Saturday, 19 August 2017

Picture of the Day: Bamboo Scaffolding

Skilled labourers making bamboo scaffolding, much like spiders making webs
The other day as I was walking to the bus stop, I saw some men putting up bamboo scaffolding on a building that looks slated for major renovations.

How they put the bamboo up so quickly and safe enough for people to work on is amazing and you have to wonder how they do it.

This practice, which apparently dates back 1,500 years, isn't even done in China, where construction companies there prefer to use steel when building the frame around new buildings.

However, the bamboo scaffolding guys here are like spiders, creating these "webs" of scaffolding several times their size and weight, and making them very quickly and at a relatively lower cost.

There are about 1,700 registered bamboo scaffolders in the city, but like many traditional industries, fewer people are entering the field because of the low pay, adverse weather conditions, particularly in the summer, and regulations have meant younger recruits need to pass tests to get a license.

We can only hope the tradition of bamboo scaffolding continues in Hong Kong -- that's what makes the city of skyscrapers even more astonishing.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Joshua Wong's Mom Hits Back

Nathan Law, Joshua Wong and Alex Chow before sentencing yesterday
 When Joshua Wong Chi-fung was in the spotlight for his activism starting back in 2011 to protest against national education, his parents were media shy. But following Wong's sentencing yesterday, his mother could not help but make a statement.

Grace Ng Chau-mei wrote a letter to her son before the sentencing that was only released afterwards on Wong's Facebook page.

Wong is now staying at Pik Uk prison near Sai Kung
In it, she said Wong, 20, had sacrificed personal and family time since first entering political activism in May 2011, for the sake of "building a more beautiful Hong Kong".

Ng criticized the Hong Kong government for pursuing the stiffer sentences. "The justice department vowed to imprison them based on what they said... and to eliminate young people's passion and ideals, as well as their vision and commitment for the society," she wrote.

"Why is Hong Kong so depraved now to be treating this generation of children like this?" she asked.

In a reference to the biblical figure Joshua, who led the Israelites in the conquest of God's "Promised Land" in Canaan, Ng wrote: "Dad and I gave you this name 'Joshua'. So don't forget what God told Joshua: reflect on whatever you do, follow the truth, and you can be courageous."

While Wong's parents were not in court on Thursday, Ng visited him today at Pik Uk maximum security prison near Sai Kung.

A reminder in strength in numbers to create change
There he will have to study and attend vocational training, and as he is underage, he has to march military style to the canteen for meals, and clean his own toilet.

When he turns 21 in October, he will be moved to another correctional facility.

However, he may not have to be there long -- his lawyers are preparing applications for Wong, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang be granted leave to prepare for their appeal.

Last night and today on many people's Facebook feeds, they posted pictures they took during the 2014 Umbrella Movement as a reminder of what the trio (and tens of thousands of others) were fighting for.

Some felt it was yet another blow in the fight for self-determination, others a nostalgic reminder that we should not forget what happened almost three years ago.

No one knows how this will end, but it is important not to give up -- that's exactly what the Hong Kong government wants people to do.

This is about the city's future, and jailing the next generation isn't the solution.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Three Occupy Leaders Jailed

Joshua Wong in a police van before being sent to start his prison sentence
Joshua Wong Chi-fung hasn't been afraid to stand up for his convictions, but today he, along with Alex Chow Yong-kang and former legislator Nathan Law Kwun-chung will face their biggest test yet -- prison time -- for storming Civic Square, that led to the eruption of the Umbrella Movement almost three years ago.

Wong was sentenced to six months, Law eight, and Chow seven. Because their prison terms are longer than three months, they are ineligible to run for a seat in the Legislative Council for the next five years.

The trio were defiant before the sentences were handed down
Speaking before the ruling, and expecting to be behind bars, Wong said he wanted to see a "hopeful Hong Kong when I am out [of prison] next year", while Law declared he had no regrets about his activism.

While we know the trio are steadfast in their beliefs, are they physically strong enough to deal with prison life? Look at former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen -- he couldn't even handle two months and he had it really cushy.

