30 June 2010

[HK 24] : "Home" away from home

I haven't gotten to the point, yet, when I can call Hong Kong "home," but the feeling of it sometimes wells up, mostly because my mom has been here with me for the past three weeks.  She's been doing a bit of business while here so has had her own agenda, but it's been nice spending time together after work and together for weekend trips.

One of my younger coworkers, about to head to uni, asked me whether it's been weird living with a parent again.  My first thought was, "I guess I'm old enough now that it doesn't bother me."  What I meant was, I've gotten to a point when my mom is more my friend than an overbearing authority figure.  (Which...still sometimes happens, but less often.)  We have similar tastes and both enjoy quality food, discovering interesting places, and looking at old stuff like ruins and traditional housing.  Our tastes diverge elsewhere (i.e. I don't mind trekking around decrepit places and walking as exploration, while my mom prefers observing luxury and taking cabs), but it's just a different style of traveling and I take it as it is.

Since she's leaving tomorrow, she's had this urgency to let me experience some of her favorites around Hong Kong.  Yesterday after a tasty dinner at Shanghai Garden with family friends (which I found out later has 1 Michelin star...HK is turning me high class), we went up to the Peak to see the city at night.  The Peak, the tallest mountain on Hong Kong Island, is extremely touristy, but I have to admit that the views from above were pretty spectacular despite the hoards of Korean and Beijingers swarming about.  Too bad my camera isn't up to par, especially with low-to-no lighting, but here's an attempt at capturing the expansive scene:

Tonight we grabbed a table at another crowded venue, Tsui Wah restaurant right off of Lan Kwai Fung in Central.  Her favorite s their well known condensed milk buns, generously toasted and slathered with butter.  Even at 10:30pm, the 2 story restaurant - self proclaimed "cafe" but too boisterous to be a real one - was full of locals and the occasional foreign partier.  Fish ball noodle soup rounded off our "ngai yew zhu tsai bao."

Tomorrow morning I send my mom off to the airport... and there goes my taste of home until I find it for real in the growing familiarity of this island.

28 June 2010

[HK 23] : Banned!

The heading seems a bit deceiving, but the two bits of exciting news came together: I received my first postcard in Hong Kong, which was super exciting (hooray!), and I found out this blog is banned in China, which puts me in the ranks of Google.

Thanks, Yushiro, for sending me a card from Hong Kong, of all places haha.  (Awesome - and I have yet to come across any postcards since being here!  I'm backlogged for sure.)  And hey, I guess I now have a bit of notoriety to my name.

- - -
currently :
  • feeling : full of hot pot
  • weather : still rainy, but hoping for some sun

27 June 2010

[HK 22] : Likable in HK

This is an Australian couple's list of things they love about HK, after living here for 7 years.

What will mine be?  I'm formulating mine, but need some more time to articulate it.  From this list, one easy one is the Octopus card (called the "Bat dat tong"), which you can use in all public transportation, convenience stores, most grocery stores, and a slew of other places.  One that I'm a bit iffy on is the smells - some are just a bit too raw for me - but there IS a very signature...Hong Kong smell.  I don't even know how to describe it (musty...a combination of dust, stale incense, leftover cigarette smoke, old people perhaps?), but you find it in the streets and especially in apartment elevators.  And you know it's Hong Kong.

Getting off the humble horse

After being warned about the "humility topos" :
“I’m from a time and place,” [David] Mitchell said after some deliberation, “where bigheadedness was a really savage crime, and you’d get cut down for it by your peers and parents. I’m not from a milieu where high-register language or philosophical ideas were welcome. So my stage persona is self-effacing. Though it was a little harsh of the woman in New Zealand — and I felt a bit unjustly bruised — I actually was pleased as well. She gave me the idea that you shouldn’t present a persona of cultivated pretensionlessness. False modesty can be worse than arrogance.”

- from Wyatt Mason's article, "David Mitchell, the Experimentalist," 
published 21.6.2010 in the NYTimes Magazine

Wise words.  David Mitchell wrote Cloud Atlas, one of the better/best books I've read in recent years.

26 June 2010

[HK 21] : Sea pigs in the rain

The Chinese word for dolphin is literally translated as "sea pig" (海豚 "hoi tuen"), which I think is somewhat of a funny interpretation of the playful yet not exactly porky marine mammal.  The ones we saw today are particularly special, though, because they're Chinese white dolphins.  Actually, they're mostly pink, but some hover on the white end and baby dolphins are gray.

