Monthly Archives: July 2010

Benefit That Gal primer review

Let’s have some light bright relief from all the murders with a new beauty review, and they don’t come much lighter, brighter and better than Benefit’s That Gal primer.

You may remember, I snagged one of these in the exclusive Hong Kong 5th anniversary gift set and I confess, thus far it’s the only one I’ve actually opened yet. What can I say?! I just can’t bear to part with that pretty packaging!

Good job I managed it for That Gal though – it’s a fantastic product. If you’re unfamiliar with primers, let me introduce you to your new best friend. Especially beneficial for hot humid summers (are there any others in HK?!), primer is essentially a base that provides a smooth surface for your make-up and helps keep it in check throughout the day. The difference is immediately obvious to the touch both when you put your make-up on (it glides on so much more smoothly and evenly) and when you take it off at the end of the day (there’s still lots left to remove, even after a sweaty 8 hours in the sun!).

Some people have complained that primers clog up their pores but I’ve actually experienced the opposite effect – primers being far less heavy than the products that go on top of it, I’ve noticed my pores actually seem to be in better shape, especially if you apply it after moisturiser but before foundation (or in my case, tinted moisturiser).

benefit that gal primer

That Gal boasts all these great benefits of a primer and more, delivering on their promise of taking you ‘from dull to darling’. It feels much lighter than other primers I’ve used in the past and glides on really smoothly, easily and evenly, with a pleasant floral/fruity scent. Its shimmery pink colour (similar to Benefit’s High Beam) adds just the right amount of dewy radiance to your skin, visibly brightening your complexion and adding a healthy glow that works pretty nicely on its own, even without a further tint on top. AND it comes in a small but perfectly-formed container, featuring an ultra-convenient non-messy method of dispensing, whereby you twist the base and product comes out the top in small amounts, allowing you to sweep it on with your fingertips.

Used almost daily, one tube of That Gal lasted me about 4 months (not as long as I hoped) and the nature of the dispenser means you can’t predict when it’s on its last legs – so have a primer spare unless you wanna be left high and dry! But as ever with Benefit, one of my hero brands, it’s a happy marriage between lovely packaging and fantastic quality. That Gal is here to stay!

Benefit That Gal primer, $280 for 11ml

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Hong Kong Murders: The Braemar Hill murders

Even now, the Braemar Hill double-murder provokes sadness and horror over twenty years after it happened, not just for the brutality shown to its teenage victims but also for the fact that this continues to be one of the only murder cases to involve the expat community in HK.

This was back in the old days, when colonial Hong Kong was still very much in its pomp. Kenneth McBride, 17, and his 18 year-old girlfriend Nicola Myers failed to return home after an al fresco revision session on Braemar Hill one April afternoon in 1985. The next morning, an unfortunate hiker made the grisly discovery of their badly-beaten bodies.

Braemar Hill, a luxury residential area and beauty spot, was an unlikely scene for a crime and Westerners were unlikely victims. Violence was usually confined to the triads and any previous murders in HK had been strictly local affairs. Kenneth and Nicola’s deaths sparked a huge police hunt, the scale of which HK has never seen before or since, with around 600 police officers and soldiers from the British garrison combing the area for clues, plus an aerial search by helicopter.

Whitehead fails to expand sufficiently on the issues this raises, whether through tact or wishful thinking. Her discussion that the investigation wouldn’t have commanded the same amount of manpower if the victims were Chinese is over in one sentence, and even then she qualifies it with ‘that’s not to say the case wouldn‘t have been thoroughly investigated’. Her later revelations that there was a reward for $500,000 (the largest in HK’s homicide history and a bounty that seems to have been lacking in the case of the prolific Tuen Mun Rapist) and that the Chinese press accused the police of racism, complaining about the unnecessary level of spending and use of manpower on the case, are relayed to the reader in such a colourless manner that she fails to convey the strength of public feeling about the case, which there evidently was given how widely-remembered it is even now. One HK blogger remembers blurting out “Can you imagine the Government going to all this trouble if it had been a couple of Chinese kids from a public housing estate in Kowloon?”; it’s certain he wasn’t the only one thinking it. In those days, most senior officials were expats, the them/us divide was more obvious and the one of the most shocking aspects of this shocking case was that such a thing could happen to expats in their self-anointed paradise in the first place.

