2015年1月19日 星期一

A Mini Epic of Growing Up : "Boyhood" (少年時代)

Attracted originally by a childish face and the title "boyhood" and the fact that it won 3 golden globes at the Berlin Film Festival, I went inside the cinema. At the end of the film I knew that I had seen something unusual: a mini epic of the ups and downs in the the growing up of a boy from 8- to 20. And what a life it was: three changes of fathers, homes and schools, the last being U of Texas. The only thing which stays the same during this dozen year is his bond with his biological mother, father and sister. Whist watching the film, I was struck by how similar the protagonist Mason (Ellar Coltrane) looks despite the various physical changes in the 12 year period portrayed in the film. I only learned why later. It was in reality the exact same Ellar Coltrane who "played" the role for 12 years! How often do you get a film like that!

2015年1月17日 星期六

Saturday Fun (週末趣味)

There was a time, not so really long ago, when a manager was really a manager. He started learning whatever he was doing from the bottom up, starting off at the most junior position, working his way up and knows every step of the business: what needs to be done, how to do what is to be done, who is best for doing what kind of work and how to make every one happy doing whatever it is that he is doing and rising to his own particular level of incompetence. Then came along universities, polytechnical colleges and professional schools and institutes which thought they could help "improve" the quality of management and before long, the job market is flooded with MBA's who have learned all kinds of "theories" of management but who really have little or no meaningful experience of how actually to run a real business enterprise. If the boss of  or the "managing director" or managing partner of a small or medium size enterprise has an exaggerated respect for such "experts", the price of hiring such management "expert" can sometimes be disastrous. Yet society has become so complex that nobody can be expected to know everything there is to know about his own business and there is no way of turning back the trend: we have already become a society run by "professional elites". Fortunately, there is one way of consoling ourselves still open to us: to joke about it, more or less the way that a person perched on the branch of a tree waiting for a pack of howling wild dogs below him to go away on their own and in their own time may have to learn to appreciate the beauty of the surrounding scenery. So here's one.

A man in a hot air balloon realized he was lost.
He reduced altitude and spotted a woman below.
Descending a bit, he shouted to her, "Excuse me, I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago but I don't know where I am. Can you help me?"

The woman below replied, "Your hot air balloon is hovering about 30 feet above the ground, between 40 -41 degrees latitude north and between 59- 60 degrees west longitude."
"Thanks. You must be an engineer," said the balloonist.
"I am," replied the woman, "How did you know?"
"Well," answered the balloonist, "everything you told me is technically correct. But I haven't got the faintest clue what to make of your information. I'm still lost. I'm afraid I have to say that you haven't been helpful at all. If anything, you've delayed my trip !"

The woman below responded, "You must be in Senior Management."
"I am," replied the balloonist, "but how did you know?"
"Well," said the woman, "you don't know where you are nor where you're going. You have risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise, which you've no idea how to keep, and you expect people beneath you to solve your problems. The fact is you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but now, somehow, it's my fault."

Have a nice weekend.

2015年1月12日 星期一

A Journey in Time .1st stop Tehran: 7 National Museum of Glass and Ceramics (時間之旅 :第一站 . 德黑蘭之七: 琉璃及瓷器博物館)

Originally built some 90 years ago by Ahmad Qavam ol-Saltaneh as his residence and office on a 7,000-CM2  garden and used by him till 1953 when this 2-storey octagonal building in mixed Iranian and 19th century European style was sold to the Egyptians as their embassy and remained such for 7 years until it was closed when Iranian-Egyptian relation turned sour during the presidency of Abdul Nasser in Egypt, when it was  sold first to the Commercial Bank and later to Farah Pahlavi in 1976 when she got some Iranian, Austrian and French architects to turn it into a museum. The building has some suspended pillars and a basement with the first floor connected to the second through wooden Russian-style steps with double windows instead of terrace and wooden doors behind the windowpanes to regulate the light and temperature and houses rare glass and ceramics dating back from the 4th millennium B.C. up to the contemporary era and especially 18th and 19th century European glass works in six halls and two entrance halls in separate sections depicting different historical eras and subjects.

Probably the contents of this glass covered trough at the entrance hall is intended as a foretaste of what we may expect from this museum in matters related to history of pottery in the desert strewn country of Iran.