Pink in the wild?  I started to consider all the pink animals I know of and came up with typical ones like pigs and flamingos.  Some sites mention naked mole rats (yes, I actually looked this up), and another blogger lists more unusual ones, including today's friend.

The boat trip left from Tung Chung (confusingly pronounced "Dong Chong") on Lantau Island and was coordinated by my office as a free social event.  It was nice seeing coworkers relaxed in flip flops rather than parked in front of monitors all day, and so we set sail even despite pouring rain and choppy seas.

I sadly don't have any photos of the 2 dolphins we saw today: they only came up for air briefly and did a few more extended body slams, but each moment - accompanied by a delighted and very loud squeal from the women - was too brief and my camera hand too slow.  So pictured above is around Lung Kwu Chao, the island near which we had our first dolphin sighting.  They truly ARE extremely pink in color, which was a fun contrast to the somewhat gloomy everything else.  Here's someone else's photo, in hopes that I'll be able to replace it with my own if I go dolphin watching again:

via mapasia.com

Wild life in Hong Kong outside the concrete jungle - it exists!  *sigh of relief*

- - -
currently :
  • feeling : drenched
  • weather : soaking, but thankfully my umbrella has held up

25 June 2010

[HK 20] : Si / Xiao

1) A little Paris :

or a little verite (= truth)

2) A little sweet :

or a little care (my mom bought one for me, one for herself)

3) A little tea :

or a little mouthwash (used to cleanse the palate between courses)

4) A little ornament :

or a little prison (my great grandmother had bound feet)

5) A little room :
or a little intimacy (Kowloon Walled City's vibrant community)

5) A little letter :

or a little love from afar (handwritten notes take more devotion to write)

24 June 2010

[HK 19] : The only Hutong in HK

...and my first Michelin starred meal, which would have been the highlight of yesterday, until Donovan's last minute goal...

Anyways, I was talking with George from MIT over lunch and he mentioned having awesome soft shelled crab at a restaurant at the top of One Peking Road in Tsim Sha Tsui.  When it came up in conversation with my mom after work, she knew immediately which restaurant that was - Hutong - since she had wanted to take me there.  And so then we went, having snagged a 9pm reservation.

Hutong, named after the narrow alleys and gray courtyard housing in Beijing (very cool, by the way, if you get a chance to wander through before they're all torn down by developers), is on the 28th floor and has a sweeping view of Victoria Harbour that in itself makes for a great experience.  It's very much a concept restaurant, part of the Aqua Restaurant group and fashioned to look like Imperial China.  Usually this would be quite cheesy and artificial, but I think they pulled it off well.

They had a special menu recently redone that was a celebration of the restaurant's receiving a Michelin star for 2010.  I didn't realize before this that the restaurant even had a star - and even one is a pretty big deal in the food world.  And because I can't resist taking pictures of my food...  hence, plenty of documentation.  At first I thought it might be rude or - cough - uncouth, but I saw the waitstaff helping other tables take pictures, so I figured a camera was less than foreign to them.

One note on the waitstaff: they were some of the most gracious hosts and extremely attentive.  If you even attempted to pour your own tea, someone would rush over and do it for you.  They were enthusiastic and polite to the T (or "ah," in Canto), also trying their best to answer non-food inquiries, like how to get from Dong Chung to Tai-O or what music was playing in the background.

As an amuse-bouche (or maybe just a pre-meal snack, which is common in Chinese restaurants), they had pickled vegetables with edamame.  My mom loves Chinese pickles, so this was one of her favorite parts of the meal actually.  The tea was osmanthus flower, which was quite fragrant and delicious.

The appetizer was a little trio : asparagus coated with a sweet and spicy sauce (maybe a tangy oyster?  not sure) and sesame; abalone carpaccio with spring onions, shredded raw onion and cilantro (v. good); and sliced scallops with pomelo (related to grapefruit).  So far so good.

The first course was followed by a second of seafoods : prawns with Sichuan peppers and chilis ("ma" and "la" flavors, respectively), scallions, and celery (v. good); and cod fillet (really tasted like Chilean sea bass) with deep fried fermented beans.  The shrimp was more flavorful and all around a better dish, although the combination of the two together was a nice complement.  I also liked the juxtaposition of the melt-in-your-mouth fish with the crunchy beans, although it was a bit too oily.