The murders themselves had been brutal. Kenneth had been bound, beaten and suffocated. He had more than 100 injuries on his body. Nicola had 500. She was also bound, almost naked, had been raped and clearly tortured for a greater length of time. These brief details are horrific enough but had more been provided in Whitehead’s narrative, I feel it would have supported the assertion that police devoted such resources to the case because of the violence of the murders and not the race of the victims. It would also have helped the reader understand the true depravity of this crime and why people still shudder when it’s mentioned today.

The Chinese information reveals more – that Kenneth was strung up, beaten and strangled with an arm-sling that he was wearing, that he had obviously put up a painful struggle, that both were beaten brutally with branches, that the gang thrust a stick and a bottle into Nicola’s genitalia, that her jaw was broken, her left eyeball was out its socket, that she had an expression of terrible suffering on her face. Yes, these details are truly terrible but I think they’re important to highlight the utter heinousness of this crime. I was reminded of the James Bulger case, where a long list of the sickening specifics behind his torture were released, and which I think of every time discussion of his killers crops up in the media. It is easy for people to dismiss numbers and vague generalisations of ‘bruises’ and ‘lacerations’, less so when there is some sickening bloody detail that lodges itself into your consciousness. It also indicates that Whitehead’s categorisation of the case as a ‘Sex Crime’ is flawed – the sexual element, though awful, is hardly the most significant element of or motivating factor behind the crime.

It took eight months for the culprits to be found, despite the wealth of evidence discovered at the scene (including Nicola’s torn clothing and personal effects, including pictures of life in London); forensic technology was still in its infancy and a bloodied branch with Nicola’s hair on was unsuccessfully analysed for fingerprints (there is a suggestion that the evidence was compromised by police unknowingly handling it). Superstitious HKers were spooked when one potential witness, under hypnosis by the police psychologist, began to speak more fluent English, although she only spoke broken English with a Chinese accent in real life – people believed she had been possessed by Nicola’s ghost.

It was sheer luck that an informant overheard a youth (Pang Shun-yee) boasting to his gang that he had killed a Western couple, proving it with the fact that he was wearing Kenneth’s trainers. Following their arrest, the youngest member of the gang, 15 year-old Won Sam-lung, duly confessed.

The confession is raked over only briefly in Whitehead’s account. Won said the gang spotted the couple and decided to ‘have some fun’ with them, asking if they had any money. They didn’t, were tied up and one of the group ‘sprang onto the woman like a hungry dog’. [Chinese information suggests that Pang asked Nicola to have sex with him and on her refusal, dragged her down the hill to rape her and threatened the rest of the gang to do likewise.] Pang decided they kill them, lest the pair identify them later, murdering Kenneth first before turning to Nicola. They tortured her for ‘dozens of minutes’ (the autopsy results suggest significantly longer as she died at least an hour after Kenneth) but when the gang left, she was still breathing faintly. Having witnessed the terrifying murder of her boyfriend and then been brutally raped and tortured herself, she lingered on only to die alone.

It says much about Whitehead’s lack of detail that we only learn the rest of the gang’s names in her penultimate paragraph and although she states that another of the gang confessed, we are told only one sentence of his account (this conflicts with more recent news reports that Won, who has since been released, was the only one who admitted his guilt and regularly had nightmares about his part in the murder). We never hear about the gang’s background, whether they had committed any crimes before or what drove them to such extremes for this one. We never hear the voices of the gang members who denied their involvement (later appealing against their sentences) or of Pang, whom the two confessions fingered as ringleader. One source claims that some denied raping Nicola at trial even when forensic evidence clearly proved the contrary was true. Similarly, although we learn that the case was disturbing enough to prompt the chief investigating officer, Norrie MacKillop, to quit homicide, we never learn any of his private thoughts or suppositions about the case or its perpetrators.

