Tuesday, 30 October 2018

A Literary Giant Passes Away

Wuxia novelist Louis Cha or Jin Yong has died in Hong Kong at 94 years old
Big apologies for not blogging everyday -- I have been on a cruise where internet service is spotty not to mention expensive!

But before I continue writing about my trip to Italy and Spain, there's sad news in Hong Kong that Chinese martial arts novelist and journalist Louis Cha Leung-yung has passed away at the age of 94 after a long illness.

Tributes have been pouring in from the likes of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to Alibaba chairman Jack Ma Yun.

I only knew Cha as a wuxia novelist who used the pen name Jin Yong and lots of people loved reading his stories about kung fu masters in ancient China that combined Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. His novels -- over 100 million copies sold worldwide -- were transposed onto the big screen and even made into video games and graphic novels.

Only now did I know that he was the founder of the Ming Pao newspaper, after having made money from serializing his novels in the New Evening Post. Ming Pao was apparently started by four people in 1957, including Cha, who was its editor-in-chief and the paper was mainly a vehicle to serialize his stories.

Cha was born in Hangzhou in 1924 and graduated from the Law School of Suzhou in 1948 in international law with the intention of becoming diplomat. To make some money as a student, he began working as a journalist and translator for Ta Kung Pao newspaper in Shanghai and then a year later continued working for the same paper in Hong Kong.

He then left Ta Kung Pao in 1955 and published his first martial novel, The Book and the Sword in the New Evening Post that became an instant success, which spurred him to write 14 other very popular martial arts novels, the last one called The Deer and the Cauldron in 1972.

On appreciating his novels, Cha admitted readers would need "some training in Chinese thinking to understand", describing his books as "traditional Chinese novels in their themes, morals or philosophies".

Cha's 15 novels have been translated into English, French, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Burmese, Malay and Indonesian.

"Martial arts for me are just an instrument, a sugar coating. They can be used as a way of expressing my artistic ideas," Cha said. Those ideas, according to him, were distinctly anti-feudal and liberal.

When it comes to his political stance it seems it was not so straight forward.

His editorials in 1966 were critical of China's Cultural Revolution, writing that it threatened the destruction of Chinese culture and tradition. He was said to be on a list of prominent people targeted for assassination that was published in left-wing newspapers during the 1967 riots in Hong Kong because of his critical stance against Beijing.

However, when China and Britain reached an agreement on Hong Kong's handover in 1997, Cha was appointed by Beijing in 1985 to be a member of the Basic Law Drafting Committee, Hong Kong's mini constitution. But after the Tiananmen Square massacre, he resigned in protest in 1989.

He later was part of the Preparatory Committee set up by the Chinese government in 1996 to monitor the transfer of sovereignty. Perhaps it was because then leader Deng Xiaoping was a fan of Cha's novels; Cha was the first non-Communist member from Hong Kong to meet Deng.

But others felt the best-selling author was a sell-out for agreeing to Beijing's proposal of that the first three Hong Kong chief executives should be elected by a "broadly representative" committee, a move that hindered the timetable for universal suffrage.

Nevertheless, Cha will be remembered more for his novels that transported readers into a chivalrous fantasy past and his massive contribution to Hong Kong and China's contemporary literary culture. 


Saturday, 20 October 2018

Tunes Down Memory Lane


Burt Bacharach is one of America's most famous songwriters
This morning we arranged for a van to take us to Civitavecchia, an hour’s drive from Rome to board our cruise ship, Queen Victoria.

We arrived early and so we were quickly checked in onto the ship and settled in. After an early dinner of roasted cauliflower soup, roasted cod with cherry tomatoes, and dessert of berries with marscapone cream, we caught the evening’s entertainment called Back to Bacharach.

I had no idea that songwriter Burt Bacharach is still very much alive and well at the age of 90 and still touring, and has won six Grammys and three Academy Awards.

Bacharach is still touring at the age of 90
He didn't do it alone -- he and Hal David penned some really big hits, like Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, What's New Pussycat, and I'll Never Fall in Love Again.