The crispy deboned lamb served Peking duck style with a side of garlic sauce was also v. good, although by this time I was already feeling pretty full.  For the price, it's nice to feel more than full and then be able to pack food away rather than shelling out your wallet and leaving with a stomach still wanting food.

The last dish is listed "vegetable" but is certainly not vegetarian: stir fried green beans with minced pork, dried baby shrimp, and garlic.  This is usually one of my favorite things to eat no matter what restaurant, but sadly - my stomach doesn't have enough capacity to eat more than a few bites.  Tasty, yet a bit oily.

Dessert consisted of apple spring rolls (or "fingers") with date syrup as dipping sauce, and ginger ice cream.  The ice cream was far superior, since it had little fragments of ginger in it and tasted great.  The spring rolls were ok but didn't have that much taste, even when dipped in the syrup.

So was it worth it?  In terms of price, I always think that food could be cheaper, and this was quite a tasty meal but not the best I've had.  In terms of experience, I'm glad we did it, for the food as well as the atmosphere.  It's fun being able to enjoy quality food, but I'm also glad my palate hasn't been so spoiled as to reject the normal burger and fries and simpler fodder.  Quality over price and quantity is my motto.  I also wouldn't be able to rationalize (well, head or heart) eating such expensive meals more than just on special occasions, conscience-wise, but once in a while, an indulgence.

28/F, One Peking Road
Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon

- - -
  • feeling : like my eyes are permanently glazed open from staring at the computer all day
  • weather : rain rain rain

Fighting 'ensekerite'

You don't need to know Haitian Creole to have an idea of what "ensekerite" means. It looks like "insecurity" and indeed, it's the local word used to describe the country's past and current perpetual condition of instability.

An article in the MIT News caught my eye, focusing on the claims of Erica James, an anthropologist at the Institute, that the country needs a more focused rebuilding from within rather than well meaning yet outside aid. She targets the psychological trauma faced by Haitians, which I've considered but never really thought about deeply. The media broadcasts horrific photos of destruction and despair, but the crux of their stories are rarely about mending people rather than mending infrastructure.

I guess this goes back to what I've mentioned in previous posts: equipping people to help themselves.  But easier said than done...

The rubble project I was working on last semester has been put on pause lately, although I'd like to inject some life into it. I feel torn between 2 approaches: learning more about the technical side of potential solutions and bringing the project to a point that it can be implemented, OR taking a step back and learning as much as I can about Haiti, the people, the culture, the history. But maybe they need not be such mutually exclusive approaches ... time as a limiting factor, though, gets me.

There's the enduring 'ensekerite' that Haitians experience, and then there's my own temporary 'ensekerite' to fight against.

23 June 2010

Feeling patriotic

Scenes of ecstatic jubilation on the field in Pretoria. Here in Manhattan, the sounds of cheers outside my window on the Upper West Side!

Algerian fans in tears at the stadium! Donovan embraced by his teammates! US fans dancing in the stands!
Thanks to the NYTimes commentary and the England/Slovenia game ending early, I got to watch the last few minutes of the US/Algeria game just as Donovan scored.  Such good timing!  The home team advances!  It's hilarious and nerve wracking to watch the World Cup while reading online commentaries from another match and chattering furiously with 4 friends...  all simultaneously.  And then afterwards I feel exhausted from the adrenaline.

And at least thanks to the time difference, I get to be at home and getting ready for bed as these major matches are showing.  People back in the US have to grapple with distractions like work ...  I was telling Megs that she should make some sort of screen to put around herself as she listens to matches, with a sign saying :

I would proudly make such a sign for her!

Anyways, the moment of the night:

And now for the activity of the night: sleep.

[HK 18] : Twins!

No, I'm not talking about the Cantopop girl duo (who are in fact not twins, but a product of the HK music industry), I'm talking about ones far more interesting : bananas.

I seem to keep talking about fruit, but hey - in a tropical area, you can't help but like them and eat them often.  And milk bananas are quickly ranking up there among my favorites.  They're short and fat, with a nicely sweet taste that gets better as the banana ripens, unlike normal bananas, whose taste when yellow I don't really like.  Milk bananas are mostly

Imagine my delight when I saw a whole cartful of milk bananas at the rest stop on the way back from Toisan!

