Sunday, February 22, 2009

hong kong (about a month overdue)

1 A Day in HK < from mid january>

So I arrived late last night in HK and had a pretty good day. The hostel sucks but other then that things have been going about as well as I could ask for. Last night I arrived at around 10pm and everything at Hong Kong airport was very fast and very efficient- on par with dallas fort worth (which was empty when I xferred from my eze → dfw to dfw → nrt marathon) and the tokyo airport for the best airports i've ever been at. Much much better then Tokyo was the commute from the airport to downtown. Whereas in Tokyo the options are, $300 cab (no joke), a $30 express train that takes 1.5 hrs, switching between an express train and then a local train for about $22 that takes a bit longer then 1.5 hrs or paying $12 and taking 2 hours and taking a local and then a non express train in Hong Kong it was about $13 and took 25 minutes. (I realize that Tokyos got a lot of people and real estate is v. expensive etc. but, I took that journey 5 times over the course of a month)

The hostel sucks. I arrived at around 11pm and the first thing I need to do when entering the building is fill out a piece of paper with my name, nationality, passport # and date of birth. Evidently its to prevent crime or something in the area. I should get a picture of the entrance but everything was boarded down with those metal shutters you see everywhere. Great start. There are people just 'hanging out' in these corridors of closed shops, talking on cell phones or just loitering. Not the kind of place I want to be- although certainly a lot safer then if I were to walk past the same situation in a US city.

Anyways, the upstairs looks like something straight out of a jackie chan movie. You know, the scene where there are like 50 triads chasing after Jackie so he runs through an old decrepit multi story building that also houses illegal immigrants working in a sweat shop and all looking at jackie with sad eyes when he busts in so then he must also protect as he fights improbably with random household appliances against guys on motorcycles with nun chucks. I'll post pictures eventually (I remember that I'm behind on the japan ones and will get to those later as well) but keep in mind that this place sucks. I guess its a decent experience though as on the hostel information sheet it mentions that “more then 70% of hong kong residents live in these types of buildings”

Luckily my hostel is decorated decently on the interior, but I'll be moving out of here after 1 more night. I have definitely seen some evidence that that 70% figure is probably true. There are some very nice parts of Hong Kong (which I've seen a tiny bit of but will see more of later) but one thing I have definitely noticed is that a lot of buildings look “okay” on the outside but once you enter inside they are old, falling apart and not taken care of at all. Its kindof weird, and I don't think I've done a very good job capturing it with my camera ( although thats a difficult task to say the least) but on the street level I don't think I've ever seen as many signs hawking rolex's anywhere else then in Hong Kong, but often you look at that same building, or the one next to it and you see half the apartment units look like the walls are falling apart and have what look to be 20 year old air conditioning units and a bunch of laundry hanging out the window.

Anyways, my main goals for the day were... see a museum, find a new place and do some research on finding a pingpong coach. I did well on both counts. For a new place to stay it seemed that it is impossible (or very very difficult) to find a nice place with a good location for under $100 a night. But I found one for close to $50. Thanks to Noah and Leon, who pointed me to the website I was able to book the ramada (no dad it is not the peninsula hotel) for literally 1/4th its normal fare. Awesome. Unfortunately its prices skyrocket back once Chinese new years starts, but i'll bite the bullet for that 1 or 2 nights and stay somewhere not so nice again.

Re: pingpong, I found a club and will get a lesson tomorrow. Price was a tiny bit more then I would like, but if he's good, and I think he can help me a lot then I'll pressure him for a discount based on me getting a lot of coaching over the next 10-12 days that I am here. I also made a post on a message board about coaching and someone gave me the number of a guy who was on the Hong Kong table tennis team- which basically means he is insanely good ( and he speaks english reasonably well or so i'm told) so I will probably try and explore that option as well. But at my level, given my lack of any playing over the past 4 years, the most important thing will be finding a coach who communicates and meshes with me well.

After pingpong I had a bite to eat, went back to the hostel, took it easy and then headed for the Wednesday night horse race. When I was there I tried to find some white people (there are a lot of them here) to get a drink with and have a good time. Luckily right through the gate I met 2 guys, one whose teaching english, and his cousin who was visiting.

In general I really dislike betting on things that I know I am a dog in. But this was pretty fun. Thanks to the Hong Kong dollar being “weak” (its pegged at 7.8:1), I was able to make bets of 20 HKD which, although being only truly worth about $2.50, felt like a lot more. You get to be really close to the action at this horse track, and another added attraction that makes it really cool is how downtown the track is. Standing by the track you just see big buildings all around you.

