Saturday, October 21, 2017

Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki deserves to be better known (and appreciated)!

What I had for dinner on my first night in Hiroshima :b
Optional condiments to add to the okonomiyaki mix if one's 
so inclined (along with a bunch of chopsticks to choose from)! :)
Hiroshima has been on my list of Japanese cities for some years now.  But while I know that a first visit there is not really complete without spending time in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Peace Memorial Park, I must admit that those two places most definitely were not the main reasons why I've long wanted to visit this city which many people will forever associate with the atom bomb.
Instead, the more I've learnt about and come to love Japanese food, the more I've got to realizing that Hiroshima is quite the foodie paradise; with Hiroshima oysters and Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki being at the top of many Japanese people's list of foods they must sample on a visit to this part of Honshu, Japan's largest island.  
My first day in Hiroshima, I had a set lunch at an atmospheric eatery near the train station whose main dish consisted of beautifully juicy and delectable fried oysters.  And when it came time for dinner, I took my mother to a branch of Mitchan Sohonten, whose founders are credited with having invented Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki -- which, unlike the Osaka-style version of this savory pancake, layers the dish's various ingredients rather than more casually mixes them altogether. 
The name okonomiyaki translates into something akin to "as you like it" because one is free to add all sorts of other ingredients to the basic cabbage, flour and eggs base/core.  The one I ordered at Mitchan Sohonten had squid, prawn, noodles (I chose ramen but one can also opt for udon), bacon and cheese layers too.  Oh, and oysters -- which I'm going to assume were local ones -- in the mix as well!  
Also, although our okonomiyaki was served laden with okonomi sauce and some mayonaise, condiments were placed at the table that made it apparent that it's the done thing to add some more sauces if one's so inclined; with the options here including two kinds of mayonaise, extra okonomi sauce, a Tobasco-like hot sauce, and a local lemony seasoning by the name of Lemosco!
It may all sound a bit much to the uninitated but, in all honesty, just writing about this is making me hungry and pine for more Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki.  Unfortunately, like with Osaka's kushiage, this dish's reputation hasn't seemed to cross international borders (and, in fact, isn't even easily found in other parts of Japan).  Otherwise, I really believe that good and authentic okonomiyaki restaurants would gain quite a following and fandom; and, in this case, would be far more deserving of that than, say, ramen: which actually is one of the Japanese dishes I can't get excited about -- and which many denizens of Japan think is Chinese rather than Japanese!  

Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Peace Memorial Park where reminders of the horrors of war abound (Photo-essay)

Over the years, I've read more than one account of people having felt emotionally devastated after a visit to Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park (which invariably includes spending time at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is located).  But rather than put off doing so until my final day in the city, I decided to make straight for the museum after checking into the hotel and then going for lunch on the first day of my most recent Japan trip.   

As it turned out though, even while I did end up shedding a few tears in the museum, I actually didn't feel as upset as I thought I would be.  (Put another way: I was no where as traumatized by the experience as I was by viewing Isao Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies).  Maybe it was because I braced myself sufficiently for the horrors that I'd come across at the museum.  

In addition, I reckon that it helped quite a bit to do the reverse of what many folks do: that is, my mother and I went to the museum first, then strolled from there through the Peace Memorial Park to the iconic Genbaku (aka Atomic Bomb) Dome that now serves as a peace memorial and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996.  For this way, we saw the horrors of war first, then spent time afterwards in what actually is a peaceful, tranquil space for all of its being home to ample visual tributes to thousands of fallen folk...

The mainly subterranean Hiroshima National Peace 
lies within the expansive Peace Memorial Park

 The Genbaku Dome viewed through the saddle-shaped roof of
the Cenotaph for A-bomb Victims where floral tributes are laid

Looking back along the park's central axis at the Flame of Peace,
Cenotaph, and Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum 

The bronze figure of a girl holding a paper crane
stands at the top of the Children's Peace Monument

Within this memorial mound has been interred the remains of
around 70,000 victims of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima

the only structure left standing in the 2 kilometer central area where 
the atom bomb exploded over Hiroshima on August 8th, 1945

What I would like to think of as warm rays of hope (not reminders of 
destructive heat) shining through what's now a symbol of people's hope 
for world peace and the ultimate elimination of all nuclear weapons