kenneth mcbride nicola myers braemar hill murders

However, the biggest disservice in Whitehead’s account is done to her young victims, who frankly deserve better. They warrant a mere paragraph which talks about their good looks (sans photo), clunkily linking them with some guff about seeing ‘beyond the narrow confines of a fast-decaying colonialism’ and giving no feeling of the absolute sense of loss felt by all who knew them. They were popular figures at Island School, something of a golden couple – members of the debating and rowing teams, Kenneth the president of the Students Union, who would write poetry to each other on the school roof. Former schoolmates looked up to ‘warm, bright and sunny’ Nicola (‘I wanted to grow up and be just like her’); Chris Forse, a teacher of theirs, remembers Kenneth speaking stirringly about apartheid in the school assembly the day before his death and how the rowing and debating teams went on to win in the wake of their murders – ‘was it that beam of light from the heavens?’ David James, vice-principal at the time, recalls Kenneth rallying the school to knit squares for Soweto (‘I remember him, knitting all those squares’); Kenneth’s sister, Marion (who resembles her brother so much that her parents often say ‘You look just like Kenneth when you did that’) laughs when she remembers how Kenneth and Nicola wanted to raise money for Ethiopia by gathering toys and clothes, but the parcel was so big that they didn’t have enough money for postage. ‘And I remember coming home and there was Kenneth baking cakes, and there was a smell of burned cakes in the house, and he just made all these cakes, had a cake sale the next day and that’s how they got the money for the stamps.’

Forse still keeps photos of Kenneth and Nicola and remembers his shock on hearing the news (‘I couldn’t really accept what I heard, or even continue with the conversation… I remember putting the telephone down and saying “Sorry, I can’t deal with it”); the school was overwhelmed with silence, sadness and as James says, ‘such grief… grief you could never imagine happening in a school… you don’t know what to do.’

Twenty-five years later and everyone who knew them still remembers them vividly, with a smile, fondness, warmth and sadness. It was reading these memories and seeing fuzzy photos of them looking young, bright, hopeful and idealistic that made this not just a bloody statistic in a book but a real and human tragedy, making me cry for people who died before I was even born. As Forse writes, we should ‘regret their missing years, remember their former glories and know that they will always be, in our eyes, forever young.’

Given the character of the victims, it is fitting that there is still some hope to be salvaged. Island School set up the Kenneth McBride & Nicola Myers Memorial Fund (partly-raised by students and presented for many years by Kenneth’s parents, then sister) awarding scholarships to students who would struggle financially to continue on to secondary education. The Myers and McBride families have remained close – the only time the Myers’ returned to HK after the murders was to attend the wedding of Kenneth’s sister. Won Sam-lung was released in 2004, not only with the McBrides’ blessing but incredibly, their forgiveness. He wanted to make personal apologies to the families for the ‘enormous sorrow’ he had caused, knows in his whole life he can never ‘compensate them for what they have lost’ and says, ‘I found it hard to understand being forgiven. It shocked me, but it also told me that love can change a person.’

Hong Kong may still have one of the lowest homicide rates in the world but the murders of Kenneth McBride and Nicola Myers were a harsh awakening for many. Previously, the fragrant harbour had seemed a safe escape from UK life but these deaths marked a loss of innocence for a whole generation and proved that expats were not untouchable. It is a case that will live on in history books for years to come but I hope that alongside every mention of sickening brutality and cultural landmarks, there is some tribute to the exceptional lives that were lost. The reader deserves to know, and Kenneth and Nicola deserve to be remembered. It is the least we can do for two people who will always remain forever young.