2015年1月11日 星期日

Four cheers for Thomas Dausgaard, Behzod Abdurarimov & the HKPO (為道斯加德,阿貝都萊默及港樂四聲高呼)

Shakespeare once said, "if music be the food of love, play on." But one may also say, "If one loves music, play on". This thought came to me whilst listening to Thomas Dausgaard conducting the HKPO last night at the Cultural Centre. I do not know if one can really exude music. If that is possible at all, then the body of Dausgaard certainly did so. To get a feel of the changing mood of the music, one only has to look at his back, his arms, his legs, his hands, his fingers, the baton he holds and his head: the way he ducks when the orchestra should play more softly, the way he forcefully brings  his head up and down or swings from side to side and then up in rapid succession in excitement, as if his head were his hand when the orchestra should play more in fortimissimo or with passion, the way his hands describes graceful curves in the air, the way he arches his back as the tension should be subdued, the way his tall body sinks or sags when the music should be played in pianissimo, the way he faces a section of the orchestra which is to start provisionally to play a guiding role, the way he points his baton to a particular soloist when the latter should jump in with his notes for a certain passage and the way his whole body supports the relevant mood to be portrayed by the music a spectacle all by itself. One literally feels Dausgaard's complete absorption in the music and his passion to make the music come alive for the audience and touch their soul. And the malleable HKPO seemed to respond wonderfully to Dausgaard's visceral promptings and his passion to make good music. To me, The result is a kind of concert which I haven't heard for quite some time; a concert which moves me and had me completely enraptured as if a spell had been cast on me, oblivious to everything else except the sound from that marvelous orchestra and the ever changing images of Daugaard's literal "embodiment" of his very unique interpretation whatever music of the composer he is conducting, paying meticulous attention to the sound to be evoked from each section of the orchestra , from each musical instrument, whilst always mindful of the overall balance of the sound. I don't know where Daugaard learned the art of conducting but wherever or whoever he learned it from, the conducting style which springs into my mind when I heard him is Celibadache. They share so many things in common except in appearance: he's rather more presentable. 

The first piece of the evening is Mendelssohn's "overture" which is not an overture to any opera but more a tone poem: his Hebrides, more popularly known as "Fingal Cave Overture", written in 1830 and premiered in 1932, a piece of music inspired by his visit to the cave on the island of Staffa, just off the coast of the Hebrides Archipelago in Scotland.  It's mood music. In this piece, Mendelssohn sought to express hi impression of the desolation he felt on the island, the undulating motion of the waves as they lap the rocky coast one after the other, the sprays they create etc., He's not concerned to express any particular "message" or thematic subject. The music itself has become its own subject.  I never heard the piece performed with more balance and perhaps for that reason felt the relevant mood more vividly. Listening to the music, I seemed transported to that magical and mesmerizing island, that cave.

2015年1月10日 星期六

A Journey in Time .1st stop Tehran: 6 Bronzeware of the Museum of Archaelogical Iran (時間之旅 :第一站 . 德黑蘭之六: 伊朗考古博物館之銅器)

Apart from the pottery and stone ware section, the museum also has a section devoted to bronze ware.

Here are some bronze spear heads found at Luristan dated late 2nd and early 1st millenium BCE. Those at the bottom seem more suited for defense than attack.

This one appears quite elaborate and seems to form the head of a ceremonial spear, more decorative than functional.


A double function weapon head

2015年1月9日 星期五

A Journey in Time .1st stop Tehran: 5 Stonewares and Monuments of the Museum of Archaelogical Iran (時間之旅 :第一站 . 德黑蘭之五: 伊朗考古博物館之石器及石碑)

A second section of the museum is devoted to artifacts in stone whilst a third is devoted to those involving the use of bronze. There were much less stone wares, statues or other artifacts than those related to pottery but there were columns and reliefs.

This is a chlorite vase found in Shahdad in Kerman Province and is dated 3rd millenium BCE. It's carved with what appears a woman in a dress on top and beneath her is what appears the head of  a man. What does that mean, that their society was matriarchical? According to internet sources, the Elamites were indeed a matriarchical society. If so, was it made by the proto-Elamites who were then living in the region forming part of Iran today around that time? .

