Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Formal presentations

A participant observation

On stage at this Congress, say after a plenary presentation, most unexpected – at least to this naïve British participant-observer – were the ceremonial presentations of souvenirs to VIPs who had participated, and the pictorial recording of this brief ceremony in a formalised photograph.

For the purpose of the Congress, I was a 'VIP'

The ceremony consists of a short formal anouncement by a Master or Ceremonies, then a souvenir is handed over, a hand is shaken – and suddenly the action freezes, with both giver and receiver looking fixedly to camera, smiling broadly. There is a flash, a burst of applause from the audience, and the ceremony is over

A similar ritual, usually without the souvenir, is seen all the time round the world, on television newsreels, when politicians strut their joyless stuff in the 'international community' – but at the Hong Kong CE Congressthis was real people – this was me. And in Hong Kong these ceremonies were far from joyless. People seemed to be really enjoying them. That went for the audiences too.

The set, fixed poses that people adopt to have their photos taken do not seem as artificial, dated even, as they would in my own society. They seem part of a wider social repertoire, 'part of the culture' as they say. How many times have we all been asked, back in our own countries, to take a photo of Chinese tourists in front of something that they regard as being of note? And have you ever received Chinese visitors to your place of work witout being asked for a commorative snap soht?

At the Hong Kong Congress, when I finished my presentations, little Chinese ladies would bounce up, giggling, and take turns to photograph instant montages of me in their midst, as if posing in front of some anchient relic (as if?). And oh, the marvellous facial expressions that people adopt in that sudden freeze before the camera clicks. These and the poses looked to have been learned as an integral part of contemporary Chinese upbringing – at least to judge from what I observed of children's spontaneous group play one chilly morning at the Peak.

All this is quite outside outside my own experience. Maybe it is commonplace in strata of my own society, and I just do not get out enough to see it. Maybe it is what they do in Europe and America. Either way, and even though I had seen it before, on a previous visit to Hong Kong, I still surprised and delighted me to see it in the context of Conductive Education.

Among my souvenirs

Over the years I have picked up a small scattering of stuff to commemorate this or that around the world (nothing from the UK) but concrete souvenirs, in my experience anyway, have been somewhat serendippitous. Occasionally there is one, usually there is not. In Hong Kong, however, they seen a routine part of doing the sort of things that I did over the last twenty-five years of so of my unfortunate career.

People must accumulate houses, offices full of souvenirs.

For my part, on the platform following my plenary session, rather embarrassed and with no real sense of quite how to stand or behave, I received a rather nice framed painting of a junk sailing choppy waters in front of the Honk Kong Congress Centre.

The painting is by disabled artist and athlete Wong Wing Hong. It is a charming object. I have never managed to see the actual junk and I do not know Hong Kong from this vantage point but the picture is already on the wall, and it works – I cannot see it but I experience a rush of associations. Thank you SAHK for the memories. Thank you Mr Wong for this trigger for them.

Wong Wing Hong


My own picture, 21 cm x 13 cm, is acrillic on board.

My thanks to Ivan Su for some additional information –

Wong Wing Hong lives and works at SAHK's Woche sheltered workshop and hostel. His flair for Boccia has earned him medals in many local competitions and access to the Hong Kong Boccia Team for overseas competition. He retired from the Hong Kong Boccia team after the '08 Beijing Paralympics and is now focussing upon organising an exhibition of his pictures for the future.

As an aside, whatever happened to the opportunities and camaraderie that workshops and hostels offered in the United Kingdom till they fell victim to that most destuctive of alliances, would-be 'progressive' ideals hand in glove with and the harsh intent to pinch every penny? 

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Blogger Susie Mallett said...

Gill Maguire suggested just before we set off to Hong Kong that perhaps I would be the official photographer as I love taking hundreds of photographs.

There were several official photographers taking the photographs that you describe here in your blog while I was busy taking pictures of a different kind. Of VIPs for example.

It really is a shame that I cannot post photographs here but I will add another to my blog of you being a VIP!

I visited the workshop where the artist who painted your gift works. I purchased several prints by various artists. I will add photographs of these to my blog too over Christmas. At the moment they are hanging up at work with all my other souvenirs for the children to look at tomorrow at our Christmas party.


Tuesday, 21 December 2010 at 20:20:00 GMT  

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