Sources:

Hong Kong Murders – an introduction

I’m hoping some people find the subject of Hong Kong Murders as interesting as I do, or else the next few posts will be really boring. As I said in my review, English-language information is difficult to find on the Internet so these posts are for those, like me, who tried to Google ‘Jars Killer’ and ‘Tuen Mun Rapist’ without much luck – and who don’t wish to spend $135 on the book like I did! I also want to specify the things that I think are missing from Whitehead’s account – maybe some reader will one day go on to write a more exhaustive study and answer my questions!

Apart from Whitehead’s book, my sources begin and end with the powers of the Web, with specific URLs given at the end of each post. That isn’t to say I haven’t dedicated a lot of time to them – my first post, about the Braemar Hill murders, has taken me days to put together. For the copious amounts of Chinese information available, I used a combination of Google Translate and my friend Adrian’s translation skills (which aren’t as good as he claimed fyi); however, there’s some difficulty in checking the veracity of these sources. Obviously they have all stemmed from some published source, given that they are ad verbatim copy-and-paste jobs, but what that source is I can’t work out. Over the years, there have also been a number of ‘True Crime’ docu-dramas on radio, television and film so it’s difficult the accuracy of these portrayals and whether they have coloured any of the Chinese accounts. I’ve given the information I found the benefit of the doubt but you’re welcome to make up your own minds.

Hong Kong Murders – Kate Whitehead review

Before my boyfriend became my boyfriend and was doing his best to scare me into soliciting his company, he told me about a HK murderer who killed female passengers in his taxi, thus ensuring I never wanted to travel alone in one again. That murderer was the infamous ‘Jars Killer’ and ever since I learnt the gory details of that case, I’ve been intrigued about what other murders may have occurred in this fair city. Enter Hong Kong Murders by Kate Whitehead.

Asking after Hong Kong Murders in bookshops lead to a few strange looks, especially as Whitehead’s other book is called Sex After Suzie Wong, making my reading tastes look somewhat deviant. I find murder interesting, partly because my father was a retired detective and partly because so few occur in Hong Kong (one of the lowest homicide rates in the world – especially if you’re not a triad) that I wanted to know more about the few that had occurred and what went behind them.

With many of the cases from decades gone by and with few involving Westerners, English-language information on the interwebz was scant and Whitehead’s book was the only literature I came across on the subject. Alas, for a book entitled Hong Kong Murders, one was a suicide, two were kidnappings gone wrong, one occurred in Macau and at least six involved either gangs or triads, who are a different kettle of (garoupa)fish entirely. The two listed under ‘sex crimes’ were really nothing of the sort and by then, we’re left with all of about four genuinely interesting murder cases.

Whitehead, however, does her best to make them as uninteresting as possible. Her background in news journalism comes through – her writing is dry, factual and rather bland. Whilst this avoids making the book sensationalist when many of the stories could easily go that way, it manages to turn gripping cases into almost anything but. Having now finished Hong Kong Murders, I’m pretty sure I could write a better book using the information from just the book alone! That’s not to say my attempt would be much better; Whitehead frequently fails to go into enough depth. We feel little empathy for the victims as their backgrounds are not detailed, we learn little about possible motivations for the murders and we get little insight from any figures within the cases – be they investigating officers, families of victims/murderers or even the perpetrators themselves, criminal psychologists, journalists covering the events at the time, lawyers, barristers, someone, anyone! The lack of depth is really frustrating, especially as it’s clear Whitehead has actually done the research and spoken to such people, but their voices are relegated to comments so short and sparse that they’re instantly forgettable.

The blurb also promises that Whitehead will reveal the “cultural fingerprints” which ‘shed light on the psyche of Hong Kong’ but the cultural context she gives is so basic and rudimentary that practically anyone who’s lived in HK for a longer than a fortnight would be aware of such information. We are treated to amazing insights like HK people don’t like to get involved (just travel on the MTR and try to make eye contact with anyone to see how that works), that the city revolves around money, that attitudes toward sexuality are suppressed and that triads exist and have customs. Wow. Enlightening.

