Thursday, 31 January 2019

US Brings Attention to Uyghurs

Academic Ilham Tohti said tensions needed to be reduced in Xinjiang
In a bipartisan effort not often seen these days in the US Senate, 13 lawmakers have signed a letter of nomination this year of Uyghur academic Ilham Tohti to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee in Oslo, Norway.

They hope this will put pressure on China to stop its crackdown of the minority group.

Tohti, an ethnic Uyghur economist, writer and professor at Minzu University in Beijing, has been serving a life sentence since 2014 on separatism-related charges.

However, he was vocal about the need to reduce tensions in Xinjiang, and asked Beijing to abide by the region's existing laws, reduce economic discrimination, and establish a legal system.

Tohti was sentenced to life in prison in 2014
"This nomination could not be more timely as the Chinese government and Communist Party continue to perpetrate gross human rights violations with over a million Uyghurs and other ethnic minority Muslims detained in 'political re-education' camps," said Republic Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

It is believed more than a million Uyghurs are being held in extrajudicial internment camps in Xinjiang, a crackdown that started in 2017, that the government claims is an anti-terrorist measure. The authorities later claimed these camps help the ethnic minority to learn better job skills to make them more employable.

Two weeks ago, representatives Christopher Smith and Thomas Suozzi introduced a bill called the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, that empowers the State Department, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to hold accountable Chinese officials who intimidate Uyghurs overseas.

"It's encouraging to see that the issue is attracting more interest," said Sean Roberts, director of the International Development Studies Program at George Washington University.

Tohti was recently nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize
"For Congress, this could be a particular opportunity to highlight what's happening inside Xinjiang right now. It could also be used to apply pressure on China to respond why this person [Tohti], who certainly is anything but a separatist, was given a very extreme sentence."

If Tohti does win the Nobel Peace Prize, it would draw attention to his imprisonment and pressure on China to release him.

However, we can probably guess China's reaction with the fate of previous 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo who died in 2017 on medical parole.

We don't even know how Tohti is doing...

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Picture of the Day: Bank of China

The giant peach blossom tree in the Bank of China lobby
Many shopping malls, offices and apartment buildings have peach blossom trees in vases. It's kind of like a pink Christmas tree, decorated with lai see envelopes hanging from the branches. Peach blossoms are also meant to signify romance and longevity.

These trees are so hard to photograph up close. The one in the Bank of China headquarters in Central is very impressive and I took a picture of it as I was going up the escalator. Only then can you see the size but also the dramatic space that it's situated in.

The sad thing about these trees is that after the new year holidays, they are unceremoniously dumped, and there's no tree chipping service like they have after Christmas in North America.

How about making some kind of compost out of these trees or keeping them alive throughout the year so that they can be used the following year?

Hong Kong needs to be more responsible when it comes to dealing with living things, and of course being more sustainable in general.

But in the meantime we're enjoying this peach blossom tree while it's on display....

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

What is Peppa?

Any guesses as to what this is?
Do you know what this is?

A hint -- it's one of the most popular pigs in China at the moment.

Does it look like Peppa Pig to you?

OK it doesn't have the exact resemblance of the pink pig, but for a Chinese grandpa it's as good as it gets.

It's to drum up excitement for Peppa Pig Celebrates Chinese New Year, released by Alibaba Pictures, and it's about two children who mark the Chinese holiday with Peppa and her family.

The teaser trailer doesn't show any animation in it, but the five minute, 41-second video called What is Peppa will resonate with many people in China.

A grandfather in the countryside calls his son to ask if he is bringing the grandson to visit for Spring Festival. He gets to talk to the child and asks what he would like grandpa to buy for him. The child says, "Peppa!" before the line is cut off.

The old man is stumped. Peppa? He consults the dictionary and can't find the Chinese word in there, and asks his friends but they have no idea what he is talking about.

Peppa (far right) with her family in Chinese clothes
Finally he finds a woman who used to be a nanny in the city. She describes what Peppa looks like and so the grandfather fashions a porcine head out of metal scraps he has...

It's a cute video that really reflects the extreme social and economic changes happening in China, but also sadly shows how people in the rural areas are really left behind and hardly benefit from the country's economic development in the past 40 years.

