Feminist fictions

10 06 2017

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Fresh from ‘The Handmaiden’ and ‘The Dispossessed’, I think I have found a new favourite fiction genre – late 1970s and early 1980s feminist ‘sci fi’, books set in the future that speculate not (or not only) on developments in technology but in how societies can be run, how gender relations can be regulated and interestingly, in how language can be used as a tool by regimes to institute their worldview. All of these themes come together in Suzette Haden Elgin’s “Native Tongue.” Written in 1984, it is set in a United States where women have been stripped of their rights and become little more than the property of male ‘guardians’. At the same time, contact and trade have been established with alien races and the world’s economy is dominated by an inward-looking cabal of linguists who alone can act as interpreters and in-betweens between humans and alien races. It is among the women of this group, that a new idea emerges, to create a language only for women which will free them from the grip of patriarchal thinking…





Sexual Freedom

31 05 2017

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Over the weekend I caught up with the brilliant new TV adaption of one of my favourite recently-read books, The Handmaid’s Tale. It is a dystopian and brilliantly realised story about a woman who finds herself in a terrifying new world where women have been stripped of their rights and placed in a rigid, ritualistic hierachy of oppression: from well-coiffed but powerless society wives to domestic drudges known as “Marthas” and then “handmaidens,” the women whose sole purpose in society is to bear children. The book was a chilling thought experiment, and the TV series is just as compelling.

It made me wonder afterwards – what is the connection between sexual and political freedom? Can sexually repressed countries ever be politically free? To what extent has the oppression of women thoughout history been driven by the wish to control their sexuality? Or is it the other way around, is that just a “symptom” of a powerlessness that is primarily economic?





Hong Kong: horrible histories

27 05 2017

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Facts I learned from Jan Morris’s charmingly dated (it was written in the 1990s by an author most interested in British colonial history) book about Hong Kong:

  • The pre-colonial inhabitants of the area suffered from a “horror called Xhu Mao Bing, the Bristle Disease,whose victims found spiky bristles like pighairs (sometimes apparently fishscales, too} sprouting through their skin.” Curious, I looked this up online but couldn’t find any other reference to it anywhere.
  • In 1857 a Chinese nationalist plot poisoned the city’s bread supply, (presumably few Chinese ate bread in those days so it was a cunning way to target the British administrative elite). The dosage of arsenic was miscalculated however, so that the poisoning lead to mass European vomitting but not death, and the colonial regime survived.
  • The first ever hijacking of an aeroplane occurred in 1940 on a Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to Macau by sea pirates looking to diversify.
  • Smoking opium was legal until 1940.
  • Under the Japanese occupation, Queens Road Central was re-named Naka Meiji-dori and a monumental Shinto temple was planned for construction on the Peak (but blown up when the occupation ended).
  • It was not until 1981 that the census recorded more than 50% of the population had been locally born, rather than migrants from the mainland. So in other words, the influx of people (and money) from the mainland is nothing new. Rather, the brief relative lull during the 1980s and 1990s was the outlier.




Fever dream

21 05 2017

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“Fever Dream” is the woozily disorienting, and quietly terrifying, English language debut by Argentinian author Samanta Schweblin. A five star read.





HK: visual culture

7 05 2017

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Above, works from Tokyo illustrator Saki Obata at Wanchai’s Odd One Out, and below, the dreamy hyper-colour-saturated Hong Kong of local illustrator  penguin lab.

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Philosophical

7 05 2017

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Men Without Women

6 05 2017

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It has been a depressing few weeks for gay rights, with an ongoing witchhunt in Chenchnya leading to the imprisonment, torture and murder of gay men while closer to home, an Indonesian university successfully banned any gay people from attending. But there is also hope, this week arriving in the form of an English translation for the lovely, heart warming comic “My Brother’s Husband,” aimed at educating a mainstream heterosexual (Japanese) audience on homosexuality.

You can order it here.

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Also out of Japan this week, though not at all gay-related (despite the titled) is Harumi Murakami’s latest!