Sunday, 31 July 2016

Picture of the Day: Pokemon Craze

There was a long queue of people waiting patiently to get on the tram!
This past week has been crazy on the streets of Hong Kong, watching people become particularly zombie-like, glued to their phones without a regard to their surroundings.

Thousands of people here have become addicted to Pokemon GO and I've heard of people bumping into lamp posts and trying to play the game surreptitiously under their desks at work.

The police, hospitals and even the People's Liberation Army have all warned players to stay away from their premises, worried they will cause havoc. It would be good not to stray into PLA territory as you never know what might happen...

Not having downloaded the game myself, a few friends have showed me how the augmented reality game works. It's like being in a virtual world where you catch virtual monsters with a ball that you can collect at various points in the city.

As you go by a certain landmark, there's a large disc that players have to spin to get more balls. And it also has a picture of the restaurant or shop that you are approaching.

Then you use these balls as ammunition to hit these pokemon or monsters. The more you shoot down, and the more rare they are, the more points you score. And then you can go to Pokemon Gyms to beef up your strength, which are highly prized places.

That's how the game gets people out to play, which is a good way to encourage them to explore neighbourhoods and meet up with friends.

One of the best ways to play Pokemon GO is on the tram, because you can pass by a lot of places on Hong Kong island for only HK$2.30.

So perhaps I should not have been surprised when I saw a massive line-up for the tram at the Kennedy Town terminus this afternoon after I came back from the gym. There must have been over 30 people waiting in line, when usually there is only a handful.

Hong Kong Tramways that runs the trams must be happy about this unexpected windfall -- its revenues have been dropping because of the MTR expansion to Western and also because it's summer not many are willing to sit in a tram without air conditioning.

But who knows how long this Pokemon Go crazy will last? Two friends remarked that they downloaded the game and within 20 minutes of playing it lost interest. On the other hand there are many others who are completely addicted and are posting updates of what they find on Facebook.

While I'm not too crazy about Pokemon hunters wandering around without noticing who or what they are bumping into, at least they are giving the trams a lot of business!

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Rejected Before the Ballot

Chan Ho-tin of Hong Kong National Party had his nomination rejected
The controversial second form that would-be candidates had to sign, acknowledging that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China, has, as expected, weeded out some pro-independence candidates.

Andy Chan Ho-tin of the Hong Kong National Party that advocates independence, said he received an email from the Electoral Affairs Commission, saying his application to run in New Territories West had been "invalidated".

Seven others are in a similar situation to Chan, but have yet to hear back from the electoral commission. They include a member of Youngspiration, and five from an alliance between Civic Passion, Proletariat Political Institute and Hong Kong Resurgence Order.

Why does the electoral commission choose who runs or not?
Edward Leung Tin-kei of Hong Kong Indigenous hasn't had a response yet either.He apparently dropped his pro-independence platform and signed the form.

In the meantime Chan said he would seek a judicial review and a future election petition.

"The National Party is honoured to become the first party to be banned from joining a democratic election by the government due to political difference," the party wrote on its Facebook page. It urged those who supported democracy to boycott the election as the move "has violated the Basic Law".

There are two points to this story.

Edward Leung is still waiting to hear back on his application
Article 1 of Chapter 1 of the Basic Law says: "The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is an inalienable part of the People's Republic of China".

As a result, advocating independence is a lost cause already.

However, by the same token, why is the Electoral Affairs Commission given the political task of weeding out people based on their election platforms?

This body should be as apolitical as possible. Why it should even issue a second form is redundant, as the first one declares the signatory upholds the Basic Law, ie, that they accept that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China.

Obviously someone was meddling in this so who was it?

Friday, 29 July 2016

Consecutive Bombshell Announcements

John Tsang shocked everyone by coming out and saying he may run for CE
Friday got really interesting politically when two people suggested they could possibly run for the position of Hong Kong's chief executive next year.

Outgoing Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing made the announcement live on RTHK on a live show from 8am to 9am, though RTHK news already reported Tsang's intentions as early at 6.24am in the morning.

Jasper Tsang signaled interest in taking over CY Leung's job
During the interview with The Pulse, Tsang said incumbent Leung Chun-ying was expected to run for another five-year term, and despite widespread speculation that Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah and Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor would run, they had not shown any indication of challenging their boss.

"If no one else really wants to run, and if it turns out that it is both necessary and possible for me to stand as a candidate to offer a genuine choice -- at least to the election committee -- then I will consider running," Tsang, 69, said.

However, he added he was getting too old to deal with his short comings, but if he was 10 years younger, he'd definitely consider running.

Everyone was surprised, but not surprised by Tsang's comments, as many speculated he would run for CE. Perhaps the timing threw people off.