And one unique thing about the bunch we got (which was freshly cut from the trunk, as seen in the photo) was ...  we managed to get twins :)

Today my mom and I finally opened and ate them.

Delicious and cute at the same time.  Mmmm ...

- - -
  • feeling : up for going out and about
  • weather : raindrops are falling on our heads... and yet there still seems to be a need to wash the windows.

22 June 2010

On pride

 "[I had]...dreams of success, fame, love, and the like...I have had dozens of them...dreams in which I said clever things...fought battles, and generally forced the world to acknowledge what a remarkable person I was."
- from an essay written in 1941

"The side of me which longs...to be approved as a writer, is not the side of us that is really worth much.  And depend upon it, unless God has abandoned us, he will find means to cauterize that side somehow or other.  If we can take the pain well and truly now and by it forever get over the wish to be distinguished beyond our fellows, well: if that we shall get it again in some other form.  And honestly, the being cured, with all the pain, has pleasure too: one creeps home, tired and bruised, into a state of mind that is relatively restful, when all one's ambitions have been given up."

- from a letter to his friend Greeves

"... Perhaps it will be the most wholesome thing for my soul that I lose both fame and skill lest I were to fall into that evil disease, vainglory."
- from a letter written at the age of 50

_ references from p. 120-123, The Question of God

I've been reading The Question of God, a comparison of C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud on worldviews, life, death, and the existence of God by Dr. Armand Mr. Nicholl, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.  The snippets of time as I brush my teeth and before going to bed are when I've been able to read most, and so far it's been a fascinating and well-researched read.  Whether an atheist or faith-believing person, readers including myself would find challenges within its pages, methinks.

The chapter on happiness also addresses pride, or self-conceit (not self-love, a clarification Lewis makes).  The quotes above probably speak for themselves, but I found them relevant as I've been grappling with my own pride lately.  Since I got to HK, a whole slew of my own "vainglories" were made starkly apparent: the wish for acceptance through speaking Cantonese well, the wish to boost my credentials through overseas work experience, the wish to become well known for new research or design interventions . . . even the wish for more people to read this blog, among others.

But to what end?  These skills or "success stories" in themselves aren't worth much, this is true, if just for myself and not really for any other benefit unless focused outward for the larger glory of one more deserving.  So I guess I'm now trying to keep my eyes open to what God might be teaching me and how He might be using me during the rest of my month and a half here.

This song - "At the Foot of the Cross," written by Tre Sheppard - came to mind and may be what Lewis was talking about in the 2nd quote, especially verse 2:
At the foot of the cross
I give up my vain ambition
And I leave my selfish pride.
In the peace that is there,
Will you restore my vision,
In all the places that are blind?

I will wait here at the cross.
- - -
  • feeling : sick
  • weather : super air conditioned inside

21 June 2010

[HK 17] : Stomach matters

Of the questions people from home have asked me since being here, one of the most frequent ones is, "So, what have you eaten??"  Food is one of the things I looked forward to when planning my summer, since HK is a great place to find just about whatever you'd want to eat, from the super cheap eateries and street food to the high class dining rooms.  (Although, their southern BBQ is left wanting... should just leave it up to their American grillin' counterparts.)

Some recent eats:

  • Mak Siu Yee's Traditional Wonton Noodle
    My mom loves this place and had us trek over to this little shop, in Central near Lan Kwai Fong, for a bowl of their well known wonton noodle soup.  It's gotten a lot of press and reviews and is used to the attention, especially given the press and awards photos under the glass table tops.  It's still an unassuming shop, with good service and v. tasty noodles.  The serving size is pretty small, though, especially given the price of $27 for the bowl above.  The wontons themselves were the best part, although the noodles were still firm and finer than many others you'd try elsewhere.  The soup had an MSG after taste, which made me like it less.  We also got an order of shrimp egg noodles, which had a slight fishy but quite pleasantly savory taste.