2015年1月8日 星期四

A Journey in Time .1st stop Tehran: 4 Pottery at the Museum of Archaelogical Iran (時間之旅 :第一站 . 德黑蘭之四: 伊朗考古博物館之瓷器)

After visiting the Carpet Museum, we were driven to the National Museum of Iran ( Muze ye Melli ye Irān‎)  which in fact consists of two separate museums viz. the Museum of Archaeological Iran ("Muze ye Irān e Bāstān"), a Sasanian revival brick building inaugurated in 1937), and the Museum of the Islamic Era ("Muze ye Dowrān e Eslāmi", inaugurated in 1972). But in fact we only had sufficient time to see the former but not the latter. The building housing the Museum of Archaeological Iran has three halls exhibiting various artifacts and fossils from the lower, middle, and upper Paleolithic ("Lower/Early  Stone Age" 26,000 to 10,200 BCE ), the Neolithic ("New Stone Age" 10,200 to 8,800 BCE) , Chalcolithic ("Copper Age" 7000-5000 BCE), early Bronze Age (5,000-3300 BCE) [roughly equivalent to the Hemudu culture (河姆渡文化) (5000-4500 BCE) ] and late Bronze Age (3,300 to 1,300 BCE), and Iron Ages I (1,300 to 1,000 BCE ) (the Persian late Bronze Age and Iron Age I roughly straddle the Shang Dynasty(商朝) in China from 2194-1046 BCE) Iron Age II (1,000 to 600 BCE)( roughly equivalent to the period of Spring and Autumn 春秋 (771-746 BCE), Iron Age III ( 600 BCE to 500 CE ) through the Median (678 to 549 BCE), Achaemenid (550 to 330 BCE), Seleucid (312 to 63 BCE) [ Iron Age II, Iron Age III , the Median, Archaemenid  and early Seleucid dynasties are roughly equivalent to the period of Warring Nations 戰國 in China (475-221 BCE) ], Parthian (247 BCE -224 CE) and Sassanid (224-651 CE) periods.  The oldest artifacts in the museum are from Kashafrud, Darband and Ganj Par, sites that date back to the Lower Paleolithic (300,000 to 2,500,000 BCE) period. There are also Mousterian (300,000 years ago) stone tools made by Neanderthals. The most important Upper Paleolithic (50,000-10,000 years ago) tools are those from the Yafteh Cave, dating back approximately 30,000-35,000 years. There are also 9,000 year-old human and animal figurines from Sarab Hill in Kermanshah Province.
The second building  housing the Museum of the Islamic Era also has three floors and exhibits various pieces of pottery, textiles, texts, artworks, astrolabes, and adobe calligraphy from Iran's post-Islamic era .

We were told that the Museum of Archaeological Iran was designed by the French architect Andre Godard using the kind of brick laying style peculiar to Persian architecture.

and its main entrance adopts the style of Sassanid vaults, particularly the iwan of Ctesiphon, the imperial capital of the Parthian or Arsacid (247 BC – 224 CE) Empire and Sassanid Empire(224-651 CE ), the largest city in the world from 570 CE, until its fall in 637 CE during the Muslim conquests.

A full frontal view of the main entrance with its beautiful curves and arches punctuated by straight lines in the typical brownish yellow color of Persian bricks broken by some Persian calligraphic script written in gold over a band of green mosaic tiles.

2015年1月7日 星期三

A Journey in Time .1st stop Tehran: 3 Carpet Museum (時間之旅 :第一站 . 德黑蘭之三: 地毯博物館)

If anyone in Hong Kong has ever heard anything about Persia at all, I'm quite sure that it'll most likely have something to do with the famous "Persian carpets". We got a chance to look at some of the most finely crafted Persian carpets in the Carpet Museum the second morning after we arrived in Tehran. The museum in the nearby Laleh Park, is just 10 minutes away on foot from our hotel .

Before getting to the museum, we first got to pass through the Laleh Park


A clump of rushes at Laleh Park

The exterior of the Carpet Museum, completed in 1976 is deliberately built as if it formed part of a carpet loom. It's the idea of the last queen of Iran, Queen Farah Daba Pahlavi who simply loved Persian carpets. 

2015年1月6日 星期二

A Journey in Time .1st stop Tehran: 2 Sa'dabad Palace (時間之旅 :第一站 . 德黑蘭之二: 薩德亞巴德皇宫)