But at one point Bacharach and David had a falling out after they worked on the film Lost Horizon that was a flop, and apparently they didn't speak for a decade. In the meantime, Bacharach teamed up with Carol Bayer Sager. 

They married and put out such hits as Arthur's Theme, Making Love, and On My Own.

Three singers, two women and one man sang such numbers as Walk On By, The Look of Love, (There's) Always Something There to Remind Me, I'll Never Fall in Love Again, On My Own, and Arthur's Theme.

Learned more about Bacharach and how songs I knew from before were written by this talented songwriter.


Friday, 19 October 2018

Rome: The Vatican


St Peter's Basilica where this outdoor area can hold 100,000 people

When in Rome, the Vatican is a must. We bought tickets in advance online and then set off early this morning to get there with plenty of time to spare.

A collection of Roman busts in one of the galleries
We took the metro to get there, and getting a ticket is easy at the machine. For a ride (or more) within 100 minutes it's 1.50 euros. We just happened to catch the rush hour period so the trains were quite packed, but by the time it was our stop the commuter crowd had thinned out considerably.

Stationed near the metro stations and around the vicinity of the Vatican are volunteer guides who explain the best way to get there and pass out maps. It's a few blocks' walk from the metro station to the entrance and already there were many people there.

The Gallery of Maps from the 16th century
Following a security check and getting an audio guide we were set to go. The audio guide is good in some parts, tedious in others, or didn't have information on things we wanted to know more about.

Nevertheless it's about soaking up as much as you can and also how long your legs and feet can carry you.

Lots of the art in the Vatican was either collected by popes or given to the institution as gifts. Many are artists who hope their works will be received by the Pope; in return they are forever remembered in their association with the papacy.

One modern artist is sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro, who created a giant bronze sphere within a sphere to show the Vatican is a city within a city that's placed in the middle of a garden.

Nearby are galleries filled with lots of Roman marble statues; they remind me of characters from stories in my Latin textbooks from high school. The mosaics are also very impressive, some with intricate designs, others telling stories of mythic proportions.

A Chinese text of "The Pope's Decrees"
We had to go room by room, slowly moving our way around the museum in order to get to the main event -- the Sistine Chapel. Everywhere you look there is art with some kind of religious meaning, or made in hopes of exalting Christ.

Meanwhile in the Gallery of Maps, the latest in science and cartography was displayed here, as friar and cartographer Ignazio Danti painting sections of Italy in as accurately geographically as he could as well as artistically from centuries ago.

The room was commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII in 1580 and it took Danti three years to complete the 40 panels in the 120 metre-long gallery. However, the ceiling is more impressive, painted by several artists, including Cesare Nebbia and Girolamo Muzanio, featuring "paintings" complete with frames and decorations covering the curved ceiling.

One room featured books that were elaborated decorated, presumably religious texts. In the corner of one display case had a book covered in Chinese fabric with a white crane with cloud motifs and flowers, and written in Chinese "The Pope's Decree".

The Sistine Chapel still looks vibrant and meaningful
Getting ever so close to the Sistine Chapel, we then went into the Raphael Room, where he painted the famous The School of Athens fresco from 1509-1511. Here he connects science with the heavens, and there are several well known figures in here, such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras, Euclid, and Raphael himself. On the opposite side is the depiction of the father, the son and the Holy ghost together as represented by the eucharist.

Another room was called the Matisse Room, featuring several of the French artist's works, that look simple but figuratively clearly show their deep meaning.

Finally we made it to the Sistine Chapel -- security constantly told the crowd in there to be quiet. We stood in the middle, trying to soak up as much of Michelangelo's amazing work as possible. Even after the restoration many years ago, the colours are still vibrant, the facial and muscular expressions impressive.

This is where the cardinals gather after the pope has died in order to vote for the next one. They make four votes per day, two in the morning, two in the evening until there is a clear winner.