The triad cases in particular are bogged down with detail. Names, nicknames and even more names make them confusing and it’s clear that they belong to a completely different book. Triad violence and murders are hardly surprising but of modest concern to outsiders; as one story details, when non-triads were hurt during turf wars, the boss rang up to express concern and say ‘this shouldn’t have happened’. The message is obvious – don’t get involved and you’re unlikely to fall foul of the triads’ chopper. There are countless films, novels and non-fiction books written about the triads that I imagine have superior knowledge of their rituals, and with such crimes still relatively commonplace (one gang member was run over and hacked at outside the Shangri-La in Tsim Sha Tsui only a few years back), I found these pieces the least interesting. Just go watch the Infernal Affairs trilogy, instead.

Kudos to Whitehead for still being the only book about what is a fascinating subject, but reading it leaves so many unanswered questions that it becomes a frustrating experience. With plenty of recent high-profile cases (the “Hello Kitty Murder”, Nancy Kissel and the “Milkshake Murder”, the disappearance of Ani Ashekian… only last week, a corpse was discovered in a suitcase in Yuen Long), the time is ripe for someone to re-visit this subject matter and produce a comprehensive study. Now who’s offering?

3/5

Hong Kong Murders, Kate Whitehead (Oxford University Press, 2001), $135, Page One

P.S. I think it says much for Whitehead’s, or her editor’s, lack of depth that I’m not even sure who the evil guy on the front cover is or whether he’s even real or not!

HK gets nutritional: 1 + 7 = catsuit?

After being terrorised by hands coming out from eye sockets, here’s the latest MTR advert to amuse and bemuse.

It’s to mark the advent of the new food labelling system in HK, which detail nutritional information in categories (much like the ones that have been in the UK for a while).

The snazzy slogan to promote this new law is ‘1+7’. Why not just say 8? Is this HK’s reputation for arithmetic aptitude taking it one step too far?

And why have they decided that the obvious way to help us remember this is to dress seven unsuspecting children and one helpless adult in white body-suits? Are we meant to pick our favourite smiling munchkin and thus remember that she represents sodium? No doubt they’ll soon start producing collectible toys of the whole set a la the perennially popular Happy Meals and sold-out sets at 7-11 and Circle K.

Why are the ‘saturated fat’ and ‘trans fat’ ones looking so happy – has no-one told them that they’re the baddies and should thus be represented with devil horns and forked tail? Couldn’t we at least have some Saturdays-style colour-coding scheme or some seven dwarf-style catchy nicknames to make the whole thing more memorable?

HK government marketing division – you can thank me later.

Edit: Have just figured out what they remind me of – the sperm from Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex, But Were Afraid To Ask. I’m fairly sure the HK Government would die if they realised this.

Advert from http://www.nutritionlabel.gov.hk

Windmills of my mind

I promised you more pretty things and here they are:

So pretty! I love the colourful cute designs on the body of the pens as well.

Again, from Ella, this time for a mere $6.9. Beauty plus functionality and the ability to tell if a typhoon’s brewing – what more could you ask for from a humble biro?!

Isola restaurant review – that’s amore!

Isola is one of those restaurants that routinely crops up in magazines, reviews and forums as one of HK’s best – whether it’s for being the best Italian, the best pizza or the best view in town. Surely it can’t be all three?

Nevertheless, anyone with eyes and a functioning brain could cast an easy vote for ‘best view’, as seen above. Huge floor-to-ceiling windows not only give Isola a wonderfully light and airy atmosphere, but also allow you to soak up an unimpinged vista of HK’s harbour, beautiful both by day or night (save for HK’s never-ending construction sites). Isola also offers terrace dining for those of you courageous enough to brave potential downpours and bloodthirsty mosquitoes in order to enjoy the view. But a great view alone is not enough to make a great restaurant so onto the food.