So there you go. Does it look like Peppa to you?

Monday, 28 January 2019

Who's Middle Class in China?

What is the definition of middle income? Many feel they are scraping by
The Chinese government wants its citizens to think their lowly salaries are a sign of increasing social status, but many beg to differ.

Last Friday the National Bureau of Statistics issued a report on how different income groups spend their time in China. It said people who earned under 2,000 yuan (US$295) a month were in the "low income" category; those on salaries of 2,000 to 5,000 yuan (US$295-US$740) a month were "middle income", while a "relatively high" monthly income was 5,000 to 10,000 yuan (US$740-US$1,480).

Anyone earning more than 10,000 yuan per month was in the "high income" group.

How many families in China are enjoying life like this one?
But many people online were in disbelief by this definition, because even though they were described as "middle income", they were barely scraping by.

The response forced the statistics bureau to clarify that the middle-income definition applied only to the report. "The term 'middle-income group' mentioned in the survey has nothing to do with the income brackets in the general sense," the statement said.

While the World Bank ranks China as an "upper middle income" country with a GDP per capita of US$8,827 in 2017, ranked 73rd in the world, Beijing has never given an official definition of middle income.

"A typical family of three, for example, might have an annual income of 100,000 to 500,000 yuan. There are 400 million people, or 140 million households -- [in that income bracket] who has the means to buy a car, a flat, or go traveling," said statistics bureau chief Ning Jizhe on Monday.

But many say that despite fitting into that income bracket range, they are still struggling to make ends meet.

Guess this family doesn't worry about making ends meet
Wang Xiaoyi, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences wrote an article about it in the Beijing Youth Daily earlier this month.

"The middle-income group, especially those who are young, don't see themselves as such even though their income has reached a certain level. People who are not on low incomes also feel the pressure of living costs -- they're not enjoying the good life. It's as important to boost their sense of achievement as it is to lift people out of poverty."

Welcome to the rat race...

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Picture of the Day: Gearing Up for CNY

Lots of festive Chinese New Year decorations at an incense shop in Sheung Wan

We're less than two weeks away from the start of the Year of the Pig and I'm hardly ready -- I've been so busy at work that I haven't had much time to think about what I will be doing for the first two days of the Lunar New Year.

Even though I have been receiving lots of new year puddings and turnip puddings that are stuffed inside my fridge, as well as lai see envelopes to give away (with money in it of course), I am not mentally in the Chinese New Year head space yet.

However, millions of other Hong Kong residents are gearing up and this picture of an incense shop in Sheung Wan encapsulates how people are getting ready for this most festive time of year.

Saturday, 26 January 2019

Stimulating Creativity in the Park

A new children's park in Tuen Mun is for all ages and got input from kids
For a cosmopolitan and wealthy city, some Hong Kong kids are the saddest in the world.

In 2017, Baptist Oi Kwan Social Service released a report that found as many as one in 10 primary school children were suffering from serious depression. Also in the same year, a Chinese University study found less than half of those aged between two and 17 had an hour of physical activity per day, the internationally recommended level.

Many government-run playgrounds look like this
But all is not lost yet. The Hong Kong Architectural Services Department has designed the first barrier-free play space for children in the city. NGO Playright Children's Play Association spearheaded the project that took four years to realize.

It's located in Tuen Mun Park and it's almost the size of a football pitch and includes a water zone, sand area and built-in musical instruments for children to stimulate their creativity.

The government did a survey in 2016 of 1,200 children, two-thirds of which felt the current playgrounds aren't very fun because they didn't have very challenging facilities that were also generic.

Researchers believe this is probably because the playgrounds were designed by adults who wanted to minimize risks, that Paul O'Connor, research assistant professor at Lingnan University's Department of Sociology and Social Policy, believes is disastrous for children. 

The swings here aren't like the generic ones in other parks
"Young people in Hong Kong are conditioned not to fail. They are asked to play safely, to follow the rules and colour within the lines," he says. "Kids' playgrounds in Hong Kong are rubbish; the same tiny swings and slides. Kids need a greater space in which to fail."