The Bramante Staircase at the end of the Vatican Museum
The last few galleries feature numerous gifts popes have received over the years until we finally arrived at the Bramante Staircase, designed by Giuseppe Momo in 1932. The staircase has a double helix and is more like a ramp than a staircase. It's so beautiful to look at from above and below.

We then took a break in the downstairs cafeteria before heading to St Peter's Basilica. It was really hot in the early afternoon waiting to get inside. We went through yet another security check before being able to go inside. Our priority was to see The Pieta by Michelangelo. It's behind bullet-proof glass, but is still an amazing sight to behold despite the figures not being proportionally correct and Mary looking much younger than her years.

The Pieta by Michelangelo in St Peter's Basilica
Everywhere you look in the basilica there is so much to take in, it's overwhelming but beautiful and magnificent. You feel so privileged to see all this beautiful architecture and art work in one place. But six hours later, our legs and feet were giving way and we slowly made our way out and back to the metro station to get back to the hotel for much-needed nap!

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Rome: Santa Maria Maggiore


The intricate ceiling of Santa Maria Maggiore
Our hotel is located near the train station and we are also very close to the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore, that is a Papal major basilica and largest Catholic Marian church in Italy.

This basilica was built in honour of the virgin Mary
We went in the late morning and it wasn't too busy -- we waited briefly in line to go through security before going inside.

It is a massive building, and the long narrow ceiling covered in flowers that are decorated with gold leaf is beautiful. 

The church is named in honour of the virgin Mary, one of the first few churches to do so. There are many statues and paintings of Mary. Inside there are many small chapels off to the sides for a small group of people to attend services.

The beautiful mosaic floors date back from the 5th century
It must be strange for regular church goers here to have tourists constantly snapping photographs or shooting video of their church, but as it's a major landmark that people want to visit. For the most part people are respectful, many of them Catholics themselves.

There were also many confessionals, and they advertised the languages spoken, such as Italian, French, Polish... nope no English! If the priest was "in", there would be a red light turn on above the confessional.

Another impressive aspect of the basilica is the mosaic floor that date back to the 5th century. It looks like it has a Moorish influence with symmetrical stars and circles, beautifully kept all these centuries.

Confession anyone? The priest is in
Next stop? The Vatican.



Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Early Morning Start in Rome

The Spanish Steps, Piazza di Spagna and Trinita dei Monti all in one picture
This morning I arrived at just after 7am in Rome and going through passport control was very fast, but then took a while to get our luggage.

Traffic was already heavy over an hour later coming into town. It had rained earlier, but despite the heavy clouds, the sun was determined to push its way through to create blue skies.

Inside the basilica that was so ornate
My hotel room wasn't ready yet so I took my colleague's suggestion of walking to the Spanish Steps and from there wander the streets that have many fashionable boutiques.

With the help of Google Maps I got there in over 20 minutes and there were already a few tourists at the top of the stairs where the Trinita dei Monti church stands over the Piazza di Spagna below. The staircase is said to have been designed by architect Pietro Bernini and his son Gian Lorenzo Bernini helped him.

At the bottom of the stairs is Via Condotti, where all the top fashion brands are located, Giorgio Armani, Salvatore Ferragamo, Dolce and Gabbana, and Max Mara, along with non-Italian names like Tiffany & Co, Harry Winston, and Swarovski.

They all opened at 10am on the dot but hardly had any visitors; looking through the glass windows I could see Chinese staff in some of the boutiques to cater to the mainland customers. This morning there was one tour group but they didn't have time to shop there.

Nearby was the Basilica dei SS Ambrogio E Carlo that was built from 1612-1684. The door handle to go inside says "humility". Inside the church is very ornate, the ceilings covered in frescoes with a heavenly theme. Small naves to worship particular saints were on the sides. It was a beautiful quiet place for contemplation, even though shops like H&M were next door.

The "twin" churches at Piazza del Popolo
I wandered along Via del Babuino and there were more fashionable shops there, until I reached the end at Piazza del Popolo  or the "people's square". In the middle is an obelisk of Sety I. I haven't visited much of Rome, but have already seen a number of obelisks erected... the Romans really amassed a collection of them...

