Friday, 31 March 2017

Jazzy Evening

La Mademoiselle et son Orchestre kicking up some lively jazz tunes
I just got back to my hotel after a fun evening catching up with an ex-colleague. After dinner we rode rented bikes -- my first time riding a bike in Beijing on the street! -- to Nanluoguxiang, a hutong a few blocks from Hou Hai, or the back lakes.

We walked down this busy street filled with small shops and eateries, and near the end we turned left into a small street where a bar called Jiang Hu or "river lake" is located. It's in an old Chinese-style house where a band was playing jazz.

The band, La Mademoiselle et son Orchestre, features two French musicians including the female singer, hence "the lady and her band".

They were lively, fun and played so well together. In between songs she would chat in Putonghua with the audience making small jokes we could all understand.

The space was crowded at first when we arrived after 10pm, but thinned out about 45 minutes after, when they finished a set.

So nice to hear easy-listening jazz in a cozy environment! Not something you would easily find in Hong Kong!

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Fine Western Cuisine in Beijing

Lovely leek, eel and potato soup as a starter at TRB Forbidden City
Last time I was in Beijing I had the opportunity to have lunch at TRB Temple Restaurant.

It's off the beaten track, but once you find it, you feel like you've stumbled upon a culinary secret you only dare to tell a few foodie friends because this kind of quality food is served with precision and perfection.

The eggplant is the skin of the ravioli here with pine nuts
Last night I had the chance to dine at TRB Forbidden City on Donghuamen Street. The east gate of the Forbidden City is next to the restaurant, but now there is scaffolding up in the area.

Last night we even saw three guys out there with their fishing rods trying to catch something from the moat...

In any event, restauranteur Ignace LeCleir was there serving most of the tables. Watching him and his team swiftly "dance" around the room is amazing.

A few days ago the restaurant changed to TRB Forbidden City from TRB Bites. LeCleir explained that his customers want this location to offer the fine dining experience too and so he obliged.

A pretty salmon dish, but was just a tad overcooked
There are five-course tasting menus, but we chose to pick three dishes from the a la carte menu for 398 yuan.

I enjoyed the eggplant ravioli that featured a slice of eggplant wrapped as if it was the ravioli skin.

Another nice starter is the potato and smoked eel soup that had a range of textures and the taste was sublime, flavourful and hearty.

My main of slow-cooked salmon looked pretty with lots of garnish on top, but it was overcooked and I lost interest in it.

However, the dessert called milk and Mandarin saves the evening. There's a yogurt sorbet on top decorated with meringue sheets, while mandarin marmalade is at the bottom. So light and refreshing!

Delicious finish of yogurt and mandarin marmalade below
The hospitality displayed by LeCleir and his team is genuine and warm. A young Chinese waiter enjoyed chatting with us and even took a picture of us for a thoughtful souvenir.

We're so glad to be able to try it and have fond memories of the restaurant and of course, Beijing.

If and when Michelin decides Beijing restaurants should be awarded stars, TRB Forbidden City should be high on the list...

TRB Forbidden City
95 Donghuamen

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Roast Duck Empire

Talk about a flashy entrance for one of Beijing's top restaurants!
What's a trip to Beijing without eating Peking duck? And the best place in the Chinese capital to eat it?

Da Dong Roast Duck or Da Dong Kao Ya.

My friends suggested we dine at one of the nine locations I've never been too -- Gongren Tiyuchang Dong Lu, or Workers' Stadium East Road, a block from Sanlitun.

The half portion of roast duck neatly displayed on the plate
I arrived early to find that diners walk a long catwalk into this field with sculpted life-size horses, and in the middle is a "pond" filled with "reeds" that are blue LED lights with a wooden walkway in the middle.

It's very... gawdy which surprised me, as the Dongsishitiao location I used to frequent is in what was formerly the imperial granary, quite a classy place.

But here inside it gets even better. There's a massive screen, almost floor to ceiling (and it's a high ceiling) that shows off many of the gorgeous-looking dishes from his menu, and footage of him giving cooking demonstrations in Europe, hunting for white truffles, and being lauded by laowai, or foreigners.

As a diner facing the screen, it's really distracting to say the least... and there's more horses inside too...

Rapeseed flowers that didn't have much taste
Nevertheless, the food thankfully is still pretty consistent. The menu is a massive tome, a large rectangular book where each page is filled with beautifully-photographed dishes. You kind of need bookmarks to record possible dishes to order, otherwise you'll never find them again.

We ordered the half duck, and as before, it's juicy, tender and the skin isn't too fatty or oily. The pancakes are warm and thin, and we wrap the duck slices with the sauce, spring onions, radish, cucumber, a dab of mashed garlic, and preserved vegetables. They're so addictive that you have to have another one...