The 43-year-old O'Connor is an avid skateboarder, and he says over-protecting children can leave them unable to deal with setbacks later in life. "Kids who are given space to deal with failure, get away from screens, make real-life friends, and learn a host of creative skills along the way," he says.

For the Tuen Mun Park, the NGO Playright collected ideas of what the park should be like from children, and even appointed some of them to be advisors on the project.

When the park was completed, the children were reportedly touched because they felt like the adults were listening to them.

A water zone is included in the Tuen Mun Park
Perhaps that's a lesson we can all take from -- we should be listening to everyone regardless their age. Even kids can teach us too.

Friday, 25 January 2019

Decadent Dim Sum

Lung King Heen's famous baked barbecue pork buns
Last Saturday three friends and I went to Lung King Heen, the three-starred Michelin Chinese restaurant in the Four Seasons Hong Kong for dim sum. I had booked the table back in late November to ensure we got a table.

It's pretty impressive how this place continues to keep its consistency particularly in dim sum, as I have now eaten it here three times, and for dinner only once many years ago.

Steamed rice rolls with lobster and water chestnut
There were a few new dishes on the dim sum menu and we decided to try some of them as well as order our favourites.

A new one was steamed rice rolls with lobster and water chestnut in fermented bean sauce (HK$230). This was definitely indulgent, but have you had steamed rice rolls with lobster before? This was fantastic -- very meaty but also included chopped vegetables and crunchy water chestnuts too.

Another was steamed lobster dumplings with egg white and sweet corn (HK$120). These dumplings were so large that they were served in pairs per bamboo steamer. Take a bite and inside it was choc full of lobster along with sweet corn. It sounds strange with corn kernels, but works well, again for texture and added sweetness.

Perfectly executed steamed shrimp dumplings
The baked goose puffs with chestnut in XO chilli sauce (HK$99) were topped with bonito flakes, perhaps an ode to the goose's nest? The pastry shell was very flaky and buttery, while the goose was also quite rich too and perhaps needed some acidity to cut the richness, as bonito flakes wasn't going to do that.

As for staples, the steamed shrimp dumplings with bamboo shoots (HK$99) was a star winner, so delicate, the skin translucent and the shrimp meat inside so delicious and filling.

We also thoroughly enjoyed the baked whole abalone puff with diced chicken (HK$84 per piece). The abalone is sliced up so that you aren't obligated to shove the whole thing into your mouth and enjoy it in at least two bites. The pastry here was also top notch.

Pan-fried rice rolls in XO chilli sauce (HK$200) is a small portion for what you get; it is spicy, though that day I was battling a cold and couldn't eat as much as I would have liked. It was a dish that was a struggle to finish.

Baked abalone puffs with diced chicken a winner
The same could be said for the plate of char siu (HK$350). By the time it arrived I was pretty full and could barely finish two slices. 

However, the signature baked barbecue pork buns with pine nuts (HK$99) continue to be one of the best items on this menu. The filling features diced char siu mixed with pine nuts and enveloped in a bun that holds it together topped with a pineapple but dome for a touch of crispiness.

A friend new to Lung King Heen was about to rip the bun in half but we stopped her in time to advise her to eat it in bites instead. She was glad we gave her that tip and savoured each bite.

For dessert we had complimentary bowls of mango pudding topped with pomelo sago pudding! What a combo. It was only when we dug our spoons in did we realize there was mango pudding underneath.

Osmanthus jellies and puff rice cakes for dessert
We also had some petit fours of steamed osmanthus jelly, and puff rice cakes.

I was so full afterwards, but in particular sated by the food and really enjoyed the company too.

Lung King Heen
4/F, Four Seasons Hong Kong
8 Finance Street, Central
3196 8880 

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Playing the Tango

The members getting a standing ovation from some audience members
Over the Christmas holidays my friend YTSL asked me to go see a Tango-themed music concert in January. I said sure, as I like Tango music. We went this evening to see Viva Tango! The music of Schifrin and Piazzolla at the City Hall Concert Hall and weren't disappointed.

It was put on by the Beare's Premiere Music Festival, formerly known as the Hong Kong International Chamber Music Festival, with Beare being a well known violin dealer based in London that specializes in antique stringed instruments.