There are "twin" churches standing side by side, with Via del Corso separating them -- Santa Maria Montesanto on the left, and Santa Maria dei Miracoli on the right.

After a lunch of pizza, I tried to go find the Trevi Fountain, but instead found the Pantheon. It was a former Roman temple and is now a church. The dome is most impressive -- it is the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world.
so when it rains, the water does fall down into the middle of the marbled floor -- but there are 22 holes in the ground that help drain the rainwater away. You can't help but keep looking at the dome that's so beautiful and the clouds are passing by. There are signs around the room asking visitors to be quiet as it is a church, but it was quite noisy...
I finally managed to find the Trevi Fountain and after it was carefully cleaned and restored by fashion company Fendi in 2015, the statues are very white! Most of the coins in the fountain are cleaned out. The area was crawling with tourists and the restaurants and cafes nearby were happy to cater to them.

One gelato shop had a guy who spoke a few words in Mandarin, "you want this?" pointing to a cup and then a cone. Every little bit helps.

A cleaned up Trevi Fountain with blue skies
I was concerned about gypsies in touristy areas, but each place had a squad of police there in army fatigues and their cars as a deterrent.

By this time it was 3.30pm and I wandered back to the hotel to finally check-in to my room for a long-awaited shower and nap...

Monday, 15 October 2018

The Most Bizarre Reason for Beijing's Smog


Beijing's smog today (left) and what it looked like last month (right)
Now that Golden Week is over, everyone's back to work, and that means the smog has returned to Beijing.

This morning the air looked gray and the Air Quality Index measured at 213 -- which means heavily polluted.

The skies today were in stark contrast to August and September when there were clear blue skies that were hailed as some of the best air quality since officials began releasing data on PM2.5 -- microscopic particles that can be harmful to lungs.

A woman puts on a mask to try to avoid the smog
The smog congregated in Beijing because the air was static. But also officials are blaming residents from using everything from hair gel, perfume and air fresheners for the smog.

Really.

State media released a report from Beijing's Bureau of Environmental Protection from back in May, saying household emissions -- everything from cooking and hair sprays to perfume and air fresheners accounted for 12 percent of the city's total.

That would equate household emissions with industrial emissions.

How ridiculous is that?

Shi Aijun, deputy dean of the Beijing Academy of Environmental Sciences told Science and Technology Daily that daily emissions had been growing -- especially from volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that give everyday products like perfume, hair gel and air fresheners their smell.

But Peng Yingdeng, a researcher from the Beijing Municipal Research Institute of Environmental Protection said it would be hard to measure the impact of these products on air quality.

Did hair gel, perfume and air fresheners cause the smog?
"It is difficult to pinpoint exactly how much these consumer products like hair gel contributed to PM2.5 levels since VOCs are not pollutants themselves and produce PM2.5 only after a chemical reaction. At the moment we can only calculate an estimate from the use of these products," Peng said.

So there is even disagreement in the scientific community about this.

State media reports said local emissions accounted for two-thirds of the pollution in Beijing last year, the rest from surrounding areas. Vehicle exhaust fumes were the biggest culprit, and the reports claimed households contributed the same level of pollution as mainly printing and vehicle manufacturers.

The population of Beijing was 21.7 million last year -- did all those people use hair gel, perfume and air fresheners? Highly unlikely.

Local authorities and the scientific community have to find another reason why the smog is so bad because the reasoning just stinks.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

The People Protest Lam's Housing Solution

Over 5,000 people came out to protest Lam's idea to build an artificial island
Days after Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced the government's plan to reclaim 1,700 hectares to be made into an artificial island by Lantau, thousands of people came out to protest this afternoon.

She dubbed it "Lantau Tomorrow Vision", a multi billion-dollar project to make an area east of Lantau Island a third central business district after Central and Kowloon East that could house 1.1 million people.