The highlight (or lowlight) of the night was when, after a few beers we made one of the cousins pick a horse by randomly pointing at the list with his eyes closed. Of course he picked the horse that had the lowest chance of winning at something stupid, like 50 to 1. The other cousin then goes on some rant about how his friend last time couldn't win anything to save his life and did that (picked with his eyes closed) for his last race and won. So we had to bet on this pathetic horse that had never won anything before. So what the hell- whats $2.50? We all place bets on the horse. The race starts and we don't hear anything about it. Okay whatever. Then about ¼ of the way in, we see it on the screen (we were at track level so we could only see the big screen when they were on the other side) that its in 2nd place. And we are just kindof laughing saying “oh yeah sure it'll burn out, it'll burn out”. Then it jumps into 1st place. But still the race is about a 1/3 of the way done, not even and again, most horses who are in the lead in the beginning lose- they just lose steam being out in front. By about halfway through its fallen back into 2nd and we're there saying oh yeah i'm sure he'll finish last now. But then we keep watching (of course) and he's hanging in there. Seems to be pretty close to the leader. I realize (and say) “oh man jockey is going nuts. The horse in the lead is starting to lose his lead and a new challenger is coming around from the other corner. We're getting excited. “Come on!!!!” we're all screaming. We see them running toward the finish, 3 horses neck and neck. We're screaming “COME ONNNNN”, the guys behind us are screaming something in Chinese and the group of Brits down the track are screaming too. And in an instant its over. We need the replay to confirm it, but we lose by literally 4 inches. What a bummer.

I picked one winning horse, his name was Engineering Wonder. I should've called it a night after that one.

Anyways in other news, I had food poisoning again ( I guess I didn't chronicle it the 1st time it happened- it was right after the Hiroshima post) and both times were very bad- ie, I couldn't take/hold anything down, lot of pain, lot of lying in bed/ talking to my mom asking why me.

/// i should've posted this a while ago and in general im pretty bad about this whole blogging thing. but eh maybe blogging just isn't for me. since hk i went to sydney for 3 days then new zealand for 2 weeks with noah and leon and getting to see a good friend from high school as well. good times all around. then i flew home, spent 3 great days with my parents and now i'm in toronto with kristin- enjoying the chance to see and catch up with a bunch of good friends.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

the euphoria machine

hey all-

i'm in a hostel in tokyo with kristin right now. the past week shes been here has been great- we got to see tokyo together and just got back from kyoto. unfortunately, kristins got food poisoning (something i went through right in hiroshima) so we're a bit bummed out she has to go through this and that there is nothing we can do.

I'll post pictures and whatnot later (sorry guys!) i promise.

anyways, on a totally different topic kristin and i went to the mori art museum a while ago and we saw a picture talking about something called the "euphoria machine". we both found it extremely interesting, so i took a picture of the text (when no one was looking) and because i couldn't find it on the internet, i've copied it below:


The Euphoria Machine: Preliminary Reverse Engineering Field Laboratory - Raqs Media Collective tokyo, November 2008

What is the Euphoria Machine?

The Euphoria Machine Project is a recently instigated, but potentially long term Raqs project aimed at an artistic and critical investigation of the way in which the frenzy of economic growth and wealth creation acquires potent and symbolic and cultural forms.

Euphoria Machine is the name we give to the apparatus of desire and cognition that seeks to create a consensus within society for boundless energy and wealth, and effaces all the doubts and dissent about the ways in which this energy and wealth must be acquired.

Today, when there is a general perception of a systemic crisis of the global financial apparatus, fueled by a crisis of sentiment and the inverse of euphoria, a "reverse engineering experiment" on a machine that doesn't quite seem to be working as well as it is supposed to, seems to be timely.

Sometime after the second world war, Edward Louis Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, a key strategist of war-time propaganda campaigns and the intellectual god-father of the advertising and public relations industry, applied a key discovery he had made during the fashioning of the war propaganda to the future success of Capitalism. The discovery was this - in no other war in Human History, had wars been fought in the name of democracy, peace and prosperity. They had been fought for land, for the expansion of a particular dynasty or ruling groups' power, for religious zeal and for other concretely political purposes. The propaganda campaigns of the second world war however, successfully named a different kind of motivation for war - the desire for happiness, peace, prosperity and liberty. The identification of common virtues with the war machine proved to be a very successful motivator.