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Musings resulting from a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

A watch which stopped working 
at 8.15pm on August 6th, 1945
Silver and copper coins melted and fused together by the 
Imagine the damage caused to humans as well as objects
in the wake of the atom bomb being dropped on Hiroshima
On my first ever visit to Japan back in 1982, I was taken to the northwestern Kyushu city of Nagasaki and saw shocking sights in its Atomic Bomb Museum which have been seared into my brain and memory.  Three and half decades later, I paid a visit to the western Honshu city of Hiroshima and, even while part of me dreaded doing so, felt obliged to also spend time at the Peace Memorial Museum of the first ever city in the world to have had an atom bomb dropped onto it.
Ongoing renovation work has resulted in the closing of part of the museum until July 2018.  But in view of its newer East Building being open when my mother and I visited, and its possessing a total floor capacity of 1,615 square meters, I think it fair to say that we still managed to see (and hear) plenty on our visit to this museological institution which regularly has more than one million visitors annually.
The way the exhibits are set up, one first gets a glance at how Hiroshima looked shortly before the dropping of the atomic bomb, then an overview of the actual event that took place at 8.15am on August 6th, 1945.  Next come details about the events leading up to it (such as those relating to the Manhattan Project all the way to the atomic bomb test in the New Mexico desert but also salient political and military developments, including the Japanese invasion of Malaya and attack on Pearl Harbor), followed by historical information about Hiroshima before, during and after World War II, then -- finally and most devastingly -- a presentation of the effects of the dropping of the atomic bomb by way of the exhibition of actual objects damaged by the bomb and telling of stories about actual atomic bomb victims, a large percentage of whom were civilians and quite a number of whom were children.   
Early on during my visit to the museum, I felt like I was being more intellectually than emotionally impacted by what I was seeing and hearing there.  Feeling able to actually critique the exhibition design and narrative, I got to thinking such thoughts as that certain display panels probably should have been placed further apart in order to better deal with the sheer volume of visitors to the museum and, also, that the information being supplied was surprisingly as well as admirably even-handed.
Then I got to the displays which showed the wounds sustained by individual people.  The photos may be in black and white but believe me when I tell you that they totally can make you see, realize and even feel how much pain, suffering, misery and agony had been inflicted on actual human beings -- and when you consider that the number of victims of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima is estimated at over 100,000, the sheer scale of what was wreaked really gets one feeling such incredible sorrow and horror.

At this point, you invariably get to thinking: Hiroshima didn't deserve this.  Even though -- as pointed out in the section of the museum detailing the city's history -- it had been home to a major Imperial Japanese Navy base and been the major despatching point for the military for the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese Wars.  This is not just because the vast majority of the Hiroshima atom bomb victims were not military personnel.  Rather, it's just because the damage wreaked by the atom bomb comes across as so very inhumane.
Among the museum's key objectives is to convey Hiroshima's deepest wish for the elimination of all nuclear weapons and the realization of a genuinely peaceful international community.  And I must say that among the saddest parts of my going to to this truly "must visit" museum is that those wishes are so very far away from being realized; this not least, thanks in no small part to the idiocy/lunacy of Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, the world now appears to be closer to a Third World War and/or the use of nuclear weapons far more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki than it has been in years, if not ever.  

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Travelling, walking, eating and drinking a lot on my most recent Japan trip ;b

View of Japan from the plane I took there most recently :)

View from the JR West Miyajima ferry

View from an Onomichi hilltop (and yes, I definitely recommending 
clicking on the picture to view an enlarged version of it!)

Late last night, I returned to Hong Kong from my fifth trip to Japan with my mother.  Over the course of a little bit more than a week, we visited six different towns and cities along with one village and three UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites.  We also took a bunch of train, bus and ferry rides -- and one ride up a ropeway in my case (and two in my mother's).  In addition, there actually was a day when my pedometer clocked my having walked over 30,000 steps!

Before this trip, I hoped that I'd be able to get in a lot of walking to balance out what I knew would be a whole lot of eating (and drinking).  Fortunately, that did turn out to be the case; otherwise, I'd have gained more unwanted pounds again like I did on my Penang visit this past July during which I feasted on a lot more durian than I probable should have done!