A government source estimated it would cost HK$500 billion (US$63.8 million) to develop, taking up half of the city's financial reserves. Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po admitted the development would be costly, but part of it could be offset by selling some of the land to developers, and constructing a railway network would yield some returns.

Protestors feel the government is colluding with developers
This afternoon the police estimated 5,800 people took part in the protest march today, while organizers didn't give a figure, so it could have been much higher. People of all ages came out, many wearing blue T-shirts. Some of the banners they held read "white elephant" or described the scheme as "outright robbery"; others asked for Lam to step down.

Critics of Lam's plan have other suggestions on how to boost land supply, such as developing 1,000 hectares of farmland, or 1,300 hectares of brownfield sites -- degraded agricultural land occupied by businesses like car parks or recycling yards -- mostly in the New Territories.

But Lam was undeterred saying addressing the land supply issue was urgent and that the government was also looking at developing brownfield sites too.

"The suggestions that [my] land supply and reclamation plans are 'burning up the city's fiscal reserve', 'pouring money into the sea' and 'benefiting developers'... are not true," she said, adding it should not be "shocking" the government wanted to reclaim 1,700 hectares of land in the next 20 to 30 years.

There are also environmental concerns in creating an island
Twenty years ago people weren't as concerned about the environment before as they are now, and they are tired of seeing what they believe is the government colluding with property developers.

If we so precious about land, let's be prudent about it and develop these brownfield sites first. The government needs to be more creative in how land is used -- what about allowing people to legally live in warehouse spaces? What about forcing landlords of empty flats to either rent them out or sell them?

The public have come out to say they don't want to destroy the environment to create more land. So Lam and her administration need to think of more creative ideas to help people have a roof over their heads.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Hong Kong Minister Caught Flat-Footed


So when is the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge opening?
Now that the High-Speed Rail is open, there was a lot of expectation that the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge would open by the end of this month.

However, Hong Kong's Secretary for Transport and Housing, Frank Chan Fan today poured cold water on the anticipation.

"[On the] Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge [opening] by the end of this month, I must say this is news to me. Personally I don't have any idea when the bridge is going to open," he said after he was interviewed in a radio program.

Transport minister Frank Chan has no idea when it will open
Excuse me? How can you not know!

He said the three cities were still waiting for the green light from Beijing.

At the end of September the three cities held a three-day drill on the 55km-long bridge and then sent the results to Beijing, which could determine the opening date.

Is Beijing looking for the most auspicious date to open or just keeping everyone on their toes for no particular reason except to show who's in charge?

We will try to wait patiently for any news on the bridge front...

Friday, 12 October 2018

Girl Power on the Court

Centre court was quite empty in the late afternoon with overcast skies
The Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open is on and my colleague and I took the afternoon off to check out the state of play in Victoria Park. I think this is the first time I've ever attended the event. About two years ago I was going to go with my friend, but then I realised that I couldn't make it and had to sell my tickets!

So this year we got tickets online, but then it was a drag trying to get the tickets printed. We went to HMV near our office in Causeway Bay, but their ticket machine was down and we had to walk further to Tom Lee Music and up a few floors to get the tickets. Finally!

We made it to the venue and luckily another colleague who went to the tennis tournament yesterday warned us they would be checking our bags so I had to leave two bottles of water and some snacks behind.

Daria Garvilova couldn't keep momentum in the match
Our seats for just over HK$400 a piece were good, on the east side of the stadium and towards the middle so we could see both sides of the court very clearly.

Just when we arrived, the first match of the day was practically over.

But not soon afterwards was the next match -- China's Zhang Shuai versus Daria Gavrilova of Australia. Zhang came out of the gates quickly to establish her pace and was very cool, while Gavrilova started grunting right away.

There's a height difference between the two, Zhang the taller of the two, and in the end seemed more self-assured and patient, letting Gavrilova make more enforced errors. Apparently just before the match, the Australian's right knee acted up and she had to tape it.

In the end Zhang made quick work of Gavrilova, winning 6-1, 6-3 in 67 minutes. It was pretty lop-sided.