A new dish we tried was a massive vegetarian dumpling shaped like a bun, but it's not doughy. Inside was choc full of vegetables and cubed bamboo shoots. This was delicious and the crunchy texture was refreshing.

Braised eggplant with garlic and garnished with flowers
The braised eggplant dish was also a treat, decorated with flowers it was almost too pretty to eat. The slices of eggplant were well seasoned with soy and hoisin, and texture-wise were quite meaty.

However a disappointing dish was one of rapeseed flowers. While they looked pretty on the plate, they didn't have much taste to them, but now we know... it wasn't an expensive dish, but an interesting experiment to try.

Finally we had some mochi filled with durian paste that was fun to eat and the taste of the usually pungent fruit wasn't too intense. The restaurant also served some fresh strawberries that were surprisingly sweet.

Green-coloured mochi filled with durian paste
The chef-owner Dong Zhengxiang is not only a solid chef, but also a smart businessman. So much so that he's ambitious enough to open a Da Dong branch in New York! It will be located in 3 Bryant Park in Manhattan, New York and the rent isn't cheap -- 13,000 square feet there was asking for US$2.3 million per year...

I also heard he is using top quality chinaware with plates that cost 3,000 yuan (US$435) per piece...

Sounds like for Dong, it's go big or go home in the Big Apple...

Da Dong
Beijing Workers' Stadium East Road
Chaoyang District
(010) 6551 1806

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Donkey Burgers in Beijing

A small shop that has gotten a lot of curious diners from far and wide
I'm in Beijing for a week and it's nice to be back -- it made me wonder why I haven't come back earlier.

Some things are still the same -- queuing in the wrong line even though the sign seems like you should line up there, given stacks of fapiao or receipts, the perilous journey of crossing a street.

And then there are things that are different, like numerous new buildings that sprung up since I was last here four years ago, and hailing a cab on WeChat.

Here's the "burger", stuffed with lots of donkey meat!
I arrived in the afternoon, and after a short nap ventured out to Gulou. Last week I met a New York freelance writer in Hong Kong who travels probably 10 months of the year. I told him I was going to Beijing and he suggested I check out a place that made donkey sandwiches.

Needless to say I was intrigued.

Its original location is in Gulou, sort of near the Drum and Bell Towers. So when I popped out of Gulou subway station and saw the Drum and Bell Towers, I knew I had to walk towards them and somewhere south west of them would be Wang Pang Zi, the shop selling these sandwiches.

About a 15 minute walk later I finally found the place -- finding your intended destination in Beijing on your own is definitely an accomplishment -- and saw it was a small shop.

It was about 5.30pm and some people were in there like me, having a late afternoon snack, as I wasn't having dinner until 8pm.

Really enjoyed the soup with donkey meat and coriander
I ordered a lu rou hao shao (驴肉火烧), or donkey meat "burger" and the waiter suggested I have soup too, so I ordered the donkey meat soup.

They arrived relatively quickly together. The "burger" is more like a long sandwich, but the bread is more like a kind of crunchy quasi pastry like, but not as hard as a baguette. Within it are slices of the donkey meat, similar to pastrami in appearance and had a sprinkling of diced green peppers in it.

I really enjoyed the bread, but also the soup too. The broth was savoury and flavourful, with more slices of donkey meat, but these ones had some cartilage, a bit of spice and garnished with coriander. For me the soup was addictive. It would be even better with noodles in it!

In any event, I managed to finish both and the bill came to 21 yuan (around US$3).

Wonder what other wonderful Beijing snacks I should try out!

Wang Pang Zi Donkey Burger
80 Gulou Xi Da Jie
Xicheng District
8672 7505

Monday, 27 March 2017

Election Aftermath

Is Carrie Lam wondering how she will govern such a divided city?
Yesterday I spent four hours watching the election for the chief executive on Facebook Live, and I shouldn't have wasted that time when we already knew who the winner was.

But I was curious to see how many votes Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor would get, and shocked she did get well over 750 votes. I was also very surprised her rival John Tsang Chun-wah could barely break 400.

Several people were screwed over in this election, which makes it a bitter one.

What will Regina Ip do now? Will she change tact?
Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee has been a loyal pro-establishment supporter. What did she get for consistently towing the party line? She was outright rejected by Beijing at the nomination stage.

What will she do next? Will she continue to speak on behalf of "Western"? Or will she think she has nothing to lose and become more centrist?

The same goes for Tsang. Whatever he does, we hope he doesn't set up yet another think tank. The last thing we need is another body that churns out research papers that no one reads.