Firstly, if your idea of ‘best Italian in town’ constitutes hearty dishes in ‘Mama’s favourite’ style portions served to you by jovial Italian gentlemen to the tune of That’s Amore (this idealised image may have spawned directly from The Lady & The Tramp, damn you Disney!), then Isola may not be your cup of tea, or indeed glass of vino. This is modern Italian dining in a refined setting (I loved the clean chic white décor and the beautiful lace-like woodcut details), with a menu stuffed with lots of fancy names, premium ingredients and nary a bolognaise in sight.

The bread was lovely and fresh, even if no-one bothered to explain to us the different varieties. No-one bothered to explain the sludge-coloured spread either; my boyfriend suggested it might be bread in paste form (!) and from the nondescript taste, his guess is as good as any. Answers on a postcard please.

Whenever I see scallops on a menu, I am powerless to resist so we kicked things off with scallops wrapped in pancetta on white polenta with black truffle ($208). These were as delicious as scallops should be – meaty, juicy and with that trademark hint of sweetness. Pairing scallops with some sort of cured pork product is a classic combination and justifiably so – the crispy salty pancetta complemented the sweet shellfish perfectly. Elsewhere, the black truffle dressing added an earthy little kick and the wisps of crispy onion on top were a decent addition. But the polenta, which I think was the white foam on the bottom, was one texture too far. I’d say it was one taste too far as well, but I can’t really say it tasted of anything. I don’t think it added anything to the dish.

For mains, I went for the strozapretti – hand twisted pasta with mixed seafood and fresh tomatoes ($188). This, again, was absolutely delicious. On first taste, you might think the sauce was a little bland but with each mouthful, it builds into something light yet really appetising. The pasta was gorgeous as well; you can definitely tell it’s fresh and hand-made, as it practically melts in the mouth (something I didn’t think pasta could do!). I was also pleasantly surprised by the amount and variety of seafood – and thankfully, it’s miles away from the pre-packed ‘fruits de mer’ other restaurants dish up. There were prawns, shrimp meat, scallops and squid, all in plentiful supply and all sweet, fresh, meaty and delicious.

The boyfriend opted for a stone-baked pizza and c’mon, even the photo is good enough to eat, right? It’s also far too big for one person! He went for the Piccante ($168), which was topped with spicy Italian salame (not a typo, that’s how the menu spells it!), mozzarella, tomato and black olive. It was good to see (and eat!) a salame that was not razor-thin slices of cured meat you can get from any old Park n’ Shop; this stuff felt like it had actually started life as a sausage and rather than just being salty, was robust and delightfully spicy. The pizza base was the thinner, crispier kind that I love and yes, it was possibly the best pizza I’ve had in HK. Admittedly, more the gourmet variety rather than comfort food designed for noshing whilst slobbed out on the sofa in front of America’s Next Top Model.

With no room (and no money!) left for pudding, we were served some complimentary petit-fours with the bill. I don’t really think this is an Italian tradition, more a signal of Isola’s high-end dining ethos and it was nice touch, albeit one nicer in conception than in digestion. They were a bit dry and the bow-shaped ones were utterly tasteless (the whirl-shaped ones were softer, sweeter and much nicer though).

A few more tips – have the strength of character to say no to mineral water, however snooty the waiter seems! We caved in to the suggestion of still water, hence adding a mighty $75 to our bill ($68 plus 10% service charge), enough for a whole meal down the cha cha deng! Others have commented that Isola is a little tricky to find – we cut through Lane Crawford to reach it, and following signs directing you to the roof verandah should lead you in the right direction (and provide that stunning view for free, which is actually where I took my photos). And if you’re hoping to do dinner before going to the cinema in the IFC (as we did), bear in mind Isola doesn’t open for the evening until 6.30pm.

So best view? Check. Best pizza? Check. Best Italian? For me, Isola doesn’t have enough range in its menu or offer enough traditional staples to make it the best Italian in town, per se. However, the combination of view, décor and quality of food do make it one of the best restaurants in HK, if a little overpriced. Save those pennies and share that pizza, next time!

Isola Bar + Grill, Shop 3071-75, Level 3, IFC Mall, Central, Hong Kong, 2383 8765.