Monthly Archives: June 2012

Three Women Make a Market!

I finished work yesterday. Apologies for the cliché, but the last two months have gone by so quickly. My last few summer jobs were more project-based where I would focus heavily on one or two assignments. Here, I worked on multiple files wherever needed. Sometimes it felt that I didn’t understand the bigger picture, but after a couple of weeks as well as asking, I understood the background of the file better. I also learned more about multi-tasking and organizing my day on the job. I appreciate equally both styles of jobs.

I’m flying back to Canada in less than a week so I have about half a week down time. While I was hoping to do some traveling, I decided to soak up more of the city. It turned out yesterday I had some self-diagnosed minor food poisoning, so maybe it all worked out in the end.

Last week I did go on a couple of day trips around the city and went to some restaurants which I’m looking forward to blogging about. To be honest though, instead of writing about my trips, I was finishing up books my uncle lent me, as well as madly “chasing” a Cantonese soap opera on DVD that my aunt and uncle also lent me.

The soap was called “Only You.” It was about a wedding planning company and their personal hijinks. It was often cheesy, but it was a great way to learn Cantonese. It was also interesting to learn about traditional Chinese weddings, and how the younger generation viewed these traditions as opposed to the more Western-style wedding.

After watching this show, I feel that if I were to ever get married (!), I’d like to include some of these traditions like serving tea to parents/parents-in-law or having a hair brushing ceremony the night before. Of course, I’m often influenced by these Chinese soaps. About fifteen years ago I wanted to be a forensic scientist after watching a soap about a forensic scientist in ancient China 😉

In terms of shows currently on air, I enjoy watching “lifestyle shows,” including “Three Women, One Market!” (direct Cantonese translation). The better translation is “three women make a market!” as the proverb goes, but I had to ask someone to figure that out. The English title is “Lipstick Circle.” There were three female talk show hosts who interviewed a different panel of people each episode about various topics like “tomboys” or breast size. It was a very silly but hilarious show, and at least it helped me learn about contemporary HK perspectives.

Wacky fashions abound!

Actually, the woman in the middle was on “Only You.” HK stars hop around soaps and talk shows a lot.

I also enjoy watching shows on food. I liked one where the host traveled to countries around the world to try as well as discuss the coffee. This host is also on a soap on air right now about a magician.

Lately I’ve been watching one called “Master So Food” in which they try various restaurants in HK. Master So is quite informative. I feel that I’m in the circa 90s pre internet when I’m scribbling down the names/recipes, but I am also actually trying to write down the names of the food in Chinese characters based on the Chinese subtitles! That way when I go to cha chaan tengs I am not so completely lost.

Master So is in the middle. The young host on the left is from the States, but he speaks Cantonese. In my head I call him “Marco” because that was the name of his character on “Only You.” Even I can tell that he has an accent, but he speaks quite fluidly and with confidence. I should definitely take note.

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Brrr, it’s cold in here.

On one of my walks during lunch or after work I snapped a few shots of these beautiful buildings in Central. These buildings are located near Ice House Street, which, believe it or not, used to have an ice storage depot. Hong Kong used to export ice in insulated vessels.

Bishop’s House, one of the oldest buildings in Central.

The Foreign Correspondent’s Club, quite a classy joint. This used to be the old Dairy Farm building where it was used for cold storage and distribution. This is one of my favourite buildings in HK.

On the other side is the Fringe Club, a hip place in town.

St. Paul’s Church on Glenealy

You know you’re a foodie when out of all the luxury brand flagship stores in Hong Kong, you are most excited about a Le Creuset store.

The flight of stairs and gas lamps on Duddell Street.

Factual information from Streets: Exploring Hong Kong Island by Jason Wordie.

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Ready, Ready

Happy belated Tuen Ng Festival everyone! This year it was on June 23rd. This public holiday is also known as the Dragon Boat Festival. I always love being in a different country during a public holiday because it is a chance to see another culture’s traditions. During this trip I was particularly interested in whether our traditions in Toronto were similar or different to Hong Kong’s celebrations.

The background of the festival is that a well-loved poet, Wat Yuen, committed suicide by drowning himself in the river in protest against the corrupt government. The villagers, in sadness, they rowed boats in the river and beat drums so that the loud noises would scare away the fish. They also dumped jung into the river so that the fish would not eat Wat Yuen’s body. That is why we have dragon boat races and why we eat jung today.

Jung is sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves with different fillings such as salted pork, salted preserved egg, dried scallop and mung beans. There is also a sweet jung which is made with a different kind of rice and is filled with lotus paste.

