Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Stand Up Comedy at the Fringe Club

Last Friday night, we went to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow at the Fringe Club.  It was pretty fun, although the show started off a little rocky because the first guy was just... well, terrible.  I say this with the greatest sympathy because I could not imagine subjecting myself to the ordeal of stand-up.

By the end, though, it was pretty great and I was laughing a lot.  A friend of mine went the night before and she and I agreed wholeheartedly - the last guy, Tommy Dean, billed as the "funniest American in Australia," was our favorite.  I thought he made astute observations about Hong Kong that were all the more impressive for his having been here for only three days.

This is the cafe of the Fringe Club, where, due to classic Hong Kong misdirection, we thought the performance was going to be.  Of course the performance was actually in a different room (a proper theater).  And of course the food we bought from the cafe couldn't be brought into the theater.  Oh, Hong Kong.  Sometimes you really kill us.

Monday, July 29, 2013


Are these genetically modified?  I thought so but then I saw some unpicked blueberries and they seemed just as big and plump.  Either way, is there anything as lovely as a bowl of blueberries?  One of the very few naturally-blue (and even then it's debatable) edibles found in nature!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Never Sorry: Ai Wei Wei Documentary at Asia Society

This past Wednesday night, I went to the Asia Society in Admiralty to watch a screening of the documentary about artist and activist Ai Weiwei, titled "Never Sorry". 

Asia Society provided a good summary:
Ai Weiwei is one of China's most celebrated contemporary artists, and its most outspoken domestic critic. Having first risen to international prominence in 2008 after helping design Beijing's iconic Bird's Nest Olympic Stadium and then publicly denouncing the Games as party propaganda, Ai's critiques of China's regime have ranged from playful photographs of his raised middle finger in front of Tiananmen Square to searing memorials of the more than 5,000 schoolchildren who died in shoddy government construction during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Against a backdrop of strict censorship, Ai's witty use of the social media to inform his followers has turned him into an Internet champion. 

The film itself was pretty well done, although it raised more questions than it answered. I approached the film with some background knowledge of Ai Weiwei but not too much - I had always followed news of his documentaries and art exhibitions with some interest.  I left feeling like I still did not really understand the artists' motivations. 

His art and activism are very much intertwined - to a point where it's impossible to tell where one begins and one ends.  Freedom of speech, and the freedom to create, is obviously very important to him as an artist.  And he obviously holds a lot of anger towards his government (as evidenced by his middle finger in front of major government structures or his "Fck you, mother country" art campaign).  But what drives his anger and what does he ultimately want to achieve? 

To be fair, there were some points when this was tangentially dealt with in the film. Once, when asked why he was creating the Sichuan earthquake memorial - and he responded, "These are single children, of parents who are very poor, who have put all of their hopes into their next generation. And then these children are gone, just like that. Don't their parents deserve to know if the government used shoddy construction?" And again, when the filmmaker asks him, after he was struck by the police in the head, "Do you want the government to apologize?" And he said, "No, I want them to know that they can't get away with doing that." But these seem like very specific answers to a much bigger problem.   At the end of the film, he mentions that he wants to leave the country a better place for his son, because his father's generation failed to make the country a better place for him.  But as I said, I left still wondering, exactly what in Ai Weiwei's mind would make China a better place, and how does he believe that his actions to date are the best way to bring about results?

I think my ambivalence toward him stems from the scenes in the film where I felt like he was employing what I call Michael Moore tactics - deliberately antagonizing those he encounters or asking questions that cannot help but put them in a bad light.  For example, snatching the sunglasses off of a police official who had previously attacked him, marching up to security guards with multiple cameras, responding to officials with roundabout answers, or taking pictures when guards have said that pictures are not allowed.  These seemed like cheap shots and struck me as distasteful. 

