About McPherson's Rant


McPherson’s Rant is an old Scots Folk Song about a Robin Hood Type Character who was hanged.

There is no connection, unless you count the “rant” part.  The world’s a strange place and sometimes a “rant” at absurdity and unfairness is just what’s required.

Here you can expect to find examples of stupidity, irony and idiocy , especially relating to Hong Kong, and with particular attention to the SCMP, and its’ letters page. A common problem with many blogs is their failure to find something new to say, I find the SCMP, and it’s letters page, provides plenty of ammunition on a daily basis and will reference them frequently. If you have your own letter not getting published, put it on our comments section.





Interview with Ex-Scotland Scrum Half Andy Nicol

(This article was written recently for BC Magazine and is reproduced with permission.)

It’s Sevens Long lunch time again soon in Hong Kong, Friday 16th September at Grand Hyatt.  This year the guest speakers are flanker Richard Hill of England, with 71 England caps and five Lions caps, and ex-Scotland Captain, Andy Nicol with 23 caps at Scrum Half.

Nicol, who famously led Scotland to an upset victory over an unbeaten England in the 2000 Six Nations, was in ebullient form when BC Magazine spoke to him recently

Nicol was last in Hong Kong in 2005, en-route to Clive Woodward’s disastrous Lion’s Tour; previously he played in the sevens here, in 1992 for the Barbarians at the old Government Stadium; in 1993 he returned with Scotland to the new Stadium, and then in ‘94 he played at the Hong Kong Football Club tens.

“Hong Kong is just the most amazing place.” Said Nicol, all three years were incredible and many a long night was had in Wanchai and Lan Kwai Fong.”

In fact Nicol has another reason to love Hong Kong, having kicked off the relationship with the woman who would become his wife in that venerable old Hong Kong institution, Joe Bananas, and cemented it, in another Hong Kong institution, The infamous Dragon Bar from the Hong Kong Hilton, transplanted to Scotland.  Nicol explains: “I met my future wife in Joe Bananas in 1993. I was playing with Scotland in the sevens and Janet was in holiday with her great friend Janie McLaren, the daughter of legendary commentator Bill McLaren. We first met at a function in the HSBC building, hosted by Willie Purves for the Scotland team, on the Wednesday before the tournament. But it was in Joe Bananas on the Sunday night that our romance officially started! We spent our wedding night in a hotel in Scotland called Kinfauns Castle, which was owned by James Smith who used to run the Hong Kong Hilton where we had both stayed in HK. The infamous Dragon Boat Bar was moved from HK to Perthshire and we enjoyed a few drinks reminiscing about how we met!

Nicol started playing rugby at age 6 in his hometown of Dundee and went on to his senior career with Dundee High School Former Pupils and Bath.  His international career started on 18th January 1992.  As Nicol explains: “I was 20 years old and was playing for Dundee HSFP in the 2nd division of the Scottish Leagues. The week before I had played in front of 800 spectators for Dundee v Ayr and just one week later, I played in front of 60,000 at Murrayfield for Scotland v England.

That baptism of fire ended in defeat, however there was the famous 2000 triumph to come, when asked to describe the events of that day Nicol had this to say: “The music played before Scotland ran out of the tunnel had changed just before this game to a wonderful pipe tune called ‘Highland Cathedral’. It builds to a wonderful crescendo and we planned to run out at the same time as this happened. To do this we locked the changing room door and one of the staff had a stopwatch going because it had been planned with military precision. The touch judge started knocking on the door to get us to run out but we were having none of it. As the knocks got more and more angry we stood firm and, just before the touch judge was going to knock the door down, I led the team out at exactly the right time as the pipes blasted out the crescendo. My abiding memory of that game was how cold I was at the end, I’ve never experienced weather quite like it that day. The pitch resembled a swimming pool at the end but it was also bitterly cold. When I went up the steps at Murrayfield to receive the Calcutta Cup from Princess Anne, I have no recollection of what she said to me because, by this stage, I was so cold and so wet all I wanted to do was jump in a hot bath. Still enjoyed the picture though!”

With the impending British and Irish Lions Visit to Hong Kong BC asked Nicol for his thoughts.  He said: “I think it is a brilliant idea the Lions playing in HK. It has been tried with some success, with NZ playing Australia, but I expect the Lions will be even bigger due to the large expat community. The franchise is one of the strongest in world sport already, the shirt is one of the biggest selling shirts on the globe, this game will only make it bigger.”

In fact Nicol was on two Lions Tours, which he describes in an understated way as “quite interesting!” He says: “My Lions career is quite interesting because although I went on 2 Lions Tours, this does not tell half the story! My first tour was in 1993 in New Zealand and I was flown in as a temporary replacement as cover for Welsh Scrum-Half Robert Jones who had taken ill. I was there for 6 days and during that time I sat on the bench for the Lions v Taranaki, got on for the last 6 minutes, then got sent home the next day. So my first Lions tour was 6 days and 6 minutes of rugby and that was the longer of my two tours! In 2001, I didn’t make the squad but I went to Australia with a supporter’s tour. Now everyone knows what happens on those trips, you drink, fall down and then drink some more. This was my ‘ training ‘ schedule as we went round Oz, from Brisbane where the Lions won the first test, through Melbourne where Australia leveled the series and up to Sydney for the deciding test match. On the Friday night before that match, I received a phone call from Donal Lenihan the Lions Manager, enquiring about my fitness. Lying through my teeth I said I was fine and asked why he was asking. He informed me that there was an injury to one of the players and, when he told me it was Austin Healy, I thought, that’s such a shame because he is such a nice guy! So, having spent the previous 2 weeks sampling every bar in the Australian Eastern seaboard, I was asked to sit on the bench and be the replacement scrum half for the final deciding match. Probably, it turned out for the best, as I was not needed to go on to the field of play but, just to round off the most bizarre 24 hours of my life, when I went back into the changing room after the game, my number, No 20, was pulled out of the hat for the drugs test! All I can say is, thankfully, they do not test for alcohol!