The ensemble of musicians was diverse -- Cho-Liang Lin from Taiwan, who is also artistic director of the music festival, Argentine-born cellist Pablo Aslan who lives in New York, Alex Brown also from the US, Hector del Curto from Argentina and plays the bandoneon, kind of like an accordion, clarinetist David Shifrin from New York, and Satoshi Takeishi from Japan on percussion.

The ensemble played very well together
It was nice having Aslan introducing the music because he gave some context about why a piece was composed or what the composer was like and he would tell it in a funny way.

Another interesting tidbit is that the clarinetist Shifrin is the second cousin twice removed of Lalo Schifrin, who not only composes tango music as he's from Buenos Aires, Argentina, but he is also know for composing music scores, including Mission Impossible, Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon, Dirty Harry, and wrote many arrangements for the Three Tenors concerts.

So the clarinetist and the composer, their grandfathers were brothers. One went to the America, the other to South America.

The first half of the concert was dedicated to Schirfrin's music starting with a classic tango style -- Tango del Atardecer, that set the tone for the evening. Perhaps it was just missing some dancers doing the tango on stage, but really the music was so engaging that it was fun to watch them play -- and play very well together.

The third piece, Tango Borealis was slow but had a wonderful soft, elegant finish. The pace picked up with Malambo de los Llanos. Apparently the Malambo is a dance and Hector the bandeoneon was asked to demonstrate a few steps for us which was fun to watch.

After the intermission we were then introduced to Astor Piazzolla's music that started with Michelangelo 70 that was not a tribute to the Renaissance artist, but to a bar that Piazzolla and his band played at.

Piazzolla was born in Argentina then moved to New York and was exposed to a variety of music that is what makes his so eclectic, but still very much in the style of tango.

We were particularly enamoured with the piece Oblivion that was so beautifully performed with a light touch at the end. Here's a sample of Piazzolla playing the piece himself on the bandoneon:

The audience was just as thrilled to hear the music as we were -- though it was not completely full -- and the ensemble were probably pleased to see Hong Kong enjoying the music too. It wasn't too hard to twist their arm to do an encore for us and cellist Aslan joked that we really came to the concert to hear the piece of music they were about to play -- Mission Impossible by Schifrin!

It was funny to hear a small six-piece band play the theme song on a violin, a clarinet, piano, bandoneon and a cello! But here's Schifrin himself performing it in 2011. By the way he received an honorary Oscar in November for his contribution to soundtracks over the decades.

What I enjoyed about the concert was that it was a fusion of tango, jazz, and a bit of classical all rolled up together that made for a memorable evening.

Viva Tango! The Music of Schifrin & Piazzolla
Concert Hall Hong Kong City Hall

Schifrin: Letters from Argentina
Tango del Atardecer
Tango Borealis
Danza de los Montes
Tango a Borges
Malambo de los Llanos

Piazzolla: Selected Tangos
Michelangelo 70
Verano Porteno
Adios Nonino
La Muerte del Angel

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

What's Ma Ying-jeou Up To?

Former Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou working in a bookshop for a day
Does former Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou have a new gig?

In a recent video the 68-year-old is seen working as a shopkeeper in a bookstore in Taipei. As he's wearing a baseball cap and a black mask, most people don't recognize him at all. When customers approach him at the cashier, he suggests that they buy his memoir that was released in December.

Many say no -- in one case a woman said she hardly reads books anymore. But when he pulls down his mask, people do a double take and are excited to see him. He offers to sign the books for them too.

However he's not quite cut out to be a cashier. One customer asked to use JKo Pay, the local version of Apple Pay, and Ma seems to have no clue what it is or how to process the payment.

He tried to persuade customers to buy his memoir
The video has been seen over 150,000 times since Ma's office posted it on YouTube on Friday. His office explained the video is meant to show another side of the Harvard Law School graduate.

"We want to let the public know that the ex-president is actually an easy-going person, the man next door type," an official from the office said.

But when asked about whether this was an attempt to garner popularity again in the hopes of running for president in 2020, the office was coy.

"This kind of question has been around for some time, you'll have to ask the former president because we have no idea at all," the official said.

He made enough to buy ink and brushes to write couplets
It seems his popularity has risen in the past year or so, in contrast to when he was president, especially in the last few years of his second term which ended in 2016.