Carrie Cheng is believed to be interested in running too
But even more curious was that an hour later at 10am, in a pre-recorded interview with Commercial Radio, John Tsang announced for the first time he is "willing to take up the job as chief executive if it can help [him] to contribute to society".

When asked to elaborate on why he was previously so hesitant on answering the question of whether he would run for CE or not, Tsang said: "I did not say that... if it contributes to Hong Kong, I am wiling to do [it] because there is absolutely no doubt that I love Hong Kong.

"But you all know that it is a bad job... and it is difficult to do because all chief executives are bound to be criticized and no one would be happy. I hope society can return to rationality, that would be encouraging for capable people," he said.

So now we have two Tsangs who have possibly entered the race. Some believe Lam may throw her hat into the ring too. Perhaps tomorrow?

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Picture of the Day: Music in the MTR

Students performing traditional Chinese music in the Central MTR station
Ah, the MTR likes to pride itself for enhancing commuters' journeys with art.

On its website, it talks about the "Airport Express Artwork Programme" as a pioneer project, presenting live performances and art exhibitions by students in Hong Kong.

Last week as I walked from Central MTR station to the Airport Express, in the corridor there were students performing traditional Chinese music.

Although it was Friday evening during rush hour, many people stopped to watch the mini concert, making it harder for commuters to walk through the area.

Nevertheless, it got me thinking -- if the MTR is so keen to promote the arts in its stations, why can't it allow musicians, amateur and professional to carry large instruments on board the trains?

But no -- they have to register for an "Oversized Musical Instrument Permit" in order to carry instruments where the length + width + height can't exceed 2.35m and any one side is not longer than 1.45m, including the case, but not Monday to Friday from 8.15am to 9.15am.

It's so bureaucratic that you have to wonder if the staff at the MTR don't have enough things to do than worry about how big some musical instruments and for that matter bicycles are.

Why make it harder for people to express themselves through music, or exercise to become more healthy?

If the MTR really was "caring for life's journeys", then it would let its commuters be. They aren't making graffiti or busking in the train!

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Getting Closer to Food Trucks in Hong Kong

The 16 winners of the cooking competition with Gregory So (in white)
Food trucks in Hong Kong are one step closer to reality after a cook-off was held yesterday at the Chinese Culinary Institute in Pokfulam.

Fifty-one applicants presented their signature dishes to nine judges, many of whom are celebrity chefs, and from there 16 winners were chosen.

What was strange was that the whole process was opaque -- the media wasn't allowed to watch the actually cooking and taste the food, nor did they taste the winning entries either.

Reporters were only shown pictures of the dishes, photographed against dark backgrounds, as if to make them look cooler, but instead made them look less like food truck food.

So wore a chef jacket, but boasts no culinary skills
At the press conference, Gregory So Kam-leung, the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development wore a chef's jacket, even though he professed to not have a sophisticated enough palate to judge the applicants' food...

However, six judges came on stage and commented on the winning dishes, some of them making them sound more delicious than they looked. One example from Tan Sing Cafe was a pineapple bun "hamburger", complete with a patty, lettuce, tomato and fried egg.

Another was a whole grilled squid on a bed of greens. It immediately made me think of "chao yao yu", which means deep-fried squid, or the Cantonese slang for "being sacked".

One winning dish from Mitsu Company featured fried rice (also with a fried egg on top), served on a plate that looked like an artist's palette, and on the edge were small containers to hold several different sauces. How was that dish, called "sakura shrimp umami sauce fried rice" supposed to work in a real food truck situation? Does that mean diners have to eat the dish on the plate near the food truck and then return the dish afterwards?

We also wondered about a fish maw soup -- how much was that going to cost? And isn't fish maw expensive?

When reporters talked to some of the winners, they admitted they didn't expect this food truck venture to make much money; they looked at it as an opportunity to be pioneers in this field in Hong Kong and saw it as a way to gain more experience in the food industry.

One successful applicant, Raymond Chu Wai-man, was a chef in the UK for 17 to 18 years, and when he heard Hong Kong was starting a food truck culture, he specifically came back to his hometown to try to get a food truck license.

He'll be selling a variety of grilled cheese sandwiches and real fruit smoothies to go with them.

Turns out only a few were big players, and they weren't even Maxim's, Cafe de Coral or even Butcher's Club. However a subsidiary of Chee Kei, a famous wonton noodle chain won, as well as Beef & Liberty, best known for its burgers and its winner was the slow-cooked pulled pork burger which is already on its menu.

Winning the food test doesn't mean the 16 successful applicants will automatically get food truck licenses -- they still have to individually apply and comply with the requirements of each of the departments involved.

Seems like a lot of hoop jumping for the applicants, while legislation hasn't caught up with the demand for food trucks in the city.

Isn't that like putting the cart before the horse?

The last thing the government should do is leave these 16 winners in a lurch if laws aren't in place to help foster this fledgling industry. They really have invested a lot of time and effort into this project.