Since Nicols’ last cap Scotland have endured some pretty torrid and tortuous results as they struggled to adapt to the new level of professionalism, BC asked Nicol his thoughts on the current Scottish rugby set up:  “There is no doubt that professional rugby has not been a friend of Scottish Rugby. Since professionalism in 1996, there have been a few highs but many more lows as Scotland, as a country, failed to adapt to and embrace professionalism properly. We suffered from terrible infighting between the traditional clubs and the centrally run districts that the SRU decided was the best route for Scotland to take when the sport was opened up. It is only really in the last few years that we seem to have found some sort of balance in the Scottish game and, coincidently, the performance of the national team has improved. Scotland struggles on two counts in particular and they are, lack of playing numbers and lack of private investment into the professional game. Until we see increased levels in both, Scotland will still struggle at Pro Teams level.  On how to enhance the sport in Scotland Nicol had this to say: “Government investment is key. Too many people in Westminster or Holyrood are happy for the private schools to develop the game at grass roots level. There has to be much more emphasis on getting our kids doing active sports, not just rugby, and key to this are good facilities. We are not blessed with the best weather in Scotland yet we insist on trying to encourage kids to take up the sport when it is freezing cold and pitches are waterlogged. I know it is radical, but I would move to summer rugby for kids to allow them to experience rugby in the best weather and hence, conditions we have.”

HK has always had a large Scottish community, who were and are always very supportive at Sevens time. To try to capitalize on this latent support a new team, Hong Kong Scottish with links to London Scottish will enter the Premiership division this season.  There are now 5 Scottish Under 20 players with Hong Kong Scottish, as well as Andy Hall, Sam Pinder and David Tait all playing out here, plus HK-born Graeme Morrison and John Barclay in the Scotland team alongside Jim Hamilton who has a HK Chinese grandmother. We asked Nicol if there should be more focus in the Scottish set up on players from abroad, he had this to say: “I was working for the BBC at Melrose so was delighted to see HK Scottish playing there. There are so many Scots all round the world but especially in HK that I think it is a great idea and if they ever need a guest coach!” He went on: “I played with Andy Hall and Sam Pinder and look forward to catching up with them on my trip. Scotland need to pull on all players that are qualified where ever they are playing in the world but HK Scottish should help in this regard.”

With the impending world cup, BC thought it prudent to ask Andy his thoughts on Scotland’s potential, with confidence he stated: “I fully expect Scotland to qualify for the knockout stages as they have done in every World Cup to date. The tough game is obviously Argentina but I think Scotland are peaking just when Argentina look like they are slightly passed their best of 4 years ago.” He went on: “ I cannot wait for Scotland v England at Eden Park in Auckland, it will be awesome. The carrot of winning this game will be to avoid playing the hosts New Zealand in the quarters.”

There is some criticism in both non-rugby and rugby circles regarding the stop-start nature of the current game and like many Nicol have thier own thoughts, when asked if he could change two rules of rugby, what would they be, he replied instantly: “Advantage over when the ball is kicked. This will stop teams going for the drop goal knowing they have a penalty if it misses, and something has to happen to scrums and the engagement. Just about every scrum is reset and we waste too much time watching the forwards mess about.”

As this reporter is a scrum-half and thus only interested in scrum-halves we asked Nicol whether he saw himself as a ninth forward or a back, he had this to say: “Throughout my international career, I battled with 2 great Scottish scrum halves in Gary Armstrong and Bryan Redpath. Gary was definitely a ninth forward and Bryan had a fantastic pass so I tried to place myself between the two on the scrum half spectrum if you like. I had a good enough pass to get the backs moving, a reasonable break also but I could also play the physical stuff with the forwards as well. The ex internationalists that I am in touch with are a mix of forwards and backs, which proves that I was a bit of both really!

We asked Andy what the highlights and low points of his career were and he was quick to answer.

“Highlights were winning my 1st cap, every cap after that was a bonus as my dream was to emulate my grandfather who got one cap in 1932, to do this and win another 22 was beyond my expectations.  And of course winning that Calcutta Cup match in 2000, and winning the Heineken cup with Bath in 1998.  My least favourite part of my career was every loss and every injury.”

Finally as a parting shot, we asked Nicol what were his plans for the future?  He replied: “I tried coaching when I stopped playing but did not enjoy it. Hopefully, I will be involved with the BBC for some time yet as I love being involved in international rugby especially the Six Nations.”




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National Education

I’ve mentioned Peter Lok before on this, blog, here is his latest diatribe from Todays SCMP.
A bad case of double standards

I refer to the letter by Charles Chow (“Human rights violations create national and moral education dilemma”, August 24).Would he care to explain why it is OK for American presidents to promote national and moral education by exhorting their citizens to back the “my country, right or wrong” idea and putting down those who believe “me first, my country second”, but it is not OK for China to do likewise?