When Ma was first elected in 2008, his popularity approval rating was at 68 percent. But his government's mishandling of the economy and issues like the typhoon that killed almost 700 people in 2009, as well as the Sunflower movement -- where hundreds of students stormed the legislature in 2014 -- made him highly unpopular.

And in case you're wondering -- in the end Ma managed to sell 30 copies of his book, enough to buy Chinese calligraphy brushes and ink to write Lunar New Year couplets for his supporters.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Dolce & Gabbana Ruin a Model's Career

Model Zuo Ye attempting to eat pizza with chopsticks in a D&G commercial
Back in November, Dolce & Gabbana released a strange commercial where a Chinese model wearing a red dress from the Italian fashion house, is seen struggling to eat pizza, cannoli and spaghetti with a pair of chopsticks.

The Italian fashion design duo were accused of racism and cultural insensitivity for the commercials, which were timed just before they were about to put on their fashion show in Shanghai. It also didn't help that co-founder Stefano Gabbana got into a row on a private Instagram message when he apparently described China as a "country of s***". The screen capped conversation was published it online, compounding the already bad situation.

Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce giving an apology
As a result the fashion show was cancelled at the last minute when Chinese models and stars pulled out, and the two designers were shown in a video giving a sober apology for the PR crisis they had created.

Meanwhile the poor model involved in the commercial was attacked online by fellow Chinese, who accused her of "making money by insulting your own country" and "vilifying the image of the Chinese".

Two months after the incident, Zuo Ye finally spoke out, explaining she had not given enough thought to the content of the video and felt "very guilty and ashamed" about it.

"Personally I would never show any disrespect to my motherland. I love my country and feel proud to be able to represent China on the catwalk," wrote Zuo on her Weibo account. "I will draw a lesson from this and show the Chinese in a better light. Again, I apologize to my fellow countryman."

Zuo says she didn't have much say over the content of the ad
But how is this her fault? The recent graduate of South China Agricultural University wouldn't have known ahead of time what she was expected to do in the commercial and how it would impact her career, that she says is now almost completely ruined.

Zuo is a young model hoping to break out with this commercial, but she was unwittingly swept up in the racist ad. She said she was only told she was going to shoot a "fun video" involving Italian cuisine and the email briefing didn't give much more information.

During the three-hour shoot in a Chinese restaurant in Milan, everyone on set spoke Italian except the director, who instructed Zuo in English to show surprise, bewilderment and appreciation of the food, even though she felt awkward.

She said she questioned the use of chopsticks in the video, but was just told to follow instructions.

"I couldn't do it in the first try [picking up the cannoli with the chopsticks] and I asked, 'Are you kidding me? With chopsticks?' The director said, 'Yes! I know it's hard. Just try to do that'."

After two months' silence, Zuo apologized
"I felt awkward when using chopsticks for food that was larger than the normal size. I seldom laugh in my daily life but the shooting required a lot of extravagant acting and I felt very uncomfortable too," Zuo wrote.

She said as an ordinary model she was not allowed to give feedback on the commercial's content nor was she able to watch the final product.

However, many people online still weren't happy with her apology. "I still think your explanation was useless and your video disgusting. You can only blame yourself for having no distinguishing capability. No point whitewashing your wrongdoing," one internet user wrote.

Other sympathized with her, saying, "Blame a model? Why not blame the chopsticks while we're at it."

Zuo obviously wants to put this terrible incident behind her so she can move on in her career, but being dogged by those who cannot empathize with her situation doesn't help at all. At least she was brave enough to explain her side of the story, though it will take time for the fiasco to go away.

Monday, 21 January 2019

Vancouver Eating Part 3

Fun dish of pork rinds from a maple syrup can!
One of the last restaurants I ate at in Vancouver was St Lawrence. I had wanted to visit this restaurant the year before, but heard it was impossible to get a table. It's not in the best location in the city, on the corner of Gore and Powell, but that means parking isn't too difficult to find.

The cozy interior of St Lawrence is like dining at home
This time my friends and I looked it up online and booked a table at the restaurant that serves Quebecois cuisine -- but that meant immediately putting down a credit card number. If one person was to drop out before 24 hours then there would be no penalty, but less than 24 hours then credit card would be charged CAD$25.