Nevertheless we're deeply disappointed in the ruling. Wong and Law had already served their community service sentences that were originally handed down by trial magistrate June Cheung Tin-ngan, along with Chow's suspended three-week jail sentence.

The trio had testified they stormed Civic Square in the hopes of securing talks with then chief executive Leung Chun-ying over the restrictive framework set by Beijing over how Hong Kong would elect its next leader.

The storming of Civic Square led to the Umbrella Movement
Cheung had ruled the case was atypical, and that it called for a more lenient and understanding attitude since the three were young student activists who expressed their demands based on genuinely held political ideals.

At the time she said a deterrent sentence would not be fair.

However, the Hong Kong government wasn't satisfied with the punishment meted out and demanded a judicial review of the sentences, with prosecutors saying they were too lenient and sent the wrong message to young people.

Do those sentences send the wrong message? Are they too lenient? Or do they reveal the government's intentions to bend the law however it sees fit to punish those who try to defy it?

The three will already be punished for life anyway -- they cannot go to the mainland to travel or work, they will never be able to get a proper job in Hong Kong. Financially they are already stymied and they are less than 30 years old.

The government seems heavy-handed in this case, but it's meant to send a warning to others who may think they can take the trio's place to continue the fight.

"The freedom of assembly is never absolute," wrote Wally Yeung, a vice president of the Court of Appeal, who added the court must uphold the importance of public order even though "sentencing ambitious, idealist young people to immediate imprisonment" was not a judgment he made "readily".

Then why did the trio of judges decide on these sentences?

Fellow protest leader Lester Shum says the three plan to appeal their sentences.

On Twitter Wong posted this message soon after his sentence: "They can silence protests, remove us from the legislature and lock us up. But they will not win the hearts and minds of Hongkongers."

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Lam's Tale Apparently Full of Holes

 Lam was arrested last night; today he was charged with misleading police
The bizarre story of Democratic Party member Howard Lam Tsz-kin took another turn today as he has now been charged with misleading police, as the authorities are finding his story implausible.

Footage shows Lam was there an hour later than he claimed
Yesterday news organization Fact Wire released video footage its reporters had gathered where Lam claimed he had been abducted by mainland agents. Instead of seeing him bungled into a van in Yau Ma Tei, he was walking on his own with a knapsack on his back. He was also in the area an hour after he claimed the incident took place.

There was more CCTV footage of him getting onto a minibus in Mongkok to go to Sai Kung and he wandered around the beach. Originally he had claimed his abductors had dumped him there in his underwear and he somehow managed to have money to take a taxi home.

Police also questioned why the crosses of staples on his thighs were so neatly done, and there was no sign of him struggling. Staples on other parts of his body that he couldn't reach could have made the claims more plausible.

Police say the staples in his thighs were too neat to be forced
Lam's case will be heard tomorrow in Kowloon City Court, though he will not be present because he claimed to be feeling unwell and was still in hospital.

Another issue is that Lam has a history of mental health issues including depression and suicide, and the authorities think that perhaps the stapling was a form of self-harm, but he insisted he was mentally fine.

Meanwhile the Democratic Party is slowly backing away from Lam, after they had rallied around him during his press conference last week. The whole incident further disintegrates whatever integrity the party had left, making it the laughing stock of local politics, dragging down the likes of Martin Lee Chu-ming with it.

Police searched for more clues on Sai Kung beach today
Why would anyone want to support them now, but the only alternatives are a bunch of kid activists or patriotic pro-Beijing supporters. There isn't much choice left. The pan-democrats are really lucky it's not an election year...

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

RTHK Changes Channels

RTHK cuts the 24-hour transmission of BBC World Service to eight hours
Ah Hong Kong is sliding further into mainlandization with Radio Television Hong Kong announcing it will drop the 24-hour transmission of BBC World Service that has been broadcasting for almost 40 years and replace it with Chinese state radio.

The change will happen in a few weeks' time in early September, which an RTHK spokesperson said was to "enhance the cultural exchange between the mainland and Hong Kong".

How nice, considering China National Radio, known as Central People's Radio in Chinese, will be in Putonghua, not Cantonese. Guess that's part of the "cultural exchange".