Some shops sell the jung hanging on display.

In celebration I had savoury jung for breakfast. After asking some people in HK (a sample of three) it doesn’t seem that jung is really that popular. It’s hard for so much rice to be delicious. For me it’s a good comfort food. My mom also used to make jung herself when we were around the house. It seemed so tedious and particular, especially wrapping the jung, but I hope to learn so I can continue the tradition.

The one on the left was homemade by a friend of my aunt’s. I liked how the rice was clumped together, but not too dense. On the right is a red bean jung I bought from the stall.

I met with a friend to see the dragon boat races in Stanley in the southern part of Hong Kong. In the morning we went to Repulse Bay which is on the way to Stanley. Repulse Bay is known for its beautiful landscape. I relaxed on the beach for a bit and dipped my feet in the water.


There are now a lot of (pricey) residential developments around Repulse Bay.

There were some statues to various gods and goddesses since Repulse Bay is close to the dangerous waters. Can anyone help me identify who this goddess is?

Waterfront

We then headed to Stanley. Stanley is a seaside town with a British naval history. Now it is popular for tourists to come and enjoy the famous market, beach and waterfront.

Murray House

The old police station that is now a Wellcome grocery store.

Post Office

I grabbed a lunch of Singaporean noodles.

Then it was off to the races! There were so many people. We stood close to the dragon boat teams before they boarded the boats and I could feel the exhilaration. This was an international race so there were teams from Latin America and Europe too.

I used to do dragon boat which was tough work. Not only was it a good arm exercise but it worked my obliques from reaching over so much. Despite the difficulty, I think it is more fun to be a participant in a dragon boat race than a mere spectator from ashore. We could barely see who was first from our angle. I was later told we should have been watching from higher up. Ah, I see. It was still fun to be in the atmosphere.

Even though I got home before 4:00, I was so tired after a day out in the heat. Upon reflection, our celebration in Toronto is more low-key. It makes sense there is a grander celebration in Hong Kong, depending where you go. I’m really proud though that my mom brought over the knowledge of wrapping jung to Canada.

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HK Eats: Sweet Treats

Since these treats are so small, I’ve decided to roll these write-ups into one. Ha ha, alright, first up we have Roll. Roll was my first foray into contemporary HK bakeries and restaurants. Who needs social media when you can advertise to hundreds of people in Central? I usually avoid pamphlets people hand out in the street. However, a bright pink pamphlet with a photo of a cake caught my eye so I grabbed a pamphlet. Turned out it was for a new branch of bakery in Central.

Roll sells a selection of pastries and baked goods including macarons, brownies and cookies as well as frozen yogurt. It of courses sells, as its name suggests, swiss rolls which come in regular and mini size.

Move over, cupcakes and macarons, there are new mini treats in town! A swiss roll is a sheet of cake with a layer of cream rolled up. This cake likely came from the British, and HK bakeries soon popularised it.  It’s common to find swiss rolls in HK western-style bakeries.

The staff were very friendly and patient while I decided on what kind of cake to get. I chose the mini black sesame roll. This was a black sesame sheet cake made with charcoal powder with a layer of black sesame paste spread on top and a layer of whipped cream, all rolled up. There was an intense black sesame flavour. The sesame paste was quite sweet, but it mostly balanced out the less sweet cake.

This seems like a dangerous place for me because I want to try all the different flavours, particularly chestnut, green tea and mango. They are only HK $10 each (~CDN $1.40).

Roll recently opened a new location at G/F, No 40, Stanley Street, Central, Hong Kong.

For a more traditional HK treat, I went to Tai Cheong, a bakery famous for its egg tarts. This is partly because Chris Patten, the former governor of Hong Kong, once said it was the best egg tart in Hong Kong.

When I passed by the bakery after work, someone had just bought the last two. I waited a couple more minutes and a fresh batch came out! I had to get one. The woman gave me a knowing smile when I ordered.

The egg tart used a shortbread pastry as opposed to a flaky crust. I generally prefer flaky crusts, but this shortbread crust truly made the egg tart. It had a hint of salt which was the perfect contrast to the sweet custard. The crust was baked perfectly all throughout and was still crispy. The custard was smooth and slightly jiggly and just glorious. My favourite part was still the crust though.

The egg tarts in Toronto can’t compare to Tai Cheong’s. These were fresh out of the oven and there was no weird metallic after taste. Of course I won’t say no if you give me an egg tart back home 😉

Tai Cheong is located at G/F, 35 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central, Hong Kong.