It is not as if America has not suppressed dissenting voices, it is only that it does so more with foreign dissenting voices than its own.

The invasions of Cuba and Vietnam are prime examples of such external suppression. In the case of Vietnam, the US sought to stop what it saw as the domino effect.

Internally, soldiers did fire on students who were demonstrating against the conduct of the Vietnam war.

Basically, America does not like to see a foreign country putting its house in order to be able to quickly rival it, which is what China has done.

Peter Lok, Chai Wan

Ach, where do you start with this Pish? Lok loves China, to me an illogical position for an educated man, ergo!

I’m no fan of American foreign policy, but as Churchill said: “You can always rely on them to do the right thing, after they’ve exhausted all the other possibilities.”

But regardless of America’s faults, what we are talking about here is National Education in a Hong Kong context. The government wants to introduce courses in our schools to teach kids to love China. Fair enough.

But a mature country, one that is comfortable in and of itself, would educate their citizens about the good and the bad, China accepts no criticism, least of all self-criticism, hence Mao is still a hero despite being a murderous bastard, so when they say they want national education, rest assured, The dead of the Great Leap Forward, the victims of the Cultural Revolution, the dead from the Square in ’89, and the ongoing persecution of millions of people, will not be part of that education, therefore, call a spade a spade and call it indoctrination Mr Lok.

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How HK got Sevens into the Olympics

This post was actually written for the South China Morning Post’s Sevens Supplement last year.

“I remember a big South Sea Islander saying that, in his view, the Hong Kong  sevens were really the Olympic games of Rugby Union… The Hong Kong event captures all the really good things the game has to offer – splendid organization, wonderful sporting spirit, universal camaraderie, admirable field behaviour…” Bill McClaren RIP

Sevens Rugby is now an Olympic Sport, due, in no small measure to the reinvention of the game in Hong Kong.  It was only ever an end of season run about until Hong Kong came along and turned it into one giant party that echoed across the rugby world.

In 1985 I was on a train to Cardiff to see Scotland play Wales.  I was sharing beer and banter with some Welsh exiles, they were wearing Hong Kong Sevens Rugby shirts, miners hats with obligatory drinking tubes and extolling the excesses of: “The Best Tour in the World…ever…” Scotland lost but I resolved to go to Hong Kong one day.

I was at the inaugural World Cup Sevens in Edinburgh in 1993. It was cold.  It was wet, it was miserable. England won.  I thought about Hong Kong.

I finally toured here in 1995, and loved it so much I came back and made Hong Kong my home. How else could I guarantee myself a ticket each year?

Now I’m one of the Stadium announcers, it’s a far cry from a wet and windy, miserably cold Murrayfield.

I met a girl in the South Stand that first year, I met another one the year after, many people do.  It’s best to tread carefully in the initial seduction, some of those outfits are confusing, especially after a day in the sun and ten jugs of beer, but opportunity will knock.  Each year I find myself wondering just  how many kids are at the sevens today because their parents met in the South Stand, and in the frenzied heat of the moment, or the heat of a spring monsoon, decided it seemed like a good idea to perhaps hang out for a while!

How many kids have been inspired to say one day I’ll play on that hallowed turf.  How many old men, look fondly at the days when they were a player…in the South Stand…and like me, forlornly wish to be again.  Be warned Sevens virgins, Cupid drops his arrow and picks up an odd shaped ball when the South Stand fills up.  I could regale you with some fantastic Sevens stories involving Cupid and his devious ways, but Kai Tak rules still prevail in this town, even if Kai Tak doesn’t.

I love the contradiction of the Sevens, people travel from all over the world and many can barely remember what happened.  They just know they had a party.  There was a time when only stamina could see you through, drinking all night in Wanchai then heading to the Stadium at 7am to avoid the South Stand queue, not for the faint hearted.  And then around 1997 God invented Vodka Red Bull and suddenly 72 hour sessions were within reach of mere mortals.

Of course in Hong Kong it’s not only a 72 hour party, include the pre-sevens events plus recovery time and your looking at a minimum of 7 days.  This year I’ll kick off at the Manilla Tens the weekend  before, have a water break on the Monday and Tuesday and then play the full second half right through to Monday via Kowloon RFC’s Rugbyfest and the Hong Kong Football Club tens.

It’s a matter of record that the Scots played a hugely significant role in the history of Hong Kong in its Western Entrepot guise, not to mention it’s Opium dealings.  So it’s fitting that two of the three founders of the Hong Kong Sevens, were Scottish; Ian Gow and Duncan McTavish.  The Hong Kong Sevens served as the impetus for the game to emerge from the backwaters, on to the global stage and now the pinnacle of Olympic inclusion finally proves that rugby is inclusive and truly is a game for all.

Of course the vital catalyst in the evolution of Sevens was the way the community in Hong Kong, shouted: “Lets party,” and from that very first tournament in 1976, wholeheartedly embraced an event that allowed them to let their hair down or put more hair on, dress up or dress down, and consume copious quantities of beer in the hot glow of the tropical sun.

Lomo, Shuster, Gregan, Cullen and a host of others, a veritable pantheon of rugby gods, not invented here, but the Hong Kong crowds invested in their ability to entertain and roared with approval, an appreciative and inebriated adoration worthy of these giants of the game, and this roar of appreciation has finally and deservedly echoed all the way to the IOC.