From September, the BBC can be heard overnight 11pm-7am
But before you get out your pitchforks, not all is lost -- BBC World Service will continue to be broadcast from 11pm to 7am, which means having to become a night owl listener.

Demosisto's Joshua Wong Chi-fung says he has listened to BBC World Service since high school "because our teacher always told us to learn English from the BBC," he said.

However he cited other reasons for the change.

"This just proves how political consideration and Chinese forces are eroding press freedom [in Hong Kong]," Wong said.

But RTHK retorted that the Chinese broadcast was made for the city.

"This channel is tailor made for RTHK when we first introduced digital audio broadcasting, and it can enhance the cultural exchange between the mainland and Hong Kong," said Amen Ng, head of corporate communications at RTHK.

Wonder how many people will listen to China National Radio...

Monday, 14 August 2017

Photo of the Day: Bike Sharing

A Gobee bike along Victoria Road, west of Kennedy Town of all places!
Gobee Bike is a Hong Kong initiative in the bike-sharing business. It launched in April to lacklustre fanfare when it turned out the app was only available on Android and not iPhones on the first day.

Then a few days later it was back in the headlines because it was discovered that several of its green bikes were in the Shing Mun River in Sha Tin, while others were found damaged.

But somehow earlier this month, Gobee Bike got HK$9 billion -- yes billion -- from internet-of-things fund led by Mail.Ru co-founder Dmitry Grishin, with Alibaba's Hong Kong entrepreneurship fund kicking in some of the dough too.

To start up the service, Gobee previously got pre-launch seed money led by Swiss Founders Fund.

Hong Kong people are naturally skeptical about bike sharing -- not many people even ride bikes to start with since a good part of the area is too hilly, and also bike lanes are relegated to the New Territories, where leisure bike riders clog up the paths for more serious ones.

A stunning view further up from where the bike was...
So it was to my great surprise when I was walking up Victoria Road towards Pokfulam to see a Gobee Bike parked on the sidewalk. How the heck did it get all the way from the New Territories to here?

I walked and ran a bit further along Victoria Road and then turned back to go home to see the green bicycle still there!

In any event one does wonder if Gobee is making any money and who are using the bikes anyway?

Just seems like the wrong service to launch in the city when drivers don't care to share the road, nor pay much attention to pedestrians either!

Sunday, 13 August 2017

HK Needs More Public Housing

A fire in this building in Kwai Chung killed three people in subdivided flats
A fire in a subdivided flat in a warehouse building in Kwai Chung killed three people on Saturday, raising more questions again about the safety of people living in these unhealthy spaces, though they cannot afford anything else.

The owner of the space had subdivided 6,000 square feet of space into 17 rooms and did not submit the application to make minor alternations to the Buildings Department, nor did the changes meet fire safety standards.

The 1953 Shek Kip Mei fire led to building public housing
In addition, the 45-year-old Ma Sik Industrial Building didn't have any sprinklers because it was built before 1973 and was thus exempted from retrofitting.

Security minister John Lee Ka-chiu said on Sunday that police, buildings and fire services department officials were investigating whether the fire was a result of breaches in safety or fire regulations.

That's all fine and well for the government to look into the technical breaches in terms of fire safety, but can we look at why we are having subdivided flats in the first place?

There is not enough affordable or low-income housing in Hong Kong and the government has a duty to do something about this. We cannot have people living in horrible conditions and pay much more in rent per square foot than the average middle class flat owner.

In 1973 the government pledged to house 1.8 million people
Subdivided flats are notorious for being unhygienic, cramped, noisy and fire hazards waiting to happen. Low-income earners have no choice but to live in these places to have a roof over their heads. This is unacceptable -- it is 2017.

And the government can play an important role in this.

It built public housing in 1954 after a fire in Shek Kip Mei destroyed makeshift homes of mainland Chinese immigrants the year before. The concrete buildings weren't perfect, with communal washrooms and kitchens, but at least they were solid structures for people to live in.

In 1973 the government announced a 10-year plan to provide 1.8 million people in Hong Kong with "satisfactory accommodation". The authorities felt it was their responsibility to provide accessible housing to the poor.

