her experience in the field and in the newsroom was unparalleled, combining wit, charm and knowledge. She was one of the best.”

Always on the look-out for new horizons, in 2005 Steph moved to Kuala Lumpur for Al Jazeera, initially as Programme Editor, swiftly rising to Senior Producer.

Over the next decade, she reported from every country in East and Southeast Asia, garnering her reputation as a hands-on, can-do operator, and someone who was keen to tackle new challenges as media repositioned itself in the new digital era.

In 2015, she took a six-month sabbatical from Al Jazeera

to guide a team of 20 young journalists in television feature and documentary production in Kenya, assisting with script writing, editing and complete programme output. It was typical of Steph that she plunged into learning Swahili, the better to integrate and get to grips with local culture.

MS was starting to take a serious toll by this stage, and in 2016 she returned to Britain to seek affordable health care, although she remained tough and determined as ever. One intro she wrote at the time ran: “Hello, I’m Steph. I’m in a wheelchair because I have multiple sclerosis. I can’t really walk any more, which kinda sucks if you like travelling as much as I do.”

It was a bitter irony that the National Health Service denied her access to rehabilitation facilities on the basis that MS is considered a degenerative condition and there wasn’t enough money to fund cases considered to be hopeless.

She freelanced in London for a while, with an understandable focus on MS, and then – as a last and very valiant hurrah – returned to Kenya to set up Rahisi Tours, which aimed to specialise in travel for the disabled.

Jim Laurie, who worked with Steph at Star and Al Jazeera, writes: “Steph was a strong, vibrant and brave person, a passionate scuba diver who relished adventuring across Asia and Africa. She was also a top-notch writer and television producer. A very sad loss.” n

Everything she did was executed flawlessly and the stories she produced were comprehensive, fair and impartial.

Peter Ming Faye Wong: ‘Don’t depend on technology to solve your design problems!’

Peter Ming Faye Wong, a much-loved, well-respected art director and legendary fixture around the FCC pool table, died peacefully of cancer at his home in Auckland, New Zealand on 23 August. He was 69.

A New Zealander by birth, Peter attended secondary school in Auckland and later studied art at the Wellington Polytechnic School of Design.

Easy-going and quick with a joke, Peter never shied away from a cold beer or a game of pool; preferably both at the same time. “A unique individual – we are all the better for having worked, drunk and played with him,” said Stephen Ellis, who co-founded Emphasis, a Hong Kongbased custom publisher.

Shortly after graduation, Peter saw that his future lay in Asia and moved to Hong Kong. It was the late 1970s, Hong Kong was booming and he soon landed a design position at Fortune Far East, where here he met Ellis.

“I can still remember the moment that I first laid eyes on him,” recalled Ellis. “I had just been appointed MD (of Fortune Far East) and was doing a walk-through meet and greet. I remember this little cherubic face grinning up at me. He then opened his mouth and greeted me in Kiwi, and we were mates ever after.”

In 1981, Ellis and Tom Chapman launched Emphasis, which specialised in inflight magazines. Peter was hired to lead the design team.

Peter instinctively understood his target audience of sophisticated global citizens who lapped up inflight magazines, and concocted a design language for them that was fresh, smart and visually striking. From the launch issue onwards, Emphasis quickly became the most creative publishing shop in town.

Thumbing through issues now, it’s clear that Peter’s designs have stood the test of time. “I recently looked through old copies of Discovery (Cathay Pacific’s inflight) and remembered Peter’s special contribution,” recounted Derek Davis, former editor-inchief at Emphasis.

“For example, in May 1984, we published a feature on Rajasthan and Peter just picked out an extraordinary picture, actually only half a picture, of an elderly lady in a crimson sari standing in front of a straw hut, the light just catching the side of her face, which made a brilliant cover. It was an absolute winner and Peter spotted it as if it was a needle in a haystack.”

Peter stayed at Emphasis for almost three decades until the founders sold out to an American media conglomerate. With numerous international awards under his belt and

a rock-solid reputation, Peter decided to break out on his own. He quickly became a sought-after magazine, book and logo designer, working with the likes of Basil Pao and Michael Palin, The Swire Group, the Hong Kong Philharmonic and many others.

In 2016, he left Hong Kong and returned to Auckland where he set up Peter Wong Design & Associates and continued to work until his final days.