So now Sevens is an Olympic Sport and we, all of us, are the only reason it’s there, without Hong Kong we would probably have to suffer the pain of watching Softball, or worse Roller Sports in 2016. So while we look forward to this weekend, give yourself a cheer and a pat on the back, it’s all down to  Hong Kong.

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Calum’s Road

I recently read a book called Calum’s Road, and it impresssed, depressed and moved me. I just learned it is to be made into a film which and should make a fascinating human interest story.

I recommend it to anyone who is interested in a forgotten type of character, and it motivated me to give you a synopsis.

The journey is a common motif in literature, witness Homer’s Odyssey, Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, or more recently Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

Each of these, and countless others, generally subscribe to a simple format, the protagonist embarks on his quest and through trial and tribulation, learns something about himself.

If the journey is a parable of adventure and self-discovery, what can we make of a man whose journey is to build the road, with no other allegorical intent other than he wishes it to revive his community?

Calum MacLeod was a Gael, living on an island off the West Coast of Scotland, the Hebridean Island of Raasay, and Calum had watched his community on the South side of the Island wither and die for want of a two-mile stretch of road until there was only himself and his wife left. Calum would tell of when there was a thriving community in Arnesh, his native village, and how for more than 60 years, he, and his father before him, petitioned the various government departments to build a road to save the community. To no avail.

And so it was that sometime in the middle of the sixties, a man in his fifties, set out from his croft, with a homemade wooden wheelbarrow, a pick, an axe and a shovel as well as a copy of a book called Road Making and Maintenance, written by a fellow Scot and published in 1900. He walked two miles before he laid down his tools and commenced his return journey that would take the best part of 20 years as well as 3 wheelbarrows, six picks, six shovels, five sledge hammers, four spades and one crowbar.

Calum MacLeod built his road and it’s known the world over as Calum’s Road. He was a man of a dying culture, and Calum was of a type of man we see ever more rarely, a type of man extinct in the material excess of the Western world, found only, still, in those areas where men toil by the dictates of the seasons and where the time is measured not by any clock or timepiece but by phases of life, where there’s no television or internet to while away the hours in dumb passivity. This toil is not in pursuit of leisure time, but for improvement, both his own, a characteristic of the poor but educated community that existed in Scotland at the turn of the 19th century; and his immediate environment.

What can we make of man this man of fortitude? Some called him stubborn, some called him determined and some called him an anachronism. Indeed Calum was dismissed as eccentric, but only in that he differed from conventional behaviour.

If there were a single word to define this man it would be indefatigable. It’s estimated that the largest single boulder he moved weighed nine tons: “He used a jack to lift it, then packed it in place with stones, then jacked it up again, then repacked it with stones, then jacked it once more… until it had been heaved out of the way and had fallen, defeated, into the sea.”

He was the very definition of an autodictat, a self taught polymath who learned both academically and empirically. He was an accomplished essayist in his native tongue, a prolific contributor to newspapers and a poet, as well as being Master of the local lifeboat, lighthouse keeper, part-time postman and crofter.

Calum was a living reminder of the peasant crofting culture of the Gàidhealtachd, a man who put his own desire for knowledge above all else, a man who trusted only in himself and who would continue his self-education till the day he died. He exemplified what was once known as a ‘Lad O Pairts,’ he left school at 14 and was largely self-taught, but his education was broad, a symbol of the best education system in the world at the time, a system that taught you how to think and that learning was a virtue unto itself.

The depopulation of the highlands is well documented, but in Calum’s mind it wasn’t Patrick Sellar or The Duke or Sutherland, absentee landlords or even sheep that finally did for the Gael, he blamed well intentioned but miss-judged socialism. In 1970, in the the Stornoway Gazette he wrote “Socialism was responsible for remote authoritarian units that have no consideration for, and are mainly ignorant of, local factors essential to benefit those concerned,” he went on: “During the last two decades, this system was pursued by it’s advocates in education, police, postal and transport facilities in rural areas and islands… the whole North Western seaboard from Shetland in the North to Arran and Bute, including the Hebrides – were subjected to the downgrade system.”

That Calum watched this happen is clear, when his daughter was 12, the local schoolhouse was closed and, like many others from remote communities, she became a boarder in far off Portree; on graduation, many of these boarders never returned to their communities.

Again Calum wrote in one of his lengthy essays: “ Is it any wonder Scots emigrate? The decline and fall of the system of education they prided themselves of, and which was unsurpassed in the world, began with the closure and downgrading of the local one and two teacher schools, wherein was a high degree of individual tuition and responsibility.”

Calum would be burling in his grave to see the continued demise of the Gaelic culture although it must be said there is hope yet for his language. But what would he have thought of the continuing centralization by Governments and homogenization of society?

Calum raged against the dying of the light, he didn’t succeed, but his road stands as a testament to the spirit of one man determined to fight for what he believed was right.

Calum died on 26th January 1988, he was 76 and was working his croft the day he died. He was resolute to the last that the depopulation of the highlands could be reversed and his culture could be revived, but he was the last man to come out of Anish, in a hearse, driven on the road that he built himself, ironically, he had never driven the road; he never sat his driving test.

Quotes from Calum’s Road, by Roger Hutchison

Part of a Ballad Written by Calum MacLeod

Yet I was Undismayed,

With peg and line and level too

Its course was then surveyed.

No bulldozer was to be got,

No crusher and no digger

Just brawn and strength to do the lot,

and, working like a nigger.

For six long years the work goes on

by crags or mossy hollows.