How much longer can people live in subdivided flats?
Today the government hasn't done a comprehensive assessment of subdivided flats in Hong Kong -- how many are there, who lives in them, how much money do they make or receive each month, and more importantly what can be done about the situation?

These inhabitants are not dirt poor, but they cannot afford even the cheapest microflat. Shouldn't that be a sign that the city needs more public housing? Hong Kong is so wealthy and yet it has no compassion for people who need a decent roof over their heads.

Can our relatively new Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor please look into this and solve this issue? It would definitely bring more harmony to the city...

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Traditional HK Desserts

Clockwise from top left: Almond cream, steamed egg, black sesame, walnut
Tonight my relatives and I had dinner in Sai Ying Pun and then we walked over to Centre Street for some Chinese desserts at Yuen Kee Dessert.

It's a small shop, about the size of typical noodle establishments, and at 9.30pm was still busy with customers.

We managed to get a table for the four of us and had to quickly peruse the menu, as the waiter was already hovering over us with his pen and pad at the ready.

Finally we decided, made our orders and within minutes our desserts arrived.

Our absolute favourite has to be the signature steamed egg. It had the consistency of tofu, silky smooth, and a light custard flavour that wasn't sweet at all, nor savoury.

Second is the almond cream, full of flavour and even better with lotus seeds that have been simmering for a while so they were soft and added more texture and taste to the dessert.

We also liked the ground walnut soup, with its slightly roasted smell, and the walnuts weren't ground too finely, so it had a nice grainy texture.

The black sesame soup is supposed to be quite well known here, but we only thought it was so-so, very thick thanks to lots of corn starch, which meant it didn't have as much of the nutty black sesame flavour.

Another dessert we tried was the green bean soup which was thinned out, while the signature steamed sponge cake was nothing spectacular -- in fact it was rather bland and not that fluffy. Maybe it would have been better straight out of the steamer.

The total bill came to HK$158. It was a nice sampling of desserts, but we know for sure what to order next time!

Yuen Kee Dessert
G/F, 32 Centre Street
Sai Ying Pun
2548 8687

Friday, 11 August 2017

Democracy Activist Claims Being Abducted

Howard Lam shows the signed postcard apparently from Lionel Messi
There are questions around the Democratic Party's Howard Lam Tsz-kin's claims that he was abducted by mainland Chinese agents and beaten up, had his thighs punctured with staples, then left in his underwear on a beach.

That's what he said this afternoon in a press conference -- even revealed the staples still in his thighs.

Staples in Lam's thighs were still there for the media to see
Lam claims that footballer Lionel Messi had given him a signed postcard to give to Liu Xia, the wife of the late Liu Xiaobo, and because of this, mainland agents threw him into a van in Portland Street soon after he bought some football jerseys.

During the press conference, Lam said he hadn't gone to the police because he didn't trust them, but after meeting the media he would go to the hospital to get checked out.

The Hong Kong police is obviously concerned and has launched an investigation into this bizarre-sounding incident, and has said that if anyone experiences an incident, they should report it to the authorities as soon as possible so that the culprits won't destroy evidence or get away.

Which is why we wonder if Lam's claims are real or fabricated. For someone who was apparently roughed up, there aren't many serious bruises on his body, and why keep those staples in his thighs for so long? Why not take a picture and then go to the hospital to get treated?

Lam went to the hospital after his press conference
If he really was abducted, these guys were really low level ones to think of stapling his thighs.

However, if this is a hoax, then why go through all this trouble? Why is he seeking this kind of attention?

When I first read the story I was quite shocked, but now the more I think about it, the more questions I have about Lam's motivations.

We'll have to see what happens in the coming days -- does his claim fall flat, or are there some mainland abductors who are staple-gun crazy?

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Number of the Day: 14 Million Umbrella Bags

When it rains, umbrella bags are quickly distributed and end up in the trash
All this rain in Hong Kong this summer has led to green groups to estimate how many of those plastic umbrella sleeves are distributed everyday, and they have come up with the number of 14 million from June to September.