One of the first places we visited is the Sa'dabad Palace, built by the Pahlavi dynasty, (1925-1979), founded by Reza Shah Pahlavi, a military officer of the Persian Cossack Brigade, after a coup d'etat in 1921 when Ahmad Shah Qajar (the last shah of the Qajar dynasty) showed himself unable to resist British and Russian incursion into Persia. He quickly drove out the Russians and took active steps to modernize Iran by extensive programs of industrialization, urbanization, construction of a cross-country railways system, establishing a national educational system, improving health care and reforming the judiciary etc.thus creating a new educated professional middle class and a new industrial working class but in September 1941, Reza Shah Pahlavi (who studiously avoided awarding huge national contracts to British and Russian companies, preferring Germans, Italians and French companies instead for the sake of  balance of power) was forced io resign in favor of his son Mohammad Shah Pahlavi (who was educated in Western Europe) when Britain (concerned about its interest in the Ango-Iranian Oil Company in south-western Iran) and Soviet Union (after Germany invaded Russia in June 1961) invaded Persia in August 1941 after Reza Shah Pahlavi refused to expel all German nationals from Iran and to allow Allied troops to pass through the officially "neutral" Iranian territory and took control of all of Iranian communications and all railroads. Iranian oil thus fell under the joint control of Britain, America and the Soviet Union. Mohammad Shah Pahlavi who rose to power with the help of Britain and America, therefore agreed to join the Allies against Nazi Germany in 1943.
In January 1942, Britain, America and the Soviet Union signed an agreement with Iran to respect its independence and to withdraw their troops within six months of the ending of the world war. In 1943 at the Tehran Conference, America reaffirmed this commitment, and on 13 September, the Allies reassured the Iranians that all foreign troops would leave by 2 March 1946. But when the war ended in 1945, the USSR refused to announce a timetable to withdraw its troops from the north-western Iranian provinces of East and West Azerbaijan where Soviet-supported autonomy movements of the Turkic tribes had developed, assisted by the Iranian Communist Tudeh Party which had in the meantime become influential in the region and had some parliamentary seats and in November, 1945, Azerbaijan declared independence but this Soviet puppet state lasted only one year, after the Soviet Russians finally withdrew its troops under international political pressure in May, 1946
Up to 1935, "Iran " from the Proto-Iranian term "Aryānā", meaning "Land of the Aryans" ,  (the word "Ērān" having been found in a 3rd-century Sassanid inscription but the Parthian inscription that accompanies it uses the Parthian term "aryān" ) had always been called in the West "Persia", from the ancient Greek word  "Persis" itself derived from  "Pars" or "Fars", first used by the Iranian tribes themselves. It was Reza Shah Pahlavi who in 1935 first began to ask all foreigners to address his country officially by its traditional name of "Iran" instead of "Persia" but in 1959, Mohammad Shah Pahlavi, decreed that both "Persia" and "Iran" were acceptable and could be used interchangeably.
Mohammad Shah Pahlavi wanted to continue the reform policies of his father, but a power struggle soon erupted in 1951 between him and an older professional politician, the elected nationalistic Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, who nationalized the oil industries although Mohammad Shah Pahlavi was opposed to it. An attempt was made to assassinate Mohammad Shah Pahlavi by the pro-Soviet Tudeh Party. He fled Iran but returned when Britain and America staged a military coup d'etat against Mossadegh in August 1953 and had him arrested by the pro-Shah armed forces. Thereafter, Mohammad Shah Pahlavi engineered some constitutional reforms which increased his powers, outlawing the Tudeh Party and strengthening the armed forces (which were his power base, as was the case of his father). To prevent further opposition and to gain popular support, Reza Shah Pahlavi instituted the so-called "White Revolution" in 1963, involving a wide ranging program of reforms for the elimination of illiteracy, huge infra-structure building projects, more women and workers rights etc.But at the same time he tightened his control of the country by relying more and more on the use of the secret police  called "SAVAK" to suppress dissident voices, provoking opposition from intellectuals who wanted more democracy. His reforms also threatened the traditional authority of the religious leaders. It was obvious that Mohammad Shah Pahlavi saw himself as heir to the kings of ancient Iran: in 1971 he held a celebration of 2,500 years of the Persian monarchy and in 1976, he replaced the conventional western calendar (year 1355) with an "Imperial" calendar (year 2535) which began with the foundation of the Persian Empire over twenty-five centuries earlier. These actions were viewed as celebrating a pre-Islamic past, and resulted in more religious opposition by the clergy, particularly by the exiled cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. All this eventually culminated in the Islamic Revolution of 1978 and 1979, which deposed him, dissolved the SAVAK and replaced it with the SAVAMA. According to American and exiled Iranian sources, the new regime is run by Gen. Hossein Fardoust, who was deputy chief of SAVAK under Mohammad Reza's reign, and a friend from boyhood of the deposed monarch. In January 1979, Mohammad Shah Pahlavi and his family fled the country, the Shah seeking medical treatment in Egypt, Mexico, the United States, and Panama, and finally resettled with his family in Egypt as a guest of Anwar Sadat, thus officially ending a 4,679-year-old monarchic tradition in Iran. Upon his death on July 27, 1980 his son Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi succeeded him in absentia as heir apparent to the Pahlavi dynasty. Reza Pahlavi and his wife now live in Potomac, Maryland, USA with three daughters.