The tourists are amazed to find

a road they now can follow

Round many a curve and rocky cliff

the road does now meander

and you will find a motor-car

where only sheep could wander.

And, when at last it is complete,

The battle will be over,

And walking will be obsolete

We all go by Landrover.

The road a monument will remain

In memory of one fellow

who saw his countrymen swept away

By the heirs of Patrick Sellar.

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Hong Kong Scottish RFC

“The noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees, is the high road that leads him to England!” So said Dr. Samuel Johnson, that renowned Scotophobe.  Johnson, being rather parochial, chose to ignore his own Scottish father’s journey down that road, but it’s a road well traveled for generations of Scots, generations who made an astounding impact in London, and all over the British Empire, the Colonies, Australia, New Zealand… and of course Hong Kong.

The mass of émigré’s took with them many aspects of their culture, witness the curious popularity of the Great Highland bagpipe all over the world, but they also took with them their passion for sports, notably Football and Rugby.  To this day there are teams playing worldwide who pay homage to their Scottish ancestors, from Durban to Dubai.  Most notable is London Scottish, a team who has provided Scotland with over 220 Scottish Internationals as well as four British Lions Captains.

In Hong Kong, from the beginning of next season, there will be a rugby team playing in Division One called “Hong Kong Scottish.“ An independent entity, but one with the blessing, backing and support of their London Brethren.

London Scottish have been very supportive of the idea from the outset, and Hong Kong Scottish will proudly wear the London Scottish badge and share their colours as a mark of their new relationship.

As Tony Copsey, London Scottish Director of Rugby says: “London Scottish are delighted to be able to support Hong Kong Scottish, and we’re looking forward to discussions about how we can work together going forward. “

Behind this adventure are the HKRFU, the Nomads Rugby Club and a group of Scottish expats in Hong Kong.  Chief among them is Stewart Saunders, ex COO of China Light and Power, and Roy Kinnear, an ex-banker who is leading the drive for funds. The original idea for the team came from Dave Whiteford, formerly of Melrose RFC and now playing his rugby in Hong Kong, and the marketing and fundraising is headed by Jacqui Donaldson, Managing Director of Communique, a PR firm.

As part of the initiative to launch Hong Kong Scottish, a trip to the Melrose Sevens was chosen as the ideal ‘coming out’ for the new club.  Both Hong Kong and Melrose are closely associated with Sevens, with Hong Kong being at the forefront of the global expansion of the game that was created by the famous Borders club.

This Hong Kong Scottish team for Melrose  included players of Scottish Heritage such as ex Scotland international sevens player, David Tait, as well as former Glasgow Hawks Centre Ally Maclay and Melrose old boy Dave Whiteford. and also some local Chinese Development players.   Their coach, Joe Shaw, formerly of England’s Sevens world cup winning squad, claims a tenuous link to Scotland saying: “Newcastle, where I spent most of my career, is only English because they put the border in the wrong place.”  The team acquitted themselves well and have been invited back next year.

There are long standing links between Hong Kong and Scottish rugby – in the current Scotland squad both Graeme Morrison and John Barclay were born in Hong Kong and Jim Hamilton has a Hong Kong grandmother.  There are two ex-Scotland internationals working for the HKRFU, Sam Pinder and Andy Hall. There is also a very large and active Scottish expat community here, The Highlanders Society, The Scottish Business Group and The St Andrews Society who organize annually their Burns Supper, Christmas Ball and a local Calcutta Cup rugby match against the Auld Enemy, the St Georges Society!

With such a pedigree, both historically and currently, Hong Kong Scottish seems to be an idea whose time is long overdue and should offer a great addition to the local rugby community and act much the same way as London Scottish does in England.

Gavin Hastings, ex-Scotland Captain, has also added his weight to the project, and will be a key figure in the club going forward.  Hastings’s had this to say: “I’m excited to be involved with the Hong Kong Scottish project – over the past few years Hong Kong has become like a second home for me, and I love the idea of being able to show my support for the local rugby community here.”





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Sects, Cults and religion

Last week in the Sunday Morning Post, there was a letter from the Asia area public affairs office of “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – a religion that just rolls off the tongue. The writer was pointing out that his church had nothing to do with Warren Steed Jeffs a polygamist leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,  - another punchy name for a religion, who was recently jailed for sexually assaulting two young girls he had taken for wires.  The writer was keen to point out that there is no such thing as: “A Mormon fundamentalist, or radical Mormon, nor are there Mormon sects.”  Now I think he is being obtuse, but then thats what church leaders do.

Oh well, if this is not the work of radicals or fundamentalists, then perhaps I have the wrong definition: Lafferty Case Still Haunts

But in truth, I don’t really care, it’s self evident that Mormons are strange, they believe in a guy who  said an Angel directed him to the word of God, in the 1820′s, he was this charlatan!

I am more interested in fact in what defines a sect or cult from a religion.  I did post it on my Facebook as a question, a few of the more amusing answers were: “When enough idiots believe,” or “immediately,” or more thought provoking: ” When it stops killing it’s own members and starts killing non-members.

Not enough for me, so I went to the web, and here are the answers from the wisdom of the crowd.  Enjoy!

Generally a “cult” is based upon a single charismatic leader with direct access to God. When that leader dies, there are crises of faith and succession. If the cult survives, it may be transformed into a “sect”, where beliefs and leadership are in flux. Access to God is widespread. A “religion” has established dogma and leadership. Access to God is restricted to trained specialists.