According to Greeners Action, around 90 percent of the 53 shopping malls, commercial buildings, and government facilities around town distributed the plastic covers during the rain because they wanted to keep the floors dry and prevent people from slipping.

The environmental group calculated on average 288 of these long narrow plastic bags were given out every 45 minutes. Around 7 percent of the venues had staff specifically handing out the bags even if tenants or shoppers didn't want them.

"People use these bags only when they enter the property and discard them when they leave. Time of use is short but the waste they generate is serious," says Greeners Action assistant project manager Yip Chui-man.

"Whether it's the property [management] or the public, both sides need to take a further step and reduce the use of these bags."

Yip said the buildings could either have umbrella racks, floor mats, or recycling bins available, or even use a different floor material to prevent slipping.

The last point is definitely true. Landlords like to have shiny floors, but they are the hardest to maintain. A lot of manpower is used to clean them, especially marble floors and polish them. Why not be practical and safe by using alternative floor materials?

When it comes to these umbrella covers, there is pretty much no choice but to use them especially when building staff are standing by and expecting you to use them. In this case I use them and keep the bag until I get home... but then what? It still ends up in the trash.

There has to be another way to deal with this situation -- to balance out the need to keep floors relatively dry and concerns about the environment...

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Prince Edward and Sham Shui Po Stroll

Look! A bear! Colourful graffiti in Prince Edward
After dim sum at Fung Shing Restaurant on Sunday, my friend took us around Prince Edward and Sham Shui Po to walk off our meal.

An old school dry goods store with lots of merchandise
We saw some old school shops selling herbal drinks, and dry goods stores that were stocked with all kinds of sauces, noodles, dried tofu skins, dried dates, plastic containers of maltose, and ginger. These kinds of stores with such comprehensive stock are hard to find these days, but good to know they're still around in the depths of Kowloon!

Another place we hit was Sam Tai Tsz Temple and Pak Tai Temple that are attached and are like a mini version of Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road. Inside a few people were paying their respects and praying to the gods...

A traditional temple in Sham Shui Po
We also saw some graffiti -- nice ones -- that rejuvenated a few old buildings in the area. I'd seen many pictures of the one featuring a bear, but now I finally got to see it in person! It really does make the neighbourhood more interesting for residents and visitors.

It's located on a street that has many fabric and button wholesalers, but on Sundays they are closed, so the street is pretty much empty. My friend says this is where they filmed some scenes for the Transformer movie...

We also saw the School of Chinese Medicine run by Baptist University, an old shop building that has been re-purposed. Again I've seen it in pictures and not in person.

Some details of the building are still intact, like some old Chinese characters are faded on the ground floor walls, while glass windows have been installed as well as air conditioning.

A Chinese medicine clinic run by Baptist University
It was previously owned by the Liu family that owns Kowloon City Bus and there are some artifacts left behind from the 19th century. The place is usually closed on Sundays, but because there was an event going on, we were able to quickly look around the ground floor.

I asked my friend about seeing the shop where a man called Chan Cheuk-ming, better known as Ming Gor hands out rice boxes to the poor. He started doing this in 2013 out of his own pocket, and then when the media started reporting on him, he was flooded with donations, but at least it helped him keep his business afloat.

Ming Gor's relatively new shop
Last year he expanded to a nearby new space that features a slick-looking sign and space, and tries to keep prices low despite increased rents. That's because Chan has said he is in a working-class area and he can't just raise prices. He also knows if he does he'll soon have no customers.

It's tough having a business in Hong Kong, but if you have heart, people will help you out.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Master Chef Kitchen Tasting

Soup featuring dashi, abalone, asparagus, onsen egg and truffles
This afternoon I was lucky to go into the kitchen to watch a Japanese guest chef whose restaurant has two Michelin stars, cook dashi, a stock of kombu or kelp with bonito flakes, from aged tuna.

On the stove was a pot with some water and a very large, thick chunk of kelp. Chef Takagi Kazuo let it simmer for a while before I arrived, and he let me taste it and it was a very weak flavour.