In the meantime, what about also boosting our local food culture of dai pai dongs? They're an even more interesting food attraction than food trucks, no?

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Desserts in K-Town

A sweet treat in the form of chocolate and banana waffle!
Near where I live there is a small dessert shop called Summer Ice that always has a line-up in front, mostly young people willing to wait. Inside it looks packed with people so you have to wonder, is it really that good?

I finally got my chance tonight, when a friend and I finished dinner in Tsim Sha Tsui and decided to meet her husband for dessert in Kennedy Town. Where should we go?

Soft ice cream with mixed berries
When we got there, there wasn't a line, but we had to wait outside, as all the tables were occupied. However, the waitress gave us an iPad mini to scroll through the images of desserts they had.

The repertoire isn't large, but seems to be enough to draw crowds: soft ice cream, waffles, coffee, shaved ice drinks, with berries, chocolate and matcha flavours.

After about five minutes we were shown our table that we had to share with other customers, and we ordered a soft ice cream with mixed berries (HK$50). We were told that each person had to order an item on the menu -- so that's how they make their money!

And so we also chose the chocolate banana waffle (HK$60).

The soft ice cream was quite sweet, but creamy -- we had had a spicy dinner so it was a good way to cool down our fired up taste buds. The waffle was delicious, and made extra sweet by the scoop of chocolate ice cream and chocolate sauce drizzled on top.

Sorbet (left) with roasted pineapple and a kind of limoncello
Our third dessert my friend's husband ordered is something I would definitely order again if and when I return -- the sorbet combo (HK$88), that features a lemon sorbet with a shot of what seemed like a limoncello lite, and two slices of roasted pineapple.

Most people ordered the waffle desserts, particularly matcha flavoured, and the mango smoothie.

The restaurant doesn't serve water to customers, who seem fine just having their dessert and leaving. Outside a line had formed, and by the time we left, there were at least six or seven people hovering by the door.


Summer Ice
Shop D, G/F, Full Harvest Building
6-18 Hau Wo Street
Kennedy Town
5541 0655

Monday, 25 July 2016

Further Divisions Risk Higher Tensions

Lau says there will be voter backlash if pro-independents aren't allowed to run
The controversy over the Electoral Affairs Commission requiring candidates to sign a second form confirming that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China -- refuses to go away.

There are questions over the legality of such a form, and why was it suddenly introduced over a week ago just before the nomination period for candidates to run in the upcoming Legislative Council election started.

Pro-independence groups were concerned at first, because initially the electoral office said that one had to sign the form in order to run, and if they did sign the form, but lied about their stance, then they would face serious consequences.

Justice Fung didn't clarify much on the new requirements
This was not clarified when some pan-democrats met with the commission's chief, Justice Barnabas Fung. He claimed the form was legal, but was vague on the consequences of signing it or not.

The former head of a semi-official think tank, the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, Professor Lau Siu-kai, warned the government would face consequences for the latest developments.

"If a pro-independence activist is barred from running in the Legislative Council, not only his supporters, but also voters who sympathize with him or some voters who do not support independence could vote for the radicals allowed in the race," Lau said on TVB yesterday.

Nevertheless, Lau believes the Hong Kong and Beijing governments have assessed the consequences and are "willing to bear such risks" as it was a matter of national sovereignty.

He said the addition of the second form demonstrated that the city's government was "capable of protecting national security and sovereignty".

Another fishball revolution waiting to erupt?
By the same token, Lau pointed out it wasn't unusual for restrictions to be imposed, saying that German politicians couldn't run for office if they supported Nazism or communism.

The strong possibility that Beijing and the Leung administration are willing to risk the wrath of pro-independence voters -- a big chunk of who are young -- means the authorities aren't interested in how the next generation feels about being ruled by China.

Again, like in previous times such as in 2014, the youth are dismissed for being naive, and so their concerns aren't even considered.

Human rights law expert Professor Michael Davis, hopes for a happy balance between what the youth want and how the status quo will address them, though that seems too idealistic.

"I see their cause of self-determination or independence as an expression of frustration -- we have marched for many years, we had the Occupy movement and still we have no democracy. We have no government that can guard Hong Kong's autonomy," he says.

"If the government wants to bring this to an end, the answer is to be less repressive and more committed to implementing promised reforms."

However, the authorities aren't going to listen to an outgoing academic... it's all about self-preservation, not what's good for Hong Kong in the long term.

So if there is another fish ball riot that erupts somewhere in the city, don't be surprised.

It's a powder keg that is ready to blow.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Tree Appreciation

For Hong Kong visitors, the number of trees in the city makes a big impression
While I was in Vancouver, some relatives from Hong Kong came for a short visit for the first time.

We showed them around the usual spots -- Stanley Park, VanDusen Botanical Gardens, the University of British Columbia, Queen Elizabeth Park, Chinatown, Gastown, and so on.