David Dreaming Bear, Horsethief Canyon, California USA

A cult becomes a religion when it burns its first heretic.

Peter Brooke, Kinmuck Scotland

‘A religion is a cult with an army and a navy’ (to borrow from Max Weinreich writing on language and dialect). Consider the role of the state in the demise of the Roman religion and the rise of Christianity; the Crusades; persecution of the Jews; the battles between Catholicism and Protestantism; the fate of the Bah’ai in Iran; amongst many other examples.  Keith Mason, London UK

A Cult becomes a religion once it is viewed by outsiders as having a degree of moral authority. It’s a nominal distinction subjectively made.  Andrew Johnson-Green, Leeds West Yorks

As soon as you have to part with cash to join, it’s a cult. As soon as there are more than 10000 of you, it’s a religion. So, the Reader’s Digest is a cult, and London is a religion.  Tom Attah, Farnborough UK

Is this not one of the plural irregular verbs? We are a religion, you are a community, they are a cult.  Geoff Cohn, Sydney Australia

A cult is a religion without any political power.  Big Bill Robinson, Slough England

A cult becomes a religion when its members become so numerous that they require recognition by a governing authority. Witness the evolution of the Mormon religion in the US. Initially it was identified as a “cult” (and you can look this up in various almanacs), but eventually, it had so many adherents that it was recognized by the US government as a religion.  Nancy Thomas, Las Vegas, USA

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Great wee snippet in SCMP today citing a study by Nanfang Daily which reports that between 1979 and 2009, 1.6 million chinese students studied abroad.  Of that figure, less than half returned home.  In fact, 1.1 million opted to turn their back on the glorious motherland, permanently.

I just can’t figure this out. Every day we’re told how fantastic it is to be Chinese and to glorify  the resurgent middle-kingdom and it’s fantastic leaders.

Oh well, perhaps some people are just fickle when it comes to their civil liberties and freedom of speech, as well as their right to have as many children as they want, the right to access any web content they want, and right to live free of from endemic corruption and pervasive nepotism.

Some people, just don’t get it when they’re told how fortunate they are to be Chinese!

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Reading the riot act

When I was a kid, my mother used to say to me: “If you don’t behave, I’ll read the riot act.”  I never actually knew what she meant, other than, there’ll be trouble unless you do as your told.

Later I discovered that there was indeed something called ‘The Riot Act” on the UK statutes.  It could be read out in any public place where there was an assembly of more than 12 people who the authorities wanted to disperse and it contained this warning:

“Our sovereign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George, for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies. God save the King.”

Penalties for failing to disperse were either three years penal servitude, or two years hard labour. Scary.  The last time the riot act was read was in Scotland, in January 1920, during what became known as the Battle of George Square, when striking workers clashed with the Army and the Police.  The act was only repealed around 1973.

So what is the point of the ramble, nothing really, just that I’ve been watching the riots in the UK and wondering how they can stop it.

I hate to think that I am turning into my father, or worse into a reactionary old Daily Telegraph reader shouting: “Bring back the birch, hang ‘em all”, but surely anyone can see that we have a very serious failure of discipline that in areas of the UK is almost structural and  is going to take a long time to overcome.

Years ago, I wrote a piece on how to re-connect with the idea that you are a part of your community and have a vested interest in it.  I can’t in all honesty support a return to National Service, as it offends my liberalism, however, surely there are other options.

I would advocate a form of National service but not wholly restricted to the Armed Forces, sure that can be one option, a second option could be care in the community, whereby young people are encouraged to work with the elderly, or mentally handicapped or other community service like working in foster homes.

A last option would be environmental service, working in rural areas, rebuilding dry-stane dykes for example, planting trees, cleaning up beaches.

And the clincher could be, each individual between the ages of 18-23 has to opt for one of the three, for one year.  In return, there are incentives for study or travel abroad, and if you haven’t completed one year, you get nothing from the state.

Alternatively of course, you could take the advise offered on this old episode of ” Not the Nine O Clock News”:

Off with their goolies

Because it is plainly obvious, listening to these two girls:

Idiot Girls

that even tho they have no goolies, some drastic action is required.

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Racism; a critique

Please note, I did in fact write this article for a magazine, many many years ago. I have resisted the urge to edit it, preferring to leave it in the words of that younger individual rather than temper it to my more aged, if not mature self. I do realise that I have gone off on one over the last few days on issues of race, so I hope this article can draw a line under it, and of course I must emphasise, Hong Kong is full of wonderful individuals who have no issues with race, although I couldn’t in all honesty, say the same about government here. Apologies for the length, it was a magazine after all.

Growing up in Scotland, there were many confusing terms one had to deal with given the peculiar regional dialects, the Nordic influence and the teuchters – those from the highlands, who were a bit different, and we believed a bit slow. But the phrases that really confused me were the ones relating to colour or race.  The first time I was ever accused of playing a Chinese snooker, I failed to see the relevance.  How could a ball have black hair and a Mongolian slant?  Further confusion was wrought by the cricketing term bowling a Chinaman – I knew the Chinese were supposedly small but bowling them is a bit of a liberty.  As I got older I began to understand that these declarations were, in some way, analogous, and in fact I was being exhorted not to be sneaky, to play up, play the game.

Slowly I began to realise that there were metaphors and similes that directly related to race and how we perceived each other.  I, in fact, used many of these terms.  The only problem was, up until secondary school I’d never met anyone that wasn’t white and even then the first two non-white people I met were both half coloured.  No inscrutable Chinese for me to eye carefully for evidence of nefarious intent.