Sadly Woo Kwok-hing had a terrible showing in the polls. He was a refreshing voice prodding the two other candidates to justify their actions or in-actions, and speak for the average person who is keen on justice and rule of law. It's just too bad he wasn't well versed enough in policy.

Luckily for him, he was already retired, so he will probably go back to his calligraphy, which he does very well, by the way.

Tonight nine Occupy activists reported to the police
Chief executive-elect Lam was screwed over by incumbent Leung Chun-ying. It was reported that hours after her win, police contacted organizers of the Occupy movement to tell them they would be arrested. As of around 7pm this evening, the nine contacted arrived at Wan Chai Police Station.

Just as when Lam said yesterday she would try to mend the rifts in society, this latest action by Leung's administration sabotages her chance to smooth divisions in the city. Joshua Wong Chi-fung, one of the student leaders in 2014, says both Leung and Lam are polarizing society.

The resoluteness of the government will only harden the stance of localists and create further tensions. Maybe Leung is worried people will forget him when he leaves office?

Meanwhile the people of Hong Kong have clearly witnessed Beijing manipulating the winner of the election. Beijing officials actively lobbied Li Ka-shing while Ricky Chim Kim-lung, who had nominated Tsang, was approached by liaison officers to change his vote.

This kind of manipulation and heavy handedness does little to earn Hong Kong people's trust in Beijing. This is the real crux of the problem. The more the mainland meddles with what's going on in the city, the more locals get agitated and upset because they were promised "one country, two systems", but it seems less and less that way.

After the election results were in, many Hong Kong people voiced their disappointment, anger, frustration, and sadness on Facebook. Some lamented, saying "Hong Kong is dead", or that they were going to emigrate, or "Today is a dark day".

As one acquaintance pointed out, the election did not affect his daily life at all -- Hong Kong will continue to run the way it has been going, that it's not the end of the world. He was tired of people being so emotional and venting knee-jerk reactions on social media.

While things don't seem to bode well for all of us considering all the issues at hand, we can try to make Hong Kong a better place starting with our own circles of communities, with friends, family, colleagues at work. In the end that's what really matters. We're all in this together, so let's make the most of what we have and fight for what we believe in.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Hong Kong's New Leader

Pre-ordained Carrie Lam is now confirmed as Hong Kong's next leader
It was expected from the beginning, but it is now confirmed Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is Hong Kong's next chief executive with 777 votes -- far more than her predecessor and former boss Leung Chun-ying with 689.

John Tsang Chun-wah, the public's favourite, only got over 365 votes, while Woo Kwok-hing had 21.

Xinhua News Agency already reported Lam's win minutes after the initial vote count, since she surpassed the 600 votes very easily.

When news that Lam had won had won by a far margin was announced, there were cheers and jeers from the audience in the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Obviously the pro-establishment (pro-business) are pleased to vote in the person they believe will help them continue to prosper in the city, while those related to the pan-democratic camp shouted, "I want universal suffrage!" as this small-circle election is hardly democratic.

There are concerns now of how she will govern the city where she is highly unpopular, seen as a distant person who doesn't give the appearance of caring much for the poor, as she claimed she was too tired to visit Tin Shui Wai, a district known for its challenging social and economic issues.

When the official results were announced, there were whoops of joy from most of the audience. On stage, Lam looked teary-eyed, hugging Tsang a few times. Maybe he was saying, "Better you than me"?

In any event if the critics will have a go at her, at least they can use the number 7 -- it's slang for flaccid penis... and she got 777 of them...

Finally the Showdown

Thousands showed their support for John Tsang on Friday evening in Central
This is it -- the campaigns by the three candidates to become Hong Kong's next chief executive are over and the voting begins tomorrow.

There wasn't much mudslinging unless you call Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's husband having to come out and deny he had a mistress digging up dirt a mini scandal.

On Friday her rival John Tsang Chun-wah had an open double-decker bus roam around Hong Kong spouting his campaign slogans and in the evening ended in a huge rally in Central by City Hall.

He gave a passionate speech that appealed to several thousand people who showed up.

Carrie Lam's last day on the campaign trail
"Most of you here don't have votes, but still I yearn for your support. Without your support, how would there be any meaning even if I win all Election Committee votes?"

Tsang definitely came across as the every man to the middle class -- oh wait -- his definition is that they drink coffee and watch French movies. And probably eat from food trucks.

But does anyone remember he was conspicuously absent during the Occupy protests? What does he have to say about that? Does he really represent us? Or is he filling the void that Lam can't be bothered to, or isn't capable of doing because she has no clue where to buy toilet paper?