It was interesting to see what they took pictures of, and what they were most thrilled about were the trees.

They were amazed to see so many trees in the city, in particular how large and tall they were.

Lots of greenery in Queen Elizabeth Park
Many times they commented about how Hong Kong doesn't know how to manage its trees well due to a lack of knowledge, and most of the time chops them down for fear that the branches will break off and fall, especially during typhoons, and doesn't want to take any chances.

Another reason is that the trees are somehow assigned to different departments and they manage them in their own way. There is a Tree Management Office, but it seems to coordinate with the various departments that have trees under their jurisdiction than have overall management of all the trees in the city.

This leads to an uncoordinated philosophy on how to look after trees in Hong Kong, and why some seem to be haphazardly chopped down, and others pruned to the point where the tree can't recover and eventually dies (and is chopped down).

Looking at the fairway at Point Grey Golf Club
Being in Vancouver, just being able to look up and see the blue skies and clouds so easily is something people there take for granted, because in Hong Kong, having a shoe box in the sky doesn't necessarily mean you have a zillion-dollar view. Some look directly into another person's flat a metre away. Or you have a sliver of a view if you crane your neck at a certain degree.

Seeing my relatives in awe of how trees are left to flourish in Vancouver made me even more acutely aware of how lucky the residents are to live in such a green environment.

I found myself paying more attention to them too, and how Hong Kong really needs to protect what trees it has left to create a more liveable place.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Photo of the Day: A Slice of Blue Sky

Taking in the view from this angle at the JACCAC
Yesterday I went to the Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre in Shek Kip Mei in Kowloon. I was there on assignment and it was my first time visiting the place, a 10-minute walk from the MTR station.

The building is former factory and about eight years ago was turned into the JCCAC with 150 studios for artists, arts groups, and students. On the walls were posters advertising for various art classes, like ceramics, painting, photography for all ages.

As a result many of the rooms are studios, or offices related to the arts. Perhaps PMQ should have been turned into something like this than focusing on just retail.

It was quite hot yesterday and so by the time I arrived for my appointment, I was dripping with sweat.

But outside on the balcony, there was a cool breeze and I saw this slice of blue sky in between two tall residential buildings.

It kind of sums up Hong Kong -- if you are privileged enough to have any kind of view...

Friday, 22 July 2016

Three Occupy Student Leaders are Convicted

Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow were leaders of Occupy protests
And so it began...

Two years ago on September 26, the government closed off an area at its headquarters, a large space that was dubbed Civic Square.

It seemed ironic the government was not allowing taxpayers into a space that they had essentially paid for, but this only propelled student activists like Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Alex Chow Yong-kang and Nathan Law Kwun-chung into climbing the fence and occupying Civic Square.

They did get into Civic Square and Law encouraged others to storm the area too, but they were quickly surrounded by police. It was deadlocked for two days until that fateful Sunday, when members of the public demanded the police let the student activists go.

The police surrounded those who had stormed Civic Square
Later that afternoon all chaos broke loose in Admiralty, and thousands of people began spreading out into the streets, which suddenly began the start of the 79-day protest.

And now the three student leaders have been convicted for what they did.

Wong and Chow were found guilty of unlawful assembly, and Law was convicted of inciting others to join in an unlawful assembly.

While the three were released on bail, it is the first time the trio were criminally convicted and will be sentenced on August 15.

The maximum sentence they could get is a HK$5,000 fine and three years in jail.

Law said they did not regret what they did. "Because of our actions, the 'umbrella movement' started, and we believe it is very important for Hong Kong," he said. "We still think we did something right."

While we admire their actions from two years ago, where has this led us? Things have become more divisive than ever, though for the pan-democratic side, it's more honest in being outspoken and true to their hearts.

We'll have to see how their sentences play out, if it seems like the judiciary has an opinion about this trio...

Thursday, 21 July 2016

A Fruitless Shipment

One South American dragon fruit that had liquid cocaine in its centre
Some drug traffickers are really creative these days, and after this case, Hong Kong customs officers might check fruit shipments even more carefully from now on.

That's because they found liquid cocaine with an estimated street value of HK$15.7 million (US$2 million) concealed in the hollow centres of 98 dragon fruit that arrived by air from Colombia.

It was apparently the first time such a method of drug concealment was discovered in Hong Kong in about 20 years.

The shipment was chosen for inspection because fresh fruit arriving from overseas by air is usually picked up on the day of arrival, but in this case it was sitting there for two days.

Customs officers inspected each fruit to see if they had drugs
Customs officers spent more than four hours opening 160 boxes and checking nearly 2,000 dragon fruits -- also known as pitayas -- one by one on Tuesday, two days after the shipment arrived from Colombia via Britain.

