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Absent from duty for the 1997 Hong Kong handover



My father Jack Spackman said, when we arrived in Hong Kong in February 1967, his questions about what would happen in 20 years’ time when Britain’s lease on the New Territories expired were routinely brushed aside.

“With few exceptions, no-one wanted to talk about it,” he said. “Whether it was government officials, business people with Chinese interests, journalists – the common response was that it wasn’t something to worry about.”

Dad said exceptions included David Bonavia, Hong Kong-based stringer for The Times of London, and Dick Hughes, whose 1968 book Borrowed Place Borrowed Time was an early attempt to provide some answers. Continue reading

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Hong Kong 1967: Snapshots of my grandmother


Macau 1967 Perfectly composed amidst the chaos: My grandmother Doris Estelle Spackman, taken either just before or just after a Communist demonstration. Picture by Jack Spackman

Those first months in Hong Kong for your Young Girl Reporter are a series of snapshots which must be connected by the memories of others. Hong Kong in 1967 was a very different place to the city I left 20 years later. My memories are small but so was I. And it was a small place, on the verge of becoming something bigger.

Traces of an older society were still visible. One day my grandmother and I were walking on Macdonnell Road when we saw an old woman hobbling on bound feet. We were amazed that she could walk at all. Continue reading

Hong Kong 1967: So you say you want a revolution


Like a burst of spring thunder China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution arrived in Hong Kong in May 1967. The catalyst was a strike at a factory which made plastic flowers – one of the colony’s biggest exports at the time.

Labour disputes were not uncommon in Hong Kong, nor were violent clashes between workers and police. This time, however, there was a political element. The Little Red Book of Mao’s Thought was everywhere, along with loud and violent calls to overthrow “British fascism, imperialism and tyranny.”

Bloody clashes between demonstrators and police outside Government House on 22 May led to 167 arrests and prompted David Bonavia, The Times of London’s Hong Kong stringer, to observe that the worlds of Mao Tse-tung (Mao Zedong) and Somerset Maugham had come face to face – and both had retired baffled. Continue reading

Collard greens and Vegemite, it’s a cultural thing


I don’t know much about golf, but when Australian Adam Scott won the US Masters in 2013, I did know that he would bear the heavy cultural burden of choosing the menu for the following year’s Masters Champions Dinner.

Way back in 1997, Fuzzy Zoeller earned his own special place in the annals of golfing history by suggesting that then first-time Masters champion Tiger Woods would be putting fried chicken and collard greens on the menu.

I had to get my dad Jack Spackman to explain that one. I was familiar with fried chicken but I’d never heard of collard greens. Jack was living in California by then, so was more up to speed on matters of American culture. As in most things for that nation, it turned on the issue of race. Continue reading

Silly streak seals pressman’s fate at Dragon Boat race


There was even more colour and movement than usual at Hong Kong’s premier dragon boat races when the 1974 craze for running through a public place naked reached the shores of Stanley. They called it the Streak. Your Girl Reporter was on the scene. “Don’t look, Sally!” But it was too late. I’d already been mooned.  Continue reading

My secret life of crime revealed


It will shock you, I know, to learn that Your Girl Reporter is not averse to the occasional act of thievery. Every so often I am reminded of past misdeeds which trouble my conscience to greater and lesser degree. The recent publication of a new book by journalist, author and artist Derek Maitland was one such reminder.

The Fatal Line documents the biggest public enquiry ever held into Australia’s commercial broadcasting industry from the ringside perspective of Maitland and his fellow whistleblower at Sydney’s TCN Channel Nine.

I knew Maitland as one of the noisy, amorphous group of Hong Kong journalists on whose fringe I dwelt in those years of childhood when you don’t care what people do for a living. So it was a surprise years later to see his name on a bookshelf in England. And it gives me enormous joy that accuracy enables me to begin my tale of crime and misdeed with the following observation:

It was a dark and stormy night. Continue reading

A dangerous little question: Why shouldn’t Hong Kong people decide?


Why shouldn’t Hong Kong people decide what happens to Hong Kong? It’s a simple question with a straightforward and, I fear, unchanging answer – China won’t tolerate it. The received wisdom was that Hong Kong people weren’t interested in democracy, they just wanted to get on with making money untroubled by questions of politics, so why even ask the question.

Unfortunately for the received wisdom, every time the question was asked – no matter how obliquely – it was answered quite differently by the people most closely affected.

Continue reading

Lessons from an Old School master


I was 17 years old and filling time on my father Jack Spackman’s monthly computer magazine while I decided what to do with my life. I wasn’t expecting it to be hard work. I certainly wasn’t expecting any great responsibility. Then he got sick just before press day and left me holding the production baby. Suddenly I was in charge of the whole thing.  Continue reading

Collard greens and Vegemite, it’s a cultural thing


I don’t know much about golf, but when Adam Scott won the US Masters in 2013 I did know that he would have the honour of choosing the menu for the following year’s Champions Dinner. A cultural minefield, Your Girl Reporter warned – look what happened when the Big Baxter suggested Vegemite to celebrate Australia’s victory in the Americas Cup.

Continue reading

To break an em-rule on a wheel


Tight budgets and primitive equipment didn’t stop Computer-Asia reporting on the latest technology, but they made for a lot more fun and, arguably, a better product. Continue reading

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