    _ 77 Wellington St. _ MTR: Central _ 28543810

  •  MOS Burger
    Thomas had told me I had to try this Japanese burger chain when I was in Tokyo, but I didn't end up seeing one.  Funny how I now got a second chance - and third, fourth, and fifth if I want, since there's one right across the street from my apartment building.  Their motto, "Making people happy through food," already makes me fond of the place.  I tried their straight up classic MOSBurger, with a thickly sliced tomato and dripping with what looked like a mix of mayo and a chili-bbq sauce.  The first few bites were underwhelming, which made me wonder what the hype was about.  Then I realized - it's all about the sauces.  I'm really not a sauce person, but they definitely made the burger.  Made it.  It's still probably not the best one I've had, but I'm looking forward to trying some of the rice burgers (rice patty instead of a bun).  This site gives a nice breakdown.

  • Santouka Ramen Shop
    When my mom and I don't feel like going far to eat, we go downstairs to Jusco, the super-supermarket on the first three floors of our building.  Besides the grocery store itself, you can also find ready-made foods (like yummy "lo sui" eggs), fresh squeezed juices (favorite: carrot and pear), and more.  There are also a few restaurants on the perimeter, including this ramen shop.  It's by no means the best ramen I've had, but its miso-based soup and their fatty pork are pretty good.  I've also been craving a lot of soup noodles lately, so it's been satisfying.

    2 Kornhill Rd. _ MTR: Tai Koo

  • Cuisine Cuisine
    This polished restaurant on the top floor of the IFC tower podium has a great view looking out to the Victoria Harbor, although the food didn't quite match the atmosphere.  My mom had come here previously with friends and really wanted me to try it.  The service was smooth and efficient, although the dishes we ordered were presented very simply and were often quite salty.  (Above, deep fried fish fillets with spring onions in soy sauce.)  Maybe we picked the wrong dishes to sample, but ah well - good experience nonetheless.  Their fresh squeezed watermelon juice is at least worth tasting.

    3101, podium level 3, ifc mall, Central, Hong Kong

20 June 2010

[HK 16] : Slum preservation

Mei Ho House, Block 41 of the Shek Kip Mei estate development

For the Theory of City Form class I took with Julian Beinart in the Spring, I, along with many of my classmates, still have to write a research paper to complete the class.  My original topic was to analyze Tokyo's spontaneous urban development post WW II in comparison with the DIY nature of slums, in hopes of extracting some principle ways for slum redevelopment.  But now that I'm in Hong Kong for the summer and might not be able to make it over to Japan before heading back home, I've been looking in the local area for the possibility of recrafting my topic and making this my research ground.

It's actually been pretty interesting, discussing the subject with my mom and brainstorming places that might be good to investigate.  Today we went to Shek Kip Mei in the northern part of Kowloon, where there used to be a host of shacks until a fire in 1953 destroyed many of them.  The government then built its first public housing here, but demolished much of it in 2006 as part of their Urban Renewal plans.  This unit, though, will be preserved as a historic building, to be converted into a youth hostel.

The residents were evicted and the building fenced off, although the rehabilitation has yet to occur.

There are quite a few apartment complexes (here, called estates) that were built in the 50s and 60s and now are in pretty squalid conditions, although improvements have occurred over the years.  (I think of Chungking Mansions.)  The HK government, though, has been on the move with its renewal program, either tearing down or renovating these blocks to make way for new public housing.  The Kowloon Walled City was one of these demolition instances, although it was never rebuilt but paved over with a classical park.  I might look into the conditions in HK that create this sort of urban ghetto environment, and gauge the government's action to remedy it.  I've read citations that laud HK for being one of the top 5 most efficient governments in slum eradication.  Does this mean the poverty line has been raised?  Is it actually a good approach?

I found this sign in the area at a nearby construction site (over a demolished part of the Estates) and was amused :

19 June 2010

[HK 15] : Homecoming, of sorts

On the way to Toisan, nature meets industrialization

Today my mom and I, along with a family friend, took a day trip to Toisan ( , Taishan in Mandarin) to visit her hometown.  My mom was born in a small village in the southern part of the county, but she and my grandmother left when she was 2 years old and she hasn't been back since.

Until now.

It was a homecoming for her and for me, a window into my family background.  My mom's mom had lived with us while growing up, so I actually spoke Cantonese, English, and Toisanese fluently up until the age of 6.  Although I completely lost my Toisanese speaking skills (and much of my Canto as well), I've been used to hearing its slurpy sound when my mom calls my relatives.  It's closely related to Cantonese, mixed with Vietnamese and other somewhat guttural sounds swirled in.