The concealment method was described as "sophisticated" and "innovative". "Part of the fruit layer was peeled off and pulp was removed before liquid cocaine was injected into the hollow centre and the layer was glued back on," said a source.

"From appearance, it was hard to distinguish the ones concealing illegal drugs. Officers had to inspect them one by one."

In the end 98 dragon fruits contained the drug within 50 boxes among other fruits that had not been compromised.

"Each dragon fruit carried about 130 grams of liquid cocaine. A total of 15kg of liquid cocaine was seized with an estimated street value of HK$15.7 million."

A 36-year-old truck driver was arrested when he tried to pick up the shipment.

The authorities are investigating whether the shipment was for Hong Kong or another destination.

In the meantime drug traffickers will have to think of a more fruitful way to get their illicit products to their destination.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Quote of the Day: Zhang Xiaoming

Zhang is concerned about Hong Kong separatists getting too much air time
Zhang Xiaoming, the central government's liaison office director in Hong Kong, has weighed in on the controversy this week of candidates for the upcoming Legislative Council elections, having to sign a second form to show they understood China to have complete sovereignty over the city.

The first form makes the declaration that candidates would pledge allegiance to the Basic Law.

So far some 20 pan-democrats and localists have refused to sign the second form.

Today at an event, Zhang said: "If Hong Kong independence advocates are allowed to turn the run-up to the Legco election into a process of proactive promotion of independence, or even allow them to enter Legco gloriously, does this comply with the 'one country, two systems' principle, the Basic Law and the principle of the rule of law?"

Seems like the senior Chinese official has forgotten what "one country, two systems" is -- that while Hong Kong is a part of China, it follows its own rule of law, which enshrines freedom of speech for its residents.

Therefore, candidates for the upcoming elections should be able to exercise their right to say whatever they want, barring libellous remarks.

And think about it -- how many votes will these separatists get in the big scheme of things? There are so many pan-democratic and localist groups, that they are splitting the votes among themselves, which increases the chances of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong or DAB to continue to dominate Legco.

So what is there to worry about?

However, Zhang is using scare tactics to get the older generation concerned about Hong Kong's future, when it seems like Beijing is trying to manipulate the outcome when it doesn't need any changes...

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Mission Impossible to Recycle

There aren't enough recycling bins like these and some dump waste in them 
In the last few years, Hong Kong people are becoming more environmentally conscious and are finally waking up to the myriad of issues that are plaguing the city.

One of the more pressing ones is pollution, but another is recycling, particularly dealing with food waste.

The Green Council, a local NGO conducted a survey of 1,288 respondents and found 89 percent were willing to recycle food waste if there was a recycling point where they lived.

Currently about 66 percent didn't do anything to reduce or recycle the amount of food waste they generated, mostly because only 5 percent of residential properties have food recycling schemes.

Glass recycling is a no brainer, but not enough collection bins
Everyday the city dumps 3,600 tons of food into landfills, making up 40 percent of Hong Kong's solid municipal waste, according to a study by the Environmental Protection Department in 2011.

The survey also found that 90 percent of consumers were interested in patronizing restaurants that had good food waste handling practices.

For restaurants to qualify for the "Lean Label Scheme", they had to introduce such practices as having recipes that made use of surplus food, allowing customers to choose portion sizes, and having proper storage facilities to prevent food from spoiling.

"In the past two or three years, our customers have become a lot more aware of the problem of food waste," said Carrel Kam Lin-wang, director of Yung Kee Restaurant in Central, that just received its Lean Label yesterday.

"Unlike a few years ago when customers would intentionally order until there would be foo to spare, nowadays even celebrities who eat at our restaurant will bring their own boxes to pay away leftovers," Kam said.

Where is Wong Kam-sing's leadership on this crucial issue?
Really? Hard to imagine the well-heeled whipping out plastic containers to put their leftover roast goose in, but you never know.

But more importantly, where is the government leadership on this issue?

Wong Kam-sing, secretary for the environment said yesterday that an economic incentive was necessary in order to reduce waste. "We must first have a fee on waste disposal which we will propose to the new Legco," he said.

While the implementation of this waste disposal fee is years from now, why not encourage more recycling with more bins for people to do it? And educate users on which items can be recycled, and which can't.

Right now there are hardly enough recycling bins where people live which is crucial in making this work.

The other is educating people on what can be recycled and what can't. Many use recycling bins on the street as another garbage can. This attitude has to change right now. And then there are those who are too lazy to sort their garbage and take it to the nearest recycling bin.

There is a recycling station just outside my apartment building, with even containers to accept glass (these are a rare sight in Hong Kong), and yet some residents still leave their empty wine bottles by the garbage can for the waste collectors to pick up.

Other cities around the world have been recycling for decades, and places like Vancouver are recycling all food waste to be composted. Why should this be an impossible task in Hong Kong?