This is a map at the entrance to the Sa'dabad Palace. The Palace in fact consists of some 18 castles or houses which were first used as a residence by the Qajar dynasty monarchs and their royal families in the 19th century. After an expansion of the compounds in the 1920's , Reza Shah Pahlavi used it as his residence. In the 1970's, his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi also moved there. But after the Iranian Revolution, some parts of the palace complex have been turned into various museums. However, the current presidential palace is still located adjacent to the Sa'dabad compound and the palace named "Kakhe malakeye madar" is used by the Iranian President to entertain foreign dignitaries. We visited two of such houses viz. White Castle or White House, now called the National Museum Castle and the Shahvand Castle, now called the Green Museum and also the palace gardens.

2015年1月5日 星期一

A Journey in Time .1st stop Tehran: 1 : Azadi Tower (時間之旅 :第一站 . 德黑蘭之一: 自由紀念碑 )

Before I went to Iran during the Christmas and New Year holidays, my image of this middle Eastern country, like that so many others in Hong Kong and perhaps in other lands dominated by Anglo-American media, consisted little more than the bearded, turbaned and thick eye-browed figure of the Islamic fundamentalist Ayatollah Rudollah Khomeini who is supposed to be behind all kinds of terrorisms, suicide-bombings, linked with the followers of Al-Quida and all other kinds of terrorist activities, atrocities and the ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), the undefeated enemy of American-supported Iraq in an 8-year war between the two Islamic states ending only in 1988, the longest conventional war in contemporary history and now intent on developing atomic weapons and hence subject to investigations by the UN and to the trade, financial and weapons embargo by the United States of America since 1996.In short, a pretty tough, belligerent, hostile, strong and extremist country beyond the comprehension of the civilized  world. The truth is of course much much more complex than that. What was Iran and what is the present Iran like?

This is the Azadi Tower (Borje Āzādi‎ in Persian) which means "Freedom/Liberty Tower"  in the Iranian capital Tehran, inaugurated on October 16, 1971 to celebrate the 2,500th anniversary of the founding of the first Persian Empire, formerly called "Shahyad Tower" (or Borj e Ŝahyād‎ in Persian) meaning "King Memorial Tower" because its construction was ordered by the previous Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi who was deposed in the 1979 Islamic Revolution which installed Khomeini in power. Its the result of a national design competition won by the architect, Hossein Amanat who ingeniously combined elements of all previous Persian architectural styles from the most ancient Zoroastrian Archaemenid (648-330 BCE) and the most recent Zoroastrian Sassanid (224-651 CE ) dynasties to  post-Islamic Iranian architecture during and after the conquest of Persia by the Muslim Arabs from 633-651 CE. The 164-foot Tower, built with 8,000 computer-designed and produced white marble slabs from Isfahan (another ancient capital of Persia during the Safavid Dynasty (1501-1722 CE) in the 16th Century ) and financed by 500 top Iranian industrialists in the late 1960s, sits atop a museum literally "show-casing" 50 representative samples of Persian civilization from different eras in its long and complicated history from antiquity to the 19th century, including ancient square flagstones, gold sheeting, and terra cotta tablets from Susa (the most ancient Persian capital of the Medes and Persians) covered with uniform cuneiform characters, painted pottery, ceramics, varnished porcelains (like a 7th-century blue and gold dish from Gorgan), an illuminated Koran, miniatures and paintings highlighting milestones in the country's history, represented by two painted panels from the Queen Farah Pahlavi's collections. But its most important exhibit is a replica of the Cyrus Cylinder (named after Cyrus II or Cyrus the Great (c 576-530 BCE ) being one of the most enlightened Persian emperors, who emphasized justice, equality and mutual toleration of different races, religions, gender, customs, cultures and even local autonomy at a time when Persia was a world power whose sovereignty stretched from Greece to the Indus Valley in north India) as the original was "taken" by Britain during its occupation of Iran from 1941-1946 in World War II after attacking Iran (which at the time, like Turkey was neutral) when Shah Pahlavi refused to allow Allied troops to be deployed against German forces from Iranian territory simply because Britain, in league with Soviet Union, was worried that Germany "might" gain control of Iranian oil then under the control of the Anglo-Iranian Company  ) and is now housed in the British Museum.