We visited a relative who ends up being my cousin, although she's about my mom's age and her daughter around mine.  The temperature was 90 F but felt like 110 F ... and despite our dripping sweat, we trekked around to see the area in our brief 4 hours there.  Our relatives brought us to my mom's old house, which she remarkably somehow remembers:

It's about 100 years old with the original wood and clay tiled roof.  Much of it is falling apart now, though, so it's used mostly for storage nowadays.  The top level is actually supposed to be used for storage and is accessible only by ladder, although some houses converted that space into bedrooms.

It was amazing to see these older types of houses still standing, others being lived in day to day.  Many others, though, are being torn down and replaced with more modern-looking houses with flat roofs and balconies:

My mom's cousin lives in the more modern house on the left.  
A traditional house stands sandwiched between his and its equally modern neighbor.

Here, the collision between tradition and contemporary, brought on by industrialization, is so apparent.  As we were driving, we saw rice paddy fields and fish farms right next to new mid-rise apartment complexes.  This village area is only a 15 minute drive from the nearby downtown area, which is a smaller version of the typical Chinese city.  Highways are being built as we speak, next to fields where water buffalo graze.

The water in the area varies in shades of brown, tan, and orange, reflecting the color of the dug up soil.
(Cue song : "Everybody's got a water buffalo ...")

The life here stands in such stark contrast with our life back in the States.  My mom and my cousin were talking about fixing up the old house, so I briefly imagined my mom living back here again.  This is where she came from, after all...  but now that she had a childhood in Hong Kong, then went to university, got married, and has worked in the States, could she go back again?

- - -
currently :
  • feeling : glad to be showered at the end of the day
  • weather : 110 and densely humid

18 June 2010

[HK 14] : Brothers from another (fruity) mother

So many good fruits here, such as the lovely bespeckled dragonfruit.  This one was particularly sweet yet far milder than its apparent cousin, the kiwi.  They actually aren't related, though - the kiwi is from a family of woody vines (which I guess explains the brown peel), while the dragonfruit is related to cacti.  One other fact: the kiwi is the official fruit of China, although you'd be more likely to assume dragonfruit or another (maybe the durian?  haha) would take that role.

Another furry guest at the table:

This was the first time trying rambutan, and actually I have to say I like longan or lichee better.  Good experience, though.  (And for some reason I associate the fruit with a SP bible study joke that I don't understand, but maybe Po-ru or Ming can enlighten me.)

- - -
currently :
  • feeling : anxious about the US needing to score another goal
  • weather : looks like it's only going to get hotter

17 June 2010

[HK 13] : "Is she working for you?"

Foreign domestic helpers picnic under Canal Road on a warm Sunday, their day off.

I knew that there was a class difference in Hong Kong, but today it became crystal clear on a trip my mom and I took to the nearby laundry place.  Some critical facts: Because my mom's back has been hurting, I was carrying our huge bag of dirty clothes.  I also had gotten pretty tan while in Shanghai last weekend (despite holding an umbrella and putting on sunblock... can't be helped).  I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt as post-work wear.

We walked in just as the owner is about to close shop, but she was still willing to let us hand over our load.  She made small talk as she weighed the bags of clothes (since laundry is priced by the pound).  Although I did understand some of it, I frankly wasn't paying close attention but noticed when my mom started mentioning my job and my studies in architecture.  The woman paused, then commented about my intelligence in a fawning tone.

Strange interaction?  It probably seems somewhat ordinary.  I realized later, though, that the part I didn't understand was when the woman asked my mom if I were working for her.  ...  Meaning, she thought I was a Filipino maid and was going with my boss to wash the family's clothes.  My mom's comments were her way to tell her that I was the one going places, not this woman and her claims.

So...say what?  I know this is only one person's point of view, but these sorts of snap judgments based on appearance seem to happen more often in HK than anywhere else I've visited.  Several times already, I've heard that I should be aware of how I dress because of how others might perceive me.  I typically don't care what people think in this sense, but this weird incident makes me stop and consider issues of class in HK society.