The government doesn't seem to encourage the business of recycling either -- making it financially unfeasible for people to want to get into the recycling business.

But alas the government -- not just the Leung Chun-ying administration, but even in the colonial era -- didn't make much effort into recycling and no official now, even our current secretary for the environment isn't pushing this.

It's all talk and no action, which is pathetic particularly when people are clamouring for it even more now.

What's wrong with doing our part to save our environment from our own destruction? People want to do something, so why not make it easier for them to recycle?

Monday, 18 July 2016

Hong Kong Casts a Romantic Spell

Jamie Chung and Bryan Greenberg in Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong
Yesterday on the plane I watched Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong, an indie movie that has gotten more attention for its romantic images of the city it's set in, than the story line.

Ruby (Jamie Chung) is a Chinese-American toy designer who is in Hong Kong for her first time and gets lost trying to find Lan Kwai Fong. Josh (Bryan Greenberg) overhears her dilemma and offers to take her there.

Hong Kong is a romantic backdrop for the plot
But as many viewers from Hong Kong have noticed, they seem to take a really long time to get there, as they started off somewhere in Soho...

However, they needed that time to introduce themselves, -- Josh in finance in Hong Kong for the past 10 years but really wants to pen a novel, and Ruby a toy designer who once had dreams of being the next Vera Wang.

There is definitely chemistry between the two (they are a real-life husband and wife), and it's refreshing to see the female character holding her own, pretty independent but also mature and western in her values. But the dialogue can seem a bit hokey at times.

Josh tries to give her the lay of the land, impressing her with his awful Cantonese when visiting a tailor shop in Chungking Mansions, and takes her to some touristy spots like Ladies' Market and Temple Street to have their fortunes read.

Emily Ting wrote and directed the film
It's quite amazing the two never sweat walking outside so much and that she doesn't freeze when sitting in the back of a bus wearing a sleeveless top, skirt and heels...

The plot twists involving the pair are interesting, but the real star of the show is Hong Kong -- the filmmakers have created a colourful and happy-go-lucky view of the city that us locals may have taken for granted or haven't really noticed before. The Avenue of the Stars in Tsim Sha Tsui is the perfect backdrop for romantic conversation -- but isn't it closed for "renovation" at the moment?

Nevertheless, the ending of the movie makes you wonder will they, or won't they (get together), and it hopes that you will like Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong so much that the sequel will have to be made...

Don't hold your breath though...

Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong
Jamie Chung and Bryan Greenberg
Written and directed by Emily Ting

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Hearty Northern Italian Cuisine

The highlight -- 24-hour slow cooked veal shank that was very tender
I'd heard a lot about La Quercia, a northern Italian restaurant on 4th and Alma in Vancouver.

Meat mixed with bone marrow with asparagus
My parents had raved about it and we managed to snag a reservation with a few other friends. The restaurant is best known for its set dinners, as the chef likes to create new menus every day using the freshest ingredients. For the large set menus, large groups can enjoy a meal family style.

Also the dinner times are pretty much set in stone -- 5.30pm or 8pm. We chose the latter and after I watched part of the Gastown Grand Prix, I caught a cab on West Hastings before Victory Square where the Cenotaph is, and managed to get to the restaurant in 15 minutes.

It's a small cozy place that seats 34 people, though it can get quite noisy in there. We picked a fruity red wine with a dry finish to start and settled into the late dinner that was CAD$80 a head.

We started with the veal tonnato, a thin slice of veal that was light pink, with tuna, capers and a grissini. This was followed by bone marrow mixed with meat and then placed back in the bone cut lengthwise.

Ravioli with beetroot and ricotta, poppy seed butter sauce
The meaty mixture was very smooth and easily spread on the toast. It wasn't like any other bone marrow that I'd had before, and was accompanied with some pickled asparagus to cut the richness.

Next came a salad of charred greens with radish slices in a subtle anchovy dressing garnished with Italian parsley leaves that was light and fresh.

We all loved the two pasta dishes that followed. The first featured small delicate ravioli filled with beetroot and ricotta, and had a poppy seed butter sauce. Together the bite-sized combination of textures and flavours was scrumptious.

Next came small and thin sheets of pasta mixed with Parmesan, potato, beans, and pine nuts that was hearty and rustic. Another winner we could have eaten a whole plate of and been sated.

Pasta with beans, potato, pine nuts and Parmesan
Finally our main course arrived -- the place was full and it took time for the kitchen to prepare our dishes -- but this was worth the wait. It was a big hunk of veal shank that was slow cooked for 24 hours and in a mushroom and red wine jus.

As the server cut into it tableside, the meat effortlessly fell off the bone and the tenderness of the meat together with the full flavours made this dish a highlight. It was accompanied with roasted fennel bulbs.