A note on the venue: despite being a member of the Asia Society for months now, I have been woefully negligent of attending any events there.  This was my first time setting foot on the property and facilities.  It's lovely!  I coudn't help gaping at how much space the Asia Society has.  In land-hungry Hong Kong, it just seemed so exquisitely extravagant that everywhere I looked I was mentally visualizing $$$.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Gardening Update

For the most part, my vegetable plants have been growing beautifully, but a few of them (my chili peppers and baby eggplants) desperately need a growth spurt and some some plant sex (pollination). If only Hong Kong would cooperate and stop raining every day. This has to be the rainiest July on record??

 One green pepper plant is way bigger than the other.  Why?
 The basil is thriving.
I am so thrilled with my black beauty eggplant and my pumpkin plant - they both have flowers now and I'm eagerly awaiting the little babies.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Pasta Night

Michael-made.  Sprinkled with fresh basil from the garden!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Construction Scene, Yet Another

As if this narrow street in Central were not busy enough... construction workers decide to leave greasy, rusted kitchen parts strewn all over.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Sweet Spot

I meant to post these a while ago.  I love the creative desserts at Cong Sao Dessert (聰嫂私房甜品) in Causeway Bay.  They serve all kinds of traditional Hong Kong desserts, but with a clever and tasty twist.  The first picture below is a black sticky rice in tofu pudding with coconut milk, and the second picture is a mango sago with almond milk.  I know the pictures don't look like much, but they're really tasty.
There is almost always a long line at the shop - they have a lot of fans (and rightfully so)! 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Foreign Correspondents Club

I recently went to a work event at the Foreign Correspondent's Club, or FCC.  I've been there before for lunch and drinks but never for dinner.  

I quite like the bar in their ground floor because it wraps around the entire center of the room and is a massive mahogany fixture.  The walls are white stucco and covered with framed copies of journalism treasures throughout the ages, consisting of newspaper headlines, covers of magazines, and historical pictures.  Fans whir from the high ceiling.  The floor is a mosaic of scuffed and cracked colored tile.  
The food here is not great, but the prices are very reasonable.  My colleagues couldn't get enough of the HK$21 gin and tonics.  The restaurant upstairs is fancier and nicer, and has an open air terrace that wraps around the side. This time, I also discovered the jazz bar in the basement.  It has low ceilings, neon blue lights, and a pretty extensive scotch and whiskey collection.

In the realm of Hong Kong's posh private clubs, I think of the FCC as the ink-stained, rumpled, slightly ornery uncle - which I guess is in perfect accord with its journalistic history.  

Monday, July 22, 2013

Silent Disco: A Headphones Party

On Saturday night, I attended a silent disco party hosted by loudless on Wo On Lane in Lan Kwai Fong.  I had never heard of such an activity before, but it turned out to be so much fun!  The DJ plays his set just like any old dance party, but in a silent room where everyone wears their own set of headphones.

The funniest part is when you take off your own headphones and just watch a bunch of people bopping around, singing their hearts out, in a completely silent room.  Haha!  I couldn't stop grinning.  It had been way too long since my last dance party.  We danced for over three hours.

Something about wearing the headphones made dancing even more liberating.

There were some people dancing out in the street as well:

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Romeo et Juliette: a Geneva Ballet production

On Friday night, I went to watch a modern reinterpretation of Romeo and Juliet by the touring Geneva Ballet.  I sat in the penultimate row of the very upper tier in the leftmost corner, so I was definitely up in the nose bleed section.  But the theater isn't that big, the price was right, and, by the time I thought to purchase the ticket, there were no other options.

I actually prefer to watch dance from the upper tiers, though.  The choreography is very clear from way up there, and it provides me with a much better concept of the whole production.  Orchestra seats are actually much more forgiving to the troupe - one bad thing about the perspective from the upper tiers is that it is glaringly obvious if the dancers are misaligned.  

I'm so glad I went.  In the program, the choreographer noted that she chose to remove all period references in this reinterpretation because the conflicts and misunderstandings in Shakespeare's tale of woe existed yesterday, exist today, and will exist tomorrow.  As a result, it is a modern production consisting of some basic lighting and simple props; no scenery or fancy costumes.  Everyone danced barefoot. 