Foreign domestic helpers make up 5% of the population here in HK, and even though they often come from several countries, more than half are from the Philippines.  After conducting some brief online searching, I found that this influx of Filipinos began in the 70s as a solution to unemployment back at home.  I have many HK friends and even relatives who have employed Filipino women as their children's caretakers, and although this had seemed normal to me, lately I've noticed the odd dynamic created, especially in public space.  A recent DUSP alum did her thesis on this topic, but you don't need to do extensive research to notice that park spaces and public squares are filled with Tagalog chatter, especially on Sundays - the universal day off.  Statue Square in Central, near the MTR stop and close to many banking skyscrapers, is especially filled with people picnicking.  This is their one time to take over the city, and they do it well.

Is this an "us vs. them" situation?  Integration is a funny thing in HK - although many would consider it a diverse and cosmopolitan city, I've sensed a strong divide between locals and outsiders.  Even I am an outsider with my meager Cantonese speaking skills, and because I can't speak as quickly or fluently as many, it's easy to be categorized as childish, too Westernized, or servile.

I can't make any real conclusions from this situation right now save to say that my eyes are daily being opened to the complications of my summer 2010 city.  Have others noticed similar things or other unspoken societal aspects?

- - -
currently :
  • feeling : slightly upfronted
  • weather : same as always - hot, humid, but thank goodness for AC

16 June 2010

[HK 12] : Childhood luxuries

 The lobby of the Peninsula Hotel

Although we had planned on going down to Stanley for the dragon boat races, my mom and I ended up napping after this morning's Exec meeting and then going to eat good food.  Oh well - hopefully I'll get to see it another time.  When talking with some locals, it seemed like most Hong Kong people don't end up going to see the races in person anyways, so I suppose we engaged in a more "national" activity.

We had afternoon tea at the Peninsula Hotel (香港半島酒店), located on the Kowloon side in Tsim Sha Tsui.  When my brother and I were younger, my parents took us here for the special treat of "ha mm cha."  The hotel is the oldest surviving one in HK, built in 1928, and I'm thankful that the city has retained it considering its habit of giving itself a perpetual face lift.  The tea is English style, which reminds me of the city's past...  and my love for a good cream tea.  Their Earl Grey is quite nice, with a strong taste of bergamot.

Having this experience while we were young was a blessing that I didn't grasp until I got older, and this time around my mom mentioned the cost of luxury.  She considers the ideal lifestyle one in which money is not an issue: you have enough to have the freedom to do what you'd like.  Although it's true that being well off probably means fewer worries, I'm not sure if I would necessarily hold that as a personal life criteria.  Lately I've been thinking about what is "enough" to live on.  Would I be upset if I couldn't have afternoon tea and dress up to check out the latest restaurant?  Life of luxury, life of simplicity...

After a pensive tea, we climbed on the Star Ferry to cross Victoria Harbour.  Before last week, it had been at least 10 years since I had taken one of these, when I had been barely tall enough to look out the upper deck window.  The ferries, which first started crossing the waters between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island in 1880, are still their signature worn white and green.  The waters were a bit bumpy and the sky was thick with pending rain, but we still got a good view of the skyline.

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currently :
  • feeling : somehow still sleepy
  • weather : 31 C, 80% humidity...  eeech

15 June 2010

[HK 12] : Breathe, stretch, shake

When looking up information about tomorrow's dragon boat races in Stanley (Wednesday), I came across these great stretching diagrams from the racing organization, warning people to stretch adequately before trying any hefty rowing.  I especially like the bandanas depicted - so ninja-like!  (perhaps with a "hiiiii-ya!")  RMJM, my old firm, will be racing in 2 of the categories so I might see Jillian and others around the banks.

The dragon boat races are one way to celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival.  Another is to eat zongzi, or sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves.  My mom and I will do both (or at least attempt to do the first) and enjoy a day off from work.  Ah, holidays :]

- - -
  • feeling : ready for bed, intrigued by the parable of the shrewd manager
  • weather : hot but not unbearable

14 June 2010

[HK 11] : Shanghai Expo v.2.0

Instead of one short day in the Emerald City, we had a one short day in 10+ of the 246 countries represented at the World Expo.  Visiting the Expo felt much like trekking around Disney World or Busch Gardens, with the gawking tourists and mix of the good, the bad, and the really ugly (architecture).  It's one of those experiences that you anticipate as a once-in-a-lifetime moment, although upon getting there it simultaneously fulfills and fails your expectations.  Lesson : every place needs some grace.