We then took a break and had an early dinner. On one of the football pitches were three food trucks, but we were only interested in one of them selling hamburgers (HK$65). The match between Spaniard Garbine Muguruza and Thai Luksika Kumkhum was broadcast on a large screen and so we ate and watched the game at the same time. A toddler was nearby entertaining his family (and us) which was cute.

The crowd admired Luksika Kumkum for her fighting spirit
For dessert we got an ice cream cone from Kowloon Dairy for HK$15 and then headed back to centre court, but we weren't allowed in until the set was over and they kept going to deuce so we finished our ice creams.

Nevertheless when we sat down the rest of the match was exciting -- Kumkhum is ranked 105th in the world against Muguruza at number 13. The latter must have thought she could put away the Thai very easily, but she was wrong.

Kumkhum was tenacious and even though she was short, she made up for it in grit and determination, fighting for as many points as she could. When she made a mistake she didn't get mad, and instead smiled which made us even more appreciative of her efforts. Whenever she won a point we cheered her on.

However, Muguruza was too good for her and in the end the Spaniard won 6-2, 7-5.

Next on court was China's Wang Qiang ranked number 24 in the world and Elina Svitolina from the Ukraine at number 5.

Wang Qiang was a very cool operator on the court
These two players are quite evenly matched, though it was Wang who was easily more confident on the court than Svitolina; many of the Ukrainian's first serves did not go in, and she also made more enforced errors than Wang.

The first set Wang won 6-2 and was getting ready to close off the second set at 5-2 when the rain started coming down and the chair umpire suspended play, and we cleared the court to go home.

Wang was only a few points away!

But we were thrilled to watch these matches and get to know some of these up and coming players on the circuit. It's too bad Naomi Osaka, who was supposed to come was injured, but hopefully we'll see her next year.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Portuguese Cuisine in Taipa Village

One side of the wall of O Santos has a naval theme; the other is football!
For lunch yesterday in Macau, we wandered along Food Street in Taipa Village and saw a mob of people wandering around eating snack foods like egg tarts and pork chop buns.

To avoid the crowds, we soon found a Portuguese restaurant called O Santos Comida Portuguesa and walked in.

There were tables of Macanese tucking into their favourite dishes with red wine, some Portuguese tourists, and a few locals.

Delicious bacalhau that were a bit small, but very good
On one wall were decorations that had a naval theme, while the other was all football -- red towels with players' numbers and names, and giant red banners with "Portugal" on it. There was even a small picture of the owner, chef Santos with Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger.

The menu is full of pictures to point to and we soon made our decision -- a garden salad, bacalhau or deep-fried codfish balls, and a curious dish -- clams in a lamb stew.

As we waited for the food to arrive, we munched on a small plate of olives, and then the salad arrived -- a basic one of chopped cabbage, slices of tomato and onion that we dressed with olive oil and vinegar.

Next came a small plate -- the same size as the one holding the olives, but this one had the three pieces of bacalhau. I didn't remember them being this small...

Our intriguing clam and lamb stew was the highlight
Nevertheless, they were delicious, hardly oily with a crunchy crust while inside the filling had a ratio of more codfish than potato. We could have each eaten at least two, but we weren't ravenously hungry.

Finally our intriguing dish of clams in a lamb stew arrived. There were chunks of braised lamb that had its pungent natural flavour, and the meat was very tender, falling off the bone. The clams, garnished with coriander and some minced garlic were fantastic, with hardly any sand in them.

We were soon using our bread to soak up the sauce inside the small ceramic pot. Oh and we also ordered a plate of fries too that were also good dipped in the sauce.

Including soft drinks and a coffee the bill came to under HK$400. Delish.

O Santos Comida Portuguesa
Rua do Cunhu, no. 20
Taipa, Macau


Wednesday, 10 October 2018

The Macanese Version of Paris

The ceiling of The Parisien with copy and paste angels for an ethereal look
In Macau we stayed at The Parisian, a relatively new hotel on the Cotai Strip that literally has a replica of the Eiffel Tower in front.