Kelp simmering over the hot stove to extract the flavours
After a few more minutes, he got a big bag of bonito flakes -- they aren't shaved very thinly but instead a bit thicker, and threw two handfuls into the pot. After another minute or two he strained it and let me try the soup again. This time it had lots of umami flavour, and the aroma was a bit smoky too.

The rest of the plate was being constructed on the side -- chunks of abalone that were perfectly steamed and meaty, together with chopped asparagus, an onsen egg, and then garnished with truffle slices.

Finally the dashi was poured into the dish and every spoonful was delicate, succulent and light.

Chef Takagi Kazuo uses bonito flakes in dashi
Takagi explains that while he uses western ingredients in his dishes, they are inherently Japanese, in this case the dashi is the star. He adds that while the dashi takes about 30 minutes to make, it takes over three years to get the kombu and over a year for the bonito flakes.

It is his recognition of how it isn't easy to not only procure the best ingredients, but also that he doesn't put himself before them, that he needs them in order to make the best dishes possible.

This humbleness and passion is probably what makes Takagi's restaurant, Kyoto Cuisine Takagi in Ashiya, a city between Kobe and Kyoto, worth two Michelin stars since 2010.

He says he can cook with ingredients from anywhere, but he must have his kombu and bonito flakes that he brings with him everywhere in order to make dashi.

Monday, 7 August 2017

White Slick HK Beaches

Clumps of congealed palm oil washed up on Hong Kong beaches
There are questions why it took two days for the mainland Chinese authorities to inform Hong Kong about a ship collision that resulted in the leaking of palm oil onto our city's shores.

Congealed palm oil that looked like solid white clumps, washed up on Hong Kong beaches and all 11 of them had to be closed on Sunday. They included Hung Shing Yeh Beach on Lamma Island to Upper and Lower Cheung Sha Beach, as well as those at Repulse Bay and Chung Hom Kok.

All 11 of Hong Kong's beaches were closed on Sunday
Beach workers tried to contain the palm oil with oil-absorbent felts and strips, while witnesses say the contaminated areas smelled like chemicals, or like the odours in alleyways behind fried snack shops.

Dr Tsang Po-keung, an associate professor of science and environmental studies at the Education University of Hong Kong and a member of the government's Advisory Council on the Environment, says a notification mechanism should be modified to specify how many days authorities should be given to report such incidents.
"This time they may think it's fine because it's just palm oil, but what if next time it is gasoline?" he said, but added for some marine life, two days is too late.

When pressed, the palm oil disintegrates like powder
City University chair professor of biology Paul Lam Kwan-sing says the spill did not amount to an environmental disaster, but was "not a good thing".

"Palm oil is a crystallized liquid... which will slowly be decomposed by micro-organisms. The problem is that it is a real eyesore for beachgoers," he said.

It's troubling that China doesn't seem to think this spill warrants any kind of immediate warning -- so much for its supposed priority on the environment, or do they not care about what happens to Hong Kong? Guess not...

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Dim Sum Treat

Some of our dim sum dishes, including a half eaten malai goh on the left
This morning a friend took us to a traditional place in Kowloon for dim sum. It's called Fung Shing Restaurant which is run by two brothers, with the original location in North Point, and the other in Prince Edward. Any other Fung Shing Restaurant is a "fake" one, according to my friend...

Deep-fried dumplings with chicken broth
We got there at 10.30am and we were very lucky to find a table for the three of us in the small dining area on the first floor of the building so we didn't have to share.

The clientele is middle aged, so we were the youngest ones there. No matter -- we were all there to enjoy the food.

The first dish to come out were deep-fried dumplings with a bowl of chicken broth. Even when dunked in the broth, the dumplings were still crispy and soft inside. Next came the steaming hot malai goh or Malaysian steamed cake, and it was stellar. The steamed cake was so fluffy and not too sweet that we enjoyed every bite.

The prized malai goh that was so fluffy and not too sweet
Then in quick succession came several dishes. Har gao, or steamed shrimp dumplings that were quite large and full of shrimp meat, though the skin was on the sticky side. The chicken feet were delicious, and weren't steamed too long, making them more flavourful, while the fluffy char siu baos were not cloyingly sweet.