Meanwhile there are reports that on paper Lam has secured 750 votes for tomorrow, but Tsang believes a good chunk of those votes could at the last minute switch to him, seeing as he has a greater popularity with the public than she does.

While public opinion does matter to a degree, Beijing has strongly hinted it wants Lam to become the city's next leader.

Is Tung Chee-hwa showing who his preferred candidate is?
From former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa giving her a bear hug early on, to senior Chinese officials having meetings with some of the Election Committee in Shenzhen that its preferred candidate was Lam, it's quite obvious she is expected to win tomorrow.

Then why even bother having this "small circle" election, when only less than 1,200 people get to vote?

If this is Beijing's idea of a "democracy", we want no part of it, which is why the pan-democrats voted down the electoral reform. While everyone would be able to vote, they would only be able to choose from approved candidates by Beijing.

It's kind of a no-win situation for Hong Kong -- Beijing will always insist it get things its way. There are no compromises.

Protests have been planned tomorrow if and when Lam wins... maybe that's enough to scare voters into putting their money on Tsang. While he has the popular vote, would he have Beijing's blessing?

We will find out tomorrow...

Friday, 24 March 2017

Warhol's China Trip

The pop artist with a bellboy from the Mandarin Oriental in 1982
Four ago the Hong Kong Museum of Art held an Andy Warhol exhibition called Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal.

One of the exhibits that was shown were his cardboard boxes filled with all kinds of random items. Apparently each week an assistant would clear off Warhol's desk and anything else of note and put them into the cardboard box where they would be sealed, numbered and put in a warehouse.

Pictures of the Star Ferries in Victoria Harbour
The pop artist must have known that decades later after his death we'd be pouring over his items and trying to figure out what was going on in his mind or his life at the time.

I was so intrigued by the boxes that showed that he had stayed at the Mandarin Oriental, as he kept the notes messengers slipped under his door with the hotel's letterhead on them, and maps, as well as a copy of The South China Morning Post that had an article about him.

And now with art featured all over the city to coincide with Art Basel, the auction house Phillips has teamed up with the Mandarin Oriental to present a collection of photographs that Warhol purportedly took, or were in his stash, of his trip to Hong Kong and Beijing in 1982.

The black and white photographs themselves are actually unremarkable -- they are literally holiday snaps, but they will be auctioned off for tens of thousands of Hong Kong dollars each.

A view from his room including the Hilton Hotel (back left)
I was hoping to see a humorous shot, or a nice picture or several that summed up his trip, but I was expecting too much. He photographed leftovers from dinner, mainlanders wearing Mao suits, the Star Ferry, and then portraits of Alfred Siu, an industrialist who opened a club in the Bank of America Tower.

Siu invited Warhol to come and make portraits of guests at I-Club on opening night, and even surprised the artist and his entourage with a trip planned to Beijing. There are photos of Warhol on the Great Wall of course, and hotel bedrooms with lamps lying horizontal on the beds for some reason.

The photographs were cool to see during the early 1980s, but the captions were frustrating because they were so general that even the viewers have to guess where the photos were taken.

Warhol in China
Lobby, Mandarin Oriental
5 Connaught Road Central
Until April 2, auction May 28

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Hong Kong's New Inspiration

Kudos to runner Cheung Suet-ling, a gold medal winner at the age of 93
Hong Kong seems like it's a city for young people, but the older folks are the cool cats today.

In particular 93-year-old Cheung Suet-ling, who won gold yesterday in the World Masters Athletics Championships in Daegu, South Korea.

She competed in the 60-metre-event -- in the under-90 category.

Although she finished third in a time of 25.73 seconds, she was awarded gold because she was the only competitor in her age group.

Cheung with her medal from South Korea
Christa Bortignon of Canada, 80, won the race in 10.56 seconds.

Cheung thought she could have done better.

"I did 25.73 seconds in Daegu which is far from ideal since I clocked 37.29 seconds in the 100 metres in 2016," she said.

"It's partly because I had problems with my back before coming to South Korea and I'm not used to the weather in Daegu. In fact I almost fell down during the competition which was a worry for my teammates.

"Many young runners have said they wanted to learn from me since I can still run at such an age. I have an open mind when it comes to taking part in running competition.

"I also want to encourage more old runners to come out of their world and enjoy sports."

Hong Kong Amateur Athletics Association senior vice-chairman Simon Yeung Sai-mo said it was the first time the city won gold in an indoor masters world event, even though Hong Kong has won gold before in an outdoor masters world event.

Cheung is a retired nurse and took up the sport because her daughter, Lai Yin-mei, is a runner as well.