As a result it was a major commitment and we made sure we made it there on time -- 5.45pm.

The restaurant used to be a butcher shop, but walk inside and it feels like walking into an aunt's living room to have dinner. It's very cozy, with antique light fixtures that don't match, copper pans and plates hanging on the walls, mini curtains hanging from the open kitchen.

There's also a small bar area for customers to wait to be seated.

Paris-Brest using duck liver and foie gras in the filling
The menu is small, but a good selection. With four of us we ordered all six appetizers. The fried pork rinds with maple syrup and spice (CAD$12) are presented in an empty maple syrup can. The pork rinds were freshly deep fried and so good -- they would make excellent bar snacks.

Meanwhile the house-made terrine (CAD$18) combined with apricots was delicious and came with some mustards. Paris-Brest (CAD$22) is typically a dessert -- a round pastry with a praline mousse piped inside. But here it's a savoury dish, with the filling being duck liver and foie gras mousse. Very clever though hard to cut into four pieces. I don't usually like to eat foie gras, but this I had to try.

Refined cod cake quenelle with mussels
The escargots (CAD$18) were presented in small puff pastry cups with a generous serving of garlic sauce on top. Another highlight was the steak tartare (CAD$19) that had a lot of seasoning from the capers and onions, along with chevre noire cheese, and presented with waffle potato chips.

Finally the cod cake quenelle (CAD$22) was very smooth and came with mussels and Normandy sauce.

We also balanced our diet with two vegetable dishes. The ratatouille (CAD$17) was alright, but we preferred the Avonlea cheddar custard in the middle of the plate, while the baked potato (CAD$15) with Sauvagine cheese and poutine sauce was the disappointing dish that evening; it was recommended to us, but wasn't particularly interesting.

The very hearty pork chop with Robuchon potato puree
At this point we somehow managed to have room for a main course and we chose the pork chop (CAD$38) that came recommended to us. We were not disappointed. It was a giant pork chop on a bed of Robuchon potato puree (which means it had lots of butter in it), with Oka cheese.

The pork chop was amazing -- it must have been brined before because the meat was so tender and so juicy. I usually avoid ordering pork chops because they usually turn out dry, but here it was absolutely divine.

As if that wasn't enough food, we somehow talked ourselves into having three of the four desserts. One of them, sugar pie (CAD$11) is not regularly found on menus in Vancouver and it's a pretty dense pie that's filling and sweet.

Rice pudding with cinnamon buns, pecans and caramel sauce
We got a small portion of the rice pudding (CAD$20 for the whole table; so ours was less) and it's so cute: it comes with four mini cinnamon buns, caramel sauce, and toasted pecans. What a delicious combination and the rice pudding wasn't too sweet.

Many other tables ordered the lemon tart flambee (CAD$16) that the servers don't really like to send to the table because everyone wants to whip out their phones to video the tart being set on fire. So have your phone ready, because the server won't wait for you, and it doesn't set on fire for long, making it a bit disappointing visually.

However, the lemon tart is very good -- again not too sweet, and comes with an burnt soft meringue. Oh so good, tart custard, crunchy pastry shell and soft meringue. What a finish.

The lemon tart flambee was quick dramatic finish
St Lawrence
269 Powell Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 620 3800

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Vancouver Eating Part 2

The flavour of Joe Fortes in a bowl, a seafood bowl to be exact
My eating odyssey in Vancouver continued with a visit to Joe Fortes for lunch. I don't think I have ever eaten in this well known establishment and glad I finally made it.

It looks like a power lunch place with its downtown location and everyone seemed to be having meetings while they ate -- except us.

Clams with chorizo sausages in tomato broth were a hit
According to the menu, there really was a Joe Fortes -- Seraphin "Joe" Fortes, who was a sailor from Barbados who went to Liverpool then Vancouver. He came to the Canadian city in 1885 where he was a bartender at a hotel and then was a fixture at English Bay where he was the unofficial security guard and taught many children how to swim.

The city appointed him the first official lifeguard in the early 1900s. When Fortes died in 1922, the city held the longest-ever funeral procession, which was unusual for a black person.