Often, my mother and I made a point to sample area specialties (which included -- and those who are "up" on their Japanese foods will be able to figure out where we went based on the following mentions -- oysters, anago (salt-water eel), okonomiyaki, tai (red seabream) and kushiage).  And I think it's telling that the worst meal by far of the trip -- and, actually, that I've ever partaken of in Japan -- was at a restaurant that served more than one type of food, none of which seemed specific to the area. 

While my mother didn't drink a drop of alcohol over the course of the trip (as would be expected of someone who is on the record as stating that she felt a bit tipsy after sipping one mouthful of sake one evening at Sake Bar Ginn!), I just as expectedly drank quite a bit of sake and beer while in the Land of the Rising Sun.  Indeed, rare was the meal (aside from breakfast) where my food went unaccompanied by an alcoholic libation.  At the same time though, believe it or not, I actually didn't drink any alcohol outside of meal times -- since I really do believe that sake and such are best accompanied by food (as well as that most Japanese foods go very well indeed with sake or beer)! ;b 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

At Victoria Park the night after the Mid-Autumn Festival

Visual treats abound at Victoria Park this time of the year :)
My favorite display of this year's mid-Autumn Lantern Carnival
And the Peach Blossom Wishing Tree was pretty cool too... :b
My mother arrived for a visit yesterday (complete with a mooncake gift) and my plan for the evening had included our taking a stroll through the section of Victoria Park where lantern displays had been erected for the Mid-Autumn Festival.  But after last night turned out to be more rainy than we would have liked, we postponed checking out this year's Mid-Autumn Lantern Carnival by some 24 hours -- and were rewarded not only by the carnival still going on (through to the end of the week, in fact) and being on the enjoyable side but, also, with glimpses of the still largely full looking moon in what's still a pretty cloudy sky.
Each year that I've been to view lantern displays at Victoria Park around what's supposed to be mid-autumn, the weather's felt more summery than autumnal.  Something else that I now know to expect is to see some particularly unusual -- even whimsically -- shaped lanterns on display; with past years' efforts including those shaped like the 2008 Beijing Olympics' fuwa mascots, Taoist deities (like Na Cha the Great) and even traditional Hong Kong snacks like curry fishballs on sticks!
This year's contributions included cheongsam-shaped lanterns and a peach blossom wishing tree (which seems to be a non-traditional amalgamation of two traditionally prized plants) along with a bevy of animals, including pandas, other bears and lots of rabbits.  Upon seeing all those rabbits, my mother wondered aloud if she was mistaken that this year's actually the year of the rabbit rather than the chicken and/or rooster.  
After I hastened to tell her that the rabbits at the carnival represent moon rabbits rather than those from the Chinese zodiac, I got to realizing that -- unlike last year, when there were indeed a lot of monkey-shaped lanterns that made it really easy to remember that it was the year of the monkey -- my mother did have a point in noticing that chicken and/or roosters were not very well represented at this year's lantern carnival.  Does anyone have an idea why this is the case?  If so, do please share your thoughts on the matter! :)            