I loved the starkness of the stage, which seemed only to illuminate the clean lines of the dancers and the creative choreography.  Paired with a flute solo that seemed to shimmer and brim with newfound love and promise, Juliet's soliloquy was one of my favorites.   Another favorite was the scene of Romeo and Juliet's dance together.  The dancers' moves were so coordinated, fluid and effortless that I could only imagine the hours that they had spent practicing.  It was exquisite.

There were two scenes that I found lackluster, however.  First, the sex scene.  I loved the design and choreography in this scene, so I don't know how much I should complain, but the male lead came on stage in nothing but a nude brief, and Juliet shed her costume on stage to reveal a nude leotard.  They were technically clothed, but... not really.  I am all for appreciating the human form, especially ones that are toned to perfection from hours of dance every day, but that scene made me anxious.  I was really worried for the dancers - what if they had a costume malfunction??  I also couldn't help thinking that it was a bit gratuitous.

The death scene was a disappointment.  It dragged on for way too long, particularly the part where Romeo found his beloved "dead."  He kept picking up her limp body and placing it all over the stage.  That scene would have been a perfect place to give the male lead a dynamic solo to show off his rage and grief.  But, no, we had to deal with a lot of swooping and dragging instead.

I hesitated before purchasing tickets because I thought, "not another Romeo and Juliet ballet."  But I'm glad I decided to give this one a try.

By the way, the venue is... not very attractive.  I tried my best to take flattering pictures.

 Who thought that that many tiles in that size and color would be a good idea?  The venue is also entirely carpeted, in some light purple speckled monstrosity.

The exterior though, is a different story.  I like.  It kind of reminds me of a stingray.

My obligatory shot of the Hong Kong skyline on my way home, taken from the Star Ferry:
Too pretty to resist.  

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Bloomberg Businessweek

What the what? Was this cover really necessary?  I wonder if this is why the magazine was behind the counter when I purchased it...

Friday, July 19, 2013

Modern Love: Chicken Soup for the Soul

I came home two nights ago to a most lovely surprise: chicken soup.  Is there any more than you can ask out of a man who does not cook?  I requested soup, I got soup.  Homemade rice carrot celery ginger lemongrass basil black silky chicken soup!  This soup was cooked with love, and it was delicious.

P.S. Have you been reading the Modern Love columns in the New York Times? They are one of my favorites, but probably only second to the Making It Last series.  I'm such a sap.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


I am sick.  I picked up some kind of disease on my aforementioned business trip.  Work colleagues are joking that I have gotten the next bird flu and are requesting that I stay far away... so insensitive, right?  (Pictures of Gwyneth Paltrow in "Outbreak" keep flitting through my mind.  In perhaps a misguided attempt to entertain myself, I watched that movie on the night before my move to Hong Kong...)

Sickness sucks, but my trip to the doctor was just too amusing for me not to share.

First of all, this doctor is like a pill prescribing machine.  I worry about building germ resistance bacteria if all doctors in Hong Kong prescribe medicine like she does...

When I went to her after having fallen on my right hand and wrist when slipping on the escalators (how lame, but those buggers are damn slippery when it's raining out), she prescribed me a pain-relieving ointment and five pills of Arcoxia.

Then yesterday, I had no trouble getting a very last minute slot during lunch.  My sore throat was killing me, my sinuses were clogged, and my chest was starting to hurt.  She briskly prescribed me not one, not two, but rather four types of medicine.  One antihistamine to take at night, one pill to relieve my cough, one pill to relieve chest pain, another to relieve my nasal and sinus blockage.

Note: Most clinics or doctor's offices in Hong Kong have a pharmacy directly attached - so once your checkup is over, you wait for your medicine to be dispensed.  Then you pay for your consultation and medicines all at once.  Most refuse to deal with insurance companies - you have to pay upfront, and then you have to deal with getting reimbursed from your insurance company yourself (yuk).

So is this a racket or what??  I am almost certain these are free samples that the physicians are getting, which their "pharmacy"conveniently "dispenses" to me, and then they get to make a killing in the process.  Or maybe not, but the physician's eagerness to prescribe medicine makes me wonder.