By sheer longevity and a deep knowledge of design, Peter became something of a Hong Kong oracle in design circles, cheerfully doling out the same message for years: “Don’t depend on technology to solve your design problems!”

“You know what disappoints me?” he wrote to a friend a few months before he died. “Technology has taken over the natural creative ability of upcoming designers. They don’t rely on their brain. The first thing that comes to their mind to solve a problem is to switch on the computer! To me, the computer is a tool to finish the design... not conceive it.”

Peter’s “old-school” design process was to sketch out preliminary ideas with pen and paper and then put them aside to ferment overnight. In the morning he’d take a fresh look, tweak where needed, and then load them on the computer for a final look.

He said: “It’s more like spreading my thoughts on the bed. I know it’s weird, but it suits me.”

Peter is survived by his wife, Nikki, and two adult sons, Daryl and Ryan. n

Peter Wong
We are all the better for having worked, drunk and played with him.


Toh Han Shih finds there is much to learn from a painstaking, albeit complex, examination of one of the world’s most powerful financial behemoths.

How did China become the world’s second-largest economy? Will China’s huge debt spark a financial crisis? Will the debt woes of Chinese property firms precipitate a financial crisis? Making Sense of China’s Economy (Routledge) by Tao Wang, chief China economist at UBS Investment Bank in Hong Kong, seeks to answer these and many other questions.

There are elements in the Chinese economy that make it different from Western countries, one of which is the remnants of China’s communist past.

This is not to say that conventional economic rules or lessons from other countries do not apply to China, says Wang, who is a former IMF economist. “They do, and new challenges are immense. China’s economy is simply multidimensional, with some of those dimensions unique. Policies and strategies have constantly evolved to deal with the challenges that emerge. As a result, extrapolation or simple comparisons with other countries may be flawed when it comes to analysing China’s experience or predicting future outcomes or trends.”

Wang does not treat China’s economy in a simplistic manner but analyses it along multiple dimensions. One example is the country’s massive debt. China has one of the highest debt-to-GDP ratios in the world. The Bank of International Settlements estimated China’s total credit to the non-financial sector at 290 percent of GDP in 2020, up from 263 percent in 2019.

Wang cites the multiple levers which the Chinese government can exert in managing the economy. Beijing’s desire to balance economic growth and defuse debt problems, its control over banks and state-sector debtors, and the People’s Bank of China’s liquidity provision are likely to help China avoid any sharp credit slowdown, Wang explains.

The book does not give simplistic answers to the complex

problems which China faces. Not having had a typical debt crisis does not mean China will never have one, nor does it mean that the country has no major debt problems. The continued rise in debt can be problematic even if it never leads to a typical debt crisis.

A major contributor to China’s debt problem is its troubled property sector, exemplified by China Evergrande Group, the world’s most indebted developer, which reported RMB2.4 trillion (US$334 billion) of liabilities in 2022.

The Chinese government has a few ways to prevent a severe property sector downturn from triggering a financial crisis. But that does not mean a sharp property dip would not cause serious damage to the Chinese economy, be it in the form depressed economic activity, the inefficient use of resources, constraints on the People’s Bank of China’s ability to conduct monetary policy, or a knock to market confidence in the RMB exchange rate.

Wang commends the Chinese government for growing the economy to such a large scale but leaves open the verdict on whether Beijing can continue to be successful in this respect.

“The Chinese government’s adaptive and pragmatic policies and approach to development have played a critical role in the past,” she says.

“Will it be able to preserve that pragmatism in an increasingly ideologically charged and polarised world? Will there be a sufficiently robust self-correcting mechanism to help it in future trials and tribulations?”

Wang writes with deep knowledge, balance and nuance in describing the complexities of the Chinese economy. However, to appreciate this book requires some education in economics. A lay reader with no training in the subject might find it a struggle to get through the entire tome, but nonetheless will find it worthwhile since the book provides educational insights into the world’s second-largest economy.

Wang does not treat China’s economy in a simplistic manner but analyses it along multiple dimensions



You can take an Irishman out of Ireland, but you can’t take Ireland out of the Irishman. Martin Donovan obviously enjoyed this semi-autobiographical tale.

For Irish companies doing billions of dollars of business with China, and Dublin’s diplomats in Beijing, a vital opportunity to charm came when Xi Jinping visited Croke Park, the home of Ireland’s Gaelic games. The then vice-president was handed a football and invited to drop it to his best foot and punt it skywards. He didn’t disappoint his hosts – and is said to still cherish the photo.