Once the war ended, Bernays realized that the same process could be replicated in "peacetime" - only this time, people must be made to realize that a contributing their labour to capital, or buying goods that they did not necessarily need (in order to keep the machine of capital running) could be done by identifying these acts with basic human drives for beauty, health, happiness, love, joy and contentment. So, people were told that they could feel a profound happiness, if they bought a shoe, or went to work in a call centre. This was a subtle but significant shift, in that it divorced a good from its function. A shoe, for instance was no longer something that covered and protected your feet, instead, it became a key to your personal well being. A job was no longer something you did to earn a living: it became a mark of your special identity as a human being. The building blocks of Capital were internalized as personal drives.

To us, this marriage between deep seated internal drives and the running of the bast impersonal network of a global economy is the secret of the Euphoria Machine. Is it also the material that fuels the machine. The extraction of this material both requires as well as results in the subordination of the complexity of human life experiences to the needs of capital.

It is a short distance from desiring a thing for the feeling we are told its possession will induce to acquiring stakes in things that do not yet exist simply because we are told that the calculus of prosperity depends on the acquisition and transaction of virtual assets. The current financial crisis emerges from a drive to acquire and transact things that are notional rather than real. Thus we have notional assets, notional debts underwritten by some very real transaction costs involved in the transfer and exchange of notional assets and debts. It is when the real costs overwhelm the notional returns that we experience the opposite of euphoria. Currently, the Euphoria Machine's exhaust only produces despair.

This apparatus - Euphoria Machine - takes (for us) the form of an imaginary machine - a meta machine that works as the conceptual engine of the desire for the perpetual energy and limitless economic growth.

The current hype around the so-called "Indian" economy, both within India, and elsewhere in the world (despite the easy gestures towards "doomsday" in the global economy), is an instance of the working of the Euphoria machine.

At earlier times, the excitement around the post-war economic boom in Japan, or the rise of the "Asian Tiger" economies in the Nineteen Eighties, or the current mania around the Chinese economy, as well as the earlier "boom" periods in transatlantic and western European economies are all instances of the Euphoria Machine at work.

The key product of the Euphoria Machine is processed perception. The perception that all "growth" is wonderful, that happiness can be indexed by GDP, that there is such as thing as an "Indian" Economy, and that this thing known as the "Indian Economy" is booming. Even the idea that there is such a thing known as "Indian" Art, a small but symbolically significant cog in the machine of the Indian Market in niche high value goods is booming. All these are products, and by products of the working of the Euphoria Machine.

The iteration of this Project at the Mori At Museum for the "Chalo! India" Exhibition takes the form of the processional elaboration of the "reverse engineering" of the Euphoria Machine at work. We start with the assumption that we know the machine exists. The projects intent is not to prove or demonstrate its existence. Its proofs are all around us, in plans, projections, advertisements, policy statements, blueprints, balance sheets, reports and so on.

Instead, the project aims to analyze its constituent parts, their operations and their interconnections in such a manner as to show how the "fuel" (human drives and desires) is combusted and how that energy runs the moving parts of the Machine so as to achieve the desired end.


I found this pretty intense. Some random thoughts

>I just finished reading guns, germs and steel and beyond it being excellent at arguing against still prevalent ideas about racial superiority that still transcend our culture it made me realize that societies where people have material possessions have only existed for a short period of time. Prior to this, we were hunter gatherers where all items people owned must be carried etc. Have we humans evolved in the this brief time period? Do we typically only like things when we buy them because hunter gatherers were never able to keep things so they only enjoyed the initial act?

>Is it true that wwII was really only fought for peace, prosperity and democracy like it was said? I find this hard to believe given hitler (and japans) quest for domination that was not unlike that of Napoleon, Charlemagne and other past heads of state. But, I am by no means an expert on this so i'm curious what others say. the ideas of mass marketing to appeal directly to the ideas of love, beauty etc I can imagine reach untold levels in the recent past - but I have a hard time believing they were non existent before

>I need to think about this some more but Kristin and I visited my homestay family for a dinner. And seeing the girls, and how happy they were is/ was amazing. I don't know how to explain it, but these 2 girls play, laugh and have a good time all day long. I think if someone wants to find real happiness they need to observe it in someone else and find out what makes it work for them. because happiness by virtue of consumption doesn't exist (as far as i know).

thats all for now- best wishes for a happy new year in 2009!