An interesting dish we also tried was goose webs and taro wrapped with tofu skin. The skin was so thin, while the combination of the goose webs with the starchy taro was really interesting and not sitting in oil either.

We also ordered tripe in a light curry sauce, and the last dish to come was cheung fun, or pan fried rice rolls with scallions, in a thin mixture of peanut, sesame and sweet plum sauce with a generous sprinkling of sesame seeds.

We waited a long time for these pan-fried rice rolls
Needless to say we were so full afterwards and the bill was so reasonable too -- HK$263 for three!

My friend tells me dinner here is very good too and I hope we can try it sometime!

Fung Shing Restaurant
1/F-2/F, European Asian Bank Building
749 Nathan Road
Prince Edward
2381 5261

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Zhang Daqian's Dunhuang Years

Mother and Daughter donors of five dynasties (1941-43)
A colleague told me about an exhibition of Chinese artist Zhang Daqian's work in Macau -- and by the way it would end on Sunday -- and so I made an effort this morning to check it out.

When I got to Shun Tak Ferry Terminal just after 10am, it was a zoo, with long queues for the Jetfoil. My only hope was to get tickets from a subcontracted ticket office and after quickly going through Immigration, I was able to get on the 10.30am ferry. Phew!

Yaksha Demons of Northern Wai Dynasty (1941-43)
After I arrived I took the MGM shuttle bus to the hotel, where I then walked a few blocks to the Macao Museum of Art.

The exhibition was located on the fourth floor and free admission too!

Some 100 works were borrowed from the Sichuan Museum, with a particular focus on his drawings during and after his visits to the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, Gansu province.

He spent almost three years there, from 1941 to 1944, reproducing 309 cave paintings that feature Buddhist figures. Experts believe that his style of painting, particularly figurative changed significantly, making his visit to Dunhuang an important milestone in his career.

The Mogao Caves are known as the Thousand Buddha Grottoes, made up of 492 temples located along the silk road. The caves have the best example of Buddhist art that spans 1,000 years.

Detail of Manjushri Boddhisttva (1941-43)
When he exhibited his work in 1944 in Chengdu and Chongqing, many of the viewers had never seen this kind of art before, as it wasn't even mentioned in the bible of Chinese painting, Painting Manual of the Mustard Seed Garden of the Qing dynasty.

Afterwards Zhang became interested in doing more research on the history of Chinese painting, looking at works from the Six Dynasties to the Sui and Tang dynasties.

The preface of the exhibition explains he learned painting from his mother, and that Zhang once said copying others is the first step to learning how to paint. He admired Shi Tao's paintings and they were copied so well that it was hard to tell the duplicate from the original.

Zhang is considered one of the grand masters in Chinese art because he excelled in painting works from the Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, and could paint in various styles: gongli (meticulous brushwork), xieyi (freehand brushwork), ink wash painting, blue and green landscapes, and jinbi (landscapes with gold outlines).

He believed learning painting is 70 percent hard work and 30 percent in born gifts and abilities.

Detail of Su Shi in bamboo hat and clogs (1947)
The collection of paintings shown at the museum range from sketches to unfinished and finished paintings painted before, during or after his visit to Dunhuang. Some of the sketches are so detailed, it's hard to imagine they are just line drawings and have yet to be filled in. He made those drawings when he was in the caves, copying them. There are some on paper, others on silk.

Others have the figures drawn and painted in, and the only thing missing are the eyes, or the figures are drawn out in thick brushstrokes and sadly won't be finished at all.

One can see the progression he makes after having drawn over 300 works at Dunhuang and then seeing his subsequent paintings -- the figures seem more confident and allow the brush to freely express itself instead of being tightly controlled.

Also in the exhibition are other paintings around the same time or before, some of women looking wistfully outside the window or holding a plum blossom branch looking very elegant and serene.

As if excelling in painting wasn't enough, Zhang also carved his own seals, two of which are presented in this show. He apparently made many friends who were seal carvers, and they gave him seals as a sign of their alliance, and some of those are shown in the exhibition.