It’s one of the many acts of friendship between Ireland and China over the past couple of centuries that Mark O’Neill’s Out of Ireland (Earnshaw Books) captures so well. O’Neill’s 14th book is more of a personal odyssey to understand his missionary grandfather’s life in China. It is also partly autobiographical while portraying Ireland’s bond with Asia, particularly China, and the people who brought this to life.

The O’Neill clan goes way back in Ulster, and they’ve had their ups and downs: changing the course of Irish history and emigrating in droves. Mark’s grandfather was a minister of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland whose mission opened schools and hospitals in remote Shenyang with a flock that still worships today as part of China’s statesanctioned Christian community.

Had it not been for Mark’s father, Desmond, deciding to let his guard down one evening over a glass of Guinness, this fascinating journey from England to Ireland, and then Asia to trace his grandfather’s story, might have been left untold. Post-war Britain was riven with prejudice based on social class and ethnicity so much that Mark’s father, a doctor from Belfast – and a Protestant at that – found it necessary to disguise his middle-class Ulster accent by taking elocution lessons and adopting the plummy tones of the English Home Counties.

That northern Irish brogue took Mark and his sister aback as their father played recordings of speeches by Irish public figures including Éamon de Valera, then still a thorn in the side of his opposite number, Winston Churchill and the British Empire.

The episode jolted Mark into an insatiable curiosity about his Irish heritage and the work of not only his grandfather, but also that of other missionaries in China, notably Catholic priests and nuns, who have educated and helped legions of Hongkongers.

Out of Ireland also has much to say about Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles, particularly what went on behind the headlines and eye-catching footage of bomb blasts. Mark covered Northern Ireland at a tense time in the mid-1970s when he worked for Nationwide, the nightly BBC current affairs programme.

Instead of working from a fortified downtown hotel and making do with media briefings, Mark rented a room in a shared house, wisely within a neighbourhood with less sectarian tension. He used a bicycle to get around the city and even joined a choir in a Republican stronghold to learn more about how people lived.

Mark was taking a closer look at a wall of graffiti one day in Belfast when a car came to a halt and an agitated young man jumped out to confront the journalist. All this while the engine revved. Mark was able to get back on his bike.

The Reverend Ian Paisley also had a way with tension. As a firebrand political leader, he dominated British and Irish TV screens when it came to news about the Troubles. We learn of how Paisley’s Free Presbyterian Church also turned its sectarian ire on the church of Mark’s grandfather – the longer established Presbyterian Church in Ireland, with intimidation of ministers attempting reconciliation –with the Republican enemy.

Yet the legacy of his grandfather’s church along with that of the Irish diaspora in Asia continues today. Mark has brought this charming but erudite story out of Ireland and back to Hong Kong via Shenyang, Shanghai and Tokyo, where we even find the Irish teaching the royal household. This Emerald Isle story will be valued across creeds and national boundaries.

O’Neill’s 14th book is more of a personal odyssey to understand his missionary grandfather’s life in China.


Peter Neville-Hadley finds more than a little food for thought in a new examination of Mongolia and its economic prospects.

They do things differently in Mongolia,” says Swedish financial paper Dagens Industri ’s Asia correspondent, Johan Nylander, in the introduction to his new survey of the economic prospects of that vast but thinly populated country.

But The Wolf Economy Awakens – Mongolia’s Fight for Democracy, and a Green and Digital Future shows that supposedly different Mongolia has suffered from the same uneven transition to a market economy as many other countries still emerging from the aftermath of Soviet central planning, and an all too familiar inheritance of Soviet traditions of corruption.

The main comparison that Nylander wants to make is with China and Russia, the two dictatorships that dwarf Mongolia and enclose it, and that are the sources of economic winds to which it must bend.

Both neighbours lack Mongolia’s robust democratic instincts, he points out, and while Mongolia still has corruption, there are also demonstrations in the streets against it that would be impossible in Beijing or Moscow. He also has a sense that both government and opposition parties are listening – the youthful prime minister, Luvsannamsrain “Oyuka” Oyun-Erdene, one of his interviewees, recently went out in person to speak to protestors, something certainly not seen in China since Zhao Ziyang’s foray into Tiananmen Square in May 1989.