Did my use of these terms make me racist?  I don’t think so.  How could I be racist – I had never met anyone not like me, but in my ignorance I used terms that are now perceived as racist but were merely learned behavior, behavior, that is, learned from my peers, my family and more importantly, the media.  Now of course, all of these terms are no longer socially acceptable in much the same way as nigger, and no doubt any child using any similar terminology in the playground would be severely reprimanded.  I suppose we should note here that nigger is still acceptable, not for white people but for some people.

That these terms are no longer used in the West is of course a positive thing, as using racist terms, in however innocent a fashion helps to reinforce prevailing prejudice.

However this newfound Western-awareness does not seem equally applicable and therein lies the rub.  While Caucasians and the West in general have made every effort to expunge the type of racism that was once commonplace the same cannot be said of other, mostly non-white countries.  Is it only pale-faced, “roonieks” that can be accused of racism?

Amongst the major industrialized countries, Japan is one of the most ethnically homogenous, they have a insular society with an manufactured distrust of all things foreign, a society where only 3% of the population is of non-Japanese decent and the government through legislation, while not banning the notion of naturalization, actively discourages it through archaic rules and stringent regulations. Of course there is no real offence intended by those signs outside bathhouses saying “no foreigners.”  I’d love to see the UK or the US even attempt to emulate this degree of homogeneity: just to hear the strident screams of outrage and indignity from those whose perspective is predicated on dislike for all Caucasians and their belief that the West can never apologise enough for historical injustices, both perceived and wholly legitimate.

Up until recently the Chinese would only grant a Chinese passport on the basis of Chinese ethnicity – I tried to find out if this is still the case but no one would actually tell me – so assume – they will attempt to dissuade you.  Additionally, try asking your Chinese friends how they can still seek accommodation with the legacy of Mao and you’ll be told the West does not understand: “We Chinese”, “We are different!” And don’t forget the much vaunted Asian Values, or in America “Asian Pride” – google them – if they were white they’d be called Aryan Nation or White Brotherhood.

In a book called ‘Songlines’ by Bruce Chatwin, an aborigine explained that the dialect word for ‘meat’ is the same as that for white man, literally meaning that you can live off of both.  Not in the sense of veal for dinner, but that he will provide.  Of course this is a result of pathetic but well-meaning efforts to turn indigenous people with a singularly different approach to living, into good little white men.  It still remains a racist statement, and a statement that has echoes throughout Africa today.
Is it only white people that can be racist?  Why do I have to bear this burden when I see extreme racism about me every day around the world and in Hong Kong?

There are a number of interpretations of what exactly racism means, for the sake of this article, here is one:

“Racism refers to a system of oppression that is based on the idea that one race is superior to other races. A system to discriminate against and/or marginalize a class of people who share a common racial designation. The term “racism” is usually applied to the dominant group in a society, because it is that group which has the means to oppress others, but readily applies to any individual or group(s), regardless of social status or dominance.”

Reading this definition makes me worry about the rise of Chinese nationalism. Which has as it’s predominant characteristic, a belief that China or more specifically, the Chinese race is once again approaching its superior place in the world, and it’s just a hop skip and a jump before we have to find out the Chinese word for Blitzkrieg. Why?  Because nationalism and racism are intimately aquatinted with each other and always end up sharing a bed.   The term “We Chinese” implies a racial set of characteristics, as does “Asian Values,” this coupled with feelings of superiority is an exact definition of racism no different than when the British believed that God was an Englishman.  The irony  is of course, that the West is becoming so corpulent, lazy and obsessed with leisure time that I do indeed see the day when the Morlocks change places with the Eloi, but then that’s what empires do – collapse.

If we can talk about Hong Kong for a moment, it represents a reasonable empirical study for my contention.  Hong Kong is a society made up of many different nationalities, some of whom have been here for generations.  Longer in fact that most of the ethnic Chinese – yet these people are treated appallingly and have the worst jobs.  I was not aware until I came to Hong Kong that all Indians smelled.  I did not know that women from the Philippines are all ignorant and only fit for servants.  I did not know that black people are monkeys; I did not know that I was a “stupid gweilo,” and although I don’t mind this one – it is still racist.  I did not know that people on the mainland were backward and not very smart, in short, I did not realize just how wonderful the local Chinese are, how superior and how well educated.  Hong Kong maintains that it is not racist therefore no anti-racism legislation is required, leaving aside the issue of legislating against human nature which should never be condoned, the letters page of the SCMP proves our racism every day. Our community is for the most part fragmented and divided along racial lines.  Witness the never-ending debate about wages for helpers and see the “line in the sand clearly drawn”.  Further, one can’t help but conclude, locals firmly believe that helpers should be thankful for what they get and this attitude is made manifest in the callous way many of them are treated.  Or on the environment, study the names that advocate sustainable issues and then look at the silence on the other side.  Or look at some of the letters from local Chinese who seem to be implying: “ If you don’t like it Johnny foreigner – then go home. Yet these very same people fail to realise that this is home for all of us.  Hong Kong is not Chinese; Hong Kong is one giant refugee camp, although the Chinese have the numbers – they are the dominant group – Oh where did I read about dominant groups practicing racism.  I love the failure of the local Chinese to see the irony in looking down on Mainlanders, most of these locals escaped here less then 50 years ago – they won the colonial equivalent of the lottery.  Here is a not so very extreme example of racism I pulled from a blog:

“Typical overbearing gweilo mentality, thinking the whole world revolves around you. In reality, the vast majority of local 
Chinese population in HK sees most issues quite different than 
you do.