Joe Fortes the restaurant was opened in 1985, exactly a century after he arrived in Vancouver.

Perhaps as a link to his being at English Bay, the Joe Fortes menu is best known for its seafood, freshly-shucked oysters and blue plate specials at CAD$12.95 that are a real deal -- if you can snag one.

A lot to munch on in the lobster and shrimp roll
On the day we went it was panko-crusted haddock, but by the time we ordered -- around 1pm -- they were already sold out. That was disappointing to say the least for my friend, who was very keen to try it.

Nonetheless we were very happy with the seafood bowl (CAD$25.95), a kind of bouillabaisse with salmon, mussels, clams, tomato broth, rice and garlic bread. Everything was cooked perfectly, the clams didn't have any sand in them and the mussels plump.

The roasted mushroom soup (CAD$9.95) is cooked with sherry, cream and sage, the steamed clams (CAD$25.95) were seasoned with chorizo sausage, tomato-wine broth and had garlic focaccia.

Starter of hamachi, coconut, fennel and mandarin
My other friend had the lobster and shrimp roll (CAD$25.95) and it was a mouthful! I had a small bite of the filling and it tasted very fresh, topped with a dill pickle and a generous salad on the side.

We were too full for dessert after.

Later that evening we paid a visit to Hawksworth for dinner. I haven't been there for a few years so I was keen to see how the restaurant has developed. In short the food was fantastic -- every dish was plated nicely, featuring choice ingredients.

Absolutely divine roast duck with lentils, squash and figs
To start I had the hamachi with coconut, fennel and mandarin wedges (CAD$25). It's more of a summer dish, but we liked it anyway, very delicate flavours on the plate with a hint of coconut sauce at the bottom.

My main was a delight -- Yarrow Meadows duck breast with squash, red cabbage, lentil and fig (CAD$43). The duck is very lean --- there isn't the fattiness you get from most other ducks, or perhaps it was slow roasted to remove the fat, but also retain the juiciness of the meat.

It was accompanied with very earthy flavours: squash puree, lentils, red cabbage, and sweet figs that all went well together, and keeping the duck as the star of the dish.

The ling cod with black rice and curried root vegetables
Another standout was the salmon with cucumber, potato, mussel and dill (CAD$42), as well as the ling cod (CAD$48) with black rice, curried root vegetable, and orange lassi. A decadent meal for two is the lamb shoulder (CAD$130 for two), that could even be for three, as the feast includes polenta, root vegetables, and a generous portion of lamb that falls off the bone.

Dark chocolate was the theme of the evening, as one of our party suggested eating it would stave off dementia. As a result a few of us ordered the dark chocolate chantilly, a decadent-looking treat complemented with raspberry sauce and almonds (CAD$14).

I had the Meyer lemon for dessert. It was a lemon custard topped with a mixture of mandarin oranges and shaved lemon on top and jasmine-flavoured meringue cubes. Again more a summer dish than winter, but we like tart finish.

Meyer lemon dessert with mandarin and jasmine meringue
The deconstructed apple tart (CAD$14) was delicious too, with milk chocolate, pecans and caramel.

While we enjoyed the food immensely, service was lacking in attentiveness that marred the overall experience. At first I thought it was because we had ordered several "Chinese martinis" -- hot water with lemon, but I later found out from a few friends that they had also been disappointed by the service when they went.

And as a friend pointed out, even if you drink tap water the whole evening, the service should still be good, and I agree.

A decadent dark chocolate chantilly dessert
Joe Fortes
777 Thurlow Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 669 1940

in the Rosewood Hotel
801 Georgia Street
Vancouver, BC
(6040 673 7000

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Picture of the Day: New Invaders

Two space invaders were freshly installed in Central
French urban artist Invader seems to have a soft spot for Hong Kong.

He is best known for his pixellated mosaics of the 1970s-1980s game Space Invaders and many of them can be found around town in the oddest places, such as high up on the side of a building. It's a wonder how he manages to install them without anyone knowing.

They are right next to the street sign for Battery Path
In any event this afternoon I happened to walk up Battery Path in Central, a pedestrian road I walk along often and I spotted another new Invader mosaic. It looks like two space invaders with yellow hats? Or yellow umbrellas... you be the judge of that.