With its youthful population, pro-business government, generous quantities of untapped natural resources and an international outlook forced upon it by a tiny domestic market, Mongolia might before long become a new Asian Tiger, Nylander suggests. This is a startling proposition for those who still think of the country in terms of nomads, livestock, cashmere and a history of highly successful mounted empire-building from Hungary to China.

His case for a possibly glittering economic future is unevenly and sometimes repetitiously made, often using overly generous lists of examples and overly long quotes from returnee Harvard-educated apparatchiks, diplomats and entrepreneurs, rich in utopian political pieties and piein-the-sky plans, but thin on concrete proposals.

But the author’s affection for Mongolia is clear, and he wears his heart on the sleeve of his deel – the traditional unisex gownovercoat of the herder – as he introduces a large cast of keen coders, start-up cheerleaders and those involved in digitising rural Mongolia to a degree already greater than that seen in many a more developed country. Although a nomadic herder may sometimes need to find a hill to get a good enough signal, in general the population can get most of its necessary interaction with government, its filing and form-filling, done on a smartphone.

Many of Nylander’s interviewees dream of a global presence and unicorn status for their digital enterprises, but his questioning of those and of more concrete projects is rarely penetrating, although his descriptions almost always end with a “but”. Caveats include the need for investment, for infrastructure and a stable legal basis for business activity in order to make projects feasible.

For now mining is the mainstay, and planned vast increases in already substantial sales of coal to China both for steelmaking and for power station use seem to ignore all discussion of the unavoidable necessity of leaving carbon resources in the ground, although these forecasts perhaps realistically assess Chinese future demand despite that country’s constant claims of reductions in fossil fuel consumption.

A discussion of how Mongolia’s natural wealth also includes vast potential for solar power generation in the sun-drenched and empty Gobi Desert, and wind power on the gusty steppe, seems somewhat detached, despite proposals for electricity exports to countries less wellendowed Asia-wide. But again, investment, infrastructure and a guarantee of returns protected from government rule changes will be needed.

The book is at its best when Nylander gets away from the cabals of capital Ulaanbaatar, to give us a glimpse of life in remoter corners such as the far west’s grim Khovd, or even the ger (felt tent) suburbs of the capital, swollen in size by those migrating from the countryside since independence.

Many of Nylander’s interviewees dream of a global presence and unicorn status for their digital enterprises


Former Beijing resident Peter Neville-Hadley plunges into a well-researched and thought-provoking account – ‘in language that’s of measured fury’ – of lesser-known reporting in China.

In Sparks – China’s Underground Historians and their Battle for the Future, former China correspondent Ian Johnson, nominally attached to The New York Times but largely independent at the time of his 2020 expulsion from the country, introduces China’s hidden historians and jianghu journalists.

Jianghu (rivers and lakes) refers both to the wilder margins of civilisation, where in classic stories there was freedom from official control, and to the outlaws who traditionally roamed there. Johnson tells the story of several modern-day Robin Hoods of the intellect, both writers and filmmakers, determined to redistribute a wealth of information to the poorly informed.

Free of any uneasy relationship with the desire to remain in China that sometimes muffles foreign reporting from inside the country, Johnson seems almost determined to touch on every single topic, from the early land reforms that saw the slaughter of a largely invented landlord class, through the Anti-Rightist Movement, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, Tiananmen Square, Tibet and Taiwan, to the recent protests in Hong Kong and the origins of Covid-19.

He summarises these events in language of measured fury as he describes the misery caused and the millions of lives lost. But it is the party, in its determination to mythologise itself out of responsibility for its own actions, that has selected these topics, and that has inspired in Johnson’s interviewees, a loose-knit community of selfappointed investigators, their determination to report the truth.

Once the received wisdom was that the introduction to China of the internet’s easy broadcasting and amplification of public opinion would inevitably bring about the death of dictatorship. Today, the wisdom is that unprecedented levels of surveillance, censorship and control have stifled all on-line debate. But here again, Johnson takes a contrary view.

The late dissident-astrophysicist Fang Lizhi wrote in 1990, “The [party’s] policy requires that any detail of history that is not in the interests of the Chinese Communists cannot be expressed in any speech, book, document or other medium.”