God was an Englishman in the good old days. But it’s always 
true, at least to a certain extent that whoever has the gold 
makes the rules. England just doesn’t have much of anything 
these days.

Sad as it is, you live in this tiny, dwindling, and socially 
separated (from the native Chinese) community here like a whole 
bunch of frogs watching a round patch of sky from the bottom of 
a well — as a group, isolated from power, no longer have any 
meaningful economic or political influence, not to mention your 
ignorance and unwillingness to understand the hearts and minds 
of the majority Chinese natives. Now resort to call the local 
Chinese racists when things don’t go your way.

The people who have the political power to affect your life here 
one way or another are not reading the Standard or the SCMP. 
For your information, they read the local Chinese papers in our 
native language.”

Xi Hu. (http://simonworld.mu.nu/archives/125064.php)

Leaving aside the poor English, the clichéd philosophy and the historical inaccuracies, it is clear to see that the correspondent is suffering from a severe case “go home gweilo”, however, I do agree with him that the vast majority of locals see things differently, it’s just that some of them see so many of them in terms of race and are blinded by their hatred of colonialism.  If you need any more examples, google the name Pierce Lam and find out how much this guy hates white people and specifically the English Schools Foundation.

We live in one of the most racist countries I have ever been in, but it is not even discussed.  It is not there.

I am not racist. But have been described as a misanthropist, not to be confused with a misogynist although I’ve frequently been assailed by females who are not sure of the distinction.  A misanthropist is not really that fond of his fellow man, or woman, in general, regardless of skin tone and so I’ve been heard to cry: “I’m not racist, I hate everyone equally.”  In fact I reserve my special ire for stupid people – but George Bush and Regina Ip can wait till next issue.

As a misanthropist, I have little concern over the truth about racism.  But it’s important that if there is a truth then that truth be universally recognized, the West and specifically those of us who won the pigmentation lottery are being asked to accept a universal double standard – I mean for fucks sake, last year a white university professor in the US was hounded out of his senior position because he used the word niggardly – this has no etymological root to nigger but the accusers were too dumb to know that.

History abounds with racism, in the past the white man was the main culprit but has been apologizing with what appears to be genuine remorse for a long time – well listen up folks – some of us have nothing to apologise for – Some of us were not there and revisionist history is about as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit.  And do I hear the Jews apologizing for being isolationist and discouraging mixing with other races, or what about arranged marriages, or the Muslim Council for Great Britain calling for a Muslim assembly. These instances might appear to be cultural but the suspicion remains that it’s about race and racial purity.

If multi-culturalism is our goal then we should all be playing by the same rules. The West is not perfect, and has a long way to go – but the point is – the West recognized a problem and has made inroads in addressing it.  Every Hong Kong taxi driver, and I like these guys,  will insist he is not racist – but see if he’ll stop in the pissing rain for a ‘gweilo’ if there is a ‘local’ further on.

So in light of the previous definition, here’s my contention, we are all innately racist – whether you act racist is up to you but denying it exists merely creates uncertainty, confusion and double standards.  Fear of people who are different is normal behaviour, probably stemming from Neolithic mans fight or flight responses.  Racist terminology is learned behaviour and as such can be unlearned – but not if you don’t think you are guilty.

We are all racist – black, white, yellow and those of indeterminate colour – accept it.  Accept it as a fact. An innate biological response to people who are different. And having accepted it.  Then get on with assessing your reactions, reassessing them and adopting modified behaviour – it is not natural to “love thy neighbour” but it can become second nature – you just gotta work at it.  However if we blithely maintain our perfections and pay lip service to equality then the games a bogey and there’ll be fighting in the play-ground forever more.

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it’s not racism, just prejudice

“The seeds of prejudice are being planted in the minds of Hong Kong Children as young as three, a study has revealed.” Thus spake the SCMP today.
The article goes on:

“They were shown pictures of people with different skin colours to help them answer and were asked to give marks out of four.

One of the descriptions, “black is friendly”, scored an average of only 2.43, whereas the friendliness of white-skinned and yellow-skinned people were rated at 3.42 and 3.14 respectively. Another description which said “black is beautiful” scored only 1.37. The children gave significantly higher scores to white- and yellow-skinned people – 3.19 and 2.96 respectively.”

Now the question can only be, how can a 3 year old be “innately” prejudiced?

Ah further on we find an answer of sorts:

“Commission chairman Lam Woon-kwong said the study results showed that prejudice among children may be escalating. “We cannot underestimate the problem of discrimination at an early age. I hope the government can set up policies to start teaching the correct values at pre-school,” he said.

Professor Wong Wan-chi, of the department of educational psychology of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, was surprised by the study’s results. “Children usually do not have discriminatory attitudes at early age. As these attitudes do not exist by nature, it has more to do with their education,” she said.

Wong said parents and teachers should be more sensitive and careful about their own behaviour.

So now we know it’s learned behaviour, the “prejudice” is coming from the environment, in the case of young children, their home, or in other words their parents, so why should the government be responsible to change this behaviour, and in fact, how successful can it be if your parents are racist, sorry prejudiced.

As a last aside, if you look at the respective figures for the yellow and white responses, it seems that these kids have an overtly healthy regard for caucasians, which, were I an Asian parent, I would find very worrying.

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