In this instance I was too uncomfortable to care and promptly took three (different) pills upon my return to my desk.

Second, my doctor's note.  I got a doctor's note excusing me from two days of work!  I felt like I was back in middle school or something.  I didn't have the heart to tell her that no note was going to excuse me from the pile of charts and conference calls awaiting me that afternoon, but it was a sweet little trip down memory lane.

Third, my doctor's suggestion that made my day: no exercise for the next few days!  No physical exertion until I feel better because I need to rest up and drink lots of liquids.  Wooooo hoooo.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Shenzhen (深圳)

I hadn't really ever seen any reason to visit Shenzhen, Hong Kong's closest neighbor. 

When I first arrived in Hong Kong, immigration had incorrectly stamped my passport so I had to travel to Shenzhen in order to do a visa run - basically exit the country so that I could re-enter and properly authorize my work visa.  At the time, I was in a rush and dreaded this administrative hassle, so just went through immigration into Shenzhen, walked one block around the customs building, and then passed back through immigration into Hong Kong.  All of this is to say, I spent no time in Shenzhen.

Shenzhen is a marvel in its own right though - a completely artificial city that is notorious for the distribution and sale of fake goods.  Like everything in China, the city has changed very quickly, such that visitors five or ten years ago would probably feel like they were visiting a new city if they came again.

Shenzhen is only a 1.5 to 2.5 hour (to 3.5 hours depending on traffic and border crossing traffic) drive away from Hong Kong's city center.  So when I found out I had to attend work meetings there, I had a bit of a chuckle.  This was going to be the least glamorous and most anti-climactic business trip that I had to take!

It's a kind of disorienting city in that there's no clear city center.  Everything just seems to be wide avenues and big buildings no matter which way you look.  Most tourists or expats would tell you that the city center is in Luohu and Dongmen street, which on any given day crawls with eager hawkers of fake designer bags (every kind imaginable), fake DVDs, fake jewelry, and the latest fake electronic items.... You can buy housewares, clothing, suitcases.  You can get virtually any piece of clothing or art copied.  All of this involves a certain degree of shamelessness, quick mental math and haggling skill, the thought of which frankly exhausts me before I've even begun.

For the business trip, I had to stay at the Futian Shangri-la in Shenzhen for one night.  I loved the hotel staff - I felt like everyone was fresh faced and eager to please.  They were really pleasant.  One manager struck up a conversation in the elevator with me, pointing out the spa and business centers, asking if I'd visited the hotel before and how often I traveled to Shenzhen, if there was anything he could do to facilitate my stay, etc.  This was in marked contrast to another colleague who said that upon his arrival they offered him a complimentary upgrade to a suite and winked suggestively that he could invite "friends" up to visit him.  I guess it's a different folks, different strokes kind of policy.

Views from my hotel room.  As you would expect, there is construction everywhere.

This building on the near right is fittingly labeled "Tax Free".

 The hotel room itself was comfortable, although I probably wouldn't have picked these furnishings:

One nice thing about China is the huge bathrooms in the hotels.  What a contrast to my tiny one in Hong Kong!  I really liked the TV over the bathtub.  There is surely no better way to get your daily dose of state news propaganda.

 The hotel hallways were eerily empty at all times:

You're in mainland now - simplified characters!
 I took some pictures of my border crossing on my return trip on Friday evening.  Everyone scared me with how long the border crossing would take right before a weekend.  And then I showed up to this: 

 To be fair, my driver took the Shenzhen bay border crossing, which is only for cars and buses.  This likely eliminates a lot of the traffic that one would see at the Luohu or Futian crossings, where there are a lot of pedestrians trying to cross.  I didn't even have to exit the car.  My driver opened the window, I smiled at the officer, he looked at my passport, scanned it, stamped it, then waved us through.

Going through the Hong Kong booth, I just needed to show my HKID.  Then, just like that, we were in Hong Kong:
Funny observation: the signage of the first set of booths are in simplified characters because it's still mainland China.  The second set of booths are in traditional characters because it's now Hong Kong.

We flew over the very long suspension bridge:

And that was the end of my trip!