The fountain lights up in gaudy colours to classical music
Inside the hotel tries really hard to be old school European, but instead looks very nouveau riche. In the foyer there is a giant fountain that periodically lights up in gaudy colours to classical music. Above the fountain is a crazy dome ceiling covered in paintings of angels and figures that are randomly copied and pasted onto the dome and make no sense at all, but look somewhat heavenly.

Not.

The long corridors have more ethereal paintings on the long, narrow ceiling with massive crystal chandeliers suspended complete with Corinthian columns and marble floors to make guests feel like they're in the Palace of Versailles or some kind of rich chateau.

Very posh-looking corridor that goes forever
We just dreaded the long walks to get from point A to point B.

As we were staying in the hotel we were able to go up to the seventh floor observation deck for free. But before we were able to get there, we had to sit down for a picture with a green backdrop and got a photo slip for it.

Later when we arrived at the Eiffel Tower gift shop, there was a picture of us in a cardboard frame along with us in a snowglobe -- for over HK$200.

Uh, no thanks. And I hope you recycle that snowglobe...

The tower itself is hardly worth oohing and aahing over -- it's not that tall, though it has a nice fuchsia colour when it's lit up.

Meanwhile the long walkway to get to the tower has a railing that's covered in locks to imitate the Pont des Arts in Paris, where lovers will declare their love for each other by putting a lock on the bridge with their initials.

A very funky Eiffel Tower at night
If you didn't bring a lock, don't worry -- the gift shop kiosk nearby sells lock kits for HK$60, and the guy manning the booth even offers to help customers open the kit with scissors once they have bought it.

Thousands of others have declared their love at The Parisian -- why not you too?




Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Revisiting Fernando's in Macau


A signature dish at Fernando's - clams in garlic sauce 

I'm in Macau for some assignments with two colleagues and after we finished for the day we decided to go to Fernando's, a famous restaurant in Macau on Hac Sa Beach in Taipa.

The rustic atmosphere has hardly changed inside
As it's a Tuesday night, there was no need to rush over there and we got there after 7pm to find it busy, but not packed.

I love the sign at the front door. It says: No air conditioning, no ketchup, no baby chair, but we have food and drinks!

I was last at Fernando's years ago so it was nice to come back to a place that was very familiar. Hardly anything has changed in this place, from the red and white checkered tablecloths to the ceiling fans and of course the menu.

The food soon arrived, but not without the famous bread. But the buns looked much bigger than I remembered them, though they were still soft inside, and flaky on the outside. In the end I could only eat half of the bun.

A new favourite - roast chicken with fries and olives
My favourite dish, the clams in garlic sauce arrived, and while the sauce was fantastic, flavoured with fresh coriander, it was disappointing to find there was sand in many of the clams. 

We also had my colleague's favourite dish, bean stew, which features kidney beans braised with chopped up pork knuckle and slices of chorizo. This sauce was also delicious, and the pork off the bone was very tender.

However my new favourite has to be the roast chicken. It comes on a bed of thick cut fries and a few scattered olives for flavour. The chicken meat is very tender and flavourful, and none of the pieces were dry.

We almost finished the chicken and bean stew, but just didn't have enough space. I still had the big bun on my plate too.

For the three of us the bill came to just over HK$500 including three beers.

Bean stew with pork and chorizo
Afterwards we walked to the beach to take in the sound of the waves and a light breeze before heading back to the frenetic Cotai strip.

Fernando's
9 Praia de Hac Sa
Macau
(853) 2888 2264

Monday, 8 October 2018

Bagging Another Tiger?


China has confirmed Meng Hongwei of Interpol is being investigated
Hot on the heels of actress Fan Bingbing's tax evasion ordeal, on Friday evening there was a curious piece of breaking news -- the Chinese head of Interpol had disappeared and his wife reported him missing to French police.

It has now transpired that Meng Hongwei, 64, was detained by Chinese authorities as soon as he landed in China on a flight from Lyon, France on September 29.