To completely contrast the heavy meat dish, dessert was wonderfully refreshing and creative. It was pineapple and orange "carpaccio" -- thinly sliced in a fruit juice sauce and a small scoop of sorbet on top. Heavenly.

Pineapple and orange "carpaccio" with sorbet to finish
Definitely a memorable meal with good company too! However, it was quite a long wait between courses that tried our patience, but we were most impressed with the pasta and meat courses.

La Quercia
3689 West 4th Avenue
Vancouver, BC
(604) 676 1007

Friday, 15 July 2016

Hong Kong Moving the Goal Posts

The Electoral Affairs Commission is changing the rules of candidate elegibility
The two-week nomination for candidates to run in the upcoming Legislative Council elections on September 4 has started, but the Hong Kong government has put up a new roadblock.

Apart from candidates having to make the standard declaration to uphold the Basic Law and pledge allegiance to the city, the Electoral Affairs Commission now says candidates have to sign a second form agreeing to Hong Kong being an inalienable part of China or face disqualification.

It seems the government is trying to screen out people -- ie localists who are running on platforms promoting separatism or returning to colonial rule -- even before they try to go out on the hustings.

Localists like Edward Leung may be disqualified for his views
The reactions are predictable -- the pan-democrats are up in arms, calling it political censorship -- which it is -- and are not ruling out a judicial review of the electoral commission if it does not clearly spell out the consequences if a candidate does not sign the second form.

Is the commission allowed to create such forms on a whim? Do these forms have any legal basis?

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen denied political censorship, and said candidates could submit their nomination without signing the new form, but that could be a factor in deciding whether to approve the applicant's candidacy or not.

Other senior government officials, like vice-chairwoman of the Basic Law Committee for the National People's Congress and former Secretary for Justice Elsie Leung Oi-sie says the second form just repeats the requirement that all candidates swear their allegiance to Hong Kong.

Elsie Leung says pledging allegiance to Hong Kong is normal
It's obvious the government (or Beijing) is not taking any chances to jinx the upcoming elections. What does the pro-Beijing camp have to worry about? The pan-democratic camp is more splintered than ever with so many different political parties.

If the government and Beijing were really concerned about knowing what Hong Kong people think about how they are being governed, then they would allow all these candidates to run and see what the results were after the election.

It is the best way to gauge the electorate, as this year there will probably be a lot of young people casting votes because they want a greater say in their future.

But it seems the government is too insecure to let any candidate run and wants to control the process. How is that democratic? This is one of the last bastions of where Hong Kong people can exercise their right to vote and already it's being screened...

Thoughts on the Nice Attacks

Investigators sift through the carnage and bullet-riddled truck in Nice
There is shocking news out of Nice, France this afternoon Vancouver time, where at least 84 people were killed after a large white truck drove onto the Promenade des Anglais which was full of people celebrating Bastille Day.

Details are still sketchy, but it seems like a man known to police for petty crimes drove the truck into the crowd, and police tried desperately to stop it, shooting bullets into the windshield until the driver was "neutralized".

The scene just over a year ago on Promenade des Anglais
This latest attack happened eight months after the Paris ones, where gunmen and suicide bombers almost simultaneously hit a concert hall, major stadium, restaurants and bars that left 130 dead on November 13.

It is chilling to think about because on July 8 last year, we visited Nice, walking along the Promenade des Anglais too, though in the daytime.

It was quite hot that day, no clouds in the sky, as we walked along the strip by the ocean. A few months earlier mainland Chinese billionaire Li Jinyuan made headlines when he took 6,400 staff on a paid vacation to France, including a visit to Nice, where they occupied a big chunk of the promenade.

There isn't sand on the beach, but rounded rocks, so we gingerly made our way down to the water, took off our shoes and waded into the crystal blue water though it was quite cold! It was amazing to see some people swimming in there.

The clear blue water was quite chilly for July!
Those are my memories of Nice and so it is shocking to hear the horrific news of what happened there several hours ago.

In the coming days, weeks and months we will find out more details of who was behind the attacks and why. But the fact that it happened on July 14, France's national day which represents freedom, has left people in shock, but hopefully with the resolve to carry on with courage.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Gastown Grand Prix

Watching the women go by after a sharp turn in the race course
One of my good friends is a cycling fanatic and even went to Paris to watch the finish of the Tour de France one year.

He told me he'd be watching Vancouver's Gastown Grand Prix today and suggested I come along to check it out so I did.

We had to line up early at The Diamond to get a seat by the window, but already a few people were in front of us. We didn't get a window seat, but we had easy access to the race course which was only steps away.

At another point of the course the women racers whiz by
It all started at 5.30pm when the teenagers raced, followed by the women at 6.15pm, and then the men at 7.30pm.

I saw a bit of the teens racing, but when the women competed, it was very impressive. I stood right by the fence and as they came by, they really hugged close to the temporary railing. They really did whoosh by and in seconds were gone.