Ed Whitlock was an inspiration to many marathoners
She reminds me of Ed Whitlock, who broke three hours in the marathon in his 70s and was the oldest person to run 42 kilometres in under four hours. Sadly he just died over a week ago at 86.

What's amusing about the Canadian is that he had no particular regime or diet, and ran more for attention than for his health.

Nevertheless, both he and Cheung show us that elderly people are capable of being really fit at their age, and why not?

I hope to keep going too in my old age. I don't know if I'll be running in my 80s if I get there, but definitely swimming!

Add oil! 加油!

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Beware the QR Code

You can buy supermarket items just by scanning the QR codes on your phone
China seemed to be far ahead of Hong Kong in terms of using QR codes for mobile transactions. Even food stalls have QR codes to make it easier to make payments via smartphones to buy something as simple as a roasted sweet potato.

But now there are concerns some QR codes, which stands for quick response codes, are easy faked with a different code with malevolent software to make it easy for fraudsters to get access to your bank account.

Consumers can also buy street food by scanning the QR code
There has been a spate of scams regarding QR codes on the mainland, which has led to calls for the government do more to protect consumers.

The problem is that the QR codes are so hard to tell if they are fake by the human eye, which makes it easier for cybercriminals to take advantage of the situation -- and legitimate businesses lose money because the payments never reach them.

Liu Qingfeng, a senior Chinese official and technology expert, says almost one-quarter of Trojans -- malicious programs disguised as benign software -- and other viruses are transmitted through QR codes.

"Currently over 23 percent of Trojans and viruses are transmitted via QR codes," he said at the recent National People's Congress in Beijing. "The [difficulty] threshold to make QR codes is so low that fraudsters could implant Trojans and viruses into a QR code very easily," Liu said.

"On the other hand, consumers cannot verify the authenticity of QR codes by eye and are therefore prone to be deceived if criminals paste their fake code over the original one."

A woman rents a bike by paying through the QR code
Liu is calling for regulators to tighten their oversight of QR codes by bringing them under the National Security Law.

He added that although QR codes have helped increase consumption, the possibility of fake codes has deterred others from using this otherwise payment method.

With an almost 25 percent chance of this happening on a daily basis, surely this has put off some people from scanning QR codes. Hopefully it doesn't make too much of an impact on small vendors, as this kind of payment system has definitely helped them generate revenue in a convenient high-tech way.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

A Big Dose of Art

Tang Jie's Stone Story at Art Central this year
The two biggest art fairs are back in Hong Kong again -- Art Central and Art Basel.

I got a quick peek of both and will give a few highlights here.

Art Central located at Central Harbourfront is a neat venue, featuring over 100 galleries, 75 percent of which are from Asia Pacific, though ironically, not many Hong Kong artists are featured.

Performance Art at Art Central
Nevertheless, it's a good place to check out emerging artists from the region. On the whole on a few things grabbed me. One Indonesian artist partnering with a Hong Kong gallery, produced a large canvas of graffiti-like art, very colourful and cartoonish.

But get this -- the work is carved up literally into squares and for HK$300, a person can buy a piece of the art. You can buy more than one square of course, but there's another interesting part -- you can consign the piece(s) that you have bought back to the gallery to resell to another person. And if it's sold you give a 10 percent commission back to the gallery.

That is the commercialism of art at its purest.

Already there were a few squares cut out of the far left hand side of the piece... what would you do with a square piece of art? Is it still art if it's a section of it?

One piece that is particularly impressive is called Stone Story by Tang Jie. It features rocks that are suspended from wires that lightly "fall" onto a large drum below. They fall rhythmically one after the other and then come back up again. It's a combination of old -- the rocks and the traditional Chinese drum, to the new of technology manipulating the rocks.

Does he look like Mao Zedong? Like the body in Beijing?
We also saw a performance artist, Anida Yoeu Ali with The Red Chador: Ban Me! She wore a red sequinned chador, or fabric that is a full-body robe covering her body, and carried the sign "Ban Me".

Over at Art Basel at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, it's overwhelming to try to take in all the art on two floors, but definitely one of the most provocative is Summit by Shen Shaomin.

There are five "corpses" of Communist leaders in history -- Vladimir Lenin, Mao Zedong, Kim Il Sung, Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro. They are all apparently life size, and quite life like. Oh my mistake -- Castro is not encased in a glass coffin, but on his death bed apparently faintly breathing! I missed that clarification.

In any event one must wonder what mainlanders think of their great leader as a piece of art!

Murakami's Tan Tan Bo aka Gerotan... is one of his new works
Another provoking piece is Not a Shield, but a Weapon by Philippine artist Pio Abad. There are 180 handbags that are copies of late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's Asprey handbag.