Monday, October 2, 2017

Asian antique items are the highlight works at Fine Art Asia 2017

Entrance to Fine Art Asia 2017
 Under the flags in the exhibition hall
Antique arms and armor on show and for sale at a booth
What constitutes fine art?  If one were to base one's definition on what's on exhibit (and sale) at Fine Art Asia 2017, one would include historic and rare whisky (since there was a booth -- Cask 88's -- devoted to that alcoholic beverage), antique arms and armor (the focus at Runjeet Singh's booth), jewellery (at a number of booths), antique furniture (ditto) along with paintings by the like of Corot, Monet and Picasso (on show and sale at Gladwell and Patterson's booths), sculptures in various media, and photography by the likes of Fan Ho.
Based on its far wider range of the items on exhibit (and sale) alone, it should be obvious that this particular art fair is very different than Art Basel (Hong Kong) -- whose 2017 edition I checked out this past March and found much to appreciate.  Actually, in view of Art Basel purporting to be a modern and contemporary art fair and Fine Art Asia showcasing antique works, it's actually surprising to find some overlap between the two art events; this not least because Art Basel exhibitors sometimes look to extend its purview chronologically back in time by including artworks created in the 19th as well as 20th and 21st century while works by contemporary, living artists can be found at Fine Art Asia along with artefacts dating back thousands of years.  
But although both art fairs have exhibitors from outside Asia as well as within the continent, it's quite noticeable that Art Basel's biggest draws are often from the West while the items I find most eye-catching and interesting at Fine Art Asia tend to be from within Asia, particularly the eastern portion of the world's largest continent.  More specifically, each time now that I've attended this particular art fair, I've been bowled over by the large antique Chinese (and, in 2015, also Japanese) screens showcased at the booth of Paris-based Ateliers Brugier; with this year's standout piece being a double-sided, 12-panel coromandel lacquer screen from the 17th century depicting the Taoist Paradise, complete with Xiwangmu (the Queen Mother of the West), Shuo Lao (the god of long life and luck) and the Eight Immortals (Pat Sin Leng).
The other highlight of Fine Art Asia 2017 for me was the special exhibition entitled Union and Reunion presented by the Hong Kong Antique and Art Galleries Association.  Telling stories of relationships between art works, it placed a spotlight on such as a Mongolian community whose people developed closed cultural ties with Tibet by way of their embracing Tibetan Buddhism, and whose material culture accordingly reflects this cultural relationship.
Most touchingly for me was the tale told about a pair of antique huanghuali tables made by the same artist, probably around the same time, but which were acquired by different owners who treated them very differently.  Whereas one had much care lavished on it, the other didn't.  Consequently, when they were reunited years later, one appeared as polished as an emperor while the other had become as rough as a martial artist.  Yet if one looked carefully, it was still obvious that they were "related".  And, indeed, when I did, it was so. :)

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Protesting political persecution in Hong Kong on China's National Day

Victoria Park's Central Lawn was on the muddy side this afternoon...
Undeterred, today's protesters (including Lam Wing Kee) marched on
And many a yellow umbrella could be seen too -- both when 
the sun shone and after it started raining some two hours 
after the start of today's protest march
Three years ago today, I made my way with a group of friends from Causeway Bay to Central and then from Tsim Sha Tsui to Mongkok, for a good part along streets empty of vehicles, many of which were full of people taking part in pro-democracy protests.  Some members of that group were there that day to observe and never changed their largely detached stance -- but at least one friend and myself got sucked into the Umbrella Movement
Like this year's July 1st protest rally, this afternoon's march began at Victoria Park's Central Lawn.  Normally grassy and green, the ground was muddy as well as soggy, probably as a result of the rain that had fallen earlier in the day.  Undeterred, thousands of protesters -- many of us dressed in black, since October 1st is not a day of celebration for us -- made their way from there onto paved paths within the park and then paved roads that led us from Causeway Bay through Wan Chai to the space in Admiralty in front of  Civic Square (which remains closed to the public for all of Carrie Lam having hinted soon after she became Hong Kong's fourth Chief Executive that she'd re-open it).
Early on in the march, I spotted bookseller-turned-activist Lam Wing Kee in the company of journalist-turned-politician Claudia Mo brandishing a placard with a big red X over the words "Political Prosecution Persecution".  Enroute to Admiralty, I also caught sight of the likes of "Long Hair" Leung Kwok Hung, fellow disqualified lawmaker Lau Siu Lai, Civic Party stalwart Audrey Eu and Democratic Party veteran Emily Lau; all there to show their support for those of their political comrades currently behind bars (including Nathan Law, who had made history in September 2014 as the youngest-ever person to be elected to be a Hong Kong legislator, and the even younger Joshua Wong).
In truth though, it's less well known protest participants who I often find myself more in awed by.  In particular, I truly admire and respect the efforts of those who take part despite being wheelchair-bound and those others for whom it's also obvious that physical movement is not all that easy.  And yes, I do find myself thinking: if they can come out to take part in the march, shame on those whose spirit and resolve is so much weaker even while their bodies are so much stronger.
After the Occupy phase of the Umbrella Movement came to an end on December 15, 2014, many people became unduly discouraged and concluded that the Umbrella Movement as a whole had failed and ended.  The yellow umbrellas that continue to be brandished at protests like today's show the latter to be a lie.  And, to quote a headline of an opinion piece that appeared today, "Those who think the Umbrella Movement failed need to learn a little history"; to which I also think it apropros to add the famous John Paul Jones quote of "I have not yet begun to fight!".