For me, it was an eyeopener to see what Zhang had done in the early 1940s, before he became known for his ink splash paintings, and to see that he had such a keen interest in Buddhist art.

It also helps me better appreciate the Mogao cave paintings -- as I will see some of them in person very soon...

The Art of Zhang Daqian
Macao Museum of Art
Avenue Xian Xing Hai

Friday, 4 August 2017

Picture of the Day: Grammar Gripes

What's wrong with this picture, besides the women?
The standard of English continues to drop in Hong Kong and no one seems to care or want to do something about it.

The latest faux pas is found in the MTR, where JCDecaux has placed ads in the trains promoting Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum.

"Want To Take Selfie With Celebrities?" it asks.

Shouldn't it be, "Want To Take Selfies With Celebrities?" It's plural because there are more than one celebrities and selfie is a noun?

Last night we went to K11 mall in Tsim Sha Tsui to get to the hotel attached to it for a dinner. The basement of the mall says "Molecular Marche"... what exactly does that mean?

If you do know, please inform us! Inquiring minds want to know...

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Where is Liu Xia?

An optimistic portrait of Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia by Badiucao
Since Liu Xiaobo's funeral on July 15, after which his ashes were scattered at sea, there has apparently been no sighting of his wife Liu Xia.

Her US-based lawyer Jared Genser claims that she is being held in an undisclosed location by the Chinese government.

In a statement to AFP, Genser said: "I demand that Chinese authorities immediately provide proof that Liu Xia is alive and allow her unhindered access to her family, friends, counsel, and the international community."
Liu Xia watches her husband's ashes being scattered at sea

The United States, the UN high commissioner for human rights and Amnesty International have all called on Beijing to free Liu Xia, 56, from house arrest without charge since Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace prize in 2010.

However, Beijing insists she is a free citizen, and that grieving for her husband's death has prevented her from getting in touch with friends or her lawyer.

The Nobel Peace Prize committee is very concerned about Liu Xia's condition, as she suffers from depression due to house arrest and constant surveillance that make it very difficult to have contact with anyone, even family members.

The Nobel Committee has called on the Chinese government to "lift all restrictions they have put upon her", adding: "If she wants to leave China, there is no justification for denying her the opportunity to do so."

In Hong Kong, protesters demand Liu Xia be released
A relative told the media this week that Liu Xia had returned to Beijing, but her whereabouts were unknown.

The Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said it was unable to contact her directly.

Activist Hu Jia noted while she may have returned to Beijing, she may not necessarily be at home.

"Her being back in Beijing and back in her apartment are two different things," Hu said. "She might still be locked up or she's been placed with relatives in Beijing upon returning to the city."

Why is Beijing so worried about what Liu Xia will say? Can we not even see if she is OK or not? Liu Xiaobo is in another place. Surely his wife can now live the rest of her days in peace?

Or are they hoping they can some how make her disappear so that we will forget her?

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Civic Square May Reopen

When young people stormed Civic Square and surrounded by police in 2014
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is trying to score some brownie points, the latest being the possibility of re-opening Civic Square at Government headquarters after her predecessor Leung Chun-ying closed it in July 2014.

The shutting of the square inspired young people to climb over the fence and retake the area which resulted in the 79-day Umbrella Movement.

Carrie Lam made election pledge to reopen Civic Square
Lam made a campaign promise to re-open the 1,000-square metre area after relevant management and security studies are completed in three months.

"Even from the perspective of the government's dignity, I think the forecourt outside the east wing of the headquarters should be reopened," she said, adding the new government had adopted an "open and positive" attitude on the matter.

Since Lam is willing to be "open and positive" about this matter, we'll take it.

Interestingly, there is currently a judicial challenge filed in court by retired photojournalist Cheung Tak-wing, who believes Civic Square should be open because it's a government building, which belongs to taxpayers, in other words, the public.

Is Civic Square on public or private property?
However, the government claims that as the landowner, it has the right to exclude the public from using the forecourt.

Lam may declare the area open before the challenge begins in court on August 23, which would make the court case moot, but it would still be interesting to go through the legal challenge so that we all know who is correct in this matter.