These ones were all made in Marikina in the Philippines, which used to be a thriving area for leather manufacturing. But because of trade liberalization policies introduced by Thatcher, Marikina has been in decline ever since.

There's also a colourful ovid shaped object sitting on a mirrored surface. Entitled Deductive Object by Kimsooja, the piece is inspired by the Indian tradition of Brahmanda stones that are polished into an ovid shape.

Here it's a large one painted in traditional Korean colours called obangsaek.

Deductive Object by Kimsooja
And for those looking for big names, Takashi Murakami is here with a large piece, and we spotted a few Picassos for sale.

So this is a critique of only the fraction of the things that can be seen at Art Central and Art Basel... if I have time I'll go check out Art Basel further...

Monday, 20 March 2017

Crackdown on Toilet Paper Hoarders

That's the only amount of toilet paper you're getting at the Temple of Heaven
On the way to work in the mornings, I usually hit the public washroom in a park nearby before getting on an over one-hour long bus ride to the office. The washroom stalls don't have toilet paper -- you have to get some from a giant roll by the entrance.

It is shocking how much toilet paper Hong Kong elderly women use! Do they really need to use over a metre's worth? What are they doing in there?

But it looks like they are not the only toilet paper hoarders.

The paper dispensing machine uses facial recognition
It's gotten so bad at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, that park officials have installed a toilet paper dispense where the user must stand in front of the wall-mounted machine with a high-definition camera.

The device's software remembers recent faces, and if the same person reappears within a certain period, it refuses to activate the automatic roller.

The current setting per person is 60cm of paper within nine minutes.

It's been a known fact that for years a lot of toilet paper has been nicked by mainland senior citizens, which has resulted in a considerable financial burden on public toilet management.

Sometimes a fresh roll of toilet paper can disappear in minutes, leaving other users paper-less.

An elderly man caught pilfering more than his share of paper
When people use the machine, they have to take off their hat and sunglasses, which prompted concerns about infringing privacy, and the facial recognition function, which is supposed to take three seconds can sometimes take more than a minute, which might be too late for some who are bursting for the loo.

The toilet paper dispensing machine has caused quite a stir on social media, where many agree the practice of pilfering toilet paper has to stop, but there's no point in being anal about it.

One user on WeChat may have spread a rumour when he or she said: "The cheap toilet paper in public toilets contains lots of toxic materials such as florescent agents. Excessive use will only damage their health."

Which is why it's always good practice to carry tissue paper whilst in China...

Sunday, 19 March 2017

One More Verbal Joust Before Vote

Carrie Lam, John Tsang and Woo Kwok-hing try to sway voters one last time
The final chief executive debate was held this evening at AsiaWorld-Expo with some 400 people from the Election Committee attending. They were given the opportunity to directly pose questions to the three candidates -- Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, John Tsang Chun-wah and Woo Kwok-hing.

Interestingly their responses were timed so that in the end all three had the equal amount of time to speak.

I watched the debate on hk01's Facebook Live and whenever Lam was speaking, there was a flood of angry-faced icons flowing across the screen, which contrasted with Tsang, who had lots of happy faces, as well as Woo.

However, in the audience, Lam got a lot of applause from the mainly pro-Beijing camp.

Again Tsang came out swinging at Lam, using any opportunity he could to discredit her, or try to show that she was not as an effective leader as he was.

He said that you can work hard, but you have to work smart -- to which he got a lot of applause from the audience. He hinted that while she worked hard, she was probably taking on too much and insisting that things be done her way.

On the other hand Lam hit back saying she was envious of Tsang because when they were colleagues, his desk would always be clean with nothing on it, while hers had piles of files on it she had to go through.

Tsang also gave the example that he had a lot of support from former colleagues who volunteered their time to help his campaign and he was grateful for their support -- did Lam have anyone helping her?

She claimed that getting her former underlings to help would have been difficult for them as it would have caused divisions among them socially as they met for dinners. Is she trying to make this more political than it need be?

Woo chimed in that he did have support from his colleagues, but being in the legal circles, they were low key and didn't want to make their support public, which got a lot of laughs and applause.

Lam tried to show that she was active in visiting Hong Kong's various districts and hinted that Tsang didn't show up once, but he did as far back as December 2013, but that time he was pelted with an egg by a protester which might have turned him off from future visits...

She also said that she was invited to meet with ethnic minorities once -- but Woo countered by saying he had at three meetings with them -- so where was she the other two times? Touche!

At times it felt like Tsang and Woo were tag-teaming against Lam.

But in general Tsang had the upper hand overall because of his knowledge of policies, while Woo doesn't have that experience and could only speak from a legal perspective. He tried to discredit Lam by saying if she was a witness in a court case, she would not be a trustworthy one... but the court of law and the court of public opinion when it comes to politics are two different things.