His wife Grace is worried for her and her children's safety
He has been detained for allegedly taking bribes and "gravely jeopardizing" the country's ruling Communist Party and police. On Sunday Interpol received his resignation letter and has been replaced by South Korean Kim Jong Yang.

Who knows how long Meng will be investigated for and then possibly put on trial.

What is ironic is that when he was appointed head of Interpol in 2016 there were fears he would abuse Interpol's powers to forcibly repatriate Chinese dissidents and fugitives.

But in 2017 he only issued one red notice -- which means a request to provisionally arrest a suspect pending extradition -- for Chinese fugitive tycoon Guo Wengui at Beijing's request.

In 2014 China issued notices for 100 Chinese fugitive officials living overseas.

Beijing's campaign of cracking down on corruption has not abated, and it is willing to sacrifice its reputation on the world stage to take down senior officials, as Meng was also vice-minister of public security in China.

Meng's last message to his wife was an emoji of a knife
His disappearance would have been kept quiet longer if it wasn't for his wife reporting him missing to the French police. It shows that no one -- not even the first Chinese national to head Interpol -- is safe from being investigated, and that domestic issues trump international ones.

Grace Meng, his wife, showed the authorities and the media her last communication with her husband. He told her to wait for his call and then posted an emoji of a knife, hinting danger.

Did he know what would happen if he went back to China? Or did he only find out the moment he landed?

There are too many questions, but one thing is for sure -- it doesn't matter how high up you are, if you have allegedly done something wrong, you will be taken down.


Sunday, 7 October 2018

Picture of the Day: Spot the Fake

I looked down and thought something looks fishy about this shoe...
This trip to Beijing I didn't have time to hit Silk Street in Yonganli... but the last time I went, which was last spring, I was hard pressed to find anything interesting to buy there, as the fake-branded clothing there is just too obvious or not appealing.

Even bona fide shops like the one that sold Mongolian cashmere had the exact same sweaters for sale -- from 10 years ago. Do they really not have any new designs? Or are they still trying to get rid of stock from a decade ago?

And while this time I was people watching on the streets there were the odd funny T-shirts, I was quite surprised to see this man wearing a funny-looking shoe.

Many young Chinese are wearing sneakers, many of them Nike, Adidas, or New Balance.

I was rushing to Wudaokou to meet a friend, but the interchange between line 2 and line 13 was very long and involved going up an escalator.

The guy in front of me had what looked like a New Balance sneaker, but on closer inspection, the "N" was backwards on the left shoe!

It was a reminder that yes, everything can be faked...


Saturday, 6 October 2018

Gargantuan Subway Web

Look familiar? This subway station is for line 6 in Beijing
When I arrived in Beijing in April 2007, there were only three subway lines -- 1, 2 and 13.

Now there are 22, some of which are feeder routes to help commuters get to the main subway lines. The bad part about transferring lines is that it can take as long as 10 minutes to get to the other line.

The complicated map of Beijing's subway system
I once went to Wudaokou and it took at least 10 minutes to walk several long corridors and up escalators before getting to line 13. I had to do the same thing coming back to my hotel.

Something worth noting is that the subway lines are operated by five different companies: the state-owned Beijing Mass Transit Railway Operation Corp, Beijing MTR Corp, Beijing MTR Operation Administration, Beijing Public Transport Tramway, and Beijing Capital Metro.

Beijing MTR Corp is a joint venture between MTR and state-owned enterprise Beijing Capital Group.

So it was interesting to see some subway station platforms look very similar to the ones in Hong Kong. Inside the carriages looked similar down to the stickers on the door windows telling people not to mind the gap and not eat or drink.

If this is a no waiting zone, where do we wait for the train?
We almost felt like we were in Hong Kong -- almost.

In the stations there is very little regard for people in terms of enough space to wait on the platform to having escalators and not stairs for commuters to get around. It's hardly about "caring for life's journeys", as the MTR slogan goes.

Nevertheless we found this sign curious. If it's a no waiting zone, how are we supposed to wait for the next train?