They followed a red Tesla and then a black one rounded the rear. If riders were too slow and rode behind the black Tesla, they were deemed disqualified from the race.

This year is the 33rd running of the race, that was started by Dr Roger Sumner in 1973, who wanted to organize a bike race to show people what top level bike racing in Canada was like.

The course is quite tight, making it highly intense and the chances are great for spills because some of the turns are quite tight.

If you're not fast enough, your picture looks like this...
But there's a lot of money at stake -- the announcer explained first prize was CAD$12,000, only a few thousand euros short of what racers in the Tour de France win for clinching a stage of the grueling race. Racers also got a chance to win money if they sprinted particular laps.

Nevertheless, another friend remarked to me she was surprised to see much fewer people watching the race compared to last year... wonder why the sudden drop in interest.

My cyclist friend suggested I stay a bit longer to watch the men's race, but a fire alarm went off in the area and the fire trucks were trying to get to it, which meant a big delay in starting the men's race.

I had a dinner to go to so I couldn't stay, but can imagine the speeds were even faster than the women... maybe next year!

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Memorable Garden Visit

It was a bit chilly and overcast, but we were pleased to wander VanDusen!
I recently hosted some relatives from Hong Kong visiting Vancouver and they were on their first trip to North America. They had toured a good part of the west coast, seeing places like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Yellowstone Park, the Grand Canyon, San Francisco and Seattle.

Japanese blood grass can be found in the gardens
They came up to Vancouver for less than 48 hours but we made the most of it. Yesterday I took them to VanDusen Botannical Garden, and it was my first time to visit during the day, as the previous times I've been there is for the Festival of Lights, when the place is decorated with Christmas lights.

When we arrived just after 11.30am, a tour was just about to start so we joined in and it made our visit infinitely better. Our guide took us to interesting places around the garden and told us fascinating facts about not only the history of VanDusen, but also the various trees and flowers in it.

We also saw this near perfect lotus flower in bloom
The 22 hectare garden has over 7,500 kinds of plants in it from various countries, some of which are extinct in their original habitat. Originally the area was the Shaughnessy Golf Course owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway and management decided it would be good to sell the land to developers.

However, the women golfers protested, saying the place should remain a green space. Eventually the city bought it, but not without funds from wealthy lumberman and philanthropist Whitford Julian VanDusen.

Our guide suggested that it was probably his wife who encouraged him to put up the funds to buy the garden, as she was an avid gardener.

You don't want to mess with the giant rhubarb at night!
After it was successfully purchased, the garden was developed by WC Livingston, who the guide explains, didn't have formal training in designing gardens, but apparently had a talent for it. A large lake is named Livingston Lake in his honour, and it's quite large, with waterlilies in it, as well as a few ducks hanging around.

The garden was opened in 1975 and there are some trees that have been there since the golf course's existence, like a cluster of tall and skinny Douglas Firs and cedars.

We saw some interesting things like Japanese blood grass -- large, long and thick strands of grass that have red tips on them, while the giant rhubarb have massive round leaves, but aren't very friendly; underneath are numerous spikes!

The soft trunk of the sequoia tree
She told us about several of the trees in the garden. There's a Lebanese cedar, but none grow in its native country anymore, while our guide explained indigenous people used cedar trees for a number of things, from the wood to make boats, to the bark to make clothes. She also said they would also conduct rituals to thank the tree for giving them the things they needed.

We saw a sequoia or coast redwood and she invited us to touch the trunk. It was surprisingly soft for an old tree. Our guide said when there are wildfires, the trees are hard to kill off completely because they store so much water in them, which is why their trunks are soft. Also the pine cones hold seeds that don't open unless they are heated by fire.

We saw many kinds of Japanese maple trees, and an interesting aspect of its propagation is that the seeds are shaped with wings so that they can be carried far away by the wind.

Another curious tree is the Princess tree that seems to have eyes drawn on its trunk. She said it was native to western and central China, where families grow these trees when a girl is born. By the time she is ready to be married, the tree's wood is used to build her chest that will hold her trousseau.

Beautiful roses still in bloom in the Rose Garden
The garden also has a maze that kids like to run around in, as well as an impressive waterfall that has the meaning of embarking on a spiritual journey. At the top of the manmade waterfall is a rock garden that's a bit primitive in its presentation, but draws its inspiration from Japanese philosophy.

Our tour ended almost two hours later at the Rose Garden. It's a pity we were in between blooming seasons -- the next spurt will be in August -- but we managed to find a few still in early bloom.

While we didn't cover the entire park, the amount of information we absorbed during our tour was memorable and all afternoon my relatives and I were so thankful to have come across the tour, as we all learned so much from it.

People taking picture of the Princess tree
VanDusen Botannical Garden
5251 Oak Street
(604) 257 8335