We want our politicians to be honest, but we know they cannot do that 100 percent of the time. Woo took a dig at her, saying she would have to pay back her tycoon supporters somehow...

The vote will be held in a week and 7 million of us have no say, but just under 1,200 people do. This is not a fair election, but here we are again, five years later going through the motions again.

As Tsang said in his closing remarks, we thought we voted for the best person, but that turned out not to be the case (referring to his former boss, Leung Chun-ying). Tsang explained earlier that Lam is CY Leung 2.0 because she has similar policies and nothing new to add. The former financial secretary said it would not be good for Hong Kong to have someone like this again, and have to wait another five years for change.

What is Beijing going to do? Tsang definitely has the popular vote, while pro-establishment are told to vote for Lam. However, some critics believe Tsang won't create much change either, having been a seasoned civil servant for decades. And what about him saving up so much money in the reserves only to be spent on white elephant public works projects instead of allocating more resources to the people who need it most -- the poor, ethnic minorities, and first time home buyers who need an extra hand.

We'll have to see what happens next Sunday. Bickering among ourselves isn't going to get us anywhere either...

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Two Housing Extremes

Cullinan West at Nam Cheong station saw big sales of units today
More housing stories are in the news.

When you arrive at Kowloon Station and ascend the escalator to Elements mall, there's an army of property agents shoving brochures in your face, asking if you want to buy a flat.

No, I just want to have some dinner.

The show flat gives the aura of a sophisticated place to live in
The brochures are for a residential project called Cullinan West in nearby Nam Cheong station, and they average over HK$20,000 per square foot.

But that rate didn't deter a family today, where three members bought three four-bedroom flats each, with the total bill totaling a whopping HK$200 million.

Excuse me?

There is no further information on who these buyers were or how big the flats were, but who happens to have HK$200 million to spend like that?

And were they all first-time buyers so they avoided paying the extra stamp duty too?

Then there is the other extreme -- subdivided flats, not in seedy Sham Shui Po, but in the tony neighbourhood of Mid-Levels.

One flat here on Old Peak Road is subdivided into five units
Reporters posed as potential renters ad visited a 2,400 square foot flat on Old Peak Road that was subdivided into five units, ranging from 250 sq ft to 656 sq ft, and rents from HK$25,000 to HK$36,000 respectively.

Who pays HK$25,000 for 250 sq ft to rent?

Apparently the hefty price includes utility bills, and a maid coming in to clean up twice a week, bed sheets changed once a week and free wifi. There's also basic open kitchens with an induction stove top, kettle and coffee maker.

So now we have people hoarding flats with hundreds of millions of dollars on hand, and at the other end of the scale, expensive flats subdivided into smaller ones and charging exorbitant rents.

Anytime now would be good...

Friday, 17 March 2017

Flavourful Vietnamese Lunch

Refreshing light flavours in the green mango salad starter
Moi Moi by Luke Nguyen is a relatively new Vietnamese restaurant opened by the Vietnamese-Australian celebrity chef.

On the menu is a wagyu beef pho where the broth has been simmering with beef bones for 18 hours along with spices and herbs.

However it's only available at lunchtime, and so today I had planned to take the day off but in the end had to work in the afternoon because we are so short-staffed in the office at the moment.

Nevertheless, I made sure I was free for lunch and went there with my friend at noon. It wasn't full when I arrived just before noon, but it soon filled up and by 12.30pm there was a line up at the door.

Slices of wagyu beef are hidden under the beansprouts
Customers can't just order the pho though, they need to order the set lunch, which includes a starter for HK$168 and an extra HK$28 for dessert.

We each ordered different things on the menu to try. We had the paper rice rolls with prawns, kurobuta pork, rice vermicelli and perilla that was pretty straight forward.

However, things were interesting with the green mango salad, that had julienne carrots, green mango and red onion, mint and shallot chips with small chunks of Australian spanner crab and rambutan too.

It was so refreshing and the flavours were piquant, particularly the tart green mango and mint, while the crab meat was generous and rambutan added a bit of sweetness.

For our mains, the wagyu beef pho arrived in a giant bowl with the simmering full-flavoured broth. A heap of beansprouts was on top of the thin slice of semi-cooked beef along with other cooked chunks that had a bit of fat on them, along with some basil leaves.

A crunchy and warm banh mi that is choc full of ingredients
This was the ultimate comfort food -- hearty, warm, but not too heavy, full of flavour and lots of broth you don't mind drinking because you know it doesn't have MSG in it.