But the difference now, says Johnson, does after all lie in digital technologies, which have made possible the creation of a collective memory. To be sure, independent underground publications with tiny circulations existed in the past – this book’s title is inspired by one from 1960, the handwritten and mimeographed Spark , recently rediscovered. But these could be snuffed out by the denial of licences to print or publish, restrictions on the means of distribution and the destruction of physical copies. Today’s alternative thinkers rely on loopholes both technical and administrative – avoiding certain particularly dangerous topics and criticism that’s too present-tense; passing publications around on thumb drives; distributing to email lists too small to attract attention but whose recipients then forward in similar numbers to other contacts in the intellectual elite. It’s more like a relay race than conventional publication or broadcasting.

The ramping up of suppression, argues Johnson, is a sign that such trickles of opposition are effective, although it really only confirms that a paranoid party fears even whispered challenges to its legitimacy, but not that it has any good reason to do so. Its approach has always been self-destructively absolute.

Some interviewees, such as Yang Jisheng of Tombstone, a grim accounting of the true numbers of Great Leap Forward deaths, and Tan Hecheng of The Killing Wind , a gory account of one county’s Cultural Revolution-driven murders, have been translated into English and reached a wide audience, at least among China-watchers.

But the majority of Johnson’s subjects remain relatively unknown, hidden behind that Great Wall of defences against foreign contact, the language barrier. Their quiet heroism deserves wider acknowledgement, and perhaps Sparks is where that starts.

It’s essential reading for a more nuanced view of China.

Today’s alternative thinkers rely on loopholes both technical and administrative



Social media journalism. The crossover of a new century. A 2022 study in the US found Gen Zs get 50 percent of their news from social media, and only 4 percent from newspapers. The kids don’t care about your fancy broadsheet. They care about TikTok and Instagram. Fortunately for us in Hong Kong, the powers that be at Bytedance binned TikTok here years ago, so we’re all saved from that (insert prayer to your deity of choice here). But it’s interesting to see how the world of journalism is changing.

In 2022, I became the FCC’s first “social media journalist” member.

The strange thing is, I never wanted to be a journalist. I studied journalism at university, but only as a means to an end. Radio announcing was my first love. My eighth grade teacher wrote in my end-ofyear class book, “Keep talking Aaron, you’ll convince them one day.” Looking back, I think this was actually derogatory and aimed at my underdiagnosed ADHD, but I took it as a compliment and worked my way towards getting paid for incessant yapping. I’m a glass-half-full kinda guy.

Given that commercial radio outside of talkback is a dying breed thanks to the likes of Spotify, podcasting is the next best thing. So I have started podcasting. In fact, by the time this issue is out, there should be a podcast with the president of the FCC Lee Williamson. If you haven’t listened to it yet, you really should. It’s your duty as a member. Probably. I’m not sure it’s in the bylaws, but it should be. Anyway, podcasting is fun. If you’re going to interview someone, why not put it online?

Social media journalism, especially as a freelancer, involves long hours and crappy pay. But on the plus side, I don’t have to wear trousers or go to an office. Constantly

monitoring the news, watching tens of press conferences online each month, trawling through the word salads that are government press releases; it takes a special kind of abnormal to do this every single day. But I’m kind of addicted after the pandemic.

Now there is a very special breed on online personality called a KOL. Until I lived in Hong Kong, I had never heard of this “KOL”, even though newspapers dedicate sections of their editorial to them. I used to pronounce it “kohl”, but that might just be my German surname kicking in. K-O-L; Key Opinion Leader. It’s a very fancy way of saying “I’m online a lot and lots of people follow me”.

I have been accused of being a KOL. I say “accused” because I don’t really like the term. The whole concept goes against my very being. At university, it was drummed into us that our opinion was irrelevant and should never be in your copy. In the 21st century, this has completely gone out the window and every news article is laced with the author’s mindset. It makes me a little sad, to be honest. I try desperately to keep my opinion out as much as possible, and if it needs to be in there, it’s very clearly marked. With my nightly newsletter ( and online, I try to only give people the facts. Then it’s up to them to argue relentlessly among themselves in the comments. And perhaps unlike many with a sizeable following online, I read 99 percent of the comments. It’s highly amusing. There are some very strange people out there…

So the world of journalism is changing, and some might argue not for the better. But it is what it is, and until I either get cancelled or rudely awakened, I’ll keep doing what I do. n

On the plus side, I don’t have to wear trousers or go to an office.

What goes on inside @tripperhead’s head? Here’s your chance to find out, in a brand-new, topical and, er, coruscating column!


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