Finally, last week as I was going home a vendor at the corner of D’Aguilar and Wellington Street convinced me to try one of the last few of these treats for the day. I had been eyeying this little vendor for weeks, but I was too nervous just to point to anything and try it. I still didn’t know what this was when I bought it, but I felt more comfortable buying at the end of the day.

Well, I should have tried this “stall” earlier because was this was delightful! This had a chewy and herbal-tasting exterior with a ground peanut and sugar paste filling. It was extremely sticky and hard to peel off the bamboo at the bottom, but a fun treat to eat.

So, what exactly is “this”? It took a surprising amount of effort to find out. My parents could read the sign but didn’t know what it was. My grandmother enlightened us all. This is called “gai ji gwor” which translates literally to “chicken purple fruit.”

This dessert is made from the leaves of a vine called “Gai Zi” which translates to “chicken poop,” due to the apparently similar aroma! The leaves are ground and mixed with flour and water to make a dough. For the gai ji gwor filling was added and then steamed.

In order not to turn people off, the vendor wrote “purple,” a homophone of “poop” in Cantonese. According to my grandmother, this is usually only sold during the period of Tuen Ng Tsit (Dragon Boat Festival), so I was lucky I caught this.

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All aboard!

The other night last week I met with a friend from my undergrad program. I learned that he was in Hong Kong in quite an interesting manner. No, not Facebook — I was on a tram when I saw him on the top floor of another tram coming the opposite direction! At least I thought it was him, but I wasn’t exactly sure and I didn’t want to call out to a potentially random stranger in front of other strangers. The facts checked out, but we’ll never know if I really did see him.

I actually bumped into another Waterloo classmate here in HK recently. This time we were walking in opposite directions on Queen’s Road Central, the main thoroughfare of Central. Of all the people in Hong Kong I managed to spot two Waterloo alums.

For dinner we went to Paisano’s Pizzeria on Hollywood Road. It was the first time I had ordered Western food in Hong Kong. The pizza was larger than my head and pretty greasy, but it really hit my craving for Western food.

We then went on the Star Ferry to a mall called Harbour City so he could pick up an umbrella. I couldn’t remember if I had been on the Star Ferry before. It’s very popular for tourists to do at least once in Hong Kong. I didn’t know how I missed it, but maybe I brushed it off as touristy. However, it was actually a wonderful way to travel. There was a breeze from the ferry, a beautiful view of the harbour and it was cheaper than taking the subway! By HK $2 (i.e around 30 cents CDN)…

View from Star Ferry of the Hong Kong Island skyline

View from Star Ferry of Kowloon side, Hong Kong Cultural Centre

Some views of the harbour while on land. A bit less shaky!

Hong Kong Island

Kowloon

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Trains, planes and automobiles…

… or none of the above.

Although the distance to work is walkable, in the mornings I take the bus to work. Normally, I take a bus that is familiar to those in North America. Many buses here are double-decker buses, but some just have one level.

Sometimes, however, a mini-bus comes around and I’ll take that instead. Don’t let the name or size fool you–it’s a bumpy ride! I am so tempted to put on the seatbelt, but I’m afraid I’d give myself away as a foreigner. Minibuses can be convenient because you can request stops anywhere along the route.

I’ve also taken the tram a couple of times here. Woohoo light rail 🙂 I’m so entertained by the trams because they are so narrow. They remind me of the Knight Bus from Harry Potter. The trams run on Des Voeux Road. In Cantonese, the street that the trams run on  translates literally to Electric Car Road.

You should also be able to see a beige heritage building in the background of this picture taken in Wan Chai. Of note are the wide balconies as well as the arch covering the sidewalks–perfect for rainy days.

A shot of the subway.

The Octopus card is a great aspect of Hong Kong. All you have to do is put money on your card and swipe it on the card scanner, which then deducts money from your card. On the subway, you have to swipe out and you pay for the distance travelled.

You can use your card on all the different forms of public transportation which are owned by different companies, something I’m not used to back in Ontario. I used my Octopus card on the tram as well as the ferry when I went to Lamma Island. In addition, many convenience stores like 7/11 and even some restaurants have Octopus card scanners. It makes me wonder why we couldn’t have implemented the Presto card system earlier in Ontario.

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A Day in Kowloon

On Saturday I went to the Hong Kong Museum of Art in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon right by Victoria Harbour. I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed it. I was impressed with how well the museum was put together. Initially I was a bit annoyed that I came right between special exhibitions, but there were plenty of works for me to slowly enjoy.