Mavis, Otto, and I flew from HK to meet with Huang and Yushiro.  It was an abbreviated visit, but at least, one day at the Expo seemed to be enough time to get a feel for the place and taste some pavilions.

The lines for the very popular pavilions like Britain, Germany, Italy, and Saudi Arabia were too long, though, so we went for some of the lesser known ones.  We were fortunate enough to get to Denmark's (designed by BIG) before the crowds piled up.

They moved poor Little Mermaid all the way from Copenhagen to Shanghai, just so she could gaze longingly at the tourists, who had legs she could never permanently have.  Alas.

The Denmark pavilion's draw was its unique spiral shape and the fact that you could borrow bicycles and ride around the building.  The detailing and construction quality, though, left much to be desired.

We realizedthat there are 2 ways to judge an Expo pavilion : architecturally and content-wise.  Some were well designed and looked great from the outside, but had nothing within.  Others weren't so flashy looking, but had much content so visitors could actually familiarize themselves with the country, which is what I think the goal of the Expo should be.  (Qatar was like this.)  Still, others managed a good balance of both (like Vietnam and Morocco), while some fell flat (or remained banal boxes) and didn't manage to achieve either.  Denmark's design trumped the content, but the government did cull some (unintentionally) amusing quotes from citizens who were asked to describe the positives of their country:

And who would scoff at this?

The smaller pavilions that were quality (and thankfully had short lines) were Vietnam, Qatar, and Morocco.  Vietnam's construction seemed somewhat traditional, since it used bamboo, but was well done and used the material for the entire structure and not simply as cladding, which is what many other pavilions did.  I wish my photos of it had come out better, but here's an example of the arching columns meeting beams, meeting ceiling:

Otto has better photos that showed the cool light fixtures as well.

The size was just right as well.  Many pavilions were hugely out of scale and felt daunting or mildly ridiculous, like the Chinese one :

We kept saying, "So big!  Everything is so big!"  The bunny next to it is part of Macao's ...  Why, I don't know.

It did, though, create a modern reinvention of a traditional building typology.  We didn't go inside, though, since the wait was too long.  We deemed any queue over 2 hours to be out of our range, and sadly enough, most pavilions were over this threshold.  Britain's Seed Cathedral (below, designed by Thomas Heatherwick) would have been cool to experience, but was a 4 hour wait.  Saudi Arabia, with its "floating" roof garden, was a whopping 8 hours.  ?!  So suffice to say, exterior photos it was.

The red people are part of the exhibition.  They waved at us.

Some of the best expo designs were those that people could explore both inside and out.  In that way, you could either choose to wait and walk within to see the exhibition and the interior, or just walk outside and discover a courtyard or semi-enclosed area still with a sense of the building's space.  In that way, we didn't have to endure long lines in order to experience ones like Canada (below) or Mexico:

Canada's pavilion featured an exterior "living wall" and fun hanging mirrors.

More photos to be posted in Picasa [ link to be updated ].

All in all, I'm glad for a glimpse of the Expo, although one day was enough for me.  Too many crowds, long lines, and asphalt, along with visions of future waste once the majority of the pavilions are torn down.  One regret was not being able to see much of Shanghai itself.  This was my 2nd time there, but both trips were extremely short and had that feeling of missing the larger picture of the city.  I still don't have a clear sense of the place, but at least we had an excellent host in Huang and ate really delicious foods, like our dinner at Jardin de Jade (need to double check the name): deliciously juicy marinated fish, soup dumplings, and other savory dishes:

The multi-course meal ended up costing about $10 per person... say what?

We also walked briefly through some of the alleys between traditional lilong housing.  The European scale spoke to the city's colonial past ... extremely intriguing, yet I know so little about it.  I'll have to read more about it later and revisit.

- - -

That's the general recap.  This week I'm working on a renovation/addition project for a historic hotel in Beijing.  Wednesday we have a public holiday for the Dragon Festival, and then on Saturday my mom and I, along with a family friend, will head over to China again to visit my mom's childhood village in Toisan.  I've also been sort of pensive lately...  been realizing a lot about my pride and searching for my real purpose for being in HK for the summer.  More later after sleeping.

- - -
  • weather : hot and rainy, like walking in a hot blanket
  • feeling : tired