The mosaic is located near where the Court of Final Appeal used to be located... if that gives it more context...

Friday, 18 January 2019

Pay Attention on the Bus!

Commuters should get on the bus and pay attention to where they're going

I recently started taking the bus to work -- it takes about 10 minutes longer than if I took the MTR, but it's less stressful and I get to catch a bit more Vitamin D from the sun.

This morning soon after we left the bus stop at the General Post Office in Central, a woman got up and shrieked, "I need to get off the bus! I'm not going across the harbour!"

She was obviously so engrossed with her smartphone that she forgot to look up to see where she was.

We just pulled away from this stop when the woman shrieked
The bus driver calmly replied, "This is not a cross harbour tunnel bus. The next stop is City Hall."

Realizing she had completely overreacted, she sat down and quietly waited for the bus to arrive at the next stop, and then seemed hesitant to get off, perhaps dreading she had to walk much further.

But whose fault was it not to pay attention earlier?

Bus drivers must have so many stories of people forgetting to get off the bus -- everyday.

But today's incident was quite amusing.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Vancouver Eating Part 1

Fantastic prime rib dinner with Yorkshire pudding at Seasons in the Park

Many friends in Hong Kong asked me what I ate in Vancouver and some of it was Chinese cuisine, Japanese and Western.

Apart from having dim sum, we tried a northern Chinese restaurant that serves all kinds of lamb dishes. Called Hao's Lamb Restaurant in Richmond, it's relatively new and my relatives took us here for lunch.

Thinly sliced lamb in between a sesame seed bun
The owners are mainland Chinese and very friendly. The menu is quite extensive with such dishes as mutton tendon with cumin, mutton hotpot, and roasted lamb leg, there are some eyebrow-raising ones like "ovine [sheep] testicles with cumin", and "nourishing ovine testicles stew with ovine genital".

Hmmmm worth a try?

We had thinly sliced lamb that we put in a sesame seed bun with cucumbers that was delicious, boiled lamb dumplings, and a lamb-flavoured broth with hand-pulled noodles in it. We also had a napa cabbage that was chopped into four wedges and covered with tons of finely minced garlic and vermicelli and steamed.

So if you like lamb, this place is a must.

A favourite place we visit is Seasons in the Park that is at Queen Elizabeth Park and overlooks downtown Vancouver. We were lucky to get a window seat and marveled at all the twinkling lights.

Sunburnt Lemon tart at Seasons in the Park
On Sunday evenings the restaurant offers a three-course set roast beef dinner for CAD$42.50. Choose between a salad or a soup, the roast beef and then two desserts to decide from.

The slow roasted prime rib is excellent -- very tender and juicy medium rare, though the best bits are along the edge, along with Yorkshire pudding and vegetables. I barely finished mine, but somehow made room for the restaurant's signature sunburnt lemon pie.

I also tried a place I'd never heard of before, Chewie's Biscuit Co on 4th Avenue and McDonald. It's a small shop that, as its name suggests, makes biscuit sandwiches with interesting combinations. The friendly waitress takes your order and money, and then you sit down and wait for your food to arrive.

She gave a few suggestions as a first timer to the eatery and so I decided try "Stoner", which features fried chicken breast, stone ground mustard, honey and bread and butter pickles.

"Stoner" biscuit sandwich
It's a vertically tall sandwich so I took the top off to eat it with a knife and fork. The fried chicken is good, smothered in sauce and I'm thankful the pickles are there to cut some of the grease. The sandwich looks deceivingly small but it isn't, though maybe my stomach is full from eating a few onion rings.

After finishing the sandwich I try the half biscuit on its own and it's fantastic -- light, fluffy, with a buttermilk taste. It's so good that my dining companion orders take out -- including an unadulterated biscuit.

Hao's Lamb Restaurant
8788 McKim Way
Richmond, BC
(604) 270 6632

Seasons in the Park
Queen Elizabeth Park at West 33rd Avenue
Vancouver, BC
(604) 874 8008

Chewie's Biscuit Co
2282 West 4th Avenue
Vancouver, BC
(604) 336 9996