(Source: Wikipedia; it was NOT this sunny when I visited.)

The museum was not large.  However, the content of the exhibits were very thoughtful. I appreciated every detail. The pamphlets available in each gallery were not only informative but also carefully presented: each gallery’s pamphlet was bound or shapely differently. The washrooms even had Chinese art panels on the stalls!

I began with the calligraphy gallery. The gallery showed the development of the model-calligraphy of both cursive running script and clerical script, and the influence of the master Wang Xizhi (303-361). I was stunned at how beautiful and refined the calligraphy was. Each calligrapher had their own style but were influenced by previous people. I even found the clerical script divine, particularly that of Ouyang Xun (557-641). The text was small and yet every tick and brushstroke were the perfect width.

We had some calligraphy lessons in my weekly Saturday morning Chinese school. I’ll be the first to admit I was a poor calligraphy pupil. I was clumsy and my pages were full of blobs of ink, thick lines where they should have been thin and vice versa. Maybe we should have seen the work of the masters to inspire us when learning how to write. Of course, I am pretty sure 12 year olds would be disinterested regardless.

Also, note how long these people lived. Other years of birth & deaths: 1083-1140, 1296-1364, 1251-1324… I don’t know if these people were an elite class, but even so, this was 1000 years ago or so and yet they were very healthy.

The museum also featured a selection of works from Feng Zikai. He was famous for introducing the Chinese  “cartoon” style. His work looked simple, yet it was thought provoking. He was a compassionate man and was vegetarian for he believed the preservation of life was the preservation of heart.  Many of his cartoons had themes of children and innocence. While each title was translated to English, I wish I could have read the additional Chinese characters on the cartoons.

I related to this cartoon a lot.

He was also quite humourous. He liked sharing wine while catching up with friends and he painted one cartoon titled in English, “Red Cheeks.” Haven’t we all been there? 😉

The ceramics gallery was very well-done. It provided a broad overview of Chinese ceramics through each dynasty.  To some this may be boring and unspontaneous, but it was the best way to learn about Chinese dynasties through art. The craftsmanship of the ceramics was superb.

The export painting exhibition was interesting as well. I had not heard of export paintings before. Due to the growing Western demand of paintings of China, local Chinese artists in Canton used Western techinques to create paintings for export. Paintings of Western artists who painted in areas of China were displayed side by side with the local rendition. The gallery showed that at first some local artists did not achieve the Western painting techniques. In the end, some did master the techniques. What I found most interesting was that these local artists were self-learned.

As you might tell, I really enjoyed the museum. I even spent half an hour in the gift shop. There were some typical kitschy things but some items were very nifty as art gallery gift shops often are.

I had chicken and instant noodle with milk tea for a late lunch. Nothing spectacular, but I wanted to try what instant noodles were like in cha chaan tengs. I might have to try a different place because I wasn’t too impressed–or well, you know, it was instant noodles.

Then I venutred into Mongkok. Mongkok is one of the densest areas in the world. However, I probably didn’t get the “real” Mongkok experience because it was pouring rain. Initially there were a lot of umbrellas poking around, but people redistributed. I’m actually glad I went in the rain, because there weren’t as many people. Unfortunately I did not get a photo of the Ladies Market, because I didn’t want to juggle around an umbrella, a camera and all of my purchases!

Yep, I bought quite a few things in the Ladies Market, a very narrow street with stalls on either side selling clothes, undergarments, souvenirs, toys, and an eclectic selection of goods. I picked up a couple pairs of shoes, some souvenirs and this very fabulous retro phone to plug into my laptop/cell phone. There is a speaker on the top and a microphone in the “mouthpiece.” I bought it mainly because I don’t like speaking into “nothing” on Gchat, but I might just have to keep this in my purse.

I also bargained in Cantonese by myself for the first time. I was unfortunately ripped off at first. It’s quite frustrating, but I’ll chalk it up as a learning and “cultural” experience. I think (hope) I got better nearer the end. I am also hoping that the shopkeepers gave me a relatively good deal because they had less business due to the rain. At least that’s what they said…

Here are some pictures I took earlier in the week of Mongkok, but on Goldfish Market Street, just north of Ladies Street (still on Tung Choi Street). So cute!

I finished the day with some egg waffles. Ooh, I hadn’t had these in so long and they were better than I remembered them. They were made in a specially shaped waffle maker with little holes to make the “bubbles.” These weren’t too sweet and tasted of coconut.

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