We also shared a banh mi, featuring a warm crunchy baguette filled with chargrilled pork patties, pork floss, and Vietnamese pickles. There's some shredded carrot in here too along with coriander and spring onions.

The baguette holds up to the filling very well, keeping pretty much crunchy, while one needs a pretty big mouth to squeeze the sandwich in, or it somehow needs to be squished to get a mouthful.

It's a very hearty sandwich, and very filling too. We were quite full by the time we finished our half of the banh mi and couldn't manage sampling dessert.

While the price is pretty expensive for lunch in Central, the lunch set minus dessert is definitely filling. Even if I worked in Central I could not afford to eat this everyday, but the flavours linger in your mind and so you can't go without it for too long...

Moi Moi by Luke Nguyen
G/F, Nexxus Building
41 Connaught Road Central
2808 1086

Thursday, 16 March 2017

When will HK Micro Flats Stop?

Can you imagine owning and living in a small space like this?
The Hong Kong government has hinted it can force developers to build bigger flats at any time, but doesn't seem to think now is the time to intervene.

Secretary for Development Eric Ma Siu-cheung said measures could be inserted into land sale conditions "at any time" if it was deemed necessary.

But he stopped short of any immediate action, saying the number of "nano flats" still represented a fraction of the city's housing and he was confident the market would correct itself.

Eric Ma seems to think micro flats are still OK in the market
"We are concerned about this [situation]," said Ma during a television interview. "We hope flats will not become too small. They are OK for one person to live in, but [not] for a family."

You don't say!

There are flats as small as 152 square feet going for about HK$20,000 per square foot, and the smallest homes measure at 61 square feet.

Surely these are already too small to live in? Or does Ma not know what it's really like to live in 152 square feet with all of one's possessions? If 61 square feet isn't small, then what is?

"Of course we will monitor the situation and, if necessary, we can list out in the land sale conditions, for example, requirements for a unit's minimal floor area and quantities," he said. "We've done this in the past too... if necessary, we can do it any time. It's not difficult."

How can people live in these small spaces long term?
So when will that be? When are they going to pull the emergency alarm and tell developers they have to create more humane spaces for people to live in?

For the government to say it's closely watching the situation isn't good enough. It's basically negligence in looking out for the well-being of its citizens.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

A Novel about China, Canada, Past and Present

Author Madeleine Thien addressing a small crowd tonight
On the weekend I happened to pass by a local bookstore that was advertising Vancouver author Madeleine Thien would be there on Wednesday to promote her latest book, Do Not Say We Have Nothing, that was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize last year.

So I went back to the bookstore this evening and was surprised to meet a soft-spoken woman about my age, and very humble and gracious but also but full of interesting observations and perspective about issues.

The soft cover version of the novel
Do Not Say We Have Nothing is set in Vancouver in 1990, when a 10-year-old girl and her mother invite a teenager from China to come stay with them, having fled Beijing following the Tiananmen Square crackdown a year earlier.

We learn more about the relationship between the fathers of the young girl and teenager, the Cultural Revolution and the June 4 massacre, as well as the cyclical nature of Chinese history, and familial relationships.

At the event, sponsored by the Canadian government, Thien explained the title of the book comes from the Chinese anthem, which was originally from a song by Eugene Pottier called L'Internationale that was later translated into Russian, and then Chinese. The lyrics have the phrase, "Do not say we have nothing, we shall be masters of the world!"

She also explained this is a novel she has wanted to write since she was 14, when she saw the protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989; at first she was sympathetic to the students, and then realized later it was the ordinary people living in the area who tried to stop the tanks and guns. Thien also said the characters were from her imagination and not composites of people she knew.

Someone asked if China had reacted to her book, and she said because it wasn't translated, there would not be a response, though she had gotten interest in publishing the book from publishers on the mainland. However, they did admit now was not the time to translate it and publish it. She understands, but hopes that eventually it will be made available to them.

Thien won the Giller Prize for Do Not Say We Have Nothing
One of the interview requests she had was from a Chinese state newspaper (she did not name it) and one of the questions was how she felt about shaming China... she refused to answer the question and felt that when it was translated into Chinese she would have no control over it -- a situation many foreigners fall into when asked for a comment from state media.

Thien was also asked how she felt about the divisions in Hong Kong at the moment -- she did spend a bit of time here teaching creative writing at the City University. Referring to the Occupy protests, she felt the students were passionate about their beliefs, and that it was important to know where we stand as a city, as a nation and what kind of place we want to be.

So now I have a signed copy of Do Not Say We Have Nothing in my hands and have started reading it. It seems like it will be a sad, intense story, but one every other person of Chinese descent can relate to in one way or another.